It's nine years old.  It reads like a kid wrote it and you people want more.  I love you people.  Let's go back to '99 shall we?   

Chapter 11

Monday, April 26, 1999

Atwood Nash awoke in the middle of the night to the sounds of his own nervous breathing.  He rose quickly, grabbed his sweatpants from his desk chair and put them on.  The alarm clock on his antique, wooden dresser (Atwood's parents were ridiculous about antiques-every room had them and everyone in the house knew how to take care of them) revealed to Atwood that he was right on time: 4 AM.  After putting on his T-shirt and sweatshirt, grabbing the rubber gloves from his Lammertz, antique desk drawer, he pulled a vial of acid from beneath his mattress (which sat in a nice solid oak frame, made by hand sometime before 1910-a quality piece, as his mother had declared on one very unhappy birthday for Atwood).

By 4:10 Atwood was out the door, geared up for his morning run.

The weather was unsurprisingly chilly, the rows of houses unsurprisingly dark and boring. Running first thing in the morning always made Atwood feel like all was right with the world, like everything was as it should be.

That is, when everything was as it should be.

The more he ran, the more he thought of Joe Corolla.  The more he thought of Joe Corolla, the more he thought of the plan. 

Joe would have loved seeing the plan in action, though Atwood. 

As Atwood increased his pace, his thoughts jumped around at random, as if he had a big, dusty table of thoughts that he could only clean in sections.

Atwood remembered the previous Thursday and Friday mornings, watching the janitorial entrance through the boiler room.  Thanks to his telescope (another quality gift), he had been able to see the boiler room entrance very clearly from the woods nearby school.  He had learned how and when the school opens.  He had learned how to get in.

As the events of the Saturday night kept flooding into the dam of his focus on creating hallucinating authority figures, he thought of watching Joe fall.  He thought of them all in their circle, lined up for the kill like wild animals.  He had taken to thinking of that stoner circle as the circle of death and so it was named in his skull. 

He felt he had aptly named it.  He wasn't sure what the hell aptly meant, but Ethan Lee always told Atwood he was aptly naming or saying things.  He was pretty sure that if he had aptly planned, and enacted his plan aptly, then he would aptly get away with a kick-ass prank.

As Atwood ran, for one slight moment, his head was completely clear of all thoughts, but the suppression did not last. 

He thought about what he was about to do, about making the administration understand a little more about the trials and tribulations of life as a drugged out, open-minded student, about completely and totally mind fucking them.  He enjoyed these thoughts for a few minutes when a nasty piece of vanity crawled back into his mindset.

Behind Atwood's thoughts of the killings lay something unholy and sinister, a feeling that shamed him to admit but rose nonetheless: the killer had stolen the show.  Atwood would always be second fiddle in history to whoever the hell murdered his friends.

Aptly put, that sucked donkey balls.

Atwood watched from behind a dumpster at the bottom of a long slope.  A crop of trees shielded him from the road.  Atwood saw the janitor, a large, nice, black man named Al, drive to the entrance in his blue pick-up.  Atwood knew the dark would camouflage him for a little longer.  The run had only been two miles; Atwood ran fast.  Years of hockey practice and regular exercise had essentially turned Atwood into one of those eighteen-year-old kids that can't get fat or slow the hell down.  Memories of running the bleachers over and over at practice raced through his mind as he prepared to charge up the hill.

The door was propped open and the janitor had just entered.  Others would soon follow.  After putting on his latex gloves, he gave the janitor a few minutes before running up a woodland slope at full speed, jumping across a cement walkway and into the boiler room.  He took a left and ran up the maintenance stairs, ran through the kitchen, through the cafeteria and up the stairs to the unlocked counseling loft double-doors.

All of the doors inside the counseling loft, including the one to the kitchen, were locked.

Atwood had hoped this wouldn't be the case, but had also prepared for the possibility.

He reached for the bottom drawer of the head secretary's desk and pulled with all his might.

The feeble, metal lock snapped, and the keys jingled forward and bounced off the interior, front side of the drawer. 

Atwood picked them up and rapidly tried each one.  The seventh key worked.

He began making coffee.

