by Barbara Clay Pengelly
Do you believe those stories about the full moon—the ones that say the worst crimes and calamities occur then, that ghosts and werewolves appear and that crazy folks get, well, crazier? I never did. Not until that Friday night last January.
I was at the train station. There was this huge full moon. It looked like you could just reach up and grab a piece of it, plus it was North-face cold. The last passenger train got to our town just before midnight, so, per my brother’s text message, I was standing on the platform, shivering, waiting to pick him up. No one else was around A few minutes later, the train pulled in right on schedule, but no one got off, not even the conductor. I was pissed.
As the train traveled on, I tried to call Bob’s cell, but the call wouldn’t go through. The station itself was dark and silent; no help there. I walked slowly to my car. It wouldn’t start. That’s when I started cussing out loud. Moments later my cell rang. (Maybe I’d been in a dead spot.) Caller ID showed it was him.
“Hey Bob!” I answered., “Where the hell are you?”
All I heard was Bob’s favorite song, that Country Western tune called “I’m Movin’ On.” Then, suddenly, the music stopped, and the phone went dead.
Nothing I could do but head on home. I pulled up my collar, put my hands in my pockets and started walking. As I hurried along, my thoughts were all about my brother. Bob had been in Afghanistan for more than two years, and he had hated every minute of it. He couldn’t wait to get home. We’d already planned a fishing trip. I also wanted to host a big family reunion, but knew he’d need time to wind down. He’d told me he had PTSD with lots of bad flashbacks. As Sherman said, “War is Hell.”
I was about halfway home when I passed the old movie theatre. That place had been shut down for years. But when Bob was a kid, it was his favorite place to spend Saturday afternoon. He used to love those scary Grade-B movies. Then I heard music—must be from a distant car radio. Funny, it was that same song, the one about moving on.
Ten more minutes walking and I was home. Max was snoring next to the hearth and didn’t hear me enter. Some watchdog! Two minutes later, I was in bed and asleep. But not for long! The land line rang. It was Captain Meyerson, the head of the Baker County Emergency Rescue Team and my boss.
“Carl, we’ve got a situation,” he said hurriedly. “Train wreck near Bally’s Crossroads. Several dead and a large number of injured. Meet the rest of the crew at headquarters ASAP.”
I hung up before remembering I had no vehicle. I dressed, picking my warmest coat and gloves, and went looking for my old mountain bike. As I walked out the door, Steve, another EMT, was driving by heading for the same place. I gave a sharp whistle, he stopped and I begged a ride.
The accident scene was pure mayhem. The last two cars on the train had jumped the track and overturned. There were injured people slumped against trees and, worse yet, some were on the ground and not moving. We started triage.
Many exhausting hours later I finally took a break and walked over to get some coffee. My boss was sitting talking to the police chief. Both of them looked exhausted.
“Carl, come sit down for a minute,” Capt. Meyerson said. “I think I remember you telling me that you had a brother in the service, right?”
“Yes,” I answered. “He’s just back from Sand Land. He was due here last evening but must have gotten held up somewhere. I’m going to have to track him down when we finish up here.”
Capt. Meyerson slowly rose and walked over to me.
“Was his name Bob?” he asked.
Well you can guess the rest. Bob’s body had been found in one of the overturned train cars; part of the roof had collapsed onto him. He’d probably died instantly.
Or, maybe not so instantly. My mind wandered to that brief phone call and that country music tune. Oh God, I hope he didn’t suffer! The Captain put his arm around my shoulder, and we walked away.
Early that evening, while waiting for Mom and my other relatives to arrive, I was watching the TV news programs about the wreck. One story mentioned that the derailed train was the one due here in town at midnight. But what about that other train—the one I’d seen at the station? I made a call.
“No,” replied the stationmaster. “No other train came through here, not after 9:00 p.m. anyway. The wrecked train was the only one due after that. It never made it, of course.”
To this day, I still wonder. Was Bob’s spirit riding on a ghost train, trying to make it home?