Aphelion Issue 224, Volume 21
December 2017 / January 2018
 
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Ghost Friend

by James J. Murphy III




Late Friday night, June 24, 2016, a 911 call was placed anonymously regarding noise coming from an alley by Locklyn Avenue. Ocala Police arrived at the scene of the crime immediately. Equipped for any possible circumstance, the officers scanned the area with their flashlights and not a single soul was in sight.

“Looks like another wild-goose chase, aye, Borders…”

“You’re telling me, Sanders. This is the fifth call around here this week alone.”

“Yeah. Probably just some kids playing a goof. It’s graduation week; everybody’s partying, especially tonight.”

“You’re right, Sanders. What high school kid doesn’t party around graduation?”

The two officers started walking away slowly.

"Augh..."

Officer Borders came to a sudden halt. “Did you hear something, Sanders?”

The officer stood still, listening intently. “Yeah. Very faintly, though.”

“Over there!” Borders was shining his flashlight on what appeared to be a dangling leg.

“Under that mess!” Officer Sanders aimed his flashlight in the same direction so they could get a better look.

The officers rushed over and removed the heavy crates that were piled on top of the body and brushed off the wooden chips.

“Oh, God!” yelled Borders. “Are you alright, Robert?! Who did this to you?!”

“You know this kid?” the officer asked his partner.

“He’s my son’s best friend since they were young.”

“Who did this to you, kid?” Sanders asked the teenage boy.

Robert tried to answer the man in uniform, but he couldn’t help his speech from slurring.

“Get him up, Sanders!”

Sanders and Borders began helping the kid up, but with his legs being so rubbery and his whole body weakened, he couldn’t even stand.

“Borders! Look at his head! It looks like he was hit with that.” Sanders was motioning to a jagged-edged beer bottle lying a few feet away. “It must’ve crushed his skull. He’s hemorrhaging. I’ll call for an ambulance.”

“No time! We’ll take him ourselves.”

“Are you nuts, Borders?! Captain will have our badges, or at least yours.”

“I don’t care! This is my son’s best friend. He’s like family to us.” He stared down at Robert helplessly.

Sanders helped his partner carry the boy to the police car and put him in the back seat, normally the spot for criminals. He put on the siren and booked it.

Less than five minutes later, they arrived at Darcy’s Hospital and rushed Robert in through the entrance and went straight to the emergency desk.

“What seems to be the emergency?” asked the woman at the desk.

“This kid’s been beaten to death. We need a doctor,” Sanders said urgently.

“The doctor’s with someone at the moment,” she explained. “He’ll have to fill out a form.”

Borders couldn’t believe the stupidity of the receptionist and just lost it. Knowing he couldn’t punch the lady, he grabbed an orderly nearby and shouted, “Hey, you! Look! Does this look like a person that can fill out a form?!” The man in blue had the orderly by the neck, shoving his face right next to Robert’s bleeding head.

The smell of the dark red blood made the orderly feel nauseous.

“Now go and get a damn doctor to help this kid.”

The orderly was more than happy to oblige, grateful to get away from the cop and the blood.

A doctor arrived within seconds due to all the chaos by the emergency desk. He and his emergency crew swiftly moved Robert into a wheelchair and wheeled him to the emergency room.

“Dan. Let’s go sit down for a minute. We need to talk.”

Borders followed his partner to the waiting area so they could speak privately. “What’s with the first-name-calling, Al?”

“I know we get away with a lot of things just because we’re cops, but you’re way out of line. Especially for a hospital. We are officers.”

“I know I am. Just seeing Robert like that did something to me. I’ll try to get it together.”

“Good. If anybody says anything, I’ll cover for you as much as I can, but let’s hope none of this gets to the captain. I can only do so much.”

“Thanks, Al. You’re a good partner and a true friend. Let me step outside and call my wife.”

“Got it.”

Standing outside the hospital, Borders pushed the number ‘2’ on his speed dial. The phone rang numerous times until finally there was a voice on the other end.

“Dan?” asked his wife groggily. “What time is it?”

“Around one-thirty in the morning, Sally.”

“Let me go back to sleep. Wake me when the sun rises.”

“Sally! Don’t hang up! Bad news!”

“What… What do you mean?”

