Jerry Dies- Part One
Jerry didn't like to write about himself. When Jerry actually sat down and went at it, he found that the things he wrote were often frightening and disturbing. Writing on his life, for instance, he interrupted his train of thought by beginning a topic on all the different ways he could die. This evolved into all of the different ways he could kill himself and this lead to an essay almost thirty pages long on different possibilities for death.
Needless to say, when Jerry handed the paper in, he was reprimanded severely and given a "red card". In Jerry's school, red cards were handed out to the bad students who were then expected to take the hateful thing home to their parents. Jerry felt a patriotic duty to report his teacher's opinions, so he always brought the card home faithfully to his parents. His mother responded by slapping him in such a violent manner that his face was as red as the card. His father didn't respond at all.
Jerry, sad and disturbed, increased these two primary feelings by continuing to attend class. He was lucky in that he was not the most hated student in his class- that was Joe. No one knew why the teacher hated Joe so much, but he was so hated that he was always given a bad grade no matter his effort. Joe was so hated that Joe began to welcome the hate, and soon, to love it. He desired that the other students would hate him too, and so he began pulling nasty tricks and doing terrible things.
Every week on Wednesday Jerry would find something dead in his locker. First it was a gnat. The next week, it was a fly. The third week, it was a cockroach. The fourth week it was a mouse. The fifth week it was a rat. The sixth week it was a small bird. The seventh week it was a mole. It was now the eighth week in the chain of events and Jerry was wondering what he was going to find next, and how big it was going to go. He knew that Joe was behind it- he'd always see Joe sneaking away from the locker at the last second (on purpose, of course), but attempting to tell the teacher was pointless. The teacher would punish and hate Joe more, which only encouraged the sick student further.
The eighth week of Joe's pranks was actually the eleventh week of school. This week of school featured Christmas, to the great excitement of everyone in class. School was going to be out on the holiday, the first day off since school had started. The teacher was bitter because he'd have to stay: apparently the principal (who no one had ever seen) wanted to talk with him all day. The teacher took this out on his students by having them each tell the most embarrassing story of their lives they could think of. If the story wasn't embarrassing enough, the teacher insulted them and prodded them to tell a better story. Some of the kids started to cry, but the teacher kept them standing up until they spoke.
…The town that Jerry lived in was called Tepidia. This was because of the famous local Lake Tepidia which was always slightly warm. Whether it was the melting summer or frostburn-inducing winter, Lake Tepidia could be counted on to be tepid. A few scientists had taken interest in the mysterious water of the lake and had conducted a limited number of tests on the strange liquid. Apparently the water was filled with uncanny microorganisms that had no apparent relatives, and that they got thicker the deeper the lake went. The tests were inconclusive as further work required deeper levels of the lake, and the lake turned out to be so deep that the bottom was not found…
Jerry had been daydreaming when he was called in class, surprising him so much that he almost fell out of his chair. Nobody laughed at him, though, as most of the other children had already gone, now traumatized to the point of sheer silence. Jerry stumbled out of his chair and walked up to the front of the class.
"Now what was YOUR most EMBARRASING moment, JERRY?" The teacher sneered from behind his desk. He had a notepad and pencil out.
"To be honest," Jerry started slowly, playing around with something in his pocket, "It's being alive, in this classroom, with all of you."
There was a beautiful silence until someone made a small, sharp crying sound.
"Hee hee hee, that was awfully rude, Jerry, so I think I'm going to give you a red card!" The teacher took great delight in giving Jerry red cards. He knew that Jerry was hit when he took one home; it was obvious just looking at his face the next day.
Jerry quietly took the card. He considered attacking the man who took delight in getting him hurt, but thought better of it. He had to learn so he could go to college and get a "good job". As Jerry sat back down, Joe stood up. He didn't even wait to be called.
Jerry slowly made his way out of the school and into the snowy wasteland beyond. He was trying his hardest to forget Joe's speech, as well as what had been in his locker, but he was having a considerably difficult time. He came up with a plan: he took his shoes off and walked in the snow barefoot. It seemed to work. Each step was a new burning sensation- and eventually, no sensation at all. After walking for awhile he realized he couldn't even feel his feet. That was because they had turned purple- his big toe looked specifically like a ripe and juicy grape.
