Chapter 1: Six Seconds

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 383
Comments: 5

As nine-year-old Vincent approaches the train tracks, he can feel his stomach already tying itself into a knot. There’s almost no noise, so he knows the train can’t be too close. He bends down to put his hands on the track- they’re still. The metal is hot from the sun and the way it feels on his skin shifts Vincent’s attention from his stomach to his hand. It’s like he just touched a burning stove. Vincent cradles his hand like the injury is worse than it really is, or that there’s an injury at all for that matter. He inspects the tips of his fingers, waiting for a burn mark to appear. He’s disappointed when nothing forms on his skin, because it means he’s a wimp. Maybe it’s a slow burn, he thinks.  The sun is pressuring him to find shade, but he stands by the tracks anyway. He’ll wait to gain the courage to lay down, which usually doesn’t come for quite a while. Until then, Vincent clutches his hand like a wounded bird and tries to catch the wind. It’s a soft breeze, one that’s only implied. He barely feels it on his skin, like someone’s breath who’s a close talker. It’s either the lightest breeze ever, or in his imagination entirely.

He knows the train will come from his right and when he looks in that direction, the track seems to disappear into a vacant mass at the edge of the earth. He knows that there’s a highway in that direction, but you would never know it existed if you didn’t walk 3 miles in that direction. He is in the most desolate part of his town, where it’s silent most of the day except for the ear crushing sound of the train. But just like the tree, if there’s no one there, does the train still make that awful noise? Vincent looks forward to being tough enough to not have to plug his ears when the train passes. He’s the only boy in his grade that needs to put cotton balls in his ears when watching the fireworks. He’s even seen an infant happily watch the fireworks without ear protection. He imagines that baby growing up to be tough, maybe even getting a face tattoo when they’re older because they like the pain. But until he can be as tough as that toddler, Vincent grows his hair out near the fourth of July to hide the cotton balls. He’s never been able to take any kind of physical pain and he can’t even imagine how the flu feels worse than the shot.

He checks his fingertips again, still nothing. Vincent pokes the ‘burned’ area and feels no pain. He quickly stops clutching his hand realizing that he probably wasn’t injured at all. He continues to wait for the train, or his courage, whichever comes first. He stands still like someone wasting away their day in a long line, slowly accepting their fate.

Growing up, Vincent never had many friends. Although he hung out with the kids in his neighborhood or in his class, he knew that as soon as inconvenience entered the relationship, Vincent would be alone again.  He didn’t particularly mind this, he assumed that’s how most adult relationships worked anyway. But deep down he always wanted to go through life with someone, so that he knew what he was thinking was normal. Vincent didn’t have many hobbies, but he enjoyed riding his bike and seeing how far he could go before turning around. He imagined that one day he would find a whole town that’s hiding in plain sight. Everyone there would be nice and have no reason to fight. They’d welcome him like he’s coming home and there would be a seat at the table already waiting for him. He could walk down the sidewalk and everyone would say hi to Vincent Black. In the real world though, Vincent is able to convince himself that he’s invisible and that’s why people pass without acknowledging him in the slightest.

It even seems like his teachers pretend he’s not there. Every time they assign seats, he’s always in the back of the class, behind someone tall enough to completely shield him. He often wonders how long it would take for the teacher to realize he vanished. Sometimes the main office of the school would call and say, “Could you send Vincent Black to the office? His father is picking him up” and the teacher would pause, trying to think if they have a ‘Vincent Black’ in their class. He used to be on the verge of tears when he saw the look on the teachers face when they’d search their memory for a ‘Vincent’. But now he finds it funny, like being invisible is his superpower. He also credits this to why he was never bullied, if no one notices you, they won’t care enough to make it their mission to ruin your day. Some of Vincent’s friends were bullied in school, so he doesn’t like to complain much about his own situation. His friend Raymond would be teased because of his thick brimmed glasses and the way his head fidgeted when he was nervous. Vincent was always too scared to defend Raymond, so he just reverted to being invisible. To be fair, he doubts Raymond would ever stand up for Vincent, unless there was an audience that could applaud him afterwards. The only reason they were friends was because Raymond’s dad would sometimes drop him off at Vincent’s house when he went to work on the weekends.

