What is evil?

Selfishness. Every evil act - every rape, hit, murder, genocide - springs from selfishess, from someone thinking only of themselves or of their tribe, someone giving into their perverted desires, someone wanting to make money or save themselves from embarrassment, woe, or death. Jesus Christ, the paragon of Good, was selfless and instructed His followers to be selfless as well. He died on a cross for other people's sins. What's more selfless than that?

Whether you believe in Him or not, the Gospel makes clear that He considered selflessness the ultimate good. Therefore, selfishness is the ultimate bad. When we all love and care for each other, the world is good. When we care only for ourselves, it is bad.

Evil exists.

I know because my grandparents are evil.

You wouldn't know it by looking at them. They're libreral, they recycle, they care about the planet and they believe in science. My father is a Republican and I grew up looking at Democrats as the bad guys, but even deep down, I admired my grandparents and thought, in my own half-formed way, that we should all strive to be like them.

They both grew up in the sixties and met at Woodstock. Grandma came from a middle class family that she rebelled against and Grandpa came from the wrong side of the tracks, a fact of which he was perversely proud. "I'm a real common man," he would say with a grin. By the time I was fifteen in 2015, they were retired and living in a retirement community near Daytona Beach. In the summer of 2016, they invited me down to spend a few weeks with them.

I barely got to see them after they moved in 2010 and I jumped at the chance, especially since my father and I didn't get along. Typical teenage rebellion stuff that looks stupid in hindsight. I took a plane to Daytona in early June and they met me at the airport. "Hey, there you are," Grandpa said and pulled me into a hug. There was something different about them, something that bothered me for my first two days there, something that I just couldn't place. There was a..a...a glow about them, and the twinkle in my grandfather's eye was one of a much younger man. Maybe even someone my age - a randy and mischievous boy who hadn't been worn down by fifty years of work, kids, and mortgage payments. With Grandma, the change was physical. She seemed...I don't know...more lively, like a young girl in the bloom of youth. I figured I kind of aged them up in my mind and thought of them as older and slower than they really were. They weren't that old, after all, and had never been in anything approaching poor health.

Their community - called Lamplighter - was a fifty-five and over trailer park in Port Orange near the South Daytona line. The trailers were all modern doublewides, well-maintained, and the yards were green and spacious. There was a club house at the front of the park featuring a room for events, a little gym, and a library. Next to it was a pool. The residents were all friendly and nice. My first day there, Grandma and Grandpa took me to a social event at the clubhouse and I was the star of the show; old men patted my back, old ladies pinched my cheek, it was kind of annoying but also nice. Girls might get compliments all the time, but guys really don't, and it felt good to be the center of attention for a little bit.

The only downside was the handyman, Jeff. Close to fifty, he was slow and crept around the edge of the room like an attack dog, his eyes always on me, like a painting that follows you around no matter where you go. "He's very protective of us," Grandpa explained, "he's sort of our bodyguard." He laughed like that was the funniest thing ever. "Don't worry about him."

Grandma and Grandpa's next door neighbor was a guy named Jim Anderson. He wore polo shirts, plaid shorts, black socks pulled up his hairy calves, and putzed around his yard all day long doing next to nothing. His granddaughter lived with him. Her name was Lindsey. I met her at the clubhouse one day when I was getting Grandma and Grandpa's mail. I slammed the little door and turned, and there she was, on the same mission. She was a few inches shorter than me and thicc, for a lack of a better term - I can't bring myself to call her pudgy even if, maybe, she was. Her long brown hair shimmered in the tropical sun and she had this little gap in her front teeth that I instantly thought of as cute. Not in a demeaning way, just…

I was attracted to her. I thought she was beautiful and the moment I saw her, my heart launched into my throat. She felt me staring and turned to look at me, her eyes narrowing suspiciously. "Uh...hey," I said.

"Hey," she replied cautiously.

"Kind of shocking to see someone around here who isn't seventy."

"I live with my grandpa."

"Oh I'm visiting mine." I shoved my hands nervously into the pockets of my hoodie and tried not to look like a dweeb. "I'm Kyle."

"Lindsey," she said and shut the mailbox.

We walked back together and made small talk. I was awkward and she was uncomfortable. Looking back at it now, I cringe, but I also smile.

Lindsey told me that her parents were killed in a car crash three years ago. She was a self-professed book worm and "old fashioned." She liked the same music my grandparents did and had a real hard-on for the seventies and eighties. "I just love everything about them," she gushed. Her face shone like a lamp, and, if possible, she was even more beautiful than she was before. "The clothes, the music, just...everything. It was so much better back then. I wish I had a time machine."

Because she didn't "connect" with our generation, Lindsey didn't have many friends. "I've always gotten along better with older people."

