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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Fantasy · #2264005
Part two, the story continues . . .
The ARROWBOUGH Lantern Box

          Some small amount of darkness dimmed the light of day underneath the caboose, and Delicious' eyes could not at first discern. Finally he spotted her across the caboose, sitting on the far side foundation beam. Delicious did not know if she had seen him nor if he might somehow evade the glance of her eyes.

          Delicious thought, What will I do? I do not wish to be discovered by a human at this particular moment of my life. Bowing his head, Delicious began to pray. Our heavenly father, please deliver me. Help me swiftly in this, the dread of my heart. Please give me the understanding of what I must do. Comfort me with wisdom and strength that I might make the correct decision, whether to flee or whether to remain.

         Delicious peered across toward the woman. She appeared innocent enough, but the hair on the back of his neck was still raised, and little goosebumps galloped across the exterior of his spine. Reckon I will stay put and see what it comes to, he thought. A dull glint beside his foot beckoned to his eyes, and Delicious reached for a small penknife which had been throwing off the light. He pocketed it.

          The lady, Delicious thought as he peered at her, looked as if she might be middle-aged or thereabout. Perhaps forty five . . . She was pleasant to look upon. Beside her sat a small basket of some sort. A picnic basket?

         Delicious could not with complete certitude retain his position comfortably. There he was, stuck between the unwished-for affections of three rivals. He knew two of those rivals sought to deliver him to harm. Right there in front of him, the wheels of the train spun onward in a cutting in two position. How could he spring that snare?

         And Mister Trepidation had taken up a watchful eye in a corner of his heart, salivating at the nearness of Delicious' mind. Then there was the specter of the lady hovering over him. Two evils and an unknown factor raked him over the coals in a manner close akin to medieval torture. Should I entertain the thought of a picnic? This thought entered his mind unbidden.

         "Gonna catch that train, catch that train, catch that train-n and take me a ride south of the Mason-Dixon line." The song burst from him of its own accord. "Gonna catch that train somewhere near Elmira-a."

         Delicious began his song unconsciously, then knowing the song would certainly draw the attention of the lady on the other side of the caboose, it became deliberate. "Catch that train-uh-ain. Catch that train-uh-ain-uh-ain." Somewhere between the unconscious and the deliberate, Delicious became cognitive that perhaps a picnic with a stranger was preferable to suffering the whims of Mister Trepidation or being dragged underneath the wheels of a train. I sure hope she has some fried chicken in that basket, Delicious thought. Or perhaps my impression of the basket is entirely wrong. Whether or not the basket was a basket of despair, a basket of hope or a picnic basket no longer consumed his attention. As this thought erased itself from his mind, Delicious looked across the caboose, and two pairs of eyes began the process of introducing themselves.

Maria sighed. Mister Lincoln is beyond cute, she thought. And Delicious is stunning. She giggled. The lantern box proved to be not as small as she had at first surmised. Mister Lincoln and Delicious had walked her the entire length and breadth of it. Tonight would be her first night in the lantern box. Delicious and Mister Lincoln had made her a sort of bedroom, and Mister Lincoln had given her an old shirt to improvise for a pillow. Delicious had given her a tiny penlight. She really liked it. It had a small crank she could turn to charge it. Yay.

         She touched her face. Ouch. She just could not get used to it. Betty Sue, Mister Lincoln and Delicious had all told her how pretty she was, but her face was rectangular. She looked a sight, she thought. She had become a miniature version of herself. Everything appeared the same, except her face. Her face was now slightly elongated and had taken on the properties of a framed photograph.

          Framed, she realized. Yes, yes, I have been framed. He he. She giggled so she would not cry. He he. She rolled up Mister Lincoln's old shirt and lay down to sleep. The frame around her face made it impossible for her to sleep on her side as she was accustomed. As a result, Maria lay awake for some time recounting the day's events till into the midst of her thoughts sleep drifted.

         Sometime later, if Maria had been awake, she might have heard the footsteps of a dream approaching. The dream circled her twice before breaking the barrier which separates dreams from those who dream. The dream that had chosen Maria then fitted itself into her sleep pattern, and Maria began to dream.

         A trial is in progress as the first act of the dream opens. The defendant sits by her lawyer, a scarf covering her face. The prosecution is making opening arguments. "Your Honor, the prosecution intends to prove that the defendant did willfully and without remorse, on the fourteenth day of February 1979, impersonate a photograph in defiance of the laws of the state of Virginia. That is the lesser crime the defendant is charged with. When she was apprehended, she claimed to be a tintype photograph, which brought about the charge of impersonating an antique. My goodness! What is Virginia coming to? The state has no witnesses to the first charge, rather we will rely on circumstantial evidence to prove our case. Therefore, be it known to the court that we will be calling the defendant to the stand as a hostile witness."

         "Very well, Mr. Prosecutor. And be it known to the prosecution that the burden of proof in a circumstantial case is much greater. Lawyer for the defense, you may proceed with your opening arguments." His Honor winked at Mister Lincoln.

