“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.
It took no time to get to the bowling alley, even in the Weed Wagon. I had wanted to take the KZ, just in case I was ready to leave before Weed. Unfortunately he seemed to know exactly what I was thinking and insisted on driving so I was left to his mercy. But I still wasn’t sure why we didn’t take the Chevette. It may not have looked much better than the mail truck but at least it was faster.
“Look man, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”
“Too late now,” he said, grabbing the keys from the ignition and sliding open the mail truck door.
“You know I can hotwire this thing with the screwdriver in the glovebox, don’t you?”
I was only half joking.
“Don’t make me get the cattle prod,” he said, motioning to the toolbox behind his seat.
Unfortunately I had no idea if he’d actually brought it.
We sat staring at each other with our poker faces on for at least a minute, before we both started cracking up.
“Fine,” I replied, “but if we’re doing this I’m going to need a little helper.”
“I’ve gotcha covered,” he replied, pulling out two Big Red bottles.
I knew Weed, so I also knew there was no way it was red cream soda in them.
“Nah, that’d probably be a little too much. It’s MD 20/20.”
“Mad Dog? Good choice.”
“I’m glad you approve. Now can we get in there and have a little fun?”
I took a big drink from the bottle Weed handed me and scanned the parking lot. It was still pretty early but the place was already almost full. That meant we’d probably be waiting on a lane or any of the video games in the arcade. I took another drink, then finally turned back to Weed. The look on his face told me he wanted to be there even more than I didn’t want to be there, so there was no way I could make him leave but I couldn’t resist making him wait just a little longer either.
Pulling a cigarette from my pack, I patted my pockets, pretending to not be able to find my lighter. Exasperated, he pulled out his butane powered torch and lit it for me, then climbed out the door.
“Now I’m going in, with or without you,” he said, slamming the door shut.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” I replied. “Don’t get your panties in a bunch.”
“They’re your mom’s panties, so…”
“Wow, you did not just go there.”
I couldn’t hear his reply over the sounds of Mötley Crüe’s Girls, Girls, Girls, spilling from the doorway as we went inside but the grin on his face told me he was very pleased with himself.
As I had feared, the place was packed. Groups of teens were hanging out around the various tables, collecting their bowling shoes from the counter, or just hanging out in any space they could find. We couldn’t see the actual lanes from just inside the door but based on the scoreboards shown on the televisions hanging above each one, I was pretty sure they were all taken.
“We might’ve been better off staying at your place.”
“Nonsense,”he replied. “First of all, we got your pathetic self out of the house.”
He wasn’t wrong.
“And second of all,” he rambled on while scanning the various groups around us, “If we’d stayed there, you’d have zero chance of getting to second base with some hot chick.”
“I don’t know,” I replied, “I think your mom has a thing for me…”
“You know you deserved that.”
“But come to think of it, I could do worse for a step-dad…”
“Okay now you’re just taking it a little too far.”
“Maybe a little, so how about we turn our attention to all the possibilities surrounding us.”
He made a good point. There were plenty of girls hanging out everywhere, and a lot of them seemed to be unattached, but even if luck was on my side, I wasn’t sure I was ready to just hook up with some random hottie.
“I thought you said I needed a night of video games?”
“Video games, bowling, girls, there’s no reason we should limit ourselves to just one form of entertainment.”
It was really hard to argue with that logic.
“How about you scout out the arcade while I check out the lanes?” He said.
“And should I be looking for open games or girls?”
“Yes,” he said, before turning and heading into the crowd.
I thought about heading right back outside, but I hadn’t been to the bowling alley for quite a while so I was a little curious if they’d updated their arcade selection.
It took a couple minutes, and a little too much maneuvering past too many people for me to reach the entrance of the arcade area. There were no overhead lights on inside, but the flashing screens from each game cabinet provided more than enough light to make my way from one machine to the next. Many of them were the same old games that had been there forever, but I did find a few new ones.
There were a couple guys with light guns in their hands, ducking for cover, then popping out to mow down an army of bad guys, trying to get through the levels of Time Crises before time expired.
Another updated machine featured the newest version of Tekken, which allowed the players to join together in team battles against the never ending stream of opponents. The graphics on the cutting edge game, and the game play itself, looked amazing but there was a line of guys waiting at each machine for their turn. I really wasn’t in the mood to stand around, watching and waiting so I moved on.
