Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Train Ride to No Where

There was little about the day that was ordinary. Mom had spent the morning cleaning house. The kitchen floor stood empty, ready to be cleaned. The chairs, usually neatly placed around the kitchen table, were lined up in the hallway at the base of the stairs. The boy imagined them to be a long train traveling through the untamed west...

He didn't really know where he was going or why. Boarding the train was a distant memory obscured by the events since. It seemed as though he'd been traveling these tracks for a hundred years. Riding horses on the range and herding cattle to market had been traded for the steel tracks long ago. Still, he considered himself a cowboy – a gun-toting, boot-wearing, grit-encrusted cowboy. There were other terms to describe who he thought he was: brushpopper, buckaroo, and cowpunch just to name a few. Some even considered him something of a scoundrel at times.

The train was going through unfriendly territory. What had come to be known as The Nation was full of danger  unfamiliar animals, unshaven men who'd shoot you for noticing, and Indians. He was certain that if he encountered any Indians, he was in trouble. Indians were mortal enemies of cowboys and everyone knew that. Shoot first or be shot. That was the rule. The risk was doubled due to the poor quality of the rails along which the train slithered. If you find yourself in hell, you want to get out fast. To push the train faster, though, would ensure derailment. This was a dangerous ride through treacherous territory. 

The train had been moving at a turtle's pace for hours. He knew it was only a matter of time before they'd encounter a group of indians looking for trouble. It seemed the only upside was the terrain didn't provide much cover for ambush. Cactus and Joshua Trees as far as the eye could see, hidden by little else. He was getting jumpy and the Joshua Trees could look uncannily like a man who needed a shave. 

Just about the time his vigilance was to give in to the unnatural quiet, he heard the wisp of a speeding arrow fly past his head. He'd gotten lucky again. The whole reason he was here had just let loose with a war howl sending his heart into his throat beating like a drum. His job now was to keep the uninvited guests from boarding the train. Flanked on both sides, he had to keep his focus moving. The grip of his gun was worn to fit his hand. It was comfortable and felt at home there. After shooting a few shots, the numbers of men trying to get on the train had started to diminish.

He was focused primarily on keeping the rest from getting on the train when he was startled by a soft, "hey . . .

"... buddy, it's time for lunch. How about a cheese sandwich?"

Mom and the boy had similar tastes. Grandma called it a "dry old cheese sandwich" but they knew it was the best there was.