by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ)
See this piece’s entry on the Shousetsu Bang*Bang wiki.
Finn’s phone lit up with a call, which was unusual enough, but even stranger still was that it wasn’t immediately identified as his best friend Scam Likely, who called him several times a week. It was an unknown number, still, though. He let it buzz in his hand, where it had interrupted his very important Sunday morning social media hell scroll, for just a few seconds. Maybe he’d entered a sweepstakes and forgotten. Maybe it was a poll and he’d get to say something enjoyably stupid. He swiped to answer and brought it up to his ear.
“Yello,” he said, because there was no reason not to.
“Uh, hey, Finn?” came a voice that slipped through his ear way down to his gut, to the bottom of his stomach. “It’s, uh, Alec.” There was some dead air; Finn probably should have said hello, or something that a normal human would say, but he couldn’t summon up any reasonable reaction. “How’ve you…” He let out his standard little irritable sigh and abandoned pleasantries. “Uh…. Vic died.”
“Vic?” Finn said, and then made an annoyed sound of his own to cut Alec off from explaining who he meant. Finn would always remember Victor Harel. “Shit. Vic died.”
“Yeah,” Alec said. “He never moved out of Sidwell, you know? He stayed.”
“Well,” Finn said, “I guess he found a way to leave now.”
“Dude,” Alec said, in the same tone like they were kids again.
“Yeah, fuck,” Finn said. “Sorry. Is there like…” He was in bed, and his cat was curled up next to him and had definitely just farted. “Is there a service? Are you going?”
“Yeah, I am,” Alec said. “And I think… look, dude, I don’t want to talk about this over the phone. But I think you know why I think we both need to be there.”
Finn breathed out in a way that made his nostrils flare, a way that would make him look completely weird if there’d been anyone around to watch. “Yeah, I know. Did you talk to Barbara?”
Alec let out one of his little high staccato laughs, in a choked, truncated form. “Oh, uh, yeah. Barb is, uh, Bernard now, but yeah, he’s coming too.”
“Oh, wow,” Finn said, and every single name, town and person and even the region he could hear in Alec’s vowels, felt like a nut in his throat he couldn’t swallow. “Shit, mark me down as ready to be a Bernie bro,” he said, and cringed at himself.
“Yeah, bud, I’m not letting you live that one down,” Alec said, a familiar teasing tone. “I’m making you say that right to him.”
“Sure, sure,” Finn said. “It’ll lighten up the funeral.” There was silence between them again. Finn wanted to ask a lot of things, a lot of hows, a lot of whens. All he said, though, was “Text me the details? Just gotta figure it out with work and I’ll be out there.”
“Yeah, will do,” Alec said. “It’ll be good to see… it’ll be good to see everyone again. Just wish it were better circumstances.”
“Yeah,” Finn said, and sunk back down into his pillows. “I wish it were too.”
He dreamed of the tunnel that night. Of course he dreamed of the tunnel, though it wasn’t unusual for him to dream of the tunnel. He hadn’t been back to Sidwell for twelve years but he still dreamed of the fucking tunnel at least once a month. But this time it felt different, so sharp and fresh, a memory sharp as digital film. The four of them all holding hands in an incomplete circle, broken where he and Alec stretched their hands out to squeeze around nothing, to grip at the hand of the one who wasn’t there anymore. He’d made himself forget everything they’d said, the name they’d chanted, but Finn couldn’t forget that feeling of a cold but tender hand squeezing his own. Pitch fucking dark but he still felt Alec’s eyes, heard the skip in his breath in the chant to know he felt it too.
All in all, it made waking up to go to the airport worse than it usually was.
There was truly no good way to get to Sidwell, and that had been one of the factors that made it so important for Finn to get out of there, twelve years ago. He rented a car in Pittsburgh and drove two hours through all sorts of scenic Amish bullshit. He played podcasts about the history of limericks and zippers while on the drive but didn’t listen to them. Finn just wondered what direction Alec was coming from. He hadn’t asked, and it’d been so long since… it’d been so long since everything.
There was only one AirBNB in Sidwell and that, frankly enough, was perplexing. It was not exactly a town with tourist appeal, but Finn supposed that there always had to be people rolling back in town for, well, reasons exactly like this. Alec had it rented out already and invited Finn to take one of the extra rooms. Bernard’s parents had never moved away, so at least he had that going for him. Finn hadn’t been back since he’d moved away to college; his parents had ditched a few years after that to retire to South Carolina. Finn entered the town limits and let out a soft “fuck” as he remembered how annoying it was to buy alcohol in the state of Pennsylvania.
It was dark by the time he drove up to the rental house. Flying west to east always was a shitshow, leaving him full of a day’s energy but not enough hours to spend it in. Well, the magic of modern air travel wasn’t the only thing buzzing inside him then.