“It’s Robert.”

“What are you talking about?”

“He’s been severely beaten. Me and Sanders brought him to the hospital. We found him buried under crates with his head bleeding from a strike of a beer bottle, it looks like.”

“Oh, God.” Sally’s thoughts were running wild. “Did you call his parents yet?”

“I’ll call them after we finish talking. I should have done it right away, but I wanted to make sure Robert was okay.”

“I understand. Do you want me to call?”

“I think they should hear it from me. Don’t tell Donnie yet.”

“It’s his best friend. He has a right to know.”

“I know he does, but let me be there, too. Talk to you soon.”

The two hung up.


*****



On Sunday afternoon, Robert Carlyle was pronounced dead due to internal bleeding.

His parents, Ellen and Tommy, had been at his bedside, watching as his vitals declined on the monitor. Mr. Carlyle had rushed to get a doctor, while Mrs. Carlyle remained sitting next to her son, crying.

Soon after the doctor came into the room to check on his patient, he had solemnly looked both parents in the eyes. “I’m sad to inform you that your son died at approximately 3:07pm.”

Tommy had reached out, grabbing Ellen. He and his wife held onto each other with tears pouring down their faces.

“Once again, my condolences,” the doctor said.


*****



Later that afternoon, the Borders got a phone call at home.

“Sally, that was Tommy, Robert’s father. Unfortunately, he died a little while ago.”

“Donnie is upstairs. We’re going to have to break the bad news to him,” Sally told her husband in a low voice.

“I know, but how the hell do I tell my son that his best friend’s dead?” Dan took a deep breath. “Hey, Donnie,” he called up the stairs, “can you come down here for a minute?”

Donnie joined his parents in the living room.

“Donnie…” Sally tried keeping it together, but just couldn’t. “We don’t know how to tell you this…”

“Let me guess… My best friend’s dead. When the hell were you going to tell me this? Never!”

“Actually, son, he wasn’t dead when Sanders and I found him. He’s been at Darcy’s Hospital all this time. He died this afternoon. Your mother and I wanted to tell you, but didn’t know how.”

“Shouldn’t be that hard, Dad. Maybe you can post a video of it online. That’s how I found out.”

“What are you talking about, Donnie?”

“These thugs recorded it. So now, I get to have this memory for the rest of my life. My best friend being beaten to death by these assholes. Four against one!”

“Where can I find that video, Donnie?” His father took out his cell phone. After searching through videos posted the night of June 24, 2016 in Ocala, he found what he was looking for.

It was hard for the parents to watch the very disturbing video, having to turn away a few times.

“Do you know any of these guys, Donnie?”

“Just a couple of school bullies. They pick on everyone. Some get it worse than others, as you can see.”

“They need to be arrested. Can you identify them?”

“Yeah. Do you see the guy with the baseball bat? He’s the main guy. His name’s Louie Da Sluggah because he’s on the baseball team. Real name’s Louis Martine. He’s a real jerk-off. That guy with the black hoodie is Bobby. Not sure of his last name. This guy here with the blue hat’s name is Johann Daninski. The last guy with the baseball shirt… I’m not sure who that is.”

“Thanks. You’ve been helpful, Donnie.”

“I want these scumbags to pay for what they did to my best friend and have them put in graves, but that’s not happening yet. So for the time being, let’s dig up a grave for my best friend instead and even engrave his tombstone. ‘Here lies Robert Carlyle. Born 2000. Died 2016. At least he got the most hits online.’” Donnie’s rage was building.

“Enough! We know how you’re feeling, Donnie. We’re going to get these thugs and arrest them. I wish I can torture them like they tortured Robert. He was like family to us, too.”

“You don’t know how I feel, Dad. Nobody does. Tell me when the funeral is so I pay my respects and move on with my life.” Donnie marched back upstairs to his room and closed the door.

“You can’t blame him for acting like this, Dan. You know how close those two were.”

“I don’t. But I’ll tell you one thing, Sally… We’re going to get these bastards one way or the other.”

“I hope so.” She gave her husband a hug and peck on the cheek.

For the remainder of the day, Dan laid on the couch, watching TV; Sally got out of the house; and Donnie stayed in his room, watching a video of his best friend getting beaten to death.


