The next evening, right after sunset, I stood in the closet, pulling on a pair of tight, ripped, acid-washed jeans, then my boots.
“Are you sure you’re ready to do this?” O’Malley asked from the bedroom.
“Never been more ready for anything,” I said, and put on a black Alice Cooper t-shirt. I came out and found her giving me an expectant look, which I quickly deciphered. “Okay, so there’re a few things I’m always this ready for,” I admitted, “but at the moment, I’m Edmond Dantés, and Mercedes can wait.”
I left the room and put my jacket on by the door, but O’Malley said sultrily, “I wanna give you something, before you go.”
I stopped in my tracks and spun around, smiling. “Come to think of it, it’s not polite to keep a lady waiting…”
She smirked and walked over to me. The swaying of her curvy hips mesmerized me as she approached, so when she came up to me, I couldn’t help but put my hands on them and trace the shape. The old desire that she would kiss me came back, but when I started to bend down toward her, she showed me she had more in mind. She put her hands on mine and moved them around to her ass. I licked my lips and readied to guide her backward, to the sofa, but I stopped. There was something in her right back pocket. It felt like keys, but I had already seen that hers were hanging by the door.
It could only be one thing, and when she saw how my face changed to realization, she smiled, confirming my suspicions. I slid my hand into her pocket and took them out, staring at them like I’d found the Holy Grail.
“I was going to show you yesterday, but with everything that happened, I didn’t have the chance,” she told me.
“Wait,” I said. “They’re… here?”
She bit her lip in excitement and lifted her hand between us, pointing down at our feet.
“No way…” I breathed, grinning.
“No fucking way!” I cried, and grabbed her hand. She giggled as I pulled her out the door and down the stairs.
On the first floor, taking up the back half of the building, was a defunct garage that had closed down years ago. The front half had been an auto parts shop before Patrick Lanigan bought the place and turned it into a bar. Now the garage was used for storage. And when O’Malley opened the door in the first floor hallway, I saw that my Caddie and Triumph were among the inventory.
I gaped and went down the few steps to the concrete floor, approaching them slowly. O’Malley flipped on the dim, yellow light, and they gleamed in the dusty room. I thought there couldn’t be a more beautiful sight, but when I looked over and saw O’Malley beside me, smiling at me, I was proven wrong.
“Your stepfather put them up for sale. I thought it would be less conspicuous to buy them than to steal them,” she said.
I shook my head in disbelief and stared at them again. “O’Malley…” I didn’t know what I wanted to say.
What could I say? There just weren’t words to adequately describe my happiness and gratitude.
“Just… this,” I said, and in one swift movement, I wrapped my arm around her waist, dipped her backward, and kissed her.
And, holy fucking shit, it was the most amazing kiss of my life! For a moment, the world faded away, and we melted together. That tingle on my lips, spreading up to my cheeks and down my neck. It was everything I thought it would be, like my first kiss all over again. I couldn’t believe how soft her lips were, how smooth, unlike any lips I’d ever kissed. But then, I’d never kissed anyone like her before.
This weird vampire shit just keeps getting better and better!
I backed away and opened my eyes, bringing us upright and gauging her reaction. For the first time since I’d known her, I saw a dazed expression on her face. Then she smiled, and I allowed myself to do the same.
“‘Thank you’ probably would’ve gotten the point across…” she said.
“If you really think that, then you have no idea how grateful I am,” I replied. “Seriously. This?” I waved my arm at my rides. “You know I’m your slave now, right? There’s no other way I can make this up to you.”
“Well, that’s the cool thing about gifts. Unlike favors, you never have to pay them back.”
“Bullshit,” I laughed. “You’ve done so much for me already, I’m not letting this one go without giving you something in return. Anything you want.”
She nodded thoughtfully and said, “All right… I’ve got it.” She took my hand and led me over to my bike. “I want you to go back to Findlay and get started on that reign of terror.”
“Oh, c’mon. I’m gonna do that anyway,” I argued, straddled the seat, put the motorcycle’s key in its rightful place.
She seemed to admire how I looked on my metal steed, smiling and crossing her arms, green-gold eyes running down all six feet, six inches of me, so that I could almost feel her gaze. “We’ll work something out,” she said.
The motor roared in the enclosed space and O’Malley went to the wall, pushed a button, and the door rose slowly in front of me. Just to show off for her a bit, I burned out and went off like a shot, leaving in my wake nothing but a white cloud, a big, black mark, and the smell of hot rubber.
