Chapter 1

He moved behind the huge Tree, leaning against its ancient trunk, knowing its size would hide him from view, as he tried to catch his breath. Cocking his head to one side, he tried to listen, to try and figure out if he had given them the slip or not. His heart was pounding so hard, it felt like it would explode, as he struggled to catch his breath.

TJ felt the pain in his chest, as he leaned against the warm bark of the tree. He had been on the run for a week now. He really thought they had given up, until this morning, when he had spotted the group of men at the clearing to the Old Hastings's farm. Man it had shaken him, to see all those State Troopers, the dogs, and all the other's out there, obviously holding rifles.

Shit, you would think he was some mass murderer the way they were out there, so many of them, all trying to nab him. He sucked in more air, trying to get his chest to stop heaving, to get his heart to stop racing, but he was finding it harder. Course not eating for a few days wasn't exactly helping. He felt weak from the lack of food, and the only liquid he had, was from the stream he had managed to use to hopefully throw the dogs off his scent.

No way was he going to give up either, no matter how hard it was. They were going to have to catch him first, and he wasn't going to make it easy. He had lived in the country all his life, he knew the tricks, and so far, had managed to elude the Cops and others. Wasn't easy, and food was a problem. TJ felt the hunger pangs in his stomach, as he tried to let his body relax, to horde what little strength he had left.

The way they were all after him, made him tense up, as the wind blew through the dense overhang of trees. He smiled, as he wondered what it was that had so many after his scrawny hide? Okay, so he was noted for being a hard case, but hell, it wasn't like he had an easy childhood. Both of his parents had been hard working, and weren't what you would call educated folk either.

He helped work the farm ever since he could remember, and sure, he had gotten into trouble as a kid. Unlike the kids in town, he never had good lawyers, so he had done time in the Youth Authority. He had learned a lot there, which maybe wasn't socially accepted, though it was handy in just plain surviving, but it wasn't like he was the scholarly type. School and him, well it was like oil and water, it just never mixed.

Now here he was, just a few months shy of being twenty, and the whole damn County was after his hide, and for what? He hadn't killed anyone, didn't even steal a nickel, and as far as he could figure, it was simply because he had been out scavenging near Miller's Pond. Okay so it was private land, not like he was living there. All he had done was drop a line in the pond, trying to hook some fish for dinner.

When some rent a cop had come out of the far woods, and yelled him, he had left. Hell he had even left his rod at the edge of the pond, so what was the big deal? Yet the guy had chased him, and he had hidden out in the big barn, until he had long gone. So there was a group of guys yakking near the barn, wasn't like he had been able to make out what they were saying.

Yet when he had been just about to make his way into the woods, another rent a cop had spotted him, yelled, and since then he had been on the run. He didn't get it, and now the real Cops were after him too. Like what the fuck? TJ let himself slide down, to rest his back against the trunk, while stretching his legs out in front of him. He felt the pain in his chest ease a bit, as he tried to figure out, why the whole world was suddenly after him.

He had used Miller's pond many times, for fishing, for just bathing too. Ever since the Twister had come through a few years back, taking his parents, and his whole life, he had managed by foraging in the woods, by taking odd jobs from the few in town that would give him any work. Not like the guys up at the big house that owned the land Miller's pond was on, ever did, but hell, they had lots. So he took a fish or two, or managed to nail a rabbit or something.

Wasn't like he was taking one of their cows or pigs, or even chickens for that matter. Still, it was odd, to have so many rent a cops on the place. Normally there were a couple of old geezers, who walked around, but that night a week ago, it was like the place was crawling with them. Didn't make much sense, and then the guys nattering by the barn. They weren't talking English, least not that he could understand, still, he didn't do dick. So what was their problem, and how did they get the local troopers after him too?

