Monday, March 28, 2016

Chance Encounter

This is an entertaining short story about a little romantic encounter based loosely on a lady I met on a plane while traveling to the west coast...

“Flight 58 now boarding, Gate 33.”
The intercom announced the words in a garble of tones as Natasha pulled her suitcase down the wide corridor of the airport. Her long hair was braided and gathered at the back of her neck and silver hoop earrings dangled as she walked. Her feet were tired in the flat shoes she chose to wear, thinking that they would be quick to slip in and out of while she went through security, but she walked on choosing to ignore the pain. The flow of pedestrians was fast so she kept walking quickly, without feeling as if she had to slalom through the slower travelers. The gate was just one more section of the moving sidewalk ahead, and she stepped confidently on the slatted track. The jerk of her suitcase on her arm startled her and she turned instinctively angry thinking that someone was trying to grab it from her. It was only the wheel of her suitcase that stuck on the edge of the hand wall but before she could set it free, a man reached down and lifted it by its leather handle.
“Thank you,” Natasha said quickly, slightly embarrassed.
“No problem,” he said, standing in place behind her.
She stole a quick glance in his direction. He stood at least a foot taller than her and had short brown hair similar in color to hers but with a little more red. She knew he must have been French, just by his accent.
The walkway ended just a few yards from her gate and she stepped up to the line of people already forming. There was no way for her to see that her acquaintance had stopped also at the same gate area but was sitting on one of the benches waiting for his ticket section to be called. The casual observer could see that he watched her but more out of curiosity than intent.
“Natasha?” the gate attendant said to her as she read her boarding pass.
“Yes. Thank you,” she said as she took the slip of paper back. Natasha entered the corridor that led up to the plane and quickly walked to the back section of seats and lifted her suitcase into the overhead compartment. She seemed to know what she was doing as she settled into her window seat, fixing her belongings in place at her feet. There was no indication that she was expecting anyone to travel with her. She was spending more time looking out the window at the planes as they landed or took off from the runway, than watching the passengers fill their seats around her. If she had paid attention, she would have seen the tall gentleman pass her and take a seat three rows behind her.
“Hello. I think this is my seat. 28E?” A portly gentleman wearing a baseball cap said to Natasha as he looked from the boarding pass to the seat markings overhead.
“I’m Natasha,” she said as she held out her hand.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Bob,” and their conversation stopped. He settled into his seat, obviously cramped in the close quarters, taking off his jacket to reduce a little of his bulk. Another gentleman came behind him to sit in the third seat of their row.
Natasha pulled out her laptop, plugged in her headphones and stared at the screen. She clicked away at the keyboard from time to time as if she was corresponding with someone. There was nothing exciting about the boarding time and within a few minutes they were airborne.
An hour into the flight, Natasha excused herself as she tried to extricate herself from the tight row and made her way back to the bathroom trying not to look at the faces looking up at her. As soon as she disappeared from sight, the tall gentleman stood up into the aisle and walked up to her row. He leaned over and talked to Bob for a second who shook his head in agreement, got out of his seat and then took the empty seat three rows back. By the time Natasha came out of the bathroom, everyone was sitting quietly. She paused next to the guy on the end seat and he immediately stood up to let her in.
“Hey,” she said as she saw the tall gentleman also stand to let her pass by to get to her window seat.
“Natasha, I’m Lars. I’m sorry to surprise you but Bob was happy to change seats with me since I had the aisle seat,” he said as he held out his hand in greeting.
“But, how do you know my name?” she asked.
“I heard the gate attendant when you boarded the plane. I’ve been sitting three rows behind you waiting to introduce myself,” he said in a thick French accent.
“Oh, okay. Nice to meet you, Lars.” She said it as if she wasn’t sure if she should trust him or not, and then looked out her window.
“So where are you from?”
She took a breath and paused as if she was almost irritated.
S'il vous plait, please forgive me. I don’t mean to be rude. I am just, how do you say, tres impatient. Why not talk? We have nothing to do for two more hours.” He leaned forward to talk to her more comfortably.
