Sweat began to drip into his eyes. He'd been running for as long as he could remember and his stamina was just about to give. His legs were cramping and his lungs were on fire. He had left his apartment with nothing but the clothes on his back, five dollars in his pocket, and a peach. He had picked the piece of fruit on his way back in from the fields yesterday. It was all there was of the life he left behind.
It was the first time a gun had been put in his face. It must have been Sunday morning because every inch of his body complained like he had just survived another Saturday night. He felt something cold and hard pressed to his temple and popped one eye open.
He had a weakness; it was beautiful women. It didn't matter that she was a bit older and, technically, his employer. The Man of the House left every morning at the same time and before Henry would go out and tend to the cattle he would go about tending to The Lady of the House. It would seem that perhaps their arrangement wasn't as secret as he hoped and that brought him to this morning's challenge of endurance.
The subsequent jog brought him to a row of seemingly decommissioned train cars punctuated with ramshackle tents. He did his best to move quickly through the area without being detected; his best hope was for a bit of rest and a little time to figure out what came next.
He attempted to sleep but his mind wandered. He hadn't really been taught right from wrong. He was one of 10 boys in his family. His parents kept having children to use as extra hands on their farm. As soon as he was old enough to strike out on his own, he did and he never looked back.
Somehow while rambling about the country in search of himself he landed a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps. It wasn't work for the faint of heart; the jobs were tough and the men were tougher. The Corps was created for souls who were down on their luck and while these men were supposed to be strong and of good moral character, they had nothing to lose. He was part of a 200-man camp and slept in a 40-man barrack. That was too much testosterone to keep the peace. He learned many skills while in the camp's employ, not the least of those was learning to defend himself. That skill was handy when he was startled awake by a middle-aged hobo rummaging through his pockets.
His first instinct was to punch. He was built like a small tank and it was a lucky thing since he didn't have much leverage laying on his back in the belly of the train car. He put everything he had into the punch that knocked the stranger off of him, slamming him into the closed door. The man was stunned for a second but got up and lumbered toward him with a look of murder.
The ensuing match was a well-choreographed dance. The Stranger knew how to fight; he was no random thug. He darted for Henry's legs and took him down to his back. Henry's head bounced from the floor of the car. He was dazed but was able to counter with an uppercut to The Stranger's chin. Unfortunately, that didn't do the damage that he so desperately needed so he jumped from the car and once again relied on his now-exhausted body to relieve him of this less-than-optimal circumstance.
He ran through the makeshift camp knocking over tents, upending provisional bunks and picking up new assailants along the way. He took inventory of what he had left as he ran. His five dollars were gone. There was nothing he could do about that but he still had the peach and the clothes on his back. It was a blessing that he woke when he did as it seemed to him that The Stranger was about to relieve him of his shoes next. That struck him as amusing and for just a second, a smile cracked his face.
He had let himself go soft over the last few months. The Lady of the House made sure that he was well cared for even if he didn't work as hard as the other hired hands. He spent his time as a man of leisure, giving orders to his peers, a self-appointed foreman. Now, as his lungs reignited and his legs grew weak, he wished he had worked harder to keep conditioned.
He could hear the men behind him shouting and it seemed that they were gaining ground. He looked as far ahead as he could and saw an actual moving train, his ticket to salvation. He summoned what little energy he could muster and ran faster, forcing his tree-trunk legs to move like they'd never moved before. It was almost as if he willed himself through space and time to catch up with that caboose. It was in reach now and he fought to quiet his nay-saying mind as he realized the only way to make it was with a leap of faith. Eyes closed and tongue firmly planted between his teeth, he leapt and for the first time in the last two days his luck began to change. He caught on to one of the car's hand rails and held as if his life depended on it, and, of course it did. The shoes that he was so fortunate to hang on to dragged behind him and he felt the toes begin to give way. A few deep breaths gave him enough fuel to hoist himself up to the safety of the platform. He pulled the peach from his pocket and considered his next move.
Audrie is a writer and editor living in Illinois. She is a fan of all things horror and pop culture.