James and Harper trudged on, reaching James’ neighborhood. The walk had been long, and James was getting tired. This might have been Harper’s idea of a good time, but James was about ready to slug him in the face.
“You’re a real decent guy, James,” Harper exhaled into James’ face. “And you know what?”
Harper stopped, reached into his jacket and pulled out two twenty dollar bills, then slapped them into James’ hand. James looked at the cash, grinned. Okay, Harper was still a cool guy. Just incredibly annoying when drunk.
“Happy birthday,” Harper said. “Spend it on yourself. And don’t tell your mom.”
“Thanks,” James replied as he stuffed the bills in his pants. “You got steady enough feet?”
Harper chuckled, then looked ahead. They were in front of the house. But it was dark. Something was wrong.
“Why aren’t the lights on?” Harper asked, straightening considerably, his drunken slur suddenly under control.
James looked at Harper, who motioned for him to proceed, Harper taking a defensive position behind him, looking around, his hand in his jacket once more. Apparently, he’s a paranoid drunk, too, James laughed to himself. Seriously, there was nothing in the house worth stealing. Not even the TV. It was an old standard definition CRT. No cash, no jewelry...
They reached the house, James knocked. No answer. The TV wasn’t on. No light through the curtains. That was kind of weird.
“Use your key,” Harper cooly instructed after James knocked once more.
The door opened. Blackness. An utter, complete void. And it wasn’t really about the lighting. There was something eerily familiar about the unidentifiable feeling that swept over James. Cramped. Tight. Confined. Watched. He didn’t want to enter it, but he knew he must. His mother was in there with it.
As he stepped forward, a hand gripped his shoulder, frightened him. It was Harper. He had forgotten about his cousin. He looked at him, Harper’s finger to his mouth, signaling silence. Harper pulled a tiny flashlight from his jacket… and a gun.
“Whoa,” James whispered. Since when did Harper pack?
Harper took point, led James into the house, slowly. What James could see of his face told him that Harper didn’t really want the boy in the house, but definitely didn’t want him outside, either. And right now, Harper was the safest thing in James’ life. Of course, that suddenly wasn’t saying much.
The flashlight whipped about the room, and there it was, on the floor… Deep, thick, crimson. It trailed across the living room floor, to the couch… And there, on it, rested the brutalized corpse of Harper’s buddy Zach. Harper exhaled with a mixture of expectancy and grief.
“Oh shit,” James slipped. So much blood. Death. It was too much for him. All that mattered now was his mother. Where was she?
“Quiet,” Harper solemnly whispered. His eyes turned to James, and they were foreign. This Harper was as of yet unknown to James. This Harper looked capable of great violence. This Harper had eyes born of the void. All that was jovial and drunk had melted away, almost visibly, like a mask torn from the face of its phantom. And it scared the hell out of James.
Harper passed James, headed for the hallway leading to Avelyn’s room.
They entered Avelyn’s room. Moonlight peered in through the blinds, barely illuminating the bed. Harper flashed his light around, focused on the tossed over wheelchair, scanned the room. No blood… but mess everywhere.
As Harper circled the room, James’ eyes held on the sight of his mother’s wheelchair. Who would take a crippled old woman? Why her? What had she done? Was it a home robbery gone wrong, or what?
“Harper,” James started.
Harper turned to James. “We need to go. Now.”
Harper stormed past James, grabbed his arm and pulled him away. James’ eyes held on his mother’s wheelchair until it vanished. As they raced out of the house, he remembered his last thoughts towards her, and was ashamed. He had never lost his father, for he had never known him. But he had just lost his mother, the woman who had raised him, provided for him, and now needed him to care for her.
And he had been so selfish.