Although it was only April, the sun was generous and Vincent could leave the house in a T-shirt and shorts. He didn’t like wearing shorts that much because they exposed his pale and scrawny legs. Not only did the teachers forget that Vincent was in their class, but it looked like he didn’t even belong in his grade. While the other boys started to resemble miniature versions of their fathers, Vincent felt like his body decided it was done aging. His face was oval shaped and his mouth rested in a frown. The only thing he couldn’t complain about was his hair. Not that it was attractive in anyway, it just wasn’t particularly ugly. But he didn’t know if his hair wanted to be curly or straight, it was like two different parts of his scalp were in disagreement.

Vincent was also shorter than most boys in his class. Only the top of his head would appear in the mirrors in his house. When he wanted to look at his face, he would have to jump high and get a quick glimpse. He didn’t want to use a stool; a glance was just fine. Like all kids, he wondered what he’d look like when he was older. He hoped his face would change as much as his body would. He wanted to look like the men he saw in the clothing catalogs that would always show up on the kitchen table. He remembers looking through one near Christmas time and seeing a family, or models posing as a family, having a snowball fight in front of their house. The dad was wearing a thick sweater but you could still tell he was strong underneath. He was carrying his four-year-old daughter on his arm while running away from his teenage son who was throwing snowballs. Vincent can’t imagine a day where he could pick up a person like they were a loaf of bread- mainly because he still struggles lifting the bags of groceries when his father comes home from the store.

The men in the clothing catalogs always had this smile that seemed to say, “my life is great and it’s all because of this sweater I’m wearing”. This convinced young Vincent that he needed that sweater, so he asked for it for Christmas one year. They didn’t make child sizes of it so he had to wear an adult’s extra small which still looked like a dress on him. On Christmas morning he put it on over his plaid pajamas and raced to the bathroom. After stepping on the step stool that had his name on it, he looked at the new and improved version of himself. Disappointed that nothing had changed and his life did not become great all of a sudden, he went to go get the catalog. He impatiently flipped to the page with his sweater on it and lifted it up towards the mirror. This time he tried his best to mimic the model’s smile and even said to himself “my life is great”. It took four more seconds of looking at himself in the mirror to realize it was a lost cause.

Suddenly he could hear the train. He didn’t have time to wait for his courage to show up and had to act now. Slowly he put one foot on the track, feeling the vibration make its way from his foot to his shoulders, like a ripple of energy. The feeling Vincent got when he laid down on the train track was a sort of high. If he stayed there forever, the train would go over him like a zipper, and he’d be swallowed up inside the earth.  He didn’t know if that’s what he wanted, but he’d rather have life swallow him whole than continue to chew. As he closed his eyes, the tracks began to vibrate more violently and Vincent tried to steady himself by clutching the wood underneath him. As the train got closer, the tracks got louder. If someone was yelling, he would not be able to hear. The more the tracks screamed in his ear, the quieter his thoughts got. All of Vincent’s anxieties disappeared because he simply could not entertain them at the moment.

Now the train seemed half a mile away, even the ground beneath him seemed to be waiting in anticipation. Vincent checked that his clothes weren’t stuck to the track and prepared to get up at the last second. He wanted to lift his head to see where the train was, but he’s had too many nightmares of the train hitting him right when his head pops up. He often wondered whether another boy was doing the same thing a couple miles down the track. Vincent began to hum, which created a sensation that summoned all of his anxieties back. The body was already shaking due to the tracks, but when he hummed, his throat vibrated from the inside and he felt like his mind was the only thing left standing still. The train was getting closer, maybe a quarter mile.

Then, his favorite part.

