Hello! There’s been so much going on but I want to keep this kind of brief, so I won’t go into too much detail over each project in this post.
First off, the guitar I shared in my last post was RG13-0002. I love how it turned out with a split humbucker, but I didn’t get to enjoy it too long because I had a customer waiting for it before it was even done. Here’s the finished product:
I also finished a 3-string license plate guitar but I haven’t got it put up online yet:
Additionally, I’ve got 6 other guitars I’m currently working on, so that’s where most of my free time has gone lately, not that I have a lot of free time between work and school.
Speaking of work, I’m now 3 months into my new job, and I still love it. The company I work for, and the people I work with are great. And while I probably won’t stay in the same position once I complete my schooling, I’m very happy doing it now and I have plenty of opportunities with this company once I get my engineering degree.
As for writing, I’ve been doing some, but not nearly as much as I want to. When I do take the time to write, I have been continuing to work on the sequel to My Life As Death. It feels like it’s starting off a little darker this time, but I’m also so early into it that I can’t say that for sure.
I’ve also been spending a lot of time getting my packet ready to submit to an agent. I found the agent I plan on submitting to first so I’m working on making sure I have everything to meet her requirements. Thankfully what she is asking for is pretty standard for the industry, so a week or two after I submit to her I will start researching other agents and I can pretty much use the same submission package for them as well. I know a lot of people suggest submitting to multiple agents at once, but she is the one I really want to go with, so I figure I’ll give her a week or two headstart.
So that’s a quick recap of all the projects keeping me from updating this blog as often as I should. I plan on updating a little more often, but now that MLAD is done, I will probably start sharing more posts on my guitar making processes. Every guitar is a little different but the various processes are generally similar for each.
Now that My Life As Death is done and the last chapter has been posted, I had to decide what’s next. Last week I tried moving on to several other books that I’d been working on. A couple of them are really close to being finished, and I made a little progress on each, but none of them really took off. So eventually I gave in and listened to what my creative mind was telling me. That means, I started working on the sequel to MLAD.
Unfortunately, the fall semester starts tomorrow, and between working full time and going to school full time, I don’t think I’ll be getting as much writing done as I like, so I won’t be serializing this one on my blog. Sorry, to those of you looking forward to the next chapter in Nate’s adventure.
I’ve also been selling more guitars, and having to build new ones to replace them, so I have no idea how long it will take for me to finish the next book, but I will be posting updates on this blog, and on facebook.
For now, though, here’s a picture of my latest guitar build:
A few weeks later things had mostly returned to normal. Matt was no longer in the picture at all and Shawna was hanging out with Weed and me again, just like old times. Occasionally we would hang out as just the two of us without it being awkward and that, alone, was priceless. She even hopped on the back of the KZ a couple times for a ride home after school, but mostly I kept the time on the bike for me, especially when I needed to clear my head.
But I needed those rides a little less often as time went on. Finkenbine’s death, out of all of them, was the only one that still haunted me a bit. It might have been because his death hadn’t been noticed by anyone in town. It didn’t even warrant a mention in the local paper. I know that shouldn’t have bothered me because I’m sure it wouldn’t have mattered to him at all, but for some reason it just pissed me off.
But besides that, life was going as well as could be expected. Weed had somehow managed to smooth things over with Stephanie and Tiffany so the four of us tried another double date. That time it was Tiffany making an excuse to leave early when our impromptu makeout session ended up being more awkward than a priest in a whorehouse. I felt bad about the whole thing, but making out with a girl is really hard when you have to keep your hands from actually touching her skin. Give it a try sometime, and you’ll know what I mean, though I don’t suggest trying it with someone you’d ever like to make out with again.
Weed was a good sport about it, though, and even managed to somehow keep seeing Stephanie, but I’m not really sure how long that will last. Tiffany keeps trying to set Stephanie up with other guys, I think just to spite me. And from what Weed’s told me, Stephanie might even be a little too wild for him, which has me a little scared for whatever guy she might find next. All I know is I will never, ever, let my hands touch her. The images would probably scar me for life.
Even school was going pretty well. I’d been sleeping better at night which made it easier to stay awake in school. And while most of the students had started to forget about what I’d done in American History class, the teachers still remembered what I’d done for Ms Reader so they seemed to let small things slip a little more often. So like I said, things were going pretty good, but just when I was finally feeling like I’d put most of the Reaper stuff behind me, there was a knock at the door.
The man standing in the doorway was dressed in a suit but something about him seemed just a little off. I couldn’t quite place it until he held out a manilla envelope and his sleeve rode up his arm enough for me to catch a glimpse of the tattoo hidden underneath. From the little I saw of it, I’m pretty sure it covered his whole arm.
“I’m Steven Longfellow, the executor of Jim’s estate,” he said, but I just kept staring at him.
He shook the envelope, making it jingle a little.
“Jim Finkenbine named you in his will so I’m delivering this as part of his final wishes.”
That was when it first dawned on me that I’d never even heard Finkenbine’s first name before. Upon hearing it was from him, I eagerly grabbed the envelope but then just stared at it, not quite sure I was ready to open it.
“He really thought highly of you,” Mr. Longfellow said. “Just let me know if you ever need any help fulfilling his wishes.”
“Thanks,” I replied as I took the business card he handed me, but I still didn’t know what he meant by fulfilling Finkenbine’s wishes. I was just about to ask, when he held out his hand. My mind was racing with thoughts of Finkenbine, so I didn’t even give a second thought to reaching out and shaking his hand.
As soon as our hands touched, I realized what I’d done, and braced myself, but no images came. I looked up at Mr. Longfellow, and he looked down at our hands and smiled, then turned and walked away.
I stood there in shock for a minute as he climbed into the back of a black sedan at the curb. It was only after his car pulled away that I realized there was another car still in front of my house. Mortimer Hearseburg, meticulously polished and parade ready, was parked along the curb. It was seeing the car there, in front of me, that finally pushed me to open the envelope from Finkenbine. In it I found the keys to Mort, as well as a letter.
“Nate,” it started, “I wish I could have given you some better advice about how to handle your situation, but as you can probably tell, what worked for me might not work for everyone. All I really know is that I owe you a great debt for helping me go out the way I wanted to. That is why I have asked Steven to take care of you if you ever find yourself in need of some help or even if you just have some questions. He is in a unique position to offer insight and knowledge others can not. He is also someone you can reach out to without fear.”
I looked down at the business card Steven Longfellow had handed me, and it just listed his title as “Master Consultant”.
“I do have one last favor to ask of you,” Finkenbine’s letter continued. “Please keep up the tradition and break Mort out whenever a brother needs one last ride.”
He signed it with a scribble that I couldn’t make out, but it didn’t matter. I knew it was from him.
I put the letter and Mr. Longfellow’s business card back into the envelope but kept the keys in my hand, feeling their weight. It was a heavy request, but there was no way I could say no. I just wasn’t sure how I was going to tell my mom that we needed some more room to store another car.
I was still staring at the keys when I heard the distinct sound of a harley v-twin engine getting near. Even though I heard it coming, I wasn’t prepared to see Finkenbine’s trike pull up behind Mort, or to see Weed climb off it.
“No way!” We both said simultaneously.
Weed wasn’t wearing a helmet so I could see the grin on his face from the porch. I’m sure it matched the one on my face.
“So he left you Mort?”
“And he left you his trike?”
Weed pulled a folded letter from his back pocket and handed it to me. I handed him my envelope and we both took a second to read.
“Weed,” his letter started. “This is a little thanks for helping me finish my bike. And I figured you’re going to need one of your own to keep riding beside Nate.”
It was signed with the same chicken-scratch signature as mine.
“So what’s with this Longfellow guy?” Weed asked.
“I’m not quite sure,” I said, before grabbing his arm.
The image that came this time wasn’t a dream but it was slightly distorted and almost claustrophobic. It took me a second to realize that I was seeing things through Weed’s eyes, as he stared through a pair of binoculars into the window of his neighbor across the street. She turned towards the window wearing an almost see-through nightgown, smiled right at him and started to take it off.
“Dude,” I said, yanking my hand from his arm. “She’s got to be going on fifty.”
“Who? Ms. Schneller?” He asked with a smile. “She might be going on fifty, but there’s no way that body of hers is.”
“You realize Lust is one of the seven deadly sins, don’t you.”
“Yeah, but what a way to go.”
“Just please keep those thoughts to yourself.”
“You’re the one who grabbed my arm. You knew the chance you were taking.”
“I just had to find out if I would still see things.”
“Because of that Longfellow guy.”
Weed stared at me with more confusion on his face than normal.
“After he delivered the envelope, and just before he left, I ended up shaking his hand, but…”
“But I didn’t see anything.”
“So, like he’d never done anything wrong?”
“I don’t think that was it,” I said. “I think it was a test.”
“Like he was testing me, to find out if he saw anything when he touched me.”
“So you think he might be a…”
“I think so,” I replied.
“But you didn’t see anything from him, and you don’t think he saw anything from you? Like the whole Reaper vision thing doesn’t work on other Reapers?”
“Wow,” was all he said.
“So what now?” I asked.
