Vanishing Point

Chase leaned against the metal railing that kept him from falling onto the railroad tracks below. The bridge he stood on was old and wooden, with thick, hammered-over nails holding it together. He’d found the remote spot soon after getting his license as he drove, turning at random, just to get away. He returned whenever life threatened to burst at the seams.

The tracks ran straight from the horizon, beneath the bridge, and onward, unerringly, beyond where sight could follow. Chase waited in the hot sun on the worn, baking planks, staring at the point where the two rails disappeared into eternity.

A train would come. One always did, eventually, bearing down toward him, 100 tons of unstoppable metal roaring beneath him, shaking the bridge, sundering the isolation into energy and sound, smashing the moment, shattering all moments–and Chase closed his eyes and imagined the force of impact, the rush, the final moment.

He would never jump. He did not want to die. But he wanted, he needed, he ached for something to splinter him, to fling him brutally into the air, to exchange this endless collection of days into a moment of indescribable and violent beauty.

The blue sky, the bright summer trees, the mathematical elegance of the parallel lines racing to the distance brought him no peace. He felt only anxiety and emptiness. There was not a cloud in the sky.

He heard a car approach. One did, occasionally. This one parked at the little pull-off before the bridge. A man, maybe 30, and his son, maybe 6, got out and began rummaging in the bushes at the road’s edge. Chase watched out of the corner of his eye.

A few minutes later they emerged, both grinning in the same way. The father pointed toward the bridge. Chase moved slowly toward the other side.

The two looked out over the railing, the father directing his son’s attention to the tracks. “The road goes ever on and on,” he said.

“What did you say, Daddy?”

“It’s from Lord of the Rings. You’ll have to read it someday.”

The boy turned toward Chase. “We found your cache.”

Chase stared at the boy, not knowing how to respond.

“I don’t think it was his,” said the father. He addressed Chase. “We found a geocache over there.”

“A what?” Chase asked.

“It’s like a treasure hunt. They’re everywhere, containers people hide for others to find. It’s like an adventure in your backyard, mysteries hidden in everyday life.” He looked over the tracks again. “This place is awesome. I live like seven miles from here and I never knew this existed.” He pointed. “Look, Jack, a train’s coming!”

The boy saw it then and pressed against the bars, leaning over them, to get a better look. The train barreled toward them, its long body stretching behind; it shot beneath them, the bridge shuddering as it continued on and on–then it was gone, dragging its din after it.

“Where’s it going, Daddy?”

The father’s eyes glinted. “You want to follow it?”

The son nodded.

“Quick. Back in the car.”

In a minute, they were gone. They’d never catch the train, Chase knew. But he looked down the road after them and wondered if they could.

Originally published in the 4County Mall, June 7, 2016.

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