Trigger Warning: May contain sensitive content.
What was it Kyle said? On Tuesday nights, he goes for midnight walks. That must be why he’s not answering his phone. Maybe he doesn’t take it with him. I suppose I never asked.
There’s still so much I don’t know about my new boyfriend. It’s only been two weeks, after all, and I’m a bit new to this. Kyle is the first guy I’ve dated publicly, and maybe I’ve already annoyed him into keeping quiet about things. I don’t know. No one I know has dated him before me (to my knowledge), so it’s not like I can ‘phone a friend’ and drill them. Kyle is a mystery most of the time, and I guess I’ll just have to get used to that.
It just seems odd to take a walk so late on a school night. I don’t know how he does it. I wonder if he’s usually dead on Wednesdays. I try to remember last week, but I barely see Kyle in the halls, nor do we have any classes together. We met through a mutual friend at a party who thought hooking up gay kids was the “scout” thing to do (don’t get me started); when it comes to school hours, I barely cross paths with him. So, I have no idea how he gets along on Wednesdays. I just know such a routine would kill me.
Giving up on contact for the night, I plug my phone into its charger and roll over. As I close my eyes, I calculate how much sleep I will get if I were to be out in the next twenty minutes. Unfortunately, I’ve already stayed up late enough I’ll be dragging in school later today.
I dread my upcoming alarm.
I go almost all day before finally hearing from Kyle. I don’t know how well this will work out; I suppose I’m a bit needy, but I expect responses to be returned in a reasonable amount of time. Going most of a day without word is hardly reasonable.
He doesn’t even apologize. Just tells me he walked longer than usual and almost didn’t make it to school as a result. This is sometime during sixth period the message comes through. I wonder what class he is in to sneak out his phone. For me, Mr. Fair loves me, so I can get away with using my phone here and there. Others aren’t so lucky.
I text Kyle back before returning to my reading assignment. Almost instantly, he responds, surprising me. This time he invites me to take the walk with him. I assume he means next Tuesday, and ask as much. He goes on to tell me he wants to go tonight. I’m confused, but accept. I guess I’ll be able to ask my questions in person then.
Sneaking out won’t be easy, but I tell him I will figure it out somehow. Luckily, my parents are generally in bed around nine on weekday nights. Also, the Dead Tracks aren’t far from my house, maybe forty minutes on foot. That’s where he goes, for whatever reason. I guess they’re moody and cool. Personally, I like walking in the woods. Helps me think. Maybe the tracks help Kyle think.
Whatever the reason, I’ll surely be getting my exercise tonight. Between eighty minutes round trip in travel and however long we walk the tracks, my legs are gonna be left swollen.
I end up going to bed around eight to get some sleep before meeting with Kyle. I set my alarm for eleven, so I don’t end up sleeping through the night. When it goes off several hours later, I’m grumpy about getting up.
As I go to get dressed – quietly, hoping to leave the house unnoticed – I check my phone for messages from Kyle. There’s one and it’s simple: See you at DT by 12.
He has such a way with words, wouldn’t you agree?
My walk over feels even longer tonight, because I’m half asleep. It eventually wakes me up, but still I feel fuzzy around the edges upon arrival. It’s a cold night and foggy, so I’m wearing layers and a scarf.
When I first reach the tracks, it occurs to me that Kyle never set a specific marker for finding each other. Luckily, it only takes a moment of standing there stupidly before I hear his voice riding a gust of wind. I turn and see him down the line a bit, just far enough that the fog has shaped him into a broken figure of sorts.
Once we’re together, he kisses me distractedly, his eyes moving constantly from side to side.
“What is it?” I ask, observing our surroundings as well.
Kyle chuckles, still avoiding my gaze. “So, there’s a reason I usually come out here on Tuesday nights. Wednesday – and any other day of the week – is a bit too unpredictable for my tastes.”
This time, it’s my turn to laugh. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Kyle ushers me along the tracks, our walk beginning. I try taking his hand, but he’s not very responsive. I’m not even sure he’s noticed my fingers groping for his.
“Did you know about my younger brother?” he asks.
I shake my head. I barely know anything about this family.
“Well, he died here last year. You sure you never heard about it?”
I nod, realizing which story must belong to his brother. It was all over the news for a week or two, local and national. A young boy – nine years old, I think – had been lured into these woods by some creep from Florida, up visiting his parents. The guy had then raped and killed the boy here on the Dead Tracks. In fact, that’s how they got their name. Before that night, this place had been called Clause Rail.
“I didn’t realize that murder was related to your family,” I say uncomfortably. “I’m so sorry.”
Kyle nods and takes a deep breath. “Well, I found out early on that I could still see him during certain times,” he told me, careful to keep his voice as even as possible. “You see, it was a Tuesday night Brandon died. Between midnight and three, I can sometimes find him here. It’s not fool proof, but I get two or three chances to talk to him each month.”
Part of me wants to laugh. The other part of me wants to cry. Was this a joke? Or was Kyle so broken over his brother’s murder that he imagined his ghost sometimes?
After a long minute – in which I try to decide how to proceed – I finally ask, “What makes the other nights so unpredictable? You seem scared right now.”
“Because my brother isn’t the only who shows up here. I tried other nights before and found that out the hard way.”
“I’m going to need a little more than that,” I say, doing my best to ignore the shiver racing up my spine.
“Just stay close to me. I don’t think they can hurt us, but still … they scare me, you know?”