He paused for a minute, with a serious look of concentration on his face.
“How about you find some place to store Mort and then grab the KZ so we can go for a ride, exactly as Finkenbine would want.”
It sounded like a great idea, so I slid into the driver side seat of the hearse and took a moment to appreciate the gravity of the gift before starting it up. It ran even smoother than I could have expected, but that shouldn’t have surprised me. I knew how much the car meant to Finkenbine, and how well he would have kept it up, so I silently vowed to do the same before I pulled the car around the house to swap it out with the KZ.
I was looking forward to the ride with Weed as a way of symbolizing the closing of that screwed up chapter of my life, but as soon as I pulled the car into the garage and put it into park, the glove compartment fell open. When I reached over to close it, I saw there was one small piece of paper in it. Unlike the letter from Finkenbine, this sheet was thick and textured, almost like a fancy wedding invitation. On it were four words, written in blood red calligraphic script: Welcome to the team.
That was all there was. No signature, no other writing on either side. The car might have been Finkenbine’s, but I knew the note wasn’t from him. I was also pretty sure I knew exactly who the note was from. The anger rushed through me at the thought of him, and I almost crumbled the note up and threw it away, but then I caught myself and realized I had a choice. I was no longer bound by any agreement so I could choose what I was going to do, and I decided that I was not going to give him the opportunity to ruin my day, or my life, any more.
That thought made me smile more than anything had in a long, long time. So with that smile on my face, I grabbed my helmet and keys and hopped on the bike. By the time I pulled around the house, Weed was already back on the trike impatiently waiting on me. Together we headed straight out of town to find the most winding open roads we could. Neither of us knew where we were heading, but we knew we were going to enjoy the ride.
The vision started the same as last time, with Shawna sitting terrified on her bed as the yelling took place right outside her bedroom door. This time I didn’t jump as the man yelled at her to clean up the mess, I just continued to watch her do as he said, all the while she was shaking and glancing over her shoulder. When she was done, she looked at her mom, then up at him and was just about to say something when he screamed at her to go to bed. She opened her mouth once again, but the back of his hand slammed into her face before she could get a single word out.
“I told you to go to bed, so do it, unless you want to end up like her.”
I felt her pain, both the physical pain on her face, and the aching inside her as she left her mom laying on the floor. She curled up on her bed, and laid there trembling until she was out of tears.
The vision faded out to nothing then came back in with Shawna sitting up on the bed again. I thought it was just starting over because of the yelling coming from outside her bedroom door again, but then I noticed that Shawna wasn’t clutching a teddy bear any more. This time she had a silver revolver in her hands.
There was a loud slap and a scream that made Shawna slide off her bed, and head to the door as she continued to fumble with the gun that looked completely oversized in her tiny hands.
I could feel the terror racing through her as she opened the door and saw that man continue to hit her mother, even as she cowered on the floor with both arms trying to shield her face.
“Leave her alone,” Shawna said through trembling teeth. Her voice was so weak and I was sure the guy hadn’t heard her, but then he suddenly stopped swinging his fist and turned to look at Shawna.
“What’d you say?” He asked, spittle flying in Shawna’s direction as took a step towards her.
“Leave her alone,” Shawna said again, this time her voice sounding just a little more steady as she raised the pistol and pointed it towards him.
Fear flashed across his face, but it was quickly replaced by an evil grin.
“I thought you’d learned your lesson, but apparently not.”
Shawna didn’t even have a chance to react before he knocked the gun out her hands with one hand, and smacked her face with the other. The force knocked her to the floor.
“Like mother, like daughter,” he said standing over her.
Her eyes struggled to focus as she looked up at him.
“Are you really that stupid?” He asked, picking up the silver revolver. “If you’re going to threaten me with my own gun, you at least need to know how to use it.
He used his thumb to pull back the hammer, then pointed the gun at Shawna. She froze, staring over the barrel at the eyes of a madman.
“You’re more trouble than you’re worth,” he continued. “I told your mom we should have gotten rid of you already. There are plenty of people willing to pay top dollar for someone as young as you.”
“Get away from her,” Shawna’s mother growled as she tried to push herself up to a sitting position on the floor.
The man turned away from Shawna and moved to her mother, setting the gun on the floor as he kneeled to grab her face with both her hands.
I felt something change in Shawna, like a switch flipping, as the fear left her and was replaced by both anger and a sense of determination. She moved quicker than I would have thought possible, racing over to grab the gun before taking a couple steps back, safely out of his reach.
“I said, leave her alone.”
Shawna’s voice was no longer trembling and neither were her hands as she pointed the pistol once more at the man in front of her.
“Or what?” He asked, shoving her mother back to the ground, then standing back up to full height. Shawna didn’t say a word as the man took a step toward her while raising his hand, she just pulled the trigger.
The sound was defining and almost made me pull away from Shawna, but I managed to keep myself from jumping so I could finish seeing everything as it actually happened. The man glanced down for a second with a look of shock on his face. Then the look turned to anger as the blood started to stain his white t-shirt. He took one more step towards Shawna, but a second shot from her dropped him to the floor. Shawna didn’t even look at the body as she moved around him to help her mother get to her feet before they walked out the front door together.
The vision faded to black but I wasn’t sure what other images might start to show themselves so I took the opportunity to do what I had to do. I pictured Shawna’s death, exactly as she deserved, then pulled my hands away before another vision could start.
She let go of me and raised her head with a smile.
“I’m really glad you came,” she said.
“Me too,” I replied, “but I think I should go now.”
“You really don’t have to.”
“Unfortunately, I do,” I said. “But we’ll be together again soon.”
“Maybe we can do something tonight?”
“Absolutely,” I replied with a smile. “I’m sure we can come up with something to do.”
“Good,” she said, before leaning over and kissing my cheek.
I really couldn’t bring myself to look at her as I climbed out the window, but I turned around when I reached my car and saw her staring out the window at me, so I gave another smile and a little wave, then slid into the driver’s seat.
“What have I just done?” I asked myself.
The conversation with Lucifer was replaying in my mind, and even though I knew he was toying with me at the time I wasn’t prepared for his words to have such an affect on me. He brought up Ms. Reader, knowing that I justified that assignment by the fact that she had planned her husband’s death. Had Shawna done the same thing for the man she shot? When the second part of the vision started, she was on her bed with the gun in her hand. Wouldn’t that be considered premeditated?
It really didn’t matter, though. I did what I knew I had to do, I just wasn’t sure what would happen to me because of it. I had a good idea, but I wasn’t sure I was quite ready to live with those consequences. Completing the final assignment should have been a relief but instead I was almost panicking. I needed something to calm myself and I knew right where to find it.
It took no time to get from Shawna’s to Weed’s, but I had to shake him a couple times before he opened his eyes even the slightest bit.
“Damn,” he said, “It’s either really late or really early.”
“Yeah, it’s kind of both, but I need a little smoke to help calm my nerves.”
He sat up, rubbing both eyes.
“So does this mean that you’ve made up your mind.”
“More than that,” I replied, “I’ve already taken care of it.”
“What?” He yelled, loud enough to wake the dead. “And you didn’t even let me say goodbye?”
“Hey, chill. You know I wouldn’t do that to you.”
“So she’s still alive?”
“And if I go over there now, I can still stay goodbye.”
“I wouldn’t suggest doing that.”
“But you just said….”
“Just pull out a little of the good stuff, and I’ll explain.”
Weed gave me a funny look, then climbed out of bed. His smiley face boxers didn’t cover nearly enough for my liking, but thankfully he threw on a robe before fumbling through the monster box to find a fresh baggie and his favorite pipe. All the while I just found a comfortable spot on the couch, lit up a cigarette and tried to gather my thoughts.
“Here you go,” he said, finally getting the bowl packed and lit.
I took the silver pipe from him with a smile and enjoyed one giant drag before trying to explain anything.
“This whole thing has been a game to Lucifer,” I explained. “He likes to play games.”
“And his choice of words has always been very deliberate,” I continued. “He says things in such a way that you believe he’s saying one thing, but in reality he’s saying something completely different.”
“So you didn’t have to choose how five people die?”
“That’s exactly what I had to do.”
“But isn’t that what he said?”
“So then you had to choose how Shawna, being your final assignment, dies this morning.”
“So why did you stop me from going over there right now?” He asked, with a panicked look on his face.
“We’ll get to that.”
He stared at me blankly.
“It was all in what Lucifer said, and exactly how he said it.”
Weed just kept staring.
“Lucifer said ‘You seal the fate of the five people I assign you. You’ll be the one choosing exactly how and when they cross over.’ Those were the words he used when I made the deal.”
“And?” Weed asked as he took another drag.
“Think about it. When I asked him about having a little more time he said ‘If their fate isn’t sealed within 5 days of the assignment being issued, then the deal is off.’ He made sure to word it just like that.”
His blank stare intensified.
“And then this morning I went for a drive so I could have one more conversation with him, just to be sure. And do you know what he said?”
Weed shook his head no as he exhaled a large cloud of smoke.
“He said that the only thing I should really care about is making sure I’ve determined Shawna’s death by 8:00 am.”
