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     "Gee, I wish something EXCITING would happen."
     Phil Johnson limped along the tracks, not because he had to limp, but because taking two ties at once put too great a strain on his wiry twelve-year-old legs. Walking one brown splintery tie at a time made him feel tiny and trippy like his younger brother, so he took two ties with his right foot and one tie with his left.
     "STOP on RED then RIGHT with CARE." He chanted phrases he read along the way, emphasizing the long step with a louder word, putting in a "Hunh" on the eighth beat to put himself back into step. Dark with perspiration, his yellow hair, long in need of cutting, almost touched the back of his white tee-shirt. He glanced up with squinting hazel eyes at a peeling billboard for his next phrase.
     "CAN'T see THE forEST FOR---" and he stumbled over a tie. His accents had mixed up his feet. "CAN'T see th' FORest FOR the TREES." That was a little better, but he preferred STOP on RED then RIGHT with CARE.
     The hot autumn sun burned down on the freckled back of his neck as he followed the tracks to their meeting point in the wavering distance. Yellowish trees stood silent and dusty along the road, and cracks mosaicked the gray clayey mud into what looked like the baked surface of some distant planet.
     Every Saturday he walked the tracks, and now he stopped at one of his standard stops: the old dead cat.
     Fur had collapsed into a frame of bones, and the eyes had rotted into the grinning head. Phil didn't look too closely into the black eye sockets for fear of seeing some slimy crawling THING inside the decaying skull. Carefully he held his breath---he didn't know if the cat stank or not, but he wasn't going to give it a chance. The noon sun picked out the cat's stripes vividly, and then Phil thought about the escaped convicts: he had his game for the afternoon.
     Last Sunday night after he had gone protesting to bed, Phil remembered, a neighbor had phoned his mother to say that there had been a break at the state prison only forty miles away. Phil sat in bed hugging his knees as Bill, his older brother, tried to talk their mother into worrying about it, but she didn't worry one bit. His younger brother, Tom, breathed deeply in sleep beside him. So all Bill's talk fell onto Phil's large, receptive ears.
     Six convicts had shot their way out and nobody had seen them since. Phil pictured them running across the fields, their striped suits showing bright in the moon. Shivering with anticipation, he had twisted to raise the shade on his window, straining to catch a glimpse of a scowling man in black-and-white stripes hopping over the back hedge to hide in their garage.
     The convict's suit lurking in the moonlit garage turned back into the sun-moldering cat pelt before him, and Phil began searching for a heavy stone. After he found one, he removed the shoelaces from his dusty sneakers and stuffed them into his blue-jeans pocket with his rabbit's foot, three marbles, a rock that looked like silver, and three tissues his mother made him carry, but which he never used. Then he hefted the stone, his "ball'n'chain," and plodded along the tracks, "cussin' out the dad-blame sheriff."
     First he had to find a horse. His own special horse would be "daw-yun yonder" in the tunnel under the cliff. He took a brief detour to check the prickly bushes of still-red blackberries. He ate some anyway.
     Skittering down the white gravel embankment, he rattled stones into his unlaced sneakers and into his jeans? cuffs, which were rolled up three times on one leg and two times on the other. He dropped his ball'n'chain as he scrabbled to the muddy creek bottom near the base of the culvert. Phil whinnied like Black Beauty, his horse, and stepped toward the opening. Startled, he drew back as he glimpsed the tall silhouette of a man in the tunnel before him.
     "Hi---Hi," Phil said, surprised to find a strange man instead of Black Beauty. He bent over to pick up his rock and walked forward offering it as his explanation: "I'm playing excaped convik."
     The man said nothing, and Phil couldn't see his face clearly in the shadowy dimness. "This is my ball'n'chain," he said, as he hoisted the rock up to chest height and lowered it. "It's heavy."
     Frowning up at the man, who said nothing, he shivered from the cool damp air in the culvert, and said, "I jus' excaped from jail, and I shot five people, and my striped clothes is all torn, and I gotta carry my ball'n'chain." The man moved slowly out of the shadows, his heavy work shoes setting up dull echoes on the corrugated pipe of the opening. Phil's quick eyes swept up from the muddy shoes past the loose pants and coarse shirt to the unshaven face.
     He must be a bum, Phil thought. That's what Mom always called Dad when he didn't shave---a bum. And bums were always hungry, so Phil dropped his ball'n'chain and twisted around to his knapsack. "Mister, you wanna sammitch?" The man stood silent and stared at the knapsack as Phil pulled out a white packet. "Itsa good sammitch. Mom makes good sammitches," and he took a big bite, pulling off crusts which waggled between his lips. Hypnotized with hunger, the man began to move his mouth in echo to Phil's chomping bites.
     "Hor, 'ake a hammitch," Phil said with filled mouth, waving another sandwich toward the man's dirty hands. Finally the stranger reached out for it and Phil stared at the black fingermarks that appeared on the soft white bread, but they soon disappeared with the food.
     "Don't eat so FAST," Phil parroted his mother's voice in the back of his throat. As he chewed, he wiped the blond down of his tanned forearm against his mouth and wondered at the whiteness of the man's face and hands. The stranger embodied everything that Phil wasn't allowed to be. His mother didn't allow him to play with knives, and Phil saw that the man had a short, rusty, funny-looking knife. He shudda kept it cleaner, thought Phil.
     "Where's this traintrack go?" Phil jumped in surprise to hear the stranger finally talk.
     "Up to Arlington Street."
     "And then where?" Engrossed in the deep voice, Phil didn't notice the impatience in it.
     "And then it crosses the Minneford River on a BIG bridge and goes all the way to Carrington." That was as far as Phil had ever walked.
     "Yeah, yeah, and then where?" Now Phil squirmed under the harsh sound of the louder voice.
     "Then to---then it goes all the way up to Canada and to Alaska and to the North Pole."
     The tired-looking man leaned forward, bits of yellow cheese between his teeth. "This really goes to Canada?"
     "Sure, Mister, all the way up to Canada."
     "When's the trains go up that way?"
     "Every afternoon there's one comes by here. One day I'm gonna catch it and go all the way---"
     "How fast's it go?"
     Phil frowned at the interruption. "Pretty fast, but I can stand right out and wave to the engine man, even though it goes right past real loud. You wanna catch the train and go all the way---," he waited for an interruption but got none, "---to Canada?"
     "None of yer business, kid," said the man. "Naw, I got friends I gotta look out for."
     "Friends? Hey, maybe they're CONVIKS?? You seen any CONVIKS?" Phil's eyes widened in the culvert's darkness.
     "Shuddap, kid; stop hollarin.' No, I ain't seen any convicts." Then he started into the bushes so intently that Phil turned around just to make sure there WERE none.
     "Oh. I NEVER seen no conviks, except in the movies. I'd like to see those funny striped hats they wear. I bet I NEVER see no conviks." But now the man was listening to the far-off sound of an approaching train.
     "Here comes the train. You wanna wave with me?" asked Phil, looking back over his shoulder as he started up the slope.
     "NO, I---uh---I'm afraid of trains. I'm gonna wait here in the tunnel until it passes. You go wave."
     So Phil went and waved at the passing blast of steam and clanking rail and grating gravel, just as he had been told, but when he rattled down the slope again he was surprised to see that the man was gone.
     He stumbled back up to the track in time to see the stranger climb into a boxcar. "Hmp, I thought he said he was SCARED of trains." Then he shrugged, mounted Black Beauty, and galloped awkwardly down the track.
     "Gee, I wish something EXCITING would happen."