Fiction: The Railway Crossing

Karen should have left at eleven but she was having so much fun with the gang she just had to stick around until last call. Okay, maybe she had drunk one too many beers but it wasn't like she didn't know her way home. She had driven these back roads a zillion times and knew the county like the back of her hand. Well, if she could see on the back of her hand. Ha ha! She'd be fine. "Don't sweat it. I'll call you guys in the morning."

Normally she would go barreling down these roads with little regard for any posted speed limit since they were usually deserted. She did know, after all, just about everybody in town including everybody at the local detachment. At best, she'd get a warning. Yes, normally she'd go barreling down the road but tonight, she decided to take it easy. All those beers were adding up and it was taking a bit of effort to concentrate on the matter at hand like not driving into the ditch. Ha ha, that's hilarious. All she had to do was keep the lights pointed in between the line of dark trees on either side of her and that would pretty much guarantee she'd stay on the road.

The gravel was kicking up under the car and the occasion ding on the metal body of the car reminded Karen to not nod off at the wheel. She had also put all the windows down to keep the fresh air flowing around her. A little cool night air sort of rejuvenated her. Ah yeah, no problem. She'd make it home just fine.

Oh wait a minute. She remembered something. Somebody mentioned once that a cop friend had told her to take her shoes off if she was driving when tired. Supposedly your bare feet on the accelerator and brake would help you stay awake. Did it work? Karen reached down with her left hand and pulled the shoe off her left foot. She then switched hands and while using her left foot to keep the accelerator down, she used her right hand to remove her right shoe. Tossing the shoes onto the floor on the passenger's side, she got her feet back in place and continued driving. Hmmm, it felt quite different feeling the pedal with her stockinged foot. Karen smiled and nodded thoughtfully. Maybe her friend was on to something and maybe that cop was right. Certainly Karen felt the pedal more so than if she was wearing shoes.

All of a sudden something ran out in front of the car and was briefly lit up in the headlights. Karen slammed on the brakes and the tires skidded on the gravel. The animal was gone so Karen took her foot off the brake and the car resumed its course. She accelerated to her original speed while wondering what it was. She ran over the image in her mind spotlighted for the briefest of instances in front of the car and concluded that it had been a rabbit. It was a good thing she had braked for no doubt, the car would have been on top of the animal and the soon to be corpse would be bouncing around the undercarriage.

Karen shook her head and quietly said, "Whew!" to herself. That was a tense wake-me-up. For some reason she got a shot of adrenaline out of it and her head seemed to clear a bit. The beer must be wearing off.

A sign came into range of the headlights and Karen glanced at the railway crossing sign as it flashed by and disappeared into the darkness. Hmmm, this meant Karen was coming up to the end of the road and had to turn right onto rural route number two. Route two was paved and went straight into town. Karen was almost home.

A wave of fatigue came over the woman. Her head tilted forward a bit and her eyes dropped for a moment then her head snapped back upright and her eyes were saucer shaped. Oh boy, pay attention! Not too far to go.

Karen felt a bump. That must be the train crossing so right up here at the opening she had to turn right onto route two. No problem. She'd be home soon. Karen turned the wheel and the car turned off the route. Immediately there was a horrible bumping. The whole car was bouncing up and down like crazy. What the hell just happened? Did she have a flat?

Karen stopped the car. She sat for a moment and silently cursed to herself. Oh crap, who wants to change a flat tire? She put the car in Park and opened the door. She stepped out in her stockinged feet and felt… wait, what was that? She looked down. The interior light of the car gave off a dim glow onto what appeared to be gravel. Well, not really gravel but larger than gravel. Small stones. What the heck was this?

Karen turned back to car looking at the ground. Oh God, she was still drunk. Yeah, she shouldn't have driven home. She should have left her car at the roadside club and accepted a ride with a friend. She laughed. But they were all as drunk as she was. Ha ha.

Karen furrowed her brow looking at the ground. This didn't look like route two. Where was she? She stared at the gravel and what she thought were pieces of wood. What the hell was that? She stood up and looked back from where she came. That was where the road was. She turned right onto route two. Karen looked down again. She looked at the pieces of wood. She looked back to the road and stared intently into the darkness. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness and she could now see the shadowy outline of some poles or signs or whatever behind the car. What were they? They seemed familiar but…

Somewhere the light of recognition came on. Karen looked down again at the wood then looked back behind the car. Oh my God, she had turned onto the railroad tracks instead of turning onto route two. The bump she felt before wasn't the train tracks; it must have been a drainage conduit going under the road. She thought that was the tracks and so turned at the next opening thinking that was route two. Oh crap, now what was she going to do?

