Summary: A brief encounter between Seel and Cal shortly before Seel founds Saltrock.
Author’s Email: email@example.com
Disclaimer: Storm Constantine is awesome. Also, so is Bruce Springsteen. I’m pathetically obsessed with both of them. But, yeah, her characters, his song – Racing in the Streets.
Racing in the Streets
I was 17 years old; I’d only been har for 4 years but it felt like a thousand lifetimes. I started out as Uigenna but I left them for the Unneah tribe not long after my Inception.
I might have a lot of anger and bitterness towards humans, but not that much. Not as much as Cal did. I wished I could blame what drove us apart on that but was far more complicated and most of the time I realized that.
We thought becoming Wraeththu together was the answer to all our problems, a way for us to be together without the condemnation and hatred that goes hand and hand with two adolescent boys being in love among humans. We didn’t really know what we were getting into, just that there was something different in the darkness on the edge of town, something that wasn’t human and that didn’t care who you were.
I remember being terrified of it, and looking back Cal probably was, too. He just hid it better than I did. But after the firestorm that broke when our parents figured out what we were doing in my room wasn’t homework, it was easy for him to convince me that they didn’t care, that I was better off leaving with him and finding a new future where none of this would matter. I believed him, like I always did, even though I knew how often he lied.
For a few weeks it was all worth it, too. But being Wraeththu gave him an excuse to finally unleash all that violent hatred I guess he always had bottled up inside him against humanity and life in general for having the nerve not live up to his expectations.
Two weeks after we’d been Incepted somehar gave us each a gun and told us we were attacking a human town in the morning. It was a chaotic mess of burning screams and rapid-fire shots. The humans didn’t stand a chance, and they knew it. Their fear was the worst part of it all. I killed that day, and I remember puking my guts out afterwards, feeling like it was the end of the world, or at least my world. Cal thought I was stupid and he didn’t really bother to hide it.
I left the next day for the Unneah, but it would be a lie to say I never looked back. Of course I did, and I spent a lot of time regretting leaving him like I did, ashamed and full of harsh words I couldn’t take back because that isn’t how life works.
I encountered him sometimes, in the backstreets of ruined cities but the meetings were always brief. He had a new har to occupy his attention named Zack, and what he had become scared me. I tried to tell myself I was over him, but my heart was hard to convince and it remained skeptical.
But the weeks between our meetings quickly became months and even longer. I still dreamt about him, about the constant, mocking laughter that seduced his violet eyes or the way he brushed his hair out of his face, but I could tell myself dreams didn’t mean anything and keep on going with my life. Cal wasn’t a part of it anymore, and if I never saw him again it would probably be a good thing; he had a knack for attracting trouble and heartbreak.
The Unneah might be less violent than the Uigenna, but only barely. We still raided towns and cities from time to time, though usually in the wake of other waves of destruction. That day we were sweeping through the jungleland of a city that had been devastated by a Uigenna attack a day or two ago. We picked off human stragglers, looted newly abandoned homes, and generally reveled in being stronger than the people we had once been a part of.
The Uigenna were still there, but I didn’t expect to see anyone I knew; the tribe was huge and contained countless smaller groups and factions. We were on good terms with them, though, so I don’t suppose they felt our arrival threatened them in any way.
It’s a strange thing to stand in the ruins of a city. It’s like a corpse, something that was once alive and bustling but has been suddenly reduced to nothing, shattered buildings like broken bones and dusty blood swirling through the streets.
There was an old parked car by the side of the road, and at first I ignored it like I had the countless others I had passed that day. I didn’t even realize it was running until the person inside turned up the radio – trust him to use that to get me to come over instead of doing the work of shouting my name.
I knew the song, but it took me a minute or two to identify it. Predictably my brain suddenly decided to become more preoccupied with figuring out just what the tune was and where I had heard it before than being wary as I approached the rusty car. I remembered the album before the song came to me, because I remembered listening to it with my father, not long before I’d left home for good.
He kept all his old vinyl records, had never bothered to upgrade to anything else, and one day he’d found me looking through them. I guess I wanted to find something in there that I liked, something that had meant something to him when he was young, too. Something we could connect over, that he could be proud of me for discovering. Our relationship had never been great, or it would have been harder to leave home for Cal. I was always trying to fix it, but I don’t think I ever really came close to living up to his expectations or being what he wanted.
But I remembered one moment out of that day, remembering listening to this song – Racing in the Streets finally came to me as a title – and thinking it was the saddest thing I’d ever heard. I also remembered the way Bruce Springsteen stared out off that dismal album cover looking like he’d been beaten down by life until every dream in the world had died. I’d played it for Cal later; he wasn’t impressed. Then again, it took a lot to impress Cal.
But I guess he’d remembered the song. It was already halfway over. “Some guys they just give up living And start dying little by little, piece by piece Some guys come home from work and wash up And go racin’ in the street.”
He sat lounged in the driver’s seat, not going anywhere, just enjoying the view of destruction he’d helped cause as the gravely voice on the radio lamented shattered dreams and broken relationships.
“I thought you didn’t like this sort of thing.” He remarked a little smugly, tipping his head at the empty city as I climbed into the passenger’s seat. He looked perfect, like he always did, his lazy, cat-like beauty tempered by a dark strike of danger that lurked beneath it. There was a scratch on one cheek, probably from the attack he’d undoubtedly been involved in.
I wanted to share breath with him, to take aruna right there in that ancient rusty Chevy, wanted to forget the formalities of conversation and our troubled past, but I knew I couldn’t. He’d just look at me with those smug, knowing eyes of his and I’d feel like a fool for thinking he cared about me.