“So she’ll be gone by eight?” He asked, swinging his head back and forth trying to find a clock.
“No,” I said, grabbing his head between both my hands. “Aren’t you listening to me?”
He nodded yes but I could see from the look in his eyes that he just wasn’t getting it so I decided to spell it out for him.
“Shawna came over a few hours ago and told me what she’d done.”
“It’s really not my place to tell you.”
“So you’re just going to leave me hanging.”
“It’s up to her to tell you, when she’s ready.”
“So we watched The Princess Bride,” I continued, “and I fell asleep.”
“How could you fall asleep during one of the best movies ever?”
“It had been a very long day, and after Shawna came over and told me everything, I finally knew what I was going to do. So it was kind of like a big weight had been lifted off my chest and I could finally relax. Besides, I’ve only seen the movie like a million times. I was probably quoting it in my sleep.”
“That would be funny to see.”
“Anyways, I woke up a while later, and Shawna had left. I pretty much knew what I was going to do about the Shawna, but I had to be sure, so I drove back to the field where I wrecked Pamela so I could talk to Lucifer, then I went over to Shawna’s after our little conversation.”
“Are you just trying to drag this out as long as possible, or are you going to get to the point and tell me what you did?”
“Patience, my friend.”
He just glared at me and as I took another puff.
“Shawna was still awake so we talked a little, then she hugged me and I used that opportunity to see exactly what she was guilty of.”
“But she’d already told you what she’d done.”
“As she remembered it, not necessarily exactly as it happened.”
“And what, exactly, did happen?”
“Nice try, but no.”
“It’s really not important to the story, so anyway,” I continued, “when the vision ended, I did what I had to do.”
I took a long drag from the bowl while Weed looked like he was about to jump out of his skin.
“Come on man,” he finally said, grabbing the pipe from my hands.
“I made sure I had a good grip on her, then I pictured her really old, laying in bed surrounded by a room full of family. She closed her eyes, took one last breath, and died with a smile on her face.”
Weed’s jaw dropped, then his mouth began to move like a fish out of water as he struggled to ask a coherent question.
“Lucifer said I had five days to choose how each assignment was going to die; he didn’t say they had to be dead at the end of those five days.”
I could see my words finally sink in as the grin spread across his face.
“So, she’s not going to die.”
“Well, eventually, but not for a very, very long time.”
“And you lived up to your end of the deal, so I’m not going to lose you either?”
“Not today, at least.”
He jumped off his bed and started jamming out an air guitar solo,while flashing a bit too much of himself my way.
“You want to tighten the belt on your robe before you hang out completely?” I asked.
He grinned a little bigger, then flopped back down onto his bed. I took the opportunity to light up a cigarette as he went back to the bowl.
“So you beat Lucifer at his own game,” he said through a cloud of smoke. “How are you not dancing on the rooftop right now?”
“Because I really don’t think I did.”
“She’s alive, you’re alive, and you held up your end of the deal. It’s done! What the hell more do you want?”
“Think about it for a minute,” I said. “I’m sure Lucifer has been doing this for a very long time.”
“And I’m not exactly a Rhodes scholar.”
“Maybe not, but…”
“And Lucifer practically spoon fed me this solution.”
“Well, it’s not like he could lie, I mean a deal’s a deal, right?”
“Exactly. He could have worded our deal any way he wanted that night, and I would have agreed, so why make sure there was this loophole?”
Weed looked like he was about to have an aneurysm trying to think of an answer, so I kept going.
“There’s only one reason,” I said. “ Because this is what he wanted me to do.”
“But why? I mean, you not only didn’t have to kill the girl of your dreams, you got to ensure that she lives a long, long life. And you held up your end of the deal, so you’re done.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I made the deal with him, Lucifer told me that I’d remain a reaper until my last assignment has crossed over.”
“Wait,” he said with a look of shock in his eyes. “So you’re going to stay a reaper until Shawna dies.”
“I think so.”
“And all the stuff about touching people and seeing what they’ve done?”
“I think I’m stuck with that too.”
“There’s one way to find out,” he said as he held out his arm.
I thought about it for a second, a little scared of what I might see, but decided it was worth the risk to know if my theory was right.
I braced myself, then reached out and grabbed his wrist.
The vision came quickly, but I pulled my hand away as soon as I saw he was lusting after Angela Lansbury in a french maid uniform handcuffed to the headboard.
“What the hell man?” I yelled.
“What can I say,” he replied with a devilish grin, “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
“Please tell me that was a dream.”
“One of the best I’ve ever had,” he said with a grin.
I just shook my head, trying to clear the vision.
“You knew what I was going to see, didn’t you.”
“I fell asleep watching Murder She Wrote, and that always gives me some messed up dreams. Just be glad that’s all it was.”
He was right, I should be thankful he hadn’t fallen asleep watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That could’ve been really awkward.
“So you’re still a reaper?” He asked.
“I guess so.”
“But what does that mean? Like, can you still kill people if you want?”
“I really don’t know,” I replied. “I mean, I held up my end of the deal so I shouldn’t have to kill anyone else, which is a good thing, but I don’t think I’ll be getting handsy with any hot chicks any time soon.”
“That’s seriously harsh.”
He took a long drag, then stared at me with one eyebrow raised, just like spock.
“And you knew that when you decided to, you know, do what you did?”
“I was pretty sure about it.”
“And you still went through with it, for her?”
“It was the only thing I could do. I mean, I thought about pulling a Romeo and Juliet by not choosing how she’d go. I’d forfeit my second chance and some other Reaper would send her on. I figured we might end up together that way, but that was pretty much the most selfish thing I could have done. She doesn’t deserve to go this early, and you don’t deserve to lose two friends at once.”
I could have sworn I saw his eyes get a little wet just before he turned away to grab the baggie and pack the bowl again.
“Well, we’re all still here so I’m still going to consider it a victory for the good guys,” he said, raising the bowl before sparking it up again.
“Hear, hear,” I cried before grabbing the silver pipe from his hands and taking a giant toke.
After that we just passed it back and forth while we discussed how much easier life had been before we got interested in girls, though neither of us could remember much from that time.
At some point Weed tried to turn on an episode of Murder She Wrote, but I beat him with a pillow until he shut off the TV and put on a little Pink Floyd. I knew it had to be pretty close to daybreak by that point, and I’d thought about staying up to watch the dawning of a brand new day but we were both out before the sun began to rise.
The room was almost pitch black when I opened my eyes, with just the slightest light from the moon creeping through the open window. I hadn’t even made it to the fireswamp scene before falling asleep with Shawna in my arms. At that time everything had felt right, but she was no longer in my arms. I don’t know what time she left, but she had apparently turned the movie off when she did.
My alarm clock showed 2:38 AM but even after just a few hours sleep, I was wide awake, with thoughts of Shawna rushing back in to fill my mind. I could have tried to fight for another couple hours, or even minutes, of blissfully ignorant sleep but I knew it would do no good. Instead, I went down stairs and made my way to the front door. Unfortunately, this time, when I opened it, Shawna wasn’t waiting to talk to me.
I lit up a cigarette and flopped down onto the bench swing before taking a massive drag deep into my lungs. I knew cigarettes weren’t good for me. Hell, everyone knew that they would eventually kill you. But man, sometimes there really was nothing better. So after I finished that first one, I lit another, trying to decide if I could do what I had to, knowing I only had a few hours left to do it.
“Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.” …Or so the movie says. But what if it didn’t even have to be delayed? I asked myself.
If I refused to kill Shawna, then Lucifer would just assign another reaper. But that didn’t mean she would have to go alone, because it would also mean that I didn’t live up to my end of the deal with Lucifer, so I would forfeit my second chance at life. We could end up like Romeo and Juliet, the Leonardo DiCaprio / Claire Danes version and not the original one. I mean, the original version was fine, but the modern take was amazing and not just because I had a huge crush on Claire. The cars, the weapons and the acting were all incredible. But even though I had no chance at ever being with Claire, if I played my cards right, I could spend eternity with Shawna.
So not doing anything could be the answer I’d been looking for all along. It seemed so simple, yet perfect, that it made me start to question everything, because I had the feeling nothing involving Lucifer was ever simple.
At that point I knew I wouldn’t get back to sleep so after my third cigarette I decided to take Pamela out for a little ride, partially because Lucifer had never spoken to me while riding the KZ, and partially because trying to hold a conversation with him would be so much easier in the car.
I really wasn’t sure how anything with Lucifer worked, and I didn’t want to just drive around yelling his name out the window, so I did the only thing that made any sense to me; I drove to the place I first met him.
I felt my stomach start to tighten, and my hands grip the steering wheel a little harder as I neared the field where I had wrecked my car. I didn’t even realize it while I was doing it, but I had instinctively let my foot off the gas. By the time I reached the bridge that I’d bounced my rear bumper off of, I had already slowed to a crawl so I pulled over to the shoulder and put the car in park.
I hadn’t been back to that spot since the night of the accident, and probably for good reason. I felt my skin start to crawl as I looked around. I’d been down that road a hundred times before that night, and never felt anything strange, so I knew it wasn’t haunted by anything other than my memory, but that was enough. I could almost guarantee I wouldn’t be back any time soon.
