by Leo King

Approx. 1000 Words


Railroad Companions Series:
Part 1
Part 2


And then the girl was no longer falling, instead dangling like a wind chime from the train. The elderly man’s hand, cold like the February wind, held onto the little girl with shaking effort. Slowly, Mister Wrinkles pulled Jolie back into the freight car. Instinctively, she pressed her head against his chest, the stillness and cold, for one moment, too fearfully real.

“Thank you,” Jolie said softly as she shivered in a combination of fear of freeze.

“Need to be more careful, kid,” muttered Mister Wrinkles, who then lead Jolie to the shadowy part of the compartment.

“Yeah,” said Jolie, pulling the thick wool blanket on with some assistance. The little girl was still shivering, and could only say, “Yeah,” again.

Sitting back down next to her, and pulling his thin blanket over himself, the old man said, “My granddaughter lives in San Francisco with her mother.”

Jolie, fighting to get her shivering down, looked up at the old man, her blue eyes attentive.

“You’re two young to understand this kind of thing,” Mister Wrinkles continued, “but sometimes a mother and father, well, they can stop caring for each other like they used to. When that happens, sometimes the mother and father go live in other places. And sometimes, the sons and daughters end up in different places too.”

Jolie gave a silent nod. One of her best buds had that problem. It was called a “Dis-force” or something.

“So my son stayed in Detroit with me, and I haven’t seen my granddaughter in five years. My son is bum and don’t want to see his own kid. Imagine, not wanting to see your own child. I don’t believe it. And I can’t afford a passenger ticket. So,” the elderly man looked down at Jolie, his prune-like face accented with a heavy brow, “I’m going to go see my granddaughter on my terms, just like you are going to see your father on yours.”

That realization, that story, made Jolie smile. The girl’s blue eyes shimmered as she leaned against her elderly railroad companion. Feeling the cold coming from him, and remembering that old people get cold easily, she snuggled more, wanting to warm him with her own little body. As she rested against him, she felt something cool and metallic press into her hand. Looking down, she saw that Mister Wrinkles had pressed a small golden locket in the shape of a heart into her tiny hand.

“What’s this, Mister Wrinkles,” asked Jolie inquisitively.

“It’s five years of birthday gifts, kid, for my granddaughter,” with a chuckle, the old man said, “Why don’t you keep it safe until we get to California?” Looking down at the small girl, the old man gave that small smile and a hazel-eyed wink.

With a giggle, the little girl looped the locket around her neck and let it dangle, patting the heart and saying, “There! Now it’s safe!”

With that small smile, Mister Wrinkles settled back down.

A sudden sleepiness started to overcome Jolie, and as she drifted within the wool blanket about her small frame, she felt safe for the first time in over a week.

Goodnight, Mister Wrinkles, thought Jolie, I love you…

*********************************************************************

“Hey kid,” called out a gruff voice, “wake up!”

Jolie’s blue eyes opened, flecks of frosted sleep sprinkling out and looking around. Over her were two large men, wearing caps much as her pap and she did; only they looked very displeased.

Jolie also noted that the train wasn’t moving and she had been moved to the edge of the compartment in her sleep.

“This her?” called out an authoritative voice, sparking the little girl to sit up straight. The policeman was pointing at her with his club, eyeing her with extreme disapproval. Behind him, Jolie saw that they were in frost-covered train yard, mountains all around. A sign nearby said “Denver Station.”

“Aye, this is her,” muttered one of the big men, slipping past Jolie and up into the compartment.

“You are in some big trouble, missy,” said the policeman, poking her small stomach a bit too rough with his club, “don’t you know that train-hopping can get you jail time. Where you from? Where’s your parents, if you got any?”

Jolie was terrified. She had gone all this way and evaded the law, but now, more than two-thirds of the way to her papa, she had gotten careless and gotten caught! Biting her bottom lip, the little girl sucked in her breath and nodded her head, saying, “My papa is in San Fran, your honor. I’m going to see him because Miss Crumplebottom don’t feed me while he’s gone working.”

“Miss Crumple-who,” said the policeman incredulously. He then shook his head and motioned to the other big man, who was still near Jolie. “Just get her done so we can take her into the station. Jesus, kid, it’s twenty below. You are lucky you didn’t freeze to death.”

As the big man lifted Jolie up and set him down on the ground, the other big man called out from within the compartment, “Hey! We got another one!”

Jolie would have crawled back on the train, but the big man was holding her, rather roughly, by the arm. Still, the girl looked up at the policeman and tugged his pant leg. When he looked down, she said, “That’s Mister Wrinkles. He was my friend these few days. We’ve been talking, and he’s going to San Fran to see his granddaughter. He’s really nice, but old, so go easy on him okay?”

With a snort, the policeman motioned for the big man holding Jolie to lead her away before getting up into the train himself. Jolie offered no resistance, even though she wished the big man wouldn’t grip her so tightly.

They were a few dozen yards from the train when the policeman came rushing back, huffing hard. “Kid,” he said, getting down on one knee, “You said you and that old man have been talking, right?”

Jolie nodded, giving a cheeky grin, “He’s not much a talker, but he’s super nice.”

“Not much a talker?” the policeman sighed and got up, rubbing his forehead. “Kid, I think you have a touch of dementia. That old man’s been dead at least three days.”

Jolie’s breath caught as she looked out from behind the policeman. The other big man, joined by a few more, was removing her old railroad companion from the compartment. He seemed stuck in that crouching seated position, his eyes frozen in that gentle look, his mouth frozen in that small smile.

Jolie felt a choke in her throat as she gripped the golden locket around her neck.

“Goodnight, Mister Wrinkles,” she said. “I love you…”

(The End…!)


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.