Three days ago, this kid arrived at my motel. Looked real terrible and really young, no older than sixteen, maybe seventeen.
Asked for a room and paid in cash. Looked like he went through hell. I didn’t ask a thing. You pay, you get a room, that’s my policy.
Came back and asked for a pen and something to write on. Only thing I had was an old notebook. Thought about starting a guestbook, but am I kidding. It’s a fucking motel.
Didn’t see the kid for two days. Then he walked out and handed me the notebook. Pleaded me to post it online where as many people as possible can see it.
I asked if he was alright. Looked much worse than before, sick, possibly dying. Didn’t say a damn word and just walked out into the night.
Thought long and hard about it. Read through the whole thing twice. Can’t get that kids face out of my mind, the way he pleaded me. Get the feeling I won’t see him again.
So this is David Sullivan’s story.
Religion, it’s one of the foundations of human civilization.
Like many others, its influence has diminished by scientific knowledge and technological progress. Not so in my small hometown. Here the word of God still reigns supreme.
All of its inhabitants are still pious and devote. At least most of us are.
There was Ethan, however, the only atheist in our small town.
If it hadn’t been for him, my life would still be as ignorant and unimportant as it used to be.
Ethan and I got to know each other when mom and I moved to this small town. At the time, I was eleven years old. Mom became quick friends with Ethan’s mom due to a shared devotion to God. Ethan and I, still being children, became best friends in a few short days.
We both suffered through similar circumstances. My father had died a year ago, and Ethan’s had left his family behind and moved away.
There was one difference between us, though. While I was raised to be devoted Christian, Ethan had a strong dislike for the church and anything related to it. In the years to come, this dislike grew into a burning hatred.
That’s why he didn’t fit in with the rest of our small town, and ultimately, our friendship turned sour.
Our town itself is unimportant and remote. A small point of civilization in the middle of nowhere. There’s one thing that stands out though, our church. It’s a huge, almost giant building, made of the most exquisite architecture. This building that some compare to the ancient cathedrals of Europe serves as a fitting heart for our town.
Yet, this story doesn’t start with the church, and neither does it with Ethan. It starts with Claire Owens, the pastor’s daughter, and Ethan’s girlfriend.
In the middle of March, she ran off into the night and vanished. Two days later she was found in the woods surrounding our town. The only things with her were a cross she tightly held in her hands and a bloodied knife lying next to her. Her wrists were a mess of deep cuts. It was unmistakable that she’d taken her own life.
Ethan quickly became the prime suspect. There was, of course, the general animosity towards him, which sprouted many rumors. Worse though, he was the last person Claire had been seen with. After a lengthy investigation by Sheriff Anderson, none of the accusations could be proven.
It didn’t mean that Ethan was off the hook. There’d always been bad blood between him and our Christian community. After Claire’s death, this sentiment increased tenfold.
Two weeks after all that had happened, I was still ignorant of all the details surrounding it. Yet, I had my own prejudices about Ethan, fueled by constant rumors and gossip.
It shouldn’t stay this way, because, on a day in early April, I learned just how much more there was to this whole story.
That morning I was standing in the hallway at school, talking to my best friend, Nathan.
“So did you beat the game, yet?” he asked.
“Not yet, I can’t seem to beat that damned boss in the castle.”
Nathan started to laugh. “Oh come on, David, I told you, your level is too low. You’ve got to do some grinding!”
“Really? Why do they have to make these games so hard?”
“It’s not hard at all, you just suck! All you’ve got to…”
Suddenly Nathan broke up and frowned. When I turned around, I saw why. Ethan was walking into our direction.
“I can’t stand that asshole,” he mumbled in a low voice, careful for Ethan not to overhear.
To the surprise of both of us, he didn’t walk past.
“David,” he started turning to me, “can we talk after school?”
“Oh… hey Ethan,” I stammered, “sorry about-“
“Cool it,” he interrupted me, “no need for that. Hit me up after school, it’s important. I could really use your help.”
I didn’t even get to ask what was going on before he continued down the hallway.
“What the hell’s that all about?” Nathan demanded to know.
“Beats me,” I said shrugging.
I meant it. Sure Ethan and I had been friends, but that was years ago. Before he’d approached me just now, I hadn’t talked to him in forever.
The rest of the school day went by slow and uneventful, as usual. Before I could get out of school, Miss Mansfield, our religious studies teacher, approached me. Once again, she asked me if I needed help with my upcoming presentation for mom’s bible circle. I quickly told her that I was doing okay and rushed off. Thanks for pushing this onto me, mom, I thought.
I’d barely left the building when I saw Ethan.
He was waiting for me next to his car, which he’d parked just off school property. When he saw me, he motioned for me to come over.
