Such a Fine Line

I hate that song.

With a sigh, I changed the radio station away from Megadeth’s “Sweating Bullets” as I kept my eyes on the road ahead. It’s easy for people to say they hate themselves. It’s harder to point out a very good reason as to why. For me, it was the fact that I was pretty sure I was losing my mind.

I wouldn’t say you’ve lost it. I’d say you’re just coming to accept that I exist.

The voice in my head had slowly grown more and more annoying over the years, but it wasn’t until six months ago that it finally went from being something like my conscience to something far more terrifying. I went from listening to its advice to arguing with it, and then things only escalated from there.

Why couldn’t we stay later? I want enjoying that game. You had a nice hand, but not a good bluffing face. Maybe you should’ve let me play?

At first I just noticed things moved around in my room after a night of sleep, but after a while I began to have memory lapses that spanned anywhere from ten minutes to a few hours every day. The last time that had occurred was yesterday, and I went from sitting in my third period history class to standing before the bruised figure of Josh Andrews in the parking lot as he kept his back to his truck, astounded at the sight of me standing before him in a fighting stance. Josh was the guy who had bullied me since middle school, and made my life a living hell before my new tenant took up occupancy in my thoughts. I hadn’t done anything to Josh to leave him like that. I know I didn’t. I didn’t even know how to fight.

So you say.

Laughter followed that in my head as I felt a chill crawl over my body. I shook my head and focused on getting home. Today it had gone too far, spewing threats and demanding that I assault my friends around me during our card game. I was tired of this life, always fearing the other me.

I don’t like you referring to me as an it. It’s insulting, honestly.

“Then what the hell do I call you?” I asked in frustration as I pulled into my driveway. It was late, and I knew my dad would be asleep and my mom would be working at the hospital, so I slipped upstairs like a ghost and into bed.

Sleep well.

There was something unnerving about receiving a goodnight from yourself.

 

***

 

“Caleb?” the voice asked in concern. I snapped my head around and saw my friend Lauren staring at me in bewilderment. There’s something painful about seeing someone so close to you look so mortified. I was about to ask why when I looked at what was in my hands. I was holding a handgun, and I had no idea where it had come from. My immediate reaction was to drop it to the floor of the hallway, and that’s when I noticed that I was in school. Glancing about in alarm I realized I was standing next to Josh’s locker, a dent very obvious in the center. The knuckles of my left hand were aching, and when I looked at them I saw blood leaking out of the skin.

“Caleb,” Lauren began, “what are you doing with that gun?”

The better question is why you dropped it? It could’ve gone off, you know?

“I…I don’t know,” I answered in all honesty. Lauren was clutching her books tightly to her chest as she backed away down the hall.

“Caleb, I don’t want to say anything, but I have to know.”

Want me to tell her?

“I want you to keep quiet!” I hissed.

“What?” Lauren asked, her head cocked to the side, terror more evident on her face.

“Not you!” I tried to assure her. “I’m just…I don’t even-”

“Don’t.” she managed to say. “Just…don’t.”

“Lauren,” I said as I fought back tears, “it’s going to be okay. I’m not going to hurt you. I swear!”

Seriously, let me handle this.

“Stop talking!” I shouted. Lauren turned her back and hurried down the hall as I ran after her. “Lauren!”

“Stay away from me, Caleb!” she called back. I slowed to a stop as the weight of guilt pressed me to the floor. I was on my knees, alone and confused.

You’re never alone, Caleb.

Yet here I was, alone and afraid in the hallway of my high school.

Speaking of which, I’d suggest hiding that gun, because classes should be letting out at any moment now.

Rational thought seized me, and I backtracked down the hall and retrieved the weapon before heading out of the exit as the sound of a bell’s ringing haunted my steps.

 

***

 

A brick wall. That’s what I came to next after leaving the school. The transition happened in a literal blink, and here I was in an unknown place yet again. I tried to recall something, anything that would enlighten me as to how I’d gotten here.

You’re back! Good, I was worried I’d be handling this myself. I’ve got a surprise for you!

I never knew that death had a smell, but maybe that was just my brain trying to rationalize my nausea. I hadn’t seen any bodies, but I knew they were on the other side of the brick wall leading into the alley. The trail of blood leading back there was evidence enough for me.

You’ve really got to stop dropping out on me. You might miss something important.

“Mocking bastard,” I grunted. My head felt like railroad spikes had been run through it. The throbbing wouldn’t stop, and my vision started to blur as the voice in my head continued to bark orders.

Get yourself together, because we’ve got work to do. You’ll find some aspirin in your left pocket.

“Where am I?” I asked.

Well, I’d love to say you had a fun night drinking and blacked out, but that would be a lie. I’d never lie to a friend.

“Where the hell am I?!” I demanded. There was silence, followed by humming. I was so confused and scared, but couldn’t decide which was more prominent.

I don’t care what you feel right now. Soon, you’re going to feel good.

“Why? What the hell did you do?” I asked meekly. I didn’t want to try and imagine what horrors awaited around the corner.

You couldn’t picture it if you tried, but I’ll tell you that it’s one of your wildest fantasies.

That got it roaring with laughter. How the hell was it possible for it to sound like it was everywhere at once?

Ready?

“No.”

Too bad. Now go around the corner and take your prize!

I couldn’t deny the curiosity within. I wanted to know what the hell this thing had brought me here for. Besides, if someone was still alive then I could do something.

Well the baseball bat will be useful in that something.

My foot kicked something as I rounded the corner, and I looked down to see exactly what he’d just mentioned. The bat rolled across the ground, and blood covered one side of it. This was beyond what I thought it could do. I had to get help. I had to stop it.

Help? To stop what? The voice in your head?

It laughed again as I closed my eyes and ran down the alley. I nearly tripped over something and finally opened my eyes to see a disfigured Josh broken and beaten on the ground, next to some pallets and trash cans. My heart skipped a few beats as I looked him over, praying to God that he was still alive.

That’s useless. Besides, he’s alive. I made sure to save you the final blow. This is what you wanted, right?

It finally hit me. This was my fault. All of that teasing, all of those assaults this guy had put me through, and everything thing else he did to me had caused me to break. I had always wanted to be better than him. I wanted to be stronger. I wanted to take my life back from the bullies that had tormented me for years.

Hey, do you think his family is smarter than he is?

“What?” I asked, not really caring to hear what absurd statement the monster in me had to say next.

I was just wondering if they’re even literate, because I have something in the works for them to read. It’s called Josh’s obituary.

I cried out in frustration as the sickening laughter flooded my mind. This had to end. I had to get the police, or someone.

What are you going to tell them? That the person living in your head is trying to kill someone? While you’re at it why don’t you tell them about the fat man at the North Pole that’s breaking into houses? I’m sure they’ll believe it all.

