Author's Notes: The characters of Jeff, Liu, Randy, Keith and Troy are all credited to the original author of Jeff the Killer. This is my version of Jeff the Killer, selected by community vote on Creepypasta Wiki. Due to a word limit rule in the contest, I had to cut my original entry in half to meet the contest rules. This is the uncut version, or 'Creator's Cut' as I call it.
"Don't do it chief, it's just too risky!" Monica Davenport urged, following behind the slow, sweaty man waddling before her.
"Monica, if I've told you once, I've told ya a million times, you don't let chances slip by in journalism!" Bennie Rosenberg, editor and chief of the NOLA Watch replied.
"Sir, he's a disturbed child, he killed his parents, if you really believe he'll just sit down and talk to you, then you're as nuts as he is!" Monica retorted.
Bennie stopped sharply, almost causing the small woman to crash into his flabby, moist back. He turned to the left and, with some obvious effort, moved around the desk of his cramped office and landed in his chair. Monica waited for the inevitable crash, as she was quite sure his chair couldn't take much more abuse, however, it held. One of the jokes around the office was that Rosenberg's chair was made in the future and shipped back in time just to support his ass. They joked, but never to his face.
The NOLA Watch was small, underfunded and barely in business most months. It started as a small college paper at Tulane University, and grew almost overnight in popularity. The Tulane students thought that perhaps they'd created the next Facebook, only in print form, and quickly went to work trying to legitimize their little college rag. A year later, it had actually grown, but sadly, it had grown too fast. They'd hired Rosenberg because he was a veteran in the New Orleans journalism world, but due to a heart attack, he had been forced to all but retire. Larger papers, like the Times-Picayune, or the New Orleans Advocate, wouldn't hire him due to his poor health. However, when the two college wiz kids reached out to Bennie about working part time, he volunteered to do it, under one condition, he be allowed to run it his way. They agreed, and now Bennie was the head man behind a small paper that barely qualified as a tabloid, as, like so many internet successes, had begun to die out almost as soon as it went public.
Monica was Bennie's assistant editor. She was fresh from college and eager to learn and make her name in the world of the printed word. She grew up reading Rosenberg's editorials, so when she was given the chance to go to work for him; she'd jumped on it without hesitation. Now though, now she'd begun to worry.
"Chief, I still think you're nuts, but if you insist on going through with this, at least let me come with you," she begged.
"Aww, so sweet that you care," Rosenberg replied.
Monica did care; she liked the chief, even if he was a loud mouthed glutton that smelled like moldy onions by mid-day. For all of his loud tantrums and arrogant views, she knew that he cared deeply about the news. He also hired her for a job that she was hardly qualified for and had no past experience in, so she owed him that too. However, she also wanted to be there. If it was true, if he was going to show up and talk to Rosenberg, break the silence and actually give an interview, Monica wanted to be there. It was selfish, sure, but it was the career that she hoped to one day set trends in.
"Chief, what if he attacks you, I mean, you've seen the pictures of his family, and he's killed at least one other victim that we know of, could be more. Just let me come with you!" Monica demanded again.
"He's a kid Monica, 15 years old, probably scared shitless every night. He wants to tell his story, and for God knows what reason, he chose the NOLA Watch to be his sounding board. No way in hell I'm turning that chance down. I've covered stories in Kosovo, Kuwait, hell, even Iraq back when that shit first kicked off. You really think I'm going to turn tail and hide at the site of a teenager?"
"He's not just any kid, he's crazy. Who knows what's going through his mind. To stab your own parents to death, I mean, who does that?"
"Lyle and Eric Menendez, and believe me, every reporter in this country was climbing over each other to interview them," Rosenberg replied in a matter-of-fact tone.
"Yeah, interview them from behind bars, this is different. Jeffrey Woods has been on the run for two weeks now. The cops can't find him, and all of a sudden you get an invitation to meet him for a sit down? Something about this feels very wrong chief, very, very wrong," Monica answered.
"That's why you're going to call the cops if I don't text you every twenty minutes telling you that I'm alright," the chief replied.
"If I were there..." she began again, but Rosenberg cut her off.
"Listen, you're going to be a great reporter someday Monica. You'll be the next fucking Katie Couric, but you can't get there if you're dead. You think I'm stupid? I know this kid is nuts, I've read all about him. Jeffrey Woods, better known around the world as Jeff the Killer. I really wish I'd been the one to give him that nickname, as it's taken the damn world by storm. USA Today got the jump on giving him that title though, so bully for them. But he specifically told me to come alone, it's all in the note we found, you know that as well as I do. Chances are, if he gets spooked, that's when he'll get dangerous. I'm going to go alone, meet him, hear his story, and then we can put the NOLA Watch on the map. I'll even let you take lead as editor on it, how's that?" Monica looked down at the note on Rosenberg's desk. It had turned up a day ago, just slipped in with the mail. No one currently outside of Rosenberg's office knew it even existed. This Jeffrey Woods had, for reasons unknown, reached out to Rosenberg to tell his story. Maybe it was because the NOLA Watch was such a small paper. Maybe he'd read something in the Watch that he really liked before he went nuts, and had fond memories. Or maybe he just randomly selected the Watch and went with it. He was crazy, so who could tell what his reasons for anything really were.
The note read as follows:
TO: Bennie Rosenberg--Editor of NOLA Watch
This is Jeffery Woods, known on the cover of every single newspaper as Jeff the Killer. I will be at the old fireworks tent on Bayou Road in Mandeville for one hour on August 18th, at 8pm. If you want to hear my side of the story, come alone. Only you Mr. Rosenberg.
Be on time,
"Why do you think he chose us?" Monica asked.
"I don't know, but he did. This is a once in a lifetime story, and I have to go out there and get it."
"Okay, fine, I can see that you've made up your mind. Will you at least bring a gun or something?" she asked.
"I'll have my little Smith and Wesson .38, although I doubt I'll need it. This kid is deranged, he wants to be heard, and that is exactly what I'm going to allow him to do. This will be a soft interview, just a tape a recorder and a fat man with a bad heart. Super easy. He'll get his chance to have his little confessional, and I'll get the chance to make the NOLA Watch a real newspaper. Everyone wins."
"What about the police? Shouldn't we just let them know, so they can arrest him and end all of this?"
"Monica, what are they teaching you in those schools these days? I call the cops and they'll just come out there and screw the whole operation. The press and the cops have never been a good mix. I don't expect them to do my job, so they can't very well expect me to do theirs, now can they?"
"Fine chief, you win....I'll sit at home and wait for your texts. But if I don't hear from you on time each time, I'm calling the cops. You can figure out who's job it is to do what then, but I won't just sit by if I don't hear from you," Monica stated, and crossed her arms sharply, indicating that there would be no debate on this.
"Fine with me," the fat man replied, as he struggled to stand up from behind his desk.
"It's getting late anyway. It's a thirty minute drive from here to Mandeville, then I've got to find the fucking place he's talking about, so I figure I'll head out now."
"Please be careful.." Monica softly insisted, before grabbing the large man and hugging him hard.
"Darling, I've told you time and time again, if you're going to make it in this business, you have to harden up," Rosenberg said to her, but he said so while returning the hug. Bennie Rosenberg left his office in downtown New Orleans, dodging the traffic as he moved his large Cadillac down Canal Street, making his way towards the I-10 on-ramp. He felt the safety of the city around him, people all about, representing a degree of security in the form of humanity and life. He merged onto the interstate and soon found himself on the Causeway Bridge, a 25 mile bride that spanned over Lake Pontchartrain, connecting New Orleans to Mandeville. The ride to the Northshore normally felt long and tiring, too short for a pit stop but just long enough to drag on. Today though, it seemed to zoom by. Rosenberg would never admit this to Monica, but on the inside, he was very nervous. This could be a prank, this could be some copy-cat trying to make a name for himself, or this could turn out to be a massive waste of time. And if the real Jeff Woods did happen to be waiting for him, what then?
"I'll figure it out as I always have, one piece at a time," he mumbled, as he arrived in the tree lined, bedroom community that was Mandeville.
Rosenberg pulled over in a gas station and consulted his GPS. He found Bayou Road easily enough, as the harsh yet useful voice of Siri guided him through the heavily wooded areas. Suburban sprawl was the big thing on this side of the lake; however, there were still a lot of areas that were left untouched. What looked like woods on the outside usually turned out to be nothing more than a half-acre of unsold lot. Still though, Rosenberg wished that he was conducting this interview from his downtown office. At least there were lights and people nearby. He was slowly becoming more and more aware that this location would likely be smack in the middle of nowhere.
It took a little looking, but at around 7 pm, he located Wild Bill's Fireworks. It was a small tent that no doubt saw hundreds of visitors around the 4th of July and New Year’s, but sat as a lonely and forgotten structure all the rest of the year. That was certainly the case tonight, as the tent sat slumped in the darkening August evening. It was situated in a small gravel lot. From what Rosenberg could tell, there were no homes or business for at least a quarter mile in either direction. He knew as well as anyone that he was overweight with a heart condition, so running away was not an option should this go south.
However, he still had faith in his skill as a reporter, though it had been many years since he'd actually done field work. He reminded himself again that, if this does turn out to be the real deal, Jeffrey Woods was just a 15 year old boy. The papers made him out to be some sort of demonic sociopath, they dubbed him Jeff the Killer, and they plastered the now famous photo of his deformed face, taken by the son of his last victim, all over the papers and internet. However, Rosenberg felt confident that despite all of that, he could control this situation.
He sent a text to Monica, letting her know that he'd arrived early and that he would communicate with her further starting at 8 pm, when and if this interview even happened. He carefully entered the tent, his hand on his pistol, just to get an idea of where this would be taking place. It was small inside. There was a dry rotted counter top, where he assumed a cash register would sit during the open seasons. The rest of the tent was empty, save for a small folding chair. Rosenberg inspected the chair and found a small scrap of paper taped to the back rest.
'Sit down,' the scrap read.
Rosenberg searched a bit further and found, beneath the chair, was a small battery powered lamp. It was one of those that people take camping. Small and compact, yet he knew that once it got fully dark outside, it would light this tent up perfectly. He tested the lamp and found that it worked fine. Both the chair and the lamp seemed new, free of the dust of this place. This at least served to validate this entire outing. He could take at least a degree of comfort in knowing that it wasn't just a stupid prank.
He sat down and removed his pack of cigarettes. Something both his wife and doctor badgered him about without remorse. He lit a smoke and waited. Full dark came faster than he'd expected, and soon he realized that the tent was almost fully dark. Reaching down, he clicked the button that activated the lamp, and upon looking up, realized that he was no longer alone in the tent.
At first they just sat in silence, the overweight man wearing a brown suit, and the new arrival, a young man, sitting on the counter. The shadows played their games well in the small, humid tent. Rosenberg could tell the intruder was young and male, just by the profile of his face. He had black hair that hung down over his forehead, almost to his eyes. He was wearing a black jacket and blue jeans. His head was tilted into the shadows, so that only half of his face showed in the light cast by the lamp. From Rosenberg's current angle, the kid almost looked normal.
