Tom said that it was easy to lose yourself up there, walking on those train tracks in the dark. You could walk for hours and not even know how much time or distance had passed as you crossed over from town to town. You just poked your head out of the surrounding trees, eventually, and found that you were much farther than you could have guessed. Marie knew that he was right. Most things in life were like that, actually, getting you caught up and distracted, then stealing time away from you while your back was turned. And that’s what they did. They walked for miles, taking turns walking on the metal rim of the track like gymnasts on a balance beam, holding one another’s hands for support. Each time Marie felt her body start to wobble a small fear grew inside of her that he wouldn’t be able to react in time. Each time she lost her footing her stomach would go icy with the near certainty she created in her mind that he would let her fall. She’d clench her eyes tightly and wait to feel the cold, hard dirt meet with her body. But he effortlessly caught her every time. They didn’t really talk about anything in the beginning; Tom just told her how he’d walked the tracks with his friends a million times. “While we were in high school,” he said, “we’d come down here and make fires and just talk.” He looked around at the trees and then up at the hazy sky. The misty light of the moon sprinkled his face with a bluish glow; accentuating the curve of his nose and the prominence of his cheeks. His bright eyes began to glaze over as he got lost in a memory. “One time,” a mischievous smile appeared on his face, “we brought some beers up here and got drunk. It was the second time I ever drank.” Marie smirked, looking down at her feet and stretching her arms out more on either side of her. They weren’t holding hands just then, but he was glancing at her every so often to make sure that she was still balanced. “It sounds like fun,” she said, not wholly convinced. “It was. You should come out here with us sometime.” An overpass came into view right before them; the combination of darkness and fog made it hard to see more than a few feet ahead. The huge cement structure was covered in colorful words, some of them huge and bubbly, others lanky and sharp. Suddenly, Tom started to jog towards the wall on the inside of the overpass, motioning with his hand for her to follow. “Look,” he said excitedly, “this is the tag I made earlier in the summer. There was a small pathway where the tracks continued, but on either side the grass and dirt faded, leaving moat-like trenches filled to the brim with dark, eerie water. Tom got to the edge and began to look for a way to step inside. “Ew, Tom,” Marie called, still hanging back near the grassy area. “Don’t go in there.” “I want to see it up close. I went in when I made the tag.” He turned to face her. Her arms were folded across her chest and her hip stuck out to one side, due to the slight bending of one standing leg. Her body language was firm, but her face was softer. Her head was slightly tilted, and her expression was amused. “Don’t worry,” he continued. “I won’t make you go in with me.” Marie rolled her eyes. “Well, yeah,” she said matter-of-factly, dropping her arms back to her sides. “There was never even a question of me going in there.” She began to walk on, following the tracks. She walked past him, paying attention to the area he was pointing at, but then moving on. She continued until the overpass was behind her, silent the whole way, waiting for the sounds that would tell of his next move. For a while she heard nothing, and wondered if he would come after her. He was the kind of person who could get lost in a moment, focusing only on his most immediate desire. She often feared that he’d get too caught up and forget to come back to her at all. As Marie looked around at the full dark trees, that familiar nervousness sprang up again. But soon she heard his footsteps emerging, and the bit of frost lining her stomach melted away. “Alright,” he said, breathing a bit more heavily from jogging up to her, “I’ll just wait until next time.” “Do you know,” Marie asked as he got up onto the thin edge of the track and took her hand again, “if trains still run on this track?” “Yeah, but I think they only run during the day. I’ve been out here plenty of times and I’ve never seen one at night.” Marie looked back behind her, the fog had lessened and the track seemed to endlessly stretch on behind them. “Have you ever been here at 2 a.m., though? Sometimes in the middle of the night my bedroom shakes, and my dad always says it’s because of the trains going by.” Tom took an exaggerated leap off of the track and landed in front of her. He took her face in his hands and kissed her softly on the lips. “You,” he said, running his hands through her hair, “worry way too much.” “I know that already.” She playfully pushed him away and they continued walking, side by side. “I don’t get it,” he said, taking her hand once again. “Is your mind just on a constant loop of worry? Like do you have a list of bad things you’re afraid are going to happen and you just go through the list every day?” She pushed him again; she knew that he was purposely exaggerating. He loved to make fun of her for little things like the fact that she worried too much. On the other hand, she wondered if he really had a right to criticize her, even jokingly. Tom acted without thinking to the same degree of severity that Marie thought out her every move. Sometimes his spontaneity was exciting and romantic, but his actions usually ended up hurting him or the people he