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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.

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

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