Hobo's Christmas (ghost story)-finished

Ok, for everyone tired of reading old posts, here is a Christmas ghost story, that I hope you will enjoy. Don't know if its true or not, but here goes.

The setting is back in the depression era, when so many Americans were out of work, and sometimes just finding a place to spend the night out of the winter weather was a full time job. During the winter months, finding an empty boxcar to sleep in could be a difficult task for any hobo. A man by the name of Carl, who had been out of work for almost 10 months, had taken to the rails in the hopes of finding someplace warm to sleep.

One Christmas eve, he found himself down at the railroad yard, looking for some shelter for the night. Going from boxcar to boxcar, he found several of them already occupied by transients, and the like. When he opened one car door, he found a bunch of Mexican immigrants sharing a pint of tequila. One of them, shook his hand at him, gesturing there was no more room in the car. In the next car, he opened, he found a couple of transients, sharing a needle. He could see that they were totally wasted, and he figured they would just as soon jump him for what he had in his pockets, which was next to nothing.

The next few cars he checked were locked up tight, but he did find a car near the end of the train that looked empty. There was some straw on the floor, which at least would make a comfy, if not warm bed to sleep on.

Throwing his knapsack up into the car, he climbed up into the boxcar, and settled down for the night. He untied the knapsack, and took out a small piece of cornbread, and had a snack before dozing off to sleep. Just as he was about to fall asleep, he felt the familiar jolt of the boxcar, as the train began to move. At some point soon afterwards, sleep overtook him.

A little after midnight, Carl woke up and turned over facing the opposite end of the car. He had the strangest feeling, that he wasn't alone, almost as if he was being watched. Searching the boxcar, he found nothing, and soon he dozed back to sleep. Not 2 hours later, he woke up again, with that same feeling of being watched. Slowly his eyes began to focus on a tiny red firelight at the opposite end of the car. He recognized it as the end of a burning cigarette. "Who's that?" he asked, as his eyes began to discern the figure of a man sitting at the other end of the car. "Just needed a place to stay friend. Hope you don't mind me sharing this car with you." It was still too dark in the car for Carl to make out the mans face. All he could really see was a figure in a long overcoat, and a hat just above the collar, tilted forward, shadowing the man's face. "No, that's fine", Carl replied.

"Been on the rails long?" asked the stranger. "Oh about 5 months, I guess." Replied Carl, "How bout you? "Oh, a bit longer" said the stranger. Carl broke the silence, with "Yeah, it's been hard for everyone since the Crash, I know a lot of people who are looking for work. Did some work for the WPA a couple months ago, grading a road just south of Albuquerque, but once the road was done, they let most of us go. How bout you? Find any work lately?" asked Carl. "Not in a very long time, came the reply." "If you don't mind, I'd like to get a little sleep now, I haven't had any rest for a while," said the voice. "No, that's fine", said Carl as he rolled over to face the wall of the car, and dozed off back to sleep.

The next morning, Carl woke up to find the car completely empty. Strange, he thought, because he knew that the train hadn't made any stops. He wondered what had happened to the stranger, he had spoken to the night before. Before long, Carl's stomach began to growl, and he took out the last piece of cornbread he had saved from the breadline back in Barstow. It was really nothing more than a mouthful.

Usually he ate things slowly to make them last, but the last piece of bread went down so fast, his taste buds hardly had a chance to realize he had something in his mouth. Then the train started to slow down, and finally came to a stop. He jumped out of the car, and spotted another Hobo climbing out of a car, a few cars down. "Any idea where were at?" He yelled. "Denver, I think." came the reply, as the other Hobo walked away.

Carl, had heard they had a first rate mission in Denver, and that there was always a nice hot meal waiting for those who had nowhere else to go. Suddenly, he felt a drop of moisture on his face, and looking up watched as the snow began to fall. He could already tell that it was going to be a lot colder than the night before. Walking down the streets of Denver, he had no idea where to go, and asked a man walking a dog, if he new where the Mission was. The man who was well dressed and obviously well-to-do, took one look at Carl, and said. "Better just keep walking, Jack. We don't need your kind dirtying up the neighborhood." Carl, just shook his head at the other man's rudeness, and kept walking. After 3 blocks, he saw a young woman huddled in the doorway of a warehouse. It was obvious, by what scant clothing she was wearing, that she was a lady of the night. He approached her carefully, and asked her, if she knew where the Mission was, and she told him, it was 4 blocks down, and 12 blocks west on Cedar St. He thanked her, and started walking through the snow, which had began to fall quite heavily by then.

When he got to the mission, he found that they had just closed up, having run out of food. Disappointed Carl, headed back toward the railroad yards. On the way, he peeked in a couple of trashcans, but found nothing to eat. He passed a food stand, just in front of a little meat market, and was extremely tempted to grab a couple of apples, an a cake of cheese, as no one was tending the stand at the moment. It would have been too easy. Despite the fact that he was feeling a bit weak from lack of food, he walked pass the stand, remembering that no matter how bad things got, he would never resort to stealing.

Back at the yards, he climbed back into the same car, he had spent the night in before. He got to thinking about his life, and the family he missed. He took out a ragged picture of his little boy from his back pocket. He really missed his son, who he had lost to pneumonia the prior year. The death of his son had hit him so hard, that he took to the bottle, in an attempt to numb the tremendous pain he was in. Then he lost his job, and everything went downhill after that. He was so totally absorbed by the depressing thoughts flooding his mind, he hadn't noticed that the train was moving again.