"So you're one of them," I said cheekily and nodded to an old woman in her yard.

Lindsey laughed. "I guess."

She said that there were five teenagers in the community, all living with an older relative. They hung out at the clubhouse sometimes, sharing each other's company because they were all they had in a place like this. She invited me to hang out with them, and two days later, we met at the pool. There was Lindsey, a black boy named Nathan, a white boy named Evan, a white girl named Cassidy, and an Asian boy named Tran who went by T. "I like to keep it fresh," he told me with a big grin.

"Fresh as a dirty diaper," Nathan said and rolled his eyes.

"You got me fucked up," T said.

"Man, shut up," Nathan said, "you sound so dumb. I thought y'all were supposed to be educated."

"School of Pimpanomics Class of 2016," T replied.

Evan snorted. "You wish."

We hung out most of the day and when it was over, I decided that I liked them.

It didn't last very long.

Three days later, T dropped out of sight. I went to his house and his grandparents said he moved in with an uncle in Iowa. There was something in their eyes that told me they weren't being entirely honest.

I accepted their story anyway. I wish I hadn't.

Me, Lindsey, and the others would walk around the trailer park together, just talking and goofing off, and after a while, I realized that every time we did, Jeff would pass in his old truck and glare at us, then follow us on foot, pretending to do other things but glowering at us like he expected us to do something wrong. I kind of got that even then - some teens do dumb shit - but the murder in his eyes creeped me out.

Did he do something to T?

Handyman Jeff...more like Jeff the Killer.

Heh.

In early July, Evan disappeared. Same thing. His grandparents said he moved away. Their eyes were red as though they'd been crying, and his grandmother's voice trembled as she told me he was gone.

It felt like she was telling me he died.

The rest of us talked about it. Nathan agreed with me that something was wrong. Cassidy thought we were stupid. Lindsey just looked uncomfortable. "I'm sure it's nothing," she said. "Kids come and go here. You know that."

"Yeah," Nathan said, "a little too much."

"Because they visit."

"Not all of them," Nathan pointed out. "How many kids have we known who moved away?"

Lindsey fell silent.

"He's wrong," she told me later. We were walking aimlessly along one of the twisting streets after dark, the humid light of the moon playing in her hair. "There's nothing strange about it at all. He's just paranoid."

I didn't notice the hint of desperation in her voice, I didn't realize she was begging me to believe her.

If I had, I may have known she was lying to me.

"Maybe," I said, "I don't know."

She stopped and looked at me, her eyes dark and mysterious. "Really. Don't get caught up in some conspiracy stuff."

We gazed into each other's eyes, and slowly, like the moon pulling the tide, our lips met. She kissed me, her tongue light and timid, and I kissed her back, mine clumsy and overeager. She grabbed the front of my hoodie and pulled me closer, and I cupped her face in my hands. The kiss deepened and became more urgent, Her heart pounded against mine and I remember thinking She's really into it. I was too dumb to realize that she was a lost soul, a stranger in a strange land who had always been alintated from other kids by her obsession with times gone by. I didn't realize that deep down, she was sad and alone and on the outside looking in...that she was desperate for someone, a boy her own age, to understand her.

I just thought she liked me.

She pulled away from me and flashed a dreamy smile. "That was nice," she said.

"Yeah," I said, the taste of her mouth like candy on my lips, "it was."

I put my arm around her and we walked home.

The next day, I went over to Nathan's house.

His grandfather, a stooped man in a baseball cap boasting the name of the company her served with in Vietnam, appeared at the door. "Is Nathan here?" I asked.

Even if I live to be a thousand, I'll never forget the look of hatred that crossed his wizened face. His bushy eyebrows angled down in a deadly V and her puckered lips drew into a wild sneer. The venom in his expression struck me like a fist to the stomach and I stumbled back against the railing. "He's not here," he spat, "he went to visit his aunt." His eyes hardened as he spoke and his lips puckered even more, as though the words were sour in his mouth.

"Oh...okay."

He slammed the door, and even though it was almost ninety degrees, a shiver raced down my spine. I turned and froze.

Across the street, Jeff stood next to a bush in someone's front yard, a pair of sheers at his side.

He was staring at me.

His expression was much like Nathan's grandfather's.

An old woman came out of her trailer and walked over to him. He turned to her, and the hate was gone, replaced by the look of a small puppy overjoyed to see its master. I took the opportunity to escape and made my way to the clubhouse. I found Lindsey and Cassidy sitting in the library. Lindsey smiled when she saw me, but it faded away at my pale-faced expression. I sat down across from them and stole a look around, crazily convinced that Jeff would be there, like a killer from a bad horror movie who can be anywhere he wants, anytime he wants to be there.

"Nathan's gone," I said.

