Peddling down the street on her pink, white-walled bike she felt the cool morning breeze rush past her bare ears. Turning down a wide side street in the heart of the suburb she spotted what she was looking for, though of course she knew right where it was all along. Coasting to a stop she jumped off her seat and in one fluid motion tossed the bike into a large shrub on the side of the road, so eager she didn’t care part of the handle bars were still visible, peeking out from the waxy manicured leaves. Skipping to the middle of the road she stopped and glanced around. A heavy fog rested over the still sleepy houses, each two stories tall with three windows to spy on the gardener from. Everything was quiet, and she was alone. Crouching down she laced her fingers through the slimy manhole cover’s slits. Rusty and crusty from stagnation as it was, she gave a hefty pull. She felt her arm muscles tighten as the cool metal dug into her fingers. Digging in her heels she puffed out a breath and pulled again, the cover finally shifted an inch with a metallic clank. Breaking out in a grin, she hauled it to one side, creating a slit of an opening. Dropping on all fours, she pulled out a flashlight and flicked it on, the yellow light falling on an old steel ladder descending into darkness. A strong stench of algae and rotting things danced around her nose eagerly, long cut off from the world above. “Perfect,” she smiled. Clenching the flashlight between her teeth she weaseled her way into the hole, her feet groping until one foot, then the other, found purchase on the rungs of the ladder. A chill of anticipation ran up her spine as she took one more glance around before ducking her head low and disappearing down the hole, the dimming echoes of her footsteps falling on absent ears.
“Even a one inch worm has a half inch soul.”
– Japanese proverb
As Kenta fell back, head cracking against the pavement, he looked up. The sun’s white light blinded him. Dark figures loomed, laughing. A foot came down on his temple. He curled into a ball, doing his best to shield already bruised skin. The assault continued until the group of boys grew bored.
“Ey, what’s wrong?” One said, prodding Kenta with a stained shoe.
“He just can’t stand up for himself,” another commented.
“Least not now.” A round of laughter accompanied the words.
Kenta felt his face harden. “Dumbasses.” The boys stopped laughing. Slowly, tenderly, Kenta unfurled himself and rolled over onto his back. They were right. He couldn’t stand. Everything hurt too much.
“What did you say?” One more foot, one more dash of light. When Kenta opened his eyes he saw a worm, dead, an inch from his face. The same old scene—guts busted out through pink skin, sticky now from exposure.
A little time had passed, not much since the sun was still up, but the group of boys were gone. Kenta looked at the worm and sighed despite himself. It was likely stepped on during the attack, going unnoticed. “A half an inch of life my ass. What a shitty way to go.” Kenta thought. “A half an inch of pride is better.” Struggling, he made his way to his knees before standing with the aid of a dumpster. Holding his side, he limped to the street and turned a corner.
All my friends are dead
I go to him
Stepping over scattered pieces
Run my fingers over his cheek
Smoothing the ragged edges
As he breathes his last
Soon he leaves me, moving to the next place
Before he goes he sees me
Sorrowful soul attempting comfort
All my friends are dead
Seconds mark our time together
They never stay long
Angela ran. She pumped her arms and legs until they carried her to the edge of town and beyond, through the tall grassy field and up the steep hill that shadowed the town like an imposing mountain. At the top of the hill began a forest, a deep and mysterious cluster of trees that for all she knew enveloped the whole rest of the world. No one ever went into the forest. In fact, most town’s folk made a point of avoiding it. Spirits and demons, they mumbled behind newspapers and mugs of coffee. Like her grandmother, who threatened if she should ever wander in a demon would eat her. But she should really be focusing on the task at hand.
Three boys chased after her, yelling familiar taunts. They chased her every day after school, and she always ran. She would try to take a different path every few days or so, just to keep things interesting for her. That day she had decided to take the sidewalk leading out of town. She didn’t bother looking over her shoulder, only focused on the swish of her pink cotton skirt and tall grass against her legs as she made her way up the hill. She wasn’t the most athletic kid in school, but she had become quite the decent long distance runner in recent times. Maybe she would try out of track next fall?
