The wheels to the train screeched like cats howling under a full moon as it began to slow. Clouds of steam from the engine floated above the line of boxcars that was pulled along, rocking gently from side to side on the rusty rails. To switch to other trains, hobos inside the boxcars tossed their bedrolls and bundles of clothes out the open doors before jumping into the gravel that lined the tracks.
Inside a boxcar, Goglin Quish lay on the straw-covered floor and stared up at the mural painted on the ceiling. Almost everything in the mural was in movement. Dragons flew through swaths of azure blue. Winged white horses soared above green currents that ebbed and flowed on beaches of crawling golden starfish and dancing purple sea anemone. Fairies did ballets as they passed through moonlit clouds. Goglin sat up, spit out the piece of straw that he had been chewing on, and looked out at the rows of ramshackle tenement buildings. As the train came to a complete stop he put his bundle tied to a stick on his shoulder, stood, and jumped from the boxcar, landing in the gravel as lightly as a butterfly on a ball of cotton. Two railroad detectives suddenly appeared at the front of the train, raised their guns, fired shots in the air, and yelled for him to stop where he stood. Startled, Goglin dropped his bundle, turned into a field mouse, and crawled through the chain-link fence that stood as a border between the train tracks and the city.
Not far from the fence, Goglin returned to his former self, a thin man of average height with a face full of wrinkles, and bright green eyes that twinkled like Christmas lights. He looked around and found himself standing between mounds of trash. He kicked a tin can, turning it into stardust that drifted into the air and was carried off by a warm breeze. As he watched, the detectives picked up his bundle and, along with other bundles they had shoved in a burlap bag, headed toward the train station.
“That presents a problem,” Goglin said aloud. He looked around, and added, “This presents a problem also.” He walked toward the tall weeds in the back of the tenement buildings, leaving behind trash that he turned to patches of lush strawberries, large watermelons, and vines laden with plump blackberries. He pushed his way through the weeds and found a walkway of broken concrete between two of the buildings hidden from sunlight. It smelled dank and filthy.
“I wouldn't go in there if I were you.”
Goglin looked down at his feet. There stood a pixie with his hands on his hips and a petulant look on his face. His pointed ears stuck out from under his pointed hat.
Goglin frowned. “I've met your kind before and I'm familiar with your trickery,” Goglin said.
The pixie pointed to the holes in his dirty tunic and at his worn shoes. “Do I look like I'm in a position to do any tricks?”
“What are you doing here?” Goglin asked.
“I was riding a train with my clan but I fell out of the boxcar and now I'm lost.” The pixie wrinkled his button nose and gazed up at Goglin. “Who are you?”
“I'm Goglin Quish, an artist extraordinaire,” he said. “I too travel the rails. The boxcar I was riding in was about to be detached from the train so I had to get off, so here I am.” He stooped down. “My art supplies have been absconded by train detectives and I have to get them back before I travel on.”
The pixie removed his hat and ran his fingers through his corn silk hair. “I saw you perform some of your magic. Can't you just create some new supplies?”
“Not like the ones I've lost. They were given to me by a wizard I met in a boxcar years ago and it transformed my artistic ability. I say without any boasting, you'll never meet an artist like me.”
“No doubt,” the pixie said. “I'll try to help you if you'll help me, but I'll need a pocket large enough for me to be carried in.”
Goglin pulled open a pocket in his coat. “Will this be large enough?”
“What's your name?” Goglin asked as the pixie put on his hat and crawled into the pocket.
“You couldn't pronounce it,” the pixie replied.
With the pixie settled comfortably in his pocket, Goglin stood up and peered down the walkway. “What's in there?” he asked the pixie.
“It's not what's in there that should worry you, but when you come out at the other end there are ground-bound. Many, many of them.”
“I haven't met one of those in a long time,” Goglin said. “If I'm to get my art supplies back, we'll just have to deal with any of them that we meet.”
“I hope they won't want to eat us,” the pixie said.
