When Darren and Annie had first bumped into each other after a nearby house party they had spoken nervously under the palm trees of a friend’s frontyard. Awkwardly, Darren let slip that he was ignorant of what shooting stars were. Rather, he had thought the expression similar to the phrase ‘blue moon’ in the sense that it was simply metaphorical. Annie, finding the boy utterly endearing, told him that they were in fact real. And more importantly, she could show him.
On the next clear and starry night.
Darren walked around the back of the car to place a small a dufflebag filled with goods—in particular, a lot of loose and carelessly packed clothes used to hide the sloshing sound of a bottle of vodka and the smell of two grams of pot—while his date, Annie, sat down on the cold leather seat of the car and pulled at her skirt to cover her thighs. Outside she could hear Darren slam the trunk shut while he looked up to see the pudgy and warm face of Mr Denkins waving pleasantly to Annie in the car. Annie smiled back to her father before shivering and sliding the cold fingers of her other hand between her legs to keep them warm. Darren opened the door and sat down behind the steering wheel, but not before his eyes naturally traced the line of Annie’s arm and arrived at her crotch.
The moment was passed over quickly by Darren who hoped that Annie would ignore any awkward implication; he instead chose to point at the radio and say,
“Got the CD player fixed, why don’t you look through this—” Darren placed a small folder of blank home-made CDs with names like Placebo and Nirvana onto Annie’s lap “—and see if there’s anything you like.” Annie smiled and replied,
“No dock for a phone?” Darren laughed a little unhealthily (he could not afford anything of the sort) and shook his head.
“No dock,” he repeated before starting the car and driving out of the sleepy town and towards the lonely corn fields that dominated the state they lived in.
As they reached the town limit Annie realised she’d said nothing since the drive had started, and had only watched the corn flicker past behind her ghostly reflection while Darren focused on the road. With a tremendous courage she turned away from the window and looked towards Darren whose knuckles were white with tension, and whose brow was glistening from a film of sweat. He felt her eyes on him and hoped to hell and back she couldn’t smell his sweaty pits. For a moment, under duress, he did nothing but kept his eyes facing forward until he too overcame his fears and turned quickly to flash Annie a smile.
“How are you doing?”
“Good,” Annie nodded. “Good.”
“Have you been here before?” Darren asked.
“Yeah,” Annie nodded. “Charlene and I used to go there to watch falling stars each summer during scout trips.”
“Sounds really nice,” Darren said.
“It’s beautiful,” Annie mused.
“Do you know Brad?” Annie asked.
“No,” Darren laughed; Brad played football and Darren played basketball. They were both athletic young men but Darren was quite clever and occasionally witty. Brad, in comparison, once dipped his fingers in tuna and convinced one of the younger boys he’d fingered the coach’s wife. “No,” Darren repeated. “Don’t know him well, but he seems like a cool guy. We don’t share many classes or anything but yeah, yeah, he seems alright.”
“Charlene thinks a lot of him,” Annie added. “She’s struggled with finding a good guy.”
Darren cocked an eyebrow at this but quickly wiped the sarcastic expression of his face. Still, he was a little curious and asked a probing question.
“Do you mean Jason?”
“Yeah,” Annie said with a wistful look towards the distant moon. “She loved him. I just don’t want to see her heart broken again, ya know?”
“Yeah yeah,” Darren nodded with a sharp squint. “Jason was…?”
“He’s from another school,” Annie answered. “They met six weeks ago.”
“Ah,” Darren said as he continued to bob his head up and down to a point where it now seemed almost comical. “Ah, six weeks. Yeah, well, better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Annie’s expression betrayed a hint of acerbic awareness in response to this, so Darren tried to cover it up with a forcefully sincere utterance of, “Let’s hope Brad’s a better guy.”
“Hmmm,” Annie sighed and turned back to face the window.
“Oh my God oh my God oh my God Oh Em Gee!” squealed Charlene as Annie threw the door open and ran over to her lifelong friend. Darren turned the ignition and watched as the two girls in front of him, and the endless rows of corn around, fell into darkness; illuminated only by a distant fire tended by an equally distant figure. He wondered if rich boys had to deal with this sort of shit, and for a moment dreamt of taking Annie to the movies or maybe even a restaurant.
