The train ride at French Lick, was a two hour tour through mind-numbingly
boring Indiana countryside.
Harold found himself nodding off here and there, kicking himself for not
bringing a book to read as he was jolted awake by a flying Nerf football.
After the last game of 'nail the counselor' he realized that he would be forced
to stay awake and endure the endless clack of the wheels and the sunlight that
glared in his face.
When Melanie moved forward, seat-by-seat, from the back end of the coach, he
was surprised to find that his seat had been her destination. She moved in
quietly, without much fuss, and smiled at him.
"You looked like you needed an ally in the war."
Harold shrugged and looked forward at Billy Montgomery and his green and
purple nerf football. He nodded.
Mel had been hired on a few weeks earlier and Harold had only brief
smatterings of friendly conversation with her. He had described her to his
friends as a "plain Jane". She wasn't a supermodel, but pretty. She
had brown, sometimes frazzled looking, hair, clear hazel eyes, and had the type
of petite form that many might call 'boyish'.
"I hate this train ride." She said. "I'm surprised the kids
haven't been worse. Last group of kids threw gum in my hair."
"Yuck." Harold said, then looked forward to Billy. "I just
wish Thomas would keep his under a tighter leash."
The football flew across the car and landed in Mel's lap. She let out a tiny
cry of surprise.
"That's it, Billy." Harold snatched the ball from her lap and held
it in the air. "You'll get this back when we get back to camp." He
tucked it between his leg and the metal wall. There was a groan of
displeasure from the front.
Mel smiled. "They hate you for that."
"Well, they'll just have to." He muttered, angry, glaring at the
back of Thomas Franklin's head.
The next instant it went dark and the children screamed in terror.
"Calm down, calm down." He heard Thomas shout from the front of the
car. "We'll be out of it in a few minutes."
Harold had been on this damn ride about ten times and had hated the long ride
through the dark. The tunnel entrance always came up unexpectedly, instant
blindness. It was terribly black and the cold air seeped into the car. In a few
moments he felt as if he were flying into some kind of oblivion,
slowly losing strength.
He stiffened and clenched his hands.
Beside him, he could feel Mel move in her seat, and then he felt a hand on
"Are you Ok?" he asked her. He blinked several times trying to see
if there was a difference between open and closed, there wasn't.
He heard her breathe. "I forgot this was coming." She gasped.
Her cold hand had frantically clenched on his bare arm just below his short
sleeve and he could feel her tension. He moved his right hand up his left arm
until he felt her smooth, cool fingers loosen. He transferred her hand from
his arm to his left hand.
"It’s ok." He said, smiling uselessly in the dark. He tried to
make his voice smile but wasn't sure if that worked either. He patted the back
of her hand with his, and then left it there. "It won't last too
His heart was fluttering from his usual fear but now there was something
unexpected. There was a primal feeling of protector and a primal fear of the
"I never liked dark places when I was a kid." She said. There was a
strange sound to her voice, a tinge of hysteria, a tone of intimacy. "I had
an uncle who used to watch us when we were children. When we were bad he locked
us in the basement."
Harold nodded, again realizing that he had no way to convey his empathy to
her. He squeezed her hand a little.
"We had this well out back of our house when I was a kid." He
said. "My grandfather had capped it years before with a cement disk."
He closed his eyes and pictured it in the black. "When we were kids, my
brother and I managed to force the cap off and we tried to play up on it."
He heard her breathing seem to slow into less panicked gasps.
But he went on.
"My brother accidentally knocked me into it."
"Oh my god." She tensed in his fingers.
"I was ok, it was only about fifteen feet deep at that point, and they
got me out of it an hour later when they got home." He paused, feeling
vertigo as the train moved forward into the black. "I just remember the
rush of the air past me and how the mud felt at the bottom. It was full of bugs
and mildew. I've always imagined deep places in the earth smelling like
She squeezed his hand, then he felt her thumb move across the side of his
hand, back and forth.
It was very cold now but Harold's face burned. He turned his head to look at
her but it was blackness. He could feel the heat from her body, could feel the
air move from her more relaxed breathing.
"I used to do tandem lights when I was six." She said. "When
I was scared at night I would go down the hall to my parent's bedroom to sleep
with them. I would turn on the night-light next to my bed, then walk to my
room's light switch and turn that one on, then turn off the nightlight."
She laughed. "Then I'd turn on the hall light and go back to my room and
turn off that light switch. My parents slept at the front of the house so the
street lights always came in through their bedroom window. When I got to their
room at the end of the hall I'd turn the other hall switch off and went to
Harold laughed. He could hear the relaxed memory in her voice as she spoke
"Once, my mother would not let me into bed with them. She acted like she
was asleep and didn't move when I asked her. I had to go through the whole
tandem light-switch backwards that night. I never did it again after
that." She paused. "But I still have that night light."
They sat in silence for several moments; Harold savored the feel of her hand
against his and didn't know why. There was something reassuring about being
afraid but not alone. He smoothed his hand over her skin again and felt her
He looked up again and realized that it wasn’t as dark as it had been. He
called this the tunnel twilight, a slowly growing glow.
The darkness slowly made form to be dim grey seats and still children in
them. He realized even the kids were quiet as the ink diluted into dim grey,
slowly letting the colors bleed into the green seats and the red roof.
He looked at Mel and seemed to see her age backwards; her frizzy hair
melded from dark grey, to light, mousy brown, to her more natural colors. Her
skin seemed to blush with color as the light grew and grew.
They emerged into the sunlight and everything was radiant. Her face was
rich tanned glow and her eyes seemed green with flecks of gold.
She smiled back at him and this made him remember that she could see him too.
She could see him staring at her beauty.
But their hands, still held, no longer seemed to convey the feelings of fear
and reassurance. In the dark their hands were fine lines of communication
across a starless night. Now that they were in the light, they seemed only
Mel looked down at her fingers in his and he felt her move.
They both blushed, furiously, and withdrew the lines between them.
"Thanks." Mel said. She raised her hand to shielded her eyes from
the sunlight, her voice had lost its intimate tone and he could feel her
slowly move back. "I just hate the dark."
Harold settled back into his seat. "Me too." He said,
then turned back to the monotonous landscape and smiled, his reflection clearly visible in the bright light.