“Freak! Better keep running!”
As she neared the top of the hill and the forest she heard the boys and their voices fading into the distance. When she reached the top of the hill she skidded to a halt and looked over her shoulder. Sure enough the three boys were walking back down the hill, occasionally shoving one another in a playful manner. They were probably talking about what they were going to have for supper that night, pizza or chicken or whatever their parents made.
Putting her hands on her knees, Angela heaved a sigh of relief. She took off her backpack, pink and white with sparkles set into the plastic front cover. It was an image of the sky, full of stars she had never seen. Leaning against the nearest tree, she looked first at the setting sun in the west. Pretty pink and orange hues coated the sky like frosting. She looked up at the tree, thick green leaves waving down at her in the slight breeze. Everything was quiet, the sounds of her town minuscule even to an attentive ear. Truth be told, this was not her first time at the edge of the forest. Once or twice, or maybe even five times, she had found herself wandering up the grassy hill to examine the forest the town seemed to dislike so much. She had never gone past the tree line, but still found she didn’t mind the peace and quiet that came with being closer to a cluster of trees than a cluster of people, regardless of any old demon her grandmother threatened her with. Sighing, she slid down the tree trunk until her knees touched her chin and began tugging absentmindedly at her pig tails.
The sun continued to set, and Angela continued to stare off into the distance. She really should be on her way home, it was getting late. Her eyes squinted at the sun, almost gone now, as she folded her arms over her knees and let her cheek rest in the crook of her elbow. Her eye lids drooped down and closed. When she opened them all around her was cool darkness. Yawning, she unfolded herself from sleep and stretched until all the joints in her body felt taunt as a bow string. Sighing, she looked up at the sky and imagined the scolding she would get when she finally walked through the front door. A movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention, a patch of black moving against the grey.
She looked closer, and out of the shadows emerged a tall figure shrouded in a black cloak with the head of a fox’s skull. It stretched out a hand, skeletal like it’s head but human, to pick at a few small mushrooms it found growing near the tree line. It took a few steps, occasionally stooping, picking and planting mushrooms, pushing aside grass and digging in the dirt with its thin ivory fingers. Finally, only a few feet away, it noticed Angela in her bright pink converse shoes with glow in the dark laces. Seeming to give a little start the creature froze, staring at Angela as she stared back.
“Hello there.” The creature said. Its jaw did not move, but she knew the voice had come from it.
“Hello,” Angela said. “Are you going to eat me?”
“Eat… you?” The creature looked taken aback. “Of course not. I am strictly vegetarian.”
“Oh.” Angela nodded. “What are you doing?”
The creature continued to stand still, except to fidget with its hands the small bag it held. “I am picking and planting mushrooms. It is the season you know, and nighttime is the best time to do this sort of thing.” The creature seemed to look her up and down. “Who are you?”
Excitedly, Angela jumped to her feet and skipped up to the creature. “My name is Angela; I live in that town down the hill.” Holding out her hand, she looked up into the two black pit eyes of the creature expectedly. Looking down at her, the creature obliged and took her hand in its own, giving it a good shake.
“My name is Wald. Spelled with a W but pronounced with a V.”
Angela stared up at Wald, fascinated with every river bed crevice in its skull and worn thread in its coat. “How do you talk if your jaw doesn’t move?” She asked.
The creature again looked taken aback. “I… do not know. I have never thought about it.”
“Oooooooohhhh.” Angela cooed. Her eyes shined wide in the night light. “You’re so cool. Is the rest of your body a skeleton too? Why is your head a fox but your hands human? Do you have feet?” The young girl grabbed at the creature’s cloak only to have it gently but firmly yanked away.
