There Are Only Rumors

By Kim-Dan Doan

The hills and farms had molded into a cluster of trees that grew so high that they blocked the sun. He looked up but could only see a few rays of light seeping through the branches. One caught his eye and he was forced to blink. He shook his head. When he opened them again the farms had returned. Cows chewed on the blades of grass. Each one seemed so content with their lives that he got a little jealous. But he realized he was really trying to cover up the dread sinking into his gut. It had been there since he killed the old woman.

He hadn’t meant to, of course. That’s what he would say if he were caught because it was the undeniable truth. Whether the police or the judge following his arrest would believe him was up to fate. He went up the front of the car to go to the bathroom. He rocked back and forth with the momentum of the train. It had thrown off his balance more than once. So more than once he had to grab the back of another seat or a nearby pole.

He passed the old woman on the way. She smiled at him. Her grin showed her yellowed missing teeth. He gave a small nod in return. That was their only interaction before she tripped on his leg. It wasn’t premeditated at all, he would say. It was a freak accident. They had to believe that. For his sake, and his family’s, they had to.

His stomach lurched as the train halted at its next stop. The robotic voice on the speakers announced that his destination would be in two more. He sidestepped the influx of new passengers. One wheeled a large suitcase behind her that rolled right over his foot. His bones crunched in his shoe but he covered his mouth to muffle his groan. The woman just kept heading to her reserved seat without a care in the world. Her shiny pink suitcase glimmered in the afternoon sun.

The automatic doors slid open and he felt a gust of fresh air. He almost got off the train right then and there. Freedom was inches from his face, tauntingly close. It appeared to him that they had zoomed past the oncoming storm and the sun was showing its face again. He inhaled, and then breathed out. He could almost taste the moisture lingering in the air around him. If he left now, he could be home by midnight. Leeds was, after all, only two hours away from Newcastle. So why not? The image of the old woman’s corpse crammed into the cupboard above the bathroom sink would be forever ingrained into his mind’s eye. He couldn’t leave even if he wanted to. Oh, how he wanted to.

A man bumped his shoulder as he headed to the bathroom himself.

“Sorry, mate,” he mumbled.

He reached out to grab the man but pulled back. She’s locked, he reminded himself. There’s no way he can open it. The doors to the train closed. A moment later, they were on the move. The robotic voice announced their destination once again. This time Leeds was just one stop away. He was in the homestretch. He pulled at the seams of his pants while he waited for the man to finish. Trying to calm himself, he remembered a funny movie he watched the night before. It didn’t seem so funny now. He rubbed his head.

With a flush of the toilet the man appeared in the doorway. The two locked eyes. The expression on the stranger’s face almost gave him a heart attack. His eyes peered into his soul like he had discovered his most terrible secret. Then the man burst out laughing.

“Off you go,” he said and gestured inside.

“Thanks,” he replied for some reason.

The bathroom was a huge oval equipped with strange strings that hung from the ceiling. He assumed it was to assist whomever the bathroom was designed for. His eyes flickered around the room until they landed on the cupboard. A bike lock inter weaved between the handles so that no one could open the cupboards by mistake. The packaging was still on the top of the trash. He bent over and grabbed the cardboard only to put it into his own bag.

Don’t leave obvious evidence. He nodded at himself in the mirror. The lock clattered against the wood in time with the train. He told himself that he should return to his seat, that he had got what he came for, but another, the more curious side of himself, urged him to open the cupboard. It wanted to glimpse at the horrible carnage he had caused—to feel the shiver run down his spine once again. He glanced at his reflection. Deep bags caressed the edges of his eyes. I look like a murderer.

He shuddered. Without thinking any further, he flipped the numbers to the code set in haste: 3-3-6. A small click signaled he had got the right number. Slowly, he unraveled the bike lock as if he didn’t actually want to see his mess. But he knew he did. Why else am I here? The evidence was just an excuse. What would he tell the judge about that?

He imagined standing before her in her black cloak fashioned from Death himself.

“So you think you’re the smartest one in the room?” she would inquire. The tone of her voice would do nothing to hide the hatred she had for him.

“No Your Honor.”

“Then why hide the evidence? The cardboard of the bike lock? Why not just get off at an earlier stop? All actions indicate criminal intent.”

“It was just an accident—a freak accident. She tripped—I—”

An old wrinkled hand flopped out of the closet. The nail polish was starting to chip off her fingers. Little flakes fluttered down as gravity tugged her hand. They rested on the sink. Acting on instinct, he brushed the particles into his hand and flushed them down the toilet. The old woman’s body was slumped in an awkward position against the left side. Her spine arched forward so that her chin touched her collarbone. This was no resting place for her.