Finn sat in his car outside the house, lights off. He recognized the building — there wasn’t a lot to Sidwell, and it didn’t seem like much had been added since he left — but didn’t let his brain reach for who used to own it. He texted Alec. “I’m here. You already inside?”
There was no response for a while, and Finn just cracked his door a little to get some air. It was quiet here, a kind of quiet he’d never found anywhere else he’d gone — and usually didn’t want to. The air was sharp with the smell of autumn, crisp air and the distant smell of burning leaves. Vic had really picked a lovely time to die, Finn thought. He cracked the door a little more and put a foot out onto the ground. It was the same as it was back then, wasn’t it? Fifteen years ago, the same quiet, the same smoke on the wind…
Light cast on to him from the house, making Finn come back from whatever darkening path he’d been wandering down. There, in the doorway, silhouetted by the light from the house, was that familiar shape, older but unchanged. Alec gestured for him to come inside and Finn got out of the car completely, heading up the walk.
“Jesus, did you go to a rental place that only does clown cars or something?” Alec said as Finn approached the door. “Seeing you come out of that thing was like watching a hermit crab trying to switch shells. Were your knees up against your ears the whole time?”
“Everyone needs to drive a vehicle, even the very tall,” Finn said, pitching his voice down low. “This was the largest auto that I could afford.” He stepped into the house proper so he could see Alec in the light as he looked up at him with those wide, wide dark eyes. “Nice to see you, too, jackass.”
“Ha ha?” Alec said, and while Finn was waiting for a pause, waiting for some awkward silence, Alec just sniped it all by pulling into a hug, giving him a few comfortable bro-taps on the back. “It’s really good to see you,” he said into Finn’s shoulder before letting go. He rubbed the back of his neck nervously and jittered a little from foot to foot — his nervous energy had stayed with him into his thirties, that was kind of fun to see — and he picked up Finn’s back. “The bedrooms are upstairs, I’ll take this up. There’s beer in the fridge and I got some frozen pizzas.”
“Thank god,” Finn said, and paused for a moment to look at the flex of Alec’s biceps as he carried his bag up the stairs. He’d been a little scrawny in high school, but he’d clearly put work into himself as an adult. Finn, at least, felt comfortable that he was just as strange looking as an adult man as he had been as a teenager, so that would probably be calming to the local townsfolk.
The beer was canned and that was just fine. Finn sat down at the little table in the kitchen for a moment, then got up and got a second can to sit it waiting for Alec at one of the other chairs. He listened to him rustle and thump around upstairs. Alec had never been one for treading softly.
Alec came into the kitchen and raised his eyebrows in approval at the beer. “Hey, thanks,” he said, and sat down. Finn led the way and cracked his open first, an Alec followed. “Here’s to…” he said, as he lifted his can to Finn, but trailed off.
“To Vic,” Finn completed, and Alec gave a nod before they collided their cans with a little metal ‘tink’ and Finn slurped back some fine American macrobrew. He let out a sigh and stretched out; he was cramped from being on a plane and then in that little damn car for hours. Alec gulped down what had to be half of his beer in one go and Finn laughed. “Settle down, there, kiddo, we’re not chugging behind the hardware store fast as we can so we don’t get caught anymore.”
Alec let out a satisfied ‘ahhh’ as he did one last swallow and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Finn watched his tongue dart over his lips. “Yeah, no, I know, it’s just…. It’s fucking crazy, you know?”
“I don’t know, actually,” Finn said. “You want to tell me what happened?”
“Vic just… he just dropped dead last week, man,” Alec said, shaking his head. “Came home from riding his bike, said hello to his wife and then boom, gone before he even hit the floor.”
“He got married? That’s nice,” Finn said, and Alec gave him a very, very familiar ‘come on, dude’ look that just wrapped all the way around his spine. “I mean, my condolences to her, that’s terrible, but good before that.” He sipped a little more at his beer. “Heart attack? Aneurysm?”
Alec just kept shaking his head, just a few angles off from being one of those little bobbles that you put on a dashboard, if you were a guy who dressed exclusively in bowling shirts. “I don’t know. They don’t know, I…” He looked at Finn, his eyes so wide Alec could see the whites all around his irises. “It was the exact same day, dude. October 12th.”
Finn let the can rest against his lips. In his heart, he wanted to feign ignorance. He wanted to pretend like he didn’t know the significance of that date, like he didn’t spend it every year idly shivering. “That… is a hell of a coincidence,” he said, eventually, before drinking again.
“A coincidence? Dude, come on,” Alec said. “Tell me you haven’t had a fucking weird October 12th every year for the past fifteen years.”
