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Maureen was smoking on the cross-country track. The cross-country track started on the football field and wound around the school. It was a mile long, on various kinds of terrain. It even dwindled to a tiny, foot-worn path in a stretch of woods briefly. That was the best place to smoke. No teacher ever came out and checked the cross-country track, and the unwritten law among smokers was to pocket your butts, so that no teacher would ever suspect the place of a smokers' spot. Maureen didn't really smoke. She bought a pack once every month or so, and she usually had to throw half of it away because the cigarettes went stale before she actually smoked them. Smoking was a habit she was toying with.
She knew it was highly addictive and all that, but she could easily take it or leave it at this point, and she figured if she did nothing more that flirt with it, she could quit at any time. She also knew that most heavy smokers started in their teenage years, and the earlier you started smoking, the harder it was to quit. Plus, she was well versed in the dangers of smoking. Lung cancer, emphysema, etc. Still, she kept doing it. Occasionally. She wasn't totally sure why she'd snuck out for a cigarette today. Maybe it had something to do with that embarrassing conversation she'd had with Jared earlier. She could have just died. Why on earth had she told him that she hadn't shaved her legs?
She shook herself, squeezing her eyes shut, trying to shake off the memory. She had to think about something else. She took a long drag on her cigarette, and got a coughing fit for her trouble. Yeah, Maureen wasn't really a smoker. The coughing fits made that painfully apparent, and it was mortifying if she happened to have one while smoking in front of another smoker. It made her feel like a pretender to the throne or something.
Maureen sat down on the ground and studied the bark of a tree that grew next to the path. It was one of those weird trees, smooth and white underneath, with brown stuff peeling off of it. She didn't know what those kinds of trees were called. They looked cool, though. Like a spotted horse.
There was a crunch behind her. Someone stepping on dry leaves. She turned in panic.
It wasn't a teacher. It was a guy she'd never seen before. It must be that new guy, Trevor. Frances had a few classes with him.
"Hi," said the guy.
"Trevor, right?" said Maureen.
"How do you know my name?"
"We don't get a lot of new kids around here," said Maureen. "You and Jared French are it."
"Jared? He's new, huh?"
"You know Jared?"
"Just met him. He's kinda...creepy."
"I think he's okay."
"Right. Maybe I'm just nuts. Um...could I bum a smoke?"
"Sure," said Maureen. Trevor was really, really cute. He had dark, dark brown curls cut short and a goatee. Maureen dug out her cigarettes and handed one to him. "They're ultra lights," she said. "Sorry."
"It's cool," said Trevor. "I don't smoke much anyway."
"Me either," said Maureen. "Look, I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm kind of the school pariah, so if you want to have a chance to make friends around here, hanging with me is probably not a good idea."
Trevor laughed. "What the hell's a pariah?"
"You know, like an outcast."
"Yeah, okay. Well, you gave me a cigarette, so you're okay in my book." He popped the cigarette between his lips and fished a lighter out of his pocket. He inhaled deeply on the cigarette and coughed the smoke out. "Right," he said. "I really don't smoke much."
"It's cool," said Maureen. "I was coughing a couple minutes ago too."
"So, what's your name?"
"And you're like a goth chick?"
"The fishnets. I thought—"
"I'm just wearing them so you can't see that I haven't shaved in two days." Jesus! Why did that keep popping out of her mouth?
Trevor laughed. "You're some kind of girl, aren't you?"
"What the hell does that mean?"
"Nothing," he said. "So, are you cutting class?"
"Not really. I'm just gonna be very tardy."
They were quiet for a few moments. Maureen studied Trevor's face. He looked vaguely familiar to her. Like he looked like someone she knew. No, not someone she actually knew, but someone she'd seen. A movie star, maybe or a musician...? She couldn't quite place it.
"So," said Maureen. "Are you cutting?"
"Cool," offered Maureen.
"I was trying to sell some pills," said Trevor. "Do you want to buy any pills?"
"What kind of pills?"
"My prescription. They're antidepressants."
"Oh. Well, maybe. How come you're selling them? I mean, don't they make you, you know, like less depressed?"
