It echoed in his mind, with the not-quite-painful thud each time the back of his head rocked against the wall behind him. It occurred to him the rail beds were in no better shape than any other public infrastructure. Thus, the freight cars rocked back and forth without any regularity in rhythm or depth, but with a rather annoying frequency.
It reminded him of the regret he felt in not waking up to the reality of things until it was past time to act.
Like a fool, he believed there would actually be some food given away as the fliers promised. He was cagey, but not shy enough.
A couple of blocks from the rail yard, he sat behind an abandoned house, up close to the rusting hulk of an old car. Watching the streets, he tried to gauge the kind of people heading down to the tracks. No good. He couldn’t tell much, couldn’t see any discernible pattern. A few hung back, but not as far back as he.
Shifting his position just a bit, he spotted some rail cars moving slowly in the yard. It was a wide, flat sand bed, covered with the double-fist sized chunks of hard stone common to all rail beds. He could see where some of the rails had been pulled up, cannibalized for the steel. The high fence which had always been there was now topped with a row of concertina wire. Hadn’t seen that stuff since his time in Iraq. He rubbed the twisted wreckage of his left lower leg, where he was one of the lucky few to survive a blast which killed all his friends.
It got him sent home, at least. Too bad his wife had already taken the kids and moved to Mexico with her boyfriend. At least, that’s what the note said at the nearly empty apartment. Sure, lucky.
The rail car on the far end of the siding track had one door slid open, and it looked just like FDA food boxes. He decided it was worth the risk, and joined the small but growing crowd just outside the gate at the end of the pavement where the street ran into the yard. Maybe this time, he really was just a little bit lucky.
On the edge of his consciousness, something nibbled. How many guards did they have securing that open rail yard gate? Too many, it turned out. It wasn’t a total lie, because the boxcar with FDA boxes did hold food, and it was being handed out. But no one got to leave. He turned just in time to see the gate closed behind them. Someone stepped up with a bullhorn, as more armed guards formed a circle around the crowd. The bag of food would be enough for the long ride to a work camp, they were told.
They could climb quietly and orderly into the empty boxcars or be subdued. It took only three examples of dissenters trying to climb the fence to explain what “subdued” meant. Death by roadside bomb would have been better.
A dozen times he could have made a different choice, but each time he took the wrong route. In just three months he went from wounded veteran shoved out the clinic door in a badly worn wheelchair, wounds hastily dressed and probably not all the shrapnel cleaned out. At least he was stitched up properly. He passed through three charity homes just before each one shut down, just missed out on several make-work jobs with room and board, got robbed of his chair, stayed too long in his old apartment building until it burned down… Yeah. Lucky.
No more. It didn’t matter any more. Something rose up within him.
He had been drafted for Iraq, and like other men who didn’t want to be there, didn’t believe in it, hated the whole thing, he obeyed orders just enough to keep from getting shot on the spot. That was a new, unpublicized means of dealing with the first wave of reluctant draftees. Unit commanders were permitted two rounds for any draftee who malingered. Fill out the paperwork, bury the body in country, and requisition another unwilling trooper. In spite of himself, he did learn the soldierly skills they tried to teach him.
No more regrets. From that moment on, he was a soldier again. He chuckled at the thought of fulfilling the old stupid ad campaign, “Army of One.”
They were headed to a work camp, and any operation involving that many people would inevitably leave gaps in security. Somewhere along the way, he would spot the vulnerability in the system, and fight back. He began visually scanning the rail car.
It wouldn’t matter if he died in the process. Anything was better than living in regret, a prison far worse than any slavery the government goons had planned for him.