CLARA IS HERE
It was possibly autumn. It was a bold guess because when he looked outside his bedroom window, the cedar that grew in his front yard seemed as if dead, and on the ground, over the grass, thousands of dry leaves formed a carpet that crunched when the newspaper boy threw the daily paper.
He looked through the window every day before five, when the sun set, because at that time the sky was most beautiful and made him forget about his self-denied liberty. He hadn’t gone out since the incident had happed, and he didn’t plan on doing so soon. There wasn’t a single reason to go out. These were modern times; everything was done through the internet. When he needed to get the groceries, he would order it on a website; when he had to pay the bills, he paid them through the computer; when he found himself in the need of money, he would call his abandoning parents and, just minutes later, he would check his bank account on a phone app. Besides, as for entertainment, he had two enormous bookshelves in his living room to spend the time in the evening and night; on the first bookshelf there were horror and suspense novels, while in the second he had movies. His movie interests were different from his literary ones. He had many horror movies, sure, but he had other genres, too. His favorite was Walls of Broken Glass, a film based on the novel with the same title. Mari had lent it to him once and he read it resigned, but when the movie was announced he was more than fascinated.
He missed Mari even though she visited him so often. Another reason to look through the window every day during the sunset was to see Mari ride her bike along the street, cycling towards his house so she could visit him. That day, he saw her come closer, turning around the corner. Her neck-long orange hair bounced as she pedaled. She was dressed in her school uniform, that of a white blouse and red tie over a red, checkered miniskirt. She also wore thigh-high socks.
When Mari stopped and left her bike over the fence, he let go of the curtain and the curtain closed as he ran down the stairs to reach the first floor. He put on his slippers and opened the door as Mari walked closer. With the sun reflected on her face, he noticed the numerous freckles that decorated the girl’s skin.
“I was just about to yell,” said Mari.
“I saw you through the window.”
The boy leaned over the fence and saw his one friend through the tall fence.
“You’re not opening…” she said with a sigh.
“There’s no reason to do so. We never do more than talk about this or that.”
Mari lowered her head. It was true, but it was also true that she had always feared that the boy would get annoyed if she tried doing anything more than seeing him standing on the yard. Seeing him made her sad. His skin had turned pale since the beginning of his self-locking; his body had lost its little musculature; his eyes seemed tired… That was not the look had to have! He had to be getting better! But she didn’t know how to tell him what she wanted to say (what did she want to say?). She didn’t know how to express her worrying. She could only explain it to herself: she was in love. Yes, she had taken a lot of time to understand it. She had never fallen in love. At first she was scared, but then she opened her heart slowly so he could get inside, and now, now he was in it and couldn’t get him to come out! Now she understood that for someone in love, it doesn’t matter if it’s black or white, if it’s up or down… She could only think of one thing: him.
So Mari frowned and saw his friend with her eyes flashing security and she said:
“You must come back to school!”
There was silence. The boy looked at her with a serious face and she felt that her security had never been more fragile, and that it was like glass that was now falling down in the sky before crashing with the ground and becoming millions of shards of sadness. So she stepped back, her legs trembling.
“Well… uh…” she stammered. “I’m very worried. It’s okay if you lose one semester but you don’t look convinced of going back. Ever.”
The boy was a bit annoyed and pressed his teeth together, feeling that Mari was a strange intruder in his home.
“Yeah, you’re right,” he hesitated. “I’ll never go back. School is dumb thing and I don’t like dumb things. Besides, everyone is better without me. I know you think the same.”
Mari started crying. A tear ran down so fast that she barely felt when it passed her freckles.
“Cedrus…” she pronounced silently. Cedrus wasn’t the boy’s name; it was his nickname that everyone used at school because he had once done a presentation about the cedars growing in the city, using the one in his yard as an example.
Cedrus didn’t want to speak any longer. He didn’t want to be mad with Mari, but he wasn’t going to stay there, standing, embarrassed because his life was ending.
“I’m exhausted. I’m always exhausted. I think it’s best if I go to bed,” he said and Mari couldn’t do anything but nod in false agreement. Cedrus went back and closed the door behind him, barely hearing Mari’s silent see you tomorrow.
But tomorrow never came.
Mari crossed another day on the calendar. It was almost June; there was but one week left. The prom was closer every day and she would have to get used to the difficult task of leaving high school and head to college to start from nothing, to make new friends. She didn’t want new friends! She didn’t need to. She had Cedrus, even though she wasn’t really sure about it. She hadn’t visited him since November, when she made her mad. She hadn’t even talked to him over the phone. She regret it, yes, but she wasn’t able to take action on the matter. She had too many concerns already: she had the final exams, the prom, her club’s (the Literature Club’s) closing-semester activities… Cedrus was another matter on the list. She even thought that, after the graduation, she wouldn’t have any time to see him. She wouldn’t be able to be in love anymore because she would’ve turned into the same thing as the rest of her classmates, those who turned away from Cedrus once they had the chance. She couldn’t leave him behind. She decided to visit him that day. She had to and she was going to. But after school ended.
Cedrus had no idea about how many days had gone by since he had spoken to another human being. The only kind of communication he had was with anonymous users on various online forums about various subjects. He figured that was pretty sad, but it was also very comforting. Long before joining the forums, Cedrus had been too calm and so calm that he couldn’t stand the calmness. He was tired of being tired.
However, it’s only natural to guess that he wasn’t the strangest person on the forums. Soon after he had joined, he feared that he couldn’t get along with the majority of the users so he switched to reading in the depths of his dark home, or watching movies.
That night he was watching a television show on ghosts and paranormal stories, the kind that is too fake for anyone to believe, but too well written for anyone to stop watching. One hour before midnight, he felt that his eyelids were heavier than any other part of his body and closed his eyes for a minute that quickly became an hour.
