THE DEVIL AT FREEDMORE HIGH

Prologue

Passing the huge memorial crowd for Kimmie Winscott, Arlen felt badly that he couldn't attend it. He had never known Kimmie, she was one of those sad fat girls who like, hung out in the library, but it was so sad that she'd fallen off a railroad trellis, or whatever.

Arlen crossed the street on his ancient Schwinn, and wondered what the world was coming to. But he realized that although he and Scarlett had this incredible thing, most people were mere mortals, they'd never felt that way, and certainly poor Kimmie hadn't.

Scooting by a nine year old girl, skipping rope, he heard her mutter "Geek." Her brother probably went to Polk High…but who cared what some snot-nose thought, right? Arlen Carmichael was a stud. He was Scarlett's boyfriend!

It was too bad that he and Scarlett couldn't get married, but of course they were underage. "But Scarlett, you have a driver's license AND a car. You can't just be fourteen can you?"

But his woman was a girl of mystery. No, she either had to move away with her parents, as her dad had gotten a transfer, or they had to do the deadly!

When Arlen arrived at Scarlett's neat picket fence, he saw an old guy, probably thirty-five, banging on the door of her townhouse. Isn't that Reverend Ethelred? He should be doing Kimmie's memorial right? No, he's Methodist. Father Lambeth is at Kimmie's.

Whatever Reverend Ethelred was doing at Scarlett's, he was really agitated, or something. Arlen's dad, president of the local Humanist Society, had told Arlen again and again "These religious Christian types are off their heads, you know. Irrational."

And the Rev was showing his true colors. He was really acting up, right there on Arlen's girlfriend's porch. "Let me in, Scarlett! You have to tell Vondra that you wrote that note, and sent the panties…she thinks I'm having a fling with you!"

Suddenly the door opened, and Arlen saw Scarlett's raven head peek out. She whispered something to Reverend Ethelred, and he left immediately, sobbing, he ran by Arlen without noticing him.

Scarlett smiled and then noticed Arlen in the gateway. "Come on in, don't worry about Reverend E. He's just spazzing."

Arlen gasped, and steadied himself. The knapsack felt heavy on his shoulder. This was a big moment for both of them. This was the last day of their lives!

Scarlett tossed her long dark hair behind one shoulder and tucked in her top as she leaned in the jamb, looking at Arlen. It was his favorite of her tops. A hot pink T-shirt on with "Errant Kitten" emblazoned on the front in black Script letters.

"Hey, honey c'mon in. Never, never babysit for a clergyman. That's great advice for you, Arlen." But as Scarlett said this, she smiled, and kinda jutted out her front, motioning for Arlen to come up on the porch with a long red nail.

Arlen walked up as if in a trance. It had been three weeks they'd been together, and he still couldn't believe how lucky he was. How could this incredible girl love him?

Scarlett was gazing at him with love, her little pink tongue peeking out of the heart shaped lips…More beautiful than Natalie Portman, or Anne Hathaway!

"Arlie, I was so afraid you wouldn't make it!" As Arlen hit the doorstop, Scarlett stood up on tippie toe, so she could put her little arms around Arlen's gangling shoulders. She was only about five two, and Arlen about six feet, always bumping into doorways.

As Scarlett hugged Arlen, she plunged her tongue down his throat. She kissed his pudgy, pallid zitted face as if it were a hot fudge sundae.

Arlen sucked Scarlett's full lips, savoring the taste of her lip gloss. Oh, she's so beautiful!

It was no wonder that Tim Gerrits had wanted to impress Scarlett so much. He'd been so jealous of her and Arlen, and she'd been so nice to admire his so called "inventions".

Gerrits was such a geek, but he'd had a loser crush on Scarlett, who'd assured Arlie she barely knew him but when Scarlett had shown some interest in his moron hanglider, Tim had climbed up on the TV tower of WKED and flown to impress her, and of course it hadn't worked…what a mess.

Tim's stupid mom had blamed Scarlett, the medical bills, but what guys like Tim didn't understand was, Scarlett was just being nice to them. She loved Arlen only!

Now, with Scarlett kissing Arlen, he was in paradise. Arlen forgot that his teeth resembled the orange-yellow Halloween candy corn. That his classmates called him "Trenchmouth" Even Nana only coldy offered him her hand at family gatherings.

Scarlett didn't care about Arlie's dirty fingernails, or the goiter that grew under his chin. Scarlett thought Arlen "Cooties" Carmichael was the sexiest man alive!

And Scarlett had gotten Arlen invited to parties he'd only heard about before he met her. They cut classes to go to college beer bashes where Arlen was treated like an adult by the sophisticated kids at Landon University.

At one of these parties, Scarlett had dared Arlen to drill a little hole in the top of a keg and drop some—what were they? B-100 energy pills, she had a pharmacist uncle or something.

Arlen had done it, and Scarlett had given him a blowjob afterwards, for being so nervy. The pills must have had high energy, because six dudes had drank the beer, and then they'd stripped off their clothes and run through the playground at Miss Willow's, a

really exclusive daycare center and preschool on Stinson Avenue.

Scarlett and Arlie had laughed as they'd watched the guys on the swings and going up and down the slides, freaking the children out. One guy had picked up a four year old girl and run around the block, buck naked and foaming at the mouth! It had taken seven cops to bring him down.

"I don't understand it" the guy, a bacteriology major with minor in actuarial sciences, said later. It was the beer, it really was!" His parents told reporters that they hoped Danny would be able to take extension courses at Ipswich Correctional, it was such a state of the art institution.

What a minx Scarlett was! "Arlie, I'll give you a hickey for every one of these garter snakes you drop off Elmont bridge into these BMW convertibles going to the Annual Regatta…just so we can fight elitism, right…these preppies deserve a little life!"

Actually the garter snakes had only caused a couple fender benders, but the following weekend, when they'd emptied the jar full of crickets into that blue Miata, there had been one really interesting smash up, right there on the highway…but they got away! Scarlett, wow!

Every day it had been a new adventure, man!

And now his baby-love was gazing up at him, as if he were the only man in the world. Yes, a MAN, not Arlen Barf-boy, who everybody ignored. Who they'd towel-whipped at Boy Scout camp.

Scarlett stopped kissing Arlie to catch a breath. She leaned her head on his chest, making it feel less blubbery and more masculine. "I really thought you wouldn't come, Arlie."

Scarlett's voice was hesitant, and it seemed like it had the edge of a sob in it. "I thought I'd just have to end it all on my own, and you'd go on to live a better life without me."

What? "No, Scarlett. I—I can't live without you. I'd have no life after you moved away, babe." He hoped his pimples weren't too shiny, although Arlen's sister had told him once that his acne tilted like a pinball machine.

Scarlett, her arms still around Arlen's neck, kissed him again and jumped up, wrapping her legs around Arlen's waist. She's so light! Maybe a hundred pounds! Arlen carried Scarlett as she continued necking with him as they came into the living room.

"Oh, Arlie (kiss) you're so (kiss) hot…I want (kiss) I want you so bad, Arlie!"

Mindful of the gun in his bag, Arlen gently sat them both down, Scarlett in his lap, on the leather sofa. Scarlett pulled her lovely head back, the dark hair framing her ivory skin, and she looked into Arlen's aviator lenses with her limpid purple-blue eyes.

Scarlett pouted a little. She knew how to pout, protruding her full lower lip, showing the effects of black cherry lustrous lip gloss to its full effect. And then the baby talk that always drove Arlie around the bend.

"Wittle Bitty Scarlie thought you weren't coming, Arlie-Warlie. I waited and almost cried."

Scarlett dropped a hand into Arlen's lap, and moved it around a bit, which Arlen found somewhat distracting.

"No, no…Scarlett, I was having trouble getting across Doakes Boulevard, that girl Kimmie, her memorial was today, and there was a lot of traffic. Arlen said apologizing. "Even on my ten-speed, it was really difficult getting through."

"Oh, poor Kimmie. She was a friend of mine. That was so sad." Scarlett's eyes turned a bit liquid, and Arlen's heart felt as if it might rip out, witnessing her pain.

"Yeah. Don't feel too badly, Scarlett. Jax Appleby, who Kimmie tutored in Precalculus, he lost his cell phone a week or two ago, and someone imitated his voice, calling Kimmie, who I guess had a secret crush or something on him—"

"No, I saw on the news, she was gang-raped by some homeless guys at a motel room that whoever imitated Jax's voice told her to meet him-?" Scarlett seemed confused. "It was sad."

"Yeah, and the homeless bums, they used this scummy excuse, that some girl shared a pint of Almaden Mountain Chablis with them in Cleary Park, and they thought she must've drugged them with PCP or something…"

Arlen thought about it. It's so ridiculous. Even if the bums had no previous records of violence, how could sipping drugged whiskey make you go to a particular motel room and rape a physically repulsive if kind of sweet girl? It's just impossible.

"And one of the guys strangled her? Seriously, Arlie? With a lamp cord?" Scarlett shook her head, and Arlen loved the way the curling tresses bounced on her forehead.

Arlen nodded heavily. "Yeah, and they're going down for rape, wilding and murder, those bastards." But thinking of death, Arlen looked at his knapsack, and then at Scarlett, significantly.

Scarlett looked at the knapsack, and reached over, touching it with a hesitant finger. She looked scared, and Arlen put his arm further around her protectively.

Women knew little of guns, and it was up to him—but of course Arlen didn't know much about guns, either.

"Did-did you bring it?" Scarlett looked down demurely as she let herself out of Arlen's grasp, but continuing to hold his arm. "It's such big deal, Arlie."

"Yeah. Are your parents home?" Arlen looked around the house. Scarlett shook her head. Arlen thought about it, and he'd never met Scarlett's parents. Arlen had made it with Scarlett in every room in the house, and dropped by almost whenever he wanted to…and it was always just them.

Scarlett knew the funniest games. She would look up a number in the phone book and just call, using a modulated female voice "Is Howard there? This is Janet. You're his wife…he never told me he had a wife! Oh, never mind…he promised me!"

Hilarious! She had a way, Scarlett did. It was always laughs with her, it really was. After Debbie, Scarlett's Student Mentor had fallen on a burning telephone wire when they were out Rollerblading and become disfigured for life, Scarlett had held a fundraiser for her, so Debbie could go to Disney World or something…

Selfless Scarlett, but mischeviously, she'd fucked Arlen in the back room of the church where the Casino Night for Debbie was held! Shameless!

