This is the revised prologue. It's finally up! Hopefully I'll be getting more of the revisions up pretty soon; they'll come out chapter by chapter instead of all at once. This was supposed to be done by the end of the summer, but I'm always a lot slower at doing things that I predict I'll be, and it's mostly because I'm working on five things simultaneously gaah.


[PROLOGUE]

Everything happened because I didn't go to a frat party.

As far as shit that changes your life goes, that's probably just about the most boring one you can get. It didn't seem like a big deal at the time; college parties were all just about identical when you got down to it, you knew what you'd get and if you'd like it or not before you even decided to go. The Adelphos were throwing this one for Halloween, and this girl Chelsea in my motion design class had mentioned it to me at the last second, so I even sort of had an invite. It would have meant a sweaty house full of beer and candy and heart-punching music and a lot of girls wearing lingerie for a costume.

If I'd gone, I wouldn't have much of a story to tell. I'd've probably palled around all night with my roommate Martin, eaten a shitload of candy and tried to figure out how long we could stare at the sorority girls' costumes without getting caught at it, had a few drinks, then spent the weekend shaking it all off and gone back to classes on Monday and it'd've just been like any other regular weekend in the life of Alan Creer, really pretty average college student.

But none of that happened. I'd done a bunch of that college party shit in freshman year but it'd never been my style and by now I was really done with it. I had stuff to get done this weekend and I didn't want to spend the whole of it wanting to crawl down a toilet and die. This was my last year of school. I was really ready to get it over with and move on. Then spend a couple of years figuring out what the hell to do with my life, soberly and with a working liver.

So instead of being at that crazy boozy party, I was hiking into a rundown part of an old creepy cemetery up in the foothills, along with Martin and a couple of guys we knew. Because that was cool shit to do. Most of them had thought it was lame to stay in the front area, the rows of little headstones lined up on the grass. The older part, with gravestones so old the names and years had crumbled off, sprawled up into the trees and part of the hill and I'd bet nobody ever came back here, even to visit. The people buried here probably had at least a couple generations of descendants up in the front section.

There were a lot more trees in the way back, and lots of tough ivy and scrubby bushes choking up the hilly ground. There was a crypt too; a grey stone building with even more ivy growing all over its sides and cracks in the worn steps leading up to the doors. The name above them was worn down so much it was almost gone. There was a K and what was maybe an L left. Jack and Slayton thunked the cooler they'd lugged along with us down on one of the steps. A piece of the stone edge crumbled off.

"Hey, guys, careful," I said, and Jack just threw me a lazy grin.

"'s cool," he said, "'s cool, dude." He had a battery-powered camping lantern instead of a flashlight, and even though it wasn't really dark yet he turned it on and sat it down next to the cooler. It flooded yellow light out from its squat little body and sent weird patterns everywhere up the side of the crypt.

"Right, sure," I said.

"Yeah, bro, it's cool," Martin said, coming up behind us. He knocked the lid of the cooler open and dug around inside before tossing a beer can at me. "Have one."

"Thanks," I said, snagging it out of the air. A chunk of ice ran down my wrist and into my sleeve. Maybe I'd have just one beer. That wouldn't be too bad. I didn't have to get wasted, but it'd probably make the night easier. I'd picked this over a party, so I couldn't complain. None of these guys were really my buddies, but Martin palled around with them so they were kind of my friends by proxy.

Martin grinned at me and knocked my shoulder. He was an import from Hawaii, easy-going and relaxed and the best roommate I'd ever had. Also the best friend I had, which probably said a lot about how I needed more of a social life. But Martin was a good guy. Normally he'd've been at the big frat party too, but his girlfriend had banned him from it after he'd come back from the last one with a shaved head. I hadn't really wanted to go without him, and so that was another reason I was out here with these other guys who were only sort of my friends.

Like Law and Slayton, who were up at the cooler now and pawing around in it. Both of them were actually named Chris, so everyone called them by their last names. Slayton was all right, kind of a doofus, but all right. Law was a dick. The last guy out here with us, Jack, was some buddy of Slayton's who I was pretty sure didn't go to college at all. But he kept showing up places with these guys, hanging out and trying to be cool. Bringing beer and sometimes pot or something, which was even less of my thing than boozy parties.