"I'm not really depressed."
"Yeah, you think that because you've been taking your medicine. I know about this shit. My mother does this all the time. She takes her pills for like five months, and feels so good, she decides she's cured, so then she stops taking them, and then she gets all depressed again."
"It's not like that," said Trevor. "Really. I was never depressed. I was a little...upset, but that's not the same thing."
"A thing happened."
"You don't want to talk about it?"
"Not really," said Trevor. He took a drag on his cigarette and coughed again.
"Cool," said Maureen. She almost had it. Who Trevor looked like. She could see his face in her mind. In a picture, maybe from a magazine or a newspaper or something. She thought the guy was an actor. What was his name?
"My brother died," said Trevor suddenly.
"Oh," said Maureen. "Shit. I'm sorry."
"Thanks," Trevor said. He started to take another drag, then thought better of it and dropped the cigarette, grinding it out with his foot.
"Um," said Maureen. "We don't leave butts out here. The teachers..."
"Oh," said Trevor, stooping to pick it up. "Sorry."
"No, it's okay. It's just—"
"Yeah, yeah. I totally understand. Really."
"Okay." Maureen wasn't quite finished with her cigarette either, but she put it out, rolling the filter between her fingers until she squeezed the remaining tobacco out. "I'm really sorry about your brother. I didn't mean to say anything about the cigarette—"
"Hey, it's cool. Look, all I meant was, when my brother died, I was sad. That's normal, right? To be sad when someone dies?"
"Of course," said Maureen. Did he look like that actor in the action movie she'd seen last month? No, that wasn't it.
"My parents didn't think so. That's why they put me on drugs. I was sad after my brother's death."
"Huh," said Maureen. "Well, that's kind of screwed up." Maybe it was the guy in the Pepsi commercials. No. Definitely not.
"So I stopped taking them. I feel better now. Sure sometimes I'm sad, but it's okay to be sad, you know? Like, humans are supposed to have a range of emotions. We're not supposed to be smiling little drones. I think there was a Twilight Zone episode like that. Did you ever see it?"
"Maybe there wasn't. But if there wasn't, there should have been. That would make a really good episode of the The Twilight Zone."
"A group of really happy people?"
"Yeah. You know, first they'd seem all cool, and then they'd get creepy."
"I guess I can see that." Maybe it wasn't an actor. Maybe it was a newscaster or something. God, this was bothering her.
"Hey, do you want to be left alone?" Trevor asked. "Because if I'm bothering you, I can..."
"You're fine," said Maureen. "Sorry if I seem distracted. You remind me of someone, and I'm trying to figure out who it is."
"Sometimes people tell me I look like the guy on that Superman show."
"Maybe that's it. Anyway, it's no big deal. I'll try to stop thinking about it." It was not the guy from the Superman show.
"Yeah." Maureen tried to think of something to say.
"Anyway," said Trevor, "my parents suck. They don't know anything that's going on with me, and they don't try to find out. They just don't want to be bothered. That's why they medicated me."
"Parents suck in general," she agreed. "My mom is basket case. She's manic. Bipolar or whatever. And my stepdad is completely out of touch. All he does is work."
"What about your dad?"
"Never met the guy. He ran off while my mom was pregnant with me. She says he was a jerk. Your parents are still married?"
"Yeah. Weird, right?"
Maureen laughed. "I think that kind of family is the normal kind."
"Oh come on. How many other people do you know whose parents are still married?"
She considered. "You're right. That is weird."
"I've always thought so."
"So how come you moved here?"
"My mom's got family here."
"Where'd you used to live?"
"Did you like it there?"
"Not really. It was better than here, though. I freaking hate the country."
She nodded. "It's pretty boring around here, all right." She checked her watch. "Look, I should probably get to class if I want to be considered tardy and not absent."
"Okay," said Trevor. "I'll see you around."
"You don't have to. If you see me in public, you can pretend like you don't know me. Trust me, being seen with me is social suicide."
"Why don't people like you?"
"Hell if I know. I guess I'm just too weird."
"I don't think you're that weird."
