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“Mommy, why is that man rubbing a paper?”
“Don’t mind him. C’Mon, let’s go.”
But the boy continued looking at the raggedy man, drawn to the determined set of his eyes.
“I said don’t mind him. And for christ sake don’t stare!”
The boy continued watching him raptly, his attention broken only once to ask
With a grimace of exasperation the mother steamed by, grabbing the boy and pulling him in her wake as an afterthought. Even so, as he was pulled away, he couldn’t help but glance at the man again, trying to see what he saw, to experience what he was experiencing.
The topic wasn’t broached again until the boy and his mother had put the groceries in the back and were riding home in the station wagon.
“Geoffry, sometimes there are things best left alone-”
“Like that hobo?” he asked. She continued as if she hadn’t heard.
“Sometimes there are things you just shouldn’t mess with.”
“Was that paper bad, Mommy?”
The question seemed to baffle her, who pursed her lips and stared without seeing at the road ahead.
“Well, not bad, really, I don’t think...look, hon, I know this probably won’t make sense, but remember that time when you and your father went hiking and he dared you to climb that big rock?”
“And remember how you didn’t want to but he kinda...forced...you to with his words?”
“And remember how you fell and broke your arm?”
Oh, yes, the boy remembered that, all right. His mommy and daddy had shouted at each other for half the night after he got back from the hospital.
“Well, there you go. The paper’s kinda like that.”
The rest of the ride home was taken in wary silence, but all along the way, the paper continued floating and bobbing on the surface of Geoffry’s mind like a rotten old apple in a pool of vomit.
When he got home he helped his mother unload the groceries (the three packs of beer were too heavy, so his mother unloaded them) and put a few drops of grease on the rusty hinges of the door that led from the garage to the house. He had to use a step stool and stand on his tiptoes to reach the top one.
Once inside, he dropped his load unceremoniously on the floor (his mother had judiciously made sure his bag contained the crackers and bags of noodles, NOT the eggs) and was just about to tromp upstairs when a picture next to the stairwell caught his eyes.
It was one of the countless pictures of the Old Family he’d seen and walked past. Nothing special about it- plain black frame, dingy yellow glass, grainy polaroid faded yellow at the edges. In the picture him, Mommy, and Daddy were at the beach. Daddy was being a goofball and Mommy was laughing. Geoffry was just being himself with a big, cheesy picture-smile on his face. Oh, yeah, and in the corner, their old family pet that died a month ago, that golden, medium-sized labrador that was put down a week after the picture was taken.
He remembered that day clearly, for that day was the day when he first noticed the crack which ran through Cap’s lower belly.
He hadn’t shed a tear or even felt sad when he was told Cap had colon cancer. Even as he ran his fingers through his fur for the last time, all he felt was a tight, unpleasant squeeze in his chest, as if some kind of circle had pinched together at last and squeezed his middle briefly. His mother had blubbered, of course, and his father made sure to take him out to the dog’s grave (and out to Chuck-E-Cheese later), but no sorrow had gone through him then, nor did it show itself even briefly when he lay awake in bed that night. Just the unpleasant finality of a circle pinching shut on him.
The memory suddenly faded with a bang as Mommy shoved the glass bottles of beer into the cupboard on top of Daddy’s old lunchbox. Geoffry’s kindergarten lunch-pail tumbled out and got tangled up in Daddy’s, but Mommy slammed the cupboard shut regardless and began putting the eatables away.
Geoffry turned and glanced at the picture once more before starting upstairs, feeling those unnameable bands begin closing on his chest once more.
From his angle the crack that had spread from Cap’s belly glimmered a silvery white, the same color as the paper that he’d seen in the hobo’s hands and which he now saw gripped just below the crack in Daddy’s forearm.
It was Muggsy Day.
Geoffry smelled the sour reek of beer. His mother’s snore could be heard from down the hall. Mommy drank heavily last night- enough, he knew, to put her in a deep sleep that would last the whole day and night. There had been quite a few instances of this, enough that he’d added a word to describe such days into his five-year -old vocabulary.
He got out of his bed and marched crossly downstairs to eat his typical muggsy breakfast -dry cereal out of the box and some orange juice if the container was light enough to pour into his Scooby Doo glass. As he ate, he went over the few things he could do for fun. His toybox was always an option, but they were no fun unless Mommy was there to play Transformers with him. Since the Split, he’d tried playing them by himself, but soon gave up when his Mother, in a drunken rage, called him a Looney and a Skitzo from her spot on the living room floor downstairs He’d tried to convince himself he wasn’t a Skitzo- Transformers wasn’t like that, it was just pretend.
The Frosted Flakes didn’t taste G-R-E-A-T! anymore and the orange juice stopped tasting orange.
I could play LEGOs, he thought half-heartedly as he rinsed his cup. But he knew that he really didn’t want to do that either- sooner or later, whatever he built would be torn apart just to build something else and so on forever, and the prospect seemed more tiring and depressing than even playing Skitzolooney Transformers.
And it wasn’t as if he could just go to a friend’s house, either. He was never good at keeping friends, only good at making and losing them; after the Split he’d become a T.V. and video game addict, and his social life had been built from bits and pieces of the qualities he admired until he wore it displayed like a beggar’s cloak. The pretty colors attracted people for a while, but the complex web was a sham, and all but the most superficial of people had eventually seen through it. If only his life were truly that material, truly that real.
He shut off the water and stared out the window longingly.