Man, I was turning into such a square. But hey, at least I'd been invited to a cool party. I just….hadn't gone.

After everyone had a beer, they all started poking around the broken down headstones that were around here, wandering around the crypt. The sun wasn't really down yet and the sky was kind of a pinky-blue above the trees and the air was cool California fall, so like a nice mild 70 with a breeze. Even though it was all tangled up bushes and rocky ground and ancient gravestones back here it wasn't real creepy or anything, not yet. Maybe when the sun went down. I wasn't even real sure who's idea this'd been, but it seemed kind of middle school.

Someone wanted to tell ghost stories—Martin, I think—and that'd been shot down as being for babies and slumber parties. So now we were just dicking around one of the crypts and doing a fuckton of nothing. Drinking. Shoving each other around and complaining about how we should've brought some girls out here with us because they scared so easy we could've played it up like Ghost Hunters. More drinking. Jack's cooler had a couple of six-packs in it, and some sodas or something in there with them. When it got darker, flashlights got tossed around and the camping lantern got stuck up on top of the cooler like a beacon of the bro base camp. Nobody went far from it and every couple of minutes someone was going back for another can of something.

Slayton got up on the steps of the crypt and started poking around at the door, wrenching the big round iron handles up and down. The doors were locked or bolted or welded shut or something, because they didn't even rattle.

"So like, this is for bodies, right? Do you think we could get in there and see 'em?" he said, hanging off one of the rings. "Fucking dead people?"

"That's a whole different thing," Law muttered as he and Jack went crunching past through the ivy, and I would've laughed except I didn't want to give the guy any idea that I thought he was funny.

"Dude, they're probably all bones and dirt by now. And I bet it'd be really illegal," Martin said to Slayton. "Really, really illegal."

"Aw," Slayton said, and let the handle go. It clanged down against the door. "Man."

"If you saw real dead bodies, bro, you would cry like a little girl," Martin said, smacking him in the shoulder. "Like a little baby girl."

"Shuddap," Slayton said, but didn't actually deny it.

"Yo! Check this shit out," said Jack's voice from somewhere. Martin and Slayton glanced at each other, and then headed around the side of the crypt. I drank about a third of my beer in one long chug, grunted at nothing, and then followed them.

All of the guys were grouped up around a big stone statue. Really big; taller than any of us, and a real bright white-grey color. It was just stuck out here in the middle of some bushes, near a tree. Its back was turned towards me, and Slayton and Martin were around to the front of it. Law was off to the side, his hands in his pockets and looking bored. Jack was tapping the statue in the chest, knocking the toe of his shoe against its legs.

"What a fucking weird thing, man," Slayton said, and clinked the bottom edge of his beer can off the back of the statue's wrist. "S'not even a sign or anything, like what it's fucking here for."

"Maybe it's just decoration, dude," Martin said. "Like an angel or something."

"You see wings on this thing?" Jack said. "Naw, this is like some World of Warcraft shit or something. Look, look—he's wearin' armor."

It was. All made of stone, but it was definitely armor. Layered plates all down the statue's back and arms, big molded pieces over the shoulders, and that was all what I could see from just the back. When I slugged through the ivy around to the other side of it, I could see a big section over the chest, and more plates going down the whole front of the statue's legs and boots. This thing was seriously geared up; who made something like this and then stuck it in a cemetery? Slayton was right, it was pretty fucking weird.

It looked kind of angry, too. Its eyes were wide open, but it didn't have any like, pupils or anything, so they just looked blank and empty and that was sorta creepy. Its mouth was open enough to show clenched teeth. I was pretty sure it was supposed to be a guy, but it had a lot of hair. Just a mess of it going everywhere. That must've been a bitch to carve into stone.

Slayton was still poking and shoving at the thing. I didn't really want to get much closer to it than I was already. It was actually starting to give me some serious creeps.

"Maybe he's guarding the masolum or somethin'," Jack said.

Slayton's laugh was more of a snort. "What the shit's a masolum?"

Jack waved at the crypt. "The fuckin' building, asshole. He's standing next to it, maybe he's guarding it."

