I felt stupid cradling the flask to my hip bone with my left hand while my dominant hand clasped itself firmly around the bone handle of a silver laced stake. The raw leather of the hilt guard moaned in my fingers.
Without putting down my chalice of fireball whiskey, I swung behind me, hand in reverse grip and half expecting the steely tip of the blade to thrust itself into the rotting sinewy carcass of that monster’s hide. Instead the tip embedded itself into the mildewed door of the boxcar resting on the set of harrowed rusting tracks farthest from the view of the street. I tried tugging out the blade, but only succeeded in sloshing half of the remaining sliver of whiskey down my shirt. By the time I’d extracted my quarry and regained my footing on the uneven surface, the gravel was already crunching from the copse of trees six yards off.
I shoved the blade in the pocket of my Iron Pigs sweatshirt. With the thirst of a loyalist to Jonestown, I swallowed the remaining drops in my canteen and licked my lips just to taste every last drop of fire before the embers died and I’d be left in shadows.
Luke’s footsteps echoed, mirroring the foghorn of the train ringing from a few towns before us. He walked too casually along the sea of gravel, ignoring the pounding, swirling waves my head created through the landscape.
I half expected his eyes to glow in the dust lit half-light of dusk. At first he slid through the charcoaled trees, bobbing between blossoms of pink orange and blue sky, a shadow weaving the night into the landscape. I stood, not exactly in a stupor but oddly lopsided, as if my legs were the wrong length, or I was standing with one foot in the ground. The warm buzz of cicadas and alcohol completed the chord of crunching gravel. The nearest street lamp was yards away down the single live track that ran just in front of where I stood, but still I could make out the spaces where I knew Luke’s features to be. I opened my mouth to speak but I could not force anything coherent out, so I brought the flask to my lips out of habit, sipping the air. Luke started.
“New?” He asked. I sucked in my lower lip and watched him. My grip tightened around the leather handle in my front pocket. Luke extended an arm to my shoulder. As the flat of his palm approached the cusp of my chest I clumsily dodged it and he shrank back, wounded without even a strike.
“S’not right now that you’re turned out to be a… a monster.”
I grimaced at the sound of my own voice. The corners of Luke’s lips furled as they had always done just before he laughed. His audacity was astounding, His eyes were stale milk.
“It’s not like I’ve killed anyone, Ash.”
“Yet—although, what the hell do you call what you did to Zack? He’d be better off dead.”
“You don’t mean that.” I didn’t.
“Who’s to say you won’t break into someone’s house all… all hulked out or whatever. Who’s to say you won’t wake their kid. Who’s to say he won’t run into his parent’s bedroom and wake them up? Who’s to say he won’t peak through the slots in the closet door as you slaughter his father like a pig and drown his mother in her own throat. Who.”
Luke’s eyes were even in disgust with my own. Not far, a train’s whistle echoed through the ravine.
“Asher, you know me, man. We’re friends.”
“You mean you wouldn’t harm a fly? How about maul your own brother? OH. Wait. Right. Proud. I’m proud of you, man.” My vision swam in the darkness and for a moment I mistook the sky for red.
“You know, no one would believe that kid anyway.”
“What kid…?” Luke took half a step back when I advanced on him. I liked seeing the bastard like this. Like this, with his clumsy foot shuffle and his dumb grimace trained on his dumb face so he couldn’t hurt anyone. I took another step just to watch his face blur and come back into focus. He looked almost more like a freak. My lips parted in a forced easy smile.
“What kid, Ash?” he repeated.
“The little kid—the kid! The kid no ones gonna believe when he tells the police it was monsters who filleted his parents!”
The train’s whistle was muted in my ears. I shuffled a step closer to the tracks It was just enough. Luke’s instinct took him a step back but even though I was the drunk one, it was him who misjudged the distance. He toppled backwards, hitting the back of his head on the far vibrating rail of track.
For a second he lay motionless on the ground. In my head I traded places with him and saw my own arm stretch out, like it would after one of us fell down in soccer, to pull him up, like he’d pulled me up a hundred times on the field when the spring muds swelled the earth. But he did not take my hand and I drew it back, withdrawing my arms into my shell to grip the stake. When I glanced back to Luke once again I saw the monster, pointed teeth, elongated claws, kissed with the scar of teeth on his calf and the ghost of his bestial self dripping around him. I almost recoiled. Under my converse, the iron bars of the live track rumbled like distant thunder. It must have been this groan of metal that brought Luke back to his senses.
“You know what that is, Luke?”
Luke’s eyes scrutinized me, in a squinting focus. God, it made his face ugly.
“That’s the eight o’clock train,” I said. For some reason my smile retracted. Luke shot up but his world’s axis was now tilting like mine, maybe even worse, but I couldn’t be sure because the second he tried to get up again, I pinned him to the ties with the flat of my wet sneaker.
