31

[Shaun]


Shaun awakes to the sound of something buzzing above his head.

In his dream it had been a giant mutant bumblebee with a head so large it had facial expressions. And there had been a whole pack of them, a swarm of them, a cloud of oversized bumblebees jacked up on steroids and energy drinks, and chasing him. But when he opened his eyes there had been no mutant bumblebees. There had been instead, Riley's phone, vibrating on the dining room table above him.

Shaun sits up, ignoring the phone for now, he looks around. Jubar and Riley are both still conked out on the dining room floor. So we fell asleep, he realizes. The world outside is white with snow and bright with the morning sun. It dawns on him suddenly that he and Riley never made it back to their house in the night, as they were supposed to. Which meant-

He grabs Riley's phone to check the time, but finds instead five text messages from Ms. Sheryl and ten missed calls. His first thought is: Oh shit, oh shit, we're in so much fucking trouble! Then he's on his feet, wobbling in place for a moment, still drunk with the drowse of morning and from the blood rushing to his head because he's standing too quickly. He browses through the messages and every single one is asking where he and Riley are and if they are OK and to call her when they get this. He listens to the ten voicemails. She seems more worried about them than angry, but that doesn't make Shaun feel any less fucked.

He's just about to wake Riley when the doorbell rings. It rings and it rings and it rings again. He stops. His next thought is that Ms. Sheryl somehow found them out and has come to drag them both home by the lobes of the ear with plenty promises to punitively punish. In his head, he sees them both (himself and Riley) on their hands and knees, scrubbing at the floorboards from morning 'til night with nothing more than a pair of skinny toothbrushes and a pail of cold, dingy soap water. They'll both be grounded for sure, perhaps for the next two years. And they'll get the list alright, the greatest list of backbreaking chores that the Yates will ever conceive of.

But that won't be the worst of it. The worst possible scenario, he decides, is that he could be moved- no, that he will be moved. Detective Bladshaw had warned him, had told him that he was skating on thin ice with his last stunt. And the man would most likely hear about this, too, and after Shaun promised on the way back from Mr. Han's gym that he wouldn't mess this opportunity up. Well, he can say goodbye to his Muay Thai lessons, to Mr. Han, to his gym, to the possibility of ever being allowed to kick someone's ass in a socially accepted manner.

He doesn't want to be moved. He likes it here. He likes Harmony. He likes his school, his friends, Riley, Jubar, Reagan, Ms. Sheryl, Rick, even Digger and Sammy. His little stunt in the cafeteria with Trevor his first day had been the perfect marriage of dumb luck and timing. He might not receive that kind of leeway at his next school. He doesn't want to ever leave, and yet-

Maybe he can talk Ms. Sheryl into not telling anyone, to punish him as severely as she feels necessary, but not to report this. Please, oh please don't report this.

The doorbell stops ringing. Shaun stops there in the hallway not wanting to move. Maybe she'll go away.

Suddenly there's banging on the door. Shaun jumps. Riley slowly stirs from his sleep, sees the daylight shining in through the dining room windows, and is then on his feet and wide awake in a snap. He's freaking out immediately, patting down his pockets and scouring the floor in a losing effort to find his phone. "Shit, shit, shit!" he's hissing. "Who the fuck is that?"

"Ms. Sheryl," Shaun says.

"Oh fuck! You sure?"

"I think."

"What time is it? Where's my phone?"

Shaun holds up Riley's phone. "She's been calling."

"We gotta get out of here," Riley says, searching the living room high and low for his shoes. "We gotta run back to the house before she gets back, make up a story."

"Like what?"

"Like maybe we woke up, saw all the snow, and went outside to mess around and wandered off or something, I don't know."

"Our bikes are out in the front," Shaun reminds him.

"They're behind the rose bushes. You think she saw them?"

There's more banging, and then more urgent doorbell ringing. "Probably," Shaun says, "I don't think she would be here if she didn't."

"Fuck! We're fucked! We're so fucked!"

"Most likely. It was good knowing you, Riley."

But Riley ignores him. He goes to check the peephole once the doorbell stops ringing and sees no one. "She's gone," he says, turning back to Shaun, frowning.

"What?"

They hear crunching along the side of the house, just outside of the window, like someone stomping through the thick snow. Both boys run to the living room to take cover behind the leather sofas, heads sticking out above the head rests just enough to see, not Ms. Sheryl, coming around the corner of the house, but a tall shirtless man with a lopsided buzz cut. Neither Shaun nor Riley immediately recognize the man. He looks to be in his early thirties. He trudges barefooted through the snow in only a pair of grimy blue jeans. His pale skin, more grey than white, is turning red in the cold and his eyes are wide and dilated, a trickle of snot seeps from his nose. There are deep dark bruises on his bare chest and along his arms, all over his face. Some are scabbed over; some are fresh and still bleeding, as if he's been picking at them furiously, others just look old and welted.

