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My mother always told me to stay away from Jamie Robert Mitchum.
Maybe I should have listened to her.
I guess I didn’t really understand why at the time. I guess children are more trusting. Sure, he was strange. Anybody could see that. Jamie was the type of kid to play with a magnifying glass on the blacktop during recess. He wore the early loss of his mother on his sleeve and the bruises from bouts with bullies on his arms. Jamie fought with everybody. He fought with the teachers. He fought with whatever parental figure stumbled through the door of his house that week. I think he would fight a dog if it looked at him the wrong way. But good friends were hard to come by at the time. We were two dorks destined to stick by each other’s side.
My strongest memory of him begins in the fifth grade, on the day they found Maggie Henneway’s body buried behind the schoolyard.
Or, more accurately, the day Jamie found her body behind the schoolyard.
* * * * * *
We were playing Cowboys & Indians at recess. Same as any day. Jamie always insisted on being the Cowboy. His interpretation of the rules included chasing me around the school yard, with a weaponized tree branch at the ready. Offensive stuff, I get it, even for back then.
At one point, Jamie cornered me towards the back of the property. We were up against some fencing that separated us from the woods, and I thought I was done for. I thought I was finished. It would not be the first time Jamie took the game a little too seriously by beating the Hell out of me. The kid thrived on violence. He lifted the branch over his head. He laughed at me cowering with a maniacal ‘fake’ laugh that seemed almost too real to be false. But just before he took his swing, Jamie stopped, and pointed towards a pricker bush behind me.
“Look. Let’s go touch it,“
I’ll never forget the callousness in his voice. The kid didn’t seem concerned. He didn’t seem scared. He didn’t try to get the teachers. He just pointed, lazily, almost uninterested at the stack of human remains just three feet behind my right shoulder.
I looked at it.
I wish I hadn’t.
The woman was sliced down the center of her torso; from the top of her chest to the bottom of her stomach. It almost looked like something you might see in an autopsy room. Small little stab injuries spread out through her abdomen and midsection. Her face appeared swollen and disfigured. I turned away and vomited.
“Don’t be a baby,” he said. “It’s just a body. Let’s go touch it,”
Before I could take in anymore, I screamed, and somebody ran and got Miss Abernathy.
The rest of that day remains a blur.
* * * * * *
The police investigation took months. I remember that part as vividly as yesterday. They talked to Jamie. They talked to his dad. They even talked to his dad’s girlfriends, and almost anybody he made contact with on a day-to-day basis. My parents were even interrogated. We did not know why, at the time. But we found out when the police announced a break in the case.
Maggie spent her last night alive in the Mitchum house.
It is hard to say exactly what happened. Some believe that Mr. Mitchum (Jamie’s dad) and Maggie were sleeping together. The officers and District Attorney settled on that theory and prosecuted it successfully. Nobody seemed very interested in the fact that Jamie found the body. Nobody seemed very interested in his deviant behavior at all. And so I didn’t push them.
Jamie’s dad went to jail in the summer of ’95. He moved in with his aunt soon after. And things only got stranger from there.
* * * * * *
Jamie liked the woods.
My family house bordered the same massive forest connected to the school yard. For a long time, that fact seemed like the only reason we were friends at all. Every day after school he would call the house and ask to come over. My parents worked until five, and I was not doing anything else, so I didn’t mind. The tradition eventually became so ingrained that he didn’t bother to ask after a while. By the time the winter of seventh grade rolled around, Jamie dropped by each and every day.
And he always wanted to go in the woods.
I did not think much of that fact, at first. I probably should have connected the dots between the location of his father’s drop site, and the proximity to my house, but… I didn’t. The woods are endlessly interesting to a pair of thirteen year old kids. The creek contained fossil beds from when Jersey was underwater. The hills and valleys provided the perfect grounds for snowball fights, exploring, and all the other kinds of things we did back then. It seemed normal for another kid to want to hang out there.
One day after school, Jamie brought a strange new device with him. It looked and sounded like a metal detector, but, Jamie of course insisted otherwise. He said it was his Dad’s. He said the device could detect thin lines in between worlds, and, that there should be one in my woods.
I said that shit sounded stupid for a couple of grown teenagers. We were thirteen, then. Well past the days of stick fights on the playground. But that comment didn’t stop him from beeping all over the woods for hours on end. The noise started to get really annoying. He started to get annoying. Eventually, the whole thing felt childish, and I told Jamie the same. He did not take that well.
* * * * * *
“We didn’t find it yet,” he whined. “Please, Matt, we need to find it.”
“We are never going to find something that does not exist. Don’t you think if there was a portal to another dimension in my backyard, the government, or somebody would have fucking found out by now?”
