“Don’t you remember?”
“I have no idea who the hell you’re talking about.”
Duncan looked at me as if I’d just told him that The Princess Bride was mid-tier. I maintained quizzical eye contact, my diet Coke traveling up my straw in record time.
“Allen Baker! The little fat kid that Macey had a crush on in the third grade! We had an entire assembly when he died, dude,” Duncan insisted.
I just shrugged my shoulders. “I guess I wasn’t there that day, man.”
It was true that I had skipped school regularly in third grade - Duncan had usually skipped with me, though, coming to my house to play video games and watch R-rated movies while our parents were away. It was a miracle that we were never caught, although Duncan’s mom wouldn’t have cared either way.
”It doesn’t matter,” Duncan raved, running a hand over his face in frustration. “He was in our class for, like, two years. There were only nine people, man. Nine.”
“I don’t know what you’re getting so stressed about, Duck. So what if I don’t remember one kid? Elementary school was years ago.”
I don’t remember how we had gotten on the topic. Somehow we had gone from the movie we had just seen to our school teachers - Duncan and I had the same classes throughout most of our school career - and now he was bringing up some kid who allegedly died in some horrible accident.
“I’m stressed about it because it was huge. I remember it like it was fucking yesterday, bro. Mrs. Wright got the call and ran out of the classroom crying her eyes out. Macey didn’t even come to school for the rest of the year because she was so torn up about it. They started teaching eight-year-olds about hard drugs like heroin and shit because of the crash. You seriously don’t remember? Half the school went to the funeral while we stayed home to play Mario, dude.”
This was where I raised an eyebrow. “You’re fucking with me, right? Macey missed school because her mom died, Duncan. It’s really fucked up to blame that on a random kid - Macey is still seriously traumatized over it. Abandonment issues or whatever.”
At this point, Duncan just stared at me, his mouth hanging open. After thirty seconds of silence, he finally said, “Allen lived down the street from me. His mom brought us cookies when we moved in. You remember his mom, right? Trudy Baker? She had those huge back-to-school parties at her house.”
This conversation was years ago. Duncan had gone on a rampage, asking everybody he knew about the Baker family. He spent weeks at the library, using the computers to find something, anything about the accident. I had insisted that maybe it happened in kindergarten before he moved here, but he was adamant that it was in third grade. He moved back in with his parents after he stopped showing up to work, presumably to dig around more about this kid. He even attempted suicide at one point after everyone told him that he had gone crazy. Something about this incident broke him.
I hadn’t spoken to Duncan in two years. After being best friends all our lives, he was the last one I had left to lose, so this really took a toll on me. After dropping out of college, my girlfriend leaving me, and now my best friend belonging in a fucking psych ward, it’s safe to say that this Allen Baker shit had contributed to ruining my life.
It was two in the morning, and I was just about to fall asleep on my couch with a shitty Netflix horror movie playing in the background. There was a knock on my RV door, sending my heart into my throat. I sighed, pulling my covers over my head. Who the hell could be bothering me at this hour?
The knocking turned into a frantic pounding as a familiar voice yelled my name. This caught my attention, and I hurled myself off of my couch and tore the door open.
Duncan stood in front of me, his hair and clothes drenched from the rain pounding onto the dirt road behind him.
“I have to show you something.”
I offered Duncan a change of clothes and a blanket, both of which he happily accepted. When I finally sat down next to him, he placed a plain wooden box in my lap and looked at me expectantly. Without a word, I opened the box to find a pile of pictures, all of which showed children around the ages of seven or eight. “What the hell am I looking at here?” I asked, my irritation already setting in.
“Don’t you see it?” Duncan was speaking in a whisper, as if he were afraid of somebody overhearing. “Look at this one.”
He pulled out a class picture from the beginning of the school year, jabbing his finger towards an empty spot next to the teacher. “Someone is missing here.”
“They probably just weren’t there that day, man.” I looked at Duncan’s face. His eyes were wild and blood-shot. “Have you been sleeping at all, Duck?”
He ignored the question completely. “If someone wasn’t there, why wouldn’t they just fill in the gap? That would be stupid, right? It makes zero sense to leave room for a kid who wasn’t there. Isn’t that weird? And look at this.” He pulled out another picture, this time showing a group of kids running the three-legged race. “Ryan has no one running the race with him. He has a damn rope around his ankle with no one on the other side.”
“Because no one liked Ryan,” I said, staring daggers at my friend. “But the teachers made him run anyway. Duncan, we made fun of him for that. How the hell do you not remember?”
Ignoring me once again, he dug to the bottom of the box and pulled out our third grade yearbook. He opened it to a page that had been marked with a sticky note and pointed at a blank space beside Eric Alvidrez’s tiny face. “There’s a big ass space here. Someone was there, but somehow, it’s like… It’s like they were erased completely.” He looked up at me. “I remember seeing Allen’s face there. The frame of the picture had memorial shit on it. I remember.”
This is something that I did find to be a bit strange. Before I could humor my friend, however, I noticed his arm. There were dozens of little marks in his forearm, some being more faded than others. I grabbed his wrist and pulled his arm closer to me.
“What the fuck, Duncan? Is this… Are you on drugs or something?”
This time, Duncan acknowledged my comment. He met my eyes with shame and pulled his arm away. “Whatever, man,” he mumbled. “What do you care? You watch me struggle over this weird third grade shit, and now all of a sudden you give a shit about me?” His voice rose steadily, and he stood up. “You never even fucking believed me.”
“How could I believe you, Duncan?” I snapped. “You’re crazy, man. Macey had to get a restraining order on your ass because you kept harassing her about some kid who doesn’t fucking exist. Everyone is worried about you, Duck. You disappeared off the face of the earth for two years, and now you’re showing up at my doorstep with pictures of kids, expecting me to believe your junkie ass?”
Duncan stared at me for an eternity. Without saying a word, he stuffed all of his pictures back in the wooden box, ripped the box out of my lap and stormed out of my RV.
I didn’t try to stop him. I splashed water in my face, took a shot of whisky and went to sleep.
I didn’t dream that night. I dozed off into blackness for what seemed like a few seconds, until I heard something. A voice. A voice that echoed in my head like it came from a long tunnel.
“Don’t you remember?”
I woke up that morning with a headache. My TV was still playing, but this time it was a breaking news story. I rubbed my eyes and groggily sat up, stretching my back with my arms above my head.
“…Identified as one Duncan Wade.”
As soon as the news reporter said Duncan’s name, I was wide awake. I grabbed the remote and turned the volume up.
“…Involved in a fatal car crash on the highway late last night. The crash resulted in the death of Wade himself, who had traces of heroin detected in his system, along with 34-year-old Trudy Baker and her 8-year-old son, Allen.”