I was always terrified of doctors above all else, so by the time I finally steeled myself enough to go, the cancer had metastasized in both breasts. I sat numbly in Dr. Kerden's office, as she droned on about my options. She never berated me...

I can't fall back to sleep. I don't even remember what woke me up, but now that I'm awake I can't fall back asleep no matter how hard I try. Counting sheep doesn't seem to help. It wouldn't even be that bad being awake in...

Last summer, I flew back to my hometown for a school reunion. It had been almost three years since I had graduated from school, and aside from close friends, I had heard nothing from the rest of my classfellows. The reunion took place at the school...

The Tale of Moll Dyer By Christina Durner After ten years of nightmarish terror, saved only by the conviction of the reality that I witnessed that night, I will vouch for the truth of what really happened to Ruby...

I woke to my friend, Tom, climbing through my window. It was a summerโ€™s night, around 2AM, and the heat had been unbearable for days. For that reason I had left my window open slightly to let what cool air there was filter into my...

I was a beautiful young woman once, full of love and life. My lily-white skin was soft and warm, my belly swollen with new life, and my hand held by my husband, Edward. Edward was a good man. We married young, in the spring, when...

As I lay in my sick bed with my mind muddled, I find it quite impossible to find motivation to continue on and lack the focus to return to my work. Ever since a fantastic yet terrible event I have bordered on mania. Now I...

Iโ€™ve always been fascinated with the unknown, particularly creatures of the unknown. I donโ€™t know when this obsession of mine started. It probably started when I was a young kid and would watch documentary series on aliens, Bigfoot, Yeti, unknown sea monsters, and the like. My...

Itโ€™s already difficult to thinkโ€ฆ. But what is left to do? I am going to be erased; am being erased. I can feel my thoughts slipping away from me like sand between fingers. I can grasp at them, but the harder I try, the more...

Frank was strapped into his seat; he was one of the lucky ones. The trip was a way out, a way off this planet, out of the country that had abandoned him. Everything from the past was going to be forgotten, which was good for...

While I have some scary incidents that happened throughout my younger life, this one has probably stuck with me the most. I remember when I was a little boy, and my parents used to live in this crummy apartment somewhere in Cleveland, Ohio. I reminisce to...

โ€œYouโ€™re such a baby!โ€ my friend Elise exclaimed as I held her arm tight when the power in my house went out. โ€œI am not! I just hate the dark! I donโ€™t know what it is about it,...

A dim light glowed along the cracks of the door, โ€œWhere am I? How did I get here?โ€ the words did not escape my lips but lay trapped in my throat, rumbling along my vocal chords and spilling out in a dull moan. โ€œAm I...

Chapter 1 Jonathan was fascinated by magic. For as long as he could recall, it was something that undoubtedly enthralled him. Perhaps it was that the enigmatic nature that drew him towards it. He remembered witnessing his first act of wonder on the street, when an...

It's almost funny, people understand so little about life until their lives are close to over. Ah, but youth is wasted on the young, right? Well, from my youth on, I have attended patients at Mashapaug Psychiatric Institute, a private manor in a heavily forested...

So hereโ€™s a quaint little story Iโ€™m only now recollecting for the first time in my adult life, having faded slowly in the memory since the event actually occurred on one day during my teenage years. I was 11, and it was the summer that...