“She doesn’t deserve to die, you know,” I said.
“And why do you say that?” Lucifer replied. “Because of what she told you?”
For some reason I didn’t even jump at the sound of his voice, or the sudden red glow from my radio; I was expecting it.
“She was just a kid.”
“And Ms. Reader was an old woman, but that didn’t stop you from doing what you were supposed to do.”
“Ms. Reader planned her husband’s death.”
“So premeditation is a requirement for murder?”
“No, not really. But at least I knew she meant to do it. That made it a little easier to convince myself to do what I had to do.”
“But Shawna didn’t plan whatever she did. She was just a kid protecting herself.”
“At least that’s what she told you.”
My face instantly got hot, and both hands clenched into fists, even though there was no one to punch. Lucifer was just a voice, toying with me.
“Are you saying she’s lying to me?”
“No, not at all,” he said, with a fake innocence in his voice that made me want to punch him even more. “I have no doubt she believes everything she’s told you, regardless of the truth.”
“So she’s lying to herself?”
“People remember things in such a way, as to make it easier on themselves to deal with it after the fact.”
“I don’t really care about how she remembers it.”
“And rightfully so. The only thing you really should care about is making sure you’ve determined her death by 8:00 am.”
“I made a deal,” I replied, “and I intend to keep it.”
I could hear a chuckle in his voice as it, and the red light faded
I’d heard exactly what I’d expected to hear from him and I got exactly what I expected to get out of our conversation. I knew he wouldn’t listen when I pleaded about her age or her innocence, but I left that stretch of road feeling a little better about what I was going to do. I probably could have wasted a little more time just driving around, enjoying a few moments before I forced myself to go see her but then I would have run the chance of Shawna’s mother being awake. And there really was no reason to postpone what I had to do, so I headed straight to her house while I still had the courage to do what I had to do.
Her house looked like it always had, maybe even better without Matt’s red corvette sitting out front, but somehow it felt different as I pulled up. Or maybe it was just that I felt different; almost like an intruder. I’d been there a thousand times, and several times had even been that early in the morning, but I’d never felt out of place before. It was almost enough to make me turn around and head home, but time was running out and I knew I had to stick to my plan.
“Shawna?” I whispered as I softly tapped on her window. It was open a couple inches but I didn’t want to startle her by opening it more and just climbing in.
To my surprise, she moved back the curtain right away.
“What are you doing here?” She asked with a smile.
“I just needed to see you again.”
“And you couldn’t wait until the sun was up?”
“Can I come in so we can discuss it?”
“How do you know I don’t already have someone in here?”
She managed to keep a straight face for just a second, before grinning and sliding the window up for me to climb through.
“I didn’t wake you up when I left, did I?” She asked.
“No, I guess I was just done sleeping.”
“Really? You fell asleep just a couple hours ago and, no offense, but you looked like you needed it.”
“I just mean that you’ve looked a bit tired and stressed lately. And you were sleeping so good, so I thought it would be best if I left so I didn’t wake you.”
“Why weren’t you sleeping?”
“Really?” She asked. “Why do you think?”
“I told you, it doesn’t matter what happened all those years ago…”
“Maybe not to you,” she replied, “but not everyone will feel the same way.”
“It shouldn’t matter to anyone who really matters.”
“Regardless of how anyone else might feel,” she continued, “it still brought up a lot of things that I haven’t had to think about and feelings I haven’t had to deal with, for quite a while. I just had a lot on my mind, and I decided to come back here so I could think and you could get a little sleep.”
“I appreciate that, but I don’t want you to ever think you have to leave. No matter what you’re thinking about or feeling, you know you’re always welcome at my place. And you can talk to me or even just sit there without saying a word. Okay?”
There was a smile on her face, even as a tear rolled down her cheek. Then she wrapped her arms around me and pulled me close as she buried her head into my chest. That’s when I reached up and caressed the nape of her neck, ready for the vision to come.
By the time I stopped for gas at the station on the edge of town, my thoughts had shifted from Weed back to Shawna. I saw enough of her memory to guess what might have happened, but that really didn’t matter. I didn’t need to know all the details of what she’d been through, or what she’d done, in order to make my decision because it really had nothing to do with any of that. None of my assignments had actually been about what they’d done. Sure, in some cases it might have made it a little easier to do what I had to do, but each one really only boiled down to me choosing their death or mine.
A couple miles from town I opened up the bike all the way, trying to use the roar of the engine to drown out my thoughts but it didn’t work. The rush of the corn fields and telephone poles flying by in a blur as the wind pressed hard against me should have been enough to chase away anything on my mind, but it didn’t work that time. My thoughts just went around in circles, again and again.
“I can’t kill her.”
“So tell Lucifer you’ll take another five assignments.”
“But what if they’re even harder?”
“Then take her place.”
“Even if I don’t kill her, another Reaper will, and who knows how awful they would make it?”
“Then you do it.”
“I can’t kill her.”
On and on it went, and by the time the sun started to disappear below the horizon I was no closer to a decision so panic was starting to set in. I only had until the sun started to rise again to make up my mind, but I still had no idea how to do that.
Food, I thought. I knew food wasn’t really the answer but I hadn’t eaten since lunch that day, and everyone knew you couldn’t make good decisions on an empty stomach, so I headed home to see what kind of leftovers might be in the fridge.
The driveway was empty so I parked the bike in front of the garage and made my way inside. I just wasn’t expecting to see the kitchen light on, so I stopped just inside the door. That’s when I heard her voice.
“I was wondering when you’d get home.”
Mom was in the laundry room, switching a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer.
“I left a plate for you in the fridge.”
“Thanks,” I replied, as I tried to remember if we were supposed to have dinner together, and if so, what kind of excuse I could come up with for missing it.
She came out into the kitchen with her arms around a basket of clothes and started folding them at the table.
“Theresa was looking for some extra hours, and I figured I had enough around here to keep me busy, so I gave her my shift. I hope I’m not interrupting any plans you might have made for tonight.”
She said it with a slight smile, almost like she was hoping I did have something planned. And my guess was that she wanted that something to include Shawna.
“I was just out for a ride.”
The smile disappeared and was replaced by her concerned motherly look.
“This late?” She asked. “I don’t know if I like you on that thing when it’s dark. Motorcycles are hard enough to see in daylight…”
“Mom, it’s fine. I didn’t necessarily plan on being out this late,” I replied. “I dropped Shawna off after school and just decided to keep riding. I guess I kind of lost track of time.”
Her smile started to return as soon as I mentioned Shawna, but then she quickly tried to hide it.
“I just worry about you.”
I grabbed the plate of meatloaf and Mac N Cheese out of the fridge and heated it up while mom finished folding the laundry. I figured having food in my mouth might stop the questions, but I was wrong.
“You look like you have a lot on your mind,” she said, as soon as I sat down.
“I just have a decision to make, and it’s not an easy one.”
“Something I can help you with?”
I wanted to laugh at the idea of mom helping me figure out how I was supposed to kill Shawna, but instead I just shook my head.
“It’s one I’m going to have to make on my own.”
“Is it about Shawna?”
My jaw dropped, and there was nothing I could do to hide it.
“I just put two and two together,” she continued. “I figured since you took her home and then rode around for hours, you probably had something on your mind, and she was probably that something.”
“Well, yeah, kind of…but…”
“Just don’t stress too much about it. I’m sure that whatever you decide, she’ll understand.”
“Thanks mom,” I replied, though in reality I wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the statement. But the more I thought about it the more I realised that she was probably right, mostly. Shawna was one of my best friends, and if the roles were reversed, I’d tell her to do what she had to do. I would give up my life for her, but unfortunately that was no longer an option. It was either her life, or both our lives. That was what made the decision so hard.
I finished the food on my plate and took it to the sink where mom was doing the dishes. I dried and put away the clean ones as she finished washing them. Neither of us said a word the whole time, not until we were done and she was about to leave for work.
“I know life can be rough sometimes,” she said on her way out the door, “but it sure does beat the alternative.”
Like I said, that was my mom; part parent, part friend and part philosopher. And what she said really did get me thinking, though I wasn’t so sure she was right. Things would definitely have been better if I hadn’t made my deal with Lucifer. Sure, I’d be dead, but no one else would have to suffer because of my mistake, especially Shawna.
It wasn’t the happiest thought, but it did help me decide what I needed to do next; consult someone who actually understood how I felt. Not that John Cusak actually knew how I felt, but Lane Myer, his character in Better Off Dead did, so I went upstairs to watch the movie. The dark humor always made me laugh, and I really needed to laugh, or at least to lose myself in someone else’s misery for a little while.
I really thought it might help me forget about everything for a couple hours but I’d seen the movie so many times that I zoned out almost as soon as it started, quickly losing myself to my own thoughts once again. And unfortunately I was so lost in those thoughts that I jumped at that sound of my bedroom window sliding open.
“Sorry,” Shawna said, pausing on the tree branch outside my bedroom window, “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
There was no way for me to play it cool, so I decided to just tease her a bit.
“Did you forget how to use the stairs?” I asked, with a grin.
