We stood some distance from the station, watching it. I had expected it to be bigger, tons of guards everywhere, prepared against any onslaught of criminal attacks. Goes to show how much I really knew about it all. I had pictured he’d be taken to a massive prison, but this was Juniper City. Too nice of a place to be embarrassed by housing that level of slum.
“Okay, now what?” said Ty.
“Nothing,” I said calmly. “It’s just surveillance.”
“What do that mean?”
“It mean we just watching,” said Benny. “Trying to learn about the enemy.”
“So we ain’t even gonna go confront these niggas?” said Ty.
“No,” said Jackson. “Think of it like you’re a spy. You gotta sneak attack where you can so you ain’t caught. Can’t just go in guns blazing.”
“Those games are boring.”
“This ain’t a game,” I said. It must have come out a lot harsher than I intended.
“Narcissist,” grumbled Ty under his breath.
Maybe it was the pressure Ty had just laid, or maybe I just realized on my own that he was right and what we were doing was just a waste of time. We wouldn’t learn anything from the outside, so we headed in.
We walked right up to the front door and swung it open. We walked in with a purpose, ready to fuck anyone up who stood in our way. As soon as the three cops sitting at the front desk laid eyes on me, though, that purpose left me. Jackson nudged me from behind and I stepped forward, but my head sunk lower with each step.
“Can we help you boys?” asked one of them.
Jackson nudged me again but I found I had no words.
“Where’s AP?” said Benny behind me. I noticed someone turn around out of the corner of my eye.
“Who?” said the same desk jockey.
“Austin Packard,” said Jackson. “You took him this morning.”
“He’s being questioned at the moment. There’s no visitors allowed.”
I noticed the person that had turned begin to walk toward us.
“Well where’s Torrance? We wanna speak with him,” said Benny.
The cop raised his eyebrow. “Officer, Torrance, is off duty.”
“Off duty my ass! He just took our fucking friend,” said Benny as he walked toward the counter. “Tell me where he lives then.”
Two of the cops stood up before Benny was stopped by a woman laying her hand gently over Benny’s shoulder.
“Benny, it’s okay,” said AP’s mom, giving him a gentle smile that was clearly full of pain. She turned the smile toward the cops. “I’m sorry officers. I’ll take care of this.”
They glared at us until finally deciding we were no threat afterall and sat back down to pretend they were actually working.
AP’s mom pulled us away toward where I had seen her come from. AP’s dad was there too, his face riddled with as much worry as his wife’s. He was a tall man, much taller than us, so he crouched down in a non-confrontational manner.
“What are you guys thinking? You’re going to get yourselves into a lot of trouble acting like that,” he said calmly. His way of speaking was so polished, nothing like what you’d expect after listening to his son.
“You don’t get it Mr. Packard. There’s some alien, demon shit going on,” said Ty with utmost conviction. “This narcissist nigga might be one of them.”
Benny must have pinched his little brother, causing Ty to cry out.
Both of AP’s parents stared at us. I could tell they were trying to decide if they should write off the comment as a child’s wild imagination or if they should start considering that their beloved son may actually be involved in what he was being accused of.
“Listen,” said Mr. Packard. “I know you guys are going through a lot. ALl of this is very…unexpected. But it’s very important to keep our emotions in check.”
“Especially while we’re trying to get AP out of this,” said his wife.
They were living by what they preached. I could see it over their faces that they wanted to scream in our faces. To cry and throw shit and break everything in sight, but they kept it all nice and packaged. This wasn’t the moment.
I looked around the station, took it all in. The chairs, vending machines, the hall behind the counter that led off to a single door, the restrooms. The entire place was pristine, yet it couldn’t have been more boring. It was a place that would dull the mind day after day. It gave the appearance of something shiny and well built, but at the core you had a cheap foundation. It reminded me of the new cars; sharp looking plastic.
“Ain’t nobody letting AP get out of this and you know it,” said Benny, still heated from moments ago.
“Benny-,” started AP’s mom but was immediately cut off by Jackson.
“He’s right. If we don’t do something, Torrance and his crew of lazy fucks will make sure that AP ends up just how Sugar did.”
AP’s parents watched all of us, refraining from saying anything. I could tell they were thinking of a different approach while trying to battle the impatience and frustration building alongside it.
“Dead,” said Ty after a long silence.
“They got that,” said Jackson, to which Ty seemed to get embarrassed.
“Oh,” mumbled Ty.
“Let’s assume you’re right,” said AP’ dad. “All of these men will make sure that AP goes down for what he’s being accused of, maybe even kill him so there’s no trial. What’s their end game?”
“Keeping the people down. Making sure anyone they dislike never gets ahead,” said Jackson.
