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Friendship Horror Thriller

         Clint was twelve years old when he was first punched in the face. The burning, throbbing sensations he felt in his cheek were definitely unexpected. The force caused him to stumble backward, and he fell on his bum. He has seen fist fights on television, the “punch-er” would take the initial shot and the “punch-ee” would appear to be infuriated, prompting him or her to retaliate. But the pain Clint felt was physical and he was reluctant to fight back and risk another blow. He also felt a bit disoriented and needed a few minutes before standing. Was it possible the actors on television were only pretending to punch one another? He scuttled in reverse and leaned his back against a tree. His bully laughed and called him “Nancy,” although he didn’t understand what that even meant. Perhaps the guy’s sister was named Nancy and he didn’t like her very much. Whatever the case, he thought it best not to argue.

         Clint West was the youngest of three boys. His brothers, Wayne and Stewart, were out of the house and married by the time he turned five. His mother called him a blessing, but his father called him a mistake. Mrs. West hoped that a new baby would rekindle her husband’s love for his family but instead Clint’s father left not long after the older boys moved out. Mrs. West was understandably overprotective and overbearing, considering Clint was the only one she had to dote on. But her actions only exacerbated her son’s gullibility.

         While Clint sat there resting by the tree, he recalled the time he hit himself over the head with a bottle. At that time, he was re-enacting the scene from a comedy sketch he saw live at the Mountaintop Theater. The bottle didn’t shatter like it did in the play, it didn’t even crack. He only managed to give himself a lump so large that his skin split. Live and learn, he thought.

         He shook his head and returned to the present. He reached into his breast pocket and retrieved a pack of chewing gum. He unwrapped a stick and folded it into his mouth, then winced when he bit his swollen inner cheek, he would have to chew carefully. Eventually he pushed himself to his feet and headed towards home.

         As he approached Bella’s Gaming Resort, he hesitated. Clint decided he deserved a treat, something to take his mind off his woes and his stiffening jaw. He sauntered up the ramp in front of Bella’s and pulled the heavy glass door open. A bell jingle-jangled announcing his presence, and Kelly glanced his way with a friendly smile.

         Kelly worked at Bella’s. She was quite knowledgeable about video games. In fact, she recommended the game Twisted when he was there looking for a gift for his mother. The puzzle game was a hit. Kelly was also pretty but he knew that pretty girls always had boyfriends.

          He walked past the idle games, or clicker games as he called them, turned right at isle three; he wasn’t interested in the simulation, puzzle, sports, or racing categories. He strolled passed a display of role-playing games, then paused and took a step back. Not seeing anything of interest, he moved to the wall of action, adventure, action-adventure, and strategy games.

          After pulling a fistful of loose change from his pocket, he crouched near the floor. While cupping the silver coins in the palm of his left hand he used his right index finger to separate them as he counted. His vision drifted to the high-top sneakers that came to a halt next to him. He looked up and the wearer of the shoes squatted by his side.

         “Which one ya thinkin of buyin,” the boy next to Clint asked, his head gesturing to the row of video games in front of them.

         “Depends,” said Clint. “Wanna chip in?”

         The boy held out his hand, “Vern.” The moment the boys shook hands was the moment they decided to stick together.

         They had different upbringings and on the surface, they seemed like an odd couple. Vern was an only child. He exuded confidence and many saw him as a natural leader. His parents were both employed by the state and were able to provide him with everything he asked for. The boy’s love of video games was their first connecting link. They spent numerous hours playing and babbling, talking to themselves more than to each other.

         They soon discovered the world of co-op games. One day, while their avatars were attempting to defeat “The Weapon Wizard,” the final boss, Clint began to get frustrated; he kept getting distracted, Vern was sustaining too much damage in the battle and Clint often had to stop fighting in order to heal him. He muttered that he could do a better job at defeating the behemoth himself.

         Vern was appalled—disappointed his friend wasn’t as insightful as himself. He would have to enlighten the guy. He paused the game and turned toward Clint.

         The avatars on the screen froze and Clint sighed. “What’s the problem,” he scowled.

         “I thought we were a team. I’m trying to save the one life you have left.”

         An awkward silence hung in the air for several seconds, then Clint realized that he must have said that last comment out loud. “Sorry, of course I appreciate your help.”

***

         The summer Clint turned thirteen, his mother was diagnosed with a fatal illness. Neighbors took turns checking in on them to aid Clint with her care. The boy did an amazing job tending to her basic needs. One day when Mrs. Walton from next door knocked on the front door and there was no answer, she peered through the window to see Clint clasping his mother’s limp hand. As she assumed, Clint’s mother had passed, and there was no doubt the boy had been traumatized by such a tragic event.

         Clint stayed with Vern’s family the two nights immediately following the funeral. After that Vern pleaded with his parents to allow Clint to move in with them until they finished high school. “Think of it this way,” Vern argued, “I’ll have someone else here to keep me occupied.”  And with that, Clint became Vern’s roommate. From that day forward, they became more and more reliant on one another for the camaraderie they both craved.