But, he thought as he watched the two girls clutch each other by the shoulders before spinning and jumping in synchrony, this is what I can afford.
When Charlene saw him step out of the car she lowered her head so that her rosy chubby cheeks, so flush they seemed to glow in the dark, pointed directly at him above a malevolent smile.
“This must be Darren,” she said coquettishly.
“Hi,” Darren said nervously but Charlene had already grabbed Annie by one arm and turned her around swiftly so that she might whisper in her ear. Darren watched anxiously before deciding to go ahead and grab the duffle bag. He leant down and pulled it carefully out of the trunk, checking for signs of spillage and just making sure it hadn’t left the car reeking of pot, but when he stood up Charlene was already by his side. Her head came to his chest and she was grinning inanely.
“Come on!” she cried. “Come meet Brad.” She then grabbed him by the elbow and started dragging him away from the car. Annie waited eagerly by the front of the car and Darren saw her shiver; he seized the opportunity to peel Charlene’s fingers off his forearm so that he might unzip the duffle bag and offer her a jacket. But Charlene was quick and had already snatched the duffle bag from Darren’s fingers to offer Annie some clothes.
“Go on,” she said. “Go meet Brad! I’ll make sure Annie’s warm enough, no need to worry Mr Perfect-Gentlemen!”
Darren looked at her and forced an awkward laugh before turning and walking towards the fire. He could see the large and stocky boy named Brad from some distance; his red high-school football jersey glowed in the quivering firelight. He seemed fixated on the flames as his head tilted to one side, and he paid no attention to the increasingly loud sounds of Darren’s footsteps in the Earth. Just as Darren was close enough to reach out and touch him Brad snapped his head around and glowered at the approaching boy.
Brad’s expression as Darren fell back in terror and began to scream was one of exacerbation. He seemed to almost sneer as Darren struggled backwards on the floor while the two girls came running over. Charlene trotted right past Darren who scrambled around in the dirt shrieking at an embarrassing pitch while Annie stayed focused on Darren and came close to offer him comfort. Inevitably however she too caught a glimpse of Brad and she suddenly turned white.
“Jesus fuck-nugget,” she grunted in horror while Darren’s horrendous screams finally grew into shrill hisses that could continue no longer, and the group finally fell into silence. Charlene leaned against Brad’s thick shoulder and kissed him on the cheek while kicking one leg up, and Brad finally decided to rotate the rest of his body the necessary 180 degrees to face Darren and Annie.
“’Sup,” he said with a nod.
“Darren, Annie, this is Brad!” Charlene said with an expectant grin.
Darren and Annie exchanged looks at one another before looking back at up at Brad. Both of them fumbled a reply along the lines of,
Annie then helped Darren up while Brad used both hands to rotate his head back towards the fire, completing a 360 degree turn and causing further repulsion in Darren and Annie. Eventually the two who had fallen managed to stand and Darren stumbled around the fire to a position where he could fully see Brad.
The young man was still stocky and cocksure like he had been in the school the week before, but he was now missing a good two thirds of his neck; Darren would have guessed it to be about three fingers worth. His head was attached to the stump by only two vertebrae, that Darren half-glimpsed in the moonlight, and as a consequence it seemed to roll and bob around the axis of his spine with every gentle movement Brad made. Darren was still shivering with horror when Brad said:
“Bro, got some brews?”
“Huh?” Darren asked.
“Charl said you’d bring some booze.”
“Y-y-yeah,” Darren stuttered. “Yeah, booze. Lemme just, just, just, just…” suddenly Darren caught Annie’s eye, who still seemed to be avoiding coming into the light for fear of seeing Brad again. “Annie!” Darren shouted far too loudly. “Annie, Annie, uh, come… come… come to the car with me? I need to grab some beer for uh…” Darren swallowed and looked once more at the pocked blue skin of Brad’s face. “For Brad.”
Annie nodded her head, her eyes glassy from not blinking, while Charlene walked over to her and giggled something in her ear. Darren walked over, his legs quivering, before the pair wandered back to the car.
