THE PLAN by William Brennan Knight
 
Each Saturday in the summer I mowed her lawn, raked up the leaves and weeded her garden patch. Every damn Saturday morning was the same, except in the winter when I shovelled the snow off her driveway. It didn’t matter how backbreaking the work might be, she always gave me the $20 and a one dollar tip. I tried to quit a bunch of times, but my old man told me I needed to save my half of the money for trade school. Yeah, sure, dad, like I’m ever going to learn a fuckin’ trade.
 
“Thank you very much, Mrs. Halderson.”
 
You old bitch. That’s what I wanted to say on a particularly hot and humid Saturday, but never did. I smiled at her as I stashed the 21 bucks in my pocket, but I was already on to other things. I was wondering if that sweet, snobbish smile would still be plastered on her face if she found herself in the back yard with her bloody intestines wrapped around her neck, hanging from a tree and baking in the hot sun.
 
I tried to kill the old rag many times, but at that point, only in my mind, I guess. It started with little things like pouring cooking oil on her doorstep, and in the winter I poured water on it so it froze. She was supposed to come out and slip, but she always wore these sneakers with the deep threads that stuck to everything, so none of that worked. In fact, I had to clean up the damn oil and remove the ice once she noticed it.
 
Some way, I knew I needed to get into the house, but I just didn’t know how. She was very guarded and only opened the door about six inches every time she gave me the money after I was done working. Her groceries were always delivered, and I could never find anyone who actually saw her leave the house in over 20 years.
 
That summer, I spent a lot of my free time in the garage burning insects, lighting small fires and slicing my inner thigh with a razor blade. I had to do it in a place where my old man wouldn’t notice because I couldn’t imagine what he would do if he ever found out I was cutting myself. Anyway, I became obsessed with finding a way to get into old lady Halderson’s house.
 
I could break in, but old people always had an alarm system, and I bet hers was balls out. No, I had to come up with something more creative than that. So far, my planning was only about getting inside; I really didn’t have much of an idea what I would do if I succeeded. Rob her? Kill her? Probably both.
 
The next day I got tired of shooting birds with my BB gun, so I was sitting inside the garage fantasizing about how I could get rid of old lady Halderson’s body. If I killed her, I had to make sure there was no blood involved. Even though I’m slight, I figured I would still be able to strangle her without much of a problem. Then, I would drag her to the bathtub and make a long incision down the length of her body and let all the blood drain out.
 
I saw on one of those crime shows that a common bleach you could get at the grocery store would destroy any DNA evidence. As long as the blood stayed on a hard surface without any cracks, I would be fine. That’s why draining her blood in the bathtub was so important. After that, it would be a simple matter of dismembering the body and putting the limbs and torso into small trash bags. I could take them one at a time over to the park and feed them into one of the self-serve compactors they just installed. That old gangster Jimmy Hoffa would be easier to find by the time I was done with her.
 
I was lost in thought when a light exploded near my left eye, and the shock of someone slapping the side of my head caused me to flinch and recoil.
 
“Ha, ha, you dumbass. Didn’t even hear me riding up. Man, Skeeter, you’re sure a dumbass.” Ricky Smits straddled his bike and grinned at me condescendingly. Ricky was an asshole, but I guess he was the closest thing I had to a friend.
 
“I told you not to call me Skeeter. I hate that name.”
 
“You wanna go ridin’, Skeeter?” he asked while ignoring my plea. “Let’s go down to Ryan’s Park pool. Some of them high school girls will be showin’ off their bodies this time of year. Oooo lala.” His eyes widened and he made a gesture like he was cupping a girl’s breasts.
 
Ricky was just one rung above me on the social status ladder, and the “cool kids” only included him when a regular was sick and they needed a fill-in. Most of the time he was rejected, and that’s when he came looking for me or Tommy Obrigon, the fat kid from Georgia who was always picking his nose.
 
“I’m busy; now let me be,” I said while turning away.
 
“Yeah, you look real busy.” He got off his bike and let it drop to the pavement. “Aw, c’mon, Skeeter, my dad says I have to stay away until they fix the air conditioner. The damn house is hotter than hell. The repairman won’t be by until 4:30, so I’ve got to stay busy till then.”
 
“Your air conditioner broke down? Did your dad call mine?”
 
“Naw, my dad says your old man charges too much and does shitty work. He called a real A/C company this time.”
 
“Yeah, well my dad says your air conditioner is so old Willis Carrier himself probably installed it.” I stopped talking because the mere thought of defending my father nauseated me.
 
