He lifts the weathered ladder-back chair, holding it aloft shakily as he makes his slow way across the road to the bridge. I follow behind him cautiously, ready to catch him if he falls. Once we make it we sit on the edge of the bridge, our bare legs swinging over the dark water. I know this will be one of the last times I spend with Archie. I can just see it in the way he walks, talks, and even breathes. It pains me to sit across from him at the dinner table, to watch his pale hands shakily bring his fork to his mouth. Tears spring to my eyes everytime I see how much concentration it takes for him to do such a simple task. But I cannot cry. Boys don't cry.
Except there was one time that I did cry. It was the day that Archie was condemned to the life he has now. I remember it as the last completely normal day I’ve had. We were vacationing at Lake Hartwell, a family tradition adored by children and adults alike. Archie and I had decided to go swimming in the bass hole, which was forbidden by our overly-strict mothers. It was the last day of the summer though, so we had to. We planned to make up a lie to tell so we could sneak away to the beautiful forest. Archie was scared to lie, but I wasn’t. I lied all the time and so did my mother. She told her boyfriend that she loved him. Guess where he is now.
The trees in the forest were our hiding place, they held what was left of our childhood when it started to whittle away. We would make up stories about what we couldn’t see, like fairies and trolls. What we didn’t know was that these woods were going to become a nightmare. Ripping its ferocious claws at the small fairies. Even strangling the trolls with the tree's large roots. We were going to watch our childhood leave without a goodbye, but with a scream and the eerie silence of something dire. We thought there wouldn’t be consequences. We thought it would be fun to swim with the bass. We thought it would be a great way to end the summer.
Before the life-ruining, dream shattering disaster happened, we arrived at the lakehouse with a skidding stop.
My mother left the car without turning the engine off, engulfing Aunt Faye in a tight hug. Archie was standing beside them with his hands folded in front of him, obviously waiting for me. I fumbled with the keys, accidentally setting off the alarm, my mom ran over with a screech and a thunderous laugh, called me a silly boy, turned off the engine, and patted my head. When Archie and I finally made eye contact, I smiled and ran over to him, shaking his hand. His little brother, Randall patiently waited for my two sisters to climb out of the car, they’re twins.
Archie was a year older than me, but the age difference was never very apparent to us. Although, he was always a bit more strange than me. He never let me hug him, so we always greeted each other with a firm handshake.
He looked over to our mothers who already had glasses of wine in their hands and motioned for me to follow him. We walked up to the room we’ve shared since our irrational fears of sleeping far from our mothers went away.
After he closed the door, Archie finally let his shoulders slump and jumped on my bed.
“So, what we gonna do tomorrow?” he asked with a goofy smile.
“I dunno, we could go fishing maybe.”
“Nope, don’t want to. Want to climb the highest tree we can find?”
“I guess,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. Archie never would let me choose what to do, even if he asked me. He would always try to find the craziest things to do, though. His mother was very strict. She made him play the cello, I guess that’s why he had become so rebellious.
The first night was normal, we ate mushroom pizza on the dock by the lake. Archie and I talked about school and our girlfriends. He had two. I said I had one but I was lying. I was good at lying. Still am.
“You know, if I was at home, I would see the same stars,” Archie said while finishing a piece of pizza crust.
“That’s not true.”
“Is too. I don’t lie like you, Ash.” This comment brought tears to my eyes and I tried to be quiet, but a pitiful squeak came out of my mouth. “Stop it, boys don’t cry,” Archie said.
The weeks went by quickly. Grandpa Hitch showed up a week late because he lost his job and needed some time to get over it. All week, he smelled like alcohol, like my dad. I am jealous of people that have nice grandpa’s, mine grumbles all the time and never wants to go fishing. I think he lies when he tells me he loves me. We’re all good at lying, I guess.
We did the usual family stuff that summer. We went tubing behind our boat, we caught crabs and let them pinch us until our fingers bled, we ate good dinners, we listened to Archie play his cello, we watched the parents get too drunk, and they were happy.
They were happy.
I was having thoughts.
I had always had the thoughts but they were especially bad this summer. They made me look crazy, or go crazy. Like the one where I had to touch the doorknob three times before we went tubing. Or the one that made me have to touch grandpa’s shoulder every time he grumbled. Archie told me to just stop when I complained to him about it but that made me do it even more. My mother forgot about my thoughts a lot. I tried to forget, except for the day that they made me angry at Archie.
“Look, a log!” I say, pointing to a decaying log that hangs over the bass hole. Archie’s eyes light up and I know he’s thinking exactly what I want him to think.
“Let’s go climb it and jump into the water, I’ll do a dive!” he says. A giddy feeling erupts in my stomach and the thought that I had the night before is ready to pounce. I climb up the log behind Archie, impatience tingling my neck. When we reach the top of the log, Archie looks back and smiles, I don’t smile back.
Then, he starts counting down from five. So do I, but when he gets to one, he springs up and I get just close enough to push him, causing his body to contort out of a diving stance. He is still going headfirst but his arms are flapping, he’s yelling my name but the thought in my mind is gone. I don’t hear it anymore!
I don’t hear Kill Archie, anymore!
Then the satisfaction is gone. The demon leaves me and I realize what I’ve done. I killed Archie. I shouldn’t have listened to the thoughts, they ruin me! The forest is being whipped around by violent winds and only a ripple in the water is seen in Archie’s place.
Without thinking, I jump off the log. I imagine the splash echoing through the hollow woods as I take the same path as Archie into the water. The water stings my eyes as I search for him, feeling around for anything that resembles Archie, my Archie. I feel his soft skin brush up against my finger and drag his limp body out of the water. Archie’s lips are blue and there’s a bump forming on his small head. I’m crying, nearly screaming.
That night, I lay on the dock looking at the stars. I wondered if Archie could see the same ones from the hospital. He probably saw fake ones from the bump on his head. The bump I put there.
Everything from this point on has escaped from my mind. All I know is that Archie was not dead, it turned out to be much worse than that.
He’s alive, but he forgot. He doesn’t know I pushed him, no one does. It’s perceived by everyone else as an accident. He’s alive, but so are the thoughts in my head. So as we’re sitting on this bridge in silence, I know he won’t know what to do when I push him. But I know what I’ll do.