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The Sound of a Train in the Distance
by Sierra Dafoe
Despite the hot, damp breeze that gusted through the cat-tails along the tracks, making them swish and whisper like gossiping debutantes, there was something in the night that spoke of autumn. Maybe it was the silence; so pervasive Kyla felt like she'd wandered into a Stephen King story, one of those ones where everyone suddenly disappears, leaving the heroine (that was her, she supposed) walking through the darkness waiting for ghoulies to appear.
The setting was right for it, certainly. Little upstate mill-town, as thin and worn as a dried leaf, now, with the mill two years closed. Empty houses, 'for sale' signs tacked to their porches with a pathetic, faded optimism, crowded the steep, twisting streets. They listed drunkenly, inclining slowly, as everything in this stupid town had for eighty years, down toward the river and the black, empty hulk of the mill.
Maybe it was just self-pity that made her think of dry, clacking leaves and twisted branches, or maybe it was the way the hot, sullen wind tossed fragments of litter like a child throwing a tantrum. Kyla couldn't escape a pervading sense that everything was ending, dying…
Not everything, Kyla. Just you.
She shuddered, hugging herself, her arms wrapped tight across her breasts. Fat, burning tears rolled down her cheeks, and the tracks, stretching before her, blurred and writhed like snakes.
It wasn't fair. It wasn't anything like fair. She was twenty-nine, damn it!
Here, the railway plunged into a dark hollow between two banks. On this side, the sickly amber of the street lamps trickled between the dilapidated houses, falling in bars across the gleaming iron tracks. On the other, the bank rose through a strip of marsh and scrub-brush to the surrounding mountains, long since plundered of any saleable timber. The wind sighed through the distant trees, tossed their branches, and fled north toward Canada. Far in the distance, Kyla could hear the desolate whistle of a train, echoing up the river valley. It was a ways off yet -- Gorham, maybe. But it was coming.
She looked again at the tracks, stretching out toward the horizon, dim and mysterious in the dark. A road she wouldn't travel. For her, the line ended here.
There wasn't pain yet -- but there would be. They'd warned her of that. Why, Kyla thought suddenly, should she wait for it? The train whistled again, still ghostly with the miles, and she imagined she could feel the first faint tremor in the rails. There was an answer right here -- if she had the courage to take it. All she had to do was step onto the tracks…
"Do you ever just want to run away from it all?"
Kyla spun, her eyes searching the darkness. The wind gusted again, hot, hungry, tossing the shadows like leaves. It took a moment to spot him, sitting absolutely still, his shoulders hunched under a black leather jacket, his jeans smeared with streaks of dirt. Cat-tails tossed on the bank above him, and beyond them Kyla could just make out the bulk of the mountains against the starless sky.
An automatic fear propelled Kyla backward, and she found herself scrambling up the nearer bank, toward the safety of streetlights and houses, away from whatever danger the stranger might pose. Then she checked herself, feeling a cynical, hurtful amusement -- what, after all, was there to fear? She'd just been contemplating suicide by locomotive, for God's sake. She laughed -- the sound was bitter in the humid air -- and hunkered down across from him, smelling the tang of wild tansy and the acrid scent of cinders.
Twenty feet, perhaps, of darkness separated them. His face was no more than a pale oval, framed by shaggy black hair, obscured by shadows. She caught a glint as his eyes moved, glancing down the tracks, then returning her gaze neutrally as she fished out a cigarette, lit it. The spark of the match momentarily blinded her.
"Those things'll kill you, you know."
"I know," Kyla muttered. "Believe me." She shook the match out, took a long drag, exhaled and watched the smoke go whirling away on the wind. Like her dreams, like her life.
The man cocked his head, waiting. He was, she realized as her eyes readjusted, almost impossibly beautiful. High, strong cheekbones. Pale skin surrounding dark, intent eyes. Full lips that quirked now in a half-smile that would, Kyla thought, melt the knees of an entire sorority. "You didn't answer my question," he said. It took Kyla a second to figure out what question he meant.
"Sure. Who doesn't, sometimes?"
He shrugged. "Lots of people. Them." He nodded past her, at the silent, desperate houses, including with that one small motion all the people inside them, still clinging desperately to a life with -- Kyla realized suddenly-- little more future than hers. He turned his gaze back to her. "Why do they do it, you think?"