“I’ve done research- I know, me, in a library… Jokes, am I right?” He didn’t laugh. Luke shook out his brown feathery mane as best he could, pinned to the earth’s crust. Some of his hair clung to his mouth. “But,” I continued; “Now I know. There’s more than one way to put down a dog. I even got a freaking silver stake off eBay – man, they sell this shit on eBay!” Looking into his eyes, his normal, grey-tone eyes, I could imagine my own reflection in them: My damp hair curling into spikes, wearing clothes covered in plant matter and mud, a sports sweatshirt housing a decorative railway spike. I had to move my focus to his navel. “But I don’t even know if I can use this thing…” Luke’s mouth opened a little and mercy shown in his eyes. “I hear a good beheading does the trick just as good.”
I churned my foot into his chest, and through his ribcage I could feel the reverberations of the track.
“You don’t have to do this.”
It was weak and gasping and cliché and pathetic. But so was my return.
“Yes, I do.”
I could now see the single yellow beam blazing at the periphery of my vision.
“Ash, I know what its like to lose a parent,” Luke heaved out. My muscles relaxed and I pressed him harder into the track.
“No, you don’t. You’re fuck of a dad’s alive, just pussied out on having a kid – or two—I mean, he went from bachelor to father of twins, the poor fuck.” I dug my heel into his diaphragm, wishing a little I’d been wearing cleats. “But nah, see my parents, they were brave and good and the fucking best and now they’re turning to dust six feet down.” Luke watched my face with pity. I eased up on his chest only because I recoiled at the thought of that monster pitying me. Now he could speak.
“In that case,” he said through wheezes I could see as mist hanging in the air, “You should feel bad for me… You’re parents wanted you… loved you and mine—“
I had been scooping dirt from under my fingernails with the biting tip of the steel, but at this I stopped. Emboldened, he said, “You’re parents loved you enough to die before they’d leave you, and my dad left me because I existed.”
I kicked him in the stomach. Hard. He curled up into a pathetic circle, gasping and maybe he even barfed but I didn’t watch. I had to get away from him so I staggered down the other side of the embankment to the trees, filling my lungs with clean air. When I trudged back up seconds later, I crouched low, ready to give him another punch to the face. Before I could, he’d decked me in the nose. Blood gushed from my left nostril and tears blurred everything but the muted colors. I fell and rolled over on the track next to the bastard, holding my nose as he cradled his stomach. For a moment we lay, post coital, each holding a bruised or bleeding portion of our own bodies, well aware of the steam engine making tremulous steel beneath our heads rock like white noise. My head screamed and I wished I hadn’t drained my flask.
“You ASSHOLE.” I shouted over the clanking din.
“You started it, assbutt.”
My arm flailed out, gripping his dark sweater, but he struggled upwards, freeing himself of my grip. I wasn’t worried about the train, but my head was swimming for real. I rolled over and I think I puked blood onto the tracks. Blood and whiskey.
My eyes stung and my throat was raw, but I could still move, so I pulled myself to a limp standing position. Luke stood not far off, grinning at me like it was a month ago, like it was funny, like we were still friends. I was actually going to strangle him.
But when I moved, I stumbled. And it was not because I was drunk. In the struggle either to beat up or stand up, or just on a whim, my shoelaces had caught fast around my ankle and on the iron rails.
Stuck, stuck, I’m stuck you fuck, the panic said. Luke was dumbstruck and staring at my feet. The train was 40 yards off. 30. 15.
I shouted. Adrenalin, sweat and holy fuck motivated me like a struggling deer in quicksand. It was freaky how lithe Luke had become. He seemed as smoke, drifting half-formed until he was there, by the base of my leg, tugging at the muddy wet laces in the dark.
“The fuck did you do?!”
“Hell if I know—”
The train screamed. So did we.
“Do it do it do it!”
The train loomed above us.
“Fuck your shoe, Asher!”
Luke tugged at my waist. I was horrified.
“Do you know how much that edition cost?!”
It didn’t matter. In a second it was flatter than Kiera Knightley’s chest. But we were not.
Luke sprawled on top of me. We were a mess of gangly limbs. He had launched at me and together we cascaded down the halfway down the embankment just before the train whipped past, only feet from our faces.
I think we were both winded because neither of us even tried to extract ourselves as the train flew by us, changing color like a slideshow. Luke bent over after the train was finished and reached into an old stagnant puddle of water next to the muddy embankment. From it he pulled, shining like the stars that had finally risen, the stake with traces of embossed silver leaves patterning its blade. He handed it to me, and as he pulled away, I could see where the silver filigree had branded his flesh like the mark of Cain.
His eyes were plain and grey and he never flinched, though I saw him rub at his hand idly for a while after.
“You were killing me, then?”
His sharpened teeth realigned into a Cheshire grin. I had no way to refuse as the train’s call screeched into the next stop.
How I got home, I don’t know.
Blackouts get crazy.
©2014 Lex Vex