|Title: Tahitian Moon (Act One)
Synopsis: Post-Marybeth world, wherein Casey is murdered by a psychotic alien cult. Zeke has to deal, trying to learn how to.
Warnings: Death of major character, LOTS of angst, heavy violence.
Disclaimer: I own nothing--all fantasy on my end.
Author's Notes: WIP. Big, huge thanks to my lovely, beautiful beta, lisabellex, for putting up with strangely placed commas and buldings chasing Zeke around town. ;)
Being only about an hour and a half away from St. Louis, Zeke had grown frustrated with traffic on the main highway. His fingers had itched in picking up his map for a quick look, trying to find a way out. He'd had plenty of time, being stuck behind three tractor-trailer trucks.
'More small towns,' he thought to himself, pulling off of route fifty-seven. After leaving the exit ramp, he wanted to punch the steering wheel right off. Yet more traffic lay up ahead with cars stilled in long, endless rows. Zeke moved into the right lane and put his head back, annoyed.
After getting through the first set of lights, Zeke saw the reason for the wait. The town square was bustling, small shops lining the walks having come out for 'Salem's Spring Sidewalk Sale'. The town green across from the main shopping area was filled with people with craft tables and food stands scattered everywhere. Through Zeke's open window, he could smell 'fair-fare' of fried dough, cotton candy…
Pleasant enough, but not what he'd been hoping for--but whatever that was, he had no idea.
Loud country music filtered through Zeke's motel room window, making him cringe. He didn't want to move; his back and neck ached from all the driving he'd done the last few days, the cricks and shudders of his muscles almost crippling him. Making small, slow movements, he grabbed his bag from the floor and rooted through it, finding his bottle of ibuprofen.
Only five left--he'd need more, probably by tonight. He'd wanted to be in Missouri by then, but felt that there was simply no way he'd be doing any more traveling today. His eyes lifted to the window to see cars parking in the back lot of a Subway sandwich shop. One van seemed to hold about fifty kids, the doors flying open to let a huge family out. He watched one of the little boys bounce up and down on his heels in obvious impatience. He couldn't make out what he was saying to his parents, but the pulling at the father's shirt said enough.
Zeke's lips twitched as he recalled Herrington's 4-H fairs and this past summer's in particular. That had been long before he'd had any camaraderie with anyone, least of all Casey. He'd gone for the purpose of selling 'pick-me-ups' to the carnies, having made quite a bundle the year before. Being alone and self-sufficient was a source of pride for Zeke. He'd been able to do what he wanted when he wanted.
When he'd made his way through the barn holding cows and sheep, he'd seen the familiar figure of Casey, standing with his father near the entrance. Casey had been picking at a large slab of fried dough while his father leaned over a stall to get a better look at a group of lambs.
“Don't feed them fried dough, Dad!”
“But they like it!”
Casey's shrill, tittering giggles had sounded so foreign and out-of-place. Casey Connor didn't laugh. He'd never been happy from what Zeke had seen; he'd never had any reason to be.
Seeing Mr. Connor almost topple face first into the stall from leaning too far over, and hearing Casey's laughter growing even louder, Zeke had felt a sudden stab of jealousy.
Casey's dad obviously gave a shit about his son. No one had ever given a shit about Zeke, and the knowledge of that had made Zeke glare as he'd stalked past, looking to Casey as if to remind him of his 'place'. When Casey had noticed him going by, he'd stared back, but moved closer to his dad.
Thinking on it now… 'God, I was a fucking asshole,' Zeke surmised. He wondered if Casey had remembered the incident when they'd become friends. While Zeke hadn't ever joined in on the typical, everyday 'Casey beatings' at school, he'd done enough with just that one look.
“I'm sorry,” he murmured aloud, hoping Casey heard.
It was too much. Even if the music made Zeke gag, the smells of the fair and the general 'happy atmosphere' had sent him out of his room. He was still sore all over, but lying in bed wasn't doing him any good. The minute the medicine had started taking effect, he'd thrown on a battered baseball cap and headed out.
He'd headed to a fried dough stand--for both his hunger and the memory of powdered sugar on Casey's cheek. It was a comfort, even though Zeke's preference of cinnamon-sugar sat atop the treat. He sat at a bench to enjoy it, finding it impossible to eat the hot pastry and walk at the same time.