Jerry was greeted with good news at home when he found that his mother was off somewhere. He tossed his backpack on the floor and entered the living room where his dad appeared to be watching a TV program on caesarean birth. Jerry immediately turned around and headed for the stairs to his room. For a second he could've sworn he heard his father mutter "lorp" but that was impossible- his father hadn't spoken in seven years.
Jerry almost stepped on a large pile of glass as he entered his room. It appeared that someone had come in and simply dropped his large reading lamp onto the floor. Jerry made sure nothing else was touched before sweeping the glass out into the hallway. He shut the door and began working on his laptop. From where he was sitting he could see the medium-sized Lake Tepidia, stretched out beyond his backyard. The lake was bubbling.
Jerry wanted to go down and inspect the lake but he had to finish his homework first. His assignment was a series of one hundred and twenty-eight math problems ranging from easiest to hardest. The easiest was a simple arithmetic problem and the hardest was based in abstract chaos theory. The homework was a bit of a competition to see who would get the most questions right. Whoever got the most right would get to skip school for the rest of the year. The student who did worst was to "lose a finger". The teacher was laughing when he said it so he was probably joking.
Jerry finally finished. He had been pretty sure up until question #19 which used the letter "i". He put his paper into his folder and headed downstairs. He was almost to the door when his mom approached from the outside. She was carrying a bag of groceries in one hand and dragging a huge turkey on the ground in the other.
"Jerry!" She announced, "Your grandmother has died!"
Jerry stared. He didn't know he had— or, had had a grandmother.
"She choked to death on a cupcake. I tried to save her but I got the Heimlich maneuver wrong and she died."
Jerry tried to think of something to say. He suddenly remembered that he had a red card to show his mother. He started rooting his hands around in his pockets and froze. It was gone. He must have dropped it.
"What are you doing? And where's your father? I found a basket he would like."
Jerry's mother pushed past her son. The cold turkey brushed against Jerry's side and his shivering snapped him out of his trance.
"I'm going for a walk." Jerry headed for the door.
"Don't stay out too long," Jerry's mother called after him, "you don't want to be out there when they shut the street lights off!"
Jerry ran out of the house, stopping right before he ran into a car driving by. The driver screamed and swore at Jerry, but Jerry didn't hear because the driver was going eighty-eight miles per hour, and that was simply too fast to carry the words.
Jerry started to head for the lake but noticed that the violent bubbling had stopped. Jerry turned around and started walking down the road, just as the water began to froth again.
Next door to Jerry's house was a crazy old man named Copse. The kids around the neighborhood liked to call him Corpse, mostly because he was old, but also because he smelled like he was dead. Copse often sat on his front porch staring at the people who passed. He often looked dead, but if someone approached he would suddenly blink with one eye and glare. Everyone in the neighborhood was waiting for Copse to die so that his house could be sold. Everyone wanted his house to be sold because they wanted to live in Copse's house; it had a great color.
Copse wasn't on his porch when Jerry walked past that cold winter day. Jerry briefly wondered if Copse was dead until he noticed the old man staring at him from a high window. Jerry shivered and started to walk faster.
Walking down the road up ahead was Cynthia Smith, Jerry's secret crush. She had her usual appearance: carrying a dark black umbrella with a piercing white dress. She had missed class that day because of an important hunting trip she had gone on. Jerry started to call out to her but was suddenly seized by a great feeling of terror which promptly shut him up. Jerry pushed through the thick air in front of him and tried not to look at her, but her large umbrella suddenly swung into his path.
"Jerry Simones, where do you think you're going?" Jerry slowly turned to look at Cynthia.
"Oh. Hello Cynthia. I thought you were off hunting today."
"And I thought you were a sad sack. But I heard that you told our class that you hated them." Cynthia flashed an honest smile. Jerry shook his head.
"That's not exactly what I said…"
"Who cares about being exact? We're basically the same, aren't we, Jere?" She smiled again and swung the umbrella away. "See you later." She continued down the road. Jerry took a deep breath and felt his feelings of intense terror flood away.