Natasha smiled, “I suppose it won’t hurt me,” she paused for a couple of seconds. “I am from Philadelphia from a little town called Wallingford, just south of the city.”
“What do you do?”
“I like to call myself a manager, but I train dogs,” she answered.
“What do you mean, you train dogs?” he turned himself in his seat to face her more directly.
“Well, it’s a long story but I train seeing-eye dogs, at least most of the time. Now I manage the West Coast division.”
“But,” he paused, “you are not blind. How can you train the dogs?”
Natasha smiled again. “No, I am not blind anymore - although my vision is still pretty bad. I had an operation about six months ago that gave me back my sight. Now I have implanted lenses which give me enough vision to see pretty well.”
“But, s'il vous plait, forgive me for asking so many questions, I saw you looking out the window and on your computer. Can you see me now?” Lars was studying her face intently as he questioned her.
“I try to hide my poor vision,” Natasha explained, her fingers tracing the top of her laptop. “Airplanes are very predictable so I don’t need my dog or a cane. Actually, I rarely use a cane anymore since I had the operation - it is just a habit from using it for so many years. My computer is sound based, so I can hear what others see. I look out the window to feel the light on my eyes and the sun on my face, not so much to see, although my vision is improving.”
“I am so amazed,” Lars said. “But hey, let me introduce myself. My name is Lars and I am from France, as you can probably tell.”
“Nice to meet you, Lars. I hope to be able to see better as the nerves to my eyes heal over time. Why are you flying to Louisiana?” she asked.
“I am a chef and I am supposed to review a new restaurant there - the Brassiere. And you?” he asked.
“We have a convention there every spring with all the divisions from across the nation. I am supposed to give a speech - which I am not looking forward to,” Natasha responded.
“No, I do not like speeches. I am sure you will do fine,” he said as he patted her hand on the armrest between them.
Their conversation went on for another half an hour or so before Natasha rolled up her jacket and set it against the wall to use as a makeshift pillow and closed her eyes. Lars rested his head against the back of his seat, and kept his face turned towards Natasha and the window.
The plane landed in New Orleans without incident. A dark-haired stewardess came and asked Natasha if she would like to disboard early and Lars jumped up to help her with her luggage.
“I hope your speech goes well,” he said, handing her her purse.
“Yes, and I hope your restaurant review goes well. Nice meeting you, Lars,” as she leaned in for a quick hug before following the stewardess to the front of the plane.
Natasha picked up her seeing-eye dog, Audrey and left the terminal to stand in the bright sunshine. The skies were bright blue but the air was already quite heavy with humidity. The van from the convention center was ready and waiting for her. She climbed in as the driver took her bag to put in the back, glad to not have to worry about flagging a taxi. Audrey sat at her feet quietly.
“You going to the Convention Center or the hotel, Ma’am?” the driver asked as he shifted into gear.
“To the hotel, please. I have a little time.”
Natasha let her thoughts wander to Lars, wondering if she would ever see him again, and if he was as nice as he seemed. On the surface, he seemed trustworthy, but that was taking him at face value and although she hadn’t any reason to suspect otherwise, she was not convinced. It seemed surprising that he hadn’t made any effort to ask for her cell number or a way of getting in touch with her.
The van pulled up to the front of the hotel. Television vans were parked along the front entrance, blocking much of the circle.
“What’s going on here?” she asked the driver.
“I think there is a television celebrity coming in today. It’s not that uncommon here. Just ignore the camera guys - they shouldn’t bother you.”
Natasha handed the driver a tip and took her bags into the hotel. There was a lot of commotion and workers were orchestrating setting up their cameras and tables in the lobby. She was only too happy to check in quickly and escape to her room to go over her speech on her computer and make sure she had it well memorized. By the time four o’clock rolled around, she was fresh and ready to grab the ride to the convention center. The elevator door opened and she could hear the business of the lobby. A large sign caught her eye, followed by a quick jolt of surprise. There was a large almost real-life size poster of Lars staring at her. As she looked around the lobby, she realized that he must be the celebrity the van driver had been talking about.
