They set fire to the dog, Cal’s dog, these junkies she and Will had gotten mixed up with on a three day binge, all of them using inside an abandoned warehouse. Will didn’t particularly care much for the little guy, but Cal sure loved him. And it was really terrible what happened.
He and Cal were lying next to each other on a mattress in a drugged up stupor, and the next thing he knew, he was hearing the death howls of the thing ablaze. Worst thing he ever heard. And then Cal started howling “Rassscall” “Rasssccall,” the dog’s name, as she tripped over herself looking for something to put him out, but, before she could, he just kind of fizzled out on his own, Will guessed. He rose from the mattress after Cal, his head in a fog, trying to comprehend what happened and not even sure if it really did.
“The hell just happened?” he said. “The hell just happened?”
Then he heard the gas can drop, and he saw the idiot they called Turtle Lips, because that’s the kind of lips he had. Will saw him standing there, turning away from the two idiots laughing behind him, and he looked at Will all bewildered, like, that really did just happen, and I’m the idiot that did it. So Will walked over to him.
“What the fuck, man?” he said. “Seriously, the fuck did you just do?”
And Turtle Lip’s look went from bewildered to just, like, plain stupid. So Will dropped him with a punch to the jaw and started kicking him in the ribs. He thought, maybe, he broke a few. He didn’t know. He would have liked to have broken them all. And he probably would have, but Ronnie, the only guy Will would call his friend out of the six or eight of them there, he grabbed Will from behind and pulled him away.
“Look to Cal,” he said, although, he didn’t say Cal, he said “MyShayla,” because, at the time, that was her name.
Cal was there, kneeling beside the dog, Rascal, repeating his name through her sobs and trying to hold him, but when she touched him, it yelped this terrible yelp and rolled its head toward the ceiling. Goddamnit, what do you do? Will thought. It’s toast. And there was nothing to do, not for the dog to live anyway. So he bent down and held Cal tight and told her it would be okay. Then he grabbed a spoon and the last of their heroin, and he cooked it up and drew it into the syringe.
“Hold his paw,” he told Cal. She held his paw, and he shot the heroin into Rascal’s leg. Not a second later, his eyes rolled back into his skull. Rascal felt no more pain.
“Let’s take him outside and bury him,” Will said.
Cal picked Rascal’s body up, and for the first time in what must have been three days, she and Will left the warehouse. This was in Seattle, and of all Seattle days, it was cloudless, sunny day. It was one day Will would have actually appreciated some rain. They took Rascal out back, to this little dirt plot, kicked away the weeds, and started using their hands to dig below the surface. Then they lowered Rascal in, pushed the dirt over him, and piled rocks on top, Cal crying all the while, Will coming down from the last rush he knew he’d feel in some time. Already he could feel the itch.
It was a pitiful grave back there, but about all they could do. Will held Cal to his chest, and for several minutes they stood there, not saying a word, as the breeze blew around them, and traffic rumbled on the interstate not a mile away. All those people with lives and families and jobs doing I don’t even know what, Will thought. Something respectable. Not burying dogs burned up by idiot junkies after they, too, had been shooting up the last three days. That’s for sure.
Finally Cal raised her head. She was seventeen years old to Will’s twenty, a member of the Suquamish tribe, and she looked about as native as native could be, with a dark face, a beautiful dark face, prematurely etched with lines from hidden griefs. Will lifted her chin to meet his gaze, swept back her long, black bangs, dried her cheeks, and looking into those remote brown eyes of hers, he said what they both knew. They had to leave.
They gathered their belongings from the warehouse. Will carried a large backpack that contained his and Cal’s sleeping bags, their tent, and cookware, as well as their personal items, and she carried a smaller pack for her personals. In the three months since Will met her at a friend’s house in Capital Hill and they took up together, he had become the man-mule, trailing her with a heavy load all the way. This was something they had joked about, but of course, at that time, nothing was funny.
“Please hurry,” Cal said, as Will packed and repacked his bag, making sure it was tight and he didn’t leave a thing.
“Hold on,” he said, and she started crying again and walked back outside.
Before going after her, Will went to say goodbye to Ronnie, but Ronnie must have shot up again, because his eyes just fluttered, and he just mumbled, and he had a huge grin spread across his face.
Back outside, Cal immediately asked, “Where are we going?”
“Goddamnit, I don’t know.” Will said, and she slumped on the ground, back against the building, resting her forehead on her arms and her arms on her knees.