Great, completely forgot about him. At first, I thought about ignoring him and to simply walk away, but when he started to call out to me, I sighed and walked over to see what he wanted.
As I walked over, I wondered how he could even afford a car. Sure, I had my driver’s license, but there was no way I could afford my own car. It really didn’t help his public image.
“Hey Ethan, so what did you want to talk about?”
“Your mom’s still working at the town archive’s right?”
What the hell? Why was he talking about mom?
“Yeah, she still does, why are you-?”
“Great, hop in, we can talk on the way.”
For a moment I looked at him and didn’t move, then I took the passenger’s seat. I was never good at saying no to people, even when I was uneasy about things.
“So why are you asking about my mom?”
“It’s about Claire,” he started, but then he shook his head. “Well, that’s not entirely true. I need to look up something at the town archives. Problem is, they’d never let me in on my own. This whole business with the police and all.”
It all made sense now. “So you need me to convince my mom to let you in, is that it?”
The rest of the drive wasn’t long, but we still had a couple of minutes left.
“What exactly are you looking for?”
For a moment, Ethan stayed quiet, and I could see he was thinking hard, trying to find the right words. Or, I thought, the right excuse.
“There’s someone I need some information about. If I’m right, there might be something strange going on.”
“Information on someone? Why?”
Ethan didn’t say another word. Instead, he stared outside at the street ahead of us. I sat next to him, shuffling around awkwardly in my seat until we’d made it to the town hall.
The moment we set foot into the building, the mood dropped. When people saw Ethan, their faces turned sour in an instant. I followed behind him, trying to hide my presence as best as I could. I didn’t feel comfortable at all being with him. Once more I cursed at myself for coming along.
Avoiding the many stares, I hurried forward to the receptionist, Karen Hanson.
“Hello, Mrs. Hanson, I’m here to see my mom,” I greeted her.
“It’s important,” I pressed on when she didn’t react.
“Fine, David, go in,” she finally yielded, a bit annoyed.
When Ethan tried to follow me, she grew visibly upset.
“Now what do you think you’re doing?” she called out to him. “I’m not aware that your name is David!”
Ethan’s face grew dark, and he stared at me in frustration. People had already turned towards us, and I could tell Ethan was about to speak up.
“Just hold on a moment, okay? I see what I can do,” I quickly told him before he’d make a scene.
When I got into mom’s office, she was surprised to see me.
“David? What are you doing here? Is everything alright?”
“Hey mom, I was going to have a look at some old articles and newspapers for the church presentation. Can I get into the archives?”
“Only if you promise not to make a mess, alright?”
“I also brought a friend,” I started in a low voice, “he’s here to help me out. Can he come in as well?”
“David Sullivan, I told you before that you can’t just bring people in here! Really, what do I do with you?”
Then she sighed. “I guess it’s alright, but only this time.”
Whit that I hurried outside again. Ethan had taken a seat on a bench, but I could see his brooding expression. When I returned, he looked up and came over to me.
“Mom said it’s fine, we can both go in.”
Before we’d taken more than a few steps, Mrs. Hanson stormed past us and started yelling at my mom.
“Nicole, what do you think you’re doing? You can’t just let anyone into the archives, let alone him! Do you have any idea-?”
“Karen,” my mom interrupted her outburst, “the boys are here to work on a presentation about the church. Just make an excuse for once.”
“A presentation about the church? Him? Don’t make me laugh! When was the last time he even went to church? Surely not after this poor girl-“
Ethan took a step into her direction, but mom was quick to intervene.
“This has got nothing to do with any of that, and you know it. The boys just want to get done with their presentation, that’s all. If anything happens, I take responsibility.”
Mrs. Hanson gave first my mom, then Ethan a long, angry look, before she stormed off, throwing the door behind herself.
“Thanks, mom, you really-“
“The last time David, the last time. And you Ethan,” she stepped up in front of him, “you better say thanks to me. I don’t know what you’re up to, but I damn well know you’re not helping my son with his presentation.”
“Yeah, thanks Mrs. Sullivan,” Ethan muttered, giving her a little smile.
With that, we entered the actual archive behind mom’s office. Right away, Ethan went to one of the shelves and started to look through the contents.
“Hey, Ethan! You’re not going to say a thing? What are we even looking for?”
“Well I’m stuck in here with you anyways,” I answered shrugging.
For a moment, he ignored me, but when I kept watching him, he finally sighed. He led me to the back of the archive.
“First of all, you don’t tell anyone about this, okay?”
I laughed a little and was about to make a joke, but when I noticed how serious his face was, I nodded.
“Sorry about that, but I really don’t know what to make of all this,” he said, shaking his head.
“Is it because of Claire’s,” I stared in a low voice, “you know what.”
Ethan’s face grew dark in an instant. I was about to apologize, but before I could, he held up a hand to silence me.
