Hailey and the Squirrel

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
"Hailey and the Squirrel" is set in a depression era when home is not something precious unless there is a reason to hold on to it.

Submitted: April 28, 2014

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Submitted: April 28, 2014

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Jordan bit his lip.  The wind on the tracks tore at his battered shirt that had not been changed in two weeks.  His backpack was slung over his left shoulder and he carried a large walking stick he had found in the woods on the side of the rails two days ago.  He was looking for an empty car.  The Sante Fe Line train sitting on the tracks was already housing quite a few hobos like him self and rail car territory was at a premium these days.  No one was willing to share anymore.  That was why Jordan had picked up the stick.  He knocked on the side of an empty Continental Grain Co. car coupled toward the rear end near the caboose.  There was no sound in reply.  Most people did not like riding near the end of the train because it was the first place officials looked for vagrants.  If you could find a middle car then your position gave you more time to run away when the railroad Billie’s searched the train.  Jordan pulled himself up the ladder on the side of the Continental Grain Co. car and dropped his stick inside.  Then he lowered himself off the rope tether inside the rail car’s wall and dropped onto the cold, solid floor.

Usually, Jordan had to catch a train outside of one of the yards as it was beginning to move.  He had been wandering the tracks since a railroad official had kicked him off the Continental Line three weeks ago.  The Santa Fe Line train had stopped last night for the engineer to adjust the car linkages and had not moved since.  Jordan waited until just after dawn to find himself a place to ride because he knew from experience not to try to jump a train that might start moving in the dark.  His luck had held.  He braced his back against the sidewall of the car and settled with his knees up just as the train began to move.  There was no telling where the train was headed or if it would even stop again for the next few days.  Jordan didn’t care.  He had left home behind nine months ago and roving the countryside was his new way of life.

The clacking of the wheels of the train was comforting and Jordan nodded his head as sleep tried to claim him.  He woke again some time later when the train jolted to a stop.  Stretching his stiff legs out in front of him, he moved to pull himself up the rope over the top of the rail car so he could get a look outside.  The Santa Fe Line train had stopped in a small town that looked like it had been thrown together overnight.  There was not a station or a platform, just rows and rows of small, boarded shacks and tents that sprawled out from the center of the town.  Jordan pulled his head back down into the rail car when he spotted the engineer coming down from the front of the tracks with a Billie club in his hands.  Jordan knew he was going to have to run.

The engineer stopped at the Continental Grain Co. car door and beat his club on the side.  “You!  Come outta there!” he bellowed.  Jordan gauged the strength of his legs, adjusted his backpack and pulled himself up the rope tether opposite from the side of the tracks the engineer was standing on.  “I said, ‘come outta there’,” the engineer roared.  Jordan aimed for the open ground just off the tracks and catapulted himself out of the train.  He hit the ground hard and rolled a few feet.  Picking himself up quickly, he sprinted off around the caboose and headed in the direction of the nearest row of tents without looking to see if the engineer was following him.  When he reached the dirt track passing for a street in between the shacks and makeshift homes, he stopped running.  There was no sign of the engineer.  Only the officials hired to keep the train lines clean usually chased anyone further than the tracks.

Jordan took a moment to check his scrapes and bruises and then cursed when he realized he had left his stick behind.  In a new town this size it would have come in handy.  He had, however, made it out with his backpack.  Satisfied he had not caused any major damage to himself, Jordan followed the dirt track into the heart of the shantytown.  There were children playing stickball in the alleys between the few makeshift shops that were still open.  They stopped to stare at Jordan as he passed by.  He kept walking.

The center of the tented town was a hard dirt square with nothing but a faded wooden sign painted in peeling letters.  Jordan couldn’t read, but he knew his alphabet.  “H”, “A”, “E” and “N” were all he could make out.  He kept moving.  The other side of the dirt square looked the same as the area Jordan had just walked through.  Tents and wooden shacks stood in rows punctuated by fires burning in large barrels and clotheslines strung between homes.  Jordan decided he was probably better off in the woods than staying around a shantytown where it was obvious no one was going to be capable of helping him out.  He walked past the last row of tents and started for the tree line he could see back behind them. 