Rosenberg focused on remaining professional. He had to admit that he was never really sure this would actually happen. He still wasn't totally sure this kid was the real Jeffery Woods, but he figured a few questions would solve that. He was still trying to decide how to open the conversation, when he remembered his deal with Monica. That would do just fine to break the ice as well.
"Hey, I have to take out my cell phone and text my assistant, okay? If she doesn’t hear from me every so often, she’s going to freak out and call the cops."
The shadowy figure did not respond, but did tilt his head slightly, as if trying to get a better look at what Rosenberg was doing.
Rosenberg removed his phone slowly, making sure to make no sudden movements, and activated his screen. He already programmed a message to send with just the tap of a button to Monica, simply stating, 'All is well.' After sending the message, he left the phone on his knee, as so to avoid that uncomfortable tango in the future.
"Okay, I'm going to go ahead and take out my audio recorder, it's in my suit coat pocket," Rosenberg informed the silent figure, who once more appeared to move his head slightly, but made no attempt to speak. Rosenberg removed the recorder and held it in his hand.
"Before we begin, I just have to ask, you are Jeffery Woods, correct?" he asked.
"I was..." the youth replied, speaking for the first time.
"Fair enough, I just asked in case this was some sort of prank," Rosenberg confirmed, and clicked the record button on his audio device. "Okay, I'm recording our conversation from this point forward."
The youth spoke again, "Does this look like a prank to you?" he asked, and tilted his head in the other direction. Rosenberg immediately recognized the disfigurement that dominated the left side of Jeffrey Woods' face. It was, after all, plastered on just about every news outlet and paper in the country. "Okay," Rosenberg began, choosing his words carefully, "You already know who I am, since you did contact my office directly, and the whole nation and half the world has heard of you, so, let's start with..." Jeff cut him off, raising his voice slightly.
"Do you know why I chose you Mr. Rosenberg?"
"Honestly, no," the editor replied.
"Since the incident two weeks ago, since...since I killed my parents, the whole world has labeled me a monster. They call me Jeff the Killer. This picture, the one taken when I broke into that man's house a week ago, it's become my identity, at least as far as the world is concerned. But your paper, I saw the article that you wrote. You headlined it, Jeffery Woods, America's Sensation. In the piece, you never once refer to me as Jeff the Killer. You actually tried to tell the story. I read that, and...I don't know, I figured since you were the only one out there that seemed to want to tell a real story, I would at least fill in the details." Rosenberg was actually a bit relieved. Jeff seemed to be talking sane; he was coherent and seemed calm. This was a good sign. It was also a plus that his previous article had struck a bond with Jeff, as that would help grease the wheels of conversation here.
"Okay Jeffery, or do you prefer Jeff?" Rosenberg asked.
"Jeff is fine," he replied.
"Okay Jeff, before we get started, I have to ask you, what is your end game here? I mean, you're wanted by the police, the FBI, hell, just about everyone wearing a badge has a stake in capturing you, so, tell me, how long can you keep this up? Aren't you concerned about your face, the possibility of infection, and what are you doing for food and lodging?"
"I don't really know....honestly, I didn't think it'd ever come to this. But, forget all that. What I do after this interview, I guess I'll figure it out. What I want to tell you about is how this all happened. How I... you know..." Jeff stated flatly, rubbing the wounded side of his face, likely without being aware he was doing so.
"Okay, well, just start at the beginning. What was life like for you before... before the murders?"
Jeff took a deep breath and began his story.
"You ever hear about those perfect little families? Like on T.V.? Mom, dad, two kids and a dog, well, that was my parent's dream. I don't know how or why it ever came to that, but that is what they wanted, and they just had to have it. My parents, Shelia and Matt Woods, they were like, perfect for each other. They both had this image of...well, the way things should be, I guess. They came from poor families, did you know that? They're parents worked like crazy to put them through college. I know because my folks liked to tell me that about three times a day. I guess that put some sort of, obsession, into them. They had to have things a certain way.
We all grew up in New Orleans East, myself and my brother Liu. We lived in a small, two bedroom apartment, and my parents hated it. Me and Liu loved it though. We knew all the kids in the neighborhood, because, well, we grew up with them all. Our apartment, it was called Walnut Square, and it was like its own little city. We had our group, and sometimes our group would get into a 'war' with another group, but, not like a gang war or anything, just, like kids playing Army I guess. We'd always be friends at the end of the day. Me and Liu were only a year a part in age, so, we were close, more like friends than brothers. We didn't fight much, and when no one else was able to come out and play, we always had each other. Things were okay back in Walnut Square, even with the way our parents were."
Rosenberg asked, "What do you mean by, 'the way our parents were?'"
Jeff continued, "Fake. I think fake is the best way to describe them. Like, when other kids were around, they acted totally different. They were the fun parents, always joking and being involved. I remember when we'd have friends from school spend the night; my parents would take us all over the ZM Video, the local neighborhood video store. We'd pick out a couple of horror movies and a video game or something, and then we'd all head back to our apartment. My parents would make popcorn and try and scare us during the movie. They'd sit out there and tell us all stories about when they were kids, stuff that they never did when it was just me and Liu. At the end of the weekend, when all the other kids would go back home, my mother would actually tell them to let their parents know how much fun they had over at our house. Once they would leave though, my folks would go right back to their normal selves. They would either retreat into their bedroom and shut the door, or they would go off to do their own things, leaving me and Liu alone. I remember Liu asked my mother once, if we could have a movie night. You know what she told him?"
Rosenberg shook his head.
"She told him to call up his friends and see if they can come over. While Liu was making phone calls, my mother actually started getting out popcorn and stuff, but as soon as Liu came out and told her that they couldn't make it, she put it all away and told him that she wasn't feeling up to a movie. I mean, can you believe how shitty that must have felt to him. His own mother was happy to put on this great show in front of other people's kids, but couldn't be bothered to spare two hours to watch a movie with her own son."
"That sounds rough," Rosenberg replied.
"Yeah well, it was always like that, and I was pretty used to it by then. My father put me in boxing lessons, because his boss's brother worked at the gym. I went there for about a year, got pretty good at it, until the boss's brother quit. No sooner was I pulled out of the classes. My father told me that it was because we couldn't afford the lessons, but I knew that was bullshit. Just the week before he'd talked about signing me up for another year, then as soon as the brother quits, we suddenly can't afford it anymore. Like I said, Liu still believed a lot of their crap, but I was seeing through it mostly. And yeah, it sucked."
"Well, do you think your parent's distance brought you and your brother closer?" Rosenberg asked.
"I think we would have been close no matter what, but yeah, having parents like ours, you had to come together. My parents always sort of ignored Liu the most. That's not to say that I was their favorite or anything, because I don't think my parents favored either of us all that much. But Liu, he wasn't part of the plan, I guess." Rosenberg inquired, "Was he an unplanned pregnancy?"
"You mean, like an accident baby? No, they wanted that baby; they just didn't want another boy. I found this out years after he was born, I overheard them talking one night. Turns out that they wanted a boy and a girl, to really round it all out. They had this whole thing planned out. My mother did all the herbal crap to try and make sure Liu was a girl, followed all these baby books. The reason his name is so weird is because they originally planned out the girl name as Liuna or some weird shit like that. It was sort of like the Spanish word the moon. So, when my mom found out that she was having another boy, I think she just said fuck it, and kept the name about the same. She wanted that name and I guess she was determined to get it, so, hence we had Liu. You know, it was just pronounced like 'Lou,' but my parents had to stick as close to their plan as possible. I think they had serious issues that we never really saw."
“So your folks wanted a girl, had the name picked out and all, and when your brother was born, they stuck with the same name, for the most part,” Rosenberg asked.
“Yep, that was them for you, no changing in the plans. Jeff and Liuna just became Jeff and Liu. That was how they thought,” Jeff replied. Rosenberg, sensing that it was time to move this interview forward, took a risk and went with a direct question.
“So Jeff, did your parents ever hit you? Was the abuse ever physical?”
Jeff laughed. A laugh that started out as an almost honest, youthful sound, however, it quickly began to rise into a shrill burst of almost hysterical giggling.
“I wish! Oh man, I wish that were the case. No, they never hit us. Hitting us would have required actually paying attention to us. No, they just ignored us away until it was time to try and impress a friend or neighbor, then they dragged us out to show us off.”
“Okay, so, I get that your folks ignored you, neglected you and your brother. What I don’t get is how you wound up here, sitting across from me in this tent. I mean, sure, it sounds like your folks weren’t trying to win any parenting awards, but you seem like a smart enough kid. You grew up well, had food and clothing, education and everything else. What made you…?” Rosenberg was trying to find the right word, when Jeff assisted him.
“Snap?” Jeff asked, that shrill edge still hanging slightly in his voice.
“Yes, what caused this?” Rosenberg pressed.
“You got your recorder on, right?” Jeff asked.
“Of course,” the reporter replied.
“Okay, sit back and listen, light up a smoke, get comfortable,” Jeff responded, and in the dark and shadowy confines of the small tent, Jeff Woods, known better as Jeff the Killer, told his story. By the time he was finished, the recorder was down to half battery life, and Rosenberg had smoked half his pack of cigarettes.
Birth of the Killer
Jeff was 15 years old; Liu was 14, on the day that their parents came home, all smiles, calling for their two kids to come to the living room. This was a rare occurrence in the Woods’ home, as their parents typically returned from work and went into their own private worlds. Matt Woods would generally find his way to the living room and start binge watching network news, while Shelia Woods made her way into their bedroom and started catching up on her Bravo network television. The two brothers typically didn’t see their folks until around 7pm, when a rushed family meal would be prepared, eaten in relative silence, and once consumed, all members would return to their respective wings of the small apartment.
Tonight though, tonight appeared to be different.
“Boys, come to the living room boys!” Shelia announced with an eager, joyous edge to her voice that was mostly absent these days. Jeff and Liu came out of their shared bedroom, where they had been busy plugging away at a game of Madden that had locked them in constant competition for the better part of the year.
“What’s up mom?” Jeff asked first.
“Well…..well, your father, he found out…” Shelia stammered. Luckily, Matt was there to rescue the conversation.
“Boys, I got a promotion. I’m being placed in charge of the Northshore district. I’ll be working specifically out of that office from now on. They’re giving me a territory that is twice the size of my current assignment, and with that will come a lot more work.” Liu, always starving for his father’s attention, quickly congratulated his dad.
“Good job dad! Really awesome,” Liu shouted with genuine excitement.
“That’s not all,” Shelia interjected, “with this new job comes even more exciting news, we’re finally going to get to move to a bigger place!” Shelia’s grin was plastered from ear to ear. Jeff saw her huge, fake smile, and thought that such grins could never come from a real place of human emotion.
“So, we’re moving?” Jeff asked, an obvious hint of teenage angst laced in his voice.
“Yes,” his father replied, “we’ll be moving to Mandeville. It’s a nice, safe town with a great school system and lots of woods and nature for you boys to explore. You two won’t have to take the public bus to school anymore, you won’t have to worry about any bad parts of town, it’s going to be a real good change for this family.” “But, what about our friends here, our school…I, I don’t think I want to move to a new high school. I hate having to make new friends and all the kids there will already know each other and…” Jeff began to rattle on, but his mother quickly roped it in.
