Further, Farther

If I think really hard, I can see pieces. So close or so far it could be anybody. I think he rarely shaved; can vaguely remember my face hurting as he held me against his. In the distance I can picture him in the backyard, a silhouette leading my sister up yellow plastic steps to gently push her down a red plastic slide surrounded by Sweet Gum trees. I remember the brown spiky things that fell from those trees; Edie and I would collect and line them along the street in front of our house, hoping someone might drive by and catch a flat on our makeshift tire shredders. I’m not sure what we thought we’d do if it ever worked; probably run away. All of that feels clear, but he remains foggy. Faceless. 

Sometimes I hear him calling my name.


“Farron, you hear me?”


“You good, lad?” Zero asks me. “About time to hop out.”

“Oh, sure.”

“Yard’s a couple miles up.”

“We’re slowing down,” I say.

“Yeah,” Zero nods. “Get your pack on, bulls are bad around here.”


We jump off the train. 

Zero and I started in Pittsburgh. I got fired from my job at the Goodwill and kicked out of my place. I’d met him at work before and ran into him at a bar when I was facing my eviction. Zero always looked wise to me. He was my age but the sun had carved deep lines of experience and knowledge into his face. I remember him saying, “If you only have twenty dollars and the rent is due tomorrow, you might as well buy a couple drinks.”

That felt like good advice. That night we raided the donation bin outside of my old job and got me some gear. The next day, we rode a Norfolk Southern through Altoona up to Philadelphia. I almost died on that ride. There would be many more.

Zero’s been good to me. When my shoes weren’t cutting it he took me to an army surplus store to get good walking boots, taught me how to dumpster dive or, better yet, how most chain pizza places will have unsold pizzas they’re cool with giving away at the end of the night. “All across America,” he said, “there’s weary kids working late shifts who love the idea of feeding a hungry hobo.” Zero’s taught me a lot.

After the hop out we land in uneven ballast; running erratically, trying to keep balance, we wind up in thick, shin-high mud at the side of a pond.


One Summer, Edie went to visit with our Aunt in Arizona for a couple weeks that became a month that became she never came back. I remember covering my ears and humming, muffled yelling creeping through as I hid in my room.

She’s having fun and hm hm hmmm

Hm hmm Bullshit hmmmm not in the mood hm hmmm

Hmm likes having her around hmm

Hmm hmmcoming back

Hmm No, no, no hmmm hm hmm hm

Hm stupid bitch hm hm hmm

Hmm he can hear you hmm

  Hmm      hmmmmHmm hm hm I’ll go get her back hmm hm

Hmm hm hmmmm

Hmmmshe told me hmmm hmm know everything hm hm

      Liar! Hmmmmmmm

       Hmm     don’t believe you hmm hmm the way she acts hm hmm

Hmm  just drunk  hmm hmmmm hm hm hm

Hm hmmm hurting me hm hmm hm hmm

Hm hmm not an idiot hm hmm hm hm

Hmm monster

Hm find her and start over hm hmm

What about our son?

    What about him?


Zero and I are pulling at our legs but the fat, wet, sound of suction says they aren’t going anywhere. “We’re stuck,” I say.

Zero locks his arms behind one of his knees. “No, lad,” he wiggles his leg free as he pulls on  the trunk of a tree. “I’m not.”

The beam of a headlight grazes his back as he pulls his other leg from the mud. “Shit! Be cool, lad,” he says, slinking through a forest of tall cattails. I watch as they envelop him.

“Where are you going?” I whisper-shout.

No response. 

Something falls from the tree above me and bumps my head.

When we started traveling, I remember asking Zero where we were going. “We’re leaving everywhere and going nowhere,” he said. “That’s the beauty of it. The world’s our oyster! We can just disappear and nobody notices.”

The sound of a rumbling pickup truck approaches. A door opens.

Zero was wrong about the last part. People notice.


I still don’t know if our mother started when he left, or maybe later when Edie didn’t come back, or if it was always there and just became more obvious as I grew. I remember her asking me to bring her a white, plastic bottle of Aleve every few hours. I wonder if she picked that bottle out of a sense of irony or if it was just the first thing she had on-hand to fill up. “Farron, your mom’s got another headache,” she’d say I set the bottle down on the nightstand, next to a family photo that had been folded and placed in a smaller frame, his big hand on my tiny shoulder. 

