Bright lights met my eyes as I wiped sweat from my forehead. Our graduation hats were getting soaked by rays of sun. Amanda was to be honored as a would be graduate today. It was all over the television that we were going to gift a missing eighteen year old her high school diploma today. Our crowd outmatched that of one of a concert due to the meaning behind. Parents were clapping, children were cheering, and we were crying tears of joy.
Finally, we would be out of this place. Rid of the prison of school. A slip of paper was hanging at my side shining the accomplishments we had made. Rachel had one of her most epic parties planned because right after this she was going straight into training to be a medic for the marines. Danny was a loose cannon by now having fallen into the deep addiction of heroin.
“ We made it girl.” Rachel nudged me as we walked back to our seats. I couldn’t see my mom in the crowd because she was off working, or dealing with her new boyfriend. My brother was sitting smoking a cigarette as if the entire situation wasn’t exciting.
“ We made it through the first jungle.”
“ Now, to survive the after party.” I huffed a laugh trying to hide the anxiety I had for the future. Aaron had just gotten a full scholarship for football with some college in another state. He didn’t seem so keen on leaving me though.
“ Oh, the party won’t be that bad Alana . “Rachel slid off her graduation hat before taking my wrist as we walked back inside our school. The ceremony was cryptic as a few more girls went missing after Amanda, and there wasn’t much hope for any of them.
Our troupe of about three hundred students looked more like a group of blue antz from the distance for the crowd. Most parents stood around waiting for their kids to change out of graduation gowns with flowers. Other students who unfortunately had to attend their last few classes for their year waved to us. Some would be in our shoes next year, and others would be having to climb social ladders, or accept their existence for another four.
Daniel would be waiting for us at that old shack. Rachel, and him were on rocky waves at the moment in their relationship. She was trying to climb away from his drug induced self, but he wasn’t hearing that he had problem like most addicts. Her heart refused to let him go which meant she was probably going to break it off tonight with him. I wouldn’t doubt it.
“ Congratulations. I’m so happy I could make it here. I had to take time off from both -”
My mom for once in her life greeted me after I changed into a pretty little blue dress which made me look like one of those porcelain dolls on the wall. I hated playing dress up. It was a waste of a day that I could wear shorts.
“ Yes, I get it mom. It means a lot to me. You know that. “ I gave her hug trying not to act like I was more aggravated that was trying to guilt trip me already. My older brother heaved a sigh at her exaltation of love. None of it would be out of pocket like me.
“ I’m so happy we can have dinner with Rachel in a nice restaurant. Their even paying.” Her arms around me felt like the strength of a lion cub’s mother.
“ Mom. I hate to break it to you, but Rachel’s parents are treating you to dinner, and a hotel. I’m partying with Rachel tonight in celebration.” A frown crossed her face, but a flicker in her eyes as they wandered to left told me someone was standing there.
“ Hunny, I wanted you to come with us so you could meet my new boyfriend. He has a nice place, and we could move out of the shambles we call home.”
“ Can’t that wait till tomorrow
“It will have to. “ She gave me a kiss on the cheek as if reassuring me that the dinner tonight will go over smooth. Rachel’s parents have tried to give her a place to live, but the only thing she would accept from them was a car. My mom believe in working hard, and earning it. But with a new man in her life, just maybe she might learn to accept help when offered.
I had no plans on college, and no idea when I would be able to get a job in the failing economy. I’d probably end up joining Rachel if nothing happens over the summer. The sad truth is that my brother left right after my mom mentioned her new boyfriend. He was old enough to not give a damn about her, or me. But he still helped her with bills even when he attends college half way across the country to become a scriptwriter. She calls him a hopeless cause.
My mom and brother walked off leaving me to go find Rachel who was just now giving her mom a kiss on the cheek. Our party wasn’t going to be at her house tonight but it will happen somewhere in the woods. But we still had to drag Daniel along for our last group horrah even Aaron was meeting us at our secret base.