“Why are you here? At this time of night?” Wald asked. Just then a deep rumble came from Angela’s stomach. Gasping, she slapped her hands over her abdomen and looked up at the creature, slightly embarrassed. If Wald had eyebrows, she was sure it would have risen them. Sighing, it set down its sack of mushrooms and reached into its sleeve. Pulling out another sack, it motioned for Angela to sit back down against the tree she’d fallen asleep against. Obeying, she watched with wide eyes as Wald sat down next to her and opened the sack. A small spread of bread and cheese greeted her on the grass soon after.
Angela looked at Wald. “I was not expecting a fox to like bread and cheese.”
Wald chuckled. “I am not a fox.”
“What are you?” Angela asked, already stuffing bits of food into her mouth.
“I am the forest.” Wald explained. “I am the trees and the grass, the water in the creeks and the air that ruffles the leaves.”
“That’s cool.” Angela said, chewing thoughtfully. “How old are you?”
“As old as time.” Wald said. “Yet as young as the new leaves every spring.”
“I’m twelve.” She offered up.
“Angela,” Wald said. “Why are you here? No one goes into the forest, let alone at night.”
“Oh,” Angela said. “Some boys chased me up here this afternoon. It’s no big deal. I’ve been up here a few times by myself just to wonder around. I’ve never been into the forest though.”
“No one has been into the forest in quite some time.” Wald said.
“Everyone’s too scared to.” Angela continued talking in-between bites. “They think the forest is haunted by a demon. I think that’s supposed to be you.”
“Humans are strange.” Wald said, staring down at the small quiet town at the bottom of the hill. “When did that happen?”
“People have always been strange. Least for as long as I’ve been alive. You probably never noticed. Do you have more cheese?” Wald reached into its sleeve again and pulled out a branch of berries.
“Dessert.” It said. “Why were those boys chasing you?”
Angela shrugged. “I don’t know. Just different I guess. Do you have any friends?”
“A few.” Wald said. “Do you?”
“No.” Angela smiled. “I’m a freak, and no one wants to be friends with a freak.”
Wald thought for a moment. “Why do you come up here? To wander?”
Angela shrugged. “It’s quiet. Who are your friends?”
Wald thought for a moment. “Not so much friends… From the deers to the birds and even the ants. I am connected to everything within my presence. I am their home, and they are my reason for being. I am never alone, and neither are they.”
“Sounds nice,” Angela said, biting into another berry.
Wald looked over at her. “You say you have no friends; do you like being alone?” Angela shrugged. “Do you feel alone?” Wald pressed.
“Not right now.” She smiled.
“Before this?” Angela looked down at her sneakers and shrugged. Wald tilted his head and sighed. “Young one, place you hand on the ground.” It demonstrated, straightening its bones so it’s hand lay flat against the ground. Angela followed suit, cool blades of grass poking through the space between her fingers. Wald looked at her. “What do you feel?”
Angela screwed up her eyes, concentrating. “The… Earth?”
“Do you think you are ever truly alone?” Wald asked. “We are all connected, all living things, to one another. Even this tree you are leaning against right now, it is a part of you just as you are a part of it. All living things are bound together. We breath the same air and walk under the same sky. True, there may be moments when you are physically alone, even emotionally alone. Sitting in your room at night perhaps. But there are bats flying to and fro, roots growing deeper, and other humans down the block playing cards. Every living thing is related in some way, through the heartbeat of the very planet we all call home. You might feel you are alone, but that could not be farther from the truth.”
Angela started up at Wald, a bit mystified. “I guess so.” She said, and looked back down the hill at the town.
Wald followed her line of sight. They sat in silence, listening to the cool night air. In the distance, a cricket chirped its opinion. “Those boys who chased you up here…” Wald said. “You are connected to them as well. It is important to remember that.”
“Yuck,” Angela scrunched up her face.
“All you can do,” Wald reached out and put his arm around Angela’s shoulders. “Is treat them like the family they are. That we all are.”