My name is Sylvester Penn. I am a professional psychotherapist working for the judicial branch of the state of Connecticut which is why I was so surprised to have received a call from a precinct asylum in southern Rhode Island and to hear that I had been summonsed by name to speak with a particular in-patient. Making the drive down from the western half of the state took only a couple hours so I said I would be there as soon as possible. Rhode Island is the smallest of the fifty United States but it also has one of the most complicated highway connection systems so it was a challenge to find my exit at first but ultimately I found the right ramp and the rest of the drive to the location was fairly straight-forward. It was getting late in the afternoon by the time I made the final left before I could just follow the road until I found the precinct. I pulled onto a 20mph speed limit road. Going at such a speed, I had the opportunity to appreciate the rustic Rhode Island countryside which was mostly quaint suburban homes swathed in dense forest. Just as my directions suggested, I was pulling under a final overpass that would clear the way to the precinct just ahead. Until that point nothing had seemed too out of the ordinary but that is when I saw them. Huddled like a pair of hobos in a New York subway tunnel were a pair of young boys sitting under the bridge; one hefty, one tall and scrawny. I might not have thought anything of them except that as I drove past they couldn't seem to pull their eyes off of mine. I couldn't tear my gaze away from them either for some reason and for a moment it felt as though the world had slowed so that I could get a good look at them. I was awoken by a blaring car horn as I nearly veered into the other lane on a bend that followed the overpass. I pulled back onto my lane and looked back trying to get a glimpse of whether these accusative boys were still staring. Whether they were or not I couldn't tell as the overpass was hidden by the brush in increasing degrees and I put distance between myself and the bridge. Ultimately I decided to put it out of my mind. Why was I getting so worked up about a pair of delinquents anyway? Who knows what they were doing huddled under that bridge? Instead I faced back forwards and concentrated on making the rest of the drive a safe one. I could at last see that I was pulling up to the precinct and I straightened myself up, prepared to look professional to the gate guard who was undoubtedly watching me approach with a skeptical expression on his face. When I pulled up to the gate I found that the guard was in fact a 'she' not a 'he' but -- no surprise lost -- she was about as cynical as I expected her to be, taking her job far more seriously than necessary and gazing down at me along the thin bridge of her nose. After some slight awkwardness, she permitted my entrance and I scanned the buildings for the one I was supposed to be reporting to. It took a few minutes as it was all the way at the back of the center but I found parking quickly and took to the stairs. Once inside I was greeted by a gruff police chief who led me to the chambers where the in-patients were housed. "I don't know how he got word of your name but I will warn you that the man you're here to see today is a felon convicted of murder." "Thank you, I was briefed at my facility in Hartford." I responded dryly. I had dealt with a wide variety of patients, all convicted of hideous crimes -- some rightfully, some not. I was confident that I could handle another. As we continued down the narrow hallway here and there I heard the usual disturbance, a screech or a howl but nothing out of the ordinary. However, the room I was lead to was obtrusively silent, silent to the point of resonance. "Suit yourself." the chief shrugged. He unlocked the door and gestured that I could enter. As soon as I was inside, the door was closed behind me and locked. "Just give a holler when you're done." The room that I found myself standing in was very dimly lit with ominous shadows shrouding the corners. A man who couldn't have been older than twenty-seven was sat with his head hung at a round table with a light shining down on it like in an interrogation room. My impression was that this was not an orthodox precinct to say the least. "Hello," I said to the patient, "may I sit down?" He didn't look up at me, he just kept his face hidden but he nodded slowly like a timid child. "Thank you." I said maintaining my professionalism. I sat down and just faced him, thinking the tension would eventually prompt him to speak. At first he just lifted his chin off his chest a bit and peeked at me as though he were nervous that I was going to ground him for a week. "You must be wondering who I am." I offered. No response. "My name is Sylvester Penn. I'm the psychotherapist you specially requested a visit from?" "Yeah, I know who you are." He responded bluntly. "And who are you?" I fired back, catching my opportunity to keep the conversation going. "I'm Michael. Just Michael." "Okay, 'Just Michael.' Is there something in particular you wanted to talk to me about today?" I proceeded, probing for a trigger. I needed to find a way to open the flood gates. The silent type usually has a lot pent up to say. He didn't respond to my question immediately. Finally he just shrugged. I decided to try and open up a usual session, approach this in the most advantageous way I could. "Okay, so we know why I'm here. I'm here because you want me here. Why don't we talk about why you're here?" "I killed someone." Michael said abruptly. "You did?" I responded simply. Usually I was met with refusal of the truth. "But it's not who they think it is." he explained further. "What do you mean by that?" "I mean... I did kill someone but... not who they think it is." he said. I paused for a moment, not knowing how to respond to that. "It's all my fault. It's all my fault." He started mumbling under his breath. "It's all my fault. It's all my fault." "What's your fault, Michael? It's your fault that you killed them?" Usually patients at least had an alibi for what they did. This patient was different. Had he called me here to help him deal with his own remorse? It wasn't unheard of. "There are still ways of redeeming yourself Michael. Your past may be what it is, but your future is not lost." I