“Don’t cross the tracks,” he said.
“Okay,” I said.
Why would I agree to not cross the tracks? Well, for starters, the train is coming. I can hear it. It’s getting very close now — I know because it’s getting louder and louder.
I hate the sound of a train’s horn. It sounds like a paralyzing shriek, tearing the air in half. But the worst is a slow train with a loud horn. The kind that wakes up little kids in the middle of the night. Those are the worst, because once little kids wake up, they don’t go back to sleep very quickly.
I look across the tracks once more. They slice through a paved road. The man looks at me again. I think he knows that I just want to cross the tracks and keep on moving. But the train is coming. The safety gates haven’t lowered yet, so I think I might be able to make it across before the train pummels across.
“Stay where you are. Don’t cross the tracks, I said.”
I nod again. He’s one of those pudgy traffic conductors who takes his job too seriously. There are too many people in the world telling me when to stop and when to go, telling me what I can do and what I can’t do.
I step forward, and pretend like I’m just trying to see how far away the train is. But I’m not, of course. I don’t give a damn about how far away the train is. The pudgy traffic man does, though. He’s pretty sure that I’m going to go for it. So he says it again:
“Stay where you are. Don’t cross!”
I really thought about doing exactly what he said. I mean, that’s what I needed. I was just waiting for him to say it a third time, right? But no. I don’t listen to him, because by the time he yells after me, the piercing ring of the train horn is blaring down the tracks.
It’s not the first time I’ve bolted across the tracks. I’ve bolted across the tracks dozens of times before. I bolted across the tracks when I was in high school all the time. We played “Track & Back”. It was foolishly simple: Run up to the track right before the train reaches you, touch the rail, and dodge out of the way. I was pretty good at that game — Blazer was always the best, though. One time, he was close enough to have his clothing scraped by the train. He didn’t play too much after that, but damn, he was sharp.
If only Blazer could have seen me now.
I just wanted to get past the tracks. It was a long train — a freight train, and I was too impatient to wait for the whole thing to pass.
The train came in faster than I expected. I pushed off my feet, one more time, stretching and reaching to gain a little bit more distance before I reached the other side of the track.
But my foot slipped. That was all it took. Just a slip. That train slid right over me, on top of my body, scraping it into broken fragments.
The conductor screamed, but the only thing he could do was watch.