The hot July sun shone overhead, casting small shadows on the large gravel stones. Summer was short, and the heat lasted for only a few months. The hay was in and the boys had nothing to do on this mid week day.
Tom was on the left rail, arms extended, eyes closed, counting the number of steps he could make before he became unbalanced and fell. Ten, eleven, twelve and then a short fall and a laugh. The train tracks were built on a raised bed of stone, eight or ten feet above the fields all around them. On either side of the track, thick spiny bushes grew, spreading their branches to each side.
Telephone poles ran down the entire length of the track, glass insulators holding the wires in place on faded poles, cracked and grayed with wind and age. Many of the glass insulators where chipped and broken, victims of other boys throwing stones.
James walked between the two rails, hoping on each tie, pretending the rocks they sat on were a raging ocean. The rails had the familiar smell of oil, used to delay rotting. James periodically reached down and pulls at the spikes that hold the rails to the tie, searching for ones that have come loose from age.
Trains had not used this track for years, the factories long gone that had sent fabrics and garments down these rails. Tom's parents had told him that the rails would eventually be pulled up, the crossings at the roads closed off. It would then become just a path for those with four wheelers, eager to find a flat long straight stretch to push their engines.
They walked the rails until they crossed with the side road, behind Tom's dad's place. The road was a hard pebbled asphalt, sticky and soft from the blazing sun. The crossing was raised, the familiar rotated X of the warning sign, white and peeling. This crossing had no raised gate, only the sign to warn cars of oncoming trains.
They turned on to the road, setting off towards Tom's place, a quarter mile walk. They stayed to the side of the road, although an oncoming car would have seen them from a great distance. The roads were flat and long, bisecting the open terrain in great squares and rectangles. To each side of the road, old fences sagged, the poles tilted and angled, held up by only the wire strung at three heights along their length.
A set of three cows stood behind the fence to their right, brown and dirty. The cows looked up at the boys on the road, but quickly lost interest, returning to their grazing, searching for patches of grass in the dry field. Behind the cows, a few hundred yards, stood a grove of tall Poplar trees. In that stand Tom knew sat a shallow pool of brown water, the pond. In the summer they would spend a few quarters at the old store in town for pop and walk down to the pond. They would sit under the cover of the trees sipping their Cokes hunting for frogs.
The frogs were quiet now, waiting for the cool of dusk to start their song. The two boys continued to walk, periodically straying to the middle of the road to balance themselves on the painted yellow line that separated the two narrow lanes. A single vehicle passed them, a beat-up blue pickup truck, a rusted oil tank sitting in its bed.
The boys reached the end of Tom's lane-way. The lane led for a couple hundred yards to an old wood clad farmhouse, roof clad with rust stain steel sheeting. A red tractor sat beside a wooden shed to the right of the house. They heard the bark of a dog, impounded in the kennel behind the house.
Tom gave James a little punch to the shoulder as he walk on, "Same time tomorrow?"