The Vagabond

from Tahoma Literary Review – Issue 13


Scout wished these two would take heed of the risks inherent in jumping freight trains. He’d tried to lay out the ground rules with them, the only ones he had ever abided by, because they had kept him alive thus far: If you can’t count the bolts on the wheels, the train is going too fast to climb on. Same for jumping off if you can’t make out each tie on the tracks as it goes by. Keep your shoes on when you’re riding. And keep your shit together. Porter and Bitty were about two more vodka swigs away from violating that one. He’d met his share of gutter punks with ground beef where their arms should be from jumping off trains without sticking the landing, and the hammer he carried was his lifesaver—as vital for scaring off psychopaths as it was for jimmying boxcar doors. If Scout weren’t there to show these two the ropes, they’d surely end up another cautionary example of the stupid shit that oogles do.

Near the station house in the distance, the white truck’s headlights flashed on. “Duck down,” Scout said. Porter and Bitty lay flat on their bellies while Scout crouched as low as he could manage without giving up his line of sight. His knee throbbed, but he kept still while the truck drove past and parked up near the locomotive. Two men emerged and climbed up to the engineer’s compartment, and then the bull drove back to the station house. Scout nudged his companions. “It’s almost time.”

The clang and squeal of the freight train lurching into motion was their starter’s pistol. “Go!” he whispered, and they were off. This was still his favorite part of the life. It never failed to amaze him how quickly a freight train could pick up speed, these mile-long monstrosities laden with shale and cement dust, or tractor parts and piston engines, grain or oil. They raced a hundred-yard dash to the tracks, and by the time they crossed the exposed part of the yard to run alongside the train, the steely creaks had given way to a rhythmic chunk that matched their footsteps.

Read the full story in issue 13 of Tahoma Literary Review. Available now in print and electronic formats. You can also listen to me read the story at TLR’s SoundCloud page.