Just because I’ve been through tunnels dozens of times over the years, does not mean the train can’t side out in one for three hours.
At first, I figured the crossing light was out, and she’d start moving in five minutes, or she was briefly waiting for clearance — no biggie. When that didn’t happen, I panicked. My mind started racing, and I just wanted to get the fuck outta there.
I had remembered seeing this odd light, like a headlamp from another rider a few cars back, when the train had crept through the woods on the outskirts of Hoosick and into Pownal. I had found it unusual, almost incorporeal, as the light moved back-and-forth like someone bobbing their head in a figure eight. I peeped out a little further from my well, and saw another odd light illuminating from the same car as if I rode a few cars in front of a slave, which I found quite peculiar since I was on the 22K. This train didn’t have a slave or pushers in its consist — never — just autoracks, empty wells, and single stacks with the occasional pig or COFC, and a FRED at the end.
I didn’t really think anything of it, at first. Just another rider. I usually never bumped into other riders in the northeast, let alone in winter, but anything was possible.
I looked up at the bright, twinkling sky, and the overexposed landscape blanketed in snow and the silhouettes of trees and mountains and squiggly, black contours shone out across the river, and laid back down on the porch, drifting to sleep.
I awoke as the train sided in the tunnel. After a few minutes, I checked the three wells behind my well car, looking for the other rider, but no one was there. No wet footprints or handprints smudged on the porches from the rain and melted snow. No pack. No food. No nothing.
A figment of my imagination or an unexplained presence that I couldn’t quite comprehend. I didn’t even really believe in that shit, paranormal activity. Maybe it was just a light. Maybe I was tired. Maybe it was a side effect from too much acid in my youth or maybe I saw another hobo ghost, a floater on the other side, if you will. I guess I’ll never know, but I’d like to think it was a goodbye from a friend, a buddy I’ll see down the line.
So when I realized I was the only one standing there in the tunnel, next to this sleepy, steel giant, I made the decision to walk towards the front engines. I started the long trek, about a mile or so through the Hoosac Tunnel, past a few old pieces of metal while playing hopscotch in the cobblestone ditch to avoid these vile puddles, festering inside there for God knows how long.
It felt like a hair dryer walking through the tunnel beside the train. Past single stacks. Past empty wells. Past the only bright red signal that gave me any small amount of hope. As I walked further into darkness stumbling through these black lagoons, bracing myself on the latent beast. I watched the wispy clouds from my breath dissipate under my headlamp with each step closer to the eastern portal of the Hoosac Tunnel. They looked like tendrils of cigarette smoke vanishing in the night sky.
I lost track of how long I had walked by now, twenty, thirty, or forty minutes. How much time had passed? How far was I from the eastern portal? I didn’t know. I just kept walking. I tried to not really think about it, telling myself to keep walking towards the yellow speck of light. Whether it was even there or not I didn’t know either.
Maybe it was a mirage, an illusion, from breathing in too many fumes. At this point, I just knew I was close based on the consist. I had finally reached the autoracks towards the front of the train, after about a half hour of walking, and stumbling around. Just twenty to thirty cars left I thought. I didn’t care if the train aired up and I missed my chance of locking down a ride or if the crew saw me or my light. I had made up my mind when I started walking and it was to get the fuck outta there.
I walked and I walked some more and that little speck of light, that yellow dot, evolved into a bright halfmoon, a gateway, the end of this misery, the end to this throbbing state of dizziness and confusion. At least I had hoped anyway.
My journey towards the tunnel’s entrance came to an end as the gully I had traversed opened up to a wide mouth, a deep, black pit of water ponding near the throat of the eastern portal, whose only movement came from the raindrops plunging from the arced boulders above, dropping like Lemmings one-after-another. My fingers clung to the metal walls of the autoracks as I walked along the tiny path to keep myself from falling in the cold water.
When I finally reached the third engine, I found a path in the snow that followed the river and a stone wall. I waited for three hours in a small alcove by the tunnel until my train aired up, catching her on the fly at the crossing to end up in Greenfield early that morning.
Now I’m ready for another day of trees, sawdust, sap, and the loud sound of saws to get me back into the work grind until I can find something else for the rest of winter.