Towards the rear of the arcade area were the older games that didn’t have the flashy graphics or immersive 3D worlds of the newer ones. Dig-Dug, Q*bert and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had become too oldschool for a lot of people, but not for Weed and definitely not for me. We still prefered Out Run to newer racing games like Cruis’n USA. Not that the new games weren’t enjoyable, but they didn’t quite hold the same appeal. And on the plus side, there were a lot less people waiting to play them.
Some obvious noob had just missed an easy jump over a barrel on the first level of Donkey Kong, using up his last life and the last of his patients as I walked up to the machine.
“Stupid game, not even worth playing,” he grunted as he walked away. I had to laugh at him as I grabbed the joystick to try my hand at it. Not because of his reaction, but because I remembered being just as bad when I first started playing. The game, like most older games, really was about timing and reflexes. Thankfully I had gotten much better in the hours of practice I had, before I got into cars.
The screen finished flashing “Game Over” and I was just about to press the start button when Weed appeared beside me.
“What are you doing?”
“You said games or girls,” I replied. “This was what I found.”
“Okay, it may be true that I said that, but you know girls trump games.”
“And if you look around, you’ll notice there really aren’t any in here, so Donkey Kong it is.”
“And if you’ll look around, you’ll see two hotties headed our direction now,” he replied.
I followed his gaze back towards the entrance to the arcade area, but the only girls I saw kept walking right past on their way to the bowling lanes and concession stand.
“Okay, so they might still be another minute,” he said, turning back to me, “but not long enough for you to get in a whole game of DK.”
“And what happens if these imaginary girls don’t show?”
“They’re coming,” he continued.“And besides, I got us a table.”
“Really? That was quick.”
During Rock N Bowl the pool tables only cost a dollar an hour, so even the guys who didn’t want to throw balls down the lane or or mash buttons of the video game machines all night usually showed up for the cheap 8-ball which meant there was usually a list a mile long waiting for one.
“How much did it cost you?”
“Mikey was working the counter so we got off cheap; one joint now and one when we leave.”
“And it’s ours for the night?”
“As long as we want it, or at least until his shift is over at 2:00.”
“I knew there was some reason I kept you around.”
“You mean besides my amazing personality?”
He couldn’t even say it with a straight face.
“So what table did we get?”
“Table eight in the corner.”
“Works for me.”
Weed racked the balls as I found each of us a cue that was relatively straight. Nine ball was my prefered game but Weed liked 8 ball, so that’s what we started with. After all, it was his joint that got us the table.
“And you’re sure these girls are actually coming?”
“And you’re sure this isn’t just like what happened at the party?”
“It’s funny you should say that,” he replied with a grin.
I didn’t know what to say when he pulled a wallet from his pocket, the same wallet that had been stolen from him the night of the party.
He just continued to grin at me for a second, then glanced over my shoulder and waved.
As I turned around I saw two smiling girls headed right towards us, one of which looked like the cute little cheerleader Weed had left me for just before my accident.
“Please tell me this is some sort of joke.”
“Not at all. Apparently that night was some sort of cheerleading initiation thing. The next day she felt bad, and must have liked something I did, or something she saw, because she’s been looking for me ever since. She and her friend actually came here tonight because she heard we used to come here.”
“I believe that she felt bad for you, I mean, we all do, but…”
“Shush, now be cool.”
The girls reached the table, and with mostly-sober eyes I realized Weed’s thief wasn’t quite as young as I’d remembered, but I was still sure she wasn’t an upperclassman, though that really didn’t matter to Weed. Her friend, though, I recognized as a senior, but we didn’t run in the same circles at all, so I wasn’t sure what her name was.
“Tiffany,” she said, introducing herself as the younger one, Stephanie, moved next to Weed.
“Yeah, I kinda know that.”
“The whole walking out on Mr. Baker’s class thing, and then saving Ms Reader from the burning car…”
The memory of Ms. Reader brought back some dark thoughts, and apparently I did a horrible job hiding it.
“I’m sorry,” she said, gently touching my arm. “I didn’t mean to bring up, you know, I just meant that pretty much everyone knows who you are now.”