"Why do they what?" She had no idea who he was, or where he'd come from -- but squatting on a railroad bank talking in the lee hours of the night was infinitely better than lying in her bed, staring into the darkness and trying not to think of the test results lying like a death warrant on her kitchen table.
"Why do they hang on? Why not let go, get out, go somewhere else?"
Kyla shrugged. "Fear, maybe. It's all they know."
"It's a death-trap." He sounded disgusted, as if the town was demonstrating a close-mindedness he was somehow above. Kyla felt a sudden, virulent wave of fury. What did he know about it? Who the hell did he think he was, anyway? He looked like a tramp, a common street-punk, without a penny to his name or…
He grinned, his teeth showing white in the darkness. "Pissed you off, didn't I?" Kyla glared. He rose fluidly, walked down the bank. As the shale of the railway-bed scraped and shifted beneath his feet, Kyla realized he was barefoot -- but he didn't flinch as he crossed it in two firm, long strides. She recoiled as he sank down beside her, but he did nothing more threatening than stretch his jeans-encased legs out on the grass-covered bank. Feeling a bit foolish, Kyla sat silent. So did the stranger. She could feel the body heat radiating off him even in the thick summer night. The train whistle echoed again, closer now but still ghostly, still muted. Kyla raised her head, listening.
The stranger glanced at her. "Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance, you ever notice that?"
Kyla nodded. "Yeah."
She shrugged. "I don't know. That sense of distance, of the unknown… far-off places we'll never see."
"Maybe so. Got a cigarette?" he asked.
She shook one out, handed it to him with a slightly crooked grin. "Those things'll kill you, you know."
He grinned back at her and shook his head. "Not me." Pulling a Zippo from his jacket pocket, he lit it and leaned back.
"Not you? What makes you so fucking special?" Unexpectedly, her rage flared up again, twisting together with grief and helplessness and all the things she wasn't trying to think about into a sudden wildfire inside her. Like a dam splitting open, something inside her crumbled, and tears cascaded down her cheeks. The wind whipped her hair, sent sparks from her cigarette spiraling into the night. Furiously, she chucked it away and dug the heels of her palms into her eyes.
"Hey," the man said, "hey."
Dimly, Kyla felt him reach out and pull her to him. Her cheek was nestled on warm, oily leather. Underneath its comforting tang was another scent; musky, powerful, vigorous. As she sobbed she inhaled great, shuddering gasps of it, and the smell only made her sense of desolation deeper. He smelled like sex, like earth, like wild, fecund forests and the far side of the horizon. He smelled like Life -- like everything she was losing, everything she would never have. A blind, ravenous hunger blazed inside her; a need to embrace, to consume, as if all her life were now, this one moment, and she had to hurry and swallow it whole…
"Hey," he whispered again. She covered his mouth with her own.
He stiffened in surprise, but Kyla didn't care. Sobbing, she kissed him, her hands moving over his back, his thighs, feeling the rough texture of denim and the smooth, strong muscles beneath, until she felt his lips part and his tongue probe, hot and moist, between her own. Of their own accord, her hands slid to his crotch, pressing against the hardness pulsing behind the fabric of his jeans. Hungrily, her fingers tugged at the button, deftly slid his zipper down -- and as her hands closed around the velvet heat of his shaft, he sighed, his breath in her ear, and lay back, pulling her with him.
Eagerly, she straddled him, pushing his jacket open, tugging his shirt up to reveal the solid curve of his ribcage, the taut plane of his belly. A dark trickle of hair ran from his bellybutton down to where his cock, rigid with desire, strained upward toward her seeking hand. Kyla felt it slide smoothly into her grasp, the thick vein on the underside pulsing against her palm, and watched his eyes fall shut in ecstasy as she closed her fingers and slid her hand up and down its length.
Saliva pooled under her tongue and Kyla swallowed, wanting to taste that velvety shaft, feel its swollen, throbbing head inside her mouth. She bent her head, swirling her tongue around the tip, and felt his hips buck. A sudden, ingrained warning flashed in her head -- STDs, AIDS -- Kyla laughed silently. It could race the cancer in her lungs to the finish line, and be welcome. But she would have this, now. She wrapped her lips around his cock and plunged her head down.
