Milo looked up from his phone as Michael came bursting through the door.
“DUDE!” Michael exclaimed, running from the door to Milo’s desk excitedly, “Come with me to the river, it’s important!”
Milo turned off his phone and stood up, “What’s up, man?” he asked.
Michael grabbed Milo’s hand and dragged him to the door. “Just come with me!”
Milo yelled to his mom that they were heading out, and after pulling on his dark purple hoodie, he followed Michael out the front door. They pushed through the thick brush and low-hanging branches, and eventually they made it to their spot along the river bank. The spot was pretty far off the trail, and although the river was commonly laced with other people, this spot seemed to be their own. They would find their way back to it almost every day, and they would throw rocks into the current while eating lunch or doing their homework, and sometimes Milo would sketch pictures of Michael while he told stories of murderers, ghosts, and other evil creatures.
They sat down on the bank of the river, and Michael immediately started throwing pebbles into the bubbling current of the river.
“So,” said Milo, studying the ground around his black tennis shoes, “What did you want to tell me?”
“Oh, yeah,” Micheal said, tossing another rock, “I got accepted to that college I applied for. Thought you’d like to know,” he smirked.
Milo’s jaw dropped. “Seriously? Michael, that’s amazing!” Milo punched his friend in the shoulder. Michael had been talking about going to Columbia University since the beginning of high school, and Milo had always been happy to help him study and do what he needed to get there.
Micheal laughed and hit Milo back. “I know, I’m psyched. Thanks for helping me with this, man.”
“Of course,” Milo laughed breathlessly, “Man, that’s- that’s awesome.”
They sat in silence for a while, until there were no more visible rocks to toss into the water.
“Maybe we should hide a bucket up here somewhere,” Michael mused as they walked back to town, “We can go into the river and fill it with rocks every so often, and then we’ll never run out.”
“Yeah,” Milo agreed, “Maybe this summer.”
Micheal nodded. They walked the rest of the way to town without talking, but this wasn’t abnormal. They liked to be together, but they didn’t always need to talk. Most times just being in each other’s company was enough.
Milo waved goodbye to Michael and entered his house. He and Michael lived across the street from each other, which explained why Micheal had burst into Milo’s bedroom earlier without his prior knowledge. They had known each other since they were very young, and at this point neither of their parents cared if one casually walked into the other’s home at any point in time.
“Hey, honey!” Milo’s mother, Anne, chirped as he walked into the kitchen, “How was Michael? He said he wanted to tell you something, didn’t he?”
“Yeah,” Milo said, getting a glass and filling it with water, “He got accepted to Columbia.”
“Wow! Tell him congratulations if you see him before I do,” Anne remarked, “He should have stayed for dinner, I would have made something nice!”
Milo shrugged. “Yeah, but I think he was eager to get home. I’m going to do some homework.”
“Oh, come on,” Anne said, her voice tinged with slight disappointment, “You’ve really been keeping yourself from me lately. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Milo said tiredly, “I just need to finish this assignment.” He turned and walked up the stairs, picking at his nails. He’d been feeling really anxious recently, as if something terrible was going to happen soon. He’d been hearing whispers any time he was alone and not busy with something. But he was still scared to be with anyone. He wasn’t sure what they wanted from him. Maybe his school teachers were trying to fail him and destroy his future. Maybe his school friends secretly hated him and were planning to hurt him. Maybe his mother cooked meals every night to poison him slowly. He couldn’t be sure. Only Michael calmed these feelings. Milo was sure his best friend was the only reason he wasn’t in a psychiatric facility.
Milo pulled out his textbook, careful to not give himself a papercut from the tons of loose papers sticking from it. There was homework from other classes and random drawings protruding from almost every section of the thick book. Each of those papers smelled metallic, somewhat like blood, to him. He’d told Anne and Michael this, but neither of them could smell it. He was somewhat upset by this. It made him feel like he was weird or broken, although his mother assured him he wasn’t.
He opened up the textbook to the algebra he was working on, and there was a drawing resting on the page. The metallic smell hit him immediately and intensely, so he put the drawing off to the side and the textbook in front of him. The drawing was of a man with long, dark hair, a white t-shirt, black jeans, and a line over where his eyes were supposed to be. Milo had felt off while drawing it, and he felt worse looking at it. There was something about the man that made Milo extremely uncomfortable, but for some reason he couldn’t throw it away. He had to keep it with him. Because of the line over the man’s eyes, he couldn’t be entirely identified, but Milo had memorized the rest of the man’s face. He just felt it was important.