“Okay,” nodded AP’s dad. “But then why would Officer Torrance be a part of this?”
“Cuz he’s a token nigga. Fake as fuck, playing both sodies,” said Benny.
AP’s mom touched Benny’s arm and looked around at all of us. “You all know that Officer Torrance is a close family friend, right? Way before he ever went by officer.”
“Then why would he wanna be leadin’ the arrest on AP?” said Drop.
She smiled and said,” because he wanted to make sure we weren’t mistreated in any way. Only way he can do that is to be present.” she paused for a moment as she looked at each of us. “He’s a good man.”
“He stayed on a longer shift just to see that through and he’s coming back just to be here at night with Austin,” said Mr. Packard.
“That what that nigga told you?” said Benny.
“That’s what we know,” said Mrs. Packard.
Benny waited a moment before grumbling, “Nigga’s probably lying through his fuckin’ teeth.”
“Alright, fine,” said Mr. Packard. “If he is, how does you guys coming here and causing a scene help our son in any way? You expect them to just set him free because you came over here and threw a fit? Because you intimidated them so badly that the only option they have is to release him?”
Everyone’s head sank. We became fourth grade children being asked to explain why we were being mean to one of our friends. All of us felt the guilt. Out selfish need to lash out without prior thought to the consequences.
Before AP’s dad could continue, his wife touched him. I began to admire her subtle weaving through the conversation. It was clear, to me at least, that she was in charge here. She owned her spaces, without most people ever even realizing it.
“There are times when action is needed,” she said, “but more often than not, blind action will land you in more problems than you begin with. Take the video games you boys play with my son.” I saw her wince as she said this, as if the thought of her child never being able to play video games with his friends again finally sunk in. “When you first pick it up and run through it, you die a lot. Right? Some people start on hard and others on easy and that never changes, but as you start learning the rules of the game you get better and better. Even on hard, you improve until you learn all the rules and can start using those very same rules to your favor. Does that make sense?”
“No,” said Ty.
She smiled at him. “Sometimes, Ty, it’s better to keep your head down. This world isn’t ours, and the only way we will get ahead is by learning their rules and using them to our advantage.”
They always stuck with me. I’ve tried to apply them anywhere I could throughout my life, but it’s not always easy.
Anyway, we ended up leaving. Quietly and without a fight. We lost the twins and almost lost Benny too but somehow Ty managed to guilt trip his big brother enough to supercede the practical fear Mrs. Packard’s words had caused. He probably thought we would involve him somehow but the moment they heard my plan, Benny made sure Ty would not be around.
-What was your plan?
In hindsight, not a very smart one. In fact, the exact opposite of what she had just told us, but I didn’t give a shit.
I told them to go home and have all their shit ready. Masks, gloves, everything. We convinced Ty to give me his phone for the night, which he was not happy about at all, but after hearing that this would be his way of helping the cause he willingly participated. Jackson got a special assignment, one that if he wasn’t able to get done in time he was supposed to reach out so we could look for alternatives.
I made sure to keep my head down at home. I wasn’t about to draw any undue attention toward myself but I also got the feeling that my aunt knew something was up. She kept glancing at me suspiciously, watching me when she thought I wasn’t paying attention.
It’s strange, I remember nearly every day of that summer so vividly, yet those few hours while I waited around for night to come feel foreign. I have a hard time picturing what happened in detail, but I remember feeling tired, and seeing my aunt’s face as she fought her own lethargy. At one point my uncle started stumbling around as if he were piss drunk but I don’t recall him ever even touching a beer.
It’s all a blur, but I remember leaving my uncle plopped on the couch in front of the TV and my aunt off in her room while I went to take a cold shower in mine, hoping it would wake me up. I knew something wasn’t right and I tried to fight it, but I couldn’t.
-You fell asleep?
Yeah. Remember how I said I’m a light sleeper? It’s the only thing that saved my life that night.
My mind must have known I wasn’t supposed to be out. I knew I had something to do, something more important. The moment I heard the crash within the house, I woke up in a panic.
My adrenaline spiked. I scanned my whole room, making sure nothing was in there with me. I immediately checked the phone and read Jackson’s message.
‘We’re good,” it read.
I felt excitement. I knew what I had planned was crazy but I could just feel that it was the right thing to do.
“Nooooooo!” cut the shrill shriek through me. “Please, don’t do this. Please!”
It was my mother’s voice. Scared, but hopeful that somehow, this time, her words would sway my old man from laying into her.
I opened the door. I don’t really know why, I wasn’t prepared to stop my uncle from beating my aunt, but I also wouldn’t have waited around to watch it happen. As resentful as I was of both of them, I wouldn’t have taken pleasure in seeing them be hurt. I just needed to make sure.