“I don’t know if that’s such a good thing…”
“So Nate,” Weed said, saving us from our awkward conversation. “I promised these ladies that we would teach them how to shoot pool.”
“Don’t you think someone should teach you first?”
The girls laughed and Weed started to turn red, so it was a good start to the night, at least for me.
Weed teamed up with Stephanie for the first game, which gave me Tiffany. To my surprise, though, Tiffany didn’t seem to need me to teach her a thing about pool. Weed broke, sinking the ten and the four balls. He tried to pocket the six, but missed and scratched instead.
I’ve got this one, Tiffany said, grabbing the cue ball from Weed.
She then proceeded to sink the two, three and six balls before finally missing a tough bank shot on the yellow number one. Weed and I just stared, and even Stephanie seemed surprised by her friend’s sudden skill. I would have thought we were being played, except she was on my team, and there were no stakes.
“Don’t worry about that,” Weed said to Stephanie, “It must be beginner’s luck. We can still rally.”
Standing behind her, with his arms around hers, Weed helped Stephanie grab the cue and line up a shot. They seemed to be taking a lot more time than necessary, and both seemed to be enjoying the whole process. Tiffany and I just kinda looked at each other.
“Maybe we should give them a little space,” she said to me.
“Maybe,” I replied, “but knowing Weed it won’t take long.”
The words came out of my mouth just as Stephanie was about to take her shot, but the sudden burst of laughter made her miss the cue ball completely, and hit the nine ball right next to it.
“Hey now,” Weed said, but I wasn’t sure if his objection was to what I said or to his partner’s reaction.
“I believe that’s another scratch,” Tiffany replied, handing me the cue ball.
Several hours, and way too many games of 8-ball later, I found myself out in the parking lot, smiling, laughing and feeling much more relaxed than I had in quite a while. I really wasn’t sure where this thing with Tiffany was going to go, or if I wanted it to go anywhere, but what I did know was that she was leaning against her car waiting for me to kiss her. I took a step forward, but before I could make my move, she leaned forward and kissed me.
It had been a while since I’d kissed a girl but it was by far the best one I’d ever had. There was an excitement and a passion in it that told me she wanted me, and at that moment I wanted her too. She wrapped her arms around me so I moved my hand to caress her neck and that’s when the images came flooding in.
Instinctively I pulled back.
“What’s wrong?” She asked.
The shock on her face probably mirrored the look on mine.
“Nothing’s wrong,” I lied. “That…was great…”
“I thought so too…So why aren’t we still doing it?”
The look on her face was part anticipation and part hurt. And I didn’t want to hurt her.
“I’m sorry, I…uh…just remembered that we were supposed to pick my mother up from work.”
“Like, ten minutes ago,” I said, looking at my watch.
I turned around and Weed had stopped his makeout session with Stephanie and was staring over her shoulder at me with a confused look on his face.
“I’m sorry,” I said to all of them. “I really am, but Weed, we need to go.”
Like the true friend he was, Weed backed my play. He even waited until we were a block away from the bowling alley before he ripped into me.
“What the Hell man?”
“I’m sorry, really, really sorry.”
“Please tell me there is some really, really good explanation for why I don’t still have Stephanie’s tongue in my mouth.”
“Because I touched Tiffany.”
“That’s kind of how making out works.”
“And when I touched her…the images started coming…”
“So it’s not something you can turn on and off?”
“So what’d you see?”
“Nothing really, I pulled away as soon as they started because I didn’t want to see anything.”
“Why not? You could see all of her dirty little secrets.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“There’s nothing wrong with knowing how kinky she really is.”
“That’s the problem, I don’t just know if she’s had lustful thoughts, or if she’s lied, or simple things like that, I see it all.”
“And…what if she’s done something really bad?”
“How bad could it be?”
“I’m not sure I want to find out.”
“Why not? What if she’s a sex fiend?”
“Good point,” I replied, “but what if she’s my last assignment?”
“So do you have any plans for the weekend?” Mom asked as I fixed a bowl of cereal.
“I thought I’d go to a biker bar, maybe join a gang or just a satanic cult, then elope to vegas with a prostitute.”
“Remember what I said about being smart,” she replied, taking a sip of her coffee, “and make sure you get a prenup.”
“You really take the fun out of being a smartass.”
“I know. So what are your actual plans.”