It’s real out there, he thought glumly, but in here it feels fake. I don’t wanna be fake. I don’t wanna be a Skitzo or a Looney. I don’t wanna play LEGOs forever. I wanna be real.
I wanna be real.
Geoffry marched along the sidewalk, oddly solemn in the early morning Californian sunshine. On a whim he walked behind the 7-Eleven and down a ramp which led past the dumpsters of the sushi-place and ended in a do-it-yourself car wash.
The place was an odd hybrid of urban and rustic-there was pavement, but odd little plants grew in cracks which zigzagged down the middle. Trees and undergrowth chased each other in verdant swathes along the edges, but, as a rule, on the edges they stayed. The place stunk of rotting sea mammals, but the stench was rendered almost pleasant once it filtered through the whispering leaves around him.
But the thing that really did it for Geoffry was the staircase located on the edge of the ramp, the one which led to the sushi place’s parking lot. For that, he knew, was the Place.
The staircase itself was utterly swallowed by plant life, perhaps even partly digested-most would have walked right past it thinking that a careless bricklayer took his lunch there during the time of the dinosaurs.
But Geoffry knew it was a staircase, and he also knew one other thing that only he could know. It was the Place.
The paper lay at the edge of the top step.
“Lucky Seven Lottery!!!” it read,”Scratch one of the pots below and see if you get the lucky number!”
None of the pots had been scratched. he lowered his finger and had begun to worry at the edge of one of them when he stopped. Something clicked deep inside his brain.
Dare he cross it?
He looked down at his nail in mild surprise. It had started scratching again.
Will I get it? he thought with some excitement, will I get the lucky number?
At the number which appeared beneath his finger, that band, that horrible cold finality, tightened over his chest until he could barely breathe.
Before he could do anything, before he could catch himself, his legs wobbled and he tripped against the railing to the stairs. It broke with an ominous snap. The he was falling, tumbling down, over the Edge-
“Whoa, there, buddy! 'Re you O.K.?“
Geoffry opened his eyes and saw the concerned face of a trucker staring down at him.
“What are you doing so far away from home, buddy?”
Geoffry stared down at his footies. The trucker sighed and scratched his stubbly chin.
“well, I guess it doesn’t matter how ye got here ‘r how ye fell, just how te git ye back home. Where you live?’
A warning bell went off in Geoffry’s mind-he’d been told never to tell a stranger where he lived.
“Just put me near In ‘N Out,” he said in a voice so wary and solemn it made the trucker laugh.
“O.K., buddy, O.K.”
...It doesn’t matter how ye get here ‘r how ye fall, just how ye git yerself back home.
The words bobbed up and down in his mind like an apple floating about in a pool of vomit as he sat on the couch staring at the dark face of the flat screen T.V. The remote lay in his hands and he was flipping aimlessly through the channels.
Tom and Jerry. Opera. Who Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
I wanna be real, he protested feebly.
“Real stories, real people, real news. ABC with Diane Sawyer.”
“This just in, divorced man Jonathon Dunnels has been found dead on the side of Daily Drive with what appears to be shallow wounds lining his inside arm. Police records say the cuts appeared to be done earlier this morning, and that the obvious lack of evidence of any struggle has led them to believe that the wounds were self-inflicted. Reporter Dave Stephenson at the scene.”
“Thank you, Diane. I’m here at a puzzling crime scene with the Ventura County Sheriff. Sheriff, what are your thoughts on this?”
“Well, you’ve summed up my thoughts pretty good,” the man said as he slapped his growing pot belly and yanked his pants up, “But what I don’t understand is where he got the weapon for the crime...”
I got it, Geoffry mentally screamed at the screen, I got it you stupid dumb-head!
“...Or the motive. And that’s all I got to say on it, only that I suspect no foul play whatsoever.”
The fat man slapped his economy-sized buttocks this time, then yanked his pants up again and turned to talk to a deputy with a major acne problem.
“Back to you, Diane.”
“Thank you, Dave. In other news-”
Geoffry stared at the remote and then at the screen.
I got the mow-tiv too, you stupid dumb-heads, he thought bitterly, you skitzo-looneys.
He looked outside at the dark sky and then at his own belly. He tried slapping it, then turned around and slapped his own buttocks. He giggled.
Geoffry’s stomach growled, but he knew he wasn’t hungry; the bands surrounding his lower belly and now his arms prevented that from happening. So he got off the couch and toddled over to the stairs, the extra weight of those bands making him feel five-going-on-sixteen. For a split second he felt an indescribable urge to look at that photo next to the stairwell, but he soon got over it and began stumping up the stairs to his room.
He didn’t need to look at the picture to know that the lottery ticket he’d seen in Daddy’s hand earlier was gone.
That night, before he went to bed, he took the lottery ticket out and stared at it, thinking.
“you know, one of your brothers killed Daddy,” he whispered, “But Daddy liked you, I guess, so I’m a-gonna keep you awhile.”
Until it kills me, a devious little voice finished in Geoffry’s head, until it kills me.
With that whispered ultimatum, that boy tucked the lottery ticket under his mattress, turned off the lamp on the nightstand next to his bed, and promptly went to sleep.
The days and years pass at the same rate as always, but for Geoffry Dunnels it seems he flashes by the world on a conveyor belt from hell. Through the years, he all but forgets about the ticket and the strange phenomena surrounding it. Eventually even the death-hold those strange invisible bands had on him loosen as he grows accustomed to that strange dark presence that had seemed to settle in since early childhood.