The speakers had been taken off my bike, probably too severely damaged by the crash to be saved. It kinda bummed me out, but I could deal. I had probably been the only guy in that town with a motorcycle that blared metal constantly. I was known for that. People would hear that engine with its instrumental accompaniment and they would know it was me. And though it would’ve been awesome to haunt the town with that old, familiar sound, it was better to play things safe for the time being.
But as I rode into town, I passed the high school, and had to turn around down the block and come back. I recognized a car as Mark’s old, gray Lincoln. It was parked in the little line of spaces behind the gym. I didn’t know what he was doing there, in the evening, on a Saturday, but I thought I might pay my old classmate a visit.
I drove in and parked my bike next to his car, where he would have to see it when he came outside. Then I went up to the top of the fire escape stairs where I could see through the windows near the ceiling of the gym. He was there, dribbling back and forth across the court, probably trying to up his game for a basketball scholarship. But before long, he started toward the locker room. I went back down the red, metal steps and leaned against the rail, lit up a smoke, and waited.
Soon enough, I heard his voice approaching. I sat absolutely still as he emerged, cell phone against the side of his head. He screwed around with his keys and locked the doors.
“Yeah, sorry. I was practicing and guess I lost track of time. … No, I still wanna come over, if you still want me to…” He laughed and his back turned to me as he walked toward his car. Then he stopped, startled, gym bag falling off his shoulder to the ground, along with the cell phone and keys. I could practically smell the horror. A female voice called his name from the phone. Without taking his eyes off the motorcycle, he bent and felt around on the ground for it. He picked it up and said, “Sarah, look. I’ll call you in a few, okay?”
No. Don’t get like that, Grin. We’ve got a job to do.
He lowered the phone and put it in his pocket.
“Looks pretty good for being in a deadly crash, huh?” I said.
He jumped and spun around, staring at me with a face full of terror.
I smiled and blew out a stream of smoke. “Boo.”
He squeezed his eyes shut tight, then opened them again and saw I was still there. I waved my fingers at him.
“Guh… G-Grin?” he choked.
“Yuh… Y-yeah,” I stuttered back.
He shook his head in disbelief and rubbed his face with both hands. “Shit… I’m really losing it…”
I left my cigarette in the corner of my mouth and spread my arms. “Come on, Thomas. Touch my wounds and believe.”
He looked back up at me, shaking his head again like it was the only thing he knew how to do. “This can’t be real,” he whispered.
“Hey, listen,” I said, and jumped down to stand in front of him. “If I was a hallucination, could I do this?” I gave him a playful shove. He screamed and leapt back, stumbling over his gym bag and landing on his ass. I laughed so hard, I had to bend over with my hands on my knees to steady myself. “Hahaha! Oh shit, man! Your fucking face!”
He sighed, glaring at me a little, and muttered shakily, “Hell hasn’t changed you a bit, Grin.”
“Is that any way to talk to a vengeful spirit?” I asked, offering my hand to help him up. He examined me suspiciously. I rolled my eyes and said, “C’mon, dude. I’m not gonna bite.”
Finally, he grabbed my hand and I pulled him to his feet. He watched me take out another cigarette, staring like I was doing some kind of magic trick. “I saw you die,” he said quietly.
“Not quite,” I said, and held the cigarette out to him. “Here. It’ll calm you down.”
“I don’t smoke,” he replied. I shrugged and moved to put it behind my ear. “But,” he began, making me pause, “under the circumstances…Yeah, gimme that.”
I chuckled and handed him my lighter and the cigarette. He put it in his mouth and tried to light it, but his hand was shaking too much. “Jeez, man. Just chill,” I said, snatching the lighter away. I held the flame to his cigarette, and he inhaled gently.
“Look, I’m sorry, but it kinda freaks me out when people come back from the dead,” he said, and added, “Whoa…” as his head started to spin. He went to the fire escape and collapsed onto a step.
“Someone came after you all left,” I told him without giving too much away.
He laughed bitterly. “Was it an ambulance full of paramedics?”
I didn’t answer. I should’ve known Mark was smarter than that.
“I was there, Grin,” he said, looking up at me seriously. “I was on my knees in a puddle of your blood. No one could’ve gotten there in time.”
“I didn’t think so, either,” I agreed, flicking my spent cigarette. “At least until I woke up four days later.”