“Guess it is after all. She’d been acting strange for some time, you know? I mean, everyone knew about her problems with her family and all that. But this was different, man. It had never been that bad,” he started.
“Whenever I asked her what was wrong, she didn’t want to answer. Even when the nightmares and the panic attacks started, she always avoided the topic.”
“That night when she… when it happened, she freaked out worse than ever before and ran off into the night. Tried to find her for hours, but I couldn’t. I never thought she’d-“
He broke up and was quiet for a moment. His breath came in hard bursts.
“Fuck man, if I’d known she’d go that far, I’d have… shit!”
The newspaper in his hands turned into a crumpled up mess. His lips were quivering, and his eyes were hazy.
“Hey, Ethan, it’s-“
“She’d never do anything like that! Her? Suicide? No way! I tell you there’s more to this! You know what? Her dad’s related to this! That asshole is hiding something, and it’s related to Claire’s death!”
Here we go, I thought. It was no secret that Ethan hated Pastor Owens.
“Those dreams, those goddamn dreams. They were so weird. She’d wake up in the middle of the night screaming, clinging to me and pleading me to make them stop! She’d go on and on about the church, about people and places, about sounds, plaster, and metal. It was nothing but gibberish, almost as if she was completely delirious!”
He shook his head for a moment.
“At times, she didn’t even recognize me. That’s how scared she was. She wasn’t even there at all! I don’t know what it was, but that wasn’t like her! It’s just,” he turned away for a moment, hiding his face. “Goddamnit! I just didn’t know what to do! Who’d I talk to? What should I say?”
I was silent.
“That night, when she ran off… When they found her, I couldn’t think straight. Fuck man, why didn’t I do anything? I should’ve kept searching and maybe… I don’t know!”
I was about to interject something, but Ethan continued.
“And then Anderson showed up,” he said grimacing. “I told that bastard everything. I told him about the dreams, the panic attacks, how she ran off. I even told him what she said about the church and her father. He didn’t like that one bit. Of course, he didn’t believe a thing I told him. Must’ve been me, right? Who else but the town’s troublemaker. It would make perfect sense that he’d drive his girlfriend to suicide to spite the pastor. It would be so damn fitting, wouldn’t it? You know what? Fuck them, fuck them all!”
“I don’t,” I started but broke up instantly. I didn’t know what to say to any of this. I’d had my own prejudice about Ethan. Hell, Nathan and I had talked about these exact things.
Seeing him now, however, furious, with shaking hands and tears in his eyes. I couldn’t help being ashamed of myself.
“Anderson kept me there for two whole days. Asked me all kinds of bullshit, instead of trying to find out what really happened. Why question the good pastor if I was right in front of him. But in the end, he had to let me go. Couldn’t prove any of it.”
He gave a short laugh. “Sorry about the rant, man. It’s just all so damn ridiculous.”
“Can’t blame you, really. So when did you start to look into,” I couldn’t even finish the sentence. What exactly was he looking into?
“The moment the cops let me go, I didn’t know what to do. Every time I stepped outside though, I saw the stares, and I heard the whispers, the rumors. At first, I ignored them, but after a while, I started to listen.”
“What the hell do you mean, so?”
“Did you hear anything?”
“Oh, you’ve got no idea about the things I’ve heard. The fucking names they gave me.” He grinned.
“Someone even said that’s what Claire got for associating with me. Said she deserved it for hanging out with nonbeliever like me. Righteous judgment, they called it!”
“Ethan, you shouldn’t give a-“
“No. That’s exactly what I did. I GAVE a shit about it. And guess what. I heard something else. Something that was not related to Claire or me. You know Eric Mathews, right?”
“Yeah, him. Caught him mouthing off about Claire and me. Said his grandpa had a whole lot to say about it. Apparently, the old fart said it was the same as what happened to ‘this guy.'”
“Didn’t know what it meant either. That’s why I paid the old man a visit myself.”
“But isn’t Eric’s grandpa at the nursing home?”
Ethan shrugged and continued. “The old farts demented. Didn’t even recognize me. Said the little bitch deserved to be punished like Edgar Reeds.”
“Who the hell’s Edgar Reeds?”
“He was a middle-aged man who did volunteer work at the church and lived at Mrs. Woods’s house.”
“Wait a second, the old baker lady? Down Water Lane?”
“Mrs. Woods told me she’d no idea what happened to the man. One day he stormed off and was gone. She said he was always a good Christian, until one day. She’d no clue what happened, but it was said he ‘broke with god.’ Soon after he suffered from terrible anxiety and panic attacks. At night she’d often hear him scream about ‘making it stop,’ cursing about people, places and about the church.”
I looked up. “That sounds like-“
“Like Claire, I know. It got me thinking. What if he was really punished like old Mathew’s said?”