          Fire danced a tango in the eyes of Mister Lincoln as he stood up to his full height of six inches and a half. "Thank you, Your Honor. The defense intends to allow the prosecution to strangle itself on its own words."

         "Objection, Your Honor," the prosecutor interjected.

         His Honor spoke harshly, "Mr. Prosecutor, exactly what is it about opening arguments that you do not understand? You are now being instructed for the second time to allow the defense to make its opening arguments without your interruption. Proceed, Mister Lincoln."

         Mister Lincoln cleared his throat, "As I recall, I did mention the self-strangulation of the prosecution. Further, be it known to the court that the defendant is the sweetest, cutest, and most honorable girl in this courtroom. Her innocence will point itself out. I object that the learned prosecutor has referred to my client as hostile." And underneath his breath he continued, "Mr. Prosecutor is fixing to learn the true meaning of hostility."

         The prosecutor was on his feet, "Objection, Your Honor. May it please the court, everyone in this courtroom has the knowledge that the word hostile is a figure of legal speech."

          Mister Lincoln countered, "Your Honor, the defense apologizes to the court for the prosecutor's outburst, and reminds the prosecutor he needs to pay more attention to his articulations rather than the prancing of himself around the courtroom like a well-fattened pig that can't make up its mind which mudhole it wants to wallow in. Perhaps if his mother was in the spectators section of His Honor's courtroom, the prosecutor might find it possible to keep an eye of civility upon his tongue."

         "Objection overruled. Mr. Prosecutor, as the defense has so elegantly brought to the court's attention, the prosecution is in dire need of keeping an eye on its tongue. Mr. Prosecutor, please refrain from interrupting Mister Lincoln during his opening arguments. Otherwise, I will consider placing you under a gag order. I am in the possession of this courtroom. Henceforth, there will be order in my court. Allow me to demonstrate the fate which you will come face to face with if your lack of etiquette continues to flaunt this court's decorum."

         "Simeon, come on over here and make the acquaintance of the prosecutor."

         "Yes sir, Your Honor."

          Simeon was a Turk, or perhaps he was an Armenian, his being either one of the two did not alter his size. Simeon was also His Honor's bailiff. Simeon extricated his height of seven feet from the chair beside His Honor's bench, which he seemed to have somehow been screwed into, and instigated his three hundred pound bulk into motion toward the prosecution's table.

         "Simeon," His Honor spoke. "Do you still have in your possession that foul, piss-soaked gag you sometimes carry around with you?"

         "Yes sir, Your Honor. Your Honor knows I always have that thing in my pocket. She's for emergencies, Your Honor. Of course, she's wrapped in plastic. My oh my, she does have her a tendency to quieten down unruly prosecutors, doesn't she?" Whereupon His Honor and Simeon exchanged a wink which went unnoticed by those in the courtroom.

         "You're a good man, Simeon. Simeon, I want you to give this prosecutor a hug to show you harbor no ill will in his favor at this time. If you will, put a little emphasis in that hug to put it fresh in his mind that he's only one interruption away from taking up an intimate relationship with your gag."

         "If it is so ordered Mister Prosecutor, you will find your disruptions of this court precluded by the sweet taste of my bailiff's gag in your mouth."

         Simeon approached the prosecutor and embraced him in a bear hug. The hug was gentle in Simeon's estimation, but had the effect of incapacitating the prosecutor. The prosecutor was not injured, rather he was rendered incapable of functioning normally. A slight sound emanated from within Simeon's grasp, sounding in the courtroom somewhat like two or three grains of popcorn popping in slow motion. The prosecutor winced in embarrassment.

         "Mr. Prosecutor," His Honor said. "I believe you and I now have a complete understanding of the hierarchy in this courtroom, do we not? We will now proceed with this case."

         Mister Lincoln resumed, "The prosecutor attended which college of law to obtain his degree, Your Honor? Your Honor, I hesitate to mention this in your courtroom, but I find myself questioning the veracity of the prosecutor's bona fides. Everyone else above the age of twelve residing in this state has the knowledge that a defendant can not be compelled to give testimony against themselves. It is the prerogative of the defense . . . Your Honor, I hereby make a motion to have the state's case dismissed. Permission for the defendant and her counsel to approach the bench, Your Honor?"


         Mister Lincoln whispered to Maria, "Just do what I told you when we get up there, honey." Mister Lincoln and Maria slowly made their way to stand before the judge. "Your Honor, may I present my client Maria?" His Honor nodded his agreement. In what seemed to be one motion, Maria curtsied, removed the scarf from her face, and performed a pirouette. An audible gasp of pleasure and surprise arose from the spectators of the proceedings. The judge banged his gavel several times to regain order in the court, but it was of no consequence. The spectators stood as one, and applauded the defendant. And on his feet again, the prosecutor stuttered, "Object-ject-jection, Your-r Honor."

