Leap Of Faith
**trigger warning: death**
I did it without thinking, a spur of the moment impulse to jump aboard the steel monster as it slithered passed. The only rationale I could possibly offer was that I did not want to go home. Or rather, go back to the house I had once called home. Instead I took a leap of faith and stowed away on the gargantuan freight train as it slowly made its way out of town. I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going, but surely it had to be better than everything I was leaving behind. Right?
The tracks of the industrial yards had always fascinated me. In my childhood they had been magical gateways to faraway adventures. These vast scars carved into the landscape, beautiful in their mathematical precision. Yet they were used infrequently enough that flowers and weeds could grab a foothold strong enough to resist the occasional onslaught. A never-ending battle between the patterns of order and the surprise of chaos roaring back and forth in my wandering mind: a ferocious stalemate between man and nature.
Despite the slow pace of the train, the moment of boarding was an exhilarating experience as the adrenaline kicked in. A short run-up, an awkward jump, and finally a crash into the railing, leaving me clinging on in desperation. That brief moment of sailing through the air, of leaving one life and grabbing onto another, seemed to last an eternity: the cars slipping past, the threat of missing and plunging to a messy end, the thrill of finally embarking on a mystical journey. All of this and more in that one instant of transition, that one leap of faith across the void.
I found myself on the footplate of a flatcar loaded with a sealed blue container. The smell of oil and rust mingled with the mud thrown up by our passing. Although I was sheltered from the worst of the wind, I still felt incredibly exposed. Once I had regained my breath and let the thrill calm down, I knew I would have to find a better spot for this impromptu ride. Who knew how long I could be on here?
That thought made me painfully aware of how woefully unprepared I was. I had no food, little money, and nothing warmer to wear as the temperature dropped. But it was too late now as the train was clear of the city limits, and gradually picking up speed. To disembark would be suicide. The priority had to be finding cover, somewhere to hunker down and plan my next move.
I wake with a start. A little discombobulated, it feels as if I have been floating through a lucid dream. The rough, lumpy sack responsible for the crick in my neck reminds me it most definitely is real. Crawling to the opening, I poke my head out to see the vast starlit flats stretching deep into the cold night. The lack of reference points on the plane makes it impossible to judge our speed, if we are even moving at all. The metaphor is not lost on me.
Caught somewhere between an indie road movie and a krautrock music video, the sense of freedom I so desperately craved is still evading me. Panic, self-doubt, and the need for some decent sleep have become the overriding emotions as the convoy snaked its way through rocky mountains and disorientating deserts. I’m two nights in, and still not seen a soul.
The smell of me has become bearable, but it is the fuzzy feeling on my teeth that I cannot stand. The romanticising of the nomadic lifestyle is, as of yet, failing to match the reality. Maybe I just need more time to adjust? The constant mantra of “it is still better than what I left behind” rattles around my brain. If only I could find a goddamn toothbrush!
Lapsing into some sort of fugue state for a few more hours, the rising sun draws me back before I can find anything approaching rest. As I turn away from the unwelcome brightness, I see the reflections glistening off the high-rises of a city slowly emerging from the gloom. Relief rises in my chest, quickly tempered by a sense of dread at the prospect of what comes next. The sudden fear is crushing.
Quickly gathering a few salvaged packs of jerky and the discarded hi-vis jacket that may just get me away unnoticed, I psych myself up to jump ship as soon as the lumbering beast begins to wind down; the last thing I could afford now was to be trapped in any of the yards. Figuring my best bet to get cleaned up is going to be a truck stop, I begin scanning the locale for the tell-tale signs of a highway. Alas, dawn across the desert distorts the vision in unusual ways, and I become dizzy attempting to focus on any imperfections in this dreamlike landscape.
My heart is racing and my foot taps erratically as I sit by the sliding door of the boxcar, waiting. I can feel the heat begin to swell, the dry air rushing in the gap and blasting me with hot sand. I don’t know how long I sit there, a nervous ball of energy, wanting both to bolt immediately and yet also to never get there, to never face the inevitable next step.
Concerns are growing over the whereabouts of a man from Denver. Police say a missing persons report was filed for Carson Richards, aged 27, on Thursday by his wife Brooke. About five feet ten inches tall, white, with short light brown hair, and of slim build, Mr. Richards was last seen wearing a dark suit as he left his place of work in the Sun Valley area of the city at around 4:30pm on Wednesday afternoon; he never arrived home. Mrs. Richards, who is pregnant with their first child, has described this as completely out of character, and is desperately worried about his safety. Anyone with possible sightings or information on his potential location are urged to contact the Denver Police Department immediately.