Finn rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I have a weird day because that’s how trauma works, Alec. I also have a weird day every year when I remember it’s the day Zayn left One Direction.”
Alec snorted a little, then, fighting to keep his serious expression. “Seriously, dude?”
Finn put his hand to his chest. “Those lovable lads from Liverpool were never the same without him,” he said with sadness, and that got Alec, got him to let out a bunch of nervous giggles that had clearly been stored up for days. Finn just smiled and breathed them in.
“Okay, fuck you though, definitely,” Alec said as he wiped his thumb over his eyes, getting rid of the laughter tears. “Sure, fine, maybe it’s not that weird for you, or maybe you just don’t notice it because… you never wanted to notice it.”
Finn let out a breath. He had missed Alec, more than he’d let himself feel, but he did not miss this argument. “Look, it’s pretty weird. I don’t feel good, with this knowledge. Is that enough for you right now?”
Alec let out a sigh and finished the rest of his beer in a few more chugs. Finn had a feeling Alec had gotten into the frat life in college. He looked forward to finding out, if they could talk about something that wasn’t this. “It’s what his wife told me that gave me the fucking chills. Vic’s bike ride? It was through the tunnel. He’d go riding through the tunnel at least once a week.”
“Jesus christ, Vic,” Finn said softly. High-speed internet had made it even to Sidwell; surely a guy could get better hobbies. Even if Finn remained uncertain what exactly had happened in that tunnel, he was sure that it was dark and probably dangerous. Nearly two miles of tunnel that had been abandoned since the 60s, dreams of being part of the turnpike lost long ago. It was pitch black inside for the long length of it. Deep enough in and you could forget which way you’d come in and which you were headed out. Finn didn’t need there to be more to the tunnel to hate the fucking tunnel. “I guess a guy has to get his kicks somehow.”
He drank a little more of his beer while Alec went to the fridge to get another can. “So it all just… it seems pretty fucking weird to me, man,” he said as he popped the tab. “I think… no, you know what, you’re just going to bitch at me about it. I’ll save what I think for when Bernard is here and has my back.”
“You two have been in touch, seems like?” Finn said. “I haven’t heard from….” He just shrugged a little. He hadn’t heard from anyone in a long time.
“Yeah, man, off and on,” Alec said, and then laughed. “This is what you miss out on by not being on Facebook! I’ve been seeing all the life events and relationship status and shit.”
“Look, you want malevolent forces causing great harm to innocent people?” Finn said. “Mark Zuckerberg, he’s right there, baby, and I can prove it!”
Alec just leaned his head back and laughed, a high little snorting giggle. His eyes were soft when he looked at Finn again. “I really missed you,” he said, gently. He tapped his toes against Finn’s toes, a little gentle foot-step that they’d done over and over and over again when sitting next to each other in classes over the years.
Finn took in a long breath. “I missed you, too.”
They heated up the pizzas and talked about things that weren’t their dead friends after that, just a long-needed catching up. Finn rest his head on the faintly musty smelling AirBNB pillow that night lightly buzzed from alcohol and buzzing even more in his head and heart from old familiar touches, the sound of a laugh. He probably needed to worry about it, but he was too tired for it just yet.
He dreamed of the tunnel again, of course, but this time not of being inside it. In his dream he was there with Alec, fourteen again with his big nerd glasses and really stupid looking hair, giving him that bright grin, looking at him with a dare in his eyes. “C’mon, Finn. Let’s go in. What are you, scared?”
In the dream when he spoke it was with the voice of a man, not the squeaky teen he’d been. “I’ll go anywhere you want,” he said. “You know that.”
Teen Alec’s nose wrinkled up. “I dunno, man. Sounds like you’re pretty scared,” he said, and then let out a cackling laugh as he gave Finn the finger and went running off into the darkness of the tunnel, disappearing immediately into it while Finn just stayed rooted in place and watched him go.
The funeral was in the late morning, and the two of them didn’t have much time for chit-chat as they got ready, Finn focused on trying to get wrinkles out of his suit pants with a borrowed iron. He hadn’t been to a funeral since his last grandparent had passed away, and that had been in Sidwell, too, when he was still a teenager. Maybe they’d tricked out the graveyard since then, put in some water features or something. Probably just full of more dead people, though.
“You look nice,” he said softly as he and Alec walked out to the car, and it was true, he looked more attractive than Finn thought was really suitable for a funeral, his jacket cut to emphasize the breadth in his shoulders and the strength in his arms.
“You too,” Alec said, which was surprising, as he’d usually take the opportunity to get in some dig about what a stringbean Finn was.
They drove the brief while to the church through misty morning weather, really exactly what you’d want for a funeral, keeping silent together. Silences had always been rare between them, but even with their time apart, they somehow were still comfortable.