“You’re a monster.”

I’m what you made! You wanted your life to get better, and I’m taking the necessary steps that you were too scared to even consider! Man up! Take what I’m offering, and we’ll be unstoppable! Josh is just the first! We have a list of these asses to take down!

I glanced down at Josh’s form. He was barely breathing, but he was definitely still alive. “I’m leaving, and I’m taking him with me.”

Where will you go? The hospital? The second he’s conscious again he’ll tell the authorities that you were the one who beat him within an inch of his life.

He was right. I couldn’t fix this easily.

You can’t fix this. Just end it here. It’s easier to dispose of a lifeless corpse anyway. Less blabbing, and more being quiet six feet under.

“Screw you!” I shouted.

You’re making this difficult. I like it when things are easy, like beating the piss out of Josh here. He just begged and begged. I’m actually sad that you missed it. You would’ve loved it.

“Enough!” I cried. I was done with all of this. Somehow I’d stop this bastard from taking my life from me.

I’m not taking it from you. I’m taking it from the ones who stole it in the first place!

“Stop trying to justify this crap!” Silence followed, and I took that time to attempt to lift Josh up and drag him out of the alley.

You asked for this.

“I didn’t,” I heaved as I struggled with Josh’s form.

That’s not what I’m talking about.

 

***

 

I was driving my car through the city streets, and had just sped through a red light before I caught myself again and snatched the wheel, almost flipping the car as I went on two wheels to try and bring it to a stop. It was night now, and I wasn’t even sure if it was the same day or not. Where did he have me driving to?

Well I can catch you up on that. Josh is unconscious in the trunk, and your good pal Lauren reported you for that weapon on school grounds. Now there’s a warrant for your arrest, and we’re playing hide and seek.

“What the hell have you done?” I asked, completely lost in this situation.

So maybe I made a mistake. I’m not too worried about it. It can be fixed, now do me a favor and give me control again.

“Like hell I will!”

I misspoke. See, that was a formality. I can just easily take this body as I please.

“No, you can’t.”

Oh, but I can.

For a moment, my vision went hazy and a strange noise overtook my hearing. I was about to slip away again, but then I saw Lauren’s upset expression. I saw my parents and the concern in their face when I kept popping Tylenol like it was my life source. I saw the bloody bat, and finally, I saw Josh. This wasn’t me. I never intended for things to go this way, and I would be damned if I let it continue. My vision began to clear.

Well shit. You grew a pair.

Ignoring the voice, I put the car back into drive and started down the road again.

Where do you think you’re going now?

It was too fitting that “Sweating Bullets” was playing on the radio again tonight. You’ve got to love repeats on radio stations.

I hate that song.

“Bite me.”

If I could, I would.

I got onto the interstate highway and focused on finding the right exit. It’s hard to find a place that you’ve never really been to before, but I knew it was close enough by.

Wait, you’re going there?

It was a tough call, but if I wanted to keep from hurting anyone else then it was my best bet.

This is getting interesting. Between the police, your deteriorating mental state, and your desperate idea, I’m curious as to who will win.

I wasn’t going to entertain the sick bastard with anymore words. Still, that didn’t stop it.

I’m in your head, genius. I know what you’re thinking.

The Maia Institute wasn’t too far away. I just had to get there before I lost control again.

The most that they’ll do is sedate you. Guess what? The second you wake up I’ll be here again.

I turned the music up, hoping it would drown the voice out.

I’m still here. I don’t have to shout. I’m in your head. What part of that aren’t you getting?

Traffic was slow ahead, and I could see flashing blue and red lights. It would be my luck that a wreck happened now of all times.

You lose. That officer directing traffic might be in on the hunt. Oh, I hope so.

There was no turning around. Traffic was beginning to build up behind me, and I could just get out and go on foot. This was it for me. Swearing, I slammed my fist on the steering wheel repeatedly as the other half of me continued to mock me.

You should’ve known you’d lose in the end. All you had to do was cooperate and we could’ve set you up for life. Hell, you even lost Lauren, and you had a thing for her, right? Why the hell am I asking; you secretly loved that girl.

“Fuck you!”

I’m not the one who’s about to be screwed in a few minutes. I hope he shoots you with a stun gun. I bet that’ll suck.

It hit me. Desperation was all I had left, and the ambulance wasn’t too far away. I vaguely remembered my mom letting me see inside one a few years back while she was on break. I’d probably take a bullet before I got there if the officer got suspicious, but even that was better than nothing.

What the hell are you doing?

I opened the door and charged through the line of cars. The officer noticed me and pointed a flashlight in my direction, nearly blinding me for a second before I threw my left arm up to block the beam.

“Hey! Stop!”

I ignored him and made for the open back doors of the ambulance. I honestly wouldn’t be mad if he shot me.

Wait. You’re going to…no! You’re insane!

“Yep!” I panted as I reached the vehicle. Only the driver was still inside, but even he couldn’t do anything in time as I began to rummage through the equipment. I had no idea where they would be, but I wasn’t giving up.

On second thought, I’ll stop! Don’t do this! You’ll kill yourself! It doesn’t work like that!

“Oh, so you’re scared now?”

I’m not this stupid! You’re not this stupid!

“Well, we’ll find out,” I shot back as my hands found the satchel. Inside was what I’d been praying for. I didn’t know how to work a defibrillator, so I set everything as high as it would go and accepted that I might die. Grabbing the paddles, I rubbed them together like I’d seen it done on TV, and held them inches from each side of my head.

You’re going to kill us! Stop!

“It’d be better than me hurting anyone else.”

The driver appeared at the back door, red with rage as he began to climb inside. The officer was right behind him, gun drawn and trained on me. Once they realized what I was doing they both backed off, but the gun never dropped.

“Put them down, kid,” the officer said calmly, “I’m only going to ask you once.”

Listen to the officer. Put them down.

“Fuck you.” I wasn’t even sure who I’d said that too. I noticed the officer hit the safety, and realized that it was now or never.

I hope it hurts.

“Same to you, asshole.” Then I slammed the paddles against my head.

 

***

 

The hospital room was white, black, and gray. In fact, everything was. It didn’t really bother me though. Even the bandages over my head weren’t a problem, and the absence of the monster in me didn’t really register. I didn’t care anymore. The doctor asked me questions, but I just didn’t feel like answering him. The police came by and said something about a young man they found nearly dead in the trunk of the car I was driving, yet I wasn’t bothered by their threats of imprisonment. My parents cried next to me, but I didn’t understand why. All of the words they said to each other didn’t draw anything from me, but when my dad finally gave me my MP3 player in the hopes of getting me back to myself, I put the earphones in and played the first song that came to mind. The doctor explained my current state in the background as I stared at the light on the ceiling while listening to “Sweating Bullets.”

