Ten miles north of Phoenix is a box canyon where kids go to kill themselves. I know this because I live there.
It’s a humble little abode, if you could call it that—really just a cave nestled behind a cleft, but it works. For me, it works.
Two hundred feet above is a rocky overhang. This is where many of them go. Every now and then I’ll walk outside to see a body with its limbs turned in awkward ways or with a hole in its skull, and that's creepy, but what makes it creepier is that somehow their eyes always stare at my cave.
I hate when they show up because I get sick when I look at their bodies, but I don’t know why I get sick and so I like to blame Pavlov because I hear he did a study on conditioned responses, and I think that this might be one of them. Then again it could also be the blood. Sometimes I throw up, but I haven’t for a while, which makes me happy. I have a mask that I wear when I have to cut up the bodies, and even though I hate to do it, my blue friend says I have to, and I can’t say no to him. I just can’t.
The blood makes my cave smell for days, and even with my fan hooked up to my generator, it still takes a while to air out. I think the blood smell stays just to spite me. Sometimes my generator doesn’t have enough gas to use my fan, so I let the blood go away on its own while I hunt for more supplies.
Most of my things I take from either the city dump or unlocked homes. I scored big on an inflatable mattress—there was no way I could have hauled a regular mattress ten miles, so I was pretty jazzed when I found it. It sits nestled up against the far wall on a frame I made myself, and the mattress has stayed inflated ever since I pumped it up, which is a good thing because the batteries that came in the pump weren’t very good to begin with. Above the mattress is one of those tall mirrors people put in bathrooms and underneath, hiding in the darkness, is a pistol I nabbed from a kid who shot himself. Next to that sits a little brown box filled with an occasional faint blue light. My friend gives me this light, which makes me happy, but it also makes my brain hurt and my memories fuzzy.
In the middle of my room I have a table, a large square thing that doesn’t look right because I couldn’t find enough pieces of walnut to make it one solid color and so there are chunks of birch and even plywood in it. I always keep it covered with a table cloth. I store my generator under the table, along with any cans of gas, tools, and empty jugs of water, which I refill at Lake Pleasant just south of here. It’s usually a day hike because I like to look at the scenery. I bring my rucksack and camping gear so I can camp out near the shore. Usually I catch some fish to eat at the picnic area. Any other food I have gets stored in sacks or in my Styrofoam cooler. I don’t worry about animals because I never see traces of them in here. Also, I keep the skulls of the kids who die buried under my bed because I don’t like how they watch me.
Speaking of watching, some kid’s been doing that. He’s not very good at it, and he seems almost scared to come too close, but I can see him some mornings poking his scraggly black hair over the nearest hillock—if I can call those dusty dunes that, and I don't see why I can't. He’s about fourteen or so, so not much younger than me, and it bothers me that he’s here in this box canyon and not dead. It bothers me a lot. On several occasions I've snuck up behind him to catch him and see what it was he wanted, or if he was some homo pervert jerking off to me from the distance. I got within twenty feet of him three times, but whenever I call out to him, he takes off running and is very fast. He’s not a homo pervert, but he carries around a backpack. I wonder how he gets out here, because he does not look old enough to have a driver’s license, and there's no roads that lead out here anyway. Perhaps he lives off the land, too, and just wants to check out his neighbor.
As far as I can tell he hasn’t been in my cave, which is good because I don’t want to have to kill him if he snoops around more. I yelled it to him once as he took off into the dark of night, but I don’t think he heard me, silent as it was. Maybe he’s deaf.
Sometimes he shows up when I wander around Phoenix looking for supplies, which is always at night. He doesn’t hide very well there either, and I can see him peeking over trash cans or behind bushes, or sometimes even in the middle of those bright arc sodiums, and when I look at him and glare, he doesn’t move. I don’t know if he’s just less afraid in the city or if he’s more stupid, but either way, I can feel his eyes, and I wish he’d stop, but he’s always too fast for me. Sometimes I think I’m imagining him, but that hurts my brain too much, so I can’t be.
I normally stop at Mom’s house in Phoenix when I’m there, but she doesn’t answer the door anymore since I ran away. I think she might know some things, and I worry that my stalker is telling her about what I do in my cave, but I never see him when I find a body, so he might not know as much as I think. He hasn’t told the police. I know this because no one else has come to my home looking for bodies. What strikes me as odd is that I don’t even see anybody searching in the city. No signs for lost children, nothing in the papers, and no obvious nightly patrols. It makes me wonder whether these kids are from Phoenix or if they come on suicidal journeys from all around. Sometimes I think they’re part of some weird cult, but that thought scares me and so I try not to think about it.
