"Brother?"


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“Brother?”

by Vincent Barksdale








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PART I: THE TRAGIC TALE OF MICHAEL “MIKEY” BIRCH

“Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.” - Robert Kennedy








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CHAPTER 1

A Day in the Life of Two Brothers

Jason was annoyed as all hell pushing the damn shopping cart around for his mom Wendy. Like Danny Glover, he was getting too old for this shit even though he was only sixteen at the time.

Wendy on the other hand was forty-two. She was that kind of mom and wife to be a little crazy, but in a good way. Crazy enough to raise two boys, go through at least six asshole boyfriends for ten years, until she met Ron Andrews one night at a bar. Ron was the first one of Wendy’s boyfriends that Jason actually liked a lot, and thankfully Ron and Wendy married about five years prior to this shopping.

Jason hated going to the grocery store with his mom. Not that he hated her, but he hated that she:

A) wanted to make him go to “get out of the house.”

B) made his little brother Mikey come with them.

It was just asking for a disaster, really. Mikey was only nine so he was still in that early age of wanting nothing but candy, soda, and any type of substance with caffeine in it. When he did, it was like opening Pandora’s box. It was like unleashing ghosts and spirits of dead people from their graves, haunting people for the pain they caused.

And that was why Jason hated shopping. That, and it was just boring, really.





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“Why’d we have to pick today, Ma?” he asked. But Wendy paid no attention, at least in the moment. She was making Jason push the cart right behind her as she walked down the aisles, holding a small little grocery list. Finally, she responded.

“Huh?” she said.

“Why today? Coming here?”

“So we don’t starve to death.”

“Ah, we’ll be fine. We can’t die.”

Wendy turned around and looked at Jason. “You know what? You might just be right.

But we still need more food for you and Mikey.”

“Fine.”

He sighed and rested his arms on the handle of the cart. He tapped his fingers on it impatiently. Wendy began walking again, and stopped. She held her hand up like a sergeant signaling for his platoon to halt. “Where’s Mikey?” she asked Jason.

Jason looked behind, and saw he was gone. “Beats me. I don’t have a tracking device, you know.”

“I ought to buy one,” Wendy said and shoved the grocery list in her pant pocket. “Stay here, I’ll go look for him.”

“Wait, why don’t I just go?”

“What?”





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“Why don’t you finish picking up the rest of the stuff and I’ll go get Mikey and bring him back?”

Wendy thought about it for a moment. Fuck it.

“Fine,” she said, and pulled the list back out. Then she took the cart for herself and that was Jason’s queue to go looking.


***

Mikey was in the candy aisle, looking at a bag of Airheads, his favorite. Examining the ingredients on the bag, as if he’d really know what the hell corn syrup even was. Part of it was just curiosity, really. The bag was then snatched out of his hands by Jason himself, who stood behind Mikey for a good twenty seconds.

“Give it back!” Mikey yelled out, a little too loud.

Jason shushed him. “Were you really reading the label ingredients?”

Mikey shrugged. Kinda.

“You even know what this stuff is? Besides sugar?”

“No. Please tell Mom to let me have them. Pweeeeaaaaase.”

Mikey was trying to do the ol’ ‘sad puppy dog’ technique that little kids have been doing for ages when they want the new Transformers toy. Jason wasn’t falling for it, though. “Not this time,” he said to Mikey and put the Airheads back on the shelf. “Ain’t falling for it.”





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Mikey sighed; accepted his defeat. “Fine,” he said, pouting. “You butthead.” then he began smiling and playfully slugging Jason in the arm.

Jason returned the favor. He picked Mikey up a little. Mikey was giggling something awful, and Jason was looking like he was about to shake some coins out of Mikey’s pockets.

“I’m a butthead, huh?” he said to Mikey, who was upside down in his Hercules grip.

“You think I’m a butthead?”

No!” Mikey said, laughing. “Put me down!”

Jason did. He gently set Mikey down to his feet, and the two of them cleaned up their act.

“Next time, I’ll mop the floor with your head,” Jason said.

Mikey laughed again. “No, you won’t, because I’ll tell.”

Jason and Mikey started walking back to the produce section where Wendy was. “C’mon, Mikey, let’s go to Mom and get this over with.”

Mikey nodded.


***

Wendy was grabbing a bag of Crispy Redapples to put in the cart, until she was startled by Jason grabbing her and growling like a bear. Jason and Mikey began laughing their asses off and Wendy just sighed in relief. “Don’t do that shit,” she said.


“Sorry, Ma. I found Mikey. He wants some Airheads.”

“Maybe. Can you go get them in thirty seconds and bring them back?”

Jason looked at Mikey, then back at Wendy. “I think so.”





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“Okay. Go . . . now.”

Jason took off, practically teleported over to the candy aisle, grabbed the exact same bag of Airheads Mikey was examining, and headed back. All in fifteen seconds.

Wendy was impressed. “All right, Usain Bolt, you’re gonna be the one to get our mail from now on.”

Jason shrugged. “Okay. What’s in it for me?”

“A confidence boost,” Wendy said.

“Fair enough.”

Wendy looked through her list again, and finally put it away. “All right, looks like that’s everything.”

“Thank God,” Jason said after an exaggerated groan. “I’m dying over here.”


***

As they were putting all of their groceries into the car, a girl from Jason’s high school that he recognized – and liked a lot – came over to him from her parents’ car. It was Luna Patrick, a skater girl that wore a black beanie but had dyed blue-and-red hair. That was exactly the type of girl for Jason; the skater who dyed her hair, wore beanies, and smoked a lot of weed after school. She came over to him, holding her board in her hand. “Hey,” she said to him.

“Hey. Didn’t know you carried that skateboard everywhere you went.”

She laughed. “You wanna see a trick?”

“Sure.”





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She put the board onto the ground and started to ride a little down the parking lot, and did an effortless kick-flip with the board, then came all the way back around over to Jason. “Pretty cool, huh?” she said as she got off of it and put it back in her hand.

“Yeah. I always wanted to skate but never got into it.”

“It’s fun, you just gotta practice. Then you can do ollies. Actually, I still can’t do those.”

“Who knows? You might be able to at some point.”

“True. Anyway, I gotta bounce. Nice seeing you here.”

“Yep. See you later, I guess.”

Something was weird about Jason and Luna. They both clearly liked each other a lot, as all their friends would point out. But they never dated. Not once. They were just good friends forever until after high school was over, and even a little after that. They shared a fist-bump in that moment, not just a simple goodbye wave.

Wendy was watching the whole time in excitement, but didn’t say anything. At least until he got in the car and they were on the way home.

“Who was that?” Wendy asked Jason in a playful, girly tone. “Is that your girlfriend?”

“No, Ma, she’s just a friend.”

“Do you like her, though? She’s cute.”

“I don’t know. Kinda.”

“Maybe you should ask her out,” Wendy said.

“Maybe I should.”





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Jason wanted to. But at the same time, if they were to date then break up later, that would probably hurt their relationship. So, he never asked her out. He just liked having her around. She was cool and sweet; he didn’t want to ruin that.

Mikey was already enjoying his Airheads, in the car, tearing off the packaging and going to town on it. He was sitting in the back, while Jason rode shotgun. Unless Ron was in the car with them, he usually did.

They drove home as the sun went down, and Jason couldn’t wait to just rest, especially after a long week of school.


***

The flu came the next day and hit Jason like a freight train against a bag of meat. He was down for the count for the next week or so; he hated the idea of spreading more germs to others from himself. So, he treated it like a quarantine when he got sick, and never left his room once, except to go to the bathroom. And even then, he’d only go if he had to go number two. He was coughing a good deal, had a throbbing headache, and had lots of diarrhea and vomiting going on. But it wasn’t like it was Ebola or anything. It was just an extreme case of influenza. Shit, if being sick were fun, Jason would probably be throwing parties for it.

But it wasn’t fun. Trapped in your own room because of your own belief, constantly getting up from bed every half-hour to go to the bathroom, shit your brains out, vomit up your guts, go back to your bed and being both cold and hot at the same time, rinse, repeat for about a week or two. Didn’t help the fact that Mikey was up all night, hyped up on sugar, which just caused an even worse headache. Jason was lucky school was out for the summer, otherwise he’d have to miss out on school.





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When Jason was sick, the only person going into his room for longer than a minute was Mikey. Amazingly, Mikey never got sick from his older bro, and would even linger for about ten, fifteen, even twenty minutes sometimes.

When he came in on that day in particular, he sat on Jason’s bed.

“You don’t wanna get sick,” Jason said. “I’d leave if I were you.”

Mikey didn’t care. “I don’t get sick often, Jason, you know that. You butthead.”

Jason couldn’t help but smile at his little brother. “You’re even more of a butthead.”

Mikey got up to jump on Jason, but Jason stopped him. “Hey, hey, don’t. I’m sick as a dog.”

Mikey sat back down. “Dogs get sick?” he asked innocently.

Jason sat up, his back against the wall behind him. “Yeah. Dogs get sick, Mikey. Not when they eat their own poo, but they get sick for no reason sometimes. Kinda like me right now.”

“You ate your own poo?” Mikey asked, his eyes wide.

“No! I mean, I get sick for no reason sometimes. Look, please don’t bother me too much, okay? My head hurts like shit.”

“Language!” Mikey said. “I’ll tell Mom!”

“Yeah, yeah.” Jason laid his back down on the bed again, looking up at the ceiling. “Love you, Mikey.”

“You too.” Mikey gave Jason a big hug, nearly squeezing Jason’s spine out.





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“Ugh, okay!” Jason made Mikey get off. Mikey just giggled and left the room, shutting the door behind him. Jason closed his eyes but couldn’t fall asleep. It was too damn hot.


***

When Mikey left the room, he went to Wendy, who was sitting in the living room watching TV. Mikey didn’t know what the movie was, but it was right during a ‘love scene’. He was curious as to what was happening, and couldn’t take his eyes off it. He had been quiet when he came into the living room, so when Wendy noticed Mikey it scared her shitless, and she quickly shut off the movie.

“What was that?” Mikey asked.

“It was—never mind. Jason doing all right?”

“He’s being a butthead, like always.”

Wendy nodded her head in agreement. Mikey stood there, wanting something.

“What?” Wendy asked after an awkward silence. “You want something?”

“Yeah. Can I go outside and play?”

Wendy thought about it for a moment. Usually, a parent would say, ‘Absolutely, son.

Don’t even ask, if you want to play, play.’ But Wendy and Ron were strict about when Mikey could go outside and play, especially if he was by his lonesome. They lived in Sibley, Missouri, or as Ron called it, ‘the Middle of Bum-Fuck nowhere”. Their house didn’t have a backyard, but a small front lawn. That part wasn’t bad.





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What was bad was that they also lived right by some train tracks, and every once in a while, the train would come by and take someone’s dog or cat from them. Then the parents would try to come up with an excuse for the missing pet: ‘Oh, Rusty just ran off because he found a happier family.”

Point being, Mikey was a little kid and playing next to train tracks was asking for disaster. So Wendy was very hesitant on if she answered Mikey’s question with yes or no.

Finally, she said; “No.”

Mikey frowned. “Why?”

“Because, usually Jason or someone usually watches you so you can be safe when you’re out there. But Jason’s sick, Ron’s sick, and now I’m starting to feel a little sick. I’m sorry, but maybe next week. I can’t risk you getting hurt, or worse.”

Mikey understood. “Okay,” he said in that disappointed, guilt-trip voice that little kids use when they don’t get what they want. “Guess I’ll go in my room then.”

And off he walked to his bedroom. Wendy turned her movie back on, which was one of the Underworld movies. Ron had gotten her into those a while back and she was hooked on it.

As for Mikey, he was just bored and lonely. His brother was sick and he couldn’t play, so what else was there to do, but sleep?


***

Jason woke up after his nap, and it was now three in the afternoon. He sat up in his bed, and his head felt as if it were throbbing with pain. His eyeballs felt as though there was some person behind them, tugging on them with all their might. Like a puppet-master pulling strings.






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So, he struggled to get out of bed, but he managed. He felt dizzy as he walked to his door, and into the bathroom. Looking for the Tylenol in the medicine cabinet. It actually wasn’t just a medicine cabinet, there was all sorts of stuff (mostly Wendy’s) like hairdryers, razors, cotton swabs, rubbing alcohol, you name it.

The white pill bottle of Tylenol sat in there, and Jason picked it up. He popped about three of them into his hand and into his mouth. Like it was candy. He could see in the living room that Wendy had also decided to take a nap, or was so bored she fell asleep. Either way, she was asleep on that couch, snoring loudly enough to make Ron proud.

Speaking of, Ron walked from his and Wendy’s bedroom, and went to the fridge. “Hey, little man, what’s going on?” he said to Jason.

“The flu,” Jason replied. “From you, probably.”

Ron pulled out a jug of milk and started drinking right from it. That was probably how I

got it, Jason thought.

Ron put the jug down and had a milk-mustache in his actual mustache. He wiped it off with his sleeve. “Sorry. You hungry? We still got some cereal.”

“Do I have to use the same jug of milk?” Jason asked sarcastically.

Ron rolled his eyes and smiled. “Wiseass.”

He went back to his room, unlike Jason, who also looked in the fridge to see what they got from yesterday. There was a can of Campbell’s Chicken Soup, which he took.

Later, as Jason ate his soup in bed, he’d realized something. Mikey, who he loved more than certain dead relatives of his, was lonely, and would be for some time until the sickness went





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away. Or he would be stubborn enough to run off and play outside by himself anyway, making some epic escape like Charles Bronson in The Great Escape.

That wouldn’t happen, Jason thought.

Mikey’s too innocent to do that. Or was he? Jason didn’t even know for sure, but he knew that Mikey had never done it before, so why start now?

Mikey was always that type of ‘safety first’ kid, who never took any risks if it meant his well-being was at stake. He was a pretty smart kid, especially for only being nine. Wendy and Jason had taught him that, though.

“Don’t take big risks, play it safe,” Jason and Wendy would always tell him.

But then again, Mikey was also stubborn. And when he was bored, he’d make sure you wouldn’t forget it. When Mikey was bored, you’d be annoyed. “I’m bored,” he’d say in the most exaggerated, annoying way possible. “I’m bored, Ron! I’m bored

, Mom! I’m bored, Jason!”

Jason disregarded all of that. He had no doubt in his mind that Mikey would be okay, at least for a little while. Twenty minutes, Jason thought. Twenty minutes is all it’ll take, until he

comes in here telling me how bored he is for three hours straight.

And that wasn’t far from the truth. Sure enough, in about fifteen minutes, Mikey was already going into Jason’s room. “Jason, I’m--”

“Yeah, yeah, you’re bored,” Jason said. “I know how it works. What do you want me to do about it, Mikey?”

“Can you come outside with me?” he asked while doing the sad puppy-dog face.

Jason just scoffed. “What are you, crazy? I’m not going outside, not like this.”

“Why not? It’ll just be ten minutes. Please.”





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“Ugh, okay. Fine. I’ll be out in a minute, get your toys.”

Mikey was so ecstatic, he started jumping up and down. “Yes! Yes!” then he practically ran all the way to his room to get his toy racing cars. Those were his favorite kind of toy cars.

They had to be racing ones specifically. NASCAR ones were the best in his eyes.

Jason got out of bed, feeling different, and slipped on his Hey Dudes. Then he went to the front door, and saw his mom half-awake on the couch.

“Where are you going?” she asked while yawning.

“Me and Mikey are going outside so he can play.”

“Aren’t you still feeling sick?”

“Yeah, but you know how he is. Won’t stop until he gets what he wants. It’ll just be ten minutes, Ma.”

Wendy laid her head back down on a pillow. “Well, alright. But when the time comes, you go back to your room and get some rest.”

Mikey came running from his room, hands full of a bunch of different toy cars. “Let’s go!” he said excitedly. If Jason had known what would’ve happened on that day, he wouldn’t have been so eager to let Mikey go outside. And better yet, he wouldn’t have gotten up from bed at all.







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CHAPTER 2

Mikey’s Play Time

Although Mikey was usually the ‘safety first’ type kid, that’s not to say he always was like that.

Every once in a while, he’d become a real rebel, often without getting caught. Except for this one time, on a cold November the year prior.

Mikey was doing some playing in the front lawn, as per usual, and Jason was watching him. Giving fake racing callouts, going along with Mikey’s make-believe game.

“Oh, ladies and gentlemen, number twenty-three isn’t looking too good,” Jason would say, leaning forward in his seat while on the porch, looking down on Mikey. “He’s going to make a sharp right turn, sharp right turn . . . oh, no! He's flipping all around!”

Mikey would make the sound of tires screeching of his mouth, and roll them around in the dirt during Jason’s commentary.

“Oh, number twenty-three is out!” Jason yelled, raising his arms in the air.

Mikey started giggling and set down the cars. Jason shrugged.

“Guess that’s a wrap, folks.” Mikey wiped the dirt from his hands on his shirt, leaving smudges on it. Jason stood up and went to go inside. “You coming inside, Mikey?”

“Sure. Give me a sec.”

Jason nodded and went inside. But Mikey had a plan, an ace up his sleeve. As Jason went inside to eat dinner with Ron and Wendy, Mikey would stay outside.





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Not only that, but he was going to leave the area of the house. Not that he was going to go far, it was just to his buddy John’s house for a little while.

He knew he’d be in trouble when he returned home, but it seemed almost worth it to him in order to do so. When he was sure Jason was gone and no one was looking, he bolted it out of there. On the playground at school, so many girls liked Mikey because he was a fast little shit.

And if they were there to see him run, they’d hit puberty early.

On his way over there, he stopped running momentarily. He saw in the distance something that caught his eye, and would catch anyone’s eye, for that matter. Behind John’s house were the woods, where he and Jason would sometimes go into, but it was a different portion of the woods. Next to the woods, was an old, creepy, abandoned cemetery full of all sorts of different people. He was a little too scared to keep looking, so he just kept heading towards John’s.

He had already arrived at John’s block in under twenty seconds of running, and fortunately, John was already in his front lawn, on a swing set that his parents had gotten the year before. Unfortunately, when Jason, Ron, and Wendy discovered Mikey was gone, panic had set in.


***

“What do you mean, you don’t know?” Wendy asked Jason, angry and confused. “You saw him last. Where did he go?” “Mom, I told you, I don’t know! I left because I thought he was coming inside for dinner, but he never came inside. Why would I lie about that? I’m scared too.”





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Wendy was an inch away from pulling her hair out of her head. “Oh, if anything happens to him . . .”

“Hey, hey,” Ron said, trying to calm her down. “It’s okay, babe. He’ll be fine. Mikey’s one of the meanest damn kids I’ve ever met, he’ll be fine. I’m sure wherever he is, he’ll be coming back soon.”

“But . . . it’s getting dark,” Wendy said, hyperventilating. “Is he actually going to come back?”

“Don’t say that, Ma,” Jason said. “I’m sorry for leaving him alone, even if it was for just a few seconds. But Ron’s right, he’ll be fine. I have an idea of where he might have gone.”

Wendy’s eyes peered up at Jason. “Really? Where?”

“Little Johnny’s house.”

Wendy rubbed her eyes. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“I don’t know. But let’s go check if he’s there. I’ll go.”

