The Boy Who Called Himself Nameless
NamlessThe engine snaked through the distance, a cloud of white smoke trailing alongside it like a close friend. It slowly grew bigger, first individual cars could be seen, then doors, then, as it pulled even closer, flashes of faces moving to hide in dark corners as the train slowed and came to a stop.
The boy glanced over his shoulder, a last effort to memorize the sleepy town that up until now he had called home. The land sloped gently off for a few miles, before suddenly rising in a mountainous plateau - Giant’s Chair, as it was called by locals. Closer, figures could be seen slowing moving about in the pre-dawn light, the sky’s turquoise hue making them barely visible. One of them was his father, the boy knew, rising to milk the one cow before going to argue with the crop buyer about the price for corn. His mother would be in the kitchen; the smell of bread baking in the oven would be filling the house and rousing his younger sister from bed. Tousle-haired, she would stumble down the creaky wooden stairs to collect the newspaper from the boy next door.
The boy swallowed, turning back to the train. His family didn’t want him anymore; they had made that clear when his father handed him a pack late one night the previous week, and said to be gone by morning. After the stock market had fallen, it wasn’t uncommon for a family to send their oldest son away, but he had never expected it would happen to him. He had hung around the farm, skirting the edges, waiting to see if they would welcome him back, but they usually pretended not to see him, if they saw him at all. Once, his little sister had started towards him, eyes wide and sparkling, until his mother had called her back.
Shouldering the pack, the boy clambered into the train, picking his way over boxes that looked like they hadn’t been toughed in months. In the back corner, a pile of blankets marked what looked like a bed, and a box held a few useful items - a small knife, pocket lighter, and the end of a loaf of hard bread. He glanced around; whoever the items belonged to wasn’t here anymore. He set down his pack, and reached for the knife.
Strangely it felt warm, like it had just been -
A hand yanked on his hair, and he dropped the knife with a yelp.
“Put down.” A gravelly voice said in his ear, “Not yours.”
The boy made a wordless cry, hand moving to his hair, where fingers still dug in. The grip lessened, but did not let go.
“Who are you?” the voice asked, thick with some European accent.
“Nnng...” the boy said, grabbing at the hand. The skin was paper thin, but the grip was vice-like.
“Who are you?” the voice repeated.
The boy said nothing,but continued to struggle.
The man - for it was a man’s voice and grasp that held him - snorted, and dropped the boy. “So.” He said, “You are Navnløs, Nameless. No matter.” he reached behind him, and picked up the boy’s pack. “Here. Go now.” he turned back to the pile of blankets and began folding them.
The boy finally found his voice, and he used it now, wishing it didn’t tremble like it did.
“I-I have a name. I just don’t want to tell you.”
The man snorted again, “You still here, boy?”
“I’m not a boy, either. I’m almost thirteen.” he glared, feeling braver now that the man’s hand wasn’t holding him up by his hair.
“Thirteen years. You know how many years I have, boy? Seventy-six. When you have seen seventy-six summers, and seventy-six winters, watched the trees turn seventy-six times, and felt the flowers bloom seventy-six ways, then you will no longer be a boy. Now, you will go, or I will throw you out.”
The boy scrambled over the boxes, torn between wanting to get away quickly and the fear of turning his back on the old man. He may have seen seventy six years, but he certainly had the strength of a much younger man.
As he approached the edge of the train compartment, he paused, hesitant to jump the small gap. With a groan, the train wrenched into movement, and the boy nearly pitched headfirst off the train. His hand caught the wall of the compartment, though, and after a brief fight with gravity, he pulled himself back onto the train.
Nerves on fire, he sat back and felt the train pick up speed, the scenery blurring into a mash of colors. Adrenaline drove through his veins, and he realized, some few minutes later, that he was shaking. A rasping noise from behind him made him turn.
The old man sat on an upturned crate, chest heaving. It took the boy a moment to realize that he was laughing.
“You should have seen your face, boy. Ho-ho, it was something to behold.” The old man laughed until tears streamed down his face, and he was choking to catch his breath.
The boy stared, unsure of how to act. First the man nearly throws him off the train, and then laughs when he nearly falls off.
“You’re sick.” the boy said, spitting.
The man held up his hands in a surrender, “Forgive me, I have been alone too long. A twisted young man grows into an old man with twisted humor.”
For such a thick accent, the man spoke english quite well, if a bit stiffly. His mouth seemed to want to form words that had no place in the American tongue; consonants wanted to flow together that had no business being next to each other.
The boy struggled to find a response, and, finding none, said nothing. He leaned against the compartment wall, feeling it shake and getting little comfort. The man continued to chuckle, until, seemingly spent, he wiped his face, and faced the boy with interest.
“What do you want from me?” the boy asked, after a few more minutes of silence.
“Want? I want nothing from you, boy, save a little information. As it seems we are to share this lovely abode, a name would be nice. Where do you plan on going? What sends such a young boy into the cruel life of a rail rider?”
The boy looked around, unwilling to tell his story. He picked at a scab on his knee, one that he had gotten climbing a tree not too long ago.
“So you are, at least, a smart coward.”
The boy looked up, “I’m not a coward.” he refuted hotly.
The man spread his hands out, open, “A braver boy would have jumped, regardless of the motion.”
The boy flushed, and spat again.
Suddenly, the man stood up, and pointed a bony finger at the spittle, “If you are to stay here, boy, you will learn manners. There will be no spitting on my floor. Do not make me teach that lesson any harsher.”
The boy nodded, again mute.
“Now, we will be eating soon. I would hope you have some food in that pack of yours; it will be a few days before the rats are coming. They do not take to new comers well.” With that, the man turned and climbed back over the boxes, leaving the boy to stare, until well after his figure had retreated into darkness.