Sometimes Max liked to get himself lost on purpose.
It wasn't exactly an easy thing to do in the little town of BlueCastle, population not-nearly-fucking-enough, where he'd lived since the age of eight and had spent the better part of a decade learning to navigate. Two left turns anywhere a person walked, at any given time, and they'd be right back to START within the hour.
They would not collect two-hundred, but more often than not, would pay it in some made-up fine.
The most interesting thing about BlueCastle was its namesake. To anyone who didn't know it, it brought to mind images of historical brilliance or long-forgotten myths of knights, but the reality was far different. BlueCastle was a little town, smack dab in the center of possibly the most boring state in the whole of the Midwest. There was nothing to do and nothing to see, and nobody interesting to meet. It was, as far as Max were concerned, prime for a bombing, if he wasn't so sure that within the day, the little town wouldn't spring back from the ashes, defiant in it's insistence to exist
BlueCastle was like that. In the same day Max were sure there were no redeeming qualities about it, it would find a way to remind him of how strange the little town could be. While there was nothing to do and nothing to see and nobody to meet, things would happen that the nobody's could quite explain.
A gust of wind that carried a note like a melody. A pop-up-shop selling strange wares that would disappear within the same day of appearing, and nobody could quite remember when or who was responsible for it. Or, as of recently, talk about a strange, tall man that nobody had seen before, wearing funny, colorful clothes, in the corner of their eyes.
But Max reckoned it was all, at the end of the day, a lot of talk. In a town so small, stories were bound to pop up, and Max would have been lying if he said he wasn't responsible for a few himself. It was one of the few ways he could keep himself entertained, and he liked to see how fast a story could spread from one side of town to the other. The stranger, he learned, the quicker.
The stranger, he learned, the quicker
There was really no truly getting lost, like Max wanted.
But he liked to try.
Max Rivers was nothing if not ambitious, after all, which said a lot, given his teachers spent quite a bit of their time drilling into him that ambition was something he had a severe lack thereof.
'You have so much potential', Ms. Whatsername or Mr. Whatshisface would sigh as they shook their well-meaning heads and did their best impressions of someone who truly gave a damn. 'You could do so many things if you just put your mind to it. We all believe in you!'
Alternatively, there was a backhand to the mouth, courtesy of his stepdad Greg and his fat, golden ring. Max wasn't sure which he actually preferred.
But what they could never seem to understand was that Max did quite a lot of things. Hot-wiring cars to take for a joy ride or skipping class to get high behind the local arcade simply wasn't on the approved list of suitable extracurricular activities. Or so they said.
How about a sport? Principal Somethingoranother had suggested once, sitting on the edge of his desk with his jacket undone so that he could really get on Max's level. His eyes had scanned the boy's narrow frame, and they both knew without mentioning, (and embarrassing them both) that football was out of the question.
'How's about the track team, eh, Rivers? Boy like you must have some pent-up energy needing to be let out.'
To Max's credit, he tried it. To no-one's surprise, he hated it.
He learned quickly that he didn't like running because he got bored after half a lap, and boredom led to trouble, so more often than not he would wander off to the back of the bleachers to smoke or light some weeds on fire, because hidden away from the sun, the foliage there was dry and brittle and ripe for the kindling.
That was how he was caught the third time of his disappearing act, when the fire grew just a bit too high for him to stomp out,and the smoke drew the attention of Coach Whoeverthehell, who, after taking off his track jacket to suffocate the fire with, marched Max straight back to Somethingoranother, who didn't look the least bit surprised to see him, but greeted Max with a grim--expected--look.
Personally, Max thought the jacket made the fire worse, but Somethingoranother didn't seem to appreciate the comment.
Smart boy, they said. Quiet. Simply lacks real motive. 'What's his father do? 'They whispered when he walked past. 'Surely a strong male presence would show him how a young man should behave...'
But like ambition, Max had motivation. It was simply that nobody could see it but him.
It came every evening at ten o'clock sharp, when he would open his bedroom window and hoist himself up on the ledge, mindful of his cigarettes and ipod and the way the window would creak after hitting a certain point, (no matter how many times he'd tried greasing it,) before dropping down to the stale earth, quiet and practiced as a cat.
This was his routine, and part of his routine was that he would always count.
One, two, three, four, five, six...
Fifteen was the magic number. If by fifteen, he didn't hear the slamming of a door or the muffled shout of a drunken voice, he was golden.
And that night, the silence shone like the goddamn sun.
Straightening himself up, he patted his pockets, feeling that everything was in its place, before strolling away with all the grace of a King, out of Westwoods Trailer Park.
And suddenly, there was his ambition. The motive to lose himself to the night and hopefully--if he were very lucky--become so lost he would never find his way back.
