J e r o m e
The train glided through the countryside, it's traveling sounds muted from within the passenger compartment. The seat was almost stiff backed and the cloth covering rough to my back, almost like sand paper through the material of my shirt. The train passed through the downtown area, factories and train yards as it left the station and I looked longingly at the houses, the homes of the local families. They existed in their quiet suburban lives, overweight, many unhappy, and most unfulfilled. That's when they came to see me, and for a short time the way they looked at the world was different, new, at least on the surface.
The cattails bobbed in the breeze the train stirred up as it passed, the suburban sprawl gradually giving way to the commercial end of town. Large pipe and construction companies and then newer tract homes with names like Country Pines that tried to evoke a refined standard of living in virtual isolation from your neighbor. Many of the duplex houses had people living in them who never even knew the others names, and I often think that if they'd just meet one another, if they'd take the time, then there might be less cruelty and prejudice in the world.
This place has been my home for the past few years. I had promised myself a return to the states when I turned eighteen, but that became increasingly unlikely, as the money just wasn't there. I missed my friends and family terribly, well, mostly my friends.
The train passed an apartment complex, somewhat rundown, with soccer fields next to it and one basketball court behind those. A lone teen was shooting baskets on this late summer morning, and the temperature was already becoming stuffy and uncomfortable. The homes fell away and highways and power lines stretched into the distance, wild flowers in purple and yellow proliferated the sides and they fell away again to farm country, corn-growing row upon row. The barns and silos sat as squat structures in the distance, seeming to be very small among the rows of sweet yellow corn.
This train was my ride to...so many things, I don't think one word can cover it all. I wasn't going home and yet I was. I wasn't going to freedom, for no one owned me, but it felt like I was. I guess to understand it at all, you'd have to know me. My name is Jerome, and this is my story.
I left home at sixteen, and it was long past time. The old factory town we lived in had been crumbling and ancient long before I was born, and it is probably still crumbling even today. Many of the factories had closed, many sawmills built close to the river had been torn down or simply abandoned as they became obsolete and unable to compete. At one time, in the 1870's the logging industry had been huge, employing hundreds of people and making many men wealthy. In its heyday this town was a jewel, or so my grandfather once said before he passed, but that was all in it's faded past and the future was bleak. More and more people left the town; the young went off to college or south to the larger cities for work and more exciting lives. I too longed for more, for peace in my heart, and as time passed I felt my painted smile cracking and my worried friends just frowned.
My father was a simple man, never finished high school and never felt the desire to see his children do so either. I didn't have a head for school and it bored me. Some of my teachers said this was because they couldn't teach me fast enough, that the classes had to be taught at the pace of the slowest learner to ensure everyone understood, so any concept I learned I had to wait on someone else to learn and that quickly left me bored.
And frequently in trouble.
I was known to skip school on occasion, but only when I was sure I wouldn't be caught. I was caught the first time I ever tried it, and my father made me regret every moment I had missed. It was a strange logic he used, he had never finished and did not care in particular if we finished, but as long as we were supposed to be there then we had best be there.
School continued to drag on, and we spent much of our time partying. You wouldn't think that in such a small, forgotten place that there would be much to party with, but honestly all you could do here was drive fast, get high, and fuck, and most of us weren't getting any so... we drove fast and got high. Usually we'd be able to ride a few towns over and see a few farmers known to be on the local trade for a small fee. Pot was easiest to get, but once we went south past the county line to a rave in a disused warehouse and that's where this story really begins.
Rumors had been passed about raves and they sounded like a break in the monotony to me, and it was. My best friend Billy was spying, using the second phone in his house, and overheard his older brother Matt talking on the phone about an upcoming rave, and we begged them to take us with them. They had said no, that it was too dangerous, that they didn't want to be responsible for us. We argued, naturally. Matt threatened to kick our asses, but we didn't back down on this one even though it wouldn't have been the first time Matt beat either one of us, and we told him we'd tell where he was going if he didn't take us.