"Whaddo the dead people all need a guard for?" Slayton said. He threw an arm around the statue's neck. It had to be almost a foot taller than him, and Slayton hung awkwardly off its shoulder. He poked its cheek, while his beer clinked and scraped against one of the stone armor pieces. "Hey you. You guardin' the stiffs?"

"Come on, leave it alone," I said. No, seriously, I was getting majorly creeped out by the thing. It wasn't real cold out here but there were goosebumps running up my arms and neck, and all my skin felt weird and itchy and buzzy and I just really wanted to get away from it.

"Whassa matter?" Slayton said, and I just shrugged. I couldn't explain without coming off like a wuss. In the background I heard Law telling Jack, "the word is mausoleum," and Jack saying, "fuck off Sesame Street, who cares?"

Martin popped up at my side and slung his arm around me. I thought he was going to keep on going about the statue at first, but what he actually said was, "mannn, Chelsea."

"Chelsea?" I didn't know any Chelsea other than the other who had invited me sorta to the frat party I wasn't at. "Chelsea what?"

"Something about Chelsea I was gonna say, dude, now I totally can't remember," Martin said. He tapped the side of his nose a couple times in that 'listen real good 'cause this is important' way, and knocked me in the chest. "But totally Chelsea."

I laughed. "Sure, okay."

"No, for reals, dude, she totally—uh. Aw, shit, man. Ask me tomorrow, 'kay? Totally, I'll know it tomorrow."

"I bet," I said. I wasn't real surprised Martin knew her. Martin was one of those people who knew everyone on campus, somehow, just because he was real outgoing and just seemed to have more hours in his day than everyone else to do social shit. He was a business major—both him and Law, I really had no idea on Slayton—and if I'd had any sense, that's what I would've been too. Sometimes I didn't know what the hell I'd been thinking with my graphic design thing, because I wasn't really that artistic and mostly what I liked to do was photography, and I wasn't sure how great I was at that, either.

But back in high school, junior year, we'd done a project in my English class where we had to take a shitload of photos. I'd done all mine in black and white with my sister's dinky point and shoot, probably had more fun on it than any school project since like…kindergarten, where you just threw glitter and glue on everything and you got a gold star. Then my English teacher Mr. Miller had kind of taken me aside when the projects were all done, and told me I had an artistic eye and he was really impressed by my photos and had I ever thought about pursuing some kind of creative field? And no, I hadn't, because before then I'd been an AV geek—you know, one of those guys who spends lunchtime in the electronics room with other geeky guys and a geeky teacher—and hadn't really figured I was creative at all.

But after what Mr. Miller had said—and when I tried throwing one of the shots into a local art show just for shits and giggles and actually won, 2nd placeI'd started thinking a little different. For the first time I'd really felt like I could be good at something, not just okay at it or kind of decent, but actually good. So for the last part of high school I'd messed around with an old film camera of my mom's and just had some fun with it, and I'd got a pirated copy of Photoshop from a friend and spent the summer teaching myself how to use it. By the time my sophomore year of college came around, I still had an undeclared major and was starting to panic about it. Then suddenly I was filling out a form and the next thing I knew—bam. Art and graphic design. I'd had fun with that too, for a while. Now I felt like a pretentious dumbass.

But who the hell ever did anything related to their major anyway? It wasn't gonna ruin my prospects or anything. I'd have a degree and that looked sort of good, like maybe I had some of my shit together; enough to get through a four-year college. But the end of school was starting to look like a fucking drop-off point; I had no idea what was happening out there over the edge of it. I wasn't sure if it'd look any better if I was packing a degree in business, either.

But I had time left to figure some of it out. This year was just getting started.

A cold little wind twisted down into the trees and all of a sudden it felt like fucking winter up here. It still wasn't real dark but now I was glad about my sweatshirt, and I pulled the sleeves all the way down and crossed my arms. It was kind of quiet around here all of a sudden—Martin'd wandered off and none of the other guys were around anymore either. It was just me all alone here with the weird armored-up statue, standing together in the middle of a bunch of gravestones and trees and overgrown bushes.

I'd sorta gotten closer to the thing without meaning to or realizing it—I could've reached out and touched the damn thing at this point. Which was fucking weird, since it really did give me the super creeps and I didn't want to be near it. One of its hands was halfway up, like it was stuck in the middle of reaching for its face. It didn't even have a weapon, like a sword or something that would make sense with all the armor. Its whole body was in a weird position, too; kind of awkward like it was in the middle of twisting around or something, and seriously who made a statue like this? I was even thinking that maybe I'd come back up here with my camera and get a few shots of it, just because it was so weird. Maybe I could use them in some kind of project for a class.

