Today’s Friday Flash Fics stymied me for a bit, but then I noticed the train behind the man (because noticing the man was way, way easier), and the train thing made me consider a location, and from there, “Run” happened.
Don’t think, just run. Don’t think, just run. Erwin chanted the words to himself, each step landing on one of the railway ties of the old train bridge—more importantly, missing the gaps between them—and tried not to change his pace even slightly.
Behind him, he could hear the calls of the three guys who’d caught him on his way home. He didn’t look, but given how loud they were, how close they were, it sounded like they were starting across the bridge, too.
Damn. He’d hoped this would have done it. It was why he’d jagged off the road to the railway in the first place, why he’d run away from what passed for downtown in this stupid city. The old railway bridge was daunting. Tall, old, and over a very long drop with a river below, you crossed it carefully, giving it respect.
Or at least, you did if you didn’t have three homophobic assholes chasing you.
Don’t think, just run. His feet landed on the wood perfectly, and he crossed the half-way point. On the other side, he’d have less options, but he could get one hell of a head start on them again, increase the distance, maybe.
Maybe it would be enough to finally convince them to just let him run away.
Erwin was half-way between the middle of the bridge and the end when he heard the train.
The sound didn’t connect, not at first. The railway he was running on—and the bridge in particular—weren’t used anymore, so no part of his brain was paying attention on that level, so it wasn’t until the second blast of the train’s horn, much closer than before, that Erwin’s head caught up to his ears and thought, alarmingly: Dude? There’s a train.
It almost made him miss his step. The brief stutter of his feet would have sent him sprawling (at best) but he recovered just in time and his third or fourth step landed right in the middle of the railway tie again.
Another blast of noise from a train. Behind him.
He wanted to turn and look, but he didn’t dare. He was close enough to the end of the bridge now, and more importantly, far enough away from the middle that there’d be rock below him, not river, so he kept his gaze straight ahead.
Don’t think, just run.
He could hear the men behind him cursing and swearing now. He didn’t get the exact words—it didn’t sound like they were speaking English—but the fury and fear were clear enough.
When he cleared the bridge, he couldn’t help himself. He looked.
Erwin had intended to just glance back, see where the train was, and then bolt, but as soon as he’d seen it, he was rooted to the spot. It was…wrong.
It looked sort of like an old steam engine, though it was bright orange, and it was pulling a mis-match of all sorts of cars—a white boxcar followed the engine, but an old out-of-date subway car followed that, and then behind it was an empty coal cart, and behind that was a cart made of wood, and beyond that a sleek silver passenger car that looked like something out of the 70’s. He couldn’t see more from this angle, only that the train was starting to cross the bridge, and the three men chasing him couldn’t possibly make it in time. They were almost at the middle.
Erwin couldn’t look away. The engine had a cow-catcher, but at the speed it was going…
“God,” he said, while the train ate the remaining distance.
At the last second, each of the three men who’d been chasing him jumped from the bridge. They were at the half-way point by then, over the river. Erwin couldn’t see what happened, but he swore and closed his eyes. It was a really long drop, water or no.
The train let out a cloud of steam, shrieking through one of the stacks, and a metal screech of breaks followed, loud enough to make Erwin press his hands to his ears.
He stepped back as the train crossed the other half of the bridge, slowing and slowing, and finally coming to a stop in front of him, the long string of random cars lining across the bridge and beyond.
It struck Erwin then the train hadn’t tried to stop on the bridge at all.
The door to the engine opened, and a man jumped down, seemingly unfazed by the distance he just covered.
The man’s voice—nice accent, British?—rumbled in a way Erwin could almost feel in his chest, and he stared in wonder up at the man, who was tall and broad and should probably be terrifying, but wasn’t.
He wore a white vest and jeans and suspenders, which left his arms and shoulders bare—both of which were covered by inked patterns Erwin couldn’t quite make out. He had an impeccably groomed beard, too, thick eyebrows, and—oh, yes—a baseball bat casually gripped in one hand, resting against his shoulder.
I should be terrified, Erwin thought. He wasn’t.
The man eyed Erwin, who still hadn’t said a word, and the intensity in the man’s gaze finally cracked the odd calm Erwin was feeling.
“Sorry,” Erwin said. “I just… I didn’t expect…” He gestured to the man, the train, the bridge. “This.”
The man finally smiled and wow, now Erwin wasn’t just not afraid, he was very, very unafraid and that was probably not going to fly. He’d just dodged three homophobes, he certainly didn’t need to add a potential fourth. He cleared his throat.
“I didn’t think anyone used these tracks,” he said. “They were chasing me.” Was he babbling? It felt like he was babbling.
“We should get you out of here,” the man said.
Wait. What? “Pardon?” Erwin said.
“They’re not going to give up that easily. I’m not sure who sent them, but given how you ran back there, we won’t need to protect you for long. I think you’re coming in to your own.” He smiled again, and again, it sure wasn’t terrifying.
Except, of course, the man was making no sense whatsoever.
“You lost me,” Erwin said.
The smile dimmed. “You don’t know what I’m talking about,” he said. It wasn’t a question.
“That.” Erwin nodded.
There was a screech from behind them. It carried even over the various whooshing and rumbling noises of the idle engine, and it was markedly not a good sound. All the hair on Erwin’s arms stood up on edge, and he took a physical step back.
Run, his brain suggested. Run and keep running.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” the man said, sounding more annoyed than anything else. “What are the chances they were Ornithes Areioi?” He scowled.
“Orni…?” Erwin shook his head.
“Think bird demon.” He swung the baseball bat out in front of him, and it started glowing. It was turning red with heat, and the ink up and down the man’s arms and shoulders and chest was now moving on his skin.
Erwin took a step back.
“Sorry to Hagrid you,” the man said, smiling again. “But you’re a reborn. I’m a reborn. Those are bird demons—they don’t like us, me especially, but their boss has history with me, it’s a whole thing—and it’s probably best if we get back on my train and get out of here.”
“Reborn,” Erwin said. “I don’t…” Understand? Believe? Have the foggiest idea what’s happening?
“I’m Stu. And I’m Hephaestus. Or I was, sort of. It’s… complicated. I build stuff. Anyway, my train will get us out of here. It can be on any track at any time.”
There was another round of screeches from below, but not as far below as before.
The man climbed back up onto the engine, then turned and held out his free hand.
Erwin took it.
“Ever been to England?” the big man asked, pulling him up.
Erwin shook his head.
“Lots of train tracks there. That’ll give us time to talk. Any ideas which god runs down your bloodline?”
Erwin just stared.
“Ah well,” Stu said. “We’ll figure it out.” He brought Erwin into the engine room, and Erwin eyed the chamber where he figured you were supposed to put coal. Except there was no coal in there, there was a bird. A bird made entirely of fire. It eyed him and ruffled its wings a bit. Sparks flew.
“That’s…” Erwin said, pointing.
There was another series of screeches. Much, much closer.
“You’re going to want to grab on,” Stu said. He’d put his baseball bat away somewhere.
Erwin looked around. The engine room was mostly bare. “To what?”
Stu wrapped one arm around Erwin and tugged him in close. Reflexively, Erwin grabbed on to him. He felt as solid as he looked.
“Okay?” Stu said.
“Yeah,” Erwin squeaked. “I mean, yes. This is good. I mean…”
Grinning, Stu yanked on a lever, and the train leapt into motion, cutting off Erwin’s babble by pressing him bodily into Stu, which was also good.
“Next stop England,” Stu said.
Outside, the world itself began to blur.
Don’t think, Erwin thought, hanging on the big man. Just run.