'Charlie' is a work of fiction that is not based on any person, living or dead. Any resemblance is purely coincidental. The story has been published with the guest author's permission. TMO does not promote or disrespect homosexuality.It may contain some elements of a romantic relationship between two consenting teens. If reading such is offensive to you or illegal in your location, do not read further. All rights reserved.It was the tapping that woke me. It was tentative at first. Very easy to mistake it for a branch that was just swaying with the wind against the glass of my window, except there was no branch outside my window, or even a tree for that matter. I suppose I should have been grateful for it. I was having an unpleasant dream involving Charlie. He was really, really mad at me about something though I didn't know why. I mean reallywhy would anyone be angry at me for any reason. I was too adorable to hate.
My somewhat dazed consciousness refused to acknowledge whatever was making the sound. Figuring it would go away with time, I rolled over facing away from the intruder hoping that I'd lapse into a more pleasant dream than the last.
"Hero," came a hushed voice through the glass.
Too sleepy to realize who it was, I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
"Hero!" came the louder and more urgent voice of my torturer. It was followed by persistently annoying taps on the glass.
"Uhh," I drawled as I shook myself awake. I turned half my body to see Charlie peering through my window wrapped thickly in a sweater. Dragging my feet off the bed, I sat up and made my way to him. I had a little trouble opening the window. It had a tendency to get stuck. When I finally managed to pry it open, the cold chill of the night blew in and sent shivers through my boxer-clad body.
"Geez, Charlie. It's freezing out there," I said as I made room for him to go in.
Charlie, however, did not come in. Instead, he fidgeted. His mouth was shaking as though he was trying to say something but couldn't find the strength (or body heat) to say it. When he finally did, his voice was trembling, not from the cold though, but from apparent nervousness. "Will you come to The Spot with me?"
I moved closer to the window to look at Charlie. It wasn't often that we went to The Spot but whenever we did, usually it was because something was wrong.
"Charlie, what is it?"
He gave me a look of pure annoyance. "Will you stop calling me that?"
"Calling you what?" I asked although I knew perfectly well what. I mean it had only been a day since that incident in the mall. I had spent a greater part of my Sunday constantly checking my windows to see if Charlie would look out of his. But his curtains had been drawn the whole time. I was sure that a weekend hadn't gone by that we were separated for more than a few hours. My body was itching to go over to his house but I decided against it in the end. I think for once in my life I was being an arrogant jerk and was being very stubborn about it. What? Don't look at me like that.
Anyway, after my talk with my mom, I had thought about it. I mean really thought about it. I kept asking myself what made Charlie and I best friends. Somehow in the list I could come up with, having special names for each other wasn't exactly at the top of best friend reasons. I wanted to give Charlie time to see and understand that.
To be honest, I was relieved that he had decided to come over. I just wished it wasn't in the dead of night.
"Please," Charlie said. "I don't want to fight, okay? But, we need to talk about this."
"We can talk about this inside," I said. "In fact, we can talk about this tomorrow at school when we're both fully awake."
"We're both awake now," Charlie insisted.
"It's the middle of the night," I insisted. But as soon as I said it, I knew it was no good.
"It's never stopped you before," he said. True, we had snuck out before several times. However, it was usually me insisting we go out to go to a twenty-four hour store or to sneak into the last screening of a movie. I swear it was only once or twice! Or maybe a couple more
That wasn't the point though. Finding myself on the receiving end of the request, the prospect of sneaking out somehow didn't seem as appealing.
"I've never asked you before," Charlie said. "You've asked me many times to go prowling out at night and I've always gone with you. Now, I'm asking you. This one time, will you just come with me and stop asking questions?"
I scratched my head. He had a point. In the dozensI mean fewtimes we've gone out at night, I was always the one who had the bright ideas, the one with the brilliant nocturnal plans. Come to think of it, Charlie almost always went with me no matter what I wanted to do.
