Disclaimer: 'Stand By Me' is the work of Rob Reiner and 'The Body' is from the mind of Stephen King.
Warning: This story features slash. Chris/Gordie. No likey, no ready.
Author's Note: Jeez, that sure took a long time. I had pretty much forgotten that I was even writing this and I apologise. Really, I do. You can't trust a fanfiction writer, can you? I sort of didn't know where the story was going and I lost track of things; plus real life, as per usual, takes priority over Internet life. I must say though: THANK YOU FOR ALL THE ABOSOLUTELY AMAZING REVIEWS! They reminded me that people were still reading and enjoying Beyond Back Harlow Road, even though I had pretty much left it for dead. Your reviews made me fall in love with Chris and Gordie again, urging me to continue writing. Reviewers feed the flames of fanfiction; you're the ones who stopped me from giving up. Again, I'm sorry for how long this took. I hope you enjoy the following chapter. Perhaps, if you want, you can give me some ideas for the progression of the story.
Seven – Memory Rails
When I was young I wrote a poem for an elementary school English assignment. The subject was about rainy days (Castle Rock was going through a pretty heavy wet spring at the time and barely a day went by without a flood warning or two hovering on the radio waves) and I had gotten a gold star, my very first gold star in fact, for my efforts. All I can remember of the poem are the opening few lines, which went sort of like this:
The rain falls and I have to stay
Inside until it all dries up.
But when it's dry I go to play
And collect more feathers for my wings.
My teacher thought it was all incredibly creative imagery for an eight-year-old, though little did she know that I had meant every word of it in earnest. If I collected enough feathers, according to my little eight-year-old mind, I would finally be able to fly, just like the birds that danced amongst the clouds above Castle Rock. That part of my life has gone now, my feather collection lost in time and turned to dust, as childhood dreams so often do, and I never did get to make my wings.
Chris had always been the one to come along with me during my feather hunts. The two of us collecting them together, placing each one we found in our own respective containers (an empty shoebox for me and an empty tobacco tin for him). I had asked him on the eve of his fifteenth birthday, whilst we were both in a state of nostalgia for the past, whether he still had his feathers. Smiling, Chris nodded his reply, telling me that he had buried the rusted tobacco tin out in his garden in the dead of night, and that he checked back every now and then to see whether it was still there. I had laughed at the time, asking him why he even bothered to keep them.
'Nobody's going to take my wings,' was his reply.
Chris slammed me back against the wall once more, one hand still clenched tightly around my wrist and the other pushed hard against my chest. The kiss, however, was not as forceful as it had been the evening before, though it was still laced with the same angry urgency. Though Chris's lips were still cracked and rough against mine his movements were slower, as if testing the waters for my reaction—a reaction that was taking me far too long to procure.
Being kissed by your best friend once was one thing, a fluke maybe—an obscure accident of the senses. But being kissed a second time seemed to suggest some sort of pattern and an ever increasing possibility of a third time, then a fourth, and then who knows... If I wanted to stop such a chain of events from occurring then I needed to nip the whole kissing thing in the bud. Maybe then everything would revert back to the default state of just friends, as that was all it was and all I ever wanted it to be. Wasn't it?
But then Chris broke the kiss off whilst I was still in the midst of my thoughts. I felt a twinge pinch against the area between my throat and my heart as his lips parted from mine.
'I-I-' I began, my words a stutter of open-ended vowels. 'I-I've never been kissed before...' I let the remainder of the sentence hang in the air, embarrassed to say the last three-letter word to finish it off: you.
Chris laughed quietly though I had no idea what he could have possibly found so funny.
'I've never not been kissed back before...' he replied, loosening the firm grip that he had on my wrist. Letting out a small breath he stepped back from me and I almost stepped with him, as if pulled by some sort of gravity, catching myself just in time to prevent it. The gap that formed between us was obviously nothing if not a good thing, or at least that's what I kept telling myself, though the empty air never felt quite so cold before.
