An Amerikan Ghost Story
– All Amerika is a haunted ground. Said that Miner man that sat alone in the corner of the open-air car.
Why did he sit out there in the cold of the October night? His breath, steaming in lantern light, showed me he was there, told me he was talking. I did not yet go out to him. We was on the train Shavano, moving West over Marshal Pass.
Marshall Pass, 10,842 ft. high, was the first railroad ever to cross that Colorado continental divide and this was it. This country’s older than we’d guess. There was roughly five cars on this black train – the last of which was an observer booth – to breathe the air – but this was one meanin cold October night.
No no it was all deep somber upon the canyon tonight – No wind did murmur in the dying leaves of aspen, nor coyotes yip, nor owls hoot on the evergreens. Nor could stars be seen sown widely in the sky. Nor ther was no moon bobbing afloat there. Naw, all was quiet and ahush – but for that Miner man chanting in the corner of the car open to the cold.
I went out to him – maybe to smoke (common at that time) – but really to listen.
– All Amerika is haunted ground. Said he, in chant. Walk and She walks with you. She is older than you can ear. See for Her under your boot soles. Heel to heel. Feet meet in stamp.
A long life of Prospectin will crack a Coloradan’s face. Such was his. The pinching eyes, the hounding nose. His grey hair and shocky beard seemed to strive to escapin’ from him. A mining pan he wore on his head, like some Quixotic yokel – a silver bullet he clasped in his hand he shook like a papsist’s rosary. He had three teeth. And three Indian ears on wire.
Strange. A light of another Train appeared, grey but bright on the track behind us. Coming up from the Amerikan East.
– I chant of Time forgot! Shouted the Miner, standing up now – his arms rolling like a wave towards the East. I chaunt of Time untock! Chug steam and chugga dream! Choooo!
That grey Train behind us was moving fast. So very fast. Wanting to ram us. Frightened, I rang a bell beside the bannister – and the conductor of us poked his head out the engine car – and saw that grey Train pressing on us. Full speed ahead! Our car outran it as best she could we raced dangerously around bend and bend – where the canyon yawn’d on either side its black mouthin’ end!
At this point I done hunkered myself down, grasping the rail like is was my momma’s skirt. Wind quirtin’ my face. The scream of iron on iron rocked my eartams. The chant of the Miner man was now a loud viking yawp! – I saw summoning he was the strange grey Train – closer, closer.
– The tide is a-coming high! The breaks are bringin’ nigh! Chugga chugga choo choo ! He yelped like a wolf at the moon.
By now, the grey light of the Train was so close it overwhelmed all my eye. There was no warmth from it but a cold like driving me to somewhere. In my mind, ther was made the content of the Cars: Rottin men and women of the first civilization upon this divided continent. But now moonborn fresh as babes they wore furs and bones and jangling ornaments of earth make. They piped on flutes their breath the marrow of shins and thighs of buffalo and elk and eld animals I knew not their names. Giants. They wore horns and braids of owl-feather. They danced on their knees. The Miner man chanted the grey Train faster, faster, closer, closer.
Some made gentle invites to their square dance.
Some coldly accused.
They sat in the luxury car and swallowed greedily whipped black tea.
Nay they donned tall hats and raced wicker hoops about the hall.
Naw I saw they broke stones against the window, stones against the, trying to breathe out.
I knew these faces that changed. They changed into faces I knew. There was an ancestor seen in an old photograph. There was an Uncle. There, a Grandfather. Hiding under a chair was a youngon face I was yet to meet.
– The silver is passed! Through fields of underseen grass! I’d meet all in car at junction! I’d meld one in all in a black pipe of steam!
What was behind was now on the very verge of me. I would not let it touch me. A scream in the bright grey light. The trains rounded a bend. Ours almost tipped – the Miner man well he fell out he hurtled into canyon singing his summoning chants still! The Grey train, nigh enveloping– of a sudden sunk over rail and sailed into black abyss!
We heard the thunder crash of metal – but no moaning sound of Man… We slowed. We stopped. There was total quiet.
We did search with lanterns the site of the wreck – nothin. As though all was a vanity.
I boarded again the Train. We set off West. But on the bench where that Miner man had sat, I saw these words done scrawled by dull knife:
‘A frate train was recked as yu saw. Yu saw wat yu will all ways see. If yu ever run on this redd again yu will be recked ded.’
Beside this was a single sprig of aspen, which I keep in my pocket to this very day to remember always what’d I done done, and the song I’d sung – the Train I’d summoned.