“What if my Mom’s there?” he asked with a sniffle. “What if my mom is waiting to cross over to get me and she can’t? I don’t want to be alone, anymore, man. I can’t. I never even see my aunt. I want what you have. I want my family back.”
“How do you know she’s there? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“My dad told me.”
I stared at him. The tears on his face looked genuine.
“Fine. One last time.”
* * * * * *
Something about that last walk down the familiar path made me shiver. This happened a long time ago, but, I still remember the sensation of my hairs standing on my neck. I could not figure out why at the time. Jamie looked cheerful and even hopeful for the first moment in a while. Maybe that was it. This was supposed to be our last trip, and yet, he still seemed happy. He kept his eyes fixated to the metal detector, hummed some old song, and did not pay me much mind.
We split up.
I checked out the fossil beds for the thousandth time. I looked for new and interested things in the creek. A family of deer passed by and I watched them for a while. As it got darker, outside, I couldn’t see Jamie anymore. But the persistent beep of his metal detector told me he was in range.
Sometime around 4:30, the device started to freak out. The beeping pulsated so strong that it sounded like a fire alarm. After it stopped… the woods returned silence.
“Jamie? Jamie it’s probably just an old sewer pipe, man. Those things have metal in them, I think.”
From somewhere to my left, a pair of footsteps sprinted in my direction. I didn’t have time to react. I didn’t have time to brace for impact. I turned just in time to catch a large boulder to the forehead.
Then the lights went out.
* * * * * *
I woke up to find my arms restricted.
My head throbbed from the impact. I wanted to touch it with my hand. But I wouldn’t. I wanted to cry. But the gag on my mouth made it impossible to even talk. I wanted to stare my former friend down… but the blindfold made it impossible to see.
“Dude, what the fuck,” I mumbled groggily. “What the fuck?!
“I found it. I fucking found it. I can’t believe I fucking found it.”
I tried to argue with him. I tried to tell him to untie me. But he ignored me.
“My dad thought he found it. He used to come out to these woods every fucking night looking for it. But he was wrong.”
A knife entered my abdomen. I can still feel the way that sharp blade cut effortlessly into my belly. In, then out.
“I have to do this. You know that right? I don’t want to, not really. I’d rather take somebody like our English teacher. But who knows if there’s time. I can feel her here, can’t you?”
Jamie stabbed me again. I started to lose the will to fight.
“Dad told me all the rules. Just before he left. One life for one and we’ll be a family again. That’s all it takes. A sacrifice. That’s all the Devil wants.”
The rope around my wrists was loose.
So that’s why he always kept a backpack. Rope, blindfold, tape… he planned this.
The rope around my wrists was loose, my blood sapped brain repeated.
“Don’t worry about dying,” he continued. “Your parents are old. You’ll see them again in twenty years. That’ll probably be as quick as turning off a light over there.”
He stabbed me again. Lighter, this time, more like a scratch; as if he felt bad doing it. I turned my hand to the right, and to the left. I shimmied as much as possible, without giving away my intention. After a moment, I reached for the shitty knot with my free fingers and pulled it loose.
The rope fell free by my feet.
And I did not give Jamie the chance to react.
My right fist flung towards his face with every inch of muscle and strength remaining in my body. It connected with his jaw. My left followed a minute later, and in seconds, Jamie was on the ground. The asshole never even bothered to tie my feet. So I leapt on top of him.
Right on top of the outstretched knife in his hands.
The blade connected with the soft tissue in my stomach. I fell backwards with the knife still in my gut before Jamie pulled it out cleanly. He got up. He laughed for a second. Then he rose the blade over his head, black eye and all, and prepared to bring it down one final time.
But before that could happen, a gunshot broke through the night.
Jamie collapsed. He died inches from my side.
I nearly joined him.
* * * * * *
The man who fired the fatal shot was a police officer who witnessed the fight. My mom called them when I didn’t come home in time. Like I said, she never quite trusted Jaime, and that distrust may have saved my life. The cops quickly arranged for an ambulance, and after a couple blood transfusions, I survived.
We did not go to the funeral. I did not go to school. My parents stopped going to work. Eventually, the gossip in town became too much, and we decided to move.
* * * * * *
I will never forget my final night in that house.
Mom and dad made my favorite meal; pepperoni pizza bread and grilled cheese. A heart-attack waiting to happen. I think they felt guilty about the move. I think they felt guilty about Jamie. And so we decided to have a family night. All three of us sat by the TV and watched all of our favorite Christmas movies. I loved it. I went to bed with the warm memories almost outweighing the negative.
But that night, sometime after three, I woke up to a strange noise emanating from the woods. The hairs on my arm stood up. They still do, whenever I think about it.
A metal detector pinged lazily from the woods. I shot out of bed and listened to it carefully.
And, as sure as I am sitting here, I heard it; just underneath the persistent beeps, just underneath the lazy raindrops…
A woman was crying.