She looked around in the vain hope of seeing somebody who could help her. But it was nearly two in the morning and she was out in the middle of nowhere. Damn. Could she back the car up onto the crossing? She stepped towards the car when the silence was broken by the ringing of bells. She jumped startled by the noise. She looked back to the road and the crossing signals had come on. What? She looked around wildly in a panic. She heard the whistle of a train. Oh my God!

Karen jumped into the car and frantically put the car in reverse. She slammed the accelerator down and the car moved slightly backwards. She could hear the whining of the back tire spinning against something but not getting any traction. The whistle of the train sounded again. The crossing bells were insistently clanging their warning. What was she going to do? Karen got out of the car. She looked up the tracks and could see the light of the engine coming around the corner. She suddenly was shaking in fright. What to do? What to do?

Karen stepped back, lost her footing, and slide on the stones making up the bed of the tracks. She stumbled then fell on the ground. The whistle of the engine sounded again. Karen lay for a moment stunned by her fall. Oh God, she had to do something. She jumped up and looked down the tracks at the approaching train. She took a step then winced in pain. She was in her stockinged feet. Oh no, she had left her shoes in the car. And her purse. She carefully stepped on the stones back to the car. The light of the engine was coming around the curve.

In the dim light of the interior light, Karen saw her shoes. She jumped into the driver's seat and reached over to the floor and grabbed the shoes. She struggled to get the shoes down and on her feet. She glanced in the rear view mirror and could see the light of the engine. Damn, the left shoe would not go on her foot. Karen reached down and got her index finger into the back part of the shoe by the heel and managed to pull the shoe onto her foot. She glanced in the rear view mirror again.

Karen was about to jump out of the car when she remembered her purse. She wildly put out her hand onto the seat beside her but inside of grabbing a hold of her purse her hand brushed it off the seat onto the floor. She glanced in the rear view mirror. Did she have time? She needed the purse with her house keys and her I.D.

Karen bent over across the seat and madly swept her hand over the flooring on the passenger side of the car. Her hand hit the side of the purse and pushed it around a couple of times before she figured out where the handle was and seized it. Karen sat up and looked in the rear view mirror.

The train was going a speed of 50 m.p.h. when it arrived at the railroad crossing. Even though the engineer had seen the automobile on the tracks and had applied the brakes, the mechanical air brake system took several seconds before full braking kicked in and during that time the train travelled the remaining few hundred feet to the car. The combined weight of the five diesel locomotives and the loaded 70 rail cars was eight thousand tons. The weight of Karen's automobile was just less than two tons. With a ratio of approximately four thousand to one, the automobile represented a negligible impediment to the forward motion of the train. In other words, the train swept the car forward from a standing position to its speed of 50 mph with an almost instant acceleration.

Karen sat up in her car and looked in the rear view mirror at the exact moment the train struck the end of the car. The trunk collapsed and the gas tank ruptured exploding in a fireball. As the car moved forward, Karen's head snapped back breaking her neck and killing her instantly. At the same moment, the ignited gasoline engulfed the inside of the car.

The train continued to push the burning car down the tracks for several hundred yards before the car twisted on the rails and was pushed off to one side. The automobile rolled over down the gravel bed and settled upside down in a ditch partially full of water. The engineer looked out his window and saw the car still burning with its wheels sticking in the air. With the full application of the brakes, it still took the train over a mile to come to a complete stop.

The first police car arrived on the scene within ten minutes of the engineer calling in to dispatch. An ambulance and three other squad cars arrived five minutes after that and within 30 minutes there were another half a dozen cars and two motorcycles with spectators on the scene. The area would be cordoned off for the rest of the night as investigators tried to piece together the details of this tragic accident. A later autopsy would reveal an elevated blood alcohol level and the final conclusions would list the victim's state of inebriation as the determining factor in her mistakenly turning onto the tracks instead of rural route two. The investigators would not know however that Karen could have lived without her shoes and certainly without her purse both figuratively and literally.

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1 Comment

  1. I think that story is very good. I can not express how awesome it is this is something I think everyone should read. Anyone with a drivers license who drinks alcohol or knows someone who does .
    :sigh: The danger of Alcohol or Drugs when driving how it could affect your thought process.

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