explained. "It's all MY fault!" He suddenly shouted in my face, lifting his up into the light to reveal the tears streaming down it. I just sat silently and watched. Michael seethed, his shoulders lifting and falling with each breath. I let the pause linger. When he had calmed down a bit and I could see that he wasn't going to continue the conversation, I moved to keep the ball in the air. "Where are you from, Michael?" I asked. "South Kingstown." he replied in a slightly whining tone. "Did you grow up there?" "Yes." I had him. "What was it like growing up in South Kingstown?" "Boring at first." he said honestly, calming down and speaking in an ordinary tone. "The neighborhood I grew up in was mostly full of retirees. There weren't a lot of kids to play with." "That must have been hard on you." I said generically. "Well it didn't last too long." he offered. "Did kids start moving into the neighborhood?" "Eventually." he explained. "At first it was just one. Andrew. He was my best friend. He moved in right next door." "He must've been important to you." "Yeah..." he almost sighed as if he wasn't really fond of thinking of it. "What was he like?" "He was a good friend when we were little. I wasn't always such a good friend to him." Michael supplied. "What do you mean by that?" I pushed. "Well I was kindof mean to him sometimes." "How so?" "I was really excited when he first moved in, you know?" Michael began. I nodded knowingly, comprehensively. "But he was always really kindof different. He wasn't really all that smart. Plus he was really big and sometimes he broke things -- like my toys. I knew he didn't do it on purpose but it was so easy to get mad at him." "Well it's reasonable to be angry over broken things." I suggested. "Yeah, but not as angry as I got. I would insult him, tell him he was an idiot. Call him fat. He would always run home crying and for some reason there was a certain amount of satisfaction I got out of that." Michael related. "I don't know what was wrong with me." I paused for a moment. Pensively, strategically. He just sat there, waiting for me to prompt him again. "I'm wondering what your home life was like -- what your parents were like." "I had a great childhood." Michael responded. "I was an only child. My parents were good to me, we lived in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood. I always got almost anything I wanted." "Yes but those are all material things." I noted. "Did you ever feel as though they weren't meeting you on an emotional level?" "No." He said frankly. "My mom was very loving and caring, my dad was an all-American kindof guy. He taught me to play baseball and ride a bike and stuff. It was really normal." "So where do you think the animosity towards Andrew came from?" Michael looked down and I could tell he was fiddling with something under the table. I could also tell that he didn't want to answer my question. I was beginning to see some patterns that were telling me that he had probably been in this asylum for a while and that he had entered it at a pretty young age. But something about his speech patterns told me that his issue hit very deep in his childhood, which is a common assumption, but Michael was different. From what I'd read of his records, he'd been admitted at the age of twenty-one, but he may have been incarcerated before then. "Didn't Andrew stop wanting to be around you when you were mean?" "Well sortof." Michael avoided. "He would say that at first but I could always convince him to let it go. I should've apologized but I never did. And he didn't even bother once we'd built the tree house." "Was the tree house your way of coaxing him?" I asked. "Well, we built it together with our dads. It was kindof expensive too since it came in a kit and it was really big. We could actually stand up in it and bring up a mini cooler for sodas and stuff. Our parents split the money on it." "It sounds like he felt like he had to be your friend if he wanted to use the tree house." I pointed out. "Yeah, I think so too now when I think about it. I didn't even think of it way back then though." He admitted. "So you were kindof taking advantage of him." "For a while, yeah. But then..." he trailed off. "But then, what?" I knew this was important. "Well he still kept breaking my stuff." Michael stated. It was more of an observation of an excuse than just an excuse. "And how did you feel about that?" "I felt mad." "How mad?" "Well I just felt like it was because he was fat and stupid and not very careful. It was like he didn't care. At least, that's how I thought of it. And then one day he broke something really important to me." Michael explained. "What was that?" "It was this Superman action figure that I had been begging my mom to get for me for a long time. It was one of those featured toys you see on the Warner Bros commercials and it was really expensive 'cause it was big and well-made." Michael told me. "I see. So when he broke it you must have been pretty upset." I stated. "Not just that but I started to fight him! But he pushed me down and he kindof... lost control." Michael said. I sat up a bit at that. "How do you mean?" "I mean, I pushed him and punched him because I was angry, but he was a lot bigger than me so it didn't hurt him much but he, like, threw me around and gave me a black eye." Michael recounted. A concerned expression had come over my face. "Why do you think he reacted so violently?" Michael was quiet for a minute. He looked as though he hadn't considered that as much. Finally he said, "That's why I shouldn't have been such a jerk to him." "So then what happened?" "We both got in trouble. We got grounded. And I was still mad at him. I had never been that mad at him. His mom made him apologize to me and he was crying and all I could think was 'yeah, keep crying you fat idiot.'" Michael said. He shook his head at himself. "Did you stop being friends with him after that?" I asked. "No." he said. "You made up with him?" I asked. "Well, not exactly. One day, after we'd been grounded, I went to his house and asked him to come out and play. I talked him into going to the Little Park. There were two parks in our neighborhood, the Little Park and the Big Park. Most kids didn't like going to the Little Park even though the stuff there was newer because they hadn't cleared away much of the forest