"Please, take my mind off what happened, Arlie." She'd howled this. "I feel so bad that Debbie thinks I tripped her when we were going down Ashby Way."

One night, Scarlett had had a group of kids over for Ouija Board fun, and had made Craig Hintzelby so nervous when they thought he'd contacted his Grandma, that Craig had gone schizophrenic and was now living at the Meadows Lodge up in Idaho… stuff never happened like that before Scarlett came to town.

But Scarlett LOVED Arlen most of all! Sure, the other kids followed her, but she thought Arlen was the HOTTEST, and the popular kids had to be nice to Arlen, because he was her B.F.!

And Scarlett was always available for sex and fun…she introduced Arlen to a whole world he'd only read about in "Penthouse Forum" and she had the key to her parent's liquor cabinet!

And when Arlen told her of his fantasies, how he wanted to spank a pretty girl, Scarlett just pulled her panties down, man! Any other girl at James K. Polk High wouldn't even talk to Arlen.

"Pass on, pizza-face" was all they ever said to him. Why not? He was nerdy-ugly without being a brain, or even making more than C's and D's…Arlen had tried hanging with the druggies, but his first whiff of weed had set off his asthma attack—he'd been sent to the Emergency Room and Momma had threatened to put him in rehab.

Almost no friends, a plague to the girls, and the teachers called him "Fat-ass".

And then one day, this incredible new girl came up to him, in the library. "Is that the Watchmen graphic novel you're reading?" Arlen had stuttered and gasped…but she'd known all about comics, and science fiction—they talked for hours about the new 52 in DC comics, just forever, and it turned out she liked D&D too, and had been a Dungeon master.

Arlen had spent most of the time she was leaning next to him in the library just staring down her lime green tube top, and Scarlett had not even seemed to notice!

Then after school when Scarlett had pulled up in her 2013 BMW M3 Coupe, firey red, just like her lips and nails… and they'd visited her house for the first time. And Arlen "Cooties" Carmichael had lost his cherry.

Before Scarlett had taken up with Arlen, she'd been dating Dougie DiPetti, who was second violin in the Sophomore Madrigals Orchestra, and also a National Merit Semifinalist, but otherwise a dweeb, even in Arlen's eyes.

"I don't know if Dougie will get mad when I tell him its over." Scarlett had told Arlen, and somehow she'd given Arlen the courage to not only tell Dougie to leave Scarlett alone, but to give him a good punch in the mouth!

"Now I feel safe" she'd said, as Dougie had lay on the floor of the Student Armory, bleeding. "He's always been so grabby and needy, and it really freaked me out, you know? I hope he won't retaliate against us."

Not only had Dougie not retaliated, he'd driven his mom's SUV into a Sunday School bus of old ladies…they'd all died, and poor Dougie was a quadriplegic!

Arlen had felt terrible about this, he and Dougie had been in Advanced Placement Gifted and Talented classes together since third grade…but then, in the second week he and Scarlett were together, she'd had another serious problem.

After lovemaking one night, Scarlett was sobbing, beautifully sobbing, naked, her breasts heaving, in Arlen's protective arms.

"Oh-(sob)—Arlie, baby—(sob)—you're going to dump me, I have-sob-I'm in danger—sob—you'll leave me for Connie Krusemyer or someone."

Connie Krusemyer, captain of the Drill Team, wouldn't touch Arlen with a pool cleaning broom, but anyway-"What's wrong, honey? I'll do anything to take care of you!"

Scarlett had looked up at Arlen. She had told him she was a bad girl that night, and he'd hit her with a belt, which had turned them both on, and he felt like he was her lover and her Daddy at the same time!

"I hope you won't find this a burden, Arlie." It turned out Scarlett was being stalked by Mr. Morenschildt, the chemistry teacher, who had these weird delusions that he and Scarlett were in a love triangle with Willoughby the janitor!

"And-and Mr. Tykoudis, the vice-principal has been claiming that I'm having an affair with him, just-just because he lured me once to a Best Western room…

.

Arlen had done quite the number in helping out with that. Arlen's dad, who loved Scarlett, (although Mom not so much) had gotten in touch with Uncle Sid on the State police, and both those creepy guys, Willoughby and Morenschildt had gotten fired and jailed, although they swore that their interest in Scarlett had only been a "friendly" one.

And Tykoudis had quit his job and left town. It was tragic there were so many sleaze balls around!

But Arlen had always been there for Scarlett, and when she had told him that her folks were moving and how she wanted to end it all, Arlen said he couldn't live without Scarlett as well!

He'd just go back to being the loser again, right?

And he didn't WANT to be stuck at Polk High without his wonderful Scarlett. People were really weird there. One dude in Scarlett's French class, Kevin Falk,kind of a pansy type, had told Scarlett that he thought he might be gay—but he didn't seem too ashamed of it, and Scarlett had made the natural mistake of mentioning this to a guy in her Shop class.

That's right, Scarlett loved cars, and thought it was sexist that only boys took Shop, and she took it, and was friends with most of the guys who took the class with her.

"But this one guy, Sherman the Vermin? Oh, Arlie, I didn't know he was a neo-Nazi type, and I was just telling him how PROUD I was of Kevin for being out with his homosexuality, and I didn't know that Sherm would like, jump him with the boys…and now? Kevin, who I was going to bring flowers to…I've never seen someone in traction before—won't see me, and his Mom told me that even when Kevin's jaw is re-wired, he won't talk to me either!"

It had been so awful, because Kevin Falk's cousin was in Donald "Zing" Mozingo's gang, the Thunderboys, and they had taken it as an insult that Sherman the Vermin's gang, (The Cobras) had assaulted little Kevin, and there had been a full-out gang war, and a couple people had died, though they were dirt balls, unlike Kimmie, so there was no memorial.

"I feel like I started it all" Scarlett had told Arlie, who had reassured her that it wasn't her fault at all. Nothing was!

But still, the school had changed in the past few months and with his girl moving…

Yes, school without Scarlett, just with creeps like Zing Mozingo, and needy stalkers like Dougie…just wasn't where Arlen wanted to be. The planet Earth was not where Arlie wanted to be, really.

Which one of them came up with the suicide pact idea?

It was so eerie. Scarlett had told Arlie that she wanted to end it all, and she'd told him that she wanted to use a Browning 380 caliber recoil. She'd read about them, he'd learned…but what was this INCREDIBLE coincidence was…Arlie's dad had one at home!

Arlen's dad was in charge of the County Department of Probation and Parole, and he'd actually taken this Browning gun away from a suicidal client, and, although Arlen Carmichael, Sr. didn't believe in guns, he'd never gotten rid of it…he would hold the gun up at cocktail parties when he'd tell the story of how he'd confiscated it from the now grateful parolee, who now had his own landscaping business.

"My dad has that very gun!" Arlen had told Scarlett, just disbelieving such a coincidence.

"Wow…what do you think that means, Arlen?" Scarlett had asked the other night. "Do you think God wants you to help kill me, since I can't move away and be without you? The past three weeks have been the best of my LIFE, Arlie."

Now, Arlie pulled the huge gun out of his knapsack. He was going to tell Scarlett they had to take care of it, Dad would know they'd been playing with it, but that was silly. He'd never talk to Dad again.

Arlen looked at the gun, and then looked at Scarlett doubtfully.

"Oh baby, let's make love one more time!" Scarlett said immediately, and she pulled off her shirt. "Then, if you just want to kill me, I understand!"

About thirty heated minutes later, the two of them lay naked on the Oriental rug.

"Just-just kill me, baby, and then you can finish yourself off." Scarlett said, her eyes welling up. "But end it for me soon. I can't stand this. I just can't."

As Arlen toyed with one of Scarlett's ruby nipples, he looked at her quite earnestly. "I don't think I could kill you. I don't think I could kill anyone, but especially you, Scarlett. But on the other hand—I can't live without you, either."

Scarlett's eyes got really big. "Y-you mean—you don't mean I-I should—oh, I can't, Arlie."

Scarlett gave Arlen some passionate kisses, and another thirty heated minutes elapsed.

Arlen knew he had to be firm. "Scarlett, it'll be good if you do me first, you'll get practice, right? Then you can finish yourself off afterwards. I put the bullets in the chamber, and I practiced with it—I can show you—"

But Scarlett picked the gun up with ease, looked it over, and Arlen had the funniest feeling that this had happened before. Dad, atheist, Humanist Dad, had told him that déjà vu was just some sort of brain freeze…well, if Scarlett aimed right, that brain freeze would end!

"Right at my head. It'll be messy, but then you can do yourself, don't cry, honey. It's almost over for us." Arlen felt like a big burden was leaving his shoulders now, but he'd never seen poor Scarlett this upset. What a big deal it was.

Arlen almost envied Dougie, now paralyzed from the neck down…once he'd actually sneaked to the rehab center to see Dougie, to apologize for going off the deep end, and Dougie had seemed almost placid, even though there were like bolts drilled in his head to keep him still.

Dougie had said "You know, Arlie, some girls are real high maintenance."

Suddenly now, there was a BANG and the last thing Arlen saw was Scarlett's cheery smile.

One

Murph sat at his desk in the Interview Room and looked at the letters. How they taunted.

Some were before his time—

1340

"Vacationing near Caspian Sea, have been keeping flea circus…unfortunately my flea chow has had unfortunate effects on the performers, some of whom have escaped and are mingling with villagers. Unkindly, a few unrelated terminations have been framed as "Black Death" by local media.

Yours,

Scarlett"

"Wintre 1692

I offer Greetings and Salutations to Thy Celestial Being…tis bitterly cold here in bitter New England. Thou were'st concerned in thy last missive that I might be causing undue influence to local maidens with my particular brew of chamomile. It is a tea that indeed stimulateth imagination!

But I have discontinued my tea-shop, and am now advising in the prosecution of Spiritual women (coincidence, there) in prosperous Salem! We shall see-eth if calmness comes after the hangings

Yours truly,

Scarlett Iscariot

"February 3, 1905

Dear Almighty, etc…

I weary so of your complaints that I've caused too much havoc in the United States, so I've been traveling and am now engaged to a healer, Grigori Rasputin, in Peterhof, a hamlet in the Russian Empire. Grigori is young and idealistic, and we have been charged with nursing Alexei Nikolaevich, the youngest son of Emporer Nicholas…the poor child has the bleeding disease. I have also become close to the Czar—intimately close—and he has been, so flatteringly, asking my advice about political matters!