I look around us. All I see are trees and tracks. “Why are we here, Kyle?”
“I wanted to explain things, but my brother warned me not to bring you to him.”
“He said I won’t be able to visit him anymore if I let outsiders see him. It’s a blood thing, I guess. I don’t know. He made some sort of deal with someone.”
I’m at a loss for words. I feel bad for Kyle, I realize. He’s grief stricken and, perhaps, a little off his nut. What do I do with him? How do I respond?
“Um … so, why are we here then? If not to see him?”
“I’m sure you think I’m crazy, Ben. But it’s real. He’s real, I mean.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” I remind him with some hesitance.
“Well, I want you to know the truth and to believe it,” he explains. “I may not be able to introduce you to Brandon, but I can show you others. To prove it’s not all in my head.”
“So … by unpredictable, you meant there was no way to know who we’d see?” I ask, scanning the trees lining the tracks. I am suddenly certain Kyle is an asshole whose friends are about to jump out and scare me. That this is all some fucking prank on the gay kid. It occurs to me then just how little physical affection I’ve received from Kyle in the last two weeks. It could have all been fake.
Oh, God. What if it was all fake?
“You’re right,” he says, and at first I think he’s heard my thoughts. Then I realize he’s just answering the question I asked a moment earlier. “I have no idea who we will see out here, but I suspect there will be someone at some point,” he continues. “And once you see one, you’ll know Tuesday nights are real and necessary for me. That it’s not some crazy illusion.”
I lick my lips nervously. “Are we out here looking for ghosts, Kyle?”
“Well … yeah.”
I stop on the tracks and glare at him. “Just get your friends out here and be done with it!” I growl. I can tell by the look on his face I’ve surprised and startled him. I’ve even surprised myself, to be honest.
“You’ve brought me out here to scare me. Maybe film it for everyone to see at school tomorrow. Everyone will laugh at me.”
“No! No, you’ve got it all wrong,” he tries to assure me, and I swear he sounds genuine. “That’s not what’s going on at all, Ben. Please believe me. Everything I’ve told you was the truth.”
“Prove it,” I say, my voice shaking now. I can’t hold it back.
“How? I mean, we’re here. All we can do now is wait and see if anyone shows.”
I look up and down the tracks, and decide I’ve had enough. I begin back the way we came, ready to return home. Kyle calls out for me, but I don’t look back. I soon realize I’m crying as I storm away from him and into a denser cloud of fog.
“Stop your tears,” someone grumbles nearby.
I stop, frightened. This is it. One of Kyle’s friends out here to prank me.
“Fuck off,” I snap, hoping to sound tougher than I am.
“Boy, I would watch that mouth of yours with me, or you might just get choked.”
I spin in place, in search of the body broadcasting the voice. It seems to come from every direction. I don’t know which way to look.
“Stop being an asshole,” I say, trembling from head to toe.
A face finally appears in the fog. It’s an older guy, maybe in his thirties. He’s got a lot of scruff on his face, as well as dirt and sweat.
How could he be hot enough to sweat? It’s so cold out!
“Who … who are you?” I ask. This isn’t someone from school. Maybe it’s a student’s older brother? Did Kyle have an older brother, too? Or maybe a cousin?
“No one you should be pissing off with your whiny bullshit,” the guy says, coming closer. He seems to float through the flog. His clothing is different. The styles are old, like from the fifties, maybe. And his hair is super greased with gel.
I stumble back several steps and shoot a look over my shoulder, hoping to see Kyle. I scream his name, but the older guy immediately charges me. I throw up my arms to defend myself, but the man passes right through me. Confused, I turn around to see him on the other side now.
What the hell?
“Oh, I see,” the man growls, turning to face me once more. “You’re one of those damn living boys, aren’t ya?”
The man charges me once more and, again, I throw up my arms instinctually. For the second time, I feel nothing but a brush of cold air, and the guy is behind me cursing like a sailor.
“Who are you?” I ask again, looking at him with full eyes.
The man laughs, placing his hands deep in his pockets. “I’ll tell you what,” he says. “You kill yourself and come back here once it’s done. That way we can meet properly.”
The sinister man grins, and I hurry past him. The point where I arrived on the Dead Tracks is ahead of me now, and I’m eager to leave. I don’t think I will ever be coming back here. If I can help it.
At school Thursday, I make a point to seek out Kyle between classes, knowing he has Biology second period. I barely manage to catch him before his disappears into his classroom, but luckily he hears me shouting his name. Others turn to give me a look in the process, but I don’t care. This is important.
“Ben?” he says, a little surprised to be seeing me.
I’m out of breath, but spit out the words as best I can by the doorway. “I believe you,” I tell him.
Kyle takes a moment to process this, then smiles hopefully. “Really?”
“Hard to argue a ghost running through me twice,” I say quietly, not wanting others to hear us. I feel crazy just saying it out loud.
Kyle looks off into the crowd, thinking. Then he turns back to me – quicker than I expected – and kisses me hard on the lips. I’m taken by surprise, but return the pressure. Once Kyle has pulled away, he’s already halfway through the door.
“Thanks, Ben. I’ll see you later, okay?”
Then he’s gone. I laugh a little and turn back down the hall, my second period class being on the other end of the school. Above, the bell rings to signal I’m late. But I don’t care.
Kyle kissed me and ghosts can’t hurt me. For now, I’m riding the clouds.
By Aiden Merchant