While I was standing there and trying to figure out exactly what it was about this thing that got me so on edge, someone came up from behind me and bumped hard into my shoulder, shoving me another step forward.

"Hey—" I started, and then realized that it was Law and he'd done it on purpose. Sometimes I thought that maybe if Law and I just like…went out somewhere and beat the shit out of each other, he'd quit having such a problem with me. I honestly had no fucking clue what I'd ever done.

Law glanced once at the statue, then looked over at me. "You know, Creer," he said, slurring out my last name so that it sounded a lot more like the word it rhymed with, "those fucking glasses of yours are really third grade."

"What the hell does that mean?" I said. They were pretty basic rectangular black frames. They were new; I'd gotten them right before the fall semester, because my dumb jock brother had snapped my old pair in half during the summer by throwing a basketball right at my face. Our parents had made him pay for these new ones. My sister had told me they were a little scene-kid, but I didn't know what that even meant. Even less than what Law had just said.

"You look like some kind of hipster faggot," Law said. He said it casually but it wasn't just joking around, saying dumb shit for laughs. When he said this kind of stuff to me, it was mean and purposeful and he meant it.

"Law, lay off," I said, automatically. Getting a hard time from guys like him wasn't real new to me, and Law never brought anything original to the table. Especially that thing with my last name; I'd been hearing that since middle school. Law'd pretty much started up with it the first day we'd met, back in freshman year when he'd been Martin's roommate, so by now I didn't expect much more from him. And he probably didn't expect much from me back, either. We were just never gonna be pals.

Law was still just smirking at me, and he crossed his arms across his chest like he was waiting for more out of me. He was wearing a sweater. A sweater, like a knit one with a v-neck that his shirt collar was poking out of and it really looked like he should be hanging out on a douchey catalogue page somewhere. Who went out drinking in a graveyard in a sweater, seriously.

"Oh, just—fuck off, man," I said, and just turned around and left him there.

#

Not real long after that, everyone was too buzzed to be wandering around in the dark in a run-down cemetery anymore, and we all ended up grouping up around the cooler with the camping lantern stuck up on top of it. I'd still only had my one beer and wasn't really feeling it much, and I was sitting on top of a big square gravestone and trying not to remember that there was, you know, a body somewhere down under it. That really was pretty creepy if you thought about it for too long.

Slayton and Martin had gotten down to naming girls around campus and rating them, because ghost stories were still too lame. Law was being pretty quiet, which was a fucking blessing. Of course, as soon as I thought that, he just had to pitch into the girl-rating conversation like a tool.

"The chick who works in the student store," he said. "With the streaked hair and the tits."

"Butterface," Slayton said right away.

"Dude, don't be a dick, she's not that bad," Martin said. "I'd give her like a ssss...ix. Ish."

"Butterface," Slayton said stubbornly. "That rack can't be real anyway."

"You'd really care if it wasn't?"

"Have you ever felt fake ones? They like—don't really move, it's fucking disturbing—"

"No they don't, whose fake tits did you ever feel up anyway, Slayton—"

"Yo, this isn't cool," Jack complained loudly from where he was kicking around on the mausoleum steps and digging at the stone with the tip of a pocketknife. "I don't even know these chicks, man, I can't play this game."

"That's a real fucking shame," Law muttered. I glanced at him, startled. He was sitting on the ground, his back to a headstone, and frowning down at his beer. When he caught me watching he jerked his chin up and gave me a look like, what? I held up my hands in a silent surrender. It was just easier that way. Law relaxed back against the headstone, but kept his eyes on me. They glittered in the light from the camping lantern.

"Okay then," Martin shouted back to Jack. "You got something cool to say, man?"

"Sure," Jack said, and jumped down off the steps and did sort of a swaying cowboy-walk towards us. Over his shoulder I could see the outline of that weird statue, just a dark head and shoulders in the shadows, and goosebumps rippled up on my arms. Why were we sitting so close to that fucking thing? But nobody else seemed to think it was as creepy as I did, and I didn't want to look like a wuss and make us move away from it.