“Jeff, you’ll make new friends, plus, Mandeville is only 25 miles away from where we are right now, it’s not like we’re moving out of state. This is a good chance to really move up, don’t ruin it with your attitude, okay?” Jeff looked over and saw the discomfort on Liu’s face. Sure, he didn’t want to move, but Liu seemed more open to the idea, plus, it was nice to see their parents actually happy for a change. Jeff swallowed the agitation that was building up in him, and put on a smile that he hoped looked more organic than the one his mother had been wearing.
“Okay mom, sorry, yeah, of course I am happy for dad. I’m good with this,” Jeff stated, knowing that his lie was probably obvious, but was happy that Liu at least seemed to take visible comfort in having the family all back on the same page. Six weeks passed between that conversation and the day the Woods family actually pulled into their new home, keys in hand, with a delivery truck following close behind. During those six weeks, Jeff and his family packed their possessions, house hunted, packed some more, and eventually the two boys began to feel the blues of saying goodbye to the neighborhood they’d known since birth. Jeff and his neighborhood pals rode their bikes and played as always, but deep inside, a sadness had built up in him. He knew that he was saying goodbye to the friends and locations that he loved. He hoped to get his driver’s license soon, and then he could come back over and visit. But that still seemed distant, and from where he was currently standing, he felt as though he was on the cusp of saying farewell to his entire life.
He kept trying to pep talk himself, telling himself that on the upside; at least it was the summertime. He wouldn’t have to walk into a new school midyear, being stared at by the kids like some breed of rare bird or something. He could take the rest of the summer to try and get to know the kids of Mandeville, and hopefully, by the time late August hit and he had to walk into Mandeville High School, a sophomore, he’d at least have a couple friends. He also had Liu, who would be starting as a freshman that year, so, he wouldn’t be totally alone.
The day he and his family arrived at their new home, the sky was over cast and the weather was muggy. The grey skies seemed to punctuate his mood. Jeff was not thrilled to be here. Their new home was beautiful though, a true example of his father’s new found success, but still, it wasn’t the home he’d known. He and Liu would have their own bedrooms for the first time ever though, and he had to admit he was a little excited about the new privacy. So, he and Liu spent that week setting up their new place. Jeff’s room was on the second floor of the house, and the window featured a great view of the wooded areas behind their new house. At night, a billion stars would come out, a sight that Jeff never had been able to enjoy in the city. Their new house also had a yard, both back and front, and his father had already invested in a lawn mower and informed the boys that it would be their task to maintain the landscaping. This of course meant allowance and more spending money, so Jeff had no issues with that. A week after they’d settled in, Jeff and Liu woke up early. The sky was a crisp and gorgeous blue, and although the Louisiana heat was playing its usual cruel tricks, the brothers decided that a morning bike ride to explore the area would be just the right ticket to combat the slight pangs of homesickness that they’d both been experiencing over the last week.
Matt and Shelia were both at work, so Jeff and Liu made themselves a quick bite to eat downstairs before heading out.
“I miss home,” Liu blurted out, as Jeff was smearing salsa on the microwaved burrito that would serve as his breakfast.
“Me too Liu, but, I guess this is home now, so we just sort of have to make the most of it,” Jeff replied.
“I know, but all of our friends and stuff are back in Walnut Square. Remember that building we’d always sneak up on top of and watch the city lights come on, I miss that,”
Liu responded, sounding down. “Yeah, and ZM Video, the owner knew us, would always let us rent R-Rated movies without our parents, and he’d always hook us up with a free video game rental if we got a few movies… yeah, I miss that too, but Liu, we have to…” Liu interrupted, “I know, we have to make the most out of this, but still, this place just seems so fake, and mom and dad still treat us like we aren’t even here.”
Jeff sighed, “Yep, they do. I was sort of hoping the new house would improve their mood, but what can we do?”
Liu had no answer.
Jeff finished his breakfast and the two boys left the house to mount their bikes and explore around a bit more. As it turned out, the subdivision they moved into was rather close to a cluster of stores in a small shopping center. After riding a bit, going up and down generic streets that featured the same vinyl sided homes with their kept up lawns, the boys came across the place.
Village Shopping Center was the name of the short row of businesses. Within these were a Pizza Hut, a Chinese restaurant, a tobacco store, a Sprint store, and, what Jeff and Liu were most excited about, a video store.
Friendly Video was the name of the place, and it certainly looked friendly enough. From outside, the boys could see rows upon rows of new movies, and a respectable collection of classics. Jeff felt a rise in his mood. Sure, this wasn’t ZM Video, this wasn’t the store he’d grown up with, but still, having one this close meant that he and Liu could continue at least one tradition from their old lives. Jeff and Liu parked their bikes against the wall of the store, propping them near the glass walls so that they could keep an eye on them, (a habit any kid growing up in the city develops quickly) and entered the store to browse the selection.
“We’ll have to get mom or dad to come down here and open up an account so we can rent movies,” Liu mentioned as Jeff flipped a box over to read the description of a horror movie.
“Shit, you’re right,” Jeff snapped, feeling a bit of frustration at this thought. He knew getting his parents to actually come down here and set up a membership would take forever, since their usual after work routine was to go off into separate rooms until they got hungry enough to come out and speak. Jeff glanced over at the girl working behind the counter, “Maybe I can go over there and sweet talk her into giving us accounts,” Jeff joked.
“Yeah right Jeff, one look at you and she’ll probably ban us,” Liu remarked back, a smile broad on his face.
“You doubt me little man?” Jeff replied, both siblings now giggling.
“Doubt you? The guy who’s kissed two girls and almost touched a boob, never, please, go on over and lay on all the charm.”
“Whatever, I totally could have banged that girl, but her parents came home and….” Jeff retorted.
“Last time you told me that story, you said her parents were out of town and her sister came home…”
Jeff became flustered and while in the process of trying to make yet another come back, the girl behind the register removed all doubt by speaking to the boys herself.
“Hey, aren’t those your bikes?” the young woman asked, pointing towards the glass window. Jeff and Liu looked over and saw three boys outside, two of which were riding around in circles on the Woods brother’s bikes. They would spin them around and then jump off, letting the bikes crash onto the pavement, just to stand them up and ride them again. The two boys riding the bikes were both slim in build, while a heavier boy stood on the sidewalk, drinking a Red Bull and watching.
Jeff and Liu made their way towards the doors of the video store, when the fat kid saw them coming. Jeff couldn’t hear what he said to his two friends, but he made some sort of gesture while shouting, and the other two boys dumped the bikes where the lay, and walked towards the sidewalk, directly towards the two brothers.
“Those your bikes?” one of the boys asked as the Jeff and Liu entered the summer heat.
“Yeah, why are you riding them?” Liu asked sharply.
“We just saw them there man, relax, figured someone just left them out for us,” the same boy responded, as his two friends joined him on either side.
Jeff and Liu were veterans of growing up in a crowded city apartment, and both boys knew what was likely coming. They’d dealt with assholes like this before, and the same script was almost always followed. First they would provoke their victims in some way, then would come a sarcastic exchange of words, and usually, depending on how determined said assholes were to make trouble, some degree of physical contact always came next. Jeff, determined to make a good start here, tried to change the course of this confrontation.
“Well, they’re ours. We just moved here about a week ago, we live over on Fairmont Avenue, a few blocks from here. We were just checking out the neighborhood.” Jeff hoped that a civil tone could turn things around, but he could tell by the insolent look on the kid’s face that this was a difficult gamble.
“Good for you, you moved somewhere,” the fat kid remarked. The other boy, the one who’d yet to speak, remained silent, though he did spit on the ground, aiming close to Jeff’s shoe. A move so obvious he may as well have just tried to spit in Jeff’s face. “Oh yeah Troy,” the first boy spoke, “they moved into that piece of shit house with the gravel driveway. I was wondering who would move into that place.”
“Well Randy, now we know,” the big kid, apparently named Troy, replied. Jeff, still trying to salvage the conversation, tried peaceful banter one more time.
“Okay, so you’re Troy, and you’re Randy, well, I’m Jeff and this is my brother Liu, we just moved here from New Orleans.”
“You ain’t in New Orleans now,” the third boy, who’d just now decided to speak, remarked.
“Yeah, and who the fuck said you could call us by our names?” Randy asked, that insolent, privileged smile never leaving his face.
Jeff, finally realizing that this was going nowhere good, decided that diplomacy was clearly not the answer. Had he been older and wiser, perhaps he’d have simply mounted his bike, along with Liu, and headed home. Perhaps he would have gone back into the video store and waited the three boys out. But, he was 15, and while he was mature for his age, he still fell victim to the impulsive and often destructive tendencies of his demographic.
Jeff smiled and responded to Randy, “Well, I guess I could have called you a fucking asshole, but I figured I would give you the benefit of the doubt.” In that moment, a flare of rage replaced the smirk that had rested on Randy’s face throughout this entire exchange. The other two boys, Troy and the still unknown third member of his band, seemed to be momentarily struck silent. Perhaps they weren’t used to being stood up to.
“Oh I’m sorry, was that language too adult for you?” Jeff asked. “And you, quiet boy, we know this isn’t New Orleans,” Jeff stated to the slim kid that had reminded him of his geographical locations, “because if this was New Orleans, you three would already have gotten your asses kicked for touching someone else’s shit.” The slim kid looked back and forth at his two friends, however, Randy, clearly the leader, seemed to know what to say. “Keith, you gonna let this little bitch talk to you like that?”
Jeff and Liu looked at each other, both knowing what would come next, a fight. Neither of the Woods children had been big into fighting, but they’d had their share of pricks like these in their lives. Now that Randy had clearly challenged Keith’s place on the food chain, the skinny kid would no doubt be ready to go to blows. Jeff looked around; gathering his surroundings, when he noticed the woman in the video store was staring out at them, a cordless phone in her hand.
Jeff knew this part too. And while he wanted quite badly to sock Randy and his pals around, a second concern suddenly invaded his mind. If he and Liu got into a fight on their first week in this new neighborhood, their parents would freak. He could practically hear it now. And while things had been far from perfect in their home, even after the move, there was a peace that had fallen over the family, and Jeff, fighting his urges, decided to do his best to keep it.
Jeff looked over the three, very well dressed, very privileged looking suburban kids before them, and dismissed them. “You guys are boring, come on Liu, let them continue their play dates without us.” Liu laughed at that and followed behind his brother towards the bikes. However, Randy and his little gang of would-be toughs would have none of that. They moved to block Jeff and his brother once again.
“Where you going pussy?” Randy asked, shoving Jeff. Jeff could tell that shove had no real conviction. Randy was trying to figure him out, seeing where his buttons were. He’d push harder eventually, but Jeff swallowed the slowly building anger within him once more.
Liu took a bit more exception to the shove.