Goglin strolled through the walkway, turning broken glass into fireflies and beer cans into monarch butterflies who thanked him profusely before flying away. Twilight began to spread bands of gold and dark purple as he stepped out onto the sidewalk. He abruptly stopped and with mouth agape and eyes bulging he stared at the cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles that passed by on the crowded street. Seeing them from the boxcars they had always seemed harmless. Up close to them, he feared for his life. The noise was worse than that of a train on uneven tracks and the inhalation of exhaust fumes made him dizzy.
“How do they live in this?” he said to the pixie who was peeking out of the pocket.
“It gets worse at nighttime. Those things on wheels shine terrifying lights,” the pixie said. “We'll need to find a place to stay until morning and then we can go search for your supplies.”
Goglin turned and looked at the tenement building behind him. “It has none of the appeal of a boxcar,” he said, “but maybe we can find a safe place inside it.” He climbed the steps, opened the door, and stared into the dimly lit hallway and the stairs leading to the upper floors. The smells of cooking food and aging wood wafted out. “I've never been in one of these before.”
“It stays in place year-round,” the pixie said. “It's a horrifying state of existence.”
Goglin stepped into the hallway and as the door closed behind him and the light from the bare bulbs attached to wires that hung from the ceiling cast their glow, he gasped. On every wall letters painted in every color were curled and shaped into all manner of design. Caricatures of men, women and children with expressions from despair to bliss stared out from above, below and between the lettering. Images of leaning skyscrapers, spiraling airplanes and leafless trees rose up from the floorboards. Brilliantly red, fiery suns and luminescent white moons were painted just below the ceiling. The letters and images covered the walls going up the stairs, disappearing into the shadows of the next floor.
“What does it all mean?” Goglin exclaimed in awe. “I know of no wizard who ever painted anything like this.”
The pixie crawled out of the pocket, climbed onto Goglin's shoulder, and sat down. “It doesn't rival a sunset seen from a boxcar,” he said dismissively. “But I'll give it credit for coming close.”
Hearing a door open and close on the next floor, followed by footsteps on the stairs, Goglin dashed into the shadow of a doorway and pressed his body against the door. After a man stepped from the stairs and went out the front door, Goglin slid down and settled on the floor with his legs crossed. When a fat rat scurried from under the stairwell and stopped and looked at Goglin hungrily, Goglin turned it into a bouquet of wildflowers.
“What do we do now?” Goglin asked the pixie.
“Wait until morning,” the pixie answered. He stretched out across Goglin's shoulder. “Have you always ridden the rails?”
“Yes. I was born in a boxcar as it crossed over a large gorge. My mother said that the first sound I heard was that of river rapids crashing over boulders. I received the finest education imaginable from gnomes, elves, unicorns, sprites, witches and wizards, all who shared the boxcars we traveled in at different times until they needed to move on or we had to switch trains.”
The pixie yawned. “I can't imagine what life was like before our kind started hopping trains”
“We were ground-bound just like everything else,” Goglin said. He closed his eyes, leaned his head back against the door, and promptly fell asleep.
In the middle of the night a door opened farther down the hallway. Both Goglin and the pixie awoke with a start. The pixie scrambled into the pocket as Goglin hastily stood up. He watched as a young man carrying several cans of small paint in one arm, a plastic pail in one hand, and a small wooden tool box tucked under his arm, closed the door and started down the hallway toward him. Goglin's knees shook. The ground-bound he had met during his life seemed like a joyless lot bent on causing trouble for those who lived and traveled in the boxcars. The young man stopped and looked Goglin up and down.
“You going to a costume party?” he asked. “That's a crazy getup.”
“Excuse me?” Goglin replied, his teeth chattering nervously. He glanced down at his clothes and then at the young man's jeans and hooded sweatshirt. There were splotches of paint on them. The pail the young man was carrying held cans of spray paint.
“Did you do the paintings on the walls?” Goglin asked, feeling brave for doing so.
“Yeah, I did 'em?” the young man replied. “What of it?”
“Who was the wizard who trained you?”
The young man laughed out loud. “Wizard? What drugs are you taking?”
“My name is Goglin Quish,” he said. “I'm an artist. Can you show me how to do what you do?”
“To do graffiti?” the young man replied. “Sure, man, I'm gonna finish up on the fourth floor of this building. You can come help me if you want, but you gotta be quiet, or we might get the cops called on us.”
“I'll be quiet as a boxcar standing still in the desert,” Goglin said.