The warehouse was not huge, and the remaining windows had been blacked out. Colorful streamers hung from the walls here and there, blaring techno music pounded from speakers as tall as I was. The people danced and twisted as one huge writhing mass of humanity while solid walls of sound flowed across the room in almost visible waves. Matt and his two friends and Billy were quickly lost to me as the crowd of people moved wildly about the room. I wasn't very concerned to have lost them, I was sure I'd see them at some point. I began to move to the music in the room, the thrumming beat made my chest vibrate with the force of its sheer volume, and I found I liked the sound. I was squeezed between other people and almost made to dance, if nothing else because they were pressed so close that when they moved I was obliged to. In short, standing still was not an option. The contact was stimulating to say the least; the sensual pleasure combined with the wild, pounding nature of the music was like nothing I had seen before. I was more or less dancing with this girl for a bit, kind of a pretty blond with smooth skin. She smiled and I returned it as she danced closer and placed her arms about my neck and shoulders, bringing her lips to mine. I was a little shocked but had no intention of stopping! She ground into me as I felt other hands on me from behind, a warm sensation on my ear as a mouth enveloped my earlobe. The blond danced away a bit and then held her hand out with a small package, what was this? She handed me two small pills as a water bottle was handed to me from behind.
I looked behind me to the person holding the proffered water bottle and found a stunning guy, he looked to be about my age and he was smiling in a most becoming way. I turned back to face the blond girl, who paled in comparison. She smiled invitingly and so I took them, what the hell, yeah?
It took almost no time for me to be seeing colors I had never seen before, the music now could be seen, the speakers showing ripples in rainbow colors as they pumped more and more colors into the room, gradually fading as they reached the walls mostly, but others rebounded off the wall and clashed with the incoming wave of sound and created a huge show of entirely new hues. My body was almost detached from me and I felt as though I were rising on a cloud, floating above the crowd and surfing on the colorful waves of sound. My god! The blond took me by the hand and I marveled at the colors as they bent around her and enveloped her, only seeing her face as the individual waves separated. She was smiling and I think I was moving. Well, I was actually; I just don't remember my feet moving.
I caught sight of my hand as it was enveloped in colorful sounds, and stared at it in wonder. We were above the crowd, truly now.
I was restrained by something blocking me from going forward, but the crowd was visible moving in time with the heavy techno beat, showing no reaction to the hues that washed over and permeated them. I think now that I must have been on a catwalk high above the confusion.I wasn't sure at the time what happened, although I do now. I was only dimly aware of my real surroundings. I think the blond was next to me, or she may have left for all I knew. Somewhere, I think I may have realized that my lower body temperature dropped a bit, that there was a distant pressure behind me, across the top of my hips. It really didn't matter because it felt as though it were happening to someone else. I felt my self-rocking backward against whatever was blocking me from behind, it was a gentle motion and unhurried, I dimly recall.
It was about then that I spotted Alan, one of Matt's friends. He was staring at me open mouthed, and I found this remarkably funny because the colorful waves of sound seemed to be flowing from his mouth, like some hippy fountain or something. His mouth was moving but I could see no sound, nor hear it for that matter. I think he disappeared from view, or maybe not, but I do remember seeing Matt and Billy appear, and then Matt hit me. It hurt, but in a strange way because it wasn't the first time Matt had hit me. In fact, he bullied us quite often to obey his wishes, but this was some punch.
I saw the blood fly from my mouth like a red tidal wave and the pain washed the last of the pills effects away from me. I looked at Matt and my confusion shifted to anger. I yelled at him, wanting to know why he hit me. He turned on his heel and stalked away and I was left with Billy who looked at me as if he had never seen me before. I asked what was wrong, and I am sure there was a small trace of worry in my voice at the time.
"You really have no idea, do you?" he asked in a voice filled with wonder and tinged at the edges with disgust, or maybe not. It was an odd voice, that's for sure.