"If you could fuck any girl in the world, but only them for the rest of your life," Jack was saying, meanwhile. "Who'd you pick?"

Martin raised his hand like he was in class. "My—"

"Do not say your girlfriend, that's bullshit," Jack said.

"My girlfriend," Martin said anyway, and gave him a big cheesy grin.

"Dude, she's not even here, you don't gotta suck up to her," Slayton said.

"Then Jenny McCarthy fifteen years ago," Martin said without missing a beat.

"Current, current," Slayton said. "Doesn't count otherwise."

"Dude, it's not even your game, you don't get to make rules," Martin said to him. "And no, I got a way better one."

"You're so cheating at this," Slayton said, and leaned forward to get at the cooler.

"Give me one too," Law said. Slayton threw a beer can and a handful of half-melted ice at him.

"Fuck you," Law said, shaking water out of the folds of his sweater. He raised a finger at Slayton. "Dick."

"Hah hah," Slayton said, then looked at Martin. "'kay, what's your way better one?"

"You get to bang Heidi Klum, but you gotta listen—no, no, Seal's there too and he's gonna be singing the whole time," Martin said. Law laughed and tinged the side of his beer against Martin's in a kind of alternate high-five.

"Why the hell is a seal there," Slayton said, looking so unhappily confused that Martin started giggling. "What the fuck does that have anything to do with anything—"

"He's a singer, dumbshit, and he's married to her. He only had that one song that anybody ever heard," Law said. "Like back in middle school."

"Bah da daaaah, bah-dah bah-dah da-ah-daaah," Martin said helpfully, and I started laughing against the back of my arm. None of this would be as funny without that beer in me, and I was thinking about maybe a second one after it. It'd probably be out of me by the time we were heading out of here. I was kind of designated driver for me and Martin tonight, just because it was my car and all.

Law caught my eye from across the circle, still smiling over the top of his own beer, and for a real quick second he almost looked like a decent guy. 'course, he had a great smile to go with his stupid good-looking face. But I barely ever saw the guy smile, and definitely never at me. It was unusual enough that I was almost smiling back at him. In the background I heard Slayton saying, "sure, sure, why not, there can be ten seals there for all I care, I'd still do her," and Martin saying, "not seals, dude, there are no seals there," and Law glanced over at them and made a face, and the whole moment of decency was gone.

In fact, he ruined it even more a couple of seconds later.

"Okay," he said, and looked right at me again. "Alan. One for you."

Aw, fuck. "Whaaat," I said out loud, against my arm.

"You can bang anybody you want but that thing—" Law jerked his thumb towards that goddamn statue that was lurking just outside the light of the camping lantern, "—is there. The whole time."

"Yeah, sure," I said, and finished off the last of my beer. I wasn't actually gonna answer with the truth, which was no fucking way. "It's just a statue."

"Dude, I wouldn't. Thing's kinda creepy," Slayton said. "And it looks mean."

"And it looks mean," Martin said, and laughed. And kept laughing, in a giggly-snorting kind of way. This was how the guy got drunk; he'd just laugh a lot at everything and then fall asleep somewhere. Or wind up with a shaved head and a dick drawn on his face.

"Who would you pick?" Law said to me, like the other guys weren't even talking.

"What?"

"You heard me."

"That wasn't part of the question," I said. I leaned forward, lifted up the camping lantern and knocked the cooler lid back. Grabbed the first can I touched. Law didn't get to know my fantasy list because a) he'd make fun of it no matter who it was and b) just no fucking way.

"Maybe he'd pick the statue," said Jack, who must've been listening in.

"Dude, that is messed. Up," Slaytonsaid, with a huge pause between the words. "Statue boner."

"Ahahaa," Martin said. "Boner."

"Martin, buddy, just quit while you're ahead," I told him.

"Ahaaah," Martin said again. "Head."

I laughed at him then, and patted him on the shoulder a few times.

"You really wouldn't care if that thing was there?" Slayton said to me, leaning close. "Dude. If I saw it anywhere near me—right out of the mood. Forever. So off. So off."

"Clearly big buff men just don't do it for you, Slayton," Law drawled, looking right at me.

