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Strangers on a Train
by J. A. Adkins
Part 10-The River
Memories and nightmares have no sense of timing. Case in point, the everlasting white squall of anxious thoughts unsuccessfully repressed by my consciousness that suddenly flooded over the dyke of my rational mind in that solitary moment after the knock on the door. In the blink of an eye I found myself back in my house. I'm standing in my room when I first hear it. The exact same noise, only this time louder, angrier. There is real purpose in that rapping. I stumble drowsily down the stairs. My heart beats mildly in my chest. My life is a daze by that day, one dream after another in a stream that will not end. Each waking moment brings new pain of the days now drowned in shadow, blood, and alcohol.
I reach the front door. I turn the handle.
"Taylor Chapman," asks a police officer with stubble-shadowed cheeks before I even have the door all the way open.
I look at him and his starched uniformed entourage surrounding him on each side of my front stoop. "Yes?"
"You're under arrest..."
Danny suddenly shakes me. I blink, watching him as he approaches the bathroom door without making a noise.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
"Hey! Come on! There's other people on this train, you know!"
The whiny voice that rings through the thin, metal skin of the door races past my ears into my brain which recognizes it instantly. Darren glances at me, curious about the voice, himself. I nod my head and Darren smiles. He braces himself against the sink as much as possible; only marginally cloaked by the door frame. His fingers hovered above the door latch, tense and unshaken. He looks at me again before placing a finger to his lips. That smile is still there.
He freed the lock on the door. The thin metal slid hurriedly open. My eyes fell on the tacky, plaid bathrobe draped loosely over Niel's torso and waist. It barely reached his knees. He looked up at me, startled. Darren turned around on his heels, tackling Niel against the opposite wall of the narrow corridor.
"Shut up," Darren growled. His voice even made me tremble. A fist I didn't notice forming cracked against Niel's abdomen. A tearful grunt escaped the captured twink's lips. He tried to hunch over but Darren kept him pinned to the wall.
I took a step out of the bathroom. I couldn't help but smile at Niel. "I think you've made a new friend."
Fear was the only emotion I could see on Niel's young face. He tried to speak but found the strength and voice to form the words in his head absent. Instead, there was only Darren who pushed more of his own brute strength into the other boy.
"Now," Darren barked, "you're going to cooperate or else you won't be around long enough to remember my name!"
"What do you want," Niel asked, his voice raspy and strained.
"Devoy! Where is he?"
The heart is funny organ, too. The way it can just suddenly stop sometimes and you can actually feel fear course through your entire body like electricity. That was just the case when that voice resonated down the corridor from the end of the car. Both Darren and I looked to the right at the same speed, the same looks on our faces. Out of the corner of my eye Niel's smirk burned an angry hole into my fear ridden body.
Devoy took a step forward. In his small shadow, standing over him like a tower was the always ominous Mr. French. He was still wearing that stupid cowboy hat. The swollen shape of the pistol under his pinstriped gray suit, however, drew on the bulk of my attention.
"My word, you are persistent, aren't you, Mr. Brasier?"
"Depends," Darren quipped. He sounded so calm. I envied him.
One of the compartment doors slid open, revealing the frustrated figure of Guy. Silk boxers clung to his athletic legs and slim waist. I felt my teased tool begin to rise with curiosity.
"Oh," Guy said, trying to catch up with the situation. "I was just...wondering where Niel was..." Darren pushed against Niel again, who waved to his partner in return.
Devoy rolled his eyes. "Well, now that the whole gang is here, let's move somewhere more private, hmm?"
"I like it right here," Darren said, flexing the muscles of his arm under Niel's chin so that the pressure on the boy's throat increased and decreased.
"Fine." Devoy narrowed his eyes. He straightened his shoulders, adjusting his finely tailored suit. "Mr. French...kill them, please."
The bigger man stepped past his smaller boss, reaching into his jacket for his gun. I could feel my heart racing, pounding with a painful might against my chest. I couldn't move. My body was frozen in fear-gripped tightly in the hands of inevitability. Where was I going to go, anyway?
Not once in those few moments that passed before the tides of fate began to change had I ever considered the floor. Neither, I suspect, had any of the others. So when the train suddenly lurched forward, and the click-clack of the wheels gliding noisily across the tracks was broken by the shrill, deafening chorus of the brakes, gravity-along with fate-shifted with a heavy pull.