“We’re going to your mom’s house, me and my brother saved up a couple dollars from doing chores, and we hear she doesn’t charge much.” That seemed to do it. One sentence, one joke at the expense of Randy’s mother was all it took. Perhaps had Liu kept quiet, perhaps if Jeff had simply walked away, perhaps if Randy and his friends weren’t so intent on having this pissing contest with two kids they’d never met before, perhaps things would have ended differently. However, the comment was made, the tempers flared and in the end, the wheel that is fate turned just enough to change the lives of all involved.
As the words left Liu’s mouth, Randy appeared to only register a small portion of it all. Randy Hayden had grown up in Mandeville. His father was a partner at a local firm that made a lot of money, something else that Jeff would soon come to learn. Randy and his friends, while the same age as Jeff, had grown up in very different circumstances. They were used to being listened to; they were used to being feared. They had been fostered into a world where money meant power, and their families had plenty of it. They weren’t used to being told no, not even by their parents, and to have these two new kids, two kids from a poor part of New Orleans show up on their turf, talk down to them, ignore their perceived dominance, well, that put them in a state of confusion and rage they’d never been prepared for.
In fact, Randy, the target of the insult, just stood there. It was in fact Troy, the fat kid, who stepped forward, fist balled, eyes squinted in anger. “Who you talking to?” Troy shouted, and took a wild swing at Liu. Liu, who was both in better shape and had sparred with Jeff a time or two during his time spent boxing, was able to avoid the punch, but just barely. Had that been all, it may have once again ended there. Troy was clearly taken by surprise at Liu’s speed, and actually didn’t attempt another punch. However, these were bullies, kids that ran in a pack for a reason. The skinny one, Keith, stepped around and threw a punch that connected with the left side of Liu’s face.
Jeff had seen enough. He’d been shocked at how quickly this evolved into blows, even though he’d expected it from almost the start. When he’d first met Randy and his friends, he’d been curious. From there he’d developed an annoyance with them, and slowly that annoyance had evolved into anger. However, upon seeing Liu punched, seeing the small trickle of blood form on his brother’s lower lip, upon seeing the smug look of satisfaction on Keith’s face, that anger that Jeff felt, suddenly exploded into a rage that he’d never felt before in his life.
Jeff Woods did not hesitate. He stepped forward, his feet automatically falling into the correct stance that he’d learned from boxing, and delivered a powerful right hand to Keith’s face. The skinny boy had no time to register shock or pain. The punch caught him by surprise, and his knees buckled. Keith went down to the ground in a heap of confusion and dawning fear.
Randy, the so called leader here, was almost too shocked to move. He’d had quite a lot of experience starting fights, but no real time logged in losing them. He’d never felt control of a situation slip. He was used to being in charge. So now, seeing one of his friends go down so quickly and easily, left him in a state of shock that he had no idea how to address.
Troy on the other hand seemed to have a plan, throw another punch. He moved towards Jeff deceptively faster than his weight would seem to allow, and threw two equally fast punches. Jeff however had no problem side stepping both attempts. Troy, seeming lost for actions, actually dropped his arms, as if to say, ‘gee, what do I do now?’ Jeff had the answer. He moved in, throwing three hooks to Troy’s stomach. The hefty kid’s eyes went as wide as pie pans, a fitting analogy, Jeff thought. He staggered back, clutching his throbbing stomach. Jeff wasted no time, and stepped in once more, fetching a sharp punch to the big kid’s jaw, causing Troy to promptly fall on his ass. Jeff was reminded of King Hippo from the Punch Out game he used to play. He couldn’t help but smile.
Jeff now turned his focus on Randy. He advanced on the boy, feeling something new forming inside of him. He still felt the anger, the rage actually, at the antics of these three assholes. They had the nerve to mess with their bikes; the nerve to insult two kids they’d never met before, and of course, the ultimate offense, touching his brother. However, mixed in with this rage was also a sweet, enjoyable pleasure. Not only was he kicking their asses, but he was loving every second of it. It was as though the joy of showing them up was perfectly blending with the rage he felt towards them. Together, it formed into a sadistic, controlled sense of power.
Had Jeff gotten his hands on Randy at that moment in time, he had no idea how far he’d take things. Randy was actually backing away, his hands held up, not to fight, but in a defensive, surrendering type gesture. This only brought more joy to Jeff, and he was savoring every second of it. That was, until Liu stepped in front of him. “Jeff, stop, that’s enough!” Liu shouted.
“Why stop now Liu, they wanted this,” Jeff replied in a flat voice that Liu had never heard come from his brother’s mouth.
“She’s calling the cops, look!” Liu shouted again, and this time, Jeff came back to reality long enough to listen. He glanced over at the video store clerk, and saw her on the phone, talking frantically and pointing towards the parking lot. Suddenly, Jeff’s strange sadistic haze collapsed, and he regained his former self.
“Fuck, let’s go!” he stated quickly, and he and Liu mounted their bikes and rode towards the parking lot exit.
“Yeah, you better fucking run!” Randy called behind them. Jeff and Liu paid not mind and peddled away.
A few blocks down the street they dismounted their bikes and began to walk them together. At first, neither brother spoke, then Liu broke the silence.
“Jeff, thank you for standing up for me back there, thank you.”
“Yeah, those guys were pieces of shit, they had it coming,” Jeff replied, looking down at the street as they walked.
“What, what happened? I’ve never seen you like that before,” Liu asked.
“Just defending myself Liu, what was I supposed to do, let them beat you up?”
“I bet they go to our school, I bet we’ll see them there, and they won’t forget this,” Liu added.
“Who cares? We didn’t ask to move here, we didn’t ask for any of this. Mom and dad just wanted a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood, and we were along for the ride whether we liked it or not. Think I give a shit what these rich asshole kids think of us?” Jeff stated, and went back to looking at his feet.
“Think we’ll get in trouble?” Liu asked.
“For what, defending ourselves?” Jeff asked.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right, they did start it,” Liu answered, and to the brother’s, the matter was closed.
However, things were far from over.
Jeff and Liu spent another few hours exploring the area. They went deep into the wooded areas around their neighborhood. They found an abandoned shack far out in the woods. Jeff opened the doors and looked inside. He called Liu in, and showed him that the place actually had running water. The boys figured it was used as some sort of hunting shack, back before the area began to develop. They could both tell that from the looks of it, it hadn’t served its original purpose in a long time.
They rode out of the woods and back into the town proper. They spent some time at a small soda shop, one of those placed that tried to be retro. It used spelling like olde and shoppe to try and add that appeal. They ordered burgers and dropped a few quarters in an old Galaga arcade machine before heading back home.
They found that the trouble they believed they’d escaped was in fact waiting for them at their front door. Jeff and Liu saw the police cars well before they arrived at their driveway. Two cop cars, both parked in front of their house. Both of them felt their stomachs drop, as they well knew why the police were there.
Jeff and Liu entered the living room, to see their parents sitting on the couch, the two cops standing up, leaning on the wall, writing in their notebooks.
“What did you two do?” Shelia practically screeched as the two boys entered the house. Liu, younger and less centered than Jeff, began to fall on the defensive, “Some kids tried to jump us down by that video store, they were messing with our bikes, and when we went outside, they got in our faces!”
“That’s not the way we heard it!” Matt Woods interjected, his voice firm and ripe with anger and dissatisfaction.
“No dad, that’s what happened,” Jeff began to explain. “We were down at Friendly Video, looking around the store, when these three kids started riding around on our bikes. All we did was walk outside, and the kids started talking trash to us, trying to provoke a fight. When we tried to leave, one of them punched Liu.” Shelia Woods did her famous head shake, her lips pressed together into a slim white line. She was looking at her two sons as though they were juvenile delinquents instead of the two boys raised.
Finally, one of the two cops spoke. His name tag read Williamson. “Boys, we have some serious complaints about the two of you. From what eye witnesses at the shopping center say, you two started the confrontation with Randy and his friends.” Jeff took notice at how familiar the cop’s tone was when he said Randy’s name. This was a small town after all, and there was a good chance that this cop coached Randy in little league, or drank beers with his dad. Hell, it was even possible that this cop could be an uncle to one of the bullies.
“No sir,” Jeff replied, “we didn’t start it, they did. We just wanted our bikes, we just wanted to leave. They blocked us.”
Williamson continued, as though he’d heard nothing Jeff said, “Several witnesses, including the video store clerk, say that you swung first. They say that the boys were riding your bikes, but let me ask you this, did you chain your bikes to anything, or did you just leave them outside the store?”
“What’s that matter?” Liu demanded.
“Well son, if you just left your bikes lying around in the street, you can’t exactly blame Randy and his friends for riding them, now can you? It’d be different had you secured them somehow, but you just left them there.” Jeff felt that rage begin to build inside him again. He was young, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew what this was. The cops knew Randy, Troy and Keith. They were local kids, probably played football or some shit. Jeff and Liu were outsiders, city kids that came down to this bedroom community and were clearly making trouble from the start. Jeff began to understand that no matter what he said, no matter what really happened, the cops had already made up their minds.
Jeff’s only hope was his parents, distant or not, surely they would defend their own kids over some local townie assholes.
“Mom, dad, you’re not buying this crap are you? You know me and Liu don’t start fights, when have we ever? These three punks messed with us, and if you can’t tell that these cops are taking their sides, then you need to open your eyes!” Jeff knew he was skating on thin ice, but that rage, it demanded some sort of satisfaction. “Jeffery, do not speak about these officers in that tone of voice, and do not speak to us that way either. Now, it’s pretty obvious that you two aren’t happy here, that you miss your old home, but starting fights in the street isn’t going to change anything!” Jeff’s mother snapped back.
Jeff noticed that his father was remaining silent. However he felt about this, it clearly wasn’t worth speaking up about. Officer Williamson decided to do the speaking for him. “Listen boys, you’re lucky. None of the parents want to press charges. This will be reported as a simple scuffle between teenagers. But be advised, you’re both on notice. This is a quiet town, not like New Orleans. We don’t tolerate this sort of behavior over here. If you see Randy, Keith or Troy, I highly suggest you tell them you’re sorry. We’ll be keeping an eye on both of you, so don’t let this happen again. You don’t want to have an arrest record, do you?”
Jeff felt his anger bubble over, and he could not hold his tongue. “Who is he to you Officer Williamson? Is Randy your nephew? Is he a friend’s son? Or maybe you go over and screw his mom while you’re on duty? Which one is it Officer?” Jeff spoke his accusation in a controlled tone, but he felt that even that could burst at any moment. He worked hard to contain it. He saw that Williamson was blushing deeply though, perhaps he’d struck a nerve after all.
“That’s it, both of you, go to your rooms!” Matt Woods apparently found that he wasn’t a mute after all, as he ordered his sons out of the room. Jeff and Liu walked up the stairs, however, they refused to hang their heads in shame or feel any regret. Once in their rooms, they could hear the muffled conversation between their parents and the officers. Apologies could be heard, the cops said something back, and soon enough they heard the front door to their house shut. Jeff and Liu looked at each other, knowing that the real conversation hadn’t even started yet. However, neither of their parents spoke to them for the rest of that day. Jeff and Liu stayed upstairs, venting their shared frustration to each other. They’d been screwed over, even at their young ages, they knew that. They took some solace in the fact that they at least hadn’t been arrested or cited, but still, they saw what was really going on here.
