For anyone who was at True Stories Told Live on Wednesday, this is for you. With Mum’s help, I’ve tracked down the last piece of fiction Dave wrote. Aside from whatever personal writing exists between him and Mum, if any words give some clue into his mind at those last moments, they’re here. You might consider this the epilogue to the story. Me, I consider this a fantastic piece of fiction, and a little taster of what more he had to give. To all of us.
JM, 15th February 2012
A Wish For Jackie.
“Wait up, Kyle,” Jackie called after her older brother while she yanked on the waistband of her jeans, the oversized hand-me-downs, that were forever slipping off her skinny hips. Frustration was building in the eight-year-old’s voice as she jumped from one oily tie to the next. Her bare feet, tough and seasoned with thick calluses, were still no match for the broken granite that filled the space between the ties.
“Come on then,” Kyle hollered back. “You gonna make us late.”
“I cain’t help it. My britches is falling off.”
A straight-up summer sun burned down on their heads. One o’clock. Heat waves danced magically on the ground behind her brother and the gleaming rails of the railroad track disappeared into a silvery shimmer. The Santa Fe/Pacifico always ran on time. The lanky pre-teen laughed at his sister’s predicament and began tiptoeing his way back, balancing on the steel rail.
“You need a belt, dip wit.”
“Well what I gotta wear your stinky old clothes for anyway?”
She jumped and landed square giving her pants another furious tug just as her brother arrived.
“Come on, Jackie. You ought to walk on the track,” he said.
“It’s too hot,” she groused. “I’ll be all right.”
Kyle looked at her and grinned. The girl’s hair was so fair it looked almost silver in the sun. She was small even by eight-year-old standards and thin. Her mother called it willowy. In one hand she held the neck of the paper sack and in the other she clutched a fistful of denim. “You’re a sight,” he told her. “Here. Let me help you.”
He took the sack from her and sat it on the ground.
“Pull your britches up,” he told her. “I got a idea.”
Plunging a hand down into his pocket, he let his fingers swim around a moment, searching.
“What’ya gonna do, Kyle?”
“What?” she asked softly.
A smile spread across her face. Her cheeks glowed like berries and the hot dew of sweat glistened on her upper lip. When her brother got that mysterious air about him it was always something special. He spent half his time infuriating her and the other half amazing her.
“What, Kyle,” she asked again, “what you going to do?”
In answer, the boy shook back a mop of unruly brown and lifted his face to the heavens. He squeezed his eyes shut.
“I wish,” he intoned solemnly, “for a hank a string.” Opening his eyes he stared down at his sister and grinned. She smiled back, admiringly, waiting.
“There,” he said.
With a flourishing triumph, he pulled his hand out of his jeans pocket.
Between thumb and fingers he held a wound wad of bright orange string. “It worked.”
“You had that all along.”
“Did not. I wished it. Found out I got the power.”
“You do not.” She giggled. “What power?”
“The power to wish stuff.” He uncoiled the string as he spoke. “I wish something and it happens.”
“Liar.” Jackie watched amazed, nonetheless, as her brother stretched the broken piece of chalk line out to its full length.
“It’s so, Jackie. I wished it and it’s just so. Come here.” He knelt before her and began threading the string through the loops of her jeans.
“No, sir. That was already in your pocket anyways, wasn’t it?” She stared down at the top of his head as he stretched his arms around her waist feeding the string around her tiny middle. “It was,” she repeated. “Wasn’t it?”
Kyle responded with a theatrical sigh. “I didn’t want to brag on it, okay? But I got some kinda mysterious power. I wish things.”
“Liar, liar. Kyle’s a big fat liar.” She laughed and let her waist be tugged this way and that. “It’s so, Jackie.”
“Wish for something, then.” The girl watched him, with suspicious awe.
“Well, I can’t just wish for any old thing, it don’t work that way. It has to be important. And, it has to be something I need.”
“Ain’t so, Kyle. You’re teasing. Ow! That’s too tight.”
Kyle looked up at her and grinned. “Don’t want em falling off no more do you?” He began tying the knot with practiced speed as he continued the ruse. “Remember that old dog at Atkin’s place, used to give you such fits? I wished him gone.”
“He ran away,” she said flatly.
The dog had, indeed, given the little girl a terrible scare on more than one occasion. Then one day after a particularly frightening episode the dog was just gone. None of the adults had talked much about it.
“Well,” Kyle said. “That’s what they said, but …” He stood up and looked down on the girl as he warmed up to the tale. “I wished that old bugger right gone. For you.”
“Really?” Jackie pushed her thumbs under the waist of her jeans testing the makeshift belt.
