Updated: Dec 19, 2018
“But he’s Steve Bellemy!”
Bethany was seventeen years old and at that moment she was filled with overblown teenage incredulity that her best friend was going to breakup with the most beautiful boy at Metro High.
She avoided the cracked sidewalk, deciding to walk on the street’s blacktop. She could feel the burning heat of the tar struggling to reach her delicate feet.
Despite the discomfort, she chose the street because up ahead was The House. It was called, The House, because no one cared for it. It wasn’t “The Jones’ House” or “The Masons’ House”—just The House. The wood protecting the house’s frame was rotting, and she swore there were always some creatures lurking near the gate. For some reason she could not fathom, the seven-foot high gate that protected the house from intruders was the only sturdy part of the decrepit hovel. Not to keep others out, she thought, but to keep something in. That’s what everyone said anyway.
“Well I would date him in a second. Those blue eyes. His stomach... Tttch! You just can’t Sarah!” Beth spoke of boys because she struggled to be pretty enough to be noticed by them. Her hair fell flat in a stringy mass like rope. She covered it by curling and primping and spraying, but it always fell as though having been shot. A coon’s hat boys called it when she was younger. She wore tight blue jeans, but there was little form to reveal.
Her friend was different. Beth stared longingly at the dark hair that seemed haloed by a beam of sunlight even at night. Her dark brown eyes were open and intimate. Beth adjusted her bra and looked at the full breasts, the long legs and the big open grin.
Sarah’s best quality—and Beth knew it—was that when you spoke to her, time stopped. An earthquake could originate under her feet, or the pop-star-of-the-moment could walk into her presence, and Sarah would still maintain the conversation. Everyone who spoke to her fell in love. Boys fell over themselves to do her homework, but she politely turned them down, while managing to make them feel as though they were her benefactors. Girls talked to her of their boy problems and she listened without speaking—placing a hand on a knee when needed, a hug when most desired.
The House approached. They did not approach it, but it approached them as though they were floating down a river and it were a waterfall looming on the blue horizon.
On the corner where Third Street crashes into Luther street, and The House stuck out like a wart on a smooth face, Beth paused and waited. She rolled her eyes as she always did. Poking her cuticles she gabbed about boys; she could always use this opportunity to spew whatever came to mind. This was the only time she knew Sarah would ignore her.
The only peculiar thing about Sarah was The House. Whenever she passed it, she stopped and stared into the basement window for five whole minutes. Since she was eight years old she had been fascinated with the broken down house and what went on inside.
Now, of course, everyone in the town had their ideas about why no one ever entered or escaped the house. Wives would drive down Third street, and meet as if by some ritual, at a coffee shop to gossip. The House was always a safe subject. Like most towns in America, they churned through gossip faster than their marriages, and this single house was like the devoted sunflower. Angry children, miserable parents, depressed fathers and lonely wives could huddle around coffee tables and surmise as to the fate of the pitiful inhabitants of The House; Love never lasted for them, but the gossip was constant.
A piece of dirt flecked onto the top of Sarah’s sneakers as she positioned them at the edge of the dirt lawn. She faced The House. Her bright eyes bore into the window at the bottom of the house: The window that touched the dirt. Between the window and Sarah were hunks of metal, a rusty bike with no wheels, a single metal chain dangling from an oak tree, and strips of clothing scattered like grape shot.
Sarah never seemed to notice this; nor did she mind the broken gutter, or the panels of roof flapping in the wind. She faced the house like a parishioner preparing for prayer. As she stood for her five minutes, Beth sputtered out words like a backfiring muffler.
“I suppose the good thing about you going to Columbia is you’ll stop this disgusting habit. You know that boy must be dead right? We never even seen him before. I heard he killed his own sister and his parents just left him there and no one even bothered to check on him.” She repeated the traditional banter she’d said many times before. “And those noises. Tommy said he’s heard metal scrapping on glass. Daddy told me one day when he was out on a run—we all know he’s walking to the bar—and he heard gurgling liquids. But not water he said. Oils or something like that. Damn Sarah! Did you see my dad’s toupee? Who’s he think he’s fooling? Probably himself. And once I heard an explosion down there. It rocked the floor. I thought sure the glass would shatter...”
