I’ve made a little progress on the skull logo, so now I’m moving on to some initial cover renderings. I’ll be playing around with variations of the logo and the cover with each chapter I post. For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Every muscle ached but none hurt nearly as much as my head. It felt like someone had driven two spikes into my temples. But I took that as a good sign. If I could feel, then I couldn’t be dead.
The sun was just starting to rise with the first few rays piercing my eyes through the cracked glass of my front windshield. Dried blood was spread across the white vinyl seats and covered my t-shirt so I knew the wreck hadn’t been a dream but something still didn’t seem right. I tried the driver side door, and it opened with a grunt allowing me to climb out and inspect the damage. There was plenty of mud coating the bottom of the car and grass and corn stalks sticking out of the front bumper but I wasn’t in the field. My car, flat tires and all, was parked in front of my house.
“What the Hell?” I mumbled to myself as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing.
My memory of the night before was more than a little hazy, and the throbbing in my head didn’t help at all. All I knew was that the sun was almost completely up and that meant my mom would be home soon. She’d kill me if she saw the car like that, so I climbed back in and crossed my fingers as I turned the key. There was a moment of hesitation, then she fired up with a squeal and a growl.
“Well, at least something is going my way,” I thought as I put her into reverse and limped my way around the garage and parked her out of sight in the alley.
I had no clue how long I’d been passed out in front of the house, but it wasn’t nearly long enough. All I wanted was to go inside and sleep the rest of the day away, but just as I reached the back door the headlights from my mother’s car flooded the driveway.
“Crap,” I said, throwing the door open and rushing inside.
My bedroom was on the second floor, so I took the stairs two at a time, ripping off my bloody t-shirt as I reached the top landing. Mom had a habit of doing a load of laundry as soon as she got home so I couldn’t just throw it in my laundry basket. Instead, I shoved it under my bed, grabbed some clean clothes from my dresser and rushed to the bathroom.
I had barely managed to slip inside the water before I heard the knock on the bathroom door.
“You’re up early,” she said through the door.
“Yeah,” I replied, “I don’t want to waste the last day of summer vacation.”
“I didn’t see your car so I wasn’t sure if you were home.”
It was really a question wrapped up like an observation.
“It’s at Weed’s. I’m using his garage to work on her.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, just doing a little more work on her.”
I hated lying to her, but I didn’t know what else to do. And besides, as soon as I figured out a way, I did plan on moving it over there to work on. But even though my car made it behind the garage, I knew there was no way she’d make it the couple blocks to Weed’s house.
“Okay. We’ll talk when you’re done,” she replied.
I couldn’t tell if she meant that in any sort of ominous way, but my brain and body hurt too much to really care; I just let the hot water pour over me until I was afraid she’d come check on me again. Then I gathered all the strength I could and finished washing off any trace of the previous night.
Brushing my teeth and slipping on some clean clothes helped me feel a little less dead, but I still felt like I needed a gallon of coffee and a couple energy drinks before I could do anything productive. Unfortunately, I knew my mom was waiting to talk to me so I forced myself to put on a smile and head down stairs.
“Rough night?” She asked before I had stepped off the last stair.
She was sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea, ‘Sleepy Time’ if I knew her. That was her go-to drink when she couldn’t sleep or after a really rough night as an EMT. Her eyelids looked as if she couldn’t keep them open, while something within her eyes themselves told me she wasn’t ready to shut them.
“I probably stayed up too late,” I replied, trying to play it off. “But you look like you had an even rougher night than I did.”
“It’s nothing you need to worry about.” She replied while trying to fake a smile.
“You know I’m going to hear about it, or see it on the news anyways.”
She hesitated for a second, then took a deep breath. “ It was a drunk driving accident, a teen about your age.”
My thoughts went straight to Weed, then Shawna. The concern must have shown on my face.
“No one from your school,” she continued, “but that doesn’t really make it any easier.”
“Did they make it?”
She just sat there for a minute, looking down at the cup in her hands. I knew the answer.
I went over and put my arms around her.
“So what are your plans today?” she asked after a minute of silence, clearly trying to change the subject. I followed her lead.
“I’m just going to hang out with Weed, you know enjoy our last day of freedom.”
“And work on your car?”
“Yeah, that too.” I wasn’t sure exactly how we were going to get it over to his house, but I knew it was going to have to wait until mom was either sound asleep or back at work that evening.
“What about Shawna?” She continued.
“What about her?”
“Wasn’t she supposed to be back by now?”