From his pocket, he fished out the wallet he had found on her body. He flipped it open and reread her ID once more. Her name was Virginia. Virginia Wallace. She was born August 24th, 1931. He had killed an eighty-four year old woman from his hometown. He licked his lips. Organ donor, he read. He sighed and pocketed her card. Her head shifted to a new position that seemed even less uncomfortable than the last. Out of sympathy, he took off his sweatshirt, folded it into a neat ball, and then placed it under her head. He didn’t know why he did that. It just felt right.

A pound on the door made him jump.

“Other people want the toilet,” someone said through the door.

“Just a minute!” He called back. In haste, he re-wrapped the bike lock through the door handles. He somehow made the pretzel loops more intricate in a shorter amount of time. Perhaps it was the adrenaline or the fear of almost being caught. He couldn’t pinpoint what made him move faster but he was out the door in less than three minutes. The woman who had run over his toe stood waiting for him with her arms crossed. She shoved passed him without any recognition. When the door to the bathroom closed behind him, his shoulders returned to their natural slouch. The tension had a way of building small knots into his back. He supposed that’s why the criminals on TV were always so fidgety.

He made his way back to his seat. The man sitting next to him had vanished. Presumably he had gotten off at the previous stop. This reminded him that Leeds was only ten minutes away. His heart beat in the rhythm of the speeding train. He heard the wheels knock against the wooden planks of the railway. His phone rang in his pocket.

“Mum?”

“Are you almost home?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be there within the hour.”

“Okay; when you get in can you help your little brother with his math homework?”

“Arggg, Mum can’t Dad do it?”

The normality of the conversation drowned out the surreal events that had taken place. He was a boy again, just a boy.

“Stop complaining and no, he’s off to Chicago, remember?”

He scratched his head. That’s right. He’s not around this weekend. He got an idea that was so crazy it might actually work.

“Arthur? You there?”

“Yeah, sorry, Mum. Okay I’ll be back soon.”

“Thanks, love.”

His little brother, Darius, was terrible at math. He failed pre-algebra and was now taking it again on the good word of his teacher. If he didn’t pass this class, he’d have to take the year over again. Arthur rubbed his chin. He’d probably be done helping him by nine at the latest. Then he could sneak out with his dad’s lorry, drive to the train yard, break in and find this train. Once on the train he could retrieve the body and go bury Virginia in some place no one would ever suspect. The hair on his arms stood up even thinking about what he had to do.

He couldn’t leave a dead body in such a public place for long. Moving it was his only choice. He tried to convince himself despite the fear of being caught weighing him down. Finally, the robotic voice announced they had arrived at Leeds. He stood as his eyes scanned the sides of the car, searching for the train number. He’d need it later. Arthur read the bold numbers: 896557. He jotted it down on his phone so he wouldn’t forget then stepped off the train and onto the platform.

The open space managed to lift his spirits into the air as if all that was dragging him down to hell was the physical corpse locked in a cupboard. He smiled and actually felt happy. Then a security guard wearing a yellow jacket walked passed him and his smile turned upside down. When the man got far enough away, Arthur headed towards the exit gate. He allowed himself to be taken by the current of people going about their daily lives. All the faces melded together until he was inside an unidentifiable mob.

Once outside the train station he turned left. His home was twenty minutes away but just to be safe Arthur checked the time on his phone. It was half past six, which meant dinner should be cooling on the kitchen table even as his mouth was watering. A gust of wind reminded him that he had given up his sweatshirt, a decision he started to regret. Arthur crossed his arms over his stomach and hoped his body heat was enough. The storm they had flown past was catching up. Dark clouds eased their way across the sky.

Arthur sped up his pace. There was no chance he was going to be caught in this weather. Getting poured on now would be like getting kicked in the balls after getting pushed to the ground. To that end, Arthur crossed the street to where the little roofs protruded out from restaurants. They aligned themselves perfectly so that when he walked under them, the pellets of water bounced right off the fabric. All he had to do was figure out the route home that had the most shelter. He arrived at seven o’clock.

When he opened the door Darius was sitting in the armchair reading a comic book. The hallway lights flickered off and on as if they might die at any moment, however, his brother didn’t care. He was so engrossed in Batman that Arthur had a full five minutes of quiet before he was noticed.

“Finally,” said Darius. “I thought you’d been killed.”