“Oh, what a beautiful dog. I am so excited Lars Beowulf is coming here!” a lady looking over her shoulder said enthusiastically. “Don’t you love his show?”
“Yes, this is a dog in training and about Lars’ show - actually, I have never seen it. I guess he is pretty well-known,” she said wondering if Lars had thought it comical that she didn’t recognize him. “Is he here now?” she asked, realizing that she didn’t even know they were staying at the same hotel.
“He came in about an hour ago and I got to shake hands with him,” the lady said. “He might come back through again, so I am waiting, hoping that I can get a picture with him for my grandkids.”
“Oh,” Natasha smiled at her, suddenly realizing that she was nervous about seeing Lars again. “Good luck.”
The first meeting at the conference was scheduled to start at five, followed by a catered dinner in one of the conference rooms so Natasha went to the information desk to ask about local restaurants. She had no intentions of going to the planned dinner, knowing it would involve a lot of sitting and talking with complete strangers as well as the typical bland food. 
The lady behind the desk was pleasant enough and named several restaurants that were within walking distance.
“Do you eat at these restaurants?” she asked, trying to find where the locals frequented.
“Well, no, not usually. I like a little hole in the wall about three blocks up. It’s a little plain in ambiance, but their food is outstanding. Even their entrance is a back door with no big signs or light, but the chef is amazing.”
“Perfect. That’s what I am looking for,” Natasha said as she jotted down the name of the place. “Thanks very much.” She dialed the phone number on her cell phone and quickly made reservations for six o’clock.
Her speech went smoothly and she gracefully stepped back down to her seat after thanking the audience for their applause. She had a slight headache and was ready to call it an evening. She wasn’t used to traveling and the stress of talking to so many people. Quietly, she gathered her papers and waited until the audience started clapping for the next speaker. She walked purposefully to the back of the room, taking the time to shake a couple of outstretched hands and then slipped out into the hall.
There was still plenty of light outside so she decided to walk the three blocks, giving her dog a chance to get some much needed exercise. Although Natasha could see pretty well, it was a new area to her and it was reassuring for her to hold Audrey’s handle and let her guide her over the intersections until she arrived at the restaurant.
She seated herself at one of a row of two-top tables lined up along an inner wall, sitting with her back to the brick wall. The cool air was refreshing while the smells permeating the room were almost intoxicatingly delicious as she realized she hadn’t eaten since breakfast. A young girl brought her a menu and a glass of water.
She looked up from the menu, startled to hear her name and at the same time recognizing the French accent of Lars. Unconsciously, she stared at him with her mouth open, not saying anything.
“I thought you were giving a speech tonight. What are you doing here?” he asked as he pulled out the chair at her table.
Natasha laughed slightly and collected herself. “I think I should be apologizing. I had no idea you were a celebrity when I met you on the plane.”
“No, that was so wonderful. So many people act friendly to me just because I am on television and famous. But you, you were real and sincere. I don’t like all the noise and agitation from people. It is too crazy,” he explained as he waved his hands in the air. “Oh, please forgive me,” he half stood. “May I sit with you? s'il vous plaît ?
“Yes, of course,” Natasha motioned to the chair. “Don’t the people here know you are a celebrity?”
“Oh, but of course, but they are my friends and take care of me. Why did you come here? This is my favorite place to eat in New Orleans.” Lars looked at her with a look of amazement.
Natasha smiled, relieved that she could trust Lars to be more than just a stranger on the plane, and secretly happy that their paths had crossed again. “Okay! Let me answer. I gave my speech at five, but before I did, I made reservations here for dinner. The lady at the information desk at the convention center mentioned that it is one of her favorite places to eat because the tourists haven’t found it, so here I am.” She stopped talking when the waitress came and set two glasses of wine on the table.
