4,044 / 50,000
I'm always worried I'm going to fast when writing, then I remember these things 'only' have to be 50k.
Chapter One - Dreams Never Die
Charlie stood on the bridge, watching as the river that carved the latest in a long series of towns he called home, in half. He took one last puff on a cigarette, watching the smoldering tip flare up, then crushed it out on the rusted metal girder he was resting upon. The ash was lost in the mottled specks of red and brown, most of the green paint on the metalwork long since worn away by time. The walkways along each side of the bridge were made up of rotting boards, and even the asphalt through the middle of the bridge was in sore need of replacement.
Cracked, worn, spotted, old.
There were days when Charlie could empathise with those feelings, and is why he often found himself on this bridge, staring at the rushing water beneath his feet. He felt more at home here than he did in the apartment he'd been staying at for the past eight months.
Even now, with winter still in control of the weather, Charlie would come down to the bridge for a smoke, and to be alone, to be at home. Since arriving in town, he was drawn to this spot, and it just felt right to him. It was nothing he could put a finger on. This little haven of nature, yet surrounded by a small town, was more comforting than any place else.
He pulled his black knit cap down snug over his ears, trying to hold back the cold even more. It had been a warm winter, but even in Western Massachusetts, the closest Charlie would go to Kraftsbury, a warm winter still meant a body was in for freezing cold and wind, more often than not.
The cold didn't bother him, he'd grown up even further North, and it had hardened him for these conditions. He'd spent time further south, and just found that the heat bothered him more than the cold. Charlie didn't know what to make of global warming, but he hated the idea of his winters being taken away from him, which if the past few weeks were any indication, and the river running unfrozen below him, it was beginning to look more and more certain that was the case.
Not paying much attention to anything, Charlie stared down at the bent, crushed cigarette wobbling like a miniature tower on the rusted landscape of some alien world.
At the thought of such a place, Charlie stiffened underneath his heavy, blue jacket. It had been some time since he'd thought back to the nightmares, even longer since he had even had one. He'd strived to put those days long behind him, and tried not to think about his last year in Kraftsbury, but certain things would trigger memories of so long ago.
"Eight years," he said, his whisper swallowed up by the rushing water.
Disgusted, Charlie flicked the reminder of darker times off the railing, and did not even pay it any attention as it turned through the air, spiraling end over end, until it landed without much of a splash, and was swept underneath and behind him, long gone from sight and mind.
He crossed his arms and rested them against the metal beam, ignoring the cold. The people of the town had gotten used to his ritual appearances at the bridge, and some even joined him there, although not on cold days like these. On these days, people would pass by with a quick wave, as they kept their jackets zipperred up past their noses, only their eyes giving Charlie any clue as to whom they may be underneath all those layers.
Which was about all Charlie needed, he was good at reading people, and had spent enough time here to tell who was who even from that, and remembering what sort of coats they tended to wear. With all the travelling he'd done in the past seven years, Charlie made it a point to watch people, get to know them in ways they wouldn't outright say.
Charlie liked to keep people at arm's length. He never stayed long in any one place, never made close friends, and always left when he thought the time was right. He was starting to get that antsy feeling again, and knew he'd be moving on soon.
One night he would just decide to do it, as he had chosen to do so many times before. Walk into his apartment, pack up some clothes, and a few things, and walk straight out of town, and keep on going until he felt like trying to hitchhike. Or maybe this time he'd take a bus, he had not taken a bus in awhile.
Everything else would be left behind, just like before, ever since he left his home town, which he found himself so close to again. Every place he only stayed for a few months. This was the longest he'd ever settled down into one place, in a very long time. Just like the rest though, he'd leave his job at the mill behind, leave the cute blonde he was getting far too close to, and just leave. Charlie was starting to think tonight would be a good time to move on. He was on the verge of telling the girl all about himself. The thought terrified him more than anything else, at least in this world.
He stayed in contact with none of the people he met, not a single one. They meant nothing to him, little more than decorations in the scenery he was passing through, or a means to kill time with. They were lucky if he would remember any of their names six months from now, including the blonde.
There was only one person in the entirety of the world he kept in touch with; his sister, Adrienne. Even after what had happened, and his disappearance, they were still family, and she was the only person he cared about on this rock.
As if on cue, Charlie felt a vibration in his back pocket as his mobile phone came to life. Charlie grumbled, and bit the fingertips of his gloved right hand and yanked the glove off, tasting the rough, cracking leather as he did so.