Just as he was sucking a small trail of grease from his thumb, he heard an odd buzzing. It took him a moment to realize that it was his phone, stuck in his pocket. He didn't even remember putting it there. Pulling it out, he saw the number on the caller ID, smiled and clicked it on.
“Hey, Mom,” he said into the phone.
“Hello, hello,” Vicky said in a singsong voice. “Just calling to check in on you. How're you doing?”
He shrugged and put his plate aside. “All right, I guess.”
“Where are you… did you hit the west coast yet?”
“No, not nearly. Not even out of the Midwest, yet.”
“With the way YOU drive?”
“Riiight,” Zeke drawled, chuckling. “I've been taking it easy. I'm in Salem, Illinois.”
“Ah-- hitting the small town circuits?” she asked.
“Yea, pretty much. The traffic going into bigger places has been pissing me off,” he answered. “So… where're you?”
“Berlin, at the moment. We're going to head to Frankfurt tomorrow; taking the train this time, which should be nice. I love traveling by train,” she explained with a sigh. “You really would have loved it here, Zeke. I'm serious.”
“Yea, yea,” Zeke said. “I'm not… a 'Euro' type of guy.”
“It's worth a try.”
“Maybe someday. Who knows.”
“What's going on there, anyway? It sounds like you're at a wrestling match.”
Zeke laughed and looked around, realizing that the people around him had grown pretty loud with talking and laughing. “Just a small town… Spring fair… thing. The music sucks, but I was hungry.”
“Still so 'small town', you are. I guess that's just how things go with you, huh?” she said with affection.
“I guess. I like things to be-- dunno, easy.”
“Such an opposite of me. I can't sit still.”
“Well, I can't either… I just want some place… I dunno.”
“You don't have to explain. I don't think it's as mysterious as you think it is,” she said.
Zeke smiled and looked up to puffy clouds hanging overhead. “I just feel like I'm looking for something. Y'now?”
“Yes… I hope you find it, hon, whatever it is.”
“Well, I should get moving. We're almost done packing and we've got to catch some shut-eye before leaving in the morning. Just wanted to let you know that I still love you.”
“Still love you too,” Zeke replied, smiling wider.
“All right-- call if you need anything, sweetie.”
“I will. Bye then.”
The phone clicked off on her end; Zeke flicked his own off and shoved it back in his pocket. He realized then that he hadn't left his number with Stan, Delilah or Stokely. He'd have to call them soon to let them know how things were, where he was-- for now…
“Christ,” he muttered on sitting up a bit. The cool wood of the bench had made everything feel much worse. 'What am I, eighty-years old?' he thought, grumbling as he stood up. He tossed his empty plate into a garbage can and worked on walking. He felt stiff, small jolts going from his feet to his spine as he went. He'd hoped to hang out around here a bit more, but his bed was calling to him, a whole block away. It felt more like six miles at this point.
The drug store across the street promised him some relief--but in seeing the shop right next to it, Zeke breathed easier. 'Marion's Massage Parlor', eh? “Fuck yes,” Zeke sighed out as he crossed the street.
“My oh my, you are knotted up back here.”
Zeke sighed to the masseuse--April's, remark. “Been driving a lot,” he said. He couldn't deny how weird this felt. It'd been a while since having someone's hands on him, and it hadn't been quite like this.
“Where are you from?” April asked, sounding cheerful as she hiked Zeke's jeans lower. He jolted a little, eyes going wide as he chuckled nervously.
“Um… Ohio,” he answered in a tense voice.
“Ah, that IS a drive. What town? I've got family in Columbus.”
People were too curious… but she was cute. “Canton,” he answered.
“Nice…” she murmured, now kneading his lower back. As odd of a feel as it was, it really was starting to work out the kinks that had formed in his muscles.
“S'nice,” Zeke mumbled past the pillow and his arms.
“It's what I get paid for, hon,” she playfully replied. “How long are you gonna be in Salem?”
“Not long. Headin' west,” he replied.
“I don't blame you. I'd kill to live by a beach.”
Zeke nodded slowly, easing entirely to the woman's touch now. She worked her way up to his sides and shoulders, rubbing hard. At one solid push, a hardened muscle seemed to melt away, making him moan. “God…”
“Getting your money's worth?” she chuckled out.
“Hells yea,” he groaned out, making her giggle more.
Zeke felt as light as air, nearly dancing into his motel room. April had most certainly done her job, earning the fifty-dollar bill Zeke slipped into her tip jar. She'd looked ready to jump into his arms with the action--he wouldn't have minded that, either. He'd not lost his taste for blondes… even if one, in particular, made him shudder to this day.
