The boy gazed across the park staring at nothing in particular. The dead girl sat in the swing next to him, pale and silent, her eyes sad. She was always sad. She never said anything unless she had to. Above their heads storm clouds loomed grey and massive; they were literally swollen with rain.
The boy had both hands wrapped around the chains and was swinging back and forth lazily. His feet never left the ground. The tips of his shoes scraped the ground scraping up dirt. He breathed in the fresh air, savoring it. He had surprised himself by coming here. Usually, unless it was to go to the music store, he avoided going anywhere near the house alone. He preferred to stay inside the house or roam the woods behind it, breathing in the smells of pine and rich soil. But above all he preferred the sanctity of his room. It wasn’t like at school where he was forced to interact with people when he did not want to interact with them. Where the kids were mean and ruthless and the teachers looked the other way; where he could feel their feelings of hatred and disgust and fear of him nudging up against his own emotions. But this time he yearned for a change of scenery, to do something different. If you didn’t do something different, something risky every once and awhile you would go mad from the monotony of doing the same thing over and over again.
In the distance the church bell started to ring, loud enough that everyone within the town could hear it. It was nearing seven o’clock. His mother, Coralina, was probably sitting in her rocking chair at home, waiting for him to come home for dinner. God, sometimes I wish I could be somewhere else, he thought. Anywhere as long as it’s away from this town.
How many times had he trudged all of the way through the woods until he stood before the gate that separated Annesville from the rest of the world? Of course he didn’t dare touch it for it was an electric fence and there was a sign that said not to. The sign was read and said DO NOT TOUCH!!! in big black letters, impossible to ignore. If he touched it enough volts would pass through his body to fry his brain. The fence was the very thing that kept the town safe, that made it the sanctuary that it was.
Beyond it, the trees started to slope downward for the town sat on top of a mountain. There was no dramatic cliff drop just nothing but tall prehistoric-sized trees. He wished that he could see the hulk of abandoned car, the skeletal outline of a deserted building, an artifact of the old world-or better yet and Immortui in the flesh. He wanted to see the beast touch the fence and shock itself silly. That would be something to see! Not once had he been so lucky.
But looking at the gate at least reminded him that there was more to the world than just Annesville. It helped him to imagine going to Los Angeles in California where there was a city and the beach, where it was okay to be weird, to be different. Once he had brought the idea up to his mother. Let’s move, let’s get out of here, let’s have a change of scenery and a fresh start. No, she had said. This is our town. We’ve lived here our whole lives and our family as lived here their whole lives. This town is in our blood. And he hadn’t argued because he knew that there was no point.
He looked down at his arms. They were covered in little grinning skulls that he had drawn carefully with black marker, his fingernails glistening with black fingernail polish. His eyes were covered with black smudges of eyeliner and eyeshadow. He had the same coal black hair as his mother, her intense dark blue eyes and petite facial features and short, wiry build. In the next few years his features would mature, the baby fat receding to show high cheekbones and a square jaw and a soft mouth. But he would always be small for his age. Petite. And right now he was twelve. Often times he felt like an old soul trapped in a state of perpetual youth. He liked reading big books, books that didn’t have pictures. He liked authors like Stephen King and Anne Rice, authors who used big words. He loved how they wrote about the supernatural, about vampires and witches and child-eating monsters and people who had gifts much like him and his mother; and he liked movies too, emotional movies, mostly movies that kids his age wouldn’t like or understand. The more mysterious or psychological and thought provoking, the more confusing, the better. He liked big words like vague and monarch and insinuate. He liked using them in sentences at school and watching the kids blink in confusion. They were always using silly things like That’s so fleek or You thot!, things that were made up and didn’t have any meaning except for the meaning that they gave it.
Beyond the gates that guarded this town was a wasteland. The next town was hundreds of miles away, a three day hike. And in the miles between the undead wandered, things that should have been dead but weren’t. And they weren’t like the dead spirits that he saw. They walked around, and though they were made of flesh they craved the flesh and blood of others. Mindless. Soulless. He hadn’t seen them before except for in the videos they showed in his history class. There was a name for these creatures: Immortui. Not so long ago the world had been a big place. A huge place with a lifetime of things to explore. But when the outbreak had happened, only a few days before he was born, the world had grown much smaller. Annesville was all he had ever known. And he would always be known as the weirdo, as the freak. As the fag. The spawn of Satan.
Everyone thought that his mother and he were witches, having sold their souls to the devil. He knew that this wasn’t so. His mother was a talented healer and had cure blindness and taken away tumors and terminal illnesses. She could stop people from dying. If she was a witch, a spawn of Satan as the people of Annesville liked to call them, then why would she use her gift to heal others? They had gifts that went beyond physical talent, beyond the five senses had run in his family long before he was born, passed down from generation to generation. Coralina and he were the last of their bloodline. He could see spirits, communicate with them and sometimes when he was mad or emotional, could make things happen-just by thinking about it.
