Writing Contest Winner – Dylan Wesley Krieger – Adult Short Story

Choo-Choo Town

by Dylan W. Krieger

 “Choo-choo town! Choo-choo town! We’re movin’ on to a choo-choo town! Choo-choo town! Choo-choo town! We’re movin’ on to a choo-choo town! And we won’t slow down! No, we won’t slow down! ‘Til we find that choo-choo town!” The raggedy little boy swayed his torso back and forth in his train seat, chanting toward the thick-paneled glass of the window and hanging on with white knuckles to the seat ahead of him. He swung his feet to thud the bottom of his chair with each downbeat, alternating left and right shoe soles, like an overturned insect pumping its legs against air. With each tilt of his shoulders, the dark fringe of his scalp escaped the pale forehead and hung out beyond him before slapping back down in his eyes without sound. He flinched in his brow and let his voice crack when it pricked between lashes and sent him to tears. But the words kept falling out somehow, sneaking past lethargic lips and far-spaced clacking teeth. Then a hum grew from beneath enough to drown him out. The train kicked forward. And he stopped – of a sudden – like a rap had come sharp to his throat. “First st-…Square. Watch y-…tep.” Static ate the conductor’s words in sloppy little mouthfuls. I cleared my throat in the brief quiet that came afterward, pulling my hair back violently and withdrawing into my laptop with a shrug. The double-stitched tag at the back of my shirt was rubbing the top of my spine in its coarseness, coaxing the movement of shoulders, face, neck, back, fingers, thighs, etc., tugging at nerves in a sort of a domino chill. “I told ‘im, see, he ain’t the best. Rob knows that good as anybody. Even ol’ Lester told ‘im after the 12th St. fire up at 216 that he dragged the whole team down. I dunno what Robby’s talkin’ about all up on ‘is high horse with the rest of ’em…” The brawny man strolled down the aisle heavily. His face was boyish, spry in the eyes and restless about the nose and mouth. He kept tonguing the inside of his cheeks, even while he smiled or spoke or got cross. Behind him was another man, equally muscular, but older and longer and looser in the face, with weary grey features and two crowded tiers of teeth. They sat down in the row across from me, and the boyish one looked over with a rather deliberate, young, and drunken stare, his tongue finally dropping out of his cheek and resting on his lower lip, as if he had no sense of where to put it. I glanced up at him from the lowness of my hunching body, and started to imagine the way he would smell if he leaned closer. I could nearly sense it from there. It was neither pulling nor repulsing, but a sort of subtle and generic smell of men – of light beer and metal and a crispness of uncleanliness about the hands and neck, the sting of cigarette smoke and a crawling little sweetness of sweat and good leather and earth. “Either way, all I know is I been workin’ twice as hard as ‘e ‘as. Rob is off ‘is goddamn rocker and the whole damn station’s goin’ with ‘im…” He lodged his tongue back in his cheek and started speaking again, but that spryness in his eyes was still fixed to me. His companion simply nodded, his elbows buried in his knees. But the movement shook the younger man away. And he began to lower his voice, as if embarrassed or suspicious or alarmed. I turned away to the window and let my eyes film, my arm doubled over my back in a final duel of desperation with the shirt tag. The greenery outside was giving way to browns and greys, wooden wreckage and scattered tin and little warped pieces of train. Their reflections got caught in the blackening screen of my laptop before tearing down the side of us and falling behind on the tracks. “Nex-…top Ol-…view-…tion.” “…You ever wonder…where they are now? …You know…those kids you used to play…House with? …And Mother May I? …And…House?” The emaciated little man was slouched against the double seat four rows ahead of the firefighters. His eyes were liquid pink and he was sweating at his receding hairline with the timber of a junkie shooting sleep. Excruciatingly slow, single syllables fell out of him, methodic and senseless and long. “I remember…this kid…named Mikey Phelps. He told me about…girls…before any grown-up would… Ya know…girls.” He ceded a smiled, but stopped to swallow some stray saliva before it slipped out of his mouth. After, he winced, as if the contraction of his throat had been more like a gavel blow to the gums. “Sometimes…I miss him… And then…I wonder… Ya know?” A tremor shook through him and shifted his skeletal frame from the window. He folded himself over the armrest as lax as clean sheets on a line. “…Where are all your Mikey Phelpses?” The passengers all stared toward the backs of the seats ahead of their respective faces. And the dazed man pushed his upper body back into the double seat and curled round, as if the sleep fix had just hit head and heart at once. “Oh, god…f…in’…train dream again…Mikey…” He breathed in sobs until the push off. “N-…stop Mor-…ville. Watch-…r ste-…lease, wa-…your s-…” I gathered up my clumsy droppings from the empty seat beside me: scarf, two dimes, three pennies, train schedule, carrier bag, gum wrappers, soda can, reddish lint, and one straw-colored hair. “Where you headed, little lady?” The old man clasped his ridged fingers about my shoulder, nails jutting into my clavicle. He threaded out a crooked smile, raising his eyebrows to dig furrows in his forehead and cheeks. Sitting bowed on the seat behind me, he tugged on the knees of his slacks with his free hand, trying to ease the fabric’s pressure on his groin. “Home.” With big eyes I looked up into him, leathery and cold and crazed, and I saw that he had no reply to that. Ding-dong ding-dong ding-dong. The doors folded open on their hinges. I skittered from the aisle and flattened myself against the exit walls before sloughing off the train and standing on the platform, static and light and remote. A hum grew from beneath, and the train chugged on, lunging toward darkening clouds that spoke westwardly. And I heard a muted voice chanting outward to me, “Choo-choo town! Choo-choo town! We’re movin’ on to a choo-choo town! Choo-choo town! Choo-choo town! We’re movin’ on to a choo-choo town! And we won’t slow down! No, we won’t slow down! ‘Til we find that choo-choo town!”

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