“This is a fictionalized story based off the dumb shit I’ve seen people do on YouTube…this is for all the YouTube view whores and clowns who don’t respect the train and treat it like a playground. If you’re gonna ride and post vids at least be safe and know what you’re doing?”
Gray drizzled the sky through the wisps of clouds and my feet scampered along the slick parking lot with my friend hustling beside me. My head swiveled back-and-forth. Between the flash of red brick facade and the drowning squeals of freight rolling tenderly along the steel, my heart quivered in a knot of innocence.
“There’s no turning back now Rory…we got this shit dude…we got this…I’ve seen a hundred YouTube vids…this is the spot. You ready?”
He gored me with a blank stare, shaking his head under his ghost white complexion as his bicycle helmet furrowed his brow.
My hands poured of sweat and fear in the moments we pulled ourselves up that ledge, dipping under the smooth railing to the beast along the shrieking steel. My chest thumped as loud as the rattling clunks of freight cars chugging beside us. I hesitated. Rory pointed down the line of oil tankers at an approaching grainer. I hustled alongside her, barely gripping the cold rungs and nearly lost my footing as I scrambled to catch my foot on the ladder, pulling myself up and onto the porch after wrestling with her.
“HELL YEAH…I did it…I hopped my first train,” I thought. All that anxiety, all that bottled fear and adrenaline evolved to a joyous feat of successful endeavor, but then I remembered Rory.
I looked out from the foxhole watching him hustle alongside her as she picked up more speed. He grabbed the oil tanker in front of me, holding on tightly, and he too danced beside her wheels, struggling to clinch his boot in the rung and pull himself up. I panicked for a split second.
“You got it man…you got it RORY!” I yelled.
After squabbling beside her thunderous wheels, he finally yanked himself up and jumped across the knuckle, onto the porch of my grainer, slamming me with a solid high five.
“Holy shit, we did it…I thought we were definitely gonna get caught dude…out in the open like that…but nah man you were fuckin’ right brother…”
“Told you Rory…we got this shit on lock…told you I spent hours watching people on YouTube…Brave Dave, Stu the Jew…can’t go wrong with those freight legends.”
Her humming echoed under tons of shifting loads. Boxes clanked, and the music gorgonized my ears with her sudden jolts of steel, blinding me with freedom. Rory turned on his railroad scanner, but neither one of us knew how to use it. He bought it off Amazon, pre-programmed from some guru who gave us a digitized copy of the CCG, the holy grail of hop out information.
We treated it like a Bible and it had never let us down. Well, not for our first train or anything. It told us the EXACT spot to hop on from and here we are now because of it, chuckling and waving at passing cars. I looked over at Rory holding his ears from her high-pitched squeals and cacophonous creaks around each and every bend.
I laughed as I pulled out an extra pair of ear plugs and tossed them over to him.
“You gotta come prepared dude…didn’t you watch that guide on what to pack if you go freight train hopping?”
“Yeah man…the one you sent to the bros in group chat…I did, but I dropped em before we even got on the train…I was too nervous about climbing down into the parking lot to get em…”
“Ohhh…good call man…good call…someone coulda seen you and called the pigs…what’re you doing now, Rory?”
“Goin’ on the roof to train surf man…we gotta get footage train surfing…we’ll get mad views and it’ll look super cool when we edit it.”
“Hell yeah…you go first…”
Rory grabbed the ladder and climbed to the top of the grain car. He walked along it standing tall as I followed behind him. We hadn’t really paid much attention to our whereabouts since hopping on the train, but I didn’t care.
Lights flashed bright red and bells dinged as she plowed past a road crossing. We just sat down on the metal grates along the roof, looking down at stopped vehicles below us. I stood up and walked around a bit, but she picked up speed, jerking and clanking like a bunch of steel dominoes, and I lost my balance, falling onto Rory.
“What the fuck dude…what was that?”
“I don’t know man…fuckin’ trains broke or somethin’…that’s the third or fourth time she’s yanked me forward like that…fuckin’ engineer can’t drive this thing for shit. What’re you doin’ now, Rory?
“Fuck that I’m going down…gonna check the knuckle thingy…see if it’s still cupped together and holding us to the rest of the train…felt like it broke from that violent jerk forward.”
We scrambled back down the ladder and scrutinized the knuckle. It looked rusty and seemed functional, but what did we know. I told him to step on it to make sure it was a tight connection, but he didn’t wanna loosen it and have us break the train.
So, by this point, we must have blazed through Washington State, as she slithered along the sinuous track through the Wenatchee Forest. Evergreens and conifers climbed to the heavens of dark dismal gray sky, swaying with the howling of wind, and then she roared back into the city almost effortlessly.
We danced and hopped around on the porch and she started to slow down suddenly, like a lot, until she stopped.
“Fuck Rory…why is she stopping?”
“Stopping…she STOPPED…I don’t know. I can’t go to jail, my mum will kill me…let’s get off man…let’s get off NOW!”
“Well…just wait a second…just wait…ima poke my head out and look. Maybe we’re in a train yard.”
I peeked my head out beyond the grainer wall and saw the head of a front engine on the next track. I watched as her blinding light pierced my retinas, but the worst came as the deafening sound of her horn punctured my eardrums.”
“Fuck dude…what’re you doing…the engineer saw you.”
“I know Rory…I know…we need to get off and hide in the bushes over there. If she moves, we get back on…if the pigs come…we hide or run…”
I climbed down off the grainer and slipped among the slick ballast, still wet from last night’s rainfall. Mud speckled the toes of my new jet black boots as I started to look like a real rider beneath all this new REI gear. Rory skittered behind me and we came upon a parked train. I panicked and quickly climbed the ladder wiggling my way between the freight cars as Rory crawled on the ground going between the knuckle and her wheels.
Suddenly, the train jerked forward with a loud clank of steel slicing the thin air. I gasped for breath. My fingers felt numb and limp and my legs deathly stiff. My heart pounded and I cycled through a thousand emotions simultaneously like a mushroom trip. I looked down, completely terrified at the red spatter brightly painting the tracks.
“RORY…RORRRY…” I cried…”NOOOOO…NOOO!”
He squirmed beside her wheels, blood squirting out of his torso, staining the tracks a crimson red, as his intestines unraveled and organs slipped out of his stomach. I tried to wash away the image of my friend holding onto his last seconds of life, his last breaths, but not even bleach would wash away the misery of seeing him bleed out beside me.
I jumped off the train. This was no longer fun. This was no longer adventurous. I looked at Rory’s pale, bleak face, and took a knee beside him, wrapping his hand in a tight clench. I didn’t know what to do other than squeeze his cold, frail fingers and cry as blood gushed everywhere. Tears of pain dripped down the sides of his cheeks as he lay there moaning and cringing in pain. I could not say anything. My throat felt dry and mute, closed off to the world. My mind completely shut down and when I woke up, I studied my hand covered in a reddish, orange hue as I lay there on a hospital bed. My face turned white again and I vomited as I realized none of it was a dream, but a terrifying reality. What happened to Rory? What happened to my other hand? I couldn’t remember or didn’t want to remember as the images slowly haunted my mind with hell on earth.