My uncle had never laid a finger on his wife, not even out of affection. Not while I had been there at least. I don’t think he would have fucked her even if she came out completely naked and straddled him. He might have let her do her thing, but he probably would have just poked his head around and kept on watching his TV. He didn’t love her, hell, he didn’t even hate her. He just…didn’t care.
-Then what happened?
I, uh. I creeped the door open so they wouldn’t hear me. Their door was wide open. It was dark but I could see their outlines pretty well. My aunt backed up into the corner of the room with her hands up in front of her face. She kept sobbing, “no,” and pleading with him. His large, fat body slowly approached her as if enjoying every step he took toward her, as if he were reveling in the growing terror of her voice. I could ear a faint noise as well, one that I likely would not have if things hadn’t been so quiet. It sounded like a thousand scissors being opened and shut. I couldn’t pinpoint where the sound was coming from.
Right as I was going to close the door, my aunt’s head turned toward me. She barely managed to get the word out.
His fist rammed straight through her throat, crushing everything in its path. At least, I thought it was his fist.
His head turned toward me as well, almost a hundred and eighty degrees, and there they were. Those bright red orbs gleaming back at me.
I could hear gurgling as my aunt struggled for air and only managed to draw in blood. I may not have been able to see what was coming out of her, but didn’t need to. Whatever had shoved through her neck had allowed a waterfall of blood to stream out.
I heard a loud echo, like the call of a distant whale, all in a matter of a second. A slim figure appeared in the corridor. It looked just like my aunt. Just fucking like her. Except the eyes.
I noticed something dripping from her fingers as they slashed about like dagger-like tendrils shrinking back into place.
It charged at me.
I slammed the door and snatched up the backpack by my bedside. The wood on the door split as I rushed toward the window. I tried to open it but when I heard the crack of the wood again behind me I gave up. I jumped through the window without looking behind me.
I felt something rip the skin around my ankle. Still have the scars from it too. I landed on my shoulder and managed to see the tentacles of that thing lashing out desperately as they reached for me. I shot back up with no hesitation and ran, just like I had with AP. I sprinted out of there like if I were trying to break a world record.
In a way, I did. I outran something that doesn’t tire.
-It sounds more like they might have let you go.
Yeah…yeah, I guess you’re right. Twice.
-If they did, then why?
I don’t know. Maybe they thought I wasn’t a threat. Maybe they felt they were in control and I couldn’t do anything to stop them. I was just a coward.
-You saw your aunt and uncle’s bodies afterward?
They showed them to me, yeah. Not something I’ll forget either.
-You said you couldn’t remember much before that. Do you think there’s any chance you may have blocked that out?
I had nothing to do with that. I told you, I may not have liked them but I didn’t wish any ill on them.
-You told me just a few minutes ago that you wished your aunt got hers.
What are you getting at?
-A lot of people think you did it. Lots of things pointing in that direction. Especially with how the bodies were left just how your parents’ were.
*chuckle* I remember what I saw. Why don’t you think about it? Isn’t it too much of a coincidence that they would try to make everything look so identical? It was too perfect, don’t you think?
-Both sides are possible. Why don’t you keep going? Where did you run to?
Jackson’s place. I had told him we would need a car. I hadn’t told them what for, just that we would need one and that it couldn’t be tied to us. He had said he could get one, and sure enough, he delivered.
I’d assumed he would go out and steal one or something, but he took an easier approach. Seems Wanda the Walrus had one and was willing to let him borrow it for the night after a little seduction on his part.
Poor girl probably just thought he was going to drive his friends around for a bit. *chuckle* I guess in a way he did.
Benny was already at Jackson’s when I got there. He’d been there the whole time after Jackson had got back from the Walrus’ place. They were surprised I showed up unannounced and sweaty like a fat man’s tits.
“We need to go,” I told them. “Now!”
They didn’t question it. They got their shit and followed. Jackson’s mom was knocked out for the night so it wasn’t like we had to explain ourselves to her. We walked down the street to where Jackson had parked the car.
When I saw it I almost felt bad. Brand new 6 series, way nicer than I had expected. I just reminded myself two things; our friend’s life was more important than some machine and since we were helping save it, indirectly, so was she. And, anyone dumb enough to lend their car without them even being there to someone who’s just fucking you deserves no guilt.
-Insurance took care of them. I doubt she worried for long.
Oh, I’m sure. They’re protected.
Jackson turned to me as he manned the wheel to ask, “Aye nigga, you alright?”
I didn’t know how to process the question at the time so I just stared out the window and said nothing. Maybe I was alright, or maybe I wasn’t. I didn’t feel bad they had died, I just felt…worried.