The streets were empty. It was the darkest night in ages; the sky painted itself in an intense black. Plenty clouds had formed around the moon like smoke and wrapped it as if they were hugging it.
She had been dragging herself across the street for a long time now and couldn’t remember why she was doing it. Her mind was focused in finding help soon. She had a horrible, diagonal wound crossing her stomach, leaving her crawling over a trail of blood and guts that had been hidden in her inside. However, she felt no pain.
And this wasn’t the first time she had found herself in such a messy situation ─ there was the time she had her legs cut off and the time she almost drowned in a pool, and yet she was alive, broken too many times before. All she wanted was help, and up to that day, no one had been capable of helping her.
As she passed by houses and windows of black, life bestowed upon her a small, two-level house with a window shining from the light of a television. She grunted but not of pain, she dragged herself faster, desperate. Then she laid just outside of the fence.
Cedrus woke up to the sound of moaning. At first he thought it came from the TV or from the lustful neighbors he had. But no, it wasn’t that. He turned the TV off with the remote and stood silent for a minute, listening. He heard the moans and laments of a girl and shivered, then he walked to the living room window and looked behind the curtain. The outside was dark and spooky and reminded him of many, many movies and stories he had read. Common sense told him to close the curtains, lock the doors and windows, run upstairs and into his bedroom and hide under the covers! But he gave it too much thought and waited in silence, looking at the shadow that his cedar cast under the moonlight.
Then he heard a thud. He held the curtain like he was strangling someone and stared at the emptiness of the night, haunted by visions and memories of what he had done and had not done. Suddenly, a bluish, pale hand was launched from below and hit the glass with a loud, creaking noise that kept on going as the skin rubbed against the window, painting it in red. Cedrus jumped back in fright and the curtain covered the window, but the silhouette of the mysterious girl was still visible, sliding down at a low pace.
Common sense spoke to the boy again and told him to run while he could (unknowing of who was outside and what they could do), but Cedrus simply stood up and walked rapidly towards the door. If he was to believe common sense, then he had to assume that whoever was outside was injured and needed help. So he opened the door and walked to the girl, staring at her injuries and feeling nauseous. The girl turned her head to look at the boy and smiled.
“Oh, God,” said Cedrus in shock. He got on his knees and helped the girl sit on the grass. “I’ll call an ambulance.”
He went back up and moved a leg less than an inch when the girl grabbed him by the ankle.
“No,” she muttered and slowly raised her voice. “Help me, please. I beg you. Kill me.”
The world started spinning in the boy’s eyes. The image of the girl turned into a soup of colors that finally made him faint.
Mari started feeling sick during last period and left before finishing the lesson. She cancelled the club activities for the next day and asked Annie to hand in her final essay for Philosophy class the next day. She had everything in her hands and wasn’t worried about the only final exam that she would miss because she had already been graded for Calculus due to extra assignments. So being sick (a fever) was the main reason why she couldn’t visit Cedrus that day. It was midnight now and she couldn’t go to sleep, worried that another day would go by, and then another after another. She took out her phone and browsed her contacts, she put her finger over Cedrus’ name but never tapped the screen. She got up, she put on sneakers but didn’t change her pajamas. She sneaked out of the house and left off on her bike.
It was a twenty minute ride to Cedrus’ house, out in the cold of the dangerous night. It was a dangerous city, after all. At midnight, the atmosphere seemed almost musical as barking dogs, fired gunshots, police sirens and screams mixed together to create the sound of desperation. As she came closer, she thought about waking up her friend even though she knew he slept really late and woke up really early. That day could be the one unlucky day where Cedrus decided to sleep early, and she worried of that.
Cedrus woke up seconds after fainting. He was now on the ground and the girl sat next to him, looking over him with a dull face. Cedrus rubbed his eyes and looked straight, staring at the girl, feeling he would faint again. But he screamed instead, he got up and back and ran to the door.
“Come on!” shouted the girl.
Cedrus closed the door shut with a slam that felt much too hard. He looked down, barely moving his face, and saw four skinny fingers laying on the floor in the middle of a small puddle of blood. He struggled not to puke and then reached the doorknob’s small lock and the lock above it. They clicked and the boy got far away from the door.
There was silence for more than a minute. Something started hitting the door from the other side. Cedrus thought about calling the police but figured he was in a strange situation now (with his clothes covered in blood and four fingers inside of the house), so he went to the kitchen and grabbed a dirty pan from the sink at the same time the door fell down with fierce strength. He looked at the door and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. There stood a tall, skinny, pale girl with dark, long, straight hair. Her eyes were like silver and her grin from ear to ear. She wore a white blouse over a blue, plaid skirt and gray leggings. And the most terrifying part of it all was the diagonal wound in her stomach, the origin of the bloody mess with intestines crawling out and leading to the front yard entrance.
“Please, kill me,” she asked again. Cedrus held the pan firmly as the girl walked closer. “Kill me. Hit me with the pan, take my head off and burn my body until I become ashes!”
She was close enough for Cedrus to swing the pan like a bat and hit her on the jaw. The girl flew back and crashed on the tiled floor. Her skull must’ve broken. Cedrus let the pan (now covered in blood) fall and ran to the girl’s frozen body. He couldn’t see if she was breathing and he certainly wasn’t willing to look for her pulse, but he leaned down and drew his hand close until the girl moved her shoulder and got up a few inches.
“Worthless,” she whispered. “Worthless!”
She was crying in anger and sat down in front of Cedrus. Her head bled torrents of red juice and the boy wished he was having a bad nightmare.
A feminine voice called from outside. Cedrus jumped up and looked at the window. He could see Mari’s bike outside! And the door was not in place so there was no way he could keep Mari away from everything. She had probably already seen the blood!