“No,” she replied, as she climbed into my room, “I just figured it might be past your bedtime and I didn’t want to wake you by ringing the doorbell.”
“Yeah, that might have been a little too mean.”
“So really, why the window?”
She looked down at her feet, then at me.
“I wasn’t sure if your mom would be home, and as much as I love her, I just really wanted to talk to you.”
The sudden honesty, and lack of hostility, was nice but also took me off guard a little. I wasn’t exactly sure how to respond.
“You said you’d talk to me after you took care of something,”she said. “Have you taken care of it?”
“Because if not, I can go…”
“No…you’re fine. We can talk,” I said, pausing the movie.
I wasn’t sure why I said it, other than the fact that I didn’t want her to go, even though I had no idea what to say to her.
She moved closer but didn’t sit down so I scooted over, giving her a little more room on the bed and she took the hint.
“There’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about,” she said, staring at, but not really watching the tv.
“You really don’t have to,” I said. “I can tell it’s hard on you so maybe it would be best to wait until you’re ready.”
“I am ready,” she said, turning and looking directly into my eyes, “It’s just a little tough to talk about. But I really do want to, because I don’t want there to be any secrets between us.”
“Everybody has secrets.”
“Secrets you keep from Weed?”
“Well…uh…that’s not really the same thing.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, there are a few differences between you and Weed.”
“So you’re saying we will never be that close?”
“What? No, I’m just saying that our relationship will always be different than the one I have with Weed.”
She looked hurt as she turned away from me.
“… but that’s not a bad thing. Different can be good.”
I saw her look down, and when she looked up again she had a determined look on her face.
“I don’t remember it real well, because I was so young,” she said, “but I remember enough.”
“You really don’t have to do this.”
“Yes, yes I do.”
I wanted to reach out and hold her hand, to let her know it was okay, but I knew I would instantly see everything she was struggling to tell me, and I wanted to hear it from her instead.
“It was just before mom and I moved here,” she continued. “It was the reason why we moved here…”
We just sat in silence for another minute as she collected her thoughts.
“There was this guy mom was seeing. He did horrible things to her…and to me. One night it was really bad, and there was just this …this gun…it was just there.”
She reached over and put her hand on my leg. I almost grabbed it, but stopped myself. She didn’t seem to notice.
“I didn’t mean to do it, I just couldn’t take it any more. I wanted it to stop. It had to stop.. I don’t even know how I knew how to use it. I just grabbed it, pointed and it went off.”
She froze, her eyes just staring forward. Then she shook her head and looked at me.
“He just kind of fell down. I thought there’d be more blood, but there wasn’t really that much at all.”
I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her close. Her pink, fleece sweatshirt kept my hands from touching her skin, saving me from the visions she was surely reliving. We just sat on my bed like that for what seemed like eternity. I didn’t know what to say so I said nothing and just held her. At first she was shaking, even though the whole room felt hot to me. Eventually she stopped, and I just felt her breathing; slow and even. I was just about to look down to see if she had fallen asleep when she pulled back and looked up at me.
“I shouldn’t have shoved my problem on you. I’ll go if you want me to.”
“No, you should stay,” I replied.
“Maybe you didn’t really understand what I said…”
“No, I got it.”
She narrowed her eyes and stared directly into mine with a serious look of concern.
“Nate, I just told you that I killed a guy and you’re acting like it’s no big deal.”
“You also told me that you were a kid, being abused, and that you did it to defend yourself and your mother. Who wouldn’t have done the same thing?”
She just stared at me as a wave of relief washed over her face.
“My mom said it was crazy to want to tell you, and I almost listened to her.”
“I’m glad you didn’t.”
“Me too,” she replied, “but now it makes me wonder what’s wrong with you.”
“Would you have reacted differently if the roles had been reversed?”
“Yeah, like you would have ever shot someone.”
“Maybe,” I replied. “What if I told you that I’d killed several people?”
“On the Nintendo or Playstation?”
She started laughing hard before I could respond, and hearing her laugh made me laugh. So we just continued laughing together.
“Thanks for understanding,” she said as soon as we pulled ourselves together.
“Of course,” I replied. “That’s what friends are for.”
“And to answer your question,” she continued, “I like to think that I’d respond the same way, if the roles had been reversed.”
“Now, I want to watch The Princess Bride.”
“What?” I replied, a little louder and sounding more surprised than I’d meant to.
“You heard me.”
“But you never want to watch that movie.”
“I do now.”
She had a smile on her face and a pleading look in her eyes, that made me want to do anything for her. The fact that she wanted to watch one of my favorite movies with me, after years of complaining about that very movie, just made the decision even easier.
Convincing myself to stop the bike in front of her house was more difficult than I’d anticipated, but I knew it was the right decision. She would have some homework to do, or a test to study for, and I still had to figure out what I was going to do.
She slid effortlessly off the bike, then turned to face me as she pulled off the helmet. Even with her hair messed up from being crammed in there for the whole ride, she still looked beautiful, maybe even more-so because of it. I wanted to tell her that, but I had no idea what that one statement might lead to, so I left the bike running to keep myself from saying anything. Shawna, though, had other plans as she reached over and hit the bike’s kill switch.
“I thought maybe we could talk,” she said.
I was a little surprised by the fact that she knew how to shut the bike off, but I was even more surprised by the sudden desire to talk. Besides the fact that I was supposed to kill her in the next 24 hours, things were finally going well between us again and I didn’t want to screw that up by saying the wrong thing.
“It’s not that I don’t want to,…I,…uh,…really just have something I have to take care of…”
“Whatever it is, I’m sure Weed can handle it by himself, at least for a few more minutes.”
There was a pleading in her eyes that made me want to do anything and everything she asked, so I had to look down. A week ago the only thing I wanted was to talk to her and suddenly I couldn’t even look her in the eyes.
“It’s not Weed…”
“Please?” She asked as she grabbed my hand.
The image came instantly and I was not prepared for it. I saw Shawna sitting on a bed, but it wasn’t the Shawna of today, it was her as she’d been when she first moved in, 8 years old and almost terrified. But it wasn’t exactly as she’d looked when I met her. In this image she had a black eye and her lip was split.
Screaming and pounding sounded just outside her bedroom door as she clutched her pillow a little tighter in front of her. I wanted to rush to her but all I could do was watch her rise from the bed and move towards the door.
The screaming was interrupted by the sound of shattering glass and a loud thud, causing Shawna to rush to open the door. Through her eyes I could see a woman on the floor, surrounded by the remnants of a glass table. The blond hair was covering her face, but I could tell from the feelings rising within Shawna that it was her mother laying in a pool of blood in front of her.
“Clean up that mess,” the man standing over her mother barked at Shawna.
In the vision she jumped at the sound of his voice, and so did I, causing me to pull my hand away, breaking the connection with the Shawna standing in front of me.
“What?” She asked.
“Nothing,” I lied, while trying to shake the image of her as a kid from my mind. “I just really have to take care of this one issue, then we can talk about anything you want.”
I looked her in the eye as I said it, trying to let her know I really meant it because I did.
She looked back at me, but all I saw was a disappointment reflected in her eyes.
“It’s okay,” she said as she handed me back my helmet. “I guess it’s really not that important.”
And at that point all I could do was watch as she walked away. I wanted to call out to her, to say something to make it all alright, but I had no words.
I watched her go through her front door before starting the bike back up. I had to get out of there, but this time I knew exactly where I was headed, even if I didn’t know exactly why. Finkenbine wouldn’t be there. I knew that because I was the reason he couldn’t be there. But that didn’t really matter. I felt a little better just seeing the Salvage sign as I pulled into his gravel drive.
With the bike shut off and my helmet on the handle bars, I continued to sit there for a minute before heading towards the trailer, and more specifically to the gate beside it. The piles of salvaged parts were visible over the privacy fence but just seeing them wasn’t good enough. I needed to walk beside them as I talked to Finkenbine. Thankfully the gate was unlocked so I let myself in.
“I really could use your advice,” I said out loud as I wandered through the maze of metal. “I need to know what to do.”
My voice echoing off the oversized mounds of junk was the only reply.
“How’d you do it? How’d you kill someone so close to you? How did you convince yourself to kill your best friend?”
As I continued wandering through the salvage yard, I could hear Finkenbine in my mind asking how I’d managed to kill the first four people I was assigned. And he was right. At first you just delude yourself into thinking that you’re not actually responsible for their death. Next you convince yourself that they brought it on themselves. Then you rationalize that if it wasn’t you, it would just be another reaper. With each death you just have to push yourself a little farther, stretch the boundaries of what you were willing to do just a little more. It was kind of like the story of how to boil a frog. If you try to throw it in boiling water the frog would jump out, but if you put it in a pot with warm water and then slowly raise the temperature, it will stay, eventually being boiled alive. That was exactly how I felt.
But even though completing the last assignment wouldn’t be my death, I knew it wouldn’t be the end either. Finkenbine had basically told me that much. He lived up to his end of the deal when he killed Buck, but that didn’t stop Lucifer from coming back to him time and time again. Sure, I’d know better next time, but that wouldn’t mean it would be easy to say no, that time or the time after that, or the time after that. And maybe that was why Finkenbine decided he was ready. Death really was the only way to end it once and for all.