“Like brothers…” Angela suddenly stood up. Looking back at Wald a smile spread across her lips. “Can I ask you a favor?”
The next afternoon found Angela in a similar scenario; the same three boys chased her after school through the town. Taking the same route as the day before, Angela found herself jogging up the grassy hill that led to the forest. Normally outrunning the boys wasn’t an issue, but exhaustion weighed down her legs. She arrived home late the night before and spent most of her time once there lying in bed staring at the ceiling, thinking back to the conversation she had with Wald. She heard the boys grow closer and closer, and began to panic. What would they do if they caught her?
She heard a grand rustling noise and felt the ground shift beneath her. She turned around just in time to see a shadowy figure rise from the tall grass between her and her pursuers. The boys stopped short, staring wide eyed up at Wald, who loomed over them. “Listen carefully little boys,” it boomed. “Whoever trespass this hill is in my domain, and I do not take kindly to those who would bring disorder. This girl tells me you bully her every day. Enough! Do not bother her again or next time you will find yourselves between my jaws.” Wald had steadily moving closer and closer to the boys and was now standing directly in front of them. Bending down to their eye level, it paused for a moment before opening its jaws for the first time, letting out such a furious roar even Angela was impressed. The boys screamed and high tailed it back down the hill, stumbling and pushing each other along the way.
Wald turned towards Angela. “I am still not convinced that was the right thing to do.”
“Aww come on,” Angela said. “You said it yourself. We’re all family; and I for one think that was a very sisterly thing to do.”
“Ask me to scare those boys half to death?”
“Yup.” Wald and Angela stood side by side, watching as the last of the boys ran into town and disappeared behind a building. “Do you think anyone will believe them?”
“No.” Wald said. “The belief in a forest creature is an old folk tale at best. It is true no one comes up here anymore, out of fear or disinterest, but I do not think I should worry about fire and pitch forks any time soon because of a child’s overactive imagination.”
“That’s good.” Angela said. Turning on her heels she started to trek the rest of the way up to the forest. “That way you can help me with my math homework.”
Wald looked over its shoulder, surprised. “I am? Oh dear.”
Although she did not identify as a man or a woman, and was thus nonbinary, she did not mind when people addressed her as a woman. It tended to make things easier.
“Hey lady! Hurry up will ya’? It does not take all day to take a leak and some of us have lives we’d like to get back to!”
Ro stood at the front of the line at the pay-to-port. Paying to pee via public urinal had been law since she was a kid. There was no point in dwelling on the ethics of it. You simply stepped up, deposited your coins in the slot, and walked in to do your business when the door unlocked. The pay-to-port she often visited was a hot spot, being the only urinal in a ten-mile radius. That morning, the line stretched indefinitely down a long dirt pile of a hill, a steady slope elevating to one of the greatest earthly pleasures known to man. Unfortunately, euphoria was slow in coming that day.
“Hey!” Someone shoved her from behind. “Tell who’s ever in there to hurry up!” Ro looked over her shoulder at a woman, all short legs and furrowed eyebrows.
“Whoever it is, they paid just like the rest of us,” Ro said. “They can take just as much time as they need.”
“Says me.” Ro said sternly. “This ain’t a speed pissin’ contest. Now shut up and wait your turn like everyone else.”
“But I haven’t gone since last night,” the woman complained. “You know it’s illegal to go out in the bush, and I just now found a nickel in the trash so I could afford the port!”
“Not my problem.” Ro said, facing forward. She felt a pull on her arm as the woman grabbed her sleeve, still feeling scrappy. “Let go.” Ro said, restrained. “I don’t like to be touched.”
“Oh yeah?” The woman said, defiance flashing in her eyes. “Make me.”
Ro promptly punched the woman square in the jaw, the line parting around her as she tumbled head over feet down the slope. Ro heard the door to the urinal unlock and open. A young girl holding a stuffed bear stepped out and smiled up at her as the door clanked shut behind her. Ro smiled back, payed her fee, and stepped inside.
