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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2248491-The-Home-Guards
Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #2248491
The trains take Tramp and Hawk to a shelter in K-Falls, Oregon.

The Memoirs of a Tramp

The Home Guards


The Train Rider's adventure continues....



Tramp looked around the shelter, sizing the place up. He always chose to silently find a corner to park his frame pack to survey his surroundings when pulling up to a strange, sometimes hostile haven for the Forgotten. He and his friend and partner, Hawk, had just finished a grueling train ride that took them from New Mexico, up the California coastline, dropping them and their boxcar in the southern Oregon mountains for roughly 18 hours in white-out conditions, before mercifully carrying them here for a much needed rest. This shelter was different than most: Klamath Falls, Oregon (also known as "K-Falls") hosted the last remaining shelter geared towards the train rider. The pictures on its walls boasted silent tales of the history of the shelter. Tramp gazed at the pictures wondering how long this particular haven had been around.


Hawk had been here many times in his travels on the rails. He walked as if he was home, dropped his frameless pack in a corner, turned, and said, "Let's go partner." Tramp just stood there speechless. A man with a beard, which nearly touched the floor, looked up from his newspaper and gave a little, crooked smile showing that he was missing at least four or five of his front teeth. Tramp wondered how the man chewed his food. Tramp pulled Hawk over away from the old man and asked, "what the hell do you mean, 'let's go'? I'm not leaving my gear unattended, bro."


Hawk replied, "It's ok here. These guys will not touch our packs."


"Yeah, right" came Tramp's retort, still thinking his friend had lost his mind.


"Look, we are both beat to hell from the ride; cold, dirty and bruised. I don't want to lug our gear around with us and I know it's safe here, Tramp. I have been coming here for years. Now, come on," Hawk prodded, "let's get us a beer and give old Mr. Pain an ass kickin' of his own. We still have a few hours till chow."


Tramp reluctantly agreed. His partner had been riding trains for a long time. Hawk had taught Tramp all he knew about riding trains and surviving the brutal lifestyle that came with the territory, kept him alive in more than one tight spot. Tramp had learned to trust Hawk. He had come to call him a true friend; the man had never done him wrong. But he vowed that if his stuff was messed with in any way at all he was kickin' Hawk's ass all the way out of Oregon and back to New Mexico where they started this trek from. He would never forgive him if he got robbed; it was all they owned. His friend did have a point though; they were run down and beat up. The last thing Tramp wanted to do was tote his Kelty around on his back. Even pulling in off the trains for a rest his pack still weighed in at somewhere in the neighborhood of 50lbs. It boasted much more than that fully geared up with food, water and other supplies needed for the drifting that had become Tramp's lifestyle.


They went back into the main lounge where the old, ripped, stained couches sat sagging from years use. Many who took up residence on them looked just as old, ripped and stained from years of abuse to a lifestyle that only knew a one-way relationship. A lifestyle, that left her victims bitter and broken, to die a quiet, lonely, slow death. Many only knew her by the name of Brutal. When she was finished feeding on her prey, sucking the very life from them, Brutal went, with a seductive lure, to find her next victim. This person in Brutal's sights would be the young and rebellious; the strong and imaginative. Brutal made her way seem so wonderful; Ah, the adventure! Oh, the sights and experiences that awaited the young one who took her bait and left all they knew: family, friends, all that their parents had worked hard to provide for them. Brutal sucked them in and wrapped her arms around her prey, and they danced such a wonderful melody... Up higher and higher they traveled, drunk with delight! Then all at once Brutal begins to laugh her wicked, deep, dark laugh, drooling at her feed, her belly full of her preys energy and youthful beauty. She leaves her victim as suddenly as she came: five years, ten years, twenty years later her victims wake to find they have been cheated! They have been robbed their life and their dreams! Too late now, they fall on the ripped couch, waiting for their meal, talking to themselves, dreaming of what could have been... Ripped, torn and beaten. They walk around the streets tormented, insane from the pain they would have to endure until, mercifully, and they found passage into a realm where pain no longer existed. Few escaped Brutal's grasp once she has them; but for the lucky few, they have tales to tell, adventures to share, gratitude at the second chance at their dreams....