Wendy nodded. “If you’re not back with him, I’ll freak the hell out.”

“Don’t worry, I will.”

Jason headed out the door, leaving Wendy with Ron, who was still patting her on the back, comforting her.


***

Jason didn’t run down the block. Instead, he went to the garage, and got his bike, which was a cool combination of both black and orange. He hopped on, trying not to squish his own balls






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when sitting down, and pedaled down the street, over to John’s house. He had only known where John lived because he was nearby, and he’d often take Mikey down there.

It took him about a minute to make it over there, and he saw Mikey with John in the front lawn, playing on the swing set. When Mikey saw Jason, he nearly crapped in his pants. Jason hopped off the bike and walked over to Mikey. He didn’t even need to say anything, Mikey got off the swing set and came over to Jason.

“Don’t yell at me,” Mikey said, looking down.

“I’m not going to yell.” Jason paused. “You scared the shit outta me!” he barked. Mikey jumped.

“I thought you said you weren’t going to yell,” Mikey said, on the verge of tears. “I’m sorry.”

“Just . . . don’t run off like that, Mikey. Mom is scared to death. I’m just glad you're okay.” Jason leaned down and hugged his little brother. Mikey wrapped his arms around Jason’s neck. “I’m sorry I yelled.”

“It’s okay,” Mikey replied. “Take me home, then.”

Jason and Mikey quit hugging and they got ready to leave. Jason and Mikey both knew that when they got home, it wasn’t going to be a pretty sight. Wendy was going to scold them both, harshly. All they could do was just prepare for it.


***





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Sure enough, when they both arrived home, Wendy and Ron were sitting on the front porch, and were so relieved to see Mikey. Ron was happy to see the kid too, but he was right. “Ah, see, babe? He’s okay.”

Wendywas close to jumping off the porch and grabbing him, but just calmly walked down the steps. She picked him up and started kissing his cheeks, viciously. “Oh, you scared me so bad. You run off like that again, you’re grounded. You got that?”

“I got it,” Mikey said, his voice muffled by his mom’s shoulder. “I’m not in trouble?”

“You will be if it happens again. I’m just glad you’re not gone for good.”

Jason smiled. “And if it happens again, I’ll beat you like a redhead step child.”

Wendy set Mikey down. Mikey went after Jason, jumping on him. Wendy didn’t stop it.

She watched as the two brothers wrestled in the dirt, happy to see them both together. Ron came beside her, and watched as well. “Aren’t they just adorable?” he said, putting his arm around her.

She grabbed his hand and smiled. “Yeah. They are.”

Jason finally got Mikey in a headlock. “Say ‘uncle’! Say ‘uncle’!”

Uncle! Uncle! ” Mikey yelled. Jason let go.

“Let’s go inside,” Wendy said. “Before you eat dinner, can you get in the bath, Mikey?”

“Yeah,” Mikey said and headed inside.

“Take your shoes off first!” Wendy reminded Mikey.





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Mikey took off his shoes and set them on the front porch. Then he ran inside. Jason stayed on the front porch, watching as the sun set in the distance, causing the red-orange sky to turn blacker as the hours went on.

They all ate dinner that night, together as a family. It was Wendy’s famous spaghetti.

And after all was said and done, Jason was just happy his brother was okay. He would’ve killed someone if it meant finding Mikey, but the only reason he wouldn’t have was because he already knew where Mikey would be. And that’s all it takes to be a good older brother: love.

As Jason laid awake in bed that night, he thought of what could have happened if he weren’t so close with Mikey. What might have happened if he didn’t care enough to go looking for him. Mikey might have run off for good, and they’d take a year to find him, and by then, he’d be adopted by some foster family or something.

As Jason laid on his back, he looked up at his ceiling fan, hypnotized by it. And his last thoughts before he fell asleep were: So help me God, if anything bad ever happens to Mikey, I’ll

never forgive myself.

Maybe that was true, maybe it wasn’t. But one thing was for sure: if something bad ever did happen to Mikey – which it would – then he wouldn’t be coming back home.







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CHAPTER 3

Play Time’s Over

Now things were different. It was present day now, and Mikey hadn’t left the house’s perimeter since the John incident. He stayed on the front lawn, no matter what. Even if he was asked to quickly grab the mail from the mailbox, he was hesitant to do so. He wouldn’t even move an inch off the front lawn and onto the road.

All he did was stay on the front lawn, getting dirt and grass on his butt, but he didn’t care.

Jason always watched from there on, to make sure he didn’t go off doing something crazy again.

Except he was still sick from the flu, so he wasn’t as energetic or even happy as usual. He couldn’t yell even if he wanted to, his throat was beginning to get scratchy. So, when he came outside with Mikey, he brought a glass of water with him.

He still enjoyed watching the little dude play, he just hated being outside. Thank God it’s

only for ten minutes, Jason thought.

And you know what? Jason was starting to enjoy the fresh summer breeze. It was hotter than hell, sure, but the windy breeze was enough to make anyone feel good. He was still low in the energy department, but began to feel better as more time went on. Except for the headache, which was only getting worse.

Jason watched as Mikey pretended the cars were a group of people, and he’d stand them up on their rears. He'd make it look like a bunch of people were in a fight, punching each other with the tires which were supposed to be arms in his eyes.

“Are you making the cars fight?” Jason asked incredulously.





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“Yeah,” Mikey said. “Right now, they’re wrestling. ‘ Take this!’

He made one of the cars punch the other, and made a sound like the ‘person’ was injured.

“‘Oh, you broked my nose!’” he said in a low voice.

Jason laughed. Mikey looked at him. “What?” he said to Jason.

“It’s ‘broke’, not ‘broked’.”

“Oh. ‘You broke my nose!” and resumed the car fight.

Wendy stepped outside and saw Jason sitting in the chair on the porch. “You feeling better?”

“Besides the headache, yeah,” Jason replied. “Everything else is fine. But this headache is hurting like shit.”

“Watch that language, Jason,” Wendy said, and went back inside.

Jason was rested his head on one hand, still watching Mikey. Then, he looked past the front lawn, and over to the house across from theirs; the Millers’. The house was owned by Jerry and Barbara Miller, nice old folks who were growing a garden in their front yard. There was a bright, pink petunia growing out of the garden. It was so beautiful to look at, that it caught Jason and Mikey’s eyes.

“Whoa,” Mikey said in amazement. “A flower. Cool.”

“Yeah,” Jason agreed. “I think it’s a petunia. I’m not a flower expert, so I’m not for sure.

But it’s pretty, isn’t it?”





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“It sure is.” Mikey stood up to go inspect it, but reminded himself: No. Don’t step off the

lawn for even a second. You’ll get in trouble again.

Jason snapped his fingers to get Mikey’s attention. Mikey turned around to face him.

“Don’t even think about it,” Jason said, referring to the lawn. “Maybe we’ll put a shock collar on you like a dog.”

“Yeah, right, in your dreams.”

Jason stood up. “Wanna bet?” he started to go for Mikey, but Mikey sat back down, giggling. “No, no! I’ll stay.”

Jason sat back down. “That’s what I thought.”

After a while of sitting there, Jason reached for his glass of water, but remembered it was empty. Then, he had the same thought as the year prior, during November. The day Mikey went missing for a half-hour. He thought; I’ll just go inside really quick, and come back out as soon as

possible.

Jason stood up from his chair, taking the empty glass with him. But he never said anything to Mikey, who was distracted with his playing in the dirt. But he wouldn’t be for long.


***

Jason walked inside of the kitchen and got one of the huge water jugs that Wendy and Ron all kept in the fridge. They didn’t drink their water right from the sink and put it in their glass.


They'd use the sink for the water, fill up both jugs, and keep them in the fridge. Whenever you got thirsty, you got the jug, poured yourself a glass, filled it up, drink, then put it back up. If you





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empty the jug, you fill it up yourself. This was something Mikey and Jason often forgot to do, so much to the point where Ron actually put a sticky note up on the fridge that read: If you empty or almost empty a jug, FILL THAT FUCKER UP WITH WATER!

Jason remembered to do exactly that, although it wasn’t empty quite yet. It actually wasn’t even close, so he just put it back in the fridge after filling his glass again. The sound of the pouring made Jason realize: I really have to piss.


***

Mikey was still making more fake-punching sounds with his mouth. “This is for calling my mom


fat! WHAM! ” And the car fell down out of his hands and into the dirt. He put all the cars down and let out a huge sigh. Partly of boredom, partly because he finished his fake movie-scene. “Jason, I’m bored--”

Jason wasn’t on the front porch anymore. He was out of sight. Just like last year, Mikey thought. Like clockwork! He excitedly got up from his spot in the dirt, and picked up just a handful of the toy cars. Then he went over to the train tracks to play.


***

Jason finished his tinkle, and got out of the bathroom. Before he left, he opened the bathroom closet and pulled out the white bottle of Tylenol, or ‘headache pills’, as Ron called them. He closed both the bathroom closet and bathroom’s doors and headed for the front door. He didn’t open the door immediately, though, he twisted the cap off the bottle with only his thumb, then he popped about three pills into his mouth. He washed them down with the water; he could never swallow pills without water or some drink to help it go down better.





26

He walked into the kitchen and placed the Tylenol bottle on the kitchen table, then heard the noise. The unmistakable noise, of a train’s horn. CHOO-CHOO! CHOO-CHOO!

And he was frozen for a moment. He remembered . . . Oh, God, I forgot about Mikey

again! And with that, he bolted out of the front door, and saw Mikey. Then the train. Train, Mikey, Mikey, train. And it was headed

right for him.

Jason forgot about his throbbing headache, as he took off for Mikey, who was searching for something, right on the tracks, probably one of his toy cars. But when the train’s horn sounded, he looked up, and was just . . . frozen. Completely frozen in fear, and couldn’t move.

Jason never ran faster than that in his entire life, not even as an adult. “MIKEY! GET THE

HELL OUT OF THERE!

But Mikey didn’t. And when he did eventually try to move, it was too late. Too late to get out of the way, and too late for Jason to save his little brother. His little brother, who he had loved more than anything else in the world, was suddenly struck by the train, with a horrific smacksound that made Jason jump. And then Mikey was gone.

Not just gone figuratively, he was literally gone. He was struck so hard by the train, that he had flown somewhere else. And Jason just dropped to his knees, injuring them pretty bad, and fell onto the dirt ground. Right on his face. The right side of his face was now caked in dirt, but he didn’t care. He also didn’t care that Mikey’s own blood had splattered onto his face, because the tears washed it away.

He sobbed so loudly, that he was partially surprised that Ron and Wendy didn’t hear, even from all the way at the house. He rolled over on his back, and stared into the sky.





27

All he could manage was the loudest scream/yell in the world: “WHY?! GOD, WHY?!

Now, this got Wendy and Ron’s attention. They both had heard these loud screams, and came running out of the house. They saw Jason laying on his back in the dirt, sobbing loudly still. He was muttering, “

Mikey . . . I’m sorry . . . ” over and over again.

Wendy bent over him. Ron was behind her. “Dear God, what happened?” she asked Jason. “Where’s Mikey?”

Jason couldn’t form a full sentence. He was crying so hard he was stuttering every word.

M-M-Mikey I-I-I-isn't h-h-here . . .

Wendy and Ron looked at each other, and didn’t need Jason to finish his sentence to understand what had just happened. They saw the blood on the tracks and the dirt, and a little on Jason’s face. They all began sobbing together, group-hugging. Not even seeming to notice the warm, young corpse of Mikey’s on the dirt path beside the tracks. Eyes wide open and glassy, staring up into the sky.

None of them noticed it. Their eyes were all too filled with tears to even see that far anyway.







28

PART II: JASON’S SORROW

“Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality.” - Emily Dickinson

“The past doesn’t haunt us; we haunt the past.” - Augusten Burroughs







29



CHAPTER 4

Guilt

Jason hated funerals. Always did, ever since he was a little kid. It was just hard for him to listen to people in the room cry, one at a time, as others told stories about that same person. He remembered vividly when he was only ten, and Mikey was only three, when Aunt Beth passed of lung cancer. That funeral was hard, especially because he was so close with her.

It wasn’t always like that, though; sometimes he didn’t even know the person that well but Ron and Wendy still made him go out of respect for the person. Their great grandpa Joe was a badass World War II vet who had escaped captivity from the Nazis, but Jason just never talked to him much.

This time, it was different. The only up-side to that particular day was that Jason’s flu had gone, and he no longer felt sick. It was almost as if Mikey’s death had gotten rid of his sickness entirely.

No one knew Mikey better than Jason, not even Wendy or Ron. The two of them were brothers, and thick as thieves. Jason knew that better than anyone, their bond was tight. “Tighter than a nun’s cunt,”

as Ron would say. But he didn’t say that about Mikey and Jason, it was too inappropriate. Ron was usually the wisecracking guy at parties or events like this, but not this time. It was too horrible for him to even think of a joke, let alone tell one. Even Ron had boundaries when it came to his humor.

Jason knew that he’d probably have to go up and tell a story about Mikey, one that would make people laugh, or cheer them up at least a little bit. But it was too painful to think about. It had only been five days since the train came by and . . . oh, God, no. Don't think about it now, Jason. Don’t you think about it . .

.





30

He couldn’t help himself. He got up from his seat, covering his face, and ran. He ran all the way to the bathroom; he didn’t care how rude it was that he interrupted Greta Simpson’s speech about how good a kid Mikey was. He couldn’t bear it.

He busted through the door and turned the sink on. He began splashing cold water in his face, for about a minute. Then he looked at himself in the mirror, and saw his eyes were bloodshot. Red as the devil’s cock. He dried his face with his sleeve, and just stood there for a good while.

There was a knock on the door, and in walked Ron. Jason and Ron were both rocking black suits, nothing fancy like a tuxedo, but just a simple black suit. Kinda like the ones the gangsters in Reservoir Dogswore.

Ron was calm, and cool. “Hey. You shouldn’t walk out of the funeral like that.”

Jason sniffled, not even looking at Ron. Just looking at the floor. “Sorry. I couldn’t help it.”

Ron walked closer. “I get how you feel. I’m sorry, Jason, I loved that kid too. Loved him to death. I remember when I lost my dad, years ago. About ten now, I think. I was so heartbroken I could barely even function for the rest of the week. But you know what? I eventually said to myself, ‘Ron, you’re going to be okay. He loved you, and you loved him back, and that’s all you need to keep going. Don't cry because he’s gone, smile because of all the memories you shared together.’ How about you, Jason? Do you remember all of the memories you shared with Mikey?”

Jason looked up. “Yeah,” he managed to say. “I do.”

“He loved you?”

“Yes.”

“And you loved him?”





31

“More than anything,” Jason said.

“You guys played a lot, wrestled, called each other ‘butthead.’ I know it’s hard to deal with, Jason.

While it’s happening, it’s hell, but trust me, it will get better. Something my dad always said was, ‘If something absolutely terrible happens, and keeps happening, that’s a sign that things are going to get really good for you.’ Things will get better, Jason. I promise.”

Jason nodded and wiped his eye with his sleeve. Ron held his arms out for a hug, which Jason gave him. The two hugged for a good long time, and for the first time in five days, Jason felt a sense of comfort, and happiness. Ron was truly the father that Jason never had.

They eventually let go of each other, and got ready to exit the bathroom. “C’mon,” Ron said. “Let’s get back. It'll be awkward, but you’re okay now?”

“Yep,” Jason said, managing a little smile.

Ron noticed this and pinched Jason’s cheek. “That’s the spirit, kid. Let’s go.”


***

The food was nice because it was free, but it was like something you’d see on Thanksgiving Day. There was mashed potatoes and gravy, with some ham and turkey, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, green beans. It was good food. In the room where everyone ate, there were dozens of tables for four seats each, and Jason, Ron, and Wendy all sat together. Wendy was the mother of Mikey, yet somehow didn’t feel nearly as sad about it as Jason. Now, of course, she was still utterly heartbroken, but not to the degree of Jason, who had been locking himself in his own room for about three days until he eventually got tired of being alone.





32

They all ate together as a family. Jason and Ron shared smiles, and that perked Wendy right up. She kissed him on the head. “I love you, Jason,” she said to him.

“I love you too, Ma,” Jason replied. They shared a hug. Again, for the first time in days, Jason felt comfort and joy. The love of Ron and Wendy was all he needed at that point. It gave him a nice warmth inside that he’d never felt before. At least not since he was younger.


***

When Jason, Wendy, and Ron got home they were all exhausted, and rightfully so. Jason felt like taking a big nap. Ron’s words had made him feel a little better, but not by miles. He still felt terrible, sad, and most of all: guilty.


For the next week or two people would tell him otherwise; “It’s not your fault, Jason, there was

nothing you could have done . . .

Yeah, bullshit, Jason thought. When he got to his bedroom, he didn’t even bother to take off the suit and whatnot, even though it was still hotter than the Mojave. He just wanted to rest.

Before he did, he decided to call Luna. He didn’t even know what really came over him in that moment, he just wanted to let her know. The phone rang for a moment but then she picked up almost instantly after the first ring.

“Sup, dude?” she said on the other end.

“Hey,” Jason managed to say. His voice was low and hollow.

Luna could tell instantly that something was wrong. “You okay?” she asked.





33

Jason rubbed his forehead. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I called. I wanted to let you know that, um

. . . my brother passed away a few days ago, and I probably won’t be able to talk to you for a little bit. I’m just in a bad spot right now. I thought you should know because you’re a close friend and all.”

Luna didn’t know how to respond, which was an odd thing for her. Usually, she was a wisecracking, smart-ass of a girl that was super funny, but when something serious came up she never knew how to handle it, or at least didn’t know what to say.

“Wow, Jason. I’m so sorry. That’s terrible. I . . . don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything, Luna,” Jason said. “It’s fine. I just wanted you to know, that’s why I haven’t texted you in a few days. I’ve still been trying to cope.”

“I understand,” Luna said. “You know, you can always talk to me if you want. Sometimes it’s good to just let it all out. You know?”

“Yeah. Thanks, Luna. You’re a great friend.”

“I try,” she said. Jason could hear from her voice that she was smiling as she said it, and that cheered him up a little.

“Okay, well, I’ll see you soon, then. I think I’m taking a nap.”

“All right,” she said. “See ya. Feel better, okay?”

“I’ll try to. Thanks again.”

And with that, he hung up. It felt good to talk to Luna, even if it was just for a minute or so. Jason usually didn’t like telling other people about his personal problems, even his really close friends. He just didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable. But luckily Luna was understanding, even if she didn’t know what to say.





34

Jason laid his head down on his pillow, and closed his eyes after staring up at his moving, vibrating ceiling fan. He eventually drifted off, half-expecting to see Mikey himself walk in through his door. Oh, what he’d give to have that back.

After all, you never realize how much you truly miss something or someone, until they’re taken away from you.


***

The nightmares officially arrived later that night. Jason hadn’t had any real nightmares in the past few days since Mikey’s passing, or even most of his life for that matter. They were a rare occurrence, but when they came, they came with a vengeance. This particular nightmare was one that Jason didn’t even know his mind and imagination were capable of. It began with what his days outside of school were typically like. He’d wake up in the morning, not by himself, but by Mikey. Only this time, Mikey was different in the dream. His eyes were bloodshot, and his body was twisted and contorted. He'd wake Jason up by jumping on him.

