One Hundred Fifty Edition
by John Delach
October 13, 2016 marks the third anniversary since I began this blog and this is my 150th edition. I first penned, “Through the Heartland,” in 2001 and I included it in my 2011 anthology, “The Big Orange Dog and Other Stories.” I love it and have edited it since then tweaking this and that. Perhaps this is the final edition? In any event, I present it to celebrate these two mile-stones:
Through the Heartland
Ten hours out of Chicago, the sun outraces the train as it sets across the flat, western horizon. Nighttime has come to the Great Plains and Kansas speeds by under the brilliance of countless stars shining across a clear, prairie July sky. Blackened fields, silhouetted by a three-quarter moon, stretch out to meet the stars at the horizon.
He sits alone in the dome car of a westbound Santa Fe Chief, staggered by the scenery, unable to sleep. At 17 it is all too much, too grand to miss. Reaching into his shirt pocket for his cigarettes, he launches one out of the pack and into his mouth with a practiced skill. Clicking open his Zippo, he strikes the wheel and lights another Marlboro. In a few minutes, his eyes adjust to the darkness of the dome car lighted only by muted bulbs outlining the aisle and the glow of his cigarette.
Both the fields and the sky draw his attention and his thoughts wander with them. This is the furthest he has ever been from home and each mile he travels opens the distance. Ahead lays Oklahoma, the deserts of New Mexico, the mountains of Arizona and the Continental Divide. He remembers the exhilaration earlier that day when the train crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri and the West. What about his destination, Riverside, California? What will he discover there, what will he discover about himself? The process began earlier that day when he fell into the company of a group of sailors straight out of the Great Lakes Training Center on their way to join the Seventh Fleet. They treated him as an equal, playing cards and drinking beer. He’s already changing although he cannot explain it.
He becomes part of the rhythm and motion of the train united with the darkness, the Luna landscape and the stars.
Suddenly, he’s startled by a visual jolt. In the distance there is a light. “No, it is not, but wait, it is a light, a street light. I’ll be damned.”
It passes. “Hold on” he thinks, “here comes another one.” It is about a mile down the track. Then another and another, the intervals between light poles drawing closer and closer together until a small town appears, a few buildings, a gas station, some others, maybe stores or a post office, all illuminated as if to hold back the sea of night.
It passes in a blur. Blackness returns as the gaps between streetlights lengthens and lengthens until they are no more.
Only Kansas at night returns once again.
“Wow.” Lighting up another Marlboro, he returns to his fascination with the magic of it all…Sleep will have to wait. “What will come next?”