The heat of a blush reddened my cheeks at his comment and the curious part of my brain niggled me with the question of who else he had kissed, and when exactly had he kissed them? I was Chris's best friend, or at least I was supposed to be, yet he had never told me about the girls he's been with, no matter how much I asked. I wasn't stupid; I knew Chris was a lot more experienced in 'that area' than I was. He was a good-looking guy and many girls were easily taken in by his bad boy charm, squealing at the way a single strand of dirty blond hair would fall over his eyes and melting when he would flick it back oh so nonchalantly. And what about me? I was gangly-limbed and skinny with all the coordination of a wet rock, no smouldering eyes or any of that stuff all the girls liked. Instead my eyes were a little bit too round, and my eyelashes a little bit too long, that, on the whole, I ended up with an annoying doe-eyed wimpy demeanour that didn't melt any girl's heart.
My own heart was beating against my ribcage like a mad little drummer boy and I placed a quavering hand across my chest in an attempt to calm it. Finally, after what seemed like an age and a half, I was able to soften the beatings to a steady murmur.
'If only you were a girl,' Chris said in a whisper. He was thinking out loud again, thoughts tumbling from his mouth like pebbles down a hill.
'If you were a girl,' Chris continued, furrowing his brow and running his hands through his hair more times than necessary (five times in total), 'then everything, all these… things, would make more sense.' Sucking in a breath of air Chris turned towards me, his eyes meeting my own with such intensity that the little drummer boy heart of mine began to drum at a ferocious pace.
'I don't give a shit about Becky Ramirez!' Chris blurted out, lashing a wild arm out to one side and knocking over a lamp in the process. The lamp, fortunately, was already broken, just like so many other things in the Chambers house—furniture, fixtures, family. 'Or any of the others,' he added.
'I'm not a girl!' I said in reply, sounding very similar to a whining child. I had to stop myself from saying something along the lines of 'girls smell', reminding myself that I was no longer that eight-year-old kid collecting bird feathers for his wings (what a stupid little kid I must have been to think that I could fly). But I couldn't help but feel a longing for those early days: days when the summers seemed to last an age, when everything seemed so simple and there were no strange and confusing feelings to contend with and try to understand.
'I know,' Chris replied, a blush rising to redden his cheeks. I rarely ever saw Chris blush, even when teachers criticised his work in front of the entire class he always kept his head held high. I knew, deep down, that the criticism always got to him, but he would never let it show, at least not in public. Chris always tried to maintain an air of indifference, an I-don't-give-a-fuck-what-you-think sort of attitude, but he was blushing now, furiously as if a fire was burning beneath his skin.
'Shit, I'm such a shit,' he exclaimed, pushing the heels of his hands into his eye sockets. For a fraction of a second I thought I saw the glint of a tear upon his cheek; but it could have easily been a trick of the light—which was in the form of dim sunbeams streaming in through dirty windows—as it was gone when Chris dropped his hands from his face. I quickly felt any remnants of anger trickle away, replaced only with a desire to make things right. Not that I had any idea of how to go about doing that, nor what 'right' actually was—nothing seemed to be right anymore, and I had little frame of reference. Edging towards him, I picked up the fallen lamp and placed it carefully back on the table, almost as if it were an offering to Chris—a symbol of my lack of anger towards him and my desire to bring things back to where they once were.
'You're not a shit,' I said softly. I took another step towards him and gently touched my fingertips to his arm, though I didn't let the touch linger for long. I didn't dare. 'Let's go for a walk. I don't give a shit about Becky Ramirez either.'
A small smile lifted the corner of Chris's lips and he nodded, moving towards the front door and opening it for me. I stepped out of the Chambers dim and damp house into the yellow glow of the sun, Chris following closely behind me. 'What about school?' he asked.
'I'm taking the day off,' I answered, feeling a smile rise to my own lips, reflecting Chris's own. 'Just like old times, yeah?'