The viewing was weird. The whole thing was weird. Finn liked to think himself pretty comfortable with mortality and the whole concept of death, but it was weird to see his old friend there in a nice suit with probably a drag queen’s worth of makeup on his dead face. Vic looked good, though, for as good as a dead guy could look. Didn’t look haunted, didn’t look like he’d been sick. Just a guy who’d been alive one minute and then dead the next. Well, Finn supposed, that’d be everyone someday.
He sat next to Alec through the service, as a number of half-familiar faces said some very nice words of what a good man Vic had been. He always had been, even when they were kids, sensible but not too sensible, broad and smiling and always feeling just a shade too normal and popular to be hanging with the rest of them. The woman in the front pew of the church sobbing had to be his wife, and Finn didn’t know her at all. Had Vic gone away for school and come back to Sidwell with a wife? Finn couldn’t imagine why anyone would come back at all, let alone with someone from the outside world. But there’d always been something he didn’t understand about Vic, and he supposed he never would.
Alec had been tapped for pallbearer duty and not him, which was fine enough; he had weak spindly arms and was a head taller than everyone else, which could have lead to some comical tilted casket corpse spill situation. He followed out to the cemetery and watched them put Vic in the ground, watched his crying wife toss a handful of dirt on top of him. Funerals were fucking weird. Finn himself wanted to be donated to science, or ballistics testing if possible.
In the awkward dissipation after the service was complete Finn saw a familiar face — a little different, but familiar. The two of them had always been the awkwardly tall ones; Finn imagined Bernard got less of a hard time about it now.
“Hey,” he said, as he approached.
“Hey,” Bernard said with a sad little smile on his face. He looked awkward for a moment, mouth parted to say something that wasn’t coming, and then he just shook his head. “Surprise!” he said, gesturing at the general concept of his body.
“Not really, once I thought about it like even a little,” Finn said, and Bernard laughed.
“Right?” he said, and then they were hugging each other tight. They’d gone to prom together, and knew a lot of things about each other that no one else did. They did not exchange any no homo bro back-patting.
When they separated Finn just gave a scan over the graveyard. He spotted Alec standing where he expected him to be, and pointed to him. Bernard gave a nod and they went to join him.
“And then there were three,” Bernard said as he looked down at the gravestone Alec was standing in front of.
“Yikes, dude,” Alec said.
“Just saying what we’re all thinking,” Bernard said, and yeah, he was.
Alec gestured at the dates on the tombstone by just pointing the toe of his very neat dress shoes at it, which seemed a little disrespectful. “It’s going to be fifteen years in just a few days. Don’t you think that means something?”
“I think it means that fifteen years have passed, yeah, Alec,” Finn said. “Time is an arbitrary construct.”
“You’re an arbitrary construct,” Alec muttered to himself, and Finn had to admit, he had a good point there.
“It is pretty weird,” Bernard said, and they all looked at the grave in silence for a few moments. “We should go to the… reception, wake thing. Reception? That’s weddings. I don’t know, there’s coffee and hugging.”
“Yeah, sure,” Finn said, and traced a little heart in the well-tended grass with the tip of his shoe. “Let’s face that gauntlet.”
There was coffee, and there was hugging, and there were tears, and Finn had wanted to stay in the safe molecule he made with Alec and Bernard, but the minute his electron separated (or however that worked; he was B- at best in his science classes) he had to deal with semi-familiar face after semi-familiar face, giving the short version of everything in his life that had happened since he’d turned eighteen again and again. California, yes. Los Angeles, yes. Yes, the weather was nice there. No, it wasn’t dangerous. No kids. Not married. Of the three of them he was the only presumably straight white guy and the least uncomfortable to interrogate, so he just tipped over into it and gradually fell down that sword.
He eventually had a little tug on his elbow and he turned, expecting there to be an eight year old or something who wanted to know why he’d moved so far away, but it was just Alec. “Hey, we’re thinking of getting out of here. Maybe get something to eat.”
Finn let out a sigh. “Yes, please.” He looked to Bernard. “Is Rudy’s still open?”
“Rudy’s will be open until the heat death of the sun,” he said, and looked at his watch. “Or until six, whatever comes first.”
It was another half hour of shaking hands and hugs and tears before they managed to escape. The day was something warmer now, downright pleasant. He took off his suit jacket and tossed it in the back seat of the rental before getting in the driver’s seat. Alec kept his jacket on but gave him a look as he settled in beside him.
“What?” Finn said, and Alec just snorted a little and reached over and loosened Finn’s tie a little. His knuckles brushed the rise of his adam’s apple and Finn had to hold his breath.
“You looked like a Mormon. Or a hitman. Or a Mormon hitman,” he said, and then tugged at his own tie a little, popping open the top button of his shirt.
