Authors: Kilayla Pilon
“T-thanks,” I stamm
ered, a laugh bubbling out of my chest as I moved to stand up straight. My legs went numb and I swayed, stepping forwards as my vision blurred and the world seemed to tilt, but as soon as it had begun, everything returned to normal and I stood still in front of Isaac, wide-eyed and hair a mess with Jumper’s loud chirping purr rumbling up to me.
“That was fun, you have to admit it,” Isaac said, grinning and giving me a pat on the back. I smiled, holding back a strong burst of laughter.
“Yeah, it was,” I gasped, lips pulling into a wide grin. We stared at each other for a few minutes as I regained my breath, the train speeding ever closer. I turned to see it barreling towards us, a large red engine with countless black boxcars, like a long tail, coming up on its rear. A plume of smoke puffed out of a tall rod on the front.
“Get ready to jump,” said Isaac, grasping my arm and pulling my forwards.
“Is that a train?” I asked, but my words were overwhelmed by the echoing roar of the speeding beast, the vibrations rattling my bones and unsettling my stomach. Awe struck every inch of my body as I picked up Jumper, holding him tight against my chest as the train groaned and screeched, rocking on the tracks. I had never seen a train before, nor had I seen anything move at such high speeds; it was astonishing and I watched as it raced towards us, the ground rumbling beneath us, my legs quivering. I spun around to look at Isaac as the train began to head past us, the wind buffeting me and almost knocking me off my feet, but he was leaping towards the train, hands just closing around the iron bars of a ladder, his body slamming hard against it.
“Jump, Arin!” He called, his voice drowned out by the shaking and rattling – it was only by the movement of his lips that I even so
mewhat understood what he was saying, and even then it was a struggle to connect what his movements meant. I swung around with Jumper crawling into my shirt as if preparing for an event that brought my heart into my throat and pumped my blood so fast into my hands they felt as if they would combust in any second, all while I watched the train roar past. I inhaled a deep breath and jumped.
Pain shooting through my left hand as it clasped tight around a searing hot metal bar signified that I had connected wit
h the train, but my right arm was pinned against my side by the harsh winds. Every other part of my body seemed to fly at me, slamming me against the bars, my chest and Jumper brushing the metal wall behind the ladder.
I could feel my mouth open, a scream ripping from my lips, but I couldn’t hear, couldn’t focus on any sound but the high pitched squealing of the wheels grinding against the metal and the wind howling as we sped onwards.
Something grabbed my hand hard, its grip tight as nails dug into my skin, and I cast my gaze downwards out of an instant reaction. The door to the boxcar had swung open and a man leaned out, tugging on me, his mouth moving and facial muscles strained as he screamed for my attention.
I’ve got you!” I stared at his lips and focused hard, unable to understand his words with precision. I took a gander at what he was saying, however, and inhaled a deep breath. I gave a sharp nod and closed my eyes, releasing my grip from the ladder.
swallowed me whole and the world turned into a seething, twisting mass of color and sounds that brought a throbbing, horrid pain into my head. I fell like a limp ragdoll as I flew through the air, plummeting towards the ground. I could still feel the man’s nails sinking into my flesh. I closed my eyes, shaking my head, tensing my muscles as I waited for my body to slam against the train once more or to fall against the ground.
I’m sorry, Mum.
I landed feet first on something soft and stoo
d there, eyes screwed shut for a moment. My entire body was rigid with shock and I could hear a loud screeching sound echoing all around me. Then the howling wind was gone and the screech of the wheels was quieted, sounding as if it was further away than I had been just seconds prior. Jumper’s wailing ran in my ears and I felt him squirming beneath my shirt, but I didn’t move to free him – I didn’t move to comfort him even when he scurried out of my shirt, his claws scraping my face as he bolted away.
happened?” I whispered to myself, blinking open my eyes as I fell onto my rump, looking around the dark room and squinting, desperate to find something to focus on. It was long and wide, with a lantern flickering in the corner, the only light source in the area, a shadow of a cat dashing by. “Jumper?”
“I’m what happened and you’re in a box car. No need to thank me or nothin’!” A dark, hoarse voice said in reply, followed by a slight cough. It was deep, the voice, and a grunt succeeded the cough, along with
a few disgruntled murmurs. “No manners, just no manners with kids these days! Well I tells ya!”
“T-Thank you,” I stammered, looking around for the owner of the voice. “Who – ah, where are you?”
“Names matter about as much as dust on this thing, but if you wanna know, it’s Andy; Andrew if you’re into the long fancy names that people only use when they want to sound rich. I don’t. So call me Andy,” Andrew said, coming out of the shadows and towards the corner of the boxcar, settling down beside the lantern. It didn’t cast a lot of light, but it was enough to get a good look at him, better than when he was in the shadows or my mind was too focused on clinging to the train for dear life. He was thin with graying, scraggy, ginger hair and a scruffy beard that came just to his shoulders.
“Thank you, Andy,” I said, looking down at the mishmash of pillows beneath me and prying the heavy load of supplies off my back, setting it down on the trembling floor.