“I hope you like red wine. I always get this when I come. It goes si bien, perfectly with the seafood.” Lars kissed his fingers with gusto, making Natasha laugh.
“Oh, yes, I love red wine, but what about you? I thought you were doing a review at a restaurant, the Brasserie?” she asked.
“Yes, but that’s tomorrow. Tonight I am with you.” He reached across and covered her hand with his and lifting his wine glass with the other. “Santé,” he said.
“Cheers to you, too.”
“So, please tell me more about yourself, the blindness and your operation. I find it intriguing,” Lars said after he told the waitress to bring a couple of the chef’s specials.
The evening continued and they talked easily with each other, laughing and ignoring the others around them. Lars talked about his cooking life and Natasha talked about the accident that left her blinded. A simple trip to the drug store to buy eye drops for her tired eyes after working as a nurse all night. A quick lift of her head and a few drops later left her almost completely blinded. Lars watched her quietly, listening intently as she explained that someone had tampered with the package and the eye drops had been replaced with drain cleaner.
Before they realized it, the evening rolled into the early morning hours as she described the rollercoaster ride of her emotions as she lost her nursing job and had to come to terms with being blind, only to find out that she was a candidate for an experimental surgery to try a new lens and then experiencing the fun of being able to see again.
“Let me drive you home,” Lars looked at his watch and stood up abruptly. “I didn’t realize it was so late.”
“No. It can’t be one-thirty! I am so sorry,” she exclaimed as she rustled Audrey from her sleeping position on the floor.
“Do you think I am sorry?” Lars asked her with a smile. “This has been such a wonderful evening. I could keep talking all night with you.” He waved to the chef at the back of the restaurant. “Pierre, vous êtes merveilleux, je vous remercie...”
A few minutes later, their taxi pulled up to the hotel entrance and they stepped out together.
“Well, thank you for such a wonderful dinner,” Natasha said as they entered the lobby. “Will I see you again?”
Lars laughed and kissed her on the lips before she could respond. “Of course! Do you think I am going to let you just disappear?”
“Well, wow, that was nice of you. Okay…” but before she could make a suggestion, Lars kissed her again quickly. “I will see you in the morning, mon cheri. Be ready around eight and we can get a bit of breakfast at a nice place I know. Good night.” And he walked off down the hallway as she stepped into the elevator.
Natasha fell asleep wondering in amazement of the odds of her chance meeting with Lars and the evening they shared.

2016 copyright. Use only with permission.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Killing Time

As a child, I lived in a housing development that backed up to a freight train track. I can remember the sound of the horns and then the deep rumble of the train as it got close. Of course, we were told not to go near the tracks, but being curious children, my brother and I would love exploring over them. Although I never dared to climb onto a stopped train car, my imagination went there in this story.

Summertime was almost too boring for me as a child. Without school, I had no schedule other than my meals and bedtime. Sure I had a few chores, but for the most part I was free to play outside. Once the weeks slid into July, the heat forced us into the shade. I had a buddy that moved into the house across the street when I was five. Stue, his parents called him. It sounded funny to me at first, but I got used to it plenty quick. We became like brothers, spending all our spare time together. It was the year we turned six that we became famous in our little town of Stratford, Indiana located just a few miles outside of Fort Wayne.
It all started on a Thursday afternoon. Stue and I collaborated our schedules and found that we both had the largest amount of time free just after lunch. We were very serious and wanted to pretend we were hobos for the afternoon.
“Mark, if you tell your Mom that you are having lunch at my house and I tell my Mom that I am having lunch at your house – we are free. Our moms won’t worry and we can have lunch on the train like a hobo,” Stue suggested to me as we sat under the shade of the oak tree in my back yard.
“But we don’t have any lunch.” I was a little hesitant to totally agree on the project. At first, climbing on the parked box car sounded like an adventure but now that Stue was actually planning on doing it in a couple of hours, I was starting to get a little worried that I might get in trouble for lying about lunch.