Daniel sat as usual on a broken step at that same shack that we discussed placing a tiger rug on. His dark brown hair was fuzzed up from the june heat, and blobs of sweat protruded from his forehead like rain pelted the ground. He had on a dark blue shirt with buttons, and Denim Jeans that were ripped at the knee. Per usual he had a rolled up joint in his mouth as he watched Rachel in her red gown almost trip on nothing. There was no sign on his body of having taken any drugs today. This would be the third week straight he hadn’t relapsed on heroine. We did manage to begin to fix it up. Over the course of the few months there were now new glass windows, a new roof, two full floors, and a tiger rug on the bottom floor. We couldn’t fix the stairs yet, and we promised when we all saved money one day we would build the house, and make a pool surrounding the shack. The place would have a name but I wasn’t sure what the name would be yet.
“ Hey there pretty ladies.” Smoke embellished his face making the tan of his skin look almost powdery. A huff of laughter passed his lips at the sight of Rachel trying to straighten herself out.
“ She’s just a natural klutz as always. I mean hell she did almost push herself through one of those windows when we were fixing them.”
“ Oh, if she did that I may as well have followed her.” Daniel flung his arms out as if trying to sway Rachel to go to him.
“ You don’t smell like bear yet?”
“ Sweetie, when I smell like beer, you’ll be in the process of having my kid, and you’ll be the one drunk. “ There they went. It was like he just set the bomb off for her. Swearing, huffs, stomps, and finally a joke managed to calm the two of them.
“ So, tonight’s festivities are gonna be at pond Hopeville.”
“ I always found Hopeville to be an ironic name.”
“ Shush it, Alana , It’s not like you named it.”
“ If i had I’d be rich Rachel.”
“ Donald trump rich?” Daniel finally was able to enclose his arms around Rachel protectively. Aaron was taking quite a while to get to us, and inform us that all the party plans were solid. He was the one setting up the fire, having his cousin get the drinks, and trying to make sure no one would have a complaint. The lake was considered unsafe to swim in by the government, but none of us ever had an issue swimming in it. Water was clear like ice, and the creatures that domained in it were harmless aside from a snapping turtle. Snapping turtles were the worst.
“ I think that invests owning more than one lake.” Aaron’s words escaped his lips as he came out of the shack with his phone to his ear.
“ Why were you inside?” Rachel pointed at the door like we were all blind.
“ I had an important phone call to make to keep those crazy cops away for the party.”
“ Do normal people party like us?” Daniel retorted. He hated Aaron. I wouldn’t be surprised if drunk fists passed between them.
“ No. But that’s because most people don’t have money in this economy. I mean Alana has been freeloading off of you too for a while now.”
“ Yout her boyfriend, and your shot calling? Girl, you gotta find yourself a better man.” I huffed a laughter trying to hide my uncomfortableness. Aaron was from a rich family. One that would look at me and kick me in the knee right away. The other two were more humble because their parents came from nothing. But the quarterback wouldn’t understand this. He just loved putting me in a tough situation. It’s what we’re used to.
“ I guess he just likes to tease me.” Aaron had on polyester jeans, and a nice fancy button up shirt that was meant for people born to a major rockstar. He wrapped his arm around me sniffing the rose scented perfume I slipped on earlier. He smelled like forest in a mix of water, leaves, and dirt like he spent all night laying on the floor staring at the stars.
“ No. I just like making valid points.”
“ Ugh, “ My retort reflected the disgust I feel at his scent. But it was a smell I expected of him.
Speckles from the sun began to spray onto the clouds like a child’s art picture. Bright pinks, oranges, and a slight purple covered the sky like the colors were fighting for popularity. Aaron made a motion for the other’s to follow him. The woods near the shack led up to the lake that we would be partying in. It was only about a thirty minute walk to get there.
We got there and placed down the cooler that Daniel was carrying. Packages of hotdogs, buns, burgers, chips, salads, and cookies were already placed next to the pre-made campfire. This fire was one of four that would be utilized tonight. We made sure that the old tire swing that we made was still sturdy enough to fling people into the water.
“ Daniel, don’t get into trouble.” Rachel tugged his arm afraid that if he even saw a white powdery drug he would faceplant right into it.
“ I’ll try not to hun.” His words held a slight lingering to them like an apology.