there. Everyone was scared of the forest." Michael explained, he was fiddling with whatever was under the table again. "Including Andrew?" I asked. Michael nodded. "So what did you do?" "I had these two tennis balls." he said. "One was all water-logged from playing fetch on the beach with my cousin's dogs and the other was brand spanking new. We used to like playing baseball with tennis balls because we could hit them farther. And I had this game made up so I could get back at Andrew. I said, 'One of us will pitch the ball and see how far we can hit it. Then the other one will go get the ball from the woods.' I knew he wasn't going to want to do it. So I said, 'Look, I'll pitch first.'" "And he agreed?" I presumed. "Yes. So I pitched him the old ball so that I could find it really easily in the woods. When I came out in no time with it he wasn't so scared anymore. Then I gave him the new ball and he pitched it to me." "And you were really good at baseball." I continued, "So it went further into the woods." "Andrew didn't want to go in to get the ball. He stood there staring at me for a minute but I told him, 'Hey, if I can do it, you can do it. It's only fair.' And he just wanted to be friends with me again so bad that he couldn't say no. As soon as I was sure that he was all the way in, I just ran home laughing." Michael was looking at me with an expression that read, 'can you believe that?' "So that was your revenge for the Superman." I said taking my chin between thumb and forefinger. "Yeah, but I got more than I bargained for." Michael said. "How do you mean?" I asked, more out of habit than anything else. "He didn't come back." Michael said. "What?" I asked in shock. Was he revealing something to me? "I watched out of my bedroom window for hours." Michael said. "I wanted to see him come running home to his mommy. I wanted to be able to say that I didn't want to be friends with him because he didn't bring my ball back. I wanted to scare him and embarrass him. But he didn't come back." "What did you do?" I asked, now out of interest more than analysis. "Well, I remember that we were having my favorite for dinner -- spaghetti and meatballs. And I kept hearing his mom calling for him. I couldn't eat a bite and the longer it took for Andrew to come back, the more guilty I felt." "Did you go looking for him?" I urged him. "I couldn't get out of the house fast enough. I finally just couldn't take it. I excused myself from the table and went running out to find him." Michael's gaze was off in the distance as if he could still imagine that night. "I ran straight to the woods and I went hunting around for him in there. I was calling his name and it just kept getting darker and darker. Finally, I found him." "Was he alright?" "He was okay, just scared out of his mind. He looked like he had seen a ghost. He threw up on himself. I took his arm around my shoulder and helped him walk back. Our parents were horrified. His were so worried about him, mine were furious with me -- especially once they found out what happened. I was grounded for a month." "But you went back for him. You felt responsible and you were a good friend to him in the end." I said, re-entering therapy mode. "Yeah, but not until after I'd already been a horrible friend. And the worst part was that Andrew really felt like I had saved his life and like he owed me something. He looked at me like some kind of hero." Michael said, his face had gradually resumed the position of staring at his knees, chin to his chest. "Did you let him believe that?" I asked him. "Well, not exactly. But I didn't exactly disagree either when he acted that way." Michael admitted. "But I think it was better that way. I kindof felt like I needed to look out for him after that. I'd taken advantage of the fact that he wasn't really smart and that he was gullible enough to fall for my trick and so I was worried that other people could take advantage of him the same way." "It sounds like that experience made you a good friend to him." I suggested. "It was more like I needed a way to make it up to him." Michael amended. I still felt like that was a sign of a healthy conscience but I let it go. "So that experience brought you closer to Andrew." "Well... I'll put it this way: When I say that I used to call Andrew stupid... 'stupid' was a harsh word but it's true that he wasn't all there in the head. He was definitely born with a couple screws missing. If you did one thing to Andrew that he thought was mean, whether it was genuinely mean or not, he would take you for a mean person and not want to be around you anymore. If you were nice to him then he thought that necessarily meant that you were best friends." Michael explained. "There wasn't a lot of gray area there." I concluded. "Exactly." Michael agreed. "And this is when new kids started moving into the neighborhood. Andrew and I lived next door and then there was Mardi Goodwin from down the street and the Wilson brothers, Shane and Lance from two blocks down. But the one who stood out the most was Stephen DiMisaco." "What do you mean by 'stood outโ€™?โ€ "He was just weird, you know? Like, he was really weird looking. He was super tall, like, abnormally tall. And he had a huge nose like a toucan or something, he was always showing his upper teeth and he wore the biggest glasses I'd ever seen that had reflective lenses and bright red rims. He just stuck out like a sore thumb." "That's a bit superficial don't you think?" I said although a bit absent-mindedly. There was something about that description that struck me but I couldn't think of why. "Well, I honestly didn't have a problem with that but it just made him even weirder on top of the other stuff." Michael explained. "What other stuff?" I asked predictably still lost in my own thoughts. "Well his, like... hobbies and stuff. He was just into some really freaky stuff." "Give me an example." "Well like stuffing animals." "As in taxidermy?" I offered. "What's that?" Michael asked, brow furrowing as he turned his gaze up at me and away from his hands. "When you remove the organs of a dead animal and then stuff them with cotton or other materials." I defined. "Yeah! That's what Stevie did!" Michael enthused, apparently understood. "Well that might be a bit out of the ordinary but it's no reason to judge someone so harshly." I