In the memories’ place crowd new ones; knowledge and experience, some of it useful, most of it not, and all of it clamoring for attention. Hobbies and extra-curricular activities occupy most of the boy’s free time, and his mother cleans up her act for the time being, if only to keep a better eye on her son, now a teenager.
But promises are always kept, some way or another, and one day the ticket was found.
Geoffry stared at his pudgy little arms and legs, then looked around.
Why am I five again? He asked himself as he took in the sight of how Vons looked a decade ago.
You stupid dumb-head, he heard a voice scold him in a creepy child-like imitation of rage, that’s ‘cuz you’re in a dream!
“Geoffry,” he heard a drunkard slur. He turned around and wasn’t quite surprised to see it was his mom.
“Geoffry, it’s time to go,” she crooned at him, weaving back and forth like a Looney Toons version of a hobo. He just stared at her hand, which held a bottle labeled Texas Driver.
“Where,” he asked as if (drumroll) in a dream (clash!)
“Geoffry, it’s time to go to the Place.”
A smart-ass comment began to rise into his mouth, something like “Oh, the Place, yeah, you mean with that One Guy that One Time, ya know, with the Dude With The Hair? Sure! Sounds absolutely BITCHIN’!”-but the comment died before he even gave it thought as the homeless guy he’d seen near the lottery machine turned around and shed his skin like Dr.Lizard off of The Amazing Spider-Man. Geoffry wasn’t quite surprised that it was his dad.
“Jeff, old boy, don’t listen to that drunk old hag over there, listen to me, (I hate that drink, by the way, in fact, I hate alcohol in general- a nastier habit there never was, that's a big reason why I left you, you know), but listen to me, Jeffers...”
“But Mom told me you left because you loved to gamble too much,” Geoffry said.
In fact, you’re standing in front of a lottery machine you just bought a ticket from, Dad, old boy, he thought viciously.
“Sure, a lady can be a bit irrational when upset, especially when drinking rotten juice mixed with beer and God-Knows-What-Else. But her bottle ain’t the ticket, Jeff, old boy, this is.”
And then he held up the lottery ticket- its unscratched version.
“And now it’s time to see whether we got the lucky number and won the prize. I always liked prizes. Don’t you?”
“NO! I FUCKING HATE THEM!”
But Mr. Dunnels’ mildly insane voice cut through the shout like a knife through fat.
“Now, let’s see. Gotta scrape the gunk off nice and proper, now, don’t have a quarter to scrape the shit off, spent ‘em on this thing...”
“I DIDN’T WANT THIS! I WANTED TO BE REAL! I WANTED YOU TO BE REAL! I STILL WANT TO BE REAL! I-”
“Gotta find the thing with my fingernail, gotta find the Edge and peel this thing off with my fingernails, I HUNG BY MY FINGERNAILS, DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU LITTLE SHIT? I HUNG ‘CUZ YOUR MOTHER PUSHED ME THERE, AND YOU JUST STOOD THERE WITH YOUR STUPID LITTLE FOOTIES AND PICKED IT UP AND PUSHED ME OFF!”
“Do you feel lucky?” his father’s fingernails broke off a little bit each time he chipped at that scratch-n-peek pot of gold and blood began splattering the surface of the lottery ticket until it looked like red glass.
“Do you feel fuckin’ lucky?!” and his father’s insane laugh rang out. The lottery ticket was gone, and in its place was a picture frame. THE picture frame.
“TODAY’S OUR LUCKY DAY!” Mr. Dunnels crowed as he stood up and held the picture like it was some kind of trophy. His laughter was becoming more maniacal by the second, and Geoffry willed himself to come awake, for he knew in the way the bands tightened around his wrists and lower belly what was going to happen next. Geoffry stood up and stepped toward his father.
“RING-A-FUCKIN-DING! WE HAVE OUR WINNER!” And as he said it, the laugh turned into a gurgle as a shattering sound came from his hand.
Geoffry stared at his father and watched as a huge crack spread from the picture frame to a dog he saw in the corner of the store.
But not just any dog, he thought in growing horror.
The crack wasn’t done yet. In a seemingly impossible move, it doubled back across time and space and split along Mr. Dunnels’ left arm.
Then a third steel band tightened around his throat as the crack turned around with single-track malevolence.
“No,” a firm voice mumbled.
The crack, thrown off by this distraction, hesitated, and in the milliseconds before it struck, Mrs. Dunnels stepped in front of it.
“Mom!” Geoffry cried out, “Don’t!”
Hot slime and alcohol that had soured in her stomach splashed all over Geoffry as her belly split open. Geoffry staggered as a third band tightened around his solar plexus, and this stagger made the crack miss him by inches. He didn’t know this, though- all he knew was that he couldn’t breathe.
And then he was falling, tumbling through the air, screaming with what little air he had left.
“I wanna be REAL!”
And then silence, for he’d fallen off the Edge.
Strangely enough, the dream didn’t end there. Geoffry woke up to find himself surrounded by police officers. They soon stepped away, though, leaving only the Sheriff and Deputy, who happened to be the trucker and the homeless guy he’d seen in the store when he was five.
“So, what are your thoughts on this, Sheriff?” the Deputy asked.
“Just to let you know, I know the motive and where he got the weapon, just not what that weapon could be.”
“The weapon? Don’t you mean this?” The Deputy held up his lottery ticket.