And when he did it this time, he was right in Jason’s face so close they were almost kissing. And he didn’t even need to say any words, it was like he used some sort of telepathic powers to communicate with Jason. It was Mikey’s voice, but heavily distorted. It was like the devil himself was scolding Jason. A demonic voice that chilled him to the bone even fifteen minutes after the dream was over and he was awake.

You left me, the voice said. You left me to die on that track! You’ll pay for it, Jason. You’ll pay!

You’ll pay . . .





35

That was when he snapped awake, screaming. A pool of sweat sat underneath him and soaked into the sheets of his bed. His forehead was caked in sweat, and he wiped it off with his Batman blanket. Wendy came into the room, robe on.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

Jason sat up. “Just . . . a bad dream, I guess.”

Wendy nodded and walked up to his bed. She sat on the other end of it, next to Jason. She looked into his eyes. “I know you’re in pain,” she said. “I am too, you have no idea how hard it is to cope. But you didn’t do anything wrong; you know that? Mistakes happen. I can’t be mad at you for that, you’re only human, for Christ’s sake.”

Jason’s eyes filled with tears. “But . . . I left him alone. I didn’t learn my lesson from last time I left him alone outside, and we thought he went missing. I haven’t learned, and now he’s gone . . .”

Jason cut himself off. He just started to break down, right in front of his mother, but didn’t care. It was for Mikey that he was crying. Wendy gave him a big hug. She too had started to cry a little.

There were times in that week that Jason would’ve traded places with Mikey, just so the kid could grow up. It wasn’t just a tragedy that Mikey was a loved one, but it was a tragedy because he wasn’t even ten yet. The kid was only nine. There is no God, Jason thought. No fucking God at all.


***

When Jason woke up, there was more pain. Not just mentally, but in his stomach. It was like having diarrhea like last week when he had the flu, but he didn’t have it. It was an odd feeling. He shrugged it off as just part of stress; he had read online somewhere that stress can cause uneasy feelings in the stomach or chest.






36

Also, when he went into the bathroom that morning thinking it was diarrhea, he looked in the mirror at himself. He noticed a small but noticeable gray little hair on the side of his head, where his ‘teenager sideburns’ were. He just left it there, though. He didn’t know how to get rid of it.

Must be getting old

already, he thought as he walked out.

When he got out of the bathroom, in the kitchen, sitting at the table was Wendy and Ron. They were both talking lowly, so that Jason couldn’t understand them. But they noticed him lingering about.

“Hey, little man,” Ron said to him. “You doing better?”

Jason gave him a thumbs up. Ron just nodded.

Jason walked back to his room, but stopped himself. He went back to the kitchen for a moment.

“Hey, Ma?”

Wendy looked over to him. “Yeah?”

“Can I go in Mikey’s room?”


***

There was an odd feeling in Mikey’s room. Something about it was just a little off-putting to Jason. He couldn’t tell what it was: maybe it was just the lack of Mikey in the room. Maybe it was just how empty everything was now. But one thing was for certain: it was just a creepy feeling. Almost like it was haunted or something.

This must have been what it was like for those ghost hunters that go into abandoned mental hospitals and record what they find. Or some haunted house at Worlds of Fun.





37

Mikey’s room had a bunch of weird, little kid stuff. There was also a lava lamp illuminating the room, changing colors and whatnot. Maybe that was why it was feeling so odd in there; the lack of proper light. Mikey's room didn’t have any windows or anything, so there was no morning sun peeking through.

It was just dark, with some lamp light barely lighting the room. It was almost hard to see where he was going, but he managed to make it to Mikey’s junk drawer across the room. He opened the drawer, bracing himself for some more tears.

And boy, was he about to receive more.

In the drawer was that Airheads wrapper from last week, which had surprisingly not been fully eaten yet. There was still half of it left, but it was a week old and hard as a rock. Jason didn’t even bother picking it up, it was probably infested with germs. Not that he was that much of a germaphobe anyway.

Also in the drawer was some pictures of Mikey and Jason together, happy as can be. In one of the photos, Mikey was only about five, and Jason was about twelve. Jason was holding Mikey up to the sky, Lion Kingstyle. He smiled as he looked at the photo, remembering that day on their trip to Arizona. They were visiting the Grand Canyon, and Mikey had wanted Jason to hold him up so that he could see all of the area below them. Jason remembered Mikey screaming and yelping with joy.

He set the photo back in the drawer, and closed it.

CREAK . . .

The bedroom door opened, making Jason jump. It was just Ron. “Hey, kid,” he said. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”

Jason shrugged. “It’s fine.”





38

Ron saw Jason holding the picture of him and Mikey and smiled. “I remember that. Grand Canyon trip, back in 2016, right?”

“Yeah,” Jason said. “I remember it too. Mikey wanted me to hold him up, like that part from Lion

King. I guess that’s what you meant by looking for the happy memories, right, Ron?”

Ron came up a little closer, and took the photo from Jason’s hand. He looked at it and smiled.

“Yeah. That’s exactly what I meant. You got any more pictures of you and Mikey together?”

“I don’t know. I don’t feel like going through his drawer, it gives me the creeps. I think I’m going to go outside for a little bit, go on a bike ride. Can I?”

Ron put the picture back in the drawer and touched Jason’s shoulder. “Sure, you can. Just don’t stay out too late.”

“I won’t. Just for an hour or so.”

“Okay. Be safe.”

Jason headed out the door, and grabbed his hoodie which was sitting on the kitchen table. As he slipped it on, he was already almost out the door.

“Ma, I’m gonna ride my bike, I’ll be back home in an hour!” he called. “Love you!”

He headed out the door, and to their garage.


***

Jason’s red-and-orange bike gave him some even more unpleasant memories about Mikey. During Mikey’s ‘Great Escape’ as Ron called it, this same bike was the same one Jason used to go get him. And it was also the one he used when he wanted to ride around the neighborhood for a little bit to clear his head.





39

Sibley wasn’t even a town or city; it was more like a village than anything. It was just an area in Missouri with houses everywhere pretty much, and there were two main parts to it.

The side that Jason and the others lived on was the ‘good side’ as he described it, as there was really nothing to worry about, and nothing bad ever happened. Except for one time earlier that year, a nice old lady they called ‘the Cat Lady’ died in a house-fire from smoke inhalation, and was buried in an abandoned cemetery on the ‘bad side’ of Sibley.

The ‘bad side’ was basically where things started to get a little eerie, though not by much. On this side there was the actual Fort Osage, which was basically there as a tourist attraction, but next to it was the creepy abandoned cemetery. This was where the cat lady was buried, along with Wendy’s grandfather Charlie.

Jason wasn’t one to believe in ghosts or the paranormal, but even he always thought something just felt off with that place. It doesn’t hurt that it was a cemetery; people had died and had been buried there, but it was also overgrown with weeds and grass, covering the tombstones in a greenish blanket from mother nature.

He had passed this cemetery a few times, but never really went into it. Until he remembered that that was where Mikey was buried after the funeral. That cemetery held so many lives, including Jason’s younger brother.

Maybe it was time to go see it . . .







40



CHAPTER 5

The Burial

After the part of the funeral where everyone told funny stories in Mikey’s memory, it was time for the burial process. This was when they’d take the casket (which was closed, by the way) and lower it into the ground for good. Jason, Wendy, and Ron had to drive behind the funeral cars to the abandoned cemetery in Sibley for the burial.

It was hard to watch for Jason, seeing Mikey getting put in the ground. Not that he could actually see him, but he knew that he was in there, and that was all he really needed to know.

Jason still watched it happen anyway, against his better judgement. It was just something surreal that he had to see. And not only that, but had taken one of Mikey’s favorite toy cars from home and quickly tossed it into the grave with his little brother. Tears had been filling his eyes as he watched the casket sink deeper, and deeper, and deeper . . .

Until finally, it was out of sight. Fully into the darkness. And Jason knew that even if Mikey had somehow, by some God-only-knows-what miracle, survived the train hit, he was done for now. It was too deep in the ground for a second chance now. So, in that moment, Jason had finally come to terms with the fact that his little brother was gone forever.

The cemetery they all had gone to was the one by Fort Osage in Sibley, where a lot of them gathered around to see the burial. And this was what had put Jason off about the cemetery.

Not only was it creepy because of its dilapidation, but also because it was overgrown with weeds and grass. He had thought Wendy was losing her mind for wanting to bury him hereof all places, but he let it happen anyway.





41

Something weird was lurking there, and Jason could feel it in his gut. It was one of those scenarios where you feel that deep down, something wasn’t right. He just couldn’t put his finger on whatit was exactly.


***

And now, Jason was headed to that very same cemetery where Mikey was buried. He didn’t know why he wanted to go see it, he just did. Despite the way it set him off, it seemed as if the cemetery had begun to call him over to go see it. And he did. He reached the cemetery in about five minutes from his house, having to cross the bridge that separated the good side and bad side of Sibley. When he got there, he parked the bike right outside the entrance of the cemetery. Just the entrance sign was enough to give him the creeps.

He walked into the cemetery, looking for Mikey’s grave. It took him a while to notice it; all the grass and shit that was still growing made it hard to see any of the names of the graves.

There were actually some interesting people buried there in that place. Charles Sanders was a serial killer in Missouri back in the 1950s who was buried there. Maybe that was why Jason felt a little off.

But he found the gravestone. It read:

REST IN PEACE, MICHAEL BIRCH

DECEMBER 15, 2011 – JULY 28, 2020

He sat down in front of it, getting dirt and grass on his pants, but he didn’t care. He looked at the gravestone and sighed. “Hey, Mikey.”





42

This is crazy, he thought as he spoke out loud. This is crazy. What if someone catches you

out here, they’ll think you’re even more crazy than you think.

“It’s me, Jason,” he continued. “Your older bro. I’m so sorry for what happened, it’s all my fault. I remember last November when you ran away for a little bit then me and Mom started freaking out, and I found you at John’s house. I hopped on my bike and rode there, but you wouldn’t have even gotten away with that if I didn’t leave you alone outside. I should have waited for you instead of going inside immediately. I just . . . can’t believe I did it again, and now you’re gone because of it. I shouldn’t have left you alone again. You know, sometimes I forget you’re gone, and I cry even more. I expect you to come in my room late at night and start blabbering on and on about stuff, jumping on me to wake me up. I miss that. I’d kill to have you back. I just wish you could come back. I’d do anything to do it. Anyway, I gotta go, but it was nice talking, even though you can’t respond. I love you, Mikey. And I’m sorry for all of this.”

Jason placed his hand on the top of the gravestone, and then turned around to leave. Back to his bike, so he could ride home and go see his parents. He needed them after that.

But suddenly, there was a low but still clear rustling sound in the distance, on the other side of the cemetery. In the bushes, something was moving . . .

Jason didn’t want to take any chances, he got on his bike and took off.


***

The cool breeze felt good as Jason rode down the long hill on his bike, his lips flapping in the wind like a dog sticking its head out the window of a moving car. Made him feel like a little kid all over again, when he’d ride his bike around town all the time, not a fear in the world except getting a boo-boo if he crashed his bike.






43

Only this time it was when he was sixteen, therefore a little smarter. There was a lot to fear now that he was older, like if he got lost or kidnapped. But that didn’t happen out in Sibley, even with the creepy Deliverance-type rednecks that lived out there on the bad side. But they were nice rednecks; the kind that would offer you a beer if you fixed the engine to their Ford F-150.

When he rode down the hill it was like Doc from Back to Futuregaining eighty-eight miles an hour to travel through time, only on a bicycle and not going that fast. But it sure as shit felt like he could’ve traveled through time due to speed in that moment. When he got to the bottom of the hill, there was a gravel one that lead up to his house. He got off the bike and pushed it up the hill the rest of the way there. His peaceful bike ride was over.


***

When Jason walked inside, Ron was in the living room, watching TV. It was some Western that Jason couldn’t tell which one it was. Probably Fistful of Dollars; that was Ron’s favorite. “Have fun?” Ron asked Jason as he walked in.

“Sure,” Jason replied. “It was relaxing, maybe you should try it some time.”

Ron stretched his arms and yawned. “Maybe. My back’s not as strong as it used to be when I was your age.”

Jason went to get himself a glass of water. He opened the fridge. “So?” he said to Ron.

“You can still ride a bike, old-timer.”

“Not as good as you. What, you want to race or something?”

“If your back can handle it, maybe.”





44

“That’s a no, then,” Ron said.

Jason laughed. “Whatever you say.”

He poured himself a glass and sat down. He took a sip, then looked over at Ron. “Hey, Ron?”

“Yeah?” Ron asked.

“You know the cemetery by Fort Osage, where we buried Mikey?”

Ron looked over at Jason. “Yeah, why?”

“Do you think it’s haunted?”

Ron paused his movie and walked over to Jason to sit next to him. “What makes you say that?” Do you think it’s haunted?”

“I don’t know. But something about that place just doesn’t feel right. It makes me feel uneasy. And I could’ve sworn I heard something up there--”

“Did you go up there?” Ron asked. He was serious as a heart attack. His eyes weren’t the same ones Jason was used to. They were locked right on his, and they were almost angry-looking.

Jason hesitated. “I-I . . . no. Not since the funeral.”

“Don’t lie to me. I want to know the truth. Jason, did you, or did you not, go up to that cemetery?”

Jason struggled to speak for a moment. Until finally; “Okay, fine. I did. I went up there.”





45

Ron scoffed. “Why would you do that, kid? Are you trying to make yourself feel worse?

And what if something happened to you up there? What if you went missing or got kidnapped?

That’s the bad side, we don’t go on the bad side unless we got at least one other person with us.”

“I’m sorry, okay? I don’t know why I went up there. But I did, and I swear to God, I’ve never felt such creepy vibes from a place before. I feel like something’s not right up there.”

Ron covered his face with his hands. “It’s a cemetery, Jason,” he said, his voice muffled through his hands. Then he put his hands down. “It’ll feel weird. But I don’t think it’s haunted. I don’t believe in ghosts, because they’re not real. I don’t want you going up there ever again. Got it?”

“I got it. I won’t go up there anymore. I’m sorry, Ron.”

Ron sighed. “It’s all good. Don’t tell your mom, okay?”

“Okay.”

Jason got up and went to his room. Ron just stayed at the kitchen table, sitting there by himself. He walked back to the living room and un-paused his Clint Eastwood-era Western film.


***

The cemetery got especially creepy at night specifically at night-time. This was when Sibley in general was creepiest; as it gave you a sense of isolation even more so than when it was day time. And it came alive that night in July of 2020.

The grave of Mikey was opened up by something that was hard to see to the untrained eye, and if Jason were there in that moment, no doubt he’d shit his pants. It was the hand of





46

Mikey’s ghost rising from the grave and crawling out. He didn’t even seem to notice it was a grave, and he already remembered where his home was. It was almost like he hadn’t been gone ever. The only thing different from him now was that he was now a spirit.

He walked out of the cemetery, nonchalantly, and headed his bare-feet onto the road.

Only letting out one word that he repeated over and over again the whole way over to Jason’s house;

Jason . . . Jason . . .


***

Jason’s insomnia seemed to be growing slightly every night. He'd wake up every night that week, progressively more and more to the point of him playing video games, watching Netflix or reading a Stephen King novel until he passed out. That night where Mikey climbed out of his grave was when Jason’s insomnia had hit its peak. He turned on Netflix on his TV and got up from his bed to go get a glass of water.


***

When he got into the kitchen, he opened the fridge as was his midnight routine and poured himself another glass of water. Then another, and another, until he could barely drink anymore. He closed the fridge after putting the water jug in, and what he saw next made him almost scream.

The front door to their house was right next to the kitchen, and at the front door was a little window to peek through it. And standing there in the window, lurking about ominously and staring inside at Jason, was Mikey.





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And Jason had nearly shat a brick right then and there.







48



CHAPTER 6

Therapy

Jason couldn’t believe it. Mikey, his little nine-year-old brother who’d been hit by a train and was killed instantly a week ago, was now standing there, watching him, smiling.

He immediately opened the door to let Mikey in, overcome with excitement, yet confusion at the same time. He went to hug him immediately, but . . .

He went right through Mikey’s body. Like he was a transparent being.

Confusion set in even more at that moment. He looked at Mikey in horror. No fucking

way this is happening . . .

But it was. It was happening.

“Jason,” Mikey managed to say. His voice was a little scratchy and dry, but was still more or less the same as before he died. “I missed you.”

Jason didn’t know what to say. “Mikey? Is that really you?”

Mikey shrugged. “Can I go to my room and play?”

Jason was dumbfounded. Is this a dream?

“Sure,” Jason said with a voice crack, partly out of fear.

Mikey excitedly jumped up and down, then ran all the way to his room. He didn’t open his bedroom door with his hands or anything, he actually just . . . phased through it. Jason saw this, and he realized in that moment exactly what was going on.

Mikey’s a ghost . . .?





49

See, Jason had thought initially that he was seeing things due to a lack of sleep, so he went to his bedroom to get some sleep and make this thing go away. But he’d come to realize the next morning that he wouldn’t be able to let it go away.

In fact, it would be looming over him almost the whole night.


***

When he woke up the next morning, the Mikey ghost was sitting at the edge of his bed, twiddling his ghost thumbs. Jason restrained himself from screaming again, instead he rubbed his eyes with his knuckles, hoping Mikey would just disappear out of thin air. But he was still there.

Not only was he still there, but he looked over at Jason, who stared in horror. “Jason, I’m bored,” he said.

Jason sat up, not taking his eyes off of Mikey. His morning voice was on full display, but he decided to try and speak anyway.

“Is that really you, Mikey?” he managed to say.

Mikey rolled his eyes and scoffed. “Yeah, what do you think? You butthead.”

The door to Jason’s bedroom opened, and standing there was Wendy. She looked right at Jason, not even noticing Mikey’s ghost sitting next to him. “You gonna get up or what?

Breakfast is ready.”

Jason looked at Wendy, then at Mikey’s ghost in confusion. Wendy noticed this and looked puzzled. “What are you doing?” she asked.





50

Jason pointed at Mikey, but from Wendy’s point of view it just looked like he was pointing at his own feet. “Do you not see it? It’s Mikey, he’s back.”

Wendy’s face quickly turned to a frown. “You think that’s funny? Jason, we all have our ways to cope, but some are definitely better than that. Even Ron isn’t making jokes about it.”

Jason stammered his words. “W-well, how do you not see him? He’s right there.

Wendy rolled her eyes and left the room, slamming the door shut. Jason stood up quickly.

Mikey got off of the bed too. “Where are you going?” he asked Jason innocently.

“To go eat breakfast,” Jason said, still not entirely sure if he’d completely lost his marbles or not.

“Why didn’t Mom notice me?” Mikey asked.

Ohh, shit . . .

“Um, I’m not entirely sure,” Jason said. “Just stay in here, okay?”

Mikey groaned. “Ugh, just hurry. Eat fast.”

Jason nodded and walked to the kitchen.


