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Authors: Robert Jackson Bennett

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BOOK: Mr. Shivers
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He tried to imbue it with color. Tried to use his imagination to project the things the drawing missed. Her crooked smile.
Kitten’s teeth. Her hate of the rain and love of the wind. And her eyes were green. He remembered that.

“Your eyes were green,” he told the picture. “Green. They were green.”

He looked at it, letting time pass in silence, then folded it up and put it back in his wallet. Then he just sat.

Mr. Shivers


The next morning the wind died and though the dust still hung in the air they ventured out. They walked about through the
town but they could not see anyone through the clay haze. None of them went to the house the scarred man had stayed in, nor
did anyone suggest doing so.

They buried Ernie twenty paces from the dried river beneath the oak. They wrapped him in one of the blankets and covered him
with layers of stone and earth and Jake tried to say something but could not. Pike stood at the head of the grave and said,
“Lord, we lay this man to rest, fallen in the road that You have set for him that leads to glory. And in his trials and efforts
to follow this road surely he has moved on to better worlds than these. His death was cruel but his life was righteous and
we shall remember him as one of Your warriors. His memory shall stir us forward on the path and so he shall live forever as
we try to achieve Your works. Amen.”

“Amen,” said Roonie.

The others muttered their own thanks. Jake stared at the rocks and did not move for the better part of an hour, even when

They walked farther into the hills in the direction the scarred man had gone. They were starving for meat as they had eaten
nothing but a shared handful of beans and cornmeal in the past days. Roosevelt took his gun and found a nest of rabbits and
tried to shoot some. He missed several times, stirring them up.

Lottie said, “Here. Let me see it.”

He looked at her doubtfully.

“Let me see it. I’ve shot before,” she said.

“So have I.”

“Let me see it, Roosevelt.”

He gave it to her. She took it and they sat for a while, watching, and then she picked up the gun and aimed carefully. They
could not see what she was pointing it at. Without warning she fired, surprising everyone but Lottie, and she got to her feet
and walked into the brush. There they found a mewling coney, bullet drilled into its side. She approached it, uncertain, and
Pike strode forward and took it and broke its neck.

“That was well done,” he said.

“I should have killed it in one shot.”

“It’s killed, either way,” he said.

They cooked it and one other she managed to get and ate them with wild spring onions. They camped underneath the runny red
sky and when they woke Pike said, “We have a decision to make. We’ve lost him. We’ve lost the scarred man. But we know the
direction he was going and we know he could not be going far. Who knows this area?”

“I know a little,” said Roonie.

“What would you say?”

“About what.”

“About where he’s gone, of course.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Could be a ways, could be a lot of places. Nearest town is some fourteen miles, I’d say.”

“He’d want to move fast,” said Connelly.

“And why’s that?” Pike asked.

“He knows we’re on to him now. He knows how close we are.”


“He likes to ride the rails. Where’s the nearest freightyard, Roonie?”

“Ferguson,” he said. “Straight north of here. Lots of cattle cars through there.”

“Then that’s where he’ll be,” said Connelly. “Dollars to pesos.”

They nodded. “I see sense in that,” Hammond said.

“We’re agreed?” said Pike. “We keep together and keep moving, make for Ferguson?”

“It’s our best shot,” said Monk.

Jake frowned and rubbed his hair. “I don’t like it.”

“Why not?” said Lottie.

“Just don’t. I don’t… I don’t…” He sniffed and looked over his shoulder to where his brother’s grave was.

“We have to move,” said Pike.

Jake shook his head.

“We’ve eaten,” said Pike. “We’ll search the town for what we can carry and what we need. Probably not going to be much, it
was stripped clean. At first light we’ll try and close some of this distance.”

“Fair enough,” Roosevelt said.

*   *   *

Connelly awoke to the pale dawn the next day. Just barely morning. Somewhere birds wheeled through the cold skies, whistling
mournfully to one another. He sat up and looked and saw Jake’s bedding deserted. He reached out and prodded Hammond.

Hammond rubbed at his eyes. “What?” he asked.

Connelly nodded at Jake’s empty place. Hammond sat up. The two of them stood, looked at each other, then began searching the
nearby area.

Somehow Connelly knew where he would be. He went down to where the dry creek ran and began walking along its side. He spotted
him sitting on a large red rock, his form hunched and drunkenly leaning. Connelly approached slowly.

