Charlie rose slowly to his feet, brushed himself off and yanked out the ear buds that blasted his head. I can’t do this anymore, he thought as he pitched his MP3 player to the side. A chilly breeze passed through him, causing him to shiver. His heart pounded like a fist in his chest and he started to run, then stopped. Face the evil, he repeated over and over in his head, knowing he must defeat whatever it was that tormented him. He greedily eyed the iron gate that led out of the cemetery, but managed to overcome his urge to flee.
Thinking back to the day before was difficult. He had a vague recollection of challenging Rick Rose to a fight, but it was all so fuzzy. He had been falling in and out of dreams all night. What is happening to me? He wondered.
A low groan echoed from behind, he took a deep breath and turned to face it. There was nothing.
“What the fuck do you want from me!” he yelled. His voice echoed back and ended with a giggle that was not his own.
This isn’t real, he thought. My mind is playing tricks on me. John had gone missing years ago and there was nothing he could do to bring him back. Still the guilt bit deep into him and tore away at his soul.
The door knob on the old school house began to rattle. Charlie turned, clinched his fists and approached with caution. His chest heaved and he thought at any moment he was going to have a heart attack. Breathe Charlie, breathe, he told himself.
“If you plan on killing me then just do it now!” he yelled, and the rattling stopped.
Looking from side to side he crept toward the door, held his breath, grabbed the knob, turned and pulled. There was an eerie creak as the door swung back.
It was dusky inside, and took a few moments for his eyes to adjust. Small wooden school desks, the kind that had a seat in the front and desk at the back, were organized in two neat rows. In the center of the room, toward the front, was a black, cast iron wood stove. Behind it a wooden table stood out large and prominent.
Charlie stepped inside, making the floorboards squeak. Catching his breath, he ran his slippery hands up and down his pant legs, and pressed forward. Something was wrong he thought. Everything was shiny and new, which was not possible. The school house had been abandoned for years.
CLANK! Charlie jumped.
“Who’s there?” he asked with as much confidence as he could fake.
There was a crackling and a whoosh. The room lit up. Charlie’s eyes shot forward and focused nervously on the sudden orange flames that glowed from within the cast iron stove.
“Who are you!” demanded Charlie.
He gulped hard, wiped his hands again on his pant legs, and continued forward.
“What do you want from me!” his voice cracked.
A dark shadow fell across the back wall and there was a scurrying and a giggle.
The sound got more furious and was accompanied by occasional hard taps.
Steadily Charlie approached the front, and took notice of a black board along the wall that stretched from one side of the room to other. Plumes of limestone filled the air as the scratching continued. He mustered the courage to push forward, squinted his eyes and read the words that flashed across the board.
‘It’s too soon!’ written over and over.
Sparks spewed from the mysterious floating chalk as it raced across the board, faster and faster. The sound grew deafening and Charlie reached for his ears and pressed hard, his hands slipping in the sweat that poured from his head. The heat in the room became unbearable as the blaze of the antique stove licked higher.
“Stop! Stop!” yelled Charlie.
John’s head appeared in a thick haze of chalk dust, and this time he was laughing. Overcome with fear and afraid to turn around, Charlie slowly began to back out of the old school house.
His breathing eased only when he was met by the cool outside air. His eyes were wide with fear and remained fixed on the school house. Catching his foot, Charlie fell back on his rear just as the door swung shut with a bang. Springing to his feet, he looked down at a small corner of granite pushing through the ground. The earth trembled and more of the granite appeared. Charlie watched in horror, too scared to move. He rubbed at his eyes frantically trying to wipe away the image, yet more of the stone emerged. The letter R appeared neatly etched into the smooth slab’s surface. Confused, he looked on as the slab leveled out and the ground became still.
“Rick Rose,” whispered Charlie.
At that moment he knew that something terrible had happened to his bully as he read the dates carved into the headstone.
His head began to swim and his vision went blurry as he desperately tried to find a clear path out of the cemetery. A soupy fog enveloped him and Rick floated before his eyes.
“I’m going to kick your ass!” shouted Rick as he buried his fist into his hand.
“No, this can’t be happening!” yelled Charlie.
Closing his eyes tightly, he took a few deep breaths, and willed his racing heart to slow. He opened his eyes and Rick was gone. Wasting no more time in the cemetery, he ran toward the iron gate with all the speed he could muster.
Charlie burst through the gate and the chill in the air immediately subsided. Resting his hands on his knees, he tried to catch his breath. As he looked up at the old oak tree that stood guard over the cemetery he thought, I am safe now. He straightened and started to walk home.
Passing through the ever green trees was the hardest part and he immediately regretted throwing his MP3 player to the side. Music relaxed him, making his miserable existence more tolerable, but it also distracted him. Determined to face the evil he trudged on in silence, and deep in thought. He hated Rick Rose, and he knew now that he was dead. No longer would he be bullied. Feelings of guilt mixed with pleasure bubbled up inside of Charlie. Considering his experiences, he had never wished harm on anyone or rejoiced in others misfortunes, but he felt differently now. He was angry, tired and fed-up with what fate had handed him.