Milo turned to his homework, side-eyeing the picture the entire time. He finished it and walked down the stairs to eat. His mother was sitting on the couch, watching some show on the TV. She turned when she heard Milo’s footsteps making their way down the stairs and into the kitchen.
“Milo!” she said excitedly, “Nice to see you’re alive!”
Milo snorted, opening the fridge and grabbing a can of soda and a container of grilled chicken he had cooked the night before. “I’m one of the few who survive the dreaded math homework.”
Anne laughed, “I’m shocked.”
Milo chuckled, and started to walk up to his room. He didn’t get far before Anne stopped him.
“Oh no you don’t, young man. Come sit with me.”
Milo groaned and sat down on the couch with his mom. “What?”
Anne looked down at her hands, which were clenched in her lap. “What’s wrong, Milo? You’ve been acting really strange.”
Milo stared at his feet. “What do you mean?” His voice was dry.
“You’ve been so quiet and distant recently. You can’t seem to think clearly or trust anyone. You’ve been picking your nails and acting nervous. I’m worried.”
Milo stood up. “Why?” he snapped, “I’m perfectly fine!”
“Milo-” Anne started, but her son cut her off.
“Just leave me alone,” He turned on his heel and walked up the stairs, picking at the edges of his fingernails.
He sat in his room alone, and the whispers started in his ears. He covered them quickly, but of course it didn’t help. The voices were inside his head. They bounced around inside his skull, drumming at his senses. He stumbled towards the window, opening it, sticking his head out, and taking a deep breath. The voices quieted down, as they usually did, and Milo opened his eyes. He looked down over the street, and his glance shifted to Michael’s window.
There was a man in the house.
The street lights shone over the window, illuminating the living room of Michael’s home. It was the man he had drawn with the line over his eyes. Milo shut the window forcefully and ran down the stairs.
“Mom! Mom!” Milo shouted, his bare feet pounding against the carpeted floor. “Mom, there’s someone in Michael’s house!”
He ran out into the living room, and Anne followed him as he threw the door open and bolted into the middle of the street.
“He’s right there!” Milo was panicking, and he was having trouble catching his breath. “Mom, he’s right there!” He pointed at the window.
Anne ran up behind him, grabbing his shoulders and spinning him around to face her. “Milo. Milo, calm down,” he nodded, and Anne continued. “There is no one there.”
Milo looked back at the spot he had been pointing, and as Anne gripped his shoulders, he started to breathe normally. The man was gone.
“I saw him,” Milo said, “I’m sure I saw him.”
As Anne consoled Milo, Michael emerged from his front door.
“Is everything okay?” he asked, with audible concern. “I heard Milo shouting.”
Milo opened his mouth, but Anne cut him off.
“Just a trick of the light, I’m sure,” she laughed, and Milo shot her a glare. “Milo thought he saw something out here, but he was wrong. You can go home, honey.”
Michael nodded and, with his head still turned towards Milol, concern coating his face, walked to his side of the street. Anne directed Milo to theirs.
“Are you okay?” she asked, walking Milo to his room.
“Yeah,” Milo sighed. “I’m fine.”
“Okay,” Anne looked down, then sat on the end of Milo’s bed. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Milo looked away. “I’m going to sleep. Close the door, please.”
Anne stood up and walked out of the room slowly. “Goodnight, Milo,” she said, and shut the door behind her.
Milo laid back in his bed, looking up at the ceiling. Eventually he dozed off, the voices in his head singing him to sleep. This time they didn’t hit his brain like a bass drum. They were softer now.
When Milo awoke in the middle of the night, the voices were still there. And although he never understood the words they spoke before, this time he could.
“He’s coming he’s coming he’s COMING HE’S COMING.”
Milo’s eyes shot open, and he sat up quickly. The voices were so loud. They pounded at his brain. He covered his ears, and tears formed in his eyes.
“He’s coming he’s coming he’s COMING HE’S COMING.”
Milo looked up, and at this point tears were pouring down his face. As he lifted his head, a black shape darted from the corner of his room right up to his face. It was the man he had drawn, but now Milo could see his eyes. They were bright red. They burned into his own eyes, but Milo couldn’t look away. Tears still soaked his skin. He started to press himself back into a corner of the room, trying to get as far away from the man as he could.