Things had always been bad and he couldn’t remember a time when he’d ever been completely happy. He’d never had any friends. The kids at school always picked on him and the teachers turned a blind eye to his pain because they were scared of him just like everyone else. This was a town where being different was bad. A curse. To the townspeople of Annesville he was a freak of nature. A monster. A queer. The fact that he liked to wear eyeliner and black fingernail polish and draw skulls all over himself most certainly did not help; to them it only proved their point. It didn’t help that he liked listening to heavy metal bands like Korn, Slipknot and Marilyn Manson and Ozzy Osbourne. It didn’t help that he had pictures of bodybuilders with their bulging biceps and chiseled chests, their eyebrows furrowed together, their faces tensed into a grimace.
In the distance he could see a man jogging by. He was close enough that he could see the muscles work beneath his grey sweat-clothes. It reminded him of how it felt to be in the locker room, amongst all of the other boys, naked. So close to them that he could feel the heat coming off of their flesh. So close that he if he were to reach out his fingers would touch them.
The boy didn’t tell anyone about these thoughts. There was no one whom he could share these thoughts with in confidentiality. He couldn’t imagine telling his mother about his fantasies-she was his mother after all. It wasn’t like being a homosexual was unheard of. Homosexuals had been around for centuries. In places like California and New York it was much more acceptable. It was even considered normal. This was Annesville, a small town, a church town. Here it was frowned upon. It wasn’t like there wasn’t other gay people: there were the PFLAG meetings, the support group that was for all ages. But he doubted that he would find any other twelve year old there and he doubted that they would welcome him. He would be feared there too. They’d sit far away from him and whisper things about him.
How he wished he had someone to tell about these thoughts. He supposed he could tell the dead girl. She wouldn’t judge, wouldn’t turn away from him in disgust. But then she couldn’t relate to what he was feeling
And then there were the other thoughts. The dark thoughts. Thoughts of anger. Thoughts of vengeance. He knew there was a darkness inside of him, deep down inside where it lurked, waiting for the opportune moment to show itself. Like the time in the fourth grade when Tommy Bennington had knocked his food tray out of his hand. He had gotten so angry that he’d knocked Tommy to the floor without using his hands-just with his thoughts. And the darkness had made it happen. There had been other times too. Only a few times but a few times was enough.
Lately he could feel a small part of it seeping into his thoughts and his dreams. When someone called him a name or shoved him into a locker he found himself thinking about making that person hurt. He knew he could do it too, he knew he had the power. He just had to find it. Get in touch with it. And then he could get back at all of the people who had made fun of him, hit him, spat on him. He thought and dreamt about torturing them, making them see things that they didn’t want to see, making their arms and legs twist and contort in painful positions, until he could hear their bones crack. Sometimes he even thought about killing them only to feel guilty about thinking in such a way.
While the boy could always feel the darkness’ presence, it never completely took over him. He had no control over it. It came only when it wanted to. Sometimes when it took over he could only remember bits and pieces of what happened. Other times he couldn’t remember anything at all. He would clench his eyes shut and with all of his might try to remember only to come up with a blank.
One night he had gained enough courage to tell told Coralina about these angry thoughts that plagued him. He even told her about the darkness. She had sat on the edge of the bed, listening intently, not saying a word. And when he had finished her silence continued.
“What is it?” he’d asked, scared that she might be angry with him.
“I’m not sure,” had been her reply, her voice soft and whispery. Thoughtful but not angry. The boy was very relieved.
“Where does it come from?”
“I’m not sure of that either,” she said. “Maybe it is something that comes with your gift. Maybe it comes from the same place as your spirits. Maybe it’s a part of you.” She shook her head solemnly. “But whatever it is and wherever it comes from it is not a friend to others.”
“Trouble’s coming,” the dead girl said, interrupting the boy’s thoughts. He looked over at over her, wanting to ask what she had meant but she was gone.
He recognized the two boys immediately: Sam Warner and Denis O’Hare. They were the two most famous boys in town-and the meanest. Dennis O’Hara was tall with broad shoulders and thick, muscular arms. He was a big hit amongst the dewy-eyed senior girls. Sam Warner was black, shorter and more stocky.
They were coming his way, the echoes of their laughter shattering the silence. Whatever danger the dead girl had seen in them the boy could not yet see. They were laughing, maybe at a joke. They were far away enough that he could not hear what they were saying. Then Sam looked up and saw him sitting in the swing. Sam couldn’t see the dead girl sitting next to him. All he saw was the queer, the freak, the devil’s spawn sitting all by himself.
You should leave, the dead girl said. Even though she was gone she wasn’t completely gone; she could talk to him in his head. Now.
“No,” he said, in a moment of adult stubbornness. “I was here first.“
As they drew closer to him, the boy could feel what the other boys were feeling: their disgust and hatred towards him, their cruelty. They were dangerous. He could feel it. But he wasn’t scared. He would stand his ground even if it meant suffering.