“That cop, he was protecting Randy,” Jeff whispered to his younger brother.
“No shit,” his brother replied.
“We have to watch ourselves; we have to take care of each other. You saw it down there, even our parents didn’t stand up for us,” Jeff stated.
“Yeah, what the hell was up with that?” Liu asked.
“Image, their fucking image, that’s what’s up with it. All they care about is fitting in here. They want to make sure they blend in with the rest of the Stepford families. No more fighting, if we see Randy or his two fuckhead friends again, we just walk away, okay?”
“But Jeff, you can kick the shit of them, why would we walk away?” Liu asked.
“Because I can’t kick the shit out of the cops Liu, I can’t kick the shit out of mom and dad, and that’s what would get us. Fucking Randy and his pals are protected here, you and me, we’re not. So, if we see them, just avoid them, okay, please?”
Liu nodded, “I feel like a little bitch though, I owe Keith for hitting me.”
“No you don’t, I paid him back for that, and paid his fat friend too. I hope they just leave us alone now,” Jeff sighed.
Jeff and Liu didn’t hear from their parents for the rest of that day. They remained in their rooms late into the night, and finally came down to eat after they were sure their folks had gone to bed. Liu said that he felt relieved about that, but Jeff had a sinking feeling that the worst was yet to come. Jeff was correct, as they next morning, when the two brothers came down stairs together to eat breakfast; their parents were already sitting at the dining room table, staring at the boys, approving of nothing they saw.
“Sit down,” Matt stated flatly.
“What’s going on?” Liu asked.
“Sit….down!” Matt stated again, anger dancing on the words.
The boys complied without further question.
Matt Woods began his diatribe, “Whatever that was yesterday, beating up some kids for touching your bikes, mouthing off at the police, disrespecting both me and your mother, that stops today!”
“We didn’t beat anyone up for touching our bikes!” Jeff blurted.
“Shut up Jeff, this is a one way conversation!” his father barked. “That kid, Randy Hayden, his father is a partner at my firm, did you know that? Did you even think about that when you were assaulting him over your godforsaken bike?”
“You just didn’t think, did you Jeff?” Shelia added.
“How could I have known that?” Jeff asked.
Matt continued, “Well, I’ve spent the entire morning talking to his father on the phone. His dad is willing to let it all go, but shit son, I have to deal with that at work now. Do you have any idea how much damage this could have done to me, to our family?” Jeff felt that rage coming back, and fought with all his might to keep it stifled. He knew nothing good could come of it.
Instead, he once more tried to appeal to the two adult’s parental side, “Mom, look at Liu’s face, they split his lip, can’t you see, it’s still swollen!”
Liu turned his head to better showcase the injury.
“My god Jeff, so some kid played a little rough with your brother, is that any reason to fight them? I wanted to make friends with some of the other families in this neighborhood, but thanks to you, I just don’t know…”
Jeff and Liu were both struck with an almost stupefying awe when their mother began to shed tears. They shared a disbelief that this could really be happening. Sure, Shelia and Matt Woods were never going to win any parenting awards, but this level of intentional stupidity, it was, simply staggering.
No sooner could Jeff or his brother construct a proper defense, than their father began speaking again. “So, you’re mother and I have talked this through. Since there are only a couple weeks of summer vacation left, we’ve decided that Liu should spend the rest of the season at Aunt Marcy’s place. We’ve already spoken to her, and she is willing to let him come out there and stay.”
Both Jeff and Liu were floored by this decision. Both boys began to protest at the same time, but they saw the look on their parent’s faces. The decision was made. The discussion went on for about an hour just the same. The brothers attempted again and again to convince their parents otherwise. Jeff didn’t want to see his only friend in this new town shipped off for the rest of the summer, and Liu, well, Liu knew that his Aunt’s house was no place for anyone under the age of 60. Her house was quiet, well kept, with no cable television and no form of entertainment. Aunt Marcy was strict on electronics, and both boys knew that no sort of video games would be allowed in her home. She ran a tight ship over there, dinner at 4pm, lights out at 9pm. Her house was always hot, as she never ran her air conditioning, even in the middle of the summer. The last time Jeff and Liu stayed there, they ended up sleeping on top of the blankets in nothing but their boxers, and still woke up covered in sweat. Yes, the Woods parents knew exactly what they were doing. This wasn’t about separating the brothers to avoid further problems, this was about cruel punishment.
“Why can’t we both just go then?” Jeff asked, a last ditch effort to at least get away from his parents.
“Marcy doesn’t want both of you there, she says you two are too rambunctious, and frankly, we agree.” Shelia answered.
Jeff began to speak, but his father stood up, stopping all conversation. “Liu, go upstairs and pack for two weeks. We’ll pick you up a couple days before school starts. You’re only allowed to bring clothes and a couple of books, that’s Aunt Marcy’s conditions. You’ve got twenty minutes to pack, I’ll drop you off there and then head into the office to try and do some damage control with Mr. Hayden.”
And so it was, Liu was shuttled off to his Aunt’s place in Abita Springs, Louisiana, a place even smaller and duller than Mandeville, if one can believe that. Jeff watched his brother leave, and then walked back to his bedroom. He felt that rage; however, it began to feel almost, pleasant to him. He couldn’t explain it. He was furious at these turn of events, his parents had turned their backs on their own children. However, through it all, these new feelings he was experiencing weren’t all terrible. This anger for example, he could almost taste it. It felt like thick, sweet syrup, stirring around in him. Of course, he knew the extra ingredient that would complete the flavor. That satisfying joy he’d felt when he had Randy and his friends on the ropes the day prior, that mixed perfectly with the anger, to create some intoxicating product that Jeff almost craved now. He fell asleep lying on his bed thinking about that syrup, that thick, viscous that seemed to work its way into the very fabric of his soul. He wanted it, yet he knew that it was destructive, and that nothing good could come from sampling it again. Several days passed, and tensions were high between Jeff and his parents. Without Liu around, there was nothing for him to do except sit in his room and play video games. He went outside but didn’t venture far from home. He knew if Randy and his goons showed up again, it would likely result in another fight. He knew a sore loser when he saw one, and Randy was certainly that. Instead, Jeff decided to just keep his head down, stay out of his parents’ path, and hope that they’d allow Liu to come home sooner.
For a few days, that worked well, and Jeff believed he could get through this. However, his mother changed all of that on an early Saturday morning. Jeff was awoken suddenly by sharp sunlight striking his face. He heard his mother humming, something that she rarely did. Even in his half sleeping state, he knew that humming was forced. She was doing it to wake him up, and figured the added sunlight would get things there even faster. When she noticed Jeff’s eyes cracking open, she sauntered over to his bed, and began speaking in a tone that simply oozed false joviality.
Ten minutes later, Jeff was sitting at the kitchen table, brooding. His mother had arranged for Jeff to go over and hang out with Randy at his house. Apparently she’d reached out and talked to Randy’s mother for a while, and both women decided that the boys simply needed to get to know each other better. Jeff of course saw through all of this. Randy’s parents were wealthy and had clout in this area. Shelia had jumped on a chance to repair the damage done by the fight, and also get to know Randy’s parents a bit better. Of course, Jeff’s father had been thrilled about the idea. Randy’s dad was a partner at his firm, and having the families on good terms meant that he would see a faster track to the top. In the end, Jeff realized nothing about this plan had a damned thing to do with him and Randy becoming friends. It was just about his parents moving up the ladder again.
At first Jeff had refused. He was still in bed when his mother stopped her incessant humming long enough to tell him to get up and get dressed. Once he learned why, he’d told her no, no way in hell. However, his mother was a shrewd manipulator, and she’d know exactly what would get the job done. She promised Jeff that if he did this for her, went over and made it work with Randy, that Liu could come home the next day. She’d sandbagged Jeff right into the corner with that one. He’d no choice but to agree. The morning was bright and beautiful, just as it had been when he and Liu had gone out exploring. Shelia pulled her car into Randy’s driveway around noon. The house was much as Jeff had imagined, large, beautiful and no doubt very expensive. Shelia forced Jeff out first, made him go up the porch and knock, as she stood in the background, smiling.
Randy’s mother answered the door. She was an attractive blonde woman that looked to be in her late 30’s.
“Hi, you must be Jeff,” she greeted.
Jeff smiled wanly and confirmed that was in fact who he was.
“Hello, I’m Shelia Woods, nice to finally meet you in person!” Jeff’s mother announced, barging past her soon and extending a hand to Randy’s mother.
“Shelia, so pleased to meet you, I’m Bridgette Hayden. Sorry to hear that our boys had a little mishap the other day. You know how it is though with teenagers, hormones going crazy and all. Randy never gets into fights, but he explained to me that Jeff and his brother are still new to the area, and haven’t quite learned how we do things in Mandeville yet, isn’t that right Jeff?”
Jeff knew that Bridgette Hayden was baiting him to a degree. She wanted him to admit that he’d started it, admit that her piece of shit son was a perfect angel, and that Jeff and his wicked brother had clearly been at fault. He felt that lovely anger swim in his stomach, and once again imagined it as thick black syrup. However, he had to do this for Liu. He could only imagine how miserable his little brother was over at Aunt Marcy’s, and if he could do something to rescue him from that fate, he’d do so. Still, Jeff couldn’t resist a small jab, “Yeah, sorry about that Miss Hayden. Me and Liu had no idea that it was okay for your son and his friends and mess with our bikes without asking.” Jeff heard Shelia suck in a shocked burst of air, and couldn’t help but take a bit of pleasure in the sudden scowl that appeared on Bridgette Hayden’s face. There was a moment of awkward silence when Jeff was worried that he’d perhaps gone too far, and that the woman might send him away, however, Shelia was quick with a remedy. “Bridgette, he gets that mouth from his father, never knows when to shut up. How about you and I go in and have some coffee and you can tell me all the great gossip around Mandeville while our boys get to know each other the right way.” Randy’s mom appeared to consider this for a split second, before finally stepping back and allowing Jeff and Shelia to enter. “Randy is in his room Jeff, upstairs, second door to your left. I’m sure you’ll hear the sound of his video games or something,” Bridgette stated with very little humor to her voice.
“Thank you ma’am,” Jeff answered, and entered the house. He could hear his mother and Bridgette starting to talk as he climbed the stairs, heard the front door shut, and breathed a sigh of relief. He knew he shouldn’t have said that, but still, what else could he do? He wanted to relish that sweet flavored rage, and was finding it harder and harder to resist it. He reminded himself once more that this was for Liu. He swallowed hard as he turned the corner of the second floor, and found Randy’s room.
Jeff knocked and heard Randy answer with, “Come in.”