reasoned. "Well, he was, like, obsessed with it." Michael insisted. "If you had known him, you would understand why he made people uncomfortable. He had no problems getting into the gritty details of things like organs and bones and he would just talk your ear off until it got overwhelming. It was so hard to be around him and he was creepy. He talked in this, like, nasally, slurring voice. It just made your skin crawl." "It sounds like you had a preconceived judgement of him." I observed. "Don't you think you were being a bit harsh?" Michael stared at me for a few minutes and I could tell that he was formulating a response. "You know... sometimes that's exactly what my mother said. She would say, 'I've met his father and he's a very nice man. Stephen seems like a nice boy. Maybe you just need to give him a chance.' And it would sound so reasonable that I couldn't help but wonder the same thing myself. Maybe I really had been too harsh or too mean but then I would give him another chance and it would just remind me of how... well, how gross he was. It was just unpleasant to be around him." "I'm wondering if you were being pressured by other people to be biased against him." I stated. There was something about this Stephen kid that seemed important to the story. "How did Andrew feel about Stephen?" "Oh, Andrew loved Stevie." Michael said with some obvious resentment in his voice. "He just thought Stevie was the coolest thing since raspberry popsicles. Every single time Stevie would come around and start talking about some pheasant or beaver or something that he'd been 'working on' it was like pulling teeth to get Andrew to leave with the rest of us." "Who's the rest of us?" "Me, Shane, Lance, Mardi." Michael listed. "You were hanging out with them?" I questioned. "Yeah. And it was hard enough to convince them to let Andrew tag along." Michael heaved an exasperated sigh. "Why is that?" I asked, "Is it because of Andrew's differences?" "Yeah." Michael agreed. "It's because he was so big. It took so much effort to teach him to ride a bike and even then he struggled to keep up." "And that's what you and all the kids were into doing? Riding your bikes?" I said, just confirming information. "Yeah, it was how we got everywhere. If we wanted ice cream, we chased the ice cream truck on our bikes. If we wanted pizza or gum or baseball cards, we biked downtown. And there were tons of hills so Andrew would struggle every step of the way." "Or pedal of the way." I punned. "Yeah pedal." Michael repeated without a crack on his face. "And what about Stevie? Did he have a bike?" I asked. "Yeah, but it was the most embarrassing piece of crap you ever laid eyes on!" Michael shot back. "His dad had built it for him out of wood. It had crappy old tires they'd probably gotten from the junk yard. It had no gears and it had a little basket on the front. Even Mardi's bike didn't have a basket." "Did you invite him to go get pizza with you?" "No!" Michael spat, as if that much should've been obvious. "But the moron could never seem to catch a hint! Lance, Shane and Mardi would bike ahead and I would try not to lag too far behind and still make sure Andrew could keep up but eventually I would have to leave him behind or Stevie would catch us." "You would avoid him." I summed up what he was saying. "Yes." Michael admitted. "And to be honest, I think the other kids were trying to do the same thing to Andrew. I think they just wanted to hang out with me and didn't want Andrew to be the baggage. And to be even more honest, sometimes I agreed with them. The irony is I think Andrew had a little more common sense than even Stevie did in that case. I gradually started seeing less and less of him and I started seeing him hanging out with Stevie more." "Well it was normal to want more friends." I tried to empathize. "I still kept an eye out for Andrew though." Michael persisted. This caught me by surprise. "You still felt that you owed him something." I stated. "I guess, yeah." Michael said. "So how did that work?" "Well, one day we were all out biking and it was one of the times that Stevie somehow managed to get everyone to let him tag along. Lance was really sortof the head of the group so if he was in a good mood he sometimes let Stevie and Andrew come with us." Michael was starting another story. I rested my elbows on the table to show that I was listening. "But Lance's moods could change easily and sometimes, when he got sick of Stevie following us, he tried to find ways of making him run home crying." "He'd make fun of him?" I asked. Michael nodded. "Mmhm. Yeah and it was usually about his bike. This time he was making fun of the brakes which was one of his favorite topics." "What was wrong with the brakes?" "They were faulty and made a loud screeching noise whenever he used them." Michael explained. "And on this day, Lance had just gotten a new bike with handle-bar brakes. Back then that was kindof new and cool so he had been showing off by riding down hills and braking real easy after speeding down them. It looked like a motorcycle and we were all riding next to him to see him do it. Except for Stevie who got nervous about riding down hills." "That's why Lance was getting annoyed." I concluded, getting the picture even as Michael nodded in confirmation. "So Lance starts making fun of the sound that Stevie's brakes made and Stevie was getting real heated about that. Lance kept making the noise and Stevie finally says something drastic that he knew wasn't true just like he always did." Michael said. "What was that?" "Well he said -- to Lance, you know -- he said, 'Your brakes aren't special just because they're on the handlebars! You look stupid riding down the hill over and over!'" I noticed that Michael took on Stevie's nasal drawl as he recounted what Stevie said. "And he was right but he was killing Lance's buzz and just trying to be a hot shot and Lance just wasn't going to be outdone." "So what did Lance do?" I egged Michael on. "He dared him to prove that his brakes were better and to race him to the bottom of Hampton Way." Michael said. "And Stevie was so heated he just couldn't say no even though he probably knew that it wasn't a good idea." "Why wasn't it a good idea?" I asked, not familiar with local roads. "Hampton Way is the steepest hill in our neighborhood and it ends on Route 