         "Mr. Prosecutor," the judge rebuked him. "I wish it was in my power to do more than admonish you, and I may yet consider it. After seeing the beauty of this innocent young lady, it is the opinion of this court that your case is without merit. Further, it is the suggestion of this court that you repeat your legal training, and you are barred from this courtroom forever. Bailiff, escort that gentleman out of my courtroom. And Simeon, be so kind before you commence your escort services, would you grab that fellow by the scruff of his neck and belatedly stuff your unique gag in his mouth? It is so ordered. Case dismissed!"

          Maria smiled, "Thank you, Your Honor."

         "It's my pleasure young lady. I have never seen someone so beautifully framed. Tell me, is that frame made of sugar maple or perhaps cherry veneer?" Before Maria's eyes could take any thought to communicate her displeasure, the judge continued. "Sweetheart, this old judge is only teasing. You are absolutely exquisite. You're free to go sweet one, and the court apologizes for causing you stress."

         Maria stirred in her sleep, and her rapid eye movement came to a halt. She slept peacefully till morning arrived.

Mister Trepidation existed as the epitome of ugliness and evil. His one natural desire was to scatter the seeds of hopelessness. His strict education had impressed the fact upon him that one must not only scatter the seeds, one must water those seeds till they have sprouted and fertilize those seeds till they have attained adulthood. Sometimes, in the narrative of the life of a rebellious agent of trepidation, revenge will make an entrance into the heart of that individual. This is what has happened to Mister Trepidation. He has become beyond redemption. Whatever glory he may find in this life will be bestowed upon him by himself.

          Here he was, thought Mister Trepidation, licking his wounds instead of planning his next objective. His parents were no good and rotten, but into his life they had passed down a semblance of disorder, and he was thankful to a degree, but the implementation of order might become necessary in his current project. "Be that as it may, I am going to completely break that horehound candy stick into segments," he grunted. "Segments," he laughed and hollered and screamed. "Once I get finished licking my wounds . . ."

The rubber bands were in the midst of holding their monthly conference. It was held some time previously to Delicious deciding to utilize the rubber bands in the construction of his ladder. Junior, the smallest rubber band was absent, as he was taking a nap. Vern held the floor at the moment. Those present other than Vern, were Sly, Louisa and Delphenia. "Well," Vern spoke. "We did ourselves fine the last time our assistance was called for. Dang it, that was some fine shooting. We launched that tintype photograph and the object of our affection just keeled over on her face when it struck her on the forehead. I wish I had had a camera when that new girl regained consciousness. The look on her face . . . Precious! At this time I will turn this meeting over to Sly."

         Sly was a bit stretched out from wear and overuse, or maybe it was the effect of his molecules slowly disintegrating. His meanness carried the DNA of relentlessness. He stepped up and took possession of the floor. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said. "Stretch yourselves out and give me an ear. Today, I put before you this question. What kind of a band are we? Dang it, we are rubber bands, and we ain't got it in us to allow a no-account piece of candy to get the best of us, do we? We ain't about to sit here on our over-fattened haunches and be flummoxed by a no-good, dangling participle even if his name is Delicious, are we? No sir, we ain't.

         Vern began, "Hey Sly, you are insinuating I am fat."

         Sly screamed, "Shut your mouth, Vern! I know your waistline is five times broader than that of the average rubber band, and you are partial to the word delicious, but hear me out afore you open that fat trap of yours."

         Sly was in the process of exhibiting the symptoms of being slightly irate. His jowls were flapping, and his normal, blue countenance had taken on a reddish hue which rendered him into a semblance of purple. The whole of him was a wallow in perspiration. Yet, he stood there with confidence in his being. "Here's my plan folks. Delphenia honey, you are piece of work. You are going to sidle up to Delicious one morning and make certain suggestions to him, wrap yourself around his confidence. Afore you unwrap yourself, you're going to make it understood that he can use us rubber bands to construct a ladder so that new girl can escape the lantern box. Therein lies the subterfuge. We rubber bands are going to commit ourselves an act of sabotage. After we sway that fellow Delicious to our way of thinking, we are going to procure the services of Delphenia's grandfather. Whether we wheedle him or outright lie to him makes no measurable amount of difference. Regardless, we are going to get his assistance. You all know how fragile and stretched out with age he is. He's so frayed and brittle he's liable to break at any moment. Once we get him located in the most opportune position of that ladder, something's going to give when he's stepped on. Splat, down comes Delicious! Let's put it to a vote. Everyone in favor of my motion raise your hands." Eight hands shot into the air, and the motion carried. Sly immediately adjourned the meeting, and the rubber bands dispersed, each slinking off to their own skulduggery.

Betty Sue was listless. She missed South Dakota. She missed walking in the hills, finding a cold water spring to drink of, the yellow moon at night, her parents, the real blue sky . . . Virginia was alright in a pinch, but it was not home. Truth be told, life in the lantern box was tormenting her heart. Suddenly, into her mind a little song from her childhood came bouncing along. Oh, she just loved that song, and she started to sing it.

