A disheveled elderly man with watery blue eyes and a nervous laugh breaks the silence around the pitiful fire. It is not until he begins speaking and you turn your attention to him that you realize that he is wearing his shirt backwards.
I used to have a family. Used to be respectable. I worked hard, I married my high school sweetheart, I went to church every Sunday. I did everything right. Now look at me.
Look at me. Really look at me. What…how did I get to this?
He sighs and laughs his nervous laugh again, looking down the hill towards the train yard
I can’t keep away from the trains. I just can’t. I don’t even want to ride the rails. I want nothing more than to be home. I don’t even know if I’d be welcome anymore. It’s been…years. I hear I’m a grandfather now. So that’s good? I guess. I guess, yeah.
But it also means I definitely can’t go home. I hear the whispers in the whistle. I hear the seduction in the slow churning thump of the locomotive. I have already lost myself to it. I’m already a passenger on the Devil’s night train. I have to keep riding. I have to hope it protects my family from the voice, from that smiling bastard.
You’ve seen him, right? I can’t be the only one that has seen him walking the tracks at night. Muttering promises of everything you could ever hope for, if only you’d give up just a bit inside. Hand over everything that makes you, well…you. Human. Special.
That’s how I know I’ve got a grandson. Because he knows. Because he’s told me, with a big plastic smile on his face.
There is a long silence here, as the old man has touched on one of those things you don’t discuss in polite company, even if that company is poor and desperate. No one, not even you, can bring yourself to meet those watery eyes again. He finally laughs nervously again, breaking the quiet.
Don’t worry you old superstitious louts. I’m leaving tonight. Pushed to sell another little piece of myself to keep my ‘good friend’ by my side, rather than roaming. My train is coming, and it is time for me to be moving on.
He rises painfully and limps down the hill towards the train yard, the eyes of the others following him as long as the firelight allows.