The sky was the blackest Ralph had ever seen it the night he set off for Wyoming. No moon, not even a single star … least not that he could find.
He took it as a sign that he was doing the right thing. There was nothing left for him in Indiana.
Eighteen years playing on creek banks and working in cornfields had left him nothing but a tattered education, a pair of rough hands, and a broken heart. The first two, he could have lived with.
Heck, if Belle had just said yes, he could have made do with no hands at all.
But she hadn’t.
And so here Ralph was, trudging along dark dirt backroads and cutting through muddy spring fields, heading as the crow flies for the train tracks that ran smack dab through the middle of Clarkstown.
He figured if he timed things just right, he could crouch there in the dark brush west of town and hop on one of the open box cars before the big steam engine built up too much speed heading out of the station.
As he hopped across the last snaky curve of Slippery Creek, a train whistle sounded in the distance behind him, and he knew he had, indeed, timed it just right. Knowing the local landscape had its benefits, so he guessed that was one thing he would miss about Indiana.
He angled across old man Crawford’s empty field, cursing the jagged stumps of last year’s cornstalks as he went, and set his sights on the horizon.
Even in the pitch black, the cloying lilac bushes were darker still, and that’s where he’d hunker down while the locomotive picked up its freight in town.
When Ralph crouched down in his little thicket of a hidey-hole a few minutes later, something soft brushed his arm, and he like to jump out of his skin. He stumbled backwards and fell on his bottom.
It was then that Belle started to giggle. She lit a match, and her eyes twinkled in the darkness.
“Don’t look so surprised, boy. I just needed a little more time, is all. Ain’t no way I’m letting you blow out of this cow town without me, though!”