The train. The train. Can ya hear it a-whistlin’?
Georgie sure did that fateful night.
He was a gandy dancer, a railroad worker, and a fine one at that. He worked from sun up to sun down, strong arms layin’ down track as far as the foreman would ask. Always to the tune of that whistlin’ train somewhere off in the distance. To the tune of industry risin’ up over the hills. As the cities grew taller and taller, as automobiles moved faster and faster, as electricity lit up the horizon more and more with each new moon.
That warm summer mornin’ in the wee AM hours, Georgie was a-walkin’ down the tracks, as he did e’ry mornin’ on his way to work. It weren’t safe, they’d all tell him, a-walkin’ down the tracks like he did. He ain’t never seen the train, though. No, not once. How dangerous could it be?
So Georgie kept a-walkin’.
“Now,” a cool voice called out. “What’s a fine, strappin’ lad such as yerself doing out at this time o’night?’
Georgie paid the dapper man no real mind. “On my way t’work, good sir.”
“T’work! At this late o’an hour?” the dandy inquired as he preened and primped his pricy suit with each step he took.
“I ain’t go no other way t’get there unless I’m a-walkin’, gotta be there before that sun comes up.”
Georgie fixed the strap o’his bag o’er his body, railroad spikes clanged against his tools like thunder rumblin’ o’er the fields. He cut his eyes toward the stranger who appeared outta nowhere. He looked sly like the devil and as handsome, too. His eyes glistened like starlight and boy, his smile was wicked and cruel.
“Boy, you best slow down. Yer too young t’be wastin’ away like this. Not with those looks and them strong arms,” the man chided.
“Food’s gotta get on that table somehow, good sir. I got a big family, my momma needs the money and my sisters ain’t old enough to find themselves good men to care for them. No sir, not yet,” Georgie replied as he picked up his pace.
“And what if I said I could make all yer problems go away like the coolest o’spring breezes? Ain’t never gotta walk these tracks again, ain’t never gotta see the sunrise again,” the dandy inquired.
“I don’t know ya, sir, and I ain’t gonna risk bein’ late for my shift over temptations and lies,” Georgie replied as he pulled a silver chain with a matching cross out from beneath his shirt. The cross shone in the moonlight.
Though he denied it, the dandy could see the cogs turn behind Georgie's eyes like the fast movin' wheels of a train.
The dandy smiled, “Ah, good boy, aren’t ya? A real good boy,” he sneered as he stepped up onto the rail opposite o’Georgie.
No matter how fast Georgie walked, the dandy was beside him without strain. Georgie was growin’ irritated; his bag o’tools was heavy.
“Sure I can’t… twist yer arm, boy-o? This project’ll just keep on goin’, them cities will keep on gettin’ bigger. Trains ain’t gonna matter no more in a few years, and men like you ain’t never gonna be nothing more than this. I can make ya a king; I need a strong boy to help me. Got a big project comin’ up,” the dandy teased.
Georgie finally stopped. He balanced on the railroad against the weariness he felt swellin’ like a summer heat within his legs. He cocked an eyebrow up when he heard the sound of the train whirrin’ down the tracks way off in the distance like a warnin’ siren callin’ out to him. Run, boy. You better run.
“My momma said never be tempted by fancy men in the late night hours, sir,” Georgie noted.
“She tell ya we the devil?!” the dandy inquired loudly.
“Good lookin’ men like yerself usually are.”
“Smart boy. I was tryin’ to do ya a favor, but I ain’t gonna waste breath-”
“How much we talkin’?”
That train whistle kept on howlin’. Georgie tried to step off the tracks, but his feet refused to move; they were cemented against the metal and wood he himself did lay down so many months ago.
The dandy smiled and twisted his mustache round and round, “How ever much your greedy li’l heart desires, Georgie. Industry keeps on rollin’. Why shouldn’t we?”
Georgie felt his heart race, “An’ how you know my name?”
“I know all of it, Georgie. Ya were already mine before that sun e’r did set yesterday,” the dandy pointed down the way.
Blood, deep and sticky, sat against the tracks and the Kentucky bluegrass swayin’ in the breeze. A torn-up satchel with busted tools inside laid by a boot, all crimson stained and reekin’ o’death. The mangled remains of a body lay crooked in a heap. Wrapped around a loose, half-finished spike was a silvery chain with the sign o’the Lord blowin’ in the soft breeze attached to it. All o’it was shining against the phantom lights of that damn train barreling’ down the tracks.
The dandy extended an outstretched hand, nails sharp like daggers and smile twisted like a magnolia tree’s roots. Georgie looked down, looked at the red that soaked through the white and grime o’his shirt and realized he weren’t e’er gonna see his momma again. Realized he ain’t never made it home last night. Realized he had been walkin’ the tracks for a while too long this mornin’. Realized the tears weren’t comin’; there weren’t no more tears in him.
That train kept on barrelin’ down the tracks. They say the ground shook when George McConnell died, as if the whole of hell sang out in a joyous noise.
The dandy smiled that wicked smile at him, “I got a train that needs some tracks laid, needin’ a way to get poor boy-os like you rounded up. You’re outta time. Whatcha say, Georgie? Wanna make a deal with the devil?”
A.L. Davidson (she/they) is a writer who specializes in massive space operas and tiny disturbances. She writes stories about ghosts, grief, isolation, space exploration, eco-horror, queerness, and the human condition. They live with their cat Jukebox in Kansas City.
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