“My name is Chester,” the young man said. He handed Goglin the tool box. “Carry that. It has paint brushes for detailed work.” He started down the hall to the stairs.
“I'll protect it as if railroad detectives were after me,” Goglin said, following behind.
“Man, you're really weird,” Chester said over his shoulder.
Just before sunrise, Goglin stood beside Chester and admired their work. Castles rose out of golden mists. Sea birds hovered over waves crashing against jagged cliffs. Men on motorcycles, clowns on bicycles, and women on surfboards, were surrounded by letters that were curved and twisted like pretzels.
“This is better than any boxcar I've ever painted,” Goglin said. “And you say you've had no training?”
“Graffiti doesn't take training,” Chester said. He picked up the pail filled with empty cans of paint and the tool box. “The sun will be up in a few minutes. I have to go to work. Thanks for helping out. It's kinda freaky, but sometime you gotta teach me how you put the paint on the walls without using brushes or the spray cans.” He started down the stairs.
The pixie stuck his head out of Goglin's pocket. “Is it safe to come out?”
“Yes, for being ground-bound, Chester is very nice. He taught me how to use spray paint,” Goglin answered. “It's sunrise. I think we can go to the railroad station now and get my supplies.”
Goglin left the building with the pixie peeking out of the pocket. There was a little traffic, but the street was quiet. Steam rose out of the manholes and the sidewalks were wet from water sprayed by the street cleaners. The ground-bound they passed had their chins tucked, staring at the ground, avoiding eye contact with those around them. Four blocks later they arrived at the front of the train station.
“The front looks much different than where the trains pull in,” Goglin stated as he stared up at the clock tower that rose up from the station's facade. Passengers mumbled angrily as they walked around Goglin to go through the glass revolving doors.
“It's now or never,” the pixie said.
Goglin followed a stout, little man through the doors and came out in a terminal lined with ticket booths, a coffee shop at one end and a newspaper stand at the other. A sign above a closed door read “Administrative and Security Offices”.
“That's where we go,” the pixie said.
Goglin had been taught how to read the ground-bound language when he was very young, but he had little grasp of what most of the words meant. “How do you know?”
“When I fell out of the boxcar I accidentally wandered into there from the back. I spent three days sleeping among bundles gathered up by the railroad detectives.”
Goglin crossed the terminal, opened the door, and entered a long hallway lined with doors. Here, he could hear the trains that rested on the tracks behind the station, their engines ticking and clicking from the heat they generated.
Pixie read the signs above the doors until they came to the one that read “Security.”
“That's it,” the pixie announced excitedly.
Goglin opened the door and gasped. Hundreds of hobo bundles were stacked in mounds from floor to ceiling. “This isn't going to be easy,” he said. “My bundle may be buried and not hear me.”
“There's no time to waste,” the pixie said.
Going from mound to mound, Goglin dug through the bundles, calling out “Leo.” At the moment a bundle still tied to a stick wriggled its way out of a mound and leapt into Goglin's arms, the door opened. A railroad detective stood in the doorway and pulled his gun from its holster.
“What are you doing in here?” he bellowed.
“Run, through the other door,” the pixie shouted.
Without an instant of hesitation, Goglin climbed over mounds of bundles and escaped through the back door as the detective fired several shots at him. Still running, Goglin suddenly found he was on the tracks and alongside him was a train made up of a long line of boxcars. He quickly climbed into a boxcar and cowered in the shadows at one end where a dozen pixies were gathered.
“Mama, Papa,” the pixie in Goglin's pocket stuck his head out, and bursting into tears, he shouted as he leapt out and into the arms of two other pixies.
Just then the train lurched and slowly began down the tracks, traveling away from the station. Goglin crawled to the door and looked out at the backs of the tenement buildings. He untied Leo and took out a paint brush with the colors of the rainbow that swirled around its tip like a cyclone. He held the brush to his lips and whispered to it, and then flung it out the door. As the train picked up speed he watched the paint brush go through the fence, on its way to Chester's door.
The pixie stepped up beside him. “Will he be able to learn how to use that brush without being taught by a wizard?”
“Da Vinci, the wizard who taught me, would say yes.”