Boxcar Jesus

Boxcar jesus - chapter one

Note to the reader: This is my first blog post. A chapter in a novel-shaped thing I've been kicking around for the last two years. Pieces of flash fiction strung together in story form. My vision is for these stories to materialize into a graphic novel. Reflecting on the communities of people that purposely slip through the cracks and those who choose to embrace humanity outside of structure inspire me to explore stories constructed from pure fantasy of my own whims. I was told that these stories have no plot and that may be true, however, I am encouraged by my own desire to see what happens. I'm sure it doesn't end well and perhaps no one would believe me if it did. 

My body vibrated violently and my teeth began to rattle without my permission as I stuttered to speak against the inertia of a train moving at full speed.

“I…I’d dddie for a real taco. A crunchy one with lots of cheese and sour creeeeeeam.”

I quickly maneuvered to the side of the train so I could yell talk at Teddy with more luck of comprehension. Teddy rode like a rockstar, his massive brown puff of curly hair undulating in the wind. He was able to speak just loud enough without yelling. “Ragdoll, we are going to eat all the tacos. Jay said the restaurants on Bourbon Street keep the dumpsters filled to the brim with food every night. I think this may be our stop, let’s look for the sign of the taco.”

I had hooked up with Teddy on the Canada Pacific and without his expertise, I’d be dead or in jail. Nothing I had read on the internet about train hopping was as remotely helpful as someone with experience. Teddy was following his buddy Jay’s tags south and I decided to join him. He knew how to read the brightly colored signs of the traveler and I was an eager student. Teddy’s pal Jay had been riding trains for over a decade earning him the non-ordained title of Boxcar Jesus. He rode from east to west and north to south, leaving signs to other travelers on bridges and tunnels near the stations. His giant pink pig with the letter J in the middle, signified danger and he marked every train stop bustling with law enforcement. This year’s safe house tag was the taco, not to be confused with last year’s unicycling bear. Jay was a promoter of sorts, how to live and ride for free.

The train chugged into a large brick tunnel brightly colored with graffiti. Images blurred and danced along the dirty brick walls. I focused on a neon magenta Mrs. Packman with what looked like a name in cursive twisted into her red ribbon. A message for someone, I wondered to whom? I became mesmerized trying to unravel the message that was purposely hidden in the intricate detail of the design. The train started to shake and jerk violently whistling like a symphony of musicians blowing into half-empty glass bottles as the speed slowed just as I noticed the ginormous taco. It was so big there was no way I could have missed it unless my eyes were closed. The large crunchy taco was animated with sinister red eyes and a mouth that smirked trouble. Cartoonish appendages stuck out the sides with one taco arm up and one down, as if the taco were running, no jumping. This had to be the stop.

“I can’t wait to meet Jay, hope he made it to New Orleans okay.”

“You kidding me? Jay’s a pro. It’s you we’ve got to worry about. What happens when a Ragdoll jumps off a train?” Teddy guided me to the edge of the rail.

“We are about to find out.” My voice wavered as I tried to exude the confidence needed to calm my quaking body. Teddy beamed with excitement. His eyes sparkled and his face bore a shit-eating grin. He calmly instructed me to make like a taco and run.

“We need to toss our packs off first and then run before we hit the ground. Position your body like Jay’s taco.”

I twisted my arms out to the front and back of my body feeling like a cartoon. Watching the train slowly approach the rail yard as the city skyline emerged in the distance and I went into zen mode visualizing my perfect dismount until Teddy slapped my back into reality with a hand on the back.

“It’s easier if you keep your eyes open,” he smiled and handed me my pack.

The train began to slow to a mellow chug and we tossed our bags off the side watching them bounce down into the dirt. And then it was time for our dismount. The ground looked hard and unforgiving, all dirt and rocks, no grass. Teddy moved to the edge of the platform and leaped off landing into a run.

“Come on, Amber. You got this,” he shouted.

I took a deep breath and jumped without thinking. My feet hit the ground with an uneven wobble and I ran towards Teddy. Adrenaline shot through my body and my mouth emitted an involuntary, “Woo hoo!”

“Quiet, doll,” Teddy whispered. “We are ninjas. Let’s grab our packs and move to the tree line.” Teddy stood brushing the dirt off his denim jacket careful not to knock off his rows of pins tacked in almost perfect squares around his front pockets. Teddy plopped down behind a large cottonwood tree and pulled out a bag of red and yellow tops tobacco and I ventured out to find us breakfast. Since I had lived outside, I had developed the quick skill of foraging. I was always amazed at how much food people threw away. I hauled ass into town marching to the cadence of my roaring stomach. The sight of a bright neon processed food sign caused instant salivation. The smell of hot grease made my stomach howl out in hunger. I quickly located a fenced-in garbage enclosure and dove in headfirst, towards the smell of greasy salvation.

“Well, hello there, darlin’.” A somewhat harmless voice greeted me from somewhere. I lifted the flap of the can and peered out, ready to bolt. “They just threw away two bags of burgers if you are hungry, I have some to share. They are still in the wrappers and everything.”

My body ached with hunger, this voice that promised food was almost serendipitous.

“I’m starving, you have any cheeseburgers in that bag?” I turned around to face my dumpster companion. He was a bit taller than me with shoulder-length dirty blonde hair. His denim overalls bore the sacred sign of the traveler. A red bandana folded and tucked into the front pocket. Pulling a burger out of his garbage bag I ripped it open, devouring the whole thing in three large bites. Wiping the grease off my mouth and hands on my pants I extended my mostly clean hand.

“Thanks for sharing!” I gazed into the big brown eyes of my dumpster acquaintance and was, for a brief moment lost. Remembering my purpose of scoring food for both myself and Teddy I jumped right back into the can and started digging. “Nice to meet you, I’d love to stay and chat but I need to find food for my pal and get back to the tracks.”

“I can’t eat all this food myself, why don’t you walk with me back towards the train and we can eat together? I’m looking for my pal Teddy. Maybe you’ve seen him, a large tan goofy guy with…”

“A giant mop of curly brown hair.” I cut off my companion sticking my head up from the top of the trash pile. “I traveled here with him and he is starving.”

“Dude is always starving.” Reaching up to lift me out of the trash with a wide grin I turned to face Teddy’s friend again, really looking hard at him this time. His face illuminated the sunlight light beaming from outside the trash enclosure, he seemed to be glowing. I studied the various tattoos that covered his forearms. They all looked very familiar, like graffiti.


He bows down. “The one and only. And you are?”

“I’m Amber. Teddy and I have been following your signs.”

“Well, you found me,” Jay smiled, and I was hooked.

Comments are closed!