"Please," he said again, his eyes looking desperate. "I don't think this can wait till school."
"Okay," I relented. "Let me get something warm to wear."
I looked around my room for a fresh pair of pants. Charlie remained outside looking around apprehensively as though worried we might get caught. He didn't have anything to worry about really. Our neighborhood was about as safe and boring as a pacifier.
Once I had put on my jeans, a clean shirt, and a jacket over that, I went over to the window while carrying a pair of socks and my Nikes. "You do realize we have to walk in the forest, right? It would be dark. Very dark." It was a last feeble attempt to appeal to him.
Charlie reached into his jacket and pulled out a red stick. "I have a flashlight," he said and for good measure turned it on. Unfortunately, it was pointed straight at my face. The sudden burst of brightness caused me to pinch my eyes shut and drop my shoes. "Sorry," he yelped as he scrambled to turn off the flashlight.
"I should look for a flashlight too," I said as the little white orbs dancing before my eyes disappeared. "Could you get my bike from the back?"
Charlie disappeared around the side and by the time he came back with my bike, I was dressed waiting outside my window. I had a blue torch on my hand, one of those heavy-duty, water-resistant camping flashlights my dad had bought me. I was tempted to test its brightness on Charlie's face but before I could do it, I suddenly felt guilty. It was an odd feeling considering I hadn't done anything wrong.
"Where's your bike?" I asked as I relieved him of mine.
Charlie pointed at a large bush at a corner of our yard. Leaning against it was his beat up old bike. The bike was years old and frankly too small for him. However, Charlie loved that bike. He learned to ride on that bike. I could still imagine the training wheels that were once attached it to as though it was just silhouetted against the darkness. It took me months of teasing to finally convince him to take it off. I mean riding around the neighborhood in training wheels was not cool.
We made our way over to his bike but I paused just before we reached it. Charlie saw my hesitation and turned to me. "What's wrong?"
It occurred to me that Charlie's bike was leaning against the very same hedge where I had seen a grasshopper meet its premature death at the hands, or perhaps more appropriately, the mouth of a frog. The frog was long gone by then but I couldn't help but stare at the spot I had seen the frog before. Somehow, it felt like that earlier incident and what was happening then were related in some way.
"Nothing," I finally managed as I finished the rest of the way to the entrance of our yard. My parents' room being towards the back, they wouldn't have known we were there unless they went into the living room or kitchen then peered out the windows. Both rooms were submerged in darkness. "Are we going or not?" I asked Charlie.
"Yeah," Charlie said as he rolled his bike beside mine. Together we mounted our bikes and headed off down the hollow street into the darkness.Okay, I'm being melodramatic. But would you have been equally interested if I said we rode our bikes down the brightly lit, peaceful, and calm roads that lead to the park? Didn't think so.
Anyway, we got to the park without incident. It was almost like the world had entirely fallen to sleep. Not a soul was in sight. No cars that could be heard turning in the distance. The only sounds we could hear were crickets croaking in the night. I wasn't scared or anything. I wasn't the type that got scared. But I was certain hearing the sounds of the crickets made Charlie at least somewhat more comfortable knowing that the only things out there were tiny little insects mating in the dark.
Charlie was quiet the whole way. I didn't encourage conversation as much as I normally would have. First, it was really cold. It was bad enough when you were standing still but it was way worse when you're pedaling quickly on a bike.
The second and perhaps more important reason was that whenever Charlie asked for us to go to The Spot, it was because he wanted to cry. Charlie was weird that way. He could if he wanted to control his tears and hide away his sorrows for a later time. I mean Charlie was not a cry baby. He rarely ever cried to be honest. But through some unspoken agreement, "The Spot" as we had come to call it became a depository of unhappy tears. We went there for other things to of course. To goof around. To celebrate. But whenever Charlie asked to go there, it was to cry. There were a few times he would cry outside that place, but I wished those moments never happenedfor both our sakes.