“Who gives a shit, anyway?” he said before back washing and spitting out a wad of phlegm. “Well, are we going to the pool or not?”
 
“I’m not swimming,” I said.
 
“Yeah, fine. Me neither. I only want to look at the hot chicks.”
 
Reluctantly, and mostly because I didn’t have anything else to do, I agreed. After pulling my faux BMX bike out of the garage, I followed Ricky down Maple Street until we reached Jasmine Drive, which was a connecting artery to the main highway about a mile farther north. For some reason, no one ever bothered to put a bike lane on Jasmine, and every time a car passed, the heat and wind pushed us further toward the dirt and gravel and created a burning sensation on my bare legs.
 
This was one of those moments where I wished I had “the button.” The button was something I conjured up in my mind kind of like a black box with a big red button in the middle of it. Every time someone deserved it, I could press the button and they would be stamped out of existence, painfully I imagined. I’d use it on the bullies at school who called me “Skeeter” and the jerks who ripped up my homework and stole my textbooks.
 
The arrogant “cool kids” with their attitudes and posing would be gone with one push. Eighth grade was hard enough with all the damn learning, but being in an environment where you felt threatened and humiliated was unbearable. Every day, as the new school year approached, I grew a little more anxious. Junior high was degrading enough, but I could only imagine the horrors that awaited me in high school. As another car honked and sped past, I knew that if I had the button, every one of those asshole drivers would be dead.
 
Anyway, we turned off on Beldon and rode the short distance to the pool. We showed our city cards to the bored attendant at the ticket counter and walked through the gates, past the showers and locker room. The smell of the body odour, mould and heavily chlorinated water in there made me cringe. It reminded me of gym class where my nudity provided the bullies with too many opportunities to humiliate me. I can’t help it I have colitis, so every time one of them grabbed my brown-stained underwear and showed everyone how I crapped my pants, the shame was almost too much to bear.
 
One time, Tony Soranto stuffed my soiled underwear in my mouth, and I just stood there crying while they all gathered round and laughed and spit on me. I tried to think of the button and how I’d use it on all of them, but it was still hard. After school that day, I went home and got my old man’s insulation knife and went over to Tony’s house. They always let their cat out at night, and I watched from behind the shrubs across the street. It wasn’t until 10:30 that they finally opened the door, and the stupid thing sauntered outside.
 
I tracked that cat for a mile before I caught up with him and slit his throat. He scratched and clawed at me like crazy, but just before he died, he made a really weird screeching noise I’ll never forget, but it gave me something like a nice buzz. I waited until the last light went out in the Soranto house before I took the cat and put it on Tony’s doorstep. Fortunately, when I came home, my old man was passed out in his recliner with a fifth of Jack in his hand like usual, so he didn’t see the all the blood on my clothes. I went out and buried them in the backyard so there wouldn’t be any questions later. I don’t care what those stupid detergent commercials say; the washing machine doesn’t get blood out of clothes.
 
Tony was absent from school for the next three days. For me, it was the best time I had for the entire year. When he finally did come back, he always looked at me with a funny look on his face, but he didn’t say a word and never picked on me again. I think he knew I did it, but what could he do about it? If he brought it up, I’d deny it, and then I’d tell everyone what he did to me, and I had witnesses.
 
We went out to the cool deck and found a couple lawn chairs out of the sun in the area farthest away from the pool. Ricky lay on his stomach gawking at the girls as they strutted and primped poolside, rubbing oil on their tanned and glistening bodies. Occasionally he would let out an “oooo, hot mama” or “I think that one’s checking me out.” Personally, I could care less about the girls. They never really interested me. Besides the fact that I was bigger and could probably intimidate them, they had no value to me.
 
My old man thought that way too. While my mother was alive, he cuffed her around all the time and made her thank him for it when he was done. I don’t remember much about her, but I know she was a very sad woman. There wasn’t a day when she didn’t have a drink in her hand no matter what time it was. Somehow, she managed to live until I was nine, but then her liver gave out.
 
Watching someone die from cirrhosis is a horrible thing, but even when she was diagnosed, she kept on drinking. Killed herself as sure as if she used a gun. My old man refused to pay for a funeral, so my mother was cremated at the state’s expense. I’m not sure, but I think he washed her ashes down the drain in the kitchen sink. After she was gone, it almost seemed like she never existed. It’s only been five years, but I can hardly remember her face.
 
