My Grandpops came to Oklahoma just as the dust bowl was closing up. A fresh start in a railway town. He took a lease to establish a corn trading house on Main St. and built a family business, consolidating shipments westward down the railroad to the port in Los Angeles. Isolated, and without reliable roads, the railway line gave the town its life link to the nation beyond. All that came in and out that town, goods or otherwise, went along the rail.
Grandpops, with four kids and my aunt on the way, saw the family through those thin times. The business had prospered and, on the surface, things seemed to be going well. Yet in time, something clearly had begun to disturb in his mind. At first it wasn’t more than a suggestion lurking in the small hours. As the months went by as he lay in bed, a slight twilight breeze would ease in through the curtains at night; like the sermon of a twisted apparition, urging him to listen to the train in the distance. He would turn over in the bed to resist it, turn to my grandma to assure him it were just figments of his imagination. In the days that followed it became much more persistent, at night he would almost hear the train wailing down the track to ”Follow me! Follow me! I have something to show you!” It would get louder, “Follow me! Follow me! I have something to show you!” One night he even went down to the track, wild-eyed with a rifle to scream to the spirits that seemed to torment him.
His mood started to shift; he was seen absent from work. For 3 days he went missing. When he returned, dust in his beard, hat and shirt on backwards, stumbling down the unpaved Main St. in the Sunday daylight. My Grandma, walking the children home from church, screeched as he grabbed hold of shoulders cackling with laughter! A shadow creased his face as he turned to his eldest daughter, pressing his face into hers, he whispered, “Don’t ever, ever walk down to the train tracks alone!” Then he laughed, spat in the dirt and took the next train out of town.
Eleven years later my mother had me. Her father’s life had been turned upside down; from a family man to rambling man, became a gambling man out in Los Angeles. We heard he’d done well. Allegedly, he never lost a bet. ‘Course eventually, he fell in with the wrong people. Played too many winning hands. Lost his life soon after in ‘54.
As an infant, my mother told me fables and stories. She’d slip messages in to guide my direction as I started exploring myself. In time I grew older, took a job in the family business, Grandma had kept us alive through all the early upsets and mom made sure we were doing fine. It was when I entered the rebellious ages that the boat began to be rocked.
Slipping out after dark to smoke on the stoop of our old town house, I gazed at the moonlight reflected along the dewy tarmac street. I paused, then stepped forwards into cool air, looked down to light my cigarette, and as I looked up again and jolted in terror. A face, inches from mine, skin twisted with maggots and eyes glazed over in rotten mold. My Grandfather! I recoiled backwards as the figure laughed in a raspy tone, its body bloodied and riddled with bullet wounds. It took a step towards me. I turned and ran! Terror all-consuming as I shot along Main St., past the family business, and suddenly voices were mumbling in my head! Whispers invading the fear and panic; ”Follow me, Follow me!”
The edge of town follows the railroad, which in turn runs westward to the coast. I began to breathe slower as I reached the tracks in the dark. I needed to walk and clear the head, get a grip on what I’d just seen. With only the moon for light, I walked along the rails for fear of otherwise getting lost alone in the dark. The tracks were wet, and moisture still hung in the air. I tried to slow my breathing down as one foot fell in front of the other, trying to take my focus off the horrific vision that I had witnessed.
Within the foggy distance, I saw what appeared to be a tall silhouette, also calmly walking along the tracks. From afar, its broad and shiny grin almost glowed in the dark. As he started to walk past me I heard a polite and confident voice, “It’s a nice night for a walk, would ya mind if I joined you?”
“Do what you wanna do,” was my response.
“That’s great, cause I’m going to,” he continued, “and not to annoy you, but, see I really have to ask what a youngster like you’s doing out by the tracks? You waiting on a train?” As he said this, the mouth almost seeming to expand further, I felt a chill run from my head to my feet walking along the rails.
“No, I’m minding my own business! Maybe you should do the same? I needed to take a walk to clear my head after a fright is all.” The figure drew his cloak around him and straightened up, the grin ever present.
"Ooh, but easy with the tongue, son, try to listen carefully;
What you've seen's scary, but nothing when compared to me,
“I could show you things to paint all your dreams haunted,
I could make you scream if I wanted
Or I can be the bee in your bonnet, your best friend forever
Two peas in a pod flockin' like birds of a feather
And you never have a need to beg, work, or steal
If all this sounds worth it then let's make a deal
All you want in life for price of your soul
All the money you can fold, power that you can hold
I'll put you in control
Only if you're down to roll down these train tracks tonight”
“But where we gonna go?”
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