***

Ron and Wendy were already digging into their breakfasts, which were pancakes, bacon and eggs. Nice and simple breakfast, but that was the way Jason liked it best. Wendy looked at Jason and back down at her plate. Ron looked up at Jason but didn’t take his eyes off of him.





51

“I thought it was obvious, but clearly it hasn’t been made clear to you,” Ron said. “You shouldn’t joke about someone’s death, especially your own brother. Even I don’t joke in times like this. Is that your way of coping? Because it doesn’t seem like you.”

Jason just stood there, not knowing what to say or how to say it. “I wasn’t. I could’ve sworn that I saw Mikey, and he was in my room. I’m not bullshitting.”

Wendy quickly looked up from her plate and to Jason again. “Language!” she said.

“Sorry, Ma. But I’m telling both of you, I’d swear on the Bible if I could, I saw him last night, and this morning when Mom walked in.”

Ron and Wendy just looked at each other in concern.

Then, Ron looked at Jason. “Son, I think we’re gonna have to make you see a therapist.”


***

Jason had never seen a therapist before, but how bad could it truly be? From what he had heard, not much bad could really happen a whole lot. It was mostly good things he had heard about therapy, even if it didn’t completely solve the problem. That was Jason’s main problem; the fact that he couldn’t tell his mom and Ron that he had seen the ghost of his dead brother. They thought he was just seeing things because of grief, but Jason could have sworn that Mikey’s ghost was there, and talking to him.

Either way, therapy seemed like a great way (to Ron and Wendy, at least) to help Jason get through this whole thing. And their therapist was Dr. Parker, a friendly man with that

‘businessman smile’ that you’d see on TV. But he greeted Jason with a firm handshake that was so hard Jason almost said “ow”.





52

But he sat down on the couch in Dr. Parker’s office, and eagerly waited for it all to be over with.

Dr. Parker sat down in a chair across from Jason.

“So, Jason, what brings you here?” he asked him.

Jason sighed. “Well, I really don’t know, Doc. You mind if I call you Doc?”

“Not at all,” Parker said.

“Okay. I'm going through a loss right now, and my mom thought it was a good idea for therapy to maybe help me through it.”

“What kind of loss? Loved one, break-up?”

“Loved one,” Jason said with sorrow. “Little brother Mikey. He was a good kid, you know. Loved him to death but I could never prove it, I guess.”

“We all experience loss,” Parker said. “It’s completely normal to feel . . . well, first of all, what’s the most common feeling you’ve had since his passing?”

Jason thought about it for a moment. “Erm . . . guilt, mostly,” he said. “And sadness, obviously.”

“Where does the feeling of guilt come from?” Parker asked.

“I was supposed to be watching Mikey play while we were both outside, which was just something I did every day when he wanted to play. We live out in Sibley, actually close to the power plant. Next to our house is train tracks and a train will come by every once in a while, delivering whatever it is they deliver. That reason alone was why my mom and step dad made





53

me watch Mikey, every time he was outside playing. Sometimes they’d come out to watch him instead, but we just wanted to make sure he was safe at all times. But I was sick that day with the flu and went inside to get some Tylenol, and a glass of water. But the train started to come by as I was inside, and I had gone inside without telling him first. So, by the time I got outside to get him, it was too late. The little runt was standing there in the tracks, frozen. Didn't even try to get outta the way. I ran faster than I’d ever ran in my life, but it was pointless. The train smacked him, and he was just . . . gone.”

Jason trailed off for a moment. But then he resumed his morbid tale.

“That wasn’t the first time I’d left him outside alone, you know. I never learned my lesson. Last fall I had left him outside for just a second because dinner was ready. Goddamn it, I turned my back on him for just a few seconds and he was already gone. He had run to his friend John’s house, but man, it freaked Mom out. Kinda freaked me out too, I mean, he was my little bro. That was scary, and I never thought I’d make that mistake again . . .”

Parker nodded. “Guilt is a normal feeling after death. ‘What did I do wrong, what didn’t I do, what should I have done?’ These are all completely normal, Jason.”

Jason nodded. “It gets worse, Doc. You might think I’m crazy, right, but what I’m about to tell you is something I truly believe, that is the very same reason they made me see you in the first place. Are you ready?”

“I’m all ears,” Parker said.

“It’s been about a week after Mikey’s funeral, and we had buried him at the Fort Osage cemetery out in Sibley. Last night I had gotten home from going on a little bike ride, which I went on to give Mikey a proper goodbye, and I had visited his grave. I woke up at about





54

midnight, and went to get a glass of water from the fridge. When I looked outside the front door, he was standing there in the window. Just watching me. I let him in, and when I went to hug him, I . . . went through him. Like he was a-a-a ghost or something. And I thought I was just seeing things because of sleep deprivation, I read that online somewhere. But when I woke up a few days ago, he was just sitting there at the edge of my bed, looking at me. I don’t think he even knows he was dead, because he asked me why Mom didn’t seem to notice him at all. I was just as confused as he was. And then, when I told Mom, she thought I was just making a sick joke and she sent me to you.”

There was a long silence between Jason and Parker, for about a good thirty seconds.

Jason didn’t even care if Parker thought he was crazy or not, he just wanted to get it out to someone, even if they had no idea what the hell he was talking about.

And in that silence, Jason had a moment of peace. Until he saw something that shook him to the core.

Mikey, his little deceased brother, was standing in the corner of the room. Jason sat up, quick as lightning, and Parker looked behind himself towards what Jason was looking at. But he didn’t see it.

“What’s the matter?” he asked Jason. “Something wrong, Jason?”

Jason nodded. His eyes were widened in pure terror and surprise. “He’s here.”

“He is? Where?”

“Right behind you.”

Parker looked behind himself again, but saw nothing. Again.





55

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Jason said, raising his voice a little. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine. Now, is this another reason why you’ve started to feel guilty? Seeing your brother everywhere you go?”

“Y-yes. Maybe that’s what it is. I’m so grief-stricken that I just see him everywhere. Is that possible?”

“Yes, it’s very possible. It’s possible as someone goes through a breakup too, not just losing a loved one. Maybe that’s your problem.”

God, I hope I’m not crazy, Jason thought.


***

Mikey had been in the car the whole time, even on the way over to the therapist. But Jason didn’t notice, he had been asleep on the car ride over there. Jason tried his best to ignore Mikey on the drive home, which he did pretty well, at least in his mind. It was good enough to get Mikey to stop bugging him. Good enough for himself to get his mind off it for a little while.

But when they got home, it started again. Mikey began talking and talking but only Jason could hear him.

I’m bored, I’m bored, ” Mikey sang. “I’m super, super, bored! Super, super bored!”

Jason was both annoyed, and horrified. Mostly annoyed.





56

Mikey followed Jason to his room, humming a song and snapping his fingers. Jason tried to shut the door before Mikey could come in, but it was too late. Mikey just walked right through anyway. I’m still not entirely sure if I’m dreaming or not, Jason thought.

Jason sat on his bed, and looked at Mikey. “What are you doing?” he asked him.

Mikey shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m bored, Jason. Can I go outside and play?”

Jason didn’t even hesitate. “Sure. Go.”

“Aren’t you going to come watch?”

Jason kicked his shoes off onto the floor, and laid down on the bed. “Nah, nah, Mom said you can go by yourself now.”

Mikey’s smile widened. “Really?” he asked.

“Yep. Go on, get your toys and play.”

Mikey didn’t even open Jason’s door, he just phased right through it and went away.

Jason was already beginning to get used to seeing his brother’s ghost, but it still set him off. He partly wished that Ron and Wendy could see him too. As long as the thing wasn’t bothering him, he didn’t care what it did. It’s not like he was really there.


***

Jason had fallen asleep on accident, after just a moment of wanting to relax after a long day. He annoyed himself with his accidental nap, because now his sleep schedule was about to get fucked again. He groaned and sat up, then turned his phone on to check the time. Seven o’ clock p.m.





57

He set the phone down and rubbed his eyes. Then Ron came into his room. He looked disappointed.

“What?” Jason asked.

“Did you take Mikey’s things?”

Jason stood up for a moment, but Ron motioned him to sit down. “No,” Jason said. “Why would I?”

Ron took a few steps closer to Jason. “Why are you lying to me, huh? You think I’m stupid, or your mom is stupid?”

“What the hell are you talking about? I didn’t take any of Mikey’s things.”

Ron held up a small, dirt-caked toy car, and the number was twenty-three. “Want to explain this?”

Jason just stood there looking at the car for a moment, not saying a word. “Th-that wasn’t me. I didn’t take his stuff.”

Ron rolled his eyes, and slapped his forehead with his hand. “I’m getting tired of this, kid. I don’t want to play these dumb games with you. I just want to hear the truth. I know you took this, because it was laying in the dirt outside, in our yard, and wasn’t there before.”

Jason took a deep breath and sighed. “It must have still been laying there since he passed.

We just probably forgot all about it and never noticed it before.”

“I mow that damn lawn every week,” Ron said lowly. “Once a week, and I think I’d be able to see something like that in the grass, especially if it was mowed already. I mowed the lawn earlier this morning, and I could see every fucking detail in that lawn, you know why? Because





58

the grass was cut. I swear on my dad’s grave there was no toy car out there, because I either would have noticed it or accidentally ran it over with my mower. You are the only person I know would even consider taking. Now, I don’t know why you did it, but I know that you did. What, did his ghost come by and start playing with those cars again? I highly doubt it.”

Jason didn’t know how to respond. “Please, Ron, believe me, I didn’t take any of his things.”

Ron was fed up, and just slammed Jason’s door shut behind him as he walked out. All Jason did was put his face in his hands, and cry. This is so bad, oh, this is so bad . . .

***

Ron stormed off to Wendy, who was watching TV in their bedroom. It was some dumb teen drama bullshit he didn’t care for much. He held the toy car in his pocket. Wendy saw he was a little upset.

“What’s wrong?” she asked him.

Ron pulled the toy car out of his pocket, which was still covered in the dirt. It was pretty much staying on there. “This.”

Wendy took the car, and examined it. “Oh, God. How long’s that been out there?”

“Beats me,” Ron said. “I think it was Jason who took it. I mean, I don’t know why he’d take it outside, but I found it out there. I think he’s been snooping around in Mikey’s room and taking his stuff.”

“Well, we let him go in there not too long ago,” Wendy said reassuringly. “Remember?”





59

“Right. But he asked us if he could first. The kid’s got good manners, but for some reason he didn’t this time. He's sixteen, so I don’t get why he wanted that toy car so bad in the first place. He swears he didn’t do it, but I know he did. I just know.”

Wendy nodded. “What a goddamn mess this whole thing is. Poor kid just misses his brother. I miss him, too.”

She started spacing off, which made Ron a little nervous. He waved his hand in front of her face. “Babe?”

She snapped out of it. “Sorry. Just . . . zoned out for a sec. I’ll go talk to Jason.”

She got up from bed and began walking to Jason’s room. Ron slapped her ass as she walked by, but she just frowned at him. Ron laughed a little.


***

When Wendy walked into Jason’s room, he was still crying a little. He wiped his eyes as she walked in and she sat down on the edge of his bed. “Is it true?” she asked him. “You went into Mikey’s room without our permission?”

Jason shook his head. “No, Ma, I swear. I don’t know what’s been going on lately, but something is wrong. It wasn’t me; I swear on Mikey’s life.”

Wendy just looked at him with disgust. “I can’t believe it. Jason, I thought you were better than that--”

With a loud primal yell, Jason suddenly threw his phone in a blind rage towards the wall, and actually smashed a hole in it. Wendy jumped in surprise, and Jason himself was a little shook by what he did. Wendy stood up, looking at Jason with almost fear, as if she’d also seen





60

Mikey’s ghost or something. She slowly backed out of the room, closing the door. Jason just got up from his bed, and picked up his phone calmly.

Miraculously, the phone was completely fine; no broken screen or anything. He was impressed with himself, but also immediately shameful. He looked at the hole in the wall. He was shocked that the phone didn’t go into the wall, that was how big the hole was.

He was still frustrated but refrained himself from throwing it again, or something else, even. Instead, he just laid down on his bed and popped in his headphones. He started listening to what he titled his ‘sleep playlist’, and the first song on there was Childish Gambino’s Redbone.

Jason fell asleep listening to his music, while Mikey walked into his room. But Mikey didn’t wake Jason up. He noticed Jason was asleep and closed the door after walking in, a little sad. Jason didn’t know, though. All he had wanted for a week was something he finally got in that moment: peace.







61



CHAPTER 7

In Loving Memory of Michael Birch

Jason’s mind took him to a weird place, and one that he was thankful for forgetting after fifteen minutes of snapping out of it. He was sitting outside with Mikey, watching him play, as per usual. When Mikey asked him something that caught him off guard;

“Do we go to Heaven after we die immediately?”

Jason didn’t know how to answer that question. Partially because he didn’t even believe in that kind of stuff, but also because that was a damn good question. Do we just be nothing for

eternity?

“Well, I don’t know. I guess . . .?”

“Is it like just being asleep forever? Do we still dream when we’re dead?”

Jason shrugged. “I don’t know, I’m not dead. I’m alive, aren’t I?”

“You are alive, silly,” Mikey said. “Silly butthead.”

“Oh, yeah?” Jason hopped off of the porch and charged at Mikey, but Mikey just ran playfully to the other side of the lawn.

I’m kidding, I’m kidding!

Jason stopped chasing him, and went back to his seat at the porch. His phone vibrated, and he checked it. It was a call from Luna.

Oh, shit, ” he muttered under his breath. He answered the call.





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“What up?” he said.

Luna was breathing hard into the phone. “Hey,” she said in a tired voice.

“You okay?” Jason asked. “You sound a little exhausted.”

“Because I am,” she replied. “Fucking babysitting is annoying as hell, isn’t it?”

Jason looked at Mikey, who had a yellow toy dump-truck that he was shoving dirt into the back of. “Sure is,” he said. “Sometimes, anyway. So, what else is new?”

“Not much, just bored and needed someone to talk to. What are you doing?”

“Babysitting,” Jason said and laughed. She laughed a little too. “What about you?”

“Well, I’m a little stoned right now, so it’s not all boring.”

“Yeah, sounds fun. Maybe we should get high sometime together.”

“That’s kind of what I was calling you about,” she said. “Maybe you and I should hang out this weekend, just get high, play some good ol’ GTA.

“Yeah, sounds great. Let me ask my mom, though.”

“Alright. Well, I’ll catch you later, then.”

“Yep. See ya.”

Jason’s legs were assaulted by Mikey tackling them, and he fell down to the ground with him. “Ah, Mikey!” he yelled. “That hurt like hell!”

Mikey didn’t care. He tried his best to get Jason into a headlock with his small arms, but it was futile. “I got you now, you butthead!”





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Jason grabbed the back of Mikey’s shirt collar and with one hand pulled him over his back and right onto the ground in front of him. But it didn’t hurt Mikey, nor was Jason trying to hurt Mikey. But he still stopped after that.

“Don’t mess with me, Mikey, I’ll mess you up,” Jason said in a Mexican accent. This made Mikey giggle a little.


***

Jason jerked up in his bed, nearly screaming again. Was it all a dream--? Oh, goddamn

it!


Jason checked his phone right beside him on the bed. It was three in the morning, and he was now wide awake. It was pointless trying to go back to sleep now, especially after that dream got him creeped out.

Speaking of being creeped out, Mikey walked in (or through) the door and scared the living daylights out of Jason, almost making him drop his phone.

“Hi, Jason,” he said, waving happily.

Jason was over with trying to fight Mikey’s ghost. He knew it was here to stay, until he told him the truth. But he didn’t have the heart too, so he just kept going along with it. “Hey, little bro,” he managed to say. It really hurt to say that sentence again. “Look, I’m trying to sleep, so could you not come in here right now? We got all day to hang out, you know.”

“I can’t sleep either,” Mikey said innocently. “I haven’t been able to since I came back here, and I don’t know why. Where even was that place?”

Jason shrugged. Oh boy, he doesn’t even know he’s supposed to be dead . . .





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“I don’t know, Mikey. But please, let’s talk about it later. Okay?”

“Okay.” Mikey walked out of the room, through the door again. It was so weird to Jason; Mikey could walk through his damn door like it was nothing, yet was still not knowing that he was a ghost. Please let all this be a bad dream, he thought. Please let this all be just a sick,

twisted, fucked up dream.

Too bad it wasn’t.


***

A week had passed, and Jason was somewhat used to Mikey’s ghost’s presence. It was still odd and was still uncomfortable, but it was almost like his new way of life from now on.


Unfortunately, Jason knew that eventually he’d have to tell Mikey about his death.

Not now, though. For now, it was time to go to therapy once more, to see Dr. Parker again. He greeted Jason and they both sat down.

“So, how have you been since our last meet?”

“I’ve been fine,” Jason replied. “More or less the same, but I feel better.”

“That’s good,” Dr. Parker said. “Progress, Jason. Progress is never a bad thing.”

“I guess. Things are still weird, though.”

“How so?”

“Well, I still see Mikey everywhere I go. I’m starting to think I’m losing my mind. And I finally realized why. I know I sound crazy right now, but would you just listen, please, Doc?”

“Of course,” Parker said. “That’s why they pay me the big bucks.”





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“After Mikey’s funeral, that same night, I went on a bike ride like normal. Bike rides usually clear my head, and that’s why I went. Partially. I decided to go up to Mikey’s grave, at the Fort Osage cemetery, and say a few words of my own to him. I just wanted to give what I felt was a proper goodbye to my brother. And ever since that happened, I’ve been seeing him everywhere I go, at home, on my bike rides, on the drive over here, everywhere. And he talks to me, Doc, just like he always used to, but he’s not physically there. I tried to hug him once he arrived at home, and I just went through him.”

“You said that before,” Parker said. “I remember it. Maybe you are just seeing things.

Can anyone else see him?”

“No,” Jason said. “Just me. I was the only one to see him actually, uh . . . you know.”

Dr. Parker nodded. “And you’re not fully convinced you’re hallucinating? Are you still suffering from insomnia?”

“A little. But I still get sleep, you know. During the day, anyway. I can’t sleep at night anymore for whatever reason, so I’ve been sneaking out every night while Mom and Ron and asleep. Just go on a little walk for a little bit, then come back and head to bed. Mikey’s usually there, too, so that makes it a little worse. It’s a confusing mess.”

“Do you still feel guilty? About Mikey’s passing?”

Jason nodded. “Uh-huh. Not as badly, but it still cuts me like a butcher’s knife every night. I’m feeling a little better because I’m beginning to get used to seeing him around all the time. Maybe he’ll go away if I just go along with it.”





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“Maybe so. I’m glad to hear that you’re feeling better, and making progress, because it’s only been about two weeks since you’ve been seeing me, and you’ve already made some significant progress. What are you planning on doing once all’s said and done?”

“I don’t know yet, Doc,” Jason said. “Once it’s all over with, I think I’m just going to keep doing what I do, relaxing at home and just waiting for the school year to start in a month.

Then it’s back to more stress, but at least I’ll have something to do. That’s the hardest part of all this, you know. I don’t have much to do ever, it’s mostly just me sitting at home all day, being sad, and occasionally wanting to go on a bike ride to clear my mind. I don’t play sports, I don’t have too many friends to hang out with, except for one, but she’s busy all the time too. You see what I mean? If I had stuff to do, I’d be even happier, but I don’t.”

