November 12, 2009; The wind and rain lashed at him as he stumbled along the tracks. The area had not changed much in the 29 years since the last time he was here. The pine trees on either side of the rails swayed and shook with the fierce breeze. Even in the dark the gray clouds could be seen moving across the sky as the storm rolled over the area. Darrell Tanner moved as if in a trance, his top coat flapping open exposing his shirt and tie. Dribbles of water grew on his glasses and dropped off the rim, leaving the lenses fogged. He stared straight ahead, dragging his feet along the gravel, impervious to the weather around him. On the outside his body was battered by the storm, inside his head another storm raged. He was racked with pain and sick from a lifetime of guilt.
His mother had died, a sudden unexpected death, as the doctors described it. The truth was her heart was broken, she was empty, and she simply gave up on this world and left. It had been coming for a long time. The loss of her 10 year old son Jeremy almost thirty years earlier caused the first damage. The subsequent search and years of not knowing what ever happened to her sweet little boy hollowed out her soul. Her marriage and what was left of her family suffered the stress as well. Darrell's father succumbed to the constant pain fifteen years later and he died a dispirited, broken man. That was the second knife in her heart. Her surviving son Darrell became very distant after Jeremy went missing and he never seemed able to reconnect with his family. He finished high school and went off to college and law school. He married right after graduation and moved to Atlanta, he barley kept in touch with his mother and father. They spoke at holidays and on birthdays, but that was about it. His mother felt the distance grow until it was a chasm that could not be bridged. She cried herself to sleep on most nights, having lost everyone in her family, slowly, one at a time. The never ending dull ache drained the life from her. She passed away alone in her bed clutching old, yellowed photos of another life and time.
Darrel Tanner had two girls of his own and a baby on the way. He was a lawyer and lived a modest life in Atlanta. His wife Maryann was a good woman, a good mother to his children and a better wife than he deserved. Darrell lived with the guilt almost all his life. It settled in his soul, carving out it's own place with the sharp knife of self hatred.
Darrell and Maryann met in college, the University of South Carolina. They dated pretty steady right off. She was shy and reserved and he was a loner. They both needed someone and met at the right moment in time. After college Darrell attended the University of South Carolina Law School and graduated in 1990. They moved to Atlanta almost immediately. They lived together for two years, finally marrying in 1992. The wedding was a simple affair in the Atlanta District Court house. No big reception, no fuss, no crying families. Maryann's parents came to the ceremony and took them to dinner afterward. Darrell made excuses for why his parents couldn't come. They thought it was strange and they were disappointed that their daughter did not have the big wedding they always envisioned, but that was how it was. They accepted it, but something didn't feel right. They knew the story of Darrell's missing brother and they just chalked it up to the fact that a family doesn't ever quite get over a thing like that.
When Darrell's father died in 1994, fifteen years after little Jeremy went missing, Darrell went home to his mother. He only stayed for the three days of the funeral, leaving his wife and kids at home. He made a show of helping his mother get settled, then returned to his life in Georgia and never mentioned his father again. He could never really hug his mom the way a son should hug his grieving mother. The way she longed for in her heart. The way she deserved. He could not look her in the eyes either. Darrell's mother had come to accept her fate, the misery of it, the anguish. The loss of a child can do that to a family, especially the way little Jeremy Tanner was lost. He went out one day and never came home, ever. No trace of him was ever found, no one ever saw him again. A sweet little 10 year old boy, a short stop for the Crawdad Red Sox, a son and brother. Gone.
When Darrell got back to Atlanta he was visibly moody. He told Maryann it was just the difficulties of seeing his mother and the rehashing of the family tragedy. Maryann would say later that she noticed Darrell slipping away from her little by little after his father died. He was never the most tender of men, he had his moments, but he was always a little distant. She always thought he was looking off into….. she didn't know. But it felt like he was looking off into a void. Darrell had terrible nightmares. He would wake up crying, sweating and shaking. It scared her. She would describe the next fourteen years as simply going through the motions. Not living.
