The people down here all have a certain kind of walk, halfway between a jive and the twitching limp of a war veteran. I lay it on the fact that we live on the line between the radio stations, where every song is punctuated by percussive bursts of static, and theDJs have to shout extra loud to get their voices up over the drone of hornets.
‘Turn the channel back, that was Steppenwolf!’ Dylan smacked Brice’s hand away from the radio.
‘Back off, The Who’s on,’ Dylan drawled, spilling his body across the armrest. Brice grunted and pushed against Dylan’s shoulder, one slender arm waving above his head, fingers wiggling in a vain search for the radio dials.
‘Will you two stop?’ The bleached-haired woman in the driver’s seat rolled her eyes, one elbow propped against the window ledge. She took a violent drag from her cigarette and puffed a cloud of smoke out into the evening air. She squinted, abrupt coughs bursting from her lips. ‘It’s just music.’
Dylan and Brice grew silent and stared at her open-mouthed. Dylan’s bushy eyebrows furrowed, his upper lip twitching.
‘What do you mean it’s just music?’ Bracing one hand against the dashboard and the other against his seat, Dylan pushed himself upwards so that he loomed over the woman. Brice’s black, mop-haired head popped into the front of the car.
‘Yeah! What do you mean?’ Dylan sneered at Brice and pushed him backwards before returning his attention to the woman. I wound my arms over her headrest and tucked my chin against the top of her seat. When she turned to face Dylan, the thick curls of her hair brushed across my face.
‘Just shut it both of you.’ She shook her head emphatically and tapped her cigarette so hard against the edge of her window that it snapped off the filter. ‘Damn,’ she muttered to herself, and began to dig through her purse.
‘Hey,’ Dylan leaned towards her, craning his face down so that it was on level with hers. ‘Don’t you go acting like you ain’t said nothing.’ He sniffed loudly, his face wrinkled with anger, ‘it’s rock ‘n’ roll, not just music, and rock ‘n’ roll is anything but trivial!’
‘Yeah,’ Brice quipped from where he was perched beside me. ‘Anything but trivial!’
‘You two think I’ve never been young?’ The woman yapped, continuing to loudly scratch through the contents of her purse. ‘I know what it’s like blastin’ that electricity through your brain, but it’s just your adolescence.’ She waved a long-nailed hand, eyes cast down into her lap. ‘You got all these hormones swimmin’ through your blood and loud noises make ‘em go crazy. I read it in a Reader’s Digest or something.’
‘Bullshit,’ Dylan snapped. His fingers had turned white beneath his arched palms. ‘That’s such a pile of shit. You don’t know what you’re talking about, and you sure as hell don’t know anything about rock ‘n’ roll.’
Scoffing, the woman raised her head and locked eyes with Dylan. ‘And you do?’
With a terse smile she sharply stated, ‘You been listenin’ to nothin’ but static for the past three minutes.’ The car went quiet.
Sure enough, there was nothing streaming out of the radio aside for the jumpy crackle of static and an occasional drowning mumble.
‘Awh,’ Dylan reeled backwards, pounding his fist into the dashboard. ‘This town, can’t even get decent radio reception for more than two minutes.’
The woman yelled and slapped at Dylan’s hand. ‘Don’t hit my car!’ Dylan forced his tongue between his lips, sneered, and slouched down into his seat. The car went silent once more, until Brice jerked upright with a hoarse shout.
‘Hey, you guys, isn’t this Rod Stewart?’ The radio gave a raspy burp. Brice lunged towards the front of the car, fingers eagerly straining for the volume dials.
‘Leave it, Brice,’ Dylan moaned, effortlessly shoving the smaller boy back beside me. ‘That’s not Rod Stewart, that’s not even music, it’s static, for the millionth time.’
‘No,’ Brice whined, ‘no, can’t you hear it? Listen, don’t you hear it? If ya think I’m sexy, and ya want my bo—’.
Dylan covered his ears and leaned his forehead into the dashboard, roaring in anguish.
‘Brice, your singing is worse than the static!’