cared about—her, to be specific. “No, I’m serious.” He interrupted himself with a chuckle. “Do you have an alarm in your head that goes off every time you start to calm down?” “Shut up. It’s not like that. I just like to make sure I’m prepared for anything. At least if something bad happens I’ll know what to do.” “Yeah, everyone will know what to do because you probably plan out what everyone else should do in any situation, too. I’ll bet you even worry about the fact that no one else worries.” She couldn’t help smiling. “I do,” she said quietly, and they both fell into laughter. As the fog continued to dilute, the light of the stars and moon grew stronger. They peeked through the patches of clear sky, lying to rest across the track and dirt in thin, pale streams. Tom lifted his head to watch, but Marie was mesmerized by the beams of light that stretched out in front of her. For the first time she noticed how worn out and grimy the wood of the tracks was. It was covered with a layer of thick, brown dust and spotted generously with patches of dark, sticky tar. If she blocked out the heavy screeching of locusts and the rustling of leaves she could just make out the faint sound of her flip flops, undoubtedly black and tarry underneath, fighting to separate themselves from the wood with each step she took. “You really don’t stress about anything at all?” The volume of her own voice startled her, and she realized that the sounds of nature were much more distant than she’d originally perceived. “Nope,” Tom replied nonchalantly. “I do what I want. Everything works itself out eventually.” He winked at her. His hair, almost the same shade as the dirt they walked over, slid down over his eyebrows and the tips of his eyes. He shook his head to the side and the hair was thrown back into place. “So everything in your life turns out perfectly? You’ve never had to deal with something really hard or bad? You’ve never even been scared of anything?” “No, everything is perfect, just like me. Nothing to be scared of.” Marie rolled her eyes. “Tom, I’m serious. Don’t you ever think about the consequences of the things you do?” “That’s just not the way I live my life. If you walk around thinking something bad will happen, then it probably will. But so far, trusting that everything will fall into place has worked for me, so that’s what I’m gonna believe.” His tone was purely calm, but there was a firmness just below the surface. It was clear that no matter what his position would not change. Marie had come to notice this subtle stubbornness in him over time. It emerged whenever he spoke of something he was passionate about. Politics was one good example of this; the love that he had for her was another. She had to admit that she envied his inner peace. Sometimes she wished that she could live as freely as he did, but it was hard to even imagine doing so. Just like he had his views for a reason, so did she; being difficult to persuade was one of the things they had in common. “Ghosts, I guess,” Tom said after a few minutes. “Huh?” “I guess I’m kind of scared that ghosts exist.” “You worry about getting haunted by ghosts?” Marie raised her eyebrows. She had known Tom for a long time. He’d always shared most of his thoughts and feelings with her, but he’d never told her about this before. “Well, sort of. I think they’re real, and it makes me uncomfortable. So I guess in a way that’s something I worry about. It’s the same thing with aliens. Oh, come on. Don’t look at me like that.” “I’m sorry, it’s just funny.” Marie shook her head, half-smiling. “Those are probably the only things I’m not worried about at all. “You don’t believe in things from other worlds? How? I’ve heard so many stories and encounters of people that have seen spirits and weird lights and stuff like that. My friends have told me so much weird shit that’s happened to them.” “No offense,” Marie said jokingly, “but your friends have seen a lot of weird shit that no one else has. It’s called a hallucination.” She tried to make the statement in a purely good-humored way, but a bit of condescendence snuck in. She hoped he wouldn’t notice. “They’ve seen it sober! I swear.” But he was smiling too, then. They walked on, the cool summer air weaving through the trees and their bodies, picking their hair up off of their backs and playfully throwing it into their faces once in a while. After some time, Tom spoke again. “Why don’t you believe?” “Because I think that weird things happen in the world that can’t be explained and people want to pin them on something, so they create these other life forms or whatever because it’s thrilling. If you ask me, it’s all about being dramatic. You’re just a big drama queen.” She stuck her tongue out at him. “How is believing in something being dramatic?” “Because you’re taking something little, like the flicker of a light or an unexplained movement in the dark, and creating an entire parallel universe out of it. It doesn’t make sense. I’ve never seen a ghost and I think that all of the stories people tell about them are super embellished.” “So if you actually saw one of them, would you believe it then?” “I will never actually see one, because they don’t exist.” “You’re way too stubborn. This stuff is real.” “Whatever you say.” Marie turned around again to look at the track. “Still looking for that train, huh?” Tom asked. “No. I’m looking for a ghost.” His arm found its way around her waist and he pulled her in closer. They smiled at one another and continued walking. With his free hand, he took out the cell phone from his pocket and pressed a button to illuminate the screen. 