He wondered if he were channeling the dead, the voice for those who had passed on. Was it his job to discover the mystery behind John’s disappearance? Was he supposed to find out what had happened to Rick? Was there really an evil that shadowed him or was it his imagination? No matter how he tried to reason the visions that plagued him, he still had a nagging feeling that he was somehow responsible for whatever happened to those boys.
Soon after breaking through the thick ever green forest, the ramshackle shack he called home came into view. The comfort he had felt for not having visions along the way was dashed as he eyed the cars that crowded the small gravel road that led to the house. One was his mother’s, one he recognized as his father’s, and the other unknown.
Charlie took a deep breath, pushed his fingers through his oily hair, and began to brush off the night’s debris that clung to his clothes. He crept toward the house, climbed the three stairs leading to the front door and grabbed the handle. He hesitated, convinced himself he could handle whatever awaited him inside, and turned the knob.
As the door swung back he was greeted with a gust of warm air, which made the skin of his face burn momentarily. Unzipping his jacket he looked ahead and noticed the furniture had been rearranged. The small sofa from along the wall now faced the door and his favorite chair was no longer in front of the TV, but off to the side. Anxiety filled Charlie as he raced his fingers through his hair, wicking away the moisture from his palms.
“Good afternoon, Charlie,” said his mother as she peered up at him from the sofa. She sat straight and stiff with her ankles crossed and fingers intertwined. She shifted constantly and twiddled her fingers. A large smile spread across her face, which Charlie recognized as her ‘I’m about to get emotional’ look.
On the other end of the sofa sat his father, resting against the arm, propping up his head with a clinched fist. His forehead was furrowed and his face expressionless as he stared at Charlie with hollow eyes.
Charlie’s mom cleared her throat loudly.
“Yo, Charlie,” said his father as he shook out of some kind of stupor.
“Long time no see dad,” said Charlie with sarcasm, and he began to feel his blood boil.
Charlie’s eyes shifted to his beloved chair, his seat of comfort while he watched TV and willed the visions to cease. It was now occupied by an unknown person, who watched him intently, assessing his every move and word.
How dare he sit in my chair, thought Charlie.
“Hello Charlie,” said the chubby man as he pulled his glasses down the bridge of his nose, as if to get a better look at the young man in front of him. “I’m Dr. Murray.” He crossed a leg over his knee, rested back, and released a sigh. “We are here today to-”’
“You’ve got to be shitting me!” boomed Charlie. “Let me guess, an intervention?”
Charlie’s mom released a gasp and raised a hand to her mouth. His father remained unmoved.
“Your parents have gone to a lot of trouble to arrange this meeting today, Charlie. Please have a seat.” He motioned him toward the sofa.
“What is this about!” demanded Charlie.
Dr. Murray’s hand disappeared beside the chair and returned with an empty bottle of Vodka.
“Go ahead Mrs. Lane,” said the Doctor as he eyed Charlie’s mother.
She gulped hard, “I found that bottle under your bed and I have noticed alcohol missing from my cupboard.” Her hands began to tremble and her eyes welled with tears.
“Jesus Christ, I don’t have a God damn drinking problem mom!”
“Watch your mouth!” yelled his father as he sprang to his feet and made a start for Charlie. Dr. Murray rose quickly and positioned himself between father and son. He placed a restraining hand on Mr. Lane’s chest and turned to Charlie.
“Maybe you would be more comfortable if you sat over here,” said the doctor and he motioned toward the large cushy chair.
Charlie hesitated a moment then sat in his chair, it felt uncomfortably warm, but it was still homey. Anger filled his head to capacity and his brain felt like it was going to pop. For an insane moment he panicked that the visions might occur, knowing now that they could also happen during the day. As he slouched in the chair he rested his elbows on the arms, pushed his hands together as if in prayer, and stared intently at the floor, examining every bit of the braided rug beneath his feet.
“Charlie, your parents love you very much,” said Dr. Murray. “They each have prepared something to say to you.”
“The day you were born was the happiest day of my life, Charlie,” stammered his mother. “We used to have so much fun together. Remember how we’d got to the store and peel all the stickers off the bananas, even when passersby would cluck their tongues and shake their heads? Then we’d sing the -” Her mouth began to contort and her lips quivered. Her hands flew to her face and she began to sob wildly.
What a pathetic bitch, thought Charlie.
The doctor reached over and began to rub her shoulder, then turned to Mr. Lane and nodded his head.
There was a crumpling as Mr. Lane gently unfolded a piece of paper. “Charlie, you are my only child and I know I am not a big part of your life any more, but-”
Charlie pressed his index fingers against his upper lip and began to smirk.
Mr. Lane crumbled the paper into a ball and threw it to the floor. Shifting forward, he rested his elbows against his legs, looked down and released a deep breath. “Look bud, I know things haven’t been the same since your mother and I divorced. I wish I could be here for you, but my job moved me away and I provide for you as best I can.”
