I knew what they’d been talking about. Those words, the reaction of Ethan’s mom, there was no doubt.
‘Get rid of him.’
Yet, what could I do? All I could do was stand here, a shaking, panting mess. I almost couldn’t breathe, my heart was beating hard against my chest, and the always present melody ruptured inside of my head.
I cursed out loud in pain once more. When mom heard it, she turned to me, her face a mixture of anger and worry.
“John, how about you take David home? There’s something I’ve got to take care of,” she said to Mr. Shaw.
“No, I,” I started, but all I could muster was one shaking step forward before my legs gave way again.
“Come on, son, let’s get you home,” Mr. Shaw said and helped me to my feet.
As he led me to the car, I turned around once more. Mom and Pastor Owens were still talking to Ethan’s mom. I saw how the pastor put his hands on her shoulder, whispering to hear. I could see the tears streaming from her eyes.
Then Mr. Shaw pushed me into the passenger seat, and we drove off.
I don’t remember much about the drive. My head was spinning, and I shifted in and out of consciousness.
Once at home, Mr. Shaw helped me up the stairs to my room, where I collapsed on my bed.
The sleep I’d hoped for so dearly didn’t come.
I cursed, screamed, and struggled against the sounds inside my head. I started scratching at the back of it to make it stop, but all I did was to leave bloody marks on my head. All I could do was lay there, a curled up ball of misery.
Long hours passed, and with each moment, new surges of pain shot through my mind.
It was late afternoon already when I finally was able to move again. The phone, I thought. I had to warn Ethan. I fought myself to my feet and stumbled towards my desk.
I pleaded that he’d sent me a message, or that he’d at least read mine. When I looked at the phone though, I saw that it was still the same. My message was still unread.
At that moment, I didn’t care anymore. I was sure that Mr. Shaw was still somewhere in the house. Yet, I did it. With shaking fingers, I dialed his number and waited. The call went straight to voice mail.
The phone almost dropped from my hands. Fucking hell! Fuck it all to hell!
I fell back onto my bed. At one point, mom entered the room to check on me.
She talked to me in the same sweet voice as before, but this time, I didn’t react. I just lay there, lethargic and soon she left me alone again.
Once night arrived, I could hear her outside again. I knew she wasn’t going to bed. I knew she’d be out there, listening in and making sure I couldn’t leave.
I started shaking again. I had to force myself to calm down and keep the panic at bay. Yet, my mind was in an uproar. Had anything happened to Ethan? I prayed that he’d just lost his phone or that Anderson confiscated it, yet what I’d heard today…
What about me, though? Wasn’t I in danger as well? Were they already planning to get rid of me?
But there was nothing I could do in my current state. I wasn’t even able to get up, let alone get away from here.
I don’t know how late it was when I finally fell asleep. That night I didn’t dream. It seemed as if my brain was too exhausted to even conjure up any nightmarish visions.
When morning arrived, I still didn’t feel better. Not as terrible as before, but I was still endlessly exhausted. My head wasn’t hurting anymore, yet there was still a slight rhythmic pain. It was still there.
I staggered downstairs almost on autopilot. Mom was her usual self. She chirped on about the day, about breakfast and her plans for the week. I didn’t care.
That morning I didn’t eat anything. All I did was to force half a cup of coffee down my throat.
As I sat there, mom finally asked me if I felt like going to school. Usually, I’d have crawled back upstairs. Hell, all I wanted was to rest. Yet I didn’t feel safe with her around. Her eyes, her demeanor, it was all so fake. Her concern was nothing but a mask under which she hid her disappointment and anger at me.
“No, I think I can go,” I pressed out and went back to my room to get ready.
Ideas started to form in my exhausted mind. This was my chance, wasn’t it? If only I could get out of the house I-
“David, hurry up!”
I jerked around to find mom already standing in the door.
“You’re still not doing well, aren’t you? Come on, I’ll drive you to school.”
“No, mom, I can-”
“Nonsense, David!” she called out and stepped up to me. For a moment she reached out to me, then our eyes met. She was still smiling, still wearing the facade of a warm, caring mother.
“David?” she said once more. I could hear the growing anger in her voice.
I took a deep breath, and then I resented. There was no way for me to get away from here right now. I could still barely walk.
The drive to school was quiet. Neither of us said a thing. She dropped me off right in front of the main building. As I staggered towards the entrance, I could feel her eyes on my back. Only once I’d stepped inside, did I hear the car drive off.
I turned around in an instant and was about to walk out of the building. Before I could do anything, one of the teachers, Mr. Hendricks, stepped in front of me.
“Now Mr. Sullivan, where do you think you’re going. Class is about to start.”
He gave me a hard stare, positioning himself between me and the door.
Goddamnit, I cursed. To hell with this whole freaking town!
As I walked down the hallway towards my locker, I could feel people’s stares, could hear their whispers.
