The essay below is my submission to the STSC Symposium, a monthly set-theme collaboration between STSC writers.
You won’t register its presence by sound, at least not at night. In fact, if you depend only on sonics to know when it’s behind you, it’ll be too late. It’s the light that gives it away. A violent light that quick-carves the cone from your retinas, removing all color perception so you forget the brilliance of blood but remember the monstrosity of pine trees with their bodies built of serrated blades. You have only two ways to see now, scorched or sharp shadow.
“Shadow at night?” you wonder.
“Moon and fire,” you remember.
But stop debating with yourself.
Can’t you feel it coming?
It hurtles towards you, screaming around curves of once-upon-rock, a beam of light erupts in a reach from an unfastened mouth; the arm will catch you. All darkness is gone in the blink of your burning eye as the beast spotlights all that it’s about to devour. The spotlight of surgeries and raids. Only the shadows will keep you safe. Wait until it passes by. The predatory machine that skips time. Eating its own history, an ouroboros of slowly digested technology. How do you still exist? A fossil just as fast as the past, leaving severed limbs in its path.
This is trickery.
I am lying to you.
Telling you the experience of people who haven’t been raised near the tracks.
The only horses that don’t terrify me are the iron ones.
The trains. I love them.
I love their roaring ferocity.
I love the way they rush you like an orgasm.
I love how they leave you in a tempest as they pass.
I love their eradication of night.
My dad’s family’s cabins stand a few hundred yards, if that, from what is now a double track. It turned dual in my 20s, but before that, it was still an alley of loud. The rails scream; not high like migrating gulls, and not wet like slaughtered lambs, but more scraping and cold like metal dentures grinding together under the weight of a nightmare.
Summer nights since childhood were spent in safe sleep in the cabin next to the tracks. Both day and night, the trains made their way along the hips of the river, and while the daytime trains would have their horns blown by engineers to satisfy our frantic wanting waves, the nighttime trains would squeal and quake. Anywhere from three to five trains a night, if not more, as nearly 30-plus BNSF trains pass a day.
Their reflective echo of loosened boulders and squriming steel would wake me with each pass, and I felt protected as if a lion had been set loose at the end of my bed to gnash my bad dreams away. It never occurred to me as a kid that my guardian angel could travel, so I believed she stayed home with my mom while I was what felt like days away with my dad. But the trains were my guardians, crashing through the darkness to look after me.
Great use of evocative language
Yes, passing trains wake you up to rock you to sleep.