A Random Song Title Challenge from Chuck Wendig. 1000 words. I always have trouble with these… until I found randomlists.com. This is a song by Sufjan Stevens, apparently.
It’s a long time since I used my boxcar scenario, which in turn developed from an exercise I did in my Creative Writing course, which seems a long time ago now, and I no longer meet up with my buddies from it, which is a shame. I wonder how they’re doing? If you aren’t aware of the strange properties of my boxcar, I think this is covered in the story, but if you want to read more, try Johnson and Alice and Lois Stretches Out.
Should Have Known Better
Winter in the badlands. The box car was warm enough, with the packing case in the corner that hummed day and night. I lived under the roof of the car, spinning my fine web during the night, and watched the hobos join, wrangle, change and leave.
I thought of leaving. But it wasn’t a bad life, warm, entertaining, and enough food. I mostly wrapped the flies up and stored them for later, but sometimes I tried other fare. I mean, I had refined tastes. I’d dined at some of the best restaurants in the East, courtesy of those rich men who want a pretty dame to show they’ve still got it, whatever ‘it’ is, ‘cos they never had it in the first place.
There were plenty of visitors, because this car was warmer than the rest. I don’t know whether there was a physical attraction to the packing case; I’d picked this boxcar because the door looked accessible. I’d lost the stilettos weeks before, but the tight gown was still presentable under my unobtrusive raincoat. Both long gone now, of course. It had been summer then, a starry night, and one too many hoods looking for me after I’d bust Soapy Joe’s jaw for trying it on. He deserved it. I often wondered what he’d have turned into, if he’d been here in the boxcar. Maybe he’d have got away with being a coyote, but I reckon alligator was more likely.
Today four guys had jumped aboard, kicking snow off their boots and thumping the snow off their cowhide jackets to get warm. They settled down in the straw by the case, and one pulled out a bottle. He took a swig and passed it around. One spat in the corner underneath me before he took his turn. I hate gobsters. Right then I reckoned he’d turn into some sort of insect, or maybe a toad with a long tongue.
The bottle owner regained his prize and the second pulled out a deck of cards. Fine. Keep yourselves quiet, gamble away the hours, and leave me in peace and quiet.
The first round of cards was fine. They were pleased to be in some sort of shelter, the train was moving again, so their tracks would lead nowhere. I thought they were a tad optimistic: anyone after them would know they taken the railroad, all they had to do was get the right direction. The travelers laughed, they joked, they switched from fives to canasta, then to gin, then had a sleep. The whiskey helped. They woke, they relieved themselves, they argued, they belched, they had some more whiskey, and I wondered how much they had.
“We’ve stopped a helluva long time now,” one complained. He’d noticed. Amazing.
“Yeah, I reck’n that blizzard is up ahead, so mebbe we’ve caught it up agin.”
You don’t say. You mean you haven’t noticed the howling gale outside? The patter of the snow hitting the side of the car? Idiot.
“Well, we won’t getaway in this…” drawled a third. Full marks, buddy.
“Them hunters won’t get through to us, though,” the second replied. Must be the brains of the party.
Gobster said nothing, just gobbed again. At least he did it tidily in the same place. This lot were getting tedious. Night was coming, and I couldn’t wait to get rid of them.
Drawler produced a new bottle, which made them all happy, and they moved on to poker.
I’ve noticed something watching people. Poker brings out the worst in them. Cheating, accusations, lying. It’s partly the bluff, but it takes them over. The stakes are high whatever they play for. I used to stand by my escort and look pretty, simper at other high rollers, distract them while my guy fleeced his mark.
Brains was a fancy dealer. He’d slip a card back to the top of the deck every now and then, nothing regular enough to upset anyone. Their sodden brains watched their cards when they should be watching the dealer. Brains let Complainer win for a while, then switched it round so Drawler got some tokens back. I reckon they were old-fashioned coins. Gobster complained the others were fixing his hands for him, which was rich, since he did a good line in stashing cards up his sleeve for later, and Brains knew what and when he switched them. Gobster came out on top when he did that, but somehow Brains had always folded early.
I think it was the whiskey that started the fight. They must have been used to each others’ lying, cheating ways. Maybe they just liked a good fight. Gobster leapt at Drawler, tried to grab his tokens, yelling and screaming about “that time in Pas’deno”; Drawler fell on Brains, who lashed out to get free and caught Complainer full in the face. He screamed in rage and sprang into the tangle that was Gobster and Drawler, an impressive feat of co-ordination given his condition, and after that I couldn’t really tell who was who in the dim glow of the case and the deepening night outside. Thumps, shouts, hollering and screaming, and a lot of rolling to and fro in the stationary boxcar.
They fell apart into drunken stupors, because the next noises were unholy snores. I pitched my ears to a higher frequency and blocked out the sound. I reckoned we’d get three animals and an insect in the morning. Maybe a donkey, a ground squirrel, a snake and a beetle. Brains might just get away with some enhancements rather than a transformation. I hoped the beetle would be tasty, since I could do with a change of diet.
I wasn’t far off the mark. Whatever they were being hunted for was more criminal than I’d thought. A skunk, a lizard, a shrew and a slug. I caught the slug and stored him in my larder; they left after we got through the snowdrift.
I should have known better. Gobster tasted disgusting.
(c) J M Pett 2015