         "Three dandelions, three dandelions, three dandelions.
The velvet dew on the grass had dried,
When three dandelions in my yard I spied.
One a frilled, green rocket with a yellow-tipped nose,
That sways in the air when the wind blows.
The second a soft feathered, sparkling sphere,
Releasing her tufts when the wind comes near.
The third with her pursed leaves bitter sour,
A pretty little dandelion flower.
Three dandelions, three dandelions, three dandelions."

          She hadn't sang that song since she was a small girl, she thought. However, the song still worked. Her heart seemed to be not as heavy. She could smile. Her intentioned activity for this day was to lay out a plan for the journey to South Dakota after she and Delicious had escaped the lantern box. As she hummed the song, she began to think about the journey ahead, and other things which had been lying torpid in her mind.

         She had been born and raised in South Dakota. Both her parents had been ADORNO pencil sharpeners, although her mother had been of the premium variety.They originated somewhere in the city of New York of respectable parents. They were getting on in age, maybe a little slower as time went by, but they were perfectly fine, still viable after all those years. She remembered coming home from school one day long ago. Her parents had not been at home when she had arrived, and they had not returned by the next day. She had never seen them again. Sorrow had built itself a house in her heart during this time and dwelled there for a long while.

          That afternoon her neighbor had told her what had happened. She still could not believe it. An old, horse-drawn wagon had came to her parents home, two men had went inside. A few minutes had gone by, then the two men had carried her tied up parents to the back of their wagon and put them inside. There had been a hand-painted sign on the wagon. Joe's Scrap Iron, the sign had read. Her heart had wailed as she had listened to her neighbor. She had thought, Kidnapped! Sold for scrap iron! What could be worse for an ADORNO pencil sharpener? Tears had fallen from her eyes almost constantly as she remembered. For a few years she had tried to find her parents, but she had found no evidence of their existence. Once she got back to South Dakota, she would begin the search once more.

          Maybe, she thought, Delicious could construct a small wagon for our journey. We could buy a miniature pony to pull it. She realized South Dakota was far from Virginia, perhaps three months of travel being as how they would only travel at night. The wise thing in their situation would be to hide out during the daylight hours. No amount of caution could be wasted during their journey she knew. She would almost rather expire than be forced to live in a box again. She shuddered. Of course, she thought, they would need supplies. They would need a store of food, some blankets, and other bare necessities. They could find their water for drinking and bathing along the way. At some point between the song and her planning, she had become happy. Relief brought a smile to her face. Maybe Mister Lincoln would lend her some paper, and she could make a list of everything, she thought. She was tired, she closed her eyes and lay down to rest for a while.

Delicious sat underneath the caboose for a moment as he and the lady exchanged penetrating looks. The lady then beckoned in his direction, held up her basket and called out to him, "There's enough for the both of us in my basket, if you was of a mind to join me." Paying no nevermind to the reservations rapidly trickling into his heart, Delicious stood up.

          "Ma'am, I'd be pleased to make your acquaintance." Delicious leisurely walked the length and breadth of the caboose's foundation beams till he came to a halt by her side.

         She eyed him up and down, and likewise, he allowed his eyes to meander over her. "Amelia. My name is Amelia," she said. There's no need to be formal, we are fellow travelers. Pull up a chair and sit down, why don't you?" Again she held up the basket. "This sustenance may be cold, but its delicious." Delicious sat down on the foundation beam beside her within arm's reach.

         Amelia spoke, "I can offer you some lemonade, some peanut butter cookies and a spicy sausage sandwich on rye bread if you'd care to partake. Here, allow me to fix you a plate. Where are you traveling to? Me, I'm going to Virginia."

         "I'll have the spicy sausage and some lemonade if you have extra, Miss Amelia. I don't yet have a destination in mind, just traveling to somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. Do you live in Virginia?"

         "Pshaw! There is plenty to go around, 'sides you're company. Yes, Virginia is my home, it's south of the line. If you had a hankering to, you could travel along with me. Would you care for some horseradish on your sausage?"

         "Yeah, put a little horseradish on that sandwich, Miss Amelia." Holding out his hand, Delicious continued speaking. "Allow me to properly introduce myself, Miss Amelia. My name is Delicious."

         After shaking his hand Amelia spoke, "Come let's eat, Delicious. Whereupon, handing him a tin can full of lemonade and his sandwich wrapped in a cloth napkin, she ventured, "Delicious, now tell me, are we or ain't we going to be traveling together?"

         Between the taking of bites from his sausage, Delicious responded, "Miss Amelia, I'd be right pleased to escort you southward."

         "Delicious, I am happy you have chosen to accompany me. Let's eat our food, and later perhaps we will tell each other our tales if you are of a mind to. They set to silently till the meal was gone.