It had not been done neatly. The thin slice of obsidian had been a good tool but Jake had not known where the arteries would
be and so had ravaged his upper arms and wrists. His lap was red and a pool spread from his crotch and ran down the face of
the rock like he had shat or urinated blood. He was cross-legged and his arms were up against his belly like he was carrying
some tiny precious package, like a child.

He was facing east. He had wanted to see the dawn. Perhaps he had.

They stood looking at Jake. No one spoke. Roonie began sobbing, small, weak animal noises. Lottie took him and held him and
he buried his face in her neck.

“Despair is the greatest sin,” said Pike.

“Go to hell,” said Monk. “He had just lost his brother.”

“All the more reason not to give up.”

“What do we do?” said Roosevelt.

“Burial will have to be quick,” said Pike. “If we give him one.”

“We will,” Lottie said savagely.

“Then we will.”

“We should bury him with his brother.”

“If you want to carry him the mile back to that place then by all means, do so,” said Pike. “But we’re limited by time and
by distance. If we’re going to do this it’ll have to be quick and close.”

It was a shoddy job. Not much more than a shallow hole in the ground. They piled stones upon it until it was a malformed cairn
and made a cross out of timber and hammered it into the ground.

“Do we say anything?” said Roonie.

“What is there to say?” asked Hammond.

They did not answer. They took off their caps and held them before them and bowed their heads. Then they shouldered their
grips and began their way to the freightyard.

Mr. Shivers


They came upon the trains nearly a day later. The filthy metal webbing spread out before them on the plain, smoke and ash
rising in columns, gray trains milling and laboring forward like a nest full of snakes.

It did not take long to find someone. Find water, Roosevelt told them, and you will find other hobos. He was right. Near a
small pond to the west they found a ragtag shack and a handful of men wallowing in soiled beddings. The smell of drink poured
off them in cascades. Pike strode up to them and they scattered at first but then relaxed. When he asked of the scarred man
they said, “Sure, sure. We know him. Came through here about three days ago.”

“Three? You’re sure?”

“Yep,” said one man who seemed half-sensible. His face was long and he wore a cheap cap and a long overcoat. “He come through,
asked when the next train into New Mexico would be running.”

“Christ,” said Roosevelt. “New Mexico? You’re sure?”

“Yes. I sure am. You fellas got any money?”

“Not much,” said Hammond. “You’re sure it was him? Scarred on the cheeks?”

“I said it was, didn’t I?”

“Did he say anything?”

“You got any money?” he said.

“We don’t have much money.”

He spat. “Then maybe you dumbasses should stop bothering a guy, huh? Get out of here. I’m sick of looking at you.”

Pike grabbed him by the collar and shook him. “Shut your filthy mouth,” he said to him, “unless I ask you to open it. Where
in New Mexico? Where?”

“Jesus!” cried the man. “Some poor-ass town! Vuegas, I think! Let me go!”

“When did he leave?”

“The hell with you! I’ll kill you, you old bastard!”

Pike struck him in the stomach. Hammond and Monk moved forward to face down the other hobos who were getting up.

“When did he leave?”

The man coughed and spittle hung from his mouth. “Yesterday,” he gasped. “Just yesterday.”

“Anyone know when the next train is running out?” shouted Monk to the other vagrants.

“Why you being so mean to old Bevis?” croaked one of the hobos. “He ain’t done nothing to you.”

“Because he has bad manners,” said Hammond. “When’s the next train out?”

“Two days. Just two days. You fellas don’t got to be so mean about it,” he mourned. Connelly saw he was weeping like an infant.

“Why couldn’t you all just say so?” said Connelly as Pike dropped his man. “Why?”

“Because fuck you, that’s why,” the man gasped. He wiped his mouth and glowered at them. “I’ll cut your throats. All of you
dumb sons of bitches, I’ll cut your throats.”

Connelly looked at him and followed the others away.

That night Connelly could not sleep. Each time he shut his eyes he would see the shape of Ernie’s shrouded body lying not
far away from him, spots of red and brown seeping through and soaking into the patchwork of the sheet. Sometimes beyond it
another person was sitting on the ground, leaning madly and painted red, arms clutched at their sides.

Finally Connelly gave in and sat up. He looked at the others lying around him, their chests gently rising and falling in sleep.
Then he saw one figure standing far away, a small fire held in its fingers. It looked at him and held a finger to its lips
and he blinked and realized it was Pike.

Connelly stood as quietly as he could and walked over to the old man. He was standing far out in the brush, watching the sleeping
party, a glowing ember from the fire in his hand. He blew on it until it turned into a hellish spark and then he held it to
the end of a damp cigarette and took a drag.

