Michael J. Moore

The September Chosen Writer is Michael J. Moore

Feel free to email Michael at: michaeljmoorewriting@gmail.com


by Michael J. Moore

I squinted into the light of the train as it came at me full speed. The ground vibrated under my eleven-year-old ass, and my heart sped up with anticipation.


The street was about fifty feet away, and there was a loud "ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding" where the gates descended to keep vehicles from driving over the tracks. Even if there had been cars stopped, nobody would have seen me. It was pitch dark out and the portion of tracks I was sitting on disappeared into a patch of woods. After the train drove over me, it would cross Hoag Road and then a bridge that reached out of the Skagit River.

I took a deep breath, let it out slowly, watching it turn to fog. It lit up wonderfully in the beam of light coming from the front of the train.


When I was a kid, I used to love it when one of my parents would get caught at an intersection waiting for a train to pass. I would sit in the backseat counting boxcars. Sometimes they seemed to go on forever.

I wasn’t a kid anymore, though. I was eleven now. I couldn’t even count that many years on my fingers, which was okay, because I stopped using my fingers to count in the third grade.

On both sides of me, metal rails went on forever. The noise seemed to be coming out of them. From my bedroom, it always sounded meek: tik-a-tik-a-tik-a-tik-a-tik-a-tik-a. But up close, it was a humbling, thunderous roar.

Steven Miller had said not to touch the rails, that they had some sort of electricity running through them. “It’s okay to touch ‘em when there’s no train,” he said. To demonstrate the point, he leaned down and placed the palm of his meaty hand flat on the track. “But be careful when there’s a train comin’, Danny. They’ll zap the livin’ daylight outtaya.”

That had been two days ago. Frankly, I found it hard to believe there was electricity running through the tracks. Why would there be? But my neighbor was a year and a half older than me and had more experience with this sort of thing.

He said he had even lain on his back before and let the train pass over him, said it was the best experience of his life. That, I did believe. I had heard of other kids doing it. Never seen one, even though we had lived in The Meadows as long as I could remember, and I had spent most of my days playing around the tracks. The closest anybody ever got when I was around was the bottom of the hill that they ran along. A dozen feet at least. I had been told that if you’re not careful, being that close, the train would spit rocks at you.

“Seen that too,” Steven Miller had said. “Kid used to live right here in The Meadows. Lost his whole eye.”

The train was a big part of storytelling in my neighborhood. Some kids claimed to have jumped on and ridden for miles. Others said they caused derailments by laying loose spikes on the beams. Mostly, I just left pennies and came back later to find them flattened like pancakes.

I wanted a story, which was why I snuck out tonight…why my bedroom window stood open on the other side of the fence, and why I sat in my plaid red pajamas on the damp wooden planks, staring into the light of an oncoming train. My body trembled as cold, humid air brushed against the exposed skin of my face.

My only regret was that I hadn’t brought anybody to witness what I was about to do.

But it was well past midnight and nobody would be out this late. Even I shouldn’t have been, really. My Dad would have welted my backside if he knew.

The thunder radiating from the tracks grew louder and the earth began to shake more violently. The train was getting close. I needed to lie down.


My heart beat like a snare drum. I felt tiny needles trying to poke their way out from under my skin as I reclined and looked up into the foggy sky. No stars were visible, but the moon peeked curiously around a thin grey cloud—my only witness. Every muscle in my body tensed. I clenched my jaw so tight that I thought I chipped a tooth in the back of my mouth.


I closed my eyes, holding my breath, my hands balled into fists. This was it.

Only then did it occur to me that this might really be it. What if the stories were all baloney? What if I died? But how? The wheels were far enough apart that I could have fit three of me between them. And I had seen parked trains. They were high. I could have crawled on my hands and knees and they still would have been able to pass over me. But what if there were pieces that hung down? Chains?

The thought of getting whacked in the gonads with a dangling chain didn’t sit well with me. Nor the idea of anything dragging across my face. Suddenly, being under that train didn’t seem like such a hot idea. And it was close. How close?

The air around me grew somehow colder. I needed to move. I opened my eyes, ready to jump, to roll, to get off the tracks as fast as I could. But instead I froze, stiff as a popsicle stick. Every hair on my body seemed to reach for the sky. Until then, I had never seen death, or experienced the dirty, dirty tingling brought on by its reality as it stares down at you. I could die content if I never know that feeling again.

