Many years ago, I worked in a train yard. One night during my probationary period, I was tested in what was supposed to be just a matter of stubborn will. I had to pick up a crew from this train over there and be given conflicting directions by the conductor and engineer to see how I responded.
To get to this train, I had to cross the “main line”, the railroad artery that all trains had to run on to pass through the yard, including a certain passenger train. To dodge the keyword triggered bots and scrapers, we’ll call it “AlwaysLate”.
Of course, I didn’t know I was being tested. Or I would have been even more confrontational than I was. The conductor told me to hurry up and take the crew back over the tracks to return to the yard office, even though the night’s AlwaysLate was nearby and closing in. The engineer told me to wait until AlwaysLate passed. A polite argument ensued, that I ended by telling the conductor that I would take the Safe course of action, as suggested by the engineer, and wait for AlwaysLate to pass before attempting to cross. Report me for insubordination, I dared, I wasn’t moving until the other train had come and gone.
For some reason, that I have never understood to this day, the engineer suddenly changed course, and told me to quickly take them across the track before AlwaysLate arrived. I was being tested, he said, and I had passed the test. But we should leave while we can, lest we be stuck there for hours. We all laughed off the test, climbed into the crew vehicle, and I proceeded to drive over the main line.
And in the west, a light brighter than the sun, came around the blind bend. Just as the front two tires were between the rails. AlwaysLate, wasn’t late. It was early. And it was about to hit us.
I didn’t turn my head. I didn’t have to. At O’Dark Thirty in the morning, there was only one thing in the railyard that the light could be from. I didn’t scream. I didn’t cry. I didn’t even silently pray. The moment my brain registered there was a train engine light off my right side, it focused every muscle and synapse to one pinpoint will. I dropped the automatic transmission from Drive to Over-Drive and placed my entire body weight on the gas pedal.
I looked across the tracks to the point where I wanted the SUV to move to. I saw nothing else. That was the whole of my will, to place the SUV, and her passengers, at that point of spacetime existence. The SUV lunged forward in response to my will. I think I heard the crew crying out behind me in the passenger seats. I continued to stare at my destination. The back of the SUV jumped as we hit the second rail roughly. The light to my right suddenly ceased glaring in my peripheral vision.
The entire vehicle lurched sickingly to the left.
There was a sound, my brain heard it as the clatter of steel toolboxes falling and spilling their contents.
The muscles in my neck suddenly ached as my body shifted to the left but my head remained focused on that One Spot.
There was silence. An impossible silence. The few strands of unfocused thought told the rest of my brain, “We’re going to ignore Reality, right now. We’re going to not process any more sensory input except for the visual choice we have made. And more importantly, we’re going to lie to ourselves, and we’re going to accept the lie, because the truth will distract us, and we will not be distracted.”
The Lie: “The vehicle just jerked to the left because of the air flow that accompanies fast moving trains, therefore, we are not in danger.”
I accepted the lie, even as I knew it was a lie, because the lie did not distract me from my focus. I accepted the lie, turned the steering wheel to account for the change of positioning, and continued to place my body weight on the gas pedal.
Another jerk, this time, to the right. I didn’t know we were driving on the left two wheels only because of the impact. I found out, when the vehicle fell back down, and I barely registered the rotation of the horizon, and we continued forward on all four wheels.
More clattering of steel.
More bouncing and the sound and rumble of a shock blowing.
The vehicle continued across the tracks and reached the destination. In jubilation, I switched my body weight from the gas pedal to the brake, so we would not blow through the chain link fence into the third-party property and the 10-foot drop it took to reach it.
The vehicle came to a stop, resting gently against the chain link fence.
My passengers were tumbled and shaken, but okay. The SUV lost the rear bumper, and the gas pedal assembly had to be replaced. The train had some “cosmetic damage”, but all ended well.
When I gave my report of events, I omitted the lie I had told myself. When I spoke of it to my co-workers and friends, I included the lie, and admitted I knew it was a lie even as I said it. They asked me why did I believe the lie for that moment, even though I knew it was false.
“Because if I admitted to myself, that I had just been nailed by AlwaysLate at full speed, I would have given up and allowed the vehicle to be swept into and under the train and killed. Because no one is supposed to live through that. That’s what we all have heard so much by the safety videos and public service announcements. You don’t live being T-boned by a train. But I lied to myself, and I accepted the lie for the moment I needed to, and that is why I didn’t give up and kept driving.”
I look back on that night now, and chuckle at myself. I look back, and see the moment of impact. I relive it, and note where a moment of indecision when the train came around the blind bend, would have caused the impact zone to be more forward on the SUV than it was. The crew credited me with saving their lives. We lived, because I lied.
I bring up this event in my life, because a dream I had a couple days ago is still forefront on my mind. There is a detail to the account of “Ravenwoman” that I did not include when I first posted it, but I can not leave it out any longer.
It’s a simple, thing, really. One paragraph of stage-setting, a thrown away description. But the more I turn over what happened in the dream, the more I realize that leaving out that small, yet macabre, detail has clouded some of the impact of what followed.
If I was tossed into a world of cold decay, why would I be so hesitant to approach the fire that was keeping that world’s forces at bay? When I succumbed to the cold, and Ravenwoman was dragging me to the fire, why was I fearful? What was it about that fire, that was hostile to the realm of death?
The fire, you see, was not burning wood. Nor was the fire self-immolating, fueled by some witchery on the woman’s part. The fire was leaping and exalting with purifying flame, on bones. The entirety of the pyre, was human bones. Not a single remnant of flesh anywhere, not a hint of plant material to be seen. The fire consumed bones, and delighted in it.
Ravenwoman, seeing the chill of that world was trying to claim me for its own, threw me into the bone-fire to purify me of the death-world’s grip.
A simple thing, really. But with echoing effects that make me shudder even three days after surfacing from that cold, life devouring place.
The Ravenwoman account has been updated. Just a one paragraph added, quoted below. I merely post this to let those who saw the original know, what has been changed.
As I watch her carefully, I note with horror the fuel the dancing fire is consuming. In between the flames, I can make out the rounded ends of long bones. I study the bones for a moment, and realize the fuel source for the fire is all human bones. I see the long bones of the legs and arms, but tucked in between are ribs, vertebrae, and the occasional skull, as well as many smaller pieces that could be wrist bones or the remnants of the first bones that fueled the fire. The sight unnerves me completely so I return my sight to the strange woman, studying her to see if she is friend or foe.
Make of it, what you may.