Sample N29 from Harlan Ellison, "Riding the Dark Train Out," Rogue, 6: 5 (May, 1961), 14, 30. A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,009 words 445 (22.2%) quotesN29

Used by permission of Rogue. 0010-1820

Harlan Ellison, "Riding the Dark Train Out," Rogue, 6: 5 (May, 1961), 14, 30.

Arbitrary Hyphens: freight-bums [0620] ever-lovin' [1080]

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`` Bastards '' , he would say , `` all I did was put a beat to that Vivaldi stuff , and the first chair clobbered me '' ! ! Since then , and since the pure grain had gotten him divorced from every decent -- and even indecent -- group from Greenwich Village to the Embarcadero , he had become a sucker-rolling freight-jumper .

`` There ain't nothin' faster , or lonelier , or more direct than a cannonball freight when you wanna go someplace '' , Feathertop would say . `` The accommodations may not be the poshest , but man ! ! There ain't nobody askin' for your ticket stub , neither '' .

He had been conning the freights for a long , long time now . Ever since the hooch , and the trouble with the Quartet , and Midge and the child . Ever since all that . It had been a very long time that had no form and no end .

He was -- as he told himself in the vernacular of a trade no longer his own -- riding the dark train out . Out and out and never to return again . Till one day the last freight had been jumped , the last pint had been killed , the last beat had been rapped . That was the day it ended .

The freight car was cold , early in the morning .

He was pressed far back into the corner of the car on his hay sacks , the rattling and tinning of the wheels on the rails almost covering the sound of his ocarina .

He held his elbows away from his body , and the little sweet potato trilled neatly and sweetly as he tickled its tune-belly .

The train slowed at a road crossing , and the big door slid open ; ; at first gratingly , caught by grains of corn -- then with a clash into its slot .

The boy lifted the girl by the waist and set her on the lip of the floor . She pulled her legs up under her , to rise , her full peasant skirt drawing up her thighs , and Feathertop's music pfffted away . `` Now that is a very nice , a very nice '' , he murmured to himself , back in his corner .

A little thing , but the right twist for the action that counted . Hot , that was the word , hot ! ! Hair like a morning-frightened sparrow's wings , with the sun shining down over them . A poet , yet ! ! His thoughts for the swanlike neck , the full , high breasts , the slim waist , and the long legs were less than poetic , however .

Zingggg-O ! !

Then the boy straight-armed himself up , twisting at the last moment so he landed sitting .

He was less to see , but Feathertop took him in , too , just to keep the records straight .

Curly hair , high cheekbones , wide gnomelike mouth , a pair of drummer's blocky hands , and a body that said well , maybe I can wrestle you for ten minutes -- but then I'm finished .

`` We made it , Cappy '' , the chick said .

`` Yeah , seems so , don't it '' , the boy laughed , hugging her close .

`` Ah-ah '' ! ! Feathertop interrupted , standing up , brushing the pig offal from his dirty pants . `` None of that . We run a respectable house here '' .

They whirled and saw him , standing there dim in the slatted light from the boarded freight wall . He was big , and filthy , and his toes stuck out of the flapping tops of his shoes . He held the black plastic kazoo lightly .

`` Come sit '' , said Feathertop , motioning them toward him . `` That crap is softer over here '' .

The girl smiled , and started forward . The boy yanked her back hard , tugging her off her feet , and gathered her into the crook of his arm .

`` Now stay with me , Kitty '' , he snapped irritably . `` I vowed to take care of you -- and that's what I'm gonna do . We don't know this guy '' .

`` Oooo , square bit '' , Feathertop screwed his face up . This guy was strictly from Outsville . But nowhere ! !

`` What is with this vow jazz '' ? ? Feathertop inquired , lounging against the freight's vibrating wall .

`` We -- we eloped '' , Cappy said . His head came up and he said it defiantly .

`` Well , congratulations '' . Feathertop made an elaborate motion with his hand . These two were going to be easy pickins . They couldn't have much dough , but then none of the freight-bums Feathertop rolled had much . And besides , the chick had a little something the others didn't have . That was gonna be fun collecting ! !

But not just yet . Feathertop was a connoisseur . He liked to savor his meat before he tasted it . `` Come sit '' , he repeated , motioning to the piled hay bags , over the pig leavings . `` I'm just a poor ex-jazz man , name of -- uh -- Boyd Smith '' . He grinned at them wolfishly .

`` That ain't your name , Mister '' , the boy accused .

`` And you know -- you're right '' ! ! Feathertop aimed a finger at him .

`` Oh , come on , Cappy '' , the girl chided . `` He's okay . He's a nice guy '' . She started to move toward the hay bags , dragging the reluctant Cappy behind her .

Feathertop watched the smooth scissoring of her slim , trim legs as she walked to the bags , and tucked them beneath her , smoothing the skirt out in a wide circle . He cleared his throat ; ; it had been a long , hot while since he'd seen anything as nice as this within grabbin' distance .

He had it all doped , of course . Slug the kid , grab his dough -- at least enough to get to Philadelphia -- and then have a rockin' ball with the doll . Hmm -- diddle ! !

`` Where'd you come from , Mr. -- uh -- Mr. Smith '' ? ? Kitty inquired politely .

`` Where from '' ? ? He mused . `` Out . I been riding train for a ways now '' .

They lapsed into silence , and the freight wallowed up a hill , scooted down the other side , shaking and clanking to itself .

After a while , Kitty murmured something to Cappy , and he held her close , answering , `` We'll just have to wait till we pull into Philly , honey '' .

`` What's the matter , she wanna go the bathroom '' ? ? Ernie found it immensely funny .