“I’ll probably spend all my time at Weed’s, putting the finishing touches on my car.”
“That sounds like a good idea.”
“Yeah, you know I like Weed, for whatever reason, and I’m glad you’re not letting everything that happened with Shawna drag you down.”
“So you wouldn’t mind if I just stayed over at his place tonight?”
“To be honest, I could use a night off of worrying about you being home alone.”
“You know you don’t have to worry about me.”
“Yes, as a mother, I do. But I also know Nancy will keep a good eye on you.”
“Right,” I said, not wanting to ruin whatever illusion she had about Weed’s mom.
“And speaking of Weed, I should probably get over there. I’m sure he’s already started without me.”
“Just remember what I said,” she replied.
“I will,” I replied, “but shouldn’t you be getting yourself to bed?”
“This is my second cup of coffee; I’m good for a couple loads of laundry first.”
She went to work in the laundry room so I grabbed a bagel and took it upstairs to eat while I finished packing a bag for Weed’s. 10 minutes later I was heading back downstairs with my helmet and bag in my hands.
“Bye mom,” I called through the open laundry room door.
“Bye,” she replied. “I’d tell you not to give Nancy any hassle, but I know she won’t take any of that from you.”
She was both right and wrong about Weed’s mom. She wouldn’t take any crap from me, or anyone else, but she sure let us get away with a few things my mom didn’t need to know about.
It was a nice day to be on the bike but I decided not to go for a joy ride and instead went straight to Weed’s. I was still reminiscing about some of the studpid stuff he and I had gotten away with by the time I reached his driveway. Pamela was visible through the open garage door, but I opted to head to the front porch first.
Weed’s mom was standing in the open doorway before I’d even reached the top step.
“You get in trouble?” She asked with a nod to my overnight bag.
Being the only son of a single mother meant I’d gotten into trouble with her on multiple occasions. Each time I seemed to end up at Weed’s until things had cooled off a bit, and his mom never turned me away. I think she saw it as a better alternative to me ending up somewhere else.
“Nah,” I replied, “not exactly. I just thought mom could use a night of not worrying about me.”
“She deserves a lot more than one night of that,” she said, “but it’s a start. And you know you’re always welcome here, though if you stay too long I’ll have to start treating you the same way I treat that son of mine.”
“Speaking of Weed,” I said, “is he still asleep?”
“At nine-thirty on a saturday morning? You know it.”
She didn’t even ask as I pulled a paintball gun from my bookbag.
“Just remember,” she said, “you’ve got to clean up any mess, not already there.”
“It’ll be worth it,” I said.
My paintball gun was a cheap one that didn’t have the velocity of the more expensive ones, but from a couple feet away it still hurt like crazy.
I was about to creep up the stairs as quietly as possible, before realizing it was Weed I was going after. He could sleep through an earthquake, so I stopped wasting the effort and took the stairs two at a time, making as much noise as possible. Of course it didn’t faze him, but bursting through his door, and unloading several shots to his groin area did.
“Ow! Holy shit! What the hell is that smell!” all came out of his mouth before his eyes even opened.
“You never should have let me know about those 68 caliber skunk spray balls.”
“Yeah,” he said while still writhing under his blankets, “I think I’ve learned my lesson. From now on I’ll keep my best ideas to myself.”
“I’m sure you’ll get me back soon enough,” I said, but for now I’ve got a favor to ask.”
“That’s how you asked for a favor?”
“Only when I’m sure you won’t say no.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”
“Oh, but I am.”
“And why is that?” he asked, finally sitting up.
“Because you never say no to a saturday night of car work, John Hughes films and a packed bowl or two.”
“Sleep over?” He asked.
Before I could respond he rushed to the door and hollard down the stairs.
“Hey Mom! Do you think Nate can…”
“I saw his bag and didn’t send him back home, now didn’t I?” She yelled back.
“You’re the best!”
“I know! But you need to remember that next time I have to ground you!”
“I know that too,” she yelled back, but by then Weed was already throwing on a semi-clean t-shirt and a worn out pair of shoes.
It took us much longer than I would have thought to replace the windshield, but we were being extra careful. FInkenbine had said it was the only one he could find. The memory of him started to bring me down again, so I pushed the thought from my mind and just continued working on the car. I knew getting her done would have made him happy, even if she was only the “president of the glee club”.