He just sat there staring at the picture of his son, when he jolted back to reality by a presence in the car. "Nice kid, yours?" he heard a voice say from the other end of the car. Looking up, Carl, noticed the familiar outline of the stranger, he had shared the car with the previous night. "Yes, my son, he would have turned 6, next April." "I'm sorry said the stranger, I know how hard it can get around the holidays, when you've lost someone."

The stranger pulled out something from his front shirt pocket, and walked across the car and handed it too Carl. It was a picture, of a beautiful young lady in her early 20's. She was wearing an old Victorian dress, and a wide brimmed hat, with a white feather on the side. Her garb was somewhat out of fashion for the times, "My Bess," the stranger said, "She died in childbirth, well.... lets just say a long time ago. There are times when ...." Carl interrupted, "I know what you mean. Say, You wouldn't happen to have an extra coffin nail on you, would ja? Hadn't had a decent smoke in a coon's age" "No, smoked my last one, last night," said the stranger. "But, I've got something here, that will keep us both warm tonight," he said as he pulled out a bottle of whisky, and handed it to Carl.

Carl looked down at his empty knapsack, wishing he could return the gesture, but he had nothing to share. He took one swig from the bottle, and the rest of the evening melted into a hazy fog, as he and the stranger shared stories, and companionship that lasted late into the night. At some point, the train had once again left the yard, but Carl hadn't noticed, his mind fuzzy from the whiskey.

The next thing Carl remembered was waking up sometime in the middle of the night. He instinctively reached for the bottle of whiskey, and raised it to his mouth, only to discover the bottle was dry. Stumbling over to the car door, he opened it wide, took one look at the empty bottle, and chucked it into a passing cow pasture. Standing at the open door of the car, Carl's thoughts became dark, as he took the tattered photo of his son out of his pocket for one last look. Then a comforting thought entered his mind. It would be too easy = Just one small step, and he could be with his son again. He took a step forward so that his feet were right at the edge of the door.....

Just then a gust of wind blew the photograph out of Carl's hand, and lunging for the photo Carl lost his balance, and found himself clinging to the outside frame of the car door. Hanging there, he thought to himself, "Just let go, and it will all be over!" Just as his grip loosened, and he begun to fall, he felt someone grab the seat of his pants, and drag him back into the car. Lying on the floor of the car, Carl looked around and saw no one. Except for himself, the car was empty. His mind couldn't rationalize what had just happened. He then realized that he had lost the only photo he had of his son. He lay there and began to sob, before finally passing out.

Carl didn't wake up until the next morning, when he felt the jolt of the train come to a stop. Carl's eyes focused on his old Knapsack lying in the corner. It looked as if, it was full of something. Carl crawled over to the corner, and propped himself up against a wall. Examining the knapsack, he could see that it had been deliberately tied up. Untying the sack, he found within a hobo's treasure trove of gifts: a pack of unopened cigarettes and a lighter, a cake of soap, a pair of gloves, and a brick of cheese to sustain him in the lean times. At the bottom of these gifts, lay a card, or at least what looked like a card. Upon turning it over, he was speechless. There in his hands, was the old photo of his son. He couldn't comprehend how the photo had gotten there, but he was thankful for the gifts.

Absorbed in his own thoughts, Carl hardly noticed when a man, whose skin was a dark as coal, stuck his head into the car. Carl's whose outlook on life had gotten a little brighter once his mind had cleared from the fog of whisky, said "There's always room for one more, friend." "No-sur!" came the sharp reply, "Just taking a look-see. You couldn't pay me to put one foot inside this here car!" "Why's that?", Carl inquired. "Jump down here." Said the man, and Carl obliged. "See that", the man said, pointing to the number 17 that had been painted on the side of the car. "Every cat riding the rails, knows about Number 17, How long you been train hopping anyways? Don't ja know its hanted? I've heard of cats being thrown from this here car, only to be caught under dem wheels. I even heard of a man who rode in the car alone on a run to Butte. Bossman found him the next day, cold as clay."

Carl's mind began to wonder back to the events he had experienced the past few days, and he began to think hard about the stranger that kept mysteriously showing up and disappearing at odd times. He listened intently, as the man recounted a story that had occurred in the early 1900's. It had been all over the papers. Apparently, a banker, distraught over the loss of his wife in childbirth, committed suicide by throwing himself under the wheels of the rolling car. Ever since, his unhappy spirit has been seen from time to time. Just then, the local railroad Bull appeared at the end of the train, and with that the man took off running, scared as a jackrabbit. Carl ducked in between cars, and made his way out of the yard.

As he walked along the streets, he thought about what the dark-skinned man had told him, and everything seemed to fall into place. And despite, the rumors of car 17 being haunted, he knew, that the car held no danger for him. He would always think of it, as the place, where he had received the ultimate gift of Christmas...a fresh outlook on life.

Ok. Everyone, I hope this was worth waiting for. Sorry it took so long for me to post it. Have been running a temp above 102, the past couple of days. Thank goodness, everyone chipped in and helped me fix Christmas dinner.