He moaned, his hands sliding through her hair, over and over, then down her shoulders and underneath, playing with her breasts through her thin t-shirt. She arched her back, pressing their weight against his palms, and felt tendrils of fire snake through her as he trailed his fingers in circles around her hard, aching nipples. She whimpered, feeling his cock harden still further at the sound, and sucked greedily at his shaft. It was thick, hot, filling her mouth, stretching her lips as he rocked slowly in and out. He tasted like salt, like rainwater. She barely noticed when his hands left her breasts, tugging at her gently, turning her. Then he was pulling at her jeans, undoing the zipper, sliding them down to her ankles. With a small, hungry cry, she released his cock long enough to kick off her sneakers, then gasped as he yanked her jeans off and moved her so she straddled him.
Kyla could feel the hot summer wind gusting between her thighs, tickling the fur that curled around her entrance. Her swollen lips were slick with wetness, aching to be pierced as her mouth had been by his warm, insistent tongue. Lowering her head again, she took his cock deep inside her mouth, and felt his lips close around her clit. He suckled it while his fingers, firm and yet smooth as silk, slid gently between her soft, moist folds.
She tilted her hips back, urging him on, and lashed his shaft with her tongue as he plunged one finger inside her. Her breasts dragged against the hard muscles of his torso as they rocked together, licking and sucking like starving beasts. Dying towns, test results, pain and fear and sorrow were all swept away by the fire building in the pit of her stomach. A car hushed by, somewhere beyond the dark, silent houses. A dog barked. In the distance, a rumble grew -- the clatter and squeal of the approaching train. Kyla barely heard them. Nothing existed but the cock pulsating against her eager tongue, the fingers pistoning in and out of her insatiable cunt, the mouth working her swollen, aching clit.
She felt him go rigid below her, straining to hold back. As the first spasms shook her he pulled out of her mouth, grabbed her hips and thrust his tongue deep into her cunt, lapping at her juices. Kyla shuddered, feeling wave after wave of white-hot fire pour through her as the rumble of the train grew to a thunderous roar, and the whistle bellowed its mournful cry. The man's hands slid down the length of her thighs as he twisted out from underneath her, rose to his knees, and pulled her back against him. For a moment Kyla stayed there, feeling his arms around her, letting him cradle her against his chest. Before them, at the base of the bank, the freight-train clattered past, seemingly endless, through a night suddenly full of noise and shadows and unexpected possibility.
"It doesn't have to end, you know," he whispered.
She yanked herself from his grasp, furious tears starting back to her eyes. Angrily, she scrabbled for her jeans. "Yes, it does. Everything ends. Orgasms, train tracks, lives…"
"But not yet," he replied, "not now."
She rounded on him, screaming. "Yes, now! It's over! My life is over!"
"Then leave it." He watched her with a strange, uncanny intensity. Behind him, the boxcars flicked past, one after another, fleeting. Like days. Like moments. Kyla forced down the urge to slap him. He didn't understand. How could he understand?
"It's not that easy." She yanked her pants on, reached for a sneaker -- and that's when he rose with an eerie, fluid grace, slid his jeans up in one easy movement, grinned at her one last time…
Kyla shrieked. Impossibly, he catapulted through the space between two boxcars. She could see him, as the train flicked past, landing, rolling, rising at the top of the far bank to face her. His eyes stared across the gap between them, his face appearing and disappearing behind the passing cars, and in them she saw a yearning as vast and wild as the night-shrouded mountains behind him. For a moment he stood, his expression a plea she didn't understand and couldn't begin to answer. Then another boxcar passed between them, and in the momentary gap between it and the next, she saw a wolf sitting on the far bank, watching her with a peculiar, intent hunger.
Then leave it.
Once, twice, three times she saw the wolf as the freight cars flicked past. Then it turned and disappeared beyond the crest of the bank.
"Wait," Kyla screamed. "Wait! Oh, please wait!"
She strained her gaze into the darkness, searching for the end of the train, but the boxcars stretched, seemingly forever. And he was going, she knew it. He wouldn't wait for her. He wouldn't…
Frantically, she hopped on one foot, tugging on her sneaker. Then she looked at it with a mad sort of hilarity, and laughed. Tossing it into the air, she ran, trying to judge the gaps, the speed, the distance…
She wouldn't make it. It was impossible. But what, really, did she have to lose? Gathering her legs under her, Kyla leapt.