“Food’s on the table,” Weed’s mom hollered from the front porch, just as we finished tightening the last bolt. “You better come get it before it gets cold.”
Weed was covered head to toe in six different shades of grease and rust, and my hands were completely black so he headed to the upstairs bathroom for a quick shower while I tried to scrub my hands clean in the kitchen sink.
“So you’ve been having a few issues lately?” Weed’s mom asked, as I dried my still stained hands.
“Weed tell you that?”
“You know he wouldn’t break your confidence unless it was life or death, and even then I’m not sure he would. But he didn’t have to; I’ve known you since before you could walk. I can tell when something’s not quite right.”
“It’s nothing, just typical teenager stuff,” I lied.
“So problems with Shawna?”
I froze, not quite sure how to respond.
“I’ve seen the two of you growing up together. It was only a matter of time…”
“Maybe a little to do with her, but honestly, it’s nothing, really.”
“Okay,” she said, turning back to the stove, “Just remember that I’m always here if you need a female perspective on anything.”
“It smells great,” Weed said, sliding down the staircase railing. I couldn’t tell if he just had impeccable timing, or if he’d been waiting for us to finish our little conversation.
Weed’s mom set down a platter of crispy fried chicken right in the center of the table, followed by bowls of mashed potatoes and coleslaw. My mouth was watering before I even finished filling my plate.
“So you boys have plans after dinner?”
“Not really,” Weed replied. “Maybe just watch a movie or two.”
“Two single, teenage boys are going to stay in on a saturday night? Are you both feeling ill?”
Weed and I just looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.
“I hear there might be something going on at the old Johnston place,” she continued.
Weed and I both stopped mid bite. I’m not sure if we were more surprised that she knew about that party, or that we didn’t.
“We’ll think about it,” Weed said, before shoveling some more food into his mouth. I followed suit.
Our silence seemed to work, as his mom didn’t push us about going out anymore and for that I was thankful. But after dinner we headed up to Weed’s room to watch a movie, only none of them really sounded good.
“She’s right, you know,” Weed said as he cracked the window and lit a cigarette.
“I know she’s right, but I wasn’t going to tell her that.”
“And how did she know about the party at the Johnston place and we didn’t?”
“She’s your mom, you tell me.”
“We are two young, veral guys. We shouldn’t be holed up in a room watching movies on a Saturday night.”
“So you’re wanting to go out to the Johnston place?”
“Of course not,” he replied. “If my mom knows about it then how good could it possibly be?”
“Good enough for us to not get an invite?”
He just ignored me.
“And if she knows about it, then other parents have to know about it, so it’ll be broken up before it gets really good,” he said, plopping down beside the open window and lighting up a cigarette.
He did kinda have a point. And besides, I wasn’t really in the mood to go to a party. I mean, I wanted something to take my mind off Shawna and everything else that didn’t seem to be going right, but I wasn’t ready to just go get drunk with a lot of people I didn’t really like.
“There’s got to be something worth watching,” I said, thumbing through his movie collection, “or worth doing.”
He had every John Hughes, Chris Columbus and Tarantino movie ever made, but none of them sounded good. We really did need to get out of the house, only I was out of ideas. I was just about to start searching through his secret stash of movies when Weed popped up from his chair.
“What you need is a night of video games.”
“Too bad we don’t have anything but the old atari with one broken controller.”
Weed and I both loved video games but his NES got destroyed one wild night that neither of us remember very well. We’d talked about each of us chipping in to replace it, but Sony and Nintendo had both released amazing new game consoles so we decided to save our cash for one of them, only we couldn’t decide which. Weed was a major Nintendo fanboy so he wanted to go that direction but Sony’s system was much more high tech, so I was leaning that way.
“I’m not saying we should break out the atari,” he said, “I’m saying we should hit up the Rock ‘n Bowl.”
On Friday and Saturdays a local bowling alley would turn down the lights and crank up the music. For 5 bucks you could bowl all night and play every video game in the arcade for free. Rock ‘n Bowl had been a tradition of ours for a couple years, but eventually everyone within a fifty mile radius seemed to find out about it. In no time it became overcrowded and overpriced. We hadn’t been in over a year.
“So what do you say?”
