KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 4: Fall 2015
Flash Fiction: 900 words

In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle

by Jack Feerick

See them on the sidewalk now, man and boy, walking down to town from the snug and tidy house on the hill. They walk close together, not touching, but it is plain they are father and son. It is a fine spring day, both of them in jeans and polo shirts, and they are both free in the middle of the afternoon, walking somewhere. Perhaps to the library. Perhaps out for ice cream. Or maybe it is a holy day, and they are bound for church.

See them on the sidewalk now, heading into town. A few cars roll past. Walking in the shade of budding trees, they can see from the hillside the whole sweep of the little village downtown; pizzeria, diner, Masons lodge, fire hall, flour mill, railroad crossing, bank, all of it postcard-perfect. The boy rushes ahead. He is ten or so, tall for his age, and husky, though he has the round face and crooked teeth of a child. The man is gray and slope-shouldered. A big man, but his face is lean and thirsty. At a guess, you’d put him under fifty, but not by much. He walks like a man whose legs bother him some, in a lope that’s edging into a limp.

They are fifty or sixty feet from the crossing, boy and man, when they hear the whistle far off, once long, then two shorter, and then the sound of the bell from the signal mast. The cars in both directions slow then stop as the gate arm with its flashing lights begins a herky-jerky descent. Another great blast of the whistle, and the locomotive rolls by.

The man pauses on the sidewalk a ways back from the crossing. The boy idles up to the signal, hands in pockets, and squints down the length of the gate.

—Is it a long one? calls the man.

—Can’t really tell, says the boy. —Can’t see around the bend in the track. So it’s that long, at least.

The man joins him, standing quite close to the crossing. Cars are paused three deep now, some with windows open. It is a fine sunny day. The train is doing no more than ten miles an hour. The boxcars and flatbeds and shipping containers ride smoothly. They are no more than ten feet from the train, but it is possible to speak without shouting.

They stand, man and boy, father and son, not touching, hands in pockets. —All right, boy, says the father. —Are you ready to run?

The boy snickers.

—Look how slow she’s rolling, says the man. —We could catch up and swing on easy. It’s the chance we’ve been waiting for. Today we begin our new life as gentleman travelers.

—Dad, says the boy. That’s all he says.

—It’s time, says the man. —Time to embrace our fate, boy. We swing on, light out for the territories, and by sundown we’re down in the hobo jungles laying some son-of-a-bitch low for his can of beans. You got your pocket-knife on you?

The boy shakes his head.

—Never mind, says the man. —We’ll make do. Come on, run! Next stop, the Big Rock Candy Mountains!

—That’s just a song, Dad, says the boy.

—Oh, look who’s so smart. You can use a song to send a secret message, can’t you?

The boxcar wheels are light upon the tracks. They seem surprisingly small, perhaps no wider than a pie plate. —You know the underground railroad used to run through here in slavery times, right? asks the man. —Moving runaways up to Canada. Didn’t they use songs to tell the folks down south which way to run?

—“Follow the Drinking Gourd,” says the boy. —We sang it in chorus.

—So let’s go, then! We’ll carve hobo nickels and steal pies off the windowsills of houses of kind-hearted women. I’ll teach you to fight along the way. You’ll have my back and I’ll have yours. It is your destiny! Join me, and together we can rule this vagabond nation as father and son. Come with me. It is the only way!

—Dad, that’s from Star Wars!

—Whatever, cries the man. —Come on. Time to seize the day. Swing on up and come with me, and I will be the two-fisted King of the Hoboes.

The boy laughs, but only out of politeness.

The train is picking up speed now. The cars are rushing by; if you tried to grab on now, you’d lose an arm as likely as not. —Last chance, says the man.

And then another shipping container, and then the caboose, and the train is already half-gone behind the bend up ahead. —Ah, says the man in a voice that’s half-sigh.

The man and the boy look one way down the tracks, then the other. The signal bell stops, and the gate arm staggers up. The man checks the tracks one more time, then waves the boy onward. The traffic starts up again. They walk close together, not touching, the boy too old now to reach for his father’s hand, the father not yet old enough to reach for his son’s. From far away up the track, they hear the whistle sound again. It has never occurred to the boy to think that his father was not joking; it has never occurred to the father that his son might assume he was anything less than serious.

Jack Feerick
Issue 4, Fall 2015

has written short fiction and poetry for a variety of small-press outlets, including Going Down Swinging and the short-lived comics anthology Periphery [ComicVine]. His non-fiction has been featured in mental_floss and The Saturday Evening Post, as well as in the best-selling anthology I Thought My Father Was God [and Other True Tales from NPR’s National Story Project], edited by Paul Auster.

Feerick is Critic-at-Large for the pop culture website Popdose and a former regular columnist for Kirkus Reviews Online. He is currently shopping his first novel.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Book Review: The Best Small Fictions 2015 by Jack Feerick in Popdose (14 September 2015)

PopSmarts: The Camera Always Lies, an essay by Jack Feerick in PopDose (28 February 2013), in which he discusses Stanley Kubrick’s influence on the 2012 FreedomWorks video of a fake giant panda with its face in the lap of a fake Hillary Clinton

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