Can life get more interesting?

Scarlett"

"April 15, 1912

Southampton.

Hope you boys are well…I have never quite gotten over my Siberian romance, but I know you great folk in the Beyond want me to expand my horizons, and so I am leaving on a cruise in the morning on the R.M. S. Titanic. I have met the ship's pilot, and I must say, he seems quite infatuated with me, although I fear he can not hold his rum!

Happy nauticals,

Scarlett"

"June 28, 1914

Hope you all are well. Sarajevo is lovely in summer. I am being courted by the most divine young man, a member of Young Bosnia, sometimes affectionately called The Black Hand…Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his beloved are making an appearance in town today, so we're dropping by, and perhaps do a little skeet shooting after

Best,

Scarlett."

"November 12, 1966.

Dear Murph and Peter-

I am working as a seamstress for a girl singer called Karen Carpenter. She's a little chubby, but I'm encouraging her to take off the pounds. Don't you love good deeds?

Love, Scarlett"

"March 21, 1967

I resent the implication in your last message that I am selfish and troublesome. Really, I do. Last night I picked up an aspiring guitarist who had just been paroled from the Terminal Island prison, and we are going to San Francisco so I can help him meet people who can help Charlie achieve his dreams. I certainly hope you apologize for your vile accusations.

Scarlett."

"TELEX

REVEREND JONES AND SENDS REGARDS STOP GUYANA HAS MANY MOSQUITOES STOP WOULD PREFER TO GIVE OUR CONGREGATION BRANDY STOP BUT FORTUNATELY I REMEMBERED A POPULAR POWDERED DRINK MIX THAT WAS EASY TO TRANSPORT STOP THIRSTS TO BE QUENCHED SOON YOURS IN THE LORD SCARLETT"

"Just a quick postcard to tell you how great the Seventies are treating me! I have gone straight, fellas, and am now dating a handsome young Republican, a nice law student in Washington State called Ted—"

Murph put the letters down and looked dispiritedly at the three teenagers in his office. Shuffling, the girl is popping gum of course. Sometimes Murph wondered at the unfairness of perception—that Saint Peter stood at the Pearly Gates, and made all decisions to admit or reject with a Book of Life.

There they were. Stopped in 1983. Orville Fenton, that fabulous rent-a-hippie look, imitation arrowhead on a necklace turning his skin green. The bleached blonde next to Orville, her skinny legs protruding from a hideous denim miniskirt. (Detached from worldly things, Murph still was an avid reader of the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue.)

And the third sinner, a pseudo intellectual fattie complete with thrift-store smoking jacket, polka-dotted bow tie, plaid pants and—saddle shoes?

And they're not the cutest…Murph was from a generation that still labeled "special needs" people defective.

Orvie Longhair had some sort of club foot—one heel of his shoe was higher than the other, and Murph could imagine how difficult it must've been to want to be trendy and not even be able to wear sneakers…sensible orthopedic leather shoes, badly matching the torn dungarees and Black Sabbath tee.

And the girl, she had quite heavy orthodontia, and sadly was shaped a bit like a bowling pin…and…so sad, at fifteen years old, in her right ear Murph beheld a hearing aid, unfashionably large.

And for the third boy, we again refer to the Polka-dot bow tie.

Nerds. The Big Guy gets all the credit to deal with arriving detritus, or so it says in those Come-to-Jesus Chick tracts (He was much shorter than Jack Chick's drawings).

So He gets the credit, and I do the work. At least this had been true since 1926 when "Sneaky Silas" Murphy had been backed over by an ice wagon while shooting craps…and wouldn't be here at all if not for his mother's many novenas.

And when he'd got here, he was told he had to do some Penance…this apparently was it, transferring those from the Limbo Lounge, half-assed sinners like himself—up Above if they could plea-bargain or deal their way in.

Of course, no one knew that in the Real World, because then everyone would go to church even less than they did now…they'd just consider copping a deal or whatever—

And these three pimpled nightmares were a perfect example of what was wrong with the Celestial System.

The girl, who had a history of praying but not kneeling "because I don't want God to think He's the boss of me" gave Murph a bored look. "How do you know we don't want to go to Hell? That's why we're here, right, so you can offer us a deal to get us out of going down?"

Orvie, whose hair was even longer than the insolent girl's, looked at her. "Yeah. I bet Sid Vicious is down below, Bent. And maybe Doctor Demento." The girl grinned and the two high fived.

"Orville, Dr. Demento is a fictional character." This from Llewellyn "Pudge" Smudge, obese, bespectacled and to Murph's mind, thoroughly annoying.

After the accident, Pudge had been clutching a research paper with a big red penciled D on it, arguing "High school teachers are usually employed so because they are too stupid to get into graduate programs."

Bentley smiled at Pudge, and ruffled his filthy crew cut. "Pudge, you could meet Mark Twain down there, I bet, and maybe Lee Harvey Oswald, or somebody."

Murph put his head in his hands. "Believe me." Murph looked up again, at the tiresome adolescents. "You really want to go up. Mark Twain actually is above. Atheist or not, they admitted him, and Bertrand Russell. And Sid Vicious, though not Nancy Spungeon, who was truly evil."

"What about Dr. Demento?" Orvie said, and Bentley and Pudge turned towards him in unison. "Fictional character."

"Why aren't we up there now then?" Bentley asked. "I mean, we…the car went over the cliff in 1983, and it's what—2012 now?" She popped her gum.

Murph wondered where it was that they sold gum up here, and—was Pudge smoking a cigarette.

"No one knew what to do with you, Bentley." Murph looked earnestly at the young vulgarian, trying to remember his own youth, when, he was sure, he was entirely sensible.

Orvie grinned. "So we're not good enough for upstairs and not evil enough for the bad place…that's why we've been, like—eating Cheetos and playing Galaxian in the Limbo Lounge for like, almost thirty years?"

"They have a regrettable bookstore." Pudge said primly as he shared his stinky clove cigarette with Bentley.

"And apparently a cigarette machine." Murph looked distressed. "Well, your parents are almost all upstairs now, and they're asking for you and the Big Guy is open to a transfer, but he wants a favor first."

"But why? Why can't we just get in heaven?" Orvie asked confusedly. "We're good people, aren't we?"

"We're only best friends who got in a car accident, really." Bentley said, exasperated

"Does it have to do with us joyriding underage in the vice-principal's old Plymouth?" Pudge inquired curiously.

Murph smiled. "Oh, how easy that would be. If it were only that. Even the last day of your lives, you behaved horribly. Orvie, you gave your younger sister five dollars to eat a dog turd with milk that day. Bentley shoplifted a bottle of nail polish from Rexall—"

"Only because the line to the register was so long." Bentley protested good naturedly.

Murph shook his head. "And Pudge apparently chose that day to urinate in the holy water font at Our Lady of Perpetual Serenity…the cherry bomb he dropped in his grandmother's nursing home toilet didn't go off, so I'm excusing him that sin."

Pudge viewed Murph over his granny glasses. "Destruction of property is a misdemeanor, not a—"

"Right. Anyway, we here in the Hereafter have a favor we need, and then we can process you to the top." Murphy was hot to get them out of here. Pol Pot was in the waiting room with yet another appeal. He and Mae West sure keep me busy…

"We're sending you back to high school—Freedmore High your alma mater." Murph paused. "Well, you didn't graduate, you were juniors, I think, but that's where you're going, on a mission."

"We're so done with high school!" Orvie said, and Bentley nodded. Pudge had taken an M-80 out of his pocket and regarded it solemnly, and returned it there.

"Yes, but you need to go back. You're still in your fifteen-just about to turn sixteen bodies, and you have to stop Scarlett Iscariot, who is related to someone bad down below, and is recruiting for future members for the Inferno."

"Generally, Scarlett does her most damaging work in colleges and high schools. She just left James K. Polk High School in Aultsmouth, Nebraska fifteen corpses there, several other citizens ruined or maligned… and arrived at East Broward Junior College, where's she's met a lonely boy called Richie Delpriore."

The kids look interested. Can I hold their attention? Let's continue…

"Delpriore, who is not homosexual, was gay-bashed anyway by members of the Intramural Wrestling team, and Scarlett encouraged the young man to dress in black outfits and to research the acquisition of machine guns on the Internet."

Murph paused. It was amazing, because the year before that, Scarlett encouraged an all girls art school to start a Championship Rifle team, and then one night…

"What's the Innernaut?" asked Orvie curiously. "Is it a river or something?"

"Where they have guns?" Bentley looked at Orvie pityingly. "It's a highway, I bet."

Murph rubbed his forehead. "The Internet, in a nutshell has made my job so much more difficult. But you'll find out all about it. I suppose we should get a computer for the Limbo Lounge. Pol Pot would certainly enjoy it."

"A computer. Like Batman has." Pudge remarked, and Orvie nodded wisely.

" Around the time that Richie Delpriore teamed up with Chen Shebairo, who still had his grandfather's Bazooka from the battles in Khe Sanh. And they went on to the well-attended wrestling tournament with Kipps Polytech.

Murph noticed more interest "Then, while the unfortunate Broward Coward's Massacre, as the press called it, happened in the gymnasium—the mayor of East Broward Township blew his brains out after finding his wife in a lesbian coupling with who else…Scarlett Iscariot."

"If the local cops couldn't be busy enough, Armand Hedges, chairman emeritus of the Broward Hospital Board of Trustees embezzled $600,000 from the hospital, fatally poisoned his wife, four children and twelve grandchildren at a reunion barbecue, and went to the local airport to try and hijack a plane to Rio, but the girl he was supposed to run off with—guess who?

Our Scarlett didn't show up, but sent a SWAT team to take down the octogenarian, who up until one month ago, had led a blameless if boring life…"

Murph paused. "Scarlett is a beautiful and vivacious young woman—well she appears to be young, and who has been going town to town, country to country, for centuries, causing grief to various citizens, usually spiritually weak people, and eventually bringing them down BELOW."

"Oh, 'cause she's hot, she um, leads them to trouble or something." Orvie pondered. "I think I've seen that in old comic books my dad has in his garage."

