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12. the man on the trail

This is a chest-up picture of Mickey Laddow wearing the Rail Man costume, his head covered by the stitched burlap sack. He stands between two dense bushes to either side of him. He is looking directly at the viewer. He holds a cell phone in his gloved right hand, to the picture's left side. His eyes look empty and haunted, but purposeful.
“It’s me,” Mickey responded. He could hear that his voice was muffled beneath the mask, but the phone was still audible to him, even through the burlap.


Mickey walked for almost an hour before he stepped off Dog Run Trail near its end; then, he knelt behind the cover of a thick mass of black ash trees.  From his vantage, he could see where the trail intersected with Victor’s long gravel driveway. The driveway led, in turn, up to a cozy-looking cabin home.  That was Victor’s house — and sometimes Gunny’s, Mickey knew.  The trail was big enough for someone to drive a car down, but Victor’s black sports utility vehicle was still parked.  Mickey could also see Gunny’s BMX bike lying in the gravel.  Mickey couldn’t see any signs of movement inside the cabin, but he was sure that both of the people he’d come to see were in there.  And Mickey knew he didn’t have to worry about neighbors; Victor’s house was on the opposite side of the woods from the old wreck of the Yellow Store – the Yellow House — the Greenlees’ old place.  The Greenlees were Victor’s nearest neighbors.  And they’d all be gone on their annual fishing trip.  Mickey had confirmed that by way of having overheard a brief conversation between his father and Alder Greenlee down at Hale’s Fisherman’s Turf. Mickey was troubled though. Why didn’t you do this at night?  You could’ve waited until then.  It seemed like an obvious thought.

You couldn’t wait — not any more — because you want everything to be bright and burning.  And the timing has to be right.  You’ve planned for so long.  And now?  They’re both in there.  They’re both waiting for you — even if they don’t know it.  And you have to be seen … even if it ends up hurting just a little more.  This is going to end today.  It has to end today.  And, when I’m done, you won’t ever hurt like that again.  

It hurts a lot.  It’s too much!  Please make it stop.  Just stop!  Mickey reached into his pocket and withdrew the cell phone he’d used to call Victor Marsh.  He keyed in a familiar number and waited a few moments before a voice picked up on the other side of the call.  “Yeah.”  It was Jay.

“It’s me,” Mickey responded.  He could hear that his voice was muffled beneath the mask, but the phone was still audible to him, even through the burlap.

“Where are you?”

“You sound really weird.  Stop doing the creepy-ass voice.  And that phone’s shit.  It’s like you’re standing- … oh, uh, out at Sweet’s, with CJ — like you said.”

“Good.”  Mickey shifted so he was sitting on the ground.  “Listen — in about two hours, you’re gonna meet up with Rick down at the end of Dog Run Trail, okay?”

“Like — near Sheriff Marsh’s house.”  Jay sounded upset.

“Yeah.  Bring CJ, if you can.”

“He find the sign?”

“His truck’s still here.  He could’ve gone and come back, I guess.  But I don’t think so.  I’ll see you soon.”

“Kick ass, man.”  And Jay hung up.

Mickey dropped the cell phone onto the ground.  He shut his eyes, hands at his sides, knife stuck in his pocket.

They’ll find the phone there, Mickey.  It’ll take time.  But you’ve made sure they’ll know who did this.  And now, you’re here — at last, with no one looking.  No one sees you yet.  You’re behind the trees — and there’s so much more that’s being done to hide you from their sight.  Nothing’s protecting them any more. You took that away from them … and now it’s time to walk across the barriers. Take that first step, but do it like you’ve been taught. Step the way I told you – the way I trained you — so carefully.  Take the indirect path. You can see the path ahead. Take those special sideways steps that keep them from finding you. Take the sideways steps, moving through the in-between places — where you know you can’t be seen.  Do it — the sideways steps.  Do it – sideways, from behind the trees like I’ve made you practice. Your body knows how to do it, and you’re ready.

Mickey stepped sideways from behind the trees and began the slow ascent toward the cabin.  His heartbeat was slow.  That stabbing behind his eyes was the worst it had ever been, but his stride remained calm and relaxed.  His skin felt prickly, like he was covered with bugs that were biting him all over.  His hair was standing on end.  But his steps remained slow and measured.  

It’s really hurting.  It hurts so much.

He reached the door of the cabin and knocked once, hard.  As soon as Mickey knocked, the white-hot pain behind his eyes abated to its usual dull ache.  He withdrew the knife from his pocket. Then, he waited, holding the knife out in front of him, its point facing upward.

Gunny Marsh’s face appeared in the side window next to the door, a pair of blue eyes and chubby cheeks visible through a break in the blinds.  Those eyes widened and, even from the other side of the window, Gunny’s voice was audible:  “What — no?”  The words were shrieked, and the second one turned into a squeaky question at the end.

And then Mickey felt another burning lance of pain behind his eyes, and the door in front of him seemed to burst inward, as if collapsing.  He was smashing into it.  He didn’t remember moving like that, didn’t remember applying the force.   Didn’t remember ever having that much force in his body to apply.  But it was happening.  Things were blinking in and out, like he was staring at a strobe light; there were moments of time where his awareness of what he was doing — and even the passage of time — was shutting off and turning back on again.  And each moment came at him before he had time to process it, quick and confusing.

Gunny was running down a hallway, barefoot on the brown carpet.  The bloody sign that marked the makeshift grave at the Clod was lying on a messy kitchen table covered in bottles.  Maybe Gunny went back and got it?  There was a filthy living room, filled with discarded boxes that reeked of soy sauce; the place smelled like alcohol and onion soup and Chinese take-out.  Mickey was walking purposefully to the couch.  Former Drodden sheriff Victor Marsh was completely passed out on the couch, unshaven and dirty.

You Know Me.

Mickey’s knife moved back and forth in three times in front of his eyes.  The knife got red; things got wet.

Gunny rushed back from the hallway, running toward Mickey, screaming unintelligibly.  Mickey was knocked to the left, but retained his footing.  Mickey’s free hand punched hard, once, at Gunny’s neck and the chubby kid’s eyes went all weird.  Gunny was on the ground, pointlessly clutching at the air and wriggling around in pain.

Mickey looked down at Gunny lying there in front of him, adding a few kicks into the kid’s chest.  “Couldn’t have done it without you,” Mickey said.

Gunny seemed to be trying to call out for help, but the sound just came out as more of a gurgle.

Victor Marsh’s story ends there.

Gunny Marsh’s story doesn’t end.

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Published inpart 1

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