“Let’s get back to Capital,” he said. “We can hit up the library, call Viktor, and see if he’ll let us crash at his place.”
Cal huffed, and he grabbed her arm and helped lift her up. Then they walked to the I-5 onramp where they hitched a ride a few miles from a young acne-faced kid in a beat up car. Before dropping them off, the kid asked if they knew where he could score some blow, and although Will did, brokering a deal was nothing he had time for.
“Sorry, man” he said to the kid. “I can’t help you there, but thanks for the ride.”
“No, worries,” the kid replied and vanished in a puff of exhaust.
Will called Viktor four times from the library and left him two voicemails before getting ahold of him. When he finally did pick up, he sounded paranoid as shit.
“Dude, what are you doing calling me from this phone? A public phone? You know they listen in on public phones.”
“Viktor,” Will said. “Settle down. It’s cool.”
“Dude,” Viktor said. “Did you really just use my name, my real name? Are you crazy?”
Will couldn’t keep from sighing.
“V-Money,” he said. “I need your help. MyShayla and I need to crash at your place.”
“Nah, man,” Viktor said. “Not now. Not today. They’re onto me. They have guys watching my place. I can see one now.”
Will could imagine Viktor all bug eyed peering through his blinds at his neighbor’s empty car parked on the street. He was a night janitor at the university and a small-time distributor, soft stuff mostly, and Will thought too much dipping into his supply, lack of vitamin-c, and hours spent inside his head cleaning urinals had probably made him delusional. Although Will didn’t know. Sometimes a person’s delusions turned out to be the real thing.
“Alright,” Will said. “Thanks anyway. And watch out for the black helicopters. I saw a bunch of them flying overhead earlier.”
“What?” Viktor said.
“Never mind.” Click.
Will turned to Cal who was outside the phone area, sitting on a bench, reading a magazine. On the cover, a girl was wearing a cowboy hat, patting the muzzle of a horse with one hand, and holding a blue ribbon in the other. Western Horseman, the name read.
“Well,” she said.
“Well, what are we going to do?”
Will knew other people he could call, sure. All of them bums. And he knew other places they could stay. Shelters and parks and back alleys. But damn, if he wasn’t tired of it all, and damn, if he wasn’t tired of making all the decisions.
“I don’t know,” he said. “What do you propose?”
Cal threw her magazine to the floor.
“Propose? Propose? What kind of a man are you? …Propose. I propose you got me hooked up with those losers who burned my dog. I propose you got me shooting smack. I propose I’m getting sick, sitting here and starting to sweat. And I propose you goddamn figure it out before I leave your stupid ass.”
There were a lot of concerned looking white folks turning their heads Will and Cals’ way.
“MyShayla, sweetheart,” Will said.
“Don’t call me that!”
“Myshayla,” he repeated trying to buy some time.
She just shook her head and turned to pick up her stuff. She was going to leave.
“Let’s go west,” Will said.
“Like, let’s go to Wyoming or Montana.”
“You know what I mean.”
She had her backpack shouldered at this point and stood there, still shaking her head.
“Think of it,” he said. “Cowboys….and Indians, of course. And prairies and tumbleweeds, and horses…We’ll get ourselves a couple horses.”
“You’re crazy,” she said. “You can’t even buy yourself a new pair of pants.”
“I said ‘get’, Myshayla. We can do this.”
“And how are we going to get out west?”
“Well, I don’t know,” he said.
She started to walk away.
“Wait,” he said. “We’ll jump a train.”
Where that idea came from, he did not know. But Cal seemed to like it. She turned, her eyes alight with the devilish sparkle that caused him to fall for her in the first place.
“We’re going to jump a train, huh? You ever jumped a train?”
At that moment Will had to decide whether he was going to tell the truth or stick his chest out and tell a lie, and the truth was no. He had not. After he had gotten out of his last foster home, it was hard to leave his mother’s ghost behind, that is, between Seattle and Tacoma. But with Cal, now he was certain it was time.
“We can google it,” he said.
Cal rolled her eyes. She threw her backpack on the bench and sat back down.
“Google it then.”
So Will googled it on the public computer, which took him down quite the rabbit hole, because it was not as simple as just asking how you jump a train. That was a good starting point for general things to consider. But the real complications arose when he tried to find the route, and the freight that would be traveling down that route, and whether or not the type of car carrying that freight was even safe to ride. Moreover, as he was trying to work it all out, he started feeling the withdrawal, and he had to resist every temptation to say to hell with it all and start hitting up some contacts. He just kept saying to himself “stop” every time the thought crept in. What he doing was for the good of Cal and him both. What he was doing had to be done. And, eventually, he did it. He figured the damn thing out.
