12 Jun Teke Teke
“Teke Teke”Written by Kevin Thomas Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 6 minutes
The boy hated the nights when his big brother snuck out. He would stare at the empty bed in the bedroom they shared, under the large open window in the eave. Through there, every now and again, he could hear the unmistakable metal thuds of the passing trains – rumbling teke-teKE, teke-TEKE, teKE-TEKE, TEKE-TEKE across the yard and over the fence.
He normally hated the grinding, gnashing pulse of the metal monsters racing past his bedroom window.
But there was one that he liked.
The 11:18. The last train. The train that the boy’s father said was full of drunken businessmen going home. The boy did not yet know what “drunk” was, but he understood the disapproving sigh his mother would let out at the suggestion.
The boy didn’t care about the businessmen, with their untucked shirts and angry wives. He just knew that the 11:18 was the signal for his brother to come home after he’d snuck out to see the pretty girl who lived across the tracks. He’d only seen her once before, and he didn’t really understand. She had two eyes, like all the other girls. She had long black hair, like all the other girls. She wore the same school shirt that he and his brother wore, with the same school crest emblazoned on the chest.
His brother would just ruffle his hair and tell him that he’d understand one day.
The distant signature of the 11:18 echoed across the room.
He would be saying his goodbyes and getting ready to sneak out of the girl’s window.
The boy wondered if they’d kissed. He’d seen that in a movie his big brother had left on the TV once.
He listened for the final, loud boom as the train raced past and gave way for his brother’s path home.
But tonight, there was a small pause. Infinitesimal. So small you’d never even notice if you hadn’t heard the same sound every night for months.
The boy would eventually understand that tiny pause, but for now, all he heard was the blaring roar of the train’s horn coupled with the grinding screech of the metal brakes. Angry shadows danced across the wall as the train pulled to a screaming halt.
The drunken businessmen were home much later to their angry wives than expected.
But the boy’s brother didn’t come home at all.
In the weeks that followed, the boy was told what had happened to his brother, even though he didn’t really understand. He just knew that the girl with the long black hair didn’t walk like she used to. Before she had been straight-backed, laughing and twirling, hiding her smiles behind her hands. Now she simply walked with her shoulders hunched and that long black hair covering her face.
By the time the boy came to truly understand what had happened, more than a few years had passed. His legs were stronger, his back was broader, and little hairs had sprouted in brand new places. He also stopped walking to school alone, instead choosing to walk with a girl from down the road.
There was something about her that he could not place. She had eyes, but hers weren’t like those of the other girls. They were a deep brown, and looking into them felt like falling into a pile of autumn leaves. She had long black hair that fell straight like a sheer veil over her slender shoulders. And she wore the same school shirt that he wore, that his brother had worn; only now the way the school crest rested upon her chest and rose and fell with her breaths was unfathomably enticing.
And they walked and joked and talked, and they sometimes brushed hands in a way that he found impossible to ignore.
Once, while walking home from school in early spring, they were caught in a sudden rain shower. Neither had brought an umbrella, so they held hands and dashed through the streets until they reached a covered area of vending machines. There, they laughed and shivered and drank hot coffees from the machine until at last their attraction became irresistible, and they kissed.
There, under that canopy, the girl asked, “Will you see me tonight?”
“Of course,” replied the boy. And they embraced again.
That evening, he paced his room thinking of all the witty things he could say to endear himself to her. He looked at the clock. 7:37. It was still too early. It was only a twenty-minute walk to the girl’s house, even factoring in the fifteen-minute detour to the rail bridge down the way, and her parents were not leaving for the movies until 8:00. So long as he beat the 11:18 home, he reasoned, the whole tryst would remain a secret.
He continued his pacing. His feet pounding a regular beat on the hardwood floor.
When 8:00 rolled around, he carefully snuck downstairs and turned the key in the back door, where it made a satisfyingly heavy “te-KE” clunk.
Forging his way across the back yard, he approached the back fence. He stared out into the fading light and saw the grass give way to stone, upon which lay two long, sturdy rail tracks.
He looked and looked and looked again. Then, once more, he looked. He took a deep breath, thrust his fists downwards, and walked toward the bridge that crossed the tracks further down the way.
A back screen door quietly slid open, with only a faint hiss as it glided into place. Once inside, he embraced the girl and kissed her awkwardly on the cheek. Neither of them dared say what they were thinking, hoping to make their intentions less obvious. She just smiled and brushed her long black hair behind her ears. Enamored by her beauty, he found himself at a loss for words, unable to utter a single clever line.
Eventually, they settled on a film to watch, and he gingerly slid an arm around her delicate shoulders. She nuzzled into him as far as she dared. He wanted to kiss the top of her head, but resisted the temptation, despite her advances.
A key in the door!
“Could it be so late already?” the boy thought. Jumping from the couch, he barrelled toward the still-open back door and sprinted across the backyard. He ran up the road and toward the hill on which the train tracks lay.
He peered into the dark toward the bridge. So close, but still so far. There wasn’t time if he wished to return undetected.
He mounted the hill and inspected his surroundings. Then he looked and looked again. The night was silent and the tracks bathed in shadow.
It was 11:10. He had eight minutes to travel ten feet, and it still felt like there wasn’t time. The inches had become miles, the seconds hours.
He took a step between the rails of the track.
He froze, twisting his neck towards the approaching train so fast that his joints cracked.
But there was no approaching train. The night was still as quiet and tranquil as it had always been. There were no lights to be seen, no tell-tale sonorous clangs coming from the rails. The drunken businessmen were not yet reunited with their angry wives.
The familiar sound danced faintly over the frigid evening air.
But still there was no train.
The boy strained to see into the distance, trying to locate the source of the sound. There was no train, but there was a… shape.
Some distance away a man was on the tracks, close enough to make out the dark curves of his shoulders.
No, not a man. Half a man. He seemed planted from the belly up, as though someone was trying to grow the foulest of trees. The man’s hands gripped the rails, holding his mutilated body upright.
The buried man put a hand forward – TE – then the other –KE – to advance in the boy’s direction.
No, not buried. Bottomless. The man’s torso terminated at the navel, his lower half concealed beneath the tattered remains of a ragged shirt and dark stains.
The half-man lurched forward again.
Soon, like a foal learning to walk, the half-man found a rhythm with which to charge forward.
Watching the half-man race down the tracks to his awful “Te-Ke” beat, the boy did not notice the time.
Nor did he notice the lights.
Nor did he notice the sound.
Screeching. Roaring. Blaring.
He remained frozen to the spot as the abomination halved the distance between them. He did not see the 11:18 full of drunken businessmen.
But he did see the long, curved thing that the half-man produced from behind his back.
And he saw the half-man swing.
And just for a second, he saw a flash of the pattern on his assailant’s shirt.
And then, finally, he felt the impact in his side.
Through the confusion of his fall he looked back toward the track, and saw the half-man engulfed in the blur of the screeching train. Soon, the darkness of the night took him away.
* * * * * *
When the boy awoke, the 11:18 was long since passed. The drunken businessmen were being scolded by their angry wives. His back ached where the half-man’s stick had knocked him from the tracks.
He arose, slowly, and limped back home, knowing that tomorrow the girl would still smile and hide her giggles behind her hands.
From then on the boy vowed to always take the bridge, and thanked his brother for teaching him one final, hair-raising lesson.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available