Tramp shivered as he began his second forty-ounce of beer. Even the alcohol could not relieve the cold he felt deep in his bones. Spending nearly three days living in the steel cage of their boxcar was simply too hard to just shake off. No, he was through with riding freight trains, hell, he wasn't even sure why he started the train thing anyways. Something different he supposed. He had spent years, ever since he was fourteen years old hitch hiking the country. He left his home in upstate New York at fourteen and never went back; he was thirty-one now and already feeling the brutality of the lifestyle he had chosen. He watched the men in the shelters he stayed at periodically to heal up from his treks, studied them, their faces, the way they carried themselves. It scared him to think that one day he would end up as one of them, scared him to death. Slender in build, Tramp stood six-foot tall. He had a lean ruggedness about him; long brown hair fell over his shoulders. He always wore his ball cap with his rim curled slightly at the edges and carried an impressive straight blade tucked down the back of his pants and usually concealed by either his backpack or a shirt tail he left un-tucked. During the winter months a coat did the job. Tramp never looked for trouble and tried to avoid problems of that nature if at all possible; but because of his slender build, someone always seemed to think they could bully him for one reason or another. His friend, Mr. Straight-Blade usually evened the odds to an equal playing field though.


As he took another pull from his beer bottle Tramp tried to remember what he disliked about his father so much that caused him to leave home... Stop it he told himself; he made his choices and had learned the hard way to live with them. Too proud to go home, he made his home in abandoned buildings at first in his home city. Then tired of constantly living with the bad memories that surrounded him as he walked the streets of his hometown he ventured out. Not too far at first; he would hitch hike to the next state just for the experience and adventure of it. Then make his way home. And do it all over again, until, he found himself roaming the country. Not really knowing where he was going or why. Just drifting from town to town, a little work here, a shelter there, another beer, and please pass the joint... Stop it! He told himself again, stop it! This conversation he played in his mind never helped; it usually pushed him to drink harder to shut that idiot in his head up. He often wondered if that nagging voice was the one that drove men out of their minds, ranting and raving as they walked down the street; another shiver.... He took another pull from his bottle and lit his 2nd cigarette in a row. He always chain-smoked when he drank. Tramp passed the bottle back to his partner, who also seemed to be lost in deep thought. Watch out, Tramp thought, you'll lose your mind if you can't shut little Mr. Voice up....


No, when he met Hawk in New Mexico he was tired, even at thirty-one he felt old; his bones snapped and joints popped in the morning like some sixty-year-old woke up in his stead. One thing was for sure; he was going back to the road. Hitch hiking was easier on the body and you could always get off the damned ride if you wanted to. On the trains you were trapped until the monster wanted to let you go, if he wanted to let you go. Many had been maimed and even killed riding the monster. The newest tale circulating around the train riders' circle was a rider by the name of Canada. Tramp and Hawk sported coveted packs due to the quality and extent of their gear. Tramp only knew of a select few who boasted such rigs; Canada was one of them. Canada too showcased the biggest frame pack Kelty made. The man himself (from Canada, hence his handle) stood well over six foot tall and weighed in at over 300 pounds. His rig not only included a fully functional "kitchen", with a small propane stove, but he also owned the only five-inch black and white TV Tramp knew of. When this man put his pack on (in awful shape due to the excessive weight he packed on his back) his pack was said to bow and bend and creak as he walked. Well, on Canada's last ride, tale has it he was caught in a train derailment. The number of cars varied, but the thread of the story was pretty much the same from tale bearer to tale bearer: When his boxcar was caught up in the runaway he was picked up and thrown from one end of the car against the far wall on the other end. He had his pack on at the time: Canada had broken his back in the wreck; and the dog that had been his companion for as long as anyone had known him was thrown as well and died due to massive internal bleeding. The campfire storytellers say that Canada plans on riding again, if he ever regained his ability to walk. The sad story seems to lend in the rider's bonds one to another; one of their own had fallen in action. Many a "retired" rider relives his adventures through the eyes of the younger riders. The "Home Guards", as the retired were referred to as, eager to share a beer or two and swap tales of their rides. Many a story exaggerated to lend to the memories eye.