I could see the wheels turning in his head. The story didn’t add up; I knew that. I had to change the subject, and soon.
“You know, after seeing what happened to you,” he murmured, “I’d have an easier time believing the ‘vengeful spirit’ story.”
“Oh, I’ve got a vengeful spirit, all right. But you would, too, if someone tried to kill you.”
He went back to shaking his head. “Why didn’t you fight him?” he pleaded. “I saw that takedown in the parking lot. You could kick his ass easily enough when he was sober.”
“The crash worked me over pretty well before he even got to me.”
He took a long drag and whispered, “I had nightmares… Not, like, visual ones, but… I kept hearing that laughing. I’d be falling asleep, and it would just burst into my head, and I’d… jerk awake…” Strangely, he gave a small laugh. “It’s weird… It reminded me of when you and your band played in Larry’s cellar…”
Holy shit, that’s it!
I hadn’t thought about it since that night, but I suddenly remembered where I’d heard that laugh before. That demonic, gravelly, screaming cackle. It was a gimmick we’d had, where I’d do that evil laughter just before our set would start, when all was quiet, to scare the hell out of the audience and get their adrenaline going. And I remembered Larry’s cellar. He was a senior when our band had been together, and he’d asked us to play at this graduation party he had in his basement.
“I can’t believe you’re really back,” he said, starting to smile. “Sarah’s gonna be so happy.”
I could feel an old wound in my heart begin to open back up, but I forced it shut and told him, “Sarah can’t know.”
His head jerked up and he stared at me, confused. “What?”
“I’m not coming back. Not really. No one can know you saw me, especially Sarah.”
The headshaking started all over again and he leapt to his feet. “No. No, you can’t do that. You have no idea what it’s been like for her! Grin… I kept my promise. I told her what you said…”
I saw where the conversation was headed, so I cut to the end of it, just so we could skip over the parts that would rip those old wounds open. “I’m not the same person I was, Mark. Everything’s changed. If I could take it back to be with her, I’d do it without a second thought. But there’s no way. I want her to remember me the way I was, and I never want her to know about the thing I became.”
I expected him to argue, but he only looked disappointed and lifted his cigarette to his lips again. “I get it,” he said through puffs of smoke. “You didn’t come back for her… You came for us.”
I sighed deeply and said, “Well, I was murdered. It’s not like I can just go to therapy every two weeks and get over it.”
He nodded, dropped the cigarette on the ground, and scraped his shoe over it. “Okay,” he agreed. “I’m ready.”
I lifted an eyebrow, watching him standing there with his face scrunched up in a cringe. And I started to laugh. He opened his eyes and looked at me, perplexed.
“No, no, no! Not you!” I refused. “C’mon. You tried to help me. And you kept your promise. I’ve got no reason to kill you.”
He seemed relieved, almost to the point of fainting, from the looks of it. But he still looked confused. “Then why are you here? You didn’t come to kill me, and you don’t want anyone knowing you’re alive…”
“I have one last favor to ask,” I said. “It’s about …her.”
He took a deep breath and glanced at his phone.
“Look, I’m not a dumbass,” I told him. “I saw the way you looked at her, how you protected her from him… So, hey. I guess if I can’t be with her…” I shrugged. “…Eh. You’ll do.”
He smiled a little, getting the hint.
“Just do one thing for me, all right?”
“Make sure she doesn’t go to the prom. It’s gonna be ugly,” I assured him, and walked around him to get on my bike.
“Wait,” he said, becoming nervous again. “What’s happening at the prom?”
I gave him my signature evil smirk, and he looked like I’d shot him through the chest with an arrow. His shoulders rose and fell faster. I could hear his heart pounding. The bike let out an angry growl and shook beneath me.
“Remember,” I shouted, walking the bike backward out of the space. “Not a word to anyone.”
He sighed and nodded, picking up his gym bag.
He looked up at me again.
“Take care of her for me!” I said in parting, and sped away into the night.
After I met up with Mark, I went on my way to take care of what I actually came to do, traveling the backroads and parking in the field behind my old home. The lights were out inside the house, except the flickering light of the TV coming from the living room window. Good. Walter was there. I crossed the back yard and crept up the steps of the deck. As I reached out for the door handle, the lock made a clicking noise. I jumped back. Walter must have seen me prowling around, and he must’ve locked the door on me! Dammit, I’d been caught!