After a few drinks involving a few good shots of gin, his high feel made him laugh about that. He'd normally cringe when MaryBeth would enter his mind, taunting him with the memory of sticking his tongue in an alien's mouth. But even that seemed humorous. “I stuck my tongue in an alien's mouth,” he chuckled out. “Oh MaryBeth, you total bitch…”
He began to think hard, realizing for the first time that even with the attempted takeover being such a terrible, scary event, he had a lot to thank MaryBeth for. Maybe some days, he cursed out his getting close to that boy, but Stan had been right.
“…if that's what you wanted with Casey, that's what you wanted. And you got it, even if it was just one friggin' night.”
Zeke's mood became somber, deep in thought. He still doubted Stan's outlook at times, but now wasn't one of them.
I got to see him like no one else. I got to hold him like no one else--I tasted him, goddamn it.
His thoughts made him take the photo album from his bag, realizing that he had a third picture to get to. Bleachers and Niagara Falls--he wondered what would come next. He flipped to his mark, looked and shuddered.
It'd been an unusually hot October day, 'Indian Summer' in full swing. Zeke remembered… Popsicles, the cross breeze on my back porch. Casey had been doing black and white photography for college applications and had brought his camera along. Zeke had taken the opportunity to catch the lanky boy, sitting shirtless in the large screened window of his porch with a big smile on his face. The orange Popsicle he'd been holding had been dripping, as evidence by a tiny glossy line on his thumb and palm.
“One of my favorite times. Ever,” Zeke mumbled shakily. He wondered--then needed to uncover the next picture, not caring about his 'daily pattern'. He smiled; there, right next to Casey's Popsicle-picture was Zeke's own, showing him on the other side of that window in an opened button-down. His Popsicle had been grape. The small details of that stupid, ho-hum day made him smile and tear up at the same time. He recalled the 'toast' they'd made, tapping the icy treats together.
“What the hell are we toasting to?”
“Uh… I dunno.”
Zeke shook his head slightly. There'd been no need to make a detailed 'thanks' to anything at that moment. All he could remember about that time--sitting in the searing heat, fighting with melting sugar--was the absolute confusion he'd felt, and wondering why he was looking at Casey in such a different light.
He didn't admit it to himself then, but… when Casey had put his head back to laugh about… whatever he'd laughed about, Zeke's stomach had turned, realizing that he was falling… deep.
Rain was pelting the windows, hard, when Zeke awoke the next morning. When he realized the weather, he groaned. It was to be expected that SOME bad weather would drop by, but if there was one thing that could down him completely, it was a rainstorm.
It slowed all movement; he showered, brushed his teeth and dressed as if he'd become a zombie overnight. The weekend celebrations in this town would be depressing now, he figured. The urge to get out of this damned town hit him like a ton of bricks, making him pack up quick and leave the motel an hour earlier than he needed to.
His wipers were working overtime as he made his way through town, trying to find the exit leading back to fifty-seven. 'I'm gonna have to head into St. Louis,' he suddenly thought, not bothering to look at the map. He shivered; God, traffic was bad enough, but rainy traffic was ten times worse. 'Just go south… I guess.'
He shook his head, feeling numb and out-of-sorts. Signs for route sixty-four, leading into St. Louis began popping up, showing it at fifteen miles away. He gripped the wheel hard, eyes set on the fogged road he traveled on. For whatever reason, his nerves felt frayed, setting him on edge and making him feel a bit flustered. He drove fast, perhaps faster than he should have and passed the more cautious drivers going along with him. Why he felt this huge need to get out, to leave…
It wasn't long before he passed the group of exits leading to St. Louis, still intent on going south. He lit a cigarette off of the one he'd just finished, making the vision through the windshield even more obscured.
Even with the map, he felt like he had no idea where he was going.
'Where the FUCK am I?' Zeke thought angrily. It'd been a good two hours since he'd made the regretful decision to pass up St. Louis for… this. A town full of nothing but back roads, fields and trees and maybe two houses was all he had to go on thus far.
The road he rode upon twisted and turned, trees obscuring everything; even if there were road signs, they'd only end up being invisible out here. 'Why didn't I go to St. Fucking Louis…' he thought further while clenching his teeth, hard. If this kept going, he'd be ready to hold a family hostage at the next farmhouse he saw, just to get a warm bed. Even with it being early afternoon, the dark clouds made it more night than day. Headlights helped, though not much. This was worse than it'd been when he'd gotten stuck in Letts. At least then he'd run into friendly people. He doubted that anyone lived here.