“Yeah, I guess so. I’ll probably see what she’s up to.”
“Well, try to be back home before I leave for the dinner shift at the diner,” she continued, “I want to make sure you’ve got everything ready for school tomorrow.”
“Sure thing mom,” I replied, “And you try to get some sleep.”
Heading out the front door, I instinctively reached into my pants pocket for my car keys before remembering where it was and why.
“Guess I’ll be walking for a bit,” I thought, still a little pissed at myself. I was sure Weed and I could get Pamela fixed up, but I hated the idea of starting the school year off without her. Thankfully Weed lived just a couple blocks away, and the weather was still nice so the walk wasn’t bad at all. And the fresh air was helping me feel a little more alive, so by the time I reached the front door and his mom answered it, I almost didn’t have to force a smile.
“Good morning,” she said with a genuine smile, “He’s still in bed, but feel free to wake him for me.”
“Of course,” I replied, stepping inside
“You’ll probably need my little helper, though.”
“Probably,” I replied, grabbing the air horn from her as I headed up the stairs.
Weed’s door opened with a groan as if, like him, it didn’t want to be disturbed. But even with it all the way open, the hallway light barely pierced the blackness. Every curtain was drawn tight against the morning sun. He may not have been in an accident like I was but he was at the party much later, and surely drank a lot more after I left, so I knew he was in worse shape than me. But I didn’t let that stop me from doing it anyways.
I wasn’t quiet as I made my way through the landmines of clothes, tools and empty food boxes that lead to his bed but my footsteps didn’t even faze him. The drool continued to hang from his open mouth, and his snoring continued to rattle the walls as I leaned over him with the air horn.
“Wakey Wakey,” I whispered in his ear just before squeezing the button on the horn.
“Whaaatttt???” Weed screamed as he fell out of bed, pulling several layers of blankets on top of him as I bust out laughing.
The blast from the air horn left my head throbbing, but it was completely worth it.
Weed struggled to climb to his feet, keeping the blankets wrapped around while just staring forward with a dazed look on his face. After blinking a couple times his eyes focused on me and a smile spread across his face.
“That was a good one,” he said with a laugh, “but now you know this means war.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.”
“What time is it?”
“So what the Hell are we doing up?” He said, plopping back down on to his bed.
“I really need to talk to you.”
“You said last night that it was done. That for good or bad…”
“It’s not about Shawna.”
“It’s not about her.”
“Well, good, I guess, but that doesn’t make waking me up this early any better.”
“You know I wouldn’t be up myself if it wasn’t important.”
Well, can it at least wait until I get some breakfast or even a Mountain Dew?”
“Yeah, sure,” I relented. I really wanted to talk to him about what happened, but I still wasn’t exactly sure how to put everything into words so a few extra minutes couldn’t hurt.
Weed shrugged off the covers and stood up, sharing an unflattering view of his batman boxers as he did. Modesty wasn’t one of his strong suits, but after years as friends I’d learned to deal with it, or at least to ignore it as I followed him down the stairs. His mom had a big bowl of cereal waiting on the table for him, probably her way of apologizing for the part she played in torturing him. Though the grin on her face showed she wasn’t that sorry. The bowl easily held half a box of Lucky Charms, and Weed practically inhaled the entire thing.
“You wanna go for a walk?” I asked as he finished sucking down the remaining milk.
He just continued to stare at me like I had a second head growing out of my body.
“Come on man…”
“Fine, but you owe me,” he replied, trodding upstairs to throw on some pants.
It took a little longer than it should have, but he looked a little more awake when he came back down.
“Ma,” he hollered over his shoulder as he popped a couple ibuprofen, downing them with a can of Jolt, “We’ll be back in a few.”
“Nate,” she hollered back, “you know you can smoke in here.”
“Thanks,” I replied, “but I’m good. And besides, we can use the exercise.”
“Well, at least one of you can,” She replied.
“Thanks, Ma,” Weed replied as he slipped on his still-tied shoes.
Weed was shorter than me, and probably fifteen to twenty pounds heavier, but I wouldn’t call him fat, just slightly overweight. But his mom loved to tease him about it. Normally I would have too, but I felt bad enough about waking him so I kept my mouth shut.
As soon as we stepped onto the porch I grabbed a cigarette from the pack in my pocket and lit it up. Weed held out his hand, and I really couldn’t refuse. With the breeze it took a couple attempts to light mine, then I tossed him the lighter.