"Oh Christ," I said, because here it came. "Knock it off."

"So is this like Creer's dream lady, here?" Jack smirked, jerking a thumb over his shoulder back at the statute. He mispronounced my name too. Naturally.

"He should find out," Law said. Even though he was talking to Jack, he was still staring me down and it was making me fucking irritated. I knew he was just trying to wind me up on purpose, and it was working.

"Come on," I said, looking around to Martin for some help. But he was no good, just kind of grinning at everybody and looking dopey. "Grow up. This isn't the third grade."

"I dare you to do it," Law said.

"To do what," I said back.

"Big ole wet kiss," Slayton said and puckered up his lips. "Mwaah."

"You're a fucking five year old," I said, but suddenly the guys were getting up around me,

grabbing me and dragging me off my gravestone. They outnumbered me even if I outsobered them, and they managed to get me up and shove me forward right up to the statue. I banged my toe on its big stone boot and reeled back a little. Law caught me by the shoulders and got real close up behind me—I could smell aftershave and beer and something sweet like candy on him.

"Come on," he said, low in my ear. His breath was warm and tickled and I flinched. "It'll be funny."

"And I love to entertain you," I said. "Just makes my day."

"Great," Law said. "Get to it, then."

"Gettin' jealous there, Law?" Jack called out from somewhere. "Gonna hump your boyfriend a little before he cheats on you?"

"Shut the fuck up," Law said and shoved me forward, hard. I had to catch myself on the statue and I kind of expected to knock it right the hell over. I mean, it was big and solid, but it didn't look real stable. But it was like falling into a brick wall; the thing didn't even budge. Knocked my wrist pretty good against one of the stone armor pieces and that was it.

Giggling, Slayton and Martin pulled me up again. I was getting kinda tired of being shoved around by this point. I shook them off me, and rubbed at the part of my wrist I'd banged up. That weird creepy itch was back, humming on my skin. I could feel it in my teeth.

"If I kiss the stupid thing will you guys leave me alone?" I said.

"Yep," Martin said happily, and Slayton nodded like he had no control over his own head, like a bobble-head doll.

Law didn't say anything, but I only had to see his stupid good-looking face to know the answer. Somehow, if I didn't do this, I would lose. I didn't even know how or what or why, I just would. It was the way shit was between me and Law.

"Fine." I looked right into Law's eyes as I said it. He narrowed them for a second, then he stood back and slung his arms across the front of his douchey sweater like this all meant shit to him.

But now I was tipsy and annoyed and I had to do it. Nobody would remember it later on anyway. Except maybe Law, because he'd been drinking even less than me. So I had to do it because he was a dick.

I stepped right up to the statue and mashed my mouth to it. I kept my hands jammed in my back pockets. The stone was real smooth, not all scratchy and rough like I'd expected. Didn't really feel like stone much at all. The same weird something buzzed harder around my skin, like a static charge, lifting the hairs on the back of my neck. The statue was warming up against my mouth, which almost made it feel like real skin and that was creepy. There, done; that was gonna have to be fucking good enough.

I pulled away from the thing and backed up off its boots, looking down at my own feet just to make sure I didn't trip over something. I was pretty sure nobody was in a clear enough way to take me to a hospital if I bought it against a gravestone out here. They were barely paying attention anymore anyway—I could hear Martin and Slayton shoving each other around somewhere closer to the cooler and I didn't know where the fuck Law or Jack were. Yeah, that was exactly how much this whole thing had mattered.

"Dicks," I muttered, mostly meaning Law, and turned around to head back to the cooler.

Somebody grabbed me by the shoulders. I jerked to a stop, because I had to. Whoever'd just grabbed me was fucking strong. I didn't know Law had that much muscle on him—and this had to be him, just screwing with me some more.

"What now, asshole?" I said, and twisted around.

I ended up looking right at a plate of armor. Just like the statue'd had on. Except this one was all dark metal and the chest it was on was kind of…moving. Shifting back and forth. Breathing.

"Um," I said, and looked farther up.

There was a face looking back down at me. Looking, like with eyes that were blinking and focusing on me and holy shit, what There was a bunch of dark hair around the face and the end of it were lifting up in the breeze.