I told them what happened, and the color drained from Cassidy's face.

"Come on, guys," Lindsey said, "it's nothing. He only went to visit his aunt. He's coming back."

"Seems kind of strange that it just happened like this," I said. "He didn't even mention it."

"That's Nathan for you," she said.

I was stupid and in love...so I listened to her. I trusted Lindsey over my own gut instinct and I accepted a lie, once again.

After Nathan disappeared, I didn't see much of Cassidy. I spent most of my time with Lindsey. We would sit in the padded swing on her front porch talking and holding hands. When her grandfather wasn't around, we touched and kissed. When he was around, she would show me music videos from the seventies and eighties on her phone. I didn't really like any of it, but her face always lit up when the music started to play, and she would stare at the screen with a sly little smile. Mesmerized. That's how she looked. With each video, she lost herself in a time that she never knew, a time that she fetishized and revered only the way someone who wasn't really there can. For her, the eighties were a warm, fuzzy dream. Nothing bad happened there. It was perfect. It was paradise.

On July 25 - I can still remember every detail - Lindsey's grandfather was away. She led me into her bedroom and we kissed on her bed until we were heady and drunk on one another. Our hands roamed and our bodies quaked with need.

She was never more beautiful than she was with her hair pooled around her head like a halo, and no woman has ever felt as right as Lindsey did. Someone, somewhere, said that your first time is always awful, but mine wasn't.

At the end of July, Grandma and Grandpa started acting strangely. Grandpa wouldn't look me in the face and when Grandma did, I saw mourning in her eyes. The atmosphere, light and summery since June, turned dark and tense. Grandpa didn't joke and twinkle and all of Grandma's liveliness seemed to have drained away overnight. It was almost like someone died. I asked them what was wrong but they said everything was fine.

Bullshit.

It was probably a cancer diagnosis or something. One of them was sick and the doctors didn't think they'd make it. Dread gnawed at me and I laid awake at night in worry.

I'm not exactly the best at sharing my emotions, I keep things to myself, but Lindsey managed to drag it out of me one day. We were sitting on her grandfather's padded porch swing, our fingers entwined and Lindsey's head resting on my shoulder. She always squeezed so tight...like she was afraid someone would take me away from her. "It's probably nothing," I said haltingly, "I just...I'm kind of scared."

When she didn't reply, I turned to look at her. Unshed tears shimmered in her eyes. A single bead streaked down her freckled cheek like a fleck of diamond, and my heart dropped. "What?" I asked.

She shook her head. "Nothing. I was just thinking."

"About what?"

"How much I don't want you to leave."

Is it possible for something to sound like a lie and the truth at the same time? Can someone mean what they say, but mean something else?

I pulled my hand out of hers and put my arm around her shoulder. She melted into me, and we just sat there, the only sound the hiss of the wind in the trees and the metallic tinkle of windchimes. I wanted to promise I wouldn't leave her, that we could stay together, but I couldn't, so I said nothing.

Friday night, August 2, I was sitting in my room and scrolling through Discord when Grandpa came in without knocking. Grandpa always knocked.

I looked up, and his face was pale and drawn. He looked far, far older than I'd ever seen him.

In an instant, I knew something was wrong. "Lindsey's here."

That's not what I expected to hear at all. Your Grandmother's dead, maybe, or I have terminal AIDS. Why did he look so upset that Lindsey was here?

I put my computer aside, pulled on my hoodie, and went outside. Lindsey stood at the bottom of the stairs, and when she saw me, the corners of her mouth turned up in a pallid smile. "Hey," I said.

"Hey," she replied gloomy.

"What's up?" I asked.

She shrugged. "I just wanted to see if...you wanted to go for a walk."

Hand-in-hand, we made our way toward the clubhouse. I told her about my grandfather and she listened silently. Her grip on my hand tightened the closer we got - then, I thought she did it to comfort me, but now I think it was out of desperation. The clubhouse appeared in the distance, every window blazing with light. Something was happening. A 90th birthday party or a 50th anniversary, maybe.

Lindsey stopped me. I turned to face her, and, pushing up on her tippy toes, she held my face in her hands and kissed me. Were those tears in her eyes again?

"I love you," she said.

"I love you too," I replied.

Did I mean it? I don't know. I was fifteen. Did she mean it? In her own way, I think she did.

Holding my hand again, she led me purposely toward the clubhouse, her grip forcing my knuckles together.

We were at the back door by the mailboxes when she let go. Her hand fluttered to her face and she began to cry.

I opened my mouth, but someone hit me from behind and I blacked out.


I came awake gradually, like a diver rising from the depths. My head throbbed in sickly rhythm with my heart and my stomach churned so badly I almost puked. I pushed myself to a sitting position and a wave of nausea crashed over me. I moaned and almost went down again.