“How about you get a couple of apples and I will get stuff for making sandwiches. I think my Mom is out shopping right now and my sister doesn’t care what I do, so I could do it now and put it in my backpack.” Stue was a real salesman now that I think back on the day.
“Okay, let’s meet out back behind the shed around lunchtime.”
“What time is lunchtime?”
“I don’t know. Maybe twelve o’clock?”
“Okay, I’ll be back there at twelve o’clock.” Stue took off running in his bare feet for his house across the street.
I got up a little slower and headed for the house. I didn’t know what time it was so I went in the kitchen and asked my Mom.
“Why Mark, it is just about 11:30. What are you up to?” she asked.
“Nothing. Just thinking about eating an apple,” I said as I picked one out of the bowl on the counter.
“An apple now will spoil your appetite, Mark.”
“Can I eat lunch at Stue’s house?” I asked.
My mother looked at me for a long second like she was mad at me. “Does Stue’s Mom know about this?” she asked.
“Yup. I think she’s making peanut butter sandwiches.”
“Okay, but you be good and use your manners.”
She turned away from me to wash something in the sink. I slipped two apples from the bowl and ran up to my bedroom to get my old overalls. They were a little short, but they fit. I wanted to feel like a hobo. I ran out the back door barefoot and let the screen door slam behind me. I could hear my Mom calling out after me but I kept running.
Stue wasn’t behind the shed yet, so I sat on the ground and watched ants crawling across a stick. After a few minutes he showed up with a pillowcase in his hand.
“Whatcha got a pillowcase for?” I asked.
“It’s got our stuff in it. I got peanut butter sandwiches, some cookies, some saltines and a bottle of water.“ Stue looked pretty proud of himself and sat there looking at me with a big grin on his face.
“What? Why are you looking like that?”
“I got a surprise.”
“Are you crazy! We can’t drink beer. “
“Why not? We are supposed to be hobos and they drink beer. Besides, no one is going to see us so how would they know?”
“I guess.” I didn’t want to ruin Stue’s excitement and after thinking about it, I kind of liked the idea, too. I put my apples in his sack and we peaked around to make sure no one could see us. We ran through a little strip of trees that buffered my yard from the train tracks. The gravel hurt our feet so we walked carefully up to the wooden ties. The train was parked and we couldn’t see anyone in sight. One of the box cars’ side doors was open slightly so we chose it for our adventure.
The floor of the boxcar was high for us so I clasped my hands together and gave Stue a boost up. He had to use all his strength to get the door to slide open more and then pulled me up after I handed up the pillowcase.  The box car was empty and pretty hot but we didn’t care.
Stue opened his pillowcase and pulled out the bottle of beer. 
“That bottle looks strange,” I mentioned.
“Why?” Stue asked holding up the bottle to inspect it. “It says ja, i, m, Jim,” he read, sounding out the letters, “Jim Ba,ee,ah,em, Jim Bee, ahm. No Jim Beam.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said. My dad only drank beer from cans so I didn’t know anything about this beer.
“We don’t have any cups so we have to drink out of the bottle.” Stue announced.
“I don’t care,” I said as I crossed my legs and leaned back against the inside of the boxcar. I watched Stue as he lifted the bottle to his lips and poured the gold liquid in his mouth. His face contorted and he swallowed in a hard gulp. He started coughing and his face went beet red.
“Are you okay?” I asked. His reaction made me a little intrepid of drinking the beer.
“That is really strong beer. I don’t know how Dad drinks it. He gulps it, but it burns my throat. Here you try.”
When he put it that way, I felt like I had to prove to him that I could do it, so I lifted the bottle to my lips and forced myself to take two swallows. It was liquid fire! I gasped for air and tears flowed from my eyes.
“Aughhh! That’s crazy!” I wanted to say it was horrible, but I wanted to be tougher than him. “Are you going to do it again?” I asked.
“Yup. Just like a hobo.” He took the bottle and poured a smaller amount this time. “Yeehaw!”
