Preview from The TRACKS — pages 31-34
Clarence resumed his teasing. “But where’s the grave you were talking about?”
“It’s around this way,” Edward muttered, stifling a yawn. He sounded tired.
He took the lantern from me and led the way around the clump of bushes to the other side. And there it was. The large mound of fresh dirt seemed to gleam in the dim light. It was the grave!
Clarence’s eyes looked huge in the lamplight. “Why, you weren’t teasing me, after all,” he said in a whisper. “It really is a grave.” He leaned over and picked up a stick. “Here,” he said, “let’s dig a little and see what’s in there.”
Edward set the lantern down while Clarence began to poke in the middle of the mound.
“Wait a minute,” I whispered. “What’s that smell?” Clarence stopped his digging and sniffed. “I smell smoke!” I whispered more loudly. “Something’s burning!”
“I smell it, too!” Edward exclaimed.
Frantically, we looked around. Not far away, through the growth of tall trees and bushes, we could see a campfire. Its orange flames flared into the darkness. Shadowy figures moved around it. We froze with fear when we realized it was more than just a campfire. There was also a torch! And the torch had begun to move . . . in our direction!
We stood there in disbelief. Illuminated in the light from the torch were two angry faces. One of the faces had a bushy red beard and the other one had stubby whiskers. Without a doubt, it was the same hobos who had made the grave . . . and they were moving in our direction, fast!
“Let’s get out of here!” Now it was Clarence shouting the command. He grabbed the lantern and started to run, but, not being familiar with the area, he ran the wrong way.
“This way, Clarence,” I cried. “Hurry! It’s this way back to the tracks!”
Clarence’s miscue had given the hobos an advantage. Jiggs was awake now and barking his head off. It was all Edward could do to hold onto him as we dashed through the bushes and trees, heading toward the railroad tracks.
Clarence, still holding the wildly swinging lantern, took off down another wrong path. As I reached to grab him, I dropped Maizey. “Oh, Clarence,” I called. “Not that way! Here! Hold the light still so I can get my doll!”
He whirled back around so I could see. I grabbed the doll with one hand and clutched his arm with the other. “Let me lead the way,” I said.
But the delays had taken too much time. Our pursuers were gaining on us. The light from their torch was getting brighter all the time. Their loud breathing and shouting were just a short distance behind.
We were approaching the marshy bog by now. Clarence and I ran down the embankment into the clearing. Edward was right on our heels with the barking dog in his arms.
It was at that moment that all three of us saw the eerie flickering light hanging over the marsh. We stopped dead in our tracks. Our pursuers saw the ball of light, too, because they stopped where they were—just steps behind us. Even Jiggs sensed something unusual was taking place, because he abruptly stopped barking.
“It’s the will-o’-the-wisp!” I whispered. “Have you ever seen anything so strange?”
The wavering light hovered over the marshy bog, flaring brightly, then nearly fading away before flaring again. When it began to move, it seemed to be beckoning us to follow it.
We watched the light for what seemed an eternity. Finally Clarence whispered, “We can’t stand here all night. It can’t hurt us. It’s just a light. Come on. Let’s make another run for it!”
“I’m with you,” Edward responded. “Let’s go!”
When the two of them began to move again, naturally, I took off with them. And so did the hobos! The floating flame ahead of us also appeared to be moving faster now. It was leading us in the direction of home.
This can’t be happening! I thought. There is no way a light can lead people! Just as that idea flashed through my mind, the light stopped abruptly—right in the middle of the tracks. When it stopped, so did we. So, of course, did our pursuers. We were standing in a line along the edge of the railroad tracks.
And that’s when we saw the other light. It was not a flickering, elusive light, but rather a steady bright beam, moving in our direction from down the tracks. The light appeared to be getting larger and brighter by the second. We knew it was not a regular train, for there was not sound. Just the light!
We tried to run, but our feet seemed to be frozen to the ground. We tried to move away, to dodge the light, but we couldn’t seem to budge. The light was getting closer now, headed right for us.
Not a sound did it make in the darkness, this mysterious light in the night. Not a sound did we hear in the darkness, but brighter it grew. So bright!
It swept down the tracks right at us. The light was brighter than day! We knew when it hit we’d be done for! There was no way to escape! No way!
As we stood there, spellbound, the refrain we had heard at the party earlier ran through my mind: “Swooping you off in the darkness, swooping you off in the night, swooping you off forever, never again to see light!”
It was nearly upon us before we realized that the light was attached to something. What was it?
Why, it was a train—a soundless, almost invisible train.
Then, just before it struck, there was a sound. It was the eeriest sound I had ever heard in my life. It was not just a train whistle. It was a sad, mournful wail, crying through the night. It was the sound of the mystery train!