“What?”

The nonchalant statement brought forth the image of Virginia still on the train, hopefully, still undiscovered. Darius stood up without answering Arthur’s question. He dog-eared the page in his comic, and then swung open the door to the kitchen. Arthur followed on his heels. The smell of his mother’s fried fish encased the entire room. Darius lifted the pan simmering on the stove. Their mother had lectured him until he learned to use both hands. Arthur switched off the stove and then washed his hands in the sink. The towel hanging from the oven had a family portrait stitching into it with their family name, Grey, scrawled underneath. It was a bit corny, but the towel was there more to show off his mother’s skill in stitching than anything else.

“Are you coming?” His brother’s high pitched; whiney voice went in one ear and out the other. Arthur turned to him. Darius already had a fork and knife in hand.

“You can start, you know.”

Darius wasted no time. He removed the black iron lid from the skillet. Oil still bubbled around the white fish but Darius didn’t care. He cut a healthy serving for himself, glanced up at his older brother, and then did the same for Arthur. At least he remembers his manners, Arthur thought as he sat next to Darius. They ate in silence. All the while Arthur listened to the grandfather clock in the corner of the room. It ticked away as the second hand pushed through the hour. The train will be at the yard by midnight. Darius will go to bed around ten and Mum won’t be back until eleven. That gives me one hour.

One hour to break in, find the body, get out, bury the body and not get caught was not a lot of time. Worst comes to worst, he figured, he could sneak back in if he left the window in his room open. Without realizing, Arthur nodded to himself. He saw his brother give him a weird look from the corner of his eye and his face flushed.

“You’re weird, no wonder girls don’t like you.”

Arthur pursed his lips but remained focused on his food. He didn’t want to tell him that he wasn’t into girls that way. His mum had done a perfect job, as usual. The tilapia’s skin was the right amount of crispy, the lemon drizzled on to perfection, and the seasoning was sprinkled so that it covered the entire surface. No effort was wasted. Yet his mum was not there to enjoy the feast. She’s never here, he thought. He eyed the portrait stitched into the hand towel. The happy family with arms wrapped around one another seemed to mock him.

“You know,” said Arthur without taking his eyes away, “Life’s not about girls.”

This time it was Darius who was startled by the turn of conversation. The creaking of his chair signaled as much to his older brother.

“Life’s about not getting involved in stupid fatal accidents,” he continued. “Keep that in mind, okay?”

“Umm… ‘kay, weirdo.”

Arthur’s chest heaved. He began clearing his plate, putting the knife and fork on top of his unfinished meal. He moved slower than he expected towards the other side of the room. It was like his legs were dragging in mud while hands were clawing at his ankles. He put down his plate after several moments of staring out the window above the kitchen sink. A dog scurried across their backyard after a wild squirrel. Its paws pounded the earth without restraint. A sliver of the overhanging moon caught on the white fur and a tear trailed Arthur’s cheek. He brushed it away with the arm of his shirt before Darius saw. Something inside told him that this might be his last chance of leading a normal life. Virginia Wallace was safe in a cupboard on a train that carried thousands of passengers every day. He walked out of the kitchen, his brother calling after him.

With his left hand clenched at his side, stole the keys to his father’s lorry and started the car. Darius appeared on the concrete steps that led to the garage. Arthur rolled down the driver side window as the garage door opened behind him.

“Remember what I said. Oh, also pay attention in class.”

Arthur reversed out before his brother could get a word in edgewise. It’s better this way, in case… he didn’t dare to finish the thought. He curved the car to the left in a practiced maneuver. The tires skidded on the ground. Just like that, he was off to the train depot. Because he skipped out on helping his brother, he had a bit more time to stake out the place. So he did a couple laps around the yard and discovered that there was an unguarded fence in the back. The shadows would be enough to mask anyone, however, the metal probably kept most from climbing over. He parked a few streets away to consider his options while keeping a close eye on the clock.

He leaned back in his chair. Inside the glove compartment was a pair of gardening scissors. Thankful that his father had yet to return them to his friend, Arthur weighed the blades in his hands. They were sharp enough to cut just about anything. At least, he hoped they were, because at this time of night he wasn’t sure where to get a pair that would be. He caressed the handle with his thumb.

The clock on the dashboard flipped to 3 A.M. By this time, the train was in the depot. Arthur pried his eyes open by sheer willpower. The night outside was still. Only the sound of crickets chirping in the distance was heard and that was if he was paying close attention. He opened the door to step out onto the sidewalk. Spinning around, he made sure there was no else nearby. He was alone. The driver’s side shut with a soft click. Arthur made his way to the fence. His mind was eerily calm for someone who was about to commit a felony. He was so attentive to the task at hand that he didn’t bother reflecting on what that meant about his potential for a criminal career.

