Some person or other said that you don’t know who you are until you’re pushed to your breaking point. I think it was someone like Winston Churchill. Don’t really know. But I can say that that summer, all of us were pushed to our limits, and went into a world that none of us wanted to. All to get justice for a friend. Someone I cared about so much. Maybe, if he ever comes back from what happened to him, I can care about him again. I want to. Want those good, innocent days back again. You never know what you’ve got until it’s not there anymore. This is gonna be a long story, but I wanna tell it. So bear with me. Please.
It ain’t for the faint of heart. If you can’t handle ugly, twisted, scary things, you should walk away now. But it’s the truth. One that the police and our parents can’t wash away with everything else. What do I start? I guess it would be when school got out, that fateful summer…
Staring at the clock on the wall is always the worst. The absolute worst. Had my science teacher tell me that time doesn’t really slow down when you watch the clock. Same as when you watch a pot boil. What does he know?! Clearly he was never a kid who wanted to get out of school on that last day. I shouldn’t say that. That’s mean. Mr. Bergie is a cool guy. Probably the coolest teacher here. I remember when he brought in the beaver to dissect for the class. That was crazy! But cool. All the digesting wood in its gut.
Yeah, this is why mom says I’m a tomboy. Every other girl was totally grossed out. I thought it was awesome! We got to dissect a frog too, and that pretty cool. I was gonna miss him. But that didn’t stop me from watching that clock and desperately wishing it would hit 3:00 so we could get the hell out of there!
Looked over at Johnny. He was my best friend. Well, one of them. We had this little crew. Me, Johnny, our big man Eli who was kind of the ringleader, and Griffin. It’s weird, because Griffin is Eli’s cousin, but he’s black. You’d never know the two were related, on his dad’s side. They’ve been best bros for ages. Grew up together, and would do anything for each other. Sometimes I thought Griffin was a bit of a perv, but he was always cool with me. There was this one girl he was all over who lived down the way from Eli. I think Eli has a crush on her, but he isn’t talking about it. Part of me thinks that she likes him too. I don’t know, call it a gut feeling.
Finally, and I hella mean FINALLY, the clock hit 3 and the bell went off. Mrs. Guyer told us all to have a good summer and whatever, but none of us were listening. I grabbed my backpack and was running for the door. Johnny was right on my heels.
“Dude, we have to call Eli tonight! I wanna be at the first showing!”
I nodded. “Hell yeah!”
“Language, Sara!” I heard a voice call. Mr. McCourt was giving me a mean look. I shrugged at him. It’s summer. Don’t care about his rules.
“So, you got your ticket money?” Johnny asked.
“You know it. Daddy always gives me some pocket money when I give him the puppy-dog face.”
He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well, I had to work for mine, beeotch. Mom don’t give me shit.”
“But you got it covered, right?”
“Yeah, I do. We’re good to go.”
“Better be. I’m not gonna miss out on Jurassic Park because your ass is broke.”
We got outside and saw Eli and Griffin standing there talking. The two of us ran over.
“Man, could today have gone any fucking slower?” Eli asked.
“I know, right?!” I replied.
“Dude, I couldn’t believe Ms. Pettijohn wanted to give a lecture on the last day that we had a quiz about!” Griffin said, almost with a snarl. “That’s just evil.”
Johnny snorted. “Ms. Pettijohn is evil. What else is new?”
Eli had a grumpy look on his face. “Okay, new rule – no more school talk for the duration of summer. Ya’ll are driving me frickin’ crazy.”
I nodded. “Word! Let’s pretend school doesn’t exist.”
Johnny gave us a look. “Hard to do when it’s right behind us.”
Everyone groaned. Literal as fuck! This guy, dude.
We biked home. Everyone was stoked about the movie. The trailers were everywhere, so everyone was talking about. I’d seen Eli with the book it’s based on. Dude always loved books. Been in his house, he had a ton of them. Never could get into that stuff. Give me a good movie or a video game any day over that. Or learning about cars with uncle Tom. He could tell me all about his cool cars and how they run all day. Fucking rad, dude.
All of us were so excited. This was our big plan for the summer. See the movie, and talk about it. We were hoping to get one of our parents to drop us off. But that was something else to plan. I just knew we’d have a million things to talk about. A great beginning to what was hopefully gonna be an awesome summer.
We chilled at our old fort. Set up under this really huge and really old pine tree. It had these branches that went way far out and hung down in the front, but were big enough underneath to hide our place. We had a chest here with our stuff, and a lock that only we knew the combination too. There was also this rope wrapped around the tree that we could swing around from. It wasn’t the most crazy fort, but this place was where we had been meeting up ever since we were tiny.
This summer was gonna be awesome. I was absolutely sure of it. Nothing could fuck up how amazing it was gonna be.
It started to get dark, so we made our way home. Perks of being in the 7th grade now – we had a lot more freedom. Dad’s rule was – it gets dark, you get home. Simple enough, and summer had nights getting longer, so we had plenty of time.