Time to wake up.
Luck listened to the steady chugging of the train as it traced its way along the tracks. He thought of the hot coals making steam of water, propelling the rods back and forth which moved the wheels. He thought of how it all worked together smooth like. Absent-mindedly, he traced the circular face of his wristwatch and smiled.
“What ‘cha smiling about Luck?”
“Shh! Una, Luck’s sleeping.”
“No he’s not,”
“His eyes are closed.”
“But I saw Luck smile.”
“Do people smile when they sleep?”
“Sometimes,” Luck, a man in his late twenties, opened his eyes and looked at the two young Mexican-American girls sitting across from him dressed in matching black dresses. “But I wasn’t sleeping.”
“Ha! I was right!” Una pointed a finger at her identical twin sister, Uno. “I’m super smart, huh Luck?”
Uno shoved her sister to the side. “Not as smart as me though, right Luck?”
Luck smiled. “I think you’re both smart.”
“Yay!” The girls cheered, their jet black pigtail braids (braided by each other every morning) bouncing excitedly, their squabble all but forgotten.
Luck glanced out the window of their compartment as grassy hills peppered with pine trees rolled past. The year was 1930, maybe 1931. Luck couldn’t be bothered to remember. With the Great Depression in full swing, many people found life hard, even unenjoyable. Luck couldn’t understand that, as he always made the best of any situation. Una and Uno were runaways from Texas he met two years prior when the tag team stole his wallet. After tracking the pair down to a nearby alleyway, the sparse contents of his wallet strewn about the greasy ground, he took them under his wing no questions asked. In the time since the trio had traveled the country, going from odd job to odd job and city to city. He never did get his wallet back.
“Hey Luck?” Una crept into his line of vision. “What exactly are we doing on this train anyways?”
“Are we going to have some fun?” Uno asked.
“Of course we are.” Luck said.
“Are we really?” Una asked.
“Of course,” Luck said, sitting up straight in his tan suit and tie. “Have I ever lied to you?”
“Well,” Una looked at Uno.
“Well,” Uno looked at Una. “There’s that thing you keep on saying,”
“Yeah, that thing.” Una said. “That we’re not real.”
“But I feel real.” She poked her face to make sure.
“How come I’m not real?” Uno asked eagerly, leaning forward with her hands on her knees.
“Because my existence is the only existence I can be certain of. All this,” Luck motioned around the train compartment and the world beyond. “Is nothing but a dream. I could wake up any minute and this whole world would disappear just like that.” Luck snapped his fingers as demonstration.
“I’m afraid so.” Luck said, fiddling with his wristwatch. “But! That just means there’s nothing to be scared of, right? Since this is a dream we don’t have to worry about getting hurt or dying.”
Una raised her hand. “What about that one time I broke my arm?”
“Things happen in dreams all the time, but that doesn’t mean they really happen. Remember what I told you about my parents?” The girls nodded. “Such cruelty could only exist in bad dreams.” Luck leaned back and folded his arms. “In this world, my existence I know to be true. Anything else is a result of my imagination.”
Una furrowed her eyebrows in contemplation. “I guess that makes sense…”
“You’re so smart Luck,” Uno marveled. “Your dream is the best!”
“I bet Luck dreamed me up first.” Una glanced at Uno with a smirk, casting aside her doubts.
“Nuh-uh! Mom always said I was your older brother!”
Una rolled her eyes. “Then you started calling yourself my sister! But you started calling yourself a girl after me, so I’m older. Right Luck?”
“Makes sense,” Luck reasoned.
“Mom never did like that,” Uno looked down at her feet, the tips of her black shoes just barely scrapping the floor.
“But we don’t have to worry about that anymore!” Una insisted. “We’re with Luck now.”
“So what are we doing on this train?” Uno switched the subject, throwing herself back against her seat with a huff. “I’m bored.”
