Ryker opened the door looking curious, annoyed and scared all at once.
When I asked one of the football teammates where his dorm was they looked at me weird and gave an unusual response.
“You mean Pied Piper?” they ask.
“Who? He told me his name was Ryker,” I reply.
“Everyone calls him Pied Piper though,” they respond.
“Why?” I ask.
“He hears things,” they reply.
Hartley Rathaway also known as Pied Piper was from the DC Comics series. But he could control sound as well as hear things.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“He hears songs or music coming from people,” they explain. “He’s crazy. His father wanted to put him into a mental institution after his mother died but they assessed him and said he posed no threat to himself or others so he sent him here to get away from him.”
I was confused, was this why he’d said people weren’t supposed to be nice to him because people thought he was crazy?
Ryker looked me up down through his thick brown framed glasses. Now that I thought about it, he did look like a young Hartley Rathaway. His eyes were green though instead of blue.
“What do you want?” he asks throwing up whatever tough exterior he used around people who didn’t understand.
I wanted to understand though. I’d been the outcast at my last school as the only gay guy on the football team, it would probably be the same here, considering it was a private school, I didn’t even know if they had a GSA, everyone was probably too focussed on their studies, and what others would think to be themselves.
“What do they mean when they say you hear music coming from people?” I question.
His demeanor seemed to change, he grabbed my shoulder and dragged me inside the room and slammed the door shut. He released me and locked the door. He stood on the balls of his feet to see back out the peephole.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Quiet, somebody’s coming,” he replies.
“How do you know?” I ask.
He looks back at me like, really?
“Music coming from people ring a bell?” he mutters.
He backs away from the door and it rattles.
“What’s a guy gotta do to get some peace around here?” he curses.
“What do they want?” I ask.
“Entertainment,” he spat.
“Video games, a gym, a pool, money, clubs, and acres of school land and they still need to bully me,” he continues.
The shaking of the door becomes scratching, after about ten minutes it goes away.
“They’re gone,” he whispers finally.
I don’t question how he knows this time.
“So, people just make music to you?” I question.
“I don’t need to be criticized by you,” he replies.
“I’m not criticizing you. I’m trying to understand,” I reply.
He sits down on his bed and takes his glasses off rubbing his eyes.
“I understand it about as much as you do. It’s just always been there. Every person has two songs, a life and a death one. At birth, the life ones are the loudest, I know from being around younger kids, and as you age your life song gets quieter and quieter until you’re near death and all you can hear is the death one,” he explains. “I don’t know why I can hear them.”
“So, it’s not like you have super sensitive hearing and can hear a person’s heartbeat, it’s like actual music, like the piano or drums or a guitar?” I continue.
“Yes, everyone’s is different, some sound like an orchestra, some a rock song, some a country song,” he replies.
“So, if you could hear them coming from meters away, how did I scare you in the music room earlier?” I ask.
He seems to hesitate about this.
“I was distracted playing the piano,” he replies.
Something is off.
“If you say so,” I reply.
“I saw you earlier today, with headphones on is that so you can’t hear the songs?” I ask.
“It hurts my ears if I listen to too many songs for too long,” he replies.
He puts his glasses back on and looks up at me.
“Why do you care?” he asks finally.
I hesitate this time.
“I know what it’s like to be the outcast. People didn’t particularly like me at my last school,” I reply.
“Why? You play football, you’re a jock. You’re at least decent looking enough to get girls. The whole nine yards,” he replies.
I lean against the wall by the door and cross my arms. They had said he was gay but that might have just been another rumor added to all the other shit flying around about him.
“It’s hard to get the girls when you don’t want them to begin with,” I comment.
I spot a pin sitting on his bedside table behind his lamp, a bisexual pin with blue, purple, and pink. I could see why he disliked that rumor now, too. He wasn’t it, maybe he felt like he was being erased.
He just nods, “I guess that puts a downer on your reputation when people find out.”
“My teammates didn’t exactly like me in their locker room despite the fact that I didn't like any of them at all,” I continue.
“Never been a big fan of sports, wasn’t really my thing,” he replies.
“No, you obviously have a talent for music,” I reply.
“Sometimes, I wish I didn’t. Sometimes, I’d rather be deaf,” he replies quietly. “Anything would be better than being called crazy.”
“What about your parents?” I wanted to see what was true.
“My mother died when I was ten, her death song haunts me. They both thought I was crazy, they took me to see so many doctors, psychologists, you name it. They all said I was normal, no brain abnormalities, tumors, nothing. My father tried to admit me to a mental institution but with overcrowding and no real threat they wouldn’t take me, so he sent me here so he didn’t have to deal with me, and my craziness,” he answers.
“You’re their kid, they didn’t try to understand it at all?” I ask.
“How do you understand what you can’t explain?” he questions in reply.
Life had really done a number on Ryker.
“You wanna go somewhere?” I ask.
“We not supposed leave campus during the week,” he replies.
“Who’s gonna know? Are you going to tell them?” I ask.
“How are we going to get out when there are fences?” he asks.
“Come on,” I reply beckoning him.
I stand up straight and open the door. The hall was lit by yellow light, making the white walls also a pale yellow. He grabbed his sweater off the back of the door and followed me, I noticed he also had a chocolate bar from his desk.