Most of the time though, he was justhappy. Of course, nobody could be happy all the time. Especially as we got older, we found more and more things to be unhappy about. We did of course find other things that made us happy but sometimes the other stuff just got too heavy for Charlie. So, whenever he needed it, I came to The Spot with him, just the two of us away from the rest of the world.
Of course it wasn't always Charlie crying. There was one time, and here I'm being honestnot that I wasn't honest earlierbut this one was really just once. When I was ten, the year before we entered Middle School, my dad had hit me, spanked me in a way that certainly should not have been legal. Don't get me wrong. I believed my dad was a good father, albeit a very strict one. He provided for my mom and me. He wasn't around that much but I knew he loved me deep down. He had to. He was my dad and dads loved their kids. But that day, I had done something he didn't like. It was the one time I was truly afraid of him, even more than Mrs. C (and she was downright scary at the tender age of ten).
For the longest time, I thought it was my fault. That I was wrong. Not so much now, really. But back then I really thought I was and had paid a painful lesson for it. Charlie, who heard the whole thing, not only came with me to The Spot but also cried as much as I did, if not more.
So I kept quiet. After almost a decade of knowing Charlie, I knew I didn't have to ask or pester him to tell me on the way to The Spot because I knew that he would anyway when we got there.
We stopped at the large rusty gate that served as the entrance to the park. Charlie and I had never gone there at night. If it looked menacing in the daylight, it looked worse at night. With nothing but the stars and a few scattered lamp posts on the road, the park looked like a swamp fit for the home of a deadly beast. The gate opened like a maw of a creature's cave in a B rated movie (where two kids dared each other to go exploring at night, one of which got eaten by the monster as the other ran away to grow up swearing revenge, but inevitably getting eaten anyway as he saves big-breasted and only partially clothed teenagers). It almost seemed weird seeing all that vegetation yield to a concrete road that ran along its side. The road was still in good order as only a few vehicles ever passed it at fixed intervals of the day. The road, you see, led to one of the city's dump sites, a place many kids called The Iron Graveyard.
We parked our bikes as we always did within the walls of an old, stone gazebo near the entrance. Like everything else in the park, it was overgrown though perhaps not as badly as the rest of the park due to the inside of the gazebo being made of pure concrete. The lights from the street were enough to reach this destination but we needed our flashlights if we wanted to get any further.
Charlie flicked on his and with an uncharacteristic bravery began walking into the shadows that had taken over the night. Whatever he wanted to say must have been really important to him. It must have been taking every ounce of his strength to keep himself from breaking down right there and then. Without hesitation, I followed him.
The air was thicker than I had ever felt it before. It was heavy with a surprisingly warm and humid air. It was almost a shock to move from the chilly night air outside into the damp, warm air of the forest. It almost seemed like the trees themselves were giving off heat.
"Are you sure this couldn't have waited?" I asked as I swatted the fifth mosquito on me. They were apparently thoroughly ignoring Charlie and focusing solely on my precious skin. It seemed I attracted more than just people. SWAT!
"We're not that far," Charlie said. Had I not had perfect memory and known the terrain just as well in the dark as in the daylight, I would have doubted him. However, Charlie despite lacking any physical capability was incredibly smart. One thing he rarely ever got was lost.
We made our way deeper into the trees, taking careful measures to avoid badly placed roots that gave us trouble in the daylight. It took a lot longer to reach our destination than it would have taken us in the daylight but soon I heard the familiar sounds I'd come to associate with that place. The air was also starting to become cold which meant that the thick forest section of the park was ending.
The glow was coming from the edge of the tree line. Admittedly, I was curious. I had never seen The Spot before in the dark and wondered at the source of the light, although I was pretty sure I knew already."I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" he yelled as he knelt over me.
"Ow, you bwoke my nows," I bellowed as I held my bloody handkerchief over my face.
