Train Yard Trifecta

There are some who speak of another reality, a presence more real, but veiled, just beyond our reach. Sometimes one might catch a fleeting glimpse of it for it then to disappear when focused on too closely.

I grew up in the Midwest, in a small town on the prairie with grain elevators and harsh winters. I recall reading a Sherlock Holmes story where he and Watson ride a train through the countryside and observe an isolated farm in the distance. They discussed whether it is a place of idyllic, pastoral tranquility or a site of beastial depravity.

The upper mid-west is the part of the country Ed Gein called home. You may not have heard of him but the movies “Psycho” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and others were loosely based on his sordid exploits. He and his lampshades made from human skin would barely make the news nowadays but at that time his story was chilling.

The annual lottery in my town consisted of predicting the exact date and time the derelict car, which had been towed out onto the frozen lake for this purpose, would fall through the ice from the spring thaw. (Neil Gaiman capitalizes on this ritual to great macabre effect in “American Gods”)

In my seventh year we moved to this little town into a rented house a block from my Dad’s business located at the train yard. There was nothing to do and complete freedom with which to do it except I was told that under no circumstances should I ever go to the train yard. It was dangerous. Strange, leering men came from there to peer through our kitchen window. It was no place for little boys.

However, there was still mischief to be found for one so inclined. My new neighbor Tom, about my age, was one who people would probably describe as ‘accident prone’. Tom took it upon himself to show me around.

One summer day Tom and I made our way to the roof of a local florist’s shop, closed for the day. Tom said it would be a great adventure to walk out onto the roof of the attached greenhouse. Being seven I didn’t know much about the stress factors of various building materials. But common sense told me it was not a good idea. I expressed this sentiment to no effect. Momentarily distracted, when I looked Tom had vanished. The crash and scream and jagged hole in the glass roof told the tale. Tom made his bloody escape and survived that encounter with reality. Later, we suffered tense questioning from our parents as to the how’s and whys of his accident.

Another day with Tom I became very anxious at our surroundings. Pointing, he said what a wonderful hiding place this pile of abandoned refrigerators was. I admit they were the perfect hiding place for little boys, never, ever to be found. These were the great old refrigerators with secure latches designed to keep milk and unsuspecting boys from escaping. And they had hardy, rubber seals to keep dangerous oxygen from seeping into them. Piled randomly atop one another I never knew when one might topple down and crush me. But that is not all.

I looked around and realized I had hit the trifecta. These refrigerators, this paradise of danger, were located at the train yard not fifty yards from my father’s office. And who should then walk around to our side of his building but he who had the power of life and death over me, my father. Luckily, he was talking with an employee as he pointed to the ground by the building. I was not seen. I had mere moments to find safe haven.

I dearly wanted to hide but not in the refrigerators. Better to be invisible. I found the words to tell Tom we needed to head home right now. And this time he listened. We escaped the forbidden zone and I never returned.

Later that year we moved across town and I only heard about Tom again when someone mentioned he was killed after veering his bike into the busy street that ran in front of his house.

How do two person’s paths cross with such radically different outcomes? I was blessed with a much longer life, family and success. Was he blessed somehow too?

What threshold did he want to cross? What door that was no door did he seek to open? What walled garden did he wish to step into? Did he know something beyond explanation? Was he a holy fool or merely clueless?

Did he find a way to slip behind that elusive veil?

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