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The Mystery of the Zanetti Train by Silvia

Word Count 2,453


Grazie to Sandy for her always kind and quick help. 

Johnny and Scott were in Stockton, attending a cattlemen’s meeting in place of Murdoch.  Due to Pardee’s bullet, their father’s back pain had returned, making the journey too hard on him. 

After three days of meetings, they decided to forego the cattlemen’s party and return to Green River by stagecoach.  Johnny never liked parties, and Scott was tired and wanted to go home too. 

The stagecoach’s office was in the train station, and the brothers were on their way to buy tickets when Scott stopped short.   Johnny also stopped, but their expressions at what they saw were completely different. 

A magnificent train, with a shiny new engine, was parked beside the station.  It had such a distinctive look that even Scott was impressed.  Across the front of the locomotive was the word ‘Zanetti’.

“Look how wonderful,” exclaimed Scott, entranced by the might of the big new engine.  “This time, we’re going home by train.  Okay, brother?  Say yes, please, Johnny!”

Walking on the sidewalk to the ticket office, the older brother admired the finishing and mechanical parts of the train that looked innovative.

Turning to make sure Johnny was with him, he saw him still standing at the end of the track.

“Come on, brother, hurry up.  Don’t you see how many people have already boarded the train?  It will leave soon, I guess, and we still have to buy tickets and get our things back at the hotel.” 

When Johnny didn’t move, Scott turned and went back to his brother.  For the first time, he saw a terrified look on the boy’s face and his wide blue eyes fixed on the front plate of the locomotive.

 “Come on, brother.  We will have a fantastic journey.  I think I also saw some musicians boarding!”

“No!” whispered Johnny without looking at his brother.

“What?  Why?  Look, I’ve never insisted on taking the train instead of those uncomfortable stagecoaches because I thought maybe you had some bad experience.” Scott waited for a few minutes to see if Johnny had said anything.  Having no reaction, he went on, “This train is new, and I have never seen one like this before.  Let’s go!” 

“I said no!”  Johnny took a step back.  “We aren’t going anywhere on this train.”

“Don’t be stupid, brother, come on,” Scott argued. 

“Don’t you understand?  We don’t buy tickets because we don’t take the train.  Especially, that train.”

“Do what you want. I’ll see you at home.  I’m going to buy a ticket,” Scott raised his voice to make his point. 

“No!  You won’t go anywhere, and I won’t let you get close to that train.  Understand?” Johnny yelled back. 

“Pfffft, you can’t tell me what to do, little brother,” Scott said sourly as he turned to the ticket office. 

An iron grip of Johnny’s hand on his arm stopped Scott’s progress.

“Let me go now!  What’s the matter with you anyway? Are you crazy?”

“Maybe, but if I see you anywhere near that train, I’ll shoot you.”

Scott’s piqued gaze met Johnny Madrid’s immovable one.

“Stop it now, Johnny!” Scott ordered in his best tone of command. 

Mrs. Victoria Barkley, an old friend of Murdoch’s, was passing by to admire the train herself when she heard the argument between the Lancer boys.

“Scott? Johnny?  What’s going on here?”  She approached the brothers.  “You are attracting everyone’s attention, and I don’t think Murdoch would be proud of the show you’re putting on in the middle of the street,” said the beautiful lady with a frown.

Scott was mortified, knowing full well that this would be inadmissible behavior in Boston and his grandfather would never accept such a lack of manners.

He quickly apologized and explained what was happening.

As the older brother, he explained, while Victoria watched the younger one closely.

What she saw made her think quickly about how to defuse the situation.

Johnny had his eyes fixed on the train, but he didn’t just seem interested, he seemed more scared, if not downright terrified.

“Okay, you two, now come with me to the hotel’s restaurant. Let’s eat something and calm down.”

She placed a light hand on the tanned hand holding Scott’s arm.  Johnny looked at her for a second with a haunted look, then nodded sharply.

Scott started to follow his brother, rubbing his aching arm, when Mrs. Barkley’s soft voice made him stop.

“Scott, did you take a good look at the boy?  I never thought I’d see fear in the eyes of someone like Johnny Madrid, but Scott, your brother is terrified of that train.” 