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The Beer Tastes Funny

Keith set the ice-filled cooler down on the patio next to the chairs he’d placed in a row down the middle, all facing out to the tobacco field. He hadn’t done much work, but he had to wipe his forearm across his face to catch the running beads of sweat that were cascading down from his blonde hair. It was a hot day for summer, sure, but the heat was unnaturally unbearable today. Still, he’d have this no other way, and even if his fiancée had called him insane before leaving that morning to be with her family a state away he didn’t let it bother him. Sitting down on the chair nearest the cooler, he leaned forward and grabbed a beer to partake upon before closing the lid back on it to trap the cold air inside. The cold glass felt amazing in his hand as he bit down on the cap and popped it off with a tug. It wasn’t the best habit for his teeth, but he hadn’t thought to grab the bottle opener and was honestly just too lazy to walk back inside with the heat as malicious as it was all around him. He leaned back and let the chair absorb his shape as he tilted the bottle up and downed half of the contents. That was better.The rows of tobacco plants waved at him from the field before him, almost with an ignorant innocence, oblivious to everything. For some odd reason he felt obliged to wave back, but refrained when he realized how stupid that would be. After finishing off bottle number one he set it down next to his chair and checked his phone. Still no signal, of course, just like the past couple of hours. Only time would tell if his guests would make it in time now, and his expectations were much lower than the air temperature. With a sigh he set the phone down on the arm of the chair and grabbed his second beer from the cooler, his eyes now to the sky.

The peaceful silence was interrupted a moment later by the sound of a diesel engine coming from the front of the house. He took another sip as he waited for the newcomer to come around back like he’d asked him to over the phone earlier. After another minute, a familiar face rounded the corner and joined him on the patio, and without a word grabbed a beer from the cooler and joined Keith in the next seat to his left. The young man reached into his pocket for his keys and popped the cap off of his bottle with his keychain bottle opener. They both sat in silence for a minute, drinking and keeping their eyes on the sky. Keith started chewing on his tongue. What exactly do you say at a time like this?

“Beautiful sight. It’s times like this when living with all of this farmland around you is nice, huh?” Corbin asked as he waved his arm for emphasis, “Such a nice view, and what better way to handle all of this than to sit here and contemplate your decisions while staring out into a bland area, right? Better question; why the hell aren’t you inside?”

“The power’s out, dumbass,” Keith replied before downing his second beer.

“Still, the shade in there has to feel better,” Corbin complained. Keith set the bottle down before he grabbed his third beer from the cooler.

“Maybe, but then I wouldn’t have this great view.”

“You’re still the optimist you’ve always been, huh asshole?” Corbin jabbed. Keith just shrugged while he bit the cap off of the bottle. Corbin watched him spit it across the porch and shook his head, “You’re going to fuck your teeth up doing that.”

“Not like it matters anymore,” Keith replied as he took a swig.

“Jesus you couldn’t be more depressing.”

Keith pointed to him, “You had a choice to come here.”

“Not like I had much of one,” Corbin said dully as he stared at his empty bottle, “my family is across the country, and I wouldn’t make it to them in time,” his head dipped a bit as a thought seized him, “I can’t even call my mom, man.”

Keith only nodded, unable to relate. He wasn’t really close with his family to begin with, and only his fiancée had mattered to him, but she was gone now too.

“So,” Corbin began hesitantly, “anyone else coming?”

“Tevin was invited. I honestly expected him to be first.”

“Well fuck you too, Keith,” Corbin replied as he motioned with his hand. Keith grabbed another beer and handed it to him to take care of before going back to nursing his own. He removed it from his lips and raised an eyebrow.

“Well, he lives closer to me than you do.”

“Yeah, but he’s more of an ass than me on any given day,” Corbin said, smirking as he leaned over and spat on the patio. A mix of dip and alcohol probably wasn’t the best taste anyway, Keith assumed.

“You’re both still kids with the way you act,” Keith retorted. Corbin moved his lips to maneuver the dip into place as he tossed back his beer. Fumbling with the half-empty bottle and grimacing, he drank the rest in a few gulps before finally swearing and sitting back, throwing the bottle clear off of the porch, “Who made you the mature one then? Just because you have this nice place and a hot fiancée doesn’t make you the king of life. Definitely not anymore.”

“Well, I don’t hold grudges for eight years,” Keith muttered.

Corbin grunted his disapproval and motioned for another beer before saying something else, “When’s the asshole getting here anyway?”

“Couldn’t tell you myself,” Keith answered honestly as he passed on yet another bottle, “He’d be on his way, but I can’t call him, and the signal cut out while we were talking.”

“Yeah,” Corbin said with a nod, “understandable right now.”

“You’re the smart one, Corbin. You tell me,” Keith said as he pointed to the sky with the hand with his beer grasped in it, “How didn’t we see this coming?”

“Well for starters, you can’t-”

The revving of another engine sounded out from around the house, much louder yet with more bass to the rumble. Corbin seemed to tense up in his chair as Keith stood up and walked to the left side of the porch and waited for the sound of the V8 to cut out.

“Did you happen to tell Tevin I might be here?” Corbin asked, a nervous sound to his voice.

“Didn’t make it that far into the conversation,” Keith answered. Sure enough, after only a few more seconds the familiar figure of Tevin appeared from around the house. The young man’s dark skin glistened in the sunlight from the sweat that was flowing from his pores on this hot day. It’d been quite a few years, but he looked mostly the same. He still wore jeans and a black t-shirt. Hell, the guy’s wardrobe was on the grayscale. Though it was good to see him, the feeling didn’t appear mutual as Tevin stomped across the yard towards the patio. Keith sighed and stood his ground as Tevin marched up the steps and past him, heading right for Corbin. Keith finally looked behind him in time to see Corbin holding out a new beer he’d grabbed.

“Hey, Tevin! Fancy a cold one?” Tevin reached him and smacked the beer back across the porch where it shattered on the wall of the house. Corbin looked to it and then back to Tevin, not as perplexed as he was feigning, “You could’ve said you don’t drink.”

“We settling this or what?!” Tevin barked. Corbin leaned around him to mouth out for help to Keith, who rolled his eyes and decided to intervene.

“Tevin, I didn’t call you here for you two to beat the shit out of each other on my back porch. Hell, you two should’ve done that years ago.”

“So why the fuck am I here?!” Tevin shouted at him.

“Because,” Corbin said as he threw his arms out for emphasis, “we’ve got a lot to get through in a short time, and Keith here wants everyone to be nice and whole again before that time is up.”

“If you’re so pissed, then why did you come here?” Keith asked. Tevin snarled and looked up to the sky with a face that seemed to speak of deep contemplation as he observed the heavens above.