There was a time and a place for his dry humor, as his mom used to say. He arrived unceremoniously. His whole body pricked with needles. He shook his legs just to make sure they were still there. He pinched himself in case he was dreaming. How simple the solution if he was. But he wasn’t. Arthur crouched into the shadows as a security guard made his rounds. He held a flashlight in one hand and scanned the perimeter of the train depot. Arthur recognized the tune he was whistling. It was the same song the person next to him had blasted through his headphones.

When the man passed, Arthur approached but waited a moment before he began cutting. He still heard the footsteps of the guard. To be safe, he wanted to be 100% he wouldn’t get caught. So he paused there until the man’s hums faded into the darkness along with his light.

The metal was tough. The fence was engineered into small pentagons with each coil wrapped numerous times to create a thick defense. Arthur spent an hour alone there, crouched in the mud, his knees shivering, his hands blistered from the coarse handles of the scissors. But he did it and by the time he was on the other side, the security guard had returned. His whistling signaled his arrival seconds before his round figure stepped through the mist of the early morning. Arthur stayed low and managed to move behind a train before being spotted but the man discovered his entrance. Arthur peaked around the edge. The security guard was radioing one of his colleagues. Pretty soon, this whole place was going to be swarming with unwanted attention. He bit his lip. His heart palpitated in his chest.

With shaky palms, he gripped the scissors. His message has to be intercepted; it’s the only way. Arthur poked his head around the corner again. The security guard started to search the field. His eyes fell on the muddy footsteps leading straight to his hiding spot. He’d be on him soon enough. Arthur rounded the train to the other side as the man followed the footsteps. As the security guard discovered where he was a moment ago, Arthur rushed up behind him and using all the force he could muster, he knocked him on the head. His body collapsed onto the ground with a loud thud. Arthur covered his mouth. He shouldn’t have been surprised by the outcome of his actions. Yet he was all the same.

“Shit,” he whispered.

He rolled the man over with effort. “Sorry Joe… Wallace.” Arthur’s shoulders dropped. There’s no relation. No way. He snagged the name tag from the blue blazer. The fabric tore off, leaving a slash on the man’s chest. Arthur clenched the plaque in his palm.

“Your family fucks everything up!” he hissed. He considered kicking him, almost raised his foot to do so, but stopped himself before building momentum. Focus. He pulled out his phone and scowled through until he found the train number where he had stored Virginia Wallace. 896557. Arthur scanned the environment.

The train depot was designed as a large grid so it was convenient to move cars around at will. Some sections were more crowded than others with trains that looked like they had been out of use for a while. Perhaps they were faulty or simply run down; he didn’t care. Arthur walked through the maze of machinery with the same respect he’d have if he was in a graveyard. The tips of his fingers tickled the cold metal of a nearby car. He stopped short of the far entrance to glance up at the number above the door. He shook his head when he realized it was not his. This is going to take forever, he complained to himself. He had dug his grave though, as the saying went. He searched for what felt like hours but eventually he came across a car like any other in the field except for the fact that it held a dead body inside. Arthur stood in awe of the train. In the daytime, they seemed like nothing more than machines created to help humans move over the land, at night, they loomed over people and held an air of monstrosity and hatred for their benevolent gods. Or maybe Arthur was just scared to go any further. Whatever the case, he stared at the red numbers now hidden in shadow.

896557.

Arthur looked over his shoulders. He was alone. Resigned to his fate, he once again gripped the handles of the gardening scissors and smashed through the glass on the doors. It broke surprisingly easily. Fragments tumbled down onto the floor. Arthur tossed the scissors through to the other side and then heaved himself up and over. He had to turn sideways to fit, but doing so made him lose his balance, so he collapsed onto the broken glass with a groan. He got up so fast that all the blood rushed to his head, giving him a small blackout. He stumbled back into a passenger chair. His hand had reached out to grab something for support but it was still flailing in the air by the time he regained his senses. He was in, that was all that mattered.

Arthur focused on heading toward the bathroom. With the scissors in hand, he prepared himself for the hard part. That was when he realized he had forgotten the carpet from his room. How was he supposed to get the body out unnoticed now? Arthur scratched the back of his head. Then a small chuckle escaped his lips. It’s not like I haven’t been noticed already. Just add it to the tab. The judge would.