“Go away!” yelled Cedrus in a shaky voice.
“Are you okay?” asked Mari as she came near.
“I said GO AWAY!”
Mari stopped moving. She could see the open door. Maybe she took too long to visit him. Maybe he hated her now. Maybe he was too upset to even see her. But the door was open after midnight and that wasn’t something Cedrus would do. Something was going on and she was to find out. But she was too afraid, too ashamed of being the friend she was. She wasn’t capable of helping him. He didn’t want her help. All she could do was cry and feel useless and ignored, almost invisible. That was why even Annie had given up con Cedrus. That’s why the incident happened in the first place, because she could never get through him and could never see what he saw or think what he thought. She was a mess and it was better to live in her own sorrow.
So she nodded in silence, knowing Cedrus couldn’t see her. She picked up her bike and jumped on it, wiping her tears with her right sleeve. She started pedaling away, suddenly feeling cold.
Cedrus let out a sigh and came back to the girl. He sat next to her as she cried without letting out a noise.
“I’m sorry,” he said. The girl nodded.
“Don’t worry,” she said with a snort. “It’s not your fault and it’s not mine, either. I’m just like this.”
“Like what?” asked Cedrus.
“I’m dead. I was born dead, so I can’t die.”
Cedrus didn’t understand why he had felt tranquil before, because the last words to come from the girl’s bloody mouth gave him goose bumps.
OLD SCHOOL, NEW SCHOOL
The next day was a rest day for Mari. She was better than the day before, regarding her health. But she was completely torn apart from the scene at Cedrus’ house. She remembered her emo phase in junior high. Back then she hadn’t been upset by falling in love with someone that didn’t notice her; it was more of an existentialist phase that she eventually got over when she understood that life sucks from beginning to end.
Regardless of that, she missed him more than ever.
Cedrus was still wrapping his head around everything that had anything to do with the girl, who he now had nicknamed Clara (because of her clear eyes). She had learn too many things, but they were all useless information that was unable to explain who Clara was and what she was doing in his house.
“All I want is someone to figure out how to die already,” said Clara while Cedrus mopped the floor. It was morning now and he had stayed up all night, talking with the dead girl.
Apparently, Clara had no memories of any time before that night (except for the few deadly memories of her being unable to die) and didn’t even know her name. She said no one could see her but him, and that that’s why she kept trying to come close and ended up scaring him.
“But, then you’re like a ghost or something.” Cedrus stopped mopping to look at Clara.
“No, not a ghost. Ghosts aren’t born as dead people, they’re born from living persons that died. I already told you I was never alive. I appeared one day as a part of God’s little experiment, and now I can’t stand it. I can’t engage with anyone and I can’t entertain myself in this loneliness. Even if I sometimes forget everything that has happened, I just come around this depressing idea about me walking the streets, searching for a point to this lousy existence. You wouldn’t understand it until you’ve lived it, or not lived it.”
“I get it. I know what you feel, but it might be worse because I’m actually alive,” he said. “I’ve been alone for a few months, locked inside this house. But even before, I wasn’t really a relevant guy and no one ever understood me. I think that’s why I’m not scared of you, right now.”
“I’m glad I can speak with someone. Maybe something’s changed. We can find a way to kill me and send me somewhere else, where I belong.”
Cedrus looked down and began thinking. He had no idea how to help Clara, but he didn’t believe there wasn’t a way. Clara was there, right in front of him, after all. If that could happen, everything could happen. He thought about the stories he knew well from stories and movies but none was quite like his. He thought about zombies, ghosts, demons and whatnot, but he was sure that Clara wasn’t any of those.
Then a passing thought struck him like lightning.
“Annie,” he told Clara. “Annie might be able to help.”
“My classmate,” he stopped. “My ex-classmate. She knows plenty about things of this sort.”
“Ex-classmate?” asked Clara.
Cedrus put the mop leaning on the wall and turned to Clara.
“The reason why I’ve been locked here is because I can’t go back to school. But I could try and go just to find Annie,” he said.
“Do you think she can really help?” Clara was sitting on the couch with her legs curled so they wouldn’t touch the floor. The night had been long and strange for both of them. They hadn’t only talked about what was now obvious (Clara being dead), but Cedrus had also given her a hand in fixing the diagonal wound, closing it with poorly sewn stitches, and cleaned with water and alcohol. The girl’s four fingers were also now attached where they belonged. For the first time in a long time, they felt less lonely.
But Cedrus’ plan involved going places he feared of visiting. The only place where he could find Annie was, of course, at school. The last time he went to school was the day after the incident, the day when things just took a wrong turn and the world closed itself into a small glass box. It had been during the fourth semester, in May, so the anniversary of the incident was close, if not already passed.
Many thoughts went by Cedrus’ mind as he showered in the cold. One year was a lot of time ─ being young proved it. And maybe his classmates had already forgotten about the incident and wouldn’t mind seeing him.
So he went out of the shower and dressed in his school uniform (similar to the girls’ uniform: white shirt with red tie over red checkered pants). Then he put on his chullo hat without letting his hair dry. That was the key object in his appearance and that was the best way to be identified, as he wanted to. He went down the stairs and past Clara.
“That’s a nice hat,” she said when Cedrus opened the door they had fixed in the morning.
“I’ll be back in a while,” he said and Clara nodded.
The dead girl heard the closing thud before being submerged in silence again. Her hopes were in the sky regarding Cedrus and his friend. Life was, indeed, taking a turn and she became impatient. So she walked to the door one minute after Cedrus and held it open as she saw him walking on the street.
