by Adam Casalino
“Oh come on, Kevin, just one little secret.”
The girl with the startling blue eyes was looking into his soul. At least it felt that way. If Kevin knew better, he’d have realized she wasn’t. Her eyes moved off him, now and again, to the shrubbery in the back yard or to watch another partygoer pass by. But when she did look at him, it was with a practiced stare. She had used it many times before. And it always worked.
Kevin laughed when he looked at her. He was more than nervous. “I don’t know, Stacy. I guess I don’t have many secrets.” He could see the enthusiasm fade from her eyes. She was losing interest in the boy. In another minute a girlfriend or worse, another boy, would draw her away. He tried to think of something.
“Okay,” he said. “There is one thing. I sort of have a crush.”
The blue eyes opened wide. They twinkled with anticipation. This was secret gold, a crush. “Who?” she asked, her voice low and urgent. “Oh my God, who?”
Kevin looked around the backyard at the swelling party. “Amanda,” he said, “Amanda Stackson.”
Stacy took a step back. Kevin was worried. A smiled creased her cheeks. “Amanda? I don’t believe it! Kevin, you can do better than that.” She playfully tapped his arm. Electricity ran through him. He was light-headed. Kevin shrugged and went on.
“I think she’s pretty, I don’t know,” he said. “But does it matter now? We graduated. I’ll never see her.”
“She’s here tonight, I think,” Stacy said. “Want me to find her?”
Kevin put out a hand as if she was about to leave. “No, I like talking to you.”
He froze. An admission of truth. It was death for a teenager. The girl with the blue eyes looked at him. Her smile faded a little.
“Aww,” she said. “That’s so sweet.” It sounded insincere. Kevin noticed. He feared the conversation was over.
Stacy looked down at her cup and tossed it into the grass.
“I’m empty, wanna get me another? God, Kevin, you don’t even have a drink.”
They both looked down at Kevin’s empty hands. “I’ll get something. What do you like?”
She shrugged and sat down in the chair he just vacated. Kevin pushed his way back into the house. He tried to remember whose house it was; he realized he had never known. Like every other graduate, he arrived in a packed car, unaware of the details. It was a party, that’s all that mattered. He dodged and weaved, searching for the kitchen. More than one person fell on his shoulder, saying something about how they’d miss him. Kevin smiled, said the same, and pushed them off. He really got a kick out of it. Especially from the bullies.
The kitchen was full, like the rest of the house. People were pressed into every corner, even sat on the counters. Many were connected to each other by the face. Kevin found a cooler on the center island. Nothing but ice. He checked the ones stacked along the floor. Empty. He glanced around the room, hoping someone would guide him to beer. But Kevin was invisible. Using his hands like the Jaws of Life, he moved two people and opened the fridge. There was only one bottle left. Eagerly he grabbed it and shut the door.
Kevin examined the drink in his hand. It wasn’t a beer. The black label covered most of the bottle, reaching all the way to the cap. A tall figure in mariachi clothes perched against a bar. Behind him was a rising moon. The man’s face was a skull. Somehow he wore an impish grin. Written above him in neon blue was, “Muerte Azul.” Through a small gap in the label, he could see the blue liquid. He wanted to scan the ingredients when he noticed a few people were watching him. That would be lame, getting caught examining the last drink. Holding it close to himself, he made his way back to the girl.
He reached the backyard and stopped. Stacy was still in his chair. But now someone else was with her. A tall, well-formed guy, in ripped jeans and trendy t-shirt. Their lips pressed together like sucker fish. Kevin could see the ooze dripping down their faces. The boy’s hands were deep inside Stacy’s shirt, working their way to her jeans. Kevin felt the cold bottle in his hands. The moisture from the glass dripped down his skin. He turned around and went back into the house.
Somehow, he found himself on the front porch. Kevin stared at the bottle in his hands. Last drink of the party. Using his t-shirt, he twisted off the cap. When he put the bottle to his mouth he took a large gulp. The liquid sizzled as it went down his throat. It was sweet, but not sweet enough. The chemical taste of alcohol masked the other flavors. Kevin coughed, spitting out some of the booze. Someone laughed, said something about baby’s first drink. Kevin ignored them and took another swig. He continued to drink the Muerte Azul until the bottle was empty.
The liquor was strong. Not just strong for a newbie like Kevin. A warmth grew inside his belly, radiated out to his arms and legs. The world didn’t spin, it rocked gently back and forth. Kevin let go of the bottle and watched it roll down the steps. It was a few minutes before he noticed he was alone. He turned around to look at the house. The front door was closed and the lights were off. No music played. Kevin got up and climbed the porch steps. It was a challenge. He reached the front door and tried to get inside. It wouldn’t open. Kevin had the impression he was standing in front of a flat prop from a movie set.