I gazed up into the caved-in face of a dark-haired boy who appeared to be about my age. Only one eye was visible. The other disappeared where half of his skull had collapsed. His jaw hung so far, he could have fit both fists into his mouth. His head rested on one shoulder, as if it had somehow popped off of his neck bone. Blood decorated his white t-shirt in horrible streaks and splotches. With his one good eye, he looked down into mine and blinked.

I screamed. I sat up abruptly and my head hit his, causing it to roll off of his shoulder and dangle from the skin of his neck. I couldn’t have seen what I saw! I screamed again.

The train was right behind the boy. I didn’t have time to get up off the tracks and I knew it. I felt dizzy with fear and I figured I was going to faint.

But then the boy grabbed me by my shoulders, shoved me back to the ground, and pinned me against the wooden beams. My head collided with a rock, and a sharp pain which shot through my body told me that this wasn't a nightmare.


The sounds of hell erupted around me as the train passed by, inches from where I lay on the ground. I closed my eyes as tight as I could, but tears somehow managed to seep through the slits. I’m sure the ground was shaking more violently than ever under my back, but I didn’t notice. Fear filled every cell of my body, causing it to vibrate like a jackhammer.

I reopened my eyes and he was still there. Somehow his head was back resting on his shoulder, and he was lying on top of me, holding me down. He didn’t seem strong, yet I was paralyzed. Something about his touch seemed to drain the life out of me. Though I didn’t try, I knew I wouldn’t have been able to look away from his hideous face.

The worst part was the way he stared at me, with his head tilted and that lonely eye trained on me like a hunter’s scope. He was emotionless. Cold. His jaw, which I now saw was completely detached from his skull, hung from cheeks, stretching them and resting on my lips.

The train was a blur as it passed above him. Even though the light mounted on the front of the locomotive had long passed, and the night was darker underneath, I somehow saw every horrible detail. I tried to form words, but all that came out of my mouth was a shaky, “Oh!”

I felt a warm spot spread over my crotch. It contrasted with the cold of the night, telling me that I had pissed myself. What could I do? There wasn’t a doubt in my mind what the boy was.

I closed my eyes again and thought about what came next. I would die like he had. He probably died the same way, lying under the train. He probably had a neighbor like Steven Miller—with some baloney story about laying on the tracks—who talked him into it.

I didn’t want to die. At that moment, that’s all I knew. I looked back up into the one eye of the ghost, begging him to read my mind.

Please, I thought. I don’t wanna die like I think you did. Protect me, please.

He continued to stare. The moment seemed to go on forever, and I thought about everything that mattered to me. For the first time in my eleven years, I understood that life is a privilege, not a right.

Somewhere in the wreckage of what was once the face of a young boy like me, the cold gaze began to make sense. It wasn’t cold at all. It was just broken. For the longest second of my life, I felt what he felt. My fear didn't just evaporate, but it was gone nonetheless, changed into sorrow. It was bigger and more horrible than the tons of steel passing over me. Not because the boy was dead, but because he was lost and always would be.

Then the cloudy sky appeared behind him, and the noise faded out. I looked up and saw the caboose disappear over the bridge. I looked back at the dead boy. My tears had stopped at some point, although I was still shaking.

“Thanks.” I didn’t think about it; it just spilled out of me.

He didn’t answer. He just stood up and began to walk away. I saw then that his back was broken like his neck, and the top half leaned over to one side. He walked with a terrible limp.

I think I expected him to slowly fade out, but that’s not what happened. He kept walking until he was so far away that I couldn’t see him anymore through the fog. Suddenly, I knew that he hadn’t died lying under the train. He had been hit, walking on the tracks.

I went home that night and crawled back in through my window without anybody ever knowing I was gone. I decided not to tell my story to Steven Miller, or any of the other neighborhood kids.

Michael J Moore lives with his partner in Seattle, Washington. His spare time is spent at the gym, keeping in contact with his two daughters and searching the darkest corner of his mind for whatever horrors, oddities or fascinations have found their way in, begging expression in his unique literary voice.

His previous publishing history includes a recent best-selling post apocalyptic novel, After the Change (published by MKM Bridge Press) that was introduced into the curriculum at the University of Washington. He has also authored Bronte’s Ride (also published by MKM Bridge Press), and the young adult series, Lake City Way (which has been adapted into a play and was performed in Seattle on June 10 by Earthseed Seattle). Finally, his work has appeared in Blood Moon Rising Magazine and is set to be published in Terror Tales later this year.