“My family is in New York. Too far away. Short straw says that you were someone I didn’t mind being around right now. Of course, that straw is pretty damn short considering that he’s here,” he finished, pointing to Corbin. Corbin finished his beer and gave a mocking wave, much to Tevin’s rage. Keith reached into the cooler and grabbed another beer to offer Tevin.

“Just sit down. We’re all going to talk this out.”

Tevin snatched the beer from him and took a seat next to Corbin, who tried to compress himself into the right side of his chair to shrink away from the furious being beside him. Keith stood before them and finished his fifth bottle before setting it down. Looking at the collection they’d been through already, he had to laugh. One for Tevin, three for Corbin, and five for himself. They’d have to step it up.

“You going to just stand there and look at everything, or talk?” Tevin demanded.

“Tevin, Corbin isn’t the reason you failed out of college,” Keith immediately replied, straightening his back up to reinforce his statement. He had to appear more intimidating than the angry man sitting before him. Corbin maintained his silence as he casually sipped away at his beer.

“Really?! What led you to that conclusion?!” Tevin shouted. Keith knew this wouldn’t be easy, but it would be better for the two of them to get it out of the way.

“You were caught cheating on an exam that he didn’t even offer you help with. You stole his answers and used them, and when you were caught you tried to drag him down with you,” Keith stated plainly, and he swore he could see Hell in Tevin’s eyes as the words hit, “You just refuse to take responsibility for what you did, and you’ve been angry since then with the whole damn world.”

“It cost me a lot!” Tevin roared.

“And it was your fucking mistake!” Corbin boomed at him from his right. Tevin nearly jumped when he heard the nerdy young man’s voice escalate for the first time. For a second, Keith and Corbin expected him to punch Corbin out, but instead he did something that neither of them had anticipated. He gave up. He just sat there and began to tear up, his words mixed in with his sobs.

“I’m scared, okay?! I had to come here! I had to be around someone!”

Corbin didn’t know whether to keep hitting him where it hurt or be the comforting friend at this point. Looking to Keith for guidance and seeing none as Keith walked past him and took his seat, he reached over and gave Tevin and friendly shove, “It’s okay. You are around people, and we’re going to be right here,” he glared at Keith, “Right?”

“Right,” Keith muttered as he drank away. In truth, he was glad there was something of a breakthrough here. Tevin stopped sobbing and finally started to work his way down the bottle he’d been given. Together they all three sat in silence and looked up at the sky, the green lights that had been there all day now more prominent than ever.

“You know, guys, when I woke up this morning I didn’t think I’d be saying goodbye to my fiancée and sitting here with you. Since I am, I guess there aren’t many other people I’d rather do this with.”

“Is that your way of saying you’re grateful we’re here?” Corbin asked. Keith just shrugged and continued to sip his beer as he looked up.

“So what’ll happen, Corbin? Will we burn in seconds or what?”

Corbin made a noise that sounded patronizing to his left, “No, that’s unlikely. We’ll more likely be exposed to sufficient amounts of radiation to kill us instantly if it punches through the ionosphere.”

Tevin didn’t like the sound of that any better than just perishing in a firestorm, “So…will it hurt?”

“Best to keep drinking and not think about it, Tevin,” Keith suggested as he finished off his sixth beer. That one left a funny taste in his mouth, almost like a metallic sensation on his tongue.

“Hey, Keith,” Tevin said from the left, “Your shitty beer tastes funny.”

“They always said this was impossible, you know?” Corbin spoke as he looked at the light show above, “They said that only the electromagnetic radiation and the particles of energy could actually reach us, and even then nothing would be capable of penetrating the atmosphere, and the magnetic field keeps us safe. Sure, there are coronal mass ejections like the first band this morning, but we should be fine. They only affect planes and areas in high altitudes. We should-”

“Hey, Corbin?” Tevin uttered to his left.

“Yeah?”

“Shut the hell up,” he said, eyes fixated on the sky as the green lights danced miles above them.

The sun was supposed to be renowned in many faiths as a source of light and life, yet now it was the harbinger of death and despair. Death incarnate, its tongue licked at the planet’s surface, tasting the life on it like when one licks a jawbreaker; eventually the tongue’s touch would destroy it. Tevin’s hands tightened on the arms of his chair as the sweat ran down his face, but he didn’t know if it was from the intense heat or the nervous anxiety that was tearing into him as he watched the sky ignite. Corbin opted to take a more apathetic approach and drank from his beer as he held a middle finger to the fire in the sky. Keith pondered anything else but the impending doom, and one thought struck him as something he just needed to know.

“Corbin?”

“Yeah man?”

“Think if it got any hotter my blood would boil before anything happened? Since I drank so much anyway.”

Corbin watched the raging heavens as he replied, “The amount of alcohol you’d need in you to affect that would kill you first.”

Keith threw his seventh bottle to the floor of the patio, “Well shit.”

“Alcohol poisoning sounds better than this, huh?” Corbin inquired as to Keith’s awkward grin. Keith looked to him as he felt himself grow hotter inside.

“Not if it keeps leaving me a weird taste in my mouth. Jesus it must be hitting me hard now,” Keith said as he slumped in his chair, “Know that warm feeling from when the alcohol actually settles in?”

“Yeah,” Corbin practically whispered as he slouched down as well, looking at the green lights parting for the expanding field of red that was pushing the atmospheric gases aside, like the hands of death pushing aside the veil to reap its reward.

“I’m feeling that hard right now…and tired already…”

“Yeah man,” Corbin uttered. There was a clatter of a bottle on the porch to Keith’s left, and he looked to see it spilling its contents at Tevin’s feet. He just assumed that Tevin got clumsy with it, or got sick of the taste. He didn’t like beer that much, after all. As the sky turned a terrible shade of orange and red, Keith’s drowsy eyes fell upon the tobacco plants, still waving in the wind. He actually raised a hand to wave back with as much of a smile as he could muster, but that effort took enough of his energy to tire him out, and he drifted off to sleep.

A Bee Stung Me in the Thigh

with a pain so sudden that my body tensed up, and my finger squeezed tight around the trigger. The concussion of the gunshot rang out through the wooded area over my cry of pain, and when I looked back through my scope in panic I saw that my bullet had struck the ambassador himself. In the confusion the act was declared a terrorist attack, and this was the beginning of a chain of events that would rip the world apart. Word was sent straight to the top, and war was carelessly declared on countries that opposed the meeting as leaders fumbled for words and the media ran rampant with lies as forces were brought up front to handle the mounting chaos before someone unleashed devastation on an opposing country, and they responded in full force. Deterrence be damned as metallic harbingers of death flew free through the skies before rendering all where they landed dead and gone, and as the world burned before my eyes, all was silent I sat huddled underneath the remnants of an old office building, clutching my rifle like it was the only thing I had left in the cradle that once held all life. The bleak, gray outlines of a ruined city sat before me as I recounted how this all began with a bee sting.