My shoulder throbbed, smacking the front wall of the car. Darren stumbled backwards, grunting as he and Niel became a tangled heap on the floor. The sound of Guy's whiny yelp rose above the squeal of the protesting brakes when his head met the door frame in a brief confrontation. Devoy lost his balance, falling into Mr. French who collapsed to his knees; his pistol tumbling free of his fingers. It was all over in a matter of seconds. The air of the train was flooding with the din of panicked and confused passengers.
The door to my right slid open. I looked up into worried, yet strangely proud eyes of Jake Lagrimas. He smiled nervously at me. I smiled back, regaining my balance and my senses. Darren was already almost on his feet. Between the fingers of his right hand was the collar of Niel's robe.
"Stop them," Devoy yelled, trying to get back up.
Compartment doors opened with a rising chorus of rushing air. The weary, worried passengers peeked out into the unfolding chaos. At the same time, I slid into the coupling where Jake was standing, turning in time to watch Darren sidle hurriedly in behind me. He kept Niel in front of him, using the boy as a shield.
"Yes..." Darren sneered, "you heard him. Stop them!"
As the cowboy got to his feet, his arm reaching out like a whip and snatching his gun off the floor, Darren shoved Niel back into the corridor, ducking backwards against Jake. The first shots rang out successively. Niel dove to the floor in the last second. The metal skin of the wall sparked brilliantly with each strike from the trio of bullets. Women screamed and men shouted throughout the train.
Mr. French lunged forward. Darren pulled the door closed, staying low and out of the line of fire.
"Outside! Outside," he yelled to me, locking the door into place.
I turned around frantically, trying to figure out how to open the door. My fingers struggled to grip the slender but heavy latch holding the door in place. The door behind me rattled and jumped. French's fists pounded against the cold metal as if they were asteroids impacting the Earth.
"Hurry up," Darren said anxiously, trying to keep French out of the coupling.
At last, I managed to gain control of the latch. The heavy seal on the door hissed softly as I pushed it open. I looked behind me to see French's ugly face under the brim of his cowboy hat. He was glaring through the bullet-riddled glass of the door. At the same time, on the other side of the coupling, Jake stood in front of the door leading into the next car.
"Go," Jake yelled, struggling to keep the crewman on the other side from getting in.
I nodded and turned away. I felt Darren's hands on my back. He was pushing me out. The journey to the ground was short but bitter, slightly painful, even. Gravel crunched behind me, following Darren's landing. I felt more of him against me. His warm breath teased my neck as he stumbled forward, bracing himself against me to keep me from falling.
"Hey! You!... Stop right there!"
Darren and I looked in each direction. Crew members leapt from the train. They pointed at us, jogging with as much authority as they could muster.
"Don't go anywhere!"
I turned my head left and right, back and forth. The red vested symbols of confused authority were getting closer. I spoke to Darren over my shoulder, my voice cracking. "Where do we go?"
Without saying anything at first, Darren grabbed my arm. He ran ahead of me, dragging me forward. My brain quickly recognized that in a matter of only a few feet the ground we stood on came to an abrupt and sharp end. It's a bridge, I thought in a panic. We're on a bridge. "Darren!"
"No choice," he yelled back without looking at me.
"You're not serious?!"
"Fine! Stay here. Get captured..." He looked up at me, genuine concern consuming his gaze. "But once Devoy gets a hold of you, that's it. I might not make it back in time to save you!"
Gravel crunched and scattered over the dust covering the top of the narrow bridge behind us. "You two...don't move!"
"No one needs to get hurt," added the second crewman. There was nothing but hesitation in his voice.
My eyes shot from Darren to the placid looking surface of murky water consuming the wide valley beneath the bridge. The bridge wasn't very high above the river. But it wasn't right on top of it, either.
"Darren...I don't know about this."
Darren nodded his head. "On the count of three...okay?"
I hesitated. My stomach knotted around my spine. My entire body was tense. I could hear the sound of more feet crunching over the gravel behind us. My heart was racing, ready to leap out of my body and run away. It was the only part of my body that wanted to do any kind of leaping right at that moment. My mind struggled to keep up with everything, to stay rational, to keep my troubled thoughts and escalating fears at bay.
"Don't move, fellas!" This was a third voice, one of the engineers, I guessed. I was too afraid to turn around, to move at all.
"On the count of three, okay?"