His mothers passing was the last straw for Darrell. He had held strong all these years, as strong as he could be, but something inside of him let go. Like a dam bursting and drowning him. His whole family was now gone. His mother, father and brother, Darrell was now alone with himself and his guilt. The picture of his mother laying dead in her bed, holding baby pictures of himself and Jeremy was more than he could bear. Darrell broke down. He cried uncontrollably, he was, for a time inconsolable. Maryann feared for his sanity. This reaction was severe, but based on the slow drift Darrell had been on for the past decade Maryann was not shocked by it. It was what she believed, and feared was coming for her husband.
When they discussed going up to Connecticut for the funeral, Darrell was adamant that he would go alone. He seemed driven by that idea. After heated discussions, Maryann relented and agreed he should go alone. She felt that somehow her husband's fate rested on whatever would happen when he went home. As he pulled out of the driveway the next morning, Maryann and his daughters waived good bye. The baby in her belly jumped and somehow she didn't know if she would ever see him again. Darrell forced a half smile and pulled away. Maryann pulled the girls close to her and cried.
The drive from Atlanta to Connecticut was like a bad dream. He didn't stop except to get gas, and that was only after the low gas warning light was blinking. Darrell couldn't eat. His stomach just turned over and over. His head hurt, he felt like his world was coming apart. His thoughts drifted from his wife and daughters to his own mother, father and brother. The two sets of images, the two different times, swirled and blended in his mind. His daughters were age seven and four. As he drove he pictured them playing in his yard, running and laughing. They stop at the back fence and are talking to someone. In his head as this scene played out, Darrell felt a hot wave of fear. He runs to the fence as his angelic little daughters look up at him smiling, blood staining the front of their little summer dresses. He looks to the fence to see who they were talking to and see's a little boy walking away. From the back the boy looks just like his lost brother Jeremy.
He calls to the boy, but he does not stop. The child keeps walking, then raises his hand to waive goodbye without looking back. To Darrell's horror the boys hand is dripping blood. This image causes him to shudder and break from the trance. He shakes his head at the thought in his mind and slams on the brakes. His car skids across two lanes on I-95 before he regains control and lets off the pedal. Several cars around him swerve, blow their horns and flip him off. Darrell's heart is racing in his chest, sweat on his temples. He looks around the inside of the car as if to see where he is. Confused he pulls to the side of the road and stops. The traffic passes him like a blur. The vision won't leave his minds eye. The blood on his daughters, the little boy walking away. Was it Jeremy. He didn't see the face, but it felt like Jeremy. Laying his head in his hands he began to sob as a cold rain began to fall on the windshield.
After what seemed like hours Darrell managed to get moving again. He pulled out into traffic and continued the trek north. He knew his destination. Two hours until he arrived at his old home town, but he wasn't going to his mother's house. He had something else to do. He drove like a robot. He heard his mothers voice in his head, then his father. He made it home to South Hartford by memory. It was about 6:30 PM as he drove through the downtown. The rain pelted his windshield. It was mixed with grey spits of snow. The wind had picked up. Darrell turned onto County Road 47 and passed his old neighborhood. Past the house where his mother cried her self to death, past the town where is father had dragged himself to work everyday. Past the place where his family had fallen apart many years ago. He saw the railroad station on the edge of town as he continued north. It was deserted this time of night. The ghostly glow of the fluorescent lights shining on the empty platform. In another minute he was alone. Nothing out here but the road and the pine trees. Without thinking Darrell pulled off the desolate road about two miles past the train station. He stopped and killed the engine. The only sounds were the howling wind and the rain as it bounced off the car.
He was on auto pilot. There were no decisions to make, no turning back. His guilt had driven him here. It was in control now. He knew this day would come. The car door opened as the wind and rain jumped in. Darrell stepped out of the car and walked towards the woods. It was 29 years almost to the day since he was last out in these woods. He was here the night Jeremy disappeared. Darrell Tanner, the lawyer, father and husband was gone, all that was left was a man seeking and end to his torment.