The rails for the trains ran close to the trees.  It appeared the tracks created a half-circle around the tents.  Forty yards from the rails stood a single tent separated from the rows of the others.  A small girl, seven or eight year old if Jordan guessed correctly, was sitting in the long grass growing up around the tent.  She was crying.  “M…m…m…mister?”  She said loudly.  Jordan stopped and looked over his shoulder.  No one else was around.  “M…m…mister?” she said again through her tears.

“Yeah, kid?” Jordan responded.

“Have you seen my cat?” the girl sobbed.  “Sh…she ran off!” The girl started to wail.

“No, I haven’t seen your cat,” Jordan said and started to move on.  Suddenly the wailing stopped.

“Hey!” the girl called after him.  “Do you need food?”  Jordan heard his belly rumble at the mention of a meal.  “If you help me find my cat, I’ll give you food,” the girl pleaded.  With the way the town looked, Jordan thought the most likely possibility was that someone was roasting the girl’s cat for supper.  He did, however, need something to eat.

“Okay, sure kid,” said Jordan.  “Where do you want me to look?”  The girl wiped her running nose with the back of her hand and stared at him and shrugged. “Aww, forget it!” Jordan said and began walking toward the trees again.

“Mister, I’ll go get your food first!” the girl shouted.  “Just stay here in case my cat comes back,” she pleaded.  Jordan stopped again and slowly turned around. “My name’s Hailey,” the girl said looking down at her bare feet.

Jordan sighed.  “Jordan,” he said.

“Just stay,” said the girl and took off in a run back toward the tent town.  Jordan was more than tempted to keep walking, but he hadn’t had any food for a day and a half and it had been three or four days since he had enough to call a meal.  If Hailey actually came back with food, it would be worth the wait.  He dropped his backpack to the ground in front of Hailey’s tent and settled himself on top of it.  The day was over half finished and the afternoon sun was hot.  There was no shade around the lonely tent and Jordan was tempted to go inside it.  The smell from where he was sitting, however, made him think twice.  Ants crawled around underneath him and he wondered how long he would have to wait.  Twenty or thirty minutes passed and there was still no sign of Hailey.  Jordan began to fidget.  He wanted to move on so that he could find a decent spot to sleep before nightfall.  Standing up, he stretched his legs and walked around behind the small tent.

There was a compost pile and a heap of paper garbage a few feet beyond the back of Hailey’s home.  A few rats scurried away as Jordan passed by.  He returned to the front of the tent, and impatiently picked up his backpack.  Meal or no meal, he wasn’t going to wait much longer.  He wasn’t even sure Hailey was going to return, especially if she had found her cat.  The long grass moved twenty feet from where he stood.  Jordan found himself wishing for his stick again.  It had been useful against hungry dogs and animals more than once.  He braced himself to run.  Then he saw the cat. She was yellow and orange and had a dead squirrel in her mouth.  Obviously, it was a struggle for her to carry the squirrel, but the cat kept advancing steadily in Jordan’s direction.  She ignored the fact he was standing in her path, and went around him heading into the tent when she finally reached the place where Jordan was standing.  Then the cat stopped by the tent flaps, dropped the squirrel and went inside.  Jordan did not hesitate.  He took a few steps in the direction of the tent and then shaded his eyes against the sun, looking back toward the makeshift town.  There was still no sign of Hailey.  He picked up the dead squirrel, turned, and headed for the other side of the train rails into the woods.  Now that he had dinner, he had to find a place to spend the night.

As he slipped into the trees, Jordan vaguely wondered if Hailey would return with food.  He did not doubt that if she did, the food would be stolen.  Chances were Hailey would be caught filching from someone else and not even make it back to her tent.  Jordan put Hailey out of his thoughts.  The branches were thick and the undergrowth was high.  It was going to take most of his strength and concentration to break through to a clearer place in the woods.  He knew better than to struggle into the branches too deep.  His best bet would be not to go so far that he could not get back to the train rails.  Early mornings were the best times to catch the next trains and the sun was already going down for the evening. 


© Copyright 2017 Kimberly A McKenzie. All rights reserved.

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