There was a thing that Rico Magallanes loved about making out with his girlfriend, Madison Morrigan. He loved her lips and red hair, and loved everything else, but the best make out sessions they had were at school, before recess, when they skipped Calculus just so they could trade their saliva as if making a gross smoothie in their mouths. And even though there was a lot more to making out like breast-groping, body-massaging and heavy-breathing, he couldn’t get enough of those cherry lips.
Madison felt a bit different. First of all, she didn’t like skipping classes during exam period and she only accepted that day because she had passed Calculus with extra assignments. Ric (as everyone called him), on the other hand, had flunked before the term ended, so he had to do a different exam (that included some tutoring) because the teacher wanted him to graduate like every other student. Madison knew Ric wasn’t dumb and was capable of passing his exam with a good grade; Ric was just a lazy, selfish guy that spent too much time with himself.
Madison stopped kissing Ric and sat straight over the thick concrete plant box they used as a bench. Sunlight fell through the pores the trees made between their leafs and sparkled the ground with fragments of day. She kept quiet until Ric grabbed her shoulder in a circular motion, as if to let her know he was still there.
“What’s wrong?” he asked and tried plunging his eyes in Madison’s.
“Huh?” Madison looked at Ric. “Sorry, it’s nothing. I just felt weird, all of a sudden.”
Weird was the correct word. When Ric looked away to think, he saw a familiar face going through the school’s front entrance. He jumped off of the concrete planter and pat his pants over his buttocks, shaking off the dirt.
“Well, now. What a pleasant surprise,” he shouted as if acting in a play. Cedrus stopped walking and Madison put her eyes on him. “What the hell are you doing here, idiot.”
“Mind your own business, asshole,” said Cedrus as he tried walking past the slim quarterback, but he was stopped by the air-filled chest that the athlete inflated when he was annoyed. Madison stared with her mouth slightly open.
“Who said you could come back, huh? Don’t you remember anything?”
Ric pushed Cedrus a few centimeters and let out an angry sigh as he turned back to Madison.
“What’s he doing here?” asked the redhead and jumped off to the ground, getting close to Ric and holding his hand.
Cedrus thought they really saw him as a menace, so he kept walking. Ric turned around once more and glared at the boy in the chullo with rage.
“Stop,” he let out. “I’ve already warned you, and don’t go on thinking that it’s just my words. I speak for everyone when I say no one wants you here. Not me, not Annie, not Mari. Just leave.”
Cedrus waited a few seconds as he thought. Ric had always bullied him (even before the incident) so he wasn’t surprised. Madison, however, seemed rather worried upon his appearance and that made him worry too. Madison Morrigan was the hottest cheerleader in school. Guys would say that if someone hadn’t ever liked her, he was probably a homosexual. As false at that statement could be, Cedrus couldn’t really be sure because he had liked Madison for a brief one week in the third semester. Madison was known for her cherry red hair, plump lips, blue eyes and big breasts. Her model-like appearance was famous and had helped out with the role she played. Ric and Madison were the stereotypical teenage couple that went on making the school a class conflict, being the popular circle always on top. Madison was the queen and Ric was the king.
“Why are you here?” asked Madison in a nervous voice.
“Whatever reason I have, it’s not your business,” replied the boy. He started walking again and Ric’s blood started boiling.
“Fuck off, idiot,” yelled the quarterback. He pushed Cedrus too hard this time and made him fall on the ground. Madison let go of her boyfriend as she shouted in fear.
“Don’t do that!” She ran to Cedrus and gave him a hand in standing up. “Are you okay?”
Ric grunted and sat on the concrete again. “Do what you want. But if no one welcomes you, that’s not my problem. I didn’t kill Sonia, y’ know?”
Cedrus walked away without even looking at the couple. Madison followed him with her eyes and then came back to Ric.
“I know he shouldn’t be here, but you shouldn’t treat him like that. I mean, you can’t kill a girl who commit suicide,” she said. Ric was silent so she kept on talking, leaning her head on his chest. “I was scared too. I’m still scared.”
Madison didn’t fear Cedrus, but the feeling that came along with his arrival. For a few minutes now, she felt someone was standing on the other side of the outdoor hallway, staring at her.
Cedrus walked around the school’s civic plaza. It wasn’t a regular high school; it was a private school and was built in a way of a college, where the classrooms were put in separate buildings, and most of the school grounds were outdoors. Rainy days were the worst, but I didn’t usually rain near summer. The nearest building was the one of his old classroom, back in the fourth semester, so the new classroom had to be on the second closest building. There were only three classes for each grade, so if he had been in class 42 (fourth semester, second class) and in classroom 5, his sixth semester classroom would’ve been number 8. He went up the stairs. The classrooms were usually on the second level, while the first one was meant for bathrooms and labs. The door was open so he looked inside quietly. It appeared empty at first sight, so he stepped in and looked around. It was a new classroom for him, but it made him feel where he belonged. He sat on one of the desks and began remembering everything about the incident.
“You do know you’re not the only one in here, right?”
Cedrus raised his head and searched for whoever had spoken. He stood up to look from above and then saw someone sitting under the teacher’s desk.
“Ryu?” asked Cedrus in doubt.
The body under the desk moved and a tan-skinned boy with silky, black hair got up and sat on the teacher’s chair. He had a pencil in his hand and he put it behind his ear, then he put a sketchbook on the desk. It was Ryu, the self-proclaimed outcast and anime lover. Before everyone hated on Cedrus, Ryu was the only guy that couldn’t get along with the others, but that’s how he liked it. Ryu wasn’t even his name and he had given it to himself to avoid engaging with normal persons. Mari once called him a misanthrope and he let out a loud laugh that confused everyone.
“I suppose you still don’t forget who I am,” said Ryu. “It’s kind of sad. I had already forgotten about you.”