For far, far from the first time in his life, but for the first time in a very long time, Finn had the thought of, does he seriously not know? “Mormon hitman would make a great movie and you know it,” he said as he undid his own top button and started up the car.
“If it’s a drama it’s called like The Elder or something,” Alec said, looking back at the church as they pulled away.
“The Latter Day Taint,” Finn said in a low movie trailer growl, and Alec was giggling again, a huge release after what had felt like endless grim hours at the funeral.
Rudy’s was not far, because nothing in Sidwell was far from any other part of Sidwell. Rudy himself had died sometime back in the 90s, but the establishment lived on as one of the only decent non-chain restaurants you could get to without driving to another county. It mostly did business in the breakfast hours, but they still had a booth for three well-dressed men who wanted pancakes in the mid-afternoon.
For a while they just talked, just fell back into the warm rhythm that they’d had as kids — though often a beat or two off, like waiting for a hit from a player that had left the orchestra. Alec busted Finn for his dumb Bernie bro joke as promised, but Bernard just laughed at the idea of Finn ever being anything that could be called a ‘bro.’ It was nice. The pancakes were good.
“…It just doesn’t seem like it can be a coincidence to me,” Alec said, after a lull had fallen into the conversation when their plates were mostly crumbs and syrup. “I think– what if whatever happened back then happened again?”
“I think–” Finn began, and then let out a sigh, his skin feeling itchy at how they’d ended up back here, how they were bound to end up back here. “What if it did? What exactly are we supposed to do about it?”
“I think we need to go back,” Alec said, meeting Finn’s eyes hard across the table. “To the tunnel.”
“We have to go back?” Finn said, with a laugh. “Yeah, okay, J.J. Abrams, we’ll go back, sure, brilliant.”
“J.J. Abrams?” Alec said, crinkling his nose.
“He did Lost,” Finn said. He’d never even seen Lost.
“I think that was J. Michael Strazynski,” Bernard said.
“No, he did Babylon 5,” Alec said, and Finn was too agitated to even call him a nerd.
“Look, whatever, dorks, it just seems like a dumb idea,” Finn said. “It seems pointless. We’ve just… we did what we came here to do. We laid a friend to rest. Now we get back out of here and never come back.”
“My parents do still live here,” Bernard said.
“That’s their mistake,” Finn said, and then winced a little when Bernard scowled at him.
Alec twisted the edges of his paper napkin around a little, wadding up the ends into strangled little tufts. “You never believed in it,” he said, not looking at Finn this time. “You never believed what happened was anything out of the ordinary and you always thought there was a rational explanation.”
“A shitty, awful explanation, yeah, but I did!” Finn said, and then swallowed the last dregs of some cold coffee as a reminder to keep his voice down.
Alec looked up at him then, absolutely piercing him with his gaze. “So if you don’t believe in it, why are you so scared to do it again?”
“I’m not–” Finn took in a slow breath and kept his words soft now, after catching a glare from the waitress. “I’m not scared. I just think it’s stupid.”
Bernard spoke up again, his voice gentle, loosening the tension between them as it always had before. “It’s not like you never did anything stupid with us before, Finn. Why not take this opportunity for one more spin with your old friends.” Now he was looking at Finn with the same intensity, eyes sharp behind his glasses. “While you still have us.”
Finn looked between the two of them and, for lack of any better way to express his frustration, picked up a sugar packet from the dispenser and tossed it on the table with a disappointing little thap sound. “Fine. We’ll go back, but it’s stupid and I’m going to complain the entire time.”
Alec smiled a little then, something warm and liquid that made Finn’s skin prickle. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
They parted ways for a while to change out of their suits, because for all that Alec was gung ho to go into the dark, Finn did not want to go urban exploring while wearing dress shoes. Alec scrounged up flashlights from somewhere; Finn started to complain about how they could just use their phones like normal people, but then he remembered how dark the tunnel was, and how very little the light of an iPhone 6 was going to do to chase that away.
So there they were, dressed like a trio of normal idiots, standing outside the Sidwell tunnel. “I hate this place,” Finn said, keeping his promise. “Just on principle, I hate this place. It’s dark and there’s probably an entire civilization of rabid raccoons in there, or cave-ins, or… bandits.”
“Bandits?” Alec said with a laugh.
“I don’t fucking know!” Finn said. “It just sucks. I don’t like it.”
“But you’re not scared,” Alec said, grinning up at him.
“If I’m scared, it’s of rabies and having my phone stolen by a feral Amish teenager on a rumspringa gone wrong,” he said, and Bernard snorted.
