(Dedicated to my Grandson Sebastion)
On Halloween night, when other children are preparing for a fun evening of dressing up and going door to door collecting treats, a different scene is playing out in Damascus, Virginia. Each year on Halloween in Damascus, shops close early, residents secure windows and doors, and parents gather their children inside close to them.
Nobody can say for sure when the phenomenon started when it might end, or how long the residents will live in fear of Halloween night. For as long as people can remember, the same horror plays out within the small community every year.
When darkness finally comes to Damascus’s streets on Halloween night, there is no one left outside. Nobody dares go out after dark, and what lights remain on are turned low with curtains pulled tight.
At the stroke of midnight, the bell from the town’s clocktower rings out 12 times, and as the last chime reverberates in the night air, the town’s residents hold their collective breaths, listening to see if this year might be different. One second…five seconds…ten seconds pass before the shriek of the Ghost Train whistle at the summit of White Top Mountain pierces the silence.
To the huddled children, the whistle sounds like a hundred witches crying in unison. The whistle, followed by a thunderous motion, trembles the earth as the Ghost Train starts its journey down the Creeper Trail at breakneck speed. According to old-timers who have seen the apparition pass, the train has only one passenger car, rumored to hold an unpleasant cargo.
The train barrels through narrow passages and across trestle bridges spanning the Whitetop Laurel River’s rocks and rapids. Tree branches sway widely, creeper vines and leaves scatter, the apparition indifferent to the fact that there are no longer rails along the route.
Deer and small animals sensing its approach scatter in every direction, and unfortunate tourists caught on the trail after dark tell tails of a misty gray engine with CREEPER emblazoned across its boiler. As far as anyone knows, Damascus’s old abandoned train station is the Creeper engines only stop.
The thundering gets louder as it approaches the town, and families huddling together ensure they have accounted for all of their children.
Timmy Felder is the one exception. Timmy, a ten-year-old boy who happens to live across from the old Damascas train station on Railroad Ave, is locked inside his second-story bedroom, lying on the floor beneath a window. Timmy is determined to find out why the ghostly engine stops each year at the abandoned station. The hardwood floor starts vibrating from the approaching engine. Sound is tricky in the mountains, and Timmy can’t be sure when it will arrive.
A sudden gust of wind buffets Timmy’s home, and the thunderous trembling abruptly stops just before a long hiss from escaping steam. Timmy, cautiously raising his eyes even with the window sill, can hardly believe what he is witnessing.
As the door slides open on the passenger car, a slimy green blob slithers down the steps onto the rotted platform and quickly disappears beneath the station. Next, a limping skeleton strolls out and heads in the direction of the town’s graveyard. A misty ghost follows the skeleton down the stairs and floats across the street and through Mrs. Martins Bed & Breakfast walls. A purple and brown four-legged spotted creature comes next and heads toward the bridge spanning the river.
One after one, the creeps from the Creeper Railroad disembark and take up residence somewhere within the town. Then as swiftly as the engine appeared, it dissolves into the night air as if it never existed, and the people of Damascus breath a sigh of relief in having once again survived Halloween near the Creeper Trail.