It was actually simpler than he'd planned.  Somebody already had a pot of coffee set on a timer.  Everything was ready to go.  He dropped the acid all over the grounds, chucked the bottle in the trash and tried to fix the desk lock.

The lock was busted, and all he could do was put the keys back and hope no one noticed. 

           

Atwood ran out cautiously, stepping lightly while creeping as fast as he could.  He listened for voices, heard none, crept swiftly out the door, down the hill and into the woods. 

He ran through the woods as long as he could before the product of progress guided him back to the neighborhoods. 

He couldn't believe how easy it had been to avoid being caught in the act.  A strange thought came over him as he thought again of the circle of death: had the killer felt the same way after his success?  The houses bounced by Atwood in a maddening blur.  His eyes watered.

You're not a killer, he told himself.  You're just a prankster.

Atwood didn't go to school that Monday.  The prankster had a legitimate excuse: he was mourning a circle of dead friends.

Deborah Van Klein was not surprised that her love avoided class that morning.  The wake after school would be all the energy he'd probably have, she thought as she kissed his sleeping face and headed off to school.

Luther S. Dunby High had never looked like this before, she thought, mouth agape as she stared at the lobby interior.  Banners bearing pictures of the deceased (except Steven Carter) hung like proud displays of gratitude.  Almost no one was in class.  Everyone wept in circles.  Teachers organized group hugs.  The sights were so melodramatic that Deborah couldn't help to hate herself for hating their 90210-esque displays.

A sign on the door to her English class read, "due to the death of your classmates, all classes are canceled on Monday, April 26.  There is a memorial service in the gym for all those who wish to attend."

Wow, thought Deborah, a day of mourning.

Because Deborah had bothered driving to school, she decided to check on her progress searching for scholarships with her career counselor, so she walked across the commons/cafeteria area and opened the door to the counseling loft.

When she walked in, the head secretary was staring at the floor.  She was an old, wrinkled, ugly woman with a pointed nose, beastly, hairy hands and moles across most of what bore the slightest resemblance to a human chin.  Every time she saw the old woman, Deborah felt sad and alone, as if the world were forcing a monster upon her, as if she felt the monster's pain.

However, when Deborah saw the old secretary today, she saw nothing but a mole covered neck and tufts of nasty, curly, steel wool gray hair.  She wanted to ask why the secretary was staring at the floor but she could not recall the old woman's name. 

She looked across the counseling loft.  When she had first toured Luther S. Dunby High, she had been taught that the counseling loft was the home of the school's counselors, lower class principals, upper class assistant principals and the secretary's for all the principals and assistant principals not located in the loft.

Deborah had commented that it seemed stupid to locate a principal's secretary at another location in the building, far away from the person the secretary was supposedly worked for.

The guide that day (and librarian on most other days-a nice old lady with short hair and jeans) had told her that there wasn't enough room for all the principals in the counseling loft.

"Why not?" Deborah had asked.

"Because the counselors use up all the other available offices.  We have eleven counselors, seven in guidance and four in career.  That's why we call it the counseling loft."

The counseling loft always seemed like a bastion of bureaucracy to Deborah, but this day it just seemed downright weird.

Deborah didn't know but four people by name in the counseling loft and it made the act of taking in the absurd sights very difficult.

A student of four years would have said, "No way, Mr. Price is sitting in the hallway drinking coffee and staring at his tie."

All Deborah could think was: "who is that old guy sitting Indian style in the hallway with his tie in his hands?" 

After walking slowly past confused Mr. Price, Deborah saw a female secretary and a female assistant principal on a desk hugging each other while standing.  A small, old man tried to coerce them down but they would have none of it.

She saw vomit on the floors and heard people babble incoherently with only spot flashes of rational thought like, "what the hell is going on,"-she heard a few people say that one. 

She saw the big, fat newspaper teacher, who was allegedly very cool (Deborah was slightly prejudice against fat people and always thought of them as lazy) walk towards her while pointing at her.

He bellowed, "all students must leave the counseling loft, now!"  His face reddened, his mouth snarled and thus he commanded her respect.

As she left she heard him bellow, "Mrs. Abernacke, lock that door!"

She had no idea what was going on.  She exited quickly. 