“Tonight, tonight the strip’s just right I wanna blow ’em all out of their seats Calling out around the world, we’re going racin’ in the street.”
“I don’t.” I shot back, stung easily by him. A deep breath got some of my composure back, and I tore my gaze away from him to stare out the window at the city of ruins. “I’m thinking about leaving. Getting away from all of this and setting up some place hara can live without having to fight for every second of every day.”
I hadn’t told anyone else that, but Cal was my priest, here in the confessional of the car. He always had been.
He stared at me thoughtfully, like he was actually thinking it over, as if he actually cared. Maybe he did; it was always impossible to tell with him. He was too good a liar.
The he shrugged, taking a drag from the smoldering cigarette between his lips. “Maybe I’ll drop by when I need a vacation.” From him that was a blessing and I was smart enough to realize that.
“I met her on the strip three years ago In a Camaro with this dude from L.A. I blew that Camaro off my back and drove that little girl away.”
There were a few moments of silence, broken only by the mournful piano whispering from the radio. He finished his cigarette, tossing it carelessly out the window to let it burn itself out.
“I went home.” He informed me. He didn’t have to say the name of our hometown. I knew where he meant. “It was the last place we took over, before this.”
His voice was utterly detached, as though the destruction he had helped cause had happened in a distant story, not to people we’d once known and been a part of.
“I killed my parents. It felt pretty good, actually.” Somehow I had expected that, too. It still hurt, was still horrible to hear, but it wasn’t shocking. I didn’t ask about my family.
Sometimes I wondered if Cal was crazy, the way he acted and the things he said. Maybe wild would have been a better word for it. You couldn’t tame him and he liked to make sure everyone knew it. Still, this wasn’t bragging or a show to frighten me.
Sometimes I got the feeling I was his only real friend in the world, the only one who had known him as a human, who consistently forgave his faults and whose feelings for him never really changed. He didn’t love me, but we had something special anyways that I think neither of us really knew how to explain.
“But now there’s wrinkles around my baby’s eyes And she cries herself to sleep at night When I come home the house is dark She sighs “Baby did you make it all right?”.”
I didn’t think he wanted me to tell him what he had done was right or wrong, he just wanted to say it to somebody he knew would listen and actually get it.
Sitting there on the seats made sticky by the heat, staring out at the empty sky and streets and listening to the radio, it was possible to pretend we were normal, doing something kids our age would have done if we’d still been kids or capable of anything that innocent.
Typically he broke the silence, and, typically, he’d changed the subject like what he’d said had never happened or mattered. “I like your hair like that.”
I’d grown it out since he’d last seen me, adding strikes of red and black dye to it until it was hard to spot the original tawny color underneath them.
One of his hands reached over to play with it, a gentle, stroking touch that, lightning fast, transformed into aggression as he dragged me closer and fastened his lips to mine hard enough to bruise.
“She sits on the porch of her daddy’s house But all her pretty dreams are torn She stares off alone into the night With the eyes of one who hates for just being born.”
I let him pull me into his lap, straddling him with the steering wheel pressed awkwardly against my back as we struggled free of our clothing and he entered me.
Aruna with Cal is as scary and wonderful as you’d image it to be, a wild whirlwind of tender danger that’s more addictive than any drug I’ve ever heard of. He knows it, knows how to make you feel special and loved until he gets bored with you.
The worst part was I knew that, knew this was nothing to him but a few moments of entertainment and that he’d moved on from me in a way I could never get over him. I let myself pretend anyways, because that was what I always did when it came to him and any feelings he had for me.
For a while I just got lost in him, his breath, his body, and the way he made me feel.
That song was still playing when we finished.
At the time I didn’t really notice it, but later it sunk in and I think I figured out what was really happening. I’d assumed the local radio station was still just playing, computers handling everything and randomly picking that song. I guess it had been a CD, though, that Cal must have been sitting there listening to that album full of tattered dreams, lonely highways and loveless homes full of broken relationships. That he’d spotted me, found that song I’d made him listen to years ago and hit that innocent little repeat button because he knew I’d want to hear it more than once. That he still cared about me enough to remember something I’d told him about forever ago, and to want to remind me of that moment, share that thing I liked with me again.
I felt a little dizzy when I caught on to that, but like I said, it happened later, long after I left and he was gone again.
“For all the shut down strangers and hot rod angels Rumbling through this promised land Tonight my baby and me we’re gonna ride to the sea And wash these sins off our hands.”
I would have liked to stay there with him forever, isolated from the whole world and all its stupid problems. But I didn’t. Because life doesn’t work that way. It isn’t magic, and sometimes love doesn’t really mean much at all in the face of everything that’s wrong with it.
I sat there on his lap for a while, head resting against his shoulder until he shifted slightly and I knew that was my cue to leave. So I did, sitting up and shoving the sweaty strands of my long hair out of my face before reaching for the latch and opening the door. The dusty summer breeze drifted in immediately, bringing the faint sound of conquest and death along for the ride.
“Good luck with your project. Your town.” He said, which was more than I had honestly expected him to remember or care about. Then again, maybe even hara like Cal need someplace they can find peace and quiet from time to time, their own little paradise even if they know such a thing can’t really exist.
So I just nodded, knowing I didn’t want him in the place I planned to build once I got away from all this and knowing I’d always welcome him to it anyways. He smiled that infectious grin of his that I couldn’t help returning even if my heart was full of dust and broken promises.
I walked away to the hopelessly hopeful piano crying out from the speakers, the story of two people looking for redemption, love and a new beginning you somehow knew they were never going to actually find.
“Tonight tonight the highway’s bright Out of our way mister you best keep ‘Cause summer’s here and the time is right For goin’ racin’ in the street.”