“This is the house,” Kevin said.
The house stood out like a skeleton at a baby shower. The neighborhood was sprinkled with neatly cut yards, bright painted exteriors, and basketball goals propped up on the edges of drive ways. Not this house. Once-red paint, which had turned almost black-purple, was in the process of pealing itself free and the yard looked like the Australian Outback. The windows had all been broken by baseballs and only the basement windows, hiding behind the thin, grey stemmed, weeds, seemed to be undamaged.
“What do I have to do?” Jim asked.
“Grab a can of beer from the basement,” Kevin said.
“Can of beer?”
“Yup, the ol man who used to live here had a fridge full of Miller Light,” Kevin said.
“The man was a drunk,” Aaron piped in from the group of boys that had tagged along as witnesses, “If he didn’t have a beer in his hand, he was asleep.”
“And when the shit went down, he left it all in the fridge, never drank a sip again,” Kevin finished.
“So, the fridge in the basement?” Jim said.
Jim stepped onto the cracked concrete path that led to the door.
“Just grab one can?” he asked.
“Yup,” Kevin nodded.
Jim stopped in front of the door.
“And you’ll leave me alone?”
The boys smirked behind Kevin and Aaron.
“You got it,” Kevin said.
Thunder boomed overhead as mountains of clouds slowly rolled their way in front of the sun.
“Hey, wait, Kevin!” Aaron said, looking up at the swirling embryo of a storm swirling overhead, “Let’s go with him!”
“Now why in the hell would we-”
“Cause its bouta storm.”
Jim turned to watch.
“And?” Kevin asked.
“And my mom said I hadda be at home if it storms today.”
“Then get your ass home.”
“But I hadda smoke.”
“Go to the woods, go behind the ball park, just-”
“I ain’t got time, man! If I come home drenched, Mom’ll have my ass. Let’s jus go in, wait at the basement door, and let me smoke one or two.”
Kevin looked up at Jim and the house then back at Aaron.
“You can go with him, but I’ll stay here.”
“You gonna leave a bro like that! Come on, this house is scary shit.”
Kevin looked up at the sky, swore, shook his head, and turned back.
“Fine, let’s go. You owe me.”
They strode over to Jim.
“I know I do! And I swear I’ma quit before Christmas, I put it on my momma. Can’t be killin my lungs for soccer.”
“Whatever,” Kevin grunted, “Open the damn door, Jim.”
Jim turned back to the door and jostled the door knob.
“It’s locked,” he said.
“Damn,” Kevin said.
“I got it!” Aaron said, stepping past Jim and pulling out a knife that was folded like a pocket knife but was way too large, “Used to do this when I’d lose the house keys.”
Aaron slipped his knife in the door, pressing it against the lock cylinder and holding the door knob. Kevin looked back at the squad of boys; they tapped their feet and switched their gaze back and forth from the clouds to the house. Kevin knew he was going to lose his audience at the first flash of lightning.
“There!” Aaron grinned
He opened the door.
“Let’s go,” Kevin said, “Jim first.”
Jim nodded and the three walked in, Jim in the lead. The family room was caked in filth and every step the trio took kicked up a cloud of dust that floated through the air like a specter and settled back down on the rotting furniture that filled the room. The door to the basement stood slightly ajar beside the couch, offering a sliver of a view at the rotting staircase behind. The house was cold, way too cold for summer.
“Thank you Jesus Christ!” Aaron cried, pulling out his squashed, almost empty, pack of cigarettes and a cheap one dollar lighter.
The three watched sparks jump as Kevin spun the lighter wheal. He got a flame and raised the lighter to the cigarette at his lips.
The front door slammed shut, the lighter went out, and a flash of lighting lit up the evening.
“Shit!” Aaron jumped, dropping both his lighter and the cigarette, “What the hell was that?”
“The wind, calm down,” Kevin snapped, “Jim, hurry up and get that damn can.”
As Jim walked silently over to the basement door, Kevin strode over to look out the window. The storm was directly over them and the kids had left. Turning back around, he saw Jim still standing in the basement doorway.
“Go on,” Kevin said.
“What happened here?” Jim asked.
“Just get the God-”
“No, no, he wants to know,” Aaron grinned, “Let’s scare him a little.”
Kevin shook his head and went back to looking out the window.
Aaron tossed the lighter and his knife on the couch and exhaled a plume of smoke through his nostrils, “Like a year ago, this little kid took a tumble down those stairs. He landed bad, I mean B-A-fucking-D. And after he hit the floor, someone,” Aaron chuckled, turned to look at Kevin, and continued, “someone locked him in a freezer. Dude was already twisted up like a pretzel but in the end he suffocated. The cops never caught who did it.”
The three were quiet for a while.
“They say that boy’s ghost still chills here, but hey, ain’t nothin to piss your pants bout. Way I see it, ghosts are like fire,” he took another puff, “Hell yea they’ll kill a son of a bitch but they need fuel. You put a fire in a jar, close the lid, out it goes. No air. You put a ghost in a house, ghost is gone…til someone intrudes. See, right now, we’re the fuel. But if we’re fast enough, we might just get a lil burn, not a holy damn scorchin.”