1." I got chills just imagining such a challenge even with a perfectly functional bike. "So Lance and Stevie got on their bikes at the top and prepared to race down. The rules were 'no braking until the bottom or you lose, whoever gets to the bottom first wins.'" "And Stevie accepted." I said gravely. "He was so sure of himself." Michael continued. "Mardi stood in front of them and dropped her sweatshirt to start the race and Stevie and Lance sped down the road. We had to run to keep them in eyesight since the road bends. We saw them get to the bottom and Lance pulled to a clean stop." "And Stevie kept going!?" "And Stevie kept going. And there was a car coming and for a moment--" Michael couldn't even finish that sentence. He just shook his head. "I was sure he was going to get hit but the car swerved and only hit his back wheel. Lucky for him the road was empty otherwise because he got thrown off his bike and he crashed into the guard rail." "That's pretty scary." I said. "You don't know scary." Michael had his elbows on the table now as well. I hadn't expected that response from him. "I'm sorry?" I asked confused and a little insulted. Michael disregarded that. "He was pretty beat up." he continued. I relaxed and let the remark go for the time being. "The other kids beat it 'cause they didn't want to get in trouble and the car had pulled a hit and run. Andrew and I had to run out into the road to get him. A couple cars stopped and asked if we needed a ride but we just told them we weren't far. I carried Stevie on my shoulder while Andrew wheeled his bike along behind us. We took him straight to his house." "Was his father there?" I inquired. "Yes." Michael replied. "Was he angry?" I asked. "No, he just worried about Stevie. He couldn't stop thanking us for bringing Stevie home. Andrew wanted to stay until we were sure that Stevie was alright. His house was creepy though so I just wanted to leave as soon as possible." Michael said. "You still resented him even then?" I half-stated, half-asked. Michael didn't respond to that. "Why was it different with Stevie than it was with Andrew?" "What do you mean?" Michael now had his hands under the table again. "When you went to help Andrew in the woods, it left you feeling responsible for him. When you went to help Stevie after his accident, you still felt uncomfortable being in his house." I drew an inconsistent parallel. Michael looked pensive for a moment. His lifted an eyebrow in a slightly annoyed expression and just looked down at his hands, fiddling with whatever he was holding. Then he looked up with the same expression on his face. "I don't know." he said finally. "You don't know what?" I asked. "I don't know why it was different with Stevie. I guess he was still just too creepy and weird. His stuffed animals were hanging all over the walls against these plaque things. His dad was too much like him too and he kept making this gross snorting noise when he breathed in like his nose was permanently stuffed and he was inhaling to prevent it from dripping." Michael described. "And he kept saying, 'Are you Stevie's friends? Oh I'm so glad that Stevie has friends. I worried that he wouldn't have friends, I feel better knowing he has great friends like you.' It was really awkward and Andrew just kept smiling and he looked so proud of himself and just kept confirming that we were all friends. I was just glad that the others weren't there to see it." "You didn't even want people to think he was your friend?" I asked. "No." There was a long silence after that. I heard a dull rumble drift through the small slotted window on the wall directly behind Michael. Shortly after, a soft dripping sound could be heard. The bulb in the lamp over our head flickered a bit between full brightness and dimness. "I'm wondering why you asked me to come here." I voiced my thoughts out loud. "Why me?" Michael stared at me for a moment. He looked mildly surprised at my straightforwardness. Finally he said, "I've heard things about you." "What things?" I asked. "I heard that you're... what was that word? When you don't tell other people what someone tells you?" "Confidential?" "That's it!" he actually grinned at that revealing two perfect rows of white teeth except for a pair of slightly forward canines. "Confidential. I knew I could trust you. I heard about that case where you spoke to a witness and didn't tell anyone even after the case had been settled and the truth had been discovered. That's how I knew I needed to talk to you. To tell you what happened myself." I stared at him through squinted eyes. "To tell me what happened?" "I killed someone." He repeated the same line he'd begun with. "But not who they think it is." "Yes, I remember you said that." I said nodding. "Where did you hear these things about me?" Michael didn't respond. He just stared at me with the smile frozen on his face. "Michael?" I tried to be more forceful with my question. He refused to budge. I decided to just continue. "So was Stephen alright?" "Oh he was fine." Michael confirmed, letting his smile drop. "But that wasn't the last time that Lance got to him. In fact, I think, since that incident with the bikes, Lance sortof liked the fact that he knew he could get to Stevie. I think he kindof got a kick out of it, actually." "Did he bully Stephen?" "Stevie." "Stevie." I let him correct me. "Yes." Michael said honestly. "We were all just starting at Curtis Corner." "What's that?" I asked, displaying my ignorance of the locality. "It's a local middle school." "Okay." "It was our first year there and most of us had all of our classes together. Lance was a few years ahead of us so we would only really see him in the hallway but he would take every opportunity he got to hunt Stevie down." Michael explained. "What sorts of things did he do to him?" I asked. "He would push him into walls, throw stuff at him, knock his things out his hands -- you know, the usual bully stuff." Michael listed, "but he would act as if it were all just kidding around or joking and that he did those things by accident. Like he was just getting a little too rambunctious and that was all it was. That none of it was intentional -- that's the word -- but everyone knew it was intentional except the teachers. The teachers were too fond of Lance to think that he could ever do anything wrong and