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    Cynus
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Rivers of the Dead - 1. A Small Pebble

1-1 A Small Pebble

High school was over. Despite everything bad which had ever happened to Caleb Nield inside those walls, what he wanted most was to live through it all again. He wasn't ready to say goodbye, not to the school nor the town, and most of all to Ethan. Caleb's parents often spoke of their high school days with nostalgic romanticism, and he'd expected to feel that way eventually but not just two days after graduation. Nevertheless, Caleb had an instant longing for those days, a need to relive some of his brighter moments.

One glance at Ethan reminded him of just how surreal this all was. There was nothing Caleb enjoyed more than walking with the short golden-haired youth whose medium-length locks curled slightly around his ears. The wistful look in Ethan's eyes was new, though normally those hazel eyes were filled with some level of thoughtfulness, as if the weight of the world weighed on his shoulders. He smiled as he noticed Caleb's glance, a smile which radiated gentle warmth, though it didn't always reach his eyes and, truth be told, often hadn't of late.

Caleb looked away when Ethan glanced at him. Longing for the pleasant memories of times spent together was one thing, Caleb knew, but the way he felt gazing into Ethan's eyes was another matter. He'd loved Ethan for years, and now that he would be leaving he didn't want to risk Ethan finding out. It wasn't that he didn't trust Ethan, but he didn't want to jeopardize the friendship they already had, now more than ever. Caleb couldn't help his attraction, but if he could prevent Ethan from ever finding out about it . . . it was better that way.

Ethan wouldn't be leaving town anytime soon. He still had another year of high school to go, and he'd spend the bulk of it alone. That fact bothered Caleb more than anything else, knowing that Ethan wouldn't have his support network anymore. Ethan wasn't particularly outgoing, bravery had never been his strong suit, and making friends wasn't easy for him. Caleb's leaving would leave him entirely alone in a place where he was never fully understood or accepted. Caleb was worried about him.

A rumble of thunder drew his eyes to the western horizon. Dark clouds streamed over the mountains, and soon they would be overhead, gracing the town with a powerful summer storm. Caleb loved the rain, but as his skin took note of the air pressure change he couldn't help but see these clouds with a sense of foreboding. The weather seemed to know the way he was feeling, and gave him a storm to match the one in his thoughts.

Ethan bumped shoulders against Caleb, purposefully knocking him away. Caleb glanced back Ethan's way and saw the warm smile had taken on an impish quality. Unable to suppress a similar smile from forming on his face, Caleb shoulder-rushed Ethan back, causing him to stumble into the bushes next to the sidewalk. Ethan laughed, and the rare sound made Caleb's heart flutter. He looked away again, brushing his dark-brown hair away from his face nervously and coughing to give himself a reason to be red-faced.

He kicked at a small pebble resting on the cement, sending it careening down the sidewalk until it bounced into the road and rolled across the asphalt. A car drove by, hitting the pebble as it rolled, sending it flying even further away. It was such a small thing, but somewhere in his mind he realized he'd never kick that pebble again. Some things were irreversible.

"So . . ." Ethan said awkwardly, "you're going to college in the Fall, right?"

It wasn't really a question. They'd had this conversation several times already. Caleb had to move on with his life if he wanted to escape the small-town sinkhole threatening to swallow his future. The last thing he wanted was to get stuck here, unable to live his dreams. Unable to find love. He was the only gay boy in town as far as he knew. Of course, the town barely had several thousand people, and the number of boys he knew his age weren't many, either.

But still, he answered the question as if it was the first time. "Yeah. I can't stay here."

"Just the community college over in Rocksburg?" Ethan asked in a flat tone. It was, again, common knowledge between them, but they had to talk about something, and neither was ready to address the emotions hanging heavily between them.

Another rumble of thunder answered before Caleb could. "Yeah, but . . ." Caleb started, hating this conversation. It was time, time to stop beating around the bush. They needed to talk, they needed to . . . yet he couldn't do it now, no matter how much he wanted to. He settled on vagueness and avoided the issue in a cowardly way. "It's too far to drive every day, so I'm going to look for an apartment over there."

Ethan wasn't brave enough to broach the subject yet, either, and he said weakly, "I remember you telling me that."

They walked in silence. Caleb's hair raised and his skin pebbled against the sudden chill from the anticipated storm. Caleb found another pebble and kicked it hard. This one stayed on the sidewalk where Ethan kicked it again once they reached it. They batted it back and forth for several seconds until this one, too, was lost to the asphalt.

