Six more hours to go, just to get in state; six more after that, to make it home. I pulled over because my eyes were tired from driving.
I took a sip from my water bottle and looked around. Trains still ran on these tracks, I could tell. There was no one else in sight in the parking lot of the old train depot; no one on duty, no one on the street. The tracks were four deep in two directions.
No one on the street. Not that strange, I thought. College Football season.
I got out of the car to stretch my legs, and passed through a covered area that lead to a locked ticket office. There were several safety posters and two portraits; one of a a very old man who looked like a politician, and another of a standing middle-aged man with his standing wife and seated son and daughter. The kids both appeared to be in their late teens or early twenties. I thought the man might have been the same man as the other portrait, just younger. There were no signs or placards to indicate who they were, however. Apparently, around here, everybody knew.
I walked over to the railing beside the tracks. I could hear a faint sound, like an old radio. Straining to hear it better, I realized it was what sounded like a radio program from the mid 1940’s. Big band music live from somewhere, in horrible fidelity. Muffled applause and a scratchy live announcer with an old-time radio voice between songs.
I looked around for the source. There were no houses or other buildings open to the railway tracks. I looked down the tracks instead and saw a girl.
She was walking away from me, down one of the tracks, wearing an oddly old-fashioned dress, and shoes, and hairstyle. She was walking in between the tracks, and music seemed to be coming from her as well, although it was entirely different music than the radio.
Instinctively, I started walking after her, wanting to gain a little ground before speaking so as not to yell. She was singing as she walked, in a sort of plaintiff, Celtic voice:
My love, I’ve waited for him long,
Along this stretch of track —
But it’s been many, many years;
I fear he won’t be back.
My golden youth has turned to age,
The friends I had are gone;
My love, I wish he’d come back soon;
I’ve waited for so long –
I had pulled up close enough to see her face. She looked familiar, but I couldn’t figure out where I’d seen her. On a whim, I called out to her, “Miss –”
She was gone. Vanished.
I blinked my eyes and shook my head to clear it. I looked up and down the track: no girl, although the old time distant radio was still playing, somewhere. I walked over to where I thought she last had been. There was a piece of gingham caught up on the track; I grabbed it right before the wind would have blown it away.
As I walked back to the car, I passed through the covered area. Glancing at the larger of the two pictures, I realized that the girl I had just seen – or thought I’d seen – was the daughter in the portrait. I looked up at the picture and studied it. The others were smiling, but she looked sort of distant and sad, wearing a gingham dress. Her smiling father’s hand was on her shoulder, right beneath where the his hand lay, I could tell the sleeve of her dress was torn.
I looked at the piece of gingham in my hand. It would have fit perfectly.
“That’s my family,” a faintly Irish girl’s voice said.
I jumped. She was standing ten feet away from me. I gathered myself, and said, “Why aren’t you with them?”
“They died. Years ago.”
“Did you?” I heard myself ask.
“Yes, but I’m not leaving. He told me he’d be back, you see. I thought maybe you were him, but, I can see up close that you’re not.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Where did he go?”
“Ha,” she said, with a laugh. “To war.”
“To war? Then he – he was soldier?”
“A pilot,” she said proudly. “2nd Air Division.”
“So you’re waiting for him to come back from the war?”
“He hasn’t died. I would know if he had. I am waiting for him to come back here. He said he would.”
She turned and jumped back down to the tracks. In spite of myself, I walked after her.
“Miss –” I said, “What did you die from? I mean, if you don’t mind my asking.”
“Polio,” she said. “Toward the end I was in a wheelchair. I was in one in the portrait. I sent him one picture of me in my wheelchair, but he didn’t write back for a long time after that. In fact, I died, and he still hadn’t written back. Well — goodbye,” she said, and she was gone.
I stood there, the wind blowing softly through the train station, and the old-time radio music still somewhere in the distance, and I thought
Don’t ask me why I would try to write a ghost story: I hate ghost stories, for one thing, and I’m not sure I actually know what they are supposed to be, as evidenced by the above. Oh, sorry, ahem… “For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.”, etc., etc.