Whatever the hell was happening at Luther S. Dunby High, Deborah Van Klein would have no part of it.

Atwood Nash rose around Ten AM, pissed at himself for being hungry.  He wanted to sleep.  He fiended for sleep, but his stomach didn't allow it.

After his breakfast of four pieces of cold fried chicken and a half-gallon of milk, he headed downstairs to watch television.

Atwood's parents were both at work at their antique store, so he lit one of his father's cigarettes (Davidoff's, quality smokes) and used his father's two hundred-year-old silver ashtray. 

God, how he hated antiques.

He was settling into an episode of the A-Team on TV Land when it occurred to him that there might be news of the prank, so he clicked to one of the local channels and sure enough, found news of his work.

For the first time since his last hockey practice, Atwood listened attentively.

"Police say," said the beautiful, blonde news-bringer.  "That the school has been closed, that all the children and employees have been sent home.  They say they have conclusive evidence that somehow LSD was put into the coffeepot of an entire office floor.  Again, the school has been closed; they have no suspects and are investigating the matter as we speak."

The picture split and the beauty shared the screen with an old, wrinkled man in an office who asked, "Jan, is there any connection here between this incident and the murders at Highway T?"

"No, Dick.  The police feel that Steven Carter, the suicide victim was the culprit in that case.  They feel that there is no connection between these cases.  Of course, the Highway T Bonfire Party Murders case is still open, but most of the sources I contacted believe that case will soon be closed."

"Jan, what were the children told?"

"Dick, the students were informed of a possible bacterial infection spreading from these offices.  They were then instructed to go home.  Police were not sure what exactly had occurred at that time."

"Thanks, Jan."  Dick paused.  "To recap-"

The A-Team is such a great show, thought Atwood as he smoked his cigarette.  While he watched the adventures of BA, Murdock, Hannibal and Face, he tried his best to avoid thinking about getting caught.

He had worn gloves.

He had not taken off nor ripped his gloves while in the school.

He had not, to the best of his knowledge, been seen doing anything but jogging.  Plus, he thought, I did half my jogging in the woods and no one saw me there.

No, he thought, I'm in the clear.  Unlike Steven Carter, who was apparently dead and busted.

When Deborah Van Klein arrived home, her mother and father were awake, sitting on the couch and drinking coffee.

"Deborah," her mother spoke.  "We need to talk."

Deborah sat in the chair across from them.  A, dark, large, too-tall oak coffee table sat between them.

"Deborah, you're father and I are thinking about moving."

Deborah felt her cheeks flush as anger raised-anger at her father for doing every damn thing this slightly overweight, silly, cherry-red lipped mother of hers said.

"We just moved, Mom.  Dad," her gaze fell into the cold, gray eyes of her father.  "We can't leave now.  We just settled in-"

"Honey," interrupted her mother.  "It's just that you and Ethan are moving so fast and now he's been shot, so he's either somehow all mixed up in this craziness or he has enemies-"

"Mom," Deborah interrupted.  "Don't be insane.  Everyone in that school is going through this craziness.  Ethan wasn't shot because of enemies.  He was shot because he walked towards the sounds of gunfire like a brave, crazy moron."

"Whatever the case, we just don't feel that this is a safe place.  I talked with your father and he said he would commute, for the good of the family, an extra twenty miles."

"So what?" began Deborah.  "You know how this place works.  In three years, twenty miles from here will be just like here, if it's not already.  I mean, we are not in the city here.  We live in the suburbs.  We live in the county.  This is edge city.  It doesn't get better, it only gets bigger"

"Well," Deborah's mother sighed.  "I can see you feel very strongly about this, and I must say, I have never once heard you speak to me with such insolence and ill manners.  I'll allow it this once only because I can tell that this is something that you feel strongly about.  I will consider you're feelings."  She wiped the palms of her hands together, indicating that the subject had been squished dead.

"Who wants breakfast?" asked Deborah's mother.

"If we leave," said Deborah, standing at the foot of her stairs and yelling at her mother in the kitchen.  "Then we are the biggest bunch of wimps who ever settled in white-bread, suburbia USA."

She ran upstairs and fell asleep.