I laughed at him. “Let me do it.” I poured some more into my mouth, “Yeehaw!” I imitated and went into coughing and laughing.
“I’m feeling kind of rubbery,” Stue said as he stretched his arms out.
“I’m feeling hungry. Where are those sandwiches?” I asked as I reached for the pillowcase. I noticed that my eyes moved a little slowly when I looked back at Stue. “I feel a little funny, too. Maybe we are getting drunk.”
“Well, we should. Hobos are always drunk, just like pirates.” Stue said as he took another sip.
“Hey, don’t hog it. I want to be drunk too.” I took another swallow and then bit into the peanut butter sandwich to help sooth my throat. I started giggling.
“This is a pee nut butter sandwich.” I found it too funny.
“You are stupid,” Stue said as he started laughing. “You are a nasty fart face.”
We couldn’t stop ourselves from laughing. Just when I thought I could relax and stop, I would hear Stue starting to giggle again and I would start all over. My face hurt and my belly ached.
“I need some more beer,” Stue said as he rolled over on his stomach and reached for the bottle. “Have shome more fa- fart face hobobo.” His words were sounding funny and we laughed some more.
“No, you are a poop shmeller hobobo,” I said and I took a big swallow in between my laughing. I tried to set the bottle down, but the floor seemed crooked. “Whoa, I think this train is slanting.” I laid flat on the floor and closed my eyes. I felt very dizzy.
I don’t remember anything else until I woke and the train felt like it was swaying again. I opened my eyes, but everything was dark.
“Stue?” I reached around, “Stue?” This time I said it a little louder. I heard a grunt and then felt his leg. “Stue, wake up. It’s night time.”
“I don’t feel so good. The train keeps moving,” he groaned.
“It is moving, Stue. It’s night time,” I insisted. He didn’t answer so I lay back down and closed my eyes. I was too tired to care much about anything.
The sunlight woke me up the second time, but when I opened my eyes, the pain in my head was hurting me.
“Mom?” I needed her to fix my head.
“Mark? Where are we? Does your head hurt too?” Stue asked.
Slowly I sat up and looked out the train door, to see trees flying past. “Oh, no. Mom doesn’t know where we are. I think we are lost.” I started crying. I couldn’t help it. I was terrified. Mark was looking at me in confusion.
“We’re lost?” he asked and then he too started crying. After a few minutes, we calmed down a little and just looked out the door. “What do we do?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe ask the police for help when the train stops?”
“But what if they send us to jail for being on the train and getting drunk?”
It was too horrible and I started crying again, which made Stue cry too. We hugged our knees and watched the countryside rolling by.
“Look, we are slowing down!” Stue said.
I watched not sure if I was happy or more scared than before. Where were we and what were we going to do here? I stuck my head out the doorway of the boxcar and looked ahead. I could see buildings that looked like a factory or something.
“Do we jump off when the train slows down or do we wait until it stops?” I asked Stue.
“I think better wait until it stops. There are so many rocks on the side,” he said.
We waited until the train came to a complete stop and then helped each other jump down. We had passed a road with some stores on it so we headed back towards that.  Neither of us had any money but we were very thirsty.  We walked what seemed like miles but was probably only one mile before we found a gas station that had a bathroom we could use.  We gulped handfuls of water from the faucet, glad to quench our thirst. Stue poured out the remainder of what we thought was beer and filled the bottle with water for later.
“So where are we?”  Stue asked me.
“I have no idea. We could ask somebody. Maybe the guy behind the counter will tell us,” I suggested.
We walked up to the line behind the counter. When it was our turn, I looked up at the man and asked him where we were.  He said the name of the town but it didn’t mean anything to me. I was not sure what I expected but I was so disappointed I wanted to cry again. Stue spoke up and asked if we were close to Stratford. The clerk looked at us impatiently and told he had never heard of it. Crushed, we left the station and walked back in the direction of the tracks.
“Look. There’s a phone. Maybe we could call home!” Stue broke our silence with excitement in his voice.