He pulled the glove out of his mouth with his other hand, and fished the phone out of his pocket with the other, feeling the cold against his exposed skin.
If pressed, Charlie would say he hated phones, and would prefer to keep to himself, but he kept a mobile phone so he could keep in touch with his sister, mostly at her insistence. Time had gotten him to accept the devices, and even find them handy these days, but he still preferred the days when people could be alone for a time.
During his first few years away, he gravitated to these smaller towns, not just because there was fewer people, but many of them did not get much in the way of reception for his phones. As time moved ever forward, progress travelled with it, blanketing the planet in more and more signals, until even here, in the middle of nowhere, could he be reached at all times.
He flipped open the phone, and the screen lit up, the blue glow made brighter in the fading light of midwinter nights, against the pure snow. The pale light made all the more ethereal in the azure glow.
The name on the screen was indeed his sister's. Very few people had this number, and aside from his blood, the only ones were in this town. Most notably his boss, and a few others. While he kept people away, Charlie wasn't a total recluse, and made just enough contact to seem like a real person, to others, and to himself to not feel like a ghost walking through life.
With a sigh, but also a smile, he accepted the call and held the phone up to his ear, over the cap.
"What do you want," he asked, in a brusque manner.
A voice that was the total opposite came through the tiny speaker next to his ear. Where Charlie was gruff, his sister was chipper. He sounded like he was a heavier smoker than he was, and she sounded like she never touched one her entire life, although the last Charlie knew, she smoked more than he did, and drank too.
"Is that any way to greet your little sister, Charles?" She sounded like their mother, he thought to himself. The two women closest to him, were the only ones he ever allowed to call him Charles. And they both used it as if they were saying a dirty word.
Charlie fingered the pack of cigarettes in his pocket, thinking how nice another one would be, but just kept the thought of them in his mind, "It is when you're the last person I wanna hear right now."
"You don't mean that," Adrienne replied. Charlie could hear the tv in the background. Whereas he was on the outskirts of existence, Adrienne had embraced life. She worked as a doctor in their hometown, had all the modern conveniences, friends, and was even engaged.
Charlie had received an invitation to the wedding in a few months, but had tossed it into the circular filing cabinet most called a trash can. He wanted to go, he really did, and if anyone could convince him to set foot in Kraftsbury again, it was his sister, but even now, it was still too much for him. Instead of a brother, they'd get a nice blender at their wedding.
So, he said, "Nah, I don't and you know it. What d'you want, Adge?"
"Always cutting to the chase, brother dear. Can't a sister just call to talk?"
Charlie took the phone away, and looked at the length of the call already, before returning it back against his other ear. He missed the days when phones weren't thin slivers of plastic, and he could hold it there with his shoulder. He believed progress wasn't always for the best, or convenience.
"At these prices," he asked, "No, she can't. What's up?"
His sister paused for awhile, as much to find her words, and as much to annoy her sibling. "I just wanted to make sure you got the invitation."
Charlie snorted, "You know I did, we talked about it last week. You need a better excuse than that."
"Well, shit," she started, but got interrupted.
"Hey, you're going to have kids soon, you better watch that sailor's tongue of yours, sis."
There was another pause, and Charlie knew what she was doing. "You can stop sticking your tongue out at me. Phones equal audio, even I know that."
At that moment, his phone made a soft, synthisised dinging noise, and he pulled the phone away from his ear once more, and looked at the screen, which now displayed a sent image of his sister's round, freckle covered face, lips pursed and her tongue sticking out.
Before he even put the phone back up against his ear, he could already hear her laughter, inches away. "Do you even read the instruction manuals when I send you a new phone?"
"Just enough to get the thing working. I don't care about all these features. Now, it's damned cold out here, what do you want?"
"On the bridge again? Of course you are, who am I talking to?" She wandered in her mind for a bit longer, muttering to herself, Adrienne's way of organising her thoughts.
"There's some trouble, you need to come home."
Charlie's arm pulled back, and he was almost unable to stop himself from hurling the phone into the river to join the cigarette.
"Like hell I do," he almost shouted into the phone. "You know how I feel about Kraftsbury, how little I want to return there. Short of our house burning down, or dad dying, it just ain't gonna happen."
"Funny you should mention that," she coughed.