That evening they would walk a few miles to the north of Balmer Rail Yard. There they would wait for an Intermodal Stack, a type of car carrying shipping containers of God knows what, and they would ride under a blanket on top of what is called a bucket, or platform, in front of the car. They’d have to pass through several junctions and keep a look out for flashlights, with a possibility of switching trains, but they should head along the Sound until around Everett, where they’d turn south, then to their imagined west… east.
“Let’s go,” Will said to Cal, who, by now, had a book titled Legendary Women of the Wild West in her hands.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” she said.
“All things are ready, if our minds be so,” Will quoted from Shakespeare.
“You know,” Cal replied. “I really don’t understand you when you start to talk like that.”
She put the book inside her bag, picked it up, and with his own bag over his shoulders, they were off.
As planned, they arrived to the north of Balmer Yard around sunset, having only stopped to spend the last of their money on drinks and snacks. They then watched a train pass hauling coal cars, which they couldn’t hop, but if one came their way with the right cars, Will thought they could make it at that speed. When he recognized this, that this was actually going to happen, he shook Cal into the first smile he’d seen from her all day. In all the anticipation, he even forgot about shooting up.
It was about an hour before he heard another train, before he saw its bright lights advancing down the rail. He had moved up the tree line some and ran back to Cal, diving beside her in some brush.
“Get ready,” he said. “I think this is the one.”
And sure enough, it was. There were the big shipping containers clacking down the tracks. Will’s adrenaline started pumping. The rush he felt was as good as any drug. He kissed Cal on the cheek.
“Let’s go.” he said, and they booked it to a platform, threw their backpacks onto it, and grabbing onto the ladder, they pulled themselves up.
They had done it, but their worries were not over. Will and Cal lay flat, scrunched next to each other and the bags. Will reached into his and pulled the wool, surplus blanket that was inside over them, and they peeked out, as the train picked up speed and skirted the Sound’s choppy, moon-lit waters. Then they arrived to Everett Junction. The wheels on the train squealed to a halt. The hydraulics released their pressure. There were lights. A guy in a golf cart whizzed past. Will had never felt more exposed, and in the tension, it was all he could do to not grab Cal and bolt off the yard. But then he felt the jolt, and the couplings started clinking, and once again, they were off, headed south on the right track.
When they finally turned east and the glow of the city fell behind them, that was when Will felt like he could take his first breath. He squeezed Cal tightly, and she squeezed him back, and they laid beside each other, watching the countryside go by, the cool wind on their faces, the warmth of their bodies under the blanket. It was as pleasant as scene as one could imagine, but in the idleness, too, the symptoms of withdrawal crept back in. Neither one of them could sleep, and Will couldn’t keep from vomiting about the time the Cascades appeared on the horizon.
When they reached the Cascades, the train grinded its way upwards for some time, and then, in the thick of Will’s convulsions, they entered a tunnel—the longest tunnel Will would ever know. The train crawled through, enveloping him in a dark hell for what seemed an eternity. Will didn’t know what Cal felt, but he heard her whispering into his ear, “it’s okay, it’s okay,” as demons besieged his mind. Will’s father red-faced drunk, his mother in hospital gown, toothless junkies twice his age, and even the dog, Rascal, howling and burned on the floor, all were present. And always the craving, there was the terrible craving to lose himself in oblivion.
Miles later, the tunnel behind them, Will’s cheeks were wet with tears.
“Look up,” Cal said.
And so he did, and there he found reprieve in the stars.
“Have you ever seen so many?” Cal said.
He hadn’t, and neither had she, and as they entered the plains and the town lights decreased to a few isolated dots on the horizon, the stars continued to multiply, and Will remembered thinking, the only word to describe them was, awesome. It was awesome, all of those stars, so many it was beyond belief.
Then the stars receded into the lights of Spokane, and the lights of Spokane receded into day, and Will and Cal entered another rail yard. Once again the train cooled and stopped. This time, though, it remained stopped. Ten minutes passed. Twenty minutes, an hour. Will didn’t know. But they had to make a decision. They could stay there a day, or they could hop another train and continue on their journey. In the middle of their deliberation, the decision was made for them. Another train with the right cars started to pull out.