Even old Roy the Sheriff and his two deputies, Ben and Bobby Rae where at Miller's place, and they knew him. They knew he was no trouble, but there they had been, as big as life, toting their shotguns in the air. It was like he was Osama, the way they were all packing. No way was he going to just saunter in, give himself up. It just didn't feel right, and he had a knack for knowing that stuff.

He missed the folks, but while he never had much, they did their best for him. Hell his Dad never once whipped his ass, though he was certain he wanted to a few times. Like that time he had caught him messing with the neighbours outhouse, or when he had caught him and Sean jerking off together by the town dump.

Man his dad had been mad, but he never once hit him, and he owed his skills in the woods to the man. Every Sunday, while his mother went to Church, he and his dad went into the woods, where he was taught how to survive, how to know the signs. Religion and his dad never mixed, but he never knew why. All he knew was that Sundays were always the best times.

His dad would get him up, and together they would trudge a few miles to come to these woods, the one he was in now, hiding from the law. Even then, his father knew about him, but never once cussed him out, or raised his hand to him. He talked about it, once, but then his dad was never one for lots of words. He would say his piece, and that would be it. His mother wasn't any different, just a bit more gentle about the words she used.

If he could just get back to his squat, maybe he could get his gear, and enough to make it out of the County. Yet, he figured the risk was too high, but then again, they had spotted him clear on the opposite side of his place, moving away from it. Maybe, just maybe they wouldn't expect him to double back?

He could grab his outdoor stuff, backpack, sleeping gear, and the radio. Then maybe he might just find out what the fuck they were after him for. Plus, he had a few bucks stashed near there, which he could use once he got out of the County. His father wouldn't be happy about his predicament either. He always told him, when going out in the woods, take the essentials. TJ was wishing he had remembered that advice now, as he felt the pain easing, and realized that he must have given the dogs the slip.

There was an old hunting shack off to the west, about a day's walk from where he was now. If he could make it there for the night, he might find some canned stuff still there. It wasn't well known, except by the ardent hunters in the area, who kept it stocked for emergencies. He had used it a few times, and he doubted if it would be watched.

Picking himself up, he made his way forwards, knowing of the stream up ahead, that he could wade, that would wind its way both South, as well as branch off to the West. He would take the branch, sticking to the stream so as to not give them a clue that he had turned off. If they were following him, they'd find his tracks, his scent which was still heading South, and if they came to the stream, well, they'd assume he would keep on going South.

Plus, the stream came pretty near the old hunting shack. It was far enough down that he doubted anyone would track him along that far. No one would figure on him turning off, least he was counting on it.

Stepping into the cool stream water, he felt his body shake a bit, then relax, as he began to walk slowly through the stream, heading South. It wasn't deep, least not at most places. A few areas where up to his stomach, but most of the water simply lapped around his knees as he waded forward, stopping now and then to listen to the sounds of the woods.

Luck was maybe coming back to him, as he still hadn't heard any distant barks or out of the ordinary noises. As the day wore on, he started to move a bit faster. His stops became a little less frequent, as his confidence grew. Still, he had learned not to get over confident, and the water was starting to cool off, as the sun began to fade from above the tree covering.

The odd fish swam past, but he didn't try to catch any, despite the hunger in his belly. He could, knowing how to stand still, how to plunge his hands in and grab a fish. It had taken him a few Sunday's to learn that one from his dad, but even if he caught one, he didn't think he was hungry enough to eat it raw. Starting a fire would be like calling those who were after him, and telling them his location.

He had eaten raw fish before, and it had made him puke something fierce. Again, he wasn't about to leave any tell tale signs he was moving away from his southern path. Still, he could feel the hunger gnawing at him, trying to get him to give in, but he was stubborn. Just one of his many traits that had gotten him into more trouble than out of it.

As the night began to creep up, and slowed his pace down, he thought about that time Mister Jenkins from the corner store had accused him of stealing some candy. Old Roy had picked him up, and taken him in. TJ had just turned 18 then, and Sheriff Roy had given him a choice, an old fashioned whipping out back of the station, or his admission and apology for stealing from Mister Jenkins.