"No Idea about what?" I asked irritably. The music had gone silent but my head began to hurt and as I looked beyond just Billy I saw that a few eyes were on me. I tired to walk and fell over, something was caught on my legs! In fact, my pants were down around my ankles and I felt my cheeks reddening a bit, not too much though. My body has never embarrassed me, besides we all showered and swam in the river together. Who cares? I was more embarrassed to have fallen over, so I stood a bit shakily and whisked my pants up. How'd they get down?
"Some guy was blowing you, that's how," Billy stated flatly. I hadn't realized I spoken aloud. Some guy? I wondered if it was that really good-looking guy? The cute one who gave me the water. Suddenly the implication began to sink in, they had drugged me so he could do what he wanted without asking, and that did piss me off.
"Did you see who it was?" I asked angrily.
"Alan saw him, I don't think he's from around here." Billy looked down, unable to face my eyes. "Did you like it?" he asked hesitantly.
"I don't remember any of it," I replied honestly, but I was a little angry at the attitude I was getting. "They gave me something, some drug. I didn't know what was going on, but I could see the music, Billy. It was awesome, except that I didn't know what was happening to me in the real world," I said. I strongly doubted I'd do it again though, I didn't like not being that far out of control or having no memory. Worse yet, being at someone else's mercy.
I headed for the front door, deep in thought about the whole evening and trying to think of what might come from all of this. People milled about, some obviously drunk or still high on whatever they took. One kid lay on his side, a spray of vomit fanned in front of his mouth. It didn't look like he was breathing, but it was hard to tell in the dim light. I shivered at the thought and walked a few steps out of my way to check and be sure he was breathing.
He was breathing deeply, thankfully, and had probably passed out. I thought about waking him up since I knew the kind of stuff he might be in for if left to his own devices, but I stood guiltily and followed Billy at his urging, out the door and stepping over people and gradually developing a real screamer of a headache. We scanned the parking lot for signs of Matt's car, finally spotting it on the far side of the lot. His friend Roy was leaning over near the back end, retching. As we approached Matt's face was unreadable, but Alan's showed plain disgust. I gave him a hard look, which probably didn't do much. At about five foot eight I'm not the most physically intimidating presence, but I can fight when I need to. Matt's beatings had taught me that.
Despite the looks he shot at me, his mouth stayed closed. Matt herded Roy into the backseat next to the window and I was going to slide in the middle when Roy mumbled about keeping the fag away. I stopped, wide eyed and stiffened in the doorway of the car. Billy slid around me apologetically and I stood next to the car annoyed, and a vague fear began to gnaw at the back of my head, an unease that spoke volumes about how my life had just changed.
"Close the door, Billy," Matt said through clenched teeth.
"But Matt ..." Billy started.
"Billy, he's a fag. He can't go back, they'll kill him anyway," Matt said, and I felt the ring of truth. Roy and Alan would spread the news about the night's happenings and everything would change. But he wasn't going to take me home even?
"Matt, how am I supposed to get home?" I asked, more panic filtering in to my voice than I wanted.
"Ask your boyfriend for a lift, I don't want anyone to see you in this car or with my brother," Matt said grimly, refusing to face me. The car started and I tried to jump in the back seat but Matt floored the accelerator and the door, indeed the car, pulled out of my grasp. I yelled in frustration as the car yawed out of the parking lot, engine screaming and tires churning in the dirt lot, spitting up stones and dust enough to choke me. I coughed and my eyes watered, and in my haze I barely saw the taillights wink out as the car faded from view.
I stood in the nearly empty parking lot and wondered what to do now. If I called home, I'd be in deep shit. Well, deeper than that, it'd be a whupping for sure. No one whups like my dad does, my ass was getting sore just thinking about it. But what else was there for me to do? I checked my pockets and found them close to empty, fifty dollars and change left. My stomach rumbled and I turned helplessly in the lot, momentarily lost. Ok, well I guess I should go back to the building and see if I can find a phone, it has power so a phone isn't entirely out of the question, is it? So I trudged across the lot and up to the thin steel door, which I pulled open and slowly stepped into the gloom.
