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Locomotive Wonder

by Bre Hall

I was a silly girl, drunk off the stars. I let you lead me in silence down the cobbled streets to the train tracks near my house, while my eyes, blue with wonder, stared up at the mid-July sky. I counted the stars on Orion’s belt. I bent my head backwards to gawk at the arms of the moon.

We stopped in the middle of the tracks, teetering on two railroad ties. My gaze was still lifted up to the sky, while yours was tilted down. You studied my shoes: white sneakers with a heart pulsing between two stick figures—a boy and a girl; you and me—you had drawn on during math class last year. I remember your strokes had been fast. Swoosh, swish. So the teacher wouldn’t see you. Us, you had said quietly, flashing me a smile.

After a minute on the tracks, a whistle blew long and hard from around the bend. It shook my bones and brought my eyes down to you. The train’s light shone on your face and your hands held mine tight.

We need to get off the tracks, I shouted as the train ebbed closer. Your feet seemed to be stuck. Nailed to the ties. Your grip on me didn’t loosen. The train was so close I could smell the metal, see the sparks that kicked up as the wheels ground over the tracks. The whistle blew again, and at that moment I saw your freckles, wet with tears. Had they been like that the whole night? Had I missed them while I was watching the celestial light show in the wide expanse of Kansas sky? I tried once more to pull you away from the train’s path, but you only dug your fingernails in deeper.

Not yet, you shouted over the noise. Your head twisted over your shoulder and when you saw the train, barreling down on top of us, you let out a laugh.

I thought about kicking you in the shin. Jumping off the tracks alone. Sprinting back to the comfort of my house. But it all happened too fast. Like fingers snapping. A breath being inhaled. One, jagged rock shooting out of a slingshot.

Fast. Too fast.

The train was there. So close I could taste the engine on my tongue. I closed my eyes. I think I screamed. I imagined pain, horrible pain.

Then, we were rolling over the track, tumbling in the brittle grass that grew nearby, away from the metal beast chomping through the night.

The earth shook as the train motored through the space we had once occupied. It rattled me sober. I couldn’t even see the stars above me, only your face. Your eyes as wide as the fullest moon. Your breath curling visibly from your lips, bitten bloody in the excitement of it all. Our bodies were pressed so close together I could feel your heartbeat—an endless drum roll—knocking against my ribcage.

Are you insane? I shouted. My lungs were inflating and deflating too fast. I couldn’t feel my toes.

I’m not insane, you said, then kissed me quickly, the blood on your lips lingering on the tip of my tongue after you pulled away too fast. You smiled at me, your teeth sparkling like the stars in the dark, and said, I’m alive.

Bre Hall was raised in small-town Kansas, which has greatly influenced her writing. She holds two degrees in Creative Writing: A BA from Pacific University and an MFA from American College Dublin. Her short fiction has appeared in Fiction Southeast, Leaf~Land Journal, The Merrimack Review, and The Write Launch. Currently, she resides in Portland, Oregon, where she survives off of constant rain showers and imported Irish tea.  

Lead image: “Wet Tracks at Midnight” (via Flickr user Donnie Nunley)