End of the Line: “The Haunted Caboose”

I wrote “The Haunted Caboose” in early 2017. This short story was later published in March of that year. Although the original remains online, this post consists of a recently reworked version of the original story.

Staying several steps ahead of her younger sister, Jessica periodically checked to confirm a matchbook remained securely in her back pocket. A full fuel can was slowly growing heavy in her left hand. She carried a golf club in the other.

A boreal wind from the north churned flurries between the leafless branches of several deciduous trees. Such a mottled sky on an early spring day seemed almost suspicious. The sun was regrettably nowhere to be found, although Jessica had not yet experienced anything malicious during daylight hours.

The steady crunching of papery leaves behind Jessica assured her that Sarah followed. She knew her sister didn’t fully understand this mission. Sarah lugged another fuel can and struggled to keep up with her determined sibling.

A derelict Montreal & Appalachia Railroad caboose and an abandoned spur line emerged from the surrounding forest just over a mile from Jessica’s house. The livery of the caboose was faded, and nature had largely ensnared the antiquated rolling stock. Jessica pointed with the golf club to where the spur disappeared into a thicket of overgrowth. Somewhere in the distance, a locomotive horn seemed to acknowledge the golf club.

“Are you sure that you want to do this?” Sarah asked. She didn’t see the caboose as especially malevolent or threatening.

Jessica didn’t necessarily want to commit arson as much as she desired a sense of reprisal.

“Yes,” Jessica replied.

This caboose harbored evil. However, Jessica wasn’t certain as to the nature of the resident. She had originally suspected a witch and hadn’t entirely ruled out that possibility. However, she had also claimed to have evidence that some variety of shapeshifting demon, far more dangerous than a backwoods pythoness, was her tormentor.

Jessica had tried to explain to her sister all that had happened, and Sarah listened better than most. Jessica insisted her family had been experiencing supernatural activity for months. Objects moved around the house and yard randomly. The telephone rang at all hours of the night, even when disconnected. Jessica and her husband had observed an old woman on their property multiple times, and the trespasser’s presence seemed to coincide with these unnatural events. The couple followed the woman into the forest on several occasions and observed her entering the forgotten caboose on the same day that their son disappeared.

The police had searched the dilapidated Montreal & Appalachia Railroad caboose and insisted that there was nothing to see or be found inside.

Of course, Jessica also insisted that the entity had later taken the form of her attractive neighbor and seduced her husband, and then took the form of her husband and assaulted the same neighbor.

With her husband languishing in jail and her son missing, Jessica had recently observed the old woman attempt to set fire to her house. That’s when Jessica got the idea for a little homespun revenge.

Sarah wasn’t sure what to believe.

Her nephew was missing, that was for certain. She suspected that her brother-in-law had enjoyed an affair with the neighbor and that the tryst soured soon after the disappearance. She couldn’t as readily explain the old woman, but she allowed herself to speculate that some elderly vagrant from town was trying to survive the cold months in this caboose.

Sarah followed Jessica up the caboose’s rusting steps to a rear platform and peered inside a small window. The caboose seemed deserted.

Jessica dropped her fuel can and tried the doorknob. The door rattled around the frame but didn’t budge.

Using the golf club as a spear, she thrust the titanium head forward toward the small window. The glass shattered, and she reached inside.

“Not locked,” Jessica muttered.

Without allowing time for her imagination to get the best of her, Jessica threw her body forward into the door. Her shoulder struck the splintered wooden panels. She repeated this motion a second time. Crying out in pain and frustration, Jessica thrust her body against the door a third time. This proved decisive, and the door relented.

There was no cowering tramp inside. There was no blanket, bubbling cauldron, or missing child. There was nothing to see aside from a rusting iron stove, filthy bunks, peeling paint, and broken glass.

Jessica returned for her fuel can and began pouring the fluid haphazardly on one of the bunks. Sarah followed suit, spouting gasoline over the wooden floor.
A shrill noise suddenly emerged from beneath the floor. Both women felt their balance challenged.

“We’re moving,” Sarah whispered.

The decayed wheel trucks had ripped free from their wilderness moorings, and the caboose started to roll down the spur.

The sisters moved quickly for the door, which gracefully closed just before Jessica’s hand reached the knob.

The caboose gained momentum and tore through a considerable patch of overgrowth on the spur. Jessica slipped and tumbled into the stove, striking her head against the cast iron.

Sarah held her position, only to have her face struck by a cabinet door that inexplicably popped open. Jessica roused as the caboose rolled over damaged trackage. The wheel trucks violently shuddered, jostling each woman to the floor.

The caboose rounded a curve and convulsed as the entire structure seemed to jump across rails.

From the floor, Jessica and Sarah felt the railroad car roll to a stop.

With the stench of gasoline polluting her nostrils, Jessica gained her feet and glanced through a window above one bunk. She quickly lifted Sarah off the floor.

“Look!”

The old woman appeared between a few nearby trees. She had an arm around Jessica’s son, who stood stoically next to her.

The old woman offered a smirk and waved with her free hand.

A deafening roar filled the caboose. This was the horn of an approaching freight train.

The caboose had rolled to the start of the defunct spur, hopped the junction, and came to a rest on the mainline.

Jessica hugged Sarah tightly just before an acute, explosive shattering became audible.

***

“The Haunted Caboose” first appeared in Fictional Pairings in March of 2017.

The original can be found online.

 

 

Author: joshuajscully

That’s my picture up there. I’m not totally sure why I look so angry. I may be thinking about how much I hated the Crypt Keeper as a child. I grew up faithfully watching reruns of The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt. Unfortunately, I missed the boat in terms of writing for either of those programs. I do consider both to have been wildly influential when I think back to my earliest thoughts about becoming an author and I’m grateful my parents let me watch those shows as a kid (although there were probably some nights early in my childhood my mother wished she hadn’t let me watch those shows). If you’re familiar with either program, then you know what genres are my focus. I thoroughly enjoy science fiction, suspense, the twist ending, and some horror or supernatural elements as well. Honestly, when I was a kid the Crypt Keeper scared the hell out of me. As an adult, I’ve really learned to embrace the puns. Historical fiction is a favorite of mine as well, and the root of that is shared with my profession. I am an educator by trade, and I teach American History. I consider some of the best writing I’ve ever done to be within the realm of historical fiction and I really enjoy saturating my mind in the research end of those projects. I would make the argument that storytelling is in my blood. Even my sister mulled, very briefly (about 45 minutes), launching a career as a screenwriter! My last name is one of those Irish (and, apparently, formally Manx) ones with a wonderfully researched history -“the story-teller’s descendant”. On of the first day of school each year, I do share that “my name is Mr. Scully, and that rhymes with Kelly”, just so I do not hear the myriad of mispronunciations on the first day. Several years ago, I started a blog similar to this one to highlight my middle years as a teacher. If that aspect of my life is of any interest to you at all, you can still find that blog online. During my summers, I really have time to pursue my writing projects and this blog will highlight some of that work. My first attempts to sit down and write extensively occurred when I was 15, but only a few years ago did I make setting time aside to write a priority. I’ve also benefited wildly over the years from many willing readers among my family and friends. The direction and feedback from those individuals has been invaluable. Outside the world of the written word, I am an educator, basketball coach, lecturer, and (very, very occasionally) a landscaper. I have only ever known Western Pennsylvania as my home. Although I love a good novel, I am absolutely unable to resist the power of the short story. The latter is really what I hope to be remembered for one day.

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