“So, you just drug me out of bed for this?” He asked after we’d walked almost the entire way back to my house without a single word.
“I think something happened last night,” I started, “I mean, I know something happened, but I’m not sure exactly what.
We finished making our way to my driveway as I tried to collect my thoughts.
“So who’s the lucky girl?”
“If it wasn’t a girl, and you’re clearly not dead, then it can’t be too serious.”
“This is going to sound crazy…”
“That’s never stopped you before.”
“I’m serious, like arkham asylum crazy.”
“As long as you haven’t killed anyone or hidden any bombs around Gotham, then I think you’re okay…”
I started second guessing my decision to talk to Weed.
“You didn’t, did you?”
“You’re shittin’ me…”
“No, that’s not what I mean. I told you it was going to make me sound crazy.”
“Just spit it out already.”
“Fine. When I left the party last night, I had an experience.”
“Like alien abduction? I’ve always wanted to be abducted…”
“No… What?… Let’s just forget that you said that.”
“Why? I’m not ashamed. I’m not saying I want to be probed but…”
“Back to what I was saying…”
“When I was driving home I got a little distracted and when I looked back at the road I thought I saw something.”
“Like a deer, or a large goat, or something.”
“And I swerved.”
“And I wrecked.”
“What’d you do to Pamela?” Weed asked a little too loudly as we reached my front porch.
“Shh, you know mom’s sleeping.”
“Sorry,” he said, quieting his voice, “but I’ve got to see her…”
“It’s not that bad…”
“Says you,” he replied. “Take me to her.”
“You probably don’t want to see her, not yet.”
He crossed his arms and stared at me like a disappointed parent until I finally agreed to take him to Pamela.
We walked slowly around to the back alley, like two guys going to see a dying relative; which was a pretty accurate analogy. Weed and I had spent the summer fixing up Pamela, spending way too many hours trying to get her ready before school started. In a way she was almost as much his car as mine.
“How?” He whined as soon as he caught a glimpse of her.
“Like I said, I swerved. I went off the road, flew over the ditch and went out into a cornfield. It felt like she flipped over a hundred times, but there doesn’t seem to be that much damage. She even managed to make it from the front of the house back here without much trouble.”
“But how’d you get it home from the cornfield.”
“That’s the crazy part. I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I told you I’d sound crazy.”
“Maybe you just got a concussion and don’t remember driving her home.”
“It’s not just that I can’t remember getting home.”
“So what is it?”
I looked Weed in the eye and I could see he was genuinely concerned. Still, it took me a minute to decide how to put everything into words. He continued to wait as I lit up another cigarette and leaned against the front bumper. After a couple puffs, I just started talking. I told him everything, about what I felt, and about who, or at least what, I saw. I told him about the conversation and about what I agreed to do.
“So you’re telling me you died and came back after agreeing to become the grim reaper.”
“A grim reaper,” I corrected him.
“Right, just one of many because a single reaper isn’t enough.”
“I told you it was crazy.”
“That must have been some good shit we smoked last night. Too bad I didn’t have near that much fun.”
“So yeah, what happened with you and the little hottie you took off with?”
“I don’t want to talk about it?”
“Now I’ve got to know.”
“So you’re saying you can kill someone just by touching them?”
“Way to change the subject.”
“You’re the one who decided to wake me at God’s hours after a night of partying because you wanted to talk about this shit, but if you don’t want to…”
“You’re right man, it’s just that… it felt so… real.”
“I know how we can find out.”
“And that is…?”
“Try to kill me.”
“What? No way.”
“You don’t really believe that happened, do you?”
“No, I mean it was just…”
“Then it won’t work and it’ll prove that you just partied a little too hard.”
“Right,” I said, but it still didn’t feel right. I knew there was no way it would work, but even thinking about Weed dying just seemed wrong.
“You woke me up and now you’re just going to stand there fondling yourself? Come on, man.”
I reached out and grabbed his arm but before I could even think about anything, I was flooded with images of him and the girl I left him with before heading out of the party. She led him to a back bedroom and they started going at it, making out like a couple of high schoolers; they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. I really didn’t want to watch but I didn’t know how to stop it. They kept at it and she started to undo his pants. He let her, and things kept progressing. Thankfully, I managed to pull my hand away from his arm and the visions stopped.
“See?” Weed said, “nothing happened.”
“Like Hell it didn’t.”
“I’m still here…”
“Something happened between you and that girl last night.”
“Let it go man.”
