The sharp edge of a weathered stone digs into my backside, my legs hang free over the corner of the ancient wall. Dried grass grows in sparse tufts along the cracked earth, like an upside down view of the sky dotted with clouds. Five feet below sits the rusted remains of train tracks. Abandoned long before I was born.
“Bored?” comes a voice from behind. I squint into the bright sunless sky at the figure, before I shrug and toss another pebble onto the metal path.
My best friend, Sam, plops beside me. Her real name is Samantha but I’ve never called her that in my entire twelve years of life. The two of us have always lived right next door to each other, with countless nights of flashlight Morse code convos. Maybe that will change to texting, once my mom trusts me enough for a device.
I scrinch my face.
“What’ch doin?” Her legs dangle close to mine, both our jeans match with caked mud and grass stains.
The only difference between our lower halves is that her feet are huge, far bigger than mine. But I guess that makes sense, considering she is also taller. Sometimes people think we’re brother and sister, since we always hang out and have the same dirt colored hair and hazel eyes, too. This is good. I’m not supposed to hang out with girls anymore, even though I don’t want to stop hanging with Sam. I toss another pebble at our feet.
“This have anything to do with that mysterious letter that arrived yesterday?”
The breath hitches in my lungs and my heart starts to beat double time. I chance a quick glance at her out of the corner of my eye. “Maybe.”
She scoffs. “Really? You’ve been waiting here all day because of that stupid letter?”
I clench my jaw tight. “Why do you care? It’s my time wasted, if he doesn’t show.” She sniffs with gusto and looks the opposite direction. I didn’t expect her to understand, anyway. “He will show, though.” My chin lifts two inches higher.
“Riley.” Her voice is more of a whine that floats in a sliver of compassion.
Sam doesn’t believe he will come. She told me as much.
My mouth fills with saliva and I have no choice but to swallow, even though it gives away my insecurity. “He’ll show. Just wait and see.”
“Riley, no train has been on this track in over fifty years. That letter was a joke. There is no mysterious locomotive that will arrive with your dad on it. No matter how much you want to believe it.”
“It will be here. My dad sent that letter.”
Her hand is hot as it rests on my shoulder, like a piece of iron ready to brand my skin. I flinch.
“No one has heard from your dad in two years, Riley. The letter was a prank. It’s impossible that he sent it. Or that he would return on a ghost train of some kind, on an abandoned track.” She pauses. “They haven’t reopened this section, I checked online this morning.”
Gooseflesh plumps on my arms and I gaze down the emptiness one more time. “Maybe it’s magic. Maybe he’s a superhero or something.”
“Riley,” she whispers, and this time I sense she’s right.
How could I have been such a fool? So gullible? My dad disappeared without a trace and there is no way he is coming back. Definitely not on some phantom train, along a set of train tracks that barely exist anymore.
My gaze connects with Sam’s, hers filled with something other than pity. Kindness. Gentleness. Something, but not mocking.
I nod. She’s right. And she’s my best friend. There was no reason for me to doubt her in the first place.
With a hop to my feet, I reach back to help her up, the least I can do since she came to my rescue before I wasted one of the last days of summer we have left. She smiles and lets me help her, but then punches me in the shoulder with more force than a girl should possess. I wince but laugh along with her.
Our backs to the tracks, we face home, plans for the rest of the day already filling my mind. An idea for pizza and an episode of ‘Stranger Things’ is mentioned before silence envelops the walk once more.
Then we both stop, a glance between us, her crinkled brow reflecting my own. We turn in tandem.
In the distance, a train whistle rings over the din of all other noise. A puff of smoke darkens the sky ahead.
She looks my way. I grin.
©Laura L. Zimmerman 2016
Photo cred: New Old Stock