"Thanks, I think. Look, all I'm saying is that I won't be offended if you don't talk to me again."
"Yeah? Well, I guess I'm saying fuck that. You seem cool, and I'll talk to you if I want."
Maureen shrugged. She'd see if he meant that. He didn't truly understand the situation yet. Once he saw how much everyone hated her, he'd get it, and he wouldn't talk to her anymore. Which was too bad, because he was awfully cute.
"What'd you rent?" Frances asked Maureen. The two were in Frances' living room. Frances sprawled on the couch with a bag of chips, and Maureen knelt in front of the DVD player. It was Wednesday and every Wednesday was movie night. The girls always did it. They took turns renting movies because the two of them had nothing in common taste wise. Frances liked romantic comedies, historical flicks, and epics. Maureen liked horror movies and mysteries. A long time ago, they'd decided it would be easier if they just took turns. Every other week, the other would have to suffer through her best friend's picks. It worked easier that way. They were less likely to argue.
One thing was always the same, though. They watched the movies at Frances' house for two reasons. Frances' mom worked late, and Frances had her hoard of snacks at home and didn't want to lug it over to Maureen's. Maureen's mom was cool, but she didn't approve of some of the movies the girls picked out. It was easier to do it without parental intrusion, that was all.
Maureen held up the rental box.
"I can't read it from here," Frances said.
"Texas Chainsaw Massacre," said Maureen. "The old one."
"Oh," said Frances. Yick, she thought. "You're trying to pay me back for renting When Harry Met Sally last time, aren't you?"
"Absolutely not," said Maureen. "I just wanted to watch it again, that's all. I haven't seen it in a long time."
Frances got up and went into the kitchen to retrieve some cupcakes from the refrigerator. She'd made them last night in honor of movie night. "You want some cupcakes?" she asked Maureen.
"What kind?" Maureen wanted to know.
They were double fudge chocolate with chocolate icing. Maureen consented to eat one, but Frances brought out the whole tray anyway. Maureen would probably eat more than one, no matter what she said, and Frances felt like she could eat ten. She just hoped the movie didn't gross her out too much. One of her favorite things to do while watching movies was to snack. Hell, who was she kidding? One of her favorite things to do was snack, period.
Frances settled back in on the couch, taking a cupcake and setting the rest within reach on an end table. She took one and bit into it. Mmmm. Heaven had to be something like eating chocolate, didn't it?
Maureen got a cupcake too. "Wow, Frances. These are awesome. You're a good cook. You should be a chef or something."
Frances shrugged. She liked cooking. "Thanks."
"So I met the new guy today."
"How could you? He was absent. I have two classes with him, and he wasn't in either."
"He was skipping classes to try to sell pills," Maureen said. "I ran into him on the cross-country track. I snuck out for a cigarette."
"You really shouldn't smoke. It's not good for you."
"And you really shouldn't carry around that extra hundred pounds. Come on, Frances."
Frances got another cupcake. She hated it when Maureen said stuff like that.
"Hey, I'm sorry," said Maureen. "It's just—"
"It's okay," said Frances. "You're not wrong." The cupcakes were good. Maureen wasn't wrong about that either. "So, didn't I tell he's a cutie?"
Maureen nodded. "Yeah, he's hot. And he was pretty cool."
"You talked to him?"
"I gave him a cigarette and everything."
"Guess he hasn't been around long enough to know to steer clear of us. Well, you."
"True," said Maureen. "But, you know, Jared's new and he talks to us. Maybe it's a new guy thing. They'll let new kids get away with it."
"Yeah, you're right. He'll never talk to me again." Maureen chewed thoughtfully on her cupcake.
"You wanna start the movie?" asked Frances.
Maureen chuckled. "Anxious to get it over, huh?"
Frances smiled. "You're not wrong."
Maureen started the movie. Frances tried to get in as much food as she could in the first fifteen minutes. Typically, the first few minutes of a horror movie weren't gross. Frances knew this because Maureen made her watch so many of them. This movie held to the same rule, except for some gruesome images underscoring the opening credits. Even after the movie was over, Frances couldn't quite figure out what they had to do with the plot. What plot there was anyway. Frances couldn't figure out why Maureen liked these kinds of movies, anyway. Secretly, Frances thought Maureen just watched them because she thought she should. After all, she was Death Girl. Horror movies fit in thematically.