"Well, Satan doesn't have a great imagination, I wouldn't be surprised if that's where he gets his ideas. I often wonder if he saw the movie 'Caligula'. But you've got to stop Scarlett, and fast."

Murph paused. "It's quite serious. Scarlett blackmailed Benedict Arnold, gave Napoleon his persecution complex, and sold a travel itinerary to Typhoid Mary. She was BFFs with Lizzie Borden, helped Leopold and Loeb compose their ransom note, and gave Dan White, a peaceable San Francisco elected official a doctored Twinkie and the weapon that finished off Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk."

Murph looked at the kids. "And now Scarlett has arrived at Freedmore High, and if you have any reverence for the school at all, or for the town of Freedmore's citizenry, you'll help us out here, really."

"But you don't get it, man." Bentley said, smiling. "We weren't the popular gorgeous kids, I mean, I know I have kind of a Debbie Harry thing going, but still, I didn't influence anyone, and neither did the boys here."

"That's correct, Mr. Murphy." Pudge said with a rueful smile. "We met as dodgeball targets in pre-kindergarten, and coalesced accordingly."

Orvie shook his head. "Daniel Whitehead really could throw it at us. Once the ball bounced my nose in , ricocheted off Bentley's stomach and shattered Pudge's glasses. Then we turned five and the social um—"

"Ostracizing" Pudge muttered. "Well, we weren't that bad. We didn't get called last for teams, even with my tumescence and Orvie's foot, and were invited to some of the parties, but I don't see us as agents of social change."

"And I felt up Lydia Duvdevani in ninth grade….second base." Orvie said proudly, as his friends looked somewhat embarrassed.

"I know that. You're average kids, and you don't have to change much" Murph said patiently. "All you have to do is get Scarlett to put a silver cross around her neck. And, try to discourage her admirers from going into the abyss."

"A silver cross?" Bentley asked skeptically. "That is so cliché."

"Perhaps the Devil isn't the only one who reads too many comic books." Murph said, wondering if he could get a promotion if this went well. How nice it would be to just stand at the Pearly Gates. Bureaucracy was some kind of hell, if not the Real one.

"Well, I'm willing to go for it, if all we really have to do is hang the cross on this chick's neck." Orvie said with a very slight improvement of posture.

Murph smiled. "You know of course, that there have been many, many attempts to hang the cross on Scarlett for thousands of years now, or at least it seems. It may not work out that you can…but if you can do it before you graduate from Freedmore—you were juniors and still are—it gives you a year and a half."

"Well, we can try." Bentley said energetically. "If we don't make it, is it back to Limbo Lounge? I'm real tired of Galaxian." Orvie and Pudge nodded wearily.

"We're not sure where you'll go." Murph responded with a significant look that gave the three teenagers pause. "Try and make an effort on this one, will you?"

Pudge bent over and picked up a crumpled piece of paper from the floor. "Dear Murph, haven't heard from you since I closed my marriage counseling clinic in Brentwood. The Simpsons, after five years still have not paid their bill.

I have been teaching meditation in Afghanistan throughout the year 2000—" the fat boy looked over at Murph behind his desk "This is private, what do you want me to do with it, Mr. Murphy?"

"Pudge, I don't care if you wipe your ass with it."

Two

7:30 A.M.

When Ronny Dills opened his eyes that morning, the strangest person was in his room. A big twenty-something guy with reddish blonde hair, some muscle definition in his shoulders, but a little bit of a gut around his stomach. This was easy to spot, because the dude was only wearing a pair of pink Spandex tights that ended at his knees.

"So, Ronny. I'm Ezekiel. You can call me Zeke." The guy who had a thick Bronx accent, put his finger to his mouth and shook his head gently. "Not here to upset you, babe. Just to give you friendly warning."

Then the guy laughed, a creepy laugh, and leaned back against Ronny's Coldplay poster. "I never took warnings though. When I got involved with her, a dude showed up to talk to ME, too…he said that our girl got him to wear a T-shirt that read "Homosexual Behavior is Wrong" and then the guy got beat to death at a Gay Pride parade—and I said to him 'If you're dead, how can you be talkin' to me?"

Ronny finally found his voice "Who the FUCK are you, and why are you in my room?" Ronny sat up in bed and opened his mouth again. "I'm going to call the cops—"

Suddenly Ronny's door opened, and Mom looked in. "Ronald, why are you screaming? Whitney isn't feeling well, and I'm taking her to the doctor. You need to get dressed and get ready for school." She paused. "If you didn't hang out with those strange boys in the tree house all night, you'd be up and around this morning."

Mom smiled and closed the door, and all Ronny could think was—Strange boys? Didn't you notice the FREAK that's in my goddam room in the PINK TIGHTS?

Zeke, who was fiddling through some of Ronny's baseballs cards dropped them on the weight bench Ronny never seemed to use, and grinned again. "Yup, she can't see me. Meinhold—the guy who got beat by the fags—he talked to me right in front of a New York City police sergeant, and the cop saw and heard nothin' except for me telling the thin air to get himself and his queer tee shirt out of there."

Zeke paused, and waited for Ronny to respond, but the boy was awake but seemingly comatose. Zeke shrugged. "Yup. I met her, your friend Scarlett—we were both inna class of '67 at Coney Island Industrial."

Ronny gasped. "You know Scarlett? She's not that old, though."

The big man smiled, and reached over to Ronny's bookshelf, picking up "The Jews and their Lies" by Martin Luther. "Cute, cute stuff there. But you're a Hebe yourself, right, Ronny?"

"I am not!" Ronny sat up in his bed again. "I'm going to kick your—"

"Shut up, kid. Let me tell you about Scarlett." Zeke said, as he tossed "The Jews and their Lies" on the floor. "She knew all this personal stuff about me. She knew that my mother would tell my Daddy to whip my ass, just for drinking too much milk, and that my Daddy would tell me that he'd whip me fifteen times with the strap instead of thirty, if I gave him a blowjob inna shower."

"Oh Jesus, that's disgusting." Ronny said balefully. "And now you wear that freaky outfit?"

"It was actually quite fashionable among the male hustlers in 1972, but let me go on." Zeke grinned. "Mind if I smoke? Your folks won't smell it…it's a ghost cigarette, from a brand that don't exist no more."

Ronny got up, trembled and then sat on the bed again. It might be the result, this peculiar experience, of too much pizza last night during the PureCorps meeting at the tree house.

"So darlin' Scarlett—she kept counselin' me." Zeke said as he puffed showily. "I killed Mama and Daddy in their sleep wit' a letter opener. Then I run off to Eighth Avenue Manhattan to peddle my ass, and Scarlett shows up AGAIN, no kidding, and gets me to knock one of my johns down the stairs in a X-rated porn theater" Zeke pronounced this "thee-ay-ter"—"so his neck got broken, and I just got out ahead of the cops, right?"

Ronny sat dumbly on his bed, staring.

"And then, after all that, Meinhold the fag-basher shows up. Get this. It's 1967, and Meinhold isn't beaten to death until around 1995, but his ghost comes back through time to warn me—I never heard of Gay Pride, even though I was a cornholer for cash in '67—but Meinhold, who was probably my age in '67 and appears to me as a middle aged ghost from the future—tells me it's time I stayed away from Scarlett."

Ronny frowned. Why didn't anyone like Scarlett? She was his new friend. She introduced him to the love of his life, and to some great new people. And who was this weirdo in his room, that Mom, who spotted tiny things like joints and condoms, couldn't see plain as day in Ronny's goddamn room?

Was the guy a fag? Was he trying to seduce Ronny? Ronny wasn't going for that at all. No sir. Ronny was, despite his ugly hook nose, a pure Aryan Brother, damn it!

Zeke grinned. "I didn't listen to Meinhold. No, like I told you, right in front, the cop, I cursed him out, and the officer thought I was a damn schizo. I ain't going to go into what Scarlett got me into next, but suffice it to say that when she was done wit' me, though I wasn't caught for a bunch of stuff… when Scarlett was done wit' me, she sold me to a pimp called Beefsteak DeStefano, who had four whores, two male, two female—Tenley, Bethesda, Talbot and me…and then laterI died of exposure in this shitty outfit, these Spandex—in December '72."

Zeke held his hand up. "Sure, my folks was scum, did I have to kill 'em? I dunno. The other stuff, I didn't have to do at all…but you ain't going to listen to me. Scarlett has her agenda—" (he pronounced it "agender") "and you ain't going to do nothing, right?"

Zeke grinned. "I know you ain't. You ain't going to like it down below. I am not happy there. Sure, I murdered three people, robbed a buncha liquor stores, spread some nasty VD around, prolly a lot of married fags gave it to their wives, did other nasty shit to little kids, Scarlett made me, well, encouraged me, but alla shit I did, much of which Scarlett educated an' encouraged me on? It ain't worth what I been through. Burnin' in frickin Beelzebub's Basement."

Zeke flipped his cigarette butt to the carpet, but it mysteriously disintegrated before it hit the floor.

"Its like that Disney movie? Pinocchio? Yeah. They warn him—don't go to Pleasure Island, you will become a donkey, but does he listen? Nah."

"You mean Pokemon, not Pin-whatever you said." Ronny was trying hard to maintain his dignity in the face of a lunatic.

"Ah, the price of stupidity. Even doin' the backstroke inna fuckin Lake of Fire, I just don't envy you, kid." Zeke smiled in odd serenity

Ronny felt dizzy and lay back on the bed…Suddenly Mom was knocking on the door again.

Ronny woke up. Zeke in the pink tights was gone. Yup, too much pizza. Ronny, at sixteen, was going to have to get into taking Alka-Seltzer.

10:14 A.M.

Ronny Abram strutted down the hall. He was wearing it—the shirt. When Carlo and Byron had heard that Ronny was going to actually display his swastika T-shirt at school—sure, they wore them at their meetings in the tree house, but out in the world?

"Dude, the bangers will kick you into pulp." Byron had said the night before. "Frosty Bates especially. He knows, I think, that we're skinheads, though my mom won't let me cut it that short, but you don't want him to get proof, do you?"

Ronny was a little scared. DeForrest "Frosty" Bates was a big, black, mountain of African-American rage. Last summer, when Ben Dilmore felt Nina-Marie Bates up, and Frosty had caught them—sure, Nina-Marie had let Ben do it, but did that stop Frosty from knocking Ben's teeth all over his Mom's Nissan Altima?

