If Taiga hadn’t been there, I probably would have died within a month. No joke.
Like I said before, I really only went to this college for its parties. So from the start, I was a complete mess. I enrolled in the bare minimum of units required to remain a student there, and didn’t attend any of the classes after syllabus week. I spent my days wandering around town, drinking, doing drugs, and stealing anything I could get away with. And in my search for a fun gang to party with, I ended up falling in with a bad crowd.
It was a group of thirty-some guys, all of them my age or slightly older, and they were completely and utterly crazy. I didn’t recognize it then, but they were all pretty stupid. They chased after pure pleasure without ever coming close to happiness, and they were so reckless with their lives that they destroyed themselves in the process. If any of them are still alive right now, I’d be amazed.
When I first asked if I could join them, they said I needed to prove myself first. Not knowing what that meant, I followed them around town on dark nights, stealing drinks from stores that had closed, helping them harass any locals who were still awake. About a week into this strange night life, their leader had me break into the stables, and ten of us tacked horses and rode off in the direction of the mountains.
We reached the railroad sometime around midnight.
Small express trains frequently used this route to cut across the state. In the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, their engineers could hardly see a thing and neither could we. Several of the group had brought flashlights for the ride there, but once we reached the tracks they turned them off. We got off our horses and stood around in the pitch black night. I waited nervously for my eyes to adjust.
Somebody took my horse’s reins out of my hands. Then the group leader came over to me and said in a loud voice, “It’s time to have some fun.”
I wasn’t so sure what he meant by fun…
“This is your one and only chance,” he explained. “If you succeed, you can join us. Come stand over here.”
Now able to see just vague outlines in the darkness, I carefully followed the leader onto the train tracks.
“Face this way,” he instructed. He oriented me so that I’d have my back to the oncoming train, though I didn’t know this yet.
“What are we doing?” I asked in a small voice. The other group members surrounding us laughed at how scared I was. In my head I thought: man up or they won’t let you in, idiot!
Sounding slightly annoyed, the leader said, “I told you already. Now take off your shirt and shoes.”
I did what I was told, hoping they wouldn’t make me take off my pants too. Thankfully, they didn’t. It wasn’t too cold, but there was a slight, sharp breeze, and the metal tracks stung beneath my bare feet. Someone gave me a little shove so that I stood up straight. I stared aimlessly into the night and tried to brace myself for whatever was to come.
“Wait here for the train,” the leader said. “And don’t move an inch until I tell you to. If you get scared and run off before I say so, it’s over.”
“What?” I almost yelled out, dumbfounded and terrified all at once. I was here to seek pleasure, not to taunt death!
“What?” he replied fiercely. “Don’t you want to join us? Didn’t I hear you say you came to party?”
“Yeah, but –”
“But what? If you’re too much of a coward, get off the tracks and stop wasting my time.”
He was getting angrier by the second, and I thought, oh no, I’m blowing it!
“No, wait, I can do it,” I said quickly. “It’s fine, I’ll do it. I want it.”
He relaxed. “Good. Okay, well, while we’re waiting for the train, let’s have some drinks, everyone!”
Several group members had brought beer. For the next forty minutes they flooded me with alcohol, relaxing me to the point of sickness. I knew it was a bad idea, but at the time I couldn’t say no to a good beer, and I knew I had to get on the group’s good side. I think that was the night I got the most drunk in my entire life. I ended up in an awkward position on the tracks, sprawled out and sick, unable to form coherent sentences with all of my senses deteriorating. The group surrounded me, laughing and hooting. One of them kicked me in the ribs, and I vaguely remember a couple of them going off to make out in the bushes. They were also all thoroughly drunk, and the leader was himself pretty incapacitated. If the train had come then, I’m pretty sure more than one of us would have ended up dead.
As it was, Taiga got to us first.
I heard later that someone had tipped him about my whereabouts, someone who had seen me breaking into the stables that night. Once he’d figured out what had happened, he had grabbed a horse and headed after us. I was pretty much passed out by the time he reached the tracks, so I don’t remember too much of what happened next. I just have a dim memory of Taiga facing the group, speaking calmly to people who wouldn’t – or couldn’t – hear him.
Well, Taiga’s mere presence was enough to piss them off. The group leader tried to punch him, but because he was too drunk, he missed and ended up flat on his face. The other members found this hysterical. Then they too tried to put up a fight, but Taiga simply walked through them and came up to me. I was unconscious by then. He picked me up, somehow got me astride his horse, and took me home.
As a side note, I heard that the leader of that group was killed two months later. One of his members pushed him in front of an express train.