That thought was still bouncing around my head when I suddenly looked up to find myself at the farthest corner of the junkyard. I had to do a double take to figure out exactly where I was, though, because the giant boat Finkenbine had finally finished wasn’t there. I would have thought I was just in the wrong spot, except for the empty forty foot long patch of dirt where the boat stand had been.
“No,” I said to no one in particular. “There’s no way it’s just gone.”
But it was. And as I turned around in circles, making sure it really was gone, the shock of the missing boat quickly turned to panic because if the boat was gone then anything could be…
I ran through the aisles of junk faster than I would have thought possible, making it to the garage beside the trailer in no time. The door was open a crack so I rushed inside, only to stop dead in my tracks. It was completely empty, with both his trike and his hearse gone.
The panic turned to anger and frustration, though that barely began to describe what I was feeling. I wanted to kick something, but there was nothing to kick. I wanted to scream, but there was no one to scream at. The next best thing was someone to vent to, someone who would understand exactly what I was feeling and would feel the same way.
I spun the tires, kicking up a stream of gravel as I left Finkenbine’s place. I should have been more cautious but instead I hit triple digits a couple times while taking some of the turns a little too fast, but I made it to Weed’s place in record time.
“What do you mean?” He asked when I told him exactly what I found, or more specifically what I’d found missing.
“They’re gone. All of them. The boat, bike, and car.
“And you’re sure they weren’t just moved?”
“The garage was empty so obviously they were moved.”
“But they might still be at his place, just hidden.”
“Maybe, but I didn’t see them anywhere in the junkyard.”
“But they might still be there,” he said firmly.
“I really doubt it. I mean, why the hell would someone just move a forty foot boat?”
“Okay, that’s a good point.”
“It just doesn’t make sense.”
“I’ll have to go check it out,” Weed said. “Maybe tomorrow or the next day.”
“And I’ll go with you.”
Weed just stared at me for a second.
“So you’re going to be here?” He asked.
It took me a second to catch what he was trying not to say.
“Oh, right. I guess you might be on your own.”
“Might be? So you haven’t decided what you’re going to do yet?”
That simple question made my world come crashing down again. I’d gone to Finkenbine’s to get a new perspective and all it did was cloud my head even more, so the only response I could offer Weed was a shrug of my shoulders.
“You’ve still got a little time, right?”
“Good,” he replied with a grin, “So we still have tonight to forget about everything…”
“As much as I would love to fry a few more brain cells with you, I really need to figure out what I’m going to do, and your smoke won’t help with that at all.”
When he saw that I meant it, he turned serious.
“You got all the information you need?”
“If that’s your way of asking if I know what she did, I kind of think I know, but I’m not completely sure.”
“How is that possible? You said you could see everything with one touch.”
“I can, but something happened and I pulled my hand away before I saw the whole thing.”
“So go back and find out.”
“You didn’t see her when I told her I had to go. She was wanting to really talk, I think about us. And I can’t have that talk with her, not now.”
“So avoid the talk, but touch her long enough to find out what she did. That’s the only way you can really make your decision.”
“And what am I supposed to say? Hey Shawna, can I hold your hand long enough to see whatever bad thing you’ve done so I can decide whether or not to kill you?”
“Well you can’t say it exactly like that, but yeah.”
He said it so convincingly that I almost believed him, then the grin started spreading across his face.
“No, seriously, what should I do?”
“I don’t know what to tell you. I told you, the very first day she moved in, that she was gross and we should stay away from her, but you wouldn’t listen to me.”
“We were 8, and you thought all girls had cooties.”
“But if you’d listened to me back then, you wouldn’t be in this situation now.”
“Maybe, but by that logic, we would have had to avoid all girls, forever.”
“Never mind what I said then.”
“I never do.”
We both lit a cigarette and sat there for a minute.
“So where does that leave us?” Weed asked.
“Exactly where we started, with me having to decide what the hell I’m going to do, and you having to deal with the shitty results, no matter what I choose.”
“You know I’ll understand, right?”
“Just come see me and let me know what you’re going to do so I can at least say bye to whichever one of you I need to, okay?”
“Of course,” I replied, “but right now I think I need to keep riding to try to clear my head.”
“That’s one of the best ways.”
I caught Weed staring through the garage door as I pulled out of his driveway and I felt like dirt. I probably deserved every bit of pain I was feeling at that moment, but he didn’t deserve any of it. Yet somehow he still didn’t blame me. No one could have asked for a better friend. I just hoped that my decision, whatever it might be, wouldn’t change that.
“Where were you after school?” I yelled, causing Weed to hit his head on the hood of the Weed Wagon.
He was rubbing his head as he came around the mail truck with a less-than-happy look on his face.
“I was smoothing things over with Stephanie and Tiffany, so you’re welcome.”
“I thought Stephanie was fine with my excuse about having to pick up my mom.”
“She was, until she saw Shawna in the car with you this morning.”
“Yean, so again, you’re welcome.”
“This morning is kind of what I needed to talk to you about,” I said, seizing the opportunity to change the subject.
“If you say you’re going to try things with her again…”
“No, no, it’s nothing like that.”
“Good,” he said, pulling out a cigarette.
I followed his lead and lit one up myself.
“So are we just going to sit here sucking on these things or are you going to tell me what’s so important that you came in here yelling at me for helping you out?”
It took me a second to find the right words.
“Lucifer gave me my last assignment right before Shawna got in the car.”
“No, no it’s not.”
“Sure it is,” he replied. “Get this last one overwith and we can get back to life as it should be.
I just continued to stare at him.
“So, are you going to tell me who it is?”
As I opened my mouth, I suddenly didn’t know what to say. I’d never kept anything from Weed. He knew everything I’d done and we were still friends, but Shawna was a friend too, and it almost felt like betraying her to even say her name to him.
“Come on man,” he continued, “you know you’re going to end up telling me eventually; whether it’s before or after you finish your assignment.”
He was right, I did know it, but that didn’t make the words any easier to say. He lit up another cigarette, and so did I. Then I took one long drag before deciding to just tell him the truth.
“I got to school a little early today.”
“I kind of figured that out, seeing how Shawna was already in your car by the time I got there.”
“Are you going to let me tell you about this or not?”
“Sure, sure, go on.”
“So I got there a little early and was jamming out to some old school Metallica when Lucifer decided to interrupt the music.”
“The black album?”
“What? No. I said old school Metallica. I was listening to Kill ‘Em All.”
“A little ironic, but still a good choice. Did you know it was originally supposed to be titled ‘Metal Up Your Ass’.”
“Yeah, though I like the name Kill ‘Em All better. But that really has nothing to do with my story.”
“So anyway, Lucifer teased me a little about permanently becoming a reaper, which I declined.
“A wise choice.”
“Then he says “and here’s your last assignment”, just as Shawna walks up.”
Weed just sat there, with a shocked look on his face, then slowly started to grin.
“You almost had me,” he said.
“You almost got me. For a minute there I actually believed you.”
“Did you hear what I said?”
“Yeah, and it almost worked, too. But there is no way Shawna’s murdered, raped or molested anyone.”
“I’m telling you, she’s my next assignment.”
“Sure she is. So what’s she done?”
“I don’t know.”
“So you were alone in a car with her, before and after school, and you didn’t even touch her to find out what she’s done to deserve to be your next assignment?”
“I’m not sure I want to know.”
“Dude, you’re going to have to come up with a better story next time you want to prank me.”
“But nothing,” he said, “I’m not falling for it.”
It took me the rest of the night, as we worked on the weed wagon, to convince him that Shawna really was my last assignment.
“So what are you going to do?” He asked, finally accepting that I wasn’t trying to pull one over on him.
We were trying to relax in his room listening to a little Pink Floyd, but my mind refused to become comfortably numb.
“I don’t know,” I replied, taking a hit off his silver bowl. “There’s no way I can kill her, but if I don’t, then my time is up and Lucifer will just send another Reaper.”
“Either way,” Weed said, “I end up at least one friend short.”
I just froze. I’d been so caught up in my own dilemma that I hadn’t thought about it from his perspective. Suddenly I felt awful.
“I’m sorry, man, I really shouldn’t have drug you into any of this.”
“Are you kidding? I’d be pissed if you hadn’t.”
“But this is some heavy shit, and I just don’t know what to do.”
“You’ve got five days, right?”
“So we’ve got a little time to think and we’ll come up with something.”
“I’m not so sure.”
“Have I ever given you a reason to doubt me?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?”
“No, probably not. Just take another hit.”
I did. Then he did, both of us smoking a little more than we probably should have, but we slept like babies.
The next day Shawna seemed to be avoiding me, which normally would have bothered me, but right then it was probably the best thing that could have happened. I had no idea what to do, and I really doubt I could have faced her without losing it and telling her everything.
Wednesday and Thursday were pretty much the same. I went to school, but I couldn’t tell you a single thing even one of my teachers had said. Every minute of every day my thoughts were preoccupied with my deal with Lucifer and what I was going to do about Shawna. Weed tried to help take my mind off it by coming up with all sorts of small random projects for me to do around the garage while he worked on the Weed Wagon, but I probably messed things up more than I helped. I decided to change things up on Friday by taking the KZ to school. I figured it might clear my head a little, and the ride to school really did help a bit, but in the end it just invited trouble.