2:43 shone bright green in the darkness. “Wow, time really does go fast back here,” Marie said. “Where do you think we are?” “Probably in Ferntown by now.” “There’s no way we’re all the way in Ferntown.” The town they lived in was small, only two square miles, but the surrounding towns were bigger, and the border of Ferntown was at least six miles away from where they had started. “Sure we are, come here.” Tom walked off to the left, toward a thick row of trees. She followed him through the foliage, stepping over bushes and ducking under leafy branches. As they got closer, the screams of the locusts filled their ears. The ground sloped downward, and as it went the grass grew thicker and greener. Once they reached the bottom of the hill they were standing on freshly mowed park grass. “See,” Tom said. “We’re at the park.” “I can’t believe we walked this far and I didn’t even notice. That’s crazy.” “I told you, it’s really easy to lose track of time. It was a good walk, though.” He stepped closer to her and she put her head on his shoulder. “Yeah, it was. I like taking walks in the middle of the night, it’s relaxing.” They stood there, comfortably close, listening to the crickets and looking up at the sky. It was even more beautiful now, with hundreds of stars dotting its deep blue surface. Swirls of leftover fog swirled in and out between constellations, and Tom pointed them out to her whenever he recognized one. Marie reached behind her head and pulled back her hair. There was a bit of sweat on the nape of her neck, and the cool breeze sent a slight chill across her shoulders. Tom pulled her closer, wrapping his arms around her waist. She rested her head on his muscular chest, eyes still lifted towards the sky. They talked a bit more about the supernatural, but soon switched over to traveling, a place their conversation was found in quite often. Tom had spent a big part of his childhood traveling with his grandmother, and been to over fifteen countries in the nineteen years he’d been alive. Marie had never left the East Coast, but dreamt of going to Alaska to see the Aurora Borealis. “I’ll take you there one day, I promise.” As he promised every time they spoke of it. He promised to show her the world as long as she stayed with him. She knew that it would probably never happen, but it was a beautiful daydream. “Just promise you won’t let me fall when we hike in the mountains,” she joked. Tom’s face turned serious. “I’ll never let you get hurt. I’ll always protect you from anything and everything.” The next half hour passed without much word or movement between them. They just watched the sky, Tom deep in thought and Marie listening to the soft beating of his heart. “What’s it saying?” he asked finally. “Can’t tell you.” She shifted a bit to smile at him. “It’s a secret.” He pressed his lips against her forehead and held them there. Then, he slid his hand over hers they left their spot in the middle of the grass. They decided to walk back the same way they had come, and so Tom helped Marie climb back up the steep hill and they returned to the train tracks once again. They tried walking steadily atop the tracks at the same time, but once she got her balance he lost his and pulled her off, and vice versa. They weren’t particularly loud, but their laughter seemed to echo in the still quiet as the voices of the locusts faded and time straddled late night and early morning. About halfway back, at least that’s what Marie estimated it to be, she began to notice a slight vibration under her feet. She thought that she must be imagining it, but looking over at Tom she saw the strings of his sweatshirt swinging back and forth. She opened her mouth to say something, but knew that he’d only dismiss it as her being paranoid again. Her constant worrying must have been getting old for him, and it was certainly starting to exhaust her mind, as well. She decided to brush off the conclusions she was jumping to, just this once, and got up onto the rim of the track, giving Tom’s hand a little squeeze.It was there that she was sure she felt the rumble as a faint light began to appear up ahead of her. Marie looked down at her feet. It illuminated her shoes so that she could now see the edges were indeed stained with dirt and tar. She looked to the sky, but the sun wasn’t rising yet. Eventually, her strong instincts forced her to consider that it might be train—her throat grew tight and it became immensely hard to swallow—but there was nothing on the tracks in front of her, only a glow that seemed to be rising from somewhere else. There was a clanking sound that gained volume rapidly, and the wind around them picked up just as quickly. The trembling from the metal below traveled through her feet, up her legs, and across her entire body. Marie forced her gaze away from the sky. With struggle she turned to look at Tom, whose eyes were on her, but was distracted by the blinding light in her peripherals. She turned her head as quickly as she could, but felt as if it took her years to get there. Her heartbeat was competing with the shaking of the tracks; both of them pulsating throughout her body, wrestling for control of her movements. After an endless blur of dark green leaves and navy blue sky she was finally able to see behind her. Marie felt as if she were pushed backwards by the intensity of the headlights. Her pupils couldn’t constrict fast enough, and the white explosion shot through her line of sight, creating a stabbing sensation on both sides of her head. The roar of the train filled her ears and everything began to spin as she realized that what she was