Once while setting the bottle down, I asked if all grown-ups got headaches so much. 

“I hope to God you don’t.”

Years later, after a bad car accident, she finally joined NA. Edie went from Arizona to California and I had just been busted for a misdemeanor (the first of several). She didn’t talk to us after getting clean because being clean was the only thing she could focus on. Sometimes, late at night, Edie texts me a question: “Wonder what she was ever really like?” Neither of us ever has an answer, but it’s also funny to me that Edie only ever texts me this when she’s high; hell, I’m usually high when I receive the text. So I always want to say, “Like this, like us.”


“Looks like you’re stuck, son.”

“Yes sir,” I say to the bull, flashlight in my face.

“You were in the train?”

This is a loaded question. He knows I was in the train, but maybe he can’t prove it? “I was in the swamp,” I say because, using the logic of a grade schooler, I am in the swamp right now and was a moment before this railyard cop showed up. So it’s not a lie.

The bull smirks, his eyes bright and nearly cheerful. “Sure, son. Probably been getting stuck like this every few minutes. The rains this week and all.” He looks at the slowly filling mud holes where Zero’s legs were. “Be easier to get across this muck with another person.”

“It would be, sir.”

“But they left you.”

“He didn’t lea—” I dart my eyes away.

“So someone else is here,” the bull says. “I tell you what, since you came from the swamp and it seems like you have a good grasp of what you’re doing, I’ll just let you be and you can wait for help. I don’t feel like getting the floor of my truck all muddy and if I let you ride in the back you’d just hop off as quick as you didn’t hop off that train a few minutes ago,” he winks. I’m slowly sinking into the mud, getting smaller. I’m going to sink down into nothing.

“You’re lucky I’m in a good mood,” the bull says, walking away.


“I’m not sure if I want to see you right now, Farron,” Edie said.

“Why? I’m on the road, we’re heading west,” I said. “Just figured I could swing by.”

“It’s one thing to text and talk on the phone…”

“I haven’t seen you since you left us.”

“I didn’t leave,” she said. “I was sent away. There’s a big fucking difference.”

“Why are you getting mad?”

“Because you’re the one who’s literally running away from home to hop trains. You can’t just go off and, y’know like, shit… I don’t know! What if Mom needs something?”

“The hell you care for?”

“I didn’t fucking leave you, Farron.”

“All I know is we shared a bedroom and then one day we didn’t and I was alone. I’m not sure what else to call that.”

“You’d know why I left if you’d’ve ever turned around from your bed and stopped that fucking humming.”

“Oh so you left after all? I thought you said you didn’t leave.”

“You sound like him,” she said. “And when I look at your photos online, you’re even starting to look like him.”

“That isn’t fair,” I said. “And you’re not that much older than me, I don’t even remember what he looked like.”

“Yeah, well,” Edie paused. “I guess I remember everything.”


The bull drives off and something else hits me on the head. I pick it from the mud and feel a familiar spikiness. “Sweet gum,” I say out loud. I haven’t seen one of these in years.

Zero and I were drinking the night I told him Edie didn’t want to see me. He just shrugged and said, “Fuck her.”

I’m not sure what happened. After that we still rode together, and he said everything was cool, but things kinda changed after I beat the shit out of him that night.

“Just drunk,” I remember explaining.

“Yeah,” he said, “just drunk.”

The sweet gum ball pricks my finger and I drop it. The mud is now at my waist. I can barely feel anything below it, as if half of me has vanished. Deep in the thicket I hear a rustling. 

“Are you coming back?”


  • Eric Boyd is a winner of a PEN Prison Writing Award as well as The Writer’s Foundry Review fiction prize. His work has appeared in Joyland, Guernica, Flock, and The Offing, as well as the anthologies Prison Noir (Akashic Books) and Words Without Walls (Trinity University Press). Boyd is the editor of The Pittsburgh Anthology (Belt Publishing). Boyd briefly studied at Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa, before receiving an MFA in Brooklyn, New York. He is currently working on a novel on train hoppers. www.Eric-Boyd.com

  • Images of Jupiter. 1. Jupiter from the southern pole. 2. Close up of Jupiter's swirling cloud systems. 3. Jupiter’s northern UV auroras. Images obtained by the Advanced Camera for Surveys onboard the Hubble Space Telescope.