Victoria noticed Scott look at her with annoyance.  After all, with three sons and a daughter about the same age as the two Lancers, she knew very well how to read emotions. 

“Scott, you know I am an old friend of your father.  We actually made part of the trip to California with my husband and your mom.  Murdoch wrote me letters about you and your brother, don’t worry about it.” 

“If you want, I’ll tell you about our adventures on the way another time.  Now let’s go and see what your brother’s worried about.” 

When they arrived at the hotel, they asked for a quiet and reserved table to which they walked, followed by Johnny, who had not yet raised his head to look at them. 

Lunch was served, but neither boy seemed interested in what he had on his plate. And no one seemed to want to start the discussion.

“John, would you rather me go?  Do you want to talk to your brother alone?” 

“No, please stay, Mrs. Barkley.” 

“Okay then would you like to give us an explanation?” said Scott harshly. 

Johnny took a deep breath and began his story.

“About four years ago, I had finished a job for a Don who had an estancia not far from Ciudad de México.   It was good pay and I thought I could have fun in a big town with all that money.  I was young and stupid. 

“Going through the town, I saw that big train. Never seen anything so big before.  It was new, all black and shiny, and I decided to be on that train no matter the destination.” 

Johnny looked up briefly from the napkin he was torturing and immediately lowered his eyes. 

“Like I said before… I was young and stupid and too fascinated by the locomotive to notice some of the men I had worked with had followed me.  They attacked me, beat and stabbed me.

“I woke up in the hospital.  It was a really bad place, full of people, all screaming. I tried to leave, but a nun began to give me something for the pain.” 

In the middle of the story, Johnny switched, without realizing it, to Spanish.

A hand resting on his made him raise his eyes to Mrs. Barkley’s sweet, worried face. 

“John, we don’t understand Spanish!” 

The boy looked at his brother, who nodded.  Scott was aware that sometimes when his brother was sick or agitated, he would go back to the language of his childhood.

Johnny lowered his eyes again, repeated the same part, and then went on. 

“The nun was upset. She continued to pray, say the rosary, and then spoke of demons sent by the devil. 

“After a while, a doctor came, and started taking care of me.  He began to tell the story of those people, who in my opinion were all sick in the head. 

“They were from Italy,” said Johnny, causing the first reaction from his two listeners.  He twisted the poor napkin a little more and went on.  “Today, when I saw the train, it all came back to me, each face, each word.”

“They were the passengers of a new and luxurious train leaving for its first journey on a new railway line. One hundred very important and rich people got a board in Rome.  The train had to go through a very long tunnel, which at the time was considered the longest tunnel ever dug in a mountain.  The trip carried good food, champagne, and some musicians.  Everything was going well, and the journey was proving more than satisfactory.

“Within a few hours, the train arrived at the tunnel.  The train entered entirely into the darkness of the mountain when a thick fog began to surround the train and then entered the cars.  Everything was enveloped in it  … it never came out again.  There was no trace of the train and no signs of any accident. 

“The Italians said they left Rome in 1911, and after having been in various parts of the world, they arrived in Mexico, hoping to have some help to get off the Zanetti train. 

“The old nun kept talking about the devil’s servants, and the doctor’s reassurances that they were just all loco were useless. 

“I was in pain and very anxious. I only wanted to get away from that place.  I thought they really were all loco, including the doctor and the nun. 

“Since I was getting too excited, they gave me laudanum and I fell asleep. 

“A train’s whistle woke me up in the middle of the night. All around was quiet and dark, and all those strange dressed strangers were nowhere to be seen.   The nun was asleep, so I ran.” 

Johnny felt tired and in no way did he want to look up to see the laughter in their eyes, but he had to get up and go out. He was starting to get out of breath.

“I bought a horse with the money I hid in my boots and went to the border.  On the road North, I heard that a train with some of the most important people of Ciudad de Mexico had disappeared and was never found again.” 

Johnny got up and headed for the door, stood next to Scott, and in a whisper, with a sad and desperate look, told him, “Por favor, hermano, no tome ese tren, por favor, por favor.” 

In a moment, he was gone, leaving Scott and Mrs. Barckey looking at each other in astonishment.

“Scott, I don’t know what really happened in that hospital, but he was so young, and I think he was traumatized.” Mrs. Barkley shook her head in deep sadness. 