I’m Sorry

“Theo! Put it down!”

The gargantuan being of flesh and stitching turned to face me with his placid face, but I knew that he was disappointed in my command. Simple as my request was, it was rather hard for him to comply, being that the thing I told him to put down was currently impaled on the end of the longsword grafted onto his right arm. I swore as I placed a foot onto his chest and yanked the body of the buck off of the blade, angry that I’d gotten blood on my cloak for the third time this week. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say there was a feeling of guilt to those bright, electrical blue eyes.

“Phyra, he’s just being Theo,” the calm voice behind me chastised, “Let him have some fun.”

Giving up on the futile attempt to simply wipe the blood off of me, I rolled my eyes over to my companion, Tallara. Though people called me weird with my gray skin and discolored eyes, I had nothing on the blue-skinned creature that I called my friend. I only knew two things about her past; she came from somewhere else out there in the depths of space, and she liked guns. She really liked guns. Still, there was a soft-hearted side to her that treated her dog King and our construct Theo like children. She made a good moderator, so as much as we got on each other’s nerves I was glad to have her around.

“He’s leaving a trail with as many things as he’s killed, and the last thing we need is a trail for the soldiers in Lanerscost to follow!”

Tallara crossed her arms and raised a brow at me, “That coming from Ms. Swish-Swish-Stab?”

“I’m behaving!” I shouted. Tallara just laughed and leaned down to pet King. She claimed that I was a person to take action rather than talk it through, but even I was proud of myself for keeping quiet as we moved throughout the countryside to avoid any patrols on the main road. All it took was Theo stabbing one wrong person (trying to defend King from being killed by some deranged poachers) and suddenly we’re wanted by the duke of the capital city and forced into a life of hiding. That wasn’t going to stop my goal of becoming the greatest treasure hunter in the world. I’d made that promise to my foster father Samwise, and I wasn’t going to just let that dream die.

Which brings us to here, a dark elf such as myself, an alien being raised by dwarves to my left, and a giant construct made up of multiple bodies to my right…and the pit below us that was nestled within a crater in the ground.

“Is that what we’re looking for?” Tallara asked as he carefully peered over the edge into the dark, dislodging a few loose pebbles that went tumbling below. No echoes from their impacts could be heard.

“Yep!” I exclaimed with excitement as I began to rummage through my satchel for my rope. Tallara kept her gaze fixated on the gaping wound in the surface of the land, obviously lost in thought as to what she’d do. I knew she wasn’t a fan of the dark. Unlike me, she couldn’t naturally attune to low levels of light within mere seconds, and she didn’t hide the fact that she was jealous of that. Despite that fact, she had an eagle eye that helped her shoot a target wherever she pointed the muzzle of her rifle, so I thought it was a fair trade. At least the sunlight wasn’t unforgiving to her, and that was another reason I wanted to hurry up and get down there.

I pulled the rope out and smiled innocently at Theo, who made a sound similar to a sigh. It was hard to tell through his stitched mouth. Sometimes I think he regrets that we created him through that bizarre ritual a few months back, but he was very handy when it came to physical strength. I had to admit that even I was a little surprised to see him take a step back from the cavern in the ground once I began to attach the rope to his waist. As the others backed away in terror, I stood on the edge of the black mouth of the cavern, eager to see what lay hidden in the abyss.

“Phyra, this is stupid.”

I shot Tallara the nastiest glare I could muster. She knew better than anyone else that there was no talking me out of something once I had my mind set. I just smiled at her from beneath my hood.

“Haven’t you seen me survive things like this before? I’ll be fine!” I

Tallara didn’t buy my cheery nature, but surrendered the argument anyway. She knew better, after all. I felt a little bad for scaring my friend, but I wanted to see what was down there. The rope was fastened to my waist, and the harness was trustworthy enough for my standards. Since our good pal Theo the mute flesh golem was the anchor, I felt safe in knowing I wouldn’t fall to my death. The hot and painful feeling of the sun on my  sensitive skin seemed to push me forward towards my goal as I could only imagine the treasures below, and I smiled at the thought of it all being for me now. These two behind me would let the fear take them, but I gladly shoved it aside at the prospect of glory as I jumped into the shadows below. The rope hit the tension point close to the bottom, and I saw the glint of yellow reflected in the sunlight from above, almost as if it was beckoning me forward. My mind was too fixated on the idea of treasures to immediately note that the glint was that of a giant eye, staring into my being with the same intent that I possessed, and suddenly the others didn’t seem like such cowards as the great green beast was illuminated before me.

Blade ready, I wanted what was now mine. Whatever this monster protected was now forfeit as I cut the rope and dropped down to the being’s eye and drove the dagger deep into the pupil, and a torrent of red was my reward as a deafening howl erupted from somewhere in the black. Opting to play it safe, I released my grip on the hilt and dropped to the ground, flashing another dagger before me as I uttered the words that lit the blade up and cast a blue aura into the Stygian world around me. The injury the monster had sustained didn’t seem to deter it as a massive claw stretched out towards me. The ground was scarred behind me as my dagger sank into flesh and tore a line down the arm of the beast, bathing me in the life force of the creature. The cry of agony shook the foundations of the cavern around me as I found my way to the belly and began stabbing into the skin like lightning. A failed attempt to drop its weight on top of me left the monster prone and weakened as I emerged from the back end and broke away for the far wall. The ground shook as the being crushed the rock beneath its feet, fury evident in its haste. My nimble traits found me well as I kicked off of the wall and landed on the creature’s head to retrieve my primary weapon from its eye, only mere seconds before its head slammed into the wall and dislodged most of the rocks. The scene was unknown to me as I left the creature to be buried beneath the rubble, its shrieks of confusion and pain tearing the air of the cavern apart between us. I couldn’t help but smile. Sure, I was vicious when it came to getting what I wanted, but that was what I was known for.

I came upon the mountain of bones that resided near the opposite wall, curious as to how many others had ventured in here with the same mindset as myself. Sheathing my daggers, I began digging through the mass grave until I happened upon something that satisfied my needs. A dagger engraved with words of power was now mine…but it didn’t stop there. Soon after I found a pouch of gold coins, and after that an untarnished robe, and after that more and more things that I wanted. No…I needed them.

“Phyra!” a voice shouted from above. I ignored my friend and kept searching. There was more. There had to be.

“Phyra, come on! It’s dangerous down there!”

I didn’t care. I had all of this. All of it was mine now, and anyone who came to take it would die. This place was mine, and I had dominion over the treasures here. No one would take that from me. This was what I’d waited my whole life for.