“Must be spinobifita,” Annie mumbled while Darren leaned against his car for support. He looked up at the girl with incredulity.
“What!?” he hissed.
“My Mom had a baby with spinobifita and it came out all funny looking.”
“Annie,” Darren said with a desperately low reserve of good humour. “That boy is missing half his fucking neck and smells like shit wrapped in bacon! That ain’t spinobifita!”
“Doesn’t matter what it is!” she hissed. “He clearly has some crippling medical condition.”
“Me… Med… Annie,” Darren said, pinching the nose of his bridge. “That boy is a corpse.”
Annie looked over towards the fire where she could see Charlene gripping Brad’s head with both hands to keep it steady while she kissed him. With her hands busy Brad kept reaching up towards her breasts and she would be forced to let go of his head, which bobbed around with an almost sickly crackling noise, to slap his hand away. At one point Brad muttered something in her ear and she stopped slapping his hand away and Annie could see it rising up under the folds of Charlene’s top.
“Ooh,” Charlene giggled. “You got cold fingers.”
“Holy shit,” Annie said snapping back to Darren. “This is not right.”
“Bro!” Brad cried. “Stop fingerbanging Annie and bring me a fucking brew.”
Darren looked at Annie with an expression that made her wonder what on Earth she could do to make up for this nightmare of a date. Darren sucked his lips into his mouth before making a loud sucking sound that signalled his begrudging acceptance of the situation, and he leant down into the footwell of his car to pull out two warm beers.
“Bro!” Darren shouted in a mock surfer accent, “got us some rad brewskis.”
“Suh-weeeeet!” Brad replied as Darren jogged towards the fire to hand him his drink. As Brad reached out Darren struggled to avoid recoiling in horror at the splayed and broken fingers of the blue rotting hand that greeted him. “Don’t worry bro,” Brad said with a nod. “Top few fingers are stiff as a board, they can hold it.” Darren, trying to look stoic, then lowered the beer into Brad’s hand as though it were the cup holders in his car.
Meanwhile Annie motioned over to Charlene who seemed unwilling to take her eyes off Brad for a second. Knowing her friend well Annie reached into the dufflebag and pulled out the three quarter full bottle of vodka she’d smuggled over to Darren’s car while her father had been busy earlier that night. The mere sound of its liquid contents caught Charlene’s eye, and the chubby girl was quickly wobbling over to Annie near Darren’s car.
“He’s a bit funny looking isn’t he?” Charlene said with a disappointed smirk while Annie poured the two drinks.
“Yeah, honey,” Annie mumbled, desperate for the right words.
“But he is tall! That’s nice, isn’t it?” Charlene said with a sympathetic nod towards Annie.
“Huh? Oh shit,” Annie said, snorting out an unfortunate chuckle that forced vodka up into her nose, “you mean Darren!?”
“Who else would I mean?” Charlene asked with a heart wrenching mew. Annie was still wiping away vodka that’d come out of her nose when she looked up and saw the wide eyed, dilated pupils, of an adorable lifelong friend glaring up at her. “You don’t like him do you…?”
“No,” Annie found herself saying in reflex. “No honey, it’s just… he…”
“He what?” Charlene said with a full-lipped pout.
“Honey, he’s dead.”
“Dead…?” Charlene asked with a linger. “Dead what?”
“No,” Annie replied. “Honey, he’s dead.”
“…gorgeous?” Charlene added.
“Dead gorgeous,” Charlene added with a firm nod.
“No,” Annie sighed. “No honey he’s… he’s a corpse.”
“Yeah but I like ‘em stoic. You like poets but I like men who keep themselves to themselves, ya know?”
“No,” Annie said with increasing frustration. “I don’t mean he’s… I don’t mean he lacks affectation I mean he’s dead. As in no longer on the mortal plane.”
Silence fell between the two girls, and for a moment Annie thought she could see a flicker of understanding behind Charlene’s big doe-eyed expression.
“You’re saying he thinks he’s better than us?”
Darren could hear Annie becoming irate from some distance away and the two girls started to bicker. Meanwhile he kept his eyes fixed on the fire in front of him as Brad poked at the embers with a stick. Darren could not help but notice that Brad’s head lolled around like a spinning-top coming to the end of its life with every gentle motion of Brad’s shoulders.