‘But it’s Rod Stewart, I swear! I can hear it!’ I laughed and sank backwards against the ripped leather of the seat, taking a sidelong glance at Brice’s flushed face and upturned eyes before turning my gaze to the window. The foaming crests of the sea were barely visible, the black water indistinguishable from the night.
‘Do you,’ Brice shouted, ‘think this is what being drunk feels like?’ The big, black freight train continued to thunder past us, its boxcars flashing by in dizzying succession. Beneath the roar of the train the tracks were buckling and shrieking. The stop lights blockading the road from the tracks flashed dimly in the daylight. Dylan leaned to the side, nudging me in the ribs and laughing.
‘Brice is fifteen years old and he still ain’t been drunk,’ he shouted. I just smiled. My brain was too focused on the train. My eyes were beginning to feel like they were straining out of their sockets, but I kept watching the boxcars jerk by, occasional blurred splashes of graffiti nearly snapping my concentration.
‘Do you think that the train’s supposed to be goin’ this fast through town? Aren’t they supposed to slow down, like in case a kid’s on the tracks or somebody’s brakes on their car ai—’. Brice’s voice cracked, lost beneath the cacophony.
The final car of the train sped past and the tracks felt disturbingly vacant. Westood silent, watching, until the clamouring black thing had twisted out of sight, down past the ramshackle plastic houses and trailers and into the flat forests edging town.
‘C’mon,’ Dylan barked as he turned, head tucked down between his wide shoulders like a vulture. ‘Let’s go to the radio tower.’
Our town hadn’t always been neglected between the static of surrounding stations; years back, apparently, like when our parents were our age, there were a few local stations here. I think they were all news stations though, for updates on surrounding towns and weather and cows. Definitely not for rock ‘n’ roll. Well, one summer there’d been a load of lightning storms, one after another, and the radio tower got knocked out, and either out of lack of funds or lack of interest, the thing had never been fixed. So now it just sat at the edge of town, rusting and giving the ospreys a place to nest.
‘It looks a lot bigger up close,’ Brice squeaked, one hand shading his squinted eyes. Dylan swallowed and shrugged, his face contorted into a sneer from staring up into the sun.
‘It ain’t that big. Besides, people climb up these things all the time, they’re safe.’ Dylan pointed to the thin, rusted ladder running up the side of the tower. ‘See? Thing’s meant to be climbed.’ Brice shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck.
‘When they’re working, yeah, but not when they’re all rusty and broken, and full of birds.’ Clustered messes of osprey nests were draped across varying heights of the tower’s beams, their tangles of sticks and yellow grass casting wide shadows across the ground.
‘Ah, whatever.’ Dylan cracked his knuckles and shuffled closer to the tower’s base. ‘It’s just like climbing trees. Easier, even, since it’s all metal.’ Darkly grinning, he turned his head back to Brice. ‘So, little man, wanna give it a try?’ His voice rose into a mocking, childish pitch. ‘You can pretend like you’re Jack ‘n’ the beanstalk.’
‘Piss off, Dylan,’ Brice shakily said, frowning and crossing his arms.
‘I’m not goin’ up that thing, I don’t care what you call me, I’m not goin’ up it. And if you try to make me—’.
‘You’ll cry all the way home. Calm down, I’m not gonna make you do anything.’ Brice opened his mouth, squirmed, and stared down at the ground.
I gazed up at the tower at an odd angle, so that the sun split into cascading rays on one of the beams. When I rocked from foot to foot the rays shifted.
‘How about you, chief?’ Dylan was leering at me, sunlight pouring into his face and making his eyes glow gold. He tossed his head upwards, arms crossed over his chest.
‘Think you’re man enough?’ I squinted at him. He smirked.
I moved towards the base of the tower, gripped two of the lowest bars, and stared upwards, craning my head so far that my hair tickled against my back.
‘You can’t climb that Chase, you’ll fall and break your neck!’
Brice squealed over enthusiastically; his eyes were wide and bright blue when I glanced down. Dylan laughed and forcefully clamped a hand over Brice’s head.