“Hey, fag,” Dennis taunted
The boy looked at him, expression deadpan. He didn’t say anything.
“Wanna suck my dick?” Sam asked. They laughed, socking each other in the arm. To them this was all fun and games.
“Fuck you,” the boy said. He looked down at his feet. “Leave me alone.”
“Tough guy, huh?” Dennis said. They were towering over him now like two giants. “ You with your stupid little fucking mind tricks and spells. We’ll see what a tough little fudgepacker you are when we’re done stomping your scrawny little ass into the ground.”
“You touch me and I’ll tell my mom,” he said in a feeble attempt to scare them off. He immediately hated how weak he sounded. He was in middle school, not kindergarten. “She’ll make you regret it.”
Dennis and Steve rushed forward simultaneously and grabbed his arms. They hauled him off the swing and threw him to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Before he even had time to feel shocked they were standing over him like giants, punching and kicking. Their fists were like iron, their feet like hammers. There was no end to the pain being inflicted on his body. He couldn’t even curl up into a fetal ball.
Their laughter and jeers filled his ears. Surely they didn’t mean to kill him. He was much smaller than they were and it was in the daytime. Surely someone, an adult perhaps, would see them and make them stop. But no one came to his rescue. Dennis and Steven just kept kicking and stomping. His stomach felt as if it had folded into itself, his bone shattering. He tried to shield himself but couldn’t move his arms. He was defenseless. With each kick the certainty that they meant to kill him grew.
The dead girl had tried to warn him and because of his pride he hadn’t listened.
Then suddenly, mercifully, they stopped. It was over. He managed to roll on his back, looking at the reddening sky through a hazy screen of agony. He thought he heard the rumble of thunder. The colossal thunder cloud was now directly overhead. He wished that it would rain. He yearned for it, yearned to feel the fat rain drops splatter against his skin and wash the blood away. Lane felt a large wad of spit splatter across his face. Blood was seeping out of his nose; his lower lip had been split in two. It was in his mouth, trickling down his throat, filling his mouth with the taste of copper. More blood trickled into his eyes, covering the world in a red membrane. Lane felt shattered inside, every bone turned into sand. It was impossible move. He held his breath, trying to keep from crying, Everything was fading away. He could feel himself drifting towards a black void.
Am I dying? he thought. It feels like I’m dying.
Suddenly he could feel the darkness rising inside of him, trying to take over. You aren’t just going to lay on the ground like that are you? it said. Get up and make them pay. Don’t just let them get away with it.
The darkness gave him a power and strength that he couldn’t use on his own at least not until he learned how to control it. Right now he wanted to use that power to punish the two high schoolers for what they had done to him. He blinked and his eyes were no longer dark blue but pitch black, pupiless. The darkness had taken over.
He rose to his feet. Droplets of blood fell from his nose and splattered across his T-shirt. “Hey!” he said.
The two high schoolers turned around to his face him.
“Oh you want more you little fucker?” Steven snarled. Both boys were starting towards him again, closing in, preparing to inflict more damage. They did not know that something was wrong until it was too late.
They both dropped into the grass, writhing in agony. Invisible hands and teeth tore at their flesh, tearing at flesh and muscle, devouring them. They clawed at thin air though in their heads they were trying to fend off the Immortui which surrounded them, creatures with grey, decayed flesh, and blank white gaping eyes, things that had a hunger that could never be sated. The pain that they were feeling was unlike anything that they had ever before. It was worse than death. Death for them would have been a simple mercy.
This wasn’t really happening. It was a projection that the boy had created, a very realistic illusion although to Steven and Dennis it might as well be real. And the darkness had given him the ability to create it with just a simple thought, with his will. And he could do worse. So much worse. He could rip them apart slowly. He could set them on fire and watch them burn, flay them with his thoughts. But he liked this better. Torturing them. Watching them squirm as they’d made him do. He could watch it all night.
He could watch it for forever. It filled him with a boundless joy, to listen to the sounds of their screams. They sounded like helpless girls. They were pitiful, worthless creatures.
“Stop!” Dennis screamed, writhing and clawing and kicking at thin air. “Please make it stop!”
The boy’s black eyes glittered; he smiled menacingly. “I should rip you two apart.” In that moment he didn’t sound like a twelve-year-old boy. He sounded older, much older. Centuries and centuries. “Or I could flay you alive. It’s what you two filthy sack of swines deserve. Instead you’re going to die in your sleep tonight just when you think you’ll have years left to live. You’ll fall asleep and you won’t wake up. Now go while you still can.”
He made it stop.
The two older boys shot to their feet glancing around, trying to find their attackers. Then there eyes met his. Dennis wet himself, a puddle stain of urine spreading across the front of his jeans. Then he and Steven were running as fast as they could away from the boy, until their figures disappeared from view.
Just as the thunder lit up the sky and the rain started to fall in an unforgiving torrent, the boy pointed his head up at the sky and started to laugh.