“Who’s this friend of yours, then?” Parker asked.

“Her name’s Luna,” Jason replied. “Really good friend of mine, but she’s always busy at either her job at McDonald’s or hanging out with some of her other friends.”

“You should ask her to hang out sometime,” Parker said. “Even if it’s just staying at her or your house, at least you’ll be with a friend to get your mind off everything.”

“Yeah, could do. Maybe I’ll do that.”

Jason thought about it in that moment. Him and Luna hanging out would look really weird, especially to her parents. People would be thinking they were together, then that would become a whole ordeal. But he wanted it to happen anyway. That's why he called her when he got home from therapy.


***





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“I just think you and I should hang out sometime,” Jason said to Luna over the phone. “I mean, we never really do, anyway. It would be fun, wouldn’t it?”

“Yeah, it could be fun,” Luna said. “When do you wanna hang out? I’m free this weekend, if that’s cool.”

“Yeah, perfect.” Jason was trying his best not to sound too overexcited. “Um, I’ll have to ask my mom. Are your parents chill about you having guy friends over at your house?”

“I don’t know,” she said after hitting her vape. “I’m sure they’ll be cool about it, but we’ll probably have to keep my door open. They'll probably be thinking we’re doing stuff, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I know,” Jason said, faking being weirded out. “Imagine that.”

“So, anyway, this weekend maybe. If your parents are cool and mine are cool, we should be good to go. I got some weed, too, if you want.”

“Sure. Haven’t smoked in a while. I guess I’ll talk to you later.”

“Yep. Bye.”

She hung up the phone, and Jason was pumped. But he stayed calm on the outside. On the inside his mind was screaming; Don’t fuck this up, Jason! Don’t you do it!

It wasn’t until he put his phone down that he realized Mikey standing over him as he laid on his bed. He looked sad.

“What’s wrong?” he asked Mikey.





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Mikey slowly looked into Jason’s eyes. “Why are Mom and Ron ignoring me? They haven’t said anything to me in a week. What’s happening?”

Jason took a deep breath. Here it goes . . .

“I think I know why, but I’m not one-hundred-percent certain. I’m the only one who can see you, little bro. I thought you would have known this already, but . . . two weeks ago now, you were playing outside and I was watching you like usual. But like Last November, I went inside without taking you with me, and you wandered off again, this time to play on the train tracks. The train came by when I was inside getting some Tylenol and water, and by the time I could get to you, you were frozen in fear and . . . you got killed by the train. Now, I guess you’re a ghost now or something.”

Jason started crying as he told the story, and he was now crying loudly with his hands covering his face. “I’m sorry, Mikey, ” he said. “I’m so sorry.

Mikey didn’t know how to respond to the story. He just stood there, flabbergasted. He paced around Jason’s room, making Jason extremely anxious. What’s he gonna say? Oh God,

Mikey . . .

Why didn’t you save me in time? ” Mikey asked finally after a long silence. He was angry and upset. “I thought you loved me, Jason. I’m your brother.”

“I know, and I’m sorry,” Jason said, getting more and more scared. “I’m really sorry, and I did love you, Mikey. I love you more than anyone else in the world, but I made a stupid fucking mistake that I already made once before because I didn’t learn from it. Mikey, I miss you more than you could possibly know. You don’t get what it’s like going through all this shit. The worst part is that I

could have saved you, if I was smart enough in the first place. But I wasn’t





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smart. I’m still not. Seeing you coming back like this makes me feel even worse. If I could travel back in time to save you, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But I can’t. All I can do is just accept what happened, learn from it, and move on.”

Mikey was barely listening, and began to get more and more angry. “You got me killed!

You’re a horrible brother, and even worse person!

Jason cried more. “I said I’m sorry! Please, Mikey, forgive me, please!”

Mikey wasn’t having it. Before he left Jason’s room, he turned around with evil, angry eyes, and looked at Jason. “I’m leaving, but I’ll come back. When I come back, I’m haunting this house until you die!”

And with that, Mikey left Jason’s room, and the house. Jason just stood there, devastated.

Not unlike how he felt when he saw Mikey get hit by that train, just lying on the floor, sobbing.

I’m dead, he thought. I’m so fucked. God, I’m sorry, Mikey . . .

***

Mikey was already at the cemetery in about fifteen minutes of running with a seemingly infinite number of stamina. When he did, he was only there just to find a place to gather his anger and try to compose himself.

Something caught his attention right away. Even though he was now a ghost, unseen by everyone else except Jason, he was still Michael Birch. He still had his child-like exuberance, it was just his appearance and being that was different.

In the cemetery, was a group of a bunch of dead people, laughing and hanging out. It was like a teacher’s lounge, but for dead people in that cemetery. In the cemetery was the ghosts of





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people like that Charlie Sanders, the serial killer from the 1950s. Of course, Mikey didn’t know that was him yet.

There was also the ghost of Chuck Crowley, a lawyer who died in Missouri in 1963. He saw Mikey immediately and laughed.

“Hey, come here, kid!” he yelled and motioned for him to come over to where he was.

Mikey was still angry at his brother Jason, but that was almost gone. He came over to Chuck and Charlie, and awkwardly smiled. “Hi,” he said.

“What’s got you out of your grave? Bored, huh?”

“No,” Mikey said. “Just . . . wanted to see my family. But they couldn’t save me in time anyway, so what’s the point of seeing them?”

Charlie laughed. “You should kill them,” he said. “Kill them all. Serves them right for not saving you, kid. I’ve killed tons of people. I could help you.”

“I don’t know about killing,” Mikey said. “But haunt for sure.”

“Well, listen up here, kid. Let me help. Who wouldn’t save a little kid that’s, uh . . . how old are you, exactly?”

“Nine.”

“Nine years old. Who wouldn’t save a nine-year-old kid in time? I’m a heartless fuck and even I hate when children die. C’mon, kid. What’s your name, anyway?”

“Michael. But call me Mikey.”





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“Well, Mikey, I say you should kill them all. One at a time. Show them what it really means to be dead. As long as they ain’t buried here, they’ll never come back. Lemme show you something else . . .”

Charlie grabbed Mikey’s shoulder, and took him out of the cemetery and up to a nearby house that was next to the cemetery. He knocked on the door and waited. He put a finger over his lips, meaning to Mikey; Be quiet. Just watch.

When the door opened, the old man living there screamed his head off when he saw Charlie lunge at him and growl. He slammed the door shut and phoned 911 probably. Charlie was just laughing his ass off. “Did you see that, kid?” he said to Mikey as he held his stomach.

“Oh, boy!”

“How did he see you?” Mikey said. “All of my family except Jason couldn’t see me.”

Charlie stopped laughing. “Jason’s your older brother, isn’t he?” he asked.

Mikey just nodded.

“Well, that’s how it works, Mikey. Your brother saw you die, right?”

“Uh-huh,” Mikey said.

“He’s the only one to see it happen?”

Mikey nodded again.

“Then he’s the only one who can see you now. You can make yourself appear to others, though. You gotta concentrate hard enough and it’ll happen. It takes a little getting used to, but you’ll get the hang of it soon. I’d use it when you’re killing them all. Don’t even bother using it to come back to see them and live with them again. They betrayed you, didn’t they?”





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“Yeah,” Mikey said. “They left me to die.”

“So, let’s kill them all. You and me. I’ve been itching to kill someone for a long, long time. What do you say?”

Mikey thought about it for a good long time. It was a bit awkward, him standing in silence, but he eventually did say something:

“Let’s get them.”







73



PART III: THE HAUNTING OF THE

BIRCH HOUSE

“Monsters are real, ghosts are too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” - Stephen King’s The

Shining.

“During the day, I don’t really believe in ghosts. At night, I’m a little more open-minded.”

“It’s as fun to scare as it is to

be scared.” - Vincent Price







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CHAPTER 8

Back From the Dead

Jason decided to finally talk with Ron about his ordeal. He hated the thought of Ron hating him, which he knew wasn’t true, but still hurt him anyway.

Ron was in the usual place, the living room, watching TV. Some spaghetti Western; those were his favorite films to watch.

When Jason came in the living room, he sat down on the couch next to Ron.

“Hey,” Ron said.

“Hey. I’m sorry for all the stuff I’ve been doing lately. I’ve been a completely different person lately since he passed, and I’ve been a real bastard.”

Ron sighed and paused his movie. He hugged Jason. “It’s fine, son. I forgive you. I know it’s been hard, but you’ve been fighting like hell. I’m proud of you, you know that?”

Jason smiled. “Thanks, Ron.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Jason readjusted himself on the couch. “That wasn’t all I wanted to talk to you about.”

“What’s up?” Ron asked.

“That cemetery at Fort Osage. I asked you if you thought it was haunted. Do you? I don’t remember what you said.”





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Ron looked behind them both to see if Wendy wasn’t around, which she wasn’t. She was in their bedroom, probably taking a nap. Then he looked back at Jason.

“There’s been a lot of history in that place,” he said. “Lots of rumors surrounding it. Back when it was built by the Native Americans they performed rituals there to bring nothing but peace there, and it worked for a while. It wasn’t until the 1950s when that place started going haywire. Charlie Sanders, you ever heard about that guy?”

Jason nodded. “Serial killer, right?”

“Right. Rapist too. He was buried there after riding the lightning in the electric chair, and that caused some sort of corruption in the graves. Everyone's souls began wandering freely, they could go wherever they wanted to, and would sometimes torture their loved ones back at home with guilt. Now I’m starting to realize what you meant when you said you still see Mikey with you all the time. When you went up there and did whatever it was you did, you made him come back. Unless all of this stuff is complete nonsense and some crazy tin-foil hat conspiracy folk-tale.”

“I’m glad you’re finally listening,” Jason said. “But who’s gonna believe us? No one, that’s who. And how do you know all of this?”

Ron stood up. “I’ve lived here all my life. I hear everything. It's just a matter of if it’s true or not. Maybe you and me are both wrong, but I’m starting to believe you now. I’m just wondering why if it’s true, then how come only you can see Mikey?”

Jaso shrugged. “I don’t know.”





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“Me neither. Well, anyway, don’t do anything stupid anymore, okay? Don’t go back up there. Got it?”

“I got it,” Jason said.

Ron nodded and walked away. “Good boy,” he said as he went into his bedroom. Jason kept sitting on the living room couch, trying to take all of what he’d just heard in. God, Mikey,

I’m sorry about all of this. He got up and went back to his room. Anxious, scared, and unprepared, he tried to go to sleep.

It would take a miracle to fall asleep after hearing that story, though.


***

Sure enough, Jason couldn’t sleep that night either. It was too much of a jungle-gym in his brain, of all the things Ron had just told him. He just couldn’t stop thinking about it; partly out of anxiousness, partly out of morbid curiosity. Either way, he couldn’t sleep. And when all of the power in the house was shut off out of nowhere, it kept him up. He sort of just groaned in a way that said, Are you fucking kidding me?

“Mom! Ron!” he yelled. He fumbled around for his phone on his bed, and got it. He turned it on, slid up on the screen and turned the flashlight of it on. He made his way to the door and went to the kitchen. Maybe Ron and Wendy were awake too even though it was midnight.


***

Sure enough, Ron and Wendy were in the living room, confused as well. Wendy was holding a lit candle, while Ron had just a normal yellow flashlight, the kind you’d keep around during a hurricane in Florida.






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“Did you pay the power bill?” Jason asked Ron as he walked in.

“Yeah,” Ron said. “I don’t know what’s going on. It wasn’t me or Wendy, because we were both in bed. Did you turn it off, Jason?”

“Of course not. Why would I?”

“I’ll go check on it, I guess. Stay up here, together. Be right back in a few minutes.”

Ron and Wendy gave a quick kiss, then Ron headed downstairs to check the power. Jason and his mom just stayed in the living room. There was a little bit of an awkward silence, but eventually Jason found something to say.

“I’m feeling a lot better, Ma,” he said to her. “Think I’m finally at that point where I can move on from this whole thing and just be happy. What's done is done. Right?”

Wendy smiled and nodded. “That’s good to hear, honey. I know I’ve been acting like I don’t give a shit about all of this, but the truth is that it hurts my heart what happened with him.

I’m just too damn stressed out at the moment to cry anymore. It’s still hard for me too, I mean, I’m your mother, his mother. Maybe all of this will be over soon.”

“God, I hope so, Ma.”


***

Ron’s flashlight was bright enough to almost illuminate the whole damn basement, and then some. He could even see a little bit outside from the basement windows because of the blinding light. He pitied the person who’d get this thing shined in his eyeballs. It would be akin to Raiders

of the Lost Arkwith the face-melting, at least in his mind.







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In the laundry room was the power switch. Sure enough, it was turned off. Not destroyed, it wasn’t the power company, it wasn’t even him procrastinating on paying the power bill.

Something, or someone, had turned it off.

Of course, he didn’t think much of it yet. He just assumed that it was Jason and Jason was lying again. That little son of a bitch . . .

Ron heard something behind him, out in the main area of the basement. Something moving around. He heard footsteps. Thump-thump-thump!

He kept the flashlight on, slowly walking out of the laundry room. “Hello? Jason, Wendy, is that you? C’mon, you scared the shit outta me!”

No answer. Who is this . . .?

Ron was now tempted to start sprinting up the stairs and up to Wendy and Jason, to tell them someone was in their house, and had turned off the power.

“Wendy!” he yelled. “Jason! Get your asses down here now!”

He could hear them from upstairs, from the footsteps on the floor. And before he could go back and turn the power back on, he was whacked in the back of the head with something, and he fell over onto the hard-concrete floor of the basement.

He could see stars, was dizzy, and when he looked up, he was being dragged back into the dark, un-lit laundry room by someone. When he looked up, he could hardly make out the fact that it was his own stepson, Mikey.


***





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When Jason and Wendy came downstairs, they stood close by each other. Didn’t want to get hurt or something bad. God forbid one of them stepped on a nail down there.

“Babe?” Wendy called out to Ron. “You okay? Where are you?”

“He’s probably in the laundry room, Ma,” Jason said. “Let’s go in there.”

And they did. The first thing they saw was Ron, laying on the floor, out cold.

“What the hell?” Wendy said and quickly rushed over to Ron. She bent over him, and touched his face. “Hey, you okay? What in God’s name happened?”

Jason just stood there. He looked around the basement, and saw the basement window was . . . open?

It was propped right open, and someone had snuck in. Oh, no. Please don’t let it be . . .

“Ma?” Jason said. “I think someone snuck into our house. The window’s open.”

Wendy gave Jason an oh shit look. She looked down at Ron, then up at the window, and knew something bad happened. “What do we do?” she asked Jason.

“I don’t know. Do we stay down here or go upstairs?”

Wendy thought about it for a moment. She looked down at Ron again, and slapped him in the face, hard. He snapped awake, gasping. Then he groaned. “Aww, what the hell, babe?”

Wendy sighed in relief. “Thank God you’re okay.”

“Dad - I mean, Ron - someone snuck into our house, we need to leave--”

That sound again. Of footsteps, and it was very close to Jason. Jason shined his flashlight but saw nothing. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” he said to Ron and Wendy.





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They all three walked up the stairs. Well, actually, it was more like running up the stairs.

The sound got closer and closer behind them, but they were able to shut the door in time.

“What the hell was that?” Ron asked, a little scared. Jason had never seen Ron freaked out before, at least not this much, and it was a little weird to see. But he too was weirded out.

“I don’t know,” Jason said. “We should probably stay up here, or leave the house.”

“Yeah, and go where?” Wendy asked. “Where are we gonna go? Let’s call the cops instead, that’s what I say.”

“Okay. Do that, then. But whoever is down there clearly messing with us. Just saying.”

Jason could hear the thing coming upstairs, more like stomping up the stairs. The three of them stood there, listening as it got up to the top step, and . . .

BANG! BANG! BANG! It started banging on the door with either its body or an object, they couldn’t really tell. The door was suddenly knocked down, and the three of them ran towards the front door of the house in fear, but . . .

click.

They were locked in their own house with it. And it came upstairs. It was Mikey himself.

And this time, everyone could see him, including Wendy and Ron. They were a mix of happy, scared, and confused. Jason was just scared more than anything, because he had remembered Mikey’s warning. When I come back, I’ll haunt this house until you die!

Wendy and Ron rushed over to Mikey, started hugging him and loving on him.

Oh, Mikey, it’s you! My boy! ” Wendy was so excited, and so was Ron. They completely forgot about Jason, who was horrified.

“That’s not him,” he said in a low voice, almost a mutter.





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“What?” Wendy turned around to him. “It is him. Are you blind?”

“It’s his—that's not him, Ma!”

Suddenly, a man appeared from the outside window that looked into the kitchen. He smashed through the glass and they all jumped, except Mikey. Mikey bit Ron’s hand so deep that it went down into bone, and Ron screamed in pain. Wendy didn’t know what was happening, neither did Jason.

The man came into the house through the locked door, and he was on top of Ron within a second. Wendy and Jason began hitting the man with all they had, trying to get him off Ron. But he just tossed them off like they were frisbees.

Jason’s head hit the wall behind him, and he, like Ron not too long ago, was beginning to see double of everything. He laid his head down, and was out cold.

Wendy was in a similar state, except a little more conscious. She could only mutter,

Ron, ” over and over. Until she too was unconscious.

Ron was struggling underneath the man’s ass on his chest, and his dirt-caked boots stepping on his hands, preventing him from hitting him. The man was Charlie Sanders himself, and he was in their house. Mikey just stood over Ron, rage in his eyes. “Hi, Ron,” he said to him.

Ron looked up and kept struggling. “Mikey? Am I going crazy? What the hell is going on here?”

Mikey shrugged. “I’m going to show you what it’s like to really be dead. All of you.”

Mikey took a look at Charlie, who was having the time of his life watching Ron squirm and wiggle under him.





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“Look at him!” he said to Mikey. “Squirming like a fucking worm!”

Mikey went to the silverware drawer and pulled out a large butcher knife. Not unlike the one Mike Myers used in the Halloween movies. He handed it to Charlie, who took it with stride, and pride. He flashed Ron an evil grin, before shoving the knife deep into his chest. Ron’s eyes widened as the life was snatched right out of him, and his heart was stabbed. His head slumped over, and his hands fell down on either side of his body.

Charlie kept stabbing. Again, and again. The knife was covered in blood now, and so was the floor. Jason was just beginning to wake back up when he saw Charlie give Ron a hard kick right in the temple. Charlie then looked over at what Jason thought was him. Oh my God, this is

how I die? What a fucking way . . .

But he didn’t look at Jason. He was eyeballing his mom Wendy, who was still knocked out cold. Charlie grinned as he walked over towards Wendy, unbuckling his belt and bending over her. He tossed the belt onto the floor, and began unbuttoning his jeans.

“You get the fuck away from her,” Jason said, groggily.

Charlie looked at Jason, and smiled. “What are you gonna do about it, little kid?”

Jason quickly ran into the kitchen, almost tripping over Ron’s corpse, and grabbed the knife. He held it up in front of his face, like squaring up in boxing. Charlie just laughed, in disbelief. Get a load of this fucking kid . . .

