Choo-Choo's Last Ride Short Fiction By Andrew Osborne

Choo-Choo’s Last Ride: Short Fiction By Andrew Osborne

Andrew Osborne, author of Choo-Choo’s Last Ride, has been a freelance writer for many years, with past credits including the Image Comics crime series Blue Estate, Cash Cab on the Discovery Channel, the independent films On_Line, The F Word, and Sgt. Kabukiman, and NYPD among others.


It started raining around seven thirty that night; by ten it was a wrath-of-God thunder and lightning show. On route 90 in West Texas, the sky was a black velvet canvas and Choo-choo Jiminez shuddered at the fury of the storm there on display. The winds, unhindered by buildings or trees, were moving faster than his tiny blue Honda CRX, trying to force him off the road.

Choo-choo had driven thirteen straight hours since leaving New Orleans that morning. Before the storm, he had been nodding off, drifting from lane to lane, then waking up with a start. Now he was completely alert, wondering what he would do if a tornado rose out of the night and came for him.

“Fuck this,” he thought, and pulled over to the side of the road. He turned off his lights, figuring he’d see anyone coming down the highway in either direction long before they’d need to see him.

Choo-choo had driven thirteen straight hours since leaving New Orleans that morning. Before the storm, he had been nodding off, drifting from lane to lane, then waking up with a start.

He sat in the darkness, feeling his car tremble as the storm caressed it. The rain beat a shifting, rhythmic tattoo on the safety glass and aluminum panels. Crazy arcs of white light burst like flashbulbs, as if something was taking snapshots of his location, noting how vulnerable he was, planning its attack…

Choo-choo clicked on the dome light and checked Mr. Toad’s directions for the fifth time in thirty minutes.  “I-10 to San Antonio, 90 west, @50 mi. after Comstock (on the right) — Riverhill Ranch.”

Fifty miles. How long ago had he passed Comstock? It seemed like hours, but he hadn’t passed Langtry yet…had he? He remembered Mr. Toad saying that if he reached Langtry, he’d gone too far.

The glowing numbers on the dashboard clock read “11:15.” Even if he found the place, he couldn’t be sure that anyone would still be awake. Mr. Toad had stressed that this was a rush delivery, but still…what harm would it do to go back to the motel he had passed twenty miles back? At least he knew where it was. He could find Riverhill in the morning.

Choo-choo really wanted to smoke one of the joints in his pocket and go to sleep. But he wasn’t about to spark up right there; exhaustion, the storm and a wicked caffeine jag were already playing tricks with his mind. Pot would make the paranoia unbearable.

He lit up a cigarette instead. Deliveries always made him jumpy anyway, especially when he didn’t know the other person. And he was so far from home…If he showed up this late, something was bound to go wrong.

But the customer was expecting him. If Choo-choo didn’t show up, Mr. Toad would hear about it.

Fuck it. Most likely, the customer had already called Mr. Toad and everyone was panicking and Choo-choo would catch hell no matter what. He’d go to the motel and get a good night’s sleep. He’d sort everything out in the morning, after he made the delivery.

Suddenly, thunder hit like an earthquake and the landscape washed blue and white. Choo-choo jumped as he caught sight of the gate, looming before him, so close and unexpected that he almost thought it was charging forward. There it was, thirty yards down the road.

“Shit, man,” Choo-choo muttered under his breath as he mashed out his cigarette and flipped on the headlights. He could barely make out the rough letters on the gate, but he knew they spelled “Riverhill Ranch.”

This was weird. This was bad. He hadn’t seen the gate, but he’d stopped anyway. Why? Choo-choo didn’t believe in coincidences. This was some kind of sign. Did it mean that it was important to do the delivery right away, or was it some kind of warning?

Choo-choo lit up another cigarette. Aunt Blue would know. He felt a desperate urge to be with her, followed by an aching stab of remorse. Where was she tonight?

He thought about their last night together, drinking hurricanes in the French Quarter with Nash and Earl. “I’m gonna miss this damn town,” she’d said, “but Mr. Toad done pissed in the pool. It’s time to go.”

“Go? Where?”

“We’ve lined up some gigs travelling west, then we’ll probably give Los Angeles a spin.”

“You’re really leaving?”

“Yes, sir. And you should come with us.”

“I can’t just pick up and leave!”

“Why not?”

When he hadn’t been able to come up with a reason, Nash started singing, “The secret to a long life is knowing when it’s time to go…”

Time to go.

Choo-choo was getting depressed when the thought hit him like another flash of lightning: it wasn’t too late. Instead of going back to New Orleans, he’d keep driving west. Blue and the others had been gone less than a week, and he knew the route they were driving. They’d be making a lot of stops, so it was possible that he’d catch up with them on the road. If not, he’d just have to find them in Los Angeles.

Yes, it all made sense now. He’d read the sign. He would go to Riverhill, make the delivery and…

Shit. What was he going to do with the money? Shit. He couldn’t skip off with it. Mr. Toad would definitely come looking for him.

No, he’d have to go back to New Orleans, but that was okay. He’d get his cut of the money, settle his affairs, then buy a ticket to Los Angeles. That made more sense anyway. Aunt Blue had taught him you could always figure out God’s plan if you read the signs correctly, and he’d done it.

Choo-choo stubbed out his second cigarette and decided it would be better to just do the delivery and get it out of the way. Then he could go back to the motel and think about everything else.

He put the CRX in gear and drove towards the big gate. The rain had eased up and he could make out an old farm truck parked just inside the barbed wire fence that ran along the perimeter of Riverhill Ranch.

The car bounced over a metal grill as it passed through the gate and started down the access road beyond. Choo-choo knew the grill was to prevent cows from wandering out onto the highway, but he didn’t know how it worked and he didn’t see any cows.

Shit. What was he going to do with the money? Shit. He couldn’t skip off with it. Mr. Toad would definitely come looking for him.

He followed the access road for several miles until he heard the roar of a river up ahead, and a few minutes later his headlights illuminated the splintered remains of a washed-out bridge. Choo-choo stopped the car and got out, cursing.

A low, dark ranch house was visible on the other side of the wide, violent river, a hundred yards back from the bank. Choo-choo considered his options. It didn’t look like the customer had stayed up waiting for him, and there was no way to make the delivery now, anyway. Shit. He should have gone back to the motel.

As he turned back towards the car, a heavy blow thudded against the side of his skull. The coroner would later determine that he was dead before he hit the water.


If you’ve enjoyed Choo-Choo’s Last Ride, you can visit our free digital archive of flash fiction here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.

For online archive of short fiction (longer pieces) on Mystery Tribune website, you can visit here.

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