Jeff opened the door and was struck for a second with Randy’s bedroom. He had everything. Every game console, a huge flat screen television, and enough crap on his shelves to fill a museum. He had various trophies and awards, as well as a huge stereo system hooked up. Randy was living the life, at least based on his possessions. Jeff’s eyes then fell to Randy himself, sitting in a beanbag chair with an X-Box controller in his hands. Call of Duty was paused on the screen. Randy himself looked a lot less sinister than he had the other day. He was just a kid, a teenager around Jeff’s age, wearing a white undershirt and blue sweat pants. He looked smaller now, just a child, not the criminal mastermind he thought himself to be. Jeff felt himself relax.
“Hey man, come on in,” Randy invited, and Jeff entered, shutting the door back behind him.
“Hey, so, I guess you heard, our parents want us to hang out, get to know each other,” Jeff stated with little conviction. Randy laughed, an honest laugh, no sarcasm detected. “Yeah, that’s my mom alright, she doesn’t like drama. Honestly I think she worries too much, I mean, I’m cool if you’re cool.”
Jeff felt a sense of relief come in and replace that sickly sweet anger that had presented itself earlier. Perhaps Randy was alright, perhaps they could move forward. Jeff sat down on the floor next to Randy and struck up a conversation. “So, turns out your dad is my dad’s boss, he freaked out about the fight in the parking lot. He was actually worried that he’d get fired or something.”
“My dad is like, everyone’s boss. I fucking hate it. I think half the kids at my school talk to me because they’re parents are somehow connected to my dad’s firm.”
“Why do you hate it?” Jeff asked.
“Because it’s fake, this whole damned town if fake. You’ll figure it out as you go, but trust me; everyone who lives here is just trying to pretend they’re something else. My parents make me do all this shit, all the trophies and stuff, just so they can brag, that’s it.” Jeff smiled, “I know how you feel. My dad had me in boxing class a year ago, because some co-worker of his had a brother that worked at the place or something. As soon as that guy quit out, I was out of that gym the next week.”
“I wish it was that easy,” Randy responded, “I hate playing baseball, but my dad will sure have me out there again next summer, and the summer afterwards. It’s like, he knows I hate it, but wants to make sure I’m out there with his stupid company name on the back of my jersey.”
The conversation lapsed for a while, as Jeff and Randy got lost in a game of Call of Duty. Things went well for a while; they laughed and joked as two friends would. But Jeff wanted to address the elephant in the room.
“Randy, why did you and your friends fuck with our bikes the other day?”
“I told you, this town is fake, and boring as shit. There is nothing to do here. We have to find stuff to do. I mean, there are only so many times you can go hang out at the video store, or ride the dirt paths in the woods. All the girls here are stuck up, all the stores close early, there’s no mall and the movie theatre is across town. We were just bored man, so, sorry for that I guess.” Jeff was unsure just how sincere Randy’s apology was, but he was willing to go along with it. He wanted his brother home, and if he could actually mend fences with Randy, that would only serve to make his life easier come school year.
“It’s cool,” Jeff replied, “I guess I’m sorry for too. Things went too far.”
“You mean the fight?” Randy asked, “That shit was actually cool. Those guys, Keith and Troy, they just leech on because of my dad. It’s like I told you, I’m pretty sure their parents make them hang out with me.”
The afternoon went on, and Jeff soon forgot that this was a mandatory arrangement. He actually started to find himself liking Randy, sure, their first encounter was a little sketchy, but he was coming around to the guy, finding that he wasn’t so bad once his idiot friends were removed from the equation. About an hour later, things took a new turn. Jeff heard the twin pops of two car doors shutting in near unison, and then heard the engine start up. He dropped the game controller and peered out of Randy’s bedroom window, just in time to see his mother and Randy’s mother backing out of the driveway.
“Our parents are leaving,” Jeff said.
“About time, I figured my mom would eventually talk your mom into going shopping, or going to get coffee, or something like that.” Jeff heard Randy pause the game.
“Hey Jeff, come down stairs, I want to show you some cool stuff,” Randy invited, and Jeff followed. Randy led Jeff out to the garage. It was hot in there, with the main door shut. The garage was well kept though, and Jeff observed stacks of magazines underneath a work bench, as well as tools and various other utility items stacked about. Standing in the small, closed in garage, with the late summer heat lingering about, Jeff began to feel a bit uneasy. Despite that fact that he and Randy had seemed to bond over the last few hours, Jeff couldn’t ignore a sense that things were different now that the adults were gone.
“What did you want to show me?” Jeff asked.
“Hold on, let me get it,” Randy replied, moving the magazines out to reveal a small, red box.
Jeff watched as Randy removed the box and opened it. “Check it out, my dad’s flare gun,” Randy announced, and waved the red, tubular gun about.
“Woah, be careful with that!” Jeff shouted, more out of shock than real concern.
“It’s fine dude, don’t be a pussy, it’s not even loaded,” Randy corrected. However, Jeff watched as he fished one of the flares out of a back compartment. Randy then continued to fiddle with the flare gun, popping it open and loading a flare. “Now it’s loaded,” he announced. “My dad showed me how to use this last year when we went out boating. Sometimes I take it out back and shoot flares at the trees. But, maybe this time I don’t need a tree.”
The change in Randy’s voice and demeanor was impossible to ignore. Jeff realized that things were about to take a bad turn, and tried to steer the situation in a different direction.
“Okay, well, cool gun. Let’s get back in the house though, it’s hot out here, plus, I’m getting hungry, what do you have to eat?” Jeff didn’t bother waiting for a reply. He wanted out of the garage, honestly, he wanted out of Randy’s house. He still wasn’t sure what was happening here, but he had an undeniable feeling that nothing good would come. However, as Jeff turned to walk through the small door leading back into the house, his path was suddenly blocked by two more familiar faces.
“Where you going Jeffey?” the fat kid, Troy, blurted out, as he and Keith stepped forward into the garage.
“Took you two assholes long enough to get here, I’ve had to babysit this faggot all day,” Randy shouted, a wicked joy was present in his words.
“Sorry Randy, but Keith here had to do mow his front yard before his parents would let him come out,” Troy stated, a sheepish tone to his voice.
“It’s cool, we’re here now,” Keith said.
“What the fuck is going on?” Jeff asked, staring at Randy. He noticed that Randy still had the flare gun in his hands.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on Jeff; you owe Keith and Troy an apology for what you did. You sucker punched them, and then ran away. You didn’t even have the balls to fight them fair, so now, you’re going to pay them what you owe?” Randy explained.
“I’m not going to fight you, okay, I’m done with that shit,” Jeff replied as he glanced about the room for an exit.
“You’re right about that, you’re not going to fight. You’re going to stand there and let my boys get their licks in. Then I get mine, and when that’s done, you get the fuck out of my house. I’ll tell my mom that you got sick and walked home, and after that, if you see us again, you better walk the other way.” “I’m not going to stand here and get hit by your or your friends, so just let me go home, how about that. I’ll tell my mom that we’re cool, and everyone wins, okay?” Jeff asked. Randy then raised the flare gun towards Jeff. “No, you stay pussy; you stay and take your licks.”
Jeff felt that sensation once more, that sick, rich dark matter that swirled about inside of him. He could taste it now, it was heaven. In his mind, he imagined himself diving into it, swimming in it, letting it swallow him whole. He looked around and the sensation only grew. He saw Randy, standing there holding the flare gun. It was limp in his hands though, and the hammer was not cocked back. Jeff knew that Randy had no intention of firing it. He looked over at Keith, skinny and pathetic, a kid born to follow. Troy, fat and sweaty, breathing a bit heavy from his walk over, and of course, in the middle of it all, Jeff himself. He felt that pleasure begin to mix with the rage, forming the perfect product. He tried to avoid sampling it; he knew that only regret could come from indulging in it. However, when it was placed so close, when the aroma and the promise of that sweet savory flavor was only inches away, Jeff found that he could no more to stand against it than a ship in the ocean could stand against a typhoon.
Jeff dropped his eyes to the floor. He snickered, slightly, a quick laugh that was in fact devoid of any humor. He slowly raised his head back and locked eyes with Randy, and took a moment to enjoy the look of slight concern dawning on the boy’s face. Jeff didn’t even realize what was causing Randy’s discomfort, he was just glad to see it.
“Why are you smiling at me, you queer for me or something?” Randy asked, a slight nervous tinge in his voice.
“Am I smiling Randy? I guess it’s because I’m just having so much fun,” Jeff announced, and suddenly lunged towards the unprepared kid holding the flare gun. Jeff struck Randy once in nose, feeling the satisfying crunch as the bridge of Randy’s nose no doubt broke. Randy’s arms dropped, yet he kept hold of the flare gun. Jeff, without even needing to look, realized that Troy and Keith had actually taken a step back, instead of advancing as they should have. Jeff delivered another strong blow to Randy’s jaw, causing the boy to drop to the floor.
Jeff now turned his attention to Troy and Keith, the two tough kids that had yet to actually make so much as a move in his direction. Troy actually backed up a step and stumbled over the stack of magazines that Randy had moved earlier. Jeff took this opportunity and stepped forward, once again introducing Troy’s round belly to his fist. Troy tried to stay on his feet, but Jeff’s punches, combined with the stumble over the magazines, caused Troy to fall back, landing hard and striking his head on the concrete slab that was the garage’s floor.
Keith was actually trying to back away. However, Jeff was currently standing between him and the only exit to the garage, since the carport door was closed. Jeff took two quick steps towards the skinny kid, and felt the most intense joy at seeing Keith stagger backwards, knocking his back into the wall. That perfect blend of pleasure, control and rage had come together. Jeff felt as though he were floating above the world. Somewhere in his mind, he knew there would be hell to pay for this, but at that exact moment in time, he couldn’t care less. He didn’t care about Liu, he didn’t care about being arrested, and he didn’t care if his dad got fired. All he cared about, in that fraction of time, was hurting Keith.
Keith tried to make a run for it, hoping to squeeze through the small gap between Jeff and the door. However, Jeff clipped him a hard right hand to his face, causing Keith to stagger back again. Jeff could see that his knees were buckling, and took full advantage. He moved in, pinning Keith to the wall, and began to deliver blow after blow to the skinny kid’s stomach. Keith’s eyes became as large as saucers. Once satisfied, Jeff stepped back, and watched in demonic glee as Keith slowly slid down the wall, gasping for air.
Randy was trying to get back on his feet and crawl backwards, away from Jeff, at the same time. Troy was still down, gripping his head and moaning. Keith had regained his breath, but seemed to be in no hurry to stand back up. Jeff simply stood in the center of it all, basking in the euphoric glory of his work. He felt like a god. Randy got back to his feet, but seemed to have no idea what to do.
“We done now Randy? We good, or do you and your friends need more?” Jeff mocked.
“No more, we’re cool,” Randy gasped.
“How about you assholes?” Jeff asked, looking at the two boys, who were still trying to decide if they should stand up of remain on the relative safety of the floor.
“It was Randy’s idea…” Keith said weakly.
“Yeah man, we didn’t even want to,” Troy agreed.
“Fuck you both,” Randy announced.
The debate may have continued, but the sound of a returning car broke the tension.
“Oh shit, my mom is back!” Randy shouted, his voice cracking in a humorous way. It seemed that the previous tough guy had all but shrunk back to a scared child.