He was half-considering turning right around to head back towards the main highways, when his eyes jerked to the right. “Fuck…” he mumbled, urgency coming to him slow as a deer bolted into the road. It stopped cold in the road--doing exactly what fucking deer did when faced with the prospect of death--making Zeke slam on his brakes.
He'd lowered his speed, being out on these deserted, twisting roads, but not enough. The tires slipped and shook under the car, which began sliding to the right. Panic swelled harder into Zeke's body while his hands gripped the wheel and tried regaining control. He missed the animal by what seemed like inches, but had gone one-eighty, facing the other way. He almost closed his eyes to brace for the inevitable hit into a patch of trees, but the cracked tar of the road suddenly turned into mud. The car jolted to a sudden stop now that it was off the road, one side slipping off into a tiny ditch.
Zeke breathed, in and out a few times before lifting his eyes to look out through the windshield. The tilt he'd gone into had the world outside go ajar, making him lose equilibrium a few moments before he finally took a hard swallow and put his foot on the gas.
The engine revved hard, but the tires did nothing but spin into the wet earth below. He gritted his teeth and leaned forward, as if that would do anything to help. The car seemed to move further back along the rocky, sticky dip he was stuck in, angering him further. He glared to the right, seeing the deer sauntering off into the woods on the other side of the road. He could've shot the thing between the eyes at this point.
It became clear that this was utterly useless; he was only wasting gas in his attempt. He threw the car into neutral, opened the door and got out, only to be greeted by hard, large drops of rain. His skin was so warm with frustration and fury that he swore the water steamed when it touched him, but his jacket had already soaked straight through by the time he got to the trunk of the GTO. He'd done this--once, when he'd gotten stuck in a snowdrift back home. Alone, as he always was.
There was no prospect of sliding the car on slippery snow or ice this time around, however. Rocks crunched under his boots as he tried shoving the vehicle up and out of the dirt, while the tires stayed perfectly still. 'This isn't gonna work, damn it--it's not gonna fuckin' WORK…'
A few minutes passed before Zeke stopped, having almost slipped and fallen on his face after giving his hardest push. His hands slapped on the metal, his forehead lowering between them to rest. He took deep, gasping breaths as the cold rain finally reached his bones. Too much.
Hot tears welled in his eyes with the sudden need to go home--this idea was just starting to look worse and worse as time went on. Whatever he was 'looking for' wasn't on this road, and he didn't feel like it'd be anywhere. Visions of being with his mother in Berlin flashed through his mind. He'd have been sleeping for a few hours by now if he was with her, covered in soft hotel blankets.
'Wait… she'd called me…'
Zeke blinked and reached into his pocket; he let out a deep sigh as he brought out the cell, hoping and praying for even just the tiniest signal. In flicking it open and pressing 'on'… he should've known better.
“Jesus… FUCK!” he yelled into the hazy street, going into a deep echo against the vast expanse of land and trees.
“Hey… what's this?”
“Dunno. Is that… Danny's car?”
“Stupid, his car is blue.”
Zeke's eyes scrunched tight, wanting them to stay closed… 'I fell asleep…?'
“The plates say Ohio…?”
The muffled voices started pushing past Zeke's subconscious, forcing him to wake. His head throbbed, his body stiffer than ever. His head lolled towards the driver's side window and his eyes opened. Dizzy panic overcame him in seeing two men approaching, both carrying large rifles.
His brain couldn't register things properly; whether it was the cold sleep or just being cold, he was slow on the uptake. “Wha…?” he murmured shakily. One of the men must have noticed his movements and came closer. 'They're gonna shoot me…' he irrationally thought.
He moved to the right--too fast. He wasn't able to see straight, never mind open the glove box to get to his own gun. He slumped forward, his head hitting the wheel.
“Whoa, Jeff--get over here,” the man closest to the car called. Zeke tried focusing his eyes, finding it useless. Just as the second man jogged over, his eyes closed again, resigning himself to darkness.
The small form of the boy was hunched in the corner, arms covering his face. Zeke approached cautiously, hearing the small whimpers and sniffles Casey made. Once in front of him, Zeke crouched down and tried taking a hand.
Zeke froze. Staring at the top of Casey's head, chestnut hairs shaking as he sobbed, he shook his head. 'What's wrong?'