His breathing became ragged as the man followed him into the corner. Milo finally found the ability to shut his eyes, and when he mustered up the courage to open them again, the man was gone. The voices had faded, and the tears stopped falling.
He went to the bathroom to wash his face, and when he had calmed down, he went back to sleep. The voices were gone.
Milo woke up again at around 7 in the morning. He got out of bed and headed down the stairs. There was a strong scent of coffee, but he also heard the faint sound of someone crying. He made his way down the stairs to see what was going on.
“Mom?” he asked nervously, walking into the living room. “Is everything okay?”
Anne looked up, and Milo realized she had been crying. Michael’s mother, Camila, was sitting next to her. Camila had her head in her hands. There was a pot of coffee on the counter next to them.
“Camila? Guys, what happened? Is Michael here?” Milo questioned.
Neither woman answered, and Camila choked on another sob. The TV was on, and the news was playing. Milo looked at the television, and his stomach sank.
“The body of 18 year old Michael Vega was found a few miles from his home, left in a river after being brutally beaten with a hammer. The person or persons responsible have not been caught. It would seem that he was walking alone in the woods that night, and was attacked by someone who happened to be there at the same time. Police are still unsure of the motive.”
Milo stood in shock for a moment, then fell to his knees. “No…no… he’s not… no.” tears poured from Milo’s eyes once again.
“Oh, honey,” Anne finally spoke, reaching for his shoulder, trying to comfort him, “I know...I…”
Milo stood, heading for the front door. Camila wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “Milo, sweetie, he’s gone. I saw him, I-” she let out another sob.
The room began to feel stuffy, and it was like the air was compressing Milo’s chest. His breathing became heavy, and his mouth dried. “Just…I….I need to get out of here,” Milo ran out the front door and across the street, passing Michael’s house. He ran into the woods behind it, barefoot along the path he and his best friend had walked so many times before. He ran, and his feet bled with cuts from rocks and fallen branches until he reached the place from where you could reach the spot on the river the two of them had claimed as their own for years.
But it wasn’t the same anymore. There were police and other officials all over the place, a tent set up over a small section of the river bank. Milo wanted to run towards it, but a man grabbed him. Milo shouted in surprise and swung his fist at the person holding him back.
“I’m sorry, son,” the officer said sadly, “but I can’t let you over there.”
“That’s my best friend!” Milo shouted, still sobbing, trying to release himself from the man’s grip. “I have to go! I have to be there for him!”
The officer tightened his grip on Milo. “Young man, I can’t do that. I know he meant a lot to you, but this is a crime scene. And you’re hurt.”
Milo looked down at his bloody feet, but he couldn’t feel the pain. He made another choked noise, and tried to break free from the cop’s hold on him. As he ripped himself from the officer’s hand, he fell forward. He heard the sound of the sensitive skin on his face colliding with a jagged, broken tree branch, and his world went black.
Milo awoke in the blinding light of a hospital room, his mother sitting next to him.
“Where…how did I…?” he asked, his eyes adjusting to the light.
Anne looked up and held his chest to stop him from sitting upright. “Milo, please calm down. You’ll make yourself worse.”
“What’s going on?”
“Honey, I-” she was cut off when a doctor walked into the room.
“Milo!” she exclaimed. “Glad to see you’re awake, dear.”
Milo didn’t answer.
The woman looked down at her clipboard and cleared her throat. “Let’s take a look at your injuries, alright?”
The doctor carefully removed the bandages from the side of Milo’s face. “You’re healing very nicely, Milo. You should be able to go home in the next day or two.” She put new bandages on his face, then whispered a question to his mother, who nodded. “Now I’m just going to ask you a few questions, okay?”
Once she had finished asking him way too many questions about how he felt after Michael’s death, questions Milo was sure she wasn’t supposed to be allowed to ask, the doctor left the room. Milo made a mental note of his injuries.
His feet were bandaged, as was most of his right leg. His left wrist and right bicep were also wrapped up. Milo felt the heavy bandages covering the right side of his face and neck, which stung intensely.
Anne noticed him scanning his body and the injuries that covered him. “The doctors say that everything else will heal over,” she said quietly, “but the scarring on your face and neck will be permanent.”
Milo stayed silent.
He looked up at the ceiling, and the doctor returned to the room with a prescription for antidepressants and a diagnosis that made Milo and his mother gasp in unison.