*****



On Wednesday, June 29, 2016, a wake was held for Robert Carlyle at 4pm at the old Cyphers Church. Family, friends, and classmates came to pay their respects. Guests looked over the fallen teen in the casket.

Fellow students were scattered throughout the room. A few girls started crying. Some held Robert’s hand. Others gave him knucks.

“Hey, man. ’Member the time Robert glued Mrs. Salson’s ass to the chair in English? She was soooo pissed and cursed at everyone in class that day, wanting to know who did it.” Dean smiled.

“Yeah, dude. Salson tried walking over with a chair stuck to her ass, yelling at him: ‘Do you think this is funny?’ Robert said he came so close to peeing his pants from laughing so hard.” Tim looked up at the ceiling, acknowledging his friend.

Nearby, a girl with eyeglasses commented, “Robert didn’t really bother anyone. If he did, it was innocent. Mostly with his friends.”

“What people didn’t know was that Robert also had a soft side,” a girl with brown hair added. “I was a senior last year and he was a freshman. We somehow met in the hall and he just started talking to me. I was like, ‘Who the hell is this kid?’ Every day for weeks... I’d be in the library, trying to study… and there he is; I’m at lunch with friends… and there he is. Then he must have found out it was my birthday… He made me a collage that said ‘Happy Birthday Liz!’ on top; ‘The Woman Of My Dreams’ on the bottom; and in the middle, there was a giant heart with all the horror movies and superheroes he liked.”

“That’s Robert. He loved anything that didn’t have to do with reality. It was his escape.”

“Finally, I gave him my phone number, but told him we can only be friends. He was happy and grateful. To me, he was like a kid brother. I even spoke to him last Wednesday, I think.” Liz had to wipe the tears from her eyes.

Sally Borders kept to the back of the room, dressed in black with a matching veil to hide the waterfall of tears flowing down her face. “I still can’t believe Robert is dead.”

“Hopefully he’s resting in peace now. This shouldn’t have happened to such a young kid. He didn’t even graduate high school, damnit.” Dan Borders took a deep breath.

“Where’s Donnie?” Sally asked him.

“Over there, talking to Ellen and Tommy. Let’s go pay our respects.”

As Mrs. Carlyle and her husband stared down into the casket at their only son, she spoke to the person in the room that was closest to Robert. “Donnie, we just wanted to thank you for being such a great friend to Robert. He always admired you.”

“Yeah, Donnie,” agreed Mr. Carlyle. “Robert had a lot of friends, but you were true and blue.”

Listening to his best friend’s parents, a lump was forming in Donnie’s throat as he was trying hard not to cry. “Robert was my best friend and I can’t believe I’ll never see him again. My dad better bring these thugs to justice.”

“Your father’s a good man, Donnie. I’m sure he will.”

“Donnie, any belongings Robert has at the house, we want you to have them,” Mrs. Carlyle offered.

“There’s no need for that,” Donnie politely replied. “All I needed was Robert’s friendship and that’s what I got.”

“We insist, Donnie,” said Mr. Carlyle. “All of it is yours, except a few things that we want to keep as a memory.”

“Like some of the framed pictures. Especially from when Robert was in school plays, performing in Jekyll & Hyde and Phantom Of The Opera. Those were some of his happier moments.”

“Actually, dear, his happiest moment was when he was given his grandfather’s horror collection.” Mr. Carlyle turned to his son’s best friend. “Now, Donnie, when we tell you collection, we mean collection. Robert’s grandfather used to go to all the horror conventions, watch the Saturday Night Film Of The Week, and God knows how many collectibles he had. When he died, it was all left to his grandson. Robert never got to meet him; he died when Robert was three.”

“So, when Robert got a little older, we presented it all to him and he couldn’t remove that beautiful smile from his face. He wanted to know all about his grandfather. We showed him pictures and he even did searches online.”

“What I’ll really miss about Robert is that he didn’t care what anyone thought,” Donnie said. “He’d dress how he wanted… He wouldn’t be ashamed combing his hair to the side and or wearing plain clothes. He’d talk to any clique in school, no matter who… If someone had a logo on their shirt that he liked, he’d compliment it. And he was a great prankster.”

“We’ve heard,” admitted Mrs. Carlyle.

