Ghost Town, by S. Scott Simpson.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then small towns, with their endless nothingness to do, father ideas to animate their ghostly streets. Three lads, none of whom could legally drive, were just growing up happy, safe and extremely bored. In the twilight of their winter nights they cased the town for that polite wino that frequently bought them Wild Irish Rose, the drink of champions. After delving in their socks, loose change and crumpled dank bills cascaded into the wino's hands. Receiving enough to buy four bottles, he'd return three, usually stashing them by the tracks. Drinking was done mostly for fun, largely, because society said not to, and a little, because it was simply downright freezing. Those wild teens smuggled liquid courage deep into the woods and emerged fearless, soon to be found on skateboards, holding the bumper of a red convertible full of girls. Luke was too sober, and passed on that one, waving adios. Barreling down main, Scott and Erik, impressing the girls, were bliss, that is, before the proverbial speed wobbles. Erik stepped off and ignorantly tried to run forty-five miles an hour but tumbled and whacked the road, helplessly rolling and twisting to a sliding halt. There was a trail of red and some skin on the asphalt that night. It didn't matter though, not that night, because, it wouldn't hurt until tomorrow. Things were always going to happen tomorrow in ghost towns. Scott had gotten off before the speed became unmanageable. Luke rejoined. The staggering trio held each other up and sung merrily out of tune on the sidewalk, waiting for girls to drive by. Whether shouting at passing vehicles or harassing pedestrians, all were fair game for the equal opportunity troublemakers. Close by, a mom-and-pop convenience store had an enormous sign that lit the vicinity. They did their magic with its interchangeable letters and voila, it cried obscenity! A truck crept by.
"You little hellions! The sheriff is my cousin and I'm tellin,"
"Everyone in this town is your cousin," replied Eric to some woman with no sense of humor, teeth or rear window to her name. Moments after fleeing the scene, a cruiser passed. The officer stared, flipped the lights on and made a U-turn. The kids chose fun and fled. While swapping indignities, nearly tripping over all before them, they somehow managed to concur, that since they were dressed in ski caps and gloves, they couldn't be identified. Flower gardens lay trampled, scaled fences broken, security lights were triggered and barks incited throughout the neighborhood. The cop got the megaphone,
"We froze hours ago," yelled Luke. The lads vanish deep in a thicket. Penetrating dense thorns and poison ivy, cobwebs clung to their eyes and nostrils. The officer parked and tried to drag his sorry self up the hill to the place where they hit the earth for cover.
"Shit!" said Eric. "Where?" asked Scott. "Sh... pay attention. It's surely all you two can afford," said Luke as he was given total silence. The faint growl of a salivating canine came from the hilltop.
"Sic em boy, that's right, go get'em," ordered the sadistic master. The night grew so quiet that the whole community could hear the officer call in his entire force. Yes that's right, all three were closing in, each from a different direction. The cop was parked below in a clinic lot. After a few steps, he realized his health would not allow him to make a successful pursuit against three unarmed kids. He teetered to the cruiser gripping his chest and gasping. Too bad the clinic was closed. His search beam moved slowly across the woods. Like TV prison escapees, when the light was just about to hit them, they successfully hid. Loose foliage was used as camouflage and adrenaline turned fear to fun. One thing going for them was the fact that the only direction open was indeed a plausible escape. Vertically drop ten feet into a ditch full of rock, cross a fairly busy road undetected, run a half mile or so to the tracks and then walk to Eric's house. That's all. Then they were scot-free. Not only were they bleeding from the puncture of briars and entirely studded in thorns the size of shark teeth, but Luke had stepped into a hole and sprained his ankle. The dog and cops were closing in. While reaching an escape consensus, a coal train roared. The good news was that, one, it was very close, two, it was going their way and three, it was sure going to make a ton of noise.
"Perfect!" said Scott, "It'll mute our flight. Let's go." At the tracks running alongside the train, Eric and Scott jumped onto a ladder and Scott climbed over the freight car to the far side to evade detection. When reaching the top of the swerving car, Eric was exhausted and tried to get on his feet and fell into the coal that filled the car, luckily. He carefully crawled to the other side.
"Where's Luke?" breathlessly asked Scott.
"What?" "He couldn't keep up with that bum ankle."
"Hold tight." The creaking train rocked onward as it hugged a river heading toward Eric's house. It was so far, so good, so long as you didn't fall. This water was not only cold enough to wake the dead, but it had currents notoriously strong enough to put the living to eternal sleep. They knew from growing up around there, that, conservatively, two or three sober people drowned in it every year. The train was their taxi. It would pass literally right behind Eric's house, which suddenly came into view. They ascended the ladder, crawled through the coal and descended the other ladder. When Eric's yard was in view, they jumped and rolled on target to safety, amazingly unscathed. They figured Luke was in deep and went to find him despite the risk.
Luke's limping nearly caused him to miss the train but for the help of a rugged hand from the caboose. The crewman didn't ask a single question, but just pulled out a lighter.
"From the look of you and your friends, you're gonna need this kid," he said handing Luke a smoke. Retracing the railway, Scott and Eric drew closer and closer to a small orange spot bouncing in the distance. It was a cigarette, being smoked by Luke! He limped towards them.
S. Scott Simpson says: "Earned BA in both French literature and Political science from the University of Hawaii in 1995. Currently attending law school at the New College of California in San Francisco. When I am not with my beloved wife or working, I find great solace in writing."
You may contact him by writing to Offcourse@albany.edu
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