“Where’s everyone?” asked Cedrus.
“I don’t know. Living life, probably. We just had our final Calculus exam. Not that it matters to you. It was also the last one of our exams. We had Philosophy earlier. I think I did good,” he smiled at Cedrus. “I know my way around Descartes. And you?”
That was the longest Cedrus had ever spoken with Ryu and felt rather awkward. He turned away and walked to the door as Ryu started laughing. He needed to find someone less strange, and his luck only became worse as Alexa bumped into him.
“Watch it!” she shouted in anger and her eyes widened when she saw him. “Oh, my God.” Alexa crossed her arms and sneered at the boy. She was slightly taller than before and her hair was much longer and tied up in a ponytail with a black ribbon. Her cat-like eyes were still hard to look at, and they felt like sharp knives scratching Cedrus’ face. After a minute, she had her phone in hand and started typing on the screen. It was an easy assumption that she texted Lili and Thomas, but Cedrus asked anyway.
“What are you doing?”
“Oh, you’ll see.” She stopped typing and blocked the screen, then held her phone with a firm hand as she returned to her crossed-arm position. In about fifty-four seconds, the building started shaking due to two persons’ fast steps. Lili came first, panting and looking around for Cedrus. Then came Thomas, who stared at Cedrus as if seeing a ghost.
“So it’s true”, exclaimed Lili. “You’re back.”
“Back to kill,” added Thomas.
“No,” said Alexa with a grin. “He’s leaving, right?”
“I’m not,” said Cedrus.
“That’s not something you decide, idiot. I’m telling the principal.”
Alexa turned around and made a gesture with her hand so that her two accomplices in a mean girl school lifestyle would follow her. They went down the stairs quickly and Cedrus followed them. He hid behind a tree and observed the annoying trio walk up the big stairs that lead to the principal’s office. He turned around to walk the other way and bumped into Annie, who jumped in shock and dropped a bunch of posters for the prom. She got on her knees to pick them up and managed to get a bunch, but then dropped another bunch. She gave up and just let them on the floor as she got back up and smiled a sunny smile at Cedrus.
“You’re back!” she shouted with joy and hugged the boy. When she stepped back, Cedrus put his index finger over his lips as if shushing Annie.
“I don’t think that’s the right expression,” he said. “I can’t come back. I’m just visiting…”
“Visiting Mari?” she asked with a giggle.
“Yes and no,” said Cedrus. “Actually, I was looking for you.”
“Yeah, uh… I kinda need your help with something.”
Annie gave herself a second to think and picked up the posters. She brushed her blonde hair with her hand and pulled a strand behind her ear so it wouldn’t tickle her face. Her green eyes dazzled when Cedrus kept looking at her and she opened her mouth to speak, insecure for two seconds.
“Sure, I’ll be glad to help you,” she said and tried smiling. She thought she didn’t appear convincing, but she was the best actress in the drama club, so Cedrus swallowed that half of a smile. And it wasn’t that she didn’t want to help him, but she worried that he would need help with one of those things he used to do (the drugs and other things) and she would get involved in a shameful act days before the graduation. It couldn’t be anything like the Sonia Gardner case, but she was still unsure about everything she knew. It was impossible that he’d killed Sonia when he wasn’t even near the murder scene that night. There was also the fact that everything indicated Sonia had died while playing the choking game. “What do you need?”
Cedrus looked around, moving his eyes side to side. He got closer to Annie and started speaking in a low voice.
“It’s a fragile thing, so I need you to keep it a secret,” he said. Annie nodded with a frightened look in her eyes.
“Okay…” she stuttered. “Although, I have to take these posters back to the principal. They have this really bad grammar mistake and I just can’t keep my eyes away.”
“Yeah, thank you,” said Cedrus. Annie smiled and started walking away when the boy followed her. “Hey, Annie. By the way, do you think you can talk to the principal about me being here? Alexa already went there and you know how she is.”
Annie stopped and looked back.
“Sure, don’t worry. Wait for me here. I’ll be back in a bit.”
Cedrus smiled and Annie left. It was one favor too many, maybe, but she was the only person Cedrus could count on. She was the class president and had a strong reputation that made her a well-known and admired girl. If she couldn’t get the principal on good terms with him, no one could.
He sat on the stairs and waited. It was still ten minutes before recess and the school was silent and calm because most of the students would skip the final days when they didn’t have exams or pending final projects. Most of the clubs were having activities throughout the whole week and weekend, closing the semester with a school play in just a few days. It was the same every year, so he knew how it worked. The prom happened the week after the semester had officially ended, and odd as it can be, he really wanted to go. He wanted to take Mari because he knew she wouldn’t go on her own and she deserved to have a great night for once.
“He-ey! Cedrus!” called Marvic. Cedrus saw him going up the stairs at a fast pace, skipping one or two steps with rapid jumps. He jumped one last time and fell next to Cedrus, sitting in a way that looked like he was resting on the stairs. “Long time no see. What’s up?”
Marvic smiled and showed his white teeth. His ears were much bigger than the last time he saw him. Cedrus thought of monkeys every time Marvic was around, and it was only natural because he boy had too much energy stuck inside his muscular, hairy body. His laugh was scandalous, too.
“Are you here to stay?” asked Marvic.
“That wouldn’t make sense, would it?” Cedrus tried laughing but had difficulty. Marvic started patting his back.
“I know, I know. But we missed you, man. I knew you’d visit us before the prom.”
Cedrus stopped Marvic’s patting and looked at him seriously.
“Wait, who are we?” he asked.
“Well Marvic and Cedrus,” Marvic laughed. “I’m kidding. Mari and me. She always assured me that you would come back and even helped me understand everything about the incident. I know you’re not to blame.”
