Updated date:

Life by The Rails - Response to Billybuc’s Photo Prompt Challenge #4

Shauna's preferred genre is fiction. She particularly enjoys rising to a challenge posed by fellow artists. Picture prompts spark her muse.

Billybuc's Photo Prompt

Abandoned rail car

Abandoned rail car

I’ll never forget the first time I saw it.

It was the summer of 1966. Mom and Dad had left the city to let their spirits run free and live off the land. Mom was an artist. Dad was a musician. And both hated The Establishment. We packed our VW with the essentials: a cast-iron skillet, propane tanks, a pot-bellied stove, clothes, Dad’s guitar, Mom’s easel and brushes, and a yearning for freedom.

At the base of the Blue Ridge mountains, Mom and Dad found an old abandoned railroad car with a running creek nearby and no human neighbors. We set up camp in the train car where we’d live for the next decade or so.

Dad was pretty handy. The stove used wood as fuel, which was plentiful in our new life by the rails. Water was pumped in from the creek by using an old firehose he’d picked up at a community rummage sale years back.

The railroad car was comfortable, actually. At one end were adequate sleeping areas and at the other was a small kitchen that had seen better days, but it served our purpose.

Most nights after supper, Dad would build a campfire near the dilapidated train tracks and play guitar. Sometimes Mom and Dad would tell me stories about the sit-ins, music fests, and protests that were a huge part of their life before they decided to ditch civilization and live by the laws of nature.

As for me, I was relieved to not have a strict schedule. Mom home-schooled me. Many of my lessons came to life by helping her plant and harvest vegetables, a crop Mom and Dad referred to as “Mary Jane”, and catch fish in the creek.

Life was good.

Then it Happened

One night, long after we’d all gone to bed, I was awakened by a whistle from deep in the mountains. Then I felt a rumble in the ground and heard the squeal of metal on metal.

What on earth? That can’t possibly be a train. These tracks have been inoperable for years! Oh, God, please don’t let it be a tornado. (I’d heard they sound just like a train coming.)

I snuck out of bed to see what was going on. Mom and Dad were still sound asleep.

How did they not hear that?!

As I looked out a window at the front of the car, a train came chugging into view. Smoke billowed from the tail end and let out a final whoosh as it came to rest parallel to our makeshift home. The conductor disembarked and began slowing walking south alongside the tracks.

Then he – and the train – disappeared before my eyes.

Fast Forward

Mom and Dad never did hear, nor did they see, the Ghost Train.

We eventually moved back to civilization – a small town in Tennessee where Mom opened an art school and Dad played at local venues. I enrolled in a few creative writing courses and was fortunate to eek out a meager living from letting my imagination roam.

Now, every summer, I return to the abandoned railroad car and use it as a writing retreat.

And every summer, on the anniversary of my first encounter with the Ghost Train, it reappears. The only difference is, now the conductor waves at me as he strolls down the tracks.

And I wave back.

Jim Croce - Railroad Song

Questions & Answers

Question: Is this from a real memory?

Answer: No, this story wasn't created from a real memory at all. Once I decided on the Hippie Era as the setting, my imagination/muse did the rest. She just took off!

© 2020 Shauna L Bowling


Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 31, 2020:

Mark, I actually lived in Philly during the hippie era. I was a tad too young to be a practicing hippie, but there was a couple and a male friend who lived in the row house next door to us for a while. They'd invite me to their basement to listen to albums. Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin - all the greats. I don't remember their names, but I'll never forget the flower child who lived there. I had an overbite when I was young and very self-conscious about smiling. Lady Hippie would always tell me I had a beautiful smile and never to hide it. For that, I'll remember her until the day I day.

Thanks for stopping by and reminding me of days past!

Mark Tulin from Ventura, California on March 31, 2020:

Loved this story, Shauna. A great testament to your imagination.

Also, I could never turn down a story about hippies.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 26, 2020:

Thank you so much, Laurinzo. Yes, Bill is awesome!

Laurinzoscott from Kanab, Utah on March 26, 2020:

Thia is so well qritten I feel I was there...well you really stepped up to the cgallenge and isnt Bill Holland aka Billy Buc awesime?