“There is a high probability of paranoid schizophrenia,” she said, reading from her clipboard. “Milo, you said you saw someone in Michael’s house that no one else did, and that you’ve been hearing voices when alone. Your mother said that you have been withdrawing yourself from others and becoming more anxious and distrusting. These are key symptoms, but we can’t be entirely sure. Anne, if you would come with me, I would like to make another appointment with your son so we can conduct a short test.”
Milo continued looking at the ceiling, and his mother followed the doctor out of the room.
The whispers were returning. They drummed at his ears again, but the words they spoke were different this time.
“WE WARNED YOU. WE WARNED YOU. WE WARNED YOU.”
Milo pressed his hands to his ears again, and an expression of severe pain came to his face. Anne and the doctor returned to see Milo holding his head and bringing his knees to his chest in a fetal position. Anne ran over to him and started to rub his arm, begging him to speak to her. The doctor checked his vitals and shook his arm until he removed his hand from over one of his ears.
“Milo, Milo, sweetie, I’m going to need you to calm down.”
“They’re right,” he said quietly, “They warned me. I just didn’t listen. Mom, I didn’t listen! He killed Michael and I didn’t listen!”
“Milo, calm down,” Anne was clearly worried.
Milo turned so that he was on his back and facing the ceiling. His breathing was heavy, and his heart was beating fast. He held his head, which was still hurting with the aftermath of the voices.
The doctor turned to Milo and his mother, a sad smile on her face. “Everything’s fine,” she said happily, “And it’s getting late. I’ll let you rest, but a few nurses and myself will be in and out to check on Milo, alright?”
Anne nodded. “Thank you, doctor.”
As the night set in, Milo fell asleep almost instantly, which was surprising considering all that had just happened to him. He was still really scared of the man and the voices, but exhaustion forced him into a deep, dreamless sleep.
When he woke up the next morning, Anne was smiling over him. “Put on your clothes, Milo, we’re going home today.”
Milo sat up and grabbed his newly washed black t-shirt, black jeans, and purple hoodie. He changed in the bathroom off the side of the room, and as he did he noticed his face. There were bandages across it, as well as on his neck. His face didn’t hurt much anymore, so he started to lift the bandages off it. Scar tissue had started to form throughout the huge cut across the right side of his face. His messy black hair was partially covering his right eye. He hadn’t noticed how long it had gotten recently. Milo touched the injured part of his face and winced at the pain.
“Damn,” he said aloud, “I really messed myself up.” He poked at the wound a few more times, then pulled on his hoodie. There were a few new tears in the jacket, but other than that it was only his body that had been affected.
Milo stepped out of the bathroom and returned to his mother. “Ready?” she asked, smiling at Milo.
“Yeah,” he said quietly, pulling his hood over his head. They checked him out of the hospital and began their drive home.
“It’s nice to be out of there,” Anne said as they got on the road, “Isn’t it?”
Milo nodded. “How long was I there?” he asked. He wasn’t sure if he had been there for days, or just the one he was awake for.
“Three days,” Anne answered. “You were out for quite a while. You lost quite a bit of blood from your face and other cuts before you got there, so it took you a bit to recover. You have a few stitches under those bandages. You’re lucky you were allowed to leave this early. ”
Milo set himself back in the corner of the car seat, crossing his arms. Tears started to form in his eyes once again. “I don’t feel very lucky.”
Anne opened her mouth to argue, then closed it again. She knew it was no use. She knew what he’d been through recently, and she didn’t want to put him through any more. They drove the rest of the way home in silence.
Milo had begun to resent his mother. She seemed so calm about the whole situation. About his face, about his behavior, about his new diagnosis, and even about the murder of the friend he been closest with since he was able to walk. Milo didn’t understand how she could smile her way through everything thrown at them. He hated her for it.
When they got back to the house, Milo immediately headed for his room. He was about halfway to his room when Anne stopped him.
“Please, Milo, she begged. “You’ve been asleep for 3 days. Come talk to me for a little.”
“Why?” he snapped back. “There’s nothing to talk about! And if you say we can talk about Michael, I’m leaving.”
Anne looked down. “We don’t have to talk then. Just come sit with me. Please?”
Milo thought for a second, then walked down the stairs. Anne smiled, but he walked past her and out the door. Before she could follow him, Milo returned to the kitchen holding a hammer, his bandages falling from his face.
“Milo, what are you doing?” Her smile faded, and she began to look scared.