“… yeah, that’s him…” I heard from behind me.
“… friends with that guy…” another person said.
When I finally reached my locker, I looked around for Nathan. The moment my eyes focused on him, he turned away.
“Hey! Nathan!” I called out to him. My voice was still weak.
“Get the hell away from me!” he spat at me and started to walk off.
“What’s going on?” I asked, confused, and stepped up to him.
When I did that, he pushed me aside hard. “Don’t fucking talk to me, alright?!”
I was left baffled. What the hell was going on? As I looked after him, I could see everyone else staring at me. I could see the grins on their faces.
During class, I kept to myself, sitting quietly at my desk, not speaking or interacting with anyone. It didn’t matter. People didn’t acknowledge me. For all I knew, I didn’t exist to them at all.
When it was time for the lunch break, I tried to stay indoors, but an angry Mr. Richard ushered me out onto the schoolyard like everyone else.
It was there that Craig and his friends found me.
“Well if it isn’t our friend Sullivan. How are you doing? You feeling any better after your little freak out at church?”
When I didn’t say a thing, he smirked.
“Not going to talk? Everyone saw that little act of yours against Pastor Owens.”
No, I thought. I hadn’t done anything. What was even talking about?
Before I could do anything, he punched me. I went down in an instant.
“That’s for your friend, Miller,” he said, laughing.
As I tried to get back up, Mark landed a hard kick against my rips, making me fall back down again. He put his foot on my head, pushing me down into the dirt.
“Trash like you should stay down!”
I knew people saw what happened. No one said anything. No one came over. Instead, they were all laughing. Even Mr. Richard, who stood nearby and saw everything didn’t do a thing. When I looked at him, I could see him smiling before he turned away.
For another minute, Craig and his friends insulted me and spat at me. Even after they’d left, I didn’t get up. Did it even matter?
Once the bell announced that break was over, everyone made their way back inside. I stayed where I was.
After a while, I just turned around and walked off. I knew people saw. I knew Mr. Richard saw, but he didn’t even call out to me. There was no need for that anymore. I was a lost cause anyway.
I walked off school property, and soon I was out in the streets. For hours I walked on. Everywhere I went, people were staring at me.
I couldn’t stop anywhere without being watched. I drove myself on, trying to find a place where I’d be alone, but that didn’t seem to exist in this town anymore.
Was this how Ethan had felt all these weeks?
I was staggering on from street to street and alley to alley, trying to get away from people’s constant stares. Yet, it seemed impossible.
I felt like a trapped animal. Wherever I went, someone was already there, watching me, staring me down. They were mocking me with their grins, their smiles, their eyes.
I don’t know how she found me, but she did. It was early evening already when mom’s car stopped in front of me. She was furious and started yelling at me right away. She asked where I’d been and told me she’d been waiting in front of the school forever.
I didn’t reply. I didn’t have the energy left to do so. There was nothing I could do anyways. I fought back the tears that came to my eyes. It was hopeless. All thoughts of running away were long gone. Instead, I entered the car and let her drive me home.
She was ranting all the while as we drove on. Even as we entered the house, she was still yelling at me. I didn’t listen to one word she said.
Eventually, her fury subsided, and she prepared dinner as if nothing had happened. Once she was done, I sat down and ate. My body was so famished, it was almost an unconscious decision.
All throughout dinner, mom reiterated her rant. What was I thinking? What was wrong with me? Didn’t I think about her? All of it. I didn’t care. I simply finished eating and went up to my room. Her screams followed me upstairs for another minute before she was quiet.
In my room, I sat down on my bed. My head was blank. Run away, a voice in my head said. I could only laugh at it. I laughed at the futility of my situation. How could I ever hope to escape if this whole town was watching me?
Then my phone rang.
I jumped off the bed and held it in my hands within seconds. I looked at the screen but saw that it was a restricted number. For a few seconds, I stared at it before I reluctantly answered.
“David!” I heard Ethan’s voice.
For the first time, a shimmer of hope appeared again and relief flooded over me.
“Ethan? Is that you? Listen, we’ve got to get out of-”
“No time to talk! I’m on my way to the church! Meet me there! I’ve got to get in there and figure out what’s going on here!”
“No, Ethan, listen, we-”
I broke up, the call had already disconnected. Damnit, Ethan! Why’d he always act like-
My thoughts were interrupted when I saw mom standing in the door.
“David Sullivan, what do you think you’re doing!?”
“That was Nathan, he,” but I broke up when I saw her face. There was no hint of fake emotions anymore. It was nothing but a mask of unbound anger.
“How dare you lie to your mother,” she screamed at me.
“No, mom,” I started, but before I could say another word, she’d crossed the distance between us and slapped me across the face.