'They took my face…'
'What?' Zeke asked. He flinched when Casey finally looked up, expecting something terrible--yet it was just the familiar blue eyes and pale skin he'd always known. Trying to smile in reassurance, Zeke squeezed Casey's hand. 'No… you're fine. What're you talking about?'
Casey blinked slowly and reached up to his ear. He brushed the hairs back and put his head to the side. Zeke's lips parted, finding what looked to be a zipper. 'What's…?'
'Unzip it. Find out.'
Zeke shrank back, fear making his skin shiver. 'No.' he replied.
The eeriest smile now formed on Casey's lips. 'Look,' he said; before Zeke could stop him, fingers clasped onto the zipper and pulled.
Everything shook; Zeke's body turned fast and jolted--finding himself rolling onto the very edge of a bed. It took him a minute to realize--
Wait, whose bed was this? He was in a bed?
“Hey… are you up?”
Zeke's head thrust up fast. Before the motion could sicken him, he looked over to the other side of the room he was in, finding a man sitting on an easy chair. He swallowed and shut his eyes tight. “Where…” he said, but was interrupted by a forceful cough out of nowhere.
“Take it easy… you're kinda sick,” the man told him.
Zeke tried gaining his bearings, huffing in greedy inhalations. The smell of wood… fire--turning to look behind him, he found a hearth, a roaring fire in its insides. His eyes darted around, finding himself covered in heavy wool blankets on a fold-out bed. Looking down upon himself, he frowned. An oversized flannel shirt covered him, sweatpants hanging loose on his hips but short at the ankles. “What… am I wearing…?” he managed to ask.
“You were pretty soaked. We didn't want you to die of a fever or anything, so we got you changed up.”
Frowning harder, he focused on the man; he wore a large black sweatshirt, dark blue jeans and a baseball cap. The easy chair looked like it'd formed around his large frame, cradling him like a king. Zeke sat up with a few grunts, hoisting himself onto his hands. He felt heavy and drowsy, like he'd been filled with boulders. “I don't… know where I am,” he mumbled.
“Du Quoin, Illinois… you were right at the edge of Tamaroa. We were on our hunting trip when we found you,” the man told him. He reached to the side table and shuffled from his seat. Picking up a mug, he brought it over to Zeke. “Here, have some of this. Jeff made it.”
The steaming liquid inside smelled sour, but the warmth of it, just on his hand, was inviting. “What is it?”
“Sassafras tea. Don't ask, I'm a coffee kinda guy.”
Zeke didn't know who this guy… or Jeff… was at all. “Who're you, anyway?”
The man smiled and sat back again. “Jerry Somers. Jeff's my brother. Like I'd said, we were out for our first hunting trip of the season, ended up finding you.”
Nodding slightly, Zeke took his first sip of tea and winced. “Christ…” he mumbled, feeling another cough coming on.
“Hah… want coffee instead?”
“Yea… thanks,” Zeke said, putting the mug down. Jerry stood and took it; he then walked to what had to be the kitchen, separated by a small half wall with no door. Zeke watched him go to a coffeepot and cleared his throat. “So… um, my car, is it okay?”
“It's in the drive. We hooked it up to our truck, with a rope to pull it outta the mud. I drove it back… hope you don't mind. Sweet machine, I'd say,” he explained with a smile.
Zeke nodded. “Oh… thanks.”
“'Back,” a voice called from the back door, right by the kitchen area. Zeke watched the man, who had to be Jeff, walking in, shaking his jacket of loose water. He was just as stocky as Jerry, but shorter. Zeke figured he was wearing the man's pants, instead of the taller Jerry.
“Hey… our friend woke up,” Jerry told him.
“Oh… hey,” Jeff said, plopping a bag on the counter by the mugs Jerry filled. “Man, we were afraid you'd died. Uh, hope you don't mind that we had to strip ya. You were freezing fuckin' cold.”
Zeke scratched his scalp, knowing he was blushing. “Yea, it's okay.”
“So… um…” Jeff started in an awkward tone. Jerry raised his eyebrows as Jeff went over to him. He spoke in hushed words, making Zeke quirk an eyebrow.
“No, c'mon…” Jerry grumbled.
“But he is!” Jeff said; he looked over to Zeke, biting his lip. Taking a quick glance Jerry's way, he turned back and walked into the den.
