Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Drifter's Tale



A Drifter's Tale

Two drifters huddled by their campfire, just down a piece from the railroad bed. Johnny, a scrawny, restless kid not more than 18, and Sam, a shrunken head on a lumbering, creaking six-foot-five-inch frame.

No more trains til morning, and this was a familiar stop, on the county line between two small towns. To the east was the sheriff neither wanted to tangle with again. A couple of years back, they'd been rousted from an old widow's barn, robbed, bound in ropes, and dumped in a livestock car filled with hogs. The sheriff hadn't actually taken part, but he  made no effort to discourage his boys.

Best to get on the other side of Calhoun County as quickly as possible. Tonight, on the county line, it was safe enough but still a good idea to keep the fire low and out of sight.

They were down to one can of beans. That was dinner and breakfast and probably lunch. There wouldn't be anymore hunting til they got past the sheriff and his boys.

Overhead, the new moon made the stars stand out brilliantly against the blackness, and though it wasn't overly cold if you were sheltered from the wind, you still wanted a fire nearby to help you get to sleep, especially if you were under the weather like Sam was.

It was Johnny that saw it.

"See that, Sam? That's the first shootin star I seen since August—I think it was August. Must've been when we was comin into Oklahoma City."

"So what?" muttered Sam.

"So, make a wish. You know. We always make a wish," said Johnny.

"You go right ahead, then. Makes no never mind to me," said Sam coughing, his joints popping as he lay down, his back to the fire.

"Sam? You know how we always make one single wish and it just about never comes true?"

Sam grunted.

"This time I'm gonna be real smart, Sam. I'm gonna get my wish cause I'm gonna wish I could wish forever."

"That's mighty clever, Johnny boy," said Sam with uncharacteristic sarcasm.

"Here goes. I wish I could wish forever and ever. Know what that means, don't you Sam?  Now, I can wish for somethin, and in half an hour I can wish again, and I can keep on wishing tomorrow, and the day after ... until the day I die. Why don't you make a wish, Sam? I'll give you one of mine."

"If I do will you leave me in peace?"

"Sure thing, Sam. Your wish is my command," said Johnny chuckling.

"Okay, I wish I had one of them great big Willy burgers we had back in Odessa and a pitcher of cold beer to wash it down. Even with this damned cold, I could go for one with all the fixins—onions, bacon, cheese, tomatoes, pickles, mustard, and that hot sauce. You remember, they're so big, no bun can hold em? Damn, if I wouldn't be in hog heaven. I'd eat that thing in four bites and swill that beer in one go. Now, look whatcha gone and done, Johnny. Got me all hungry and ain't nothin round to eat. Now, leave me be."

#

"Sam! Sam! Look! It came true! Your wish. It came true! It's a miracle or somethin."

Sam raised his heavy lids and rolled over part way to see what Johnny was on about. Sam's eyes nearly sprang out of their sockets.

"Good god o'mighty! This cain't be real."

He sniffed, reached out to touch, then jumped up, kneeling in front of the plate Johnny had pushed over his way. Before Johnny could get in another word, Sam had licked the plate clean as a whistle.

"I wish you hadna done that, Sam. That was damn greedy."

After a thunderous belch that frightened a small animal out of hiding, Sam said "You said you could wish for anythin you want anytime it suited you, so whatcha need my wish for?"

"I guess you got a point, Sam. Wish I'd thought of that first," answered Johnny.

"Why don't you just wish up somethin for yourself?"

"Nah. I guess I kinda lost my appetite. Sam, I wish I could see things the way you do.”

"Well, you lie down beside the fire and get some sleep, Johnny boy. You can wish us up a great big ole breakfast before the 5:50 comes through," said Sam.

"Wish I could."

"You're just nervous about the sheriff and them boys. Don't fret about it. It'll be fine. In one them boxcars, nobody'll ever see us," Sam said lying back down.

"Wish you was right about that," answered Johnny. "Fact, I wish we never met them people to start with."

"You just keep on wishin, Johnny boy," whispered Sam re-positioning himself.

Johnny ran his finger around the inside of the blackened can and tossed it back into the fire.

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Peter McMillan
The author, whose roots are in Alabama and Georgia, is a freelance writer and ESL instructor who lives with his wife and two flat-coated retrievers on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario.