NaNoWriMo 2016: Time Of Our Death Chapter 34

Time Of Our Death

By Paul D Aronson

Thirty Four

Halloween or not, it was still early in the day. It was a Saturday, so school wasn’t in session. Lori had an idea to sneak into the high school and change our grades so we’d look like better students. I thought that was a cool idea and was all for it, however Brian and Kelly didn’t seem to care what others thought of them. And anyway, they kept their grades up pretty good. Donald was also uninterested and just wanted to go see his mother again. I understood that. After all we were living in the mystery hour, meaning we didn’t know how many hours we had left until they pulled up the bus and it’s bloating occupants. So Lori’s idea was scrapped in favor of checking in on the folks one last time.

Donald said we didn’t need to go with him to see his mom, but I felt like it was the right thing to do. After all, we had started out as ghosts doing this very thing. Might as well be what we end on as well. I hated having the attitude of “it’s only a matter of time”, but it was inevitable that this would come to an end soon. We couldn’t wander around as ghosts forever, especially when recovery operations were underway to bring us up out of the river.

At Donald’s we were surprised. Over two dozen neighbors were at his house. They had brought over food for his grieving mother. Some had brought flowers and cards with money to help her out. As we moved among them all, I caught snippets of conversation that led me to believe no one carried any hope that Donald was alive, and that soon there would be a funeral, with or without his body.

The outpouring of goodwill towards his mom touched Donald. In life, apparently not many of these neighbors ever came to visit, but with the tragedy they all pulled together to comfort and console a family that was wrecked with grief. Perhaps in all this, the good to come was that Don’s mother didn’t have to be alone. His passing had drawn others to her, and she was finding herself with offers to join the bridge club, the ladies civic club, as well as several churches extending their condolences and open arms to her.

“This is nice,” he said. “I was worried she would be all alone now.”

I had to agree. It was very touching, this outpouring of neighborly love. I had to wonder if Lori’s family could expect the same thing. It made me think of my family too. I was trying not to think about it much, but seeing all the neighbors here reminded me that my parents had seemingly vanished from public life.

Lori, ever the one for reading my mind, tried to be a comfort. “I’ll help you look for them if you want.”

“I don’t know where to begin.”

“Maybe there’s a clue somewhere at your house.”

Brian and Kelly had tagged along with us to Donald’s, but they opted to remain outside, sitting under a tree and sucking as much face as they could until the end. I couldn’t blame them there; part of me just wanted to take Lori’s hand and run away from all this. Spend whatever time was left making out and sharing promises that would certainly be tested soon. With that thought, my mind was filled with the image of Lori and I laying in my bed, curled up together, kissing, touching, and becoming all we could be if only we were alive.

“Hello, anyone home?” She asked, bringing me out of my silent rapture.

“Oh, sorry. I was lost in thought.”

“Yeah, I could tell. Everything alright?”

“I was just thinking how I never had a girl alone in my bedroom before.”

She smirked. “Are you sure you want to be telling me this?”

I chuckled. “No, it’s not like that. I just never had a girl in my room at all. I used to lay awake sometimes, wondering what it would be like to fall asleep curled up to someone. Or when I first started teaching myself guitar, I used to say to myself, one day you’re going to play a song for a pretty girl right here. You’ll be sitting on the floor playing, and she’ll be laying across the bed, listening to your song.”

“That’s a nice image. I used to think something similar. Except I would be playing this boy my cassettes and CDs. I’d play him my favorite song, and he would lean over and kiss me and absolutely beg me to run away with him.”

I smiled. “I like that. What’s your favorite song?”

“Just Like Heaven.”

“The Cure?”

“Yeah.”

I smiled. “I can play that.”

“It’s not heavy metal.”

I laughed. “Yeah, I know. There’s more to me than long hair and screaming guitars.”

“Show me.”

“Alright, I will.” I grinned. “But that means you’ll have to come to my bedroom.”

She smiled. “I’m not scared.”

“Scared of what?” Donald said, walking up to us.

I looked at him. “Of whatever comes next, I guess.”

“Same here,” he replied. “Hey, I’m just going hang out here for awhile, if you guys don’t mind.”

“That’s cool. We’ll come back and get you. We’re going to go see if my mom and dad ever showed up.”

“That’s fine.” He grinned at us as if he knew it wasn’t just about checking on my parents. As we headed off, he called out to us with a laugh as if he were our doting mother, “Don’t stay out too late. Use protection!”
The first time we had went to my house, after discovering Lori’s mom at the library, the television had been on, so had my dad’s computer back in his office. Now, both of them were off. In fact, the only thing on was a small lamp in the living room. Sitting on an end table next to it was a pile of unopened mail and several days worth of newspapers, still folded up the way our paperboy Jeffrey Tompkins delivered them.

“Well, it looks like they were here at some point,” Lori suggested.

“Yeah, it does. Them or someone else.”

“Who else would be here?”

“I don’t know. We are on good terms with our next door neighbors. Mom and Dad play Uno with them some nights. Maybe they are getting the mail and paper.” I stopped for a moment and listened. “And I don’t hear Jake.”

“Maybe he’s sleeping.”

“I don’t think so. He knew we were here the first time. We heard him in my room.”

“Well, you’re supposed to take me to your room anyway,” she replied with a wink.

I smiled. I really adored the flirty Lori.

We went down the staircase to the basement. The door to my room was open. The lights were off, but we didn’t need them anyway. The room looked untouched from the last time we were there, with all of us and Jake. But now Jake was gone. The exuberant Doberman wasn’t in the house. As I noted this, Lori moved around my room, looking at all the rock and roll clippings from Heavy metal mags I had pasted to the wall. Standing in front of the Nikki Sixx poster, she said, “I still think he needs a sandwich.”

I smirked. “What about Bon Jovi?” I asked, pointing to a fold out poster of the group standing in front of a trans am laden with bikini clad girls.

“He gives love a bad name.”

I laughed. “Oh, good one.”

“Oh wow,” she exclaimed, spotting my record collection. The albums were kept in two blue milk crates by a closet, and she squatted down to look through them. I stood there with my arms crossed. This was an alien moment, by myself with a beautiful girl in my room, as she took interest in things that were me. She looked up, holding up the Ratt album, Out Of The Cellar. “Do you have anything other than Metal?”

“Well, I’ve got The Motels in there somewhere. I like Mission Of Mercy.”

“Yeah, they aren’t bad. Only The Lonely is pretty good.”

“I’ve got the Charlotte Sometimes twelve inch in there too,” I told her.

“No kidding? Wow, you are pretty darn cool after all.” She found The Cure single and lifted it out of the box. “Charlotte Sometimes was the first song I fell in love with. That, and All Cats Are Grey.”

I told her I hadn’t heard that one. “Oh wow, you’re missing out. Next time we’re at my house, I’ll play it for..” she stopped, perhaps realizing there was a good chance there wouldn’t be a next time at her house. A sad look crossed her face for a moment, then she mustered a smile. “Weren’t you going to play me a song?”

I smiled, but I was a little nervous. “Yes, I was.” I opened up the closet and got out my electric guitar. “I wont plug it in,” I said. “I blew the amp the other day anyway.”

She rolled her eyes and laughed, getting up from the crates of record albums to go sit on my bed, cross legged style. I did a little tuning of the strings, and thought to myself, please let my energy hold out long enough to play her a song. It would be weird to be half way through the song and the guitar passes through my fingers.

Despite my nervousness, I found the key of A major and began the opening chord progression. From the first lyric of “show me, show me, show me how you do that trick”, Lori sat enrapt, watching me play and sing the song about a boy’s first feelings of romance for the girl he wants to be with. I performed it slower than the original so I could make the chord changes easier, but she didn’t seem to mind. Even as I stumbled on a few words here and there, she smiled with her own set of longings etched plainly in her eyes. I wanted to just stop singing, throw the guitar down, and take her up in my arms to dance in the deepest oceans like the song said.

Three minutes later when I ended the tune and the last chord faded into silence, I did just that. I set the guitar back in the closet so it wouldn’t be out of place the next time someone came down in my room, and then joined her on the bed.

“That was beautiful,” she said.

“You’re beautiful,” I said. “Just like a dream. Like the song says.”

She blushed. “Chris, I….”

I touched her lips with my fingertips, shushing her. I didn’t know what she was getting ready to say, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered to me was that my mouth was on hers, and as my kiss found her wanting me just as much, we laid back on the bed, the room spinning around us. While our lips revealed the secrets of two hearts discovering each other, our hands fumbled across each other, neither of us knowing quite what to do. We laughed at this inside each other’s mouths, and renewed the kiss with a different fervor. One that was not of confused, nor reckless desire, but of a deep affection that said we would live and die together like this, for as long as we had left. Stolen breaths and mutual longings were all we needed, and maybe in the next life, if there was one, we would find the right time to physically consummate all the things our bodies felt.

“I have something to confess,” she finally said.

“Okay.”

“Remember when we were in my room, and there was that photo I took of you and Donald? One of you asked me why I took it.”

“Yeah, I remember. It was a sneaky voyeur pic. From last year.”

She smiled and the look in her eyes were soft. “I took that picture because I had a crush on you. I didn’t really know you then, just knew who you were. You looked so sad and lonely, this nerd boy that no one was paying attention to. You reminded me of myself.”

I started to say something. This time she put a finger to my lips to quiet me.

“I really crushed on that nerd boy. I like your long hair and the rocker I know you want to be, but you’ll always be that cute nerd boy standing on the smoking block, looking out of place to me.”

My eyes started to well up with tears. No one, and I mean absolutely anyone, had ever said such a thing to me. I wanted to respond somehow, but she wasn’t finished.

“When I see you,” she said, “ I see you without disguise. I think I see you as you truly are: the most beautiful boy with the purest soul I have ever met.”

The tears fell. There was no use in trying to stop them.

“If there’s ever a way someone progresses from this life into something better, you’re already there.” She put her hands on both sides of my face, so my tears would stop on her fingers. “You’re my angel, Chris.”

“I love you, Lori. I wish…Oh God, I wish I had gotten to know you sooner. It’s not fair.”

A new round of tears came, but they just weren’t mine. They were hers, too. And as she wrapped her arms around me, taking me into her soft embrace, I clutched her tight as I could, swearing that when the real end came I would never let her go.

 

 

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My NaNoWriMo 2016 Continues: Chapter 33

Time Of Our Death

By Paul D Aronson

Thirty-Three
In all the ghost stories I’d read in books or seen at the movies, the spirit was always vengeful. He was here to enact revenge or retribution on those that had caused him to die. But I couldn’t be like that. Donald may have thought I abandoned him, and in a sense I did, but in my mind he had remained my friend. He may have wanted to scare or kill Brian to stop the torment, but he didn’t mean any harm to the rest of us. It reminded me of a bumper sticker I’d seen just days before the bus went off the bridge. In bold white and black it stated plainly: Shit Happens.

I told myself Donald had been feeling the guilt and remorse for awhile. That accounted for his recent odd behavior, and then the confrontation with what could very well be a bona fide serial killer brought it all crashing home to him. He could not hold the secret any longer. And it made me wonder how much longer we would hold on to this semblance of life now. If his act was the unfinished business that kept us here, certainly the confession would go a long way to righting that wrong. And yet, just as it was when we killed Kev, we were still here.

The investigation against the flower lady’s killer was still going on in the house behind us, but it was no longer a distraction. They had their things to figure out, and we had ours. We may have been occupying similar spaces, but life went on in both directions. For me, I couldn’t just sit here waiting for the life on our end to just give up. In the place between the world we knew, and the one we would eventually pass into, we stood alone in a void only we could fill. We had been doing just that for days, checking on our families, making sure everyone was going to be alright. I had found Lori and she had found me. It’s a shame that it happened like this, after we were dead, but at least it happened. Brian and Kelly seemed to have a solid relationship through it all as well. The only one who truly suffered in death was Donald.

I wished I could have done something more for him. I wished I’d been there for him when he needed me, instead of leaving him with a feeling he’d been left all alone. Once upon a time, I had been like his brother, and in the last few days I had been feeling that way again. A big brother to depend upon, to lean on. Despite what he had told us, I had to let him know I was not going to abandon him ever again.

He remained on the porch steps, having never moved from where Brian attacked him. Brian had since allowed Kelly to lead him away from the others, and they were laying across the hood of one of the police cars, she cradling him in her arms as he cried out his frustration, anger, and remorse. She ran her fingers through his hair, holding him to her breast, and I no longer saw the bully taking out his angry, pent up emotions on others. Now he was just a lost, lonely child seeking comfort like the rest of us.

I sat down next to Donald. For a moment I didn’t say a thing, just let the moment wash over me, struggling with what to say. Lori wandered a little ways away too, giving us some space.

“I’m really sorry, Chris.”

I looked at my friend, whose eyes could not meet mine. “It’s….”

“No, it’s not. It’s not okay, and never will be again. Because of me.”

“Donald…”

“Just be quiet for once and let me talk.” He looked me in the eye. “I never meant any of this to happen. I didn’t even mean for Brian to die. I just wanted to scare him. I wanted him to know what it was like to be afraid. To not know whether he was going to live or die from one day to the next. I wanted to make him afraid to even walk on a school bus again. Because that’s how it was for me every day.”

“I’m sorry I left you to that. I didn’t know.”

“No one did. No one could know how I felt. No one asked.”

I hung my head. “I wish I had.”

He nodded. “Yeah, me too.”

“So, what are we to do now?” I asked. “What do you want us to do?”

“What do you mean?”

“How can we make this easier for you? I know it must have been eating away at you. If it’s forgiveness you need, you got it buddy.”

“How can you forgive me, Chris? I killed you.” He looked at Lori just a few feet away. She was sitting cross legged in the grass. “I killed her.” He cast his eyes towards Brian and Kelly on top of the police car. She was kissing his face, holding his head lovingly in her hands. “I killed them. How could I have done that to them?”

“You just wanted it to stop, Donald. Hey, I wanted it to stop, too.”

“But you changed. I couldn’t.” He tried to stop the tear but it came anyway. “I couldn’t change who I was. I couldn’t escape like you. Why did you leave, Chris? Was it really because you didn’t want to be picked on anymore?”

“Yes it was. Why else would I?”

Again he couldn’t my eyes. “No reason. I just…wanted to know.”

I felt like there was something he still wasn’t saying. Something he was too afraid to confess, but yet I didn’t want to push him. He had been through so much already. So I put my arm around his shoulder to let him know it was alright.

“We have been friends forever, Don. We grew up together. And I’ve never been afraid of things I see within you. I’m not going to start now.” He looked at me, and I met his eyes that were wet with tears. “It’s okay to be you. To have the feelings you do. I’m sorry I don’t feel the same, but you have always been my best friend. And you always will be. Okay?”

He sniffled a little. “Okay.” He laid his head over on my shoulder and looked at Lori. “She’s so pretty.”

“Yeah, she is.”

“For a girl, I mean,” he added.

I chuckled a little. “Yeah. For a girl.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement, and turned my head in that direction. Brian was coming towards us, with Kelly at his side, holding his hand. He sat down on the other side of Donald, and Kelly wandered off to join Lori, leaving us guys alone. I took my arm off Don’s shoulder, and placed my hands in my lap. I started to get up.

“Stay,” Brian said, so I sat back down. “Look, I want to say to you both that…I am sorry. To say I never meant to hurt anyone would be a lie. I was hurting. I wanted others to hurt like me. And I took it out on you guys. Especially you, Donald. I saw something of myself in you. A scared little kid, too afraid to defend himself. I guess I didn’t want to be the only one.” He looked across Donald to me. “You’re right, Chris. You do know me. I saw it in your eyes. You knew. And it made me more ashamed. I can’t take back any of the things I did, any more than my other father can. If I could turn time back I would.”

“Maybe when we end up wherever we are supposed to go, you’ll be able to do that,” I said. “Maybe we’ll get another chance to do things differently.”

He smiled sadly. “That would be nice. But in case it’s not like that, I just want you guys to know that I am truly sorry. In the next life, if there is one, I’ll try harder.” He didn’t bother to wipe away his tears of remorse. “Please forgive me.”

“I forgive you, Brian,” I replied. I didn’t need to say anything else. He knew we were connected in some way, that we had been through similar things, and yet had chosen different courses of action. It didn’t make one person better than the other. If anything, it made us equals, and my forgiveness came quite easily.

For Donald, it may not have been as easy, but it was necessary for everyone at this point. “I forgive you,” he said to Brian. “And I’m sorry I caused all this. You don’t have to forgive me back, but I am sorry that because of me you are no longer …alive.”

Brian smiled. “I’ve been more alive the past few days than I ever have been before. I forgive you too, Donald.” He held out his hand. “Friends?”

Donald looked at it, and he couldn’t help it. A new round of tears cascaded down his face. I think it’s all he ever wanted to hear. He took Brian’s hand loosely in his own. “Friends,” he sobbed.

“Look, I hate to be the one to say this male bonding thing is weird, but you are making us cry over here, too.”

“Sorry, Lori, “ I replied with a sheepish smile. “Girls go to the powder room, guys just…break down.”

“Well, I think maybe it’s time to consider what day it is.”

I looked at Brian and Donald, and was at a loss.

“Halloween, doofus. You know, the one day a year the dead can roam the earth?”

Brian jumped up. “Well, hell yeah. Let’s roam!” He ran over to Kelly and scooped her up in his arms. “Ready to go steal some little kids candy?”

“You can steal my candy, “ she cooed, tossing her blonde hair out of her eyes.

“That’s what I’m talking about! Whoo! Par-tay time!” He spun her around and around, while she screamed in delight.

I looked at Donald and stood up. “You coming, buddy?”

He smiled, but there was still a trace of that lost look in his eye. “Chris, when you and Lori went down to the bus, what did you see?”

“What do you mean?”

“Was I down there?”

I hesitated a little, but felt the truth was best. “Yes, you were.”

He nodded and forced another smile to the surface. “Cool.”

 

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note: In writing this novel, I made a writing soundtrack to keep me in the mood and themes of the story. This is something I do with every piece of fiction I write,  but this has been my favorite soundtrack yet because most of the songs I picked are from 1987, the year my story takes place, and many of them were either just released or had only been out a few months. There were a few that were from a year or two previous, but I tried to keep it all in perspective. One thing I chose to do was pick songs that would represent different characters, either through their lyrics or because I felt the music just fit them. The song below, True Faith, by New Order, is my theme song for the character of Donald. Hope you enjoy…

My NaNoWriMo project 2016: Chapter 32

Time Of Our Death

By Paul D Aronson 

Thirty-Two

We watched the boats go down river, feeling time was now incredibly short. It wouldn’t be long before they got the bus out of the river. Or at the very least, the bodies that were in it. We stood in mute silence, everyone’s individual thoughts on our mortality perhaps. I put my arm around Lori. It wouldn’t be long now.

“We should go find Donald.” 

“Maybe they found his body already,” Brian said. 

I wanted to tell him they wouldn’t find that until they looked under the bus. But then I remembered I hadn’t seen their bodies at all. I didn’t want to get cornered into telling them they were god-knows-where in the river. 

“I agree with Chris,” Lori said. “We should all be together.” 

“Whatever. You guys have been making the rules for us ever since this started anyway.” 

“You don’t have to come with us,” I said. “You never gave a damn about Donald anyway.” 

He snorted. “Why should I care? He’s nothing to me. And neither are you.” 

“That’s right,” I said. “Keep on playing the bad ass tough guy.” I stepped right up to him. “But I know the real you. And you don’t scare me.” 

“Oh yeah? Well maybe I should just kick your ass then?” 

“Maybe you should save it for your dad. He’s the one you got the real problem with. The only reason you picked on people is because you were too scared to stand up to him.” 

“You don’t know shit about me.” 

“Oh, I think I do.”  

“Oh yeah? Then tell me something, smart ass.” 

“I know what he did to you,” I replied in a near whisper. 

Something in his face fell. “You’re lying.” 

I shook my head. “I’m not.” 

At first, I thought he was going to keep on pushing until I came out with everything I learned from my encounter with his dad. But then something in his eyes softened. This was a fight he could not win. This was the one time when he had no control over his adversary. When one knows your secret, then there is nothing left to fear. 

“Sure,” he mumbled. “Let’s go find Donald.” 

He walked away from us, grabbing Kelly’s hand to pull her to his side. He needed her now more than ever. The face he had worn for so long was falling away. The person he tried to make himself out to be was fading, and he was learning that alone was a frightening place to be. When someone knows only the person you want to show them, you have all the power, but when someone knows your secrets , you are just another lonely person, same as anyone else. At least Brian had Kelly. Donald had no one.  

The killer’s house was roped off with yellow Crime Scene tape. It looked like other officers had been brought in from surrounding counties. Evidence vans, police cars of different makes and models, even a few that were marked FBI, made me realize this was a very big deal. This wasn’t just a guy who killed his girlfriend and died while trying to dispose of her body.

Donald was sitting on the front porch. He looked even rougher than before. His eyes had a haunted, far away look, and he had no smile for us like he had in the past. He had the look of a man ready to give it all up. If we’d been standing on Bay Bridge, I was afraid he would try and jump. 

“There you guys are,” he said in a somber monotone voice. “I was wondering if you’d come back.” 

“We wouldn’t leave you by yourself,” I said. 

“Perhaps you should.” 

“Why do you say that? What’s wrong, Donald?” 

He just shook his head and looked down at his feet. “I heard you got the guy. When I heard them say he somehow swallowed bug poison and dirty river water, I knew it wasn’t something he’d do in his own.” 

I didn’t offer any more details about the death of our killer. “So what’s happening here , Donald?” 

He managed to muster a small smile. “This is a big one,” he said. “I heard investigators talking that he might be connected to two other unsolved murder cases in other states.” 

“Have they made any connection to the bus yet?” Lori asked. 

He shook his head. “They are still trying to connect the dots.” He looked at us, his eyes seeming to take in each of our faces. “They’ll be trying to bring the bus up quicker now.” 

I sat down beside him. “Is that what’s troubling you?” 

He glanced at Brian a second, before looking back at me. “No.” 

“So what’s wrong? Why didn’t you come with us?” 

He almost seemed like he was ready to cry. I looked to Lori for help, but she didn’t know what to do except shrug her shoulders. 

“I didn’t see the point,” he replied. 

“The point was to bring our killer to justice.” 

“He didn’t kill us.” 

“What are you talking about? Of course he did.” 

“No, he didn’t,” he replied firmly. 

Brian stepped forward. “I don’t know what kind of ghost drugs you are on, fatty. He admitted following the bus. He said the bus went off the bridge as planned. He pretty much told that woman’s corpse that he did it to get her kids out of the way so they could have some kind of relationship or something.” 

Donald nodded. “You’re right in all that, Brian. He followed the bus, mapping out its route. He did something to the bus I think, but somebody noticed it and they switched buses. So the bus he had been following, our regular bus, wasn’t even on the road.” 

I was flat out confused with his reasoning. “If we weren’t on our bus, then who’s bus were we on?” I asked. 

“It was the one that takes the football team home after practice.” He looked at Brian. “I’m surprised you didn’t notice when they announced the number of the bus that went off the bridge.” 

“I don’t pay attention to bus numbers,” Brian replied. 

“They all are the same make and model anyway. The only real difference is the number when it comes down to it.” 

“Okay, so they switched our bus with the team bus,” I said. “That doesn’t change the fact it was sabotaged. I was under there. I saw how the wires and cables were cut. That wasn’t wear and tear, someone did this. And if it wasn’t Kev, if he sabotaged a different bus, then who sabotaged the one we were on?” 

Donald looked off in the distance a moment. With his sleeve he wiped a tear from the corner of his eye and then looked at the ground. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt everyone. Just Brian.” 

“What?” 

“I figured it would just be him and the other guys from the team. I didn’t know they’d use it to take us all to school.” 

“What did you do, you bastard?” Brian asked, clenching his fists. 

“You were going to kick my ass again after school. Just like every other time. I can’t count the number of times this year you and your buddies used me as a punching bag, and I was sick of it. There was no way I could fight back and win, so….I just wanted it to stop. I wanted to teach you what it’s like to live in fear for your life.” 

“What..did..you..do?” 

“I sabotaged the bus.” 

“No,” I said. “No freaking way. This isn’t you, Donald. You wouldn’t do that.” 

He turned his attention to me. “You don’t know me, Chris. You of all people didn’t want to know me. You left. You couldn’t stand being a nerd anymore, so you changed your appearance and stopped hanging out with me. You didn’t want to know me anymore.” 

I looked at him. “Don, I was just tired of being picked on. I didn’t want to be that me anymore.” 

“Well I didn’t want to be that me either.” He pointed at Brian. “And that day you chased me inside my own house and beat me up in front of my own mother, I knew it was never going to end unless I did something.” 

“You didn’t have to fucking kill us?!” Brian paced back and forth, fist opening and closing like he really wanted to beat the life out of Donald for sure. Kelly reached for him, and he shrugged her hand off of him.  

“I hate you for what you did to me,” Donald said. “I didn’t think I had a choice anymore. Mom wouldn’t let me transfer to another school. The teachers wouldn’t do anything. When I did tell somebody, they acted like they didn’t believe me. Like it was more important to protect their star athlete. Nobody gave a dam about Donald except Donald.” 

“Buddy..” I said. “Look, I…” 

“Chris, don’t. Just don’t. You weren’t there anymore. You were hanging with the heads and the bangers. You didn’t have to deal with it anymore. Not in the way I did. In fact, it got worse when you jumped ship.”  

I looked at Brian. I wanted to say something. I wanted to ask him if it was all worth it. I wanted to say this was just as much his fault, as it was Donald’s. In fact, I carried some of the blame myself for abandoning my friend to the wolves. But I didn’t say anything. I just shook my head. 

I looked at Kelly. She was crying. Trying to reach for her boyfriend at this, the most devastating hour, and being shrugged off by his anger. But it was anger that had brought us all here. His. Donald’s. Perhaps all of us. 

“So we killed an innocent man?” She asked. 

“He wasn’t innocent,” Lori said. Her eyes were brimming with tears too at this morning’s revelations. “He killed a woman, possibly other women as well. Maybe some of their kids. The intent to kill all of us was there. Donald didn’t intend for us all to die.” 

“No, just me!” screamed Brian, and lunged at Donald. Of course, he went right through him. If anger wouldn’t allow ghosts to make physical contact with one another, rage certainly wasn’t going to, either. Still, it didn’t deter him. He came at Donald again, both fists swinging at his head. Donald didn’t even twitch. There was no need. Brian couldn’t do anything to him now.  

Kelly screamed at her boyfriend to stop. Even Lori and I stepped forward to try and stop his vain attack. Brian was still swinging and kicking at Donald. Tears were streaming down the bully’s face. “You killed us, “ he was wailing. “You son of a bitch.” He collapsed into Kelly’s arms like a rag doll. He sobbed against her as she wrapped her arms protectively around him. His body heaved from his rage and grief, and I wondered if it all was directed at Donald, or if some of it was reserved for himself. 

I looked at Lori. She was affected by all this and not holding up too well. Tears had stained her ghostly cheeks and she was visibly shaken. To know all this time, the one who killed us was right there among us. And yet, when I looked at Donald, I could not hate him. In my mind, he felt he was left with no choice but to try to stop the abuse. He didn’t know his plan would set in motion a chain of events that would backfire and cause the deaths of his innocent schoolmates. 

“What are we going to do?” Lori whispered. 

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have an answer for her. After all, the unfinished business that had kept us here all this time was sitting right in front of us. And he was our friend. 

My NaNoWriMo Project 2016: Chapter 31

Time Of Our Death

By Paul D Aronson
Thirty-One

The sirens were getting closer, but not close enough. We had no idea where Kev was going. All we could do right now was tag along. It was obvious to me he was heading somewhere to dump the body. You don’t just ride around with a dead body in your work van for long. He made a turn onto a road that was all too familiar to us.

“He’s going to the river,” Kelly said.

“Yeah,” Lori agreed. “Dump the body with the rest of us.”

I looked around the van. Kev had turned on the radio and was starting to sing again. It really irritated me because he was ruining a perfectly good Cinderella song. From now on whenever I heard it, it would always remind me of this moment, riding in the back of a serial killer’s van.

“Somebody save me!” he belted out, sounding like Janis Joplin swallowing a bunch of loose pebbles. “I lost my job and fallen out of my tree!” It wasn’t the exact lyrics I knew, but he wasn’t wound too tight anyway.

“We’ve got to do something,” said Brian. “This bastard’s got to pay.”

“Yes, I agree. We need to slow him down so the cops can catch us.”

“I’m on it,” he replied, moving towards the front of the van.

“Hey, where is Donald?” Lori asked.

I looked around. In all the excitement, I hadn’t been paying attention who was here and who was not. “I guess he’s still back at the house.”

“His fat butt couldn’t keep up,” Brian said, as he knelt at the floorboard right at the killer’s feet. In fact, Brian’s hands were going through the guy’s feet . He put both of them palm down on the brake and pushed. There was a screeching of the tires as the van skidded across the pavement. Lucky for us that we were ghosts. Otherwise we probably would have all slid to the front and been pressed to the windshield. As spirits we were more able to control the laws of physics and gravity for ourselves. Still, instinct made us all brace ourselves.

The braking of the vehicle caught Kev by surprise, but he didn’t utter a word as he fought to control the van. He pressed on the gas as far as it would go, and the engine revved, trying to break free of the engaged brakes. He turned the wheel every way he could to try to get the tires to grab pavement and go. The brakes squealed and whined so much, smoke was rising up from the friction on the pavement, but we still weren’t going anywhere.

“Come on, you bitch,” he growled. “Let go!”

Suddenly, the brakes released and the van shot forward with a screech of its tires. Brian was nowhere to be seen.

“Oh my god, Where’d he go!?” Kelly screamed.

Looking out the rear window, I saw Brian laying in the road behind us. He had fallen straight through the van’s floorboard as if it weren’t there. “I think he’s out of energy,” I said.

“Oh my God, No!” Kelly went through the van like vapor and emerged onto the road. Gaining her footing, she sprinted towards her fallen lover, while Lori and I were still in the rolling death machine with our killer.

“Is he going to be alright?” Lori asked.

I nodded. “I think so. I think he just ran out of energy like you did the other night.”

“Hell of a time for that to happen.”

She was right. Fate could throw all kind of wrenches your way, but we needed to throw it back and soon. Kev was pushing the van as much as he could, and sure enough, Kelly had been right. He was taking us to the river. We were already on the river road and five minutes from Bay Bridge. I didn’t want to go off the damn thing a second time. Even if it couldn’t hurt me much now, I was beginning to think that God, or whomever, had a sense of humor and wasn’t afraid to laugh a little at our expense.

The sirens were getting closer, but not close enough. The river road was a long stretch of pavement with very little curves. Behind us, I could no longer see Brian and Kelly, but I could see the beginning flash of lights. At the current rate of speed however, the cops would never catch up to the van. I charged to the front and grabbed the steering wheel, hoping I too would not run out of energy. If I did, our killer might get away.

I jerked the wheel and the van swerved into the other lane of the road. The killer cursed and swore, but fought the wheel. Despite being a ghost, I was still just a kid. A skinny teenager against a muscle bound full grown man. I couldn’t hold the wheel against his strength. He got us back in the road without too much problem. I tried to jerk it again, but he was prepared this time, and as the guys in Cinderella sang, “Somebody Save Me!” I dove through the van’s engine, grabbing wires and hoses as I went. I jerked them free, hoping I was pulling something that would make the van stall. I was in luck, the engine made a clunking sound, I popped back into the van’s interior and grabbed the wheel once more.

Kev was in a serious panic now, the engine was cutting off, and the only thing carrying us along was the forward momentum from the speed at which we had been traveling. Distracted enough by this dilemma, I was able to jerk the wheel free of his grasp and turn it hard. With a huge thunk the engine locked up and the van flipped over on its side, skidding across the pavement and tumbling over and over down an embankment. It landed upside down in the shallow bank of the river. Water came in through the windows but it wasn’t enough to completely submerge the vehicle.

Kev was trying to open the door, but the tumble had jarred it. The river was rushing in to slap him in the face, and he ended up swallowing some of the murky water. Lori rushed forward. In her hand she held a tank of some kind. At first I thought it was oxygen, but then she pulled the trigger and a thick liquid hit him square in the mouth. Swallowing water was one thing. Ingesting industrial bug spray was another. He began to gag and twist in his seat. I grabbed hold of his seat belt and buckled him in so he couldn’t escape. Lori gave him another jet of bug spray, this time in the eyes, and as he opened his mouth to scream, the onrushing water filled him up. Hanging upside down, the river water was filling the cab, submerging his mouth and face where no air could reach him. Lori dropped the spray tank and suddenly the driver’s side was wrenched open. The calvary had arrived and a Sheriff’s deputy was trying to pull Kev’s body out of the van. With quick thinking, he released the seat belt and hauled the big man to freedom.

“I got him,” he yelled, as other deputies came down the embankment.

“Is there anyone else in the van?” One of them asked.

“I don’t know. This guy is..”

Kev’s body thrashed around on the ground. The poison and water had filled his lungs and he couldn’t rid himself of it. We stood there and watched, wondering what was going through his mind in these last moments. His eyes were red and unfocused. He spasmed, his back arching in agony. For a split second, his eyes seemed to focus on us, and all that was there was rage. I don’t know if he actually saw us or not, but he cast a defiant glare in our direction as his body jerked for the very last time. We didn’t turn away. The death of this child murdering, woman killing monster, meant absolutely nothing to us. We were as cold as death itself with no remorse or guilt for what we had done.

“We lost him,” a deputy said. “Somebody tell the sheriff he can stay at the guy’s house, no need to come out here.”

Lori and I turned from the scene and went up the embankment. Neither of us said a word to each other, as we got back on the road and started walking back to where we’d last seen Brian and Kelly.

They were no longer in the road. Kelly had dragged her boyfriend to a tree on the bank overlooking the river. She had leaned her back against it and was cradling Brian’s head in her lap. She looked up as we approached.

“Did they get him?” She asked.

I shook my head. “No, he’s dead.”

“Did you kill him?”

There was no use lying. “Yes, we did.”

She nodded. “Good.”

I looked down at Brian. His eyes were closed, but the way his chest moved I knew he was asleep, completely exhausted by the loss of energy. “Don’t worry, Kelly. He’ll be okay.”

She looked at me, eyes full of worry. “Are you sure?”

“Something similar happened to Lori. She just slept it off and was good as new. He’ll be okay by morning.”

She still didn’t look convinced. “Are we going to die now?”

I wanted to remind her we were already dead, but I knew that wasn’t what she meant.

“We righted the wrong,” Lori said.

Kelly nodded. “Does that mean it’s over then?”

“I guess,” I replied. “It doesn’t look to be an instantaneous thing though. I suppose we just have to wait it out, see what happens.”

I sat down next to Kelly and Brian. I too leaned against a tree. Lori sat down on my lap, curled her legs under her, and rested her head on my shoulder. I held her to me, as an ambulance drove by on its way to the crashed van. I noticed it didn’t have its siren on. I closed my eyes, and kissed Lori’s forehead. She lifted her head and looked at me.

“If this is the last one, make it one to remember,” she said.

“I wonder if we will even have memories after…”

“Shut up,” she said, and pressed her lips to mine. I closed my eyes again and surrendered to the bittersweet abandon of her kiss. A warmth seemed to envelop me. It was organic and pure, and encompassed all that I perceived me to be. It washed over me like the rising tide of a summertime beach, chasing any cold feeling I had within me into the furthest reaches of my existence. It was as if our kisses were melting across each other’s mouth, fusing us together into a new form of being. One where there was not a Chris. Nor a Lori. But something new and wonderful, a combination of both of us swimming through the ether of night.

My eyes snapped open. My back was still against the tree. Lori still in my lap.

“Are you okay?” She asked.

“I..I think I was dreaming.”

She snuggled closer to me. “Was I in it?”

“Forevermore,” I replied.

At some point in the early hours of the morning, as the sun was just beginning to peak it’s head over the trees, Brian awoke.

“What are we doing sitting by the river?” he asked.

“You needed rest, baby,” Kelly said.

He looked up at her, his head still resting in her lap. “Nice,” he grinned.

“How do you feel?” I asked him.

“I feel good. Am I supposed to feel something different?”

Kelly looked at him and said grimly, “We fixed it.”

At first he seemed confused, then looking at all of us he realized the truth. “He’s dead?”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

He smiled. “So why all the glum faces?”

Lori looked to me for answers and then said, “If we fixed the wrong that was done to us, everything should be setting itself to right again.”

“Then why are we still here?” He asked.

I had been thinking about it and the more time had past the more it looked like another piece fell into place before we could be at eternal rest. “I think it has something to do with our physical bodies. As far as we know they haven’t found them yet. I think that’s the key to all this.”

“So you’re saying it doesn’t matter that we got the guy who killed us?”

“Im not saying it doesn’t matter. The guy was a killer, and from the way he was talking neither us or the flower lady were the first. We did something good. We saved other people from a similar fate. That has to mean something.”

Brian seemed to like this idea. He grinned. “So I guess we’re like super heroes then, huh?”

I had to smile. “Yeah, I guess. But don’t let it go to your head.”

“Too late,” he laughed. “Im bored. Let’s go save someone else.”

“How about we go find Donald first? Last I saw him he was back at the house. We just left him there.”

“More like he left himself there. If were going to be superheroes we can’t be dragging him around behind us all the time. He needs to keep his fat ass up.”

“I see sleep didn’t make you any nicer,” Lori said.

“Should it?” He asked, raising an eyebrow with his usual smart ass look.

She sighed. “No, I suppose not.”

“Hey, what’s that?” Kelly interrupted.

The sound of outboard motors was coming down the river. We all looked and saw a group of small boats moving downstream. Some dragged nets behind them. A man sat in one of them, a pair of binoculars to his face, scanning the shoreline. Recovery operations had resumed.