Until early this morning I hadn’t seen my stalker for a while. Probably a week, maybe more. I had to leave my cave after some time because the skulls began to cry, and no matter how many paper towels I stuffed between their teeth, they wouldn’t stop, so I had to leave, even though my box was glowing bright bright blue. I wanted to look into it, but I couldn’t, not with them crying like that. And so I threw off my covers and went to grab my backpack, figuring I would go into Phoenix for a day or two and get some provisions. I needed to look for gas and batteries, and maybe some orange juice because I like the acidic taste of it. I also wanted another knife and some more ammunition for my pistol. The coyotes howl a lot at night, sounding closer all the time, and though I know they tend to shy away from people, I want to be sure I am plenty armed.
Anyway, I went into Phoenix and did my thing. Stopped at Mom’s house, but she didn’t answer again. I keep telling myself that she’ll never answer, but then a part of me thinks she’ll peek between the curtains and see me and miss me so much she’ll come out crying, saying she’s so sorry she made me run away, and she won’t be bad like that anymore. She would never hit me again. But I would hit her. I would scream and bite and claw and she would keep crying and begging me to come back but I wouldn’t because she made me run away and it’s her fault I found that box, and her fault those kids are dying, and I hate her so so much I want to kill something.
I found batteries and ammunition in an unlocked shed. Also some money, which I thought was quite the jackpot because it was twenty dollars. With this I bought some crackers and cookies and chips and juice. By the time I had all of that paid for, it was getting pretty late—or early, depending on how you look at it. It would take me probably five hours from where I was in south Phoenix to get back home. I made sure I had my pistol at my side under my jacket. Once, before I had it, two guys jumped me and beat me up. They didn’t take anything, but it hurt a lot.
I walked back, and the sky had begun to grow pale when I stepped into the canyon. The entrance faces east, and so if I wake up early enough and feel like going outside, I can charge up one of the hillocks near me and watch the sun rise. I actually found the gun in this way, because I had woken up refreshed and, after eating a day-old donut, went outside and found a kid with his brains blown out right outside. I didn’t manage to see the sunrise because I was so happy to find the gun. I was less happy to find him, because he was all gross and smelled weird. Like, he had put the gun at his chin and there was a jagged hole where the bullet came out. He was bent weird, too, which made me think he had shot himself at the edge of the outcropping and fallen. But, even with his neck crooked, his vacant eyes still stared at my home, so I kicked sand in his face and told him to fuck off, even though I knew he couldn’t. When I went to pick him up and pull him inside a lizard scurried from the hole atop his head, which I found equal parts cool and gross.
As I reached the apex of the last hillock to my home, I saw my stalker standing there, his black hair long and greasy, his fingers prying along the rock, a dark backpack open on the ground with plastic-coated wires coming out of it. Two big alligator clips rested against the backpack, surrounded by wires.
“Hey!” I shouted. “What are you doing?” I started down, slipping slightly when the sandy slope broke beneath me.
He looked up then, and though I couldn’t discern many features in the pre-dawn light, I could certainly pick out that scowl. It was pure malice, and I couldn’t understand why. “You killed my brother,” he told me as I raced toward him. His hand disappeared behind his body, then reappeared with a pistol in it.
I threw myself back against the slope, groping for my own gun. “I didn’t kill anybody,” I yelled to him, pulling my pistol out in the same moment. “You leave me the fuck alone, alright? You don’t come snooping around here or me. This is my home. You can’t have it.”
“That’s the thing. This isn’t your home. Go back where you’re from or I’ll make you.”
“I’ve tried, but Mom won’t open the door because I’ve been bad. She never opens the door anymore.” Tears of anger and frustration suddenly burst forth. “What do you know? What have you told her? Why are you following me?” I shook my gun at him, as if it made a difference.
“You’re more fucked up than I thought,” he said, which made me angry.
“What do you know about being fucked up? What the hell do you know?” I wanted to shoot him right then. I knew I could. I was a pretty good shot, but I didn’t want to get sick. I always feel sick looking at the bodies, even though I don’t kill them. So I shook my gun again.
“You don’t scare me. Not anymore. I know what you are, and I know what you do with them. Your friend told me. Let me in. Thought you weren’t coming back.”
My friend would never do that, so I ignored the remark. “I don’t kill anybody,” I said, but when I tried my memories all I saw was blue. Bright bright blue. Then black, like a shroud, and screams. So many screams. I started to scream then, too, thinking of them.
He responded by firing his pistol. He was as good at shooting as he was at hiding, and the bullet struck harmlessly a few feet from me. I composed myself and retaliated with my own shot, aiming for his foot and hitting dead on.
