by Brandon Hartman
The boy wakes up to the sound of an early morning steam locomotive edging into the train yard. The whole sky is cloudless and pink as sunburned skin. He’s heard the whistle as many days as he’s lived, but today it’s his calling. When he arrives at the train yard, he imagines the tracks as the tangled bones of prehistoric skeletons, their ribcages laid end-to-end for all eternity. The boy’s friend is already there, thumbs through his overalls. They acknowledge each other but abstain from the trivialities of speech. The moment deserves the kind of awe that words make irreverent. The huge black bodies of the locomotives glint in the sunlight. The machines are giants, the boys are grasshoppers. The sky transmutes orange like the cue for an engine that stirs fire in the belly of a great dragon.
An Indian vagabond slips out from behind the still boxcars. He jogs alongside the moving train, grabs a ladder rung and swings inside an open doorway. The boy takes in this moment and his friend understands. Together they run alongside the train as the Indian has done. Before it gains too much speed the boy says silent prayers, goodbyes and apologies. His hand clutches the flaked rung and he will not let go. Around his fingers is a promise: Where this holy behemoth takes him will be his destiny. Wind whips and the boy’s hat lifts off his head. His friend holds it high and waves. A part of him will always be home.
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Brandon Hartman is currently in the throes of his third novel. He and his wife hail from South Jersey. He drinks too much coffee, but is trying to make the conversion to tea.