The first real scare happened in the wastes of Arizona. A mixture of boredom and curiosity led me to poke my nose into all the trucks on this train I had boarded out of nowheresville, Southern California. I became more confident, apparently too confident, in leaping from car to car. A lazy push off meant I lacked the momentum to bridge the gap fully, and I felt the chill hand on my shoulder as I teetered on the lip.
An ungainly twist as I finally lost the fight at least ensured I landed to the side of the track, at the cost of a busted shoulder and bloodied scrapes over most exposed flesh. The second blessing was that I had made it close to the front by this point, so had plenty of time to pick myself up and, very painfully, drag my sorry ass back aboard. I started being a lot more careful after that.
Where am I? It isn’t a major issue, being “lost” out here, but I do like to have a vague idea of where I am currently and where I am heading. The last thing I want is to accidentally end up back where I started. Not yet, at least. The weather has turned, so I think we’re getting deeper into the Midwest. Assuming I didn’t sleep for a stupidly long time, and with the sun ahead, we do appear to be going roughly in an easterly direction–it’s all good.
We rattle through a junction across a north-south line at the edge of a small town, and I decide now would be a good time to refresh and restock. Passing by the local lumber store, I see we are in Sallisaw: along the Oklahoma–Arkansas border if I remember correctly. It’s a little further down that I had envisioned, but close enough for now. I land on a wide green verge that separates the railroad from the quiet highway. Auto shops and diners dot the far side, seemingly keeping as far away from each other as they can.
Quickly cutting away from the highway and too many eyes, there is an eerie quietness to the place. Everything is neat yet worn, nothing wanting to stick out. That is until I come across the church. The spire might be short, but it still towers over everything nearby. More money has gone into this place than the rest of the buildings I can see combined. ‘Church Of Christ’ it proclaims, as I duck in to offer up a quick prayer. The pastor pokes his head out of a door from the far corner, giving me a nod. I stay kneeling a while longer so he won’t interrupt me. After what feels like a respectable time, I find the restroom to try and make myself a bit less wild. I empty the collection plate on my way out.
Wandering back to the CV’s I had spotted a couple of blocks west, it is tired and empty in the mid-morning lull. With a few of the dollars still left over from a carelessly placed wallet, I settle for some orange juice and lukewarm wings from the deli counter. Cutting around back again, I head to an old abandoned car wash where I can perch to wolf down the chicken, and fish out the other items I had slipped into various pockets. The toothbrush is especially welcome.
The glorious smell emanating from the squat red shack across the way ensures my hunger remains unsated. I wander closer to see a sign exclaiming it to be the ‘Olde Feed Barn Restaurant’, and see a waitress taking some trash out. She gives me a shy wave before darting back inside, clearly disturbed by my dishevelled appearance. Money is running low, but it seems my willpower is even more depleted. Another grumble emanates from my guts.
Swinging my head around to check for traffic, I can’t believe my luck. Right there is a pawn shop squatting alongside the large hardware store on the other corner. At last, I might be able to offload the watch and pistol I lifted last month in whichever dusty New Mexico town it was. They all blur into one these days. The guy behind the counter appears even grumpier than me, and negotiations are conducted in little more than deep grunts. But he doesn’t ask too many questions, and for that I am thankful. I stuff the barely legible receipt into my jacket; almost giddy with the cash I now have, I head over for the best burger of my life.
I will see her again. I will see our child. They won’t see me, but I will see them laughing and playing, having an ice cream in the park, walking along 16th Street Mall. I will head back “home” one last time for a final glimpse of what I left behind, of what I might have had. Will they be a boy or a girl? Will I get close enough to hear a name?
I will probably have to join the legion of Denver’s homeless so I can remain invisible amongst the familiar streets that will suddenly feel so strange. I will haunt our favourite spots, just to catch a glimpse. I will think about venturing nearer the old house, but will think better of it. But I will see what I need to, eventually. And then I will disappear once again: no one will ever know that I was there.
Yesterday, hikers in the Kingfisher Point Natural Area found the body of a man near the railroad tracks at its western end. Police believe he was hit by a passing freight train, and are not treating the death as suspicious. Now with news from tonight’s game, we head on over to the sports desk.
About the Author
Dominic Hemy is a Londoner tired of London. He did once grow up–a mistake he has vowed never to make again–and now hopes to spend the rest of his days creatively faffing (whether with music or writing, occasionally both) and slowly pottering around. With beer in hand, obviously. He is proud to have had pieces previously appear at Nymphs Publications, Stone Of Madness Press, Pareidolia Literary, and Idle Ink.