Wifflers


by Gary Moshimer

From the low cliff by the tracks we threw rocks at passing trains. We timed it so the rocks would land inside the freight cars with open doors. Occasionally a startled and frazzled head would appear. We�d duck behind the bushes before the caboose came, because usually there was an engineer guy hiding behind a window or standing right out at the rail, smoking.

Arnie stole a pack of Lucky Strikes from his old man, and we tried smoking there one day, dangling our legs over the outcropping where the fossils were. It had taken a million years to make this moment, or a billion, and the smoke burned our lungs as if we were breathing the gases of the forming earth. After we did it, it was like we had to get used to living in a whole new atmosphere, gasping to search out the oxygen. My brain swooned. The edges of the summer sky grew dark.

We slid down the bank of black dirt to put our ears to the rail. This was how you could tell a train was coming, feeling the vibration long before the sound. Arnie took a penny and placed it on the rail. Someone had told us this was �defacing government property,� something we could go to jail for. I wondered if one of these days our coin might send the train careening off the track.  Sometimes the pennies would still be right where we�d placed them, flattened and surprisingly hot, but most times we never found them.

This one day after we smoked three cigarettes and felt dizzy with power, Arnie decided to put a rock on the rail, one of the creosote-crusted , indestructible ones the tracks were set on. �That�s going to make them stop,� I said. �They�ll see it and put the brakes on.�

�They�re not going to see that.� Arnie put his hand with the blackened fingertips out towards me. That meant it was a bet. �A buck,� he challenged, and we shook.

�Okay.�  But what if we killed someone?

The stone looked like a pyramid replica my mother had on the TV. The pyramids had lasted forever and I knew this stone would outlast the train and the two of us and all the following generations. We climbed and waited.

Something was different with this train. The longer pauses between click and clack meant the wheels were slowing even before it reached the bend. Arnie gave me a puzzled look as the brakes whined and groaned. It seemed to me that the whole rotation of the earth depended on this train, and as it slowed so did everything else: the turn of Arnie�s head and the blink of his eye, my breathing and the pulse in my neck; every detail of motion halted to try to focus and comprehend what came next.

Men were hanging all over the train, spilling from open doors and railings and steps, every one of them holding a baseball bat. Their faces did not move, but we could tell their eyes were scanning our hill. They dismounted even before the train had stopped, whacking the bats against their open palms and moving rapidly like a trained unit towards where we crouched.

Arnie whispered, �Run!� but I only had time to throw myself down and roll into the long yellow grass, hoping to be invisible.

The heavy footsteps of the men shook the ground. I kept my face down but could hear Arnie grunt and fall. There were no words of warning before the bats started on him. The repetitive blows were strange and hollow-sounding and familiar. They had Wiffle bats! I heard him crying, so I was already sobbing when they got to me. Their hundred blows stung, but in fact I�d survived heavier ones from Arnie�s Wiffle bat. They hit only my legs and back, and made no attempt to turn me over. At one point through my tears I felt a strange urge to laugh. When they stopped, only one man spoke. His voice was as hollow and eerie as a distant whistle. �Learn your lesson,� was all he said, as the boots walked away.

We stayed motionless until the train was gone. Then Arnie crept over to me on his hands and knees. Tear-tracks were drying in the black dirt on his face. He held up the stone we�d put on the rail.  �They put this in my mouth,� he said, gagging. His arms and legs and the back of his neck were bright red. I took the rock and threw it weakly at the empty tracks.

We walked stiffly and silently to Arnie�s house. We went right up to his parents in the kitchen, not even caring about the dirt and marks and smoke covering us. We were still shaking. Arnie surrendered the Lucky Strikes. �I�m sorry,� he said.

�What the hell happened to you two?� his old man asked.

�We had a fight,� Arnie said. �But it�s okay now.�

His mother told him to hit the shower and call her when he was done, so she could put something on his poor skin. He looked so small standing there. Suddenly I longed for my mother to tell me something similar. I said goodbye and ran home on my burning legs, avoiding the shortcut across the tracks.




BIO: Gary Moshimer has stories in Eclectica, Word Riot, Verbsap, Boston Literary Magazine, Pequin, Titular, Green Silk Journal, Sybil's Garage 5, and upcoming in Keyhole Magazine, Monkeybicycle, Battered Suitcase, LitnImage, and Dogzplot. He works in a hospital near Lancaster, Pa.