“You?” Andy grunted, looking up from the flame.
“Your name, you damn twit.” He rolled his eyes, shuffling backwards to lean against the wall, kicking his legs out in front of him and crossing them.
“Arin, my name is Arin,” I responded, glowering at him from the darkness. Jumper scuttled towards the man,
nuzzling his leg.
“That boy you were with, wassis name?” Andy said, moving a hand to his beard and running his fingers through it, twirling the end. His free hand moved to pet Jumper, who leaped into his lap in an instant.
“Isaac, his name is Isaac,” I said, pausing as I spoke. My eyes snapped open and I struggled to my feet, wobbling at the numbness of my legs. I had landed far too hard. “I need to find him, oh God,” I mumbled, beginning to gnaw on my lip. “What would happen if he didn’t get in a…” What had he called it? “Whatever this thing is?”
“He’d uh, well, I don’t right know. Nothing good, at least, but I’m sure your boy is fine and isn’t a splatter underneath the wheels. Petey’s got ‘im, I wouldn’t doubt,” Andy said, putting his arms behind his head
“Petey,” I said, realizing how sore my throat was. I rubbed my hand along my neck, cringing. “Who’s Petey?”
“He’s one of the other guys that hang out in these things,” he said, sounding calm as if there was nothing to worry about, as if there wasn’t a chance that Isaac was splattered against the train.
“Can we go see him?” I asked, crossing my fingers, watching the old man’s gaze.
“No can do, not until she stops at the next station, ‘less you wanna run alongside this big beauty?” Andy chuckled at himself and looked at Jumper, who was rubbing against the scruff of the man’s beard, his loud purr echoing throughout the car.
“When will it stop?” I said, wringing my hands.
I need to see Isaac; I need to make sure he’s okay.
“’bout an hour till we get there, ‘kay kid? Calm down, sit back and wait, worrying won’t do you any good.” Andy closed his eyes, squirming and sighing with content as he stopped moving.
“An hour, okay,” I responded, nodding and looking down at my supplies. “I can do that. I can wait.”
Agonizing, drawn out silence followed within the next few minutes, the both of us doing nothing but staring at one another or some part of the car; even as Jumper padded between the two of us, unsur
e of who to cuddle with first.
I zipped open one of the supply bags, rummaging around until I found some water, tugging out a pop-open can of fruit – some old brand labeled Pineapple Chunks. My throat was parched, both from the trek and the screaming, and
my stomach groaned, a slight pinching pain in my abdomen following each whine. I hoped Isaac had something to drink wherever he was. I popped off the lid of the can, picking out a piece of the fruit and throwing it at the cat before nibbling on a piece myself. Andy eyed it and I held it out to him, but he shook his head.
“Where you headed, anyway? People don’t risk their lives jumpin’ on a movin’ train if they can help it, most days.” I popped another pineapple chunk in my mouth, chewing it as I mulled ove
r his question.
“We’re headed up to Cobalt,” I answered, avoiding the idea to lie. It wouldn’t work out in my favor if I did. “Where are you going?”
“I’m heading to nowhere land, kid. Staying here until I croak.” Andy laughed again, patting the wall behind him, his answer coming quicker than expected. “She moves, gives me new sights to see every couple of days and Petey boy has a bunch of food we share when this beast stops every few hours to refuel or haul a few people from here to Timbuctoo, I don’t see no reason not to stay with ‘er.”
“Oh,” I murmured, mouth open as I scanned the boxcar. “How long have you ridden here?”
“I’d have to say about a year or so now, she’s only been up and runnin’ for a few months now. Not many people know how to drive these things, I sure as hell don’t.” Andy sighed. “Why you headin’ to Cobalt, kid? Nasty group of people up there, people you don’t wanna mess with. Heads filled with some psycho’s words and all that.”
“There’s a community not too far from there that’s been going
strong for a while, or so I was told.” I watched Andy, curious about the people he was talking about. “How do you know about the people in there?”
“Well, I was up there a few years ago and I knew a lot of ‘m. They’re nothing but a nasty cult, they are. Lea
d by some fool named
Lovelock claims to be a prophet of the lord or some bull like that.
Ain’t one word ah truth that comes outta that man’s mouth – ain’t no God, at least not anymore,” Andy responded, his tone full of amusement as he snorted.
“I have t
o agree with you on the front,” I said, shaking my head. “Unless he’s a cruel God, then he’s just an ass.” He snorted at my comment.
“What happened to your parents, kid? I don’t see a lot of kids these days and the ones I do are always with their Ma or Pa,
or both if they’re lucky.” Andy opened both of his eyes and leaned forwards, looking at me with interest.
“The same thing that happens to most people at some point or another, they’re dead.”
“Ah, my folks are dead too, you’ll get used to it. Everyone does at some point. Not much choice.” He leaned back again, settling himself against the wall and grabbing a piece of paper from beside him, petting Jumper. “Take a look at this; you might need it if you’re headed to Cobalt.” He chucked it at me and I leaned forwards, grabbing it mid-air.
“What is it?” I said unfolding the paper, finding it had been folded into eight sections – it was almost a perfect fold, too. I couldn’t help but admire the handiwork.
