The first chapter of the second draft is posted below. Please note this is no longer of the short story variety, and will be turned into a novella or novel.
I had never believed the story. The story of the boy that rides on top of trains. Many people around town blamed it on the fact that I had only recently moved into the town of Knoxbury. They said to each other, “Oh, that young man just doesn’t understand. He will, though, just wait and see.” I laughed quietly at their foolishness. A young boy riding a train to and fro? No parent would put his or her child in that sort of danger. But the townspeople insisted that this had been happening for years. I nodded and kept my mouth shut – I didn’t need to start an argument with people that I barely knew.
This was good and all, for a while at least. A few months after I’d moved in, however, is just so happened that there was a night that caused me to question my certainty and question my sanity.
One night I was sitting on my porch, minding my own business as I rocked in my favorite redwood chair that I had made and carved myself. The train tracks go by my house, and I hear the trains go by almost every night.
I heard the train coming that warm summer night. A light breeze blew, and I heard the train’s sharp whistle as it approached. At first I didn’t look up, and I continued to read my book. After all, this was a regular occurrence, and there was not really anything special about a train going about its business. The whistle blew again, and I looked up, watching calmly as the train engine passed in front of me, followed slowly by each car.
Then I saw him.
A small figure perched atop one of the cars, crouching low. I couldn’t see more than his general shape in the darkness, and the distance didn’t help. I stood up from my chair, The Kite Runner falling to the floor. I could see that his head turned toward me, and I felt it. I knew he could see me. Somewhere inside me, I could feel that sense of being watched, and I was filled with a desire to understand.
The curiosity grew within me. So this story was not some figment of a collective imagination after all. I had imagined that some old coot had seen something and that he had spread this story throughout the town, and the people had believed him. But now I was seeing proof with my own eyes. I wasn’t sure then what exactly I was to do. Was action even necessary?
The boy turned his head back and I saw the rush of wind around the train blow his hair up in the moonlight. Soon he had the rest of the train had passed, and I sat back down in my chair, reached down to pick up my book and held it in my lap.
That was the beginning of my journey.
From that moment on, night after night I sat on my porch in my chair, reading my book or brainstorming ideas for a new project for work. But as it approached the same time that I had first seen the boy, my focus was lost and my mind wandered. I started looking up every minute or two, even though I knew that I would be warned by the train’s whistle. It didn’t matter though. I was too curious to see him again. It was hard to admit to myself that I might have some interest in this child, so I pretended that it was simply a bystander’s interest in a boy’s well-being. I found myself hoping to make contact with him, and wondering what would happen if I succeeded.
The second night I saw the same train, but he wasn’t on it. The same thing happened the third night. At first I was disappointed, then anxious and worried. But when it happened on the fourth and fifth nights, I realized that I shouldn’t be concerned – he must travel on different trains.
After a few more nights of wanting and waiting, I saw him again. By now, my curiosity had built enough that I couldn’t sit idly in my chair. I put my book down, still The Kite Runner, and stood up. I called out to him, but my voice was lost in a gust of wind that seemed fated to cut me off. Before I could call out again, the boy and the car had passed.
I sat back down again, and a few minutes later the rest of the train had passed by my lonely house. I grunted to myself. All that waiting and it hadn’t paid off. Well, it sort of had, right? I got to see the boy again.
I got lucky the next night. I waited impatiently in my chair, barely looking at my sketchbook with plans for a new armoire. The pencil was loose in my fingers. For the most part, I stared out into the night. A few minutes passed, then half an hour, then a couple hours. But still there was nothing. And then some power in the sky took mercy on my poor soul, and I heard a train whistle. I gripped the arms of my chair tightly, my knuckles whitening as I waited to see if the boy was on this train. I looked down briefly and saw the veins in my hands popping out. I was right to question my sanity. I relaxed my grip and let go of the rocking hair, then stood up and peered out at the train. I was rewarded almost immediately with the sight of the boy’s small figure on top of a car.
I wasted no time in pondering the situation. I called to him. At first he didn’t seem to hear and he kept facing forward, but when I called again, he looked my way. I could only tell because I saw his profile change. Other than a small change in outline, I could not see his face at all. I waved to him, but there was no response.
Then he had passed.
I sat down in my chair, pondering the boy’s reaction, and then his lack of reaction. Maybe he didn’t know it was me calling? But there was no house next to me, and no other person could be calling to him. Though I was only fifteen minutes or so from town, I was still sort of in the middle of nowhere, with only a forest, small lake, and fields around me. Was he mute and so perhaps he couldn’t call back to me? Or perhaps I just couldn’t hear him. The wind must have blown his voice like it had down to mine just the night before. Another possibility occurred to me, one that worried me: Perhaps he didn’t want to respond.
After all, who was I? To him I must just have appeared as a stranger on a porch, yelling at a young boy. I smiled wryly to myself. If I was in his place I surely wouldn’t want to have anything to do with a creepy stranger like myself.
I ran my fingers through my hair. I was stressing over this much more than I should have been, and I was definitely developing an obsession. I didn’t have any bad intentions; I just wanted to know more about him. There was nothing wrong with that, was there? No, surely not. I was just curious and filled with good intentions for his well-being. Nothing wrong with that.
I picked up my book and headed in for the night, looking once more toward the train tracks before going inside, the screen door slamming behind me.