Upon dropping out of college, I took to riding the rails. I wanted to see the country thought a hobo’s eyes. I would ride for days with only my knapsack and a warm bottle of whiskey at my side. It was summer and the weather was fine. I met many fine men on these journeys; men like Tiny Joe, Tin-Can Pete, and Tommy the Gimp. These were fine all-American men; the backbone of a burgeoning economy. These were my friends. We shared a lot as we rode those rails. We shared cans of beans, we shared stories of life on the road, and at times we even shared certain infectious diseases. I remember those days well, for they were among the best in my life. And although all of my friends died of either exposure or alcohol poisoning mere days after I met them, each one of them is near and dear to my heart. But life on the rails was not all laughs and fun. There were scuffles. Angry bums who would sooner slit your throat than say a kind word to their own mother. But there was one traveler in particular…
It was on a fateful night in late October that my mettle was truly tested. We had hopped a boxcar that was traveling from the great plains of Idaho down to the crashing seas of coastal Florida where winters were mild. Spirits ran high. My friends and I were all sitting and laughing around a fire, sharing a private laugh as the world clattered by outside. I don’t remember what it was, but something made me look over my shoulder. There, in the dim shadows, far from the warmth of the fire, I spied a cloaked figure. He was crouched low and his hood was drawn up about his face, hiding his features from prying eyes such as mine.
I swallowed nervously and called out a friendly greeting, beckoning him to come over and share in our good cheer. He did not respond. Slightly offended, and still a little frightened, I stood and gave a shout:
“Avant and quit my sight you mangy cur! We shall have none of your kind in here to spoil the pleasurable mood! Now away with ye!”
Even as I spoke, the figure began to rise. He cast off his cloak, and the men let out a collective gasp. For we saw that he was none other than Hades, the horned and terrible Lord of the Underdark!
He strode toward us purposefully, his cloven hooves clacking loudly on the wooden floor. The other men crowded behind me, mewling softly. Coming nearer, he raised his beastly head and gave a dreadful bleating. One man screamed with fright and dove out the open boxcar door. But I did not falter, I drew myself up to my full height, slowly unsheathing my sword and holding it at the ready.
“Come on, sweet cheeks!” I snarled mockingly.
The Dark One stopped a few feet from me. He let out a snort, columns of rank steam issuing from those fetid nostrils. He cackled menacingly and produced a massive broadsword. Stained a dark crimson and adorned with savage barbs, this horrible weapon frightened me to no end. But I dared not reveal this. The beast roared and began to run towards me. The battle for my soul had begun.
For 9 days and 9 nights we clashed. We two were equally deft swordsmen and neither would falter. By the end of the ninth night, much blood had been spilt by both parties, and the beast had been all but defeated. By and by, he raised his hateful sword above his head for a strike and faltered slightly. Seeing this I quickly heaved my blade into his flank with all my strength, cutting deep and clean. Hades bellowed; his body wracked with immeasurable pain. He dropped to one knee. I swung my sword again and clove off his left arm, and a putrid fountain of blood issued from the stump.
Knelt before me was the great and terrible Hades, Lord of the Underdark. His deep crimson eyes burned into mine. The hatred was palpable. I spoke thusly:
“O great lord Hades, you came to this place of good humor and men of fortune I know not why, but now you are beaten, and when you are dead I will spit on your corpse and then some of us may take it upon ourselves to do some sort of jig.”
From the back of the group, a tiny voice said,
“But sir, I do not know how to jig!”
“Ha-ha!” I cried, hoisting my sword above my head, “Then you shall do a waltz my friend, and I will hear no more about it!”
And with that I drove my sword down hard, rending the creature in twain.
But I had not escaped unharmed from the battle, for unbeknownst to me, Hades had delivered a mortal wound to my chest. I collapsed to the ground and knew that I was not long for this world. I pulled myself up on my hands and knees and extended my hand to my friends who had been looking on, but they only turned away with a sigh of grief. Cursing their names, I spat and fell to the ground.
I have written these final words on this soiled paper napkin from a fast food restaurant. I was forced to use a wretched mechanical pencil as well because that was available at the time of my wounding. No matter, in a short while I will be dead, and in the kingdom of heaven there will be crisp, freshly sharpened bright yellow number two pencils as far as the eye can see.
This is the least I can hope for.