It’s been twenty years since that day. Twenty years since Maria disappeared on these tracks, all for some stupid dare. Don’t believe what they tell you. She didn’t die; she disappeared. And I know, I know that her body was there. No one knows better than me, because I was the one that felt her grow heavy in my arms while I waited and waited and waited for help. It was me who watched them zip her up in the body bag, even while I was trying to tell them that she wasn’t dead, that she had disappeared and that we needed to keep her body for the time when she would come back.
But no one listened to me.
Her family cremated the body. Sometimes I feel like it was just to spite me; just because I tried to stop them. I tried to talk to her parents, but they wouldn’t listen. They blamed me for her being out there in the first place–and maybe it was my fault. I’m pretty sure her dad thought that I killed her, but he doesn’t understand. I could never have done that. I loved Maria.
I was a suspect for a while. The sheriff kept bringing me in for questioning. They could never prove anything because, of course, I didn’t do it. In the end, that didn’t really matter. To the folks in this town, I became a murderer. Now I’m just the local drunk.
It’s getting close to time now.
I guess the first time was exactly a year later. I came every night, everything else be damned, and waited. Waited for something to happen, waiting for her to return, waiting because I knew she would.
The warning bell chimed and the arms started to lower. The breeze picked up, coming out of nowhere on a night that had been still. I couldn’t stop my feet as they trod the familiar path to the edge of the tracks, eyes straining the darkness.
She appeared as she was that day, dressed in a black leotard with a little cat-earred headband in her short curly afro. She hadn’t aged a day and I was an old man, but she smiled the same smile of recognition I’d seen for the last twenty years. Seeing that smile was the one moment when my heart felt peace.
I stepped on to the track, cautiously, not wanting to spook her, but before my second step she was already fading. I always hoped that she would take me with her. I knew she could not stay. Every year, though, she left and I stood there, empty of hope and drowning in my despair, at the tracks that took her again and again.