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 17, 2020:

I'm glad I had you hooked and made you smile, Jason. I tend to lean towards the paranormal when I write fiction. Some are darker than others. I never know how they're going to end until they do!

Jason Nicolosi from AZ on March 17, 2020:

Hi, Shauna I really enjoyed this paranormal adventure story. You had me hooked right from the start. The story was fun to read. It made me smile. Great ending. Excellent job!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 09, 2020:

Mar, the hippie era was all about peace and love. They say history repeats itself. When will hippies come back into fashion?

Thanks for stopping by. Love you lots!

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on March 08, 2020:

Intriguing and inspiring, dear Sha.

I'd also like to see a return to the hippie era.

Have a peaceful evening. Love, mar

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 07, 2020:

Thank you so much, Eddy! You put a smile on my face this Saturday morning.

Eiddwen from Wales on March 07, 2020:

Loved it . Well written and that all important great ending.

Brilliant work once again Shauna.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 05, 2020:

You certainly do, Nell! I'm glad you enjoyed my story. The ending seems to be a hit with many who've read this child's tale.

Thanks for coming by!

Nell Rose from England on March 05, 2020:

Love the ending! The fact that he waved! Great story, and I really need to write a few more now!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 03, 2020:

Meg, you gave me a chuckle. I was thinking the boy would have been accused of conoogling with Mary Jane if he told his parents a train arrived and vanished in mid air in the middle of the night!

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on March 03, 2020:

Great story. Love the bit about the conductor waving back! Not surprised they didn't hear the train if they were using up their crop of Mary Jane!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 03, 2020:

Thank you so much, Caprise. I really appreciate your support and the time you took to comment.

P.S. I had a blast with you and the rest of the girls at my birthday lunch today!

Caprice Parisi on March 03, 2020:

This is so amazing! Love all the touches, "Mary Jane", the jim croce song at the end, how now the conductor "waves back", etc. This is wonderful and I enjoyed reading this!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 03, 2020:

Cam, the future you're planning for yourself sounds so peaceful. I envy you for actually making your dreams reality.

I'm glad you related to my story. Thanks for stopping by!

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on March 02, 2020:

Shauna, you made this story entirely believable. I guess I grew up in just the right time period to relate to setting up house with "a cast-iron skillet, propane tanks, a pot-bellied stove, clothes, Dad’s guitar, Mom’s easel and brushes, and a yearning for freedom."

I can't help think about the future I am planning for myself. Not an abandoned train car, but a used travel trailer...at least for now. Then a small house with a garden, a stream, wood for a fire, and much more.

Thanks for a look at my past, and my future.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 02, 2020:

Venkatachari, what an amazing comment! I'm thrilled that you enjoyed my story. I wonder what Bill's next prompts will be. We'll just have to wain and see.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on March 02, 2020:

Very well done. You started it slowly with narrations and then a surprising twist came. A ghost train! And the conductor and you exchange greetings thereafter during your summer camps. A brilliant idea to make it a wonderful story. Enjoyed it all.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 02, 2020:

Thank you, MizB. If you were surprised by this story, then I've succeeded in my intent.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on March 01, 2020:

Well, I was certainly surprised, Shauna. That was a really nice story and one to which I can relate because I saw other people give up civilization and live like that. Your story is a great addition to Bill's challenge.

manatita44 from london on March 01, 2020:

Wonderful! Keep at it. We need you and Ruby like we need Frank and Cam

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 01, 2020:

Manatita, the point is to not know what's coming until the end. I was going to entitle this story "Ghost Train", but that would have given away the theme of the story.

As a writer, I want to intrigue so you read to the end. Hopefully, my readers will be surprised.

manatita44 from london on March 01, 2020:

Nice tale! Well told but quite tricky. Worked it out in the end. Great work!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 01, 2020:

Thank you, Donna. As you discovered, the other train was a ghost train and only the child was able to see it.

I appreciate your positive comment.

Will you be responding to Bill's challenge?

Donna Rayne from Sparks, Nevada on March 01, 2020:

Shauna, love this story! It was keeping me interested and wondering what was going to happen next and then I was thinking and hoping the other train wouldn't hit your guys and it was just a wonderful story! Great job!


Donna Rayne

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 01, 2020:

Lorna, that sounds like a life of freedom and beauty. You were very fortunate to experience life in such a way.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story.