“Can’t sleep?” Pike asked.


“Hm. I can’t either.” He sighed. “If there’s one thing I can’t abide, it’s damp tobacco,” he said out of the side of his mouth.
Each time he puffed his gray-black teeth would flash between his lips before being lost behind a fog of foul smoke.

“How’d it get wet?” asked Connelly.

“Roonie stored it next to his canteen. The man’s an idiot.”

“He’s a bit off, yeah.”

“He’s an idiot,” Pike said again. When he was satisfied with his dogend he lowered the ember and studied their party again.
“Tell me, Mr. Connelly. What do you think of these new additions?”

“Think of them?”


“I think they’re all right.”

“Do you?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, they been roughed up a fair amount last few days. So have we, though. But then we never had anyone die
on us.”

“No,” said Pike. “I suppose that’s the true test of man, isn’t it. If his beliefs quake in the face of death. If they do,
does he really believe in them?”

“We’ve all seen killing,” said Connelly. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”

“Yes. But there’s a difference between seeing killing and taking part in it.” He shook his head, eyes not moving, face still
faintly lit by the glow in his hand.

“You don’t like them,” said Connelly.

“I don’t trust them.”

“Why not?”

Pike turned the ember over in his hands thoughtfully, his skin never touching the glowing point. “Men,” he said, disgusted.
“They are such weak things. Do you know when I first saw death? Do you?”


“When I was nine. I saw my brother, kicked by a mule. He was two years older than me. Fooling about in the pen. My mother
insisted on an open casket, saying we had to see his face. He had little of it left, though. I remember that.” Pike turned
to look at Connelly. “Do you know why he died?”

Connelly shrugged.

“Because he was weak,” said Pike. “Because he was a fool. I know what you think now, though. I do. You think, surely the boy
was twelve, and so cannot be blamed for his death? But I was twelve once as well. And I lived. What difference is there between
me and him? Either a degree of stupidity, or perhaps those that live on are touched with the blessing of God. I think it may
be both. We are all His soldiers, you see. I believe He can save us at any time. If we falter and fall it is of our own doing,
none other’s.”

“You think so?”

“Yes.” Pike shook his head again. “Mankind. Mankind is feeble. It is given to lust and hunger and greed. To cowardice. I have
seen it in my years of traveling among them. Even when I preached to my flock, I hated them also. For they would weep or tremble,
or most often simply forget my preachings mere moments later. Sometimes I sought them out, to see if they had listened. And
I found them, then. In their moments of weakness. In their desires of flesh. Soft and senseless. When I found these things
I did not let them forget me. No sir. No, I did not.”

He spat on the ground. “I know now that my years of preaching were wasted on them. They were not worthy of the wisdom I had
to give. But with the arrival of these new people… I worry. I worry that I have forgotten how weak men can be. That they may
falter when we need them most. I say this to you, Mr. Connelly, because I know we are somewhat alike. You are strong. And
I do not mean you are strong in arm, though I can clearly see you are. But in spirit. You are stronger than this new band.
Stronger, perhaps, than Hammond or Roosevelt. Maybe stronger than me.”

“I don’t know that,” said Connelly.

“No. But I worry for you. We are doing the Lord’s work here. I know this. You and I are great tools in His plan. Do not weaken.
We must stay forever sharp. Forever hard. Remember.” Then Pike dropped the ember and crushed it into the dirt with the toe
of his shoe. It smoked and sputtered and there was the scent of burning leather. Then he strode back to the fire and lay down.

Connelly watched him for a while longer. Within moments the old man was asleep and slumbering gently. Connelly waited and
then returned to his bedding, but sleep still did not come.

They spent the next days in the hobo jungle outside the freightyard, waiting. They were joined by migrants from all over the
country, men young and old, desperate and excited. Some were mere children, others young families. Some clung to the idea
of travel as their only salvation. The young ones smiled through their hunger and dreamed only of biting the horizon, of the
great iron machines eating up earth beneath their wheels, and of freedom.

Some in the camp said this was a tough yard, and Connelly listened. The line he and the rest were going to flip was rumored
to be hot, hard bulls with no tolerance for hobos. They spoke of men dragged off and beaten in the woods, whispered of being
pushed beneath the cars and being bitten in half by the wheels. Others dismissed it as rumor. All agreed they would rob you,
though. It was common for the bulls to herd men off and line them up and take every penny they had. Everyone who was a passenger
on the line paid, the bulls would say. Sometimes they paid regular fare. Sometimes they paid more.

