Written by Joseph D. Stirling
Few things had a better sound than the clack-clack-clack of the steel wheels rolling down the tracks. The heavy smell of old iron and diesel fumes kicking dust around. The drifting scent of tar from the railroad ties that held all those miles of rail lines. Barracuda Slim enjoyed every last sight, smell, and sound of those long as you can see trails of box cars and flat-beds. Even now he watched one trundling its way out of the rail-yard, and he meant to hop that train to wherever it was heading.
He hitched up his stained jeans and tucked his ball-cap into his belt. Barracuda Slim gave one last cautionary glance to make sure no one was watching, then jumped from his cover in the bushes and broke into a run. He hauled as much ass as his skinny legs could muster, and sure as the sky is blue, he took hold of a ladder rung and pulled himself onto that train.
He hung there for a moment, feeling the increasing rush of air blow through his hair and across his skin as the train accelerated. This was what a man could call freedom. Open air, travel on a whim, and no political crap to get in the way and muck it up. He traversed along the side of the box car, Barracuda Slim knew it was empty, and weaseled himself through the partially open door. He dropped the pack he carried and stretched, a sigh of contentment ringing through the empty car.
It was at that very moment, as the muscles in his back said “yeah, that’s the spot,” that Barracuda Slim felt that he was not alone. Arms still raised, he turned to look. At the far end of the box car, sitting like he was some kind of fancy dandy in a suit far nicer than an iron rider ought to wear, was a man. Though not as much a man as one would think is proper. Sure his hair was slick and shiny, pulled back; and yes, he smelled like some kind of fine perfume like you’d find in the complimentary basket of a motel. But the glossy black horns on his forehead and the smooth hooves where there should have been feet, they said something else entirely about this fellow.
“Barracuda Slim, is it?” The man asked, though he sure spoke like he knew the answer. His voice was cool, and sounded friendly. “A nice ride you have here, and the price of admission fits the pocket book.”
“You know me? How do you know Barracuda Slim? Never have seen you in any jungle that I can say.” Barracuda lowered his arms and dug out a dented pack of smokes. It was quick work to strike a match and light the half smoked butt he dug out. “You smoke?”
“Do I smoke? I invented it! Do you know that before I sprouted the first tobacco plant you Humans were fighting over tea leaves! Ha! And now look at it, tobacco just about paid for the founding of this whole country. True story.” The fellow in the neat suit stood and accepted the pack. “Thanks.”
As the man that wasn’t a man in his dandy suit put the cigarette to his lips, it lit on its own as he inhaled.
“Magic tricks. Well that’s about the bees knees there. You know me, so what do I call you?”
“I’ve been called a lot of things. Son of Perdition was always my favorite, but you can call me Luse. To be fair, I’m sure you and your fellows call me Old Scratch, and I do like the sentiment.”
Barracuda Slim knew that name, sure as he knew the Lord and Savior, Jerusalem Slim. The name he and his fellows gave Jesus Christ, and Barracuda’s own namesake. He couldn’t help but draw a hasty cross over his chest.
“Please, I mean no harm here. I just want to help you out. You’ve been carrying that letter for over a month now. I know how serious you take the matter of a promise and I can tell you where to go, lead you right to Tom Cotton’s son. I only ever wanted to help. Look what I did to help the Romans! Shame they couldn’t take better care of their city. True story.”
Barracuda Slim gathered up his pack and dropped the butt to the floor, crushing it out beneath his smooth soled boots. It was no surprise that he edged his way towards the door of the boxcar. There was probably not one person that would take kindly to sharing a train with the Devil, even if he was too cheap to buy a ticket to ride.
“This looks like my stop, Barracuda Slim asks for nothing from no kind of Morning Star. I trust in the guidance of my departed friend, Tom Cotton, to show me how to find his boy.” Barracuda Slim glanced at the door then turned back.
“You can keep the car, I was just leaving. If you should ever need anything, anything at all, you just call on me. I only ever wanted to help, you Humans have no idea how much I love you. True story.”
The box car washed over with shadow and a mingling of sulfur touched the smell of the Devil’s cologne. By the time Barracuda Slim could see again, he found himself alone. The only proof that he hadn’t just imagined the whole long and short was the two scorched hoof prints burned into the wooden floor. Barracuda Slim took to the rational thing that anyone would choose.
He climbed out and found himself a different car, farther back. Much farther back. Turned out to be a nicer ride by any form of standardizing. Barracuda Slim stretched himself out on a covered bed of soft soil. To him it was like one of them pricey posture-whats-it mattresses you see on the television in late night infomercials. Open air, wind blowing just right, this was freedom beneath God’s grand blue sky.