“No, silly, that’s the suspect.”
“So, do you think it was self-inflicted?”
“What I’ve said is all I’ve got to say on it, ‘cept that I suspect no suicide whatsoever.”
“What do you want to do with the victim, boss?”
The Sheriff laughed a bone-chilling laugh.
“What we always do with him, ya Skitzolooney-build ‘em up again.”
But I don’t want to play LEGOs! Geoffri howled mentally.
“That’s the catch, innit? Nobody ever wants to be built back up but they are anyway, and SO WILL YOU!”
The Sheriff’s hands reached closer and closer...
Geoffry woke up gasping and holding his throat, willing the horrid images to go away.
Easy, bud, he told himself, in and out, one breath at a time...
When he felt he composed himself, he mentally went over the few scattered images left over from his nightmare. A broken picture frame. Lottery tickets. Bums. Truck drivers. What was so scary about that?
Geoffry let out a snort, then bent over double as his back twinged. He glared at his lumpy old mattress.
“Damn thing’s gonna be the death of me,” he muttered.
The mattress had been his ever since he was two,when his parents had bought the thing at a yard sale. The mattress had been in great condition, pristine save for the dust that covered it and the odd spring or two that had been missing.
But the years had laid heavily on it, and the middle had bowed inward as springs rusted and stuffing decompressed. Now it was hardly more than lumpy bunches of patchy softness and springs jumbled together in a vaguely bed-shaped pile.
He got up and went into the bathroom, holding his bladder shut a little longer to examine his face for any true hair. Nothing but fuzz. A second later, he let it loose and his thoughts turned to the bed again. He desperately needed to be awake and aware for tomorrow- he had semester finals, and he always did crappy on tests anyway because of nerves. A a lack of sleep wouldn’t make it any better. But back to the problem of the bed. How would he-
He glimpsed the dismantled skateboard deck in the corner of his closet and smiled. That would prop the bed up. He grabbed the board and began to lift the mattress, then stopped. A huge rush of deja vu rushed over him. When had he put something under the mattress before?
Telling himself he was
silly, that he was being
paranoid to think he left anything of worth under there, he reached in and felt around for whatever-it-was, and then pulled out...
He sighed and reached down to pick up the deck, and that was when he saw it.
It must‘ve fallen out when I was groping around in there, he told himself as he stared at the paper on the floor next to him. Of course. I just happened to suddenly lose feeling in my hand when I swept the thing onto the floor, that’s it.
But despite his attempts to minimize the evil of the thing, to make it seem like nothing more that a lottery ticket, the ominous memories of the events surrounding the ticket flashed into his mind. He knew, deep down, that it was much more than a ticket. It was a curse, a curse everyone had been affected by in their own way- his dad was the most obvious and literal example of this, but his mother had felt, or, rather, drank, the effects of the curse, as well.
As if the ticket pained him, Geoffry tucked the ticket back in and got in bed, not even caring that the mattress was more uncomfortable than ever.
He’d told himself that he’d find a solution regarding the ticket by morning (he’d Sleep on it, haha), but at five-thirty all he could think about was Scantrons, bubbles, and Dixon Orioles. With the test-taking strategies he learned buzzing about in his head, he didn’t even stop once to think about the lottery ticket he left under the mattress. His head still muzzy from sleep, he got up and slowly began to get dressed. He casually looked over at the clock on his nightstand, froze for a second, the winced as his mother’s voice shrilled out.
“Hurry up in there! You’re gonna be late, and if you are you’re gonna have to walk!” “All right, mom, sheesh,” he mumbled through sleep-numbed lips. Even so, he began to go a bit faster.
As he trudged around the room getting his books and papers into his backpack, he began to tick off the things he still had to do.
Backpack, check, books, check, pencils, check, paper, check...what am I missing?
He looked in the mirror as he thought, and then slapped his forehead.
He quickly slipped them on and zipped the fly, then looked around the room one last time, just to check to make sure he didn’t forget anything. He scoured his brain even as he scoured the room, his eyes peering into every nook and cranny, then stopped on his bed. A vague memory stirred for a second in the deepest recesses of his mind, a memory he knew was important but couldn’t quite place...
“Shit, I forgot to make my bed.”
With a loud roar the old station wagon’s motor started.
Geoffry quickly grabbed a few corners of his sheets and folded them under the mattress, knowing that the mattress was to be replaced later that day. What he didn’t know was that if he’d gone a little further, things might have looked up a little for him. But he didn’t, and he completely ignored his better instincts and rushed downstairs into the garage where his mom was waiting with a scowl on her face.
The finals went better than Geoffry expected. The cute girl he’d be surreptitiously admiring the entire year had smiled at him. He’d even managed to make a new acquaintance, someone who, if he couldn’t call a friend, at least he could call him something other than bad names.
All in all, his day at school was quite productive.
That is, until he got the call.
“Geoffry, I’m going to be working some extra hours today.”
A frown appeared on his face, and he shook his head. Her voice was slurred- she had gone back to drinking, and would be out possibly all night.
“Mom, is something wrong? You sound drunk.”
“We’ll have to talk about it when I get back.”
“Did I do something wrong?”
Silence on the other end.
“Let’s just say you tested your luck too far today, buddy.”
A click as she hung up.
“Fucking great,” he muttered as he combed his hair back with his hands.