“So you’re here to find out what happened to that guy?”
“Bingo. Can’t seem to find a thing though. There’s nothing about him anywhere. I’ve looked through so many of these damned newspapers, checked the obituaries. I even checked the town’s registry. Nothing!”
“You sure this Edgar Reeds even existed?”
“Shit man, I don’t even know. Maybe it’s all just nonsense. But if he did live here and if he killed himself, there’s bound to be something!”
“Think about this town, about the church and how devoted everyone is to it. There’s one thing they wouldn’t dare to mess with.”
I still gave him an empty look. When he saw it, he sighed.
“The funerals. Whoever it is, whatever they’ve done, they wouldn’t dare to not put them to rest. It would mean to go against God’s word. Even I know that much.”
He’d got a point, but how’d that help? Then I got an idea.
“So why are we even here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, why are we here and not at the graveyard. If you want to figure out if that guy died, then-“
“You know what, I haven’t even thought about that, shit! This whole thing is messing with my brain. You’re right, David! Come on, let’s go!”
“I think I’d rather,” I started but broke up again. I really wasn’t good at saying no. “Yeah, sure,” I finally mumbled in agreement.
As we drove to the graveyard, Ethan reiterated his whole theory about Edgar Reeds. I only listened with half an ear. It was all so far-fetched and frankly, didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Even before we were anywhere near the church, I could already make out the giant, towering monument. When we reached it, however, Ethan didn’t stop and drove past it.
“Hey, what are you doing?” I asked, confused.
“Can’t park right in front of it. He’ll recognize my car instantly.”
Here we go again, I thought.
In the end, Ethan parked the car at what he called ‘a safe distance away.’ Then he led me along a short path that connected directly to the graveyard.
Without saying another word, Ethan rushed off and started to look at the various graves. I watched as he hurried from grave to grave, reading names and engravings. He seemed to be utterly obsessed with the whole thing.
Then, after five minutes, he finally called out to me.
“Here it is!”
I stepped over to him and read the words on the gravestone.
‘Edgar Reeds. Born 1976. Died 2010. In memory of a loved son.’
Well, that didn’t prove a thing. God knows what happened to that guy. Ethan, however, stood there, his face contorted by thought, as he seemed to make up more of his obscure theories.
“How did we never hear about this? How come Mrs. Woods was the only one who remembered about him?” he started.
“What do you mean?”
“Suicide is a big issue! Especially in a small town like this! How come no one ever talked about it?”
I listened to his words but didn’t say a thing. How did he know it was suicide? That guy had died years ago. I hadn’t even lived in this town when it happened for crying out loud.
“What if they hid the fact that this guy killed himself?”
“No, listen David. What if they didn’t want people to know what happened to him? What if Claire’s suicide only got out because of Social Media?”
What the hell was he talking about? Social Media? So far, I’d listened to him, but this was starting to get crazy.
“Remember how they found Claire? It was the Wilson twins. What if Robert never posted about it on Facebook? What if they couldn’t hide it because of that?”
“Who the hell are they, Ethan? Who are you even talking about?”
“Her father, the church, the police, the town, fuck man I don’t know! I just know that something is going on here!”
This was ridiculous. Why was I even here? Why did I let him talk me into coming here? Maybe I should just-
“Alright man, I need you to do me a favor. You need to go back to the town’s archive and check out a few things for me.”
I stopped in my tracks.
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, I doubt your mom’s going to let me in there again after what happened before.”
It dawned on me. He wanted me to help him out to prove whatever crazy conspiracy he was making up right now.
“Alright, no way, Ethan. I’m not going to go back.”
For a moment he just looked at me, then he got mad.
“Are you kidding me, man? You came along all day, and now you’re just going to go home like nothing happened?”
“I came along? You were the one who-“
“That doesn’t fucking matter! So what? You think I’m crazy like everyone else does? That this is all just bullshit? That I’m making it all up?”
“I don’t know Ethan. This whole thing is just so… Look, I’m sorry about Claire and all that, but that doesn’t mean-“
“You know what? Fuck you? Fuck you, David! I should’ve known better than to-“
He didn’t go on. His expression changed from anger to pure rage, and he stared at something, no someone behind me. I didn’t have to turn around to know that it was Pastor Owens.
Without another word, Ethan turned around and stormed off.
“Well, David, my son,” the pastor spoke in a calm voice from behind me.
“That boy is troubled, very troubled indeed. You really shouldn’t associate with people like him.”
“It’s because of what happened that he’s acting like this,” I mumbled.
“Indeed it is,” the pastor continued and put his hand on my shoulders. “We all suffer in different ways, my son.”
“There are some of us though,” he pressed out, his voice getting harder and his fingers digging into my shoulders. “There are some of us who are meant to suffer for all eternity.”