The thud of a heavy weight hitting the ground behind me almost went unnoticed, but my senses responded in time to turn around and see the hook-shaped appendage swiping for my neck. Panic tore through me as I brought the dagger up to try and stop the blow, but I wasn’t going to be fast enough. That barbed hook was going to pierce my neck and kill me on the spot. For once, my agile nature was going to fail me, and the terror grabbed my body with a firm grip that brought my arm down from its futile effort.

I watched as the hook disappeared from my peripheral vision…and then was sucked back into my line of sight as the creature was violently ripped from its standing place. Before I could grasp what had happened a sword erupted from the creature’s chest in a spray of blood that showered me. I was too stunned to react as the sword began carving down the chest and through the pelvis on the monster, and with a shriek of agony it was tossed aside, leaving me standing mere feet from the horror that was the angry Theo. A furious wail was muffled by his stitched mouth, but I understood the intent. He was insulting me for being so blind. The thud was him dropping in to save me without a care about himself, and the splintered bones sticking out of his legs made that evident. His fury kept him standing, but I knew he didn’t feel the pain anyway. If anything, he felt the pain of almost losing a friend, and that was probably worse to a dependent being like himself. I moved to comfort him when a swipe cut through the air over his head and cleaved his left arm off at the shoulder. I was frozen. Why was this happening?

Theo turned around and faced the new threat, and I saw the beast that I had left buried in the far wall retracting its claw as it waited for a response from its new foe. Theo readied his right arm, grafted word outstretched as he braced himself for a fight against something that was finally equal to him in horror.

“THEO!!! RUN!!!” My pleas reverberated throughout the chamber, but even still they didn’t reach him. The crime against nature and the monster of the darkness collided.

Gunshots rang out from above as Tallara tried to aid Theo, but only two bullets met their mark, and the beast wasn’t showing any signs of surrendering. I had to act. Drawing my daggers out I charged into the fray, stabbing and slashing madly at the fiend as Theo worked his sword up under its jaw and into its gaping mouth. Unfortunately that only ensured Theo was stuck in place as the creature lifted its massive head and brought it back down, impaling itself with the blade but crushing Theo beneath its weight.

“NO!!!” I started digging the daggers into every surface of the creature I could find. Its fur was so soaked in blood that I wasn’t sure where I hadn’t struck yet, but it was still fighting. Theo’s sword had broken off in the creature’s mouth, but as it stretched forward and chomped into his limp form on the ground I could hear the audible snapping of the metal as the teeth closed together. More gunshots came from above and struck the monster, but the gods weren’t on our side. Finished with the meal it had bitten off, the creature turned around on all fours to face me, one of its hind legs on top of Theo. Something snapped in me, and I rushed forward towards the giant face before me. This giant dog-like monstrosity hadn’t met the anger of a five foot tall dark elf that was ready to slice everything into shreds. No matter how fast I reacted, and no matter how many wounds I dealt it just wouldn’t go down. I darted underneath a swipe from its claws to Theo’s aid. His lower half was just gone, and dusty entrails were littering the ground where his legs should have been.
“Theo.…”

The roar behind me blew my cloak around my figure as I looked at my dying friend, unable to help him. I didn’t know anything in my knowledge of the arcane natures to fix this, and it wasn’t like I could just apply pressure to the wound. I was going to lose him.

“Phyra!” Tallara’s voice shouted from above, “Catch!”

I looked up in time to snatch something wrapped in cloth out of the air. Something on it was burning, and when I realized what it was I nearly threw it right then. Drastic, but it would work. The open mouth of sword-like teeth began to close the distance as I chucked the contraption into it. Oblivious to the danger that now resided inside of itself, the creature’s mouth snapped shut just inches from me as I leapt backwards towards Theo. Seconds later a muffled explosion rocked the monster, and as smoke bellowed from its mouth it collapsed onto the floor of the cavern, groaning in pain as its insides refused to allow it to stand again.

“Theo!”

I dropped my daggers and rushed to his side, but the charged blue light in his eyes was already fading. I could feel the tears pushing through as I moved my hands close and then retracted them, unsure of what to do. Theo’s head turned towards me, and for the first time I thought I saw his stitched mouth muster a smile before the light faded from the now empty eye sockets.

***

Tallara wouldn’t speak to me as she stared blankly into the campfire. She didn’t have to. I knew I’d messed up. Even King was sitting farther from the fire than usual, occasionally whining to break the silence. I couldn’t even bring myself to look at the fire. Theo hated fire since it was dangerous for undead things such as him, and without him here I couldn’t poke fun at him. I never could again. I wasn’t optimistic for once. I couldn’t be cheery. I couldn’t say something sarcastically to ruin the moment. All I could do was sit here with my eyes closed and try not to cry. I never cried when I lost my friends before.

“Phyra.”

Her words were so quiet that I barely recognized Tallara’s voice. I had to force myself to meet her gaze from across the fire, and in the heatwaves I could still see the anguish in them.

“Are you going to say it?” she asked.

I knew what she expected, but I couldn’t say anything, let alone those words. I’d never said them before, and didn’t know how to with actual emotion to them. I wasn’t good with sorrow, but there was no joking my way out of this.

“Well?”

The heaviest weight began to bear down on me as I started to mouth the words.

A Glint of Yellow

As the others backed away in terror, I stood on the edge of the black mouth of the cavern, eager to see what lay hidden in the abyss.

“Phyra, this is stupid.”

I looked over to my friend and companion, Tallara. She knew better than anyone else that there was no talking me out of something once I had my mind set. I just smiled at her from beneath my hood.

“Haven’t you seen me survive things like this before? I’ll be fine!”

Tallara didn’t buy my cheery nature, but surrendered the argument anyway. She knew better, after all. I felt a little bad for scaring my friend, but I wanted to see what was down there. The rope was fastened to my waist, and the harness was trustworthy enough for my standards. Since our good pal Theo the mute flesh golem was the anchor, I felt safe in knowing I wouldn’t fall to my death. The hot and painful feeling of the sun on my sensitive skin seemed to push me forward towards my goal as I could only imagine the treasures below, and I smiled at the thought of it all being for me now. These two behind me would let the fear take them, but I gladly shoved it aside at the prospect of glory as I jumped into the shadows below. The rope hit the tension point close to the bottom, and I saw the glint of yellow reflected in the sunlight from above, almost as if it was beckoning me forward. My mind was too fixated on the idea of treasures to immediately note that the glint was that of a giant eye, staring into my being with the same intent that I possessed, and suddenly the others didn’t seem like such cowards as the great green beast was illuminated before me. Blade ready, I wanted what was now mine. Whatever this monster protected was now forfeit as I cut the rope and dropped down to the being’s eye and drove the dagger deep into the pupil, and a torrent of red was my reward as a deafening howl erupted from somewhere in the black. Opting to play it safe, I released my grip on the hilt and dropped to the ground, flashing another dagger before me as I uttered the words that light the blade up and cast a blue aura into the Stygian world around me. The injury the monster had sustained didn’t seem to deter it as a massive claw stretched out towards me. The ground was scarred behind me as my dagger sank into flesh and tore a line down the arm of the beast, bathing me in the life force of the creature. The cry of agony shook the foundations of the cavern around me as I found my way to the belly and began stabbing into the skin like lightning. A failed attempt to drop its weight on top of me left the monster prone and weakened as I emerged from the back end and broke away for the far wall. The ground shook as the being crushed the rock beneath its feet, fury evident in its haste. My nimble traits found me well as I kicked off of the wall and landed on the creature’s head to retrieve my primary weapon from its eye, only mere seconds before its head slammed into the wall and dislodged most of the rocks. The scene was unknown to me as I left the creature to be buried beneath the rubble, its shrieks of confusion and pain tearing the air of the cavern apart between us. I couldn’t help but smile. Sure, I was vicious when it came to getting what I wanted, but that was what I was known for.