“I saw it.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I touched your arm, I saw it. I saw her lead you back to that room. And I saw your thoughts, I felt your lust for her. You two started going at it and…”
“I saw her start undoing your pants…”
“What! Did she tell you about that?”
“No, I saw it!”
“But you’d left before that happened.”
“No, I just saw it, like the whole thing playing out inside my head.”
“Who put you up to this?”
“You’re acting like it was a bad thing.”
“If you really saw what happened then you know it wasn’t a good thing.”
“Thankfully I let go of your arm before I saw everything that happened.”
“This is some kind of joke, right? You of all people…”
“A joke? Because you had a little too much fun with a cheerleader?” I mean, she looked a little young but…”
“So you really don’t know?”
“Know what? I told you, I saw you guys going hot and heavy so I let go and the image disappeared before I saw anything more disgusting happen.”
“Yeah, man. Congrats to you.”
“No. I’m telling you, things didn’t really end well.”
“I’m sorry. But if it’s any help, they say it happens to everyone.”
“What? No… nothing like that…”
“You said when you touched my arm you could see what happened.”
“So do it again.”
“That’s really not an image I want to see again.”
Weed grabbed my hand and pressed it onto his arm. The images came right back and I saw the cheerleader continue right where she’d left off, undoing his pants, sliding them down to his ankles. I started to pull away but Weed kept my hand pinned to his arm and the image continued. I saw her follow the pants down, but instead of anything sexual happening, I saw her quickly grab the baggies and wallet from Weed’s pockets before rushing out the bedroom. By the time he’d realized what happened, got his pants back up, and made it out of the bedroom, the cheerleader, along with everything she took, was gone. I could sense his anger rising. I could feel it. It was almost a rage.
“Wow. Sorry, man,” was all I could say as I let go of his arm. “You didn’t do anything after she took your shit?”
“Na. I was pissed for a bit but now that I’ve slept it off, I’ve got a halfway decent memory from it. I mean, that’s the most action I’ve had from a girl in a while” he replied, much calmer than I would have been, “I’m just glad I didn’t take all of my stash with me last night.”
“Every cloud does have a silver lining.”
“I still wish she hadn’t taken my wallet,” he continued, “it had my lucky condom in it.”
“Maybe she did you a favor; that thing’s got to be expired by now.”
“Yeah, but I saw my first boob right after finding that thing.”
“And you haven’t seen another one since. Just take this as a sign.”
“Maybe you’re right, but enough about what happened to me. You could really see everything that happened last night just by touching me?”
“I guess so.”
“So what does that mean about the rest of it?”
“I don’t know, but there’s no way I can kill people with a touch; can I?”
“You didn’t kill me by touching me.”
“But I wasn’t thinking about you dying either.”
“Well I appreciate that.”
“Seriously; do you think it could be true?”
“If I’ve learned that anything, it’s that everything is possible. But now to the important question…”
“What are we going to do about her?”
We both stared at my car, sitting there in her roughened state. It was almost enough to make a guy cry.
“I’ve got to get her fixed up, but I don’t even know where to start.
“Let me make a call,” Weed finally said, tearing his eyes away from Pamela.
“Just be quiet about it. I don’t need you waking mom up.”
“Of course,” he said, before slipping around the garage.
I continued to run my eyes over my car, almost willing her to share the memory of last night with me. With three flat tires, busted shocks, a shattered windshield and a missing headlight, there was no way I could have driven her all the way home, but there she sat. And regardless of the blood that had been on my clothes, there I stood without a scratch. None of it made a lick of sense.
“You owe me,” Weed said, coming up from behind and startling me from my thoughts.
“What do you mean?”
“A friend of my mom drives a tow truck and he’s on his way to pick her up and take her back to my place. It’ll definitely take a little time and a lot of elbow grease but I think we can get her back in shape.”
“That’s awesome,” I said, but then realized exactly what that meant. “The thing that really sucks is that school’s going to start tomorrow and I was looking forward to being done with that cranky bus driver.”
“How much is it worth to you?”
“Common man, you know I don’t have much cash and it’s going to take most of what I’ve got to get Pamela back to normal.”
“What if I told ya that you could drive yourself to school on day one for only about $200 and about a day’s worth of work?”
“There’s no way we’ll get her fixed up in that time or for that money. The tires alone are going to run at least that much.”
“That’s why you’re not going to show up in her.”
I stared at him for a minute.
“I don’t get it.”
“Follow me,” Weed said, and I did so, against my better judgment.