“Are you going to finally give me a ride?” Shawna asked.
I jumped at the sound of her voice behind me. Her last class was at the other end of the school, and I’d rushed out to the parking lot as soon as the final bell rang, so I have no idea how she made it out there so fast.
“I…uh…,” I stammered as I turned around to face her.
“You gave me a hard time last time because I had Weed take me home, but I’m actually dressed for the occasion today.”
She wasn’t wrong. The tight jeans she was wearing looked great, and were better suited for a ride. Those pants and the slightly low cut blouse made it hard to come up with any good excuse to turn her down.
“Uh, sure. Why not?” I replied, while trying to force a smile to match hers.
Her smile widened as I handed her the helmet.
The bike had one long seat with more than enough room for the two of us to fit comfortably even with a little space between us, but she slid right up against me as I started the bike.
“We can take the long way back to my place if you want,” she yelled above the engine.
With her legs straddling mine and her arms wrapped around my chest, I definitely wanted to take the longest way possible so I pulled from the parking lot and headed straight for the city limits. I didn’t have any specific path in mind, as we just kept taking random roads further away from the school, our homes, and anything that reminded me of reality. I was just enjoying the freedom that only the open ride could provide and the chance to share it with Shawna.
I had plenty of gas, so I wasn’t even thinking about turning around until I started to recognize some of the landscape and realized exactly where we were headed. There were several other roads I could have taken but I decided to continue towards the salvage yard anyway. I got a little choked up as we passed the giant tire and gravel drive. In my mind I could see Finkenbine’s enormous silhouette moving through the garage beside the trailer.
I don’t know if Shawna actually sensed something or not, but at that moment she seemed to hold me just a little tighter.
If I could’ve had just one wish, it would have been for that ride to last forever, but I knew that wasn’t possible, and continuing to ride with her holding on to me was only making the reality of my situation even more painful. No matter how much I wanted it, I knew that I couldn’t outrun my responsibility on that bike. The only real option I had was to face it, so once we reached the quarry I turned the bike around and we headed back towards her place.
The next morning I may have been a little too excited to drive Pamela to school for the first time, because I was one of the first students to pull into the parking lot. I didn’t mind though, I just enjoyed having things almost back to normal, even if I missed the KZ a little. But it wasn’t like I had to choose between one or the other. After school I’d just have to walk to Weed’s to get the bike, then I could alternate between them.
I was still thinking about the bike when I heard a familiar voice, and for a moment I couldn’t decide if I was happy about it or not.
“Are you ready for your last assignment?” Lucifer asked.
The new radio was glowing red, just like the old one did when he spoke through it.
“That’s a tough question,” I replied. “On one hand, It’ll be nice not wondering who I have to kill next, but on the other hand I’ll miss your late night visits and sparkling conversation.”
“Well, if you’d like to extend your tenure as a reaper…”
“That was sarcasm.”
“And so was mine,” he replied, “though if you’re interested in the opportunity….”
“I really appreciate the offer to remain your servant, but I think I’ll pass”
“Not really a servant, more like an employee.”
“Thanks, but I think I need to find a new line of work.”
“You say that now, but a month or two after completing your last job, you might change your mind. You have to admit that there’s a certain thrill when you’re helping rid the world of evil people.”
“Evil?” I laughed. “Like the little old special ed teacher?”
“And you don’t consider a premeditated murder evil?”
“I’m not going to debate morality with you. I’m just looking forward to being done with you.”
“That hurts a little, but speaking of completing your end of the deal, here comes your last assignment.”
I looked around frantically, trying to see the teacher or bus driver I was going to have to kill next. I was so focused on who I wanted the assignment to be that I almost didn’t see Shawna headed right for me.
“No,” I said. “There’s no way.”
“You know the deal,” he replied. “One touch and you’ll see.”
The red light was still fading away as Shawna reached the driver side door.
“Ooh, you got her done!”
Her excitement was just the reaction I’d hoped for, but my mind was still reeling from the shock of what Lucifer had just said.
“I…uh…yeah,” I replied, “and you know, weed helped a little.”
She laughed, her beautiful laugh, and grinned her beautiful grin. For a moment everything seemed right with the world.
“So maybe you could give me a ride home tonight?”
“You sure you don’t want a ride from Weed, or anyone else who isn’t me?”
I don’t know why I said it, but the words were out of my mouth before I even thought about what I was saying.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t really mean that.”
“No, you’re right. I haven’t made things easy between us lately. But I want that to change.”
There was a look in her eyes that made my heart skip a beat and I didn’t know how to respond. Thankfully I didn’t have to because Weed pulled in right beside us.
“Hey guys!” he yelled before he’d even shut off his engine.
“Hey there,” Shawna called out as he climbed out of the Chevette. “Nate was just telling me all the things he taught you about cars while you two finished Pamela.”
It worked. Shawna got her reaction as Weed opened his mouth to start arguing before the grin flashed across her face.
“Okay,” he said, with a slight look of shame. “You had me, you really did.”
Shawna and I were both laughing too hard for Weed to even pretend to be mad. He just lit up a cigarette and laughed along with us. For a minute it was great having everything feel like normal again, laughing with my two favorite people in the world, except for the fact that I was supposed to kill one of them.
The rest of the day didn’t go as well as the morning. I tried all day long to talk to Weed about what happened in my car that morning, but I never seemed to have a chance. I also didn’t know how I was going to bring it up to him, I just knew that I needed to talk to someone about it, and preferably before I had to be alone in the car with Shawna. Things never seem to work out the way we want, though.
“Are you ready to go?” Shawna asked as she walked around to the passenger side door.
“I was really hoping to talk to Weed for a minute before we head out,” I replied.
“You can always drop me off, then head to his place. It’s not like he has any other place to go or friend’s to hang out with.”
I almost choked while trying to stifle a laugh.
“I’m sure he’d love to hear that.”
“Then make sure you tell him I said it, but after you drop me off.”
I glanced around one more time for Weed, then slid into the car and started her up.
“She turned out better than I thought she would,” Shawna said, slipping into the passenger seat.
“Thanks,” was all I could think to say back.
“Are you still calling her Pamela now that you’ve driven her or did you change your mind about which supermodel to name her after?”
“Oh, she’s definitely a Pamela,” I replied.
“Somehow I knew that.”
Then the awkwardness won out, and we finished the trip in silence, up until the moment I pulled to a stop in front of her house.
“Aren’t you going to ask about Matt?”
“Why? Do you want to talk about him?”
“Maybe just a little.”
“So you guys broke up?”
“You can say that. We had a big fight about how he treated me.
“I didn’t mean it like that, I just meant that it’s good you’re sticking up for yourself.”
“Would you expect anything else from me?”
“I don’t know. I wouldn’t have doubted the old Shawna, but it kind of feels like things have changed a bit after this summer, like I don’t really know who you are right now.”
“I’m the same girl I’ve always been, just maybe ready to try some new things…like dating.”
“And how’d that turn out for you?” I asked, finally turning to look at her. That’s when I really heard her words.
“Ouch,” she said.
“I, uh really didn’t mean it like it sounded.”
“No, you’re right. He was charming, and great looking and…”
“And I really don’t need to hear that.”
“But that’s only because I really didn’t know him. He asked me out, and I was flattered so I said yes. We had fun this summer and I thought I got to know him, but it was only recently that I got to know the real him.”
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry it turned out like it did.”
“Thanks, but I’m kind of glad it did. It let me know what I don’t want, and a little of what I do.”
There was that look in her eyes again, the kind of look that made me wish I could kiss her, but there was no way I could let that happen, no matter how much I wanted it.
“Well, I should probably get to Weed’s,” I said, after a few moments of silence.
For a second she just stared at me like I had a second head growing out of my neck.
“Yeah,” she replied, “and I should probably get to this homework.”
We both sat there for another moment, then she opened the car door. I wanted to stop her, to tell her exactly what was going on. But even though it might make me feel a little better, I had no idea what it would do to her. And I had no right making my problem, hers. So I just watched as she made her way to the front door. She turned to look at me one more time and all I could do was wave, then drive off with all the words I wanted to say stuck in my throat.
Weed didn’t say anything the rest of the ride home, and neither did I. We just listened to Def Leppard sing about heartbreak, which was a little too fitting. Maybe I freaked him out a little, I wasn’t sure. I just knew that I’d freaked myself out a lot. I wanted it to all be over because not knowing the identity of my next assignment was Hell, but I’m sure that was part of Lucifer’s game.
“Okay,” Weed said as we pulled into his driveway, “let’s think this through.”
“That really doesn’t sound like you.”
“I’m serious,” he replied, “it’s not like you really have many friends, so…”
“I really don’t want to do this.”
“I don;t want to think about this anymore. It’s all I ever think about…who’s next and what could they have possibly done. I was hoping tonight would help me get away from those thoughts, and it did for a while, but then it made it worse.”