The motive to lose himself to the night and hopefully--if he were very lucky--become so lost he would never find his way back
The October night was cool, but that was how he liked it. He reveled in the way he could see his breath when he exhaled, and the way his hands felt stiff as ice when he would reach for his lighter, and the way the cigarettes would simultaneously burn his lungs, warming him from the inside and filling him with newfound, exhilarated purpose.
And he was always met with one of four options:
He could continue on straight, towards the main road, and walk about as far as the highway before he would have to turn around.
He could go left, which would take him down a straight and narrow path that would inevitably lead him to the Elementary, Middle, and High School, which all sat in a row only a few yards from each other, a radius of twelve years worth of education that Max had spent very little.
Sometimes at night, he liked to make lazy laps around the Knight's football field, quiet and calm, ghosting the field-goals and yard lines while Smooth Criminal blasted through the foam of his headphones.
Other times he would walk around the track, just for the hell of it, lap after lap after lap after lap.
He liked to think Coach Whoeverthehell would be proud of his athletic dedication.
That night, however, Max didn't much feel like spending anymore needless time at school, nor was he in the mood to venture to the suburbs, where all the jocks and the cheerleaders lived in their nice houses with their fancy cars and doting parents. He didn't blame them for being born into such nice families. He mostly blamed the parents for turning out such little shitheads.
His bruised shoulder and freshly swollen lip was reminder enough of Chad Johnson, Knight's star quarterback and apple of the world's fuckin' eye. He didn't' need another.
His only other option was to walk the long way around town, through jolly-old Main Street and past the statue of Mark Twain, born and raised there in BlueCastle and the one pride of the small Missouri town. Max liked to sit on the ledge of the statue and smoke every so often, his back pressing against Mark's leg, just the two of them staring out at the quiet, midnight streets. Mark wasn't much for conversation, but he was an excellent listener, Max had found, and they both loved the same music.
He assumed so, anyway. He never heard any complaints when he would hoist himself up to a standing position and fit his headphones on the statue's head.
"Got some new tunes, Marky," he would tell the stone man. "I think you'll dig it."
But that evening felt different. There was a restlessness he felt deep in his bones and a thrumming exuberance in his soul that had him walking further than usual, well past Mark and the main road, (though he made sure to stop for a brief conversation, as was only polite) and storefront windows, past the train tracks and down the winding back hills that opened up into the farmers pastures. He stuck to the dirt path he was on, destination: nowhere, but once he reached the path that would lead him up the steep hill that would continue on past the old graveyard, he found himself slowing to a halt when a sudden static filled his ears.
Brows furrowing, he pulled the hot-pink ipod out of his jacket pocket and turned it over a few times. He used his palm to smack the top of it as the music in his ears became suddenly loud, then very quiet, masked by a buzzing of electric feedback before fading to nothing.
Pulling his headphones off his ears and draping them around his neck, Max sighed audibly. Fucking thing was brand new, (or so it had looked, when he'd nicked it from Kate's desk) so it was only his luck it would stop working out of the blue.
After a few more slaps and shakes, Max stuffed it back into his pocket with a bitten off curse and really looked around his surroundings for probably the first time that evening. He was far from home. Much further than he'd walked in a long time, he realized, (mission accomplished) but without the coos and electric guitars in his head, walking any further and back was going to ensure too much quiet for Max, and too much time in his own head. That was reason enough to cut the journey short.
Time to turn around and go home.
Turning his back on the upwards, winding hill, Max took a single step in the direction he came.
And then he heard it.
It was soft, at first, coming from up the hill. Barely a whisper on the wind, but there. He paused. Listened. It faded, briefly, and it must have been the leftover ringing in his ears from his own... But no...
And there, again! No, he was damn sure of it this time.
Max turned his head back around towards the hill and listened harder. It was just barely distinguishable, but he could make out the soft playing of... a flute. Or was that a violin?
Then the music faded into nothing, leaving him in an eerie silence that was disturbed not even by crickets and cicadas.
Nothing; the natural world was muted in his ears.
He waited a moment, straining to hear anything, but the night was silent as the grave once more.
It was only when he slowly turned to continue walking away, did it begin again.
Only this time, it was louder. He could hear the distinct pull of a bow across taut strings, a soft and sweet melody that picked up on the wind and floated towards him, a seductive, invisible pull that found him walking towards it, up the long and winding hill.
He was halfway up it before he even realized he had been moving.
It grew louder, the further up he went, each step of his sneakers on the dirt ground like the pressing of the volume, up, up, up...
And there, at the top of the hill, where Max finally leveled off to flat ground, was a fence. A black, curving fence with oddly twisted bars that curled into spirals and loops and waves that extended up towards the starry sky.
From well beyond, there was a shinning silver light coming from the graveyard it protected.
And the gate was opened.