'Just like old times…' Chris repeated, as if he were repeating a mantra. However, deep down we both knew that something integral had changed, and that things could never be exactly like 'old times'. How could we stay the same after what happened? Just thinking about the past… events made my stomach twist up into tightly wound knots. I tried to push it all to the back of my mind, shoving the thoughts into a dark and hidden recess of my brain. Walking would help clear my head, or at least I hoped it would.
We wandered down the empty streets of Castle Rock in mutual silence. The silence was not entirely uncomfortable, but there still lingered something unsaid in the space between us. I didn't know where I was going and Chris, who sauntered by my side, didn't seem to have much of an idea of his destination either. Our feet were on autopilot; we walked for at least a good half-an-hour, or maybe more, down dusty paths and across Beeman's field before finally reaching the railroad tracks. It was then that we stopped.
'Should we keep walking?' Chris asked, finally breaking the silence. I could tell he was thinking, once again, of Ray Brower. Though neither of us had really been aware of where we were going, we had found ourselves walking the same route we had took in our search for Ray's body all those years back. It brought a wave of nostalgia that hit me like a speeding train and I felt the urge to keep on going, to continue down the railroad tracks and on to whatever future lay beyond.
'I don't see why not,' I said and I began to walk beside the tracks, my feet sending up clouds of black dust. It felt odd to be the one in the lead, the one calling the shots. Usually it was always Chris who walked ahead, the leader of the pack, but now the pack could hardly be called a pack at all, just a pair: a pair of boys on their way to becoming young men.
'This brings back memories,' he said and I smiled. I was glad that he was talking again; the long silence of our walk had begun to take its toll on my sanity. I was even gladder that he was talking about something that had nothing to do with… what happened. It was like a trip down memory lane, or, more accurately, a trip down memory railway tracks.
'It's crazy how everything still looks the same here,' I replied, glancing behind me to see the familiar houses and factories of Castle Rock silhouetted against the late morning sun. I looked at my watch and saw that it was well past eleven. I had left school during morning break over an hour ago and I wondered, briefly, what the teachers would think of both Chris' and my joint absence. I realised that I didn't really care what they thought. Every single one of them could all go to hell.
'Yeah, nothing ever seems to change in Castle Rock,' said Chris, kicking at a pebble as if the action itself was his attempt to change at least one thing.
I let his words linger in my mind for a moment before asking, 'what about us? Don't you think we've changed?'
Looking over to Chris I saw his shoulders lift into a shrug, though his eyes were still fixed firmly on the ground beneath his feet. 'You don't count,' he said finally. 'You're bigger than this place. Castle Rock is like a prison for you.'
I couldn't help but agree with him on that one. Castle Rock did feel like a prison, although most of the people in it didn't seem to realise they were prisoners; going about their daily routine with no awareness of the invisible walls that surrounded them or the invisible shackles that bound their feet, not until they attempted to leave that is.
'But isn't Castle Rock like a prison for you too?' I asked.
Nodding, though still not looking up from his feet, Chris replied, 'Yeah… but I deserve to be here. You don't.'
'Don't say that,' I said, annoyed at the dejected words leaving his lips and even more annoyed at the dejected look on his face. 'You're bigger than Castle Rock too, you know?' I wanted him to lift his eyes from the ground and look at me. It was then that I realised that he hadn't looked me in the eye since we had left the Chambers house.
'I've fucked up the only friendship I've ever had.' Chris's voice was almost a whisper now, as if he half-wished for me not to hear him. 'And I'm gonna fuckin' flunk my college classes. I just know it.'
I stopped walking and stared at Chris in disbelief. What was he talking about? I was obviously still his friend. We were walking together for fuck's sake! Plus he was doing fine at school, so why was he saying all this stupid shit about flunking and fucking up friendships when he hadn't done either? Chris continued walking, and continued to keep his eyes firmly glued on the floor, so I grabbed his arm and yanked it firmly so that he would turn around. It worked, but although he turned he still didn't look me in the eye. It was absolutely infuriating.