Beth flicked a piece of dirt from under her nails. “Mr Tomlin is so wonderful. This assignment will be fun. I feel so important in his class. What will you do your project on?” She brought her phone out to check the time. Only four minutes. She rolled her eyes again and opened her mouth like a cow to pop a piece of gum past the pearly white teeth. Her best feature, one that everyone knew was her best feature.
“Anyway. I believe wind-farms will change the world. Steve told me he’s going to write about how if everyone with $250,000 would donate one fourth of their yearly salary then we could wipe out world hunger. What are you going to write? Oh come on! The essay? YOOHOOO. It’s been five minutes right? This is ridiculous. Answer me! Mr. Tomlin’s assignment?” She stood taller and fixed her imaginary glasses on an imaginary cranium and boomed in a feminine’s attempt at a masculine voice “Students for your final assignment I want you to write one thousand words on an idea—any idea—that will change the world. Have fun! SARAH! Damnit!”
Pygmalion’s statue did not startle her creator more than Sarah startled Beth when she finally spoke: “I’m going to kiss the boy in the basement.”
She turned on the ball of her right foot and sped along the sidewalk. Her white fingers grazed the green bush on the corner of the street. Looking both ways when she reached the end of the curb she jogged to the other side.
“What boy?” Beth yelled while catching up.
“The boy in the basement. Why do you think I look into that window at the base of the house? It’s the basement. There’s a boy down there.”
“Wait. So it’s true? The rumors?”
“I don’t know but there’s a boy down there. I saw him once. I was eight years old. I remember just having finished a lollipop and wondering if it looked like I was wearing lipstick. There was a loud crack and the front door closed. Then a car went speeding down the road--the wind blew my dress up and I was embarrassed. But then he was there. Staring through that window. He had a round face like he’d been hit over and over again. My dad had that face after his accident. He wasn’t crying. Yet... His eyes. They were... They were gray. As gray as a wolf’s. Remember that wolf we saw with the beautiful fur? His eyes were like that. And even from twenty feet away I could see the pupils—they were so big.”
“What do you mean you’re going to kiss him?”
“For my assignment.”
“But how do you know he’s still there. I mean you’ve never seen him.”
“The rumors. There must be something to what people say, even if most of it is nonsense. He’s down there and he is seventeen just like me.”
Sarah ran to cross the street and began whistling a song and saying hello to Mr. Tomowalker, even though the curmudgeon never responded. His cough was getting worse, Sarah thought.
“Sarah!” Steve! You can’t do this to Steve. He loves you. He...”
“I’m going to Columbia; he’s going to Arizona. What are the chances? And besides, haven’t you noticed they’re all the same? There’s always going to be a Steve. If not Steve than Joe or Nick. They all say the same things and laugh at the same things. Jeez sometimes I think God grabbed a hunk of clay and molded them all to be slightly different variation of the same thing. It’s no different with our fathers and their friends. The same. Same... SAME! For once I want something different. I don’t know what or why or how but tomorrow I will kiss the boy in the basement. That’s how I’ll change the world.
Beth bounced her hair in imitation of a movie star no one could ever remember the name of and said, “Steve’ll be furious.”
“Get back here Sarah.” Steve screamed, his strong jaw quivered in impotent rage. He had sandy brown hair and a single dimple that every girl in school wished she could kiss. Despite being the captain of the football team, he had not the power to stop his single-minded girlfriend.
My god I’ll be the laughing stock of school, he thought. “Two years. You can’t do this to me.”
