Monday, December 11, 2006

Decisions at a Crossroads

Matt stared at the train tracks, trying to make up his mind.

Side by side, the lines would take him either east towards Nashville or west towards Memphis. Both options posed some level of risk and not just because he'd be traveling further into country music-only radio either way. Ugh.

Heading to Nashville meant leaving the rural landscape and starting to enter town after town. More authorities, more contact with locals, and more chances to be seen by agents of the Order. It wasn't much of a risk but given his luck, any chance of discovery was large enough for him not to ignore. He was well-acquainted with what the Knights of St. Michael did to witches.

On the other hand, riding the rails to Memphis would be the absolute last thing the Order would expect. It bought him the element of surprise and gave him the possibility of taking the fight to his enemies for once instead of just reacting to their constant assaults.

Of course, it was the last thing they would expect because it was mind-numbingly stupid.

Okay, Memphis was right out. That left either hopping a train car to Nashville or staying on foot. Matt looked down at his shoes, if pieces of incredibly worn military-grade robber and leather scraps in the vague shape of feet could be called "shoes". He'd put so many miles on this footwear, he was amazed it was still intact.

His magic didn't help that any. He'd recently become aware that his particular gift - entropy - was a double-edged sword. It lent great power when he needed it but it took its toll on his belongings. He'd long since lost his watch, four stolen cell phones, and even a 'jacked car to his magic. Now he was starting to see its effects on his clothing. At this rate, he'd be walking up to the Grand Ol' Opry in his birthday suit.

Waling wasn't really an option. If he lost his shoes in this terrain, his feet would be lacerated and blistered before he made Manchester, much less a major city. The rail, as exposing an option as it was, looked like the only real choice now. Matt settled himself against the train shack and readied himself for a nice, long wait.

Seven minutes later, the blast of a train's whistle in the distance made him chuckle at the world's little ironies. In the trunk, all he could do was wait. Out here, not what he was free? Nothing was giving him a chance to rest. Standing up and dusting himself off, Matt secured his pistols and watched for his chance. The train wouldn't be stopping, so he'd have to do what fugitives called a "hot hop".

It was a dangerous thing, really. In the area between Washington, DC and Florida, the absence of high-speed switching stations and signal equipment limited trains to speeds below 80 miles an hour. That meant most freight engines had a governor that kept their cross-country speed at 79 mph. Not a pleasant thing to jump onto by any stretch.

If the hot hop was mistimed, he could suck a car door in in the face or fall between the gaps and catch a nasty case of locomotive rash. Needless to say, both could be fatal. Hundreds dies every year trying what he was about to and right now, he couldn't use a spell to improve his chances. Damn it.

Matt caught that thought and crushed it. His father never had an magic and he'd stayed one step ahead of the authorities for decades doing things exactly like this. Dad had given Matt a hundred little rhymes to remember during his childhood. One was for just this situation.

Muttering under his breath, Matt started sing-songing. "Little train go by, Matthew wants to catch a ride. Matthew knows you don't mind. Time. To. Jump!" He started the verses at the moment the engine passed him and waited for his moment, waited for a car with an open loading door.

"Little train go by." The bright yellow engine roared by, pulling a long string of steel cars painted in red, green, brown, and black.

"Matthew wants to catch a ride." One by one, the cars roared past the shack, a deafening sound that hurt his ears terribly.

"Matthew knows you don't mind." If everything was right, if the train was one with a governor, if the cars were all regulation size, and if his rhyme and meter were both constant, he could do this. If not...

"Time." There was no turning back.

"To." This was probably going to hurt, but fortunately, if he screwed up? Not for long.

"Jump!" And he did.

The leap was perfect, the timing exact. He sailed into the open doorway and braced himself as the moving train beneath him sent him off his feet the moment he landed. He pitched and rolled, almost falling out the other side.

That was the other risk - both cargo doors being open.

He made sure he was tucked in, leaning as hard as he could to his left side so he careened into the far wall past the deadly portal. His back slammed into steel but at least he stopped inside the car. The alternative would have been brief, unpleasant, and messy.

Uncurling, Matt laid fully back on the car's thick compliment of absolutely nothing. The car was empty, like most of them tended to be these days. It was cheaper for most portage companies to transport several empty cars on a train than to go to the expense of unhooking and storing them at a railyard.

Better yet, there weren't any other passengers in this one. That was a blessing. Matt was alone.

And if he was alone, in a moving train, he was just safe enough to do something he'd needed for going on three days now.



Zay said...


He MUST be tired.. it's damn LOUD in a normal passanger train!

Erisraven said...

Matt catches a train, and a case of car rash. :)

Hey, at least he's catching some sleep. That's a pleasant switch for him.