Challenge: The Boy, The Train, The Ribbon in the Wind

     "I'm late again, I know," said the author pretending to be famous to her imaginary fans. What I have for everyone now isn't my very best work, but the point of this challenge was never to spit out quality product after quality product. Safet o say the lateness is from having to give it a serious facelift before it even made enough sense for sharing today.

For anyone who doesn't know by now, or anyone visiting the first time, you can check out the original post about the challenge right here. Just a reminder, the theme for this month is letting go.

Now, this newest installment is the product of a larger work I had in mind to write at some distant point in the potentially near future. I've always loved the idea of Peter Pan and sought to create my own version of what he is and what Neverland was. This, obviously, isn't that version but I thought it would be fun to try and condense the theme I had into a restriction of 2000 words. The result is this,

The Boy, The Train, The Ribbon in the Wind. 

     She held onto the dead branch and leaned over the edge until she could see the train tracks far below. She and her friends just called it, the log.
     It was dusk and it was cold, and the sun was setting behind the trees on the other side of the tracks. It was so bright she couldn’t look anywhere but down unless she wanted to be blinded. Normally, she wouldn’t be allowed out after dark (and it would be dark by the time she made it home.) But, her mom passed out drunk while watching jeopardy and her dad worked the graveyard shift at the dinner. 
     The log was once a big pine tree that had been struck by lightning at some point. It split and fell so that it hung over a ledge. After school, they would see how far one of them could go before getting scared. It was especially scary at dusk when the trains passed through. The log would shake and sometimes make creaking noises like it was going to break. They tied a piece of yarn to the branch they reached before running back, so every branch had tongues of color whenever the wind blew through. Her older sister, Sarah, was the best. Her blue ribbon – she always had to use her pretty blue ribbon – hadn’t been passed since she put it there in middle school.
     No one went there anymore, though.
     There was a newspaper article. It was on the front page – Girl Found Dead Near Tracks. After, there were people at her house all the time. They brought food with them. They had tearful eyes and when they spoke they did it like she was five again. It took her a long time to make the connection that the girl who fell was her sister, Sarah.
     It was his idea to go back – the boy. That’s what everyone called him. They said anyone could find him in the woods behind the old high school but not everyone will get noticed by him. The lost kids? He finds them for sure. At first, she didn’t believe he was that boy. Some of her friends said they saw him and he didn’t look anything like what she heard. He didn’t have wings or jagged teeth or horns. He was a normal kid in a leather jacket with the kind of smart mouth, rugged look a lot of girls in her school went for. He was older than her by a few years – about the same age her sister was. He looked like her in some ways. He’d dyed his hair the same crazy purple.
     He leaned way over the edge and whistled. “Long way down.”
     She couldn’t think of anything to say. Instead, she wondered how he could lean so far over and not be afraid he would fall.
     “You know, we’re not getting any younger,” he said but he said it the way he said everything – like every sentence had a private joke behind it and she was too dimwitted to get the punchline.
      “I know but.” She hated the uncertainty in her voice.
     He wanted to take her somewhere. He said he’d taken her sister there. She wanted to believe him, but standing there on the ledge where the wind, so cold it cut, tore back her tattered skirt and knit green scarf, it didn’t seem like a good idea anymore.
     “Are you sure about this?” she asked.
     “Sure as my name is Peter.”
     She was the one who had called him Peter.
     He leaped onto the log. He did it like someone who didn’t care if he lived or died. Maybe he couldn’t die. Her friends said he couldn’t but they were wrong about how he looked, too. Her grip tightened around the dead branch and she gazed back down. She thought she could see a body draped over the tracks.   
     Again, she thought, I haven’t been back since the night Sarah didn’t come home. It was a Friday and her dad was home that night. They were having spaghetti and meatballs for dinner so the whole kitchen smelt like sweet tomatoes.
     “Sweetie, do you know where your sister is?”
     “No,” she lied. The truth was, she knew Sarah went to the log.