'Stop saying stupid things!' I finally yelled, yanking a second time at his arm with even more force. Chris stumbled towards me, only just managing to stop himself from falling. I was surprised at how easy it was to move him. Normally he was as steady as a rock; whenever we play fought as kids Chris was always ridiculously difficult to budge, but now it seemed as if all his steadiness had seeped right out of him. 'Look at me! What's wrong with you?'
Finally Chris lifted his green steal gaze to meet mine. He looked so forlorn that it felt almost painful to maintain eye contact with him, as if his gaze was shooting needles into me. The look on his face reminded me of the look he had three years back; when he had confessed to me that he stole the school milk-money, and how, after feeling guilty, he had tried to return it to that bitch of a teacher Mrs Simons, who stole it herself and blamed Chris for it all. The world was a cruel and unfair place, and Chris learnt that truth at far too young an age.
'I don't know what's wrong with me,' Chris muttered. 'Everything's fucked up and I'm fucked up and I'm sorry I kis—did that to you, but I can't stop thinking these… fucking things and I went to Becky last night to try and push the thoughts out my head, to try and be normal for once, but it didn't work. It never fucking works!'
I felt my stomach twist into knots once again and I turned to look away, to stare along the railroad tracks and over to the horizon and, most importantly, to break Chris's steel gaze. Letting go of his arm I quickly shoved my hands in my pockets—the action of a kid who didn't know what to do with himself. There was a trace of a confession in Chris's words and, although I had heard it, I tried not to think about it. It all confused me too much, making my brain do awkward loop-de-loops inside my skull.
Then an idea occurred to me. I wasn't sure whether it was a good one but at least it was something. I was an idea that felt fitting, and—this is probably the writer in me talking—seemed to make narrative sense. I turned back to Chris to see that his eyes had returned to their default state of staring at the ground, and gave him what I hoped was a friendly nudge in the side.
'Let's keep following the tracks to Back Harlow Road,' I eventually said, managing to conjure up a smile. I saw a frown wrinkle Chris's brow but he said nothing. 'We can retrace our steps and… I don't know,' I shrugged before continuing, 'maybe figure all this fucked up stuff out.'
'But Teddy and Vern aren't with us this time,' said Chris, the frown still there but now slightly less evident.
'They're not main characters anymore,' I replied, feeling the truth in my words as soon as I said it. Teddy and Vern were no longer part of our story; they had their own tales to tell—tales that didn't involve Chris or me as main characters either.
The frown had almost entirely disappeared from Chris's features and I could see that he was noticing the beginnings of a Gordie Lachance story. It had been a while since I had last told story, although I felt this one would not be quite like the rest. I wasn't even sure how it was going to end, nor was I really telling it, I was just sort of doing it—living it. But then, I suppose, we have to first live the stories we tell, at least in some way. When I was in college, one of my English professors had told me that all novels came from experience. Even when you were writing complete fiction, there were always some sprinklings of truth powdering the tall tales.
'What about food?' Chris asked, glancing up to squint at the sun. Although I had a watch and could easily tell the time (almost midday, and therefore almost lunchtime), Chris always preferred to tell the time by the position of the sun in the sky (high). For him it felt more natural, and, of course, he didn't own a watch himself.
'Don't you remember?' I asked with a knowing look, all the old childhood memories—now in Technicolor—streaming easily back into my mind. 'There's a shop at the end of that little road that goes to the dump—'
Before I could finish what I had to say, Chris quickly filled in, 'One of us can get some hamburger meat and some Cokes there.'