“Yeah! Let’s!” and we raced each other to the phone. I pulled the phone from the holder and listened. There was a faint dial tone.  “What’s your number?”
“I don’t know. I thought you knew yours,” Stue hit me in anger.
“I never have to call home.” I tried to excuse myself. “I’ll try hitting the 0 button.”  I pressed it and I was relieved to hear an operator’s voice.
“How may I help you?” a lady’s voice finally asked after a series of clicks.
“I am trying to call my home, but I don’t remember the number. “
“Would you like me to connect you to the Information Operator?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I just want to call home.”
“How old are you?”
“I am six. Can you tell me the number for Mrs. Jackson?”
“What is her first name?”
“Um. Stue, what is my mom’s first name?”
“I don’t know. Tell her your Dad’s name.”
“Do you have a number for Mark Jackson?” That was easy – I had the same name as he did.
“I have several Mark Jacksons. Do you have a town?” she asked.
“Yes, in Stratford.”
“I don’t show any town named Stratford in Illinois. Are you sure?”
“Illinois! No I am from Indiana. Are we in Illinois?”
“I am sorry. I am still not showing any number for a Mark Jackson in Stratford, Illinois. Maybe you could ask an adult to help you,” She suggested.
“What’s wrong?” Stue asked.
I hung up the phone. “She couldn’t find any number. I don’t know what to do, now.”
“We have to ask a policeman. Dad always says if I am in trouble to call the police.”  I picked up the phone again and pushed the 0 button again. This time I asked the operator for the police. A couple of seconds later a man answered the phone and asked me where I was. I didn’t know but I gave him the name of the gas station where we used the bathroom. He told us to wait and a police car would come and pick us up.
About twenty minutes later, a black and white police car pulled up to the gas station and we ran over. A policeman got out of the front seat and walked towards us. “Are you the boys that called for help?”
“Yes. We are lost.” Stue answered.
“Well, come with me to the station and we will get ahold of your parents. “ He held the back door open for us. We were thrilled. A real police car. He told us to put on our seatbelts and then started asking us questions. He wanted to know our names, where we lived, our phone numbers, our parents’ names and he entered everything into a computer he had in his front seat. His radio went off a couple of times and I felt like I was part of a television show.
Finally, he turned around in his seat and looked at us. “How did you get here? You are almost five hundred miles from home.”
We were dumbfounded. He might as well have said we were on the moon. Five hundred miles away! How on earth were we supposed to get back? We just sat and stared at him.
“How did you get here?” He asked us again.
Stue spoke up, “We fell asleep on the train and when we woke up we were here.”
“The train? A freight train? How did you get on that? You do know it’s against the law to jump trains.”
“We’re sorry. We didn’t know it was against the law. We just climbed on a boxcar behind my house and pretended we were hobos having a picnic.” I was now terrified. The policeman said we broke the law. I was sure he was taking us to jail.
I sat as still as I could trying to think of a way to get out of the car. We had to get away from the police. I didn’t want to go to jail.
When the policeman pulled into the police station, he told us we could go inside and he would help us reach our parents, but I just knew he was going to lock us up. As soon as the car stopped, he got out and opened the back door for us. I followed behind him but turned to Stue and mouthed, “Let’s run.” We turned and raced as fast as we could to get away from the officer.
“Hey, kids. Stop!” We heard him call us but we didn’t turn around until we were sure we had lost him.
“Why did we run away?” Stue asked as soon as he caught his breath.
“He was going to put us in jail because we broke the law and got on the train.”
Stue just stared at me again, and then tears started rolling down his face. “I just want to be home.”
The sight of him crying, made me cry too, and we sat huddled on a city bench, hugging our knees.
“We just have to get back on the train again and take it home.” I stated calmly.
“But it’s against the law. What if we get caught? How do we get back on the train anyhow?”
“I don’t know but it got us here and it’s the only way I know to get back home.” I stood up and looked at Stue. “Let’s try again.”
