“Thomas, get up.”
I strip the warmth of the duvet from my body, exposing my bare chest. Here we go. The last day of school before Halloween and the weekend. I stumble into the bathroom and yank my toothbrush from the cabinet. I look at my bloodshot eyes as the refreshing zap of mint filling my mouth snaps me out of my slumber some state.
“Thomas,” Mum shouts. “Get up.”
I spit the foam from my mouth into the sink. “I’m coming.” She is so impatient.
“Hurry up. Your breakfast is almost ready.” I rush into the bedroom and throw on my school uniform. I grab my phone from my bedside locker as I drape my blazer over my arm and rush downstairs, my tie hanging loosely from my neck.
Mum greets me by sliding a plate with a bacon sandwich across the counter top. “Thanks Mum.”
As I take a seat across from Annabelle, I notice Dad’s absence. Not that I’m not used to it, it’s just, he normally at least stays for breakfast. “No Dad this morning?”
Mum’s back is still facing me. She’s scraping butter against a slice of bread, her sharp focus on the task at hand. “He’s got a meeting and had to leave early.”
I nod as she brings Annabelle her boiled egg with soldiers on a plate. Mum peers at me. “Come on, Thomas. Eat up.”
I look down to my breakfast sandwich. My nose wrinkles slightly. I lift it reluctantly and take a bite as she watches me. She turns to Annabelle. “Belle, sweetie. Why don’t you go eat your breakfast while watching a bit of telly?”
Annabelle smiles sweetly. “Okay Mummy. Thank you.” She grabs her plate and rests it on the coffee table in the living room.
Mum watches me intently. “Is there a reason you’re not hungry?”
“No, not really, I just--”
She nods. Here it comes. The lecture on my well being and another session of grief counselling. “It’s Alex, isn’t it?”
I don’t know why, or how. But, even the mention of his name is enough to make me well up. Alex has been gone just short of a year now, and I still haven’t really come to terms with it. I nod slightly as I bite my lip. “It’s just, he--”
She nods in silent understanding. “It must be hard on you, Thomas. It’s been almost a year since his tragic death.”
“Since his murder,” I mutter.
Mum removes her square glasses and places them on the table. Her face softens and she smiles weakly at me. Without her glasses, she looks less stern. Less serious. Less formidable. More approachable. “He was my best mate, Mum. And he’s gone. It’s meant to be easier as time goes on, but it’s just getting harder.”
Mum places her hand over mine and squeezes it gently. “I know, sweetie, I know. And I’m sorry. I wish I could heal your pain, Thomas. I wish I could bring him back for you. If I could, I would.”
My disheveled hair falls just above my eyebrow as I bow my head. I don’t know how I thought lowering my face could hide the fact that I’m sobbing right now. I just didn’t want my mum to see me crying, but I couldn’t suppress it. Mum gently grazes my cheek with her thumb, wiping a tear from the side of my face. She places her hands to the back of my neck and pulls me closer to her. As she runs her fingers through my hair, I rest my head over her shoulder.
I swallow down my tears and bring myself back to sit upright in the wooden kitchen chair. She takes my school tie in her hand and begins to fix it around my neck. “Mum, it’s okay, I can do it.”
I venture into the hallway and stand before the large golden-framed mirror. I secure the tie and adjust my collar. As I yank on my blazer, I notice that Mum is still watching me with a perused expression. “Thomas, you’ve only got to get through today and then we’ll the weekend to talk about this.”
“You hope,” I say.
Mum frowns at me, a crease forming in her forehead. “Thomas--”
I shrug my shoulders at her. “You hope,” I reiterate. “I’m sure Alex thought he’d be returning to school after Halloween last year. That didn’t happen, though, did it?”
She falls silent and swallows. “Mum, I’m sorry, but I can’t help but think about what The Grim Reaper did and--”
“Thomas, keep your voice down,” she hisses. “Your little sister is in the living room. She could hear you.”
“Why does everybody in this damn town refuse to address that we have a serial killer in our midst?” Mum purses her lips. “I’m sorry,” I utter. “I’ve got to go.”
I step out onto the street and begin to make my way through Eventide. With my schoolbag slung over one shoulder, I creak open the rusted old gate to the grounds of the graveyard. Shuffling among the mass of tomb stones, I plant my feet before one of the most recent graves. Alex’s name is engraved on the stone in golden letters, just above his birth and death date. He was aged seventeen and a few months when he lost his life. It’s not fair. “Hey Alex, mate,” I whisper. “How are you?”
I bow my head as I look to the freshly laid bunch of flowers at his graveside. “Your mum must’ve left those.”
I whip my head up and dart my gaze around the graveyard. It’s vacant, but I could’ve sworn I heard footsteps somewhere nearby. I did. I definitely did. As I look around, I can hear the chirping sound of small birds flocking together against the early morning sky. Maybe I was just being paranoid and I’ve watched too many horror movies. I mean, who else would be crazy enough to be strolling through a graveyard this early? At twelve minutes past eight in the morning.
“Anyway,” I say, focusing back on Alex’s stone. “I want you to know, that I’m going to make sure the Grim Reaper pays for what he did to you. This year, I’m going to catch him. I promise you.”
There’s a twitch in the air. I jerk my head around again. I can hear the delicate crunching of feet against crisp autumn leaves. I look to my feet which are planted on nothing other than grass. Something’s not right. There’s someone else here, and they’re watching me. I’m sure of it. A crow perched on a nearby gravestone is watching me with its tiny beading eyes. It caws at me and comes closer, hopping from one grave to another and comes to a rest on the stone adjacent to Alex’s. I can’t help but fix my gaze on it. It caws again.
A twig has just snapped. The shadowing trees and bushes at the entrance are swaying gently, which is odd, because there’s not much of a breeze this morning. “Hello,” I call “Is someone there?”
No answer. My breaths are becoming unsteady. I shuffle closer towards the gaps in the bushes. I have a horrible feeling about this. Someone was watching me, and crazy as it sounds, I think it was the Grim Reaper. “Who’s there?” I quiver.
I place my hand to one of the branches and pull it to the side. Peering into the emptiness of the cavern among the tree branches, I cautiously take another step forward.
Once more, I whip my head around as I perceive the rustling of leaves from behind me. It’s him. I know it is. I’m ready to go for him. As I study his face, I stop on the spot. “Did I scare you?”
It’s just Andrew. I release a sigh of relief. “Dude, you look like you just saw a ghost.”
I nod shakily. “Sorry,” I gasp. “I thought, I thought you were--”
Andrew raises his eyebrow as the corners of his mouth curl into an amused smile. “I thought you were someone else,” I tell him. “Never mind.”
His smirk spreads across his face. “What are you doing here?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I reply. “How about you?”
He chuckles. “Well, I was on my way to school and I saw you walking in here. I thought I’d try give you a bit of a fright. Obviously, it worked. You should’ve seen your face. You were shitting yourself.”
I smile, my breaths becoming more even, as I release a nervous chuckle. “Let’s go.”
As we step out of the graveyard, I look to the trees again. I dart my eyes back to the crow and release another quiet chuckle. I really do watch too many horror movies.