Darren's voice was softer, consoling and calming. Then, I felt his fingers slide over my palm. His hand slipped into mine, and then held it...firmly...caringly. I looked at him, ready to cry. He was as strong and firm as a rock. He smiled at me. And in that moment I forgot who I was, where I was, and where we were about to go.
I nodded my head. That's when reality decided to return. But Darren didn't give it any time to set in. He looked away from me. I was ready to hear "One...two...three." My mind, body, and nerves were disappointed when I only heard, "Three!!"
I tried to say, "What?" I tried to stop myself from being pulled over the edge of the bridge. I could hear the rush of a dozen feet as crew members scrambled to stop us from jumping. The shuffling gravel was like an explosion of static in the open air.
The sandy surface of the bridge was suddenly replaced by the murky brown surface of the gently rippling wasters of the quiet, wide river meandering slowly southwards. A hot, summer wind bathed my body in the heart-stopping seconds that passed. The air in my lungs turned suddenly hot and rancid. The fresh air they wanted to take in vanished, replaced by the chilly, current of water. The bridge was gone. The land was gone. The air was gone. There was only water.
While still choking and getting my scrambled bearings, I nearly screamed. Darren's face suddenly appeared out of the light-swallowing mud. He grabbed my shoulders firmly, pulling me up with him to the surface. I tried to watch him as we ascended. Through the heavy sediment that burned my eyes I could see the sunlight glowing softly in golden-brown bands that rippled over his delicate face. No matter where we were or what was happening, I realized the sight of this amazing boy-god had an intersecting effect on me. He could calm my nerves, relaxing me at the same time he seemed to be vexing me. I wanted him so badly. My desire to quench my burning lust with his tight body was nearly as strong as my desire for air.
The surface cracked and opened around us as we punched into the fresh, summer air. I gasped and choked, my overzealous lungs desperately taking in the less hydrated air. I wiped the sultry water that burned my eyes and poisoned my taste buds out of my face. All I could feel was the oily essence of the water resting my skin as it soaked through the stolen uniform.
"Are you all right," Darren asked hurriedly.
I blinked, trying to clear my disturbed vision. "Yeah...just can't see."
"I know. Just give it a minute or two."
A voice shouted down from the bridge above us. Another quickly followed it. They wanted us to stop, that help was on the way. The grimy fog once converged and swallowing my right eye dissipated enough for me to see the bridge. It had to be at least three or four stories to the edge where the thickening crowd was now looking down at Darren and I. Instantly I saw the slightly obscured figure of a totem pole wearing a cowboy hat, hovering just above and behind a much shorter, rounder individual. Even from down here I could sense the menacing glare on Devoy's face. He wanted us dead. It was such a seemingly simple goal. Yet, here we were, denying him that once more.
I felt soft fingers wrap tightly around my arm. "Come on," Darren said gently as I turned to look at him.
"Let's go before they get down here."
I nodded agreement without saying anything. By just relaxing, we were able to coast along with the sweeping current that pushed its way between the eroding earth ever southwards. We would swim for a few minutes every now and again in an effort to make sure our escape was making good haste. The rest of the time we mostly just drifted. Darren's fingers were laced lightly in mine. It wasn't anything tender, I don't think anyway. It seemed more utilitarian at the moment; more of an effort to make sure we stayed together. It felt wonderful though. I wished it would never end; that we could just drift forever together.
Sadly, this remained just a wish. Darren glanced over his shoulder, pointing to a ledge in the distance with his free hand. We had watched the land change around us more than once. The steep sides would rise up to several dozen feet and then sink back down, seemingly being swallowed by the river itself. In these moments I could grab quick glimpses of long plains of carefully maintained fields and pastures stretching into the horizon where they hugged the base of endless mountain ranges. Countless flocks of birds I had seen freckle the clear, angel blue sky above us. It all seemed so peaceful. I almost didn't want to get out of the water.
"We can rest and dry here," Darren said, letting go of my hand and swimming to the rocky ledge. "Then we'll go and look for someplace to sleep and eat."
I shrugged my shoulders. He didn't see me. He was too busy hoisting himself out of the water. Darren turned quickly, extending a hand toward me. At least I get to hold your hand one more time, I thought grumpily, reaching up and grabbing his wet fingers. He pulled me swiftly out of the murky depths that had carried us away from our dangerous and nearly fatal plight. I felt grateful for it; but, I now that I was out of it, I had no real desire to jump right back in again.