I thought about it for a minute, and it did seem like a better idea than just sitting around his room until we fell asleep, but I still wasn’t sure.
“Come on, man,” Weed said. “We need a night out and who knows, maybe everyone’s forgotten about it by now.”
With his pathetic grin, and puppy dog eyes, I couldn’t say no any longer.
“Fine, we’ll give it a shot but just for a little while.”
“Mom, we’re going out!” he yelled as soon as the words had left my mouth. Instantly I knew I was going to regret it.
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: Chapter 1 Chapter 2
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.
I’m close to finishing My Life As Death so I thought I’d try something new. I’ll be posting one chapter a week to Wattpad in hopes of generate some interest. But I know that not everyone is on Wattpad, so I’m going to post them here as well. I still plan on pursuing a traditional publishing contract with MLAD, so at some point I may have to take them down, but for now I just want to share it with anyone interested in reading it in serialized format. So here goes:
Murderers? Rapists? Child Molesters? Who would you kill for a second chance at life? When Nate dies in a car accident after leaving a party, he gets the opportunity to return to the life he left too early, if he agrees to act as the hand of death for the five people he is assigned. He even gets a guarantee that they are all killers, rapists or child molesters. But nothing is ever as easy as it appears, especially when everyone, even those closest to you, have secrets.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Weed asked, though he already knew the answer. “If things go bad there’s no going back.
“I’ve got to do this,” I replied, though I wasn’t sure exactly why. Usually Weed was the one trying to talk me into doing stupid stuff. The fact that he was trying to talk me out of doing something made me question everything, but only for a minute.
“You know I’m the first in line to watch you crash and burn, but I really don’t know about this.”
“You can either help, or go on home.”
“I’m here for you man,” Weed replied, “Just tell me that for good or bad, this is it. I’ve got my own love life I’ve got to think about.”
“Don’t worry,” I said, “Miss December 1995 will always be there for you underneath your mattress.”
“Hell yeah she will.”
I knew Weed hated me obsessing over Shawna, and it had to be awkward for him. The three of us grew up together, best friends since we were eight, and Weed and I went back even farther. It probably wasn’t right, the way I felt about her, but as they say, the heart wants what the heart wants. When she first moved to town she was shy, backwards and sad, but I was drawn to her despite all of that; or maybe because of it. I don’t know. But the whys and hows don’t really matter. All I know is that she is the one girl who knew how screwed up I really was, and she stuck with me. Girls like that are rare, and special, so I decided to tell her just how I felt.
We stepped through the front door and into the pounding music while Billie Joe Armstrong told us how neurotic he was. I wasn’t even exactly sure whose house we were at, but that didn’t really matter. All I knew was that summer was almost over, the owners of the house were gone for the weekend, and Shawna was going to be there. She’d been away all summer and it was the first one I could remember without her. I’d gotten my driver’s license, a job, and finally put the finishing touches on my car but she wasn’t there to share any of that. The one good thing to come of it was that I’d finally decided to tell her exactly how I felt.
The place was filled with partiers flowing through every room of the house, mostly by kids from our high school, but there were also some I didn’t recognize. The kids I did recognize normally wouldn’t have been caught dead socializing with us in school, but it was the summer before our senior year and the alcohol was flowing freely so no one objected to us being there; some even raised a glass as we made our way past them and into the backyard.
Several kegs were set up around the inground pool, along with folding tables covered with plastic cups of beer. Weed and I each grabbed one and continued on, passing by other tables lined with the harder stuff. A lot of it was the cheaper junk, the 40 proof store brand liquor. High school kids don’t really care about what it tastes like or how much it burns going down. Mixing it with a good cola or an energy drink made it go down easier, and if you drink enough of it, you’d still get drunk.
I almost reached for a shot of 151 to get things started, but then I remembered Shawna and stopped myself. A little alcohol would definitely make it easier to tell her how I felt, a lot would make me sound like a complete idiot. I erred on the side of caution and decided to stick with the beer in my hand.
“I don’t think she’s here yet,” Weed said. “How ‘bout we get in a game while we wait?”
Several of the tables were set up for beer pong, one of which was standing open, just begging to be played.
“Well?” He asked as he did his best pathetic puppy dog face.
“Okay, but only one game,” I said, against my better judgment.