He stood up and started walking with me and we retraced our steps back to the train yard.  We figured that we would have to cross the tracks and get on a train that was headed back towards home. We had no idea that it might go in another direction. There was no train on the right set of tracks. We found a hidden area where there were a couple of buckets we could use as seats while we waited for the train to come. After about an hour, we heard the rumble of the train and then saw it come into view.
We ran along the edge of the tracks when it stopped on the other side of the station. No one seemed to notice us and we ran back to where there were the same types of boxcars as we jumped before. We tried to find one with the side door open, but all the train cars seemed full of stuff and closed up tight.  Finally, we got to the last car – an engine car and climbed up the steps. There was no one inside and so we decided that we would try to stay there.
“I’m starving,” Stue said once we got over the excitement of climbing on the train, knowing we could get caught.
“Hey, we still have the apples I brought,” I said reaching into our little hobo bag. They weren’t much, but we were sure happy for them. We decided to drink the water slowly so it would last. 
After sitting on the train for about an hour, we felt the jolt and then a shudder. Soon we were clipping along the tracks with a regular rhythm. The sound soon put us to sleep in spite of our fear and hunger. I had counted the number of hours that we had been on the train the first time and knew that we should be close to home after about ten hours. I wasn’t sure of the exact time when the train started moving, but it seemed like it must have been close to ten o’clock in the morning. Since the sun set close to nine, I was going to start watching for our town’s water tower about then.
We took time to have a little fun and sat in the drivers’ chairs and pretended we were driving the train, but there was no way either of us was going to touch any of the controls. We only wanted to get home.  The chairs were comfortable and the windows were big. As the sun started to set, we started scanning the countryside out the side windows, looking for anything that might look like home.  I was worried that the train might not stop again near our house, but I was banking on the fact that I saw it parked back there several times a week.
“What if the train doesn’t stop in our town,” Stue asked as the sky got darker and darker.
“I don’t know, maybe we’ll jump off,” I replied.
“Do you think we can?”
“What else can we do? I’m not going to another town again.”
We both became silent and stared out the windows.
“Look! I see the water tower.” Stue shouted, pointing to the large blue tower off in the distance. The town’s name, Stratford was printed in large black letters and even though the sky was almost dark, we could still make out the letters easily.
“I guess we are going to have to jump,” I said, walking over to the doorway.
“No, wait. We are slowing down,” Stue said. “Look at how fast the trees are going now.”
The sound of the train whistle carried back to us from the front of the train. Stue slid the door open and looked ahead. He could see the red flashing lights of the train crossing and the train slowed to a crawl, blasting away on its horn.
“We gotta jump now. That’s Market Street up there at the light and we are going farther away from our houses now. “
I looked at Stue and he looked at me. “Okay. You first,” I said.
I heard him yell and then let go of the train’s handrail. I couldn’t wait another second and jumped and yelled too. The gravel slipped under my feet and I tumbled head over heels down the side of the ditch along the tracks. I stood up and brushed off a couple of scrapes and ran back to Stue.
“Are you okay, Stue?”
“Uh huh. I hurt my ankle a little but I can still walk.”
We headed down the tracks half walking and half running. It was dark out and we could see lights on in my house as we approached my back yard.
“Mom! Dad!” I shouted, trying to not cry but overcome with relief at seeing the friendliness of my backyard.
There were cars in the driveway and then I saw the police car. I stopped Stue and told him to wait.
“Did they come to arrest us?” Fear flooded my body and I could barely breathe.
“Come on, Mark. Our parents are in there.” He pulled me into the back door, letting the screen door slam behind us.
To say that we were welcomed home would have been an understatement. Not only did our parents spend the night looking for us along with many friends from the town, but they had received a phone call from the police in the town where our train had stopped. We cried together and then stuffed ourselves with spaghetti someone brought over. The next morning, our pictures were on the front page of the town newspaper with the headline, Two Local Boys Found, Just Killing Time.
It was fun to be famous, but it was more relieving just to be home.