Across the Highway

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
The line between appearance and reality becomes blurred one rainy afternoon for a teenager walking alone on a desserted stretch of railroad. Years later that line is still blurred by an unreliable narrator recollecting the events.

Submitted: June 23, 2008

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Submitted: June 23, 2008

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"Many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able."
Every day that I was there, for all seven days, the young girl with the curly black hair would sit in one of the plush easy chairs in front of the big screen TV and repeat those words.
"Many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able."
She would repeat that passage while sitting in the chair with her legs pulled up in towards herself and her chin resting atop her knees. I only went into the lounge area to get a soda, or to occasionally see what there was to read because whenever I went in there I would stare at that girl; feel a little creeped out and then leave.
She said it over and over, every time I went into the patient's lounge. The TV would be on blaring away, usually an episode of The Jerry Springer Show, or Maury would be on (not the most wholesome TV for troubled teens) but the girl with the curly black hair would always be in there and she paid the television no mind as she repeated over and over in a steady monotone voice, "Many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able…"
 
Most of the time that I was there I was bored. Technically, the place was a hospital, a place used for mentally ill kids or those suffering from some kind of addiction, like a half-way house for young crazies like me who weren't yet old enough for jail, or electro-shock therapy, I guess.
I was only there for a week. I was barely 14 years old, and like I said, I didn't want to be there, but now that I think back on it, I suppose the worst thing I had to face was boredom. There was nothing to do there for most of the day. We ate, had group counseling sessions and then individual, one on one, counseling sessions that lasted for about an hour; then we ate again and went to sleep. Pretty much, there was nothing to do. 
Once a day, I talked to my folks. Outside our dormitory-style rooms, there were phones in the hallway, regular partitioned payphone kiosks, with those steel phones with the black buttons on them—the kind of phones that are now pretty much extinct.
After we all ate—me and all the other nuts—all the other teenage depressives, and the other kids like me who were terrified of their own shadows—after we all ate dinner in the cafeteria, I'd always talk with my parents on one of those antiquarian payphones.
"So, how's it going son?" My dad's voice would come through the receiver tinged by a little bit of nervous laughter. He didn't know what to say.
"It's fine dad," I'd say. I didn't know what to say to him either.
"Mark!" My mom would sternly interject, probably grabbing the receiver right out of my dad's hand, "Mark! Are you feeling better?"
"Yeah, mom," I'd say.
"No Mark," my mom would scold me now, "I'm serious."
"I know mom," I'd mutter. And at this point in the conversation I'd have to try real hard to stifle to urge to slam down the phone and hang up. Like I didn't know that this was serious?
I knew that it was serious. My parents had pulled me out of school for two weeks to send me to that place—The Garden Pines. There was counseling and treatment there for people suffering from depression and anxiety disorders. For people like me—Mark Kowalski, and I knew, well at 14 years old at least I had an inkling, that what was going on in my life was sort of important.
Before going to Garden Pines I had skipped out on school again and started walking. I walked down the block and a light rain began to fall. It was a cold rain and it picked up in intensity as I walked, but I kept on walking past all the houses and all the mailboxes and the baseball field used by our high school team. I walked down that one block leading from my house until I got all the way to the edge of the highway.
I crossed the highway. Some cars honked their disapproval at my decision. I ignored them. I scraped the skin off the back of my hand as I stepped over the concrete barrier that separated the median of the highway, the place where the traffic switched from southbound to northbound, but I ignored that too. 
I felt like I HAD to get to the other side—no, not just get to the other side of the highway, I felt compelled to get ACROSS the highway and to get to whatever was on the other side of it. I don't know why I felt that way. I suppose that I thought even if there was nothing—and I mean nothing but garbage, scrap metal and decomposing wrappers from McDonalds kind of nothing—then still, that nothing had to be better than the I was feeling on the other side of the highway where everything and everyone already was.
I got to the other side of the highway that day. I was soaked through to the bone by cold rain. My jacket was ruined, and the water had begun to puddle in my sneakers and my socks sloshed around like sopping wet sponges whenever I took a step, but I had gotten to the other side of that highway.
The point is, at that moment, even if I had ripped my pants off trying to get over the concrete divider in the center of the highway, then so be it, I would have walked across that highway bare-assed for all the world to see. 
Once across though, I felt a strong sense of disappointment. I had made it, but there was nothing left for me to do really now that I was on the other side of the highway except turn around and go back up the hill, and go back to school, and back to the people, and back to the world on the other side of the highway where everything was so full of stuff, but still felt so empty to me.