Thinking about that time, he felt a smile cross his face, because he hadn't stolen a thing from Jenkins. It had been one of the Twins, but Jenkins had seen him near the counter, and figured it was that no good white trash TJ, which is how he had put it to Sheriff Roy. He was wrong, and besides, he never did like Jenkins.

The Twins, Rick and Ron, were just heading off to college, and he always had a crush on Rick, so that was one reason he wouldn't tell on them. The other of course, because he was stubborn. No way would he apologize for something he didn't do, nor would he rat out friends. Sheriff Roy was old school, in that he didn't believe in jail time for small offences. He dished out the punishment, fitting the crime, as he would say when campaigning. Most seemed happy with that, and so he took his whipping.

He had felt uneasy about it at the time, specially the way Bobby Rae and Ben leered at him, and made their smart ass comments. He hated Bobby Rae, and one day he knew he'd get even, but then, well he just took the whipping. He enjoyed the disappointment on the faces of both deputies when he never once cried out either. And Sheriff Roy wasn't the type to hold back as he let go with that old switch of his.

The marks on his ass, well the welts were visible for nearly six months afterwards, but he didn't care. It wasn't like he had many who would notice, as the Twins had gone off to College. Course, before they had left, Rick had shown his appreciation for TJ not giving them up. He didn't have to, but it was decent of him.

His feet were feeling the cold, but as he continued moving slowly along the stream, he couldn't help but think back to when he had taken the whipping, and how both Rick and Ron had appreciated it.

The whipping had been done out back, and according to Sheriff Roy's standard practice, there were witnesses. Naturally the wronged party was present to witness his punishment, then he would have the kids from the High School along as well. Sheriff Roy believed in instilling his brand of Justice in all impressionable kids, so the entire Grade Ten students were present.

The Pastor would also be there, along with the County Judge, to sort of lend some form of legality to it all. Usually one or two of the more prominent city citizens would attend. The whipping was simple, he would tell all assembled what the crime had been, and what the punishment would be, that being how many whacks across his buttocks he would get with the old switch.

It was made from Hickory wood. The Sheriff had made his speech, then made him bend over the wooden planked table. The Deputies tied his legs to the table legs, and then good old Bobby Rae came beside him, and yanked his pants down. He had heard the gasp and the little bit of giggles from the crowd behind him.

His pants were shoved down to just under his thighs, a bit above his knees. His shorts were also shoved down as well, so his bare bottom was showing, sticking out towards the assembled witnesses. It was that which got the girls from the school giggling, and it also is what got Bobby Rae making his remarks into TJ's ear.

Him being gay was no secret in town, and for the most part no one seemed to care much. Except Bobby Rae of course, who took delight in calling him sissy boy, or faggot. He would ignore it, but one day, he'd get even, when Bobby Rae wasn't sporting a badge and gun. He took great delight in making fun of him, and the whipping was just one more of those times.

The first blow had made him wince, and sort of lean forward, which had gotten Bobby Rae snickering. He had turned his face to look over at him, and instead of glaring, he had smiled at him. It had made Bobby Rae very angry, even as he kept the smile on his face when the second stinging blow had landed across his bare buttocks. Damn it had hurt, but he had been too stubborn to show it.

Each blow had made him grunt, even groan a bit, but not once did he yell or cry out. Sheriff Roy spaced each blow, counting them out, after they had struck. It had hurt like hell, and he wanted to cry out, but he refused. He even had bit his lip until it bled, as the last blows were delivered.

The pain kept rolling up and down his spine, just barely seeming to lessen before the next blow would start the waves of pain all over again. Tears had quickly welled up in his eyes, but he refused to let them know how much it hurt. Bobby Rae sure didn't like that, and he was fairly certain Sheriff Roy didn't either. Least judging by how the blows came harder, as he just took it.