“I heard everything! I know who you’ve been talking to! I know it was Odette’s boy! How dare you! How dare you, David! I never thought you’d be like him, I never,” she broke up in sheer anger.
Tears started streaming from her eyes.
“How could you’ve turned from God, David? How could you?”
“My own son,” she continued shaking her head.
I inched back when I saw how she raised her arms and how her hands opened and closed in anticipation.
“You will stay here, David Sullivan, you will stay,” she pressed out.
With that, she stepped forward and pressed me against the wall.
“Mom, what are you-”
“You won’t desecrate this house anymore! You won’t desecrate our Lord and savior ever again!” she spat at me.
She was completely out of it. It was as if she’d transformed into a ghastly, crazed caricature of herself.
“Never will I let my boy turn against him!”
She screamed it out loud, but it didn’t seem to be directed at me. Instead, she screamed it at herself. It was almost like it was an… excuse.
“Mom, let go off me for Christ’s sake!” I screamed back, pushing her away from me. Yet in another moment she was back. Her face was hard as if carved from stone. Her lips were pressed together into nothing but a single line, and finally, she put her hands around my throat.
“Forgive me, Lord, for I’m about to sin,” she said in a voice filled with endless misery as she started to press down.
I couldn’t breathe. I grabbed on to her arms, but she was too strong. I gasped for air, struggled against her grip, and tried to get away. My hands dug into her arms, fingers clawing at her skin and flesh, yet she didn’t seem to feel it. As she stared me down, strangling her own son, her eyes were so wide they almost popped from her insane face. She seemed taller, hunched over, a lurking demon that had once been my mother. Black dots started to appear in front of my eyes.
“Lord save me from-”
My desk lamp crashed hard against the side of her head. Once, twice, but only when I hit her a third time, did her hands release my throat. For a moment she stared at me, reaching out towards me pleadingly before she fell to the ground.
I stood there, desperately gasping for air, and only now realized what had happened. I couldn’t do anything but look down at mom’s motionless body. I saw the sticky, dark liquid that gathered around her head.
I staggered from the room but collapsed outside in the hallway, vomiting. What had I done? What the hell had I done!?
I don’t remember how I left the house. I don’t remember running out into the streets.
The first thing I remember was the headlights of a car that stopped right in front of me.
As my mind started to function again, I came to a halt. Who could this be? Could it be…?
“David, what are you doing out here?”
“No, I,” I started but broke up right away and turned to run. I’d barely taken a few tumbling steps before the man got a hold of me. I struggled against his grip, but I couldn’t get away.
“Damnit, boy, calm down! Calm down! It’s alright, I’m not going to do anything to you! What the hell happened?”
For a bit longer, I struggled before I gave up. The sheriff continued to talk to me in a low voice, assuring me everything was going to be alright.
“My mom,” I said as tears streamed from my face, “she tried to strangle me and I, I,” but I couldn’t finish the sentence.
“Jesus,” Anderson cursed.
“Come on David, I’ll bring you somewhere where you-”
“No! I can’t! I’ve got to go to the church, I’ve got to,” I couldn’t think straight.
“Calm down. You’re not making any sense for Christ’s sake!”
“It’s Ethan! He’s on his way to the church! He’s going to break in again!”
Right at that moment, I tried to run off once more, but Anderson was quick to restrain me again.
“David! I told you to calm down!”
I didn’t listen, I had to get out of here! I had to-
My thoughts were cut off when Anderson slapped me. It was all that was needed to break my resistance.
“Alright, listen David. I’m not your enemy! This thing that you and Ethan uncovered, it’s real. And it’s dangerous!”
I stared at the man who frowned at me.
“Goddamnit! Why can’t you boys stay out of trouble!?” he cursed before he opened the door to his car.
With that, he ushered me into the car and started driving.
I didn’t take us long to get to the church. Before we got too close, Anderson turned off his headlights and slowed the car down. When he’d finally parked it, he turned around to me.
“Alright, David, you stay here. I’ll see what I can-”
“No!” I called out instantly. “There’s no fucking way I’m going to stay in this car! I told him I’d come!”
“You don’t get it, do you? This is no game and-”
“Yes, I do fucking get it, sheriff! I do for fuck’s sake! But I can’t stay here. Not after what happened, after what I did. I’ve to…” but I broke up again, cursing at myself and this whole damned town.
Anderson watched me for a moment before he sighed and nodded.
“Alright, but once we’ve got Ethan, we’re out of here!”
Without another word, I hurried forward onto the church grounds. Anderson was quick to follow me.
I found Ethan already in front of the small side entrance, a crowbar in his hand.
“David!” he called out to me in a low voice. “I tried the front entrance, but it’s locked as always so I-”
He broke up the moment he saw Sheriff Anderson behind me.
“What’s he doing here!?” he spat at me.
“I’m here because I’m putting an end to this,” Anderson said.