When I recovered, I looked around, my heartbeat speeding up. I was in a cage in the storeroom, murky light emanating from an overhead bulb. I was naked save for my boxers and there was a dog collar around my neck.

A door opened, and Lindsey came in, her eyes pointed ashamedly at her feet. She wore a long brown robe with the hood pushed back. Her face was white and her steps somber. "What's going on?" I asked, panic gripping me. "What's happening?"

Still not looking at me, Lindsey knelt before the cage. "I tried to stop them."

"Who?" I asked.

"The Masters."

My head spun. Masters? Who were the masters?

"I really tried," she said, her voice breaking. "But you were chosen."

"For what?" I asked.

Finally, she looked up at me, great sadness in her eyes. "As a sacrifice."

Before I could reply, Jeff came in, a lesh in one hand and a cattle prod in the other. Lindsey produced a key from the folds of her robe and unlocked the cage. Jeff dragged me out, attached the lesh to the collar, and shoved me toward the door, making me stumble.

They led me into the main room, where all the events were held, and what I saw froze my blood. All of the residents - old men, old ladies, people I had spent the summer getting to know - were crowded in the middle of the floor, each one wearing a robe like Lindsey's. Jerking left and right, I saw Nathan's grandparents, Evan's, mine. Grandma looked away, tears streaming down her face, and Grandpa gazed into the ether, regret stamped onto his face. At the head of the room was a metal X-shaped thing on a raised platform. Mr. Anderson stood next to it and watched me with disdain as Jeff and Lindsey strapped me into it, binding my wrists and ankles. Lindsey stroked my cheek, favored me with a longing look, then joined the crowd.

Mr. Anderson's voice filled the room, rich and booming. "We are gathered here tonight as the Last Generation, the Greatest Generation, the Generation That Shall Not Pass."

"Forever," everyone intoned.

"Winter approaches each of us, but we will not give it quarter. We will not allow ourselves to fade away. We have built the altar and the works upon it and we will not hand them down."

I struggled against my bonds, sputtering broken words and half-coherent prayers. I flexed and rolled my wrists.

The right one...the one that Lindsey secured...was loose.

"...we will not lay down and let a new generation, an inferior generation, take our place. This is our world and we will cede it to no one."

He withdrew a wickedly sharp knife from beneath his robe, and terror burst inside of me. "We will consume the blood of this boy and it will sustain us. On their blood, we will live. On their bones, we will build. With their lives, we will dwell in power forever."

"Forever."

I yanked, tugged, and arched my back. The strap was looser. If I pulled just a little more, I could get my hand free.

Mr. Anderson took a step toward me, but a long, high scream stopped him. Everyone turned to look at Nathan's grandmother. Her chest rose and fell and her eyes bulged from their sockets in madness. "This isn't right!" she screamed. "We can't do this!"

Her husband tried to calm her, but she pulled away. "It's wrong! You killed my grandbaby and it's wrong!" She broke down in tears.

Mr. Anderson looked at Jeff and Jeff walked over. Nathan's grandfather glared. "You stay away from her. Can't you see she's mourning?"

"There is no mourning," Mr. Anderson said.

Jeff grabbed Nathan's grandfather. With surprising speed, Nathan's grandfather punched him in the face. A shocked murmur ran through the room, and Mr. Anderson went to go help his minion. Jeff, having recovered, lunged for Nathan's grandfather and pinned him to the wall.

Nathan's grandmother screamed and attacked Jeff with a flurry of slaps. Jeff shoved her away, and someone held her back. I flexed and rolled my wrists harder, harder, harder. Finally, my hand slipped out, and working on pure adrenaline, I unstrapped my other hand and my feet.

"He's getting away!" someone cried.

I jumped from the platform and bolted for the nearest door, my bare feet slapping against the tiles and my heartbeat echoing through my head. They chased me, but I didn't look back, couldn't look back.

Slamming through the door, I ran down the street toward the main road where traffic streaked by in both directions.

I don't remember almost being hit by a car, don't remember how I wound up in the back of a police cruiser sobbing hysterically. I wished I didn't remember any of it.

The police didn't believe my story. Grandma and Grandpa cooked up a story about a fight and said I ran away. Dad bought it because he thought I was an asshole, and Mom bought it because who wants to believe that their parents are killers?

I haven't spoken to anyone about this since it happened. Not Mom, not Dad, and not my grandparents. They send me cards for my birthday and Christmas but I never read them. Last month, I got one for Easter, and I don't know why, but I looked inside.

We're sorry, Grandma had written, but we're afraid to let go.

I believe them. They're terrified of letting go and passing away.

They're terrified of growing old and dying.

They're terrified of us.