“I’m sorry,” Weed said. I think that was the first time he had ever apologized. Even when he convinced me to sled down Black Bear Hill because he was sure I could stop before hitting the Miller’s electric fence, and he was wrong, all he did was laugh. I wasn’t sure I liked this new repentant Weed.
“It wasn’t your fault,” I said. “You had no way of knowing what would happen. I didn’t even know it would happen.
“Still, I shouldn’t have pressured you to go out.”
“Maybe you’re right about that, but I know how you can make it up to me.
“Let’s take the Monster Box upstairs and see if we can help me forget everything.”
“It’s a deal.”
Twenty minutes later we were comfortably numb up in Weed’s room watching Bio-Dome. It really was a terrible movie but we couldn’t stop from laughing through the whole thing. When it ended, we put in Airheads and continued laughing until I fell asleep with a perfect sense of peace. I don’t have a clue what time that was, but I know exactly what time I woke the next morning; 7:30 AM. I know this, because all six radio alarm clocks positioned around my head were flashing that exact time as “Don’t Fear the Reaper” blasted from their speakers.
I jumped up, immediately slamming my head into the pots and pans Weed had tied from the ceiling directly above me.
“Seriously?” I asked, as I fell back onto the couch.
Weed was laughing his ass off from across the room.
“Now why’d you think it was me?”
He was trying hard to look innocent, but it wasn’t working.
“And that last song goes out to Nate, from his best friend Weed…” the Dj announced way too loudly from the radios. It really was a nice touch.
“7:30 on a Sunday morning?” I asked, as he tried to stop laughing. “I thought that would go against everything you stood for.”
“After everything you’ve done to me? I owed you, big time. And sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the greater good.”
“Pranking me is part of the greater good?”
“Well yeah, a little bit, but that’s not what I’m talking about.”
I just stared at him.
“I figured if we got up at a decent time, today will be the day we finish Pamela,” he explained.
It suddenly made sense. The only thing that could get him out of bed that early on a Sunday was a car…or a hot cheerleader. But since I made us bail on the girls I had a feeling it would be a little while before he had a chance with a cheerleader again.
“You want me to make you some of my special juice?”
“No…I don’t think I’ll ever want that again. I just need a little regular kick in the pants. You got any Jolt?”
“Of course,” he replied, pulling one from the case under his bed.
I definitely preferred it cold, but beggars can’t be choosers, so I chugged the can as we made our way down the stairs and out to the garage to finish my car.
We took our time, just enjoying ourselves, but by four that afternoon we had changed spark plugs, plug wires, air filter, serpentine belt, thermostat, and distributor cap. We jetted the carburetor, adjusted the timing and even changed the oil; basically we’d done a complete tune-up.
“You ready for this?” Weed asked as I slid into the driver’s seat.
“Oh yeah,” I replied, but then I hesitated. Working on Pamela had been a perfect distraction from all the other shit I had going on with Lucifer, and with Shawna. Without the car to work on, I wasn’t sure exactly how I’d cope.
“Well come on,” Weed said. “We need to get her out of her so we can start on the Weed Wagon.”
And there were the words I needed to hear. After Pamela we would work on the Weed Wagon. Then the KZ would need more power. Then Weed would need a bike, or another car, or an airplane. I really didn’t know what he would come up with after that, all I really knew was that as long as Weed was around, I’d have everything I needed to get by.
“So are you going to sit there playing with yourself or start her up?”
I barely turned the key and Pamela fired right up, purring like a kitten while I just sat there grinning; grinning at Weed doing his happy dance, grinning at the car running better than she ever had, grinning because one project was completed and my deal was just about to be done. From where I was sitting, life actually looked pretty good. I loved riding the KZ, but I could picture Shawna riding next to me in the car. I could see us at the drive-in, or taking a picnic lunch to the park, or even just laying out on the hood while we stared up at the stars
I shook my head, to clear Shawna from my thoughts, then hollered for Weed.
“Are you going to get your ass in here or am I going to take the test drive without you?”
He stopped mid-splits, with a look of panic and pain on his face. For a minute I thought I was going to have to help him get back up but he managed to fall backwards before jumping up to his feet again and rushing to the passenger side door. Two minutes later we were within sight of the city limit sign. I looked down the road as far as I could see, then checked the rearview mirror; there wasn’t another car anywhere to be seen. I looked over at Weed, then floored it, throwing both of us back against the seets.
The speedometer just kept rising for almost half a mile, and so did the smiles on our faces. Pamela had more acceleration and top end speed than ever, but at the same time, the new tires and suspension made her ride and handle like a brand new car. I kept the gas pedal pinned to the floor until I saw the glint of sun reflecting off another car coming the opposite way. Sheriffs and State Highway patrol liked to cruise the backroads near us occasionally, and I wasn’t ready to lose my license, especially not right after I got my car back, so I let her drop back down to the posted speed limit.
“See,” Weed said, “Better than new, just like I told you.”
“You’re right,” I replied, without turning to look at him. “Thanks for that, and you know, for everything.”
“You don’t need to thank me. That’s just what friends do.”
After that, we just sat in silence, cruising the backroads until the sun started to set. I could have just kept driving all night but I didn’t want to give mom any reason to worry, so I headed back much sooner than I would have liked.
“It’s really nice having things back to normal,” Weed said as we pulled into his driveway.
“Almost,” I replied.
“You’re in the home stretch, though.”
“That’s if I can bring myself to do the last one.”
“We know it’s not me, and there’s no way Shawna has done anything remotely bad in her whole life, so it can’t be anyone really important, now, can it?”
I almost laughed at that.
“I mean sure, it would suck to have to off some hottie you just hooked up with, but I’m sure there will be others.”
That time I had to laugh, but then I remembered the box in the garage. I didn’t want to bring down our good time, but having told Weed everything else I figured I couldn’t stop now.
“There is another possibility,” I said.
“You couldn’t get lucky enough for it to be vice-principal Miller.”
“What I wouldn’t give for it to be him.”
“So if not him, then who?”
So that’s when I told him about the box and the restraining order. I felt a little bad, sharing mom’s secret, but I needed Weed to understand my thought process.
“Okay, he said, “so your dad apparently had some issues but you’ve never known the guy right? So it would almost be your easiest one. To you he’d just be another bad guy.”
“So do you think you could off your dad?”
Weed was in the same boat as me. He’d never known his dad either. We had talked about it a couple of times as kids, joked about which celebrity might be our father, but it had been years since either of us had even mentioned the men who didn’t want anything to do with us. I almost felt bad for asking him. But he didn’t hesitate to answer.
“In a heartbeat,” he said without blinking.
“Yeah. He never did anything for me, so I’d see it as his way of making amends, even if he didn’t have a choice.”
“I’m still not so sure I would be able to, but that’s not what I’m most worried about.”
“Maybe I’m just a little jaded from seeing what these other people have done, but, I mean, even Ms. Reader offed her husband…”
“You mean…your mom?
“I’m just saying that if my dad did something horrible enough for my mom to get a restraining order, if he was that bad of a person, and she feared for her life, what would she have done if the restraining order didn’t work?”
“No….” he said. “There’s no way.”
“Finkenbine said Lucifer likes to play these games and make the last one the hardest. And you said it yourself, I’m really not close to very many people. Even Finkenbine suggested it might be a possibility”
“But your mom? I mean, Finkenbine never even met her, so he’d have no way of knowing…and there’s no way Lucifer would do that to you…I mean, he wouldn’t…would he?
“I really don’t know.”
He just stood there for a second until the shocked look was replaced with a matter-of-fact look.
“There’s one way to find out,” he said.
“Wait for him to tell me who it is?”
“Okay, I guess that’s one way, but I was going to say you could just ask your mom what happened to your dad.”
“I don’t know…”
“Or like you said, you could just wait around, wondering but not actually knowing.”
He was right, but I wasn’t sure I could actually ask my mom about my dad.
“Speaking of my mom,” I said, “I really should head home.”
“Is that your way of kicking me out of your car after all the work I put into helping you fix her?”
“You’re such an ass.”
“But you love me anyways.”
“I just can’t say no to your pretty face.”
“Okay now you’re just getting creepy,” I said, shoving him out the half open door.
“See you in the AM,” he replied with a laugh and a wave.
The short drive home didn’t give me a chance to clear my head, or make a decision about talking to mom. I figured I was going to play it by ear once I got inside, I just wasn’t expecting her to step out the back door as soon as I pulled into the driveway. My first thought was “what did I do wrong now?”
“You got her done?” She said with a smile, before I’d even shut off the ignition.
“Yeah, and she’s running better than ever.”
“Well I’m glad to hear it, but you can’t park there.”
I just stared for a second, not quite sure how to respond.
“I guess I could park out front.”
“Or you could just pull in there,” she said, raising the second garage door.
The grin on my face was only matched by the grin on hers.
“You did such a great job on the garage, that I figured I could do a little more so you could fit her inside.”
The whole place looked great, so I knew mom must have spent hours out there, but it looked even better with Pamela parked in it.
“Thanks mom,” I said, as we walked inside the house, but I really couldn’t thank her enough. I also knew I couldn’t bring up the subject of my dad or the restraining order.