Darren sat down against the back of the ledge, leaning his back on the rocky wall that extended six or seven feet above the smooth, natural patio we were on and was painted in a heavy coat of dust and dry leaves.
"That has to be the craziest thing I've ever done," he breathed.
Darren smiled. "To date, anyway."
"You're crazy! You're whole life is nothing but one crazy and insane moment after another!"
Darren narrowed his eyes, obviously annoyed by my sudden tirade. "Oh, like you've never done anything crazy in you're life?"
A cold wind that did not exist anywhere but my own mind suddenly made my skin crawl. A hundred visions and the haunting, echoing sounds of brakes squealing, metal crashing and exploding; the sound of doctors and people crying behind sexual, guttural grunts and groans on the edge of rain...lots of rain flooding my thoughts before the sound of policemen knocking on my door melted into the concussion of a gavel slamming down and bringing a court to order all converged in my brain in a tsunami of dangerous emotions. I looked quickly away from Darren, hoping he wouldn't see my face and gauge the pain I was feeling.
"It doesn't matter," I said, staring at the quietly lapping waves of the water as they brushed against the edge of the rock wall. "It doesn't compare to this."
Darren was silent for a moment. My stomach tightened. My heart felt like it was in my throat. Finally, he spoke. "What happened?"
I could tell by his voice he had seen my face. He had noticed the way I went cold and quiet at his question. "Nothing," I said without turning around, my voice flat and somber.
I heard Darren shift and then felt his soft, warm hand on my damp shoulder. I could sense his body right behind mine. It made my heart palpitate and my insides tingle.
"Come on...tell me."
I hesitated before shaking my head. I was too afraid of what he would say; too afraid of what he might do.
"Please. I..." He searched diligently. "I thought we were finally trusting each other."
A sharp spew of guilt punctured my book and chest. I held my head low. The tears welling up in my eyes burned. "I...I can't tell you."
"Because...I...I just can't. You don't want to know."
Darren turned me around, grabbing my tearful eyes with his own. He looked so tender, so caring, so...beautiful. "I do want to know. I...I want to know everything about you."
Darren stepped closer to me. "Everything."
His eyes were still locked onto mine. I could feel myself swimming in the crystal blue oceans of his eyes. My racing heart began to slow and my body became calm as I slowly began to melt into him. Both of his hands were on my shoulders. The tips of our shoes were touching. A minute passed before either of us spoke again. Yet, he never broke his gaze.
Then, I found the courage to speak. My mouth began to form the words. My voice was putting together the sounds. My brain readied the thought. I started to speak. "I-"
Darren held his hand up suddenly, silencing me and shattering the fragile confidence I had built. "Did you hear that," he whispered.
Suddenly, a soft patter of giggling rose above the sounds of the river.
"That," he whispered again.
More giggling found our ears, running over the edge of the rock face. Darren turned his head sharply, focusing his hearing like it was a machine. He listened a few moments more then started toward the source of the quiet laughter. I watched him at first, studying his movements and recovering from the emotional jeopardy I had just found myself in.
"Come on," Darren rasped, gesturing for me to join in his investigation.
I shrugged my shoulders and started after him. We followed the ledge as it ran along the rock face, becoming narrower and narrower. Both of us had to sidle along the smooth edge of the wall rising a half dozen feet into the air. The giggling was getting louder. There was more of it now. I could make out at least two distinct different voices. With each step we took, I began to hear other noises...sounds more familiar to my playful ears than anything else I know.
The ledge wrapped around a shallow bend in the wall ahead. Darren inched closer to it. He leaned his head slowly, cautiously around the side, searching for the two who were laughing. Darren jumped with a start, pulling his head back with incredible speed. At first, he looked to be in absolute shock. Then I noticed he was blushing. A strange and crooked smile appeared on his face.
A low, pleasure-filled moan escaped out of the narrow cove on the other side of the bend. My eyes went wide. I lunged forward, trying to see into the very, narrow valley. Darren put his hand out, stopping me in my tracks. He pressed a finger to his lips, reminding me to stay quiet. I took a deep breath and nodded.
Slowly, I peered around the rock face. The small inlet stretched between the dried, clay rocks for several dozen feet before coming to an end. Near the back corner of the small valley, atop a round ledge jetting out from the dusty wall, the sun glinted warmly off the smooth, naked skin of two young farm boys. My eyes went wide and my breath caught in my throat as I watched in horny awe one slowly sliding his tongue up the length of the other's engorged cock.