Frances knew that Maureen was interested in mass murder. They didn't talk about it too much. Maureen knew the subject both disgusted and bored Frances. Likewise, they didn't discuss the plots of the soap operas Frances kept up with. That stuff disgusted and bored Maureen. But occasionally, both of them had to get it out. So Frances knew a little about it, and she knew a little about why Maureen liked the subject. For Maureen, Frances thought, it was all about trying to figure out why people did horrible things. Maureen wanted there to be reasons for evil. If evil was understandable, it wasn't frightening. Maureen probably wouldn't admit it, but Frances thought Maureen was deeply afraid of a lot of things. She wanted to understand things, control them. That was what fascinated her in mass murder. But that was only Frances' theory. Maureen said she liked it because she liked death.
Maureen was weird. Frances knew that. And Maureen wasn't even always a particularly nice person. Frances knew that too, because Maureen wasn't always very nice to her. But Maureen was her best friend, and there were some things that went deeper than the surface. Friendship was one of them. So Frances accepted Maureen, horror movies, death obsessions, fear, weirdness and all. Because she believed that's what you did for friends.
She polished off a cupcake and watched the movie. God. They were not going to go into that house, were they? And that kid in the wheelchair? She felt kind of sorry for him, but he was so annoying. She hoped he died next.
The cross-country track was barely lit by the moon filtering through the trees overhead as Trevor trudged through it. The night air felt crisp and clean. It was just cold enough that he could see his breath dissipate into the air. He had one hand jammed into his jeans pocket to keep warm. In the other, he carried a gun. The gun felt slippery in his hand. Even though the rest of him was cold, the hand holding the gun was sweating. He struggled to keep his grip on the gun.
He was nervous, because he knew where the cross-country track led. It led to the party place. Where all the smokers were. Smoking cigarettes, drinking beer. He could hear them in the distance. Their voices, their music. With every step he took he got closer to them. He knew what he had to do when he got there. It wasn't a question of whether he wanted to anymore. It was just a fact. He had to. He knew it. But he was still nervous. No, not nervous. He was terrified. He didn't know if he'd do it right. What if he screwed it up?
He was much closer now, and more than ever he knew what he was. Trevor was a colossal screw-up. Everyone knew that. His parents knew that. His teachers knew that. His friends knew that. His brother had known that. And what if he just couldn't handle this? What would happen?
Simon would be really pissed off. Trevor could see Simon when he looked over his shoulder. Simon was walking behind him, except everyone called Simon Jared now. Simon was Jared. And Jared—Simon—said he had to do this. The music was so loud. He was close. He could see the lights up ahead. He'd round one bend, and he'd be there.
Trevor clutched the gun tightly, easing the safety off with his finger. He moved steadily, raising the gun. A few more steps and he'd be able to see them...just a few more steps, and...
Trevor aimed at the first girl he saw. She was the one from the track. The one with the nice ass. He shot her. The bullet struck her head. It drilled into her skull. Blood arced out of the wound, freezing in midair. The girl floundered, her body writhing, dancing as she fell.
One down, Trevor opened fire on the rest of the party. Shots rang out, blood spattered, bodies thudded against the ground. The music throbbed. Trevor breathed deeply. He felt good. He felt alive. He was alive. What better way to prove he was alive than to kill everybody else? He screamed in exultation. It was a moment before he realized he was screaming words. He was screaming, "I hate faggots, I hate jocks, I hate niggers, I hate crackers—"
Those weren't his words. This wasn't him.
He sat up straight in his bed, hair plastered to his forehead with sweat, his cock so hard he thought it might explode. He was still wearing his clothes, and the light in his bedroom was still on, because it was eight-thirty. He must have drifted off...
He got up and went to the kitchen for a drink of water. Those dreams were getting worse.
Copyright (c) 2010 Valerie Chambers