    A few weekends ago she’d wanted to go but Sarah had a report to do and wouldn’t take her. It was a rule they made. No one could go alone. She’d gotten a bunch of her friends to go instead. They were playing, climbed out and running back. A new girl was with them and everyone thought she was cool. She had piercings and smoked cigarettes with the high school kids on the football field. She was calling all her friends cowards. So, when it was her turn, she was determined to prove her wrong.
She passed Sarah’s blue ribbon and tied a piece of yellow yarn on the furthest branch.
     By the time she got home, she couldn’t contain the news and ran straight upstairs and sprung onto her bed.
     “Guess what, Guess what? I broke your record.”
     She swore it wouldn’t be for long.
     Then, she never came home.
     The boy leaned back on one of the branches. It creaked under his weight and she thought it would snap. He would plummet all the way down and wind up right where they found Sarah.
     “I don’t get what you’re so afraid of. You want to see her again, right?”
     She did. Sometimes after school, she would stop in front of her sister’s room and look in. Nothing was moved but it didn’t look like the same place anymore. All the life was sucked out of it but the ghost was still there. If she stared into the dimness long enough she could see Sarah lying in bed, legs up against the wall, reading a book, earbuds in.
     He held out his hand.  “Fly with me Wendy.”
     “My name’s Jennifer.”
     His grin widened. “Not tonight.”
     She peered back down at the tracks and back to him. She looked behind her and at the long shadows reaching out like the boy’s hand.
     She stepped onto the log, gripping the rotted branch tight as she could. It had rained the other night and her combat boots were slick on the mossy log. The branches rattled in the wind and somewhere close by, a train blew its’ horn.
      “Almost there,” the boy said.
     Bit by bit, she passed the colored bits of yarn. She didn’t notice how far out she’d gone until she reached the yellow piece – her yellow yarn. For an instant, she was there that day again. She tied the piece onto the last of the sturdy branched and skipped and jumped her way back. The new girl even looked impressed. Her friends cheered. The train blew its horn – closer so the tree was starting to shake.
     “Hurry up,” he said.
     There, on the branch right behind him, was Sarah’s blue ribbon clutching a small branch with all it had while the cold wind lashed it around. She’d done it after all.
     When Jennifer looked back at the boy he wasn’t there. Sarah was, wearing her favorite red coat, and a short skirt over her jeans and her cropped purple hair tussled in the wind.
     “Almost there,” she said.
     Jennifer clung to the branch and reached for her hand with everything she had.
     Sarah smiled, standing just beyond the blue ribbon. The train blew its horn. It was impossibly loud but Sarah’s lips formed the words, “hurry up.”
     She inched further out – as far as she could without letting go of the branch. The train was under them and the whole log jumped.
     In one final effort, she stretched out. The wind blew the ribbon around her fingers and she clasped it tightly. She hurried back along the trunk, the adrenalin pumping even after her boots hit solid ground. She jumped and hooted. “I got it, I got it. Did you see me?”  But, when she faced the tree again Sarah was gone. So was the boy, and so was the train, and the sun was a line of bright red and orange between the trees on the other side of the cliff, making the shadows long and the ground a dirty orange.
     Clutching the blue ribbon, she sunk to her knees, wanting to cry, but there was nothing. For the first time, she could picture it all. Sarah ran up to the log in her bright red coat. She paused for a minute, smiling back at no one, and walked out. She passed Matt’s red thread, Jamie’s green one, Maddie’s orange one, and my yellow until there were no more branches to hold. She was barefoot. The cops found her boots next to the log – and she tiptoed, arms spread out, just a little passed my mark where she tied her pretty blue ribbon. She admired it for a while before she turned to make her way back, but her foot slipped. She grabbed onto a branch but it snapped.
     She dropped.
     No one was around to hear her.
     The cops found her still clutching the snapped branch.
     When it was dark and Jennifer was shivering from the cold, she got up and went home. Her mom was still passed out and the whole living room smelt like beer and cigarettes. The only light in the house was the flashing blue and white of the TV set. She took a hot shower, crawled into bed, and didn’t go to school the next day.
     She never told anyone what she did.
     A few weeks later, the town cut the log down. They all went out to see it when they put the old pine and all their colorful bits of yarn into the chipper. She had her hand deep in her coat pocket the whole time, twisting Sarah’s silky blue ribbon around her fingers.
     She saw him there, the boy, smiling at her from the other side of the train tracks, his hand reaching out.  

There you have it. I hope everyone enjoyed the read. This one was a pain to write for some reason but I'm happy with the final product more or less.

If you like what you read here, be sure to check out my other posts. You can also find me on Booksie, Wattpad, and on Twitter @elixssamrose. (On Booksie you can find the original draft of this under, Wendy for a Day.)

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