Putting a hand to his head, he stumbled into the street. Where had all the cars gone? Kevin looked for his friend’s Rambler. Jason wouldn’t have left without him, would he? He tried to recall which way was his house. North probably. Which way was North? Kevin picked a direction and walked. The sidewalk felt funny. It rose like a hill and dropped away. Kevin was more comfortable in the middle of the road. It was smooth and cool. There were no cars to hit him, anyway.
Trees lined most of the streets, they grew out of the wide mediums dividing the roads. Kevin looked up at the canopy they formed. Only a trace of light came through the leaves. The branches waved gently at him. Kevin waved back. Distracted, he did not see the other person in the road. He bumped into him, falling to the ground. Kevin rubbed his eyes as he looked up. The man turned to him and extended a hand.
Kevin gratefully took it and stood face-to-face with the stranger. The man wore a long gray tunic and loose pants. His hair was gray, as was his skin. Painted on his face, however, was a skull of vivid oranges, reds, and blue. He looked at Kevin with solemn eyes. Kevin didn’t know what to say. He swayed back and forth as he looked at the man.
“Sorry ’bout that, didn’t see you.”
The man did not reply. He turned away from Kevin and continued down the road. Kevin watched. The man hardly moved his legs, he almost floated. Kevin rubbed his eyes again, shook his head. The stranger reached the corner and was met by a woman in gray. Her hair was pulled up in an elegant pile. She glanced at Kevin, revealing a similar skull face. She turned and walked with the man. They disappeared as the road dropped down a hill.
By the time Kevin reached the hill, many more gray people were out. They came out of the trees, out of the shadows. None of them came out of the houses. They glowed with an eerie light, like wisps floating across a swamp. Altogether they moved in a silent rhythm. More came up behind Kevin and he was forced to go with them.
The road went on for miles, but the gray people did not tire. Kevin asked what was going on. Only one responded, a short woman with branches in her hair, by holding a finger to her lips. The road eventually reached a massive hill. It was dotted with small stones. The strangers were gathering at the summit. Kevin was suddenly gripped with a desire to go home. He tried to back away from the Great Hill. The gray people held out their arms, blocking his path. Kevin found himself getting closer to the top of the hill.
As Kevin climbed he heard voices. Scattered among the gray people were others. They were young and dressed in normal clothes. They danced with the strangers, oblivious to their surroundings. They were from the party. There was Marcy, from Science class. And Thomas; he knew him since third grade. There was the guy with ripped jeans and trendy t-shirt. And there was Stacy, the girl with the blue eyes. They danced as they reached the top of the hill. Kevin shouted at them, but his voice floated away, unheard.
The gray people separated the students. They formed circles around them. Reaching out with lithe, pale fingers, they pulled off the student’s clothes. They clawed at the bare skin. It peeled off in chunks. Blood spurt onto their gray clothes. They ripped muscles off in long, tangled heaps. Removed their organs. All that was left of the students were their bones. White bones that danced, still enthralled in the silent music. The gray people sat down and feasted on the piles of gore. The skeletons floated away, falling into a pit at the top of the hill.
Kevin screamed until his voice was hoarse. He was being pulled now. He was being taken to the pit. There were too many unfed. He must be next. Kevin searched for help, only seeing garishly painted faces. The people sitting were soaked red, their mouths full. He reached the top of the hill as a circle formed around him. He looked into the pit. Giant teeth were gnashing at fresh bones. Kevin’s head swam. He wanted to faint, wanted to run, wanted to scream.
Instead, he just threw up.
Vomit poured out of his mouth, mingled with blue liquid. It spilled down the hill like a soupy river. Kevin dropped to his knees, retching until only spit came out. The taste of Muerte Azul was replaced with bile. Eventually, he stopped heaving. He opened his eyes. The gray people were gone. The hill was gone. He was surrounded by trees. Kevin recognized the city park. He stood up, brushing dirt from his clothes. The vomit was still there, soaking into the grass and running down concrete. His head was clearer and he found his way home.
Morning came too soon. The Sun was a fire burning through his bedroom window. Drums were beating against Kevin’s head. Someone was knocking on the front door. He heard his mom cross the living room and answer. It sounded like a cop. He was asking about Kevin. His mom said he was fine, was still in bed. Kevin listened as the cop explained that five students never made it home after graduation. The town was forming a search party and asking for assistance. His mom agreed to help. The door closed as she shouted something up the stairs. Kevin rolled over and closed his eyes. He wasn’t going anywhere today.