Sarah was running. She wasn’t running away from Steve, for she knew that deep down, a part from all his bluster, he was a coward. Her hair flew and bounced in big circles like a plastic windflower fan as she swiftly moved up the street to the one unusual, strange—grand—spot in the utterly mediocre town. The House. And the boy in the basement.
The afternoon sun beat down upon their necks. Steve swatted at a fly, scratched the back of his head, and looked around to ensure no one could see them. Gripping the strap of his shoulder bag, he ran to catch the girl he knew all the other guys wanted, but that he possessed.
The sound of horns blaring made him shudder. The intersection around the corner was changing lights. At this time of day someone was bound to come down the street and they would see her walking to The House to kiss some dude. She had told everyone in class—stupid bitch, he thought.
A car was veering the corner; it’s loud rumbling sound picked up speed. Steve pictured his friends with their torsos hanging out of a car and catcalling them. Sarah didn’t care. He did.
He planted his left foot firmly on the earth, like a quarterback preparing to throw a Hail Mary. He grabbed her arm and whipped her around so hard she stumbled backward and tripped on his foot and fell back from the sidewalk. He watched her slow descent to the ground. Her butt hit the curb and then she landed with half her body in the street. She hit her head, but it wasn’t very hard. She was fine. Fine, until Mr. Tomowacker’s Oldsmobile ran over her neck.
The over-medicated Tomowacker drove on thinking he had hit the curb again. Steve tried to move toward her, but her head was turned all the way around; her tongue touching the gravel of the oil colored street.
Then he heard a scream. It ripped through Steve’s soul. He ran. He ran and didn’t look back. He was the fastest boy in school, and he ran faster than he’d ever run.
Across the street a middle-aged woman wearing a straw hat with dirt on her knees flew from her garden threw open the metal gate and screamed again for good measure. Like gophers emerging from their mounds, people slowly opened their doors to find out why the crazy neighbor was screaming again.
Almost instantaneously with the first discovery of what had happened, videos were streaming over the ephemeral land of floating images connecting each household to every other household on the planet. On one channel was a video of Sarah’s broken body; another showed wailing neighbors; another had a young girl pretending to be a reporter on the scene. The world knew what happened before Sarah’s parents.
Everyone was pacing as though it would solve some problem or reverse time and bring back the girl who always smiled. Each person slapped their thighs or brought their hand to their neck, or hugged whoever was nearby. The pitch of crying and chatter rose in volume until one more door was opened and slammed.
A young man with white goggles pulled on top of his head and a long white coat stepped out of the house and stood on his porch. His shoulders filled the doorway; his presence filled the block. His hair was dirty with soot, his fingers, pristine. He had a small nose and broad cheeks. His eyebrows seemed stuck in a permanent glare of wonderment. But it was the color of his eyes that unsettled the townspeople. To him, however, no one existed. He only noticed Sarah. Boots thudded as he walked toward her. No one stopped him when he approached her.
Four freshmen wanted to protect the pretty girl. They felt powerless, for no one told them what they should be doing. The shortest boy grabbed a rock. He steeled his resolve, affirming to himself that he must protect the girl from the freak. He cocked his arm to throw it. The Freak lifted his head and stared, unmoving. The boy dropped the rock and sat on the curb.
Then the whole town noticed it. The young man was kneeling. The same voice, as though a recording in the mind of each citizen, spoke the same thought—Is he praying?
“Look!” Said the boy with the rock, “look in his hands.”
There in his right hand was a potion. It was a vial of purple liquid with bright red spots bubbling within.
“So it’s true! He’s been experimenting!” Said The Town.
“It can’t be. Must be something else. Must be snake oil. Can’t be real. Can’t be what Sheila said it was. She’s wrong about everything of importance. What—some kind of resurrection juice box? Can’t be. Can’t be. Can it?” Said a fat man to his obese friend.
The young man bent his long torso and kissed Sarah’s forehead. Then he opened her mouth. Steve, who finally returned after changing his pants into his workout shorts, shouted: “Freak! Leave her!” he started to run, full of a courage fired by the dozens of eyeballs all round the scene. Then, suddenly, he found himself flat on his back, staring up at the short boy with the rock.