Zeke knew what was coming. He was thankful for Jerry returning with coffee, just as Jeff sat across from him where Jerry had been. “Thanks,” he said, taking the offered mug.
“So hey… we had to take a look--stuff, having to do with the car so we could bring it here,” Jeff started.
He made a long pause; Zeke saw the quick dart of his eyes back to Jerry. He sighed with dread. “Yea?”
“Are you… that Zeke Tyler? The one from Herrington…?”
Jerry groaned and sat back on another easy chair. “Give the guy a break…”
“Yea, I am,” Zeke answered. He sipped at his coffee, looking at Jeff over the rim.
“Oh--wow,” Jeff said, huffing out a small chuckle. He turned to Jerry and smiled wider. “I told you.”
Jerry sighed and looked to Zeke. “So, you really are--one of the alien kids?”
Zeke swallowed hard. He'd heard various descriptions of himself and the others, this being one of them. “Well, I guess,” he said wryly, shrugging. “Not one of my most favorite terms, though.”
“Sorry,” Jerry said, raising a hand.
“What was it like?” Jeff butted in. “Like, was she really as big as that… the Connor kid said?”
The mention of Casey made Zeke's ears burn. “Yea, she was. Not something I like to talk about…”
“Jeff, c'mon. Let's not bug him.”
“Well, it's not like a celebrity drops in our lap every ten minutes.”
“Look…” Zeke started, feeling intensely uncomfortable now. “Thanks for helping me out like you did--but I gotta get outta here.”
“Well, wait--your clothes, they're still in the dryer…” Jeff said.
“I have some in the car, I'll change into those,” Zeke replied. He put his legs over the bed, but in just the small move of his body, his head spun.
“Hey,” Jerry started, standing up slowly. He shook his head and held up both hands. “We didn't mean to come off as pushy, just… Jeff's right. Small town in Illinois and all. But it's probably a good idea if you stayed the night. You were coughing up your lungs in the car.”
Zeke sighed, feeling the intense itch in his throat. They were right--he wouldn't get out of their driveway before crashing into something. Still, his mind strayed to his lungs… which were in desperate need of a cigarette, no matter his new sickness. “Did you bring in my cigs?” he asked.
Jerry chuckled. “Yea… you really wanna smoke like this?”
Zeke had to smile. “I've smoked through bronchitis.”
The two men were definitely making up for the awkwardness from before, all in the form of venison stew, rolls and coffee. Zeke had never had 'deer for dinner' before, now wondering why. He couldn't get enough of the stuff.
“Slow down there, bud,” Jeff said as he ate his own bowl.
“Can't help it,” Zeke mumbled through a mouthful.
“That's one Jeff got last month. We had to freeze the meat--it's even better when it's a fresh cut,” Jerry said.
“It's gonna hafta last,” Jeff said, spooning the last of his stew to his mouth. “Didn't see anything out there today.”
“Eh, that new housing development on East Road has done us in,” Jerry grumbled. He slathered butter on his roll and nodded up to Zeke. “You ever gone hunting?”
“No,” Zeke replied, shaking his head. “I worked on a farm one summer… closest I'd ever gotten. Mucking out stalls though, not even close.”
“Aw no… nothing like hunting,” Jerry said. “It can be a thrill, lemmee tell ya. Dad used to take us out all the time when we were kids. Got my first buck at age nine.”
Zeke raised his eyebrows. “Wow… cool.”
“Where're you headed, anyway?” Jeff asked, dumping another ladle of stew in his bowl.
“I dunno… out west somewhere. Just gotta get away from things,” he explained. His voice had lowered on the last few words, wishing he hadn't brought up possible questions again.
“Yea. It's been pretty crazy in your hometown, huh?” Jeff said with sympathy.
Jerry nodded. “Y'now… it's funny. Maybe you haven't done OUR brand of hunting, but--well, I'll bet you wish the feds had let you mount that 'thing's' head on your wall.”
Zeke couldn't help a small smile. “I thought about it, yea. Would've been Casey's, though.”
The conversation died down, going into small talk about their dinner or the weather. Zeke looked out the window, seeing that the hard rain had turned to a soft drizzle. He'd been feeling a bit better, but would get some nice, uninterrupted sleep tonight to make sure he'd be able to start his drive up again the next morning.
Zeke helped with dishes later, drying while Jerry washed. Jerry put a few plates in the sink and smiled. “Sorry about Jeff before… he gets really curious and starts asking stupid questions. Not that, well--I didn't do my share of that.”