Slivers of light rained down on the forest. We had light from flashlights, and flickering shadows from a few fire pits in the area. People were starting to flood in splashing water from the pond onto some of the less fortunate party goers. I watched as a girl in a loose pink bikini dove into the water just barely hitting her head on a rock. The warm whisky dripped down my throat trying to sway me to join the daring in the pond, and wafts of cooked burgers came with the wind. My burger sat next to me with only a half of a bite eaten. It tasted like the bacon cheese burger you buy from Mcdonalds except it was completely charred through. A bag of lays BBQ chips rested next to the burger that was now being overrun by ants at the moment.
“ How does the whisky feel?” Daniel plopped himself next to me smelling like a mixture of moist water, and tobacco. He had been trying to rid himself of the drug habit with heroine by succumbing to the tobacco industry. Inflation had skyrocketed the prices on cigarettes which made the money he was spending sad.
“ I’m pretty sure it hasn’t kicked in yet.”
“ Alana , you are a half of a bottle in, and your face is bubbly.” He poked my shoulder trying to see if I would just fold over like a pretzel.
“ It’s fine.”
“ It’s fine…is like saying your dying inside and are crying for help.”
“ No really-” I grabbed the whisky bottle to finish it as my eyes caught Aaron chatting up another cheerleader. Lately, he’s been all about chatting up other women and leaving me in the background.
“ Come on, you just said you are fine, but you are wallowing in the corner like a sad kitten.”
“ This is a little tragic that you actually believe I’m wallowing.” I glanced around to see a few others picking at their burgers before chatting about their boyfriends, girlfriends, or parents. No one brought up Amanda like she was a ghost in all of our brains. The haunt of this graduating class.
“ You are so wallowing right now considering you haven’t picked a fight yet with that cheerleader over there.” He nodded his head in the direction of Aaron. I could feel the liquid playing off my indifference. I wanted to stab the bitch but that would only lead to trouble later.
“ She isn’t worth my time.” I muttered the words as I felt soft arms wrap around me. Pink stylish nails waved in front of my eyes.
“ Oh, sweetie you can’t just let him provoke you like this.” Rachel whispered in my ear. I could smell the booze wafting from me to her. It permeated the area.
“ Don’t.” I spoke knowing neither of them were going to give up on my human right to protect what’s mine. Daniel took a stick to poke at the burger with ants crawling around them. I’m not sure if he was trying to save the burger, or kill the ants but it was entertaining to watch him.
“ Don’t what? I bet you could tear her apart before she even blinks.” Rachel’s sadistic laugh made me realize how much she was just teasing me. Her hair dripped down my back that was slightly revealed because of my pink tank-top. I wasn’t one to swim in a pond full of snapping turtles.
“ I don’t know. She might have a decent pair of high-heels.” My joke got lost on the pair as Rachel took her arms away from my neck and tackled Daniel to the ground. The two of them kissed just as Aaron began to make his way towards me.
“ I’m surprised you didn’t strangle the poor girl.” I huffed at his words trying to act like I didn’t just drown myself with a bottle of whisky. If I stood at the moment I’m pretty sure my legs would have caved in, and I would of tumbled onto the ant infested ground like a mosquito who was just slapped off a window.
The alcohol began to kick in as time tended to slip by faster and faster. My eyes started to lose track of how the crowd was getting smaller. I was pretty sure the world was starting to spin as people began to fade away. Daniel and Rachel were somewhere….god if I knew. I slammed my head against the tree trunk trying to assuage the sickness. What happened next reminded me of one of those poor murder movies where everything is in slow motion, and you know what’s gonna happen before it happens.
Rachel came out of the woodwork tumbling like some sort of tumbleweed from the south. Her feet twisted, and she face planted the ground mumbling about Daniel being an asshole. I tried to move towards her but it was like my feet were being held down by weights. Words were pouring out of her mouth like a rainstorm. None of it made sense to me aside from a needle, and twisting his hand. She was in the same boat as me.
I manage to grab her arm and drag her towards me but a loud splashing sound in the background disrupted the peaceful hum of night creatures. My eyes couldn’t see past the tree before me, and the sound was getting more, and more desperate like someone who was running out of patience in line at the store. I couldn’t make sense of the horrendous sound, but could feel the ticking of Rachel’s heartbeat as it beat just a tad faster through her fingers.
Cold rushes of brisk fall air passed through my fingers as Rachel’s heartbeat reflected my own. I looked up just in time to see Aaron hefting Daniel over on his back. Something was odd as if the hand draped over his shoulder was without life. A look on his face could tell a thousand lies, but at this moment it made me nearly sober up in an instant.
