We traversed the grainy terrain, following the tracks due west, toward Mexico. “Hurry it up, son,” Abaddon said. “Pick up the pace or we’ll be here til’ Thursday.”
We’d met a few nights prior, over a dice game that nearly cost him his life. “I’m moving as fast as I can,” I answered. “It’d be easier if you helped me out.”
The hefty twine sack was about half my weight and packed to its gape with supplies and soiled garments. When the time came to rest, the bag would become our shelter. The soiled clothes would be our pillows.
“God helps those who help themselves.” Abaddon looked over his shoulder and smiled. He had seven scattered teeth. All misshapen, discolored, and porous. His baked skin was spotted in yellow flakes and maroon blemishes that bore a resemblance to scabies. He walked with a slight limp. “You got that?”
“You’re not God.” I heaved the sack over my shoulder. “You’re closer to Satan.”
“Neither gives a damn.”
The weather was hellish, even at a quarter past midnight, when the humidity thinned and the city cooled. The air felt like cotton in our lungs. The night consumed us in its greasy boil as we pattered forth into futility. “Which train is it,” I asked and galloped.
Abaddon was a simple man. Prior to his life as a vagabond, he claimed to have owned several businesses. By his account, they were solely successful by his hand. Then the ‘bad times’ came and he soaked his veins in poison. “Just keep your head down and follow.”
We were heading toward Las Vegas, from Bakersfield, California. I was young then. No older than twenty-five or twenty-six. A streak of misfortune left me penniless. The death of my financial status was the apocalyptic horn of the four horsemen. They didn’t take my life, as promised. They preferred I watch them drag it away—one threatening letter after another.
I followed Abaddon to a dip between the tracks and tucked into the dirt beside him. “Well…” I huffed and fought to catch my breath, panting like some desperate mutt. “What’s the plan?”
Abaddon was older, by several decades. Despite his sick and boney frame, the octogenarian was spry and overflowing with hope. He wore a mud-brown tank-top with a pair of sweatpants—he’d cut to the knees. “You ever jumped a train before?”
“In what sense,” I asked.
“Can’t say that I have.”
He spat some brown into the dirt. “Going to have to give you the crash course.”
I snickered and hid my smile. “How hard could it be, if you can do it?”
He giggled back. “Suit yourself, Rambo.” Abaddon popped his head from the dirt and assumed the predator’s stance. Head tucked. Knees bent. Eyes on the prey. “Line seven,” he said. “Red and black with the tits stitched on the side.”
“You mean the graffiti?”
“Pay attention, son. This is life or death.” He cleared the sweat from his brow and spit into the darkness. “Line seven. Repeat it.”
“Line seven,” I said.
Abaddon gave me a wink then tucked his arms behind his back. He blasted off toward the rail. “Line seven,” he shouted and vanished into the perpetuity of freight cars and voltage. I only thought of abandoning my companion for an instant.
Before long, I joined him.
Riding the spine off to an imminent end.
There was something whimsical about the ordeal. Back when I was known as Murray Holcomb, life didn’t have those prideful moments of insanity or voracious sprites of spontaneity. In place of the perceived vices was a full-time job, I cared nothing for, that dominated all of my choices. They called me crazy for leaving. “You need a name,” Abaddon said.
“I don’t want a name.”
“Well…” He tucked his nose into his armpits and blew a tumor looking wad of beige into the dying but voluminous strands of hair. “You’re getting one.”
We lucked our way onto an empty freight, with only three other occupants. We gave them the space that they desired, in exchange for a taste of their goodies. Two slices of white bread and a scoop of peanut butter, each. It wasn’t a bad deal and the family was quaint company. It didn’t help the smell, a pungent blend of human waste and sea-water.
“How bout’ ‘newbie’,” Abaddon asked as he glared and squinted in my direction. “You look like a ‘newbie’.” He chuckled and tied a shoelace around his arm. One tug and veins were everywhere. “That or ‘Chester.’”
“You’re a wild ol’ coot, you know that?” I was curled in a corner, four feet away, with last week’s underwear cradled under my chin like mother’s bosom. “I don’t need a name.”
“Adolph?” He slid the needle into his arm and drifted listlessly out of focus. “You’re going to lose me soon, kid.”
“Just get on with it, old man,” I said.
He pressed down the plunger. Then he was gone. Curled into a pile of himself. Content in the moisture of fecal-infested night attire. Cozy. I would have been jealous if it weren’t disgusting.
In his dreams, he mumbled about a woman named Dolores.
I’d have to ask him about that.