By Nathan Gonzalez
This was it! Now was the time to say something. Do something. Jane could have done anything, and it would have been perfectly acceptable. A mortified head shake, a gasp, even a grimace would have sufficed. Just something to prove she was conscious, but all she could do was stare. Stare straight ahead at local town wonder Connor Bixby punching the lights out of Sam Berkley. At least Jane thought it was Sam, but a part of her couldn’t say for certain. The disfigured contours of his face were twisted and warped, almost indistinguishable from the kid that sat behind her in History class. The rush of blood pouring from his face didn’t help in identifying her classmate, but the familiar faded blue shirt now soiled a deep reddish brown from the overflow of blood proved it was him. What shocked Jane the most was the fact that she didn’t even flinch at each hit from Connor’s fist, which kept pounding harder and harder upon the already broken and frail body which stretched out like a ragdoll upon the gravel. She could only stare forward hypnotized upon the sight before her. It was almost like she was in a trance. A dream in which she couldn’t wake. She wanted to scream. She wanted to yell at the top of her lungs. She wanted to run over and pull Connor away from him. She needed to stop him.
“What are you doing!? Do… do something!”
In a panic, Jane tried to move her legs. Tried to get anything to respond to her will, but no matter how hard she pushed, she just couldn’t get her body to listen. It seemed content with staying hidden around the corner, slumped against the red brick wall of the Burgesham public high school. After what seemed like an eternity, Connor’s raging hits began to slow. His messy black hair drooped over his face as he pulled his bloodied fist up for one more go even though he could no longer stand from the exertion; his body swaying with a drunken stupor. Sam’s lifeless form stirred for a moment, and by a miracle, his head began to turn. Its slow, jerky movements creaking to rest at an unnatural angle. Sam’s face became much more visible to Jane now. She could see long cuts trailing his face and the large freakish bumps of bruises already beginning to form. The snot, sweat, and blood mixed to create a new orange substance oozing into a puddle and soaking into his hair and mauled skin. Jane’s breathing began to slow as she gripped the wall supporting her tighter. She could feel her fingers digging into the now feeble mortar between the bricks as her vision began to swim. That’s when it happened. One of Sam’s eyes, which seemed to be glued shut by his own caked blood, shot open. His piercing electric blue iris glaring right in Jane’s direction. Jane’s eyes widened at Sam’s recognition of her. He knew she was there. It was like he was looking straight into her soul. The shock, sadness, and rage prevalent in the single eye bore itself into Jane, and that’s when her senses returned. In that single moment of reanimation, Jane bolted.
Jane gripped her chest in a panic as she began to hyperventilate, almost as if she was trying to keep her heart from bursting out of her. She didn’t know where she was going or how her legs were still running even though they felt like they couldn’t take another step. All of a sudden, a mysterious force that seemed to appear from nowhere pushed against her causing her to smash into the ground. From the harsh impact, a handful of grass blades were shoved up her nostrils and even into her mouth. Scrambling to pull herself up, Jane whirled around and shrieked at the monstrous beast casting a shadow over her toppled body. Its demented red eyes feasting upon her flesh, the bared white fangs ready to sink themselves into her, and the long razor sharp claws ready to pounce. Jane was doomed.
“Uh… what in the hell is wrong with you?” the Werewolf asked. His voice dripping with utter confusion. Jane gasped as the “werewolf” lifted his mask off to reveal a regular human teenage boy’s bewildered face.
“I… I… I saw…” Jane stuttered trying with desperation to get out a discernible sentence.
“Oh… yup, you’re high. Guess that answers that question.” the boy snickered as he
adjusted the furry hood attached to his werewolf costume. “Bit of advice, you might want to keep that stuff on the down-low. I saw Mr. Grishem patrolling near the face painting booth. He’s always been good at sniffing that stuff out.”
“I… No… I…”
“There’s dirt in your mouth.”
Before Jane could say anything else the werewolf kid had already darted ahead toward a large mass of people across the lawn of grass. Jane’s eyes tried following him but found it impossible as he blended into the crowd and disappeared without a trace. Jane blinked, attempting to recuperate herself until she realized a rather odd and disgusting taste in her mouth. Staring straight ahead at the group of people deep in thought, Jane tilted her head and spit into her hand. Jane glanced down and glowered in disgust at the moist crumbs of dirt populating the palm of her hand. She hurried to wipe it away on the grass and stood up, just to lose her balance and collapse into the grass once more. Off in the distance, Jane could hear the howling of laughter from the gang of teens who were pointing in her direction. She could feel a rush of heat flood her cheeks as she jumped to stand up once more with a bit more dignity in her step. Taking a few wobbled footsteps forward, Jane tried hiding her face with her hair as she kept her head down and walked in the opposite direction from the chortles and guffaws ringing in her ears.
“Damn! I want what she’s had!”
Soon enough, Jane could hear the raucous laughter fade away behind her as she made her escape. Up ahead new voices and sounds floated from around the corner. Gazing forward, Jane was met by the overwhelming amount of people running and mingling along the school’s courtyard. As she stepped off from the grassy curb to the hard concrete, Jane could feel a sense of unease wash over her. While everything seemed so cheery and bright, Jane couldn’t help but slink away at the wide beaming smiles that seemed to somehow physically stretch from ear to ear. The knot in her stomach began to grow as she pushed her way through the colorful crowd of costumes and masks. No matter where she looked, Jane was pressed to find someone genuine. Someone real.
