Contest #27 shortlist ⭐️

A Horse Thief in Detroit

Submitted into Contest #27 in response to: Write a short story that takes place on a train.... view prompt

2 comments

General

Rick felt out-of-place, like a horse thief in Detroit. Like he was born a century too late. Acrobatically anachronistic, he swung and looped into whatever time frame suited his mind, fluctuating from architect to astronaut on a whim. So he went to the saloon. He liked this bar. It was one of the oldest in the area and still had its original wood panels, hung upon which were tin signs and confessions of love (or obscenities) scrawled out in permanent marker. The bartender was new and didn't recognize him. The bar is called The Railyard. It was built on top of grown-over train tracks. 

"May I see your ID?" the bartender asked.

"Sure,” he replied, a little surprised as he fumbled in his back pocket for his wallet. He handed her the card.

"Ah!" she exclaimed after looking it over. "You have the same birthday as me, only mine is eight years earlier." She pouted in jest.

"Neat." He ordered a drink. 

As he was pulling out a couple of dollar bills, the bartender said "No. Put that away. First drink's on me, in case I don't see you again on our birthday." He put the money in the tip jar and toted his drink away from the pool tables, dartboards, and arcade games to the dark nook of the bar where nobody ever sits. Someone was sitting in there. Rick nodded politely, though mildly perturbed, at the figure.

"Howdy," waived the stranger. "I'm Bruce." Bruce stood up and hovered across from Rick with his hands supporting him on the table. Rick introduced himself and allowed Bruce--as if he had a choice--to slide into the booth next to him. His overall appearance and devil-may-care demeanor allowed for instant camaraderie. But Rick was suspicious. "So Rick, what do you do?"

"Oh, a little of this and that." Rick was a well-read, blue-collar tinkerer, finding work where he could.

"Me too," said Bruce. "I'm a time traveler."

Rick laughed politely. Bruce appeared neither drunk nor crazy and not very much like a compulsive liar—though perhaps a confidence man—so Rick thought he must be joking. "No really, what do you do?"

"I told you."

"C'mon now. You're messing with me." Rick sipped his drink.

"No, I'm not."

"But that's impossible."

"No, it isn't. In a sense, we're doing it right now," Bruce said, playfully earnest.

"How so? Wait, don't say because we're both moving forward in time." Rick was on guard, almost certain now that Bruce might be a con-man.

"No. For example, look right here." Bruce pointed straight up to the wall without turning his head to look where he was pointing. Directly above his finger, in blue crayon, was written "Rob & Karene" encircled in a heart, dated 12/11/05.

"I don't see anything," Rick said.

"That's because you're not looking. Look. Look where my finger is pointing!"

Rick squinted his eyes to look harder. "Rob and Karene? Is that what you're talking about? I don't understand."

"Rob, probably Rob, wrote that several years ago. Isn't that cool? We're sitting where Rob and Karene, probably Karene, sat seven years ago. Maybe even right on their laps. Haha!" Bruce paused to reset. “Do you read? You look like you read. What do you read? You look like a Hemingway man. Have you read ‘The Sun Also Rises?’ I bet you have! Hemingway wrote that in 1925. You read it in, I’m guessing, the 21st century. Hemingway communicated with you across almost one-hundred years!”

Rick played with the rings left on the table from his condensating glass. He picked it up and put it back down five times to make a watery Olympics logo. “Who wins this match today?” Rick asked, pointing to the soccer game transmitted by waves to the television screen perched precariously on flimsy girders in the corner like a hornets’ nest. “If you travel back and forth through time, you know who won.”

“No I don’t,” Bruce replied.

“How come?”

“I don’t really follow sports.”

“That’s an easy out.”

“Perhaps. Who directly preceded Grover Cleveland as United States President?”

Rick was embarrassed to admit he didn’t know. “Is this some sort of parlor trick?”

“Not at all.”

“So, you just go around sitting in places where people used to sit and you call yourself a time traveler?”

“No. Sometimes I sit by myself.” Bruce laughed again. “I get tired all by myself sometimes.”

“Because you go back and forth through time.”

“Yes.”

“So if you can go back in time, why don’t you go back to 1939 and kill Hitler?”

“Why does everyone ask that?” Bruce rubbed the crown of his nose. “Always with Hitler. Do you remember learning about the assassination of Hitler?”

“No, of course not.”

“Exactly. That’s why. It was Chester A. Arthur, by the way. But cheer up, I’ll buy you a drink.”

Bruce flagged down a waitress and ordered. “How did you know what I was drinking?” Rick asked, trying to catch Bruce off-guard if this was another trick.

“You can tell by the color,” Bruce said, tapping the glass with a pen. Rick had no idea where the pen came from. “And I heard you order when you walked in.” Bruce winked. Rick grimaced. “Thanks,” Rick said when Bruce bought his fourth.

“Don’t thank me, I merely bought you for another half-hour or so. It’s hard to find good conversation.”

“Happy to oblige,” Rick said as he raised his glass. “So tell me, really, how do you travel through time?” He was starting to believe him now, and couldn’t believe it himself. 

“It’s easy. Time travel happens all the time. It’s happening now.”

“Okay, but really.”

“It’s easiest to think of it as a parade.”

“How’s that?”

“Nevermind. Scratch that. Think of it like a train. If you’re standing right by the tracks you can see each box-car immediately in front of you, and if you’re lucky, the one to your left and right. But it’s moving so it’s hard to distinguish any detail. Now step back a hundred meters. You can see more of the big picture, and fairly predict what will come next based on what you’ve observed. You can read all the cool graffiti and company logos, but you won’t get anywhere standing so far away. But now imagine you’re standing on a scaffold directly above the train. You can see from the engine to the caboose. And if you time it just right, you can jump. Or fall, into the exact box-car—or for the purposes of this metaphor, ‘moment’—in time. Then just keep riding it ‘til you jump off whenever you choose. See?” Bruce had worked himself into an excited frenzy.

“What, you just fall?”

“Or jump.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

“Wait, couldn’t you die?”

“Maybe. I haven’t yet. And it’s not a perfect metaphor. My point is vantage”

“Huh. Wouldn’t you just go faster forward in time?”

“Not necessarily. Some trains go north, others go south.” 

Neither spoke again until Rick realized his bladder was full and subsequently excused himself politely. ‘Talk about falling,’ Rick said to himself, lowering his zipper, sauntering up to the urinal. ‘Fell off his rocker more like it. I’m funny!’ As Rick recreated a porcelain Mollisfossen, ceiling particles began to shake loose and cascaded like snow onto Norwegian slopes. The illusion was derailed when Rick turned abruptly to address the issue of the shrill C-sharp rattling his brain, like a poltergeist wailing for something lost. The thunder rolled, Doppler-effecting away.

Rick, dizzy from the ordeal, tripped and fell on the rails that bifurcated the bathroom from the main bar. Everyone was going about their business as if the earthquake had never happened. As if they hadn’t noticed. Rick returned to his corner booth in the dark. 

Bruce was gone; he jumped the train.

January 31, 2020 16:00

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2 comments

Ovidiu Bocsa
11:46 Feb 15, 2020

Bravely jumping like a rocker from a season (of glory) to another, from a given reality to an other realm of hope. Why did Bruce jump his train? The question regards for individual answer as song of experience...

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Ovidiu Bocsa
11:24 Feb 15, 2020

Challenging story living in characters playing an unexpected role: Proving talent and deserving to take part in an anthology of short prose.

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