Estimated reading time — 5 minutes
I’d been depressed for a long time, mostly since my dad died. All his friends called him a hero; he was a cop and he sacrificed himself to save the lives of 23 people being held by an active shooter. I was 9 when that happened, I remember it like it was yesterday. But yesterday was my 17th birthday, and now my life is a nightmare.
My mom eventually remarried, but I can’t blame her for that. She was lonely and needed help raising a troubled kid. I just wish she’d been more aware of whom she was bringing into our lives. He’s not why I’m in trouble, but he’s an asshole who treats my mom like shit – she’s too in love with him to see it. No, he’s not the reason I ended up here, but he’s a precipitating factor.
It started when I heard that my friend Cassie had run away. I didn’t get it. Cassie lived in a suburban wonderland. Her parents were still married, they doted on her, her siblings weren’t douche bags, and she got really good grades – I mean, not straight A’s, but good enough that she was on the Honor Roll and her folks were proud of her. Idyllic is the word I’d use.
I spoke to her parents a time or two; they wanted to know the first time if Cassie had said anything to me – she hadn’t, and I’d said as much. The second time, I went over to be, I don’t know, supportive in their tough time. I knocked on their door and Mrs. Beaman answered. “Oh, Julie… Hi. Is everything okay?” I said it was, “Hey Mrs. Beaman, I just thought I’d come over to say ‘Hi’ and see if you guys had heard anything regarding Cassie, I’m sorry if it seems insensitive…”
Cassie’s mom opened the door wide and smiled a little, “Oh, no… Honey, please come in, I know you probably miss her as much as we do.” I did. Cassie had been one of my best friends, maybe five years ago. We’d grown apart a little after my dad died. I guess that’s my fault; I withdrew from everyone. I said as much to Mrs. Beaman and her eyes welled up with tears. “Julie, we don’t know where Cassie is, but we got a letter shortly after she went missing.”
It shocked me a little, “Missing? I thought she was just a runaway. I don’t understand.” Mrs. Beaman opened a binder that sat on her coffee table and pushed it toward me where I sat next to her on the couch. I read it aloud.
I’m with Greg, I’m not in danger. I just needed to get out of this dead-end town and see the rest of the world. I’m sorry if this disappoints you, but I need this. – Love Cassie.”
Cassie’s mom closed the binder, sniffed back tears, and said, “We got this maybe a week after she disappeared, it’s what convinced the Police that she was a runaway.” I looked at her face and I could tell that she was less than convinced of her own words. I couldn’t help myself, “Who the fuck is Greg?” Mrs. Beaman flinched at my language and I apologized. “Sorry, I just don’t understand any of this, I never knew any Greg. I mean, I know Cassie and I aren’t the best of friends anymore, but I never heard of her seeing anyone.” A small smile touched her lips, “It’s alright dear, Richard… Mr. Beaman said the same thing when he read the letter.”
I’d never heard Mr. Beaman swear in the ten years that Cassie and I had been best friends.
“Was Cassie depressed at all?” Mrs. Beaman frowned a bit and started to shake her head, then stopped. “I won’t lie to you Julie, I feel like I don’t know who my own daughter was. If she was depressed, I didn’t know it.” I spoke with her a little while longer and thanked her for her time and the memories. I should have gone home, but I didn’t want to deal with Todd by myself.
I called my mom at work and told her I was going to go to the library and do my homework before I went home. She said she’d see me when she got off work. I hate lying to my mom, but I wasn’t about to tell her that I was going to find a nice quiet spot in the woods and smoke some weed.
I did just that. After the emotional drain of the Beaman house, I just needed to not give a shit for a little while. I found my spot in the woods and pulled my stash out from under the stump. I hit it there ever since Todd busted me smoking in my old playhouse in the backyard… dick. I wasn’t too far from home, and I wasn’t exactly lying, because if my mom or Todd ever pinged my location on my cell, it’d put me within 100 meters of the library.
I took a few hits and leaned back against the stump, closed my eyes, and just listened to the trees. It was dead quiet, but it shouldn’t have been. No birds, no critters, or even insect noises. Nothing. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up from the wrongness of it. I was about to open my eyes when I heard a snapping noise, like someone or… something had stepped on a branch. I should have gotten the hell out of there, but it was like my brain reverted to childhood – you know, “If I can’t see it, it can’t see me”?
I heard more muffled noises until they stopped just behind me and to the left. The shifting of fabric as if someone were sitting or squatting near me. A deep, almost melodic voice came to me. I’d say I heard it, but that’s not quite right. I mean, I did hear it, but it was inside my head. “Keeping your eyes closed is probably a good idea, kid.” I felt a hand take the pipe from me. I heard a lighter spark and the sound of someone inhaling as the voice spoke again. “Mmm, not bad. Before you dismiss this, no, I’m not a hallucination.”
I opened my mouth to speak and the voice shushed me. My mouth clamped shut, but not of my own accord. “This is just a warning to you, Julie. Please stop asking questions about Cassie. Let the Beaman’s be. They’re in enough pain as it is, don’t you think?” I nodded, trying to think for myself. I felt a sharp poke somewhere behind my eye and the voice said “Yes, I am who the letter referred to as Greg. Cassie is with me and it’s going to stay that was for as long as I like.”
I felt tears squeeze themselves out from under my eyelids. I felt the pipe placed back into my hand and the barest of a breeze blown from the direction of my tormentor, no… not a breeze. It was his breath. It was fetid, rotten, with just a touch of musk from the weed. “I would hate to have to talk with you again, Julie. You’re not exactly my type, but I’ll make an exception if I need to.”
Unbidden, images flashed through my mind; tall, pretty, willowy girls, like Cassie, their faces bordered in the black and white of missing posters… so many of them. I shuddered and shook my head emphatically. He spoke again “Good, I see we understand each other perfectly. I hope there’s not a ‘next time,’ Julie.” I stayed there, shaking, eyes squeezed shut for how long, I don’t know.
I started to hear the sounds of nature again, birdsong, the buzzing of insects… I screamed when my phone rang, my eyes flew open, and at first, I was surprised to see it was dark. I saw my mom’s number on the screen and answered. “Julie Marie Townsend, I’ve been texting you for an hour. I’m in the library parking lot. Get your ass out here and let’s go home. Dinner is getting cold.” I took in a shuddering breath and told her I would be out in a minute. I stashed my pipe and made my way to her car. She chewed my ass the whole way home about not answering her and all I could do was apologize. I’m writing this down, so I remember it. I hope he can’t dig into my head and see that I am. If he does, I may be the next runaway.
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