“Come on,” he said as he was the one to lead the way into the dark. “If nothing else… seems like a good way to remember Vic. He liked riding his bike through here. Maybe there’s something to it we didn’t see.”
“A dangerous otherworldly entity, yeah, Bernard, that’s what we didn’t see,” Alec muttered as he followed. Finn took in a steadying breath and walked into the tunnel behind them.
He turned on his flashlight before either of them did, while light from the end of the tunnel still reached along the walls and the ceiling. There was nothing unreasonable about being afraid of the dark, and he would say that out loud if anyone asked. In the dark you couldn’t see, and that at the very least increased your likelihood of tripping and falling. He didn’t want to eat asphalt in an abandoned tunnel, and that was entirely normal.
Alec took lead before long. His stride was shorter than either Finn or Bernard’s, but he had determination fueling him as he marched his way deeper into the tunnel. The walls were covered in graffiti from youths past, the usual obscenities, some declarations of love, a couple of smiley faces. Finn shivered at the sound of dry leaves skittering past them on the cool wind that blew through the tunnel.
“I think what we can see is that Vic was unhinged,” he muttered, putting the hand that wasn’t holding his flashlight deep into his jacket pocket.
“Yeah, well,” Alec said. “Who of us isn’t?”
“Excellent point,” Bernard said, as he shined his light on a spraypainted portrait of a really stupid looking bat.
Finn kept checking his watch as they walked, wanting to keep track of how long they were in there, like a diver timing how long they could hold their breath. “So are we gonna like, go all the way through? And then back again?”
“C’mon, dude,” Alec said, glancing back at him over his shoulder. “You know where we’re going.”
Finn sighed. Yeah, he did. And five minutes of walking later, they were there.
The halfway point of the tunnel. There had been some legitimate marker on the wall once, put there by the transportation commission or Eisenhower or whoever the fuck built these kinds of things. It’d faded, but generations of teens had marked it with spray paint, a line in red going all the way up the walls to nearly the ceiling, and across the road. Someone had helpfully painted the words ‘Halfway To Hell’ there as well.
This was where he’d been found. He’d been missing for a week, but a pair of bikers who’d wanted to joyride through the tunnel had found him, had found his body. Their friend Sam, age fifteen, alongside another boy from a county over, and an Amish girl, all three of them dead and laying in the road like they’d simply fainted there. There hadn’t been a mark on their bodies, no obvious cause of death for any of them.
Finn always had to believe there was an obvious cause, somewhere, but just one that they weren’t being told. Why should they expect some grieving parents to tell four weasley weirdo teenagers autopsy results, even if they’d been friends? Some sicko had done something awful, and they’d never know the details, and that was probably for the best. It was fucking awful, but it had happened.
Alec hadn’t been happy with that answer, though. Alec had found something else to blame. Alec stayed in the library until he got kicked off of the computers in there, researching cults and demons and started using words like ‘eldritch.’ Finn was frustrated with him at the time, but even then he could understand that everyone grieved differently. He just kept him from going on about it where Sam’s parents could hear.
Alec wanted to go in the tunnel back then, had wild ideas about spirits and entities that Finn didn’t even bother listening to at the time. It was complete fucking nonsense, but Alec had wanted it so badly that Finn got the others to agree. And they stood at the halfway point, him, Alec, Vic, and Bernard by another name, holding hands and chanting some bullshit Alec had found. What Finn remembered strongest, though, was saying his friend’s name in the dark again and again. In that moment, he wanted whatever Alec was doing to be real. He wanted it so badly, then, to have some part of it make any sense. To say goodbye.
If he’d felt something touch his hand that night, it was because he wanted to feel it. In the waking hours, he knew that. You could make almost anything happen if you wanted it badly enough. Not everything, but almost.
And here they were again, one man down. It wasn’t the same at all, and Alec had to know that, but they were here and very obviously going to do something stupid. Finn took a breath, turned his flashlight off and stuffed it awkwardly into his pocket, and reached out for Bernard’s hand. “C’mon,” he said. “Let’s get this over with.”
Alec’s eyes went wider than normal and he looked ridiculous lit by his flashlight, like he was ready to tell a spooky ghost story to some cub scouts. He nodded, though, and turned off his own flashlight. “Yeah, let’s go,” he said.
Bernard said, “One more time for old time’s sake,” and turned off his light as well.
It was so dark, then, darker than what deep space had to be. There were anomalies all full of color out there, and Finn was standing in a stupid tunnel in central Pennsylvania reaching out a hand into the dark to be held by absolutely nothing.
“You, uh, probably forgot the words,” Alec said. “So just follow my lead.” He started saying some nonsense, then, syllables that some guy with a blog in the early 2000s probably made up to give nerds the willies. He was in pitch blackness chanting fucking creepypasta, and he hated how it made his hand sweat where he held Bernard’s and made his heart race.
