Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance
Everybody thinks its true
What is the point of this story
What information pertains
The thought that life could be better
Is woven indelibly, into our hearts, and our brains (Paul Simon 1983)
Tom Haverill stood at the bedroom window and drew back the vertical blinds quietly. He drew them slowly so as to avoid the 'clackety clack' noise they usually make when drawn back abruptly. He did not want to wake his wife. He listened and waited.
There it was again - the train horn. It wasn't that distant and was clearly a train horn. He had been hearing what he thought was a train horn for a week or so now, but he had always been partially or wholly asleep. He was never sure whether he had been dreaming or not. But now he was wide awake and quite sure of what he was hearing.
There really is a train, he thought to himself - a freight train. Tom and Julie Haverill had lived in this house for going on 20 years now and he had never heard a train.
In fact, Tom loved trains. One of his regrets to living in Pineville was that there were no trains. He had learned some time ago they were a full 100 miles from the nearest train. Oh, there were those downtown underground commuter trains but they didn't count. They rarely appeared above ground and when they did, they made very little noise. And no horns. At least no horn like the grand freight trains made.
The horn blasted again - this time a bit fainter. Tom stood listening for 15 more minutes and the train horn kept getting fainter and fainter. He went back to bed and laid down, falling asleep thinking about trains.
"No, I didn't hear a train," Julie sipped her coffee. "Is that what you were doing standing at the window in the middle of night?"
"Yes, and I know I heard a train," Tom answered. "Several times in fact. Today, I'm going down to the library to do some research. Maybe they've laid down some track nearby and somehow I didn't know about it."
"That's hard to imagine," Julie got up and put her breakfast dishes in the sink. "You and your railroad buff buddies surely would have known about a new train in the area. And I don't remember reading about any such thing, do you?"
"No ... but I know what I heard," Tom answered.
"Aside from that, there're suburbs for miles," Julie said as she wiped her hands. "Where would they put an above ground freight train?"
"Dunno", Tom shrugged his shoulders and stared into his coffee.
"OK dear" she said as she kissed her husband on the forehead. "Speaking of trains, I need to get to the station or I'll be late for work."
"Bye dear, have a nice day," Tom said blankly.
Julie sighed and made her way out of the house.
Julie stood on the train pretending to read her latest copy of RedBook. She wobbled and vibrated slightly as the Yellow Line made its way downtown. Every once in awhile, she glanced up to see if anyone she knew was on the train. She could really use someone to talk to.
Tom had not been right since the operation. Ever since they tore him open (ripped open like a lobster as he often described it) to replace a heart valve, things had not been right. The doctor said he made a splendid recovery and by all physical standards, he seemed to.
But something in him changed. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but in some ways he wasn't the man she married. It's almost as though the replaced heart valve made a subtle change in Tom that no one else but his wife would ever notice. It wasn't necessarily a bad change, but it wasn't a good change either.
He never wanted to do anything anymore for one thing. Tom used to love to do things like go out to movies or go see the baseball team play. He also loved the theatre and so did she. But he never wanted to do any of those things anymore and she couldn't coax him into anything, no matter how hard she tried.
She supposed it had a lot to do with his sleeplessness. He had not been sleeping well in the 8 months since the operation. He frequently got up in the middle of the night and went out to read or watch TV. But this latest thing standing by the window hearing trains was fairly new and only added to her growing concerns about her husband.
Tom lay wide awake staring at the clock on the night stand. It was nearing midnight and this is about the time the train could be heard. He quietly turned to see if his wife was asleep. She breathed deeply and slowly and her mouth was half open. Even in that less than flattering view, she still looked beautiful to him. He eased out of bed and crept into the family room.
He quietly eased the patio door open, stepping outside onto the deck. It was a warm June night and he could hear the crickets chirping in the field next to their property. Within a few minutes he heard the first train horn. His research had not revealed any trains in the area, but yet there it was.
He craned his neck to try and determine the direction it was coming from. After several minutes, there were more horn blasts and at one point he thought he could hear the clacking of the metal wheels on the tracks. He stayed out on the deck until the last horn had long faded away and then finally retired for the evening.