“C’mon, Ricky, I want to get out of here,” I said after about an hour. A group of “cool kids” had showed up, and I didn’t want them to see me. When they were with girls, the bullies mostly ignored me, but you could never tell. Getting away before they noticed you was always a better alternative.
 
“I told you, I can’t. The A/C won’t be fixed until 4:30.”
 
That was the moment, the epiphany I was waiting for. I don’t know why inspiration hits when it does. I saw the Kramer’s garage on fire in a dream one night, and knew I had to do it. About a week later as I stood and watched the billowing flames in the street with all the other neighbours, I never knew why that thought popped up in my brain when I was asleep. But looking at Mr. Kramer crying because his ‘93 Dodge Viper was burning was so beautiful I started to cry.
 
The same inspiration washed over me when Ricky brought up his air conditioner again. We were in the middle of a Missouri heat spell, and the temperature was pushing 95 with thick humidity. If Mrs. Halderson’s A/C went out, she’d have no choice but to get it fixed. The beautiful part was that she called my old man whenever she needed a tune-up or repair, and guess who he took with him when he had to have a helper?
 
In some misguided effort to teach me “the trade,” he forced me to go out on jobs more and more often. Of course, he never paid me, but he expected me to do all the shit work in the attics and basement. The last time he visited Mrs. Halderson for a spring tune-up, I was there. Still, I never got inside. She insisted I wait outside while my old man checked out the furnace and blower in the house.
 
If I caused her air conditioner to stop working when I was over there cutting her lawn, she would immediately call my father, except there was no way he would work on a Saturday. Since she knew I had experience with air conditioners, maybe I could convince her to let me work on it, and it might be the opportunity I needed to get into her house.
 
“Ricky, I’m going. You can stay here and jerk off if you want, but I’m getting too hot.” I stood up and looked at him, but he just waved me off and kept looking at the girls.
 
“You’re getting too hot, Skeeeeeeeter? Well, let’s see if we can take care of that.” The voice came from behind me, and I whirled around just before Talone Pearson grabbed my arms and started dragging me toward the pool. I squirmed and yelled and kicked my legs, but then Sammy Tunnsil grabbed both of them, and I was picked up off the ground in a horizontal position. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see their girlfriends tittering as they watched their tough-guy boyfriends shame me.
 
Once they were at the edge of the pool, they began swinging me from side to side, counting down from five. Once they reached zero, they let go, and I flew about five feet out over the pool before crashing belly-first into the water, fully clothed. The journey down to the bottom offered a momentary respite, but I needed to get back up to the surface for air. Unfortunately, I hit the water on an exhale, so my lungs weren’t filled with much oxygen. Coupled with the weight of my clothes, I found it difficult to get up to the surface, especially since I was a poor swimmer.
 
For a long moment, a terrifying panic swept through me as I realized I wouldn’t be able to make it. As I started to sink back down, I felt someone wrap an arm around my chest. I grabbed at whoever it was, but they knew how to keep me away from their body so I couldn’t pull them down. The lifeguard pushed us up with a couple powerful kicks and strokes. When I finally reached the surface, I took a long, deep breath and flailed my arms while screaming, only vaguely aware of the laughter from the bullies and their girlfriends.
 
After the lifeguard pulled me out of the pool and made sure I was alright, he let me leave with Ricky, who was caught somewhere between finding the whole thing funny and feeling bad for me. The bullies got kicked out of the pool for a month. That was their only punishment.
 
For most of the next week, I was forced to travel with my old man because his work schedule was so heavy with the heat wave. It wasn’t until Saturday arrived that I was able to get away from him and his disgusting beer breath. He reserved Saturdays for getting shit-faced drunk anyway, but he always encouraged me to cut lawns on the weekends so that I could split the money with him.
 
That morning, I pulled out an old pair of meters and gauges from his gang box and put them in a tool bag he never used. He bought new gauges a year ago, so the old ones wouldn’t be missed. When I brought them over to Mrs. Halderson’s house, it would give her a feeling of confidence that I knew what I was doing. I tossed a few wrenches in the bag, a powered screwdriver and the long-double bladed knife I was going to use to kill her.
 
I left earlier than normal, pushing the mower down the street and turning the corner in the same way I always did. Her house was the fourth one up the street, and our routine was so regular there was no reason to knock. I started the mower and began cutting her grass like usual, looking up to see her peeking out from behind the curtains when I arrived. After finishing the front yard, I started pushing the mower to the back. Usually, I took a break between the front and back yard and would drink a bottled water or a sports drink, but today, I’d use the break for something different.
 