Things were better all of a sudden. Cedrus thought there was an Annie for every Alexa, and that not everyone hated him for whatever had happened. Things couldn’t be so bad at that point and he even felt he couldn’t stay locked at home anymore. He was going to live a better life.
Then he remembered Mari.
“Have you seen Mari today?” asked Cedrus and Marvic shook his head.
“Nope. I think she’s sick. She left early, yesterday.”
Cedrus wondered why Annie hadn’t told him. He remembered he didn’t let her, as he had jumped straight to the point of needing her help.
Annie walked out of the principal’s office and into the beginning of the stairs. She was happy to find Marvic and Cedrus chatting as if nothing had ever happened. She sat next to them and stared at Cedrus with a frozen smile.
“Guess what,” she said. “Instead of taking the long road and trying to explain everything, I just told the principal that you will be helping me out with the play, so I need you here for a few days. And he agreed!”
Cedrus sighed in relief and Marvic put a confused look.
“Wait, you’re gonna be here with us the last days?” he said as if answering his own question. “That’s awesome! You have to see everyone!”
“No,” the boy with the chullo interrupted. “It’s best if I’m not causing trouble with the others. I’ll be around, but I’d rather not get involved with them.”
“I have to place new posters all around the school, so you tell me what you need tomorrow, okay?” Annie put her hand over Cedrus’ and smiled. She stood up and went off to do the wonderful tasks of being a class president.
Marvic stood up too.
“I should go get my things for TKD practice, but I’m happy you’re here!”
Cedrus was now alone and stared at the school buildings. He had done what he had to do and it was time to go back home and tell Clara. They’d have to wait a day before Annie could know what was going on, but it was fine.
As he walked back to the entrance, Madison saw him from the second floor, outside the classroom. She ran to the stairs and called his name from above. Cedrus looked up to see the very feminine figure that everyone desired. Her breasts popped out of her chest and struggled under the tight blouse, while her hips curved to the side as she took a step down. Madison was beautiful, but wearing all that makeup made her look like a fake.
“Are you leaving already?” she asked.
Madison hurried down.
“I want to talk to you about something,” she said.
“Why should I listen to you? You’re Ric’s bitch.”
Madison struggled not to attack him. She took a deep breath and smiled with glaring eyes.
“He won’t know. It’s about Sonia.”
That was all Cedrus needed to be interested in whatever Madison had to say. He agreed and they met after the cheerleading activities were over. Which was long after midday. Cedrus had waited at the entrance for around four hours when he finally saw Madison in the distance. She smiled at him when she noticed he was still there, coming closer. And as she was about to say something, her smile faded and darkness filled the light of her eyes. Cedrus followed Madison’s eyes to see what she was seeing now. There was a small garden behind one of the entrance hall’s walls. On the center, next to a tall orange tree, Ric kissed another member of the cheerleading team.
Cedrus saw Madison break. He felt sorry. Madison bit her lower lip and walked faster, looking down. She took Cedrus by the hand and dragged him outside.
A BIT ON LOVE AND SKEWERS
Madison and Cedrus didn’t speak until they stopped at the nearest subway station. Madison tried hard to hide her tears but couldn’t manage to keep them from giving her cherry skin a light glow.
“Are you done?” Cedrus looked at Madison with a concerned look. He could hear the harshness in his words and felt sorry. Only now he understood his real problem wasn’t with the famous couple, but with Ric. He had a terrible image of Madison in his head but it didn’t mean it was true. Rumors spread fast and so he had always thought she was a shameful slut or something worse, and that she was the kind to break hearts for fun and was playing Ric all along. But she wasn’t.
“I’ll be done when I’m done,” she replied. One end of the dark tunnel lit up as the subway arrived. “Come on.”
Cedrus followed without asking anything until they were sitting down in the empty car. The boy could only think they were headed to the penumbra, the ugliest part of the city; the dangerous side.
“Where are we going?” asked Cedrus and Madison took out her phone. She read everything on the screen, probably looking for messages from Ric. She turned to Cedrus short after and faked a smile, her eyes swollen.
“I’m sorry. I should explain,” she started. “I posed for a webzine a few weeks ago and suddenly this weird guy appeared on all my social media, stalking me. He’s some kind of photographer and wants me to pose for him, but I don’t want to! And yet, he doesn’t stop harassing me. Just last night I saw him outside of my window with his camera. I told my mom I couldn’t stay there so I’m staying at this cheap motel. That’s where we’re going.”
“But you have to go back home, someday, right?”
Madison nodded, still shedding tears.
“Uh-huh. My mom called the police earlier today, so they’re gonna watch through the night and catch him. Still, I need a place to feel safe.”
Cedrus let out a laugh.
“And out of all places, you chose a motel in the shitiest part of the city? Why didn’t you stay with Ric? You didn’t know he was a cheater until now.”
“I knew, alright. I just didn’t want to accept it. I’d already seen him with Tania, once. But you know, I told myself they saw each other for any other reason. It’s not like every football player is horny for any cheerleader. Or maybe it is, but I don’t care anymore. I’ll cry over it tonight, then I’ll see what I do.”
“You’re not planning on breaking up, are you?” Cedrus turned his body slightly towards Madison to show his empathy.
“I don’t know, Cedrus. We’ve been together for so long…” Madison looked down at her feet. Ric and her had been boyfriend and girlfriend since the second half of the third semester. He was the first to show signs of a crush and she started liking him after noticing it. She liked that Ric was different. He wasn’t an asshole, he just pretended to be one. He was a sensitive guy and had not had any serious relationship with the girls he dated. Madison was his first, and Ric was her first. They loved each other. They did everything for each other. “Maybe it’s for the best,” she said with a troubled smile. “I always thought I’m not worth the risk of spending time with. I was born to be a cover.”
