by Leo King

Approx. 1000 Words

Railroad Companions Series:
Part 1
Part 2

“The stars are out again, Mister Wrinkles,” said little Jolie Jones as she leaned against the freight compartment’s frame. “You should really come out and see them, they are soooooo pretty…”

As the train clankity-clanked along the lonely Nebraska railway, silence came from Jolie’s lone companion, the elderly gentleman remaining wrapped in a thin blanket in a shadowy corner of the compartment.

Little Jolie didn’t mind that her railroad companion didn’t reply, for she was quite okay with doing the talking for both of them. Even when she had snuck aboard the Union Pacific train back in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the February air nipping at her button-nose, and happened to choose the same car as the elderly man, he wasn’t very chatty. But for the eight year old girl, dressed in a dirty shirt and pair of overalls, along with worn shoes and a pageboy hat, he was a blessing in disguise.

“My favorite is when it’s a clear night like this,” Jolie continued, stepping back from the edge and wrapping herself in a thick wool blanket. Her big blue eyes shown with innocent wonder as the stars stood – twinkling sentinels hanging in the sky – unmoving even as the white frosted countryside sped.

“Papa used to take me up top of the building we lived in when I was real little, so I could see the stars,” Jolie added, cocking her head to the side to regard her railroad companion, “but they got too many lights what where we live, so I never seen this many stars before.”

Jolie’s big eyes rested on the tired looking face of her silent companion, the elderly man just looking back at her with a small, grandfatherly smile. He had wormed out of her where she was from and where she was heading in less than a minute, and had been kind enough to lend her his spare blanket. But that was three days ago, and for now, he seemed just content on smiling at her, watching her with his shiny hazel eyes.

Jolie grinned cheekily at the old man and lay back, looking up at the ceiling of the freight train’s compartment.

“When I get to San Fran, Mister Wrinkles,” Jolie said, tilting her feet side to side as if they were a metronome, keeping time to the clankity-clank of the train, “I’m gonna find papa and stay with him. He doesn’t know I’m coming, but he’ll be so surprised! He’s helping a bunch of chaps build a big bridge made of solid gold! He told me so.”

In truth, Jolie wasn’t sure what her father meant by a “golden bridge”, but when the job recruiter had shown up at the Brooklyn Job Center, Jolie’s father and about three dozen other men had volunteered and, after receiving a generous signing bonus, were carted off for the six month construction job.

“Papa left me with Miss Crumplebottom,” Jolie continued, looking back over at her elderly friend, “Well that’s not really her name, but I can’t pronounce it, so I just call her Miss Crumplebottom.” The little girl looked back up at the ceiling, “She only cares about her cats. She has lots of them. She has a big one, so big, that when he meows, my teeth shooked!”

Jolie giggled and, noting that her companion was still not responding, stuck out her tongue a little. Despite doing that, she really liked Mister Wrinkles, even though she had given him a silly nickname for the same reason as Miss Crumplebottom. He had told her his name – it was one of those confusing types of names you had to clear your throat while saying. However, as his face was akin to that of a prune, Jolie started calling him Mister Wrinkles, and when the elderly man didn’t protest, the name stuck.

“Well anyway, Mister Wrinkles, she kept forgetting to feed me, so last week, I decided to just head to San Fran and find papa all by myself,” Jolie said, getting up and walking back over to the open doorframe of the freight compartment. She had spent most of the journey looking out the backs of trucks or the sides of trains, and it had afforded her a lot of time to think.

She didn’t want to worry Miss Crumplebottom or any of her friends home, mostly boys who she beat up when they got out of line, but she missed her father so much. He was a strong man, the kind with a booming voice and strong arms, and he called her his “little bluebell” on account of her eyes.

“Since mama died when I was real little,” Jolie said softly to herself and her companion, “papa’s the only family I got left.”

Dropping the blanket off her shoulders and tossing it towards the interior of the train, Jolie started to walk along the edge of the train’s compartment, her small arms out to hold her balance. The door had gotten stuck open when the train was loaded, and even as she and Mister Wrinkles had hidden in the scant number of boxes in the compartment while several men tried to close the door, it soon became apparent that it was stuck open.

The open door, however, afforded Jolie a chance to practice “walking tightrope”, a game she had previously only been able to play with railings back home. She had done a lot of “walking tightrope” these past three days, and had become a real balancing expert. Besides, with the outside view at night white and featureless, the girl had hardly any other way to pass the time.

As her feet walked precariously along the edge of the train, Jolie continued to talk to her silent companion, “It’s really cold out today and kinda cold like it gets back home. Only this is a kinda cold that eats at your bones. I wish we had a fire in here, Mister Wrinkles. And some jerky. Or maybe some sardines. I’m pretty hungry.”

Jolie hadn’t eaten since before the train departed three days ago, when Mister Wrinkles had shared a can of sardines and three stale biscuits with her. Her tummy had stopped rumbling, but she knew better than to think she was no longer hungry.

Stopping in the middle of the open doorway, Jolie turned to look at Mister Wrinkles, still huddled up in the blanket and looking at her with kind shiny eyes and a small smile. She had asked him why he was going to California, but before he could answer, the train whistle blew loud enough scare Jolie with a jump. Once he had gotten her to calm down, he just told her he’d tell his story later on the trip.

And to Jolie, that meant just right now. “Maybe now’s a good time to tell me why you heading to San Fran, Mister Wrinkles.”

The girl’s blue eyes shone with affection as her silent companion just stared back at her. With a sigh, the girl said, “Well, you’re probably keeping warm better than me. But that’s okay…”

Turning around, arms out stretched, Jolie said, “It’s okay because I love the snow. I love to build snow men and snow forts and snow—“

Jolie’s footing gave on the slippery-iced surface of the train. The rush of bitterly cold air was so harsh that her scream froze in her throat, unable to come out. As the white nothingness before her rushed towards her, all she could think of was the strong embrace of her dear papa.

(To be concluded…)

Note From Leo: If you wish to leave feedback on this suspense short story, please fill out the comment form below. I make sure to read all feedback, both praising and critical.