“Map of this here province, this train is headed to Ottawa, stopping in Toronto in less than an hour now, but she isn’t going up to Cobalt. That part you’ll have to walk or summin’.” I glanced at the paper, noticing crude, hand-drawn lines going through different dots and darting in varying directions. I stared at the one heading to Ottawa, but there was no lines heading anywhere near our destination – after Ottawa, the line went off to the edge of the paper, to another province I assumed.
I peered up from the map, folding it and setting it by my bag. I rose an ey
ebrow, opened my mouth to speak, but he held up his hand and waved me off.
“A while still, five hours maybe,” he said, shrugging. “Give or take.”
“Five hours? Damn,” I sighed, leaning back against the pillows.
“It’s not too bad. I mean, if you entertain yourself that is,” Andy said, yawning. “Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to take a quick nap before we get to where we’re goin’.”
“I’ll be here,” I breathed, closing my eyes.
One hour until I know if Isaac is alive, making that six hours until we get to Ottawa, and then who knows how long of a walk until we get to Cobalt.
I thought my brow furrowing.
I hope Isaac is right – I hope this trip won’t wind up screwing us over. It’s not like we have much more to lose.
olted awake by the violent shake of the train, I inhaled a sharp breath of surprise, sitting up as fast as I could. Andy, eyes blinking open, had his mouth open in a wide yawn, stretching his arms and looked across at me, grinning. I stared, wide eyed with shock at his calm composure – the train rocked and swayed as if it was about to tip over, and he didn’t seem to care even as it squealed – Jumper was buried into his jacket, his fur bristling and ears pressed to his skull. Andy stared at me for a moment, his face screwing up as if he was thinking for a moment, before he nodded.
“Right, Arin,” he murmured to himself, pushing off the wall and standing up. “This here is the first stop before Ottawa, kid.” “Already?” I breathed, stretching my arms.
“Yeah, goes by fast if you sleep through the ride. Anyway, you can get off and go to the other car with your friend or he can come here, I’m headin’ over to see Petey anyway, get some more lanterns to light up this dark place – smashed the other one tryin’ to get you in here,” he muttered, kicking something that was out of my sight line, but it sounded like broken glass. I had noticed the darkness, but I hadn’t questioned it.
“One step closer,” I whispered, inhaling a deep breath and closing my eyes, exhaling at a slo
We’re going to be to Ottawa soon, and then it’s only a few days until we make it to
“Tally ho,” chuckled Andy, pulling open the door to the box car. It groaned and squealed, but with a few sharp tugs it opened and a burst of light shone through. I narrowed my eyes, leaning away from the opening and covered place my arm over my eyes, watching as he bounded off the train.
“Mind if I hop in this car, old man?” said a familiar, raucous voice. I glanced up, squinting at the bright light as my ey
es began to adjust to the change, and smiled, relief flushing through me. I heaved a deep sigh and crawled to my feet, watching as Jumper scooted past me out of the train, disappearing from my sight. I turned away, too focused on the boy before me, leaned against the side of the train.
“Isaac! You’re okay!” I said, running over to him, grabbing his arm, shuffling backwards to help drag him up into the boxcar.
“This here’s your friend, I take it?” Andy questioned, eyes narrowed as he eyed Isaac with a cool glare.
“Yeah, this is him,” I responded, glancing over at Andy.
“Coolio, we got about ten or so minutes before we head out. Maybe in that time the kid will learn not to call me an old man, hm?” Andy snorted, turning away from us and heading out of sight.
“I doubt that,” I murmured, sitting down and flinging my legs outside of the opening and taking a deep breath. “Ah, fresh air.”
“Old man, that’s his name to me, and I don’t care what he wants,” grumbled Isaac, leaning up against the door.
“Oh, try and be nice, Isaac, he’s helping us out,” I insisted.
“People don’t just help others anymore, there’s always something to get from it, or they ain’t gonna do it. When are you gonna learn
that?” Isaac said, narrowing his eyes at me. I stared at him and pressed my lips together, chewing on the inside of my lip.
“You’re helping me out and you’re not getting anything out of it,” I said, crossing my arms.
What’s wrong with you, anyway?
made,” he said, looking around the room. “I talked to the guy in the other car, Patrick I think it was, and he said this beast is on her way to Ottawa. We’ll get off there, okay? Try and find a working car or something, or even just go on foot if we can.”
“We’ll see,” I murmured. “What do you know about Ottawa?”
“It was the capital city, big place. Most big cities aren’t the best anymore, though; I wouldn’t doubt that it’s gone straight to hell. We’ll stick to the main roads, stay away from all alley ways and anything that seems even just a little suspicious... And avoid anyone in the cities if we meet them, okay?” Isaac stared over at me, eyes locked on mine. He was dead serious about staying away from other people, and I wondered why, but I just nodded in agreement.
“Okay.” I nodded, searching his expression for any hints as to why he seemed so off, but I came up blank with nothing to show what was wrong with him. I bit down hard on my lip in frustration, cringing at the acrid taste of blood.