What initially comes to Shaun's mind is that some homeless guy has somehow wandered onto their street, found the house they are squatting in and is looking for a place to escape the cold. "He looks like a zombie," Shaun says aloud.

"Meth head," Riley corrects, "and he's probably high on all sorts of other shit."

"Meth head?"

"Yeah."

"How do you know?" Shaun asks. They're both whispering.

Riley gives Shaun that look, the look that Shaun translates to mean: dude, my parents were fucking cooks, remember?

"Right," Shaun says. "Stupid question."

The man stops when he comes to the window, presses his face against the glass in an effort to peek inside. The man is tall, sure, but he still has to stand on the tips of his toes to get a good look inside. And when he does, he spots Jubar, lying under the inside window sill just off to the side. The man's eyes fire with sudden recognition and he starts to mouth something on the other side. His teeth are few and yellow; black, chipped, and rotting. Plumes of his breath freeze on the glass.

"Oh shit," Riley says, "I know who that is."

And Shaun knows, too. It's Andrea's dad, must be her dad, how else would this man have known to come here? The man turns from the window suddenly, muttering inaudible things to the ground as he disappears back around the front of the house.

Shaun and Riley take the time to go shake Jubar from his sleep. He awakes grouchy, whining that the lights in the room are too bright.

"Jubar," Shaun hisses, "I think Andrea's dad found us."

"What!" He's wide awake now, already on his feet. He looks around for the gun.

Riley is standing at the window, keeping lookout when he spots the man rounding the corner once more. He's holding something in his hand, but the glare from the snow makes it hard to see. "Duck!" Riley yells. They all hit the floor just in time. A crowbar comes crashing in through the dining room window. Glass shatters and large sharp shards scatter the tile floor. The crowbar bounces from the table and into the kitchen. Shaun shuffles along the floor in pursuit of it.

Andrea's methed-up father is, amazingly, climbing in through the window, ignoring, or not noticing, the jagged spikes of glass that dig deep into his skin, drawing blood. He struggles up over the window sill and falls into the house, already smearing blood on the tile floor. Riley and Jubar scramble- Riley heading for the living room, Jubar giving up his search for the gun and heading for the stairs.

The man is screaming for his girls now, for Kayla and Andrea as he finally finds his footing. Riley grabs the fire poker from the fireplace and makes a beeline after Jubar, both are taking the stairs, two steps a once. Everything happens so fast that by the time that Shaun finds the crowbar in the kitchen everyone has already cleared out of the dining room. Desperate footfalls thunder up the steps. The man is still hollering, his words slurred and erratic, "Andrea! Andrea, sweetheart, daddy's here! He's here to take you back! He's here to take you-"

"Kayla! Andrea!" Jubar yells. "Lock your door! Don't open it!"

Shaun hears what sounds like a struggle at the top of the stairs. He's just about to make a run for the staircase when he spots the Glock, it lays abandoned just behind an overturned chair. He swaps the crowbar for the gun and starts up the stairs, gun in hand, heart drum-rolling like thunder, his mind not entirely clear, and his adrenaline working overtime.

A scream, high and agonizing, is the first thing that Shaun hears when he reaches the second floor hall. Jubar is on the floor, at the base of the door to the first guest bedroom. His arm is twisted painfully behind him. It's broken, or at least it looks that way. He struggles to prop himself up against the wall with his one good hand.

Andrea's dad is further down the hall, approaching the last door at the end, the master bedroom. Riley has managed to latch onto the man from behind, holding onto his neck and hanging like a kid receiving a piggyback ride. Shaun doesn't have a clear shot at Andrea's dad with Riley on his back. But then the man lunges back first into a wall, slamming Riley hard into the wood paneling. He loses grip and crumples. Two, three stomps and the man kicks the master bedroom door in. The screams of two terrified little girls fill the hallway as the half-naked man barges in. "Shut up!" he yells.

Shaun dashes down the hall after him. He checks to make sure the safety is off before rounding the corner, just as Andrea and Kayla are coming out, or rather, being dragged out of the room by Andrea's father. His hands are locked around both girls' wrists. Andrea cries. Kayla kicks, and scratches, and bites.

He releases Andrea in an effort to control Kayla. Andrea makes a run for it. Her dad backhands her sister across the face. "You little cunt!" he growls at her. "Cunt-cunt-cunt!" he sputters like a mad man. Kayla, still locked in his grip, shrinks away from the man. In his attempt to run after Andrea he notices Shaun for the first time, standing there with the gun aimed at him.

He stops.

He stares.

Andrea takes refuge at Jubar's side, crying over his injured arm and struggling to help her brother to his feet. He groans in pain and collapses again against the wall. Now Kayla's crying too.