“They tried to warn me,” he said slowly.
“Who? Who warned you?”
“The voices, mom. The voices warned me. They told me that man was coming. They showed me his face. I listened. You didn’t. No one did. Now Michael is dead, and you deserve to die like he did.”
Before Anne could respond, Milo swung at her with the sharp end of the hammer. It sunk deep into the soft flesh of her stomach. Anne screamed out in pain, and blood spurted from her mouth. Milo ripped the hammer from her flesh and proceeded to drive it into her many more times. When she fell to the ground, blood pooling around her, Milo used the blunt end of the hammer to break her skull until her eyes rolled back in her head.
Milo stood by the door and admired what he had done for a moment. Blood speckled the walls and ceiling, and his mother lay broken on the floor. The side of her head was caved in, and her stomach area was so horribly mutilated it was hard to tell what was torn flesh and what was actually her innards. The bandages across Milo’s face had completely come off now, and his face and clothes were stained with Anne’s blood.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered quickly. He then darted across the street and past Michael’s house, into the woods behind it. He sat alone for a few moments, then had a realization.
The voices are gone. He thought, sitting alone along the river bank that held so many memories. This is the only way to get rid of them. Milo sat alone by the bubbling river for a few more hours, and then he stood again. He needed to find Michael’s killer. He needed to make him suffer. He deserved it. He deserved to feel what he made Michael feel.
The idea of killing the man who murdered Michael brought a smile to Milo’s face. The thought was satisfying, but putting it into action would be even better.
Milo searched his city for the man each night. He couldn’t be seen. He couldn’t be caught before the man he was looking for was dead. He broke into multiple different houses, looking desperately for the man. He ended the lives of everyone in those homes with his hammer, filled with the desire to kill and anger that they weren’t the man he was looking for.
Finally, creeping into a house late one night, Milo heard the voices again.
Milo held his hands to his ears, but the voices only hissed the words once. He uncovered his ears again, and filled with a new buzz of adrenaline. He gripped his hammer, his knuckles turning white. Milo crept around the house, quietly searching each room for the man. As he stepped slowly up the stairs, Milo peered through an open doorway. And there he was. The man the voices had shown Milo. The man who had killed his best friend.
Milo ran into the bedroom, and the man bolted upright. Before he could say anything, though, Milo knocked him out with the hammer. The man was heavy, but Milo managed to drag him out to the woods anyway. To wake him up when they arrived, Milo pushed the man’s face into the bubbling river.
The man gasped as Milo pulled his head from the water, and Milo pushed him to the ground.
“WHY DID YOU DO IT!?” Milo screamed in the man’s face. “WHY DID YOU KILL HIM?”
The man pressed himself against the ground to get away from Milo. “Wha-What are you talking about?”
Milo used the blunt end of the hammer to hit the man in the stomach. “YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. WHY DID YOU KILL MICHAEL? WHY DID YOU KILL MY BEST FRIEND?” Tears started to pour down his face.
“Kid, I don’t get how you know I did anything, but you shouldn’t. I killed him and I can kill you all the same.” He made an attempt to kick Milo away from him. “And what the hell happened to your face anyway? You shouldn’t get to see the light of day ever again.”
The man was strong, but Milo pinned his arms down. “Never mind,” Milo said menacingly, “I’m never going to get anything out of you.”
He attacked the man again, this time with the sharper end of his hammer. Milo went for the man’s throat first, tearing it open. Blood poured from the man’s neck, and he died very quickly. But Milo kept going. He tore the man to shreds. Milo could no longer recognize him. Finally, Milo stopped. The man who had killed his best friend was no more than a pile of blood and torn flesh on the ground.
Milo looked down at what was once the evil man. “You deserved it,” he said, a smile once again tugging at the corners of his mouth. “You deserved to die like he did.” Milo then turned and ran further into the woods behind him.
Eventually, Milo returned to the dead man’s house. He looked around for a while, for no reason other than to know the man who he’d finally gotten his revenge on.
“...It would seem that 17 year old Milo Clarke is still missing. Over 15 citizens have been killed over the past 4 days, including Clarke’s mother, so we can only assume the worst for the young man. It would seem we have a spree killer in our area, and we advise that everyone stay as safe as possible.”
Milo stared at the T.V. blaring in his victim’s living room. A smile crept up his bloodstained face. A spree killer, huh? He was going to keep that title.