Deborah Van Klein awoke to her ringing cell phone. 

"Deborah, its Stacey, turn on channel four now."

She did as she was told.

She could not believe it.

Across the world, she thought, this little suburban section of St. Louis was most famous for a mass killing and a mass acid dose.

She hoped her parents weren't watching television.

After the newsbreak, she hung up the phone and spoke with Ethan, who, upon hearing the news laughed uncontrollably until Deborah hung up.

She could only hope he was on drugs.

Ethan Lee couldn't fucking believe it.

"I can't fucking believe it," he said over and over as he sat on the floor with his right leg extended straight (because it hurt like hell) seeking counsel from his plaster Lord. 

"How did the little bastard pull it off?  How the fuck did he do it?  Why the hell did he do it?  Joe was dead; how did he get away?  Someone must have helped him."

Jesus stared guilt into him.

"I know I'm in mourning, but Christ, no disrespect intended, this is something even more fucked up.  This connects.  The entire freaking school is wounded, like a deer with three legs and half a heart.  And we must live through this shit. 

"No," said Ethan in his codeine induced stupor, "I am not living through this shit.  The second my leg feels better, after these funerals are over, I am taking the fuck off.  I'm going back to Easlon.  I'll do my schoolwork from there.  I'll tell ‘em I need to heal, because I do."

Ethan fought tears as he heard his girlfriend's voice in the back of his head, "You'll also be running away."

The wake was from three PM until seven o'clock at night, but the funeral home was open until nine, so technically, the bodies could be viewed then.  Ethan begged Deborah to go with him after seven PM and she flat out refused with the words, "it will do you some good to mourn with friends."

Ethan had recently been asked by phone to do the eulogy for Joe by Joe's Dad Jim, a crogedy ex-marine who had taught Ethan how to fire rifles and hand guns.  Ethan Lee could not turn down that request or that man.

Fuck it, he thought, as Deborah called, announcing her three o'clock arrival for the ride to the wake, I'll wing it.  Joe would have wanted it that way-nothing written, keep it simple.  Hell, thought Ethan, maybe I'll just tell a story.

Deborah drove to the wake and Ethan thanked her for her chauffeur services.

"Hey, Baby.  I'll take you wherever you gotta' go."

"After the funeral," he said as she turned down his street.  "I'm going to stay with some old friends in a real small town: Easlon, Missouri-it's thirty miles from nowhere near anything, really."

"Why, Ethan?  Why, and for how long?"

"They help me heal, Deborah.  They're this family of ex-hippies that won the lottery back in the seventies.  It's a commune with class: their own street, their own houses, their own farms, their own cool little existence and cool people who help me clear my head.  One of their sons, Brian, played college ball and he might help me get my shit together.  I don't know if I can, but if the school lets me do my work from Easlon, that's where I'm doing it."

Deborah Van Klein wanted to cry.  She wanted to scream, "I can help you heal you dumb bastard.  I love you."  But, like the strong woman she was fast becoming, she simply latched onto the steering wheel until her knuckles were bright white and hoped she wouldn't explode.

"Deborah, it won't be any longer than three weeks.  I could never go longer than three weeks without seeing you."

It was a fact, Ethan knew, that he couldn't go three weeks without sex before he killed someone (probably himself), and because she was his sole source of sexual activity, he would hurry back. 

"Hell, probably only two, maybe only one.  Maybe even less."

"Can I visit you?"

"Sure, please do."

She kissed him on the cheek as she pulled into the driveway.

"I love you.  Thank you for living through this with me," he said to Deborah.

"I love you, and thank God your crazy ass is still alive." she replied.

"My crazy ass," he smiled as he opened her door.  "You have been away from the country too long, Miss Van Klein."

She giggled and he kissed her.  A tinge of warm, fuzzy cute calm in a hurricane of insanity and despair kissed their souls and flew away.   

           

Atwood Nash was the first person Ethan saw as he entered the already crowded waiting room.  He was standing by the door.  When he turned around, Ethan saw Atwood's red eyes.

"Atwood," Ethan said.  "How you doing?"

"I'm sad." Ethan smelled gin in Atwood's breath.