My stalker crumpled to the ground, his eyes wide. I leapt up, charging down the hill while he struggled to stand. I tripped over his backpack and almost planted my face in the rock next to the cleft. His hand brushed against my pants as I squeezed through, then I was in. But something had caught against my leg—the damned wire from his bag. I tried yanking free, but my foot wouldn’t come out, so I just started pulling the wire through the opening. I saw him groping for it, trying to get a hold, but he couldn’t do it. His hands would run up to the entrance, and then stop, as if there were a wall in the open air, even though there wasn’t. I knew because I could pass through the cleft just fine. No wall. But, then he wrapped his hand around the wire and braced himself against that wall, so I had to pull out my knife and cut the length because it wouldn’t budge any further with him pulling on it.
After I cut it, he turned around and started banging against air like some sort of mime, cursing at me, telling me he’d come back and that he would bury me alive when he did. That he’d send me back to Hell, which is stupid because I’ve never been there. I hoped he died of sunstroke on the way back to wherever it was he lived because I didn’t want to have to kill him.
I lay there for a few moments after he had gone, wondering what I should do—if I could afford to pack up and leave. But, then I heard something whisper to me, a soft voice that sounded soothing, even though the words it spoke were too low for me to discern. I knew it was my friend, and I felt a hungering deep within me.
Quickly, I untangled myself from the wire and pushed myself to my feet, eager to look into those blue depths and see what waited for me. But, turning the corner, I saw something was wrong. Not only were the skulls still crying—softly, but still crying—but even by the dim light from outside pouring in I could see that my place had been torn up. My table and bed overturned, my food spilled and smashed. I screamed because he shouldn’t have been able to get in. There was the wall! The wall! My friend wouldn’t have let him in. How could he have gotten in?
My friend! I didn’t see the box, so I looked and looked and listened to the whispers because they would lead me to it, if only I knew where it was.
When I found it, it was buried under the skulls. And, counting them, I found that one was missing. The one with the hole at the top. I told the rest to hush and cradled my box in my arms, asking if it was okay and if anyone hurt it. It didn’t say, and I didn’t expect it to, but I had to ask anyway.
It no longer had that bright blue glow seeping through its cracks, and I feared the worst, peeking inside to find a dull black orb sitting on a white pillow. Horrified, I took it out, pillow and all, and began to cry because it was broken, broken, and that mother fucker broke it, he broke it and I would kill him, even without my friend. I was so mad I said words that didn't make sense to me, and saying them made me madder.
I took the box and smashed it on the ground, stomping on it until it broke into splinters and looked as dead as those kids. I never killed any of them. Any of them. But this kid comes into my home to break my shit and kill my friend. Yet, my friend was still alive. I saw him flash like a bug zapper and then glow steadily. I looked into his watery depths, smiling, and the voice became like the waves of Lake Pleasant beating against the shore. His warmth pulsed against my hands when I picked him up. A cloth appeared inside of him, wispy like a shroud or trail of smoke. He reminded me of a big marble.
“I’m so glad he didn’t hurt you,” I said to him and hugged him to me, feeling his warmth spread across my body and his bloodlust burn into my soul. I felt something strange then—a darkness, like those memories. Blue, too. Bright bright blue, and when I looked across the room into the mirror above my bed I saw my eyes shining like St. Elmo’s fire. No, burning. Burning. A hood came out of the shadows, covering my face until all I could see were my eyes, blazing bright blue.
I switched my friend to one hand, and in the shadows of my free one a scythe appeared, long and slender and sharp. I remembered then what I was, what my friend was: He tethers me to this world, and when he calls out I feed him. He grows. Like a sweet sweet garden filled with tomatoes and peppers and pumpkins.
Holding him and my scythe, I took off out of the cave, gliding over the ground. My stalker hadn’t gotten far, barely up the first hillock, and I swarmed over him, laughing deeply.
He saw my friend and put his gun against his temple.
Before he pulled the trigger he looked me in the eye, his own eyes wet and weepy, and though he could not see it, I smiled at him. Because I was right. I didn’t kill those kids. They killed themselves, just like he did, pouring out blood and brain and tumbling down the hillock. When I met him there, I released my friend—who hovered of his own volition—grasped my scythe with both hands, and ran it along his chest. It cut through skin and muscle and bone as if they were all one thing. It cut through them like a shadow, because that’s what it was. I placed my hand in his chest, smelling blood, so much blood, and pulled out something soft and white and round, like an egg, but smaller. I held it out to my friend. He glided over it, taking its spot in my hand.
With that done I went inside, my shell falling apart as I became a man again. The skulls had stopped crying, and my friend told me that the seed I planted within him gave him strength. He told me I would be free of his bonds soon. But he always says that.
He always says that.