         After Delicious wiped the horseradish from his lips when he finished eating, he casually commented. "Thank you, Miss Amelia, I did not know sausage and horseradish tasted so good. Miss Amelia, do you realize I am a horehound candy stick? I mean, how could you help not noticing? I am thankful to have met you and to have received your welcome. You're so kind. Someday, maybe I will tell you some events of my life, but not today. Of course, if you was a wanting to talk about yourself, my ears are open."

         "Truthfully Delicious, I observed you the moment you entered this space beneath the caboose. Certainly, my curiosity rose to a high peak. And yes, after their second look at you, my eyes reasoned you were a horehound candy stick. They also sorted you out as a somewhat handsome fellow. I wondered what had brought you to this point of your life. Let me finish this lemonade, and I will familiarize you with myself."

         "Thank you, Miss Amelia."

         "Well, I suppose you are certainly curious about me also, Delicious. First I will tell you how I came to be here underneath this caboose. He he. Then I will say a little something about my life in Virginia."

         "Delicious, I take these trips around once a year. The reason I travel in the manner you have observed, is not because I can not afford a train ticket. The reason behind my daring is dare herself. All my life I have known her. She is a humble woman, and courageous. Sometimes, I find myself believing we are of some relation. We find it wonderful to outwit the railroad bulls. I've lost track of the number of trains I have persuaded to transport me. He he. Terror dwelled in my heart the first time I tried it. You might ask, then why do I do it? And I might find myself hard put to give you an answer. Adrenaline perhaps?"

         "Delicious, I live just outside the outskirts of Clintwood, Virginia on a small farm. My sister, Rosalee lives with me. We raise a garden every year, canning whatever we do not eat. She and I grow corn, white half runners, squash, onions, lettuce and turnips. I could just go on and on with that list, but you get my drift. I have one child, a daughter who is thirteen years old. Her name is Maria. She's a beautiful child, and she is presently attending a boarding school in Arkansas.

         "Delicious, not far from here there is a small creek with sweet drinking water. It has hidden itself well from prying eyes. I always camp there when I come this way. You and I should make our first stopover beside that creek. We could wait it out till nightfall to bend a train's arm in Elmira. I have more food in my basket for our supper. What do you think, Delicious?

         "I'm agreeable, Miss Amelia. I admit I am kind of tired and hungry. I have been imagining the smell of fried chicken for quite some time."

         "He he," Amelia giggled. "The place of our exit will be coming up soon. Just follow my lead, and we will have a smooth transition. This train's going to slow down like an old woman walking soon. We can just jump off." Amelia shifted her position by a foot or so. "Look there where I was sitting, Delicious. See that little door? It opens right up if you twist the handle. There's a small ledge outside for maintenance purposes where we can wait till we're ready to jump."

Betty Sue could still function without her cutting edge, although it was somewhat harder, as she was not complete. She didn't mind. She could walk, talk and breathe, but she couldn't sharpen pencils. She had not been able to sharpen them all that well anyway, but Delicious had said he could remedy that fault. She was worried now about Delicious. "Delicious, what's wrong? Delicious, wake up," she cried out."

         Unbeknownst to himself, Delicious had been standing there in the lantern box for a period of time, absently holding Betty Sue's cutting edge. "Betty Sue, I am awake now. How long have I been standing here like this?"

         "Probably ten minutes or so. What were you thinking of? I spoke to you several times, but you didn't seem to hear. It's getting lighter in the lantern box, Delicious. Morning will be here soon. I know it won't be a Thursday, but it will be morning all the same."

         "Yes, Betty Sue. I should discontinue this for tonight, everyone will awaken soon. Meet me here tomorrow night, if you will. Come on, let's get an hour or so of sleep." Delicious pulled strongly on the interlocked rubber bands, and they fell to the floor of the lantern box. Cries of consternation and embarrassment arose. Several other rubber bands wailed out about a pain in their tailbones. Free of remorse from his previous actions, Delicious put his arms around Betty Sue and kissed her. Thereafter, they went off to find their beds. Behind them Sly cursed.

"I am awake, might as well make a few plans," mumbled Delicious. Instead of cutting a large hole in the lantern box as I first determined, perhaps I should construct a platform so Maria will be able to position herself there and wait for the impostor's appearance. Poor, little Maria, I know she is suffering. I will get her out of this lantern box, and I will make sure she gets back to her Mama. At the same time, I will contrive to release myself from this immoral contraption. Yeah, Maria must not deviate from the routine which her enemy used to deceive her into this lantern box. Yeah, a platform is called for. I will construct it, and Maria will wait there for another Thursday to dawn. When the other Maria appears and lifts up the lid of the lantern box to peek inside, Maria will strike her sharply on the forehead with a hairbrush or some other personal item the impostor has left behind. In theory, this act will lead to Maria regaining her rightful place. If it fails, I will use Betty Sue's cutting edge as I planned originally. My success can not be denied. Perhaps I should rest for a while now, sleep for a few hours if I can.