The bathroom doors pushed open with some effort but he was in reach of his goal so he would endure any amount of pain. His fingers dialed through the bike lock until he heard a soft click. He took a step back to reveal the corpse of Virginia Wallace as the lock clattered onto the ground. A gasp emitted from someone behind him. Arthur spun on his heels to find Joe Wallace wide-eyed.

“Mom?”

Arthur inched forward, but Joe was too shocked not to react. The security guard drew his firearm from his hip. He didn’t hesitate to cock the gun. His arms trembled from the weight of a loaded weapon. Arthur eyed the end of the barrel, expecting a small bullet to shoot out at any moment. His heart rate increased the longer he stared until he forced himself to make eye contact with the man he’d knocked out.

“What did you do?”

Arthur raised his hands in defense. “It was an accident, she tripped—“ he didn’t bother to continue, knowing that Joe wouldn’t understand even if he were calm enough to comprehend. At this point, he was too jacked up on adrenaline to understand anything.

“What did you do?” he asked again, emphasizing the last word as if he were already proven guilty in court. But If I’m already seen as guilty, then he should know what I did, and he doesn’t, which means I can use that to my advantage.

“She tripped,” he tried once more, “She tripped on my leg as I was coming out of the bathroom.”

“So you killed her?!”

“No! Her head hit the sink, I swear. I tried to stop the bleeding but—but I didn’t react fast enough.” Joe’s eyes flickered over Arthur’s shoulder at his mom. Arthur saw his chance to disarm him using a move he saw on TV. In the next second, the situation reversed, just like the barrel of the gun.

“Okay, okay, it was an accident; so why did you come back?”

“I’m trying to give her a proper burial. I’m not a killer, you know. I’m just some college student home for vacation. None of this was supposed to happen.”

“A proper burial? You could’ve left an anonymous tip.”

Arthur paused. He was right. Fuck! He screamed inside his head. He hoped his inner rage didn’t show. He controlled his breathing even though he was sure it telegraphed his nervousness. Arthur watched the security guard who was calmer than before despite the threat of death inches away from his face.

“So what now? You’re going to kill me too?” The man’s hands went a little higher above his head. His neck slouched downwards in cowardice.

“No,” said Arthur. “You’re going to help me, though.”

Joe raised his head. Arthur stepped aside and motioned for Joe to move. He walked to the bathroom where Virginia’s body’s odor was beginning to permeate. Arthur allowed Joe to process the sight of his dead mother. Her grey hair had fallen from the neat bun it was in earlier this morning so it concealed her face, but her posture was more or less the same; it was cramped and uncomfortable. Guilt knotted itself into Arthur’s gut.

“I know a spot not far from here. It’s on a hill that overlooks a field of flowers. A few miles on the road, we’ll pass a fallen tree. We’ll park my dad’s lorry there and walk the rest of the way.” That was not a question and luckily, Joe was smart enough to get that much. Joe was stronger than Arthur thought. He cradled his mom in his arms like a newborn baby. Her head rested against his chest as more blood seeped from the open wound but Joe ignored it.“I have you now,” he said in a low voice. Arthur pretended not to hear it. Arthur and Joe made their way back to the hole in the fence all while keeping Joe at gunpoint. The big man was slow but sure footed, a stark contrast to Arthur’s nervous twitches. Because he didn’t have any hands, Joe carried his flashlight in his mouth the entire time, never switching it off. Only when they reached the pick-up truck and he placed his mother down as gently as possible, did he spit it into his palm and turn it off. It was almost quirky, Arthur noted, how much he cared for the flashlight. Joe even took the time to rub off the spit with a handful of his shirt. But Arthur wasn’t curious enough to ask. Besides, he thought, it’s not like we’re friends. Who, after all, could become friends after a situation as messed up as this one? The rhetorical question lingered in his thoughts as they hiked up the hill that overlooked the field of flowers.

“Oh,” Arthur realized as Joe laid his mother down on the Earth, “I forgot the shovel.”

“You’re an idiot.”

Arthur stood while Joe sat there by Virginia Wallace. The two of them waited for the sun to rise over the field, however, it never did. For the both of them were bonded by life, that is, the life that was taken from Joe’s mother. And of what that long night entailed, there are only rumors.


(Bio: Kim is a Vietnamese-American writer who lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He’s been published in Mag 20/20, Ombak Magazine, and holds a BA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. You can find out more about him on his website:
https://www.kimdandoan.com/ )

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