"I'm sorry, Hero! You just freaked me out. I'm sorry!" he apologized profusely but I wasn't paying attention anymore. With my head held at an angle, I was looking up at an upside-down scene that was breaking through the clearing.
"Shhh," I told Charlie who was still desperately apologizing. I pointed overhead at what I was seeing.
Charlie looked up and whispered in his most awestruck voice, "woah".
I got to my feet and looked at Charlie. Despite my bloody nose, I smiled widely. "Race ya," I said then started running.
"Hey! No fair!" Charlie bellowed as he ran after me, all fears of creepy crawling things forgotten.
Of course with my great athletic skill (and considerable head start), I reached the destination first.
We had reached the other side of the park and were at the very edge of it. And when I say edge, I mean twenty foot drop edge, which continued a considerable distance on a grassy incline all the way to the new world we discovered. The forest opened up, almost by magic, into a steep diagonal cliff that overlooked mountains of metal trash. This place we later found out was called CDS3 (City Dump Site 3) or its more popular name, The Iron Graveyard.
It wasn't difficult to explain why the place was called The Iron Graveyard. It housed many of the city's broken down electronic and mechanical equipments. Mountains of cars stacked on top of each other like support columns that reached up to missing roofs. Refrigerators, old TVs, radios, and an assortment of other devices were piled high. If you looked carefully enough, you could even see a regal, old elevator which we believed once belonged to The Plaza Hotel (but at that time and as far as we were concerned, it was a portal to another dimension).
It was clear that at some point, this entire section had been walled as we could still see the remnants of it on either side of the opening. Looking down the cliff, we could see large pieces of rock, undoubtedly old sections of the wall that had given way and fallen down. Charlie speculated that the collapse was due to the erosion and that was perhaps the reason the park had been closed for the longest time. I, on the other hand, believed it was the presence of the junkyard. Although the wind had the mercy of pointing the dust away from the park, the sight it offered was not a pretty one. The sound was also quite distracting.
A solitary stone bench sat facing towards the cliff's edge. It almost seemed like someone placed the bench there after the wall had collapsed. It was the only one of its kind in maybe fifty meters, no path led to it as far as we could tell, and its direction suggested that if it was there while the park was still functional, it would have had a wonderful view of a wall two feet in front of whoever was sitting on it.
We didn't know who placed it there. Charlie suggested it was a couple. I, on the other hand, suggested that it was probably some sadistic loner that killed people, ate them then dumped their bodies in the forest. I dropped the killer theory when Charlie kept insisting we go home.
Whoever placed the bench there, they were probably long gone by then as we had never seen anyone else come to that place. The bench seemed like nobody had sat on it in a decade or two. Being made of stone though, it was resilient to the changing weather and always provided a moderately comfortable place for anyone to sit on while admiring the view.
Huge city trucks came and dumped mountains of junk while large metal crates hauled them into compacting machines. Large metal machines crushed the metal into large squares which were then hauled off to another section of the yard. It was like watching Transformers except it was real and happening right before our eyes.
To a jaded old mind, the view was horrible. To two brilliant eight year olds with wicked imaginations, it was glorious.
"This is the spot," having decided as I watched the new world before me.
"The Spot?" Charlie asked in a way that solidified its capitalization.
I grinned what was probably a grotesque smile considering my nose was still dripping blood, "Our Spot."We sat at the stone bench like we always did whenever we were at The Spot. I expected Charlie to break down almost immediately. Yet, he had a calm look on his face as though whatever was on his mind had been on his mind for the longest time. It troubled him, I knew, but not to the point of helplessness. So we sat there just looking out to the world we had discovered all those years ago. The stone bench had, like always, the perfect view of the junkyard. Even years after we had first discovered the place, it still held some magic for me. It was just as beautiful as we had first seen it. Seeing it at night was perhaps even more breathtaking.