none of us liked Stevie whether or not we liked Lance so he just got ignored." "What about Andrew? How was he doing in middle school?" I asked. "Andrew had kindof... fallen behind in school." Michael told me. "His parents worked very closely with our teachers in elementary school and they had decided to hold him back a year. I still saw him around in the neighborhood but it would be a year before I would see him around in school again." "And so during that time you noticed a lot of what Lance was doing." I said, comprehending. "And one day it just got... out of hand." Michael explained. "How so?" "Well Lance had been up to his usual antics during the week and I think Stevie had just had enough of it. Somehow, he'd gotten the idea in his head that it was time to give Lance a taste of his own medicine." Michael said this very slowly to emphasize the weight of this event. "What did he do?" I asked, on the edge of my seat now. "Stevie decided that the best way to get back at Lance would be to embarrass him in front of a lot of people. Stevie was a pretty academic kid. He was good at school. Lance was not so good at school but he was good at sports so he was popular. There's a pretty good lacrosse team going at Curtis Corner and Lance was the star player." Michael began the story. "Okay, so did he wreck his lacrosse stick or something?" I guessed. Michael shook his head. "All of us from the neighborhood, including Stevie, knew that Lance had one Achilles' Heel -- or Knee in this case. If you hit Lance in the back of his right knee it would automatically bend. Somehow Stevie got this information to our rival team Broad Rock Middle School just before an important game. Throughout the entire game the team used this to an advantage against Lance and -- as a result -- Curtis Corner lost." "And Lance knew that the only person who would have known that information and given it to the Broad Rock team would have been Stevie." I concluded. "The whole team was furious." Michael explained, "And they decided to get Stevie back worse than he had gotten Lance. The next day at lunch, the entire team walked past him and dumped their lunches on his head." "Didn't the faculty get involved?" I demanded. "There were only two faculty members in the cafeteria that day and one of them was the father of one of the players, the other was married to the coach of the lacrosse team. They pretended like they didn't even see anything until the players were completely done. When they finally took action and walked a couple players and Stevie to the principal's office, they said that Stevie had started a food fight. It was obviously not true but he got suspended anyways." Michael had a somewhat saddened look on his face as he told me this story. "That can't have been the end of it." I said surely. "It wasn't." Michael agreed. "Stevie's father was furious. From what I heard, he marched into the principal's office the next day himself and had an argument with the principal. When she refused to undo the suspension, he decided to transfer Stevie to Broad Rock." "That's good. At least Stevie was away from Lance at that point." I said nodding. "That's what everyone thought." Michael gestured towards me as if to say, 'wouldn't you think?' "But Stevie didn't find any friends at Broad Rock. Who was going to be friends with the guy who had betrayed his old school's team? You'd think they'd be grateful for him helping them get a victory, but when Lance started wearing tape around his knee for protection and the trick stopped working, the Broad Rock team started taking out their anger on Stevie." "It's like he couldn't escape the bullying." I recognized this as a classic case. It's hard to shed your outcast reputation even when moving from one school to another. "And that's when it happened." Michael said. I straightened my head up in surprise that this story could get worse. I shouldn't say surprise as it's not uncommon for victims of bullying to take drastic measures but it's still always a shock to hear the way that people reacted and I could tell this would be one of those cases. The relentlessness of adolescents often results in tragedy. "I remember this because it was the first year that Andrew started at Curtis Corner." Michael continued. "And Lance had graduated and gone on to high school." Michael looked me in the eye and then back down again before continuing as if to make sure I was still following him. "I really don't know what those kids at Broad Rock were doing to Stevie and I hadn't heard from him in a while, even around the neighborhood. It seemed like Stevie had finally gotten the idea that he really had no friends." "I thought Andrew was friendly with him." I fact-checked. "He was becoming more and more of a loner too." Michael supplied. "Were you still looking out for him?" I asked. "From a distance, yes. Believe it or not, I still had not forgotten that feeling of owing him." Michael confided. "So what happened to Stevie at Broad Rock?" I asked, concluding the tangent about Andrew. "Stevie..." Michael sighed, "Stevie, Stevie, Stevie..." I waited patiently for Michael to be ready to continue. "It's like I said, I don't know what those kids were doing to him at Broad Rock but I have hunch it was even worse than what Lance had been doing. It seems to me like what Lance did was harassment but what these Broad Rock guys were doing was, like, abusive. And I think Stevie just snapped." "It's not uncommon." I said, voicing what I had been thinking. "I don't know this for sure, but I do know that his dad was a pacifist so I know he didn't get it from home." Michael explained, "It's just a bit too much of a coincidence that Andrew's father owned a gun which suddenly went missing two days before the incident. The next day, Stevie's father and both of Andrew's parents had stopped by our place to ask my parents if we had seen or heard anything about or from Stevie. Apparently he'd been sleeping over at Andrew's house the previous night and gone completely missing by morning." "Two days after that, I heard about it on the news. I saw four bodies covered in white sheets being wheeled out of Broad Rock as a reporter stood in front of the camera talking about what had happened. She said that Stevie had pulled a gun out in school and shot two students before the cops had come to confront him. They tried to