I decided to keep on heading in the same direction I had come, and I half-slid; half-stumbled down a wet grassy embankment that was on the other side of the highway. And near the bottom of that embankment I fell, and I landed hard on my knees against a piece of metal that sent a searing pain all the way to the top of my skull.
"Ow! Damn it!" I screamed aloud to the rain. 
Then I reached a hand down to my knee where the pain had come from to see if my jeans were ripped; they were. I brought the palm of my hand back up to my face to see if I was bleeding; I was.
At that moment, I think, what I wanted to do there on the other side of the highway in the rain where I had expected there to be nothing, and where I was then kneeling, wet and bleeding like a Holy supplicant before a spiteful God, was cry. But I didn't cry, because when I turned my head to my left I saw that there WAS something there on the other side of that highway where nothing was supposed to have been
I pushed aside the wet hair that was plastered on my forehead and I hobbled up to my feet. The hole that I ripped in my jeans was causing cold rainwater to cascade down my leg and I felt a warm sensation coming from my knee. 
And I looked down to see if what was running down my leg was water or blood. And as I looked down I discovered that what I had cut myself open on were train tracks. There was something across that highway. I should have known before I even got there because at night, if I slept with my bedroom window open, sometimes I could hear horns blowing off in the distance. They weren't horns like car horns, but more like the sound a foghorn makes out at sea. Up until then, I had always thought that the horn sound I occasionally heard at night was a seaborne sound, but I think I might have been wrong. When I saw those old train tracks running north to south on the other side of the highway, I discovered that when I had lain awake all those nights dreading tomorrow what I had probably been hearing was not a foghorn, but a train whistle! It made sense. The nearest open body of water to my house was over ten miles away.
And I looked up and down the tracks, first to my left and then to my right. The tracks seemed to run parallel with the highway, but I couldn't tell how far off into the distance they went because the sides of the tracks were overgrown with weeds and brambles that now sagged as their leaves became heavy and waterlogged in the rain.
There was also a little gully, like a natural gutter, where the water pooled at the bottom of the grass embankment and it too seemed to run parallel with the highway that I had just crossed.
Garbage—beer cans so flattened they looked as if they'd been made on an industrial steel punch-press; shards of brown and green glass that formed jagged sharp triangles or sparkling crystals, even rotting and mildewing old appliances like discarded refrigerator doors and burnt out air-conditioners—garbage—lined the side of the railroad tracks where I stood.
I stood soaking in the rain with my knee bleeding and I looked at all the garbage around me. I looked at the overgrown weeds, and I looked down at the rust on the tracks and I wondered to myself when the last time was that a train had come that way. 
I sniffled in the rain and felt like crying there because of all the sadness, neglect and decay around me, but I decided right then and there that crying would have been pretty superfluous for me at that point. It seemed to me like there was enough cold rain falling on everything at that moment to make the tears of anyone, even God Himself, damned useless.
And then a thought occurred to me. If I had spent the first 14 years of my life living under the mistaken belief that what I'd been hearing off in the distance at night had been a foghorn when in reality it had probably been a train whistle, then it stood to reason that the sound of the train I'd been hearing probably came from those very tracks where I was standing. Trains, or at least a train, probably did still ride on these tracks So, I decided to gamble.
I started walking along the tracks. I walked with my head down and my hands shoved in my pockets, not bothering to look at what was ahead of me in the distance. 
The rain lessened in intensity as I walked along, but it was still misty and chill. I walked along like that down those tracks for what must have been quite awhile. I started to imagine myself being a movie. I didn't imagine myself being IN a movie, but I actually imagined that I WAS the movie.
As I walked down those train tracks I envisioned a title for my movie and I could see it scrolling across a big black screen in clear white block lettering—Mark Kowalski? Life or Death?
 Mark Kowalski? Life or Death? At the time that sounded like a pretty good title for the movie that was me.
I pondered the title of the movie that I was as I walked along. I thought about Mark Kowalski? Life or Death? in an easy and loose sort of way. I thought about it in the way that most people think about what they're going to have for lunch. There was no insistence to my thoughts about Mark Kowalski? Life or Death?
I wasn't even sure what the plot of my movie was supposed to be, let alone how it was going to be resolved and I'm still not sure. My thoughts about Mark Kowalski? Life or Death? were just there inside of me, the way that hunger can be there inside of us if we don't eat all day even though skipping breakfast would never be considered starvation. If the tracks that I was walking along were being used then Mark Kowalski? Life or Death? could have only one possible ending at that point.
And though I was pretty confident that a train wasn't going to come down those old tracks as I walked along them, a part of me still hoped that anything was possible. I mean, the way I saw it was: What adds more action and drama to any movie than a train?