“So, we’ll just say that we were all hanging out,” Keith replied.
“No, the fucking flare gun, if she finds out that I messed with it, I’m screwed,” Randy retorted, his voice full of nervous fear and anxiety.
“So put it back,” Jeff suggested. That sensation of rage was fading again, and he felt control returning.
“Yeah, grab the magazines, please,” Randy begged. Jeff found that he rather liked that tone, that begging, whipped dog mentality. Jeff bent down and began to pick up the magazines that Troy had knocked over. As he did so, Randy frantically attempted to open the flare gun’s barrel once more to remove the flare loaded inside. He was fidgeting with it, and as he heard the two car doors slam shut, his terror became more intense, causing a lapse in motor skills. He could barely remember how to open it, although he’d done it alone dozens of times. As his hands struggled to get the device to obey, his thumbs slipped over the hammer, cocking it back and arming it.
Jeff was paying no attention to this; he was down on the floor calmly gathering the magazines. He didn’t really care if Randy got in trouble or not, however, if his mother returned and found trouble, he feared that Liu may not be able to return home as promised.
Everything else happened in a flash, both literally and figuratively. Randy, now in a panic over the trouble he’d be in if he was caught playing with the flare gun, had begun to sweat. His hands were slick with it. He didn’t even notice that the gun was cocked. He was turning it over in his hands, trying to quickly disarm it. He then heard the sound of keys in the front door. He knew that he had only seconds now to hide it.
Everything else happened in slow motion. The gun slipped from Randy’s sweaty hands as he’d attempted to rotate it once more. He saw it fall to the floor, seeming to float to the ground, rather than fall. Jeff, busy stacking the magazines, had only enough time to register Randy’s shocked gasp. He turned to look in the boy’s direction, just in time to see the bright red flare gun hit the floor. The gun discharged, launching a speeding ball of fire directly into Jeff’s face. Jeff felt the hot flash of heat and pain tear across the left side of his face. After the initial registry of agony, there was no more thinking. Jeff began to scream, clutching the left side of his face and rolling around on the floor. He wasn’t aware of the panicked screams of the other three boys, nor was he aware of his mother running into the garage, followed closely by Randy’s mother. He didn’t hear the two women scream in shock and horror. He didn’t hear anything over the sounds of his own wails of pain.
The next few hours passed for Jeff Woods like moments in a dream. He was aware of the intense burning on the left side of his face. He was somewhat aware that his left eye was no longer working, and he could smell what he believed to be his own hair burning. He could recall that. Then the ambulance arrived, and they stuck him with morphine, and for a while, he was in and out of awareness. If he forced himself to think about it, he could recall something that might have been his arrival to the hospital, but then more drugs had been given, and after that, everything was a blur.
When he finally did come to a stable level of alertness, he realized he was in a hospital room. Half of his face was bandaged, he knew that much. He wanted to open his eyes and speak, let his family know he was awake, but the drugs still had a firm hold. He was awake, but not quite yet functioning. He debated simply going back to sleep, when he heard the familiar voices of his mother, father and brother. A fourth voice was present, and after a moment of listening in, Jeff ascertained that it was the doctor.
“Is he going to be okay doctor?” Jeff’s mother asked.
“Oh yes ma’am, your son will be fine, however, he will have a lengthy road to recovery, and will need your support. The flare struck his face and caused 3rd degree burns on his left side. As you also know, his left eye was severely damaged. There are minor burns to his scalp, but we suspect that will repair naturally over time. It’s the skin tissue on his face, and his eye that we need to be concerned about.”
“How bad is the eye?” Jeff’s father asked.
“Hard to say at this point, he’ll need to see an Ophthalmologist for that. From what I can tell though, he may never regain his vision in that eye.”
“And his face? What about his face?” Jeff’s mother asked, sounding deeply concerned.
“Well, we were able to clean and treat the injury in time, so you’ve no concern for infection or anything of that matter. We’ll want him on antibiotics for a while, and he’ll need to have the wound cleaned and dressed on a regular basis, but all in all, your son got very lucky. The damage could have been more severe.”
Jeff could hear his mother sigh in frustration. He was actually pleased that he hadn’t yet announced his recovery. It brought him joy to hear his parents actually express concern over his well-being. It reminded him that perhaps they did care in the end.
“Doctor,” his mother began again, “What if there is permanent damage? What do we do about that?”
“As I said, an Ophthalmologist will have to examine the eye, there may be surgical options, since the eye is still inflamed, it’s difficult for us to really see the full….” Shelia Woods interrupted the doctor, sounding more agitated then before, “You’re not listening, not the eye, his face! What do we do to correct his face?” she demanded. “Well ma’am, we have treated his face, like I said, there shouldn’t be a risk of infection so long as you….”
She cut him off again, “Not the infection, his….his appearance? What can we do for that?”
“Miss Woods, that’s hardly a concern at this point. Once he is healed and back on his feet, you can possibly explore plastic surgery to repair some of the damage, but honestly, right now, we can’t waste concern on how he looks. What is important is that your son is okay. He can expect to be back home in a few days, maybe sooner.”
Jeff’s dad spoke again, “Okay, thank you doctor. Can we have some time alone please; my wife and I need to speak.”
“Certainly,” the doctor replied.
“Liu, why don’t you go down to the hospital cafeteria and get yourself a snack?” Matt Woods suggested.
“But I want to be here in case Jeff wakes up,” Liu replied.
“Liu, they told us that Jeff is heavily medicated. They don’t expect him to wake up anytime tonight. So, just go, and if he does come around, we’ll have you paged,” Matt replied. Jeff recognized the voice tone, and he knew that if he could see his father’s face right now, that look would make it apparent that he wasn’t giving advice or making suggestions. He was trying to politely tell his youngest son to get the hell out of the room.
Liu must have picked up on that, because Jeff heard the door open and close. His parents both let out a long shaky sigh, but Jeff was starting to believe it was not a sigh of relief, but rather one of stress.
“We’re going to have to home school him now Matt, that’s just what it’s going to be, we’re going to have to keep him home!” he heard his mother rant, her voice sounding frantic.
“What? I mean, he probably won’t be able to start school right on time, but I doubt he’ll miss a whole year!” his father responded, trying to maintain a calmer voice.
“I’m not talking about that Matt, I’m not worried about him missing a week or two of school. I mean his face Matt, you heard what the doctor said, his face is going to be…. disfigured!” Shelia argued back.
“We don’t even know the full extent of the damage yet Shelia, it could be minor, it could possibly heal, and you heard what he said, plastic surgery could be an option in time.”
“In time? What kind of time? A year, two years, and what about in the meantime? People are going to see him and they’re going to talk, is that what you want? He’s going to be a, a pariah! You think anyone is going to want to have him around their kids?” Jeff was hearing all of this, just letting is soak in, slowly. As his mind absorbed the words, he felt that rage return. Sick, rich, dark, that syrup of raw, primal emotion. He wanted to scream at his mother, to tell her to shut up, that he was the one lying here, half his face burned, blind in one eye, all thanks to her forcing him to go over to Randy’s house. He wanted to ask her why she left, why she went off to go shopping or have her nails done or whatever it was that she did. He wanted to know why she’d leave him alone with a kid who just days before tried to jump him and his brother. He wanted to know how she could care more about his appearance than the fact that he was lying in the hospital.
However, there was still so much more that he wanted to know as well. He wanted to know how much more his mother hated him, how much more she saw him now as a, how did she put it, a pariah. He wanted to continue to swim in the thick pool of dark hatred that was starting to form from the rage and anger. That was a new one now. Before it was anger, then it was anger mixed with pleasure. But now, now it was anger mixed with hatred. And while he certainly longed to be free of it, while he most certainly preferred the false sense of love and concern he believed he’d heard from her before, he also wanted to test it out a bit more. He also began to wonder, how well would this new recipe blend with pleasure, how would it feel?
Matt Woods began to speak again, “I just can’t believe he shot himself in the face with a flare gun. I always thought Jeff was more responsible than that.”
“Don’t even get me started on that,” Shelia replied, “I couldn’t believe it when Randy and his friends explained to the medics and police how it all happened. Randy was just trying to show Jeff around his house, and wanted to show him the collection of magazines his dad kept in the garage. You know boys; he was probably hoping that a couple of Playboys would be in there or something. Then he said Jeff found the box containing the flare gun, and just wouldn’t stop playing around with it. You should have heard those other boys Matt, they told me that they practically begged Jeff to just put it down before he got hurt, but he just had to show off.”
“Makes you wonder what really happened in that parking lot now, doesn’t it. I mean, is Jeff rebelling, what is this?” Matt asked.
“I just don’t know where we went wrong Matt. I thought us moving out here to a nice quiet neighborhood would make everyone happy. Jeff though, he just, he just wants to fight us on everything.”
Matt and Shelia Woods continued talking a while longer, though by then, Jeff had stopped listening. He’d heard enough. Randy and his friends lied, put the blame on Jeff, and everyone, his own parents included, were just happy to go along and believe every word of it. Jeff would have bet money that Officer Williamson was on scene to take statements as well, to make sure that Randy, Troy and Keith got in no trouble. Sure, believe that Jeff shot himself, that works. Jeff didn’t even have to wonder why no one asked why Randy’s nose was swollen. The whole fight, Jeff being cornered in the garage, that would have been omitted. That makes for a nice, easy to file report where no one that matters gets in trouble.
And while all that came together in Jeff’s mind, he continued to swim in that black ichor of hatred and rage. The morphine drip added a nice touch of euphoria, Jeff could almost see himself, plunging into the syrupy waters of hatred, and emerging changed. Each dip brought him so much twisted pleasure. And that was when he finally understood. He could sample the pleasure now. Not because he was enjoying what was happening, but because he knew he could enjoy what was to come.
So, Jeff laid there, bandaged, feigning sleep, all the while allowing himself to dive deeper and deeper into the black pit within his mind. He began to fantasize, allowing his mind to go into horrible, dark places. In these fantasies, he made people suffer, his parents in particular. He felt that thrill trickle down his spine and settle in the base of his stomach. Randy, Keith and Troy would get theirs in time; but first, first Jeff wanted to take care of things at home.
Just as the doctor had predicted, Jeff was scheduled to go home a few days later. During his time at the hospital, he never asked to see his face. It wasn’t until the last day that he finally asked for a mirror. The nurse had come in to change his bandages, as was the routine. She was a pleasant woman, she spoke to him, asked him how he was doing. He enjoyed her visits. So, on the final day, when she arrived to clean and dress his face, he asked to see himself.
“Are you sure sweetheart? Would you like me to call in your parents first?” she asked.
“No thank you,” Jeff replied, “I think I want to see it for myself first, without them standing over me.”
“I understand,” she replied honestly, without a hint of pretension. Once the bandages were off, she handed him a small hand mirror.
“Would you like me to step out of the room?” she asked.