The crowd had quickly grown silent too, realizing that he was not just stubborn, but had some steel to him. Grit they called it, but it was really simple for him. He didn't do it, and wasn't about to apologize for something he didn't do. It was like he could feel each blow, everywhere.

When it would land, the pain would just seem to rush up and down, making even his toes curl in agony. Even the hair on his head seemed to hurt, as each blow fell across his bare cheeks. Yet, it wasn't the blows that hurt as much as the comments by Bobby Rae, and by the Preacher too.

In some ways he rather thought Bobby Rae was getting off on seeing him get whacked, or maybe it was his naked butt that had him all excited? Could be, given how the guy was always bugging him, always commenting on his sex life, as if he had to prove himself to TJ. Not like he gave a shit about the guy, and okay, he wasn't ugly, but not TJs type.

Now the Twins, they were his type. He liked their boyish looks, the smooth skin of their faces, and bodies too. There was something about the way they smelled too, from the fancy soap they used. It all was what made them ideal to him, that and their long lanky bodies. Both of them were just about six foot, both about a nice solid 150 to 160, with not an ounce of fat anywhere.

They had long arms, muscular at the upper regions, and the tiny blond hairs were more like fuzz, than hair. Yet it was how they would smile, how their lips would curl up into a smile, the nose crinkle up, the eyes simply crackle with excitement, that gave him a boner.

Naturally the full baskets the two of them sported certainly added to the anticipation, but he was certain good old Bobby Rae would take to dick like a dolphin to water, except the dolphin was more graceful. Still as the cold water of the stream made his feet numb, he realized that Bobby Rae would love to be the one to catch him, He also was certain that if he did, he wouldn't make it to the station without a stay at some hospital.

Sheriff Roy wouldn't care much either way, and the Preacher would probably give Bobby Rae some special mention or prayer for apprehending a dangerous queer and sinner. Even now, so long after his whipping, he could feel the odd twinge that reminded him of that time, of all those mumbled words the man spoke, of the insults from Bobby Rae. Yet it was more the way Rick and Ron had looked at him, that seemed to make it worth remembering.

How Rick had been at his place, waiting for him to return, how he had known enough to not offer to help him get inside, or anything like that. Ron had been there too, with a look that made TJ glad he had not let either of them down. It wasn't that they were bad, or needed to steal from Jenkins, it was just that Jenkins was one of those you naturally wanted to give grief too.

They had made dinner for him, and had simply talked, about everything but the whole ordeal. One of the things he liked about the Twins, was that they didn't have to ask him what he would do. They knew him and he them, well enough that certain things could be taken for granted. If they had been in town now, he knew he could count on them for help, just as they knew he wouldn't tattle on them, back then.

TJ had talked with them, before he was to report for the whipping, and Ron had wanted to go to the Sheriff, and confess, but he, along with Rick, had persuaded him not. After all, it would ruin their going away to college. Sheriff Roy and Jenkins would have seen to that, as to them it would be fitting punishment. The town was that way, nasty really.

Still, there was a sense of justice, that he had to admire. When his folks had died in the twister, they had looked after him, even though they knew he was queer. Sheriff Roy had him stay in the station, but he had brought him home cooking from his wife, and clothes too. Even Bobby Rae laid off him and didn't add insult to injury. The town even paid for the funeral for his folks, did them proud too, so he couldn't really hate them.

So why were they after him? He hadn't done anything, but run. Sure, they might see that as being a sign of guilt, but he knew them too. Once they made up their minds that he was at fault, for whatever, he'd have to pay for it. He just wasn't about to do that, and without the Twins to talk to, well, taking to the woods seemed sensible.

Turning the bend, he could see the small hill to the left, knowing he was coming closer to the old hunting cabin. The water was colder too, as it had slowly led upwards, and the sight of the valley to the right told him he was on target. There was no sounds, other than normal night sounds, plus his sluggish feet pushing through the water. Still, he stopped, listened for a bit, despite the cold, before moving further up the stream.