“Yes, Jackie.” Kyle looked down with a sober seriousness as he continued. “I stood out front Atkin’s yard that day cause I knowed he’d scared you so bad, and that old dog come charging out all barking and snarling and slobbering like he was mad. Came right at me.”
Jackie nodded and swallowed hard as she stared up into her brother’s face, listening. “I stood my ground though. Faced him right down and said, ‘I wish that dog—GONE!’ and it just disappeared right before my very eyes. Just faded into nothing and was gone.”
A sense of awe crept over the girl. “Is that really true, Kyle? Did you?”
“I did.” Kyle nodded and put a finger on his lips.
“You got to promise never to tell anyone, Jackie. Okay? Why folks would be coming from all over Clark County wanting me to wish stuff for em, all kinds a stupid stuff, if it got out that I got the power. It’s gotta be a secret.”
Jackie nodded slowly, in solemn affirmation. “I won’t tell, Kyle.” She pulled her thumbs out of her new string belt. “Thanks Kyle.”
“Don’t I always take care of you?” He smiled with genuine affection and gave her arm a little tug. “Come on, dip wit. Get your sack and let’s go.”
Kyle, the limber acrobat, danced along the rail ahead of her while Jackie jumped from tie to tie. Somewhere in the dry grass a meadow lark sang her disconnected melody across the warm air while the two adventurers trundled along. Soon the risen mound of the track line began to merge with the bridge railings. The great beams closed in beside them as they entered the trestle with only a narrow catwalk on either side of the track and the ground below gave way to open air. On the opposite side of the trestle the oleanders grew tall and right up to the bridge. It was a place where they could hide and watch the monster iron wheels at eye level while the train whizzed by. They were almost there.
“What’d ya bring this time, Jack?” Kyle wanted to know.
“I got seven pennies and a piece a dog chain I found.” Jackie felt the weight of the sack in her hand. “It’s ok ain’t it? The chain I mean. It won’t hurt the train none?”
Kyle laughed at his sister’s naïve concern. “Course not, dip wit. You can’t hurt the Pacifico.”
As if on cue they heard it in the distance. “Wheee.” The scream of the train’s whistle as it rounded the curve a quarter mile away. “Come on, Jackie. Hurry up.”
The rumbling of the big engine began to vibrate through the track, through the boy’s bare feet, and he increased his pace.
“Kyle!” Jackie screamed. The sudden urgency made the boy spin around.
“Jackie! Cripes! What’d you do?”
“Help me!” The little girl lay with her arms across the splintery tie beam. One leg sprawled atop the beam, the other hidden somewhere beneath her.
“I slipped, Kyle. Help me!” She looked at him with miserable shame.
“Get up. Quick!” He grabbed her arms and pulled.
“Ow. Something’s stuck,” she pleaded.
“Wheee!” The train screamed above the increasing rumble of the big engine. They could hear the clackity clack of the iron wheels. Kyle jumped behind his sister and grabbed her around the waist. “Pull, Jackie, pull!”
“Ow, ow, ow. My britches is caught on something, Kyle.”
The boy peered down through the gap below. A scrap of raw metal under the tie had hooked her pants leg far beyond his reach.
“Kyle, Do something!” she cried.
“Wheee,” the train screamed as it neared the bridge.
Frantic, Kyle moved back in front of her and grabbed the string in her belt loops. He pulled hard and the cord cut into his tender palm but wouldn’t give. Momma wouldn’t let him have a knife for another year. Desperately he began fumbling with the knot on her belly. The cotton cord was frayed and mixed with old chalk and impossible. He glanced down at the catwalk and back to Jackie. If he could just get her free they could jump. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled with all his might while she cried out.
“Kyle! It’s coming!”
“Pull!” Kyle screamed against the increasing roar of the Pacifico.
“Wheee!” the train screamed back.
“Help me!” she cried.
“Pull Jackie! You gotta pull!” He yelled into her face and saw his own terror reflected in her wide eyes. Hopeless.
The train roared onto the bridge and bore down on them with tremendous speed.
“Kyle! Oh Kyle!” she screamed pitifully. “Wish it gone! Wish it gone, Kyle! Wish it GONE!”
Kyle let his eyes slide off his sister down onto the safety of the catwalk below. Bright tears tumbled down his cheeks. Then, he grinned at her, a fierce and determined grin, a grin that gave her promise.
“Close your eyes!” he yelled over the noise.
“Wheee,” the train shrilled above the din.
Kyle stood up and turned. The massive engine charged down on him, a great iron roaring beast. He squared his shoulders, and raised his hands, and squeezed his eyes shut, and in the loudest voice he could find, for Jackie, he shouted the command, “I wish this train—GONE!”
Copyright © 2004 Dave Byus