A few weeks before setting out on her train trip to New York, Amelia was worried, almost sick with it. Maria had been so hateful. No matter how many times she asked herself what had happened, no credible answer was forthcoming. She had noticed it yesterday. She had asked Maria to bring her the lantern box, and Maria had told her that she had a pair of legs, to go get it herself. Gracious me, thought Amelia. Wonder what is the cause of her malfunction? "I will make observations and find out where my sweet daughter has gone," Amelia whispered to herself.

The train had slowed distinctively as Delicious once more began to recall his experience upon it. Of a sudden he was hearing the voice of Amelia. "Delicious it's time to make our departure. Open the door, climb out and stand on the ledge, then I will hand you my basket." Delicious opened the door, stepped out onto the ledge and reached for the basket. Then he waited till Amelia stood beside him. They watched as groves of trees and railroad tracks receded from their vision. Meanwhile, just up the tracks a half mile or so, a freight wagon poked along. A tired, thirsty and over-worked horse drew this overwhelming burden. Occasionally from within the bed of the wagon could be heard the clink of iron, steel and tin clanking one against the other. The tailgate of the wagon bore these letters, Joe's Scrap Iron.Two men sat on the unsprung seat of the wagon, the springs gone for scrap iron perhaps. One man held the reins of the horse, the other held a half-empty, quart jar of the local moonshine. It was apparent from their singing that both passengers had drunk a fair amount of the jar's contents. The effort put forth in their song seemed to be considerable, but the notes coming out of their mouths resembled the sound of two screech owls engaging in a frenzied debate over the ownership of some captured prey.

          "Bury me on a hillside when I cry. Bury me on a hillside when I die. Bury me deep, bury me shallow, bury me with my pint of moonshine by my side. Bury me in a groundhog hole, my darling. Bury me in a groundhog hole."

         "I say Jim, wonder how our employees are faring back there in the wagon bed? They's a load and a half we're hauling. Reckon are they still alive? Maybe we oughta pull over and give them a drink of this here 'shine," Joe hollered.

         "Whatcha wanna waste a couple of swallers of good 'shine for Joe? I here tell as them ADORNO pencil sharpeners are tougher than a sackful of barbed wire staples. Leave them be, and give me that jar."

         "Go easy on this jar, Jim," Joe growled as he handed Jim the jar. "And pull her on over, I aim to check our load."

         Jim turned the horse to the side of the road and the wagon came to a stop. Joe proceeded to climb down from the seat and stride to the rear of the wagon. Joe called out, "How you all doing in there? Has the load shifted any?"

         A tired voice answered him, "The load is fine, and we are coping with matters. The missus is very thirsty. Can you spare some water?"

         "We'll be to the ford in a few minutes. You all can fill your canteens when we get there. We gonna get back on the road now." Joe retraced his steps, reboarded the wagon, and once more the horse began to poke along the road.

         Behind them a train appeared chooing its way slowly along the tracks. "Choo choo. Choo choo choo-o. Choo choo." A puff of smoke and steam burst into the air as the train relieved itself of a belch. "Giddy-up Old Bob, I aim to beat that train to the ford," shouted Jim. Jim did not reckon on the tiredness of his horse, nor Old Bob's reluctance. Ever so steadily the train gained ground as the horse stumbled along. Far short of the ford, the train pulled abreast of the wagon and began to inch its way past it. "Tarnation," Jim shouted. "I ain't never gonna beat that train."

As Delicious waited for Amelia's signal to jump from the train, he noticed a horse-drawn wagon laboring along on the dirt road which sometimes paralleled the railroad tracks. As the caboose approached the wagon Delicious could read the sign on its tailgate. Joe's Scrap Iron, the letters spelled out. In just a few minutes the wagon was left behind. Around a bend in the railroad tracks the train shuddered and groaned. It was in this moment that Amelia spoke, "When you land on the ground Delicious, just allow your lower legs to relax and sit down on your hind end. Let's jump now."

         They jumped. Coming down on a grassy knoll, Delicious let his legs go limp and sat down on his hindquarters. Looking around, he saw Miss Amelia land on her feet, stutter-stepping to keep her balance. Miss Amelia said as she pointed, "Let's head for those big oak trees, Delicious."

         Down the slope they made their way, coming at its end to a small stream. "We will cross the creek here, Delicious. It's only two feet deep here. On the other side of that copse of oak trees there lies a thicket of spruce trees. We'll find a spot to camp there. Follow me."

         "Right you are, Miss Amelia. I'm close behind you."