During the daylight hours we were at The Spot, we'd occasionally see city trucks hauling used electronics, sometimes even whole cars to this site to be unloaded. In the dark though, we could see the whole dump site brightly lit by massive spotlights like the ones that could be found in stadiums. Huge metal cranes were loading crushed and compacted metal squares onto huge trucks that had the words PVC Industrial written on the side.
"They must be taking it to the Industrial Park," Charlie said. It was common knowledge, well, common knowledge to anyone who cared, that our city did not manufacture electronics. Although we used a lot of it, we imported most of our electronic goods from other cities. Our waste got dumped there to be picked up by trucks from big industrial factories which will recycle the goods turning them once again into something useful. By the time they made it back to our city, they were already in the form of brand new Sony TVs or Pentium PCs.
"Probably," I said. "I've never seen them hauling it away before." We were dancing around the topic that I was sure Charlie wanted to discuss. I knew what it was, really, but I just didn't want to be the one to bring it up. After all, it was Charlie that wanted to come there.
"Do you remember the time we played Crane Wars?" he asked with a grin.
"Oh man," I said as I put one hand over my face. "That was a stupid game."
Charlie chuckled. "Yeah it was. You kept whining that your crane was weak."
Just to give you a better idea of what Crane Wars was, it was a game we invented based on points. We picked out cranes in the junkyard as though we had complete control over them. We would receive points based on the items they would haul to get crushed. I had the misfortune of picking out cranes that would pick up items without points (small indistinguishable items) or cranes that had suddenly decided to shut down as soon as I picked them. Needless to say, I was massacred and I insisted on never playing that game again.
"It wasn't fair. Your cranes were on the good side," I insisted again as I had insisted before.
"The good side?" Charlie said disbelievingly. "You picked the side where all the cars were."
"Well they didn't pick up any cars now, did they?"
"Not my fault," he said.
"Was too," I maintained.
"You just don't like losing," Charlie laughed.
"I'm sorry but losing is not in my vocabulary," I said proudly.
"No," Charlie said a little more subdued, "no, it isn't."
We lapsed into silence again, not that it was quiet of course. The constant beep-beep-beep of the equipment and the sound of metal being crushed resonated up to us.
"Is it that important to you that I stop calling you, Hero?"
"It wouldn't matter either way, right? It's just a name," I shrugged.
"It would matter to me."
An uncomfortably long silence.
Charlie sighed. "You know I'd do anything for you, right? If it means that much to you, then I'll stop calling you Hero. Would you prefer it if Iif I called you Derek? Like everyone else does?"
"I guess I wouldn't mind," I said shrugging once more. Charlie was looking at me as he spoke those words but I couldn't take my eyes away from the metal machines munching away their next meal. I couldn't meet his eyes. If I did, maybe I would have relented. Maybe I wouldn't have made the mistake I would regret years later.
"Okay," Charlie tried to say as casually as he could but the crack in his voice gave away what he felt. It was difficult but I tried to ignore the unsettling feeling that was growing in my stomach as though words were just waiting to be vomited at any moment's notice. I kept telling myself that it was all for the best. "But can I? At least for one last night, can I still call you Hero? And can you call me Big C?"
I finally looked at him. He was crying by then, silent tears that I knew I had caused. I wished it wasn't my fault. I wished I understood why it was so important to me. At the back of my head, I had many reasons, many valid reasons to be honest. But in truth I had just as many reasons to justify our special names. I just refused to acknowledge them.
"Okay," I said offering a smile. "Sure thing, Big C."
We spent almost the whole night there in The Spot despite there being school the following day. It was almost like we were both afraid that leaving would make something terrible happen. In a way, it would as we walked a road that was just a little bit darker from that day forward. We talked about all sorts of things, from the mundane to plans for the future. We took advantage of every opportunity to call each Hero or Big C as though we wanted to wear out those names.
And in truth, I think we did. At the very least, Charlie did.
He stopped calling me Hero after that night. He wouldn't call me Hero again for a long time.
Not until it was too late.
END OF PART ONE