The boy scowled at him , and the girl looked shocked .

`` No ! ! Certainly not , I mean , no that isn't what I said '' ! ! She snapped at him . `` I only said I was hungry . We haven't had anything to eat all day '' .

Joviality suffused Feathertop Ernie Cargill's voice as he reached behind him , pulling out a battered carpet bag , with leather handles . `` Whyn't ya say so , fellow travelers ! ! Why , we got dinner right here . C'mon , buddy , help me set up the kitchen and we'll have food in a minute or two '' .

Cappy looked wary , but he moved off the floorboards and followed the dirty ex-musician to the center of the refuse-littered boxcar .

Ernie crouched and opened the carpet bag . He took out a small packet filled with bits of charcoal , a deep pot of thin metal , some sheets of newspaper , a book of matches and a wrinkled and many-times folded piece of tin foil with holes in it . He put the charcoal in the pot , lit the paper with the matches , and carefully stretched the tin foil across the top of the pot .

`` A charcoal pit , man '' , he said , indicating the slightly-smoking makeshift brazier . `` Fan it '' , he told Cappy , handing him a sheet of newspaper .

`` Yeah , but what're we gonna eat ? ? Charcoal '' ? ?

`` Fella '' , Ernie waggled a dirty finger at the younger man , `` you try my ever-lovin' patience '' . He reached once more into the carpet bag and brought up a package of wieners .

`` Hot dogs , man . Not the greatest , but they stick to your belly insides '' .

He ripped down the cellophane carefully , and laid three dogs on the tin foil . Almost immediately they began to sizzle . He looked up and grinned .

`` A Kroger's self-serve '' , he explained . `` I self-served '' .

When they had licked the last of the wieners' taste from their fingers , they settled back , and Cappy offered Ernie a cigarette . Nice kid , Ernie thought , too bad .

`` How come you're riding the rods , kids like you '' ? ? Ernie asked .

Cappy looked down at his wide hands , and did not reply . But surprisingly , Kitty's face came up and she said , `` My father . He didn't want us to get married . So we ran away '' .

`` Why didn't he want you to get hitched '' ? ?

This time even she did not answer . She looked down at her hands , too . After a few seconds , she said , `` Dad didn't like Cappy . It was my fault '' .

Cappy's head came around sharply . `` Your fault , hell ! ! It was all my fault . If I'd been careful it never woulda '' -- he stopped abruptly .

Ernie's eyebrows went up . `` What's the matter '' ? ?

The girl still did not raise her eyes , but she added simply , `` I'm pregnant '' .

Cappy raged at himself . `` Oh he was stupid , her old man ! ! You never heard nothin' like it : Kitty's gonna go have an abortion , and Kitty's gonna go away to a convent , and Kitty's this and Kitty's that like he was nuts or somethin' , y'know '' ? ?

Ernie nodded . This was a slightly different matter . He remembered Midge , and the child . But that had been a time before all this , a time he didn't think about . A time before the white lightning and the bumming had turned him inside out . But these kids weren't like him .

Oh crap ! ! He thought , Pull out of it , old son . These are just another couple of characters to roll . What they got , you get . Now forget all this other .

`` Wanna drink '' ? ? Ernie offered , taking the pint of sweet lucy from his jacket pocket .

`` Yeah . Now that you offer '' . The answer came from the open door of the boxcar . From the man who had leaped in from the high bank outside , as the train had slowed on the grade .

Ernie stared at the man . He was big . Real big , with shoulders out to here , and hair all over him like a grizzly . Road gang , Ernie thought .

`` You gonna give me a drink , fella '' ? ? The big man asked again , taking a step into the boxcar .

Ernie hesitated a moment . This character could break him in half . `` Sure '' , he said , and lifted the pint to his own lips . He guzzled down three-quarters of the strong home-blend and proffered the remainder . The man stalked toward them , his big boots heavy on the wooden flooring . He took the bottle with undue belligerence , and making sucking noises with his thick lips , drained it completely .

He threw his head back , closed his eyes , and belched ferociously . He belched again , and opening his eyes , threw the bottle out the open door .

`` Well , now '' , he said , and reached into his pocket . `` I didn't know I was gonna have company in this car '' .

`` We're going to Philadelphia '' , Kitty said , pulling her skirt down around her legs all the more .

`` No , I don't think so '' , said the big man , and it was the final clincher for Ernie . He had suspected this guy was trouble , and now he was sure of it .

`` Maybe you and me will , girlie , but these two ain't goin' nowhere '' .

He advanced on them , and abruptly there was a shocked electricity in the car . Ernie was screaming inside himself : No , damn you , you ain't gonna take my meal ticket away from me ! !

The newcomer stalked toward them , and Kitty shied back , her hand to her mouth . Her scream split up the silence of the car , accompanied by the rattling of the freight , and then Cappy came off the floor , his legs driving him hard . The kid hit the bigger man with an audible thwump ! ! And carried him backward in a footballer's tackle . They went down in a heap and for a long minute there was nothing to see but flailing arms and legs .

The kid showed for an instant , and his arm was cocked back . The fist went down into the pile of flesh , and Ernie heard the bigger man's deeper voice go , `` Aaawww '' ! !

Then they were tumbling again , and the big man reached into the same pocket he had gone for earlier , and came up with a vicious switchblade .

He held the knife aloft an instant -- an instant enough to press the stud . The blade came out with a snick ! ! He fisted the knife overhand , and drew back to plunge it into the kid's throat .

Kitty screamed insanely and her face was white . She grabbed at Feathertop's sleeve and shrieked , `` Help him ! ! Help him ! ! Do something '' ! !