The huge speakers and sound equipment were gone. All that remained were the colorful streamers, the only evidence of anything ever having happened here. Well, that and the kid lying on the floor apparently abandoned from the looks of it. I walked over to him and knelt beside him. His breathing was still regular and he seemed just fine, except that he was asleep on the floor of a now deserted warehouse. I stood and wandered about the building searching for a phone. A small wooden stairwell led up to what used to be offices. They were empty now, dust and a few papers all that remained of the company that once existed here. The windows were grimed over and a few stray bottles were strewn about. All in all it was pretty tough to see a damn thing, much less a phone.
I walked back downstairs and once again to the sleeping boy on the floor. He snorted in his sleep, and rolled over onto his back. I sat wearily and decided he might know more about this place than I did and he looked like he might need help when he woke up. Besides, I wasn't even sure what town I was in.
I slept lightly and woke with a crick in my neck from the odd position. I stood and stretched as I tried to get my bearings on the day and figure out what to do next. The first thing I noticed was that I was alone. Well, a lot of good my watching over the guy did, huh? I shuffled slowly to the door we came in from, made of ribbed corrugated iron and pushed out on it. I was almost blinded by the day as it streamed in my eyes. I stumbled out with my hand over my eyes in a small effort to shield them from the glare.
"Thought you'd never wake up. I was gonna go in and wake you soon, hafta get out before the cops come," came a voice that, due to the statement, belonged to the fellow that had been sleeping on the floor. I faced him, squinting in the sun.
"Sun's a bitch today, ain't it?" he smiled as he lit a cigarette. He proffered the pack and I shook my head.
'No, thanks," I mumbled. He shrugged and inhaled deeply, exhaling through his nose. Ugh.
"Where you from?" he asked.
"Victoriam" I replied, eyes adjusting and the aches in my back beginning to ease.
"Long way from home," he whistled. I glanced around me at the barren waste of industrial landscape.
"Where is this anyway?" I asked.
"Holden," he replied between puffs. Holden? That was about two hours away.
"You know where I can find a phone?" I asked as I took stock of this fellow in the sunlight. He was slim, about my height, short brown hair and eyes. The hair turned up just a touch above his forehead, making him appear mischievous. He reached under his baggy shirt and held out a cell phone.
"Might be dead," he warned as he handed it over. I took the slim device and turned it on. The lights glowed so it seemed to be working. I dialed home.
"Hello?" came the answer, it was my dad. I closed my eyes.
"Hi dad." I imagined I could hear him stiffen through the phone. "It's Jerome."
"Don't know any Jerome, you have the wrong number." The line went dead. I held the phone in my hand as my brain registered shock and anger. That was it? All he could say after sixteen years? He didn't even bother to ask what had happened!
"Didn't go so good, huh?" came the voice again. I merely shook my head numbly as I returned the cell phone.
"Well, we should get outta here. Cops'll be here soon, they're always a day late on these things." He hesitated, "Do you have anywhere to go to?" I shook my head no. He appeared to deliberate again. "C'mon," he said finally.
"Where to?" I asked listlessly, maybe in shock.
"I got a place we can crash for a while. C'mon," he urged, and I followed behind him mechanically. All my things were at my dad's house, obviously not my home anymore. I had nothing but the fifty or so dollars in my pocket from my job at the convenience store in town. My stomach rumbled a bit and I realized I hadn't eaten since dinner the night before and it was now ten forty-two by my watch.
"Mickey Dee's first?" He asked flashing a grin. I nodded dumbly and trailed along behind him, a stranger if ever there one was in Holden.
We crossed the industrial complex carefully, there was much in the way of scrap lying around that could slice you pretty good if you weren't watching yourself. I was definitely down but I felt a growing determination to show my old man up, to get by in spite of him. We crossed in between more buildings made of the same corrugated steel, rusting in streaks, and grass growing with wild abandon next to these derelict structures. My eyes were slowly coming into adjustment and a slight breeze played through my hair as we stepped out from in between a set of buildings and onto a wide stretch of land with three sets of railroad tracks laid down. In the distance I could see the rail yard, black smoke issuing from the diesels at idle, the occasional horn sounding majestically as the engines entered the yard from the far side. We hurriedly crossed the tracks and into the stand of trees on the other side, quickly disappearing into the underbrush.