“So,” Darren said, patting his hands loudly against his thighs. “So, how’s uh… how’s training?”
“Not good bro,” Brad replied. “Dunno if you noticed but I’ve got a bit of a twinge in my neck.”
Darren looked up from the fire just in time to catch a glimpse of Brad—one hand clutching the crown of his scalp—tilting his head back and gulping down some lukewarm beer. Somewhere along the journey the beer was excited and it emerged from the stump of Brad’s head in a pink frothy mixture. “Ah shit,” Brad groaned as it hit the other stump of his neck and trickled down his torso and stained his chest. “Bro,” he said with a shrug. “You got like… a dixie cup and a straw?”
“Yeah,” Darren said with a nod while he got up and fetched some from the car. When he returned the girls had not moved from the spot where they argued and he sat down to watch Brad pouring the remains of his drink into a cup.
“Thanks,” Brad said with a curt nod.
There was another long silence. For some reason Darren felt compelled to break it.
“So,” he said. “This twinge… is it… is it serious?”
“Yeah,” Brad replied, displaying a subtle awareness of Darren’s sarcasm. At this stage Darren would typically drop any urge to reply in an awkward exchange but perhaps it was the gurgling sound of beer dripping from the arterial and fleshy remains of Brad’s bisected neck, or maybe it was the beer he’d drunk too quickly going to his head, but he simply could not stop himself from saying,
In an instant Brad lurched forward and swiped at Darren who let out a shriek and fell backwards. Brad, concerned about his date, gripped his head with one hand and swivelled it around like a mounted-turret to see Charlene and Annie—momentarily distracted from their argument—glaring at their respective date.
“Just roughhousing baby-nookums!” he declared in an undignified pitch.
The two girls said nothing but instantly turned back and continued whispering in strained tones while Darren pulled himself back up onto the rock he’d been sitting on. “Fuckin’ smartass,” Brad hissed. “You’ll give me away, dick!”
“Hm?!” Darren quizzically sighed. “Me!?”
“Yeah,” Brad said in a strained tone. “You think dead guys get laid all the time dude? You think girls are crawling over themselves to get me!? Ever since the accidence I’ve already had to go from full blown nines and tens to fives and sixes, and even then they figure it out in seconds.”
“She doesn’t…?” Darren asked in disbelief.
“No bro, she does not know and I need you,” Brad leaned forward and pointed at Darren. “Not to give me away.”
Darren was about to reply when the flaked and peeling nail on Brad’s index finger suddenly gave up and plopped into the bile-yellow beer filling the dixie cup, where it sank to the bottom and left a smoky trail of blood in its path. Brad noticed this and carefully wiped his swollen and, now entirely smooth, finger against his coat to remove any drying puss and blood.
“Don’t worry,” Darren sighed as he sat back and resigned himself to the insanity. “I ain’t here to stop anyone getting laid. I just wanna get laid myself.”
“Exactly,” Brad said with a pointed tilt of the cup towards Darren. “We gotta help each other out, ya know?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Darren nodded. “But first, man, fuck… like… I gotta know, what the fuck happened!?”
“Fucking car crash man,” Brad said with a sneer. “Fucking bullshit dude, some asswipe comes outta fuckin’ nowhere, ya know!? Course he gets to live but me? No such luck.”
“Fuuuuuck,” Darren sighed. “That’s awful. But… I mean… how’d… where’d…”
“Oh right,” Brad exclaimed. “Yeah yeah, the whole,” and he gestured towards the bisected four-inch gap in his neck. “Air bag plus scrap metal. Tell you what man, they say those things kill more than they save and I fuckin’ believe it.”
“Woah,” Darren replied, trying his very best to seem reverent of this poor boy’s suffering. But eventually he gave in and just asked, “And the whole coming back to life, thing?”
“Dunno bro,” Brad shrugged. “Just woke up in the morgue with some of these other fuckin’ losers. Apparently it's happening all over.”
“So you don’t…?”