Frosty hates white people…but I hate the nigs, and I got a right. To. Speak. My. Mind. Ronny grinned when Paige Harbater and her bitch friends stopped together, leaning against the lockers and staring at him.

Ronny didn't get noticed much. Who gets big time credit for being Vice-President of the Interscholastic Algebra League?

Ronny was five two "with a nose four foot eleven" his nasty sister had said once…and Ronny had been going bald at thirteen, so it had been a no-brainer to shave his head…and join the Freedmore County PureCorps.

Sure, mostly it was some guys; they got together and discussed the race problem, and listened to David Duke talking on Youtube.

Most of the rest of the time they had circle jerk sessions in the tree house, the younger ones did, and one or two of the creepy older guys, like Marshall Aach, who bought all the liquor and paid for the computer and the porn sites for the tree house.

Ronny had a lot of secrets. For one, he was a math geek, and second, he was Jewish, which you weren't really supposed to be in the PureCorps. And, up until recently, he had been a virgin.

Ronny thought of his new friend Scarlett, who, while sitting next to him in the Student Armory had started a conversation with him on functional analysis and probability theory-really, she looked like a receptionist or a cheerleader, but she knew as much as he did!

And then she'd told him how she was also a racial purist. She'd known it about him. It was just wild. And God, she knew so much! Ronny had begun to get a little crush on Scarlett…but then Scarlett had introduced Ronny to Demeter.

"I don't want to lose my virginity, but I kind of work around it." Demeter, a spiky-haired freshman at Powhatan State had told Ronny after Scarlett had introduced them. An Older Woman.

Scarlett apparently was taking high school AND college courses, how cool, and she'd met Demeter, who was General Secretary of MA'AM, an acronym for Mohawks Against Murder. Pro-life punkers were the new thing…and they were fighting hard to close down the Women's Clinic on campus.

And yes, Demeter was sexually out of this world, except for the getting laid part, but then Scarlett had shown Ronny an interesting hypnosis trick that he'd used to go all the way with Demeter, and then Ronny's mom's best friend, and recently (with Scarlett's encouragement) Ronny's younger sister, who he'd always had a love-hate crush on.

Demeter had been overcome with grief over losing her "pearl without price" but it had made her (after getting her period again, thank God ) even more outraged about the shit going on down at the Women's Clinic.

And so, in Demeter's dorm room (She had a single, because she snored through her deviated septum) they had built a bomb. Napalm from online and everything.

Scarlett pointed out "You guys always blow clinics up at night—why not do it during the day…get a few casualties, and make a difference." It was a little scary. Demeter had also gotten so excited when she was out with Scarlett that she'd run her Hyundai over the toes of the receptionist from the Planned Parenthood over on Teagarden Street.

"Scarlett makes me so passionate, you know?" Demeter had told Ronny, waving a copy of "The Anarchist's Cookbook" at him.

So now, walking the halls of Freedmore High Ronny just thought—how awesome. I'm wearing a shirt that boasts of my beliefs, I'm not a scared little kike anymore, AND I'm gonna take out some sinners for the Lord.

As Ronny rounded the corner, he almost bumped into Faye Zacharewicz, who was a close friend of Scarlett's. The three of them sometimes played Hearts with some other kids in the Eleventh Grade Lounge while sipping cocoa.

"Faye, how's it going? See, you see the T-shirt?" Ronny knew that Faye, whose dad had the last black painted lawn jockey statue in town, would not object too much.

"Okay, Ronny!" Faye grinned. Faye had pink hair with purple tips, and wore makeup that made her look like she'd been in a coffin since 1979.

Faye reached out and traced the swastika with a blue fingernail. "Dude…that is so intense. It's from history, right?" Faye looked a bit vacant. "But it's a pretty shape."

Ronny wondered if this might be worse…people weren't offended because none of them had heard of the German participation in World War II.

"Faye, did your cat scratch you? You have these long red marks on your arms." It looked like she'd been wrestling with a lynx or something.

Faye winked. "My dad's night manager at Freedmore Furniture Resale, and I stole one of his box cutters. I've been on Paxil and Topamax and Elavil, but with the box cutter…it was incredible. But my sister took it away, and Mom hid all the razors and scissors."

Ronny blinked. "What do you mean? You want to off yourself?" Jesus. What a loser.

Faye shook her head. "No, I've been really down? I told you the other day about my friend who got molested when her dad took her in locker room of the YMCA when she was five?"

Ronny cocked his head. "Oh right. The girl's dad let his boss take her in the shower at the Y, as kind of a favor, you said, and then the guy got a promotion."

Faye smiled. "Yeah. That wasn't my friend. That was ME, and my uncle, he took me and my little sister to the Y with his boss…and I've been obsessing on it for ten years. Do you have a pencil?"

Ronny handed her a No. 2 pencil, and Faye pulled the eraser out of the metal end with her teeth and then bit the metal into a sharp edge and began running it slowly up and down her arm.

Ronny's stomach felt queasy. "What the fuck are you doing?" He'd heard of this. Ronny's sister, Whitney had a friend from summer camp that poked herself with pins.

Faye smiled. "It's an incredible release. I feel a little dizzy when I cut, and then I'm nut sad anymore. I do it on my arms, my tits, my stomach…it's really comfortable."

"Comfortable? It must be horrible." Ronny's eyes goggled as Faye pulled up her blouse.

Faye shook her head, smiling "You wouldn't think so, but if you rake yourself up, you feel almost, I don't know, gleeful."

Faye was clearly enjoying Ronny's discomfiture. "Also, my folks are hysterical because they found out I've been buying cigarettes, but I just light them and butt them out on my neck. See the burns?"

And indeed there they were, and Faye was rubbing these nasty red marks, little circular things, lovingly all over her neck. Faye turned around and showed Ronny the back of her neck, where, incredibly, there were a series of cigarette burns in the shape of a heart.

"Scarlett did my back for me with the cigs…it was just so intense. But it's much more fun to scrape up with sharp things. You really feel great after a couple of strong painful pokes, you know?"

Faye paused, and smiled. "There's a bunch of us that do it, we were all in Youth Group at East Maple Tabernacle, and I took Scarlett to services and she noticed how depressed we all were…"

"All of you?" Ronny shook his head. Maybe it was a born-again Christian thing, these chicks.

"Yeah." Faye said with a sad grin. "A lot of us in the Youth Group, our folks are nasty and kind of—Scarlett said they're um, dogmatic…and some of them are fat. And there aren't any guys…and then Scarlett came to the meeting and it got really cool!"

Ronny grinned. "I know how she is, she's a lot of fun."

"Yup. Scarlett showed us how to cut. It's better than getting high, although Scarlett got a bunch of us some Valium and we ground it up and snorted it together at Marabeth Kingsley's sleepover."

This, Ronny could relate to. Scarlett had an almost unlimited supply of pills. Her dad was some kind of pharmaceutical sales guy. They had had some way big parties in the tree house.

Scarlett had given Ronny pills that gave him so much energy that he'd go home and get serious brownie points (and cash) from his parents for mowing the lawn and washing windows because he just couldn't sit still…and other times he'd take these big pills with numbers on the side, Quaaludes, that made him sleep for hours in fantasy…

Scarlett had gotten them all, all the PureCorps fellas to do astral projection with the aid of a huge variety of pharmaceutical assisters, and the meetings had gotten really interesting.

It gave you huge courage, too. When the Pure Corps was really zonked, they'd do stuff like graffiti up the side of a synagogue, or set fire to someone's hedges.

One night, Jesse Cockrell had taken an overdose of Oxy and had fallen out of the tree house and they'd had to drop him off at the E.R. But Scarlett had warned them not to stay too long, because they didn't all want to get caught.

And Jesse didn't wake up and rat on them…he was still out. It'd been a month, but maybe he'd come out of it, and not remember.

Now, Faye was raking her arm a little harder with the metal pencil tip, and it began creeping Ronny out. He reached out and tried to snatch the pencil from Faye, but she danced out of his way, waving the now bloody pencil at Ronny and then backing off.

"You know Phoebe Winters? She cut off her finger by accident and had to have it re-attached? Guess what…she did it on PURPOSE, and I may do it, too!" With a shriek, Faye threw the pencil over Ronny's head and ran down the hall.

Ronny just couldn't believe how nutty that girl was. Scarlett should stay the hell away from her. He felt a buzz from his pocket and pulled out his cell phone.

"Ronald? It's your mother. Something terrible has happened. I took your sister to the Women's Clinic at Powhatan University, and it's been blown to shreds."

Wow. They must've used the bomb. "That's incredible, Mom. Hope you and Whit were okay."

"Well, not really dear. I went from there to Dr. Rollins, who gave us an emergency appointment, and it looks like Whitney is pregnant, and she also has a case of Herpes Simplex—"

Damn. And Demeter told me she was a virgin! "That's terrible, Mom. I am so sorry for her."

"Ronald, Whitney told us some very disturbing stories about your involvement in this, and it was all I could do to keep Dr. Rollins from calling the police. I think you should come straight home from school, NOW."

Ronny wasn't sure what to do with this, so he pressed END on his cell. This was something he'd have to deal with later, apparently. Though he might have to leave town.

But, he still had to take a stand on the swastika business. Scarlett had encouraged him, and it was time now. He was going to pass a bunch of people before Third Period, and by God—"

"Hey, that's quite a tee-shirt." Ronny looked up and a sort of half-hot girl with streaked blond hair was smiling at him. She had a big thing in her ear, and it didn't look like a Bluetooth.

"You like it? Yeah, I'm an Aryan Warrior." Ronny tried to hold his shoulders up. The girl, like almost everyone else at Freedmore High, was taller than he was, but he had to try, right?

"I have a better shirt; you could wear instead of that one. I actually have it in my knapsack." The girl with the thing that was not a Bluetooth in her ear went through her backpack and pulled out a big black shirt with an actual PHOTO of five black guys hanging by their necks from nooses, and there was a tiny imprinting of little red swastikas in the background.

"My Pop's in the KKK, and this is a pic from the Sixties. You like?" The girl said this with a smile.

Ronny's mouth watered. He wanted this shirt bad. "How much do you want for it? I have twenty-five bucks—"

"No no… I'll trade you." She was really cute, but she was wearing leg warmers like Ronny's Mom used to wear. Not very in with it. But she had the shirt. Ronny pulled his shirt off, exposing his narrow little chest, and they exchanged, and he pulled it on.