 

+++music for riding in a van with a serial killer…just sayin+++

My NaNoWriMo 2016 continues: Chapter 30

Time Of Our Death

By Paul D Aronson

Thirty

I left the knife lying there and joined the others behind the couch. Sure enough, the girls were right. It was the flower lady. She was laying face down on the floor, fully clothed. Her body was still and motionless. Even if I could manage to touch her and feel for a pulse, I knew I wouldn’t find one. She was dead.

There weren’t any signs of blood or anything to indicate foul play though. She was just laying there as if she collapsed. Her clothes were a little disheveled, but that could have happened during the fall.  

“What happened to her?” Kelly asked, her voice shaking. 

“Heart attack?” Lori asked, perhaps hoping this was the case. 

“I don’t know.” I knelt down and reached out to touch the body. 

“What are you doing?” Asked Donald. “Don’t touch it.” 

“I’m just going to roll her over,” I replied. 

“What if you leave prints? We might be ghosts, but we don’t know if we leave fingerprints or not.” 

“If that was the case, they would have all our prints from the rescue squad.” I looked to the the others. “I just want to make sure..” 

“I don’t hear the shower anymore, “ Kelly said, a nervous edge to her voice. 

“No singing,” added Lori. 

They were right. The house was quiet. A little too quiet. Had the person in the shower somehow heard us? And if he came into the room right now, would he be like the grieving father and be able to see one or more of us? 

A sound of something hitting the floor and then be dragged across it broke the silence. We all looked up. It was coming from directly over our heads on the floor above. Before we had a chance to investigate, a thumping sounded on the steps, as if a large object was now being dragged down the staircase, allowing it to bump loudly on each step. Then came the voice. Low and grumbly at first, but coming closer to where we were. 

“You just had to push me, didn’t you? You just couldn’t let it go, could you?” It asked. No one answered. Not us, and certainly not the dead woman. 

“You started it, woman. Blame yourself, not me.” 

The shuffling sound came down the hallway with the man’s gravelly voice. He was dragging something behind him. 

“You said if it weren’t for the kids we could be together.” 

He came into the den. We all stood still, frozen in place, trying not to move as if we were playing a game of 1-2-3 redlight. He didn’t look much like the man we saw outside the movie theater with the flower lady. He was changed. Different somehow. Then he had looked like your average working class joe. Dark, close cropped hair. Clean shaven. A walk that showed masculine confidence. Now his hair was matted and wet, his face haggard and sullen, his walk like that of a lumbering ghoul. Behind him, he dragged a large rolled up carpet. He dropped it as close to the couch as he could, and began unrolling it.  

“I don’t know what you are so upset about,“ he said. “You said some days you wanted them gone. Don’t act like you’re the first to have wished that.” 

He came around the couch and knelt down at the woman’s body. With his big burly hands he rolled her over. Lori gasped, and put a hand to her mouth. The woman’s throat was crushed. You could see the skin was heavily bruised from where he had wrapped his hands around her throat and choked the very breath out of her. The small, diminutive woman never had a chance. 

Brian was holding Kelly’s face to his chest so she didn’t have to see, but the look on his face was that of horror. We had seen dead bodies before. The classmates in the bus who didn’t make it or were left behind. But this was different. This was flat out murder. With his own two hands he had killed this woman, and for what?  

“Oh, don’t look at me like that,” he said, looking down into her lifeless eyes. “You knew I followed that bus for months, mapping out every stop.”  

“Oh my god,” Lori moaned.  

I looked at Donald. He looked like he was in complete shock. “You got to be kidding me, “ he mumbled. 

The man picked up the woman by her shoulders, half dragging her to the unrolled carpet. I looked around me for something. Anything to protect us with. I knew he couldn’t see us, but it would have made me feel better knowing I had a weapon in my hands. Beside me on an end table was a telephone and a notepad with pen. Not very good weapons at all. I put my hand on the telephone and took the receiver off the hook. 

“They even changed buses on me.” He laughed and it sent chills up my spine, but at least it was loud enough to mask the sound of me dialing 911. “No matter, it still worked out. It went off the bridge just as planned.”  

He began to roll the woman’s body up in the carpet. We were going to have to do something. I looked at Lori. “Come on,” I said, and passed through the walls of the house to emerge into the night.  

“Chris, what are you..?” 

“We have to make some noise, “ I said. “Its not like we can run next door for help.” I looked around us. There was a small flower garden at the side of the house. Its borders were marked by red bricks, placed in a circle. I ran over and snatched one up. I hefted it in my hand and looked at her. “Smash the car windows and lay on the horn. If we’re lucky someone will call the cops.” 

“Not much a plan,” she replied, reaching down and picking up one of the bricks.  

“I took the phone off the hook and dialed 911.” 

“Well, that’s a better one.” 

I ran over to the nearest car, a red Volvo parked at the curb. I slammed the brick against the glass and it shattered.Reaching my hand through the gaping hole and pressed the horn in short staccato bursts, before holding it down to let it wail continuously in the still night.  

Lori was doing the same to another car nearby. She had chosen a yellow VW bug sitting in a nearby driveway. Not only had she smashed the window, but she then opened all four doors, so the interior light would come on. Laying on the horn, it seemed to echo off the house in its long, unending wail. To my surprise, she left the car and it’s horn continued to sound. Maybe she’d found something to jam down in the horn to keep it going, or perhaps it had just gotten stuck. Either way, it was effective.  

Lights started to come on in nearby houses, and I grinned. “Yes!”  

Over the sounding horns I heard a scream and looked back to the house. Kelly was standing on the porch yelling at us. A panicked, frightened look was on her face. 

I took off towards her, as did Lori. We bounded up the steps and through the door into the house. In the den, the killer had rolled the body all the way up in the carpet, but he was now laying on his back throwing his arms around as if trying to swat a horde of angry flies. Brian was standing over him trying to land punches at the man’s face. Thought he couldn’t make contact because of his anger, it was apparent the man felt something annoying the air around him. It had been enough to set him off balance, so that he’d tripped over his own feet to land on his ass. 

“Brian! Stop!” I yelled. In his anger, I knew he was doing nothing but wasting his energy. He would be better off picking up an object and hitting the guy, but Brian was beyond reason. He was as furious as the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. 

He looked at me with fire in his eyes. “Son of a bitch killed us!” he growled. “He admitted wanting all of us to die just to get her kids out of the way.” He looked down at the man. “You sick bastard.” 

The man couldn’t hear Brian, but he laughed any way. “Is that your ghost then?” He chuckled.  

We all froze, as his laughter almost echoed off the walls. 

“You wouldn’t be the first bitch to haunt me. You’re not the first one I have fixed a family problem for.” He clambered to his feet, looking around the room as if trying to see someone. “They all cried and complained too.” He snickered like that damn dog on the cartoons. “I ain’t afraid of no ghost, and certainly not yours.” 

“I’ll make you afraid,” Brian snarled. He ran over to the fireplace and grabbed up the poker.  

The man’s eyes grew wide, but he was beyond both reasoning and sanity. He had come completely unhinged. But not so unhinged that he would just stand there while a floating poker came at him. He ducked out of the way, went down on his knees to lift up the rolled up carpet, body and all. He turned his head just in time to avoid the poker from scraping his cheek. And when he did this, he noticed the telephone off the hook.  

“Shit,” he yelled, just as the poker finally made contact, slapping him across the back and almost knocking the wind out of him. Brian had hit him so hard, he had lost the weapon from his hands, and again in an unthinking gesture, tried attacking the man with his bare fists. 

This gave the killer the break he was waiting for. With all his strength, he hefted the carpet roll and flung it over his back. He was heading for the door. The hysterical Kelly got out of his way, as if he would plow her down. Donald had been standing motionless the whole time, watching the action from the other side of the room, and it was apparent he wasn’t going to do anything to help now. Not so with Lori.  