“And now how are you going to do that sheriff?”
I could see how Ethan’s grip around the crowbar got tighter.
“What are you even trying to do here, boy? Trying to break into the church? To prove that theory of yours? That conspiracy about the town murdering people?”
Ethan looked up.
“You heard that right, your friend David over here,” with that, he turned to me, “told me all about it.”
Enraged Ethan turned to me. “You told him about it?!”
“No, Ethan it’s not-”
“Him of all people?!”
In a moment Anderson jumped forward, ripped the crowbar from Ethan’s hand and restrained him.
Ethan struggled, tried to kick the man, but Anderson’s grip was too hard, and he soon put a hand over his mouth.
“Now be quiet Miller! Not another word! What do you think will happen if you continue to scream like that?”
Ethan struggled for a while longer, but his energy didn’t last for long. He had to be as exhausted as I was, maybe even more.
“Alright, listen up.”
“First, I know exactly why you’re here. Second, and I told David already, I’m not your enemy. I’m going to let go of you right now. Don’t you dare make a fuss, alright?”
With that, he took his hand off Ethan’s mouth and let him go.
Ethan quickly jerked around to find the crowbar but grinned when he saw that Anderson was holding it.
“So you’re not our enemy? And yet you’re going to bash our heads in with this, aren’t you? All in the name of duty, right?”
“You know, Miller, at times I wish I could give you a few good hits.”
“Why don’t you try, sheriff?”
At this Anderson’s face turned hard and he took a step forward.
“I really ought to for your goddamn stupidity! Why didn’t you ever tell me about any of this?”
“So you could rat me out to Owens?”
“Not everyone in this town has it out for you, Ethan. At least not me.”
I looked up when I heard it. “Then why did you tell me to stay away from him?”
“Jesus, because you’re nothing but damned kids! This is not a game! I had my hands full watching him already!” he snapped at me.
“Why do you think I did it, Ethan?”
“Because you’re working for Owens of course,” Ethan said grimacing.
“You still don’t get it, do you? Owens would never let his daughter’s death slide. I always knew there was more to this man, I always knew he-”
“Yeah, right sheriff!” Ethan cut him off. “And that’s why you let Danes and his friends beat the shit out of me? That’s why you let that asshole Jenkins kick me out of the store without doing a damn thing?”
“Now tell me, boy, what would’ve happened if I’d not been around? Danes would’ve beaten you to a bloody pulp. That mad man Jenkins might have shot you! You know as well as me that he carries a gun!”
“What are you,” I started, but the sheriff cut me off.
“The longer I followed you, the more I noticed that something was wrong. People weren’t just staring at you like usual. They were out for blood. The longer I followed you, the more I knew you had to be on to something. And then David here told me all about your theory and handed me that little list of yours.”
Again Ethan gave me an angry stare.
“You are on to something, Ethan!”
“Then why this whole thing? Why did you never do anything? Why did you keep me in and questioned me for so long? Don’t you believe that I killed-?”
“I knew damn well that you didn’t kill the girl, Ethan.”
“So suddenly you’re sure I didn’t do it? Back then, you-”
“I know you still blame yourself for what happened with Michael. I know you’ve got a tamper, I know you might go crazy from time to time, but I damn well know that you’re still regretting what happened. You might not like to admit it, but I know you’re still suffering because of it.”
I saw Ethan’s face distort. For a moment, he looked away, hiding his face from the sheriff and me.
“Damn you, Anderson, damn you to hell.”
“It’s alright boy, it’s alright,” with that he went forward and gave Ethan a little hug.
After he released him, he looked at both of us. “Now then, let’s get out of here boys.”
“No,” Ethan said right away.
“Don’t you get it, Ethan, this is no game! We’ve got to-”
He broke up and turned to stare at the church next to us. Ethan did the same thing.
“It’s the same again,” Ethan said in a low voice.
“What are you talking about? Who the hell’s playing this thing at this hour of the night?”
With that, Ethan rushed towards the door, trying to open it.
“Wait, what are you,” I started but broke up. If they heard it too, it meant that the music wasn’t just in my head. No, this time, it was real.
“Hey, Ethan, what’s the matter with you?” Anderson asked.
“It sounds exactly like Claire when she used to play it! I don’t know how that’s possible, but I’ve got to get in there!”
“Goddamnit,” Anderson cursed. “What the hell’s going on here?”
With that, he pushed Ethan aside and put the crowbar between the door and the frame. Within moments the wood splintered, and the door opened.
For a moment, I winced as new surges of pain shot through my head.
“We’ll only have one look at what’s going on, you understand me?” Anderson asked.
Both Ethan and I nodded.
“Alright, you stay right behind me,” he said and stepped inside.
I took a deep breath before I followed him and Ethan. I was supposed to be entering the house of God, yet it seemed like I was crossing the gates of hell itself.