Another kid approached them. This one was REAL freaky. Buzz cut, Coke bottle round glasses, and a bow tie. And he weighed about three hundred pounds. He looked like a senior citizen, but Ronny knew he couldn't be more than fifteen. And, this was nice, he was no taller than Ronny, either.

"Pudge, look." The girl pointed at Ronny's shirt. "Isn't he a stud with that thing on?"

The fat kid looked at the shirt, and then at Ronny. "Words fail me, Bentley."

Before Ronny could retort, the girl kissed him on the cheek, which was nice, and then she and the fat boy, Pudge took off, late for a class, apparently. Ronny, thrilled with this new acquisition, tucked his shirt in and jutted out his chest, and began strutting to his next class.

His cell rang again, and Ronny looked at it, quivering. He hoped it wasn't Mom. Or a cop asking about "The Anarchist's Cookbook." But no. It was Scarlett!

"Hey, do you have the shirt on? You are such a stud-muffin, baby!" There was a pause. "Did you hear about the clinic? Demeter and I took care of it, but she stood a little too close to the blast. I told her to move—but do you have the shirt? I want to see it, I'm comin' right around the hall on the first floor."

I'm going to surprise her, Ronny thought. She won't believe this new shirt. WOW. "Yeah, I'm wearing it. I will see you in about thirty seconds!"

Ronny rounded the corner, grinning, and then stopped.

Scarlett was standing next to Frosty Bates, who looked enraged. Frosty had a giant purple glass eye, from losing a rock fight when he was nine, and two gold teeth. And he was huge.

Frosty had failed second grade once and fifth grade twice, and when he'd been in seventh grade at age fifteen, his probation officer had asked the high school to let him in as a sophomore so he'd have better self esteem…and he'd been here for five or six years, raising holy hell.

Why…why didn't I realize this would be a problem? Ronny thought to himself. But it was like Scarlett hypnotized me…and now, she's apparently changed her mind.

Just look at them.

Frosty's homeboy, D'Artangan Winslow, and Dart's brother Wendell both were standing by, and all three had switchblades, and Wendell also had a long, thick chain.

As Ronny stopped in horror, nearly peeing his pants, he heard Scarlett say to Frosty:

"I just can't believe all this racism here at school. I hope you'll be ready to kick some ass for your fiancée, Frosty."

And then Frosty kissed her. And then Frosty grinned a mean grin and said "Mutha-fuckin' right, Scarlett. Where's this racist Honkie. I'll kill him and the boys will he'p me!"

Ronny couldn't move. He had not thought all the way to this level of standing up for his beliefs. He stood there, and gaped as Scarlett pointed at him.

She looked so strange. Her hair was processed in a weird way, and she was wearing a pin displaying Dr. Dre, an obnoxious rap star on her considerable chest.

"There he is. You little bastard! My boyfriend is going to see that you pay for the nasty stuff you've said to me. You know I'm half black."

But-but…Ronny wondered if he would die now. The last time he'd felt safe, he realized, was at his Bar Mitzvah…the last two or three years had been weirder and weirder, and now…but Scarlett…

Frosty, Dart and Wendell stomped up to Ronny. "Scarlett says you have a shirt that I will be interested in seeing, cracker. Let's see it, and then you will get…."

But then Ronny of course was covering the shirt up, with his flimsy arms. His knees were knocking. Life is so short…and he knew that Frosty and his gang, the J-Dawgs had left corpses before.

Wendell knocked Ronny's hands away, and then Dart grabbed Ronny's wrists and held them behind Ronny's back. "Now you can look, stab and punch all you want, Frosty!"

But Frosty, after looking at the incriminating tee, gave Ronny a big grin. "That's your shirt, man? That's the shirt you have, and what you're in favor of?"

Ronny was astounded as Wendell let his arms loose, and the three of them, huge black and terrifying crowded around to look at this shirt more closely.

"Son of a—my Grandad have this shirt." Dart said, in wonder. And his brother nodded his head.

Then they hugged him, all three one at a time, hugged Ronny, and patted him on the back.

Scarlett came closer. "What the hell's wrong with you? Kill him. He's got a Nazi shirt on!"

Frosty gave Scarlett a dismissive look. "You a trouble-making bitch. I don't want to be married to you at all. Twenty is too young to be married anyway, even though I have four babies and I'm in the tenth grade."

The three guys hugged Ronny again and walked off, and Scarlett looked at Ronny's shirt, and her mouth dropped. It was the first time Ronny had ever seen Scarlett surprised.

"What the hell's that?" Scarlett backed off. "You lying little asshole." She spun and walked down the hall.

Finally, Ronny looked down at the shirt he was wearing. Where were the strangled blacks? The shirt he was wearing, at least NOW had a black and white photo of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, and the letters above him were saying, "I have a dream that my children will be judged not on the color of their skin, but the content of their character."

And then Ronny did indeed, pee his pants.

Three

"Daddy, please don't give me a hard time." Scarlett pouted in her pink halter as she, Daddy, and JJ, sullen as he always was in his leather jacket and Doc Martens, stood on the roof of Freedmore High.

"Dearest, you don't seem to be mission oriented, that's all." Dad shook his head. "Normally by now, you have betrayal, drug addiction, gang wars, and a fired vice principal or two…but our Supervisor is thinking of recalling you."

"Why? I'm not PERFECT, Daddy. This school has weirdness going on!" Scarlett snapped her little manicured fingers, and a Newport Light appeared, lit and everything, and why not? Fire was the devil's only friend.

Jude, Jr. was loving it. Normally, Dad was all over Scarlett—little Miss Iscariot who can do no wrong—unlike JJ who was a world class fuckup. Like Dad was a good example, right?

Dad still wore those stupid robes; he looked like a used camel dealer circa 217 B.C. And get a haircut! If Pop wasn't invisible to most of the world, JJ would be terribly embarrassed.

And now he was kind of nagging Scarlett. Holding his goat sackcloth of silver under one arm and rubbing his hands together nervously. JJ was not really surprised Dad had been such a crappy Disciple…he was basically your average whiny little bitch.

"Yo, Dad, I'm going downstairs, look around this place…"

"THIS IS MY PROJECT, ASSHOLE!" God, she was pissed.

"That's fine, Junior. Don't cause too much trouble, but just enough, eh?" Dad simpered.

Jude coughed, dissolved, and then materialized on the stairway between the first and second floors. An officious looking little man was coming up and pointed to JJ.

"You—do you have a hall pass? What class are you supposed to be in?"

The little man poked JJ in the chest, which was annoying. But, as the finger bounced, JJ made discoveries.

Vice Principal Leith Zlotnick owed twelve grand on Texas Hold-Em online bets. He'd failed out of the Hair Club for Men. Zlotnick was sleeping with his daughter's Inner Child Therapist and shot raccoons down at the dump with a group called the Ex-Husband's Baptist Liberation Retreat.

Emboldened, the little man poked JJ again in his AC/DC shirt. "You heard me, punk. What class are you supposed to be in? Tell me. Now."

JJ regarded the little man boredly. "The middle class in this century, I guess."

"Don't give me any crap, kid. We use the paddle here at Freedmore, and I just suspended two freshmen for smoking in the lavatory."

"Fire ants." JJ said, smiling at the little man.

"What? Are you sassing me?" The little man put his face very close to JJ's. "And when was the last time you got a haircut?"

"Probably a lot sooner than your last haircut, but there are fire ants all over your body…even comin' out of your rug, man."

Mr. Zlotnick self consciously touched his mop of curly hair, and to his horror, two or three little red bugs began crawling out from the so-called hairline. Zlotnick slapped one, and then another, but two more tumbled out, and one landed on his spectacles.

"You-what—OW!" shouted Mr. Zlotnick and clapped his chest.

"They bite, man. And there are a lot of them." JJ cocked his head, smiling.

Mr. Zlotnick loosened his tie, and then tossed it to the stair he was standing on. No big loss, JJ thought. The white tie black shirt thing went out quite a while ago. Makes him look like a castrated pimp, man.

Mr. Zlotnick unbuttoned his shirt to reveal dozens of little red fire ants crawling up his narrow, hairless chest. Stopping, of course to bite a bit. "OW! OOOH!"

More ants crawled out of Zlotnick's hairpiece, and Zlotnick ripped his wig off, to the amusement of two blonde girls who passed them on the stairs. Indeed, Zlotnick's cue-ball dome was covered with the little red monsters, and more were crawling out of his shirt.

One of the little blondes took a look at Zlotnick's back and screamed, and both girls ran down the stairs hurriedly.

"Yup. I've got some black ants coming from behind, and when they meet the red ants, it's going to be a full scale war, man." JJ smiled, and lit a Marlboro right in front of Vice-Principal Zlotnick, who was a bit distracted now.

Zlotnick discarded his jacket, which had a pin that said "Censor your Mouth" and then ripped off his ugly black Filene's shirt breaking off buttons. Indeed, the ants were meeting, the black that crawled from his back and shoulders, crossing down his chest to war with the red ones.

JJ had thoughtfully created a little patch of marmalade in the middle of Zlotnick's stomach as a spoils of war thing for the battle. The ants swarmed and bit each other and of course Zlotnick's chest, arms and apparently from within his pants because he was dancing madly.

"WHAT THE FUCK'S GOING ON, MAN?" screamed Zlotnick. "THIS IS A GODDAMN PLAGUE!"

"Dude, censor your mouth." JJ said, smiling gently, and blowing smoke rings.

Jude Iscariot, Jr. took one more look at the black and red ants now almost completely covering Zlotnick's body coming out of his pants and shoes and moving up his skinny chest in droves. Black ants came up his back and down his chest, and red ants came out of his zipper to meet the red, and they were PISSED.

"Stop it, make it stop!" Vice Principal Zlotnick was pleading, tears streaming down his cheeks, indirectly drowning a few of the battling critters.

JJ smiled, and leaned over…suffering was like morphine to Jude Iscariot, Jr. But then Jude sneezed, and all the black and red ants turned into centipedes. That damned tic of mine.

The centipedes did not calm Zlotnick, now in his jockey shorts, and he began rolling in a fetal ball…His sobs were beginning to roll through the echo chamber of the stairs.