It felt good to say the names, though. Vic. Sam. It felt good to hear Alec’s voice in chorus with his own, to hear Bernard’s behind it. It did nothing, all this, but it was also doing something.
Finn lost track of how long they stayed in the dark, saying names and nonsense. Eventually Alec was the one to stop, though, and then there was just the sound of wind pushing through the tunnel.
“Did you feel anything?” he asked, voice soft.
“No,” Finn answered, in complete honesty. This time there’d been nothing. Not even an imaginary squeeze. “I didn’t.”
He heard Alec take in a breath. “Yeah,” he said. “I didn’t either.”
“Sometimes…” There was maybe something good to darkness like this, Finn realized. It could make you afraid, but it could make you brave, too. He reached to find Alec’s hand, taking it in his own and squeezing in a way no spirits ever had or could. “Sometimes people just die, Alec. Sometimes there isn’t anything more to it.”
Bernard let go of Finn’s other hand as Alec squeezed his back. “You just expect some things to repeat, you know?” Alec said, still gentle in the darkness. “At least I do. Like it would make more sense that way. It’d be less scary, if…” He sighed. “This was stupid. I’m sorry.”
“No,” Finn said, and found himself brushing his thumb over the soft part of Alec’s wrist. “Well, yeah, it was stupid. But I’m always glad to do something stupid with you.”
Alec laughed a little, and then there was a click and Finn winced as Bernard turned his flashlight back on. To his surprise, Alec didn’t let go of his hand. “Are we done here?” he said, doing the spooky campfire story face himself. “I feel like we’re done here.”
“Yeah,” Alec said. “We’re done.”
By unspoken mutual agreement, Finn and Alec kept their flashlights off, just following the beacon of Bernard out of the tunnel the way they came, a few steps behind. The darkness could be comforting sometimes, too, Finn realized. It was being alone in it that made it awful.
Alec still held his hand. They’d keep walking for another fifteen minutes and then be back in the world again, and then he’d let go. He’d let go and then in another day they’d both be on different planes and if Finn wanted more of him he’d have to get on fucking Facebook. He’d be gone again.
He stopped walking, and Alec made a little questioning sound as he stopped too. Finn breathed in slow. Things didn’t always have to stay the same; he didn’t have to keep repeating himself. Sometimes things could just happen.
“Hey,” he said, and his voice felt rough. Too much chanting.
“What is it?” Alec said, and Finn did what he’d wanted to do since they day he’d met him, when they were just kids. He placed a hand to the side of his face and bent down to kiss him.
“Holy shit,” Alec said softly when Finn drew away, and he let go of his hand. Finn started to draw back, to figure out what his out was going to be, but then that hand was wrapping around the back of his neck, pulling him down to kiss him hard and hungry.
“Did you know?” he whispered against Alec’s mouth between kisses. “Did you always know?”
“No,” Alec said, then, “Yeah.” He kissed Finn hard, toothy and aggressive like Finn had always hoped for. “I don’t know,” he said and Finn let out a whimper as Alec put his hand into his hair.
“Are you guys–” Bernard said from in front of them, and turned to shine his flashlight on them. “Oh, jesus fucking christ. Finally.” He turned back around to continue walking out of the tunnel. “Have fun, I’ll be waiting in the car.”
Alec breathed hard against Finn’s cheek as Bernard’s lightly slowly disappeared. He caught the last little glint of it in his eyes before he pushed Finn back to the wall, kissing him again.
Finn was the fucking dog who caught the car bumper, completely overwhelmed and unsure of what to do now that he finally had what he’d wanted for so long. He was in the fucking Sidwell tunnel and Alec was getting embarrassing, desparate noises out of him with each touch of his mouth on his neck. He was thirty years old and felt like he was going to come in his pants with the next strong breeze that went through the tunnel.
“You’re too tall,” Alec said into his ear, before biting at it. “You’ve always been too tall and it’s annoying.”
That steadied Finn, the little tease, made him feel like he knew who they were again. He was a scrawny asshole and Alec was a squirrelly little nerd, and that was the same as always, only now he was allowed to put his hands on the squirrelly little nerd’s surprisingly good body, to squeeze his ass and feel his breath catch. “You always complain about it but you never do anything about it,” he said, voice low.
Alec laughed against his cheek before kissing it. “You asked for it,” he said, and as Finn predicted, he turned his weight against him, bringing them both down to be in a confused, crumpled tangle of bodies directly on the goddamn roadway.
“I’m going to get tetanus,” Finn said before sucking in a sharp breath as Alec was on him, straddling his thighs. All of this felt safe in the dark, but he wanted to go for his flashlight now, to finally see for real what he’d spent over half his life desperately jerking it imagining.