My tentative smile now turned into a fully-fledged grin. I was glad to have steered the subject away from awkward and unknown feelings, despite knowing that, at some point during our retraced journey, we'd have to confront it all. I was also glad to see the shadow of another smile appearing on Chris's lips. If I had to list my favourite things, write them on scraps of paper and put them in a box for my future self to ponder over, I would place Chris's smile pretty high up there. I wanted him to be happy; after all he deserved it more than anyone else I knew.
I shoved the recently purchased goods inside my school bag, which I luckily happened to have with me, before heading back towards the railroad tracks. I could see Chris waiting for me, leaning languidly against a nearby tree with his head tilted upwards to peer at dappled sunlight through the leaves. The way the light fell on him, casting a mosaic and mottled amber glow upon his skin, made Chris look as if he were on another plane of existence. Though his appearance was that of a sixteen-year-old, there was the look of a man much older buried just beneath the surface of his young unwrinkled flesh.
I hadn't realised how long I had been stood there looking at him until Chris turned and noticed my presence. Attempting to hide a blush that had crept up on me, I took an apple out of my bag and handed it to him. He took it without a word.
'Bon appetite,' I said before wincing at the lameness of it. Why did I suddenly feel so embarrassed about saying stupid things in front of Chris? I said stupid things in front of Chris all the time.
'Merci,' Chris replied, but his pronunciation was a little bit off so instead it sounded like he said 'mercy'.
I took an apple out of my bag for myself and together, munching on our respective fruits, Chris and I continued walking. It didn't take us long to reach Castle River and the bridge which crossed it. The bridge looked almost exactly the same, with its narrow wooden walkways (although walkways was a very loose term for them) on either side of the railroad tracks. I was the first to step onto it.
'But what if there's a train like before?' Chris asked as he followed me, him on one side of the tracks and me on the other. I thought back to the last time we crossed the bridge and the mixture of fear and exhilaration that had come over my twelve-year-old self when I had felt the rumbling of an oncoming train. I had just barely missed being hit back then and if things had happened any other way, if I had tripped on a jutting plank of wood, I could have ending up just like the Ray Brower kid; although, rather than on the side of the tracks with my Keds off my feet, I'd have landed in the river fifty feet below. I swallowed that thought along with a lump of saliva that had collected in my throat.
'I'll race you,' I said, almost as if it was an answer to Chris's question, and, before Chris could react, I began to run as fast as my gangly legs could carry me. The air whipped past my face and, for a moment, I felt like I was flying (feathers or no). Surely this is the fastest I have ever run, I thought, but, as I turned to look to my side, I could see that Chris had already caught up with me. Though I was a little annoyed (I was so certain that he would still be behind me, if just by a little bit), I was happy to see the childish look of laughter upon his face. Chris always loved a race.
In barely any time at all, Chris had overtaken me and was speeding well ahead. I felt a stitch begin in the side of my abdomen but I continued to push on. Although Chris was easily winning, just like he always did, I didn't want to let him win by too much.
Two and a half years ago, about seven months or so after our search for Ray Brower's dead body, a two-hundred-car train had come speeding across the bridge over Castle River. It was like many other two-hundred-car trains—filled with cargo and heading through Castle Rock to bigger, more important, places; but its final dozen or so car was overloaded, although what they were overloaded with is now lost in history. Those final cars, as they passed across the railroad tracks, had put pressure on a plank about three-quarters of the way down the bridge. A screw had come loose, nothing major, and nothing that really damaged the structural integrity of the track, except, maybe, to cause a bit of wood to jut out, ever so slightly, from its designated position. As the months went by, more cargo trains crossed over the bridge, increasingly overloaded due to the increasing demand for whatever useless shit they carried, loosening the screw and jutting out the plank of wood by about a hundredth of an inch each time; never enough, however, to jeopardise the safety of the bridge in any real way, and never enough for someone to come over and fix it.
About three-quarters of the way down the bridge that fateful jutting plank of wood caught the tip of my sneakers. I fell forward, reaching my arms out in front of me to stop my face from slamming into the wooden walkway. It took my brain a moment to register what had happened. I had fallen over. Again. It was the second time in two days. When did I become like Vern? So fucking clumsy.
