"I don't know why Cole would want to hang out with you," Reggie said as we strolled down the sidewalk. I was too focused on dribbling my basketball, or else I would have been more offended. I needed to make sure my skills were on point if I wanted to show Cole I was worthy of being invited to play.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked, half absent-mindedly.
"Well," Reggie replied, "you're kind of a geek." Ah yes. Geekdom. A social death sentence for a twelve year-old. How I long now for times so simple.
"And you're not?" I shot back.
"Well, yeah," said Reggie. "But I hide it."
I laughed sharply. "How?"
"Yeah. I'm tough. I can handle my own." He paused. "You're kind of soft."
I abruptly stopped dribbling. For some reason, "soft" stung me far more than "geek."
"What do you mean I'm soft?"
"You're soft. You're not hard." Reggie was as sincere as I’d ever seen him, genuinely unaware of the redundancy in his explanation.
"Yeah, I got that, thanks," I said, snarkily. "What makes me soft?"
"I don't know," Reggie said. "It's like you're scared or something. You're scared of everything."
I swallowed hard. Reggie had a point. I was a nervous child and always had been. There were times when everything seemed absolutely terrifying: basements, the dark, spiders. And if you think for a second I was the type to talk to someone I didn't know, you're dreaming. Still, I felt the need to defend myself. "I am not!" I shouted, oh so articulately.
"Oh yeah?" Reggie challenged me.
At this time, we were just passing by an old cemetery. Standing at its center, looking down at one of the graves, was a tall, lanky figure. I could tell he was male despite his long, shiny black hair. He wore a skin tight black shirt, and pants of the same color that seemed to be made of leather. Some emo guy crying in a cemetery, I figured, and an opportunity to show Reggie I could "handle my own."
"I'll prove it!" I declared. I ran to the cemetery wall, stood on my tiptoes so that I could rest my elbows on top of it, cupped my mouth with my hands and shouted, "Faggot!"
I heard Reggie laugh. "Damn!" he said. But I wasn't laughing.
The man in the cemetery had heard me. He turned to face me
and stood stock still, staring blankly at me. His stare was unrelenting. It shook me to my core and froze me in place. I felt strangely exposed, like a plump pig being eyed hungrily for the slaughter.
Snapping back to my senses, I called to Reggie. "Let's go," and hurried away past the cemetery. As we continued on toward the basketball court, the cemetery remained visible. Every time I looked back, I could still make out that willowy figure, standing where I'd left him. The details became blurred by the distance, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was still staring at me. A sense of dread came over me. I'd never felt dread like that before, but I've come to know the feeling very well since that day.
Reggie and I made it to the basketball court at last, but there was no sign of Cole. "I've got a feeling he's not coming," said Reggie.
The suggestion angered me. "Why?" I demanded.
"He probably knows better," Reggie said without a hint of irony or humor.
"What do you mean he knows better?"
"He probably wouldn't want to be seen playing ball with us." The accusatory look in Reggie's eyes betrayed his true meaning.
"You mean me," I said.
"I was trying to be nice," Reggie answered.
"He'll be here, all right?" I was less convinced than I sounded, but every bit as wishful. Cole was amazing, the coolest kid in the entire school. To be accepted into his circle was the hope and dream of most boys in our grade. He played sports, he swore, his tastes dictated what music was cool and what was "gay," and he always had new sneakers. These meaningless things were so important once upon a time.
"Anyway," I continued, "since we're here, you want to practice?"
Reggie sighed. "Yeah, I guess."
For about the next half hour, we dribbled and passed the ball around. Reggie made a basket or two. I tried, but failed each time. Through it all, Cole never showed. I tried not to think about it, or wonder why, or ask myself what I could have done to make things go a different way.
I was right in the middle of one of these trains of thought when I saw a change come over Reggie. He was just about the pass me the ball when suddenly he let it fall to the asphalt. His eyes were wide and focused on something behind me. I turned, and froze for the second time that day.
There stood the man from the cemetery. I could see him clearly now: long black hair, pale skin, black clothes studded with chains and zippers. His eyes were open painfully wide, and he grinned toothily from behind his black lipstick. The only thing that stood between us was a flimsy chain link fence.
What seemed like an eternity passed. None of the three of us moved. It was then that the man turned his head and spied a gap in the fence just a few feet away from where he stood. His eyes met mine once more, and he started slowly in the direction of the gap.
I found my legs beneath me and took off running. Reggie ran, too. I happened to notice that neither of us had the basketball, but I didn't care. I had taunted a psychopath and now he was after us, I was convinced.
I didn't stop running until I finally reached my house. Reggie had clearly split from me at one point, although I'll be damned to this day if I can tell you when or in which direction he went. As soon as I got inside, I slammed the door behind me and locked it. From the kitchen, I could hear my mother's worried voice.
"No," she said, "I have no idea where he could be. Oh, you'll have to excuse me, Judith, I think that's Dylan now. Good luck. Keep me posted, all right? Bye bye." She rounded the corner and appeared to sigh with relief. "You're home," she said.
I nodded, still too breathless to say anything.
"I think it would be best if you stayed in for the rest of the night." She paused and cast her eyes to the floor as if in thought before bringing them up to meet mine. "You've got school in the morning anyway," she added.
It was then that she must have noticed that I was panting for air because her eyes narrowed. "Did you run here?"
"Yeah," I said.
"Why?" she asked. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah," I said, before quickly adding, "No reason." I didn't want to have to explain that Reggie and I were being chased by a psycho goth guy that I had taunted in a cemetery. I was absolutely certain that I'd be the one to get in trouble for it. I've regretted that decision every day since.