One hundred yards into the woods he found the clearing that led to the track bed. He got to the tracks and stopped for a second to wipe the rain from his glasses. He looked to the right and saw the tracks as they wound away towards the South Hartford station and a life a world away. To the left he saw the Rt. 32 overpass. He drew a deep breath and moved towards the overpass tunnel. There was a yellow light burning inside the tunnel. As he walked he knew what would be on the walls of that tunnel. Graffiti, the scribbling of kids who played out here. He knew that because he and his little brother had put some of that graffiti on those walls. They had written their names in spray paint "Darrell T". Right next to that and just a little lower on the wall "Jeremy T". They would be faded by now, but they would be there like sentinels watching over their childhood.
Darrell made his way towards the tunnel. As he walked he drifted into a daze, the scenes of his life rolling before him. He didn't feel the icy hand of the rain as it slapped his face. He didn't feel the cold as it gnawed at his bones. In the distance he cold hear the whistle of the 7 PM train to Hartford. It would be charging towards it's station, carrying the men and women who worked in the city, back home to their families. Some of them sleeping, some reading. Some looking out the window at the miles of endless pines as they flashed by. The conductor was supposed to be watching the rails ahead, but he didn't' always. Sometimes he read the paper, sometimes he drifted off between stations. Darrell knew that to be true.
As he got to the tunnel he could smell the dry stink of mold mixed with the rain. The yellow light from the old industrial bulb gave the tunnel a surreal feeling. Darrell took his glasses off and wiped the fog and water from the lenses, then put them back on. He searched the walls. Somewhere here he would see the names. They had to be here. Two miles away the 7PM to Hartford sounded as it passed the gates of Lewiston. Darrell looked up towards the sound and he remembered……..
The night he came out here with Jeremy, the last time Jeremy's mom and dad saw their little boy, was very much like this night. It wasn't the first time, they had come out here a few times before. Darrell had been here with his friends more times than that. Darrell was a boy of 12. Jeremy was only 10. Jeremy loved his brother, actually the brothers were close. They fought like any good set of brothers do, but they were close enough in age to like each other too. The played GI Joes together. They played Star Wars guys. They watched the same stupid movies and laughed at the same stupid fart jokes. At home they shared a bedroom. It was natural that they would be out here together.
As the two boys walked along the tracks Darrell asked his brother, "What did you tell mom?"
"I told her I was going to the 7-11 for a pop".
"What did you say I was doing?" Darrell asked.
"Nothing, I didn't say anything about you".
"Good cause I told dad I was going to Mitchells"
The boys walked along the tracks, balancing on the ties and rails as they went. When they got about a mile away Darrell reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette. Making sure Jeremy saw him, he stopped, took a match and lit it.
"Where did you get that" Jeremy asked, a little concern in his voice.
"From dads drawer"
"Are you going to smoke it?"
"No I'm gonna stand here looking at it" Darrell took a little puff for effect, then added, "All cool people smoke"
Jeremy watched his brother and told him "I wanna smoke too".
Darrell took a deeper puff and handed it Jeremy, who looked at the cigarette and sucked in the smoke. Jeremy choked on the smoke at about the same instant that Darrell started hacking. Both boys were bent over at the waist coughing and spitting. Jeremy held out the cigarette "I guess I'm not that cool". Darrell looked at the offending cigarette and said "Me either" throwing it down on the tracks, crushing it out with his sneaker.
After the chocking stopped, they looked at each other and laughed. "I thought I was gonna puke" Jeremy said.
"Me too, lets not tell anyone, OK" Darrell asked his brother. Jeremy just shook his head yes and spit.
In the distance the 7PM train to Hartford sounded. Darrell stood up on the tracks balancing. "Wanna play chicken" he asked.
" No dad would be mad about that you know what he said the last time you were playing chicken with Walt Bedford".