I followed in silence, brooding on my situation. Much as I wanted to show the old bastard up, it wasn't going to be easy. I was sixteen with no money or clothes save the fifty in my pocket and what I wore now. It occurred to me I should spend wisely at McDonald's as I had no easy way to replenish my funds as of yet. We continued to crush the high grass, waded through is more like it, and finally emerged from the thicket onto the shoulder of a small two-lane road. My guide turned left and I followed him up the street in silence. We walked like that for perhaps ten minutes before a small town was revealed as we crested a little hill. And the most visible sign upon entering the town was the golden arches. My stomach grumbled.
Now I don't really like their food, in fact I would rather eat my shoes most days, but I needed them right now so I'd settle for this stuff. I think they mix plastic in with the beef. We trudged to the door and walked in, stopping to look at the menu side by side.
"Seth, you go last night?" came a voice and I saw my guide stir from his study of the bad and the ugly to respond to the speaker, a trim brunette who smiled very sweetly at him.
"Hey Monica, yeah it was a good time, had a good night," he replied easily. I eyed him for a minute trying to fathom that one. Ending up on the floor in front of your own puke, call me crazy, doesn't constitute a good night in my book. Unless he was making a comparison to me, of course.
"Who's your new friend?" she asked with a nice smile, a friendly instead of sluttish smile that is so easily found in these little towns. "Christa," She said.
"Jerome," I replied as I extended my hand across the counter to her. She shook it quickly, if fiercely and smiled again at Seth.
"Seth meets the most interesting people, but we can't figure out why," she said distractedly as she moved to the register to fill the order of an elderly couple that had come in. Coffee and hash browns were served up and they shuffled to a nearby booth. Christa returned to us and smiled again at Seth.
"What do you want today?" she asked.
"Um, coffee for sure, bacon biscuit thing for me. Jerome?" he said looking at me at the end. I mumbled I'd have the same since it wasn't altogether too expensive. Christa nodded and headed behind the counter, filling the orders with slightly more interest than her previous customers and brought it all bagged up neatly.
"Sugar and cream is behind you," she said to me before heading to the register once more. Seth had turned with the bag and headed over to fix his coffee, and I followed slightly confused about the payment arrangements. I asked him as much.
"Christa gives me and my friends free food. I give her stuff too, keeps us both happy," he replied.
I took the offered cup of coffee and added cream and sugar. I always had cream, but sugar was necessary from this place as the coffee was bitterer than need be otherwise. Seth headed out the door and we sat on an outdoor table and chair set. He handed me a sandwich and I bit into it gratefully.
"So, Jerome." He said between bites, "You going back home or what?"
"I don't think I can," I said after swallowing. "Father claims not to know me."
"Asshole, what happened to make him say that?" Seth asked polishing off his biscuit.
"Some shit happened last night, the guys left me and obviously told my father," I said quietly holding half my sandwich unfinished.
"What could be so bad? I mean, my folks dumped me years ago, but I made it. What's up with that?" He asked.
I looked at him directly and mustered all the fortitude I had before replying.
"Some chick gave me pills, some guy gave me a blowjob while I was high as a kite. My best friends older brother saw. It was like getting raped," I said levelly.
"Yeah, almost, though if you'd gotten raped you'd know it. Happens at these things, y'know," he said sipping his coffee. "Bummer though, dad shoulda been a little more sympathetic."
"So you don't care some guy went down on me?" I mumbled, taking a bite for want of anything better to fidget with. Seth shrugged.
"Your dick, what you do or have done to it's your business," he said returning to his coffee. "But I saw you kinda stayed near me, and you didn't try anything so I guess you must be halfway respectable, not easy to find down here, so that's good'nuff for me."
I finished my sandwich in private wondering what down here meant and just what kind of trouble I had landed myself in. If nothing else the small feeling of feeling like I ought to sit near Seth last night since he was clearly out of his senses had helped me. Now, what was I to do next?