“It's okay,” Zeke replied, shrugging.
“So, you're heading west?”
“We haven't been out of Illinois much, but oh…” he said, looking wistful as he continued. “One year, dad took us to California to go on a huge family fishing trip. Our Uncle Stashu had a small fishing business. Man, good times. I'd go back in a second.”
“Cool… where at?”
“Morro Bay. Absolutely gorgeous; I caught five times my weight in albacore alone,” Jerry explained. He nodded towards the hallway next to them and smiled. “There're pictures on the wall, check 'em out. You'll see I ain't lying.”
Zeke smiled back and wandered over, finding a long, full line of frames. The first bunch showed the two men, younger, standing with an older man next to random animals; deer, even some rabbits. At two steps down, larger and much more vibrant pictures followed the rest.
Good God; Jerry hadn't lied. The photos showed off gorgeous scenery, some on a boat with the ocean in the background. The sun shone on rippling waves, its hazy yellow light implying a gorgeous sunrise. A thinner Jeff was smiling in one, holding up a large, dark fish. Zeke had no clue as to what fish was what, but it didn't matter. He'd been fishing--once--catching one small trout and plenty of tree branches.
“They're awesome,” he said, getting to one of Jerry standing next to a large net full of fish.
“Ain't it? Someday, I'm gonna go back, even if it's only for a day or two,” he said. “It's worth it.”
Zeke nodded dumbly, staring at the pictures. Normally he'd give a quick appreciation, say 'yea, nice' and move on.
'This feels like home,' he thought. He didn't know where the feeling had come from, but it happened nonetheless. “Where's Morro Bay, anyway?”
“South of Monterey and the Salinas Valley,” Jerry told him. “Central Cali; we even saw the Hearst castle there, near San Simeon.”
Zeke smiled fondly. “Xanadu.”
“Oh yea--you're into the classics, too?”
He hadn't been; it'd taken a young man showing him old films, 'Citizen Kane' in particular in order for him to appreciate them. “A friend of mine… loved the movie. Forced me to watch it.”
“Bet you're glad for it,” Jerry said.
“Yea,” Zeke breathed out.
The next morning, Zeke had woke up feeling more refreshed than he'd felt since leaving Herrington. The cabin was pleasant and warm, still smelling of wood smoke and down-home cooking. Sunlight broke through the many trees just outside the large picture window across the room, shining a path to Zeke's couch bed.
He sat up with a yawn, all muscles relaxed and smooth as he moved. The tickle in his throat had been erased as well. Looking around, he realized that the two men hadn't gotten up yet. The clock over the TV read six-fifty; he'd usually be sleeping at this time, but felt the need to move--to go.
He shuffled over to the small bag the men had brought in for him and reached inside. He didn't care about the way his t-shirt had wrinkled, or the jeans feeling chilled. It felt as comfortable as ever once dressed. The clothes that had been put in the dryer were packed in the bag already the night before, so really…
He didn't want to wake the guys, but he also felt the need to say goodbye. Biting his lip, Zeke walked over to the small desk next to the kitchen doorway, grabbed up a small pad of paper, pen, and then set to writing.
J & J-- Thanks for everything, guys. You really saved my ass. Take this and get yourself something pretty, like a new hunting rifle. --Z
If they did wake up, they'd probably force Zeke to take the five hundred dollars back. It was best to leave without saying a word.
The only reason Zeke bothered stopping before getting to route seventy leading west was a nagging bladder. Otherwise, he would have been content to keep going, and going, and going. Two hours of driving has sucked a good lot of gas as well, so stopping at the large pump n' munch was the best option.
In the unusually clean bathroom, Zeke found himself looking into the mirror, noting his appearance. It'd been quite a while since his last haircut, and hadn't noticed how shaggy he was getting. He was amused, thinking back to his constant 'check ups' at his favorite barber back home, not wanting to have a hair go astray. It was good for him, however; the less obvious, the better.
The recognition made by the Illinois brothers may have been just by checking his car's registration, or seeing his face up-close along with the Ohio plates of his car. Either way, Zeke was starting to not care whether he went noticed or not. He didn't feel the celebrity people put on him, but… “Whatever,” he muttered aloud, shutting off the water and heading back into the shop.
It'd be a quick meal of a hot dog from their roller-stand--technically breakfast--along with a bottled Starbuck's coffee. Getting to the counter, he also snagged a chocolate bar, figuring he'd need at least one small snack for the road. He paid for that and his gas, then headed back out to the pumps.