I came up on my house when I looked over and saw a girl who lived next door. Her name was Kate. If we were superheroes, she’d be my arch-nemesis. We are polar opposites. I’m jeans, t-shirts, and a baseball cap with the 49ers on it. She’s sun-dresses, makeup, and a cute hat. Girl always wore hats. At least we had that in common. Except my hat was always the same. Kate liked clothes.
“Hey Sara!” she called out.
Parking my bike, I smiled at her. “Hey.” Every time I saw her, I felt warm inside. Over the past couple years, it had been getting stronger. Wasn’t sure why.
“School’s out! That’s pretty cool.”
She winced at the swearing. Girl came from a super religious family.
“I got some big plans!”
“Still going to see that movie?” she asked.
“Nothin’s gonna stop us from seeing it! Make no bones about it, we are going to that film!”
Kate smiled a bit. “Just you and your friends?”
“Well yeah. I mean, I don’t know who else would wanna go.”
She shifted her feet a bit. Why so awkward?
“Maybe I’d wanna go.”
I chuckled a bit. “Dude, your parents would NEVER let you see Jurassic Park. It’s got the word ‘evolution’ in it. They’d never even talk about letting you see it.”
There was a mischief look on her face. “Well, maybe I don’t tell them we’re going to see it. Maybe I just tell them I’m hanging out with you and your friends. Not really a lie, right?”
Was a little impressed at that, not gonna lie. “Girl’s sneaking around to see a movie. Wow. Wonder what Jesus would think?”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m pretty Jesus has bigger problems than me seeing a movie with a friend.”
“That ain’t how your parents think.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not them.” She was smiling right at me. Made me want to melt. What was up? “So, think I can come with you?”
Gave her a little look. “Well, I gotta ask the others. We’re getting Eli’s sister to drive us. Don’t know if there’s room.”
A little giggle. “I could always sit in your lap.”
Heart pounded! What the hell?! “I mean, yeah, maybe. I’ll let you know.”
“Cool. I better go in. Dinner will be done soon.”
“Yeah, me too.”
We kept staring at each other.
“Good night,” she said, finally.
What a weird thing that just happened. Wasn’t sure what it was. It felt like…nah. Couldn’t be.
Dinner was always hella awkward. Mom’s on this crusade to try and get me to be all girly and shit. I hate it! Which meant more shopping trips to the mall to try and dresses and make her happy. I knew that if I didn’t, she’d try and stop me from hanging out with my friends. Sometimes you gotta just suck it up and deal. I never let her buy any of it for me, and I especially will NEVER wear any of it.
Daddy’s cooler. I think he likes that I’m a tomboy because he always wanted a son. Instead, he got three girls. My oldest sister, Jenny, is in college. She’s going for pre-med to become a surgeon. Everyone is hella proud of her. Then there’s Melissa. She’s a junior in high school, and she wants to join the Army after getting out. Become a military doctor. That makes both my parents super proud and super nervous at the same time. I remember the news that Dad would read and watch every night back when Desert Storm was going on. It was scary stuff to see. But she told them she wants to be a doctor in the military because they would pay for college. That’s smart.
Then there’s me. The tomboy who just lives life and doesn’t think that far ahead. Being in the military could be cool, but definitely not Army. I’m thinking Navy, so I shoot a big gun! I remember going to the Naval shipyard where they build ships and submarines. Uncle Tom works there, but he’s not military. He’s part of the crew who builds stuff. Took me on base once and showed me some of the stuff there. It was rad! Big guns and he talked about how many people it took to use them. That sounded so fucking cool. If I was gonna serve, that’s how I’d do it. Shooting things with big guns. Hope Uncle Tom would take me shooting one of these days. He said he would. See if he would take all of us. Bet Eli would get hella nervous being around guns.
After dinner I went upstairs. Didn’t even try and get any phone time. Figured if Mom wasn’t trying to get online to play Jeopardy, then Mel was talking to her boyfriend. Those two were so gross together. Every second of every day he’s clinging on to her like a fucking bat. Made a joke that I knows who wears the pants in that relationship, and it ain’t him. Don’t think she liked that very much.
It was really late at night, past my bedtime, when the call came in. Mom yelling about who would be calling now, and Dad picking up the phone. Suddenly, he sounded very worried. Could hear mom getting up, walking down to the phone. Now my curiosity was piqued.
“Well, maybe he’s at one the other boy’s houses.” I could heard Dad say.
“Oh god. Okay. We’ll start a search first thing in the morning. Break of dawn, you have my word.”
“Looking for him at night would be counterproductive. He’s a smart kid. He’ll stay where he is so he can be easier to find. I know it’s scary. But we’ll find him!”
Now I was at the top of the stairs. Dad looked up and his eyes met mine. In that instant, I knew that something bad had happened. Who were they looking for?!
“You called the police. They’ll get a search party ready. First light, we’re gonna go out there and we’ll find him. I know, Evelyn. I’m worried too. But when one of us goes missing, this community will come together to find them. Try and get some sleep. You’re gonna need your strength in the morning.”
He hung up the phone, still looking at me.