"Yet you asked," Caleb said quietly. Ethan glanced his way, and Caleb realized he'd voiced the thought he'd intended to keep silent. Then it was the moment, or at least it was if Ethan wanted to talk about it. Caleb put the conversation in Ethan's charge. "Something on your mind, Ethan?"

"Maybe," Ethan said, shrugging. The way his skinny shoulders moved in his T-shirt had the same effect on Caleb it always did. Seeing Ethan so uncertain made Caleb want to hug him, to massage the tension out of those shoulders, to kiss his cheek and tell him everything was going to be all right. He'd never been able to do any of those things, but he'd always wanted to. He wanted his lips to have the power to make that warm smile touch Ethan's eyes.

Ethan continued, looking at the ground and toeing a crack in the sidewalk. The wistfulness had returned, the impish grin had faded, and his face seemed tight, like it was straining to contain his emotions. "I don't know. It'll just be weird. Not having you around, I mean." He shrugged again then shivered against the coming storm, and Caleb almost groaned in frustration. If only he could comfort Ethan how he wanted to.

But he couldn't. They were friends, best friends even, but Ethan was from a conservative family who didn't believe in showing affection through touch. He and Caleb had never hugged, rarely even wrestled, though that was as much Caleb's doing as it was Ethan's. Caleb hadn't wanted to risk his body betraying him by getting aroused while they tousled.

With physical comfort out of the question, Caleb tried verbal comfort. "Liz isn't leaving. And it's not like I'll never be around. I plan on being back most weekends."

"Caleb, you're my best friend," Ethan said, giving Caleb a level look. There was definite pain in Ethan's eyes, though his tone was apathetic as he sighed and added, "It'll be . . . an adjustment."

"We can game at night, if you want," Caleb offered, trying to be enthusiastic. "We'll pick up something online to play together. Maybe a shitty MMO or something?"

Ethan didn't laugh, though the smile did come back. "Yeah," he said with no joy. "I'd like that."

Caleb tried to continue the building enthusiasm into his next sentence. "And, we have the whole summer together. We'll make it a good one."

For whatever reason, the enthusiasm didn't take, and Ethan's shoulders slumped at Caleb's declaration. He stopped walking, and Caleb stopped a few feet ahead, turning to stare at Ethan. Ethan looked up, his eyes filled with an emotion Caleb rarely saw there. Rage. "It just sucks," Ethan spat. Lightning flashed behind them, but neither of them looked toward the light as a loud crack of thunder erupted over head. Ethan met Caleb's eyes for an instant, then looked to the side, unable to maintain the gaze. His right hand crossed over his body and gripped the crook of his elbow, rubbing at the skin there with his thumb. It was a tick he had when he was trying to contain his emotions, and Caleb recognized it instantly. The urge to embrace Ethan had never been stronger than now. "I can't shake the feeling that every word you say is a goodbye," Ethan said after a moment, his eyes starting to mist over.

"Okay, Ethan . . ." Caleb said gently, reaching out involuntarily to place his hand on Ethan's shoulder. Ethan stiffened at the touch and Caleb let go, but this only seemed to intensify the pain in Ethan's eyes. Caleb felt his own eyes start to water in response. "Something is definitely getting at you, and you're holding back. Please, just tell me?"

Ethan held Caleb's gaze for a few seconds, his mouth working wordlessly. Finally, a single sound escaped his lips, "I . . ." he said, maintaining eye contact, trying to communicate something without speaking, but Caleb couldn't quite read it. A car drove past, moving fast enough to stir the air around them and make Ethan's hair flutter. The movement distracted Ethan, and he adjusted his hair with his hand, then he looked down at the sidewalk between them. "I can't. Not here."

"Come over tonight?"

"Sure," Ethan said after a minute, sniffling. "Just you and me?" he asked, looking up at last. The question sounded more like a request than an inquiry to Caleb.

"Liz will be there for a little bit," Caleb said. "She asked me to help her with a spell. She'll be gone by six, though. "

"More witchcraft, huh?" Ethan said, chuckling. The sound removed the tension from the moment, and it was almost as if they'd never strayed into the territory of the heavy conversation they'd been avoiding. "Cool. My parents would never approve."

"Well yeah," Caleb said, grinning, "you're talking about small-town conservatives who think Jesus is the answer to the weird weather patterns caused by the global warming they don't believe in."

Ethan laughed heartily at that, and Caleb breathed a sigh of relief. "How long have you been holding that one?" Ethan asked.

"Only a few days," Caleb replied. "I knew you'd complain about your parents soon. Also, the storm brought it to mind."