“You’re not a cover,” said Cedrus. “Anyway, why didn’t you call Annie? I bet she would’ve let you stay with her. You used to be great friends.”
“You said it: we used to. We haven’t talked much since Sonia died. Everyone built their walls as a way of protection, although I don’t know what they’re so scared of. Sonia commit suicide, we know that. Yes, maybe you were the one who introduced her to the choking game, but I know you would know better than to let her die. I haven’t told this to anyone, but I saw you two once. I saw you helping her and telling her she shouldn’t play the game alone because it was far too dangerous. You cared for her even after what she did because you knew she had done the right thing. She was your friend and she was dumb enough to play on her own and in such a dangerous way… I mean, if I didn’t know the rest of the story, I would say it was a plain suicide and nothing else.”
The subway stopped. There were more than eight stations left before arriving at the right one. Cedrus leaned his back on his seat and waited for Madison to keep on talking. That was the first time he heard the cheerleader say something of that kind.
“Will you go to school tomorrow?” asked the redhead.
“I guess so.”
“You won’t leave until you see Mari.”
Cedrus turned his eyes against Madison.
“She’s very lucky to have you. It’s not easy to find someone to admire as much as she admires you. And I mean that because she can be sure it’s right to admire you because you’ll never let her down. You’re a nice guy, Cedrus. I’m sorry we weren’t there to say it. But you’re here now and things will start changing for the better. Trust me.” She smiled like an angel would as she put her hand over Cedrus’. The boy was embarrassed and could barely mumble a thank you.
The subway finally reached the station Cedrus thought they’d get off on, but Madison told him she preferred getting down two stations later because it was a safer walk to the motel, even if longer.
They got down in a poorly illuminated station that reeked of urine and exchanged looks in disgust. They walked up the stairs and found themselves on the street under a dim, white light. The sky was completely dark.
“Welcome to paradise,” said Madison.
“So we’re supposed to walk how much?” asked Cedrus as they got in the middle of the street.
“I don’t know. I saw this place on maps and it didn’t seem far. There’s a thing, though. We’re going to follow the old train’s tracks and cross over the lake so we avoid people on the streets.” She looked at Cedrus with a silly face. “It’s dangerous for two teens to go around, alone. I’m wearing a rather short skirt, too.”
“I didn’t know lakes were rape proof.”
And so they walked a few blocks until they found the old train track and followed the path, playful, not even slightly worried. Ten minutes in, they found the tracks turned around and separated from the two-floor buildings and towards the lake’s coast until becoming a bridge that elevated at least ten meters over a black-tainted lake that couldn’t reflect the moon over its contaminated water.
“How many years do you think it took the lake to become this black goop?” asked Madison.
“I have no idea. I’ll say maybe enough for anyone to want to come here. My parents never brought me, but hey, they never took me anywhere.”
“I heard,” she paused as she almost tripped. “I heard that there was a train wreck here and a lot of oil spilled. The lake was cleaned, mostly, but they still couldn’t manage to save it. That’s because everyone forgot about it and let the people from here use it as their trash. I mean, someone goes missing and you expect they’d drop the body somewhere, right?”
She laughed. Cedrus looked at the water.
They were almost near the end and had walked for ten minutes already. The bridge seemed to have turned diagonally from the starting point and went to the north of the city, back to the station they hadn’t gone off on. The air was cold and felt heavy on their noses. The atmosphere was silent, but the sound of water hitting the bridge was distracting.
Then came a different sound.
“Do you hear that?” Cedrus stopped and Madison stopped in front of him, looking back.
“Yeah, what is it?”
Cedrus turned around and felt shivers. A loud whistle blew as if calling the sky. Two lights like eyes became bright and the thought of death appeared in his mind.
“Oh, my God,” said Madison as she stared into the fading darkness.
Cedrus grabbed Madison by the hand and started running rapidly through the remaining tracks. It looked as if they were flying over the death-inducing water rather than over the bridge. But they were only human and the huge, mechanical beast approached them with rage as if it were indeed a living creature. The whistle blew one last time and Madison tripped over her own foot. She fell hard on her chest and bruised her knees. Cedrus stopped and turned back. He saw the girl’s desperate face and froze in thought. Time stopped. Madison closed her eyes. The bridge trembled and shook. A loud crack made Cedrus flinch as the middle of the bridge’s structure broke and the carts fell one by one into the water. The poison splashed as high as the bridge and Cedrus covered his eyes with his arms.
Then there was only silence. Madison’s heavy breathing started gaining volume as the two stared at each other with glances of disbelief.
It was too unreal.
“Get up,” said Cedrus as he helped Madison up. She cleaned her skirt from dirt and then her hands. She looked back and then ran behind Cedrus at a slow pace.
They got to the coast and fell over the soft ground, panting.
“The motel is… two blocks away.”
Cedrus nodded at Madison, unable to close his mouth.
They found the motel quickly and Madison thanked her new friend with a hug. Cedrus couldn’t believe anything that had happened, so he felt awkward when he hugged her back.
“Thank you,” said Madison in relief. “There’s just one more thing I should tell you.”
“What’s that?” asked the boy.
“It’s a simple good luck. You can make things work with everyone. You’re capable of it, so I hope you do.”
She gave him one last smile and turned around. They were at the corner of the block, next to a stop sign. Madison said her room was in the fourth floor of the building, so she had to walk behind it and go up, but she turned around again with a childish smirk.
“By the way, just so you get an idea on how awful this place actually is…” She tapped the stop sign with her hand and the octagonal plate fell off. She laughed. “See you tomorrow.”
Cedrus put his hands in his pockets and turned away, getting shocked when Ric was right in front of him.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” he asked violently and loud enough for Madison to look behind as she went up the stairs to the second floor.