The outdoor condenser was set on the side of the house, hidden from view by a thick row of hedges that ran from the edge of the living room to the fence. Only a small area between the bushes and fence remained clear so you could get back and forth. The air conditioner hummed as it cycled, and I waited until the familiar back spin of the compressor signalled it had shut off.
 
I pulled my powered screwdriver out of the bag and began taking out the screws that held the sheet metal cover over the electronics. Pulling a fuse probably would have worked, but I figured she might check that, so once I got the cover off, I reached in and took out the two screws that held the contactors in place. I took the small unit out and put it in my pocket before replacing the cover and screwing it back down. The whole process couldn’t have taken more than five minutes, and there was no way she would suspect anything was wrong at this point.
 
I drank my water quickly and rolled the mower into the backyard and started it up. Every time I finished a row and started a new one, I faced the rear of the house, and I would glance up to see if she was looking. After about half an hour, I was unloading the last bag of clippings, convinced the old hag could exist on the surface of Venus. It had to be hot as hell in the house by now, yet there was nothing going on inside that I could see. Finally, just as I was zip tying the last bag, the back door opened a crack.
 
“Kyle, did you hit the air conditioner with the mower?” Her voice was like fingernails on a blackboard. Raspy and screechy with a tone that said, “I should have died by now.”
 
“No, Mrs. Halderson. Is there something wrong with it?”
 
She paused, but the door stayed open a crack. “Yes, it’s not working. I called your father, but he won’t answer. The other company in town can’t get to it today. It’s getting quite warm in here.”
 
“Well,” I said, recognizing I would have to play my cards very carefully. “You can’t stay here today with no A/C, that’s for sure. Can you go to a hotel for the night? Maybe you can visit a relative?”
 
There was another long pause. “I can’t leave here, you see. There are no relatives, and hotels are filthy and filled with germs.”
 
I scratched my head as though I was in deep thought. “Hmmm… Well, I don’t know if you’re aware, but I work with my dad quite a bit. He’s teaching me the trade. I could take a look at it for you if you’d like.”
 
“I—I don’t know, Kyle. Are you certified?”
 
“No, I haven’t been to trade school yet. But I know how to troubleshoot an air conditioner, that’s for sure. If you’d like me to see if I can fix it…”
 
The door opened just a little bit wider. “Well, okay, I guess. But the indoor unit is right here inside the furnace room in the kitchen. You’re not to come in any further than that, do you understand? Your father never comes in further than that. There was a plumbing problem once, and the plumber was the only one who came into the whole house. I don’t like people in my house.”
 
Besides the fact she was an old, dried up hag, she was obviously pretty creepy as well. “Ah, sure. Let me just run home and get my gauges.”
 
I wanted to remain as inconspicuous as possible for when the cops investigated her disappearance, so I wheeled my lawn mower back home and returned with just the bag that had the gauges, wrenches, screw driver and knife.
 
It wouldn’t look good if someone saw me on the front porch, so I went around to the back of the house and knocked on the door. I heard the clatter of multiple locks opening, and finally, the knob turned slowly, and the door cracked open an inch or so. I pushed on it against her resistance, giving me just enough space to get inside.
 
Trying to gain my bearings, I looked around, but oddly, Mrs. Halderson was nowhere in sight. The heavy shades across all the windows made the room dark, and my eyes had trouble adjusting from the bright sun. The house had a distinctive odour that reminded me of Mrs. Halderson herself: old, mouldy and decayed. But there was something else hidden underneath the other smells I couldn’t quite place.
 
The kitchen itself was immaculate, but the décor reminded me of those classic cars you see that look really outdated but brand new at the same time. The appliances were a weird green colour, but the exterior of the oven and refrigerator gleamed with a polished shine, and there wasn’t a fingerprint or sign of wear on anything.
 
I saw the thermostat on the wall between the kitchen and the living room. Even though she told me to stay in the kitchen, I needed to turn off the system before I could replace the contactors outside. The temperature in the house was rising by the minute, and that didn’t help the smell at all.
 
“Mrs. Halderson, I have to leave the kitchen and go into the hallway to turn off the thermostat,” I yelled for reasons I couldn’t understand. I mean, after all, I was going to kill her anyway, so why did I care if she knew I left the kitchen?
 
“Mrs. Halderson?”
 