But since Jason could see him, that means he could hurt him. Right . . .?

Right. He slashed Charlie’s hand, cutting off a finger. Charlie screamed, and then he lunged at Jason. But he just lunged into the knife, and Jason plunged it deeper into his stomach.





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He made a horrible gurgling sound, like Ron did every morning when brushing his teeth. Only this time it was with blood. Charlie’s blood.

Jason yelled as he stabbed Charlie in the throat, killing him for the second time. He went to his mom, and tried waking her up by shaking her. “Ma? Ma, wake up.”

She woke up, and she felt her head. “Ugh, what happened? Who the fuck is that?

She was referring to Charlie, who was dead on the floor, clear as day.

“I don’t know,” Jason said. “But we need to get out of this house. Okay? He fucking . . .

he killed Ron.”

Wendy gasped, and put her hands over her mouth when she saw Ron in the background, holes punched through his chest with the blade of the same knife Jason was just using. She ran over to him, and began weeping.

Jason just looked around himself, puzzled. “Mikey! Where are you? Come out!”

Mikey didn’t appear. He was off somewhere; he had probably left during the struggle with Ron and Charlie.

Wendy still wept but she managed to get herself to her feet. She grabbed for her car keys on the kitchen table, and took them. “C’mon, Jason. Let’s get out of this hell-hole.”


***

Jason and his mom went outside to the car, and didn’t even realize the tires were slashed. They were just hell-bent on leaving. So, when she turned the car on and started to drive, she realized what had happened. She punched the steering wheel in frustration, accidentally honking the horn.






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“What’s wrong?” Jason asked.

“Fucking tires are slashed,” Wendy said, trying to calm down. She opened the door quickly. “We’re gonna have to run,” she said. “Get ready.”

And so, the two ran, fast as they could. Jason knew he could never reach the same running speed as the day Mikey died, and he tried to save him against all odds. But he didn’t, of course.

He and Wendy ran so far, and didn’t even stop to catch their breaths. They just ran all the way to the police station like they were running a marathon.







85



CHAPTER 9

Red Velvet

Running for a good fifteen to twenty minutes was difficult for anyone in the world, except maybe some of the fastest runners in the world like Sir Usain Bolt. But for anyone else it was like driving nails into their foreheads. Case in point, Jason and Wendy.

The two of them had been running for at least fifteen minutes, and they did eventually make it to the police station in Buckner. They were so winded that the police there were a little confused, to say the least.

Wendy had a head of steam, and was close to slamming her fist on the front desk.

The police officer at the desk cleared his throat awkwardly. “Are you two okay? What happened?”

Wendy struggled to catch her breath. But she did eventually. “My husband was murdered. Someone broke into our house.”

The officer nodded. “Okay. I’ll let the chief know. For now, I’m guessing that you’re not wanting to go back in that house?”

“Oh, no, I’d love to sleep in the same house where my dead husband’s still-warm corpse is laying,” Wendy said sarcastically.

Jason touched her shoulder. “C’mon, Ma,” Jason said. “Don’t be like that. They’re just trying to help.”

Wendy nodded. “Sorry.”





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“It’s fine,” the officer said. “What is the address of your home?”

“4301 California Avenue, Sibley, Missouri.”

The officer wrote down the address with a black Waterman pen. Then he took the piece of paper and shoved it in his pocket. “Do you two have any loved ones nearby that will let you stay with them for the time being?”

“Yes. My mother.”

“Good. I advise you don’t go back in that house, unless you’re grabbing something that’s important. Is there anything important in there that you think you’ll need?”

Wendy shook her head. “Not really. Not now.”

“Did you get a good look at the home invader?”

Yeah, we did, but how the hell would we describe it?

“Kinda,” Wendy said. “He was a big guy, maybe about 6’7. He was super dirty, too.

Looked like he’d just climbed out of a grave or something.”

Oh, if only you knew Ma,

Jason thought.

“Any tattoos on this guy that you could see? Markings, birthmarks, anything?”

“I couldn’t see them. They were covered in the dirt. I think I might have actually seen something, but I couldn’t be positive. I took a real bang on the head, so I don’t remember much about him.”

“Okay. Did you see him flee the scene, or did he at all?”

“No, I think he’s . . . dead. It was self-defense, my son Jason here had to kill him.”





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“Okay. I suggest you two either book a hotel room, or to your mom’s house, or somewhere while we get a team out there to investigate it. I’m sorry for everything that’s happened. We’ll let you in on the progress made during the investigation, if there is any progress.”

“Okay. Thank you so much, sir.” Wendy was happy, yet she was still overcome with adrenaline over what had happened. It almost didn’t even feel real.

“No problem. It's just the law. You two should also think about seeing a doctor, if possible. You be safe now.”

With that, Wendy and Jason began to walk out of the station as the police officer at the desk phoned the chief, who wasn’t in the building. It was super late, after all. But he stopped Wendy and Jason.

“Hey, Miss, come back here for a second.”

Jason looked at Wendy, a little concerned. Wendy shrugged it off. “Go wait outside, okay? It won’t take long.”

Jason nodded and walked out of the building. Wendy walked back up to the front desk where the officer stood.

“You have a phone number that we can use to contact you?”

“Oh, shit, yeah,” Wendy said. “Sorry.”


***

Wendy called her mother on the phone. Jason’s grandma Jane was a nice old lady, and a widow at that. Her husband Jerry passed away from his drinking problem a while back, at least a year or






88

two before Mikey was born. Jason didn’t even want to think about that right now, though. He waited patiently on a bench for his mom’s phone call to end.

Come on, Grandma, please let us stay over, please let us stay over . . .

“Thank you, Mom. I’m glad you understand. We’ll be over in twenty minutes maybe. I don’t know when, because we’re gonna have to walk.”

Jason sighed, in relief and boredom. Maybe it was even mostly boredom, because he had forgotten his phone in the house. But he didn’t even bother telling his mom about that, at least not yet.

Wendy hung up the phone, and looked at Jason. “Looks like we’re gonna walk some more.”


***

And walk they did. They didn’t bother running this time, they had figured Mikey stopped chasing them a long time ago; at least ten minutes ago. So, they felt a little safer, oddly enough.


That’s not to say they weren’t both still uneasy, or even a little traumatized. They were both of those things, the two of them.

“Mom, I’m sorry for all of this happening. It’s all my fault, isn’t it?”

They stopped walking. Wendy grabbed Jason and hugged him tight. “No, it’s not your fault,” she said to him. “It’s no one’s. I don’t know what the hell is going on here, but we’ll make it. Even if we can’t tell anyone what really happened because they’ll think we’re maniacs.”

Jason laughed as Wendy let him go. “Is that why you just told him it was home invasion?”





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“Sure was.”

Wendy shrugged and continued walking. Jason followed.

“I always was a con artist at heart,” Wendy said, and for the first time in a long time, Wendy and Jason together shared a good laugh.


***

Back at the police station, the very same officer at the desk was still there, and this time another officer was in the building with him. It was police Lieutenant Richard Barnes, or Dick as everyone called him. Some even jokingly called him Sir Dick. Not that he minded at all. As it turned out, the desk officer was just a police technician named Danny Alvarez.

“So, her story was that someone, some sick maniac, broke into her house, killed her husband and knocked her and her son out? What an asshole.”

Danny nodded. “Yeah, she was really shaken up by the whole thing.”

“Who wouldn’t be? I sure as hell would. How old are you, anyway, Alvarez?”

“Twenty-four, sir.”

“You got a girlfriend?”

“Yeah,” Danny said, not knowing fully where Dick was going with this.

“You guys planning on having any kids?”

“Not at the moment, no.”





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“You’ll learn someday, kid. Family is what’s most important. Anyway, you know where the two went? Any specific address?”

“No, but I wrote down the address to their home. That’s the only address I got. I got her phone number too.”

Dick looked appalled. “Whoa,” he said in apparent disbelief. “She just lost her husband, Alvarez, Jesus! You got her number?”

Alvarez was confused for a second. “What? No, for contact information--”

“Ah, I’m just fucking with you, kid.” Dick started laughing, but Alvarez wasn’t amused that much. He started laughing anyway.

“You got me,” Alvarez said. “You got a twisted sense of humor, if I say so myself. Sir.”

“Thank you. Well, I’m not going to sugarcoat anything, you caught me in a little bit of a pissy mood, waking me up this late. But I’ll get on it. Get me in contact with her. Can you give me her number?”

“Yes, sir.” Alvarez handed him a piece of notebook paper, which had Wendy’s phone number written out in black pen. Dick shoved the paper in his pocket and leaned on the desk. He just gave Alvarez a little goodbye nod and wink as he walked out of the station, going to the nearby phone booth.


***

Wendy and Jason were getting close to Jane’s place, but not quite there yet. It was still extremely late, and the only light illuminating them was the streetlights above them. That was their only source of light, that, and if they used their phones.






91

Wendy’s phone began ringing. She answered it immediately. “Hello?” she said.

The other voice on the phone was Dick himself, but obviously Wendy didn’t know that.

“Hello, ma’am, sorry to be disturbing you. Uh, this is Ms. Birch, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Wendy said. “Who’s this?”

“This is Police Lieutenant Richard Barnes. Call me Dick.”

The phone was on speaker (Wendy just had a habit of putting her calls on speaker), and Jason heard Dick say, ‘dick’. He snickered a little bit, but Wendy just flashed him a scowl that made him stop.

“I’m just letting you know that we’re starting the investigation in about six hours. The only reason we’re not doing it now is because I think we all deserve a little rest.”

“Yeah, you got that right,” Wendy said. “I understand. Thank you, sir.”

“No problem. I hope you’re at a safer place now. There’s a lot of crazy guys out there, you don’t want to be caught in their grasp if you know what I mean. We'll find this guy.”

“I’m sure of it. Uh, goodnight now.”

“You too,” Dick said, and hung up the phone.

Wendy put her phone in her pocket. “You’re really immature, you know that?” she said to Jason.

Jason just smiled. “Sorry, I guess?” he said.

Wendy and Jason continued walking. And within ten minutes, they were at Jane’s.


***





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Jason hadn’t seen Grandma Jane in quite a little bit, at least since last Thanksgiving, not even two weeks after the initial Mikey-nearly-going-missing incident. Jane never even knew about that, nor did anyone except Jason, Wendy, Ron, and of course Mikey himself.

They knocked on the door, and expected her to be asleep still. But she was sitting in the living room, and as they knocked on the door her little Lab puppy Sam was barking her head off.

Wendy and Jason both smiled as Jane opened the door and greeted them with hugs each.

“Aww, come in, come in,” she said in her sweet grandma voice. “You poor babies.”

Jason and Wendy’s paranoia was now gone. Now they were just feeling safe. No danger here, except for if Sam had thought they were total strangers and bit their legs or something. But Sam recognized Wendy and especially Jason, who loved that dog to death when they’d come see Jane on the holidays every year.

They both sat on one of the two couches in Jane’s living room, and Jane sat down as well.

“Thanks for letting us stay here, Mom,” Wendy said. “I wouldn’t know where else to go.”

“What about your sister Kayla? You could stay at hers.”

“Eh, I don’t know. She’s got a husband and three kids; they’d probably have no room for us. To stay, at least.”

“I got some leftover red velvet cake from yesterday,” Jane said. “You guys want some?”

“No, thanks,” Wendy and Jason said at the same time.





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“Well, I got plenty of room for you two to sleep in my house,” Jane said. Uh, Jason, honey, there’s a guest room upstairs just on the right, if you want to sleep now. Or if you want to sleep in here, you can do that. Wendy, where do you want to sleep at? Should we flip a coin?”

Wendy smiled. “Uh, no. Actually, could me and Jason both sleep in here? We’d feel safer.”

“Of course,” Jane said. “Anything for my darlings. And by the way, I am just so incredibly sorry for what’s happened to the both of you these past few weeks. It must feel like hell, but remember what I’ve always said: ‘If a string of bad events happens to you, it’s a sign that things will get way better in the long run.’ I still believe that. I mean, when Jerry died years back, I thought it was the end of the world, but I stayed strong and look at me now. I’m happy, relatively speaking. I got a great family, and I’m happy that they’re now in my house.”

Wendy and Jason couldn’t help but just smile. They both hugged Jane in a group hug.

Jason looked over at the TV, which was playing Wheel of Fortune.

“Can’t believe this show’s still on,” he said.

Jane laughed. “Yeah, tell me about it. And I still can’t get enough of it.”

They all let go of each other.

“Well, you two be getting to bed now. Wouldn’t want you being stressed and tired at the same time or else I’ll think you’re on the rag.”

Jason and Wendy laughed again. Wendy and Jane hugged and kissed, and Jane came over to Jason to do the same. “You and your mom are strong,” Jane whispered to Jason. “Stay that way. Goodnight.”





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She kissed Jason on the cheek, and walked upstairs to her bedroom presumably. Wendy and Jason were just left in the living room alone together, while Wheel of Fortune played quietly on the TV.

Jason and Wendy both got blankets and pillows and laid on their respective couches.

Wendy was nice and comfortable, while Jason was already beginning to toss and turn around on the small couch.

“You okay over there?” Wendy asked.

Jason sighed. “Yeah.”

Wendy would soon find out that she couldn’t really sleep either, even though she was comfortable in her spot. Of course, the one time she did want to sleep, she couldn’t. But that was just Wendy luck.

“I can’t sleep either.”

Jason laid on his back. “Yeah?”

“Yep.”

An awkward silence befell the two of them. Jason never actually minded these types of awkward silences, especially with his mother. For certain people he hung out with, he didn’t mind the awkward silences, because they weren’t really all that awkward. He could just silently enjoy their company.

Until Wendy started talking and fucked up the silence. Not that he minded either way.

“So, what are we going to do?” she asked Jason. “About this Mikey situation.”





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“I don’t know. All of this is too much. Now Ron’s dead too . . .” Jason began crying a little. Wendy did too, but not as much.

“I don’t know why this is happening,” Jason said through tears. “I just . . . shouldn’t have went to that cemetery.”

Wendy’s eyes widened and she sat up. “You what?!”

“I never told you, but I told Ron a little bit ago that when I was out riding my bike to clear my head, something was telling me to go visit the cemetery, give Mikey a proper goodbye.

I said a few words to him and left, but ever since that happened, Mikey’s been showing up to me, not meaning anything by it, but it felt like he was guilt-tripping me for not saving him. He didn’t even know he dead, Mom. He didn’t know. . .”

Wendy came over to him and hugged him. “It’s okay. I’m sorry for sounding mad. I just wished you told me that sooner.”

“You would have yelled,” Jason said. “I know you. I shouldn’t have fucking visited that place.”

Wendy put her head against his. “We’ll figure this out. Maybe even the police will figure out it’s a resurrection thing. But how are we gonna tell them? What are we gonna tell them?”

“I don’t know. Let’s just stay here for now and maybe he’ll just . . . go away. Maybe he’ll forget about us, go back to his grave-buddies and hang out there for an eternity. Time is our friend, Ma.”

“Now you’re sounding like a movie,” Wendy said. “Maybe our story would make a great movie.”





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Jason rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say, Ma. Actually, now that I think of it, it would make a good movie. Maybe I’ll write an autobiography when I grow up.”

“Maybe you should.”

They both were sitting up now, just talking. “That police officer said they’d start investigating in a few hours,” Wendy said. “I’m surprised, honestly.”

“Yeah, me too. He seems like he’s been around for a while. But I don’t think even an expert can find this out. Should we just tell him what we think is going on?”

“No. Not yet, anyway. We’ll just have to wait and see, I guess. I hope something good comes out of this.”

“Me too, Ma. Me too.”

Wendy and Jason said goodnight to each other and went back to their own couches, and finally did get some sleep. Sad, and even depressed, but in peace once again. Jason was overcome with more guilt before he slept, about first not being able to save Mikey.

And now he was guilty of not being able to see Ron, his own step dad.







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CHAPTER 10

Another One Bites the Dust

It was now early in the morning, and the investigation for Ron’s murder was now underway. A lot of police were at the scene now, including Dick Barnes, who was practically an expert at this point for investigating murders. They had him in the house, examining Ron’s body and the murder weapon.

“I’m a little confused,” Dick said to the Chief of Police, a black man named Frank Johnson. “So, it’s obvious the guy was stabbed to death by someone else, you don’t need an expert to tell you that. And we assume it was that guy over there that was responsible, but . . . sir, there are no signs of forced entry anywhere. Not up here, not downstairs. Not upstairs, not even where we’re standing. The wife of this guy is Wendy Birch, and she told us not too long ago that the kitchen window was smashed. Now, either she’s talking out of her ass, or it magically reappeared.”

“What are you saying, Dick?” Chief Johnson asked.

“I’m saying that I ain’t seen a case like this before. I’m not sure what to think. Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure the dirty hobo over here that killed Ron looks a lot like Charles Lee Sanders.”

“The guy from the 50s that killed and raped those women in St. Louis?”

“Yeah,” Dick said. “That’s the guy. But he died, right?”





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“Electric chair,” Chief Johnson said. “Ol’ Sparky.”

“Right. You remember what he looks like, right?” Dick said.

“You know what? He does look just like him,” Chief Johnson said. “Jesus.”

Dick had been squatting down, looking at Ron’s body. He stood up and looked at Chief Johnson. “Well, do you see what I mean? I’ve been looking at this place for hours now I think, and I only saw one open window. No fingerprints indicated it was opened. Sir, how do you want me to continue this?”

“Phone the wife of this guy and tell her what’s happening. Ask her more questions about what happened. Maybe she remembers something she didn’t before.”

“Yes, sir.”

Johnson walked out of the living room, leaving Dick alone. Dick pulled out his phone and called Wendy. He had kept the piece of paper with her number on it and eventually remembered it by memory.

“Hello?” she said on the other line.

“Hello, Ms. Birch. It’s me again, Dick Barnes, police Lieutenant. I have a question for you, ma’am.”

“What is it?”

“Do you remember anything else from the scene of the crime? Something else you may be forgot to tell us and remember now?”

“Not really,” Wendy responded. “Why?”





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“Because I’m confused here, ma’am. So, I’ve been investigating your house all over for a maybe two or three hours. I can obviously see that your husband was stabbed by a kitchen knife and he died, but there are no fingerprints to be seen on the knife at all. And then I realized there were no signs of forced entry either, until I looked downstairs and saw your window was open.

But again, there were no fingerprintson the glass or anywhere in the house for that matter. So, I’m just a little confused by everything. I’ve never seen a case like this. Are you sure you have nothing else to tell me?”

Wendy didn’t say anything for a second. “How about you come over to where we’re staying now, and I’ll tell you everything. It’d be easier to talk in-person.”


***

Jason was still asleep and it was now noon at this point. On the flip-side, Wendy and Jane were both wide awake. And Dick Barnes himself was in the house, chatting with them at the kitchen table. “That’s fine, Mr. Barnes. I just don’t want to wake him up, he’s had a long, stressful past few weeks. I don’t want to disurb him right now until he wakes up.”

“That’s okay too, Ms. Birch,” Dick said. “You can call me Dick.”

“And you can just call me Wendy.”

“Anyway, like I was saying, this guy looked just like Charles Sanders. Any one of you know who he was?”