"Yeah but dad ain't here is he. Are you chicken?"
The train whistle sounded again, louder, closer.
"Come on then, get up here" Darrell said, a taunting tone in his voice. Jeremy, thought it over. The whistle sounded again. He jumped up on the track. The two boys locked arms. About 500 yards away the 7PM to Hartford rounded he bend. The single headlight cut through the light fog. The tracks started to vibrate under their feet.
"Hold on don't be chicken" Darrel said, squeezing Jeremy's arm.
"I won't" the little boy said and squeezed back.
Darrell figured he would scare the hell out of his baby brother. The train was roaring towards them now. The lights from the conductor's cab lit up the top half of the engine. The conductor, true to form was reading a newspaper and never saw the two young boys wrestling on the on the tracks like underweight sumo wrestlers.
The train was only 100 yards away. The shaking of the tracks was quite pronounced. Jeremy began to pull away. Darrell held him fast. "Oh no, not yet". The train was close now. The sound of the metal wheels on the metal rails was clear. Jeremy was scared. He tried to pull off again, "Darrell" he yelled. Darrell was flushed by the train too. It was very close. He had never gotten this close. The look on Jeremy's eyes was now one of fright. Darrell was ready to let go. Jeremy was pulling hard. As Darrell let go, Jeremy lost his balance and stepped onto the track bed. The train was almost on them, as Darrell fell to the ground. Jeremy turned and faced the train.
The 7PM to Hartford screamed up to the boys. Darrell felt the heat of the engine and saw little Jeremy staring at the on coming behemoth. He screamed, "Jeremy", but it was too late. The train struck the child full on and he disappeared. The train rumbled past. Darrell shielded his face in shock, the ground shaking. The train went on and on. The lights in the windows flashing by like fingers pointing at him. When it finally passed Darrell was curled in a ball on the side of the tracks. The 7PM to Hartford blasted around the bend and disappeared out of sight. The vibrations in the tracks subsided until it was completely silent except for the rustling sound of the swaying pines and the wind.
In shock and in total disbelief Darrell uncurled and looked towards the tracks. In the distance the 7 PM to Hartford blasted it's whistle. Darrell stood up and screamed at the top of his lungs "Jeremy". The sound of his voice chasing the train into the darkness.
Darrel Tanner stood besides the tracks, his breathing coming in great gulps. He scanned the track bed for any sign of his brother. Maybe he jumped, maybe the train threw him. He began walking in the direction the train had gone. His hopes were dashed only a few hundred feet up the track when he saw the sneaker. A size 6 black Converse, Jeremy's foot still in it. Darrell stood twitching. He looked up at the tracks, then down at the sneaker. After doing this five or ten times he saw something further up. Something big, laying off to the side of the tracks. He broke into a sprint. As he approached the shape he realized it was wearing Jeremy's Power Ranger jacket. He stood over what was left of his kid brother. The leaking sack of torn and twisted flesh that had been a little boy, lay at his feet. Darrell's head swelled, he lost his feet and went straight down, falling over the tracks. He was out cold before he hit the ground. The rain came harder covering them.
Darrell was out for quite a while. He woke, the shock gripping him. He was cold and wet. The body of his brother lay on the train bed. Darrell thought of his parents. What would he tell them. This was his fault. His brother was dead because of him. The shock now mixed with panic. In the mind of a 12 year old boy the reality of the situation was lost. He was convinced his parents would hate him, or kill him. Whatever they did he felt his life was over. In that moment he made a decision that would change his life and the lives of his family forever.