While listening, hearing the soft sounds of the water running past his legs, he remembered how Rick had soothed the pain in his buttocks. How his hand had felt so gentle as it slowly wiped the blood from his scarred cheeks, with a warm cloth. He could feel the pain now and then, but it didn't seem to be sharp, as Rick dapped at his cheeks, getting the clotted blood free without pulling.

It was those little things, that made Rick and Ron both, more attractive than just their physical looks. Rick had such a nice touch, and he knew how to use it, both in helping a friend, and in doing a friend. Those were good times, when the three of them would spend the weekends camping out, just enjoying the freedom.

Ron was the sex maniac, which usually left Rick to watch as he and Ron made out. Yet when he got back that time, it was Rick who tended to him, while Ron did the watching. You could see it in his eyes, as he watched how his older brother, by 10 minutes, wiped TJ's ass, then slowly applied the salve the doc had given TJ when he left. Even that was typical of the town.

They beat him, without evidence, then gave him the medicine to take care of the wounds. Be better if they had applied it, but the Town wasn't willing to splurge for a doctor's bill, just the medicine. Even a couple of pain killers were added, which he still had in a bottle at his place. TJ smiled at that, knowing how it would piss Bobby Rae if he ever found out that he hadn't used them.

A shiver went up and down as spine, as he came up to the spot, where he would have to leave the stream, and head up to the cabin. He stopped, smelling and listening. There was no burned wood scent in the air, meaning the cabin was most likely empty. If not it surely would have a log or two burning in the fireplace, to ward off the night cold, so that was promising. The sound of night animals was usual, again making it seem like no one was in the cabin. Animals had a way of knowing, and warning others, if humans were near. So far, so good, he thought as he slowly climbed out of the water, getting down onto his belly.

He rested, and turned over, to rub his legs and restore the blood circulation that the cold had slowed. He didn't want to approach with weak legs, in case he had read the signs wrong. His father had taught him that, to be extra careful, and so far it had kept him safe. It had helped him go away from his own place, so that maybe now, it might be safe enough to sneak in, grab his gear, and head off.

The cabin was just a way to keep his wits about. It was a place for possible food, but also not in the direction he wanted to go. Just in case they tumbled to it, they might not figure he was doubling back, giving him time. He needed that time, to figure it out, to make a plan.

With his legs feeling better, he turned back onto his belly, and stared up at where the cabin was. It had no lights, nothing to show anyone was there, but still the hair on the back of his neck were on edge. He couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right, as he stared at the place, then looked around.

There was no signs of anyone, but he didn't just get up and head for the place. Slowly he inched his way around, stopping every few minutes to listen. No other sounds but his own heavy breathing made an impression, as he crawled full circle around the cabin. Carefully he continued to inch his way forward, then go around, then forward. He kept the hill ahead, so if someone was there, if they stood up to surprise him, he had the hill to roll down, to escape quickly.

Finally he was close enough that he felt safe enough to stand up, in a squatting position. Looking all around slowly, he felt like there was no choice. If anyone was there, they were as good as him in being silent. He didn't think anyone could be that good, except maybe Rick and Ron.

One last look around, then he quickly stood up and made for the cabin door. He turned the knob fast, so as to not let it make any extra noise, then pushed open the door in one quick movement. If the place was being watched, they'd not hear him enter it, nor have much time to see either, as he was in so fast.

Closing the door even as his foot just cleared the door frame, he breathed a sigh of relief. He was in, and no one had yelled, and even the animals didn't seem to notice all that much. He leaned against the door, realizing how tense he had been. His chest ached a bit, as he gulped in the air, when he smelled it.

His eyes grew wide, as he realized that the cabin didn't have a musky scent to it. It should, considering no one would have been here for months. Just as the thought was making its way through his mind, as his skin grew clammy, the words cut through the night like a gunshot.

'Figured you'd come this way first'


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