‘Calm down. Let Chase do what he wants.’ Dylan leisurely raised his head, grinning, and nodded at me. Looking straight up, the beams all crisscrossed over one another, horizontal lines splitting off into vertical ones, squares intersected by triangles. Somehow, concentrating on the continuity of all those shapes, how one led into another and that one was a part of something else, and so on, lured me into climbing up those bars before I even knew what I was doing. I kept on going, one triangle leading me up to a diamond, and that splitting off into a curious looking rectangle, and I couldn’t stop. When I got to the osprey nests, I knew I must be up high, but I still kept on going.
The shapes began to grow smaller, and there were fewer lines to follow. The wind up here tore at my t-shirt, whipping it up off my back. I wound my arms around the rusted beams and pressed myself into the tower. The metal was freezing against my belly, and my back arched upwards upon contact. My teeth began chattering, a clacking that matched the rhythm of my shirt whipping against my body. My hair stung into my eyes and stuck between my lips. I followed the last beams up as high as I could, but myhands had become too cold and raw to climb all the way up. My fingers were stiffly moulded into the shape of the beams, so that even when I let go, it still looked like I was clutching onto some invisible structure.
Without the distortion of the tower, the sun sat stagnant in the sky, dead and blinding. A high-pitched howling began to resound from below me, but I dared not look down. The ospreys were probably on their way to pluck me from their eyrie. I hooked my hands around the rusted metal of the tower and shivered.
When the first one grabbed me around the ankle I couldn’t even scream. My jaw dropped open noiselessly as I clung as hard as I could to the tower. I smashed my forehead into a thick metal bar, trying to tuck my face down, away from the wind and sunlight, away from the flesh-tearing beaks and talons which were sure to come.
But they didn’t.
‘Chase!’ Dylan screamed. I stiffly glanced down, just enough to glimpse the flapping fabric of Dylan’s bright blue windbreaker. ‘You idiot! What the hell do you think you’re doing!’ His voice was breaking on the verge of crying; his fingers dug harder into my ankle.
‘I,’ I struggled to force my words from my throat, gasping in between syllables.
‘I didn’t know I was up this high.’
‘Idiot!’ Dylan viciously tugged at my ankle. I yelled, weakly kicking out at him.
‘Don’t!’ I screamed, my eyes starting to sting. Dylan yelled more abuse up at me, but his shouts were drowned out by a distant bellowing.
The train was thundering beneath us, weaving its way through the woods and wheat fields like a giant black snake, its smoky tongue curling from its mouth, beady black eyes locked ahead. The sun glinted off of its scales.
I opened my eyes and slowly let my body slip downwards. Dylan let go of my ankle as I slid past him, hooking the heels of my boots on each bar as I descended. His face was swollen and red, auburn hair whipping across his eyes. I scaled my way down the tower with a rhythm that matched the clackity-clack of the train; its thundering grew louder and clearer the further I descended.
I bet it went so fast, in those winding patches of forest, where there were no reckless school children, and no cars with faulty brakes. I bet it split from its tracks and just span off, blindly reeling around trees and bellowing out an echo that poured through the forest, but could only be heard at the edges of town as a drowned murmur.
An osprey tilted its head to me from across the tower. Stripes of sunlight sifted through its wings when it loudly flapped its feathers, upsetting bits of fluff and grass from its nest. It craned its neck down after I had passed, tilted its head, and snapped its beak. Dylan hit the ground before I did, his legs folding beneath him and sending hisbody rolling over the dry grass. I didn’t let my feet fall until my hands were clamped around the lowest bar. As soon as my soles touched the soil, my knees buckled and I collapsed.
Brice squeaked, his arms flailing above us. He bolted in dizzying circles, emitting a series of high-pitched shrieks. ‘I thought you guys were gonna die!’ Dylan shrilly laughed from where he was sprawled, a few feet away from me. Groaning, he sat up, the heel of his palm pressed to his head.
‘Chase, man,’ he shook his head at me, face still flushed. His skin shone from where his snot and tears had dried. I laughed weakly, my chest painfully jumping upwards. I attempted to sit up, only to find the world stretching away from me like the tide. I shut my eyes, my ears crashing in upon themselves in a wave of soft, receding static. The kind of static that had been putting me to sleep since I was a baby. The static that chirps at your nightstand long after a song has finished, when the stations have blurred, and you’re too tired to reach for the dials.