Over the next week, Tom went out on the deck each night around midnight to wait for the train. And each night he was rewarded with the sounds of the train. But there was one thing that was extemely odd. Each night the train seemed to get getting a little closer. Each night the train horn was a little louder, more distinct.
Now, a full week later the train horn thunderously blasted first around midnight. He stood on the deck to try to get a glimpse of the iron beast he knew was out there. He raised his binoculars and swept the horizon looking for some sign of the train. The next blast of the horn nearly jolted him. He expected his wife to wake up after that one.
'That would be good if she heard that', he thought. 'She doesn't believe me.'
The train sounded so close now, he couldn't understand why he couldn't see it. It sounded like it was right on the next street of their suburban township. But it came and went again tonight; all out of view. And when he returned to bed, he found his wife still fast asleep.
The next night Tom was not quite sure what to expect. First off, where is this train, he thought. He questioned his own sanity and then wondered if he were really hearing anything at all? How on earth could a train be getting closer each night when trains run on fixed tracks? A Ghost Train?
Today he had gone down to Best Buy and purchased a digital camcorder. Tonight he planned to record what he saw, or at least heard - the device had an external microphone. He had given up even going to bed before Midnight. For the past few days, he simply waited out on the deck until midnight.
Soon midnight arrived and with it, the first blast of the train horn. He switched on his camcorder, aimed it in the direction of the sound and held out the microphone. Tonight the train was really, really close and what was this? A light? He could see the headlight of the train! It was coming right toward the house, directly from the south. He could feel the deck vibrating as the train rolled toward their house.
He was suddenly reminded of a time when he was 8 or 9; when his family went to spend a week with Aunt Marion. Aunt Marion's house was in Nebraska, set right alongside a set of train tracks. Each night during that visit, Tom and his brother squealed with delight every time a train passed and shook the house. Mother had not been so pleased however, and swore they would never visit there again because she didn't get any sleep the entire week. And so they never saw Aunt Marion again.
Another train horn blast - this time the train was right on him. Still he maintained his aim with the camcorder. The train rolled closer and closer approaching the house. "This cannot be REAL!" Tom shouted above the now deafening roar of the oncoming train. And then....
Julie awoke with a start - she heard something. Something had dropped or fallen. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, looking at the clock. 12:20am. As usual her husband was no where to be seen, but by now she knew where to find him. She donned her bathrobe and headed to the deck. She opened the door and stepped out into the quiet evening.
"Tom?" she called. But Tom was nowhere to be seen. The only thing she could see was a camcorder lying on the deck - still running.
Julie Haverill stood looking out at the snow quietly falling on the deck. It had been six months since Tom's disappearance and she was finally giving up hope that he would ever return or be found. The video footage had baffled the detectives and left all kinds of questions for which there were no answers. No fingerprints other than Tom's and her's had been found on the device. And no one could explain the movie showing the train coming toward the camera.
But without Tom's contribution to the bank account, Julie had reached the point where she could no longer afford to live in the home. She had begun the long, slow process of selling the unneeded things and eventually the house. Tonight Julie was waiting on a potential buyer to show up.
A knock on the door. It was Mike Riley who had called earlier about Tom's model railroad set. She let him in and showed him to the basement where he could see the model railroad that Tom had built over the years. At first he didn't say anything. He just walked around the large grouping of tables several times. Finally he spoke up.
"This is an absolulutely spectacular set," Mike exclaimed. "The detail and scale are meticulous. And this foam scenery and landscaping. Beautiful! You want $2500 for it?" Mike knew this set was worth a great deal more but didn't say so.
"Yes," said Julie. "I'll take cash or a cashier's check".
Without much further consideration, Mike said. "Consider it sold. I'll be back tomorrow morning with a Cashier's Check and some boxes. This will make my son so happy this Christmas - thank you."
"No problem, I'm happy to get rid of it," Julie said.
Mike stopped to admire the set again and rubbed his hand on one of the buildings. "Why just look at the detail on this station house."
"If you say so" Julie answered, uninterested.
But if Julie Haverill had paid more attention to her husband's model railroad and its accessories, she would have noticed there was now one more figure waiting at that bucolic station house platform that hadn’t been there before.