Shaking with fear and guilt, Darrell set out to recover his brother's body. He started with the torso right next to him. He lifted it by the arm. A wet sucking sound greeted his ears. He pulled it off the tracks and dragged it back towards the over pass. He repeated this time and again, finding the legs, arms and lastly he found Jeremy's head. The skull was cracked and bloody. The hair was matted. The lips twisted, teeth exposed. Darrell, stopped and threw up. When all the pieces he could find were found, he used a large tree branch and dug a pit about three feet deep. He stuffed all the parts of his brother into the hole and covered it over. The glow of the tunnel light illuminated the scene. He didn't dare mark the grave. His plan was to go home and pretend he had no idea where Jeremy was. Darrell said a prayer and paced back and forth for a time. When he felt he was clam enough he headed home. He turned around every so often and looked back at the area, knowing the reality of this night would haunt him. When he reached the road, he started to run.
Darrell got home by 8:30 PM. He snuck into the garage and changed his clothes. The bloody shirt and pants were balled up and put into the rafters of the attic. He put on some clothes from the laundry pile and walked around to the back of his house. He was shaking. He could see inside the house. His mother and father were at the table. He went around front and snuck up to his room. Once there he felt more comfortable. If he could just stop feeling like he had to cry, he might be able to get away with this. He turned on some music, loud enough for his parents to hear it. Almost immediately he heard them coming. This was it, he felt like just telling them, letting it pour out of him. As they got to the door the idea of telling them he already buried their child, his brother, out in the woods was more than he could do. As the door popped open and he saw the look on his mother's face he knew he would tell the lie.
"Darrell where is Jeremy" mother said.
Darrell looked away for a few seconds, then the lie came out. "I don't know"
"Didn't he go with you?"
"No I went to the park, for some ball. I think he went to the 7-11"
"That's what he said, but that was two hours ago, he's not home". The growing terror in his mothers voice chilled him. The truth was she had every reason to be scared, something terrible did happen to her little baby. He was chopped to pieces by a train and was buried in a hole.
Darrell's father was more calm. "Call Tommy Horton and see if he's over there" he told Darrell. Darrell shook his head and dutifully went to the phone.
"Go take a ride Bill, see if he's around" His mother asked his dad.
"All right I will" his father said. They stood waiting as Darrell asked Mrs. Horton if his brother was there. She said he was not and she had not seen him all night.
His parents left the room. Darrell heard them talking, then his father left. He jumped on his bed and began to shake.
By midnight the police were at the house. Darrell told his lie very well, the disconnect between Darrell and the rest of the world was beginning. They made calls all night, but no one saw young Jeremy. Over the next few days the situation got worse. The local paper reporters were at the house. The neighbor ladies all made pots of food and cried with his mother. His father drank and broke things in the garage. Darrell felt he had no choice but to stick to his lie. The days turned into weeks, the weeks into months. There was never any good news. No one ever came forward and said they saw Jeremy at the Walmart in Danbury or Klute. The cops never had good clues. In time the whole thing started to lose it's zest. The police only came once in a while. The neighbors stopped coming by. The papers stopped writing about the lost boy. The posters all over town were fading and were eventually pulled down. The last official theory was that a sex fiend from the city may have taken Jeremy. Darrell withdrew, as did his parents, all of them living their own separate nightmares. In time even Darrell and his parents stopped talking about Jeremy. The nightmares came for Darrell pretty regular. The train whistle, the blood, the searing white eye of the train light bearing down on Jeremy, the skull and the pit………
The 7PM to Hartford was on time. The whistle blew loud and clear. Darrell Tanner, the one time lawyer, woke from the memory. He stood inside the tunnel. The train was close, he could feel it in the tracks, the vibration. When he came out of the trance he was staring at wall of the tunnel. His hands were running over the faded spray painted names "Darrell T" and "Jeremy T". He turned and looked at the spot just outside the tunnel. The place he left his little brother so many years ago. The ground smoothed over by the years. The secret hidden in the dirt just below the surface, the truth he could never tell, the truth his parents would never know. The walls were wet from the rain leaking into the tunnel. The train sounded. Darrell could not move, he leaned close to the wall. The 7PM to Hartford roared past him, the pressure pushing him against the concrete. His body rocked, his mind reeled, the images rolled. Then the train was past.