The young man poured the entire vial into Sarah’s mouth. Every, single, solitary drop. Save one. Holding his concoction high above his head, he tilted his neck back and the last drop slowly fell. He caught it with the tip of his tongue. Then he bent down and kissed her mouth.
Mortified, the people ran to stop the act of necrophilia. A tightening band with no Will only a bodiless Form were they. At the very moment they would all have converged in a noose around the two young people, Sarah’s fingers wiggled. She flexed her fingers open and closed like someone whose hand had fallen asleep. Her flat neck inflated like a balloon. Several moments passed and she took a huge inhalation of breath as a downing person takes a first breath of air.
She sat up and saw the gray eyes. They swirled like a stormy cloud when she smiled at him. It was the same special smile she had given to him when she was an eight year old girl with ruddy lips.
“So that’s what you’ve ben up to.”
“It is.” His deep voice vibrated through her bone marrow.
“I hope you didn’t waste it all on me...”
“Frederick,” he said anticipating her question, and then sat back on his heels, gulping for air.
“Frederick. I studied a man named Frederick the Great! But you’re much more handsome then I imagined he was. He sounded awefully ugly.”
Frederick smiled and just stared at her as one stares at an exotic animal walking down a suburban street.
She talked to him about social studies class and the boy who won’t stop talking to her, and how she always laughs at Mr. Tomlins’ jokes, but she only does so to make him feel better and how she just got into Columbia and she’s planning on becoming a journalist so that she can tell people about all the important events of the day. She chirped for three minutes and thirty seconds without pause and Frederick sat, contented. His hands were on his knees but his eyes suddenly became droopy.
“Oh!” Sarah said, slightly agitated. “You save my life and I bore you to death,” she pouted.
“No.” He said, still struggling to smile. His chest lumbered in and out with quivering finality.
“What’s wrong? Freddie? You look sick.” She crawled to him and held his hand to her chest.
“Freddie? My sister called me Freddie.”
“Why are you so pale? I mean you are always in that basement, but now you’re as white as a ghost.”
“You’re not... Freddie no! What did you do?”
“One day.” He flexed his long fingers proudly and then clenched them painfully. “One day I may have perfected my creation. But not today. And you were lying there, dead, but still so pretty, so pretty like a trampled rose. You looked in my window once. Do you remember? From that moment I had a dream to strive for. During every second since then I worked for the day I could complete my project and join the world. I just had someone’s mistake I had to rectify.” He turned his head and coughed. She put her hand on his cheek, and he held her hand there. “That day hadn’t come—maybe it never would have.” He faced her, his gray eyes aswirl, “I’m leaving you, Sarah. When I gave you that potion I gave you my life in exchange. But it’s ok Sarah. It’s all right. I can go into the blankness proudly. You see I was alone down there while I made this. Then you were here. And for five minutes I lived.”
His breath was coming in stertorous gasps now. He looked up into her eyes and grinned like a man seeing for the first time the image of the world he had slaved to create. Yet it was a weak smile, one that a person gives as they begin to fall into nightly repose. She moved her head down and her lips connected with his. They shared a kiss that should have begun a lifelong stream of neverending kisses. Her lips wet, his hard and strong and unforgiving. She liked the feel of that first kiss. That first kiss which was their last. She kissed and he held her face in his right hand. So tight, she felt his life force pouring into her. She held on to his hand and kept his mouth on hers, until Freddie stopped moving.
She sat and could not cry. She touched his face and took the time to realize he was truly handsome. He was skinny but strong with hard muscles and a sharp, angular visage. He had grown into a man and the man could have changed the world. She thought, maybe he did.
Steve ran to her, rubbing his jaw. He hugged her but she pushed him away. He started to speak. And then he stopped and retreated two steps backward.
“Sarah... Your... Your eyes... They’re Gray!”