At the age of 17, Marvin McMaster ran away from home, and went on the road looking for answers. He walked and hitched until he was out of town, he walked and hitched until he saw nothing but infinite green fields. He was lost but confident, because he knew he made the right choice. Marvin was wandering around the fields when he found railroad tracks. He waited there until he saw a train coming his way, and tried to hop it. Marvin ran along side the train, trying to grab hold, but he had no experience and kept failing to climb aboard. Finally, he was able to jump inside a boxcar at the rear end of the train.
The boxcar had an eerie stench to it that hit him hard in the nostrils. It was dark even though the sun was shining outside. It took some time for Marvin’s eyes to adjust, and when they did, he saw the inside of the car clearly. Heaps and heaps of haystacks lined the walls of the car, and the vibrating ground underneath his feet had splotches of black all around. Marvin took a few steps towards a low haystack, but tripped and fell when the car jolted forward.
“First time, eh?” A hoarse voice asked over the sound of the train.
“Who’s there?” Marvin said still flat on his stomach, he turned his head to the direction of the voice, which was towards the far corner of the car.
A match was struck, and the face of an old man appeared. The old man lit his corncob pipe, he puffed a few clouds of smoke, and then put out the match.
“I asked you a question, boy.” The old man said.
Marvin crawled towards the old man, with the strap of his rucksack still clenched in his fist.
“Name’s Mills,” The old man huffed “Frank Mills.”
Marvin reached the old man, who sat on a haystack with his back wedged in the corner of the boxcar. Frank Mills wore a blue overall that was stained with different shades of black, and a matching cap. His white hair sprung out from under the cap in every direction.
“My name is Marvin McMaster, sir.” Marvin said.
“Little Marv McMaster hopping trains,” Frank said “Ain’t that somethin’?”
“Where you goin’, boy?”
“Nowhere’s a mighty long way to go.”
“Is that so?” Marvin asked.
“Yes siree,” Frank replied “I was going nowhere myself.”
“And did you get there?”
“Almost there, almost there.”
Frank took a deep drag from is pipe, and blew the smoke upwards. He let out a few coughs, and spat in the hay. Frank took off a string necklace from around his meaty neck, and with whatever that hung at the end, he picked at the mouthpiece of his pipe.
“What’s that?” Marvin asked.
Frank raised the curved piece of metal attached to the string in front of Marvin’s face.
“This here’s the Dead Fisherman’s hook.” Frank answered broodingly.
It was indeed an old fishing hook the size of one’s thumb.
“What is the Dead Fisherman’s hook?”
“It’s a long story.”
“Nowhere is a long way?”
Frank thought for a moment. He retracted his arm, and peered at the hook in his hand.
“Alright then, I’ll try to be brief,” He finally said “A long time ago, when I was just about your age, I decided to run away from home. My old man had a farm in which I was born and raised. I was destined to spend the rest of my life there, but I had other plans. You see, I wanted to be a fisherman, to ride the waves on a vessel, fishing and sailing the seven seas. So, one night, I left home and ran for it. I kept runnin’ until I made it to the nearest fishing town by the name of Elington. I stayed there for a long time tryin’ to get on a ship, but no one’d take me given my age. I was hungry and alone, spendin’ my nights in alleys, and my morning roaming around.
“One night, an old fisherman saw me scrounging for food. He took pity in me, and agreed to take me with’em. The next day, I was aboard his vessel. He took me under his wing, and taught me everything about boats and fishing. ‘Yer a natural!’ he’d say to me over and over again, and maybe I was. We spent weeks and weeks at sea, catching fish by the ton, even the crew said I was their lucky charm. But little did they know, we were about to run outta luck.”
Frank Mills pounded the ash out of his pipe, he took a small pouch out of his pocket, and filled the bowl with tobacco. He then lit up his pipe once more.
“It was strange how it all happened,” Frank continued through the smoke “One minute, we were sailing the calm sea, and the next, well, fury struck. The sea turned on us, as well as the skys. Boy, you should’ve seen it, it was terrifyin’, we didn’t know where the water was comin’ from. Our steamer was too small to handle the pounding, but the old fisherman and his crew battled on. We all did, even I. But we were nothing compared to that mighty sea. ‘Don’t be afraid, son,’ the old fisherman told me ‘It’s gonna be alright’, but of course, it wasn’t. As the steamer went down, everyone jumped ship, except the old man. I was scared, but I stayed on board, begging him to jump with us, but he wouldn’t. It was then that he gave me this necklace with the hook attached to it. I put it around my neck and jumped into the unknown. I can’t tell you what happened after that because frankly, I’m not sure myself. All I can remember is that I kept swimming and swimming. After some time, I found myself being rescued by another ship. I was the only one who survived the storm. I’ve never been on a boat ever since”
Marvin simply stared at him with his mouth half open, utterly dumbfounded. The old man’s story played itself in the young man’s head in vivd colors, the sorrow of it all! Frank Mills looked at Marvin and smiled, he puffed on his pipe for a while before he spoke once more.
“You see,” He said “I keep it with me as a reminder, not of the sadness, not as a lesson, none of that shit; I keep it with me as a reminder, and just that. It’s the memory, that’s the only thing that counts, the experience itself. Not just that memory, all of them, my whole life, because these things make up who I am.”
“I understand.” Marvin said in a barely audible voice.
“You’ve only gots your mind, boy.” Frank Mills said placing his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
And towards the south the train rolled, towards the unknown, carrying on it the early memories of Marv McMaster’s life.