“Tell me something: What do you do when you’re having a bad dream?” Luck asked. The girls looked at each other and shrugged. “You have as much fun as you can until it turns into a good dream!”
“But how?” The girls asked, their eyes wide with excitement.
“Why, we’re going to take over this train and rob everyone on board.” Luck said.
“Oh boy!” The twins threw their hands up in the air. “That does sound like fun!”
“They served breakfast about twenty minutes ago,” Luck glanced at his wristwatch to confirm. Silver with a plain black leather strap. Luck swore it looked just like his father’s, though of course they couldn’t be one in the same. “So most people should be in the dining car. We’ll storm in, catching them completely unawares, and take them for everything they’re worth! But first,” Luck stood up and pulled down a suitcase from the overhead storage racks. From its leather confines he pulled two Tommy Guns, which he handed to the twins. Even though Una and Uno were pretty small, they knew how to handle the heavy weaponry. Luck had seen to that. He pulled out a pump-action shotgun, a longtime favorite, for himself. “Now remember girls: this is just a dream. You don’t have to be scared of hurting someone if they fight back, okay?”
“Or of being hurt,” Una chirped.
“Or of being hurt.” Luck nodded.
The trio exited their compartment and walked towards the front of the train, the twins skipping hand in hand. Luck followed whistling the chorus to ‘Coming ‘Round the Mountain’, not a care in the world with his shotgun slung over his shoulder. He wasn’t thinking much about anything, except how sad it was he had to miss breakfast on account of the robbery. The sacrifices he made!
Up ahead a compartment door opened and out stepped a man. Glancing down the hall, his eyes widened when he saw Una and Uno looking so happy with Tommy Guns in their hands. Without a word Luck cocked his shotgun and let loose a shot, the force of which knocked the man back against the wall in a splatter of blood. Walking forward, Luck examined it like an inkblot and saw his mother’s face. Luck wasn’t worried about someone hearing the commotion; the man appeared to be alone, and the dining car was still two cars ahead. Over the rushing wind and early morning chatter, no one would have heard at thing. He was sure of it.
“Wow, did you see that Uno?”
“I sure did!”
“That was really something, huh Uno?”
“Sure was!” An uncomfortable silence settled between the girls, their feigned enthusiasm falling flat.
Luck looked between the young girls—children really. He had never ‘killed’ anyone in front of them before; he could see how the image of murder was shocking to them. He’d been there himself once, after all. Out of habit, he touched his fingers to the black leather strap of his wristwatch. “What did I say earlier?” He began. “You don’t have to feel sorry for this guy because he didn’t exist to begin with. If someone’s not alive, well, you can’t very well kill them, can you?” With that Luck started forward, leaving the bloody scene behind. Squeezing each other’s hand, the two girls followed.
The dining car was filled to the brim, Luck could hear it when he pressed his ear to the door. A whiff of bacon teased his nose, and he felt his mouth begin to water. All those unsuspecting people, eating their jam and drinking their orange juice, just sitting around waiting to be robbed. They had to be feeling pretty invincible, like nothing bad could happen to them. After all, nothing bad ever happened when you were eating breakfast.
“Are you ready girls?” Luck turned to his companions. Kneeling down in front of them, he set his shotgun aside and placed a hand on each girl’s shoulder. “I know things haven’t always been easy for you. Things haven’t always been easy for me. But with the money we get from this we can turn a bad situation into a good one. We can live somewhere real nice with no worries. All we gotta do is take some stuff from people who don’t need it, and we’ll be sittin’ pretty. You two are all I have in this world, so I’m going to take care of you until I wake up, okay?”
The two girls nodded, finding it within themselves to smile. “We’re with you.” Uno said, holding up her Tommy Gun.
“We know what to do,” Una said, giving a thumbs up. “It’ll be easy-peasy.”