But nothing happened. I moved forward and looked in the window of the door, but there was nothing but the kitchen on the other side. Hesitantly, I twisted the knob, and found it unlocked. O’Malley’s words came to me, about how we needed an invitation to enter a home, but once we were invited, we could get in whenever we wanted to. I realized the click I’d heard was the door unlocking itself.
“Cool,” I whispered, and opened the door.
The house was nothing like the place I’d grown up in. When I stepped into the kitchen, the first thing that met me was the smell. Mildew and mold. I looked around me at the stacked dishes and fast food bags and wrappers covering the table and counters. Garbage overflowed from the trash can. The floor was filthy and sticky, and I narrowly avoided stepping in a caramelized puddle of cola.
My jaw tightened as it brought back a painful memory. Mom in the kitchen, pouring herself a shot, and Walter bursting in, grabbing the bottle from her, slapping her across the face, screaming at her about “that Devil’s rum,” swatting the shot glass out of her hand, and yelling, “Now, clean it up!”
I closed my eyes and shook it off. The TV was still on in the living room. I could see the blue glow and hear a preacher shouting about hell and everyone who was going there. But I didn’t hear anything from Walter. I stepped forward, around the various messes, toward the living room. In the hallway, I could see the pictures were still on the floor, the ones he’d torn down in a rage after Mom had told him she had left.
Another memory came to me, of lying in my bed and hearing him yelling at her downstairs, in that hallway, commanding her to have sex with him, throwing scriptures at her, “For the wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband.”
When I walked into the living room, my hands were already balled into tight fists, and my teeth were on edge. I wanted him to look up at me and scream, piss himself in fear, and beg me for forgiveness.
Instead, he snored.
I rolled my eyes and relaxed my fists. He was slouched in his recliner, head lolled to the side, mouth gaping, drooling on his collar. But I wasn’t about to kill him in his sleep. I went to the TV and hit the power, plunging the room into darkness and silence. As is usually the case with old folks, for some reason, he jerked awake the second the TV turned off. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and tried to see the time on his watch.
“Past your bedtime,” I said.
He shrieked and clenched the arms of the chair. “Who are you?” he demanded. “What are you doin’ in my house? Git out or I’ll call the police!”
“You said you’d be waiting for me when I got back,” I reminded him. “Here I am.”
His eyes widened in terror. I pressed the power button on the television and the room was filled with bluish light again. He saw my face and I grinned.
“Jacob…” he whispered with a trembling jaw.
“It cain’t be…” he gasped. “Yer dead!”
“Bravo! He’s not as big an ass as we thought, ladies and gents!” I cried, clapping my hands loudly. He nearly jumped out of his skin. I swung around and pointed at the television, saying, “Pastor, tell him what he’s won!”
“Eternal damnation!” the televangelist shouted, right on cue. “Eternal suffering in the fires of hell, brothers and sisters! For the wages of sin is death!”
I turned back to him slowly and smiled. “Congratulations. You’ll finally get to see that place you never shut up about.”
“Git behind me, Satan!” he yelled suddenly, jumping to his feet and pulling his gold crucifix necklace out of his collar. I covered my face and screamed, stumbling away toward the sofa. “In the name of Jesus Christ, return to the pit from whence you came!”
“No! Put it away!” I wailed, writhing on the floor like I was in pain. “It burns!”
“I command you, by the power of the name of Jesus, to leave this place and return to hell!”
“Stop saying that name!”
“In the name of Jesus, I rebuke thee!” he shouted, over and over again, bending down closer and pushing the crucifix toward my face. I pretended to cry, and then I started to laugh. His chants died and he looked at me in confusion.
I lifted my head and grinned. “Just fuckin’ with ya, old man,” I said, and grabbed the crucifix. The chain broke and I leapt to my feet, slamming my shoulder into his chest. He went down hard, and a sickening crackle accompanied the thud of his body on the floor. His face suddenly filled with shock, he held his body stiff, and he took painful, staggered gasps. I had a feeling he wouldn’t be going anywhere without a stretcher.
I looked down at the crucifix in my palm and crouched next to him. “I’ve been thinking about this ‘God’ thing, Walter,” I began, “and to be honest, it gets more believable to me every day. You have no idea how much evil there is in this world… And I mean real evil, not the kind of people you and your lot are always hating on… So it follows that, with so much evil in existence, there has to be just as much good. I mean, you can’t believe in the Devil without believing in God, and vice versa, right?
“Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no angel,” I went on, going to the table beside his recliner. “But one thing I try not to be is a hypocrite.” Sure enough, his Bible was in the drawer. I took it out and went back over to him, collapsing Indian style on the floor and opening the book in my lap. “How about you?” I asked.
He said nothing, just took those gasping breaths.
“C’mon. You think you’re just the holy, righteous shit, don’t you?” I chuckled, nudging his shoulder.
He whimpered in pain and blubbered, “I live… my life… by the B-Bible…”
I smirked knowingly. “You sure about that?”
I stroked my chin thoughtfully. “I’ve got an idea,” I said, snapping my fingers. “Why don’t we ask God what He thinks?”
He only looked at me in fear.
“Okay, let’s see…” I murmured, flipping through the pages. “Ah! Here it is. Romans 3:23, ‘For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.’ …I’m pretty sure ‘all’ includes you, doesn’t it?”
“Please…” he managed to whisper.
“Nah, couldn’t be. Not if you live your life by this,” I said, turning through the pages again. I stopped and gasped in mock surprise. “Uh oh! What’s this? Colossians 3:19, ‘Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.'” I leaned forward, giving him an examining look. “You don’t think you were bitter toward Mom, do you?”
“Jake…” he forced.
“Let’s see if this sounds bitter.” I got back to my feet again and screamed down at him with a Southern accent, “‘Dammit, Laura! I spend eight hours a day, six days a week, in that office to support you and that bastard child of yers! Is it too much to ask that dinner be on the table when I get home? No, don’t try to apologize, you ungrateful whore!'” I backhanded him, panting, then added, “Or how about this?” and screamed, “‘Yer my wife! That makes you my property! And I’ll do what I want with what belongs to me! Now you get in that bedroom and fulfill yer duties!'” I grabbed him by the collar. “‘Oh, don’t you even try run away from me! I will tie you to the bed if I have to!'” I backhanded the other side of his face.
“Stop…” he moaned.
“What’s the matter, preacher man?” I growled. “Is it getting hard to look in the mirror?”
Tears began to leak from the corners of his eyes, though I couldn’t tell if they were from pain or regret. But, knowing him, it was probably the former.
“I think there’s one more thing the Lord wants to say,” I told him, beginning to calm down. I turned to the scripture and read, “Psalm 34:21, ‘Evil shall slay the wicked.'”
I closed the book and went across the room to put it back where I’d found it, along with the crucifix.
“At first, I thought that meant that I, as an apparently ‘evil’ creature, had the right to ‘slay the wicked.'”
I came back and stood over him, crossing my arms.
“Now I know it means that the wicked will be done in by their own evil. Rapists get fucked to death in prison, murderers get executed… We all get a taste of our own medicine.”
I stepped over him and went into the kitchen.
“Do you wanna know what you did to my mom?” I called, throwing open the cabinets. In the back of the one in the corner, I found some unopened bottles of whiskey. I grabbed one and returned to Walter, dropping to my knees beside him.
“Hey. Look at me,” I said, grabbing his bottom jaw and turning his head toward me. “You hit her. You raped her. You yelled at her. You physically, sexually, and emotionally abused her, and forced her into the arms of the only man she knew she could trust.” I lifted the bottle. “Jack Daniel.”
“No,” he whispered, watching me open it.
“You get what you give, Walt,” I said. “She nearly drank herself to death because of you. Now, I’d beat you to death, like you beat her, but I don’t need a murder investigation. Besides, the story is pretty clear.”
I pinched his nose until he opened his mouth, and I began to pour.
“First, your stepson dies. Then, your wife leaves you. So you… C’mon, dude. Swallow it, don’t breathe it… So you go looking for comfort in a bottle.”
To keep from drowning, he had to chug, and it took its toll quickly. He gagged, but I kept the bottle against his lips. He flailed his arms briefly before the pain in his back made him stop. The bottle was almost empty. Vomit spurted from the corners of his mouth, and I barely backed away before it hit me. He convulsed, lips turning blue, face flushing from red to purple, tiny veins in his eyes bursting.
“One thing I will say for you,” I murmured, watching the life go out of his body as he drowned in the whiskey and his own puke. “God is real—you were right about that. But I think He’s got one hell of a surprise waiting for you.”
I laid the bottle on the floor, next to his hand. When the vein in his neck stopped pulsing, I stood and turned my back on him for the last time.
…Then I went upstairs for my guitar.
<< Previous Chapter (Warning: child abuse)