“Nah man,” Brad shrugged. “Dunno how. Oh shit,” he whispered frantically, “shut the fuck up they’re coming.”
And the girl’s reappeared by the fire. Charlene with a sincere and honest smile, and Annie grinning like she was meeting the pope while trying to keep the gates of hell shut with her asshole.
“Oh my god Brad, it’s huge.”
Annie, with her head on Darren’s shoulder, huddled into him and looked up at the clear night. They both worked with the will of a hero to ignore the rhythmic swaying of the car whose bonnet they were sat on.
“No!” They heard Brad suddenly exclaim. “Don’t undo the safety pin.”
“…what? Is it like a naughty piercing?”
“Yeah… no, something like that. Just keep—”
“Holy shit.” Darren groaned, his voice loud and clear in contrast to the muffled instructions shared between Charlene and Brad. Annie struggled to stifle a laugh and shuffled around to move in closer to Darren.
“How has she not noticed?!” Darren added.
“I don’t know,” Annie said as she shook her head. “She’s sweet and super smart but some people… her mother’s the same. When her father died my mom went around to help and Charlene’s mom was just making pie saying it was the dad’s favourite meal.”
“She just didn’t acknowledge reality?”
“Yeah,” Annie sighed.
“Guess it runs in the family,” Darren shrugged.
"Or maybe she just knows," Annie shrugged. "I guess some girls really do wanna date their dad."
"And Charlene's Dad is dead," Darren nodded. “You know,” he added as he tried to ignore the incestuous implications. “You know,” he repeated, “that a lot of guys, in this situation, would be really pissed off.”
“I know,” Annie smiled.
“I mean… like… you owe me. You know?”
“I know,” Annie rolled her eyes.
“And, maybe… maybe some of those other guys would want… ya know… stuff.”
“But you’re too romantic?” Annie said in a sarcastic coo.
“No,” Darren said shaking his head. “I want you to help clean my fucking car,” before making a pointed gesture with his thumb to the rocking bonnet behind them. Annie burst out laughing and nodded,
“Fair enough,” she said. “Fair enough.”
“Cause… I don’t know if you’re experienced—”
“I know I know,” Annie interrupted.
“There’s probably gonna spillage.”
“Ewwww,” she laughed. “You’re gross.”
“No,” Darren shook his head. “That’s gross.” Once again, he gestured towards the car.
“Look!” Annie said smiling before pointing to the sky. “A shooting star.” Darren looked up and caught a glimpse of the white light searing through the dark blue sky. It was faint but definitely there, and definitely real.
“Huh,” Darren shrugged. “Will ya look at that.”
For reasons that surprised no one Annie insisted she chaperone Charlene home, and Darren was left driving the diminished Brad back to his house. The large and burly corpse was now sitting in the passenger seat like a meek girl with his hands clasped over his groin—Darren wondered if there were fewer fingers than there were before, of if Brad was just clenching his hand strangely—and a look of sullen shame on his face.
“Hey,” Darren said with a forced smile. “You got laid!”
“Yeah,” Brad mumbled.
“Did she figure it out?”
“I don’t wanna talk about it,” Brad mumbled once more.
“Oh come on!” Darren said with a loud chuckle, “C’mon bro, sorry if I’ve been a bit weird about the whole uh… zombie thing, but ya know, it was a lot to take in.”
“It’s not that,” Brad said with a glib look as he redoubled his grip a zip-lock bag filled with ice that he’d been clutching ever since the start of the drive.
“What is it? C’mon, you’re alive! I mean yeah sure you’re dead but you’re here, you just got laid! You can maybe… like, I dunno, get a neck brace and go back to football? Or shit, ya know, there’s gotta be career in this somehow. Like uh… TV? Or uh… science?”
Brad remained silent and Darren persisted.
“C’mon,” he said. “Life is good, yeah? I had a good night. And you had a good night! Getting laid, football, having fun… laughs and jokes, that’s life and you can keep taking part, you know? These things are good! Hey, remember that chatty little shit from eighth grade? Remember the tin of tuna and the whole ‘smell my fingers!’” At the memory of this Brad finally let out a chuckle. “Yeah,” Darren added before slapping Brad on the shoulder and sending his head lolling about uncontrollably. “That’s it! Life is good! Have a bit of fun! Remember how he was spewing in the shower!?”
