Abner and Elbert lay motionless on the ground, straining to see into the dark clearing along the train tracks. They were tucked into the last few remaining bushes and skinny trees just before the Sigbee railroad depot, where they had watched the light bobbing from the roadway. A handful of buildings thirty feet in front of them made inky voids in the starry night sky, but otherwise it was difficult to see what remained of the small complex.
“This is close enough,” whispered Elbert from halfway under the bush beside his friend. The breeze had picked up and the night air was filled with the rustling of leaves high in the treetops. “There’s nothing between here and those buildings,” he said, “we can’t get any closer without being seen.”
Abner leaned closer and whispered, “I can’t even tell if this is where the light was. Stop worrying, we can still get a little closer be—” his friend cut him off with a hiss and he froze mid-sentence. Turning to follow Elbert’s gaze, he watched the small white light materialize from behind the furthest building.
Now, so close, they could see that the light had been coming from a small lantern as it swung lazily in the hand of a tall, thin man. The little glass globe cast a hazy glow on the ground, and only the lower half of the man was visible in the dim light. As he walked to the adjacent building—which happened to be the one directly in front of them—they could see he had on dark slacks and what appeared to be a dirty white lab coat.
They were too far away for the tall man to spot them, but when he opened the door to the building the boys could hear a low humming sound before it closed quickly behind him. Elbert waited to be sure no one was coming behind the man before he whispered, “let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Hang on,” whispered back Abner, “did you see that? A lab coat—I told you so. What in the world is he doing way out here? And in the middle of the night. You don’t even see anyone out here during the day—ever.”
Elbert was growing more impatient and he couldn’t hide the fear in his voice. “Yes, I saw it,” he said, “whatever he’s doing, it can’t be good. You wanted to find out what the light was, well now we know—it’s a lantern being carried by some guy doing some weird shit in the middle of the night, and in the middle of nowhere—now let’s go.”
“Just wait, we’re fine. Besides, if he knew we were here, he’d already have busted us. And how can you just crawl away now? He might be up to something bad. You want to just run away because it’s a little scary?”
“Yes!” whispered Elbert without hesitating. He heard Abner scoff under his breath in the darkness. “What?” he asked, insulted, “if you’re so damn worried, then when we get back to town you can call the cops.”
Abner just ignored him and instead said, “I’m going to get closer and see if there’s a window I can see in. I want to know what he’s doing in there. How’d he even get way out here?”
“Are you crazy?” snapped Elbert, louder than he had intended; but he was too late.
Abner glanced one last time to the building that the tall man come from and then crawled out of the bushes. He crouched over and quickly scurried towards the darkened edifice in front of them. Tall weeds had grown up against the brick and he pushed noisily through the dry stalks before reaching the wall.
He had unknowingly been holding his breath, and now he let it out in a long, ragged gasp. He could smell mildew on the old brick as he pressed close up against the depot building. The hum they had heard coming from inside when the door was opened now sounded like a soft purr through the wall. He was trying to listen for any other clues when the weeds started to shake and rustle behind him.
“Damn it, Abner,” whispered Elbert as he hurried to get up against the wall in the dark. “We’re going to get in trouble; or worse.”
“I didn’t tell you to follow me—go wait in the damn truck if you’re scared.” Abner looked up at the building, checking the walls for a window. “I don’t see any windows on this side.”
Elbert didn’t want to leave him there though, and not only because the thought of walking back to the truck alone in the dark terrified him, though it did. “If this is an old freight depot for the railway, then they would have stored surplus train equipment and hold-over cargo. They probably didn’t want too many ways to get in.”
“Yeah—well there has to be some way to see inside there. I’m going down this way,” said Abner, jerking his head towards the end of the building, “stay here if you want.” Then he turned and started off along the wall into the darkness.
Elbert just cursed himself under his breath before he turned and followed his friend into the dark.
Halfway down the wall, they passed a rear door leading into the building. The door had no window however, and when Abner put his ear to it he could hear nothing more than the same faint hum from within. He slowly reached up and tried to turn the tarnished handle, but it was either locked or frozen inside with rust.
When they reached the far corner of the building without finding any way to see inside, Elbert hoped that would be the end of it and they could leave. He might even be able to convince his friend to come back during the daytime when they could see better.
But before he got a chance to suggest it, Abner disappeared around the corner, his brown hair shimmering in the moonlight.
Watching him slip around the building, Elbert made up his mind not to follow. Abner wouldn’t quit until he was in trouble or hurt, and he was tired of saying, “I told you so.” He had just decided that he would return to the truck alone and wait when he heard the door clang shut on the front side of the building.
Abner—he thought with alarm.
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