seeing was completely true. She was instantly frozen, unable to do more than gape at the monster of a machine in front of her and helplessly wait for her life to end. Inside of her mind she was screaming. She knew that she should run, or jump, or make some sort of noise; that she should call out to Tom for help—or at least tell him to get out of the way—but the connection between her brain and her body seemed to have been severed by panic. She could no longer feel the tracks beneath her or the racing of her heart; her body was numb and she had the sensation of floating. As the wind in her face became too powerful for her to draw in breath and she could almost feel the metal touching her skin, she used any bit of strength that she had left to close her eyes and bring her arms up in front of her face. A moment later Marie opened her eyes, stumped as to what was taking the train so long to hit her. To her astonishment, she lay on the cold dirt ground, Tom shaking at her side. Her left arm was beneath her, and sore from being used to break her fall. Her body was trembling as well, but the earth below was still; this was purely a sensory reaction of her own. She was pulling in breath and forcing it down her throat as if there were a limited supply. She wanted to hug herself, to touch her arms and feel her own legs, to make sure that everything was intact and unharmed. But she was afraid to move too suddenly or obviously, as if the train would realize it had failed and come back to finish the job. She risked shifting her weight, stretching her legs out beneath her and freeing her left arm. She slowly brought it into her body, along with the other, her face blank and her head filled with milky white clouds. The fog in her mind slowly faded away and emotion made its way back to her. She looked over at Tom, tears forming in her eyes and her chest feeling the overwhelming pressure of terror filled with enormous gratitude. She opened her mouth to speak but a coarse whisper was all that came out. She felt so foolish for ever doubting his ability to take care of her in the first place. She cleared her throat and, placing a hand on his still-trembling shoulder, tried again. “You just saved my life.” Tom looked up at her, his face streaked with tears and traces of dirt left from the hands that had failed to wipe them away. His eyes were unnaturally wide; bright blue sailboats floating helplessly in a huge, white sea. “No I didn’t,” he said. He looked down, shaking his head from side to side. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” He lifted up his hand, curled it into a tight fist, and brought it back down onto the dirt as hard as he could. “I panicked, Marie. I’m so sorry.” She took him into her arms, his head resting on her lap and tears soaking into her ripped up jeans. “Baby, it’s okay. What are you talking about? Of course you saved me.” “No, I freaked out when I saw the train and my first impulse was to jump out of the way, so I did.” He broke off into sobs, pressing his face deeper into the denim of her jeans. She ran a hand through his hair, now damp with sweat, and he looked up at her again. He could only hold her gaze for a moment before turning away in shame. “You didn’t save me from the train?” To Marie’s surprise she was more disappointed than bewildered. Believing him was too easy, as if she had been waiting for this moment a long time. She didn’t want to think that it could be true, but his countenance and who he was served as more than enough evidence to sway her. She dwelled on the realization that Tom had failed to keep the promise he’d made to her almost daily for the past year. He fell back into her arms, hugging her tightly this time. She didn’t return the embrace. The numbness was coming back to her. “You know what, I’m just glad you’re okay. I love you so much,” he said, weak with emotion. She wanted to pull away, but the thought of doing so scared her even more than the train had. Her mind flashed back to the promises he’d made and all of the wonderful things he’d said to her in the past. These once beautiful memories now created an overwhelming ache. She realized that, even being as cautious as she was, she’d stupidly neglected to protect herself from him. She had been naïve, letting the way she felt cloud her view of reality and the inevitable. She sat there on the cold ground, in love with someone that she didn’t know at all. They both shook, but their reasons for doing so were no longer the same. After a few moments Tom got up looking much more stable. He held out his hand, but Marie could only stare at it. He smiled, somehow mistaking her hesitation for playfulness, and grabbed onto both of her arms, lifting her up enthusiastically. Once she was standing he placed a kiss on her cheek and looked into her eyes. “I really am so glad that you’re okay.” His face was serious again; as convincing as ever. She noticed something repulsive, almost mocking, in it for the very first time. She gave a slight nod and forced a smile, waiting for him to start walking again and then following just a few paces behind. She was confident that he’d notice soon and that he’d wait for her to catch up, pulling her close to his side and promising to never let her out of his sight again, but the action no longer had the same meaning. “I don’t know how you ended up next to me on the ground, but I’m so glad you didn’t get hurt.” He came back next to her and placed an arm around her shoulders. He continued talking, but Marie didn’t hear a word he said. Her mind shifted, only then, to the mystery of how she had escaped death just minutes before.