"Crazy stuff at school today."

"Wasn't there," said Atwood.

"Me neither," said Ethan.

Atwood turned around and continued waiting for a seat so he could wait to go into one of the two rooms housing the five victims. 

Ethan whispered into Atwood's ear, "You insane fuck."

Atwood Nash smiled.

When Ethan looked back at Deborah, he saw her eyeing an old man in a wheelchair.

"Shouldn't that disabled guy already be in there?" she whispered in Ethan's ear.

"Kip," Ethan said, and he shook hands with an old friend.

"I want you to meet Deborah, my girlfriend."

"And what a fine wild animal tamer you must be, Miss."

Deborah blushed. 

"What do you say the three of us go in now," said Kip.  "After all, I'm a disabled war veteran in need of assistance."

           

Ethan laughed, smiled for about three seconds and thought of Joe, possibly looking at this scene and laughing. 

As Ethan pretended to push the wheelchair, he whispered to Deborah "this guy needs assistance about as often as I do."

           

Sure enough, the people parted, made way for an old man, and the trio went to the room on the right, which housed Joe Corolla and Steven Shermer.

The room was much larger than Ethan had anticipated.  It was classy, with oak walls and brass framed mirrors everywhere.  Ethan thought it wasn't the right place for Joe's body to be in, but it was only a rest stop.  The ground would do perfectly for Joe Corolla.  Ethan felt Joe would be happy to give his body back to the earth, back to the simple things that gave him life.  Ethan didn't know how he knew what Joe would want.  He wasn't even sure if he knew what Joe would want.

But, thought Ethan as he slowly wheeled Kip up to Joe's coffin, with any luck I will never know how Joe feels about any of this for hopefully a long time.

Joe's Dad stood strong, freshly shaven with a crop top haircut and a black suit.

"Mr. Corolla," said Kip, shaking the man's hand.  "My name's Kip.  I knew your boy well.  I knew him to be honest, smart and hard working.  You have my condolences."

Kip looked at Joe's body for about three seconds before he looked away.

"Hey, Jim."

"Ethan, thanks for coming."

"This is my girlfriend, Deborah."

"Nice to meet you.  Sorry about the circumstances.  You have my condolences," said Deborah.

"And Ethan," said Jim Corolla, "you have mine."

"As do you," said Ethan, shaking Jim's hand.

When Ethan looked into the coffin and saw the lifeless expression on Joe's face, he wanted to cry. 

"At least he had an open casket," said Jim.  "That's more than most can say."

Ethan's eyes told Deborah, "We're leaving."

As Ethan pushed Kip out, he saw the doors open.  About twenty high school students walked into the room.

"I don't think Jim Corolla's gonna be able to handle this," whispered Ethan, "and I know I'm not."

As they departed past rows of tears for loved ones lost, rooms filled with melancholy faces and melodrama over dead ex-boyfriends, friends, acquaintances, cheap fucks, etc., Ethan felt saddened that he felt saddened about the melodramatic behavior of people at the funeral, because he really only had enough sorrow for his dead friends.

After saying goodbye to Kip, Ethan limped back to the car with Deborah.  They did not see any other bodies.  There would be time enough for that at the funeral.

"Ethan," asked Deborah as they walked across the parking lot.  "When did you stop using your cane."

"When you parked the car.  My leg feels good.  I'm a quick healer."

Ethan and Deborah went home and slept.

           

Atwood Nash drank whisky from a bottle in an unfinished house two miles from his neighborhood.  He cried his fool head off for about three hours.

"To Derrick Mays," he took a slug, wiped his tears with his sleeves, then said, "To Joe Corolla," and repeated the names of his dead friends until the bottle was near gone. 

When he reached that last slug, he raised the bottle to the sky (or rather, the part of the sky that was not yet obstructed by a soon-to-be-built roof) and said, "To Steven Carter, may he rot in hell."

He downed the whiskey and threw the bottle against an unfinished wall. 

That night, as Atwood Nash slept in his antique bed, he dreamt he was an invisible lion, eating up all the kills of other animals.  The other animals hated him, but they could do nothing because he was king of the jungle and he was unseen.

Atwood Nash slept well.

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