I look back at the pranks we played in college and feel utterly ashamed, though being honest, some were the best times of my life. Yeah, we’d go too far, once a dorm room was set alight; not our finest hour. I thought I’d outgrown it. My brother sure hadn’t.
Dan came to visit me from out west. We were in our thirties now, I had a steady job, and had eased into early middle-age like a comfy shoe. If it wasn’t for the weathered-lines on his face from bumming around and surfing, you’d think Dan was still in his twenties.
“S’up dude,” was how he greeted me. Something so simple, yet it made me feel all hunched over and broken, like an old man.
We caught up. I told him what I was up to. We’d barely spoken in the past ten years. When I asked what he’d been doing, he said, “Nothing.”
I thought, really nothing? When I asked him to concentrate and tell me one standout moment, all he gave me was:
“My bro Terry, I made him think his house was haunted for like ten days, it was hilarious.”
It was strange to hear him talk with a Californian twang. We’d both grown up in Chicago. It was as if this man was a clone of my brother with a couple of genes switched on and off. He did look like him and it was his voice. It’s amazing what a decade on the sunny coast can do.
“How?” I asked.
He fell about into laugher, replaying his memory in his head.
“I had nowhere to stay. Terry said I could crash at his place. I turned up drunk and somehow ended up sleeping in his laundry room behind some boxes. Don’t ask me how I got there, I’ve no idea.
“When he came in, I woke and had this crazy hangover. I moaned when I tried to move. Check this, Terry screams like a little girl and runs out of the house. It was hilarious, man.
“So instead of telling him, I took some food out of the fridge and slept in his attic. When he’d come home, I’d pace, making sure to stamp a few times. He’d go up there to investigate, but you know, I always won hide and seek when we were kids. I kept getting texts from Charlie, you don’t know him. Said Terry was shitting himself, saying his house was haunted. I told him where I was.
“I had nothing to do, so I carried on, man. When he was at work, I’d go downstairs and open a few cupboards, little things at first. Then I’d re-arrange the furniture, put a chair on the coffee table, things like that. It was the funniest thing, man. This went on for ten whole frickin’ days. When he finally worked it out, you should have seen him. Looked like he hadn’t slept in years. I wish you’d been there.
“He threw me out after that. The funniest thing? Wait until he goes looking for his family photos up there. A guy has to take a shit, right?”
I looked away disgusted, thinking about that poor man’s attic. Then stifled a laugh.
Dan saw, and chuckled. Within seconds we were laughing like college, God I missed this prick.
“Hey, man. We should do something, for old time’s sake. Have you got anyone I could, you know, I could go mess on?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said, suddenly feeling in a completely different age group to Dan.
“Really? Not even for one night?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
Dan sighed, looking around the room, seeing the baby toys out on the floor, the briefcase next to the table.
The smile slid off his face, realising for the first time he was no longer a young man. Coming to the conclusion that he had to grow up, or that life had passed him by. I felt a knot of guilt in my stomach.
“Sure, why not!” I said without thinking.
Dan’s face lit up, just like my little girl’s did when I played with her. You can’t turn down a face like that.
“I know just the person.”
With that, I phoned Justin, one of my co-workers. He was a good laugh, the office clown. Slightly overweight, balding, though surprisingly fit, not an angry bone in his body.
I pulled up at the end of Justin’s road and let Dan out. It was dark now, and he did his best to hide in the shadows. He did so well, I wondered if he wasn’t more practised than he said. Then I stopped outside Justin’s house and phoned him again.
He hopped in and we drove off. In the rear-view, I saw Dan emerge and enter a front yard.
In the bar, I tried small talk, surreptitiously checking my phone for updates from Dan. Trying my hardest to look like I was listening. I said I was checking Jess’s baby monitor, I was a new dad and worried. Justin didn’t mind. He never did. A text arrived.
I’m in, you may owe him a new window.
For fuck’s sake, you’re supposed to be haunting the place, not breaking and entering. – I thought to myself.
I asked Justin about his hobbies, I was surprised to hear he ran a game’s night at the local community center. Magic the Gathering, he said. I nodded along.
😀 the guys gonna shit when he sees what I’ve done to his living room.
Don’t break anything! – I texted back.
Justin told me how lonely he had been, but he’d finally met someone recently. I asked if I knew the lucky person.
He grinned and shook his head.
“Am I ever going to meet them?”
He blushed, it was like seeing a cuttlefish change colour. Snap, and his cheeks were as red as a rosebush.
I can’t get into his attic, I am going to the basement.
“I think I need to go,” Justin said, checking his phone.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Oh, the motion detector has gone off. It could be nothing, but I better check. Thank you for the drink. I don’t have many friends, so I really appreciate it.”
“No problem, man,” I said, frantically texting Dan to get out of the house.
I had no response. Shit.
We got in the car and drove.
“Can we go a little quicker?” he asked, nervously.
“Sure?” I said, checking the phone again. Still nothing.
I kept looking at my phone as we took the last few roads to his house. Justin was sweating now.
“Is everything okay?” I asked.
“Yeah… well I’m not sure. I have some really rare Magic the Gathering cards, and I overheard some guys saying they knew where I lived.”
I feigned a smile.
We pulled up outside his house. Justin frantically unbuckled his belt and forced the door open.
“Justin!” I shouted as he sprinted to the house.
He stopped in his tracks.
“I need to tell you something.”
“What?” he said, his eyes darting from side to side.
“I know who’s in your house, I’m sorry.”
“What do you mean?”
I got out of the car.
I hung my head, feeling like the adult I’ve always known myself to me. How fucking stupid it was for me to get pulled in by my brother. It was college all over again, but the fire incident, not the fun ones.
“I know who set off the motion detector.”
“How do you know that?” he said, his breathing heavy, his hands dancing awkwardly at his sides.
“It’s a long story.”
Justin didn’t want to listen, he ran to the house.
“Wait! Let me explain!”
Though he didn’t want that.
I called Dan, all I got was a disconnected tone. Oh Jesus.
I jogged to the front door. It was unlocked. As soon as I stepped inside, I dived to the floor as the deafening sound of a gunshot rang out. I huddled in a ball, covering my face, wondering if I’d been shot. A second shot echoed, followed shortly by a third.
Police interviews are terrifying. I still don’t know what they want to do with me. I’ve had to tell my work. If I wasn’t so indispensable, I think they’d have already let me go. I know it’s untenable though. You could slice the tension in the office like butter.
Dan, my dear brother Dan, went out like he came in, kicking and screaming. A shotgun wound to the stomach. I can’t think of many worse ways to go. Shit, I miss him. I hadn’t spoken to him in ten years, one day back in my life and I was crying like a little boy, missing him.
Justin on the other hand, they had to identify his body via dental records. His head was found coating the walls of the basement of his house. They found parts of him on Dan’s body, as well as on a little girl. Her name was Alice. She wasn’t Dan’s daughter. She had gone missing six months before. She wasn’t identifiable until the DNA match came back.
I didn’t give a shit about Justin. Fucking predator. Though the girl. She was only six.
I don’t sleep well now. It was only supposed to be a game. A bit of childish fun. But maybe childish fun needs to be left to children.
That was six weeks ago. I have no idea where my life is heading. Jess is the only thing keeping me sane. I smiled this morning though, for the first time in a while. It actually felt like the corners of my mouth creaked as I did.
I had made my way downstairs from a Ambian assisted dream-state. In the kitchen, some of the cupboard doors were open. I shut them absentmindedly. I made my way to the living room and stopped. It was more of a – huh, ain’t that something – than anything else.
I stared at the living room chair. Remarkably, it sat on top of the coffee table.