The first game took almost no time, Weed really wasn’t that good. I looked around for Shawna, but still didn’t see her. However, our game had attracted a few spectators, mostly because of how bad Weed was doing.
“Let’s go again,” he called out, a little too loud over the Gin Blossoms’ Hey Jealousy .
I glanced around again, hoping to be saved by her smiling face, but to no avail.
“One more,” I replied,” but that’s it.”
He grinned like the cheshire cat as we started setting up the table with full cups.
Keeping my mind off Shawna proved to be a little more difficult as the second game wore on. The distraction wasn’t helping me at all; by the time the game ended I’d drank a little more than I’d intended and Weed had almost beat me.
“Good game,” I said, trying to not so subtly let him know I was done.
“Awe, come on,” he replied,” I almost had you that time! Give me one more shot.”
“I’m afraid not,” Shawna’s sweet voice said from right behind me. “I need to borrow him for a couple minutes.”
I spun around a little quicker than I probably should have, and made myself a little dizzy.
“You guys been here long?” She asked with a grin.
The words caught in my throat as I saw her beautiful face for the first time in months.
“Not too long,” I replied, composing myself, “but you know Weed.”
“Yes I do. That’s why I decided to save you from him, and from yourself.”
“I guess I owe you one.”
“I’ll add that to your tab,” she said. “But right now I want you to meet someone.”
I heard the words coming from her mouth but they weren’t making any sense as she led me back through the house and to a group of kids hanging just outside the front door. A couple of them were from the most popular group at our high school.
“Matt,” she called out, drawing the attention of an oversized abercrombie model in the middle of the group. His clothes were right out of a fashion magazine, complete with a sweater tied around his waist and red and black Air Jordans on his feet. One of those shoes probably cost more than all my clothes. I instantly disliked the guy, and the bleached tips of his over stylized hair didn’t help. Everything about the guy seemed fake, especially his smile, and it made me want to punch him in his plastic surgery perfect face. If he didn’t have at least thirty pounds of muscle on me, I might have.
“Come on,” Shawna said, pulling me into the middle of the group.
I had no choice but to follow.
“Nate, this is Matt. ”
Matt reached out his hand, and I would have been the jackass not to shake it.
“Matt,” she continued, “this is my best friend Nate.”
The words cut through me like a knife, distracting me enough that I almost didn’t notice how hard Matt was squeezing my hand. I gave it right back to him which seemed to catch him off guard for a second but he quickly continued his practiced grin.
“Nice to meet you,” he said, releasing my hand.
“Same here,” I replied while trying to fake his same level of sincerity.
“I’m so glad you guys could finally meet,” Shawna said to me, “I’ve told Matt all about you and I was afraid you weren’t going to be here before we had to leave.
“What?” I asked, not sure I’d heard her right.
“I know we talked about hanging out tonight, but I kinda can’t stay. Matt’s got a thing…”
“Oh, I get it,” I said, cutting her off before any of the details had a chance to piss me off any further.
“See, I told you if he was really your best friend, he’d understand,” Matt said, with a little too much emphasis on the word friend.
“Of course,” I replied, trying to smile through clenched teeth.
“Thanks,” Shawna said, grabbing Matt’s hand, “then we should probably get going. Don’t let Weed get too out of control, and tell him we’ll hang out soon.”
“Have fun,” was all I could think to say as they headed towards a cherry red corvette parked at the curb.
“I’m sure we will,” Matt replied with a look in his eyes that told me exactly what he meant.