         While they ate their Fruity-Ohs at the counter in the kitchenette one morning, Clint learned that his friend wasn’t as happy with his cushy life as he presumed. The kid had the entire finished basement to himself, he noted. Bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette and sitting area. Even got an allowance for merely living for goodness sake. But Vern said he would rather his parents’ pay him some attention rather than give him cash. He claimed that they only showed interest in his accomplishments and achievements when they pertained to academics. Vern said he felt more like another item on their “To do” list than part of a family.

         It was Clint’s turn to confide something to Vern. He’d been having a recurring nightmare about his mother since her death. “I’m at my mother’s funeral,” he starts, “watching her coffin being lowered into her grave at All Saints Cemetery. I want to scream, ‘She has another life,’ but I can’t speak or move because I’m a statue. When everyone leaves, a dump truck comes along and unloads a mountain of dirt into the hole and rolls on top of her grave, packing and sealing the earth under it. I start to rock back and forth, hoping to tip myself over and shatter the plaster that’s inhibiting me from speaking out. At that point, I wake up. Sometimes I roll right off the futon. I feel anxious thinking that my mother is in her grave panicking because she’s trapped with no way out? What do you think it means?”

         “I think dreams are a symptom of stress and anxiety,” answered Vern. “Definitely not premonitions and warnings.” Vern swiveled on his stool to look at Clint who was staring into his empty bowl. He slapped his friend lightly on the back. Hey buddy, extra-lives only happen in video games, [hesitation] and maybe cats. Definitely not real people.”

        That day, the boys spent most of their time at the community pool. They had lunch at the nearby “Tiki Hut” with some kids they knew from school. Afterwards, the group returned to the pool area to resume their kick board relay races. Clint suggested they wait twenty minutes before getting in the water.

         “My mother said you’ll get cramps,” he said.

         The kids laughed. Matt pinched his nose, ten minutes he cried, and then he did a cannonball, holding his tucked knees with one arm. Thirty minutes, bellowed Tina right before performing her forward dive. The twins jumped and yelled in tandem, an hour. Vern stood next to his friend. Clint was troubled, his mother would never lie to him, right?

         The next morning the boys once more sat on stools at the counter in the little kitchenette eating their Fruity-Ohs. Vern again started the conversation. “I fell on my head when I was five and went into a coma, then one day I woke up.”

         “Wow, so you think people do have more than one life?”

         “I don’t think I was technically dead,” Vern said. “Are you still wondering about your mother? — Maybe we should go dig her up.”

         Silence hung in the air, then Vern put down his spoon and slurped the milk from his bowl. He turned toward Clint sitting to his left and mocked, “You were considering it weren’t you? I was joking.” He rolled his eyes. “Newsflash, when you’re dead you’re dead, like forever, and your mother’s dead.”

         Clint had never felt so disrespected, how could someone he so admired and trusted be so insensitive? That was the moment he snapped.

         “You are wrong sir,” Clint said in a chilling tone Vern never heard from him before. Then Clint swiveled on his stool. He grabbed Vern by the throat and squeezed.

         Vern clamped onto Clint’s wrists. He pulled, but he might as well have been trying to stretch steel bars. He had no time to take a deep breath before the crushing force of Clint’s thumbs on his windpipe cut off his air, and he was weak.

        “Calm down. You are going to die but I won’t let anyone bury your body. I’ll make sure you get to live your second life. You’ll be alive and kicking before you know it.” And Clint watched the sparkle fade from Vern’s eyes.

         Vern’s head lulled forward, and Clint loosened his hold on Vern’s neck. He rotated the stool Vern was sitting on and the cadaver slumped over the empty cereal bowl on the counter. Clint hopped off his seat and pushed it neatly under the ledge. He gripped his friend’s shoulders and pulled him upright, releasing one hand to gather the bowls and spoons and lay them in the sink. He spun Vern around ninety degrees, so they were face to face and slipped his arms under Vern’s, then slid the corpse off of the stool. He walked backwards dragging the body’s flaccid, bare feet along the nylon carpeting. He lay the body on the futon under the stairs and kneeled by his side praying that he’d wake up soon. If anyone were to discover Vern in this condition, they would simply bury his body, or worse yet, burn it until it no longer existed. It disgusted him to think of how many people were buried and came back to life underground only to die again because they couldn’t get out. Who knows how many times?         

         For the first time, Clint noticed the malformation on Vern’s collar bone. Maybe Vern broke it when he fell on his head when he was five. And at that moment, a lightbulb lit in Clint’s mind. If Vern had lost a life that day nine or ten years ago, how many lives did he have left? Panic and remorse flooded through Clint and his eyes filled with tears.

April 13, 2024 17:25

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5 comments

Darvico Ulmeli
21:12 Apr 24, 2024

Omg. Didn't see that twist. Liked a lot.

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Jim LaFleur
13:08 Apr 23, 2024

Carolyn, this is a captivating tale that digs into grief and the thin veil between reality and illusion. The unexpected ending had me reflecting on the delicate nature of the mind. Exceptional storytelling!

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Carolyn O'B
19:11 Apr 23, 2024

Much appreciated. This story plot has been in my mind for a long time, 'glad for the motivation to write it.

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Liane Fazio
02:30 Apr 18, 2024

Did not expect that ending! Good job! I like the way you incorporated the video game speak with the kids' logic on life.

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Carolyn O'B
18:44 Apr 18, 2024

Thank you for that comment! The most important thing I like to accomplish in my stories is an unexpected ending.

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