“Ric?” she asked and the football player threw a punch at Cedrus, knocking him down. “You jerk!”
The redhead ran to the corner of the block and pushed her boyfriend away.
“What? Are you screwing him now? Is that who you are?” said Ric in a demanding voice. “Why didn’t you call me?”
“Call you?” laughed Madison. “YOU are the one who kissed Tania. I am not a whore and I wouldn’t ever cheat on you! Cedrus is my friend!”
Cedrus had just gotten up from the ground, covering his nose with his hand so his blood wouldn’t spill. Ric gave him a hateful look and started blowing air with his mouth before turning back to Madison.
“I didn’t kiss Tania! She kissed me!”
“Ooohh, huge difference!” yelled Madison as she raised her arms with anger. “We’re over, Ric. I asked you to promise one thing and you didn’t try to keep it.”
She slapped him and cried. She went back to the stairs and got to the fourth floor in a minute.
“Wait,” begged Ric but Madison had already locked herself in her room. “I love you!”
The first window on the fourth floor faced to the street. It opened and Madison looked out.
The window closed shut.
Ric was nervous and couldn’t stop walking back and forth. Cedrus just stared at him with a mad look in his face.
“What do you want?” Ric rolled his eyes to Cedrus and walked to the stairs.
“Leave her alone,” said the boy in the chullo.
“I’ll do what I want, okay? She’s my girlfriend, not yours.”
“She’s not a toy.” Cedrus faced Ric. “She’s fragile and you let her break. If you go up there, you’ll only keep on crushing what’s left.”
Madison turned on the TV and threw herself on the bed, covering her eyes with her forearm as she cried. That was the first time her heart had broken and it would probably be the last time. She wouldn’t allow herself to fall for another guy and be treated like something replaceable. She truly loved Ric and didn’t want to stop loving him, but the pain was stronger than her desire to keep on living. She had gone through tough times and Ric was always there for her, keeping an eye on her and lifting her when she fell down. Yes, she had a dark past on acting like a selfish tramp, winning her way to the top, gaining followers and haters that tried to ruin her, but Ric saved her. Even though he was tied in that play-pretend life, he saved her from destroying herself and saved himself. They were too happy together, but their love had overflowed inside their hearts. And if love was capable of murdering someone, she felt she would die that night.
Ric ignored Cedrus and went up anyway. He knew Madison was strong and would give him a chance if he explained what had really happened. He stopped on the fourth floor’s stairs and listened to his thoughts. He was too afraid of himself and couldn’t find the courage to say he was sorry, but not only about letting Tania kiss him, but sorry of everything. Life was too short to let the world stop him from loving someone and wanting to be with her. He started crying and understood his biggest flaw: he tried to stop the tears the same way he always hid his feelings. But he wouldn’t anymore. Madison was the one to keep forever and he promised himself he would keep her even after one of them died.
Clara was tired of watching Madison zapping on the TV. She sighed and put her head between her hands as she sat on the floor. Madison stopped at a news channel and didn’t bother listening, but she saw the image on the screen. There was a live newscast on the train wreck. She turned the TV off and hugged her pillow. She was sure she’d fall asleep.
But Clara wouldn’t let her.
“Madison,” someone whispered. Madison got up in a second and looked around. She was alone but made sure of it, so she looked inside the bathroom.
“Madison,” she heard again, but this time it was Ric calling from outside. “Madison, please.”
“I’m not in the mood,” she answered and got back on the bed, turning the TV on and turning the volume up real high.
“Are you serious?!” Ric started knocking on the door and pushing it, hitting it furiously. “Open up!”
“I can’t hear you!” She changed the channel to a music video with a funny Japanese girl singing in a childish voice.
“Open the door!”
Madison smiled. She felt that power she had over Ric now. She laid back and stretched her arms with eyes closed. When she opened them, she let out a horrified shriek as Clara looked at her from above.
“Good night, beautiful.”
Clara grinned and grabbed Madison from her hair, lifting her up with inhuman strength. Ric heard the screaming and started hitting faster now, trying to knock the door down. Madison cried for help and called out Ric’s name, but there was no use. Clara just kept on pulling and dragging her across the room, throwing her against the walls until she started crying.
“PLEASE!” she cried and Clara felt entertained. She grabbed Madison from her shoulders and tossed her so hard that the redhead’s face hit the wall, crashing. But she didn’t let her go. She grabbed the top of her head and her neck and started smashing her against the same spot she had just hit, breaking her skull and painting the white in a dark red that reminded her of prune juice. Then she stopped when Madison couldn’t cry anymore.
She carried the body with her arms under Madison’s armpits and dragged it to the other side of the room, to the window. She stepped back and then started running, stopping two steps from the window, throwing Madison as if she were a sack of potatoes.
The door fell down and Ric with it. He raised his head and saw Madison’s bloody body break through the window and fall in front of him.
Cedrus had just started walking away when he heard the loud crack. He turned back and stood horrified and sick. He looked up. Ric looked from the fourth floor’s first window and their eyes met for a second.
Ric ran down and stared at Cedrus before running off to the distance. Cedrus did the same as police sirens could be heard.
Clara giggled as she saw them run away. She was strangely satisfied. The dead girl held her hands together behind her body and tilted her head to the side as a confused dog would.
“Well, you look pretty like this too,” she said in a sweet voice before laughing. “I bet all the boys would eat you like this, anyway.”
On the corner of the block, under the dim light, there was a girl stuck on a metal pole that was once a stop sign. Her body had fallen fourth stories before landing in a downward position, having her throat penetrated and her body impaled, giving her the appearance of some terrifying kind of human skewer.
I wasn’t appetizing at all.