I looked down and saw the river splashing below me and I felt as if my heart was about to jump up my throat and right out of me. Why hadn't I noticed how high this bridge was? Or how far down that river was? Suddenly vertigo glued me in place and I couldn't do anything except stare down at the river, like staring into the void.
'GORDIE!' Chris was yelling at me from the end of the bridge. I lifted my head to look at him and could see that he had already made it to solid ground. He was waving manically and I there was the glint of terror in his eyes. It was then that I heard, and felt, the deep and low rumbling, vibrating through me as if to my very soul. It was the unmistakable rumbling of an oncoming train. Just like last time, a little part of me thought, how very apt.
The events that followed went by in a blur. Chris had sprinted from the safety of solid ground and back onto the bridge, speeding towards me as fast as any train—or at least that's what it seemed like to my slightly vertigo-warped mind. He had been the one to pull me to my feet and, taking my hand in his, he dragged me into motion. Before I knew it I was sprinting along behind him, so fast that it felt as if the stitch in my side was about to burst open, spilling blood and guts all over the railroad tracks. But Chris carried on, and I had to carry on along with him. In a matter of seconds, although the time dilation of adrenaline made it feel like hours, we had made it to the other side. Together we jumped and launched ourselves onto the ground on the side of the tracks, falling into a crumpled heap in the dirt. Moments later the train came whizzing past us, the roaring noise of it filling the air.
Neither of us moved until the train had fully passed us by. I felt dazed and dizzy and partly crushed. I soon realised that Chris had landed on top of me, one of his elbows jabbing into my stomach and making it difficult for me to breath.
'Ugh,' I wheezed, trying to sit up and managing to collide heads with Chris in the process.
'Ouch,' was his reply. I squinted through the dust that was settling around us to see Chris rubbing at the sore spot on his forehead. He adjusted himself slightly, lifting his elbow from my stomach, and I felt a sense of relief as the pressure lifted, allowing my to breathe. But as I began to inhale a deep breath of air, a cloud of dust came along with it and my cough reflex immediately set in. I spluttered, coughing with such intensity that I thought I'd spew up all my insides. It was not a pleasant feeling.
'You okay?' I heard Chris ask and I felt him gently place a hand on my back, tracing smooth and soothing circles on the fabric of my shirt. After a few more residual splutters I nodded, lifting my head so as to look at him. I was taken aback by how his face was suddenly so close mine; so close that I could see the individual freckles that sprinkled his cheekbones and the flecks of gold that dotted his green eyes.
I licked my lips—they tasted of dirt and sweat—and I saw Chris's eyes dart down to follow the course of my tongue. For a second I thought he was going to kiss me again and I tensed, bracing myself in anticipation of the moment. However, a few more seconds passed and I realised he wasn't going to; although he did stay in the same place, his face remaining as close to mine as it had been before. I was relieved… I think.
'Let's not do that again,' he said after lifting his eyes from my lips. I felt an odd pang in my chest—just above my heart—but I tried to ignore it.
'No way in hell,' I replied, shaking my head. 'I don't really want to dodge a speeding train for a third time.'
'But doing it twice is a-okay?' he asked, a hint of mirth in his voice. I never quite realised how many different colours were in Chris's eyes before; not just green with little golden specks, but hazels, browns and even shades of blue.
'How was I supposed to know there'd be another train?' I said, tearing my eyes away from his to inspect the far less colourful ground instead.
'Well it is a railway bridge,' said Chris, laughing a little. 'Here,' he continued, and I felt his fingers lightly brush my cheek. The surprise of his touch caused me to look up at him once more. 'There's some dirt on your face.'
I blushed. 'Thanks,' I muttered.
To be continued…
Once again, thank you for all the amazing reviews. I'm sorry for how long this took and I hope you enjoyed it. I'll try not to take two years next time around.