“It’s a sign,” Will said. “Let’s go.”
They grabbed their bags, jumped off the old train, and jumped on the new, and off again, they sped toward the Rocky Mountains, spirits higher, having made it through the night, knowing they were going to accomplish what they set out to do, and eventually they did, for the most part. They had gotten to Missoula, its big M emblazoned on a mountain in the distance, when the train rumbled past some protestors just off the tracks. A few had signs, reading “No More Coal,” and several others were sitting down, as though in anticipation of a future train to come, and behind them, there was a police officer, his arms folded in front of his chest. Will couldn’t help himself.
“Yeaaa! Fight the power!” he yelled.
The officer’s hand reached for his walkie talkie, and with regret, Will muttered “shit,” turned to Cal, and said, “come on babe, we have to bail,” to which she responded, “you’re a dumbass.”
The train had slowed since entering the city, and it slowed yet more, as it neared a station. They waited for an open patch of grass, and leapt and rolled down a slight embankment into it. Then they picked up their stuff and ran to a street, and they ran across the street, and they didn’t stop running until they made it under the cover of some trees and brush near a gas station, out of breath, and just generally exhausted. Their condition was not helped by the fact they had not eaten anything but jerky sticks and Cheese-Its since night, and there it was mid-afternoon. Their attempts to beg for money at the gas station were unsuccessful, and digging in the trash only produced half a sandwich and what appeared to be some burrito scraps.
“Well, shit,” Will said. “I vote we just find a place to crash and figure things out tomorrow.”
Cal angrily wiped off filth from the trash on her pants and threw her bag over her shoulders.
“I better get my damn horse soon,” she said
Will held out the sandwich half.
“Maybe, you should take this,” he said. “I’ll be fine with whatever is in here.” He took a second look in the burrito wrapper considering whether it was worth it.
“Where are we going?” Cal said.
“Away from people, I guess.”
Cal grumbled, shook her head, and led the way. She appeared to cheer up, though, after they passed through downtown. They found themselves along a large river and near the shoreline there where some ducks.
“Awww, duckies,” Cal let out, and she turned back towards Will and asked, “here?”
It looked like a good spot, a good safe distance from downtown with plenty of brush between them and the upper bank. They spread out their bags, laid under the falling sun, and fell asleep until morning.
Cal was the first up. Will found her near the river, feeling sick, she said, and upset because she missed Rascal.
“It’s okay,” Will consoled, “Today will be a good day. We’ll get you a horse. First, though, let’s get us some food.”
They packed their bags and walked back downtown as the shops were just starting to open and the sidewalks were starting to fill. Near a book store they set their bags down and sat next to them, and Will pulled out a sign. It read: I’ll recite you a poem. $1 or whatever you’ve got. It was a sign that aroused curiosity, and though they were shamed by a fair number of judgmental epithets and directives, it generally seemed to pull through, particularly with older women, who’d wince as they said, okay, half-expecting some vulgar roses are red rhyme but were then blown away by Shakespeare or Langston Hughes. And so it happened, not ten minutes after setting the sign out, Will dropped “Sonnet 73” on a gal, and she handed him five bucks. A little while later, a kid, who appeared of college age, and his girlfriend stopped by, and boom, “Bluebird” by Bukowski. A perfect recitation.
Will had learned these poems after his father had left him and his mother. He was seven years old, and they’d been married at least that long, which he supposed was a good amount of time to be married, and most of that time, it had been alright, it seemed. Will’s father was gone a lot, a Ranger, who deployed often overseas. Only after the last of these deployments did he come home and the atmosphere in the house turn electric.
He remembered one particular instance. His father, his white father, called his black mother, “a dumb, nigger bitch.” And he remembered it, because of the hurt on her face and because the next week when a kid, a white kid, had stolen his ball at recess, Will got angry, chased after him, and called him the same. A teacher overheard the name, and his mother had to pick him up from school, and though initially ashamed and embarrassed in the car, she finally got quiet and broke out laughing.
Later that year his mom said his dad was leaving. He was getting re-stationed, and they were going to stay in Washington. It was news that came as a relief. They then moved to Tacoma where she got a job working a late shift at a motel so during the days, and in particular, during the summers, they could spend their time together. Their favorite place became the library. It was cool, and there were different programs and movies, and it was full of interesting characters, but also books.