         Upon entering the water, Delicious dog paddled till he emerged on the creek's yon side. Amelia waded across beside him. Through the oaks they navigated and came face to face with the trees of spruce. Such trees! Some of the spruces were sixty feet tall or more and covered with branches down to the earth. There existed the possibility they could camp undiscovered here indefinitely if they so wanted. The sweet smell of cool water wafting above the creek, clean blue sky, the warm sun dappling the evergreen boughs, the crickets' serenade in C minor, and calming cups of spearmint tea waiting to be made; these things all profusely beckoned them. Amelia led the way. Moving aside selective boughs of a large spruce, she revealed for the eyes of Delicious the aperture of a small cave with a come hither expression on its face. Joy splashed itself across the countenance of Delicious, and hither he went. Amelia trailed behind. Having no means to transfer light into the further reaches of the passage, Amelia and Delicious confined their presence to the well-lit portion of the cave. Delicious momentarily walked back outside to a young spruce tree. Producing his penknife, he proceeded to borrow a selection of new growth spruce branches. Arranging them in a loose bundle, he carried them inside the cave. There he spread them on the floor to serve as a place for them to sit. Amelia was already busy preparing their supper. Delicious was positive he smelled fried chicken. His mouth began to water. The average person could not understand how a horehound candy stick could enjoy eating fried chicken, but there it was. To be in the possession of taste buds is a wonderful thing, thought Delicious.

         Delicious approached the spruce branches he had previously laid out on the ground. Wordlessly, they invited him to sample their comfort. Accepting their invitation, he lay down among them, stretching his arms into a clasping of hands behind his head. A piney, lemon-like fragrance detached itself from some of the bruised needles and welcomed him. Calmingly pleasing, he thought. Perhaps some spruce-spearmint tea is in order. Delicious got up from his rest and asked Miss Amelia whether he could avail himself of the loan of her tin cans. Taking the cans as they were proffered, Delicious set out for the creek. Once by the creekside, he gathered a handful of spearmint leaves, cleansed them in the stream and filled the cans with water before returning to the cave. While en route, he paused to relieve a heavily laden spruce tree of a handful of its tender, young needles. Inside the cave, Delicious picked up from its floor a saucer-sized, somewhat flat rock and a thicker, smaller rock he could use to bruise the spruce needles and spearmint leaves. After rinsing the rocks, Delicious proceeded to place the spearmint leaves and spruce needles on the flat rock. Gently, using pressure from the other rock, he partly crushed his ingredients. Wonder if Miss Amelia has some sugar in her basket? This infusion would taste a lot better if she did, he thought. I'll put the spearmint and spruce needles in the cans to steep, then I'll inquire. So thinking, Delicious dropped roughly equal portions of his ingredients into the two tin cans. Walking over to Miss Amelia, Delicious asked her if she had any sugar in her basket.

         Miss Amelia replied, "I haven't any sugar, but I do have some honey. Will that do?"

         "Miss Amelia, honey is better than sugar to sweeten the tea I'm making for our supper. It's spruce-spearmint tea, have you tasted it before?"

         "No, I haven't had that experience, but it sounds like a drink that would make a wonderful companion for a meal of fried chicken, freshly sliced apples and two day old cornbread."

         "Fried chicken and cornbread! Miss Amelia, you're a sweetheart. I will just go put a little honey in the tea and be right back. I don't want to get too far from that fried chicken." Amelia laughed.

         Later, after they had partaken of Amelia's homemade cooking, Delicious and Amelia were sitting on the spruce boughs relaxing. Every now and again one or the other of them would take a long sip of spruce-spearmint tea. On one such occasion Amelia commented, "The tea is minty, slightly bitter and possesses a hint of sweetness at the same time. I like it, Delicious."

         "Thank you, Miss Amelia. The sun seems to be preparing to go down soon. I am going to walk down to the creek and wash up. I'll return directly."

         "I'll go with you, Delicious. My face feels dirty from the train ride. We should wash up, then rest till nightfall, don't you think?

Maria, the one called Carlotta, had successfully engineered her escape from the ARROWBOUGH lantern box. Now she stood in the garden of that old sow Amelia. Earlier, that half-fattened piece of pork had told her, "Run out to the garden and get me some cucumbers and green onions, then come back in here and we will peel them together." Carlotta was marinating those words in her mind as she thought, soaking the sentence in an acidic solution, so to speak. Why, I am almost fourteen years old. I don't need to be fastened on to my Mama's nipple like that. That old sow doesn't know it, but I am not even kin to her. She'll get her comeuppance once I am ready to deal it out. The nerve of her, ordering me around like I am a minor servant with nothing better to achieve than digging her some taters or gathering some black walnuts she's planning to give away to those Welcome Wagon nerds. Carlotta angrily bent over and jerked a handful of green onions from the soil. Still, she thought, I must tender my disposition by injecting into it a measure of sweetness. Carelessness might cause everything to go awry. She plucked a few cucumbers, and went into her house.