"Let her go," Shaun demands, the gun and his voice, unwavering, to his surprise. Andrea's dad releases the girl, and she makes a mad dash for Shaun, putting her savior between the crazed shirtless man and herself.

"Cunts," the man is sputtering, "cunts, all of them cunts! Just like your cunt mother, both of them, cunts!" He appears to be talking to himself more than anyone. He sways in place, drunk, high, or just insane, or a vile concoction of the three. Blood still drips from his arms where the glass in the broken window sliced into them, not that this seems to bother him much.

Riley hobbles down the hall towards Shaun and grimaces when he gets there. "Let's call the cops," he winces.

"No!" Jubar says. "They'll take my sisters away. They'll split us up."

"They won't," Riley says.

"You don't know, Riley."

"Maybe not, but your crazy ass stepdad found us, there's a broken window downstairs and blood everywhere! We're fucked!"

"We can get out of this," Jubar insists, "just don't call the cops."

"We have to."

"No. We don't. We don't have to be here."

"Then what do we do? Shaun?" Jubar and Riley both turn to him for answers.

But something is happening with Shaun, something is going on inside of him that the others can't see. He doesn't know what to do. Max is missing. Max would know what to do in this situation, except he's nowhere to be found.

But something else is.

Something so familiar yet so alien. He can feel it uncoiling in the darkness there, unfurling its wings and preparing to take flight. It's powerful. It's awesome. It's waking up.

Kill this asshole, the thing tells him.

No, he tells the thing.

Kill him, it says again. No one will miss him. Everyone would be grateful. It tells him that this is the only way that this can possibly end. But that doesn't seem right. There's many ways that this can be resolved. The man is unarmed, he isn't making a move. No one has to die. But the thing insists. Kill him. It's patient. It's resolute. It's calm and all-knowing. Wise, fearless, loving, encouraging. It embodies all of these things. Kill him, it whispers.

Maybe he should. Maybe it is the only way. Suddenly the idea seems rational to Shaun, appealing even. He might enjoy killing this man. The thought envelopes him in a warmth of assurance. He knows that feeling. He knows that thing calling to him from the void. It could be the thing that wrecked his quiet little mental abode so many months ago. The thing that caused his blackout. The thing that touched him only once before: his first day at Gateway, the day he lashed out at Trevor with his tray. It could be the thing that Max spoke of. The other entity. The other presence, cryptic and cold. "Shaun, I'm not alone in here," he remembers Max saying.

The thing lurks no more. It envelopes. It embraces. It loves and never lets go. It never came out much before, but now it's a part of Shaun. It responds to his call, still untamed, untapped perhaps, sure, but now the thing is without leash and collar, and it prowls about freely in his mind.

There's no going back. His demeanor changes. Suddenly he knows just what to do.

"Jubar," Shaun says, "get your sisters downstairs. Riley, help him up. Call Ms. Sheryl while you're at it."

"What?" Riley whines.

"Do it," Shaun barks. "You said you wanted a way out of this. This is it."

Riley offers no argument, requests no explanation. He helps Jubar to his feet and together with Kayla and Andrea, they all hustle downstairs. He hooks one arm under Jubar's good one, and uses his other to quick dial his foster mom. He braces himself.

Ms. Sheryl answers on the first ring, breathing a sigh of relief when she hears Riley's voice. Riley is on the last step when the shots go off, loud and wall-rattling. There are four, and only four, and then the sound something, or rather, someone, hitting the ground.

Shaun emerges from the second floor hall alone, calm, collected, and completely unconcerned with what he'd just done. The Glock is still hot in his hand. Riley, Jubar, Kayla and Andrea all stare on in horror at the boy, at this Shaun Crepkie kid. Their eyes, all a gawk, unblinking and unbelieving as he breezes past them all on his way into the kitchen to pour himself a tall glass of OJ.

He lays the gun down on the island counter in the kitchen and whistles the tune to Scooby-Doo as he fetches the carton of juice from the fridge. When he returns to the dining room they're all still staring.

Shaun downs his drink in two gulps, slams the glass down hard on the table and says to Riley, "Tell Ms. Sheryl to call Detective Bladshaw. He'll know what to do." And then he turns back to the kitchen, looking to raid the place for a sandwich.

Shaun is at once more oblivious and more aware of himself than ever before. Outside looking in he may seem crazy (still whistling that Scooby-Doo theme song and bouncing from fridge to sink and back again) and he probably is, but he is at home with the darkness he holds, at peace with the thing that prowls in his mind, hiding in his thoughts and memories.

The thing within holds him; and Shaun is, forever, wrapped in the blissful embrace of that cryptic creature within, forever close, forever comfortable in a darkness so warm and so perfect that he can no longer tell where he ends and the thing begins. They are one now. Boy and creature. Blissfully crazy until the end of time.

TO BE CONTINUED...