“I can’t imagine an eighteen-year-old boy living that life, beaten and stabbed.  Damn.  I’m sorry, Madam. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.” 

“He said four years ago. He must have been 15 or 16, Scott.” 

“He told me that he is twenty-two now, so..” 

Mrs. Barkley could understand how a boy who grew up alone might not know how old he was, but it wasn’t easy to accept.

“Scott, your brother will turn twenty-one at the end of the year.” 

Scott shook his head and took a deep breath, then, looking at the woman in front of him, said solemnly, “I will not take that train. I  swear.  You don’t worry, ma’am, and thank you for everything.” 

After some searching, Scott found his brother drinking in a saloon and convinced him to accompany him to buy the tickets for the stagecoach the next day. The train was still there, quiet and beautiful, with its passengers on board. As they passed, Scott admired the magnificent locomotive again and sighed. 

In the middle of the night, Scott woke with a start hearing the long whistle of the departing train. He got up and walked over to the window.  Looking in the general direction of the tracks leading out of town, he saw the shiny black train in the middle of a thick fog.

Scott looked at the black of the night for a while and thought his brother’s stories had influenced him. In the complete darkness of the night, there was no way he could have seen the tracks or the departing train.

He shivered and went back to bed. As he passed, he looked at Johnny, who had not woken but was now sleeping, hugging his pillow.


After two days on the coach, they arrived in Green River.  It was a tense and tiring journey.

Johnny had withdrawn into himself, and Scott had found nothing to say to him, so the sight of the approaching houses was very welcome. 

He got off the stage behind his brother, and seeing him dejected; he had an idea that surely would have lifted the boy’s spirits.

“Hey, Johnny, why don’t we say hello to Val before we go home?” 

Smiling, Johnny changed direction. 

Harry’s voice let them stop, “Val is not here.  He went out with a posse yesterday.”

“What’s happened?” asked Johnny, always curious.  “A bank robbery?” 

“No, nothing like that.  The Craddif family took a train in Stockton on 31 October for Cross Creek, but the train did not arrive.” Having said this, he went back to the telegraph office to await news.

With a groan, Johnny collapsed on the sidewalk step.

“Madre de Dios, Scott, I should have stopped them from getting on that train.”

“How do you think you could do something?  We didn’t even meet them, and we didn’t know they were there.” 

“I could have said something to keep people from getting on that damned train.” 

“Johnny, they wouldn’t have believed you. No one would have believed you, and you would have just made a fool of yourself.  You know it.  Right?” 

Johnny looked up and stared at his brother for a long moment.

“I didn’t believe you either, brother.” Scott looked Johnny straight in the eye, then added sadly.  “I’m sorry.”

The boy was silent for a while, then asked, “So why didn’t you take the train?”

“It wasn’t worth making you sick for a train ride.  With Mrs. Barkley, we thought there would be other opportunities.” 

Johnny slapped his hands on his knees and stood up.  “You know what, Boston?  I don’t think I will be stepping on a train anytime soon.  I don’t like trains.” 

Scott smiled at the fact that his little brother had called him Boston.  It had been in a while.

“And I’ll tell you one more thing!  The only trip I will take for some time will be the one home on horseback.  Come on.  I want to see what Teresa and Maria have prepared for dinner.”

“Home and dinner seem like an excellent destination, little brother.  Lead the way!” 

The End
October 2022

Note: The mystery of the Zanetti train is a true Italian legend.  The train, with its passengers, is said to have traveled in time and space and made their appearance at the hospital of Dr. Jose Saxino in Mexico City in 1840, asking for help.


Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Silvia directly.

9 thoughts on “The Mystery of the Zanetti Train by Silvia

  1. I’m glad I’m not going on a train today since it’s Halloween. Thank you for writing this mysterious story about the Zanetti train and sharing it with us.


    1. Thank you Chris, I was listening to the song Silver Ghost by Tony Holt and I got the urge to write something for the brothers.
      I did research based on the lyrics but couldn’t find the legend mentioned in the song. You know how Google works … The one of the Zanetti train appeared to me and when I read that it had also appeared in Mexico … The game was done.


  2. Hi, Silvia. This was a wonderful creepy story. Finding out that it’s a n actual legend made it even creepier. A wonderful Halloween story!


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