Lorna Lamon on March 01, 2020:

Hi Shawna, My parents loved the outdoor life and would have embraced this era. We had a caravan which we used to travel Ireland and camped out under the stars. Fond memories indeed.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 01, 2020:

Linda, you're such a sweet, supportive friend. Goosebumps? Very cool.

Your comment warms my heart, dear friend. (You hear that, Miss Muse? Keep 'em coming!)

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 01, 2020:

Bill, once my muse came up with the opening line, she opened the floodgates to the hippie era. I wish the hippie movement would reemerge. I think the world would be in a better place.

Thanks for your wonderful comment, my friend. And thanks again for the inspiration.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on March 01, 2020:

Wow, you gave me goosebumps lady. You are a writer for sure and I'm glad Bill has prompted you to share your talent with us more often. Keep it coming.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 01, 2020:

It's rare that a ghost tale is a feel good tale, but this one was, which is a credit to you. Loved the 1966 vibe. Been there done that, and I appreciate you taking me back on a joyous, free adventure.

Well done my dear friend



Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 01, 2020:

Lorna, I'm glad my story brought back pleasant memories for you. Were you raised by hippies?

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on March 01, 2020:

Flourish, "that special blend" crossed my mind, too. Perhaps the conductor got a whiff and that's what kept bringing him back from the dead year after year!

Lorna Lamon on March 01, 2020:

Such a lovely tale you have spun Shauna and I love the idea of the ghost train. Living off the land and feeling free is a wonderful experience and reminds me of long summer holidays growing up. I enjoyed this adventure - great ending.

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 29, 2020:

Makes you wonder if they knew one another in a past life. Or maybe that was a special blend of what ma and pa were growing. I especially like the wave.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 29, 2020:

Paula, if you were here, I'd slap you! (Not really)

I left the frigid cold in 1976, so when it dips in the 50s and 60s here (highs, not lows) with wind chill factors added, I shiver in my boots. I hate being cold, that's why I left the northeast part of our beautiful country.

Suzie from Carson City on February 29, 2020:

OH....my, my....How sad I am for you...sniff, sniff...."the low 60's??" Poor baby.....can I send you a scarf and some mittens? Would you like me to thaw the ice from them first? Soon as my toes and fingers warm up to where I can move them, I'll get right on that packing!! .....Grrrrrrrrrr

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 29, 2020:

John, I love that this fictional story was a near reality for you and your wife. I learn so much more about you, your past, and your lifestyle as the result of stories. I love that!

I love Jim Croce, too. Unfortunately, he died just when I was getting to know him through his hit song "Time in a Bottle". I bought the album based on that one song. When I Googled YouTube for songs about railroads and the rails, I was thrilled to find "Railroad Song". I'd never heard it before but it fits my story perfectly.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on February 29, 2020:

What a delightful story you wove, Shauna. My wife and I almost bought a property that had two old railway carriages as the living accommodation, so I can totally relate. I had to smile at the crop called Mary Jane. You did another great job with this. Love the railroad song by Jim Croce too. He was one of my favourites.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 29, 2020:

Thanks, Ruby. You know I can't stay away from the paranormal. However, it doesn't always have to be scary. Even paranormal stories can have a pleasant ending.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on February 29, 2020:

You never disappoint with your paranormal stories. I really enjoyed reading this amazing tale, especially you both waving at each other. Great story!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 29, 2020:

Paula, you're the first one to the party! I love you dearly, my friend.

Thank you for your awesome comment.

I hope you're staying warm. It's cold here. Don't laugh, but it's been in the low 60s for the last couple of days. What's crazy is, for the last few weeks, we've had 80 degree weather for a few days, then a 25 degree drop for several days. Not only am I confused, but our vegetation is too. My star jasmine is starting to bloom and it's only February!

Oops, there I go again, getting side-tracked. Thanks for your wonderful comment, Paula.

Love you lots!


Suzie from Carson City on February 29, 2020:

Wow....Is Bill keepin the crew busy..or what?? And Miss Sha just keeps pumpin out one great work after another like the "PRO" that you are!

More power to ya, girlfriend. You definitely can WRITE!! Love ya, Paula

Related Articles