The bravest girlfriend ever was trying to slide objects into the killers path. A Chair, an umbrella stand, wooden coat rack – anything to trip him up. But he dodged her attempts, using his bulk to knock these things aside, as he fled the den and went down the hall towards the front door. 

Brian was already on his heels. Taking a cue from Lori, he was throwing stuff at the man’s back in a desperate attempt to slow him down. But the man was like a machine now. He was concerned with nothing around him and he burst out the front door like he was Robocop or something. Behind Brian, I could see where he was heading. His work van.  

He threw the carpet to the ground at the rear of the vehicle. It made a horrible thud, reminding us all there was a dead body inside. He opened up the van doors and bent over to lift up the carpet. Whack! A tree branch whacked him in the back of his legs. Kelly tried to hit him a second time with the old limb but the wood splintered and broke, rendering it ineffective.  

Shoving the carpet inside, he was closing the doors, when somebody yelled, “hey!” We all turned. A man was coming across the yard in a bathrobe and slippers. “You okay, Kev?” He asked. He had this look on his face like he thought his neighbor was on drugs. It was apparent he had no idea he was face to face with a killer. 

“I’m fine, Larry, go back inside,” he snarled. The neighbor had enough sense to realize this was bad. Something was seriously wrong and it stopped him in his tracks, making him back up just a little. Kev looked at him with a devilish grin. “Or I’ll fix you, too,” he said. 

We all stood there, none of us no longer on the attack, as if we were just casual bystanders to a conversation. Despite the fact we were ghosts it was hard getting used to the fact we didn’t interact as humans anymore. We had stopped trying to stop the killer when Larry the neighbor had arrived, thinking he was going to take care of it. He wasn’t. 

He must have seen something dark and evil within Kev’s eyes, because he turned and ran back to the safety of his house. To some of the others this may have seemed cowardly, but to me I thought it was the best choice he could have made. Kev grinned and opened the driver’s side door. Then he stopped. In the distance, sirens were sounding. The sheriff and his posse were finally on the way. 

While the others smiled, and shouted, “yeah!” in some form of triumph, Kev just grinned that evil, Joker-like smile. “Always too late,” he mumbled. “Always.” 

“Not always,” Brian said, helplessly lunging at him. Kev got in the van and closed the door, completely unaffected. Starting up the engine, he put the vehicle in gear and began to pull out of the driveway. The sheriff was going to be too late to catch him. I saw a flash of movement as Lori dashed by me and dove through the paneling of the van. Kelly leapt through the back doors. As it hit the street, both Brian and I quickly joined them as passengers, the four of us and one dead body against a killer who had obviously done this before. 

My NaNoWriMo 2016: Just Keep Writing

Well, National Novel Writing Month is over. It was an awesome experience for me, having to write everyday in order to make the 50k goal. I’m really surprised I stuck with it. I have a habit of abandoning projects, it seems. But I kept going with this one, and I ended the month with 57k words and a huge bulk of the first draft complete. So , after coming out as a winner of NaNoWriMo, what’s next? To finish the novel of course. So here we go, soldiering on with my project, the paranormal YA novel, Time Of Our Death. Hope you enjoy…
Time Of Our Death 

By Paul D Aronson 
Twenty-Nine

We caught up with Brian and Kelly several blocks away. They too were having their share of uncovering secrets. Though none seemed as bad as the drug addicted mother. These were fun, almost silly secrets. Kids sneaking their parent’s booze, a young husband going to the bathroom to have a secret smoke where his wife couldn’t see, a teenager climbing out her bedroom window to go meet her much older boyfriend. Brian accidentally stumbled into one of his schoolmate’s rooms to discover him touching himself inappropriately in the dark. Brian laughed about it but you could tell it almost made him barf. 

After that, Brian came up with the idea of crashing a party that one of Kelly’s friends was having. Word had it that they had even invited some frat boys, which made Kelly herself interested enough to check it out. The rumor of the party had been discovered at another house, as two girls were leaving to go, so the four of us followed them. Might as well; there was nothing else to do. 

“Anybody seen Donald?” I asked, as we trailed behind the party going teens.  

“He said he was going to the river, “ Kelly answered.  

“What for?” 

“I don’t know. He just said he wanted to be alone.” 

“Yeah,” Brain added. “Said it was weird hanging out with us. And that it wasn’t a good idea or some shit. He was always a loser anyway. I was supposed to beat his ass the day of the accident, so I guess its good for him he died.”  

I didn’t like the sneer on his face, and for a moment I felt my hand curl into a fist before unclenching it. “You were always wanting to beat his ass,” I mumbled. 

“Yeah,“ he chuckled. “Survival of the fittest. And he wasn’t fit for anything.” 

“You’re such an asshole,” Lori said. 

He bowed mockingly. “Well thank you, Elvira. I accept the award.” 

“There it is,“ Kelly interrupted, as we watched the two girls approach a house where it was clear something was going on for sure. All the lights were on and the strains of “You Got To Fight For Your Right To Party” could be heard blasting from behind its walls.  

“Gnarly, “ exclaimed Brian. 

As we went up the front porch, I noticed there were a couple of girls sitting in a wooden porch swing. They looked like they were waiting for their dates to show up, despite the fact Donald was sitting between them. I grinned and shook my head. He got up and walked over to us.

“I’m here to tell you, this is one lame party. The girls act like they don’t even see you.” 

Lori laughed. “I bet the guys do too.” 

“Good to see you , Don,” I said. “Anything going on at the river?” 

“Nah. I think the bus got pushed down the river a little ways when the water came out of the dam. But, they’ll find it tomorrow I suppose. We might as well enjoy the night.” 

I agreed. “Well, were going to check out the party. You coming?” 

“Aw, what the hell. It’s pretty boring out here anyway.” 

When we all went inside I didn’t know what to expect. It was apparent right away that whoever was throwing the party wasn’t too worried about their parents. The house was already in a shambles. Discarded beer bottles were everywhere, including one which hadn’t been empty and was now staining the carpet at the entrance. The music was cranked so loud any kind of normal conversation was impossible, so couples had resorted to making out instead. In the den, a group of boys were running the pool table, while a television already turned to Headbanger’s Ball was entertaining a group of clean cut boys smoking a bowl. I knew a couple of them were honor roll students, and it shocked me that they were also stoners in the making. There was no sign of any frat boys in the house, which seemed to disappoint Kelly, but she was not to be deterred. This was her friend Amy’s party, and she wanted to see what she was getting up to.  

We passed our way through the walls into the kitchen, where all the drinks were being concocted and served. I don’t know where the alcohol had come from, but there was a lot of it.

What really surprised me about the party was it seemed no one was acting like it bothered them that classmates had died a few days ago. Over half a dozen confirmed dead, and no one seemed to care. This really disappointed me. Not really for myself mind you, but for others who once basked in the popularity spotlight and were now dead and gone. To prove my disappointment, a group of guys at the kitchen counter were doing shots and toasting the fact they were alive, unlike the losers on “that bus.”  

I shook my head in disgust. It was one thing to totally disregard the fact that kids had died, but another to then make fun of them. This truly sank home when we found Amy, Kelly’s friend. She was in one of the bedrooms with some other girls, all of whom were doing their makeup in front of a huge vanity mirror atop a dresser.  

“I bet when they find her, her legs will be straight up in the air,” one of the girls, a prissy thing with yellow blonde hair, said. 

“Yeah, and her push up bra will be on the outside of her clothes,” said another, to which they all laughed, as if this was something that had actually happened once. 

“She really thought she was hot shit, didn’t she?” Amy added. “God, I hated that bitch.” 

