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It’s Friday evening. Your parents are away for the weekend, and they left you in charge of looking after your little brother while they’re gone. At age seventeen, you’re more than capable of making sure a nine-year-old doesn’t get himself killed. Even though it’s a quarter until midnight, neither of you have hit the hay yet. At the moment, you’re in your room catching up on some homework and he’s downstairs watching television in the living room.
Your bedroom is directly above the living room, so you can always hear the TV through your thin floors. Every action movie, every reality show, every infomercial comes in loud and clear to you. It used to annoy the hell out of you, but you’ve grown accustomed to working with the sound in the background. It hardly ever gets so clamorous as to be distracting. If it does, you just descend your house’s only set of steps and ask whoever’s down there to lower the volume. Or, if you’re feeling lazy, you just holler your request at the floor. They can usually hear you.
Although you’re focused on your work, you’re quite aware of what your brother’s watching. You think it’s a vintage crime drama or something. At the moment you can hear one character, presumably a mob boss or something like that, bragging about how his gang is going to thrash their rivals in an upcoming brawl.
“We’re gonna pound them 'til they look like a newspaper: Black, white, and red all over!” Your brother roars with laughter at that one. Only a kid with his level of maturity could somehow milk a chuckle out of that overplayed pun.
“Ya got that right, Lupo!” one of his underlings exclaims.
Another character says, with a timid voice, “I ain’t sure if we should go through with this. Don’t really seem right to me.” More laughter from your brother.
“You got a problem with the plan?” the head mobster asks. You can tell he’s ticked.
At this point, you’re beginning to lose concentration on your work. You’re curious as to what this show or movie is about.
The other answers tentatively, “No, I just think we oughta—” His words are cut short by what sounds like a scuffle. There’s a shout, and then a succession of whams like someone is being bludgeoned with a baseball bat. Your brother giggles again. You have no idea what’s supposed to be funny.
The reluctant character—whoever’s being roughed up— keeps begging for mercy, but the one hurting him does not relent. The strikes just keep coming. The victim lets out one final plea, but falls silent after you hear something snap, like a broken bone. A sickening crunch immediately follows, accompanied by yet another bay of laughter. After clearing his throat, the leader speaks again. “Anybody else have any objections?” he asks.
No one does. In the silence, you can hear your brother snickering.
The boss speaks up again. “Well, glad that’s out of the way.” He sighs. “Aw, jeez, now I’m all bloody.” That line gets your brother in stitches. He must not get what’s happening, if he thinks that’s funny, you think.
“Gimme me a towel and a bucket of water, Frankie,” the honcho orders. “Then we can toss this piece ‘a crap out on the street. Even the rats gotta eat, am I right?” Your brother bursts out laughing like he’d just heard the funniest joke in history.
This time, your brother's hysterics continue for a little less than a minute, growing noisier by the second. This is getting weird.
You feel a little sick to your stomach. Your older sibling instincts kick in, and you realize your brother shouldn’t be watching some freaky murder flick so late. He shouldn’t be watching it at all, really. It’ll give him nightmares. Heck, if the thing is as brutal as it sounds, it’d probably keep you awake at night, too. Yelling at him to come up and go to bed yields no response. Stubborn kid. You try again. No reply. Perhaps he fell asleep on the couch. You decide to go downstairs and carry him up to his bed.
You push away from your desk and leave your room. The noise from the television stops abruptly as you walk down the hall towards the staircase. Downstairs, it’s dark. The TV’s not on. Your brother’s not on the couch in front of it. You call out his name. No one answers. He’s not in any of the rooms on the ground floor.
Suddenly alarmed, you sprint upstairs to his room and peek in. You find him snoring soundly next to his nightlight. He must’ve gone to sleep a while ago, since there’s no way he could have snuck past you from downstairs undetected. In any case, you’re relieved that he’s all right, and glad he wasn’t poisoning his mind with some horrific late-night televised drivel. Positively relieved, until you realize that there’s no way he could have been watching the television only a few moments ago.
An icy chill runs down your spine. You hear laughter behind you; it’s that same laughter from downstairs that you'd assumed belonged to your brother. Now it is much, much closer.