Jeff ignored her and looked at himself, taking stock of the damage. Sure enough, his face was a mess. The entire left side at least. The flare struck him traveling upwards, and burned a scar into his left cheek that extended to his eye. At first glance, it almost looked like he was smiling on that side. The scar was still bright red, and burn tissue spread out on either side. Once it arrived at his eye, the news did not get any better. His eye was white, just a lifeless bulb plugged into his face. He closed his right eye, and found that he could see nothing from his left eye at all. The scar continued up the left side of his forehead. The damage was less severe there however. The hair on the left side of his head was burned off, leaving a few strands to stick up here and there.
Jeff reached up and touched the left side of his face, and found that he felt nothing at all. He went back to staring at himself in the mirror, never looking back up at the nurse. This went on for almost 15 minutes, when she finally had to replaces the bandages.
“Sorry sweetie, but I have to put clean bandages on,” she told him.
Jeff smiled, “It’s okay, there will be plenty to time for me to admire myself later.”
A few hours later, Jeff was back home. The hospital had sent his family home with plenty of gauze and other creams and ointments. He also had painkillers and antibiotics that he’d have to take for a while. Still though, he would live.
There was no joy from his parents on the ride home, or upon arrival. They spoke very little, and there was a tension in the car that simply wouldn’t fade out. As for Liu, he was thrilled that his brother was okay, but he didn’t know what to say concerning the damage to his face. So, after asking a few questions about the accident and the recovery, he fell silent as well.
The Woods family arrived home after the sun had begun to set. They walked in and Liu asked about dinner. He suggested they let Jeff pick a place, to celebrate his return home.
“Just go to sleep, both of you boys, go to sleep,” Shelia remarked. She and her husband both retreated to their bedrooms as well, to argue or feel sorry for themselves, who knew?
Jeff and Liu didn’t speak much that night. Jeff spent most of the evening staring at himself in the mirror. He kept pulling back the bandages and looking at the scars. Liu wanted to see them too, but felt that it might be imprudent to ask.
“I’m glad you’re home Jeff, I really missed you, and I’m glad you’re okay,” Liu said to Jeff as he stared at himself.
“I’m not okay Liu, and neither are you. None of us are really. There is a sickness here. The only difference is, now my sickness shows on the outside as well,” Jeff replied, his voice as flat as that on an answering machine.
“What are you talking about?” Liu asked.
“One day, you’ll see it too. This is what happens though, this is what happens when it all falls down,” Jeff said, still peeking behind his bandages.
“Jeff, I don’t know what you’re trying to say,” Liu responded. Jeff didn’t reply though, and after several moments, Liu left him alone. Liu went down to his parent’s bedroom and knocked on the door.
“What is it?” the voice of his mother asked.
“Mom, I think Jeff is acting weird, you may want to come talk to him,” Liu suggested.
“Go away Liu, leave your mother alone,” his father’s voice answered. Liu, being young, had no other ideas, so he returned to his own bedroom. He didn’t know that those would be the last words he’d ever hear his parents speak to him.
That night, Shelia and Matt Woods awoke together, both being light sleepers, it took little to bring them out of slumber. The sudden removal of their blanket, as it was snatched from the bed, did the trick just fine. They awoke to see a small light coming from the half-bath that was situated in their master bedroom. The door was cracked only slightly, and the light source was weak. They could make out a human shape, standing over their bed though.
“What, what is going on?” Shelia grumbled.
As their vision came into focus, they realized their son was standing before them. Matt reached over the flipped on the lamp next to their bed. Jeff was standing there, his bandages off, his disfigured face beaming down on them, with a long kitchen knife clutched in his right hand.
“What are you doing son?” Matt asked, his mind still trying to shake out the cobwebs of sleep.
“He’s got a knife!” Shelia screamed, grabbing at her husband’s arm. Matt kept his composure though.
“Shelia, it’s probably the painkillers, he likely got up and got disoriented, relax for Christsake.”
Jeff tilted his head to one side, still not speaking. He stared hard at his father, slowly bringing the knife up, ensuring that he saw it well.
“Son, what are you doing?” Matt asked.
“Scaring you,” Jeff replied, with no emotion in his voice.
“Matt, do something!” Shelia pleaded.
“Okay son, I realize you’ve been through a lot, but you need to go back to bed. I’m going to call the doctor in the morning and….”
Jeff moved quickly across to his father’s side of the bed, his head moving about, alternating between a normal looking young man and the deformed ghoul that had been lurking in the shadows.
“Okay son, you’ve scared me, is that what you wanted?” Matt asked, adjusting to the middle of the bed to put distance between himself and his son.
“Good, now I can start hurting you,” Jeff spoke again, with no emotion.
His father had time to utter a single syllable, most likely to ask another question, to try and reason with his son. Jeff however, gave him time to do no more than that. He lunged onto the bed, driving the knife into his father’s stomach. Matt attempted to fend Jeff off, but the wound to his midsection rendered him into shock, and his arms fell to the side. Jeff could hear his mother screaming, but paid no mind. He wanted to finish with his father first.
Removing the knife, Jeff stabbed down into his stomach three more times, quickly. His father gasped and coughed up blood, his body jerked and twitched each time the knife found its mark. After the third time, Matt Woods lay still. Shelia had backed up against the headboard of the bed. She wanted to climb down, make a run for it, but she’d balled herself up between the headboard the end table. In her frantic state of terror and confusion, she couldn’t figure out how to do something as simple as dismount a bed.
“Jeff…. Why, why are you doing this to us?” she asked feebly.
“Randy started it, you must have known that, but you ignored it. Liu had a busted lip, you must have seen that, but you ignored it. I was shot in the face with a flare gun, but you believed Randy, why? So you could fit in?” Jeff asked in a low, almost growling voice.
“No baby, I believed you, it was, just, your father’s job…. And we’re new here, and…. Oh God Jeff please….” his mother begged. “Tell me about home school mom? Tell me all about how you don’t want to send me out in public because of my face. Tell me how none of the other kids will want to be my friend, and how none of their parents will want to be yours. Tell me about that mom, tell me how nice it’s going to be, you home schooling me…..”
“Jeff, please, I was just stressed, I was worried about you, that’s all…please, I…. I love you…”
“Mom, I think you should take your own advice, you know, what you told Liu when we got home tonight. He wanted to do something nice to welcome me home, and do you remember what you told us to do instead?” Jeff asked, as he now crawled over, cornering his mother on the bed.
“What did I say?” she asked, the question coming out barely a whisper.
“Go to sleep!” Jeff snarled, and drove the knife into his mother’s chest. He stabbed her over and over again, and as he did, he finally found that perfect recipe, that heavenly blend. That rage, hate and pleasure all mixed into one perfect formula, and for a while, Jeff became lost in it all.
Jeff opened his brother’s bedroom door, not surprised to find his brother asleep. He had dozed off with headphones in, so he slept through all the shouting. That was fine with Jeff. It was easier that Liu not have to hear all of that. Jeff sat down on his brother’s bed and nudged him slightly. It took a moment, but Liu finally opened his eyes and looked up. Jeff removed his earphones for him.
“You’re free now Liu,” he spoke softly.
“Jeff, what… what are you talking about?” Liu mumbled, still half asleep.
“You’ll see in the morning. I just wanted to let you know I love you. You’ve been my best friend, remember that, okay?”
“Thanks, I… I love you too. Now, let me go back to sleep,” Liu replied, already dozing off again.
Jeff smiled and stood up. As he left the room, he looked back at his sleeping brother one last time, before he vanished into the night.
Concluding the Story
When Jeff completed his story, Rosenberg had smoked almost half his pack of cigarettes, as the butts laid about the base of the chair. During that time, he’d not moved, and barely blinked. The figure sitting on the counter before him had also never moved, besides speaking. And now the story was told, and for a moment, both people occupying the small tent remained silent.
“There was one more victim though, the cop, right?” Rosenberg asked.
“Yeah, I went after Williamson. He was corrupt, and would always be corrupted. I owed him for that. Had he done his job, gone after Randy the first time, who knows, maybe none of this would be happening,” Jeff answered.
“And it was the cop’s son that got your picture. He snapped it as you were leaving the scene, that picture that’s now famous all over the place,” Rosenberg confirmed.
“Yes, I suppose that makes him the world’s most famous photographer right now, doesn’t it?” Jeff replied sarcastically.
“So, what happens now, Jeff?”
“I told you at the start, I don’t know. All I know now is that I’m drowning in it, and I’m not sure if I want to ever be pulled out?”
“Drowning in what Jeff?” the reporter asked.
“The ichor, the syrup, whatever you want to call it. When I killed my parents, it swallowed me whole. I think I stabbed my mother at least, 50 times?” he replied.
“76, according to the reports,” Rosenberg corrected.
“I guess I lost count. And you know, I want to feel guilty, I want to feel bad for killing them. But that syrup, like I said, I’m fully submerged. I can’t feel anything except that sensation of hateful joy. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to feel anything else, and I don’t know if I want to,” Jeff stated.
“So now, what do you do Jeff? Keep running? You can’t run forever, you must realize that, right?”
“No, I still owe Randy and his pals a visit. I have to make that right. Afterwards, I don’t really have a plan. I guess, whatever happens will happen.”
“Well, I guess that concludes this then, I mean, what else can we say? I have to get back home, so…”
“No, the police will likely show up soon, you forgot something, you didn’t send out your little texts,” Jeff said, sounding almost regretful.
“Oh shit, I got so caught up in your story, I guess, and, well….” Jeff jumped down from the counter and began to walk towards Rosenberg.
“Don’t blame yourself Mr. Rosenberg, blame the ichor, it’s just so…. So delicious,” Jeff snarled, and drew a knife from his jacket as he closed in.
Shortly after, the police arrived. They’d received a call from a woman in New Orleans name Monica Davenport, stating that her employer had gone out on a tip, that he thought he knew the location of Jeff the Killer. When the police arrived at the closed down fireworks tent, they found the body of Bennie Rosenberg, apparently murdered by multiple stab wounds. He had a revolver in his right hand; however, investigator reported that he’d never had the chance to fire it.
Two weeks passed and life returned to normal for Monica. She, along with the rest of the staff of NOLA Watch, attended Rosenberg’s funeral. Tears were shed, flowers were dropped, and at the end of it all, life returned to normal. However, things changed when Monica arrived for work on Monday. A package was waiting for her. She opened it, finding only a small cassette tape contained within. She played it, and sat in silent shock for almost an hour as she listened to her former boss’s final words, all the way to the end, as the sounds of flesh being pierced could be heard over Rosenberg’s screams.
She played the tape again before notifying the police, who came and picked it up from her. Of course she’d copied the audio contents before handing over the original. She was still a journalist, and intended to be the first to go public with the only existing interview with the now famous Jeffery Woods.
She found herself listening to it over and over again throughout the week though, as she prepared her piece to print. The entire story was horrific, and the death of Rosenberg did nothing to relieve the pure morbidity of the ordeal. However, it was Jeff’s final words as he walked from the tent that haunted her the most. She listened to them again and again.
“Once you swim in the hate, the rage, the pleasure, you can never get out. It swallows you up, and keeps you there with an anchor that cannot be escaped….. yourself.”
Written by K. Banning Kellum
Published December 6th, 2015
< Previous | Next >