The rest of the day seemed to roll by unbearably slow, despite the fact that there were only two more periods left in the day. Every minute seemed like an hour as he wondered why his mom resorted to drinking her problems away again. As he sat in fifth, and sixth, period, he thought over her words.
“You tested your luck too far today, buddy.”
Then it clicked, and he groaned as he realized his mistake.
I left the lottery ticket under the bed, and today was the day she was going to get the new mattress for me. Why didn’t I think of that earlier?
Then, as if on cue, the bell rang.
It was time.
The day felt like a dream as Geoffry stepped out of the bus; just sunny enough to warm you up, but windy enough to make you realize summer didn’t last forever. Bugs hummed their dreary tune in the scraggly grass of the park he got dropped off at. Birds screamed musically at each other.
All in all, he couldn’t help but feel it was a terrible day for a final confrontation.
Because, he reasoned, that was what it was. A deep, gut instinct told him that only one of them, ticket or him(or was it mother and him?) would come out of it alive.
Time seemed to slow as he trudged to his house, dread filling his every step. He already had a good idea of what he would find inside, and he knew it wasn’t going to be pretty; if his mother already sounded soused on the phone, and she continued drinking, he couldn’t even imagine how she’d be once he got home two hours later.
He jaywalked the street leading to his neighborhood, stucco houses looming above like some kind of tribal deathwatch.
He stopped and considered the simile.
Deeming it appropriate, he continued on into the network of cul-de-sacs with renewed dread.
The first thing Geoffry noticed when he walked inside was the sheer amount of bottles littering the ground.
"Texas Driver," he read.
I hate alcohol, a nastier habit there never was.
The second thing he noticed was the stench.
Can't really blame her-drinking rotting fruit and God-knows-what-else.
The third thing he noticed was the utter desolation left all over the house.
She only did that because she gets moody when she drinks...can't really blame her.
And the fourth thing he noticed was that the lottery ticket was downstairs. Right below the picture frame, the cracked old picture of a cracked old life that no longer existed.
But that's not the ticket, Jeff, old boy, this is.
Slowly, hatefully, he approached the ticket and the picture. A terrible smile creased his features.
"Time to cash you in. Oh, yes, time to cash you in, you little bastard, time to get rid of you once and for all." he laughed, long and hard, not even caring that his voice carried off the walls and echoed back, not caring if it was mildly insane, not even caring that, for a brief moment, his father and his detestable greed had shone through.
He ended the laugh as abruptly as it started, and grinned at the picture.
"Go ahead and try it. Go on, I DARE YOU. Kinda hard to do anything when your buddy here," and here he waved the ticket, "is getting sold. Oh, yes, me and Mom are going to live quite the life after this, one without pictures or tickets or stupid bottles. Try and stop us, I DARE YOU."
He laughed again, this time shorter, as he swept his hand across the wall and knocked the picture frame to the ground. He stared at it, expecting for something to happen, and laughed when all that happened was that a teensy spiderweb of a crack appeared near, but not on, his neck.
"That's what I thought," he muttered under his breath as he stomped out the door and slammed the door behind him.
The house was quiet after he left, but it was a different kind of quiet. the atmosphere felt electric, alive. The air felt heavy, ready to crush the universe with potentially fulfilled expectations.
The climax was coming, nearing, then arrived.
The picture frame tinkled, and the crack near a certain little boy's neck grew till it almost touched, almost but not quite. The questing crack knew its limits. Its time would come, just not yet.
But it would come, sooner that expected.
The night air moved sluggishly as Geoffry's legs churned through and propelled him out of his neighborhood. Street lights glimmered off the heatwaves emanating from the asphalt like lights illuminating a swimming pool. A cool breeze carried the dark seduction of the coming night, and of all its happenings and occupants.
The night felt alive.
This was not lost on Geoffry, who slowly calmed and slowed both his mind and legs as he snuffed the breeze. He smiled gently as he pondered what he would do with the riches once he got them. The first thing he'd do was move out of that damned house, with or without his mother. He'd provide for her, send her money and all, but he'd get out of that house if it was the last thing he did.
Geoffry nodded quietly to himself, then chuckled as the prospect of finally getting rid of the damned lottery ticket hit him. The thing that caused him and his family so much undeserved pain, so much misery...gone.
The thought nearly made him break out into that half-deranged laughter again.
He quickly got his thoughts under control and quickened his pace; he never knew when his mother could stumble back home and find him missing. Up ahead, the bright lights of the 7-Eleven and the car wash shone like a beacon, encouraging him onward.
Went the salvation army man's little bell as he strode into the store. The cashier forced a smile onto his face and dropped his copy of last month's Reader's Digest and
"Is there anything I can help you with, sir?"
looked hesitantly at the grinning teenager in front of him. Something seemed unnatural about the way
"Yes could I use your phone?"
the smile tugged at the corners of his lips.
"Sure, just don't take more than a minute, or I'll charge you."
His smile grew larger, and definitely more creepy as
he dialed the number from the ticket he held and
waited for the line to pick up.
We are sorry, the number you have dialed has been disconnected or is no longer in use. Please dial a different-
The smile that had stretched Geoffry's face into a parody now was gone, but the cashier was not any more reassured, for a look of such haunting sorrow and rage creased his features that he wouldn't put it past the guy to pull a gun out and shoot everyone in the immediate vicinity.
"Hey, bud, you all right?"
"It didn't work, why the hell didn't it work, what did I do, God..." Geoffry stated in a flat, emotionless voice.