“We should get you some real food while we’re out,” I comment.
“What are you? One of the teachers?” he comments.
“It’s probably why you’re so short,” I joke harmlessly.
He doesn’t say anything.
“It’s just a joke,” I reply, nervously worried I’ve offended him. “Come on, I’m not that tall, either.”
I was only 5’10”.
“Are we going?” he questions instead.
“Yeah, I guess,” I reply leading the way down the hall to the staircases that have a door out to each floor. We go all the way to the bottom and out the exit door. It’s dark outside now at 7:00 pm. I lead him to the back of the school property. Here people, boys, of course, have dug under the fence behind some bushes. The guys told me about it. I guess in a way they were being welcoming, I was just planning ways to escape and have fun if things went south and they found out rather than thinking of joining them for late-night hang-outs.
“Not even here a week and you know how to break out of prison already? It’s like the bullies were caging me here by not telling me about this,” he comments.
I grin, I lay down and wiggle myself under the fence, careful not to get myself caught on the pegs that are supposed to be holding the fence in the ground. Ryker doesn’t have as much trouble being shorter and thinner than me.
I offer him a hand, he takes it and I help him up. He dusts himself off before looking up at me.
“Where are we off to?” he asks.
I had explored the town a bit before settling into my dorm on the day my parents drove me down here. I guess I had to take him somewhere with fewer people so his ears didn’t hurt.
“Follow me,” I reply.
I lead him down the streets sticking to the street-lit areas for safety purposes. The streets are somewhat empty due to the hour and the population of the town. I still found a café with only three employees working and no customers at this hour. I led Ryker in and took a seat at the back of the café. One of the waitresses brings over the menus.
“My name is Alice, I’ll be your waitress tonight. What would you like to drink?” she introduces herself and asks.
“A coke please,” I reply.
I look over at Ryker. Ryker seems distracted, he must hear her songs.
“And, umm…” I cycle through the list of sodas cafés normally had. “A Root Beer for him.”
“Okay, I’ll be back to take your order in a few minutes,” she replies, smiles politely, and walks back towards the kitchen.
He sighs and looks out the window into the street, darkness, and street lamps.
“What?” I ask cautiously.
He just shakes his head and looks back at the menu. After a while, he sets it aside and seems to be off in his own world listening to who’s ever song he can hear as if he can’t ignore it. He didn’t seem this bothered by my song when we were in his room earlier.
“What do you hear?” I ask him.
He rubs the back of his neck.
“Her’s is just a little loud,” he replies.
I glance up and over at the waitress.
“Her death song?” I ask quietly.
“Do you want to get the food to go?” I ask.
The waitress didn’t look older than twenty-five, if her death song was a little loud did that mean her death was coming in the next like twenty years or something, I highly doubted Ryker could predict deaths accurately based on the volume of the songs he heard. But he had heard his mother's and thought he could have warned her.
Ryker watched her, as if interested.
“Yeah,” he finally replies.
“What do you want?” I ask.
He flips the menu around so it’s the right way up to me and points.
“I’ll be outside,” he replies.
I watch him get up and go out the front door and stand in the cool night air, he takes a breath and closes his eyes. I get up and go up to the counter.
“Can we actually get it to go?” I ask the waitress.
“Of course,” she replies. “What’s up with your friend?”
“He’s stressed, he has a test tomorrow,” I lie.
I order our food and she puts it into a bag and hands me the two drink cups filled with coke and root beer. I carry them out to Ryker, he takes my drink so my hands aren’t full.
We start walking down the sidewalk and find a park to sit in. We sit on top of a picnic table and look up at the moon. When I’m done eating, I lay horizontal on the table, Ryker is sitting beside my legs.
“How long do you think she has?” I ask looking up at the moon.
“She could have a month, she could have twenty years, I just know her death song is just louder than what someone her age song normally is,” he replies, the moon glinting off his glasses.
“Have you ever tried warning somebody?” I ask.
He shakes his head, “If I did they’d just think I was crazy or threatening them,” he answers.
“Do you have songs?” I ask.
He shakes his head again. “I’m silent.”
“Have you ever met anyone else who was silent and alive?” I ask.
He hesitates and glances at me before shaking his head.
I sit up, my hand brushes his but I swing my feet off the table and move to sit behind him before he says anything. He sighs and leans gently back against my back. We sit back to back, staring up at the sky for a while in silence. Or at least it’s silence for me, I’m not sure what my songs sound like to Ryker.
At nine, we start walking back towards the school, we slide ourselves under the fence and walk back to the dorms.
We stand on the staircase that leads out to the fifth floor halfway between my room and his. His being on the seventh and mine on the third.
“Thank you,” Ryker states seeming slightly embarrassed. “I guess it was fun.”
“You’re welcome, if you ever want to hang out just come find me. I’m in room 324, I might be at football practice if I make the team, and my homeroom is 289,” I reply.
“Goodnight, Porter,” he replies taking a step towards the stairs.
I didn’t understand what it was about Ryker other than his strange power that made me feel drawn to him.
“Goodnight, Ryker,” I replieturning to go back down the two flights of stairs to my own room.