Get Onboard

License: Some rights reserved by Train Chartering & Private Rail Cars

By Jennifer Bower

How long have you been hiding in those bushes, friend? Lord, you must be freezing. Come on now. Quickly, quickly! Follow me up to the house. It’s a good thing Sister Draper’s baby was delivered without complication, or I might have been out all evening. Is there anyone else with you; anyone else at all? Good. That makes things easier, as I only have one ticket for tomorrow’s train.

Why have you stopped at the door? Quit your dawdling and come in. You needn’t look around, there’s no one here but me. Take a seat on that stool by the fire and warm your bones. Feels good don’t it? Widow Beeson brought me a good-sized pot of beef and potatoes this noon; I’ll sit it back on the fire for you. Just a fair minute or two and that broth will be warming your innards. Yes, it does smell awfully good. I think I may have to have another bowl too. The widow also brought some buttermilk biscuits and pumpkin muffins. You want to eat one now, or wait on the stew? Good; biscuit or muffin? Whoa, slow down! You’re liable to choke yourself. I may be a doctor, but, I’d rather not have to save your life tonight. When’s the last time you ate? That long? Here, the stew is hot now. Take this bowl and eat slowly while I fetch you some clean, warm clothes.

The widow makes a tasty stew, doesn’t she? Did you get your fill? Good. Now listen, I’ve got a small room down in the cellar. You need to get some rest before heading back out, so come with me. I keep a small pile of hay over in that corner. Bed down there, as it—and these blankets—will keep you warm. I know it’s not much, but I suppose it’s the same or better than, you’re used to. What’s that? Not tired you say? Yes, I suppose that food did give you a bit of energy. Even so, you need to rest before leaving. Since you are alert though, let me to speak to you a while. It’s imperative you listen and remember all that I say. Understand? Good.

In three or four hours, I’ll come back down and wake you up. No, not sooner, as there is no need and I want you to get at least a couple hours of sleep. Listen. See that bucket of onions over there? Grab one and put it in your pocket. No, it doesn’t matter. You can do it now, or when I wake you up. Now, as soon as you step outside my house, take that onion and rub it on the sides and soles of your brograns. Why? You don’t want the hounds picking up your scent, do you?

Soon after I wake you up, the stationmaster will arrive and he’ll be eager to load cargo. He won’t load here, but a few miles up the road. There’s a foot trail behind my barn that will lead you to him. No, you don’t need a lantern. The sun will be coming up and you’ll have plenty of light to see by. The track and schedule is set, so you mustn’t tarry. The stationmaster will only wait a short while for you. As there won’t be any time for questions, I’m going to try and tell you all you need to know.

The main cargo is loaded underneath a cover of hay and goods. Sometimes that hay—or the bugs in it—get your body a itching, but you better not move. Relieve yourself? Why, if you can’t hold it, you’ll have to do it right where you’re at without moving—and without making a sound. I’m sure that’s true friend. Thanks to God, I can only imagine what you’ve endured.

If you become sick, which some passengers do, try to vomit without moving or making a sound. Put these three pills in your pocket and take them just before you get onboard. They should help with that. Along the way, the stationmaster will stop—if safe—and let you out for personal purposes. Advice? The best thing I can tell you is to lie on your stomach. You’ll get an extra breath of air, you won’t have to travel with debris falling in your face, and it should make the trip a tad more comfortable. You may even catch a glimpse of sunlight bouncing through the boards; sunlight’s good for the spirit you know.

You’re welcome my friend; but, truly there is no need for thanks. I’m simply doing what any God-fearing Christian would do. What? Yes, that’s true; but, perhaps some are just afraid to act on their conscious. It is not for me to judge. Are you a God-fearing Christian? Have you given your heart to Jesus? Good. I know friend. It is a lot to understand, but if you have faith friend, if you have put your trust in Jesus, you will be set free. Take my word friend, in a few months the Lord will deliver you to the Promised Land.

I’ve been speaking for over an hour and it’s time you took your rest. Do you need anything? Do you have any questions about anything I’ve said? I’m afraid I cannot answer that question friend. It is a question I have been asked countless times; but, one for which I shall never have an answer.  My reply can only be to try not to think about it. Try not to worry about the master or slave catcher. Put them out of your mind. Think only about the Promised Land. Pray for yourself and for the man carrying you there. You do not need to pray aloud. Simply close your eyes and speak to the Lord friend. Ask Him to take care of you; ask Him to look down on the man who is caring for you; and ask Him to keep you both safe. Tell him whatever you feel; whatever is in your heart. Yes, I will pray for you too. I will pray for you, just as I have prayed for all the others.

Rest easy friend. I’m going upstairs to wrap some food for you. I will put some of the widow’s biscuits in two small sacks. Put one in each sleeve cuff. That will allow you to reach them without much movement once you are onboard. I will also prepare a small flask of water for you; tie it around your neck. Just think, in a few, short hours, you will be on your way to Canaan. Yes, I know it’s hard to rest on a night like this, but try friend, try. That’s it. Good. Lie down and rest your weary body.

Wake up friend! Wake up! Gather your food, water, and don’t forget the onion. The train’s a coming and it’s time to get onboard!

Category: Fiction, Short Story