“I remember one time when a railroad man dragged us all off the train,” said one old man. “Had a gun and a stick. Told us
the fare to ride was half of whatever we had on us. Me, I didn’t care, I barely had a buck, but this one poor bastard had
been working day in and day out and had near to fifty. Damn railroad man was lucky that day. Took the money smiling, told
us to clear out or he’d toss us in the clink. Laughed as we ran away. I wanted to kill him. Still do.”

“One time there was too many,” said a grinning man. “We was all over the train like crows on a telegraph line. The conductor
took one look at us and sighed and waved the train on ahead. We cheered him as we sped by and I think he got a kick out of

Still, you gambled each time you stepped on the rail, they all knew. It was dangerous enough without railroad men kicking
you off. The churning machinery would be happy enough to eat an arm or a leg or all of you, should you foul up your mount.
Greasing the rails, they called it.

Connelly had been lucky and knew it. He had sewn a few dollars into the cuffs of his pants in case he ever needed to bribe
his way out, but he had never been hurt and had been caught only once, when he was hiding in a car carrying piping. He had
managed to stuff himself inside one and ride in something like peace, arms and legs crushed into the tube. Then everything
had lit up and a man had been crouching at the front of the pipe, flashlight in hand. He had looked at Connelly for a great
while, face invisible behind the light, and Connelly had frozen in fear. Then the light had clicked off and in the dark Connelly
could make out a sad and sympathetic eye at the end of the tunnel. The man had thoughtfully tapped the flashlight against
his leg, then stood and walked away. When the train had slowed, Connelly had crawled out and jumped off and had not looked

He never knew why the man had spared him, or even who he was. He told this story to Roosevelt.

“He was soft, that’s what he was,” said Roosevelt. “Men like that are few and far between, and getting fewer. You want to
see something?”


Roosevelt led him out to the woods where the track was clear. A solid line of trees had been chopped down and uprooted, carving
a path thirty yards across or so. It was clean and even like a man-made hallway and the rails slid through them like a ship
through a canal.

“We’re not going to hop one, are we?” asked Connelly.

Roosevelt laughed. “What are you, nuts? I just want you to come here and see.” He knelt by the tracks and reached out and
touched them. Parts of them were rusty red and other parts shone bright from where the train wheels had rubbed them clean.

“See this?” he asked.

Connelly nodded.

“You sure? I mean, you ever really looked?”

He shrugged.

“These here are the bones of this country. Know how many folks died doing this?”


“More than a hundred thousand. Maybe two hundred thousand. From when the first spike punctured the dirt to now, men died for
this. To lay the bones of this country. Men are still dying. Right now. Did you know that?”


“They are. In the freightyards someone’s had an accident. Someone’s getting dragged, something’s not loading right. A hobo
like us is messing up his mount and getting chewed up like a doll in a cat’s mouth. Greasing the rails. But, see, you got
to sacrifice something. This is the first time in the history of anything that you been able to go from one ocean to another.
One big… big architecture,” finished Roosevelt. “And we’re just a part, if that. You know, I had a bunch of different preacher-folk
yell at me when I was a kid but I never had much of a head for religion or gods. But if it came right to it, why, I’d say
train’d be something like a god. It’s a god to plenty of us. Brings work, brings travel. Brings the future and it brings our
loved ones. And it brings death. A lot of it, too. Maybe that’s part of it. Maybe you got to feed it. Feed it a little more
than coal.”

Roosevelt stood up and brushed his hands off. His eyes followed the track, carving its wide alley through the woods. “That’s
how you know you believe something,” he said. “If you wound up dying for it and thought, well, that’s okay.”

A thought wormed its way into Connelly’s head. He tried to understand what it was asking but at first he didn’t have the means.
He hammered it out as best he could and said, “Roosevelt?”


“Would you kill for the trains?”


“Let’s say if a certain someone didn’t die then one whole line would wind up breaking down or never getting built. So you
had to be the guy to do him in. Would you do that?”

Roosevelt sucked his lip into his mouth and leaned on one foot. His brows drew close together and then he licked his teeth
and blew a streamer of snot from one nostril. “Goddamn, that’s a crazy question,” he said. “It’s getting dark. Let’s head
back to the others.”

Roosevelt led the way, following the path of the rails, but he did not look at them again.

Mr. Shivers

BOOK: Mr. Shivers
11.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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