I came upon the mountain of bones that resided near the opposite wall, curious as to how many others had ventured in here with the same mindset as myself. Sheathing my daggers, I began digging through the mass grave until I happened upon something that satisfied my needs. A dagger engraved with words of power was now mine…but it didn’t stop there. Soon after I found a pouch of gold coins, and after that an untarnished robe, and after that more and more things that I wanted. No…I needed them.

“Phyra!” a voice shouted from above. I ignored my friend and kept searching. There was more. There had to be.

“Phyra, come on! It’s dangerous down there!”

I didn’t care. I had all of this. All of it was mine now, and anyone who came to take it would die. This place was mine now, and I had dominion over the treasures here. No one would take that from me.

The thud of a heavy weight hitting the ground behind me almost went unnoticed.

This week…

has been awesome. I released my first book (Second Fall, on Amazon), and I’m currently in Austin Texas on vacation, for RTX! Winding down for the first day, but it’s been freaking awesome to say the least. Still working on writing between panels, and there’s a long drive back. In the meantime, check out my book and the free short stories if you like an expanded universe. You don’t have to read the collections to get the book. I’ll be enjoying this view in the meantime while I work on something.

  

So Falls the Winter Snow: Act One

So Falls the Winter Snow

Act One

Scene 1

Late November, 1984. The living room of the Thatcher residence. The fireplace is lit in the center of the back wall of the room, and five chairs are situated around it. A faint smell of stew seeps in from somewhere else in the house, and humming can be heard. It is early in the evening, and snow is starting to come down outside as the sun sets.

(Enter Geoff)

Geoff: (Sticks his head through the doorway) Hello?!

Mrs. Thatcher: (Off stage) Geoffrey?! Is that you?! Come in, come in!

Geoff: (Enters living room and takes off boots and coat) Thank you ma’am!

Mrs. Thatcher: (Off stage) Make yourself comfortable while you wait. Patrick will be a little late getting home from work tonight!

Geoff: That sounds like him.

(Geoff sits in a chair to the left of the fireplace and sinks into it. Before he can get too comfortable, a knock comes from the door behind him.)

Mrs. Thatcher: (Off stage) Geoffrey?! Can you get that for me?!

Geoff: Yes ma’am!

(Geoff gets up to answer the door. A dark-haired man with a heavy build stands in the doorway. Enter Matt)

Geoff: (Extends a hand to Matt) It’s been a while, old friend!

Matt: (Grabs Geoff’s hand and shakes) Too long, Geoff. How’ve you been?

Geoff: Good, good. Let’s get you inside and out of the cold.

(Geoff takes Matt’s coat and hangs it up on the rack by the door as Matt takes a seat by the fireplace)

Matt: It’s going to be a dangerous night out. Good thing Patrick’s mom is letting us all stay over. Speaking of which, where is Patrick?

Geoff: He’ll be running late tonight.

Matt: Of course he will be.

Geoff: Come on, it’s not his fault. Patrick is a pretty serious guy, albeit a nice one.

Matt: I know that, but he could at least be on time to a get-together he arranged.

Geoff: Hey, he’s gotten us all together again. I can’t complain about that, so you shouldn’t either.

Matt: I suppose…

(A knock on the door steals their attention)

Geoff: I wonder who that is.

(Geoff opens the door, revealing a blonde-haired young man donning a heavy brown trench coat and dark clothing. Enter Kevin)

Matt: Jeez, Kevin. You look like you’ve come to murder us all.

Kevin: (Kicks his boots against the side of the door before entering) Yeah, well you try driving in a truck with no heater.

Geoff: No thanks. I thought you had that looked at?

Kevin: Looked at and “fixed” are two completely different things. I’m just glad I got here before the sun set; the roads are getting slick out there. Anyway, where’s Patrick?

Matt: His majesty is running late again. Surprised?

Kevin: There’s supposed to be a lot of snow tonight, so I’d imagine the store is packed with everyone in town. Good thing his mom stocked up early, huh?

Geoff: Yeah. I brought some wine, but I suppose we’ll wait for him before we break into that.

Matt: Alcohol and a fire on a cold winter’s night? I like where this is going.

Kevin: Matt, shut the hell up before I drag you out into the woods behind the house where no one will hear you scream.

Matt: Kevin, you never cease to validate my point. Good job.

Kevin: (Takes the seat next to Matt) I do what I can.

Matt: Is anyone else coming?

Geoff: (Sits in the chair across from Matt on the opposite side of the fireplace) Marie should be here soon.

Kevin: I’m not surprised by that one. Did she ever open up to Patrick?

Matt: No, she didn’t as far as I know. The poor girl is chasing after something she can’t have. Figures; I know the feeling all too well.

Geoff: Matt, you’re not going to ruin tonight by bringing that up, are you?

Kevin: Bringing up what?

Matt: Nothing. Let’s just say I used to have a thing for Marie. I gave up on that a long time ago, since she won’t give up on him. I seriously don’t understand how someone holds onto faith for so long. Hasn’t she considered that he could meet someone in college? That’s usually what-

(Enter Marie. The door opens, and a short red-haired woman enters the living room, turning her back to close the door. She shakes off the cold and hangs her coat up with the others and stands by the door as all eyes are on her)

Marie: What?

Geoff: Nothing. Come in and stay for a while, don’t just stand there.

Marie: (Takes the chair next to Geoff) Where’s Patrick?

Matt: Late. Nice to see you too, Marie.

Geoff: How’s school been?

Marie: Stressful. I don’t ever get a chance to relax anymore. This is the first break I’ve had. I’m glad Patrick set this up.

Matt: Yet the asshole isn’t even here to enjoy it.

Geoff: Alright, alright. How about I go ahead and get the wine? Might be a good idea to settle some of us down while we wait. Marie, I know you don’t drink; we’ve got soda for you.

Matt: Seriously, wine? I’d better be dined too.

