It was about 3 o’clock on a hot afternoon. You could tell it had been raining because the mud on the ground was still damp. As we walked through the forest, we could feel the leaves by the side of the track scratch our skin. The sun had dried them out, making them sharp.
We came up to a rickety old railroad track on a lengthy stone bridge. I felt a sick feeling run through my gut. I didn’t know how we would get across, but I sure as hell knew what the other guys were thinking.
‘Does anybody know when the next train’s due?’ I asked nervously.
‘There’s the route 136 bridge,’ replied Gordie.
‘Are you crazy?’ said Teddy. ‘That means walking five miles down the river on this side and five miles back on the other side. If we walk across the bridge, we can get to the same place in ten minutes.’
Surely but carefully, Teddy started to walk across. I could see him ahead of me, walking and looking down to make sure his feet didn’t fall through the gaps.
I got on my hands and knees and began to crawl – just to make sure I didn’t fall myself. The wooden slats were hot and rough under my hands. I concentrated on inching my way across, my stomach swimming, only vaguely aware of the sounds of a distant dog barking and birds in the trees singing in the heat of the afternoon.
We got to about half way across the bridge and I realised Gordie had stopped. He knelt down and felt the rusty metal track. He stood up immediately. He stared back into the distance, then he shouted the word I did not want hear.
I tried to get up and run but my body froze. I couldn’t move. My legs felt like ice. I tried to move but I wasn’t going anywhere.
I finally managed to stand up and I started to run, but I fell straight back down.
Gordie jumped on top of me and shouted at me.
‘Get up, Vern. Get up!’ He was that close to me I could feel his breath on my neck. I got up and started to run.The train was coming closer and closer. It was gaining on us with a terrifying ferocity. We were going to die. I was so scared that I started to cry.
I could imagine the hot metal pushing me down and running over the top of me. I was twelve. I still had my whole life ahead of me I didn’t want to die.
I saw Teddy and Chris at the end of the track shouting one word: ‘Jump’. But I couldn’t hear it. I could only read their lips: the train was so loud it blocked out every other sound.
I felt Gordie wrap his arms around me. He picked me up and pushed me off the bridge. We tumbled over the edge of the bridge and down into a shallow embankment. He had pushed at exactly the right time.
Gordie Lachance saved my life, and I’ll never forget it.
I never had friends like the ones I had when I was twelve. Who does?
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