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Saturday, September 17, 2016

New story: Racing the Train

Racing the Train


Bob Carlton

It was 3:15 am when I got to the main highway. Running ghostly in the night, a freight train sped down the tracks that ran parallel to the road on the other side. I took a right and was soon keeping pace with the train, both of us southbound doing fifty. At this point I realized that in four and a half miles I would have to take a left and then wait at the crossing for the train to pass. No telling how long it was, or whether or not it would be stopped at the crossing, inching back and forth as cars coupled and uncoupled in some freight yard I couldn't even see. I might end up sitting there for quite a while. Then I noticed the engines were only a few car lengths ahead of me. If both of us hit that intersection at the same time, that could be a long wait indeed. Only one way around that.

Almost as soon as I decided to race the train I hit a red light. It changed quickly, and I was faced with a decision: drive at a leisurely pace and face an inevitable albeit shorter wait at the crossing, or try and get ahead of it and risk not only a longer delay if I don't get there in time, but also the very real possibility of getting pulled over for speeding on this deserted highway in the middle of the night. I floored it.

Just as I was catching back up to the locomotives, the highway took a slight curve westward, while the train continued in a straight line to the southeast. During daylight hours, the highway's alteration in course was almost imperceptible, and one could debate whether it was really the road itself which swung away from the tracks to such a degree, or if the tracks themselves did not veer off at a rather sharp angle at this point. I don't suppose it really matters. The fact was that the train was on a more direct course to our future point of intersection. As our paths diverged, the train shot off behind a line of trees in the distance. I was soon alone on the road, with no sense of either progress or regression. Until I turned left in two miles, when the railroad crossing would be one block away and directly in front of me, I could not gauge my position in relation to my opponent.

When I finally made that turn, no train was in sight. As I crossed the tracks I looked left and saw a headlight, though I could not really judge the distance. I was pleased with myself, though not nearly as much as I was three seconds later, when I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw the flashing red lights and descending barrier arms announcing imminent arrival. I grinned widely, filled with a solitary and satisfying sense of triumph. It had been that close.

Two minutes later I pulled into the parking lot, right on time for a job I hate.

Bob Carlton lives and works in Leander, Texas.

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