“It’ll be fun.” Luck corrected. “Above all else, it’ll be fun.” With that Luck picked up his shotgun and turned towards the door. One deep breath later he kicked it open, Una and Uno following behind in a flurry of rounds aimed at the ceiling. “Thank you, thank you, a villain has arrived!” Luck welcomed the screams and frantic scrambling as the room’s occupants instinctively ducked to the floor. “Listen up! Me and my two friends here are robbers, and we’re here to take all your money and valuables. Nobody do anything stupid, and you’ll all get to go home and kiss your wives, got it?”
“Hey kid, ain’t you a police officer or something?”
Paul shifted his body closer to the dinning car wall in an attempt to hide his face. He hadn’t planned on a robbery when he boarded the train that morning. He was supposed to be on vacation, to ‘gather his nerves’. A week earlier Paul was at the bank, to deposit a paycheck, when a duo of bank robbers burst through the door, Tommy Guns blazing. Two of the mafia’s men, he was sure. The first to dive to the floor, he covered his head and listened as the robbers went about their business with a showy vigor he was sure the papers would eat up later. Terrorizing the customers who looked vulnerable, they threatened to ventilate anyone in the joint who tried to stop them. They shot the bank guard stone cold dead when he reached for his gun. Paul didn’t move a muscle. Sure enough, front page news. ‘Police Doormats for Mafia Takeover.’ The chief called him every name in the book and placed him on paid leave, instructing him to vacate town until the whole ordeal blew over. He hadn’t planned on a robbery at all.
The old man nudged him again, harder. “Stop the robbers, will ya? This watch is a family heirloom.” He motioned to a tarnished silver pocket watch clutched between his knobby fingers. Paul could care less about his pocket watch. A few minutes before he’d been eating breakfast, two eggs over easy with buttered toast, chatting with the old man at the next table over. He was on his way to visit his grandson, and Paul remarked how nice it was some people still placed value on family. Then those guys showed up, two girls and a man, shooting off bullets and orders left and right. The man was young and tall, handsome by anyone’s standards. Slicked back dark brown hair topped a worn tan suit, the edges of a burgundy vest peaking out whenever he turned his body just right. Paul felt his heart skip the usual way whenever he came across a handsome man, and fought to keep any related thoughts at bay. He just couldn’t catch a break.
The two girls, dressed in gaudy lace black dresses, walked here and there stuffing wallets and jewelry in their dress pockets. They were going back and forth about whether they wanted matching pink ponies or not while waving their Tommy Guns in the air for emphasis. The man stood in the middle of the room, looking proud as a new father, occasionally making a great show of checking his wristwatch. “I—I can’t.” Paul said.
“I can’t stop them.”
“Don’t you have a gun?”
“No.” He had turned over his revolver to the chief before he left. Not that it would do him any good, even if he had it. “I really hate violence.” Paul confessed to the old man with a weak smile.
“Figures,” the old man grumbled. “What’d ya become a cop for anyway?” Reaching into his suit jacket he pulled out a pistol, a Colt, and forced it into Paul’s hands. “Listen,” he whispered, staring hard into Paul’s eyes. “There’s no telling what those people are planning, but I want to see my grandson again. I’m not young like I used to be, but you might stand a chance. You have an opportunity to save the train and sort out whatever you got goin’ on in that head of yours, understand? You gotta do this.”
Paul’s hands shook, and the warm handle of the Colt felt slick in his sweaty palms. He didn’t want to, but the intense look of the old man’s face, earned by what Paul guessed was a hard life, left no room for negotiation. He had to try. Taking a deep breath, Paul stood up and pointed the gun.
Luck was surveying the train car while listening to Una and Uno chatter about horses, Uno grabbing a particularly fine pearl necklace from a woman’s hands, when a lone man stood up and pointed a pistol at him. Una and Uno noticed first, dropping what they held to raise their Tommy Guns. No one moved as Luck looked first at the gun, then at the man. Cocking his head to one side, Luck found it amusing a hero would find himself among the rabble, and started laughing.