The ford was getting closer as Old Bob ambled along. One of these days, Mister Joe and Mister Jim are in for a big letdown, thought the horse. This freight wagon I am pulling around is too heavy for a small horse like myself. Contrary to Joe's and Jim's low opinion of me, I am not prejudiced against work. When the notion hits me, I am going to up and quit this outfit.Those two fellers lied to me when I interviewed for this job. They told me all the liquor I could drink would be made available for my consumption, there would be many opportunities for advancement and all the hay I could eat would be fed to me. I don't care about the liquor, as I am not a drinking horse. Yes, I could have used eight or ten more bales of hay, and a promotion has passed me by nigh on to seventeen times, but those variables don't matter. The thing is, I just can't bring myself to work any longer for a dishonest pair of louts like them. Mister Joe and Mister Jim are fundamentally unsound in mind and severely suffering from the lack of scruples. I'd rather gallop on the streets of hell than to remain in their employ. The first opportunity I get, maybe I'll cut loose of them and head for Manitoba. "The fact is," he said to himself, "when we get to the ford, they're going to unhitch me and allow me to roll around in the shallow water. Yes sir, that would be the time for Old Bob to skedaddle. Old Bob has paid his dues, and he's fixing to cancel his membership." Some of the things I've had to stand by and watch them do, Lord have mercy! Take for an example their enslavement of those ADORNO pencil sharpeners, that was as criminal and as cruel as a human can behave. Having to observe their kidnapping made nine tenths of the dapples on my back fall off almost overnight. Being a middle-aged horse, I have seen and participated in some things I can't bring myself to recall, and I am embarrassed when I think about a few others, but I have never been unkind to another person. I am inclined in my heart to offer my humble assistance to those ADORNO pencil sharpeners.

Inside the freight wagon a hurried discussion is taking place. "Honey, today is the day I take you away from here," Mister Tripletree is telling his wife. "I've put by a few provisions for us in that old, burlap sack we found. I've saved some beef jerky, a couple of handfuls of peanuts and some parched corn. We'll be alright."

         "Yes, I know you'll take care of me, but be careful. I am afraid you will injure yourself while trying to communicate with that horse."

         "I'll be careful, sweet. Give me your hairpin, and I will pick the lock on these manacles again. Old Bob won't be hard to communicate with, sweet. He can speak better English than we can. It was funny, I tell you, the first time I heard his voice. His words in the beginning came into my ears as just a bunch of neighs, whistles and grunts. Asudden I could hear him with clarity. He was cussing out that pair of criminals that are up there on the wagon seat. Railing about how stupid they were, Old Bob was. He commented on the fact they were so lacking in intelligence they sold the wagon springs which were meant to provide moral support and comfort to their own buttocks. Of course, Old Bob was speaking underneath his breath, but I happened to be close by and took in what he was saying."

         A few seconds later the manacles fell to the bed of the wagon. K.T. Tripletree kissed her husband as he prepared to leave. "Come back to me safely, John," she whispered. John turned and immediately climbed over the side of the wagon. A narrow ledge projected out from the wagon's sidewall and ran the length of it. John hesitated as he decided whether to proceed along the ledge, or along the undercarriage of the wagon. Despite the arduous task which traversing the distance to Old Bob via the undercarriage might be, John was at first inclined to undertake it because of the concealment it offered. Better yet, he thought. The side of the wagon will conceal my presence till I approach the seat, then I will climb under the wagon onto the rear of the wagon tongue. John began to move along the ledge carefully. Using knotholes and cracks between the boards to maintain his balance, he soon arrived to a position just short of the wagon seat. He could see K.T. through a crack between boards. The swish of leather, the squeak of wagon wheels and the noise of Jim and Joe would obscure his voice, so he spoke to her.

         "Sweet, I will toss my belt inside the wagon. Lock the manacles onto the belt buckle, and pass me the other end of the belt through this crack."

         Taking off his belt John threw it lightly into the wagon and waited for K.T. to pass him the tongue end. Yes, he needed some kind of support in order to get himself onto the wagon tongue, he thought. The belt will serve that purpose, and also aid me on the climb back up. John saw the end of the belt appear from a crack near his feet. Grasping it, he wrapped it around his left wrist and pulled very hard. The belt held. John immediately gripped the belt with both hands and lowered himself off the wagon. The rear end of the wagon tongue was right in front of him. He reached for it, pulled himself onto it and released the belt.

         John stood up, balancing himself in concert with the rotation of the wagon wheels. Inching along the wagon tongue he came to the singletree, which was a pivotable, horizontal bar by means of which Old Bob's harness was hooked to the wagon tongue. The traces, a set of long steel chains, ran from either side of Old Bob's collar and hooked onto the singletree. The collar itself was around Old Bob's neck and shoulders. O-rings jutted out from the collar at shoulder height to which the traces were attached. As Old Bob moved forward, the weight of the wagon was pulled by the force of Old Bob's shoulders moving forward. In this manner Old Bob pulled the wagon.

          The precarious nature of the tasks in front of him made John shudder. Of course, the one situation was a mental one. He just needed to manage to stay out of the sight of Jim and Joe. This task was a cause for concern, because in performing the second task John would be in their direct line of sight unless he could figure out another way to accomplish it.

continued in part 3

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