No, Tramp was through beating what was left of his youth up on the trains. His only worry was how to break this to his friend. Hawk would never quit riding. It was the only kind of life hawk knew. Hawk was somewhere in hi mid forties and would end up as one of the Home Guards, of this Tramp had no doubt. But how would Tramp end up... He tried to shake off, both the cold and that nagging little voice once again, but no such luck for the drifter.


As they polished off their fifth forty-ounce and made their way back inside the warm, musty smelling Motel for the Homeless Hawk recognized a couple tramps he knew and made the proper introductions for his partner, then proceeded to catch up on recent news: "How was New Mexico lately...?" "Was that damn yard bull still making trouble for the boys in the train yard in San Diego...?" "Did you hear what happened to Shark...?" Tramp smiled to himself, more tales being born for the brews and the campfires....


Tramp worriedly made his way over to where he parked his pack and breathed relief as he saw it untouched and exactly as he left it. The old man was still sitting in his same seat. He smiled his toothless smile again. "Different kinda place we have here, ya know." Tramp smiled and decided to sit next to his new acquaintance. The smell as he approached the man mixed with the heat of being inside and the smoky cloud that hung in the air from the cigarette smoke made Tramp almost throw up in the mans lap. It wouldn't have made much of a difference in the man's appearance or scent to be sure. But he managed to keep it all down as he took his seat.


The retired rider politely asked Tramp how his trek went and he seemed to eat up every word as Tramp relayed their adventure. Tramp could see the longing in the man's eyes as he wished for his years back from Brutal....


A train whistle blew followed by a raspy voice over an ancient intercom system informing everyone dinner was now being served. Everyone began to make his or her way to the door, which lead to the chow hall. Tramp was amazed at the display of food before him as he walked down the server's line. He had his choice between meatloaf and chili as a main dish (he chose chili). To add to his feast he chose corn-bred (not all that good-too dry), green beans that weren't murdered and left for limp and mushy, a few chicken wings-barbecued, his choice of more fruit than he could keep track of-he chose applesauce and a large piece of cake that was soft and a hot cup of coffee (watered down, but what the hell, a couple extra sugars fixed that squeaky wheel) that hit the spot. There was only one rule in the house about food: You could eat all you wanted while in the kitchen, but nothing could be taken from the table to be snacked on later- for obvious reasons. Tramp was so full by the time he finished his plate he had no thoughts of taking anything with him anyways; it was an easy rule to abide by.


It was the other house rule that made things a little tough on a fellow: For those who wished to spend the night there in the mission they had to take a shower (the easy and much appreciated part) and after their shower they could no longer go outside (things looking downhill) for any store runs, socializing (drinking) or any other reason and wouldn't be allowed outside till 7:00am the next morning. And they had to wear a freshly washed pair of pajamas, courtesy of the management (uh oh) as they tried their best to keep any additional visitors such as lice, crabs or other cousins of the same family from taking up residence after their registered guest had made his goodbyes. They could smoke in the main lounge area until 10:00pm, where Tramp and Hawk had originally parked their backpacks, as long as the butt cans were used and the commotion was kept to a minimum. And the establishment even provided a TV for their viewing pleasure that got the local channels.


Tramp felt naked without his clothes and pack. He felt foolish walking around in pajamas and his boots; he did take comfort in knowing that everyone else was in the same boat. He made his way to the lounge to find Hawk, also dressed in the newest fashion statement, and couldn't help but laugh about their new appearance. Their laughter grew to tears and tramp thought he made need another shower due to pissing his pajamas. But he managed to contain himself. He rolled up and smoked his last cigarette of the day as did hawk, then made his way to his bunk bed and fell into a deep sleep almost instantly.


The men were awakened at 6:30am the next morning. Breakfast was not nearly as elaborate as dinner but no complaints came from the recipients. There was a choice between a hot and cold breakfast: hot oatmeal with toast or small packages of cereal with powdered milk-limit two boxes per customer. It being a cold January morning, most men chose the hot fuel to start their day with; Weak coffees completed the menu-leaded only, and please pay before pumping.