“Luck?” Una raised her voice. “Should I shoot him?”
Luck subsided into a chuckle. “It’s okay Una, it’s okay. Can’t you see this man is nervous? He’s terrified, about ready to lose his mind from fear. Are you going to stop me?” He asked the man, taking a step forward. “Are you going to stop me with that gun?” Luck took another step forward, then another, then another, until he stood in front of the man pointing a gun at him. “What’s your name, kid?”
The man didn’t answer. The man didn’t say anything. Luck watched as a single bead of sweat rolled down his temple. Luck saw determination in his eyes, when they weren’t skirting around the room like a frightened puppy’s. “Let me tell you something kid,” Luck began. “I’m assuming you stood up just now with the intent to stop us, us being me and the girls. I’m also assuming you’re pointing a gun at me to intimidate me, right? But here’s the thing pal, I’m not scared. I’m not scared of anything.” Luck threw his shotgun down to the floor and took one more step forward, standing so close to the man now he could feel the barrel of the pistol pressing against his chest. “I’m the center of this world. It begins and ends with me. Fact is, you can’t hurt me, and you can’t kill me. So go ahead—shoot. I’ll just wake up from this bad dream I’ve been having and go about my normal life like nothing happened.”
Luck could see the confusion in the man’s eyes. “You’re crazy,” he whispered.
“Luck’s not crazy!” Uno jumped in.
“Yeah, Luck’s telling the truth!” Una followed.
“Go ahead. Prove me right.” Luck taunted, shoving the man in the chest. “Go ahead!” Luck shoved the man again, and he pulled the trigger.
Luck felt a pressure in his chest and staggered back before falling to the ground, dead.
A week after the train incident Paul found himself back in the chief’s office. Much had happened in the past week, but Paul hadn’t noticed. He was still on that train, holding that gun, looking into that man’s eyes as he stumbled over his own feet, eyebrows furrowed together in confusion…
“Jesus boy, look at me when I’m talkin’ to you.” The chief wanted to personally congratulate him on a job well done. Taking out a robber with one shot, saving a train full of civilians, didn’t know he had it in him. “I especially like how you handled the press. Swarming around the second the train got in. Goddamn vultures. Best to give ’em the cold shoulder, I always say.”
“Yes, sir.” Paul nodded. “Sir?”
“What happened to the two girls who were with him? The man, I mean?”
“The brother and sister? Eh, probably on a truck to Mexico. That repatriation is still in full swing, ya know.” The chief kicked back in his chair and propped his feet up on his desk.
“What I don’t get is this Luck guy.” The chief pondered, lighting up a crumpled Camel he’d pulled from his crumpled shirt. He picked up a manila folder from his desk and flipped it open. “Orphaned at ten. Mother killed in a home robbery, father commits suicide the day after. Aged out of foster care, then drops off the face of the earth until last week. His name’s the most tragic part of the whole deal.” The chief took a long drag from his cigarette and let out a cloud of smoke. “Crazy bastard. All of life’s a dream, huh? I tell you what, if I thought I’d dreamt up this world, I’d think I was living in a nightmare too, you know?” The chief took another long drag.
“Yes, sir.” Paul looked out the window through the chief’s smoke, but even then all he could see was a gray haze.
*Note: Claire Stanfield, from a series called Baccano!, was a big inspiration for Luck’s character. They both share a belief in solipsism, a concept I find fascinating. Life Is But a Dream is my take on it.
Long time no talk!
I have a treat coming to you soon (soon as in tomorrow soon). It’s a short story that I do believe is the best things I’ve written to date. I’m beyond excited to share it with you.
I know I haven’t been active in quite some time, and this will continue for a few more months. But! Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll get back to updating on a regular basis. Keep your fingers crossed!
In the meantime, as I said, I’m planning on putting up a new short story tomorrow. As always, thank you for your interest and support. It means the world.
Forever and always,