Time Of Our Death
By Paul D Aronson
It’s a great irony that the one person to stand up for Brian was also a person he had picked on mercilessly his entire school life. Seeing his dad face to face like that showed me a clearer picture of our resident bully. Was I sympathetic? Yes, I suppose in some way I was. We had something in common. We had both been through some horrible childhood trauma, and yet we had dealt with it differently. For me, I’d become a reclusive, shy kid, the timid nerd anyone could push around. For Brian, he’d taken his anger and hurt out on others. The victim became the victimizer. Two different defense mechanisms for two very different people.
When I tried to explain this to the others, they struggled to understand. I guess they thought I was now defending him and his behavior, but this was not the case. I wasn’t rushing to his defense, I was just gaining an understanding of what made him who he was. Donald didn’t seem to like this new picture of Brian however. He almost seemed angry there was now an excuse or reason for the years of abuse he had spent at the bully’s hands.
As we walked away from the scene to whatever was to come next, he broke down and started to cry. “This is so messed up,” he sobbed.
“What do you mean?”
He looked at us both, tears welling up and spilling over down his cheeks. “I’m tired of knowing of everybody’s secrets. I don’t want to know anymore. I don’t want to be a ghost going around discovering who people really are, I just want to be stupid ignorant me again.”
I understood what he was saying. After all, things had been easier when all we had to worry about was teenager things. Now, we had unfaithful mothers, abusive fathers, suicide attempts, and memories of molestation to deal with. Pile on top of that the fact we were murdered, and being a ghost wasn’t exactly the most pleasant thing I could have imagined for myself.
“This is too much like growing up,” Donald continued. “All these secrets is too much. What are we going to find out next? That Kelly is a teenage hooker?”
Lori couldn’t help but laugh. “That would probably fit her.”
“I just wish we could go back to before the accident,” Don lamented. “Do things differently.”
“What would you do different?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he whined. “Just things. Skip school. Walk to school. Take a different bus.”
I looked at him and wondered if I should tell him. That someone had sabotaged the school bus. No, that would be just one more uncovered secret weighing on him. He was having a hard enough time as it was. If I had to be the keeper of secrets from now on, so be it.
“So, where to now, guys?”
“Brian said he was going to the arcade after he went home,” I said. “I don’t think he ever went home. I didn’t see anything there to suggest he had been there and done anything. So….anyone up for centipede?”
City Plaza was nothing more than a strip mall. Ten or twelve business slapped side by side in a big parking lot. A big sign facing the road declared, “Everything you want and more,” but I seriously doubted it. Here you had Ace Shoes, Parker Food and Drug, Lendy’s Burger, More For Less, and other smaller shops that I never paid much attention to before. Donald looked up at the lighted sign for Lendy’s and nearly cried again.
“Oh man, I miss burgers. The smell of hot, fresh fries. Ketchup on the end of my finger.”
“Chocolate Milk shake,” I added.
“Fat free yogurt.” We both looked at Lori like she was crazy. Why would you want that when you could have tons of fattening grease eating away at your stomach liner?
“Ugh,” Donald said. “That’s just wrong, Lori. What you need is a triple scoop sundae with hot fudge and butterscotch with a big old cherry on top.”
“It would look pretty funny if you were in there trying to eat that right now. Everybody screaming and running out into the lot.”
She was right. That would definitely be a hilarious sight. I was surprised Brian hadn’t suggested it yet. Or perhaps he had, because out in the parking lot, right in front of Funtime Arcade, a group of people milled about, chattering amongst themselves in confusion.
“Well, I guess we found Brian and Kelly,” Lori said.
“What’s going on?” Don asked.
Before I could answer, a police car pulled up, lights flashing. “Come on, “ I said, as we three sprinted across the lot to see what was happening. Apparently, there had been an altercation of some sort. Two boys were sitting on the pavement, separate from one another. They both had bloody faces and were glaring at each other. A few people stood between them as a precaution. Two deputies got out of the car and began asking questions of the two boys. As it turned out, one had accused the other of stealing his money he’d set on top of a video game as dibs for being the next one to play.
“I didn’t take your money,” the accused was saying. “I was playing the game.”
“How much was it?” one of the officers asked.
“Four quarters. It was the last of my allowance.”
The officer leaned down to look in the face of the accused, a boy of about fourteen with curly red hair and freckles. “Son, did you take his money?”
“No, I swear, I didn’t. Look.” He reached in his pants pocket and pulled them inside out in an effort to show they were empty. They weren’t. Change spilled out and rolled on the pavement. Four quarters.
I looked at Lori and Don. “You’re right. We found Brian and Kelly.”
