A Single Yesterday

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Chapter 7

The moon illuminated Old Highway 3, which gave Zach some relief since he didn’t like the dark. However, he could distinctly see the road and where he was going. He could even detect puddles where the highway ended and became a small dirt road.

Some sections of the road, where the trees covered it like a huge canopy, became black as though Zach was entering a cave filled with nothing but darkness.

Zach became unnerved when his imagination started to play tricks on him. Each time he heard a strange noise, the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. When he heard the sound of a stick break, he started to run; convinced a monster was chasing him.

His heart pounded hard against his chest as he sprinted towards a section of the road that was illuminated by the moon. When he finally reached the end of the darkness, he stopped and looked behind him. His bated breath soon became calm, until the monster’s eyes were revealed.

Zach held his breath as the eyes of the monster glimmered in the moonlight. When the two glowing images came closer, Zach’s heart began to race again. He stood paralyzed; terrified he would be torn apart and eaten alive. His eyes widened in horror, the monster was now 6 yards away. When he was finally able to detect the monster’s head and body, he learned it was only a frightened fawn looking for its mother.

Suddenly he heard another sound echoing through the trees. It was faint but distinct. He walked a few yards, and when he approached a cleared area he saw a freight train in the distance moving slowly. Zach was delighted, he could take the train and not worry about the dark anymore. All he had to do was board the train and stay out of sight.
Zach had heard stories about hobos boarding trains to catch free rides—a hobo term known as flip or on the fly. Unlike tramps, who worked when they were forced to, and bums, who didn’t work at all, hobos were workers who wandered. Most hobos traveled north to find work during the peak of the Great Depression. They were migratory workers or homeless vagabonds, often penniless.

Zach learned this information from a hobo named Lester, who worked at the carnival for a short period of time. He was considered cheap labor, paid by no other than Mike Sullivan, who liked hiring hobos. He shorted them even more than he shorted Zach. However, most of the hobos gladly accepted whatever pay they could get. At least they got something. And something was better than nothing.

Zach shared his whiskey with Lester as he told him about life as a hobo. He told him how it was being migratory, poor, and having to deal with the hostile attitude of the railroad’s security staff (often nicknamed Bulls, who had a reputation for being rough with trespassers). He told Zach about one hobo he knew who was beaten to death and then thrown from a train. The Bulls made it appear as though it was an accident.

Flipping a train was dangerous. It wasn’t uncommon for a hobo to lose a limb, or their life after falling under the wheels of a train. He said many hobos have slipped and fell, got crushed between cars, or froze to death in bad weather. He told Zach flipping a train was always a gamble.

Zach ran to the freight train as it started to pick up speed. As he tried to keep up with it, he noticed one of the cattle cars had its door open. He tossed his bag into it, grabbed the handrail tight and began to pull himself in when suddenly his foot slipped. His hand slid inches from the end when he squeezed the handrail with all he had. His body swung and slammed hard against the side of the train almost knocking the wind out of him. He knew that he had to make his move, and it had to be quick before his hand tired.

The ground moving much faster than before and Zach knew if he fell, he would surely suffer serious injuries or even be killed. He felt his hand weakening and knew he had only one shot at it, so he began to count and swing his body. When he got to the count of three, he took a deep breath, swung his body toward the door and released his grip. He landed halfway in the cattle car with his ass and legs dangling in the wind. He scrambled and clawed until he finally pulled himself to safety inside the car. He rolled onto his back and tried to catch his breath. Thank you Lord, I owe you one.

After a few minutes, he found a crate to lean against. The entire car was stacked with crates except for the very center aisle. Once he was settled and comfortable, he removed a whiskey bottle from his bag. He noticed he had about a third of the bottle left. Of all nights, he felt this night he truly earned a drink and guzzled it down.

Zach glanced out the door and quietly watched the moon through the passing trees. And after a few minutes, he passed out from exhaustion as the train rocked him to sleep.

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