Kevin: I’ll take good care of you. Don’t worry.

Matt: On second thought, make sure he gets plenty. I don’t want to be inebriated while he’s still sober.

(Geoff gets up and walks towards the kitchen. Fade to black)

Scene 2

Three hours have passed. Wine bottles are running low on the carpet in the center of the chairs. The mood has shifted from one of excitement to one of impatience. It’s dark outside, and the snow is coming down hard.

Kevin: -I swear though, I didn’t know the kid was deaf! I thought he was just mocking me! I didn’t know I had dropped my book!

Marie: So you hit him?!

Kevin: Well…not like I knew what I was doing!

Marie: Clearly.

Kevin: At least he saw it coming. I don’t think he heard it though (laughs as he takes another drink from his glass). It was eight years ago! Don’t give me that look!

Marie: You’re quite the jerk when you’re drunk, you know that, right? You have no filter.

Kevin: Hey, I’m a lot better than I used to be!

Geoff: Yeah, now you only resort to verbal threats. Much better in my opinion. Definition of a fine, outstanding young man.

Kevin: Why, thank you.

Marie: (Looks at Geoff and thumbs over to Kevin) I think you should cut him off.

Geoff: It’s too late for that. Kevin always was a drinker. None of us can hang with him.

Kevin: Unless it’s from a tree.

Marie: Do you just aspire to be like Poe, or are you really that morbid? Does it show in your writings?

Kevin: I’ll put it to you this way; I don’t believe in happy endings.

Geoff: I’ve read some of his drafts, and they’re things that would give Lovecraft nightmares.

Marie: Bully turned deep writer. I never would have thought.

Kevin: Makes an interesting story, huh?

Geoff: Does it?

Kevin: Sure it does. I’m starting college next semester to get better at it, (points to Marie) so we’ll see who’s laughing when I’m more successful than you, little miss accountant.

Matt: You know, it’s getting late.

Geoff: (Looks at watch) Yeah, it’s been three hours now, and he’s still not here. Didn’t his mother say he left work an hour ago? It’s only a twenty minute drive.

Matt: I don’t think he’s coming. He might leave and go straight back to college. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Geoff: He has to come! When else are we all going to be to be together again? He’s usually the one who is always busy, and we finally have a chance to see him again. Marie is just as eager as I am, aren’t you Marie?

Marie: I’m just ready for us all to be together again.

Matt: Well, if he would hurry up we’d all be together right now, relaxing and reminiscing about good times.

Kevin: Hey, Patrick is the only one of us who is actually trying to make a living. He’s got a job, he’s in college, and he’s not one to push all of that aside to hang out with us if he can earn a better life. I say we let the guy be. I won’t hold it against him.

Matt: (Gazes at the fireplace beside him) Yeah…I guess you’re right. (Sips from his glass of wine) Maybe he doesn’t want to be here.

Marie: What?

Matt: (Glares at Marie) Nothing.

Geoff: He’s always been like that though. Remember tenth grade? He was the only one who wasn’t suspended after that incident in Chemistry.

Kevin: (Laughing at the memory) Yeah, he was the perfect student, while the three of us managed to set our table on fire. He had to be the one who knew how to put it out and try and cover up for us.

Matt: (Chuckling) That’s right! How about when he just continued to read his book that time Josh was picking on him? Josh threw his backpack across the classroom, took his glasses off and dangled them in front of his face, and even snatched the book from him. Patrick just pulled another out from under his coat and kept reading! Josh was so pissed!

Geoff: Patrick hates bullying, and he’s the only person I know who just negated it with no conflict. No words and no actions. He just waited for them to get bored of him. Didn’t you used to pick on him, Kevin?

Kevin: Yeah…I’d like to forget about that. I met him back in middle school, and he was the biggest nerd. I guess I was just jealous. I tossed him down a flight of stairs, and he broke his arm.

Marie: I didn’t know about that!

Geoff: You only met all of us in high school. We weren’t lying; Kevin used to be a mean bastard. I’m sure Patrick wasn’t the first person he threw down the stairwell.

Kevin: He was the second that week.

(Everyone laughs but Marie, who is astonished at their behavior)

Marie: Boys…

Kevin: Like I said, I’m a lot better.

Geoff: Yeah, I’ll give him that one. Kevin, what made you stop being such an ass anyway? I mean, when I first met you there wasn’t a single trace of a conscience in you.

Kevin: You can blame Patrick for that. I break the guy’s arm, and my punishment was to carry his books around for him until he got the cast off. Seriously though, he didn’t hold it against me. I think he was just glad someone was around for him to talk to. I guess I can say the same.

Geoff: All the asshole needed was someone to talk to. How sweet.

Kevin: (Performs a vulgar gesture with his hand)

Geoff: No thanks.

Marie: Can you two stop for just two minutes?

Matt: Lighten up, Marie. Here, have a glass!

Marie: I don’t drink.

Matt: It might help.

Marie: I said no.

Matt: You’re too serious. You and Patrick are perfect for each other, but he’s too damn wrapped up in his own life to see it.

Geoff: (Laughing as he recalls another memory) You know, he was going to ask you out our senior year.

Marie: What?!

Geoff: (Covers his face with his right hand, knowing he shouldn’t speak of the subject) He told me he was considering asking you to prom, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. In the end, he just worked that night instead. He couldn’t stand the thought that you’d be there with someone else.

Kevin: So…so he actually did plan on going? Damn, I thought he was just really that isolated from all of us. Didn’t you go with Matt, Marie?

Marie: (Ignores Kevin) Is that…I mean, is that the truth?

Geoff: Yeah. He really liked you back then. Hell, I’m convinced he still does. He always treated you like a little sister, and I’ve never seen him care about someone that much.

Matt: So…I took you from him. In his eyes anyway. Damn, and he still calls me a friend…

Kevin: Hey, he doesn’t hold grudges. Trust me (he laughs).

Matt: But I’m such a shitty excuse for one, compared to him. We even talked about…damn.

Marie: About what?

Matt: About…maybe you should hear it from him. It would make more sense. That might be why he arranged this; he wanted you here with us around so he’d feel confident in having us at his back when he talked to you. Maybe he chickened out.

Marie: Are you insinuating that he isn’t here because of me? Then why would he have invited me?

Kevin: Oh boy.

Geoff: Maybe alcohol wasn’t the best idea.

(A knock comes from the front door)

Kevin: Is someone else supposed to be coming? I know Patrick doesn’t knock on his own front door.

Geoff: I don’t think so. Hang on.

(Geoff gets up to answer the door. As he opens it, a young county sheriff stands before him, clutching the brim of his hat with a solemn expression on his face)

(Enter Officer Peters)

Peters: (Shakily) Hello son, are Mr. and Mrs. Thatcher home?

(Fade to black)