AND THEN HE WAS GONE
AND THEN HE WAS GONE
The tall, dark-haired boy in the grey tee-shirt and blue jeans walked with a soft step along the worn path, placing his sneakered feet carefully over twigs and fallen branches that could easily snap and give him away. The sun’s rays pierced the tall trees like a floodlight into a cathedral, but he felt affinity with neither church nor God. He was a stalker, a cat tracking its prey with practiced stealth. He could hear the lake now, sloshing softly against the bank, could smell its slight chemical scent in the air. A few yards further along the path, it came into full view, calm and blue. Spotting his bike lying on a grassy patch of ground, the sun's glint reflecting off the chrome, he paused in his step, quieted his loud breathing lest he be heard. Standing there, feeling the soft ground beneath his feet, the cold fury swelled inside him and his hands clenched into fists at his sides.
Beside the bike, his little brother sat contentedly on the lake bank. He was wearing a navy blue and white striped tee shirt, denim shorts. He’d thrown a line into the water and the tiny red bobber floated on its surface, waiting for its own prey. Not a care in the world, the bigger boy thought, glaring at his brother's back with his cold, angry eyes. Well, he would have a care. He damn well would.
Sensing a presence behind him, and already knowing who it was, David slowly turned his head, his stomach dropping into some netherworld at the sight of Rath's grim face. He tried to keep the fear from his own face, but he knew it betrayed him. It always did.
“Hey.” He attempted a smile at his older brother, but the fear had travelled to his throat, and his muscles wouldn’t let him. His brother saw the fear and David could see that it pleased him.
“I thought you were staying with Grandpa and Grandma for the weekend,” he croaked, his voice breaking on the word Grandma, turning thin and high, as if his voice were changing right there in that moment.
“Seems you were wrong, eh, shithead! Who told you you could take my freakin’ bike, eh?” He gave a kick to the small of his younger brother's back. He's not my real brother anyway, he thought, just the stinking half-brother he hated from the second he saw him swaddled in his mother's arms, that stupid baby face peeking from the blue blanket.
“He’s such a good baby,” his mother used to tell her friends. “Hardly ever cries.” He had fixed that quick enough, with a pinch to the arm or leg or by bending a baby finger. She caught him once, and that was the end of that. He could still feel the sting of her slap across his face. All because of this little prick.
David was getting to his feet warily, rubbing at the small of his back, a plea in his big blue eyes. “No ... no one. I’m sorry. I was going to bring it back, Rath. I just wanted to …”
“You think I care what you wanted, you little freak. You stole my bike.”
“No, I didn't, honest. I ‑I just borrowed it. I was just going to...”
The lake continued to lap at the shore, unconcerned, indifferent to the business of humans. High up in a tall pine, a crow cawed and a swollen bee hovered and buzzed nearby. Otherwise, all was silent.
The darkness spread across the older boy's brain like a black cloud crossing the moon's surface. Without warning, his hands shot out, giving David a hard shove, sending him backwards, arms flailing, eyes wide, into the water. He landed on his back with a loud splash, but he was already scrambling to his feet. Rath pushed him back down again, and, dropping to his knees, held him there. He grasped those small shoulders in his hands and pressed down, until the face that still held its babyness, was wavery and distorted under the water. A sense of power flowed through Rath as he glared into those eyes so big and blue and filled with panic. Even as bubbles rose and broke on the surface, Rath felt nothing but pure rage that fed his need for revenge for all that had been taken from him. When the terror gradually washed from David’s eyes, and at last he lay still, moving only when the water nudged him, like so much flotsam, Rath stood up. The dark fury at last drained off, an eerie calmness remained in its wake. Like the lancing of an abscess, though the core remained. Gasping for breath from the exertion, he wiped his hands on his jeans. The front of his tee shirt was wet, but no big deal; it would dry on the way home. Leaving his little brother behind, bobbing in the water, not unlike the bobber farther out on the lake, he drove the bike home and wheeled it back into the garage. Then he went inside the house, a smile on his handsome face. “Hey, ma.”
His mother was sitting at the kitchen table, sipping tea and reading one of her romance novels. He glimpsed the woman on the cover dressed in an old-fashioned gold-coloured gown. She folded down an upper corner of her page to save her place and smiled up at him. “You said you were going to grandma’s and grandpa’s.”
“I changed my mind.” He planted a kiss on her cheek. “It’s kinda boring over there. Besides, I would have missed my mom too much.”
She laughed. “You silly. You’re such a charmer.”
She had heard the squeak and rattle of the bike as her older son wheeled it into the garage. At first, she had thought it was David coming home. She was sure she'd seen him driving down the road this morning with his fishing gear tied on the bike. But she must be mistaken about that, she told herself. And promptly buried the memory.