If I wasn't in such a good mood, I might make it scorpions…black widows?

But this was a little disruptive, like when JJ got the fat black girls to stab each other over him in the New Orleans Superdome, his Katrina-ettes. Jude took one more look at the now buck naked, insect besotted academic.

"I think you need to take a personal day." JJ said, and pointed, and Zlotnick and the bugs were gone. Jude grinned, and continued down the stairs.

Jude opened the door to the First Floor, and passed a chubby sixteen year old who obviously stuffed her bra. Oops…"Ah-Choo!"

Jude worried the girl might say "Bless you" which could prove fatal, but instead she began to scream, and after looking over his shoulder, JJ continued his pace down the hall, for the girl was covered in maggots.

He passed a little Hispanic kid walking with library books and a skateboard, and sneezed again, and Pedro transformed into an African Forest hog, the books and skateboard falling to the floor.

The huge thing pawed and puffed around its horns scraping the side of a locker. The hall was deserted except for one girl who took one look at the huge creature and dropped her books, and ran out of the school screaming.

The screams from the maggot infested girl who was around the other corner had faded a bit, and Jude figured she'd gone to the nurse. But now to deal with the sneeze generated beast.

Damn those things are big, Jude thought. He couldn't remember what Pedro looked like, so he snapped his fingers and the giant hog transformed into a tiny mealworm, and JJ walked over and carefully stepped on it.

It was such a shame that Allegra didn't work for demons, JJ thought, shaking his head. One thing he'd enjoyed about Haiti when he'd been earthquake juggling was, the air was quite arid, and there had been no pollen.

"Still causing trouble, I see."

JJ looked up and there was a little kid, about fourteen or fifteen, with a shock of red hair and freckles. If he'd seen the Hispanic turn into a huge hog, even for a moment, you'd think the kid would be hysterical, but he just stood there, grinning.

But the kid was holding—Jesus—one of those machine gun pistols…and, as JJ looked more carefully, the kid had a black hole in the middle of his forehead.

"You don't remember me, JJ?" The kid tapped the black hole which had wisps of smoke emitting from it. The hole was small, and the kid's red forelocks covered it just a little.

But then the kid pulled his striped shirt up with the non gun holding hand, and his chest and stomach were also covered in black holes, some of which were bleeding. Yes, they were bullet holes.

And then JJ remembered. "Oh, right. Skinner Snodgrass. You don't—didn't go here, did you?"

Skinner grinned, those little misshapen teeth. "Nope. I was at Naragansett Middle School, in Rhode Island, back in '94, remember?"

Skinner paused, looking at a miniskirted passing ass appreciatively, before he went on.

" And my best buddy said, 'Hey, lets gun down all those bitches who make fun of us…they hang out at the Blue Lion. My friend, who helped me get this gun. And he had a gun, too."

The little red haired boy took the machine gun pistol and began shooting up the ceiling, though, of course, no bullets actually defaced it…just a lot of noise that only JJ could hear.

Skinner looked straight at JJ. "Yup, my friend. We were supposed to go in together, and shoot up the place, but when the cops stormed in, brought me down in a hail of bullets—though I got a few of them, too—my friend, JJ was gone."

"Well, I am a bit fickle." JJ said, smiling. A black kid walking by looked at JJ strangely, because of course it looked as if JJ was addressing thin air.

"That's what I hear, man!" Skinner said, grinning again. "When I got down below, I met some dude who strangled a bunch of nurses, he met you too…he said you tend to bug out at the last moment. That's too bad."

JJ was irritated. "Look, kid. You lost in a no-win game. You didn't have a chance, whatever. Below can be tough but don't guilt me, because—"

"Oh no, I'm not, JJ." Skinner smiled. "I've been looking around here, and it may not be as much fun for you and your sis as you might think. Your winning streak might be um, slumping." Skinner grinned.

" But I gotta go. Jack the Ripper's square-dance class was cancelled so I'm escorting Lucretia, this Italian chick who wears long skirts to a Challenge Yahtzee tournament with Madame Mao, John Wilkes Booth and Archbishop Somebody-or-other…see you in the funny papers."

And Skinner was gone.

Then there was a tap on JJ's shoulder and he spun around. "Remember me, lover? Willa Werbowetski?"

JJ regarded a sad looking corpulent girl in a lime green muu-muu. On her legs, peculiarly shriveled as opposed to her humongous stomach and buttocks were ugly metal braces that assisted her polio ravaged lower limbs to stand straight.

Again, a spirit, because as JJ looked at her, one of the school janitors walked right through her, almost knocking JJ over.

"You remember me. We were at Classical L&G together, right, Jude?" Willa cocked her head and gave JJ a rueful grin.

Oh yeah. Classical Latin and Greek Preparatory, in southwest Alabama, back in '66. God they were all showing up now, weren't they?

"Hey, Willa, how, um are you?" How was she? She was dead.

"You know how I am, JJ. You was nice to me, we went steady, went to the Junior Prom, and then you got me to strip naked and meet you in the parking lot, and then you turned on the lights and everyone laughed at me, and I committed suicide by overdosing on Epsom Salts."

Willa smiled uncertainly, and went on. "I shoulda dumped you after you gave Netitia Combs the syph, but Nettie was a slut anyhow. But I knew you were trouble after you sent a Super 8 film of Irvina Solosky screwing Iggie Rollins dad, th' Congersman to th' Channel 12 station…but I was just a horny, stupid cow."

JJ was feeling a little discombobulated. Really.

"I just came by to tell you that your act may not work here, you or your bitch sister, who encouraged my cousin Stu to imitate Evel Knieval, usin' his minibike to fall off Yorkshire Canyon. You guys should give it all up, you know?"

"Don't you have a Twinkie waiting somewhere? JJ asked, with a cruel smirk.

"You still know how to hurt a girl!" And then she disintegrated…or floated away.

Whiny little bastards. Anonymous fucks. JJ shook his head. If I have to have spirits wandering about, why can't I have a little help here?

And the wish was to the deed…There he was, Pickles the Clown. Garish red lips, red plastic round nose, purple fright wig, and green skin, although instead of a clown suit and oversized shoes, all Pickles wore was a T-shirt that read "I LOVE THE KIDDIES" a stained jock strap, so JJ got the unpleasant view of Pickles's bare buttocks, and pink high heels.

Pickles was holding a old fashioned bike horn, the kind that twisted like a small French horn and had the rubber bulb. Pickles honked the horn enthusiastically and jumped up and down with joy, seeing JJ.

"Jude! My man! HONK! Got sick of the HONK! whiners, huh?" Pickles jumped up and down. "Willa's a neurotic HONK! little bitch, isn't she? Kind of a HONK! Big bitch, really. Not too popular with our friends Below."

"Good to see you too, Pickles." JJ said, grinning.

"I just don't HONK! understand it, dude. My HONK! life was just so boring HONK! before I met you—I was a boring little accountant, HONK! bookkeeper really…and I had the fantasies! And you helped me LIVE THEM!"

"So what do you think of this place, Pickles?" JJ asked his erratic friend. "Class is just getting out, and I'm trying to find out if there's someone here who is queering Scarlett's pitch for souls, souls and mayhem, you know?"

Classes were just getting out, and the hall was filling up with kids.

"No!" Pickles was shocked. "You mean HONK! someone from Above? Pearly HONK! Gates? That's not HONK!playing fair is it?" Pickles shook his head."We don't have rules, but I HONK! thought they did up there."

Pickles leaned towards JJ confidentially "You know, I met John Wayne Gacy recently…he thought HONK! he was such a big HONK! shot with his 33 buried HONK! boys. What HONK! crap, right? We did in HONK! about two hundred fifty boys and girls, didn't we, JJ?"

JJ grinned. "But that was in 1900, and cops were fools then…and remember, we were with a very nomadic traveling circus. It's a little tougher now. But tell me what you see in the kids, will you, Pickles?" JJ paused. "And enough with the horn."

JJ pointed at the cute rubber ended bicycle horn and it disappeared. Pickles looked a little wounded. But then he brightened as the kids began walking by.

"The tall one, preppie kid looks like he must be in the Honor Society but he's got a couple of dime bags in the re-taped handle of the tennis racquet he's carrying…little blackmail there, if you get interested, JJ."

"No I'm trying to find out what's messing with Scarlett's work here, tell me more about these little brats coming down the hall."

"Well, this girl here, her Pop is slippin' her the sausage, as well as her three sisters at home. He's a member of the School Board, by the way.

"The kid over at the drinking fountain pees in his mother's contact lens solution, and the big gang boy about to hit him up for his lunch money wears a garter belt and stockings under his stonewashed jeans."

JJ nodded, marveling at Pickles's perceptions.

"That redhead, just coming up the hall with the geometry book? She is a bulimic on a scale like you've never seen, with about 230 sandwich bags filled with puke buried under her house….and the Asian with the boobs? She's adopted, Thailand but before her American parents got her, she was an eight year old prostitute…great stuff, eh?

The Mickey Rourke look-alike behind her with the sullen lip goes to animal shelters to adopt white cats that he sacrifices in a pitiful attempt to be a warlock."

JJ was continually amused by amateurs. "Yeah? Go on."

"See the little Negro lad—"

"No it's African-American now."

Pickles laughed raucously. "I can't believe it—did you get Satanic sensitivity training? Anyhow, the little black kid is fairly respectable, he's head of his church's Youth Fellowship, but his dad, who is some kind of Pentecostal has been whipping the kid's ass when he doesn't stain his sheets with wet dreams, because that means the kid has been MASTURBATING."

For some reason this made Pickles laugh, doubling up as he thought about it.

Pickles looked at JJ with begging eyes. "Do something scummy…to that stuck up bitch right there" Pickles pointed at a regal Jewish American Princess in a Betsy Johnson dress.

JJ pointed and snapped, and she was covered with huge zits.

Pickles doubled over again, giggling and snorting.

JJ laughed. "Let's try a different floor." They materialized on the Third Floor of the building.

"Lotta kids comin' through" Pickles observed. "Big change from when I was last in school—graduated from business college in eighteen and ninety five…that was b'fore I quit to be a clown and got my true education with you, you damn genius!"

JJ smiled. "Well you behaved pretty badly yourself. I just gave you a gentle push."

Pickles was right, there were lots of kids in the hall. Not all rushing to class, either, some of them skylarking about.