The speaker, a tubby police officer with brown curly locks and green eyes, frowned as he took in the sight of the lottery ticker.
"Lucky Seven, eh? Doncha know that the company went broke years ago? Got sued for ripping people off and not givin' them their prize money."
Geoffry turned to look at the man, a broken, pleading look in his eyes that immediately struck the man to the soul...and caused him to momentarily forget that Geoffry was a minor and shouldn't be cashing in a lottery ticket.
"Aw, jeez, kid...what's got you down?"
"You couldn't know, you'd never know what this TICKET HAS DONE TO ME!" Geoffry suddenly shouted. He snatched up the ticket and stumbled towards the door, ignoring the grasping hands of a police officer who suddenly realized he was a police officer and a cashier who demanded him to pay for the phone call.
As if they had minds of their own, his feet led him past the 7-Eleven and towards the ramp leading to the car wash. He bent over, tears and gasps commingling in the fishy stench. He looked up and saw that the undergrowth had been cut down, saw that every hiding place he could have stored the ticket had been gotten rid of. He sat at the top of the stairs, looking over the Edge, as his tears spashed and sizzled on the hot pavement.
"Excuse me, young man, but is that ticket from the Lucky Seven lottery?"
Geoffry looked up, startled at the inquisitive face fringed by black hair. He just nodded numbly and stared at the ground again.
"Hmm...how to phrase this...young man? How would you like to be rich?"
Geoffry continued staring at the ground. He already tried, he already failed, so why let his hopes be raised?
"It appears you do not understand what I allude to. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Bart Helgian, and I am what one might call a hoarder, a collector of rare artifacts, and you, sir, have one sitting in your hand. Nobody else I know has actually kept the tickets. That is, nobody except you."
Geoffry looked up, trying unsuccessfully to ward off the pointless hope blooming in his chest.
The stranger, seeing this, smiled and nodded, then continued.
"I see you finally catch my meaning. I shall be willing to offer a substantial sum of money for that exquisite artifact you possess, one which I hope you will agree upon. You appear to be fairly matured...perhaps sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, hmmm?"
Geoffry grimaced, but not at the stranger. Something didn't feel right. Something tingled, very lightly, at the back of his mind.
"You most likely have a checking account, do you not?"
Geoffry rubbed the bridge of his nose and his frown deepened. A small, familiar, tightening sensation had begun to throb in his upper abdomen.
"All right? Are...right?" The stranger's words faded in and out of his mind as the tight pain in Geoffry's chest deepened into that hateful band he thought he rid himself of, that pain he hoped had been left behind as a vestige of childhood, the pain which had sprung up not in the darkest of nights but in the brightest of days.
The pain that had been like a spreading crack, a worsening flaw in his happiness.
A pain he only felt when something dear to him was to be stripped away.
"Ex-Excuse me, sir, I have to go." Pain bloomed in his stomach, and Geoffry resisted the urge to throw up. He stood up, swaying slightly, and stumbled away as fast as he could.
"But young man, the ticket..."
Geoffry turned around, and the stranger staggered back a little. A half-mad glint shone in the boy's eyes as half his face curved in a sardonic smile.
"Sir, at this point, I could care less about money. Keep the damn ticket. If you really want to be generous, give that money to a charity, or even a whorehouse for all I care."
Goosebumps appeared all along the man's arms as a laugh that belonged in a looney bin escaped the boy's lips, and watched as he trudged up the incline and across the crosswalk, apparently oblivious to the fact that the light still showed a red hand. Only when he'd gone over the bridge and was hidden from view did the man turn around, pick up the ticket, and slowly, thoughtfully, walk back to his sedan.
Geoffry stumbled along the sidewalk, pulled towards his house by the same force that squeezed his middle. His mind raced and surged, trying to figure out who would die this time.
He remembered how plastered she sounded on the phone earlier that day, when he was at school, and imagined her drinking more, drinking bottle after bottle after bottle.
Stop it, just stop thinking that.
Oh, but you know it's true, you know she'd do something like that, just drink herself into her grave, the old sop, you know she would, and you're afraid, you're afraid you're-
No, stop thinking, just stop-
He stopped an inch away from slamming into the side of his house, surprised that he arrived that fast, then darted around to the front and turned the knob. Or attempted to; the door was locked.
It wasn't locked when I left, he thought. Panic grew into a monster lodged into his chest as he uselessly jiggled the knob and pounded on the door.
"Mom, mom! Are you in there?! Are you OK?!"
Silence, then the growing growl of a car engine as one stopped a few feet away from the front porch. A car door slamming.
"Son, is your mother here to talk to?"
Geoffry turned around and winced internally as the same police officer he saw inside the 7-Eleven looked sternly at him, his soft pudgy hand on his soft pudgy hip.
"Not sure...I can't open the door- I forgot my key."
"She locked you out?" The police officer's eyebrows raised and his mouth tightened. Not a good sign. "It seems we'll have a lot more to talk 'bout than I thought....here, allow me."
The police officer squared his body, obviously prepared to ram the door down, when his walky-talky squawked urgently. He relaxed slightly, then grimaced as something that sounded like gunshots cut through the static. He looked at his walky-talky, then at the house, and sighed.
"Son, you and your mother have a lot of explaining to do, but I've got to do something first. Wait here, outside the house, you hear? I'll be back."
Geoffry watched the officer as he left, then glanced around the porch. Finding the correct potted plant he quickly shoved the pot aside and stooped to pick up the key.