I thought to myself whoever they were talking about was getting raked through the coals. I had never been one to eavesdrop on girls talk, but I was a bit surprised by the cruelty in their voices. Whoever the subject was, I felt bad for her. 

“Kelly, rest in peace, you slut.”  

I jerked my head around to look at Brian and Kelly. They were both in shock, as much as I was. Kelly eyes were brimming with angry tears. Her bottom lip quivered and she looked about ready to bolt for the door in shame. They were all laughing at her. I could only assume they knew she was missing, unaccounted for, and presumed dead. And because of it, they were saying just what they thought of her.  

Brian put his hand on her arm. “Don’t worry about it, babe. They’re bitches.”

“But they were supposed to be my friends,” she cried, the tears now streaming down her cheek. “How could they do this to me?” 

The vanity girls were laughing so hard, they didn’t notice the floating lipstick holder until it flew into Amy’s open mouth. She started choking on it, as she nearly swallowed the lipstick in the middle of her laugh. The other girls stopped laughing and came to her aid, screaming in alarm. Lori stood beside them, a smug look on her face. She looked at us.  

“I figured she needed it more on the inside. That’s where she’s the ugliest,” she said. 

“Let’s get the hell out of here, “ Brian said. “This party fucking blows.” He was angry for Kelly. She was his concern now, and these vain, mean girls weren’t even worth his energy. He steered Kelly away and they went back out through the wall.  

One of the hateful teenagers had managed to use the Heimlich maneuver to get the lipstick holder dislodged from Amy’s throat. “How the hell did you manage to swallow that?” She asked, astounded. 

“I..I don’t know, “ the victim gasped. “I didn’t even have it in my hand.” She started to cry, it had shaken her up so. 

“Serves her right,” Lori said. “Those kind of girls are the reason I wont miss school at all.” 

I couldn’t help but agree. If I had to make a list of things I wouldn’t miss from life, school and its accompanying ridicule and bullying was at the very top. The sad thing was I imagined those kind of people would grow up to be even bigger bullies, taking their insecurities out on family and friends alike. Once that kind of behavior begins, it can’t be stopped. As we joined the others outside, Brian sat on the curb with Kelly, comforting her in her hurt. I looked at Brian and how he was by her side like the perfect boyfriend, with his arm around her and whispering in her ear. He had been just as big a bully as those girls at the party, if not worse, but he seemed to have changed at least a little. Now he had moments when he acted like your equal and not your slave master, but I had to wonder if he would have changed like this if he’d been spared and survived the bus. A big part of me said no, he would still be picking on everyone whom he felt was beneath him.  

“I would give you a penny for your thoughts, but I don’t know what you would spend it on, “ Lori said, bringing me out of my contemplation. 

“I’m sorry, I was just thinking about those girls in there.” 

“Hey, I’m right here,” she replied, grabbing my arm playfully. 

“I didn’t mean it like that, baby, “ I said. 

She raised her eyebrows at me. “Did you just call me baby?” 

“Um..well..I” 

“I like that,” she said, with a smile. “Just don’t call me booger butt, or something stupid like that.” 

I laughed. “Okay, no booger butt.”  

Donald, who had been quiet through the whole thing inside finally spoke up. “Let’s just get out of here. There’s still plenty of houses in need of MTV.” 

At first I thought Brian and Kelly would say they were through with that, but they both nodded, as if they thought that was a good idea. Everyone was a little quieter after Amy’s party, but they weren’t about to let it ruin what was left of the night, and our existence.  

As we moved on down the street, I looked over at Donald, who was now looked tired. I don’t think it was exhaustion, but just an overall look that said he was just trying to find something to do to keep him from thinking so much. The girls at the party and their behavior had hit a little close to home for all of us, but I guess it reminded him of how Brian had treated him all his life, and now here he was actually hanging out with him. I might have escaped some of that bullying when I went rock and roll, but Donald had been facing it every day. I felt sad for my friend, but I didn’t know what to do to lift his spirits, so I kept walking with the Dead Kids Rule gang in search of more homes to prank. 

“Well, would you look at that?” Brian spoke.  

We all stopped. He was pointing to a house down the street. Unlike the others, It wasn’t decorated for the halloween season. In fact, it looked quite dark, except for a few dim lights inside. But that’s not what had caught Brian’s eye. No, it was a white van with the words Carter’s Exterminating emblazoned across the side. 

“Holy shit, “ breathed Lori. She looked at me. “Do you think it’s him?” 

“I don’t know. There could be several company vehicles. This might not be the one.” 

Brian looked at me. “What’s the deal with this guy, again?” 

“I think he was on the other end of the bridge the other day. He might be the witness everyone is looking for. Or maybe he was the one responsible. He could have been there to make sure it worked. I just don’t know. But he is tied into all this somehow.” 

“ Well, there’s only one way to know for sure.” 

“What, walk up and ask him?” Donald laughed nervously. 

“No,” I said. “But we can watch him. See if he leads us to something.” 

“I’m in,” Brian answered without hesitation. Kelly nodded her agreement, and I looked again at Donald, who just kind of shrugged. I looked at Lori, and I could tell she was still sitting on the fence on whether this was the best course of action. Finally, she mustered a relenting smile. 

“Okay, I’m in too.” 

“Alright,” I said. “Let’s go check it out.” 

Instead of just passing through the walls, we entered the house through the front door. The foyer was dark, but we could still see just as easily as Lori and I had when we went down to the bus. A stairway directly in front of us led upstairs, while to either side of it the hallway ran in two different directions. Everything was quiet and still.  

“Perhaps everyone is in bed,” Donald suggested. 

“Perhaps, “ I repeated, not too sure of that. My sense of smell was off, possibly a side effect of being a ghost, but there was a light unappealing scent in the air. And I could hear a quiet dripping sound as if someone had left the faucet on in the kitchen. “Come on, “ I said, as I went in search of its source. 

Going around the staircase, and down one of the hallways, I followed the sound as it grew increasingly louder. It wasn’t that we were getting closer, but the water, if that’s what it was, was increasing in pressure. 

“Somebody’s in the shower,” Kelly said, with a slight blush. “They’re singing.” 

Sure enough, she was right. I could hear it now, mingled with the sounds of the weather. Somebody was singing Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. I could make out the opening lines of the song being repeated over and over: “finished with my woman, ‘cause she couldn’t help me with my mind.” 

“Im not going in there, “ Brian said. “Probably some fat guy playing with himself.” 

“Me neither,“ said Lori, making a face. 

“Don’t look at me,“ added Donald. 

I almost wanted to laugh at the five of us standing outside the bathroom door, arguing about peeking on the person inside. I couldn’t do it either, though. Some things you just don’t want to see. Instead, I moved off down the hallway. “We’ll come back,” I reasoned. 

Further into the house we went, until we came into the den. While most of the houses we had been to had their living rooms at the front of the house, this one was more to the back. Other than that it looked about the same as any other. Couch and loveseat, free standing lamps, a television, bookcases lined with books and record albums. An unlit fireplace was at the back of the room.  

Stepping inside, I noticed the television was already on, but it wasn’t on a channel that worked. A test pattern was on the screen and a dull ring was emanating from the TV speaker.  

“That is freaking irritating,” Brian said. 

I agreed and crossed the room to the console. I looked down for a moment and saw a knife lying on the floor. It was one of those big stainless steel kitchen knives. Curious, I bent down to inspect it closer. It was unstained, as if it just came out of the dishwasher. But what was it doing in here on the floor, as if someone just dropped it? I looked to my left and froze. A pair of legs was sticking out from behind the couch. I looked up at the others, who couldn’t see what I was staring at. 

“Hey guys, “ I said, “I think there’s someone behind the couch.” 

Kelly and Lori were the first to reach it, and both of them let out a sound that was half scream, half gasp. Lori looked at me, her face registering the shock.  

“It’s the flower lady.”