"Guys, um," I said, but it wasn't very loud and none of them were near enough to me. Law was somewhere back near the crypt yelling at Jack to shut his fucking face before he shut it for him, and I could hear Martin trying to sing that Seal song again and forgetting most of the words and putting in random sounds for most of them, and Slayton trying hard to get him to quit it. One of them was digging around in the cooler, so the camping lantern had been moved to the ground and most of the light from it was blocked out.

So it was almost in total darkness that this thing that might or might not have been a statue a minute ago was standing there, holding me tight by the shoulders. It had a really strong grip, because I went to pull myself away and didn't manage to move at all. I tried a little harder and the hands on me dug in tighter.

"Don't move."

The statue spoke—the statue fucking spoke—real low and calm and almost slow. Not much more than a whisper. But it made me never want to move again. There was just something in it, some kind of power and force that made me listen; made a shiver shoot down my spine and my gut roll over. In the dark the statue's face was just pockets of shadows and edges of light, but I'd seen its mouth move and knew that it was really fucking talking. I was too scared to move.

"Who," the statue said, that same clear and quiet voice, "are you?"

For one second I actually, seriously, forgot.

And then, "Alan. Alan, I—I'm Alan."

The statue just kept looking at me; not blinking, not doing anything. Then it let me go. I stumbled back a step, sucking in a huge gasp of air. I hadn't been breathing. My head pounded and my skin was rippling and shivering so bad I thought it was all gonna crawl right the fuck off of me, Jesus Christ.

The statue straightened up, rolling its shoulders back and stretching its neck from side to side, looking around. Holy fuck it was tall. At least a half a foot taller than me, and I'm not really that short of a guy. It was hard to tell in the dark, but it didn't look greyish anymore. The hair was definitely darker and the skin was lighter and the clothes had different shades and shadows. What little light there was under the tree slid off the armor plates, like they were made of metal.

"Fuck," I said. It came out as a tiny little whisper. "Oh fuck."

The statue looked back at me. But it still didn't do anything. Just stared me down for a couple of long, long seconds. Then it lifted its left hand and put two fingers to the base of its throat.

"E deuhana aun," it said, and dipped its head down. Like a real slow nod.

I didn't say anything. I couldn't. I took another step back, hit an uneven patch of ground, and just went right down on my ass. Barely even felt it. I shoved the heels of my hands against my eyes and stayed like that for good half a minute, just gritting my teeth and breathing as slow as I could. That hadn't happened.

It couldn't have fucking happened.

But I wasn't gonna open my eyes and look.

No way.

Eventually, could've been seconds or minutes later, footsteps came stumbling up through the bushes from behind me. I heard Martin's voice shouting something a couple times before I realized he was saying my name.

"What," I said, but it sounded more like a thin little scream. I took my hands off my face, and he and Slayton were crouching right in front of me, shoulder to shoulder. I jerked back before I could stop myself.

"You're on the ground, man," Slayton said, and threw the can he was holding into the trees. It disappeared into the dark, clinking off of things as it went.

"Aw, dude, you fall down?" Martin said, and got down closer to me and kinda slung his arm across my chest, trying to help me up. "Hey, hey, ooff. You're heavy."

Probably because I hadn't even been trying to get up. I got my legs back under me and let Martin drag me to my feet next time he tried. Then I grabbed hold of him and kinda shook him around a little, just to make sure that he was actually real.

"Urgh, dude," Martin said, making a face. "Stoppp. Why're you doin' that?"

"I need a beer," I said, twisting his collar up in my hands and holding on like a safety line. "No, I need like five. Holy shit, holy shit."

"Dude, what's wrong? You cool?" Martin said, trying to go for a supportive shoulder clap but mostly slapping me in the neck instead because it was dark and he was drunk and a statue had just fucking come to life and what the fucking fuck.

"No. Yes. I'm gonna throw up. I think I want to go home. I don't know what's going on."

Martin got around in front me and grabbed hold of my shoulders. "Seriously, man, you okay?" He was a little wobbly, but not so far gone that he didn't really mean it. He was honestly concerned.

I took a second, just to breathe and focus. Martin standing in front of me and holding my shoulders, with his hair that was still growing out, smelling like beer and the pizza we'd had hours ago—this was all real. Whatever the fuck I thought had happened with the statue...it couldn't be real, it was impossible. It was actually really fucking stupid, thinking that kind of shit could actually happen.