He turned to face the door again and his heartbeat accelerated even more, pounding in his chest like a tribal drumbeat. Gripping the key tightly in his shaking hand, he brought it closer and closer to the keyhole...
All at once, everything was still. Numb. His heart calmed, his breathing slowed, his sweat finished dripping. The world held its breath.
The house was empty as a tomb.
The bottles he saw all over the floor earlier were gone. The fetid stank of stale wine had dissipated like a dream.
The floor, where earlier there had beed wine-stains and God-knows-what-else, was spotlessly clean, no stains, nothing to indicate any proof that his mother had been in the house. Furniture was gone. Pictures were gone. Every one of his possessions were gone. Chips, stains, anything impure had been wiped from existence. As if to enunciate the change further still, the walls were now a pure, hospital-esque white.
The silence was deafening.
But worst of all, he was alone, and, judging from what he saw, he always would be.
"No," he muttered. He dragged himself towards the stairs. His mother had to have been here, had to have been in the house, he had to have lived in this house...was his entire past, like his social life, just a fabrication?
A moan, almost too low to be perceived, reached his ears with the barest whisper of hope and horror.
He quickly stomped up the stairs, his heart beginning to jumpstart into that now-familiar frantic pace.
He sprinted up the rest of the stairs, then stopped mid-stride as a frantic gurgle reached his ears.
He fought against his growing revulsion and managed to force himself a couple of steps forward. His hand reached, trembling once again, towards the knob.
The door opened at his touch, without him even turning it.
He stared at the scene before him with no expression, shock numbing his emotions as he took it all in. He approached the prostrate form of his mother, and gently wiped the string of regurgitated alcohol from her lips before kissing her forehead and shutting her eyelids. He sat down opposite her, regarding her with his head tilted, and stayed like this for half a minute before he realized she was truly dead. When that realization hit him, his gaze slowly drifted from her prostrate form and the mountain of bottles she lay on to an innocent-looking picture that lay to the side.
Cap was playing with his tongue lolling out. His dad was being a goofball. His mom was laughing, and Geoffry was just being himself, with a big, cheesy picture-smile on his face.
And there lay his mother, dead from the crack which ran through her belly.
After some time, he pulled his legs up to his chest. A hysteric chuckle escaped his mouth, which only deepened when he felt a band tighten around his belly. He rocked back and forth like this, laughing with the tears running down his face.
It got her, I knew it would, now it's going to get me, go ahead you bastard, come and get me, hell, I'm ready, come and get me and make it stop just make it stop
He didn't stop crying, even when he vaguely felt large, strong arms encircle him and lift him to his feet, and an authoritative voice ask him what happened. He just laughed and cried and rocked back and forth, back and forth, lost in the shattered remnants of his mind.
After all, dead men tell no tales, my father never told me anything and look, he's dead, hahahaha God please just end it now, please end it now
End it now.
If Geoffry were in any state worthy of conversation at the time, he would undoubtedly be shocked at the surprisingly brief mention his tragedy was given in the news that night.
This is ABC 7 Eyewitness News with Diane Sawyer.
"Welcome back, folks, it is a somber day for a kid named Geoffry Dunnels, child of Melinda and Richard Dunnels, who has just lost his mother on the anniversary of his parent's divorce. She died of alcohol poisoning last night, at the age of forty-two. Authorities say he currently is being treated in a group home designed for children with mental problems, and that once he is declared rehabilitated, he will be sent to a good foster home."
A month later, however, a story in the newspaper about the incident went much more in-depth, and featured a trascripted interview with the house director of the group home, Leonard McDonald.
Reporter: So, what was your first impression when Geoffry was carried in?
Director: Shock, horror, pity, the whole nine. I was actually amazed that his sanity was at a relatively stable level, given the horrors he must have gone through.
Reporter: What did you do or say to him at first?
Director: I said, "Hi, my name is Lenny. I'm the house director." I didn't really expect a response.
Reporter: Did he respond? And if he did, what did he say?
Director: He looked at me, and said something that still gives me chills, and I have heard a lot of disturbing things among mentally-ill children.
Reporter: And what would that be?
Director: "It Knows." That's all he said. "It knows." If you could only see the look of pure terror in his eyes when he said that...
Reporter: What did you say to him afterwards?
Director: Nothing. I said nothing;' Geoffry had lost consciousness after he said that.
Reporter: Were there any more...episodes...like this?
Director: Yes. They were different in nature, but had presumably the same cause- he had blamed the unfortunate death of his immediate family on some...being...and then become afraid that this being was after him, as well, and knew where he was, and would eventually kill him, as well.
Reporter: Can you give me an example of such an episode?
Director: Well, really, only a few stand out, now that I think of it...most of his episodes happened at night, in the form of night-terrors, all of them involving thrashing, crying, and eventually waking up screaming odd things, like "The place!" and "That's the ticket!"
Reporter: So, how did you treat him? From what I gather, Government aid is getting slimmer and slimmer...
Director: We received a tremendous donation of millions of dollars from an "unknown" donor. However, there being only one truly rich person in town, and the donor happening to be only one person, I'm pretty sure we both know who it is. Anyway, I never had much experience dealing with such intense mental illness as what Geoffry had. I was able to hire a top-notch psychiatrist to personally handle things.
Reporter: According to records, it states he left the group home a month later, declared rehabilitated.