Without warning, a ghost rushed past her, causing the stream of its white sheet to slap Jane in the face while a mummy wrapped in dingy toilet paper shoved her in the ribs. As she pressed forward, Jane shivered as the dark shadowy silhouette of a zombie enveloped over her. She could feel the hot breath of the monster breathing down her neck behind her as he nipped at her heels. The flare of bright orange and yellow lights blinded her. The overwhelming smell of fried oil burned her nose. Carousel music screeched in her ears. Warm bodies seemed to press in from all directions. The chatter of conversation around her seemed to grow louder and louder. Blurs of Sam’s bloodied form flashed before her eyes, Connor’s raised fist, and that eye. She could still see it; all the anger, pain, and fear.
A familiar voice calling above all the noise caught Jane’s attention. Whirling around, she jumped in surprise at the appearance of a witch whose sole presence seemed to envelop the area in a warm glow. Her getup consisting of a wide-brimmed pointed hat along with a long flowing black cloak which billowed behind her in the wind.
“There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you! I thought you said you were going to the bathroom?”
“Hayley…” Jane whispered as she grabbed onto her friend’s arm. “I… I saw Sam.”
“Sam? Who’s Sam?” Hayley asked as she tucked her broomstick under her arm. Jane was shocked to hear this sentiment as she stared with a blank expression in response at Hayley’s confused face. Haley held her friend’s hands in her own as she glanced over Jane’s face, her eyebrows arched with a look of curiosity. For a moment, Jane could see a flicker of concern wash over her face, right before it twisted away into a quirky smile.
“Wait… are you… are you high!?” Haley squealed as she covered her mouth in glee.
“No… No! I’m not…”
“It’s ok! It’s ok! Don’t freak out. Listen, everyone who’s anyone has tried it at least one point in their life. So it’s not a big deal, really. Just relax. Let’s walk for a bit.”
Haley smiled and moved to reassure her as she wrapped her arm around Jane’s and
together ventured deeper into the Festival’s valley of carnival games and food booths.
“Hey, if you want, we could go to the assembly stage. They’re about to announce the winners of the best costume contest, and while we don’t have to go, you did say that you would come to watch them announce the results with me!”
Jane didn’t remember saying that, but she couldn’t help but chuckle at Haley’s enthusiastic nature. That was always her thing. Ever since Jane could remember, Haley was never one to accept the word “no.” At six years old, Haley, determined to get the deluxe Barbie “dream house” doll set even at the behest of her parents, stood outside in the blazing summer heat on the street corner selling lemonade and cookies that she made from scratch for two years straight until she was able to afford it. At twelve years old, Haley decided she wanted to join the debate team and almost drove herself hoarse from all the speeches and arguments she presented. Now at seventeen, Haley was an anomaly. A beautiful amazing talented person who was leader of the cheer squad. It’s a wonder why she had ever chosen to be Jane’s friend. Someone who had trouble even getting her shoes tied in the morning. To put it in simple terms, Haley was the type of girl that could pull off taking vodka shots the night before and, by the next morning, getting an A+ on a final exam. She was respected. She was always listened to. Jane could still remember the day they first met. She was four and slumped over in the playground’s sandbox when Haley strutted over with her loud pink tutu and demanded they build a sandcastle together. At the end of it, Haley outright asked to be Jane’s friend, and for the first time in a long time, someone had listened. Jane was proud to say that the first word that someone cared to hear from her voice was “Yes.”
“Jane! Look at those decorations! The stage looks absolutely stunning!”
The sound of Haley’s voice pulled Jane from her thoughts and directed her to look at the large makeshift wooden stage constructed right in the heart of the Halloween festivities. Orange and black streamers crisscrossed along the back of the stage, creating what looked like a massive colorful spider web presenting the main attraction of the huge sound speakers and boom boxes stacked atop one another. All of this was lit by hundreds of jack-o’-lanterns dotting the stage, accenting the grand piece of the set which consisted of an enormous inflatable Frankenstein whose head and outstretched arms reached for the audience and covered the stage in a spooky shadow. Excited whispers trickled among the ever-growing crowd around the stage. The elation in the air was contagious, and for once, Jane was starting to feel a sense of peace wash over her. As Jane looked over to see Haley’s bright smile, everything seemed right with the world. Then all at once, Jane’s happiness was snapped away as her veins turned ice cold at the whisper of a familiar voice in her ear.
Jane swallowed a muffled shriek at the feeling of a clammy hand running down the small of her back. Just as fast as the disturbing presence came, it was gone, but Jane knew exactly who it was.
The crowd cheered in unison for Connor Bixby, who mounted the stage with a microphone clutched in his sweaty hands that seemed to be rubbed raw. A flowing black cape billowed in the wind as he sauntered down the stage and closer to the crowd. He was dressed as a classic vampire with a tailored black and red three-piece suit, all complete with gelled back jet black hair and a fanged grin. A look changed from the rough and savage kid Jane had seen earlier.