That night, I can remember sitting up in bed, writing in my notebook. I used it like a journal, a fact I'd always hoped no one would discover. I wrote all about the man from the cemetery and how he chased us home from the basketball court. I even spooked myself silly by drawing a picture of him, just the way he looked when he peered at us through the fence. I don't think I'll ever forget those flaring eyes or that smile. They're forever burned into my mind's eye.
I was studying the picture I'd drawn when I heard a light tapping at my window. "What the hell?" I thought as I turned to look, thinking it would be a squirrel or some other creature. The sight that greeted me chilled me to my very bones. There, in the window, was the living version of my drawing. The man from the cemetery was at my house. He had found where I lived.
To this day, all I remember from that moment were his eyes, wide and piercing their way into my soul. I don't remember the window being pried open, although they told me later that this was what happened. I don't remember having my mouth covered with a stinking rag, soaked with the chemicals they told me he'd used. Indeed, I don't remember anything after seeing that man's face at my window.
My memory resumes in a different place. I awoke with an excruciating headache. I'd never felt anything like it before or since. The pain was so bad that all I could do was hold my head and clench every muscle in my body until it subsided enough for me to open my eyes.
I could see through the bars that surrounded me that this was not my bedroom. The place was dark, save for some pale light floating in through a very small, very high window. Stacked against the opposite wall were boxes in a variety of sizes. A basement? I asked myself.
The sound of sobbing rose softly to my ears from a spot nearby. I'm still not sure how I knew, but the voice sounded vaguely familiar. "Cole?"
"Dylan," Cole said through his whimpers. "I'm scared." The voice I heard in the dark that day was a withered remnant of the confident, cocky boy I'd known. Dread filled me as he began to sob harder. "We're never gonna get out of here...."
Just then came the sound of a doorknob turning. A door creaked open, and a rectangle of light appeared in the corner of the room. A shadow moved in and blocked the light, but became smaller and smaller as I heard the familiar percussive and heavy thuds of a person coming down a set of stairs. My dread increased when I realized who it was that must have been approaching.
A light flicked on, and there he was, standing in a doorway in the corner of the room. The man from the cemetery locked his terrible eyes on me, still grinning his sickening grin. "Yes," he said in a high-pitched, drawn-out voice. "Yes, you're awake. This is good."
He moved toward my cage, and I promptly backed up into a corner. For the first time, I saw him frown. "Don't be frightened, little one," he said. "It's much better if you relax. Our friend here didn't relax."
He pointed over to the other side of the room. There, in a cage that seemed identical to mine, sat Cole. He was pale with red blotches all over his skin. I could clearly see that he was completely naked and covered in what looked like blood. Even at my young age, I knew there could only be one reason for it all. My stomach sank.
The man went on. "He made it very difficult. That's why he got hurt. That's why I needed to find a new friend. One that was more fun." I turned back to face the man, and his eyes were wide and hungry once again. "And then, as I was out for a walk, I saw you. You looked so sweet. So soft…."
He frowned suddenly, and a terrifying, sincere anger flashed in his eyes. "You called me an awful name!" he said with unexpected ferocity before softening once again. "But I can forgive that," he said, "as long as you are a good boy and play with me."
He inched closer to my cage, his hand held out, ready to undo the lock. His bony fingers wiggled almost cartoonishly, looking more like spider’s legs than anything human. I began to cry.
It's true what they say: your life really does flash before your eyes when you think you’re about to die. What little life I had was replaying before me. I remembered every birthday, every Christmas present, every grounding, every scraped knee, every video game win. The thought of never hugging or even seeing my mother again stabbed at my heart. Above it all was the devastating certainty of the agony and shame that awaited me, even if I somehow survived this ordeal.
A sudden pounding overhead brought me straight back to the moment. The man stopped dead in his tracks. He looked up at the ceiling. The pounding came again. It sounded like someone banging furiously on a faraway door. The man slowly returned his gaze to me, but his smile was gone now. Only a mix of fear and hatred burned in those eyes. A moment later, he was out of the room, and darting up the stairs. He hadn't even bothered to turn the light off after himself.
The sounds above my head painted a picture that was only confirmed for me later. The man's frantic footsteps, a door opening and slamming shut, more pounding, a door from somewhere else in the house being forced open, the house being flooded with heavy footsteps. One set of footsteps made its way down the stairs toward us. I began screaming. Screaming and crying and yelling for my very life. Only when I saw the police officer rounding the corner did I heave a sigh of relief. I'll never forget his reaction when he found us. He let his gun drop to his side and uttered aloud, "Jesus Christ!"
The circumstances of our rescue were finally explained to me about a week later. When the man took me from my room, I left my journal behind. When my parents discovered that I was gone, someone had the wherewithal to look in the journal where, of course, they found out about the man. Apparently, the picture I drew was recognizable enough to lead them right to his door. The man, whose name I've since found out is Eric Philip Christiansen, was a known sex offender, which is apparently why the cops wasted no time in paying him a visit.
To this day, he’s never been caught. He managed to evade police by slipping out a separate exit before they forced their way into the house.
Years have passed. Physically, I'm an adult now, but inside, I'm stuck at that point in time, still locked in that cage, waiting for those spindly fingers to reach in and grab me. I don't know how to escape. I can't relax knowing he's still out there somewhere.
Sometimes, I could almost swear I see a flash of that nauseating smile outside my window.
Written by Jdeschene