They both shook their heads. Even Jane didn’t know who that was, and she was sixty-five.





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“Well, he was a serial killer back in the 1950s. Real scumbag; raped and murdered about fifteen women up in St. Louis. And the other guy in your house that’s dead is literally almost an exact match with the guy, face, markings, everything. Only thing we don’t know is his name.

Wendy, you’re saying this is the guy that killed your husband Ron?”

“Yes.”

“No fingerprints. We saw the murder weapon, the kitchen knife. It was all covered in blood obviously, but you also said that your son Jason in there stabbed the man to death in self-defense. Okay, sure. But why are there no fingerprints at all on the knife?”

Wendy just shrugged. “Look, I’m not a forensics expert, I don’t know how that kind of stuff works. But I’m telling you, Jason had to use that knife on the guy, I think he was trying to assault me. I can’t really remember all that much anyway.”

“I did what?” Jason said suddenly. He was now standing in the kitchen. He was rubbing his eyes and yawning, then he saw the police officer. He reached out to shake his hand. “I’m Jason.”

“Nice to meet you,” Dick said. “You want to sit down and talk?”

“Sure,” Jason said. “Grandma, can I get some orange juice?”

“Yes, you can,” Jane said. Jason opened the fridge and got out some orange juice and poured himself a glass. “You want some, sir?”

“No thanks,” Dick said. “And call me Dick.”

Jason didn’t laugh at the name ‘Dick’ this time. Now it was just a regular name like Steve or Robert to him.





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Dick looked back to Wendy and Jane. “Jane, has Wendy told you about any of this?”

“A little bit. Enough to get me to let them in my house. I heard about Ron.”

“Good. Now, what exactly was it that you wanted to tell me in person, Wendy?”

This question got Jason’s attention, and he sat down at the table with the rest of them, listening in.

“I think – me and Jason think – that the place we buried Mikey at was haunted. And now he’s come back to haunt

us. I shouldn’t have even told you that, now you probably think we’re crazy, but we believe it. That’s why the guy looked like Charlie Sanders. It was Charlie Sanders.

He came back from the grave and Mikey brought him to our house with him.”

Surprisingly, and amazingly, Dick didn’t look at her like she was crazy. He nodded as if he was understanding. Then there was a little pause that left everyone feeling awkward. Finally, he spoke.

“You know, I’ve been with the police force twenty years. I’ve seen a lot of things before, things you wouldn’t even believe. Back in 2005, fifteen years now, me and my old partner James Hoffman were investigating a kidnap case. And we’d get called on these kinds of things a lot before, so it was nothing special, but we still helped out best we could with the mother Lauren.

Her little boy Tommy had gone missing and she had suspected that her neighbor, this creepy old motherfucker named Larry that was a Vietnam vet, was behind it. And he was. Luckily, they were neighbors, because we could just walk right over to his house. We knocked on the door, he opened up and said, ‘Good evening, officers. What can I do for you?’ And we told him what was going on. He invited us inside, and we asked if we could investigate the house. He hesitantly said, ‘Yes, but lemme just go in my room and get my phone for a second, I left it in there.’





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“And he went into some room, where he was gone for about a minute and he came out finally, holding his phone up, smiling, and saying, ‘Found it. If it was a snake it would’ve bit me.’

“Me and Hoffman fake-laughed and decided we’d investigate his room first; we knew he was up to something. Probably telling the kid to hide elsewhere. So, we checked there first. And if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have seen something this horrible. The kid was lying slumped over dead in his closet, but there was something else in there with him, some kind of thing that just . .

. wasn’t human. It's hard to explain exactly what it was, but it reminded me of a demon from a horror movie. It had been playing with the kid’s body, and we shot it dead. At least we thought it was dead. We could never tell, and we were too scared to do anything about it. Hoffman ran out of the room, and yelled at the old man. ‘Put your hands up! You’re under arrest!’ Blah, blah, blah, you get the picture.

“We arrested him and he was put away for life, and was charged for the murder and kidnap of the boy, but no one ever knew about the ghost-demon-spirit-thing in the closet, and you know why? Because we never told anyone that. We never took a picture of it and sent it out for people to see because people would either think we’re editing the photo, or talking out of our asses. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if we’re going to expose a ghost or non-living thing as a cause of Ron’s death, then we have to privately investigate it, gather enough evidence to support that, and then send it out to the public. Or we can just do it all by ourselves. Either way, if what you’re saying is true, Wendy, we have to bring a stop to it.”

Everyone in the room was still a little shook by Dick’s story. How someone like him could be experienced in murders, both real and what people considered to be ‘paranormal.’ They





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all sat in silence, yet they all understood each other. This needed to stop, and it needed to stop as

soon as possible.


***

The first thing Dick did was later that day: bring Jason with him to the cemetery, where Jason had told him at least twice that that was where Mikey was buried. He even brought Dick over to the gravestone.


Lo and behold, all of those weeks of grief and guilt all came flooding back towards Jason yet again. But he hid them under his usual, emotionless – what you’d call boring – face and Dick never noticed. That, or he just didn’t want to bring it up to Jason; he hated doing that to people.

“This is the spot?” he asked Jason.

Jason nodded. “Yep. Michael Birch. Mikey was always just a nickname.”

Jason looked down at the ground, and Dick noticed it. He felt awful in that moment, like he had just accidentally brought up something filled with trauma, sadness, and anger. What do you know? That was exactly what happened.

“I’m sorry, kid,” Dick said to Jason. “Really, I am. You know, I lost my mother about five years ago, and it was a true pain. Nothing like losing your mother, kid. You don’t want to eat, or sleep, yet you’re too tired to stay awake for too long. It’s a goddamn nightmare. And I’m sorry for dragging you back here, but--”

“No, it’s fine,” Jason said. “Really. I just want all of this to end. The only thing I feel anymore is guilt. I don’t even feel like a fucking human being anymore at this point. Pardon my language.”





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“Kid, this whole situation is rough. I mean, losing your little brother, then your step dad. I mean, I can imagine he felt like your real dad, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, he really did. Gave me all kinds of advice. There’s this girl I kind of like, but never have the courage to ask her out. I mean, she’s just a great friend and I don’t wanna break her heart, you know?”

“I understand. There was a girl I knew once, about your age. I was sixteen, stupid – not to say you are stupid . . .”

Jason laughed a little bit through his tears. And that also kind of cheered Dick up.

“But like I was saying; this girl was awesome. Part of me wanted to ask her out, but at the same time, me and her being friends was just a really good thing. I mean, I didn’t want to ruin that, but I just wanted so badly to tell her I loved her, without her saying something like, ‘Oh, I love you too. As a friend.’ So, nothing ever happened, as much as I wanted it to. We were still close friends, best friends, even. But she was never my girlfriend. You just gotta trust your gut.”

“Ron was always telling me that,” Jason said in amazement. Ron did tell him that before.

“I gotta trust my gut, which is telling me to just keep her as a friend.”

“Well, that’s good. Good thinking.”

Now, the two just looked at Mikey’s gravestone. Jason was the kid’s brother, for Christ’s sake. Of course, he was upset with himself. And now he was terrified that when he went to sleep that night, he wouldn’t wake back up. Every night after Ron’s death, even after all was said and done, he could barely sleep. Instead, he dreaded every moment of it. He dreaded having to not be





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awake for even just an hour or two. He was terrified of sleep, and every night he’d lay in bed (or on Jane’s living room couch; that was the best) praying Mikey wouldn’t slit his throat.

See, Jason missed his brother more than anything. The old one. Not this new one that wasn’t even alive technically. He wanted it to end between Mikey and him, but now it was too far down the road for Mikey’s redemption. He had already killed Ron, and in Jason’s book, that was far enough. Mikey needed to be stopped, Jason knew that.

But how? How am I going to stop

him? He thought that to himself, every single hour of that day. How will we stop him?

“What a goddamn nightmare,” Jason finally said after a long silence.

Dick just nodded in agreement, shaking his head as he pulled out a pack of Marlboros. He didn’t even use a lighter when lighting a cigarette. As he’d tell Alvarez at the station, “Lighters for pussies. Real men use matches, the good old-fashioned way.” When he said that, he was partly kidding, partly serious. Using a match was just his preference.

He struck the match and lit it with his thumbnail, then looked at Jason and quickly blew it out. “You mind if I smoke?” he asked.

Jason shook his head. “Knock yourself out.”

“That would do me good,” Dick said, with the cigarette in his mouth. He lit it after striking another match with his thumbnail. “Save me some stress, that’s for sure.”

Jason laughed and nodded. “Well, anyway, we should leave. Why are we here again?”

“To see if what you said is true. You said that despite all of the grief in your house, everything else was going relatively well until you visited this cemetery. Let’s see if something happens, or if it was just a coincidence.”





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“I guess it’s worth a try. But if it’s true, then next thing I know, Mikey’s not the only one I have to worry about. Pretty soon, I’ll have to worry about frickin’ Jeffrey Dahmer’s ghost or something.”

“At this point, I’d rather have him then some little kid. Little kids are imaginative as hell, you know?”

“So was Dahmer,” Jason said, and they both laughed. “I mean, the guy tried making zombies with acid and water. Did you know that?”

“Yeah. Fucking incredible how creative some people are, and yet instead of writing a book or something cool about it they actually go out and do it.”

“I think we should leave anyway,” Jason said, as he was getting a little more anxious the more time he spent standing in that cemetery. “I’m starting to get the creeps.”

“Maybe some other time, we’ll figure it out. For now, I’ll take your word for it; as soon as you came here, said your words, everything went to hell.”

Jason nodded, and him and Dick headed for the car. Finally driving out of that side of Sibley, the bad side. He was just glad he was out of there, because all of the grief and pain from weeks ago suddenly hit him like a freight train to Mikey, and all of it came crashing over him.

That, and the pain from Ron’s death. All of it started coming down on him again. And it felt just like the week Mikey died, how he felt after his funeral, after seeing Mikey literally get lowered into the ground, slowly. And in that moment, Jason remembered being positive that Mikey was gone forever, and he’d never see him again. And in a way, he was right. But, in a sick and twisted way, while Dick drove him back to Jane’s house, he thought to himself on the ride over,

I

wish Mikey really was gone forever now.





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***

What do you mean, I’m going crazy?!” Wendy screamed at her mother Jane, Jason’s own grandmother. Dick was certainly surprised by this greeting, and for what it was worth, so was Jason. They stood there at the front door, not even fully walking into the house, as a spectator to their show.

“I’m sorry, Wendy! Maybe I’m expressing myself coarsely, but you need to move on.

What’s done is done, I don’t believe in this ghost shit! I think you, both of you, are paranoid and freaked out. I get that. Overthinking is common during this kind of process. I love you two to death, but I hate the way you’re both handling it. Ghosts aren’t real.”

Wendy scoffed. Tears were running down her cheeks, yet the most powerful emotion erupting from her was anger. “You don’t care, do you?” she said to Jane.

Jane was dumbfounded. “What did you say?”

You don’t care.”

“Bullshit. You know I do. Ron was a good man and Mikey was a lovely little boy, but come on. Ghosts? No. I don’t buy it. Flat-earth theories make more sense than this one.”

“No, they don’t,” Jason said suddenly, causing Wendy and Jane’s attention to turn towards him and Dick. “Grandma, you’re just wrong. Trust me. I know what I’ve seen, because Mom saw it too. Right, Ma?”

Wendy nodded.





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“So, what do you think happened to Ron? You think some random guy went all the way out to Sibley to rob a house and ended up killing him? Okay. Maybe. But why not go somewhere that’s populated, where there’s more people to steal from? Why not go into a neighborhood?”

“There’s less people to call the cops,” Jane shot back quickly. “It’s a fool-proof plan, if you ask me. If you’re gonna go rob a place, go do it where there’s less people. Sounds like Einstein-type thinking to me.”

“Jesus Christ,” Jason said as Dick walked outside. He couldn’t listen to this shit anymore.

“C’mon, Grandma. Don’t be like this. I get it is weird hearing from us about something like this, I know it just sounds like something out of a movie, but it’s real. I swear on Mikey, this is real.

And it’s dangerous.”

Jane still wasn’t fully convinced, but she calmed down. And she sighed in disappointment. Disappointment not in Jason, or even Wendy, but herself. She went to hug Wendy, then Jason. They all shared a group hug, just like the one from the night before. And then, without saying a word, she just left the room, and walked upstairs calmly, holding the banister.

Jason and Wendy stood there awkwardly for a moment.

“I’m going to go get him,” Jason said.

In that moment, Wendy wasn’t entirely sure what he meant by that sentence. Seemingly simple when you think about it, but it had two different meanings to her. One was that he was just going to get Dick back inside of the house, which he eventually did. Or two, that he was going to get Mikey, out of revenge, which was something that Wendy feared more than death.





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***

Dick left the house not too long after the yelling contest between Wendy and Jane. As he told Jason, “I just don’t like listening to family arguments.” Jason just agreed with him and shared a laugh with him. Laughter was something that was slowly beginning to come up a little more, little by little. But now, Dick was alone. He was now at home, watching TV, and cooking himself a nice spaghetti dinner. What he didn’t tell Jason on the topic of loss was that he had also lost his wife a year back, coincidentally around the same autumn as Mikey’s first near-disappearance. She had gotten pancreatitis, and a severe case of it at that. She fought hard, and fought well for a few months but it got ahold of her and never let go. She passed away that same autumn that Jason was scared for his brother for the first time. Sure, the fear was temporary and short-lived, but was still there.

Dick was a lonely middle-aged man. He was the kind of uncle you’d have at family cookouts that made sexual jokes all the time, or just jokes in general about everything, not unlike Ron. But at his core he was just a loner. And yet he considered himself crazy when he grew a liking to Jason and his family after just a night of knowing them. He didn’t want to marry Wendy or anything, but he really liked the both of them, and wanted to help as best he could. After all, he had seen something similar to this before, though not quite to this extent.

He told the ghost story before about the kidnap case to Jason and his mom and Grandma, but never told the one of how his life was saved by a ghost.

See, back in Dick’s prime, he was a real lady-killer; he’d be chasing skirts all over the place. Back in high school he was known as what teenagers call nowadays as a ‘fuckboy’, or





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‘man-whore’. He got a lot of girls, and for good reason: he was a good-looking, handsome kid.

And he remained the same throughout his twenties, in his college years, even in his early thirties until he met his wife Carol in a bowling alley of all places.

This one girl he met was when he was twenty-five, and her name was Amy. Sort of small and skinny, but cute blonde girl that was about twenty-two, twenty-three, whichever. She was super cute and Dick liked her a lot, so much so that at one night after about a week of knowing her, they decided to have sex in his car. It was always a man’s dream to lose his virginity in a cool way. He had already lost it at that point, when he was nineteen, but it wasn’t a cool story to him for bragging rights to his friends. It was just an average, sort of generic story about it. But in the car seemed awesome to him and Amy.

It was a little late at night, at least ten p.m., and they were looking for a good quiet place to do it in. But unfortunately, some absolutely dumb asshole was drunk-driving that night, and it made contact with the front of Dick’s car. Also, unfortunately, Amy hadn’t put her seatbelt on despite Dick’s protests. She flew out of the windshield like gravity was a father, tossing the football to his son. She flew out easily, and her face had scraped against the concrete road and made a horrible nails-on-a-chalkboard sound as her skull scraped against the pavement.

Dick was okay, but suffered a few cuts, scrapes, and scratches on his face from the glass windshield, which was broken from not only the crash, but Amy’s launch as well. The drunk driver also died in his crash somehow, it’s not like he was driving a semi-truck or anything, but he died from head trauma. Miraculously Dick lived to tell the tale, except for the part when some person he knew that had died a long time ago, came out of nowhere and opened the car door for him. He was so delirious out of his mind at that point he couldn’t tell if he was hallucinating or





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not. For years, he believed he was, and that was part of why he never told that part of the story, but later he realized something.

The road he and Amy had been driving on was home to a cemetery nearby, which was normal unlike the Fort Osage one Mikey was buried at. But it was nearby, and it wasn’t until present day when Dick met Wendy and Jason, that he realized that his dad who had risen from his grave to save him from the car crash, was dead and came back.

As Dick cooked his spaghetti, he was thinking the whole time about Jason and Wendy’s kid Mikey, and now Ron. He actually dropped the whisk in the pan in surprise at the sudden revelation. He knew he had to tell someone to get the word out, that Fort Osage cemetery was haunted, and cursed.

He turned the stove off, and ran for the door, grabbing his jacket on the way out. I’ll

worry about the spaghetti later, he thought to himself as he ran to his car to head back over to Jane’s house.


***

When Dick got to Jane’s, Jason and Wendy were looking out the window already. Not just watching for Dick, but also to wait for something. When Dick walked in, they were still looking out the window. “Guys, I got something to tell you--”

“Shh,” Wendy said as she held a finger up. “Be quiet. Just a moment.”

Silence. Have these two lost their minds? Dick thought.

“Nothing. We’re good.”





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Jason and Wendy turned to face Dick now. Dick was confused as hell. “What are you two doing?”

“We thought we heard something,” Jason said. “Some glass in the kitchen broke because it fell off the table. But it was in the middle of the table. Something moved it.”

Dick looked into the kitchen, and he sure as shit saw the glass. The glass had been full of orange juice, and there was a little orange fluid on the floor soaking the broken glass shards.

Dick gathered his thoughts back.

“Anyway, I got something to tell you both. I know another story I can tell about my experience with this shit. Are you willing to listen?”

Wendy and Jason looked at each other. “Sure,” Wendy said. “Sit down.”

Dick nodded and sat down on the couch next to Jason and Wendy’s couch. He tried to find a place to start with his story. Then he figured it out. “I got it. It all started back when I was in my mid-twenties . . .”


***

“Ugh, just find a spot, Dick!” Amy had said while he was driving the car. She was antsy and wanting to get in his pants-y. At least, that’s the way she put it. She was eager to do it – in the car, no less – but just wanted to do it now. In her mind it was now or never.


“Don’t worry. We’ll be there in no time. No problemo.”

Amy laughed. “Problemo? Why not just say ‘no problem?’”

“Look, we’ll find a spot, okay? Just chill out. Relax. Let's listen to something on the radio, huh? You like Led Zeppelin?”





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Amy shrugged. “They’re okay, I guess.”

Dick wanted to slap her right then and there, but he obviously didn’t. He just opened his mouth wide in surprise. “Okay? They're the best classic rock band of all time, hands down. No contest. What's your favorite band? I know you listen to rock.”

“I like AC/DC,” she said. “My dad listened to them, like, every day.”

“Hmm, they’re great, that’s for sure. But Zeppelin just had this noise back in ‘69, when their debut album first came out. ‘ Good Times Bad Times

is the greatest first song on an album in my opinion. I mean, what an absolutely great way to start a music career. Am I right, or am I right?”

“I think you’re being a dick,” she said jokingly. “I think you should find a spot already so we can do this thing, because I don’t know if I can wait any longer.”

I’ll find a fucking spot, okay?” Dick yelled out while smiling. She knew he wasn’t seriously angry at her. At least she hoped.

He wanted to do it too. But right now, his main concern was that she hadn’t been wearing her seatbelt at all. “Jesus, put your seatbelt on, babe.”