Inside the arcade it was fairly packed. School had let out while we’d been out uncovering secrets best left alone, and as a result, the arcade had filled up with youth hungry for fun and games, snacks and excitement. Anything to take them away from the fact, there was a storm outside and there were still bodies of their classmates out in the Murray River somewhere. Unless they had pulled them all out of the bus already. If so, we wouldn’t be here still, I told myself. The rain and wind might be slowing them down, but it wouldn’t slow them down forever. While other kids, including my companions, got excited over Jungle Hunt, Ms Pacman, and DigDug, I was considering the fact someone needed to slow down the process further.
Lori had found Brian and Kelly on a couple stools in the corner, making out while the sounds of cracking billiard balls and air hockey pucks drowned them out. Not that anyone could hear the two lovers anyway. Even if they could, they weren’t been loud. Their faces were smooshed too close together for any sound to be coming from them. I guess they’d gotten tired of stealing people’s money and putting it in other people’s pockets, that they decided their hands would be best served in each other’s pockets instead.
“I guess that’s one way to spend the afternoon,” I said, clearing my throat just a little. They both stopped kissing and looked at us. Ghost lipstick was stuck to Brian’s face and his hand was caught somewhere in the folds of Kelly’s top. Her hair was effectively messed up and in need of Aqua Net, while one of her hands was under Brian somewhere. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know where.
Brian grinned, and Kelly’s smirk was one of being busted and not really giving a damn. I had to give it to them. If I had a girlfriend, and nothing to be but dead, I would probably be seeing how far a ghost could go in the sex department, too. “There you are, “ Brian said. “We got bored waiting on you clowns.”
“I’m sure, “ I replied. “I can see you have been making mischief among the living again.”
“Funny thing about that. We spent all that time lifting money, and then realized we didn’t even need it. We can pass our hands through their machines,” He gave Kelly a light squeeze in her shirt and she squealed. “And get all the free games we want.”
I tried not to notice what he had done. “Must be the electronics, “ I said. “Manipulating the circuitry.”
“Yeah, but its so much better manipulating each other’s circuitry, “ he answered, with a wink. He raised an eyebrow. “Hey listen babe, they are playing our song.” On a nearby jukebox, ‘Keep Your Hands To Yourself’ by Georgia Satellites was starting to play.
Lori rolled her eyes. “I’m going to test out their theory,” she said, and walked off. At first I wondered what she meant, but then she walked over to a nearby Galaxian game, stuck her hand through it, and gave the player eight free games.
“Wow! Did you see that?” A spectator exclaimed. “You racked up dude! What did you blast to get that?”
The player was too excited by the extra games to even answer or figure out how he scored them. He grinned at the video screen as if he were the whole rebel alliance and he was eating breakfast out of Darth Vader’s helmet.
“I’m going to conduct an experiment too,” Don said, and headed for the snack bar. I was hoping another food fight wouldn’t occur. I, myself, was starting to turn a possible experiment over in my head as well, but it had nothing to do with video games, food, or sucking face. It was all about sabotage. But I was going to need help.
I approached Lori who had now moved over to the pool tables. She must have been infected by Brian’s strain of mischief because she was knocking a ball around with her finger every time a player went to make his shot. “Perhaps we could start a gambling racket, “ I said. “We could make a killing on predicting shots.”
She grinned. The player hit the cue ball. It rolled across the table to hit the number seven ball. She pushed the ball in the opposite direction of where it should have gone, causing it to hit the black eight ball and sink it in a side pocket. The player threw down his stick, and with his arms in the air walked off, while his opponents laughed their asses off knowing they had just won the game.
“You know, if you get tired of this, and want some real mischief, I have a plan.”
She looked at me, curious. “What plan?”
“To slow them down from finding us. To keep them away from the bus.”
“We sabotage their equipment. Ruin their trucks, diving gear, anything we can.”
“Wow,” she said. “You really don’t want this to end, do you?”
“No I don’t . Do you?”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t. I need to figure what to do about mom. And Dawn. There’s still things to finish up, you know.”
“Yes, I know. To be honest, I don’t feel like there’s anything from my life to finish up, but here in ghost world, there’s plenty I’d like to see through to the end.”
“I want to know who did that to the bus. Who killed us and why. I want to see if Halloween is really All Hallows’ Eve. I want to know where my parents are at and if they are okay. I want to dance to Whitesnake under dimmed lights with a disco ball spinning overhead.”
“I was just kidding on the last one. You can’t dance to Whitesnake.”
She shook her head and laughed. “Who would want to?”
“Are you with me? On the sabotage, I mean.”
She smiled, and looked around the room. Everyone was oblivious to us, caught up in their own little video games heaven. “Yeah I’m in. What about the others?”
“Brian and Kelly would be helpful additions. I’m not sure Donald would be up for it. I get the feeling he’s growing tired of it all. Lately, he’s seeming different, like he doesn’t care if it ends or not.”
“So we cut him out?”
“No, we’ll ask him. Maybe he’ll surprise us.”
She looked over at Brian and Kelly who were still wrapped up in each other’s arms in their teenaged ghost make out session. “You want me to bump the jukebox?” She asked.