Tramps heart was heavy this morning. He knew that he had to part ways with his trusted friend today. Tramp had avoided the conversation altogether for the most part; although he had dropped hints of wanting out of the train rides on a few brief occasions. Hawk would never give up riding the trains. He had been doing it almost longer than Tramp had been alive. It was the only way the man knew; he cut his path long ago and made his home among this special breed of man. Tramp had no desire to ride any more trains and had no intention of ever climbing on one again. As they sipped their coffee stalling for a few more minutes until they were asked to move on and begin their day, Tramp told his friend what was on his mind. Hawk replied that he knew this trek was their last together; he smiled a knowing smile and each wished the other man his best. They vowed to keep an eye out for each other. Tramp, grateful for his friend's understanding and warm send-off put his pack on and headed for the door. He turned for one last wave and saw Hawk standing next to his gear, hat crooked, clothes hanging off his rugged short frame at just over 5 '. He would miss their time together and the experiences that Hawk had guided him through. One last wave and Tramp stepped outside to the crisp, fresh mid January morning air. Snow was beginning to fall covering the ground with a fresh blanket of fluffy white, pure flakes; A fresh start to a new adventure.


As Tramp made his way through the small town looking for the nearest on ramp heading south, he wondered if he shouldn't just make one last trek across the country home. They say life is full of cycles and that things have a way of coming around full circle. Maybe it was time to complete this cycle in his life; stare down the demons that haunted him daily and kept him drifting not even sure where he was going next. He knew he did not want to end up as so many other men had. Lonely. Lost to the point of madness, angry because of the pain of their existence on this earth. No, he wanted to be loved; he wanted to love; he wanted to find himself and take back what he surrendered as a teenager to an enemy who wanted to destroy him. Brutal would not have her way with him; she would not claim him as she had so many others. Did he have the courage to face his fears and failures? Did he posses the will to start again and live, as he really wanted to live: To be able to look back on his life and be proud of the man he was. To know and have the respect of a family he could call his own? One step at a time he told himself as doubt tugged at the corners of his thoughts, one step at a time.


Tramp set his pack down and leaned it up against the guardrail of the southbound on ramp; he would travel south into California and then start slowly making his way east. As he stood next to his pack with his thumb out he made this promise to himself: Piece by piece, he would begin to look at himself, to see what he had become. He would evaluate his weaknesses and try to build upon his strengths. These thoughts came as vague little whispers that he couldn't quite grasp at yet. It proved to be the beginning of another kind of trek; a journey into a land that would test everything Tramp believed in, a journey that scratched at his very soul. Cars entering the ramp passed him by as if to say, "we don't serve your kind here, friend". Yes, step-by-step he would make his way home and with each step and every mile would come the hope of a better life; he couldn't remember the last time he was really happy. Where would he begin, how does a man begin to build a new life; how does a person out run the wreckage he has caused himself and others?


After a couple dozen or so cars passed him one gracefully pulled over. The break lights always a warm greeting, winking to him as if to say, "come on friend, I'll take you a piece down the road". As Tramp walked up to the car toting his pack the driver popped the trunk to allow him to store his pack. If given the choice, Tramp would have preferred not to be separated from his gear in such a manner. More than one drifter lost their meager belongings to a drive-away after the passenger got out and went to retrieve their things; however, Tramp, not wanting to upset anyone followed the driver's lead; he figured if things got out of hand his straight blade would straighten things out. He had never had to use a weapon against another while hitch hiking and hoped he would never have to either.


Tramp opened the door to a smiling face. "Cold out this morning!" was the greeting. "You bet," tramp replied.


"Where are you headed, friend?"


"As far south as you can take me, then east, on my way home."


"Well, I can take you as far as San Francisco anyways."


"Good enough for me!" Tramp replied gratefully. He wondered how long it would take to get across the country: A week, maybe a little longer. He smiled to himself as he soaked up the heater's generous gift of warmth.


Going home... Sounded funny... As he sat, looking out the window, shadows brushing past the car whispering outlines that made up the scenery, deep in thought, wishing he didn't have to talk to yet another stranger; wishing he didn't have to wear that fake smile to pacify someone he would never see again after this helping hand moved on to wherever he was headed... He thought of a fourteen-year-old boy hitch hiking his way out of his home city. Angry, wanting to be anywhere but where he was at. Now he was going home to the very place he ran away from so many years ago. Life cycles, funny things... He remembered how scared he was when he actually got his first ride....


The road waits for Tramp....


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