Director: Yes, and I think the reason is because he was told that when he left, he'd be moving somewhere far away. The idea of that, the appeal of him leaving the city where all the strife happened, I think, is what finally pulled him back to sanity.
Reporter: Is there anything else of interest that happened before he left?
Director: Well...there's something that happened right after he left...he had just driven out of the driveway, in fact, when I heard a strange noise in the kitchen. When I went to investigate, I don't know what it was, but it felt...wrong...somehow, like tense, as if a large axe was suspended above my head.
Reporter: Is that all?
Director: Well, there's more...the first thing I looked at was the knife drawer, naturally, since it's the only "dangerous" thing in the kitchen, really. And when I looked in there, well, you wouldn't believe this...
Reporter: Try me.
Director: The butcher knife, the biggest, sharpest knife in the drawer, was gone.
In the Camarillo Police Department, security cameras captured a conversation between two officers walking to the breakroom.
"Man, I think there's something to this case- more than meets the eye."
"What are you talking about? The chick drank herself to death, the husband checked out of life, the house director painted his brains on his wall, and the kid is traumatized. Seems straightforward to me."
"Aw, come on, look me in the eyes and tell me YOU didn't have a nightmare last night."
"Well, maybe I did, who cares? All I want is some coffee and-"
"What about the fact that the picture the kid mentioned, the one supposedly near the mother, was gone, but that there was still broken glass, glass too straight and clear to be from alcohol bottles."
"There has to be a -"
"What was your dream about."
"Now, look here, kid..."
"Because I'll tell you what mine was about- that damned picture, the one we never saw and, thus, shouldn't be able to picture in our dreams."
"Look, can we just stop-"
End of conversation.
The following account is a series of undated entries by Geoffri Dunnels after being released from foster care and having set up a successful writing career. The journal was found near the two memorial stones of his parents. A shriveled up, burnt polaroid no longer able to be identified lay next to it, along with shattered pieces of a frame and the group home's missing butcher knife.
It took a while, but I managed to make some time in my busy writing schedule to go back.
Camarillo, California had always been a wannabe L.A. Small, yet spread out in an attempt to appear large, the city had long been the home of both my greatest dreams and my darkest nightmares.
I came back for a few different reasons. One, I guess I explained already...I guess I partly came for the nostalgia. Two was to pay my long-overdue respects to my parent's graves.
But the third reason...
Camarillo, home of my darkest nightmares?
Yeah, it was time to change that.
The first place I visited when I got there was the group home I'd stayed in while my mind pulled itself out of its madness. I couldn't wait to show Lenny how much I'd matured, and the few books I'd already published, along with the manuscript for a new piece of writing- a novella.
But when I got there, the place was abandoned. The two house's vans were rusted and obviously had not been touched, even by vandals, in years. The door to the house was skew on its hinges, and a "Condemned" sign hung crookedly over one gaping hole where a window had been.
At first, I questioned how this could have happened-there couldn't really be anything wrong that would cause this, this couldn't, SHOULDN'T, have happened.
But then, in the back of my mind, floating like a rotten old apple in a pool of vomit, came a single thought, an image that thousands of dollar's worth of psychiatric treatment had apparently not removed.
The photo. That damned photo. It was the cause.
No, I thought desperately, that was just a psychosis, it doesn't even exist, it can't possibly-
But even as I shook my head, I got in my car and drove to the place I knew it would be.
Mom and Dad's grave.
When I got back out of the BMW, I swayed slightly. The heavy bands, the ones from childhood, had come back with full force, only this time there was also one around my forehead, like some sort of hellish circlet.
Without even needing direction, my feet bumbled and stumbled their way among the tombstones to the memorial stones where my parents were buried, side by side. I looked at the two stones, the ground around them, next to them, everywhere, for the photo, and was pleasantly surprised that, at least for now, I was alone.
I put flowers on their graves and got down on my knees in my hundred dollar suit, head bowed and eyes moist. I didn't know then that scars always hurt afterwards, that they ache with remembrance at the pains one felt so long ago, but I DID know that just the simple act of honoring my parents hurt me like nothing else; their lives had been so pointlessly short, and all over a stupid photo.
The thump of an object next to me.
Slowly, carefully, I turned my head towards the sound. The picture was there, yes, but, for once, that was not what attracted my eye. Next to the photo was an open, unmarked grave.
And next to the grave was a butcher knife.
Geoffry did not die.
The grave's contents were never officially exhumed, but if one had tried, one would find nothing. Just dirt, smooth and undisturbed, as if nobody had ever dug it. Grass even grows over the site, covering up what could have been a tragedy.
Nobody knows why Geoffry didn't kill himself that day. Surely he grappled with the idea; the ground was marked with blurred footsteps, wrestling with the idea in every sense of the word.
But once the tracks got near the edge, they stopped. And there, before the wind, earth, and rain washed them away, lay two distinct sets of footprints.
They were identical.
Even though part nine and this final word may never see the light of day, Geoffry's newest work went viral and was well-received by fans and critics alike.
How do I know this?
Well, I guess you'd say I'm his biggest fan. It took me a while to find my way out of the graveyard, but I managed to do so just in time to see his novella really blossom. I personally am glad he faced his past, if only once.
In fact, I think I am going to pay him a visit right now.
We have a quite a bit in common, him and I, too bad he doesn't like me- we could be such good friends. Well, at least he's not ignoring me entirely.
After all, you can't run from your past.
Written by Noughtshayde