“Sara, honey. Johnny’s gone missing. He never came home. His mom called Eli’s parents and Griffin’s dad. Nobody’s seen him.”
This ugly feeling came into my gut. An ugly, horrible feeling. He wouldn’t not go home! Something happened!
“We’re gonna form a search party and look for him in the morning.”
“I’m coming with you!” I damn-near shouted.
“Honey, that’s not such a great idea,” Mom started.
“If you tell me no, I’m just gonna go looking for him on my own!”
The two of them looked at each other, then dad nodded.
“Okay, sweetie. Be up, first thing tomorrow.”
That wasn’t a hard thing to ask for. I didn’t sleep a wink that night.
Next day, to dad’s credit, a ton of people gathered. There was Officer Lewllyn, and his wife. A young patrol cop and his partner. Eli and his family, Griffin and his, even Kate and her family. Friends of Johnny’s family. There was even family who came from out of town. Said they drove all night. Lots of neighbors. Some of which I knew. Chief Joe (that’s his last name. I know, confusing. He has two first names) came out and broke out a map. He had drawn up a series of areas that he had likely gone missing. Everyone got together and started breaking down areas to search.
I got together with Eli and Griffin. All we could do is walk with everyone. Couldn’t think of any words. None of us could. Kate came over and walked with us too. I liked that. The morning dragged on and one. People calling Johnny’s name, looking for some evidence of him. Some false-alarms. A homeless guy who appeared out of the forest, looking disheveled. Seen the dude around the diner Mom works at. Nice enough, but you always are a little careful.
The search went on for hours, but there was nothing. We just kept going around and around, but nothing was found. Not a single trace. It was like he vanished from existence. His route home was always the same. Always. We should have found something. It was nearly nighttime when the search was called off. Chief said it would “reconvene in the morning.” Whatever the fuck that meant.
Hours turned into days. Days when I had no appetite, no desire to do anything except sit in our fort and cry. You have all those stupid PSAs about being careful and stranger danger and shit. Guess it was more than something just talking. Then, after two and a half agonizing weeks, he finally turned up. Though, I don’t think he was supposed to.
Dad got the call from Officer Lewllyn. He said that a couple fishermen found a body on the river’s edge, north of town. He’s alive, but they didn’t think he was supposed to be. There were rope marks like he was tied to something and thrown in the river. It came loose, whatever it was. He floated downstream, washing up on the bank. Dad didn’t tell me how bad it was, but he was hurt. Said it was really bad. The fact that he’s still alive is amazing. We went to the hospital.
I nearly ran inside. Was told what room he was in, and charged upstairs. When I got there, Eli was already there. He walked over and put his arms around me. I liked that. I needed to be hugged right now. Normally not the type, but I really, really needed it. Johnny’s mom was there. She was a mess. Makeup that was smeared, trying to look like she was holding it together.
The adults all talked, but that wasn’t why I was here. I walked over to where the bed was. A curtain was drawn around it. Walking inside, I stopped cold. There, lying on the bed, was Johnny. He didn’t look human. Tubes in his mouth, one in his nose. His skin was red and purple. There was a giant bandage around his hand. Bandages all over his body. What the fuck happened?!
Eli put his arms around me again. The dude had a gift at knowing when I needed to be held. It was so awful.
“We’re gonna get to the bottom of this,” he whispered in my ear. “I swear, we’re gonna find out who did this. And then fucking kill them!”
When I got home, there was nothing that I could feel. Food had no taste. Nothing mattered. I just went into my room and crashed into my bed. Sleep finally greeted me. I don’t think I was awake long enough to perceive hitting the pillow. Just gone.
My eyes opened and I was in a white room. On a bed that was really, really uncomfortable. Sitting up, I saw that I was wearing a weird off-green shirt and pants. Super light. What the fuck was this? There was a a window on the door. It showed sunlight coming in. My room had a desk as well, with a light. It was off. Getting up, my feet greeted the freezing cold floor. That sucked. There were slippers. Like something you’d see in a hospital. Weird.
Knocking on the door, I tried to look out. It was taller than I was.
“Hello? Is anyone there?”
There was a brief pause, and then the door opened. Standing there was a very large black woman, with curly hair and a kindly look on her face.
“Hey there, honey. You’re finally up!”
“Where am I?”
She frowned. “You don’t know? This is the Millwood Asylum. We look after people who have mental problems.”
Oh no. Oh fucking no! I was in a mental asylum?! Wait, who even calls them that anymore?
“I’m not crazy! What am I doing here?!”
The woman gave me a gentle smile. Very motherly. “Oh honey, it’s okay. You’ve nothing to be afraid of here. We’re gonna help you get better. That’s why you were brought here.” She motioned toward the door. “Come on. Let’s get you to meeting the population. I’m sure you’ll have a lot to talk about.”
Part of me knew that this place was connected to what was happening outside. Don’t ask me how I knew. I just did. What the fuck was I going to do now?
Until next time, a quote,
“The instruments are gruesome, but a hole in the head gives the troubles more space!” – Nurse, Alice: Madness Returns