“What are you, my dad?” she asked him. “Dear God, we’ll be fine.”

“I don’t know. You could be wrong; I could be wrong. You could be right; I could be right. I’d still do it if I were you. Safety first, you know. Just in case we do come across some drunken asshole that’s out driving tonight.”

“it’ll be fine,” she said back. “Believe me. I never wear my seatbelt. To be fair, I’m not always driving, but still.”





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“Suit yourself.”

There was a drunken asshole as Dick had described it. Some fat, middle-aged moron had way too many Budweiser's while driving that night. Chuck Allen was the man behind the wheel, not that Dick knew in that moment, or even after the incident. Chuck Allen was arguably one of the most important people Dick had ever crossed paths with that he never even said a word to.

When Chuck’s car collided with the front of Dick’s car, it happened. Amy was flying out the windshield like she was a frisbee being tossed. Dick couldn’t even say anything to her, as he was slammed into the airbag which thankfully ejected at the right time. If not, he probably would’ve suffered from severe brain damage. Just what I would have needed, he thought. Being

a vegetable, or retard. I dunno which is worse.

She was gone. And he was still inside of the car, as he believed firmly in ‘safety first’.

The first thing he did when he got in his car was strap his seatbelt on. He had hoped to God no one would ever suffer from not doing that. But his own girlfriend did, right in front of him.

He didn’t remember much from that event. Everything in that moment just went dark, and he was beginning to get fuzzy. At least that’s how he described the feeling as he told Jason and Wendy this story. And when he moved his head up from the airbag, he saw Amy was gone.

Blood had been on the seat as well as tons of glass shards on the floorboards. One poked Dick right in the eyebrow, and was stuck there until he brushed it off.

He looked to his left, still dizzy, and saw a man standing there. But it wasn’t just any ordinary man. It was his dad, Larry.

Dick was confused and out of his mind; or so he thought. “Dad?” he said lowly.





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Larry paid no attention to Dick’s words, he opened the door and unbuckled Dick’s seatbelt. Then he pulled him out of the car and laid him down on the ground. Dick looked up, still not sure if what he was seeing was just a vision or if it was real. No, it can’t be real. He died

years ago, I saw him die. This is not my Dad . . .

“You’re a real fuckin’ piece of work, Dick, you know that?” his dad Larry said to him.

“Always have been. Just a loose cannon is what you are. And now look. Your girlfriend is dead now, she just breathed her last breath. Now she’s lying on the ground like fuckin’ roadkill. And it was you. But at least you lived.”

Dick closed and opened his eyes twice. “Is this a dream?”

“No, it’s not a dream. Although I wish it was. I’ve been telling you your whole fucking life, make your passenger wear a damn seatbelt, otherwise they’ll fly out like a crash test dummy. You understand?”

Dick just nodded. He didn’t even feel like fighting it anymore. He just assumed he was hallucinating. “This is all in my head. . .” he said to himself.

HEY! ” Larry yelled at Dick. Dick jumped and snapped his head back up.

“What?” he said back to his dead dad.

“The cops are coming. The drunk asshole who killed your girlfriend is dead too. Luckily there’s a house just right where we are now. This lonely area out in the damn woods, and there’s a house right here. Can you believe that? And you’re gonna get help, but I want you to remember to make them wear seatbelts while they’re passengers in your car. Understand?”





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Dick couldn’t even answer, he was getting a little dizzy again. Oh, I got brain damage

now, I know it . . .

No. It wasn’t brain damage that changed him that night. But many other things would never be the same, including the little PSA his dad just gave him. But he was dead. He had died years back, and now he was . . . here?

And that was all Dick remembered. His dad coming back to torment him, and Dick would remember years later that there was a cemetery not too far ahead. He didn’t think anything of it until he met Jason. And now everything was crystal clear.







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CHAPTER 11

Regret

When Dick finished telling the story, Jason and Wendy just sat in silence, similar to when he told the story about the missing boy. Except this was actually related to their predicament, more or less. He looked down, and looked behind himself.

“Where’s Jane?” he asked.

“Upstairs,” Wendy responded, still a little shook by the story. “She’s still mad at me, I think.”

“Oh, well. I have to run right now, but you two be safe. Okay? Seriously.”

“We’ll try,” Jason said. “Can’t make any promises.”

Dick just nodded and walked out of the house. Wendy and Jason continued to sit there for a while, at least another minute. Wendy’s phone suddenly rang, making them both jump. She sighed and answered it.

“Hello? Oh, Dr. Parker, how are you? He's fine. I actually wanted to call you earlier about something. Um, we decided to get a new therapist for him. You’re a great one, and I appreciate all you’ve done for him, but we’re moving to a different one, or maybe he doesn’t even need one anymore. He’s made great progress, but we need to go our separate ways. Okay.

Thank you, have a good day.”

She hung up.

“I’m getting a new therapist?” Jason asked. “I liked Parker.”





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“I dunno if we’ll be able to see one anymore. At least not now. Where’s your phone, by the way?”

Jason hesitated to answer. Then he thought, Fuck it.

“I forgot it at the house.”

She groaned. “Really? Damn it.”

Jason shrugged. “I’m sorry, Ma. I would’ve gotten it sooner but I didn’t want to go back in that house.”

“It’s okay. You can use mine. Just no inappropriate stuff, okay?”

“Okay. I actually wanted to ask if I could hang out with a friend. That girl you saw me talking to in the parking lot a month back.”

Wendy smiled and made mocking, cute noises. “Aww, really?”

“Yeah, yeah. We're just friends, I thought I told you.”

“Sure, whatever. When?”

“I don’t know. Next week, maybe.”

“If it’s cool with her parents, then it’s cool with me,” Wendy said. “You know that.”

Jason nodded. “Can we go out? I’m tired of this house. You wanna go on a walk, Ma?”

Wendy didn’t know how to respond. “Haven’t walked out in this neighborhood in years.

At least since when I was a kid.”

“Is that a yes?” Jason asked.





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Wendy smiled. “Sure.”


***

It was nice to walk out in the neighborhood. Sure, Jason missed walking out in the peaceful, quiet place of Sibley where they lived, but it was still nice out here. Neighbors waved at them both and smiled, others were working on stuff in their garage, so on, so forth. “Don’t you just love it out here?” Jason asked Wendy.

She smiled. “Yeah. It’s some nice fresh air instead of living in my mom’s house all the time. You know, when me and your dad were kids, we’d walk out here all the time, out to Cler-Mont elementary and hang out at the playground. Just talk about stuff, smoke some weed.”

Jason looked at his mom with surprise. “Didn’t take you for the stoner type, Ma.”

She laughed. “Well, me and your dad both were. It was a good time, being a teenager.

You could get away with anything, because ‘Hey, we’re just teens, we don’t know any better.

We’re just kids.’ At least that’s how we thought of it.”

“You wanna go out there?” Jason asked. “See if they still got the swings?”

“Why not?” Wendy asked, and the two of them began walking toward the school.


***

Jane had been asleep in a nap, while her daughter Wendy and grandson Jason walked out of the house. She didn’t know that yet, of course, but she’d find out soon enough. She yawned and slowly sat up on the edge of her bed, moaning as she did so. Goddamn growing pains . . .


CRASH!





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There was a loud sound of glass suddenly shattering into pieces from the downstairs kitchen, and it scared the shit out of Jane. She was sixty-five, and was getting ‘too old for this shit.’ that was sort of her catchphrase. “I’m getting too old for this shit,” she said to herself as she got up out of bed and headed for downstairs.

She held onto the banister of the staircase with her wrinkly left hand, while looking around into the kitchen as she stepped onto the carpet. “Hello? Jason? Wendy? Is that you guys?”

None of them were there. Where in God’s name did they go . . .?

She saw him. Not Jason, not Dick. It was her other grandson. It was Mikey.

It was Mikey, and Mikey was standing there in the kitchen, holding a butcher knife, like when he killed Ron. As Jane saw him standing there, he held it up and let an evil grin spread across his face. “Hello, Grandma Jane. Do you want to play?”

She screamed, and moved as fast as she could up the stairs. Mikey smiled and laughed and cackled as he saw his grandma struggle to move up the stairs quickly, but the goddamn arthritis was too much for the poor old woman. She fell backwards, twisting her old ankle, and tumbled down the stairs, screaming and yelling the whole way down. She fell to the bottom and saw Mikey just standing there, his arms crossed. Like he was waiting for her to say something, or do something.

“You done?” he said to her. She just screamed and gave him a slow but powerful punch right in Mikey’s little balls. He fell down, dropping the knife, and she quickly picked it up from the floor. She didn’t attack him, though. She just watched as . . .





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POOF! He just . . . vanished. Right out of thin air. Now was Jane’s queue to go upstairs, quickly as she could. She held the knife in her right hand, holding onto the banister with her left, and didn’t have a good enough grip on the knife to hold on to it. It was snatched out of nowhere by Mikey’s invisible self, but she didn’t care. She made it to the top of the stairs, until she felt a sudden, sharp pain right in her chest. She looked down, and saw it.

The blade of the knife was stuck right through her back, and came out of her right breast.

It was like her right nipple was a knife, and a little pool of maroon began to form from under her shirt. She dropped to her knees, and Mikey reappeared. He was now at the top, in front of her. He gave her one last look of grim recognition, zero remorse, and kicked her down the stairs with his right foot. She tumbled and rumbled again, but she was silent now. She was not crying, begging for her life, screaming, yelling, or even moving. When she fell onto the carpet of her floor below the stairs, she had already been dead. Her last thoughts were of pure confusion, and fight-or-flight.


***

Wendy and Jason had found the swing sets, which weren’t hard to find anyway. They each sat on their individual ones, and talked. Swinging back and forth on the swing set to Jason was like being a kid again. “We probably should’ve told Grandma where we were going,” Jason said. “What if she woke up from her nap?”

“Then, she’ll call me. I know her. When she gets scared, she always calls me if she can.

She’ll be okay, she’s probably still sleeping as we speak.”





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Jason nodded. Jane was always a heavy sleeper; she could sleep through the San Francisco earthquake if it happened again. “Maybe. I like hanging out with you, Mom. It’s real nice.”

“I like being with you too, sweetie,” she said. “This whole thing needs bonding, you know. Make up for everything we’ve lost.”

“Yeah. Should we head back now? It’s getting a little dark.”

“I guess so, son. I love you, Jason.”

“I love you too, Mom.”


***

Dick came to Jane’s house to talk with Wendy and Jason about the Mikey situation. He went back to the cemetery for some memory-jogging, as he forgot what the kid’s name was for a little bit. And he didn’t want to tell Jason or Wendy that. It was impolite, even for him. Driving over to the house, he had just been thinking the whole time. What am I gonna tell

these three? Should I just leave them and go on by myself? Dick, you can still just walk out . . .

No. He wasn’t going to just ‘walk out’, because he had felt a sense of sympathy for them all, especially Jason. The poor kid lost his little brother, and his step dad. And now his grandmother, but Dick didn’t know about that one just yet. He pulled into the driveway and walked out of his car.

When he got to the front door, he knocked on it exactly three times. He never really knew why he did that, but it was just satisfying to knock three times. No more, no less.





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And no one answered. He looked through the little glass window of the door, and saw her. Jane was there, but laying on the floor with a bloody chest. She wasn’t breathing, either.

Oh,

no . . .

Dick barged through the door and bent down over Jane. He felt for her pulse on her old wrinkly neck, but nothing. She was dead, and there was no doubt about it. He was still in disbelief and shock over it, though. “Shit, Jane . . .”

A glass from the kitchen table suddenly fell off. Actually, it was more like it was slid off by someone, but there was no one in there. Dick knew. Mikey was in there. And he was breathing down his neck practically.

What do you know? Suddenly, the cabinets and drawers in the kitchen were being opened by something invisible. If there was a person there opening the cabinets and drawers it wouldn’t look any different; it was a pretty normal opening of them besides the invisible being doing it.

A coffee mug was picked up by the thing and hurled right at Dick’s head, but he fortunately ducked it just in time. If it was a razor, it would’ve given him a new haircut.

The sound of footsteps from the kitchen began getting closer and closer to Dick, who pulled out his pistol and aimed it in front of his eyes, taking an educated guess on where – and what – the thing was. “Jesus Christ . . .”

“No, it’s not,” the thing said. It was a little kid’s voice. It was Mikey’s voice. But Dick had never met Mikey, so to him it was just another little kid’s voice, not unlike his little nephew.

“I’m just a little lost boy, and I need your help, sir.”

Dick was shaking. “Help with what?”





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“With killing my brother and mommy. They left me to die, Dick. They left me to die.”

“They just couldn’t save you in time,” Dick said, his voice cracking. “They . . . they tried to. They weren’t fast enough.”

“Maybe so. Either way, they’ll pay. And if you try to stop me, you’ll join them both in hell. Don’t make me kill you, sir.”

Mikey suddenly appeared, right in front of Dick. The only thing Dick felt was pure awe.

Awe in the fact that he just saw an invisible thing disappear and appear on demand. Awe in the fact that Mikey was right there in front of him. The little kid Mikey Birch, who had been hit by that train in Sibley, who had an older brother named Jason that couldn’t save him in time, and loved him to death.

Mikey was in front of his face, and he could end everything by just shooting the kid right then and there. He slowly, nervously, flicked the safety switch on his gun to ‘off.’

Mikey grinned. “You can’t shoot me, officer. You can’t prove that I killed Ron and Grandma. I can just leave and come back all at once. You can’t prove I’m even real.”

Dick’s hands were shaking so much he couldn’t even shoot the kid if he tried. He’d miss and hit the kitchen sink all the way in the background. “Don’t make me, then,” he said to Mikey.

Mikey took a step or two backwards, and then held his arms out like he was an eagle spreading its wings. “Take the shot.”

Dick was shell-shocked. He was frozen. Like when Mikey was struck by the train, he was frozenin fear, and couldn’t do anything but just stare at the kid.





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“Well? Do it. C’mon. It’ll make for a good story, won’t it? And you will get arrested, then everyone will hate you . . .”

“Shut up,” Dick said quietly. “You shut your damn mouth.”

“And then, when you’re in jail, you’ll be put on death row for killing a child. For abusing your power. And then what? You’ll be dead, just like me.”

SHUT UP! STOP IT!

Jason and Wendy couldn’t have picked a worse time to walk in the house. As soon as they saw Mikey, and Dick next to the corpse of innocent old Jane, they couldn’t believe any of it.

Jason was horrified at the sight of his grandma, and Mikey. He immediately knew who killed her. It was Mikey. And yet he didn’t do anything.

Wendy was already beginning to sob over her mother as well, dropping to her knees.

“Mom . . . oh my God . . .”

Mikey grinned and quickly gave Dick a quick kick right in the testicles. Dick screamed and fell down to the floor, dropping his gun and sending it clattering onto the floor. It slid across the floorboards like it was an ice-skating rink.

Jason went for the gun but Mikey tripped his ankles fast-like. Then he vanished again like a magic trick. When Jason held the gun, he saw Mikey was nowhere to be seen. He looked over at his mom, then at Dick, who was holding his balls and bending over on the floor, groaning and moaning.

“Mikey? Oh, shit, Grandma, I’m sorry . . .”





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Mikey reappeared once more and snatched the gun right out of Jason’s hand. He tossed it behind himself and accidentally over to Wendy, who was still devastated. But even through her tear-filled eyes, she was able to pick up the pistol and fired a shot immediately at Mikey, letting out a primitive yell as she did so. All of the anger came out of her at that moment. Losing Ron not even three days ago, and now her own mother. This is enough . . .

She stood up, and before Mikey could vanish again, she hit him right in the arm with a bullet. He screamed and cried, then vanished once again. Wendy went over to Dick, helping him stand up and handing him his gun back.

“Thanks,” he said. “Good shot.”

“I try,” Wendy said.

Jason got up and went over to Wendy. He hugged her tight. “Oh, Mom, I’m so sorry for this. I didn’t think he’d get her . . .”

Wendy cried some more. “Let’s just leave.”

Dick heard the footsteps again. Almost running towards him, and then he saw the blood drops from an invisible thing again. Mikey was running at him and reappeared quickly enough so that Dick could see he was charging at him with a knife. He didn’t even have time to move or dodge the knife, and it was shoved right into his gut. Mikey yelled and screamed as he pushed it in deeper, and deeper, and Dick fell onto his back, dropping the gun again.

Mikey then looked at Jason and flipped the knife in his hand so that he could throw it. He grinned at Jason and got ready to throw it at him. “Goodbye, Jason.”





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Jason dodged it, so did Wendy. Jason tackled his little brother, just like how they used to play and wrestle with each other before. He got the knife out of his hand and grabbed it for himself. Mikey squirmed and struggled underneath Jason, who was sitting on top of him now.

“Ma, hand me the gun!”

“What are you gonna do?” she asked, scaredly.

“Just give me it.”

She slowly walked over to Jason and handed him the gun. Jason made sure it was still loaded, which it was. And he took a deep breath as he pressed the barrel against the back of Mikey’s head. Tears were now in his eyes, and he started to sob.

The last words Mikey ever heard, for good this time, were this:

“I love you, Mikey. I’m sorry.”







128



CHAPTER 12

Over Now

Dick had luckily gotten out of the hospital within two weeks, and was fine from there on.

Although it obviously hurt to do anything involving contact with the stomach; he couldn’t lay on his stomach in bed while sleeping. That was his favorite sleeping position, too.

Maybe things would be completely different from now on, and they wouldn’t be easy.

Ron was always the guy to defend them all with his life, Jane was the loving grandmother we all have. And they were both dead, and both had different funerals that Jason and Wendy had to attend. They even invited Dick to them as well, as a sign of appreciation.

Dick had finally found a new family in Jason and Wendy, but he couldn’t live with them because it wouldn’t sit right with him. Wendy liked him a lot, but wasn’t in love with him. Jason loved the man but understood when he told them that he couldn’t stay with them. He gave him a big hug before saying bye to him, and knew he wouldn’t see him for a long time. But he still had his mother, despite all of the things they’d been through. They went through it together, even aside from Mikey’s murder attempts on them. Before that, they mourned together. They grieved together, went to therapy together, even.

It finally started looking like things were moving up with Jason and his mom. Jason talked to Luna again but told her that he couldn’t see her anymore because they hardly talked enough anyways. She was a cool person, but just wasn’t all that important to his life. She was his only friend, but he’d go on to make more friends during school in the following month. He was





129

now a sophomore in high school and looked forward to new memories, new friends, and hopefully a better life.

Even though the ghost of his little brother had attempted to kill him and his mom, he still missed the little butthead Mikey. He had gotten some old photos of him and the kid together from his room, and just cried and smiled while looking through them. That time on Halloween, when Jason was dressed as Pennywise from Itand scared the shit out of Mikey when he was a baby. Or that time when he and Mikey were at the playground in Cler-Mont, and Mikey was too scared to go down the slide by himself. He'd always need to have Jason at the bottom to catch him.

Jason and Wendy’s lives would never be the same, sure, but they still had each other, which was the takeaway for Jason. Friends will come and go, so will money and jobs, girlfriends, even loved ones. But family is something that you’ll never be left without. Family is forever.

THE END