There was a time, not so long ago, that the phrase “ridin’ the rails” conjured up images of exciting places, dangerous adventure, and, of course, hobos. Who hasn’t at one time in their life entertained a fanciful daydream of hopping aboard that boxcar with the door conveniently ajar? Yes, at one time the rails seemed like an innocent dream; a link to a simpler time. But that’s all changed, friends. No more does the sound of a train approaching bring with it mystery and adventure. Now all it summons is dread, fear, and disgust. For I have encountered . . . The Trash Train.
That day had started like countless others. The alarm going off, the quick shower, and the short drive to work. I parked my car in the parking structure across the street and started to walk the two blocks to work. Unfortunately, I not only have to cross the street to get to work, I have to cross the train tracks. As I approached, the lights started flashing and the bells started clanging, as the arm of the barricade descended. This wasn’t that unusual, so I settled in and prepared to wait the 5 or so minutes.
I smelled it almost before I saw it. The wind carried on it the sickly sweet scent of rot. At this point, unfamiliar with the entire concept of The Trash Train, I foolishly decided to hold my ground. Within seconds the train was rolling past me at a leisurely pace. The smell intensified. It was as if a slaughterhouse had been sealed up mid-production and then unsealed a year later. My eyes began to water and I swallowed a gag. I’d had enough.
I quickly backed away, but the smell refused to dissipate. Desperately, I turned and hastened my pace. There was no escape. My eyes darted around, trying to focus through the tears that now fell freely from my tortured eyes. If I needed further proof of the non-existence of some sort of superior being who created the universe, the unholy decomposing horror that paraded before me would have been more than enough.
Just as the last shattered fragment of my sanity was about to abandon me, it was over. I looked around at my fellow survivors. No words seemed adequate. We defiantly dried our eyes and wiped our mouths, proceeding proudly across the tracks and into work. No one ever spoke of the experience again.
Now that I’m aware of The Trash Train, I see it with some frequency, always (mercifully) from a safe distance. But I’m always aware that the wind can suddenly change. Late at night, in that moment outside of time and space, where the waking world and the dream world briefly co-exist, I can hear the distant sound of a train rolling menacingly down black, empty tracks. And on certain nights, if the wind is blowing just right, I can smell The Trash Train.
And as the grotesque monstrosity of a conductor pulls the chain, the whistle is drown out by my screams and I realize it’s not a nightmare and there is no waking up. There is only . . . The Trash Train.