I waited about a minute, and when she didn’t reply, I started walking down the hallway, ignoring the thermostat and moving into the living room. I pulled the knife out and set the bag down, keeping it hidden behind my back as I slowly moved forward, checking the dining room and looking behind the hutch and underneath the table. With every step, whatever smell was hidden under the old age and rot became stronger, and by the time I reached the living room, it was overpowering.
 
I called out her name again, but my voice was not nearly as assertive this time. The smell was so bad I placed my hand over my nose, but that didn’t help at all, and I started to gag. My eyes were drawn to a corner of the room where an antique brass container—which I would learn later was called a spittoon—sat between the sofa and chair just below the fireplace. That’s where the smell was coming from. I never knew why I went over there, but when I reached the spittoon, I swore I heard noises like a stomach growling coming from inside it. I stretched and leaned over as far as I could until I was able to see inside.
 
The sight was so bizarre I tried to scream, but the sounds stuck in my throat, and I could only let out a weak rasp and wheezing noise. There’s no real way to explain it except to say the inside of the spittoon had no bottom. That is, I could see down to depths that seemed infinite. A yellowish florescent goo with a consistency somewhere between motor oil and Vaseline shimmered and sloshed from side to side, temporarily covering the bottom before sliding away until the infiniteness appeared once again.
 
That sight alone was enough to pucker my asshole, but when a pair of bloodshot, green eyes formed inside the goo and looked straight at me, I thought my heart stopped. The eyes were intelligent, and their piercing stare penetrated through to my soul. My legs buckled, but I couldn’t turn away. Somehow, whatever was inside the goo was conscious, and something like a rolling fog oozed out from its eyes and travelled the distance between us. As it reached me, it felt like someone poured acid onto my skin, and I instinctively brought my hands up to my face and stumbled backwards, which broke the connection. I couldn’t catch my breath, but somehow managed to turn around, staggering toward the back door.
 
That’s when I heard her voice.
 
“Kyle, what are you doing in the living room? I told you not to go past the furnace closet. You disobeyed my explicit instructions.”
 
Though my eyes were watering and bleary, I looked up to see Mrs. Halderson blocking my path. I stuck the knife out in front of me and waved it back and forth. “Let me out of here, you crazy old bitch. Let me the fuck out of here. What the hell is this place, and who are you?”
 
She didn’t seem flustered or the least bit frightened by the sight of me wielding a knife. Instead she took a step forward as I retreated.
 
“I mean it; I’ll kill you,” I said while blinking and trying to refocus my vision. I was certain my threat wasn’t intimidating her in the least.
 
“Of course, Kyle. That’s what you had in mind when you came here today, wasn’t it? You were going to kill me after you fixed the air conditioner you purposely broke.”
 
“What? How could you know that?”
 
“Come now, Kyle, you must know the elderly are security conscious. Hidden cameras cover every inch of the exterior of my house. I suspected you had some nefarious intentions, and when I saw you opening the air conditioner outside, I knew it.”
 
“Then—then why didn’t you just call the cops or something?”
 
She smiled. “Oh no, this is much better.” She took another step towards me.
 
As the panic rose inside me, my fight/flight instinct took over. When I looked up, I swore I saw a very small person, or something that resembled a person, run down the stairs for a moment, crouch and hold the banister while looking through the rails. He growled and snapped his jaws at me before bolting back up the stairs. The whole incident couldn’t have lasted ten seconds.
 
“Who the fuck was that?” I yelled at her.
 
“What are you talking about,” she replied. “Are you seeing things, Kyle?”
 
I wasn’t thinking clearly, but there was no way I was going past that spittoon to get to the front door. I couldn’t get all the locks opened in time get out anyway. The door to the basement was about five feet off to my left, and I figured I could smash a window and climb out into one of the wells and get away. When she took another step toward me, I dropped the knife and sprinted toward the door. I saw a blur as she lunged at me, but I made it inside and bolted the latch a second before she arrived. She began shrieking and pounding in a way that could only be described as psychotic insanity. I’ve never experienced anyone with such raw anger before or after.
 
Slowly, I walked down the steps until I reached the dirt floor below. The light from outside shone through the ground-level windows and lit up the place pretty well. The smell down here was just as bad as upstairs. Just as bad, but—different. I was walking over to the windows while looking for something I could use to break them when I noticed several six or seven foot long white lines placed at identical distances throughout the basement floor. It looked like flour or something similar.
 