“ What? Why is he like that?” My mouth stayed open as if trying to figure out if Daniel was playing a joke with Aaron against us. Or if my childhood friend was really nearly dead. It was hard to see as shadows from trees covered the ground. But my hands automatically released from Rachel’s. She was breathing heavy in a deep slumber. My feet raced over to Aaron like a hurt gazelle. Alcohol was still permeating from my body. I’m sure I smelled like good old whisky by now.
Aaron shook his head refusing to answer me as he plopped the body onto the ground. I could faintly see the lines on Daniel’s wrist that portrayed where a needle was jammed inside. The trees swayed around us as if trying to tease the sky’s endlessness, and creatures flurried about between reds, browns, and dull greens making a lively scene against the hollow eyes before me.
I tried to dry the cumbersome crystalline drops from my eyes, but it was like trying to stop a heroin addict from shoving the needle into your skin. My mind refused to believe he was dead as my hands touched his cold corpse from head to toe over, and over. His body felt like an ice block, and his lifeless eyes stared into the void of the stars. Breathing was becoming difficult as I choked on air before his body. The numbness in my body began to clear the sway of twisting vines from around me.
An image of daniel when he was five catching a frisbee I threw flashed into my mind. He was wearing red shorts with a Teenage Mutan Ninja Turtle shirt on trying to impress me with his athletic skills. When he went to catch the frisbee his small hands caught air as his feet fell out from beneath him. I could remember holding my breath as the slam of his back on the ground greeted us. It was such an insignificant memory but it made me smile.
The time he wiped the ice cream that was dripping down my mouth in mid-summer heat appeared his bare muscle rippling from all the soccer he was playing in middle school. At that time, he was just starting to date Rachel. Scenes like this continued to pour in reminding me of how much I relied on him throughout all of my families fights. My knees grew weak, and I slid down next to his side. The only warmth in the area is the firm hand Aaron placed on my shoulder. He muttered something before disappearing from the area.
Time stopped for me. I could feel my nails digging into the dirt. One clump, two clumps, ants climbing out of the pile like soldiers running away from battle. His corpse was slowly rotting away as a worm tried to crawl into his eye socket. I gripped the worm crushing it in my hand as I tried to protect the body before me. Aaron came back with a shiny shovel. He must of ran to our secret shed to grab it. Trickles of sweat gleamed from his forehead. If we called the cops now they would have another story, and I’d be in handcuffs with Aaron for murder.
Aaron’s pocket had an odd tool glinting out of it. It looked like a Rachet with trails of dark liquid in the moonlight. His hand reached for it, and then dropped it on the ground like he forgot what to use it for. He turned to grab the shovel and began tossing mud till the sky turned a multitude of colors, and the sun burned our eyes as dawn approached. All I could do was sit there frozen as he moved each muscle in a reflex to the lifting. My face was starting to feel sticky as if the crystalline water droplets began to stick to my cheek.
A slight plus to the situation is that cell phone service was cut in this area. So even if I wanted to call the men that would shackle us into handcuffs…I couldn’t. “ Hey love, can you look for a nice stick, and rock to help with the grave.”
“ Why are we building a grave? That’s like saying someone was buried here come shackle me up.” I looked into his ice cold eyes hoping they would melt into warmth soon.
“ We need something for you to mourn. I can always kick the grave apart before we leave.”
“ I guess.” I could only use the flashlight to help with my search because my cell phone was resting a distance away next to an oak tree. The faint light from dawn mixed in with the yellow of the flashlight making it difficult to uncover a decent rock. My skin felt like it was convulsively shivering from icy slivers of air. I could feel stones under my fingertips, but none large enough for a memorial stone.
“ Love you found a decent rock.” My mind for a split second thought of slamming that rock into the back of Aaron’s skull in retribution for his stupidity but I withheld the urge. I continued to dig in silence as the hole got deeper. It was our little secret…unless one unlucky camper came upon this area. I wiped my hands on my torn jeans trying to distract my brain from the stench of rotting flesh, and mold.
If you have any advice or suggestions I am always willing to hear it. Thank you. 🙂