“You left me with an emotional cripple dad!” yelled Charlie.
“Don’t talk about your mother that way!”
“It’s true and you know it!”
“Charlie is right,” interrupted Mrs. Lane. “I am here, but I am not really here.” She wrung her hands.
“Do you have a history of suffering depression?” asked the Doctor.
She took a deep breath, “Yes. In fact, I am in therapy now.”
“Are you on any type of medication?”
“No, I stopped taking antidepressants because I must face my problems head on.” She beamed with delight.
She’s done it again, thought Charlie, she’s stolen the show. But at the same time he was relieved that the spot light was off of him. As his eyes flitted from the rug to his father, he felt uncomfortable under his penetrating stare. Anger enveloped his entire soul and his blood pressure was like a blocked fire hose. Wanting to escape, he knew there was no place to go, a trap had been set and now he must wait it out. But why did his father have to look at him like that? His look was one of pity mixed with the expression of one who had come to the realization that his son was truly insane.
Mrs. Lane took pause to breathe, giving her ex-husband the opportunity to speak.
“I have some good news I wanted to share with you Charlie,” said Mr. Lane. “I received a promotion – a significant promotion.” He hesitated, and then continued. “And I want you to come and live with me Charlie.”
“He can’t live with you!” yelled Mrs. Lane. “There’s a court order!”
“It’s up to Charlie now. He’s old enough to petition the court where he wants to live,” said Mr. Lane. “You know this. We already discussed it.”
“You bastard!” she boomed.
“Don’t do this, not here, not now. It’s not a competition. It’s whatever Charlie wants. I’ll support whatever decision he makes.”
Mrs. Lane’s face reddened as she raised her tightly clenched fists into the air. Every muscle in her face tensed and it looked like she might explode. She jumped to her feet, mumbled some obscenities under her breath and fled the room.
“Really?” Charlie was incredulous. “You actually want to be involved in my life?”
“Of course I do son, but you must dry out first. I can afford a house keeper now, who can always be with you, but you’ll have to stay sober or I may lose her. That’s all I ask. Can you do it?”
Charlie never thought of his father as more than the invisible person who provided for him. He did not live extravagantly, but he had enough to be comfortable. His father traveled often, and the thought of moving around excited Charlie. Seeing new places, meeting new people, and being far away from Gravel Hill Cemetery was more than he had hoped for. Being away from his crazy mom was another plus, but he knew his absence would kill her, it was all so confusing. Despite the nagging guilt he already felt for his mother, Charlie straightened in his chair, looked up at the adults before him, smiled and nodded his head.
Dr. Murray rubbed his hands together and leaned forward. “This is good Charlie. You are taking steps toward independence by making such heartfelt decisions.” He cleared his throat, “Now let’s get to the bottom of your drinking problem. Your mother tells me you spend hours in that chair in front of the television, and when she leaves at night you get intoxicated. Is this true? Is this a typical day for you?”
“Pretty much, I guess.”
“So what are you thinking about just before you sit down in that chair and flick on the TV?”
“I don’t know. Just glad I am away from school, I guess”
“Okay, school. What is school like for you?”
“Has it always been boring to you? There was a time you were a good student and a terrific softball player, right? Did that all change after your friend John disappeared?”
Charlie shifted in his chair and began to bite his lower lip. Rolling his tongue across the wound, the taste of sweet metallic blood filled his mouth. Must not think about John, he repeated in his head, fearing thoughts of him would bring the visions. He twisted his head quickly and peeked out the side window. It was still day light, but that no longer mattered.
“What is it Charlie?” asked the Doctor.
“They never found that boy,” said Mr. Lane. “Charlie was his best friend, and the last person to see him alive.”
“It wasn’t my fault!” yelled Charlie as he sprang from his chair. Pacing a circle, he eyed the braided rug, the colors blurred into one and he began to feel dizzy. His chest heaved and he worried that at any moment the visions would appear. He shook his head from side to side violently, trying to shake the thoughts from his head.
“Do you feel responsible for his death, because it’s not your fault Charlie,” said Dr. Murray.
“It’s not my fault! I know it’s not my fault!” He stopped pacing and turned to stare out the window. Is darkness setting in, he wondered, if the visions can occur during the day does that mean they are guaranteed at night? His shirt clung uncomfortably to his body and drops of sweat rolled down his face, causing him to tickle. He ran the back of his hand across his forehead.
“You keep looking outside Charlie,” pressed the Doctor. “Do you know something about John’s disappearance? What are you afraid of?”
“Something’s out there!” yelled Charlie. “It waits for me. It torments me with John. It won’t stop!”
“Something?” questioned the doctor.
Charlie was feeling confused, his head was foggy.
“Someone,” he corrected himself.
“Who is this person you are afraid of Charlie? Do you know who it is?”
“No! No! I don’t know!” He grabbed his hair with both hands and began to pull.
“Stop!” yelled Mr. Lane and he ran to Charlie, catching him in his arms just as he collapsed.