"Oh, JJ! There's just a crop of evil little sinners here! The long drink of water in the tank top is scary, he has nunchucks in his locker, but the little tiny Jewish boy by the window has a .45 in his book bag! The hussy with the tube top, her brother is in a psych ward for raping a 90 year old woman…and she herself has had two abortions and is now pregnant by one of the gym teachers….Goodness."

Pickles darted about, looking at the new crop, amusing the hell out of JJ (how many times does one get to see a transvestite clown in a jock strap dancing around a high school?) but then Pickles got kind of serious, kind of like he'd done when he'd eaten too many dead children's severed penises, back in 1900.

"What's wrong, Pickles? You okay there?" JJ was getting a little impatient. It seemed like just a normal high school, and maybe Scarlett was just getting lazy or something. Nothing of interest seemed to have shown up, just the usual secrets and perversions.

"Um, standing behind the kid with the freckles, who sells Biology test answers, there's a hippie looking kid, and I think there's some kind of creepy aura around him. See? He's standing with another one, a little fat boy in specs and a bow tie?"

Pickles began shaking a little. JJ was surprised. Pickles could deal with almost anything. They'd raised all kinds of hell in alternate universes, faced monsters… They'd coached the Zodiac killer and buddied up to the Columbine trench boys, but Pickles didn't' t look happy now. JJ wondered if he should give Pickles back his horn.

"JJ, you might want to get out of here, at least off the hallway. I'm not sure why, but I'm losing morale, God they're coming this way…"

"What?" JJ was impatient. "They're a couple of geeks. The one kid has one of those eighties arrowheads on his neck, and a…a silver cross."

Pickles shook his head. "I don't get it, there are probably thirty cross necklaces in the school right now, but that one, is…it's…oh, I must go, JJ."

JJ looked carefully. They were just two nerds. The hapless type that the cheerleaders gazed through. JJ looked over to see if Pickles was still there, but he was gone.

"I think the word Pickles was looking for is Kryptonite."

JJ blinked his eyes, and where Pickles had stood was a topless young man in a pink Spandex thing that resembled long underwear. No one was gaping, so he must be a spirit.

"I don't need any more uh support from—" JJ tried to give the male prostitute ghost a nasty look, but it seemed not to be affecting him much.

"Yup. Kryptonite. Superman may have been before Pickles's time… I'd be careful, Judas Junior…you got big troubles comin' as does your bitchy sister. It's too late for me, but looks like these kids may make it after all."

"I'm talkin' about the poor little suckers in the high school here. The long hair and dweebie with the bowtie are whatchacallit, I guess the undead. They're not alive, and they're not where I am right now, either, burnin' below."

"Maybe we can distract them somehow" JJ said, watching them approach. The kid who was wearing the cross, tangled in with the arrowhead, he had really dirty hair, but his chubby buddy's hair was, besides being really short, full of dandruff…and he was going bald, at what fifteen?

"We? No no, I don't think so, JJ. I am enjoyin' this. I got a bone to pick wit' you all. First I have a shitty life as a sexually abused child, then fratricidal murderer or whatever it's called, and then frostbitten male hustler…and then down below…why would I help you?"

The spandex boy winked and he was gone.

JJ knew he had some advantages. Obviously the two kids didn't know who he was. They'd probably made Scarlett by now, and were just getting in the way…but who knew what the cross meant?

JJ made himself invisible and began following the two geeks, listening closely.

"Pudge, I haven't seen Scarlett around today, I guess she must be cutting class, you think?" The hippie kid looked questioningly at the fat boy.

"Well, Orvie, I imagine if you are a demoness it doesn't really matter if you skip a few classes. She is probably a bit peeved as we confused her attempt to get poor uh…."

"Matthew, his name was.." Orvie ventured as they turned the corner of the hallway.

"Yes, of course. Matthew was going to overdose, because Scarlett didn't love him anymore, and while Bentley shook her boobs at the poor cuss, we changed the Seconals to M&Ms…and Matthew has recovered, but Bentley is a bit peeved because now he wants her to, of all things, go roller skating with him."

"Dude, he'll forget about Bentley. I guess a lot of these people just get all temporarily um, you know—depressed for a minute. It helped a little that we got rid of his World of Warcraft…that's just trouble."

Jude was in a fever now. Who was Bentley? Dammit. Video games were very helpful in all this. JJ had seduced more than one kid into further fuck-ed upness by beginning a conversation with them from within their Xbox.

And before that, back in the Forties, JJ sometimes would appear on a pool table, six inches tall, leaning against an 8-ball…he'd make easy deals, turn some schlub into another Minnesota Fats just by—

But then JJ was startled.

The two geeks had turned around. Orvie took the cross off his neck as JJ almost bumped into him, they'd stopped so suddenly, and Orvie dropped the necklace over JJ's head.

"Yeah, JJ…you might be invisible, but Zeke pointed you out…he's getting a plea-bargain!"

Before Judas Iscariot Junior was banished BELOW for all ETERNITY…never to make trouble Above again…he saw the fool in the pink spandex waving and saying in his loud Bronx voice "Well it's more of a pah-don, really!"

Four

Ronny Dills was sitting disconsolately in front of the TV set, watching an old "Cheers" re-run. Carla the ugly waitress was telling Norm and Cliff what losers they were, while Sam and Diane looked on.

"Really, Carla, perhaps you are too hard on Norman and Clifford" Diane began interrupting. "You don't—"

Suddenly a little dark haired girl walked into the bar. "Shut up, Shelly Long, you have no talent anyway." The brunette pulled herself up onto the bar, and what do you know, she looked like Ronny's old frenemy, Scarlett.

Ronny rubbed his eyes. He had seen this episode a thousand times, and this had never happened.

On the TV screen, Shelly Long, who played the pseudo intellectual waitress, Diane, looked puzzled, and so did Sam, Norm and Cliff. "Look, this is weird." Shelly/Diane said. This is an old re-run. I get royalty checks from this re-run, who are you?"

Scarlett, now sitting on the bar in a tight miniskirt pointed at Shelly/Diane, and all of a sudden there was a banana in Shelly/Diane's mouth, a banana that could not be removed.

"If you three dorks don't want the same, you'll shut up." Scarlett said to the male actors. "Now, Ronny, you haven't been returning my calls—" She looked straight at the screen.

"I know you're pounding your pud and watching this crap. Zip up and—"

"Hey, this is network television." Ted Danson said, and all of a sudden there was a cucumber in his mouth.

Ronny punched the remote to another channel. Now he was watching Spongebob Squarepants…but a cartoon version of darling Scarlett had her arm around a quite annoyed Squidward Tentacles, and was about to open her mouth.

Ronny clicked the remote again.

Now it was an ancient Three Stooges movie. Moe, who usually gave the pain, was getting a head noogie from Scarlett, who winked at Ronny. He clicked again. A chick in a little tank-top was sitting on a chair, talking about infomercial diet pills. No Scarlett! Boring, but I'll watch it.

"Along with riboflavin and flax seed—AAAgh" Scarlett had leaped on the stage and grabbed the infomercial babe's scalp, no it appeared to be her scalp, but the long mane came off in her hand, thick and blonde, and the girl had a ratty little dark mop underneath.

Scarlett kicked her off the stage. "Ronny, c'mon, I'm not going away, and you don't NEED diet pills." Ronny clicked again. CLICK Scarlett had stolen the Lone Ranger's mask in the 1960 show and was kicking Tonto in the face. CLICK Scarlett was sharing potato chips with Hannah Montana.

Ronny shook his head, and turned off the cable, and put one of his mom's "Mad Men discs in, that she'd just gotten from Netflix.

Now the screen was opening up to show Scarlett sitting in Don Draper's office, having a martini with Don and the white haired asshole boss, Roger Sterling.

"Ronny, give it up." Roger Sterling said as he puffed on his Lucky Strike cigarette and rubbed Scarlett's stockinged leg. They were sitting on a long couch in the office. Don Draper looked a bit peeved, and was just sitting and sipping his Beefeater, but Scarlett was practically in Roger Sterling's lap.

"Kid, you're incredibly lucky. This girl's far sexier than Joan, really. You should return her calls."

Scarlett smiled into the screen. "You might as well give up, Ronny. I'm sorry that I behaved badly before. I shouldn't have been hanging with the homies when I was supposed to be loyal to you."

"Forget it, Scarlett!" shouted Ronny to the TV set. "I'm over being a skinhead, okay? I'm trying to deal with my dad wanting to put me in jail because I gave my little sister an STD…and she had to get an abortion. Stay away from me!"

"Calm yourself, kid." Don Draper said, adjusting his skinny tie. "You've got to realize life gives us all a few bad breaks. Roll with the punches."

"Right, I've had a few tough breaks too—" Roger Sterling interrupted

"Shut up, Roger. You're a spoiled preppie." Don Draper interrupted, and Scarlett rolled her eyes.

Ronny turned the TV set off, and all of a sudden it went back on again.

"You are so rude." Scarlett said, as Don and Roger bookended her, looking miffed.

Ronny got up and went behind the set and pulled the plug, but she kept talking.

"I need you, Ronny. And I miss you. We never got a chance to be, you know, intimate."

Ronny debated swatting the screen with his brother's hockey stick.

Now the voluptuous Christina Hendricks was on the screen, sitting with Scarlett, and Don and Roger had disembarked.

"Ronny, I know you're a big fan of mine" Christina Hendricks said, looking straight at him. "And you've beaten your meat…"

"Choked your chicken" Scarlett interrupted smiling.

"Polished your knob, yes you have" Christina Henricks said, tracing her tongue over her full lips. "And if you want, Scarlett and I will have sex right here in Don's office—"

The phone rang. Ronny picked it up, hoping it wasn't Scarlett.

"Dills? It's Friedrich." It was the voice of Ronny's gay black manager at his part-time McDonald's job. "Can you come down here and work from three to eight? I have all these new people to train, and I need you to help me ."

Ronny arrived at McDonald's quite excited. He despised Friedrich, who was everything a young neo-Nazi was supposed to hate—but he'd do anything, ANYTHING to get out of the house.

Ronny had been working behind the Arches for three years—since his father had discovered Ronny was blowing the allowance (and his Bar Mitzvah cash) on Hitler memorabilia…and he'd been cut off.

TO BE CONTINUED