Death by train seemed like a good way to end the move Mark Kowalski? Life or Death? Getting hit by a train left behind no mess because trains, by their very nature, are enormous and we by our very nature are but specks by comparison. I can remember thinking that if there was a God, then He would be a train. A train hitting Mark Kowalski would obliterate Mark Kowalski in an instant. The way that a new life is born and a new soul created instantly from where there was none before, so too would a train, Godlike, destroy a soul instantly, where there had been one before.
I was so deep in thought about my movie that I stopped hearing the sound of the traffic as it moved along on the highway that was next to the railroad. I stopped noticing the overgrown weeds and brambles that grew along the sides of the tracks and I stopped seeing the garbage that was scattered around at my feet. I even stopped feeling the pulsing pain of where I'd cut my knee. I walked down that track until my legs started to hurt.
It wasn't until the falling rain had saturated the bill of my baseball cap to the point where little droplets of water started to drip down on top of my sneakers that I snapped out of my daze and lifted up my head.
And when I lifted up my head I noticed that there was an object sitting on the tracks up ahead of me in the rain. At first the object that I saw was nothing more than a blur of colors, but as I got closer, the object began to take shape.
Sitting on the tracks in the rain was a girl with pale white skin and curly brunette hair. She was sitting with her legs pulled in up towards herself and her knees resting atop her chin. She looked about my age, maybe older.
I walked over to her and I said as the rain dripped off the brim of my baseball cap, "What are you doing here?" It was a stupid thing to say, but for some reason, it was the first thing to come out of my mouth.
She didn't say anything so I said, "You can't sit here. It's not safe."
Still, she didn't say anything. She sat with her chin resting on her knees and she didn't even look at me. 
I said, "A train could come down here and it'll kill you. You're sitting down and the conductor won't see you in the rain."
She didn't say anything. She kept looking straight ahead, back across the highway. I said, "You have to move or you could die."
She didn't say anything. The rain had gotten heavy as I tried to reason with the girl sitting on the tracks and water was running down my face and dripping off my clothes, but I don't remember her being wet at all—not even her hair seemed to get wet in the rain—it kept its curl.
Finally I reached down and placed a firm hand on her shoulder and shouted, "You'll die!" in her ear.
Then she turned her head slowly to face mine and looked up at me with dark eyes and said, "Many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in and shall not be able."
"What?" I remember saying as I looked at her, but she said that one phrase and then turned her head again to face out across the highway and rested her chin atop her knees and said no more.
A siren broke the sound of the rain that fell around us and I turned my head to look over my shoulder and saw a red light flash and I heard a whistle, not like a train, but even more high pitched. A police car had pulled up on top of the embankment off the highway right above where I was with the girl on the train tracks.
Oh good, I thought, a cop! I started scrambling up the wet grass of the embankment, up back towards the highway, back the way I had come. I reached the top after slipping and sliding halfway back down several times. When I got to the top, the white door of the cop car opened slowly and a cop with a haggard look of death on his face and s slight paunch showing right above his belt slowly opened the white door to his car. He stood on top of the embankment and watched me struggle up it.
Out of breath, I ran up to him huffing and puffing and I said, "Oh God officer, you gotta help—there's a girl there. On the tracks!"
The cop looked over my shoulder. He looked at me—up and down—and then he looked over my shoulder one more time.
"Kid," he said, "what the hell are you doing?"
I was stunned. I wiped the rain off my face with the palm of my hand and stared at the officer in disbelief. A girl was about to die here, sitting right there on the tracks and uttering religious nonsense while she waited for a train to come along and vaporize her, and this guy was worried about why I was cutting the Ninth Grade?
I tried one more time. "Look, that girl on the tracks! I think she's trying to kill herself!"
He looked over my shoulder and down the embankment. He said slowly, "Kid, there's nobody on those tracks."
 
That's how I ended up at Garden Pines for a week—well, that and the cop taking me home and the lawyer and the judge meeting with my parents, and the doctor's and all that stuff, but that's pretty much how I ended up there.
Over a decade later I can't say that I took it all that seriously. I was glad to be out of there in a week. And that girl in the TV lounge with her chin resting atop her knees who always repeated, "Many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in and shall not be able," was pretty damned creepy. It's ironic too that me and her ended up there at the same time after what happened on those train tracks. It's good that she was there though, even though that cop ignored her. I mean, people like that do need help.
Funny thing is, I still see her around from time to time, and she still says that same damned thing. One of these days I'm going to ask her what that's supposed to mean, but she never responds to anything I say.
 


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