It was Gareth who came up with the idea; he usually did. He’d been picking up stones as he made his way through the estate, bouncing them in his palm, filling his pockets, and as we approached the bridge I assumed he was planning on chucking them at the factory windows. It was great, the smash and tinkle when you threw a good one, but there weren’t many panes left in one piece, only the higher ones and they were harder to get.
Whatever we did over those long hot summers, Gareth led and we followed. Eddie and I started picking up our own stones, not asking Gareth what he planned to do with them.
When we got to the bridge, instead of crossing, Gareth stopped and turned to us with the lopsided grin that always made me nervous and excited at the same time.
Something was going to happen.
“What are you going to do?”
He held a finger to his lips and narrowed his eyes, looking first one way, then the other. It was the main line between London and Swansea, so we didn’t have to wait long. First the distant toot of a horn and then the slowly building growl of the engine until the yellow front appeared around the curve of the track.
I could see the driver’s eyes. He must have known what we were up to and he sounded the horn again. As the train bellowed under us in a cloud of grey diesel, Gareth began flinging his stones at the curved grey roof, his eyes wild, face contorted in a grin. The stones hit like gun shots and cannoned off in different directions, one even clanging like a bullet against the steel structure of the bridge.
“Shit!” I screamed. “Stop it! That nearly hit us.” Gareth laughed and carried on flinging the stones.
When the train had passed he was panting, face red and eyes glinting. Eddie and I still had our hands full of stones. Gareth glanced around both ends of the bridge, checking for adults.
“Come on,” he said, “let’s go and take out the windows.”
We returned a couple more times and both times Eddie and I joined in, it was good fun, but on the fourth occasion Gareth went too far. As we were walking through the estate, he spotted an old wrought-iron gate fly-tipped in an alley.
“Check this out! Imagine the noise it’ll make!”
“Don’t be stupid,” Eddie said. “That could go through the roof. It could kill someone.”
“Don’t be a pussy. Help me carry it.”
Eddie shook his head.
Gareth made me do it. I even helped him heave it up onto the edge of the bridge. We were lucky; the first train to pass came on our side of the tracks.
“Don’t do it,” pleaded Eddie.
“Wait till the driver’s past,” whispered Gareth, his eyes unblinking. “We don’t want it going through the cab.”
The noise of the gate striking the train was like a bomb going off, loud even above the scream of the horn.
We rushed to the other side of bridge. The train carried on, its grey haze enveloping us.
“Look at the dent!” cried Gareth.
“Boys,” said Eddie, his voice strangely flat. He hadn’t followed us over to the other side of the bridge. “The gate’s on the track.”
We crossed back over. He was right, the gate had bounced off the train and come to rest leaning on the westbound rails.
“We’ve got to get it off,” said Eddie. “It’ll derail a train.”
“Fuck that,” said Gareth, his face pale. “It’ll just push it out the way.”
Eddie shook his head and looked at us both. When he saw that we weren’t going to help, he turned and ran off the bridge the way we’d come. Gareth and I looked at each other, our ears straining for the sound of a train. All I could hear was the tinny sound of a radio somewhere on the estate. It was playing Queen. We Will Rock You.
Eddie appeared out of the undergrowth and glanced in both directions. The sound of a horn came from the east.
“Get out!” screamed Gareth, waving his arm. I saw Eddie muttering under his breath. He stepped out, over the first rail and onto the sleepers. I looked over my shoulder. The train hadn’t appeared, but I could hear its approach — it was an express, a fast train. I turned back. Eddie was struggling with the gate. He wasn’t a big lad and his face was red, contorted with effort.
The horn screamed, not the usual two tones, but a long blast.
He looked up, saw the train, looked back at the gate, tried once more to shift it and then scrambled back over the rails. The horn wailed. The train hit and the noise filled the world. Eddie disappeared. The train reared, buckling as it bounced on, slewing to the side, no longer secure on its tracks, the wheels screaming with friction.
We didn’t wait see what happened, we ran. But as we ran we could hear it, a terrible rending, a shriek that seemed go on and on.
And then it stopped.
All I could hear was the sound of my trainers slapping the pavement and my panting breath. What had we done?
Somewhere a radio was playing.
The next morning Dad read his newspaper at the breakfast table.
“Two people killed on that train yesterday. They say here it was kids put metal railings on the track.” He looked up and pointed his fork at me, his mouth full of bacon. “If I ever hear of you doing anything like that, I’ll make sure you don’t walk straight for a week. You’re not to go anywhere near that bloody railway. Understand?”
I nodded, cradling my tea, praying that Eddie wouldn’t split.
Matthew Roy Davey has won the Dark Tales and The Observer short story competitions. He has been long-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction award, Reflex Flash Fiction competition, Retreat West Quarterly competition and was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He lives in Bristol, England and has no hobbies.