"Yeah. I don't know how I'm going to survive them without you."

"You're strong. You'll be fine, I promise."

"Speaking of my parents," Ethan said, pulling out his phone to check the time, then glancing nervously at the sky. "I promised I'd clean my room today, so I'll probably just head over around the time Liz is leaving so I don't intrude on the spell. If I leave now, I can probably get it done in time and avoid the storm."

"Cool," Caleb said. "I'm sure we'll be pretty much done by five-thirty, but it's possible I won't be able to answer the door if we're still at it. Just come in and head up to my room."

Ethan nodded, saying, "Sounds good." He turned and walked away, leaving Caleb standing alone on the sidewalk. He watched his friend retreat, unable to keep himself from watching Ethan move. Caleb wished he could follow him, or that Ethan would stay, but he couldn't. They were going in different directions now, and it simply couldn't be prevented.

Caleb started walking the other direction as a light sprinkling of rain began to fall. He soon found another pebble to kick.

Special thanks to my Patreon Supporters: Michael, Bill, Charles, Amr, Don, James, Joe, Jos, Mark, Mark, Paul, and Steve. Couldn't have done it without them. :)

Copyright © 2017 Cynus; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Chapter Comments

You build tension so deftly, but it ratchets up with every paragraph. What is it Ethan needs to say? You know I want to find out. 

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On 9/1/2017 at 4:01 PM, Parker Owens said:

You build tension so deftly, but it ratchets up with every paragraph. What is it Ethan needs to say? You know I want to find out. 

And you will shortly. :) I'm glad this grabbed your attention!

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On 9/2/2017 at 1:37 AM, Wesley8890 said:

Well the description of the story is what grabbed me. I'm a sucker for mythological ideas in stories.

It will take a little while before we delve into the myth, but once we hit part 2, the mythology keeps going on to the end. Part 1 is mainly about setting the stage, parts 2-4 are the real meat of the story. I'm excited to hear your thoughts! :)

13 hours ago, Defiance19 said:

I'm along for the ride.. Great start. 

Glad to have you along! :)

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1 minute ago, Lux Apollo said:

So glad to see something new from you. Great start!

Thanks! Hopefully you'll all feel that way when I make you cry later... :P

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This is going to be an emotional roller coaster--I can feel it already.  I trust you to get us through it, though.  And I'll be sure to have plenty of tissues ready.  

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12 minutes ago, Valkyrie said:

This is going to be an emotional roller coaster--I can feel it already.  I trust you to get us through it, though.  And I'll be sure to have plenty of tissues ready.  

This is advised. This story was... well, it was an emotional task to write. I was exhausted when I finished it, but that could also be because I wrote all 70,000 words over 8 days...

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Ethan's sadness and fear about being left behind is making my chest constrict. He's so close to panic... Staying in touch online isn't the same thing. The spell was intriguing. Where will that take us?

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I'm sensing unrequited love on both sides here. No spoilers, please. This hedging around between both boys is so familiar.

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On 9/4/2017 at 9:58 AM, Puppilull said:

Ethan's sadness and fear about being left behind is making my chest constrict. He's so close to panic... Staying in touch online isn't the same thing. The spell was intriguing. Where will that take us?

Ethan... my sweet boy. He was the hardest one to write in this story. I understand that tightness, believe me.

44 minutes ago, drpaladin said:

I'm sensing unrequited love on both sides here. No spoilers, please. This hedging around between both boys is so familiar.

I'm glad you're enjoying it! I'll choose to take that as a compliment.

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2 minutes ago, Cynus said:

Ethan... my sweet boy. He was the hardest one to write in this story. I understand that tightness, believe me.

I'm glad you're enjoying it! I'll choose to take that as a compliment.

 

It was intended as a compliment.  :)

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14 minutes ago, RomanRomaan said:

Been searching for a good story to suit my taste for months. Thank you

Roman!!! I missed you, buddy! Glad to have you aboard.

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20 hours ago, chris191070 said:

Good start to what looks like a fantastic story.

Thanks! I look forward to your future thoughts on it.

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Looking forward to this. First chapter sets things well. Waited to read this. Had a death I was dealing with when first posted. Wasn’t ready for a death story.

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47 minutes ago, BlindAmbition said:

Looking forward to this. First chapter sets things well. Waited to read this. Had a death I was dealing with when first posted. Wasn’t ready for a death story.

I understand. I'll also understand if you end up stopping partway along the journey for the same reason, but you're welcome here for as long as you'd like to stay.

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