“How’s everyone doing tonight!”
The crowd yelled and screamed.
“C’mon! You can do better than that! I said HOW’S EVERYBODY DOING
Jane almost collapsed from the ensued violence to her ears.
“Alright! Thank you! Thank you! Before we announce today’s winner for best costume, I have something very important to say.” The crowd died down in an instant, almost on command. Jane could feel her breath begin to labor as the images of Sam Berkley flooded back to her. A chill ran down her spine. How could she have let it escape her mind? Connor smirked a wide gleeful grin as he relished the feeling of the microphone in his hands.
“I wanted to say thank you to all of you who made this amazing Halloween bash
possible. Thank you to the school’s faculty and staff for working overtime to have the school be our venue for the Festival, for the mayor’s continual support, to all the volunteers that went above and beyond their line of work, and to all of you, the Burgesham community! Our town may be small, but we have the heart and guts to be vulnerable and come together as one to appreciate and listen to one another. I couldn’t…” Connor’s voice began to crack a bit as he held the mic up closer to his lips. “I couldn’t be more proud of the town that we’ve all built together with our grit and humble merit. I know that I, for one, appreciate and love every single one of you!”
“THAT’S NOT TRUE!” Jane shrieked. She paused and was distraught to find that no one had heard her over the deafening applause and cheers that had erupted at the end of Connor’s speech. “NO! NO! STOP!”
Jane could feel hot tears stream down her face as she tried to get someone’s attention. Anyone’s attention. She turned to Haley to find that her sole attention was on Connor as she cheered and screamed along with the crowd. Her glazed eyes transfixed on the gaudy stage as if in a trance. Jane tried reaching for her friend, but was shoved aside by the crowd that was starting to push their way toward the stage and toward Connor, forcing her along with them. A strength began to build inside her that she never knew, and Jane pressed back. She screamed at the top of her lungs as she pushed and pushed. She had never felt more desperate in her life as she was barreled at all sides by an endless sea of bodies pushing in on her from all directions. Jane could feel it getting harder to breathe. It was by a miracle that Jane’s thrashing arms felt an open pocket of air. With the last of her strength, she pushed through and collapsed on the other side of the crowd. Whirling around, Jane could feel a cold glower of a stare leering at her from across the ocean of people. It was Connor. His arms raised in the air and for a moment Jane could have sworn he was somehow staring straight at her from afar.
“Remember to vote Connor Bixby for class president re-election next semester!”
That was the last thing Jane heard as she took off running, but this time she had an aim. She knew where she needed to go. She wasn’t crazy. Even though Haley didn’t remember him or anyone else for that matter, Jane knew there was a Sam Berkley. He sat behind her in History class. He always wore that same blue striped shirt. She didn’t doubt herself anymore. She wasn’t high. She wasn’t on drugs. She wasn’t the weird one. Everyone else was. Connor wasn’t the good kid that everybody thought. He played his part well as the unopposed class president, animal shelter volunteer, and leader of every school fundraiser. He even held a mental health awareness after-school club with the mandatory hand-holding, feelings-sharing kumbaya crap that one could only expect from the literal reincarnation of Jesus Christ himself. But Jane knew better. Why didn’t she say anything? No, why COULDN’T she have said anything? No one would have believed her, and she knew that deep down. No one would have listened to her. It hurt. It hurt more than any physical pain. The torture was agonizing, searing. She would rather have had every person at school laugh at her, belittle her, even hate her if that meant giving her the space to let herself be heard. But that didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered anymore except to go back and fix her mistake. She would not hurt Sam the way she’s been hurting since the beginning.
The empty stalls didn’t seem so grandiose anymore as she whizzed by them and back around the corner. She hopped up onto the school lawn and felt the crunch of grass underneath her feet. Taking one last corner, Jane stopped abrupt in her tracks. She was back right up against the wall where she last saw Sam mangled and broken. Jane took a deep breath with her back against the wall. With one last effort, she pushed herself off the wall and around to see… nothing. Nothing at all. Jane shrunk to the floor and laid upon the gravel right where Sam’s body used to be. She failed. She failed him. It was her fault. It was all her fault. She chose to ignore him. She chose to run away. Jane screamed bloody murder and slammed her fists in rapid succession against the gravel. She could still smell the lingering metallic odor of blood infesting her nostrils as hot tears streamed down her face.
Unbeknownst to Jane, a black cat was watching from afar. The cat cocked her head at the odd sight before her. Her probing green eyes resting upon the second death she’d seen tonight. A different kind of death this time, but one just as painful. The cat let out a soft meow before turning away and bounding off into the dark, eerie night of All Hallows’ Eve.
Bio: Nathan (David) Gonzalez is an undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD), where he is a part of the literature degree tract. He has also attained an Associate of Arts degree at Collin College, where he has written for its self-published Collin Forces Journal. He was featured in the 2022 edition with his short story, The Vicious Cycle. Nathan hopes to continue his studies and receive a Master’s degree in Library Science so that he may go on to work within libraries to further pursue the categorization and distribution of languages.