Something didn’t feel right as the old-timer climbed into the boxcar. He put a wedge in the door so he wouldn’t get locked inside and looked around. Except for a dusting of straw on the floor and several large sacks of meal in the corner, he was alone. All was well. He sighed and sat down. He was on edge tonight. Freight hopping in the rail yard was a dangerous proposition. Even though the train dicks were gone
for the night, he was still nervous. He wished he could catch rides on the fly like the others outside of town, but he was too old and crippled; his running days were over. He wrinkled his nose. Something smelled off. He wondered if there had been cattle in this car or if some meat had fouled. When the train lurched into motion, he put his hand down to steady himself but jerked it back up again. The floor was wet. He stumbled to his feet, wiping his hands on his overalls, dismissing it. He needed to rest. That bag of meal would make a fine bed for the night. But when he grabbed it, an arm flopped over. “What the hell!” It was no sack of meal. It was a person. The old man strained to see in the dim light. “Hey!” he said, pushing the body with his foot. “You all right?” There was no response. Is this guy sleeping or dead? In thirty years of riding the rails, he’d never found anyone
who had left for the Big Rock Candy Mountain.
He kicked the body again; still no response. The hobo grimaced. That wet was probably blood.Did he give up the ghost, or was he murdered? He steadied himself as the train rattled along, still staring at the body. He would not ride in the car with a stiff. Taking a deep breath, he grabbed an arm and started to pull the corpse toward the door. But when he heard a moan, he let go and looked again. It was a woman, and she was bleeding. “Well, shit, I’m not hangin’
around to get blamed for this.”
The hobo leaned out the door. It was a clear moonlit night, and the train was gaining speed. No question he would break something when he landed, but anything was better than time in the big house again. Without a second thought, he grabbed his bindle and jumped. * * * Billie opened her eyes. She stared up at the moonlit sky as the train clattered down the tracks. Funny, she had never slept by the door before, and there were a million stars to watch. It was beautiful. It reminded her of the words, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Where had she read that? Was that Oscar Wilde? Billie knew it was dangerous riding here, but when she tried to move, she couldn’t sit up. She was so tired, so very tired. Where’s Olive? I must find Olive. Is she in the corner sleeping? Once again, Billie tried to sit up, but she couldn’t move. She was numb all over. I must slide over next to her, but I can’t seem to lift myself. I’ll just rest my eyes for a minute. Poor kid, Billie thought. She’s all alone in the world. I don’t want her to be scared. She’s just like me when I ran away from St. Matthew’s Indian School six years ago…