“You’re gonna get…” He was breathing hard, and his words faltered. Finn could hear him fumbling for a moment and then Alec had turned his flashlight on, letting it rest on the ground beside him. It was just enough to see his face, those campfire shadows looking different now. “You’re gonna get me.”
“That’s what I want,” Finn said. No tease, no joke, just the truth. He pulled Alec down to kiss him again and groaned into his mouth as he couldn’t help but rub his erection up against Alec’s hip. Alec pressed down into him and jesus fucking christ, that was Alec’s dick, he was hard and it was because of him and he was feeling it and he had to look at the graffiti of a crudely drawn vagina on the wall and think about how he’d seen a dead body earlier that day to get any amount of control back.
Alec had a hand under his shirt, strong fingers over his skinny ribs, up to tease at one of his nipples. He wanted to know if Alec had been with guys before, but also he didn’t. Maybe this was the first time. Maybe he’d been waiting for the one.
The thought was so ridiculous that Finn couldn’t help but laugh at himself. “What?” Alec said, lifting his head from where he was sucking on Finn’s neck.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” he said, and squeezed at Alec’s ass again to get him to move against him. “I can’t believe this is happening like this.”
“Yeah, you never wanna believe anything,” Alec said, and kissed him again, so deep and sweet that Finn almost didn’t notice him undoing the button of his jeans.
“Fuck,” he whispered as his dick twitched hard at Alec’s faint touch as he unzipped him. “Jesus, fuck, Alec.”
Alec’s face was shadowed again, the soft fall of his hair blocking his face as he bent over Finn. “I did know, now that I think about it,” he said, as he wrapped his hand around Finn’s fucking dick and started stroking him. “I knew but I was scared of it. Why do you think I was such an asshole on prom night?”
Finn couldn’t think about prom night, or anything but how Alec was working him in long, steady strokes with a strong grip, better than anything he’d ever dreamed. He put a hand over his mouth and half over his face, almost wanting the darkness back. It was too much. He looked through his fingers and in the angled light of the flashlight he could see Alec’s wide, dark eyes looking at him, watching him, seeing him, and he bit into the meat of his palm as he couldn’t hold it back anymore. He came so hard he felt tears pricking at his eyes as he grabbed a fistful of Alec’s shirt, pulling him down to feel the heat of his body.
He could feel teeth marks in his palm as he drew it away from his mouth, and he became aware of the sound of shifting clothing, of a very familiar skin on skin sound. “Don’t you fucking dare,” he said roughly and pushed Alec’s hand off of his own dick. He let out a noise that had to sound deranged as he got his fingers around Alec’s dick, as he heard him choke on a swear at the first stroke.
Alec whined a little and bent down to kiss him, fucking into his fist. Finn intensely wanted him inside him in literally every possible way, but this was not the time for place for any of that. “I’m going to make you come,” he said, softly, like he was just realizing the very concept. Maybe he was.
“Yeah, no shit,” Alec said raggedly, and shoved his hand into Finn’s hair, gripping it tight enough to make Finn’s dick desperately want to feel as fifteen years old as his emotions did right then. Alec kissed him and kissed him until he started panting a little “yes, yes, fuck, yes, Finn” against his mouth as he worked him in short, tight strokes. “Fucking Finn, fucking…. fuck you,” he said, in that fond way that Finn knew meant he cared, just before letting out a rough shout as he came into Finn’s hand and spattering against his shirt.
It was nearly half an hour later when they finally made their way out of the tunnel. Bernard was in the back seat of the car, occupied with his phone. They let go of each other’s hands only to get in their respective sides of the car.
“Congratulations,” Bernard said without looking up from his phone. The two of them both started to say something, got caught interrupting each other, and then broke off in embarrassed, giddy laughter. Finn looked in the rearview mirror to see Bernard smiling at him. “I think they’d be happy,” he said.
“Yeah,” Alec said, and smiled over at Finn. That smile was even more gorgeous now that it didn’t make him ache. “I think they would.”
That night Finn slept on a different musty AirBNB pillow, with Alec stretched out over his chest and snoring softly into his neck. He dreamed of the tunnel again, but this time it was full of light, bright all the way, and he felt hands holding both of his as he walked through to the other side.
What a wonderfully poignant story! “Feral Amish teenager” is a new “cellar door” phrase for me, and I got a real sense of time and especially place from your writing. Always a treat to read your work!
Like many others, I highly enjoyed every moment of Bernard doing his best to wrangle his two old friends who DESPERATELY need to get over themselves and bone each other. Here’s to all three of them living their best lives, however that’s defined.
We use that Simpsons’ line in our household sometimes.
I really enjoyed this! It’s very gently spooky.
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