"Yeah," I said. "Yeah, no, I'm okay. I just, you know. No, I'm cool."

"Okay," Martin said, and squeezed both my shoulders. "'cause, dude, I'll like take you back if you really want, if you really wanna throw up at the apartment, but that's really gross, bro, please don't do that."

"No, I don't want to do that." I took another breath in, and out. "I just had a...for a second, no, I'm good."

"'kay." Martin gave my arm a couple of sturdy pats. "Neat."

"Neat," I said, and almost laughed. "Yeah."

"So, dude, you still wanna beer? Let's have beer." Martin let go of me and weaved back towards the cooler and the rest of the guys, leaving me standing there with my back to the dark trees and a creepy, awful feeling between my shoulder blades.

I didn't want to turn around. If I didn't turn around I wouldn't have to see it; if the statue was just being a regular statue back there I didn't want to know, because that probably meant I was going goddamn crazy. And if it was, you know...actually alive, somehow, then I really didn't want to know. Because that'd be even worse than being crazy.

But I couldn't not look. There was no way. I had to know.

So I fucking turned around and looked.

There was nothing behind me but trees and shadows. The statue was totally fucking gone.

#

There wasn't much for me to do after that but just start drinking and never stop. It was so crazy, and I was so fucking confused, that it couldn't actually make anything worse by getting totally hammered. There wasn't a lot of beer in the cooler by this point but what was left was going tome. I planted myself by the cooler and just didn't get up again. I didn't even care what the other guys were doing around me. I would've just gone home but I didn't want to be any fucking place by myself; it was better to even be in the fucking graveyard as long as there were other people there too.

I have no idea what really happened the rest of the night. It could have been hours or just minutes that we stayed out there. I was kind of aware of people moving around, talking to me sometimes, sitting near me or touching me, but it was all fuzzy and far away. Nothing felt very important. Other than I just had to forget about what I couldn't actually have seen happen. So, drinking.

At one point I think Slayton—Slayton—actually got worried about it, and tried to drag me and the cooler apart. I think I might have hit him for it. It was hard to remember. Everything was. I wasn't actually sure how I got back to the apartment. Martin and I had gone to the cemetery together in my car, but I sure as hell hadn't driven it home. I really hoped Martin hadn't either. We were lucky to not've crashed or gotten arrested if he had.

But I did get back somehow, because I woke up in a bed that I was pretty sure was mine. Someone was shaking me.

I mumbled and dug into the blankets, trying to ignore whoever was being this much of a jerk this early in the morning to someone who had a hangover from terrible beer. I knew it was early because I could see real pale light in the room whenever my eyelids pulled open a little, that kind of dull blue-grey that everything goes when you've stayed up really late and birds are starting to make noise.

The shaking wasn't stopping. Someone had a real firm grip on my shoulder and was just not fucking giving up. My head hurt so bad it was starting to make me feel sick, and being shoved around like this wasn't helping. This'd better be a real fucking emergency, or I was punching somebody. I grit my teeth together, and opened my eyes.

There was someone leaning over me; someone with pale blue eyes and wild black hair and a narrow face. It wasn't Martin and it wasn't anybody I recognized and at some ridiculously fucking early hour of the morning and in my own apartment, that was terrifying. I yelled and scrambled backwards, and slammed my head into the wall. My vision swam and I sucked in a breath and made a really sad whimpering sound. Oh, Christ. Now I really felt like I was gonna throw up. A lot.

Hands grabbed my wrists and pinned me down to my bed, and I was too stunned and sick and dizzy to fight back. All I could see was this goddamn face looming over me, expressionless and fucking creepy. There was this weird pattern around one of the eyes, like a really dark tattoo or maybe what your buddies would do to you if you passed out at a party and there were Sharpies around. Then the face leaned back, and I saw light sliding over plates of dark metal and reddish-black leather.

It was the statue. No, seriously, the fucking statue. The statue I'd kissed and then had imagined coming alive. But it was alive. It was in my room. Practically in my bed. Holding me down by the arms. And then, it talked to me.

"Alan," it said, in a calm voice that cut through the fog in my head and sent weird shivers down my back. "Come with me."