Dean Wesley Smith just announced that he’s going to be “Writing in Public” again, and I love the idea. Basically, as a professional writer, he posts updates every day about the book he’s working on. He’ll include his thoughts on the writing, word counts etc…, and I love when he’s done this in the past. Unfortunately, I have not reached the point where I could do daily updates like that, because I don’t write every day, but his announcement did help me realize that I have not been providing updates on my books as often as I’d like. I have several books in process, and people do occasionally ask me about them, so I’m going to try to do better at providing updates, at least weekly. So in order to catch up anyone who’s interested, here is where each of the books stand:
My Life As Death This is the book I’m working on the most. I believe it will give me the best shot at securing an agent and possibly a traditional book deal, so once it’s done I will start shopping it around. As of right now, based off word count and story structure, it is 60-70% done. Word Count: 41,421
After the End After the End is the novella that takes place after the end of 23 Hours. Initially I planned a four novella series starting with 23 Hours, but decided I liked how 23 Hours ended, so I never completed any other books. Right now it’s about 90% done, and I’m not sure if I want to finish it or not. It’s a fun story, and I have ideas for the other 2 parts of the series, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever pursue them. Word Count: 21,271
Zero Sum Zero Sum is the sequel to The Consciousness Puzzle. It’s my second highest writing priority, after MLAD. It’s very much a Mike Locke story, with a bit of intrigue, a little humor and a lot of action. It too, is about 60-70% complete. Once I complete MLAD, and as I look for an agent, I plan on finishing Zero Sum and publishing it as quickly as possible. I’be already got ideas for the next 3 Mike Locke stories and I’m dying to write them. Word Count: 45,378
The Failed Exodus of Daniel James As the name suggests, this is the sequel to The Dark Genesis of Daniel James. I started writing it just after finishing Dark Genesis, but then got the idea for The Consciousness Puzzle, then 23 Hours, etc… one thing led to another and Failed Exodus ended up neglected. I still think the book, and the plan for the rest of the series, is a good one, but there’s a lot that goes into writing the Daniel James series so it has dropped to 3rd or 4th on the priority list. Word Count: 15,559
I have about 2 dozen other books I’ve started which will probably never see the light of day. I’ve also got about 3 dozen plot ideas I’d love to work on, but first I’ve got to finish these four.
So now that you’re all caught up, I hope to keep the updates coming. If there’s a particular book you’re dying for me to finish, let me know in the comment section.
My to-do list is dwindling down to just 43 projects left (plus a couple my wife is trying to sneak in) and the weather in Ohio in January pretty much sucks, so I’ve finally gotten back to writing. Last week I tried working on Zero Sum, the next Mike Locke book, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I made some progress, and recognized a few things that weren’t working, but I didn’t feel like I was getting back into the groove. Today I started back on My Life As Death, and things just started flowing. Something about this story and these characters just comes naturally to me, and I’m very thankful for it. With the projects I still have left, and some up-coming travel I have scheduled for my freelance design business, I am not sure how much writing time I will have, but with great writing sessions like this I should continue to make progress. The book is already about 75% done, so with any luck I should be able to get it finished by summer.
Today I had an early appointment at the car dealership to have my wife’s car worked on. The car only has 50K miles, so I wasn’t happy about it, but it was covered under the warranty and the wait gave me a chance to do a little writing. I haven’t worked on Zero Sum for a while, and it’s been sitting at about 90-95% done, so I really wanted to make some progress on it. Unfortunately, as I read the last bit I’d written, I realized that it really needed some work. The story is good, but I’ve decided that “good” is no longer good enough for me.
When I first started writing it was strictly for myself. I had characters and stories floating around my head and I wanted to write a novel to entertain myself, so I wrote Dark Genesis of Daniel James. By the time I wrote The Consciousness Puzzle, I had already published Dark Genesis and it had been downloaded a couple thousand times, so I knew people might actually read my stories, but I continued to write TCP for myself. I figured The Daniel James Saga would give me the best chance for commercial success so I didn’t really take the Mike Locke books seriously; they were just fun genre stories so “good” was my quality target. But as I said, good is no longer good enough.
As I sat in the dealership waiting room, I thought about the the various scenes and plot points in Zero Sum. About half of them are great and I can’t wait for people to read them; about half are average. While I think the book would be a fun read for just about anyone, I also think that the book overall would be completely forgettable. So I started dissecting those week plot points to determine how to make them stronger; how to use them to keep the story (and subsequently the reader) moving forward. In a very short time I came up with a number a changes that would make Zero Sum a much better story. Unfortunately, that means rewriting; a lot of rewriting.
Normally I try to stick with Robert Heinlein’s rule# 3) You must not rewrite unless to editorial demand but I also keep in mind Dean Wesley Smith’s thoughts on the matter. Dean believes in a distinction between rewriting and redrafting. What I have planned for Zero Sum is more of a redraft than a rewrite. I’m tossing out large parts of the story and rewriting from the creative side of my brain now that I know where the story is going. I really don’t like the idea of “loosing” 25,000 words but it will definitely strengthen the story and take it from “good to “great” so it will be worth it.