The sun had set and fresh droplets of rain were pebbling against the dirt. Darry and I had come across a clearing with tall grasses swaying gently in the breeze. It stretched for what seemed like miles away from the main road. Somehow, we had never seen it before, but then again, we never had that much of a reason to stray from the neighborhood.
A subtle unease crept quietly up my spine. It was a familiar feeling. One I hadn't thought, or rather hoped, would ever emerge again. Something dark. Something awful.
We had walked in silence for nearly an hour. My mind had settled a bit in the fresh air, brain desperately clawing for composure knowing that panic would never get us to the right place. But still, the dull ache that had fallen deep in my chest was growing. I didn't want to go back. Go back to that place of pain. Of fear. The crying, the sleeplessness, the anger. None of it.
"Soda…" Darry's voice was low. Gravelly, like something was trying to escape from his throat. The strength that rang comfortably in his words was missing. "Over there."
I followed his finger to a section of the field that looked unsettled, unnaturally flat. My pulse quickened, but I willed it down. Couldn't keep setting myself up for disappointment.
"Might just been some 'ol deer or somethin' trampling through." My own voice sounded foreign. Broken.
"Soda," he said again.
God, I wish he'd just quit. Quit saying my name.
"Yeah," I sighed, turning in that direction. We had no other lead anyway.
The rain was soothing on my skin, but I could only worry that Pony was somewhere cold and shivering, soaked to the bone. As we continued forward, it only got heavier. Thunder growled ominously from above. Eventually the crumpled trail of grass gave out to gravel and dirt that swirled in the pools of water collecting across the train tracks.
"Darry," I muttered, eyeing the tracks that were suddenly before us, stretching far into the darkness.
"I didn't know the tracks extended this far," I heard him say from a couple of steps behind. The train was only ever seen next to the old theater. No one had ever been curious enough to follow those particular tracks to see where they led. But maybe…
"Ponyboy. Maybe he knows where these tracks lead. If the theaters at the other end, he could have followed the-"
"Maybe." I could hear the doubt in Darry's voice. A sudden flush ran through my body, but as I turned, it quickly dissipated. Darry looked exhausted. Spent. It could have been the rain dripping down the contours of his face, but his eyes… they'd only looked this way once before, when mom and pop had… I had never stopped to think about how Darry must have been feeling, being so used to his solid, take charge demeanor that never left any questions asked. But here he stood, no closer to hope than I was. And perhaps just as broken. And that scared me. I reached up and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Maybe's all we got, Darry."
"Yeah… you're right."
With that we picked up the pace, following the tracks north towards where we could see the night lights of town twinkling through the rain.
I tried to let my mind settle, concentrate on the path though water was constantly blurring my vision. It took all I could to block the cries from my head, but even then, I heard him. Heard him calling for me, crying for me. I wasn't ready to face the guilt. The truth. That this was all my fault.
"Help…" Pony whispered, tears edging through his eyelids shut tight. "Soda..." I shook him gently, trying to wake him.
"Baby, shh… you're just having a nightmare."
He whimpered and reached out with his hands, grabbing into empty space. "Soda," he croaked, still in the throes of his dreams. The tremble in his voice, the sliver of pain, so quiet in the darkness of our bedroom gripped at my heart, squeezing something terrible. He continued to cry out, sweat dripping precariously from the hair plastered against his forehead onto the pillow as he twisted and turned under the blankets.
I grabbed his arms to keep them from flailing, bringing them down to his sides, and pulling him in close to my chest.
"It's okay, baby, it's okay," I mumbled, softly stroking the back of his head. He eventually stilled, burying his face deeper into my shoulders, hands clutching desperately at my t-shirt.
In the weeks after Johnny's death, Pony was constantly having nightmares. Dreams so deep that it often took me several tries to get him awake. He would curl against my body and stay wide awake for the rest of the night. Sometimes we talked. Usually about the latest movie that had come out, or about Darry's new job prospects, just to keep his mind busy. But every now and then we would talk about Johnny. About the fights. About the burning church. His death had hit all of us hard, but it had destroyed Pony.
"It was my fault, you know."
"Pony, stop, it wasn't nobody's fau-"
"He was trying to protect me. To save me. I was too weak. And that's why we had to run and hide. And then Dally… god…"
"Pony, it's no one's-"
"Soda," he interrupted, looking up with sleep-laden, burning eyes, brows furrowed. He stopped talking, then, sighing and closing his eyes.
All I could do was hold him tighter.
And still I could hear his cries ringing in my ears, even through the rain, though it was beginning to let up. One of those stop-and-go summer showers. But his voice. It sounded so real, even as I tried to block it out of my mind. It rested faintly in my ears, on the edge of reality, so much so that for a second, I could have sworn…
"Soda, did you hear that?"
It couldn't be…
And there it was a again. A muffled cry from the distance, one that was unmistakably Pony's. It was interrupted by a blaring whistle from further along the tracks. A light flashed briefly as the iron squeals of the railway burst into life.
For a second my body froze, my brain struggling to catch up with the world outside.
I started sprinting towards the train.
Super short. Don't kill me. It's been a while, gotta slowly get back into the groove. AS you can probably tell, its been AGES since I've immersed myself in The Outsiders, so I do not doubt that this chapter suddenly reads very differently from the others. I'll try to get back into it, but my writing style has definitely changed in the past couple of years.
Review and follow as always :) Glad to be back.