Kevin hadn’t been listening to the two boys. He watched rain fall down from the heavens and beat against the windows. His breath floated out like smoke and fogged up the glass in front of him; a chill ran up his spine and tickled the hairs at the back of his neck.
“Weren’t these windows bro-”
Kevin spun around to see Aaron fall onto the couch, clutching his throat. Blood seeped out from between his fingers, his legs whipped about spastically, his eyes rolled back in his head, and in one hand, he held his knife.
“What the hell?”
Jim stood in the doorway to the basement, as if frozen, staring.
“What the fucking hell?”
Kevin ran to the couch and knelt down; putting his hands over Aaron’s as if maybe his would stop the bleeding. Aaron gargled, spat, and couched up thick wads of blood. Kevin jumped to his feet, “Do something Goddamnit Jim, open the fucking door and get someone!”
Kevin ran to the door and began to yank at the handle. It wouldn’t budge, it was locked, and his blood soaked hands merely slipped on the knob. He slammed against the door, kicking it, yelling as loud as he could.
“Help! He’s gonna die! Help, he is gonna fuckin die!”
Jim was still in the doorway when Kevin turned around.
“What the hell was that?”
“I…I don’t know, I-”
“You don’t know? He was a goddamn yard away, how the hell don’t you know?”
Kevin took a step towards him.
“It just happened! I swear! The knife jumped up and flew at him! I don’t know! I swear! I don’t know!”
“Fuckin pussy,” Kevin mumbled, storming towards the basement.
Jim hopped out of the way as Kevin stepped down to stand on the first step, staring into the dimly lit basement.
“What do you want from me?”
His voice cracked.
“What do you want?”
He stopped, as if waiting for an answer.
“Vengeance,” Jim whispered and then slammed into Kevin’s back sending him tumbling down the stairs. He hit his head on the railing, a rusted nail ripped through his pants leg, his knee smashed against the concrete, and he landed awkwardly on his left leg when he hit the cement floor.
“What the hell,” he shouted, his leg bent beneath him, “You bastard!”
“What happened here, Kevin?”
Jim’s voice was suddenly deep and as Kevin looked up, somehow, Jim stood beside him.
“Fuck you, Jim, fuck you! You fuckin killed Aaron, you’re gonna die! I’m gonna fucking kill you!”
“Who pushed that kid down the stairs?”
“You’re fucking insane.”
Jim reached down, grabbed Kevin’s throat, and lifted him into the air.
“Who pushed that kid down the stairs?”
Jim didn’t strain. It was almost like he was holding a stuffed animal.
“Who pushed that kid down the stairs?”
“What the hell are you?”
Jim, without so much as a grunt, threw Kevin across the room so that he slammed into the large, six foot long treasure-chest like freezer. He landed, once again, on his left leg, except this time there was a pop.
“I did it…oh shit…oh shit this hurts…I did it,” Kevin said.
Jim strode over to the refrigerator that sat next to the freezer.
“Did you help him when you saw he was hurt?”
“He was dead when he hit the bottom, what could we have done?”
Jim stuck his hand through the fridge door, not making a hole, not using force, just passing through. A second later, Jim had pulled a warm can of Miller Light out of the fridge. (The fridge had been off for a good year.)
“Are you gonna keep lying to me Kevin?”
“He was pretty close to being dead,” he paused, clutching his leg, “Goddamn this hurts…but he was just shaking, twitching and mumbling you know…Jim please jus let me up. My leg…”
Jim opened the freezer with his free hand.
“So what’d you do bout the shakin?”
“We didn’t mean to, it’d been a joke! But he was messed up and we couldn’t get in trouble, we really couldn’t. And…Jesus Christ this hurts…and we…goddamn…please help me Jim, I’ll leave you alone. I swear! No more bullying!”
“What’d you do?”
Jim grabbed Kevin by the throat again and lifted him over the freezer.
“I…we put him in the freezer. Now, come on Jim, let me down.”
Jim let go of Kevin and he fell into the freezer.
“Shit! Help me! Goddamn! Help me! What do you want?”
Jim didn’t answer. He opened the can of beer and began to pour it on Kevin.
“So all you did was put him in the freezer?”
“Yes! That’s it!”
“What’d you do after that? Just left?”
“No…we closed it and sat on the top…so he couldn’t get out.”
Jim tossed the can into the corner and pulled out the one dollar lighter.
“So, who killed the boy?”
“We did. Now, please let me-”
“WHO KILLED THE BOY?”
Jim leaned over the side of the freezer.
“What’re you doing? Wait!”
“Remember how Aaron said fire needs air to live?”
Jim rubbed his thumb across the wheel of the lighter and a jet of blue jumped out onto Kevin’s jean leg.
“What the hell!”
Flames leaped across his beer soaked body with a SWOOSH. Kevin screamed as the fire reached his mouth and climbed down his throat, clawing its way deeper until it boiled the acids of his stomach. The smell of burnt hair and flesh wafted into the air.
“Well so do humans.”
Jim shut the freezer-
-only for a moment.
He opened the freezer again.
“I’m sorry…” Kevin whispered through crispy lips, the fire was gone, but his body was an ashy black, “I’m so sorry…”
“What was the boy’s name?”
“I don’t…” Kevin could hardly speak and what he did say was a faint whisper, “…know.”
“Want me to tell you?”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Jim,” Jim said and shut the freezer door.