Just as he took the gas nozzle in hand, a sudden familiar click went off. His head turned to the left and found a pair of young girls--one holding a camera. He narrowed his eyes, wondering what had just happened, even though it was obvious.
As they rushed into the car and sped off, Zeke wondered exactly how anonymous he was.
It was time to stop… and it seemed to be an appropriate place to do so. The name of the town didn't reflect the hubbub of how the state was, being yet another small town for Zeke to travel through. He'd been glad to have an aim, however.
California. It'd been an option, but since looking at the photos at Jeff and Jerry's, he had a definitive goal. After feeling lost and being physically such, it felt good to look at maps and make a real, honest-to-goodness path to where he wanted to go.
For now, he got into his motel room, and with a simple drop of his bags by the dresser, he flopped onto the bed. It was a wonder that the last five hours spent driving hadn't gotten him crippled. His arms went above his head and relaxed, the bones in them glad to let go of the wheel. It was then that he smiled…
Beaches--sunsets and sunrises over large expanses of water, sitting in warm sand and watching time go by. He could almost imagine renting a surfboard to see if he could manage a wave or two. 'Right…' he thought with a chuckle. Pete Jansen, the same boy who had mysteriously been without tires on his bike that hot, Saturday morning, had gotten a skateboard for his birthday one year. He wouldn't let anyone use it, but when Zeke had offered a dollar, “For just a minute!”, Pete had relented.
He didn't know the bushes lining Mrs. Barrow's yard had huge thorns and prickers in them until that afternoon. The whole group of neighborhood boys had laughed at him--it'd been the one time Zeke had cried in front of them, and had never quite lived it down.
“Maybe I'll just swim,” he said aloud to himself. He'd always wanted to even just wade in saltwater…
“Maybe I'll apply to a school on the coast. I've always wanted to live near the ocean.”
Zeke swallowed, remembering the hopeful smile Casey had worn while looking through a U.S. college manual. He turned onto his side and reached down to his nearby bag. Yet another night to flip the album open for his next picture.
He turned the pages, passing by the back porch images. Once getting to the next image, he almost choked on his own saliva.
Another black and white, showing Casey sitting on his bed. Completely bare with his shoulders hunched forward over bent knees, his cheek resting on one, wearing a tiny, somber smile. His eyes were closed, looking content and at complete ease. Zeke's eyes trailed down the boy's side, seeing a smooth hip lining just behind Casey's thigh.
'Good Christ…' he thought, feeling his chest tightening. When had he taken this? Was this always meant for Zeke to have…? From what Delilah had told him… “I swore I wouldn't tell, and I never did. Especially when he admitted his huge crush he'd had on you since the eighth grade.”
His lips pursed tight as his eyes reopened to stare at the beautiful boy's image… I wish I'd said things earlier. I wish I could have had him for years. I wish, I wish, I fucking wish. Zeke swallowed and slumped back onto his back, his eyes still set on the picture. Why didn't you SAY anything, Casey…
Stupid question. It would've been suicide for Casey to say anything, even if it was just 'coming out'; never mind trying to hook up with the school loner. The school loner that everyone had assumed wanted girls… had HAD girls, and everyone had known it. Casey had known it.
It left Zeke with a picture--nothing else. Perhaps he could have never predicted this want, this need that came from one of the sweetest boys he'd ever met. It left him feeling hollowed out, aching for something to fill the void. For now, instant gratification was in order.
Still gazing at Casey's lovely form, he undid his jeans' button and zip, and then reached down. He hadn't realized how hard he'd gotten since finding this page; he sighed out, low and shaky as he took himself in his hand.
It'd never be enough, even if someday, someone else did this for him. He craved only one mouth to kiss, only one person's skin to touch. No matter the small, swelling pleasure rising in his groin, it'd never be enough. He tried forgetting himself for just a few moments, the need for actual pleasure being immense. His eyes opened in slits, setting on the photograph he held in a vice-like grip. Casey's skin glowed in the gray lighting, looking as touchable and as soft as ever. God, he'd been so soft… so goddamned sweet and soft…
Zeke's mouth opened to irk out a low cry, choked out as his release hit full throttle. It was both relief and depression; the sticky wet on his hand as he brought it out felt foreign and wrong.
He hoped desperately to find what he'd been looking for… whatever that was. It didn't matter. This needed to stop.
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