soundtrack here:Off the Rails
“I finally got shed of the pest somewhere around Chicago. Hopped off a freight train while he was stealing a few moments’ shuteye, rolled down a grassy hill into a rocky creek, and there I was, wet, bruised, but free.
Waited until another freight came by, hopped on, kept on going, right into the heart of the city. Well, onto the border between the city and the western suburbs, anyway. Into the Clearing Yard, and then out, a decent hike. My pocket compass told me I was headed east from where I was standing, and I marched out to Cicero Avenue, narrowly avoiding guards and dogs and other authority figures until I walked out the front door like a paying customer and stood on the curb waiting for the bus to take me to the airport.
No more listening to gobbledygook about different dimensions and shades of possibilities, and hanging out with a murderous rat-man. Just me and my strat and my dubious destiny.
“Thanks,” I said to the bus river as he waved me back when my greasy dollar bill couldn’t make it into the slot properly. “I’ll pay it forward.”
He grinned briefly and pulled the doors shut.
There was enough money in my account to pay for a ticket to somewhere warm. Seeing as how I couldn’t go home, my home being burnt to the ground, I figured that I’d go as far as I could west, out into the desert where the long arm of the law might not have as much grip. I was a fugitive, after all…or presumed to be dead-I wasn’t quite sure which.
Where I had been, there weren’t any newscasts, and my phone had been ditched long ago. I know they have GPS devices in them.
There had been freight-riders, and the less said of them, the better. There had been harrowing escapes and death-defying jumps to and from rolling train-cars. And the less said about those, the better.
I’ve been afraid for so long that it’s become my natural state. Terrified, really. I didn’t expect that the whole universe would be turned upside down when I went to the crossroads. I’m still trying to make sense of the events, correlate the contents of my brain.
My talent came and went before I could make much use of it. I’ve always felt as if something was lost to me before I was born, as if something that was supposed to be passed on to me wasn’t. I was born a Libra, on September 18, 1970. In my world, some football players were born that day (I looked it up one day), and nobody noteworthy died.
Maybe something different happened where and when you are. I don’t know. I wasn’t aware that there were alternatives until I spent some time with the rat-thing.
In his original space, he passed on. His bones were found. He was the familiar of a witch, brought into tenuous life through the writings of a man named Lovecraft. Enough people believed in him that he was “wished” into existence in the manner of the ancient gods.
Crazy talk, I know.
I remember when I was just a boy, reading about the talking mongoose in a book by CB Colby, and getting a bad case of the chills from that entry.
You can imagine my feelings when the creature showed up in the flesh.
But it’s always been my way to laugh in the face of fear. And I did so, until the fear took over and the laughter became hysterical. Then I lived on instinct, and my instinct was to try to rid myself of the source of the fear.
And I have, but I fear that the separation isn’t permanent, and it’s causing me some anxiety to contemplate that train of thought.
I wish it would derail. But it’s on firm ground.
So I pen these words, in midair, enroute to warmer climes. I think I’m over Nebraska right now, though it’s dark out and I can’t be completely sure.
Stop nagging me, I scream at the thought, inside my head. Get off my cloud. He’s not coming back. My passport is still good. I can get to Nogales before the law intervenes, and slip across the border, start a new life in the bone-dry boonies.
And I knock back another Jack-and-Coke, and snuggle back in my seat, and hope.
Just to be safe, I closed my checking account.
I haven’t had a proper job for years. I don’t have any friends.
Nobody will miss me, other than my cat, if he survived the fire.
And Brown Jenkin.
“You don’t understand,” he screeched at one point. “I’m fucking trying to help you.”
He was, is, right. I don’t understand. Modern science has it that the nature of things is metaversal anyway. Pretending to tune my instruments isn’t, wasn’t, helpful.
I screamed right back, of course, at the time.
“You aren’t. You’re just amusing yourself at my expense. I’m no magician, nobody that you can attach to as a professional second banana…” And I giggled, in my head, imagining Brown Jenkin on the Tonight Show, or playing as Lou Costello. “That’s it, isn’t it? You were trying to attach yourself to the man in black, and he wouldn’t have you. You escaped into my world while the door was open.”
“Only partially correct,” he said, calming down some.
“What’s the other part? That Keziah and the ratmaster already have their own Jenkin, in this time and place? That you don’t really exist here?” I laughed at him, out loud this time. “I think that’s it. I’m your anchor.”
“Well, you are certainly at sea. And you definitely drag me down,” he remarked.
“Yep,” I said. “I’m right.” And I leaned back, using my backpack for a pillow, and listened to the miles run by, just below me, and peered out the gap between the open doors, and heard the wind of our passage go rushing by, and felt almost at peace, for a moment.
Because I knew my place in things, for a spell. Not that I was comfortable with that spear of destiny sticking in my craw or anything like that, but at least I could pin things down, be certain of something, be on firm footing in a world that was increasingly made of eggshell.
I know where to get a new ID, a new driver’s license, even a work visa, once I get to Nogales. Years of traveling as an itinerant musician, associating with the scum of the earth, drunks, addicts, and whores, has gained me a store of such unsavory knowledge.
Everything can be okay. I can still play, well enough to make a living the way I always have, on streetcorners if necessary. I just don’t have anything special to offer. No whiff of the outside, in my music.
Just a journeyman guitar-slinger, me.
And that’s probably for the best.”
Nat leaned back and closed his eyes, and the liquor took over for a bit. He slept until the flight attendant woke him, and waited in his seat until the plane was almost empty.
His back pack was retrieved, donned. He staggered a little, on the way down the stairs to the terminal, but not enough to fall.
He washed his face in the airport rest room, did the best he could with his rat’s nest of hair, changed his sodden shirt for a clean one from his pack, threw the old one in the trash.
Monsoon season had come to the Southwest. It was raining sideways, and the temperature was in the triple digits. A haze hung over everything.
Nat exited the airport, raised his hand for a taxi.
“Hiya, pal,” said a small voice from behind him. “Good to see you.”
A soaking-wet Brown Jenkin stood on all fours, uncer a potted palm.
“This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” he said.