I couldn’t find anything nearby to bust out the windows, so I started exploring. In the distance, I thought I saw a fireplace poker next to an old wooden chest set up against a wall in the corner. As I moved closer, I noticed something propped up between the furniture and the adjacent wall. Every step was heavy as my mind screamed at me to look somewhere else, but I kept going for reasons I still can’t explain. About three feet away, I stopped as my heart sank into my stomach when I realized it wasn’t a something I was looking at, it was a someone. I backed up, but I couldn’t overcome the compulsion to see who it was. Did I know this person?
 
When I got close enough to see the corpse in detail, I fell to my knees and began to shake. I’m fairly certain I pissed my pants too. I looked up again to see the matted brown hair, the decayed and rotted flesh that sagged and hung off the skull. Maggots and flies climbed in and out of the eye sockets freely, consuming what little sustenance was left on the bone. In a sitting position, the small profile told me this was a woman, and she had probably been starved to death or died of dehydration. She may have been unrecognizable to most, but when I looked at the dress, shoes and size of the skeleton, there was who mistaking who it was. Mrs. Halderson had died down in her own basement.
 
I was barely able to process what I was looking at when it occurred to me that if this was Mrs. Halderson, who was the person upstairs that had assumed her identity? Was it a zombie? A pod person? She looked exactly like Mrs. Halderson. The same mannerisms, physical characteristics and speech patterns. How could that be? How… What the fuck was going on here?
 
“Well, Kyle, we’re well past mere mischief, aren’t we? You have committed some very serious transgressions here today.”
 
I turned around so quick I toppled over and lay prone on the dirt as the “other” Mrs. Halderson looked down and smiled at me. In one hand she held my knife, and in the other, she had a glass filled with the same goo I saw in the spittoon.
 
“Okay, you’re freaking me out here,” I managed to say while stuttering. “Just tell me what the fuck you are.”
 
She replied, but I couldn’t understand what she said. It sounded like a foreign language or something. Yet, as she was speaking, she raised the glass of goo and threw its contents directly into my face. The stuff felt like thousands of caterpillar legs crawling all over my skin as it entered my body through my eyes, mouth, nose and ears. I remember feeling like I was losing my identity as the goo invaded my mind, changing my emotions and rewiring my brain. The thoughts I was having weren’t my own, and it fused all these strange memories and weird urges into my head. I tried to fight it, but the goo pushed me away time after time as it did its work.
 
I don’t remember passing out, but I must have because when I woke, I was standing in Mrs. Halderson’s kitchen with my tool bag in hand facing the back door.
 
“Thank you for repairing my air conditioner, Kyle,” she said in her raspy old lady’s voice.
 
I turned around slowly to face her. I had a pounding headache and my throat was very dry. My skin was clammy, and I was hot like I had a fever or something.
 
“Mrs. Halderson, what—what happened here today?”
 
“Oh, Kyle, don’t make a soufflé out of a couple eggs and a cup of flour. You mowed my lawn and fixed my air conditioner. That’s it.”
 
“No, I mean the other… things. The body in the basement and that stuff you poured on my face. And what are all those white lines down there?”
 
She raised her finger to her lips. “Shhhh. It’s better that you don’t talk of such things, Kyle.” As if on cue the pounding in my head grew far worse. “Do you understand?” she asked.
 
I nodded vigorously although the pain was nearly unbearable.
 
“Good. Then you just go about your business, and we’ll be in touch with you. It may be many years from now, but we will be in touch with you, Kyle.”
 
The pain faded and then disappeared. I nodded more slowly.
 
She walked over to the kitchen counter and began kneading fresh bread dough. “Oh, and by the way. I thought you should know there was a tragic accident at the mall today. Seven children threw themselves over the railing from the second floor.”
 
I just looked at her with stunned expression. “What?”
 
“Yes, seven children killed themselves. From what I hear, Tony Soranto, Sammy Tunnsil and Talone Pearson suffered a great deal before they died. What a shame.… Weren’t they your age, Kyle?” She turned around and smiled at me before I could answer. “Oh well. Now, get along. I’m sure your father wonders where you are.”
 
I looked over my shoulder one last time before opening the back door and walking out into the sunshine.
 
For the next seventeen years, I often wondered if what I saw in Mrs. Halderson’s house that day was real or just a hallucination. I couldn’t forget about it, but with time, I almost convinced myself it was a dream or my imagination run wild.
 
But this morning, something inside my head said, “Hello,” and a long, yellow slick of goo dropped out of my nose. At that moment, it occurred to me that instead of going to church today, I think it’ll be a better idea to start building a bomb and take it to Chicago…
 
THE END

 

 
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