Darrell was hunkered up against the wall, crying for a long time. The guilt swarming over him like flies. Darrell moved off the wall and turned. His whole body was shaking. He faced the pit. He had intended to right the wrong. He intended to unearth the little boy and come forward. He intended to lay the boy to rest. He realized that as he turned. That was why he was here.
Darrell's eyes widened. His head twitched, he felt this breath escape his chest without resistance. Standing across from him, over the pit, was his brother Jeremy. Not the cute little Jeremy he played with and shared a room with, but the crushed, mauled, destroyed child who had been killed by a train and buried in the ground Jeremy.
Darrell stood motionless, unable to comprehend what he was seeing. The world was silent. The dead boy stared at him, it's teeth exposed on one side. The flesh of his face discolored from decay. The Power Rangers jacket bloodied, torn. His hair matted with clots of dirt and brain matter. His mind began to fade, he felt he was leaving. This must be madness. The years of guilt had destroyed him. Then the boy raised it's hand. A bony rotten finger pointed at Darrell, he watched as it's mouth moved. It seemed to be forcing the words out from behind a mouthful of dried blood. "Darrell" it croaked. Darrell closed his eyes, squeezing them shut. The boy spoke again, "Look at me". Darrell batted his eyes open and closed. The boy began to move towards him. Not walking but floating.
In the distance a train whistle blew. It was the 7:40 PM Commercial from New York.
The thing moved close to Darrell. He looked down at it. "Why did you leave me here" it demanded. Darrell tried to speak but the words only came out as hushed air. "Jeremy" He finally made out, "I am sorry".
The dead boy's expression changed. The teeth scowled into a grimace. What was left of the nose cringed. The eyes hallow, looked right through him.
"Why didn't you tell them, why did you leave me in a hole to rot"? Darrell began to cry.
"Who are you crying for? For me. The ground is cold Darrell, the dirt was in my mouth". As it spoke the voice changed from the horrifying death sounds to that of his innocent little brother. "I was scared Darrell and alone I wanted my mother, where is my mother" Darrell's head spun, the world closed in on him, suffocating him. The sound of Jeremy's voice as he remembered it was worse than the corpse voice. He looked on the rotted vestige of his brother and he knew there would be no peace for him or his soul. The train whistle blew louder and closer. The thing reached out and took Darrell's hand. He felt the wet rotted, flesh. He could smell the grave on the boy. The bones of his fingers dug into Darrell's hand. He pulled and Darrell followed. They were both facing the oncoming train. The light from the headlight lit them up, piercing Darrell's head. The earth shook violently. Darrell looked away from the oncoming death and down at Jeremy, his eyes filled with tears. He thought of his wife, his daughters, his parents. The thing that had once been a little boy looked up at Darrell and smiled. The conductor sounded the horn, then the train took him.
Three days later the following story appeared in the Hartford Evening Gazette;
November 15, 2009
Investigators from the Hartford Southern Rail System concluded their on scene investigation into the death of Darrell Tanner today. Tanner, of Atlanta Georgia, had grown up in the area before moving to that southern state about 15 years ago. Initial information led investigators to believe he was back in South Hartford for the funeral of his mother, Dorothy Tanner who died last week. Why he committed suicide is still not clear; the South Hartford Police and the District Attorneys Office is following up on that end of the case. The conductor of the train, Harold Jenkins of Laramy Connecticut, gave a formal statement to the police. He told this reporter that he first saw Tanner standing alone on the tracks inside the tunnel of the Route 32 overpass. "He just stood there staring at the tracks. I was blowing the horn and he didn't seem to notice. I couldn't stop the train at that point" Jenkins said.
In a possibly related matter, though the police would not comment just yet, sources close to the case say investigators at the scene found a shallow grave containing the remains of a young child. The make shift grave appeared to have been there for quite some time. The area had been dug up and the remains removed from the grave and placed on the ground. Who was in that grave and what Tanner had to do with it has yet to be determined. This is the third case of someone dying on the Hartford Southern rail lines since 2005.