Even if they hadn’t set it all up to look like my parent’s crime scene, I could already tell how it was going to look. It was probably better that I should have let that thing kill me too. There was no coming out of this in one piece.
I was fucked no matter what.
It was quiet the whole ride to the station. Their nerves were probably eating them from the inside. I hadn’t told them what I had planned because frankly, I wasn’t completely sure I even had a plan. I just knew I needed the car so it could buy me time. So it could provide me a distraction.
We parked at a distance fro the station and sat in silence until Benny finally said, “Alright, this the great plan?”
I didn’t say anything. Just kept turning over what had just happened to my aunt and uncle. It was hard to process. It made no sense to me.
I couldn’t figure out why they had singled them out. Only thing I could think is that they were picking off the people from our crew. First Sugar, then AP, now me. But why had they come after me like Sugar and not AP? It’s just, I mean, what the fuck had we done to earn this shit?
“E!” yelled Jackson, snapping me out of my head. “What the fuck dude?”
I shook my head and mumbled, “Sorry.”
I thought about telling them, but when I looked at their faces, all I heard was Torrance in my head saying, “They’re good boys.” I was about to ask them to fuck up their lives as bad as mine.
“You guys can’t come,” I said. “But I do need your help.”
They both stared at me until Jackson’s face took on an angry look. “I need one of you to ram the car into the building.” I continued.
“What the fuck?!” yelled Jackson. “This really your fuckin’ plan the whole time?”
“I thought it was like getaway shit nigga,” said Benny. “This plan is fucked up.”
“For reals, what the fuck? If you’re serious,” Jackson took a breath. “This ain’t my fuckin’ car!”
“You just gotta put it in gear and bail before it hits. The just take off as fast as you can. Just, go home,” I said.
“Nigga, this is Wanda’s car. Do you not get that? She’ll fuckin’ kill me, or she’ll know it was me and rat us out!” said Jackson.
“Tell her someone stole it. Or better yet, just tell her the truth and ask her to be in this secret with you. She lent you her car for fuck’s sake. She wants you, and she also doesn’t want to get in trouble.”
He seemed to turn it over in his head. “No, no. I can’t do that.”
“He’s not wrong. The Walrus would totally dig it,” said Benny. “Bonnie and Clyde shit.”
“It doesn’t matter if he’s not wrong. I can’t do that!”
“It does when your friend’s life banks on it,” I said calmly.
“We ain’t one hundred on that!” said Jackson.
“I am,” I said.
“No you’re fuckin’ not. How can you be so sure?” he said. When I didn’t say anything he kept at it. “How? Huh? You can’t nigga, because none of us are. Right? How can you be so fuckin’ su-.”
“Because they killed my aunt and uncle!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. Their eyes went wide, their brains scrambling to find something to say as the silence set it. “They’re dead. Those same fucking things. I didn’t even know they were there until I saw them just…” I felt like I was expected to play the sad, traumatized card, so I did. “They should have gone after me first.”
I had stared at my parent’s bodies for enough time to engrain the image into my mind. Whenever I picture them, I only see that. Nothing else. I was so sick of staring at them like that that I ran off to the only place I had felt safe at.
It’s strange. I never thought to call the cops or ask for help. All I wanted to do was forget all about it. Get that image of them out. I probably should have picked up a needle. Maybe I would have eventually, and maybe that’s why I went to the crack park, but I didn’t. I just took some food in my backpack and cooped up inside the broken down shit house. Or at least that’s what I thought it was.
It was just this torn down cement building that barely had a roof on it. It had been swarmed by roots and vines. It was at the edge of the park where the woods started and most people stayed clear of it. They probably figured junkies and bums would use it for cover, but I had found that they stayed clear of it too. It was my safe spot.
I stayed there for a while. Cried. Ate. Slept. The whole time I thought about how easy my old man got it, how it wasn’t fair. Sure I was sad and felt guilty, but I wished he’d have killed me instead so they could have made his ass rot. Made him pay in the big leagues ‘till his ass bled for the rest of his life. But things don’t ever really go my way.
“I don’t know why they singled us three out, but they ain’t seem to take an interest in you two,” I said to Jackson and Benny.
No one said anything for a long time. We all just stared at each other.
“Alright,” said Jackson.
I unzipped my bag and pulled out a beanie I had cut holes into. I slipped it over my head. It looked fucking ridiculous and all of us probably would have laughed if we weren’t so nervous. The gloves followed and before I pulled the handle to the door I said, “‘ll flash the light for when you go.”
They both nodded and Benny got out as I did to trade seats. He put his fist up and grinned, “Come on, fist me bro.” I grinned back and bumped fists with him, knowing that he needed it in order to calm himself.