The End of Childhood
Christopher D. Horn, Indiana, USA
My friends and I were all around 13 years of age. It was the time really close to adulthood where we have the desires of an adult with the wisdom of children. We always had played near and on the railroad tracks. This particular set of tracks run right down through the center of our town. The search of my memory from the past reveals those railroad tracks have always been there. We never had a problem with them we were all pretty smart. We knew to keep a watch for a train and climbed down from the tracks whenever we even thought we saw one coming. We always went "down the tracks" to a special place. It was a good mile or two down the tracks toward forest. It was a remote area, at least remote in our eyes. It was a magical place, a place that seemed untainted and very special.
It was after walking a while west out of town on those tracks that you came to this magical place. It had an old viaduct made of stone that the tracks crossed over. Even when I was very young and the first time I had been to this place that viaduct looked old and seemed built with massive stones that made me think of the pyramids. This place was hard to see from the tracks you had to climb down a steep incline through the woods.
It was a rough climb down, but once you reached the bottom the trip was worth it. It was like being in another world or travelling back in time. There was a wide creek that flowed through the viaduct and pooled at the entrances so you had a deep pond of water at both ends of the tunnel with swift running water. Couple this with being in the middle of nowhere and that soothing sound of running water in a natural setting and in the middle of a forest and you have a scene right out of a mystical adventure.
This place, this magical place was where I spent a lot of my time as a child. I remember the last time, as a child, that I had gone "down the tracks" with my closest friends.
As always we were talking about nothing, usually the latest comic book or the neat new TV show or movie. We went to our place. We played war and did some discovering. We always found something new whenever we went. I couldn't put my finger on it but there was something different about today. It had been bothering me as soon as my foot had hit the stones that the tracks rested on. I acted as if nothing was wrong and still did the fun stuff and had a good time as I remember. There was still that gnawing in the back of my head that felt, not was spoken, but felt that something was different or had changed.
My feelings seemed to be wrong as the day went smoothly, we played for hours and rested by the creek. I loved to just sit and listen to the water running over the small waterfalls that formed. The sky started to darken and we knew it was time to start heading for home. I knew it would take a good half-hour to an hour for us to walk home so we almost always timed it so we would get home right as the street lights would come on.
We made the climb back up to the tracks and started to head home. On the way home we have to pass by an old business that looks like a foundry. It also looked as if the forest had claimed the land back. The foundry was overgrown and old and right by the tracks. If any building looked haunted this one did. We walked by it without incident though. We had just reached the edge of town and someone shouted "TRAIN". We didn't panic though, you could get off the tracks virtually anywhere so we didn't think anything of it, that is until we turned around and looked. There was the light, I didn't see a train but we did see the light. Well that's all it took, kids went everywhere everyone started running for the lowest area to get off of the tracks, everyone that is except for me. I was just staring at this light. It didn't seem right to me. It didn't look like the headlight of an oncoming train, I had seen plenty of those. No, It looked more like.... a lantern. It was a lantern, I remember that it struck me as very strange. It looked like one of those old style lanterns that you see in the old movies with a big handle and fire for the light. So I stood gazing at this lantern that was getting closer. It was then that the voice came it said "Please stay, come back, don't leave". It was at that point I got very scared and took off running. Now I was an overweight child and picture this; overweight kid catching and passing his much thinner counterparts beating them home. I don't think I ever told anyone what I had seen or heard that day.
I know now why that day seemed so different. I don't think it was because of the strange phenomena that I had witnessed and heard. It was the last day that we as children had gone down those tracks and just enjoyed the beauty of what was there. It sure seemed as if that whatever spoke that day realized that and the voice as I remember now had a sort of sadness to it.
I walked back to that magical place as a man of thirty-something. It hasn't changed much. Except it seems shorter and some industries have sprung up which have pushed the limits of town west a little bit so that magical place is becoming a lot less remote. It still reminds me of my youth and I will walk back there again. I did not see anything, but I sure felt like I was being watched but I enjoy it there maybe someday I will know what was there that day.