Will did start with the kid’s books. He enjoyed, too, when his mom read them to him. But one day he saw his mom reading Shakespeare, because she said, “People are always talking about Shakespeare.” And on that day, he asked his mom to read that to him, so she did, and several years later, at the age of fourteen, the roles reversed. While his mom underwent treatment for breast cancer, he read him to her. It was during those times the resonance of the words would really start to set in, and they’d come across certain lines in certain plays, and they’d think about them, and they both started crying together. It was those words, after her death, that led him to every other thing, as he searched for the right ones to piece his life together.
After Cal and Will amassed just over twelve dollars, he asked a passerby where the best place was to get a beer and a burger. This gentleman pointed them down the street and to the right three blocks to the Mo Club. Elated, the pair jumped to their feet and headed that way. They walked inside the Mo club and found the place empty, except the bartender and a man playing a slot machine in the back. They set their bags beside them, sat at the end of the bar, and salivating at the thought, each ordered a double cheese burger, and together they ordered one pitcher of PBR.
“Oh is this going to taste good,” Will said. “And goddamn could I use this beer.”
Cal could hardly keep from bouncing out of her seat.
When the pitcher came out, they poured a full glass, drank, and quickly poured another. When the burgers came out, they pounced and ate without talking. At that point, an older man came in and sat several chairs away in front of the T.V.
“Morning, Greg,” The old man said to the bartender.
“Morning, Jim,” The bartender said. “What’ll you have, the usual?”
“Yep, just came in to watch some golf, get out of the old ladies hair.”
The bartender brought him over a whiskey and coke.
After they finished eating, Will and Cal straightened up and rubbed their stomachs. They stretched, and Will ran his hand up and down Cal’s back.
“Not a bad way to start the day, huh?” he said.
“Nope,” Cal said, let out a quiet burp, and laughed.
“Some trip we had, huh?” Will said.
They contemplated it several moments in silence, and Will turned over his shoulder, a smile on his face, only to see the old man scowling back. Will turned back around, ignoring the man. The old man would not ruin this for him he determined. He would enjoy this moment.
Cal said she was going to use the bathroom.
“You know where I’ll be,” Will said.
He studied the bar’s walls. There were photos and sports pennants everywhere, most of them related to the University of Montana’s teams, all of them yellow with age. He didn’t see but a few pictures of newer players, and he considered the nostalgia odd. Maybe, he thought, it was just too much effort to give the place an update.
Will turned his attention to the last of his beer, and as he did, that’s when he heard it.
“Those damn Indians sure do stink.”
His face turned red. Surely, Will thought, he didn’t hear what he thought he did. But the old man continued, "Damn Indian, why don’t you take a bath?”
Will rose from his seat.
“I ought to knock your head clean off you old bitch,” he said.
“Oh, go to hell,” the old man said. “You’ll do nothing.”
Cal returned from the restroom. She tapped Will on the shoulder.
“What’s going on,” she said.
Will looked from her to the old man to the bartender. The bartender looked embarrassed.
“Hey, don’t worry about the money,” he said.
Will turned back to Cal.
“Come on, Cal,” he said. “We need to leave.” And they picked up their bags and left out the back door.
“What was that about?” Cal asked, as they walked down an alley.
“Don’t worry about it,” Will said.
“No, really,” she said. “What?”
“I said don’t worry about it.”
Will stopped. He tried to catch his breath.
“Babe,” Cal said. “We were going to have a good day.”
“I know,” Will paused… “We still are.”
He spotted two bikes outside another bar, each of them unchained.
“I found your horse,” he said.
He grabbed one of the bikes and handed the other to Cal.
“Here, jump on.”
“What?” Cal said, but Will was off, down the alley, onto the street.
Cal rode after him. Then, she blew by him, laughing all the way.
“Where are we going?” she shouted back.
“Wherever you want,” Will yelled. “Just wait for me.”
She kept cruising down the road, and Will struggled to catch up with the big pack on his back throwing him off balance. But they met at the next stoplight, and immediately, he noticed that devilish look in her eyes once again.
“Look,” she said and pointed to the back of a car.
There Will read the bumper sticker: We Still Hang Bike Thieves in Missoula.
“We’re outlaws!” Cal said.
It was a thought that seemed to give her great satisfaction.
“I guess we are,” Will replied.
Cal’s excitement grew.
“Like, I’m Calamity Jane!”
“What? Who’s that?”
Cal stared at Will, her face now void of expression.
“You don’t know shit about the west,” she said, and the light turned green, and she sped ahead of him, her long, black hair waving in the wind.