He journeyed onward into the center of Tepidia. The center was marked by the lone skyscraper in the town, simply named the Tower. The Tower was the main source of work in town, to such an extent that once you turned eighteen you were expected to begin work there immediately. Jerry didn't like the Tower. It stood like a normal skyscraper except for the numerous pipes bursting out of its top and upper sides, from which shiny black smoke would erupt.
Worse yet was that no one was really sure what went on inside. The whole building was apparently filled with smoke- those who entered would quickly black out and then wake up outside with a fistful of cash (and after a few years or so, inoperable lung cancer). The people of Tepidia were so desperate for money that the risks of the frightening place did not deter anyone- except Jerry. Jerry swore to himself that once he was eighteen that he would take the cheapest bus out of town, no matter where it was going.
The Red Store was a large, crimson block of concrete situated at a violent corner of Tepidia famous for its drunk-driving accidents. Inside there was a grocery store- as well as an antique room. Jerry usually went to The Red Store to buy milk- but he also liked to see what was new with the antiques.
Jerry was surprised when he saw the old man sitting behind the cash register. He was not surprised it was an old man but rather that it was a different old man than the one that had been there the past two years, and as long as Jerry had known about the place. This new old man had whipped-cream-thick white hair and large glasses. He also had no pupils- just the regular sclera and colored cornea. Jerry looked away before he could think about what the color was. He didn't want to look at the old man.
Most of the antiques in the back of The Red Store were clothes. Wandering around in the back meant swimming through a sea of dusty clothing. Jerry often crawled around beneath the clothing when he was looking for regular objects. Sometimes he'd find empty, secret spots with no clothing, surrounded by dusty shirts and ancient pants. They were fun to find but they would be gone the next day, seemingly shifted by the endless racks of clothing.
Crawling around, Jerry jumped in surprise when he heard a voice emerge from the clothing.
"I love you Sarah." The voice was a light, whispery rattle. Jerry hadn't expected anyone else to be back here. In fact, in all his time exploring the antiques, he had only seen three other people: stern, standing adults. This was not the voice of an adult.
"I love you Sarah." The voice whispered again. Jerry crept through the clothing. As long as it wasn't the new shopkeeper he would be okay.
"I love you Sarah." It was a girl's voice. He was sure of it now. He pushed a long shirt-tail away and accidently put his hand down in a pile of dust nearly two inches deep. He swore in surprise.
"I love you Sarah." The voice was terribly close now. As the last rattling of the voice trailed off Jerry realized the source- it was in a nearby coat pocket. Jerry stuck his hand in, expecting something slimy and instead pulling out a tiny doll— entirely unremarkable except for the absence of one hand.
"I love you-" The voice box crackled out as the doll died in Jerry's hands.
Jerry hastily pocketed the doll for reasons he wasn't sure of and went to find the milk.
After a few minutes Jerry steeled his nerve and approached the old shopkeeper. He kept his eye on an old Coke advertisement while he carefully put the milk down and withdrew the doll from his pocket.
"Will that be all?" The old man whispered. Jerry had a terrible feeling that the old man was trying to get Jerry to look at him. Jerry nodded quickly.
"I can't hear you." The old man whispered.
"Yes." Jerry mumbled. He began to dig into his pocket for money.
There was something slimy. Jerry paused, took a quick breath, and then dug past it to grab the dollar bills. He pulled out a fistful of money along with a chunk of something pink sticking to his thumb. He shook it off and dropped the small pile of cash in front of the shopkeeper.
"This is fine." The old man dragged the cash to the edge of the table and then off. It landed on the floor along with the rest of the money the old man had made. Jerry nodded again at the Coke poster and then went for the door.
It was colder outside than Jerry had remembered. The milk was nice and hot so Jerry hugged the jug tightly and began on his way home. The snow picked up, falling incredibly hard, and soon Jerry couldn't see anything. Somewhere in the white came the screeching of tires and then the actual screaming of a human. Jerry tried to make sure he was on the sidewalk, but there was no way to tell anymore.