get him to drop the gun and he fired at one of them, so they fired back and he was killed." I felt my eyebrows reaching towards my hairline as he continued with this story. I couldn't even speak when he was finished. "Stevie's father was a wreck after that." Michael went on. "They didn't have any family so he invited mine and Andrew's to Stevie's funeral. He showed up drunk and had nothing to talk about except how Andrew and I had been Stevie's best friends and how much it meant to him that we had come to 'see him off.'" "You know, now that you say all of this, I think I can remember hearing about this incident on the news myself." I said even though I knew it wasn't much consolation. "You probably did." Michael acknowledged. "You might've also heard about how the families of the students he shot came after his father. I don't really know what they wanted from him or what they expected him to do. He'd lost his son too, you know? I did kindof feel a bit bad for him. It made him drink more and he made a lot of visits to our house. It was really awkward. Eventually he drove under the influence and got in a bad accident. He didn't survive." "That's awful." was all I could say. Michael nodded a bit, a worn frown on his face. Then he turned his face away from mine, only slightly. He seemed to be debating with himself somehow as though he were still unsure about himself. "There's something more isn't there?" I said. Michael shot me a glance out of the corner of his eye. He opened his mouth and then closed it. I kept my mouth shut in anticipation. "You remember I said that Andrew and I went to Stevie's funeral...?" Michael began. I nodded. "Well," Michael was stepping very tentatively around this subject, "there's something that happened that day... something that I've never told anyone." I waited. I couldn't make him say anything he didn't want to say. Michael's lips twitched with the uncertainty of voicing this part of the story. "When we brought him to the cemetery... when we were burying him... we lowered his body into his grave and stood back so that his father could say some words but he was hysterical. Everyone was concerned with watching Stevie and his father and I looked away for a minute..." He was visibly getting to the part that he wasn't sure if he should say. "Did you cry?" I asked, trying to seem sympathetic. Michael shook his head. "It's okay, Michael. Funerals are very emotional places. It's normal to--" "I saw him." Michael interrupted. "What?" I felt my expression betray my confusion before I could compose myself. Michael seemed unfazed, "I saw him. Stevie. I mean, I was standing at the edge of his grave and I knew his body was in the coffin at the bottom of it but... off in the distance, hiding in the trees that went around the graveyard... I swear to you, I saw him." "You... you saw him...?" I asked. "What do you mean you saw him?" "He was standing there, except there was something different about him. He almost looked... gray... like as if he were a cutout from some old silver screen movie." Michael explained. "And then I blinked and he was gone." There was a silence. "You don't believe me do you?" "It's not that." I denied immediately. "It's just... did anyone else see him?" "I can't prove it," Michael replied, "but I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed but they were all concentrated on Stevie's father. That is, everyone except for Andrew. He was still staring in the direction where I'd seen Stevie. He couldn't seem to pull his eyes away. I followed where he was looking but Stevie had disappeared. I think Andrew might've been seeing something I couldn't." "Did you tell anyone that you saw him?" "No, because I knew they wouldn't believe me. I didn't want to seem like I was making a joke about a dead boy." Michael looked down again. "And besides, I don't think Stevie's father could've handled it." "Did you try to talk to Andrew about it?" I asked. "No," Michael persisted, "He didn't handle Stevie's death very well leading up to the funeral. I didn't want to risk pushing him over the edge. And besides, I couldn't prove that he had seen him, he could've been just looking away from the grave for a minute." "How did you feel about Stevie's death?" I probed. "Mostly just felt bad about the whole situation." Michael said noncommittally. "I meant, were you upset about Stevie's death? Was it hard on you?" "Not really. I mean, I wouldn't wish death on anyone but then... I killed someone." he said it as if he were pointing it out as evidence, cocking his head to one side and bugging his eyes out as he looked at me. I nodded slowly. "How were things after that?" Michael shrugged. "I mean, school went on like usual and it was only a couple years before we graduated from middle school and went on to high school. All of the middle schools in the district had really cracked down on bullying so there weren't any more really drastic incidents like that." "But?" I could tell there was one. "But Lance had left middle school before all of this happened and he had been looking for a new Stevie ever since Stevie transferred to Broad Rock." Michael conditioned. "I'd heard stories from Shane about things that his brother was doing -- same old stuff he had done to Stevie except to different people. But there was something about it that was just not satisfying to him. I mean, I'll tell you, I hadn't seen him look so smug as the day he got the lacrosse team to dump their lunches on Stevie's head." "He enjoyed making people miserable." I deduced. "Or maybe he just liked a target for his aggravation." I nodded in agreement with what Michael was saying. "I'll be honest, he did stuff to me a couple times my first year. He was a big kid and he was a couple years older, he had gone from being the star lacrosse player at Curtis Corner to the star linebacker at South Kingstown High. He was great at knocking people off their feet. I've heard that sports are supposed to be really good for helping kids to get rid of pent up aggression but I don't think it was enough for Lance. When Andrew finally caught up with us and came to the high school, I think Lance had finally found his Stevie replacement." (Admin note: since the comments seem to imply that this was not obvious enough, please either click 'Read more' below or visit the post in its entirety here.) Read more