“Yeah,” Brad chuckled sheepishly.
“Remember it spraying all over the other boys!?”
“Yeah!” Brad said a bit more confidently. “They started to spew too.”
“Yeah,” Darren said with another reassuring look. “Don’t be sad man, life is good. Never forget, ‘smell my fingers!’”
“Hey,” Brad said as he looked up at Darren for the first time on the entire drive, and Darren noticed his eyes had a shimmering film of tears he’d been struggling to hold back, but which now appeared to be naturally receding. Brad then unfolded the zip lock bag filled with ice—and a few dark grey cylindrical objects that seemed to be mixed in with the ice—and unzipped it. Just as Darren was about to ask what was in the bag Brad had opened it wide, shoved it up towards Darren’s face and yelled, “smell my fingers!”
Darren swerved off the road and ran the car into a nearby tree.
“You okay?” Annie asked. Charlene was rolled up on the backseat of her father’s 4x4 which Annie was now driving, and her sad little eyes could be seen glimpsing up at the driver in the rear-view mirror every few minutes.
“He got my name wrong,” Charlene sobbed.
“I know,” Annie said, having heard this sob story only fifteen minutes earlier when Darren had peeled the furious girl off of Brad. “He’s a bastard, isn’t he?”
“I just really liked him…”
“I know,” Annie reaffirmed.
“Annie…” Charlene mewed.
“Yes honey,” Annie smiled.
“Do you have a pencil, or a knitting needle…?”
“No… honey,” Annie stuttered. “Why?”
“It’s just this,” Charlene said, appearing by Annie’s side with the lightning speed of a cartoon character. Annie glanced towards her right but saw only an obscured and ice-filled zip-lock bag. “I thought it’d stay hard but… no such luck,” Charlene looked down at the floor.
“What is it?” Annie asked.
“Oh don’t act so naïve,” Charlene giggled. "You know what it is."
“No,” Annie tried to make it clear that she couldn’t see what it was when, all of a sudden, the realisation dawned on her. “Oh no, no no no no Charlene. Is that…?”
“I think a pencil, if I like… slid it in would give it, ya know, the uh… firmness that I need, now that it’s gone soft.”
“Charlene,” Annie said struggling to keep herself conscious, “you’re gonna have to return that to the poor boy.”
“Oh he shouldn’t have called me by the wrong name!” Charlene hissed. “I think I’ll do a much better job of looking after him.” Annie could see Charlene lift the zip-lock bag up while to its contents. “Who’s a good boy?!” she cooed. “Who’s a good little fella!?”
Annie was reminded of a child and their goldfish won from some carnival.
“Charlene!” Annie snapped.
“Oh alright!” Charlene hissed before pouting and looking away from Annie. Just as the drive began to settle back into a peaceful silence Annie could hear Charlene wriggling around on the back seat. At this stage Annie was critically close to losing her temper. “Ya know,” Charlene mused as she rolled her hips around on the seat below her. “It’s not the end of the world if I give it back, I think he left some fingers behind.”
Annie suddenly vomited against the windscreen, and the thick pulpy brown meal that spread itself against the glass obscured the road ahead. By the time Annie had time to register the obstruction, however, the car was already ploughing straight into a tree.
Police were never entirely sure where either Brad Fuslki or Charlene Rodeshaw disappeared to during that night, but they had no trouble finding either Annie Denkins or Darren Lidham for they had both dragged themselves from the sites of their respective crashes. There the police had followed the nearly two-kilometre long blood trails that slowly angled through corn fields back towards a particular clearing with a diminished, soon-to-be-dead, fire.
Annie, they saw, was tucked gently into the nape of Darren’s remaining shoulder while his head rested upon the part of her head that didn’t expose her brains. The discovering officer was shocked at the remarkable nature of the adolescents’ journey after such a devastating and tragic accident. He turned to face his car and was preparing to call the bodies in when he heard Darren and Annie stretch with a sickening crack of bones.
"You were right," Darren yawned. "The night sky was beautiful out here."
Written by ChristianWallis