Old Tom Cotton’s Boy (continued)

Good morning, Everyone!

I hope this week has been kind to all of you so far. Can you believe it’s already February? Amazing! Time is just flying right along, but that’s okay.

As promised, today we continue with the latest adventure of Barracuda Slim, that lovably odd hobo. If you missed the beginning of this here tellin’, you can catch up HERE.

Now the legend of Barracuda Slim began with a flash fiction challenge, and funny enough Slim ‘Cuda got a second flash challenge before his very own short story evolved. You can read his first two tales by following the links below.

PASSENGER

DEVIL AND TRAIN

Alright, I’ve talked enough! So on with the tale!

*     *     *     *     *

Warm weather is the thing for the morning train though; tonight around this fire was a time for telling tales. What better place for tale tellin’ than gathered around a fire with the brisk air holding a sky full of stars? No better time if you ask me; hell, no better time if you ask anyone sitting around a fire at night.

Barley wiggled even closer to the small blaze, and if he were tinder he might have gone up like a torch himself. “Okay gents, now listen to this,” he began with a washed over glaze of memory in his eyes. “I was truckin’ see, truckin’ like it was the thing to do on my way to New Orleans to catch one of them music days of that there Mardi Gras. ‘Cept, it weren’t no time for that kind of party, but I didn’t get the word about it not being the right time of year, so you see, I was going anyway! Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t care much for New Orleans, it was those sweet-sweet trumpets and all the rest of them horns I was going for. I was goin’ because I had to! I got the brass in my blood, like a fire. Like this fire right here!” He stirred the wood with his stick tossing sparks into the air.

Tom Cotton nodded solemnly; he understood that kind of calling. Barracuda rocked slowly with the rhythm of the tale, Barley had a way of speaking that felt like music.

“So you see, I was truckin’ along on this beautiful diesel. I could feel it chugging along, pulsing like a heartbeat! It drummed across the open plains, it screamed through fields. You know the thing I’m talkin’ about, I know y’all got that feeling on them old smoke belchers! So then was the most horrible thing!” Barley got real quiet, he just couldn’t make a sound for a time as he stared into that fire. “You see, I watched this car sputter down and stall out on the tracks ahead of us. I had me this perfect view of that tragedy from the top of a box car. There I was mindin’ my own and feelin’ that warm sun and all the wind rushin’ around me like angels. And then the train couldn’t slow in time. I felt that drumming and pulsing and that heartbeat! Oh, that heartbeat! It stopped see? It stopped the minute that old locomotive tin-foiled that car.”

There was a pristine silence around the fire then, the kind of quiet you have when talking about the dead. It was church silence.

“But then, and you can’t believe this next part! Then like the holiest holy ghost that was ever holy, that fella in the car was still standin’! Alive as can be! Sucking air like he just learned how! I told you can’t believe it, he had not one single scratch anywhere on his whole body! I tell you it’s the truest truth to ever cross these here lips of mine! He was in that car when it shredded under the weight of that old smoke belchin’ powerhouse, and boom! Like a special kind of magic that old tragedy was a miracle! He was in that car and then he was standin’ alongside that train watchin’. Now that’s some magic of the great Almighty I tell you!”

Barracuda leapt to the air hooting and clapping as Barley wiped his eyes. Barracuda was all laughter and praise, as any man should be hearing about a natural miracle. Tom Cotton made the smallest sound of a cheer before his body was wracked with fits of coughing. His body shook and if he could any more pale than his poor skin already was, it did. He pulled his handkerchief away from his mouth and looked into the spatters of blood. Even though Tom Cotton’s lungs threatened a gasping end of things, he still wore his smile proudly; it was after all a good tale.

*     *     *     *     *

Church Bell Chris leaned towards Barracuda with that same glint of beer glaze in his eyes. His face held a deep smile behind the lines of age and the grime of the road.

“Now we’re getting up to the good part! Barley’s a right decent fellow, but this next part is my favorite.”

D’Dan Dan rocked forward too, waving away Green George’s offering of a marker. He had his whole attention stamped and approved at the tellin’ by Slim. Barracuda Slim slid back to the ground, taking his place by the fire and tending to the pot of water that was well on its way to becoming coffee.

Looking across the flickering light at Church Bell, Barracuda tilted his head to the side with a crooked smile. “Now this here is the good part, but we can’t get to no good part if you make with the breakin’ of the tempo. Barley had it right about rhythm, just like the pulse of them thundering diesels, a story has that beat too. So listen up!” Barracuda poured a generous amount of coffee grounds into the pot, “So we jumped that train in the morning and was barreling along towards Kentucky with the beat of that old engine –clackity clack across the tracks!”

*     *     *     *     *

The three lay in the sun on top of a canvas covered car full of salt. The sun was bright above them, but the wind that blew over the top of the car was anything but warm. They had worked the salt enough to give them a little cover but it did little. Barracuda shrunk into his jacket like a turtle to a shell, as did Barley, both men had given their blankets to Tom Cotton.

The weather wasn’t by any means of the word getting better, riding the rails as long as they had they knew there were certain ways to take to get where you needed to be. Sure the rail lines ran in all directions across the States, but that didn’t mean you could just ride straight through. There was a way about it. Some cities were just plain old dangerous for folks like Barracuda, Tom Cotton, and Barley. So it came to it that sometimes to go west, a body had to go north for a while first, such as this time.

Through the rushing wind and the thrumming train, Barley got to singing. He crooned into the blue sky all full of sun and framed with wispy streaks of cloud. “This train is bound for glory, this train! This train is bound for glory, this train! This train is bound for glory, none gonna ride but the righteous and the holy, this train is bound for glory, this train…”

Tom Cotton worked his feet to the music of the train and the singing of his fellows, and if his health wasn’t all gummed up, he would have shot up and danced right there in that salt car. Barracuda whistled along, it was lost completely to the clink and rattle of the train, but he knew it was there and that was the thing that made it perfect.

It was late in the afternoon when the train slowed on approach to the yard, another freight yard in another city. A man travels enough each one becomes a strange melded blur of the same place, no matter how different. Barley was shouting his goodbyes and good travels, then he was gone over the side of the car. Barracuda helped Tom Cotton get his feet and they lit out of that car too.

When they made their way into the jungle it was no surprise to find Barley not there, He was always a fellow that moved from train to train on a whim with no care where it was headed. Barracuda and Tom Cotton settled in by a fire, this was perhaps the most crowded they had ever seen a jungle, nearly a dozen free souls all hooting, and laughing, and tellin’ the tale. It was quick work finding out what trains were coming through and which trains were leaving, by mid-morning they would be rolling west towards Kentucky.

Tom Cotton was working in a fever with a pen and paper, and even found him a crisp envelope so white and fresh. He took to that paper with fervent delight, and the precision of one of them car building robots you hear about. He was near two full pages when he folded that paper up like a professional paper folder, like those fellas that make birds and fish, and tucked it square into that perfect envelope.

*     *     *     *     *

I hope you’re enjoying the tale so far, be sure to pop over next Tuesday for the conclusion of Old Tom Cotton’s Boy. As usual, after the last part of the story posts, I’ll add the complete tale to my SHORT FICTION page.

Feel free to leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you! Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day! 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Old Tom Cotton’s Boy (continued)

  1. And now we know where the letter comes from! Rich atmosphere in this one Joe. Sounds of the train, crackling of the fire, the cold. Characters are great. A lot of focus on simple pleasures: warmth, singing, storytelling.

  2. I agree with “Time’s” comment – rich atmosphere and some great imagery. I particularly love: “He crooned into the blue sky all full of sun and framed with wispy streaks of cloud.”

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