I found myself in a tangle of trains. Not passenger trains, but the kind that carries stuff. Coal, lumber, crates. No train cars. Nothing I could hop into so much as on. I wasn’t counting on this. I thought I’d slide open a door and bum a ride. But a ride to where? Even if I could hop on, where would I wind up? I clearly hadn’t given it enough thought. To be fair, my head was full of Chuck at the time, a peg missing its hole. It was, as analogies went, a fine one.
I needed to travel east. East I could figure out. East was away from the Rockies. But all the trains were parked. Which way were they headed once they left? And what if I hopped on and the train never stopped until its destination? What if we started east and then headed south?
I sat on the track. My salvation was somewhere in front of me. Eeny, meeny, miny, which one would the mo choose?
“Where you headed?”
I jumped. I fell backward. I stared up, shielding my face with my hand. A guy stood there staring down at me. He was on the dirty side, young, like me, gaunt, shorter by a foot. I’d seen men like this around San Francisco. I avoided men like this. You wound up homeless for a lot of reasons. You also stayed homeless for a lot of reasons. This guy either started or wound up that way because of drugs. His hand twitched. His right eye did the same. Manic would’ve been a good word for it. Or a bad one.
“Just looking,” I said as I righted my butt back on the tracks. “I like trains.”
I turned away from him. I hoped he’d take the hint. Sadly, he sat down next to me instead.
“You can’t hop them,” he said. “They check. They’re watching you right now even.” He pointed up to a lamppost. I could see the camera. It didn’t matter; there was nothing to hop into. And even if I could make it on top of a car, it would be crazy dangerous. And windy. And cold. Not an adventure so much as an ordeal. “Benny,” he said, holding out a hand. He had long nails. Dirty nails. His current state had always been a possible future for me. I seemed to always be running from it. But in which direction, away or towards?
I didn’t shake his hand. I nodded his way instead. “Ted.”
He put his hand by his side. He frowned. I felt bad. I was homeless. He was homeless. It wasn’t a bond so much as a prison sentence we shared. “Where you headed?” he repeated.
“That’s where I started.”
My heart pulsed. If he started from there, he knew which way to head. I pointed in front of me. “Which one goes that way?”
His grin returned. His teeth were in need of a brushing. He looked like a scrawny, shorter, pimplier Justin Bieber—if Justin Bieber hadn’t showered in a week or had a haircut or shave in ten. I felt bad for Benny. I felt scared of Benny. Were people scared of me when they saw me? I was judging a book by its cover, but covers are a pretty good indication of what’s inside. I sensed Benny was rotting from the inside out, that all he had left was a tattered cover. I didn’t want to be a part of Benny’s story, but our plotlines had intersected just the same.
In any case, he shrugged. “Been in Denver a month. My train has long come and gone.” Again, he pointed. “That one goes east.”
“How do you know?”
The shrug hadn’t moved. “That terminal is a dead end. Trains enter that way and go back the way they came. That train came from the east. Do you have any drugs on you?”
It was an unsettling segue. Benny was unsettling. You could turn a bend and wind up like Benny. Benny had no hope. You could see it in his eyes. That is to say, you couldn’t see it. “I don’t do drugs.”
“You shouldn’t do drugs.”
He rested his head on his knee. “Yep.”
“It’s not that easy though, right?”
He turned his face my way. He’d been cute once. You could see it if you tried. How many people still tried? “Nope. Any money for drugs? I could trade you.”
I knew what he had to trade. I had the same thing to trade. “I have less than six dollars on me.”
He sighed. He turned his face back to the starting position. “Figures.” We sat there in silence. The trains didn’t budge. Maybe this was a graveyard of sorts. Maybe trains came here to die. Maybe Benny came here to die. Me, I had other plans.