The train sounded it’s horn in order to warn Vincent that it was approaching. This was one of the only times he felt seen in his life. The fact that he caused such a big machine to roar, convinces him that he does have an impact on the world around him; he isn’t insignificant. It’s the same reason he chases every bird he sees and watches it fly away, it’s proof that he’s here. At this point he slowed his breathing and opened his eyes to look at the sky. He stared at the sun and his eyes didn’t burn. For a moment, the suns heat did not reach him, and the light was not so intimidating. Vincent could feel himself slipping away and instinct taking its place. As the train started to roar a second time, Vincent jumped up like he forgot to turn off the stove and ran off the tracks. Then, the most important part came.

Vincent counted the seconds between when he got up and when the train eventually passed over where he was laying. His eyes were fastened on the train as he continued his count. Each second that passed, he would tap his foot on the dirt to keep the pace while shoving his knuckles in his ears. Finally, the train passed. To a normal bystander, it would have seemed to appear out of nowhere, tearing through the earth at the speed of light. But to someone counting the seconds, that train seemed to be taking it’s time.

“Six seconds”, he said under his breath. This was not his best time by any means. Last summer he was able to get up only four and a half seconds before the train. He sighed in defeat and started to head home. It wasn’t a long walk but the sun made it feel like miles. Halfway home he pulled out a blade of grass to put in his mouth to pretend it was a cigarette. He even coughed when he took his first drag. Let’s be realistic, he thought. Vincent could feel something watching him and when he turned around he noticed a blue jay perched on a branch with one eye facing him.  “I haven’t seen you around these parts in a while ma’am” he said after taking a drag of the blade of grass. The bird cocked it’s head so that the other eye was facing him now. Vincent walked closer until he could make out each feather. The bird remained in the same position, seemingly not intimidated by Vincent- perhaps because he choked on a fake cigarette. The bird was every shade of blue that Vincent could think of and he wondered if the black around the birds neck was just really dark blue. The wind decided it wanted to join and so it lifted the leaves on the ground and dance in the air. Vincent and the bird watched the scene around them while the trees began to whisper to each other and the earth seemed to be taking a deep breath. Vincent looked up and saw how each branch was reaching out to make contact with the others and it reminded him of the times when his mother would hold his father’s hand. The sun’s light was being sliced by the tops of the trees as it bled through the seams and into Vincent’s eyes, causing him to squint. He looked back at the bird as the wind died down and the leaves began to settle. He noticed that the bird’s eyeball was all black. Do birds not have pupils or is their whole eye a pupil? he wondered. Just as he was getting a closer look, a car sped past and made both Vincent and the bird jump. After catching his breath, he noticed the bird was gone. All of the color that filled the woods around him was now dull, like he woke up from a good dream and had to come to terms with reality. He couldn’t even recall what branch the blue jay was on.

He continued his walk, looking for the bird in the treetops. Vincent put the piece of grass back into his mouth and whistled the rest of the way home. Although it seemed like no one knew him, he walked like people came to his town in the hopes of seeing him. Maybe someday they would.


Submitted: November 24, 2020

© Copyright 2021 sarah emily. All rights reserved.

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Comments

madisonw

This was a great read so far! Not sure what rGallagher03 is talking about (not everyone is a nice person). It’s hard for me to finish books because I lose interest pretty quickly but I genuinely want to know what comes next. I would for sure continue to read this and recommend to others.

Mon, November 30th, 2020 11:55pm

Peter Abec

I thought it was well written and felt like I got to know Vincent a bit and was entertained at the same time

Tue, December 1st, 2020 12:00am

TerrySanchez

I’m not a big reader, but I loved this all the way through! The author does an amazing job bringing this character to life and allowing you to really sympathize with Vincent. I’m very eager to see what’s next for him! And that last paragraph...beautifully done. I got goosebumps when I read the last line! I hope chapter 2 is available soon so I can continue reading :)

Wed, December 2nd, 2020 12:33am

bs13

Great read! Thanks for sharing :)

Mon, December 28th, 2020 12:25am

sven w

Was scrolling Reddit looking for something new to read and found this link. Glad I gave it a try because I really enjoyed it! Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to chapter II.

Thu, December 31st, 2020 12:57am

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