“Yeah, even the stuff we’re not supposed to know,” laughed Mr. Carlyle. “Let us show you something, Donnie. It’s something special Robert’s going to be buried with…” He reached into his pocket, but was interrupted.

“Ellen, Tommy… we can’t say how sorry we are.” Sally and Dan came over, hugging the bereaved parents.

“Mom, Dad… Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle were just going to show me what Robert’s getting buried with.”

Mr. Carlyle took something out of his pocket and placed it next to his son’s body. It was a piece of jewelry in the shape of a pentagram. “It’s like a good luck pendant. Robert got it in Salem when we took him last year. He had the time of his life. He wanted to learn as much as he could about The Salem Witch Trials and the history of the grounds that the witches were sacrificed on. Hopefully this protects him wherever he is.”

“One thing about Robert,” Donnie confirmed, “was that if he was interested in something, he’d try to learn as much about it as possible.”

“He’s also being buried with this T-shirt.” Mrs. Carlyle leaned over the casket and gently pulled back the lapel of Robert’s oversized navy blue blazer to reveal the T-shirt worn underneath. “Another one of his grandfather’s collectibles; one Robert especially cherished.”

“I would, too! Mom! Dad! That’s an authentic Tales From The Crypt shirt from 1993! They don’t even make these anymore, and if they do, it’s a reprint.” Donnie soon realized that to his parents, it was just a shirt.

Just a few minutes later, the five of them watched as the casket was closed.

Later on, the same guests remained at the church for the funeral mass. The sermon lasted about an hour. Throughout the service, most of the people in attendance listened to the positive things the priest said about the young teen, many sobbing and some even having to be excused. The priest mentioned Robert being survived by his parents, Ellen and Tommy Carlyle; named a few friends, classmates, and teachers; and repeated some funny stories he’d recently heard about Robert from those who cared for him. The priest then concluded, “Robert Carlyle, you were born with innocence in 2000… and you left us in 2016 so tragically. Trust that those responsible for your assault will be judged by God. You’ve been called sooner than expected, so understand that we may grieve, but that we will meet again when it is our time. May you rest in peace. Amen!”

"AMEN!"


*****



On Friday, July 1, 2016, an arrest warrant was issued, allowing Officers Borders and Sanders to legally bring in the young men that murdered Robert Carlyle. Officer Borders was able to truly smile for the first time in a week. To avoid any controversy or disagreement over the validity of the evidence of the video posted online, Borders urged his partner to wait for the approval of a judge before they go after the suspects. Not wanting to take any chances, Borders also insisted that they have backup. The captain permitted five more police officers to assist, making it a total of seven cops.

The officers located where the four hooligans lived and paid a visit to each of them. It was much easier to apprehend them separately; a relief for Ocala’s finest. Three out of the four delinquents were arrested at their respective residences, and the fourth, outside a mall. Each one was cuffed and brought to the police station. The parents of two of them told their sons not to say anything without a lawyer. All four suspects were in separate cells, unable to communicate with each other. They were individually spoken to by police until their parents or a lawyer showed up.

During the interrogations, the officers got all kinds of responses. ‘Maybe I should go to film school,’ was a remark from one of the teens. Borders almost lost it; Sanders had to hold him back.

A few hours later, bail was set for each defendant at $300,000, with one of the conditions being that they surrender their passport. The fact that the suspects were teenage students had been taken under consideration. Their lawyers had no problems with that, and each thug was soon bailed out by their parents.


*****



“Sanders, am I dreaming?! These teenage punks are suffering no consequences after killing someone. You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“I guess this is what happens when you have no morals and rich parents.”

“This isn’t over.” Borders told Sanders he needed to get some air.


*****



The Borders were eating pizza for dinner at home.

“So, how was your day, Dan?”

“Don’t ask. It never gets easier; only harder. I can’t wait to retire in a few years and collect my pension.”

“Did you find the guys who killed Robert yet, Dad?”

“We tried our best, Donnie, and we caught ’em. The one in the video you didn’t know… his name is Albert Osbourne. Ever hear of him?”

“No. So now they’ll get punished like Robert did?”

“Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, Donnie.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, we had ’em behind bars. Then a judge set bail at $300,000 for each one of them and had them surrender their passports. Seriously, what teenager can come up with that type of money? Of course, their families bailed them out. Now they’re out on the street until the trial.” Dan gulped down the remainder of his glass of soda. “They made bail and we can’t do a damn thing about it! Basically, they’re laughing in our faces because they come from rich families and can get away with anything.”

Dan gulped down the remainder of his glass of soda. “They made bail and we can’t do a damn thing about it! Basically, they’re laughing in our faces because they come from rich families and can get away with anything.”

“Yeah, including murder. I have to go.”

“Donnie--”

“Let him go, Sally.”

Donnie went to his room and started flinging things out of anger. He looked in the mirror. “Get it together, man. Your friend’s not coming back.”

Calming down after letting off some steam, Donnie cleaned his mess. He decided to spend the remainder of the night online.

Suddenly, his bedroom window blew wide open. Then his cell phone made a sound, indicating he received a text.

Donnie picked up his phone. When he read the text, he immediately dropped it. The message read: ‘Four.’

“Is this some type of joke?” he asked nervously.

It wasn’t the message that was freaking him out, but who it was from.

The next Monday night, most citizens of Ocala were celebrating Independence Day, like most of the country. Albert Osbourne was driving at 90mph with one hand on the wheel and the other holding an open bottle of alcohol as he was shouting into his cell phone, which was mounted on his windshield.

“Where you at?!” he yelled while using speakerphone. “I’m ready to party. Got my 40.” He chugged down the rest of his drink. “Had my 40,” he laughed, tossing the bottle out the window. He told the other party that he was about twenty minutes away.

Albert started fiddling with his car radio dial, searching for a song he was in the mood for. When he found one, he began singing at the top of his lungs.

The song changed.

“What the hell?” He turned the dial and left on another song he liked. He belted out the tunes again.

The song started skipping.

Concerned about his music, Albert wasn’t keeping his eyes on the road, swerving left and right. He looked up and tried to regain his focus. Then his wheel swung hard to the right. Albert gripped it tighter, beginning to sweat. The wheel jerked to the left. Albert started to panic. He had no control of the car. The steering wheel was moving all over. He slammed against a guardrail. The car already mangled, Albert tried to back up and straighten out.

BOOM!!! Another car smashed into him.


*****



Dan and Sally were home, watching the ten o’clock news. They sat through the usual; weather, sports, lotto, and a reporting of a missing cat. Then something caught their attention.

“Just in! Special Report: Red sports car on Iguana Highway in Ocala, Florida totaled! Two dead. An unidentified man without a license, who appears to be in his mid-forties, allegedly smashed his sedan into a flashy red sports car, leaving it looking not-so-flashy anymore. Inside the car was eighteen year old Albert Osbourne. Police say, in the cases of both men, drinking seems to have been a factor. They died instantly.”

The Borders immediately went to tell their son.

Donnie was outside, watching the neighborhood fireworks light the sky. He was so impressed that he was even recording the show with his smartphone.

“Donnie! Donnie!” his parents yelled at the same time.

What do they want now? Donnie thought to himself.

“Donnie,” his father said. “On the news tonight, it showed one of the thugs who’s out on bail... Albert Osbourne died in a car crash.”

“Good. Can’t wait for the others to join him.”

“At least he can’t hurt anyone else,” his mother commented.

He watched his parents go back in the house.

Donnie was about to resume his recording and saw a text come in. He wiped the sweat off his forehead and read the text out loud. “Three. Happy 4th of July!

On the next Monday night, July 11, 2016, Johann Daninski was working the closing shift at Sheps’ Supermarket. Throughout the evening, he’d been putting items on shelves, mostly in the soup aisle. Johann wasn’t having the best of nights; it began with finding out through an online post that his girlfriend had decided that she and Johann were no more, and then dragged on as customers kept asking him annoying questions, like: ‘Which soap is better?’ ‘Do you recommend plain beans or barbeque beans at a barbeque?’ and even ‘Which aisle are tampons in?’ To top it off, between every few horrible songs played came the store’s deli advertising of: ‘If it ain’t prepped, it ain’t Sheps’.’

Johann needed to get off the sales floor. He dragged the large bag of garbage he’d accumulated throughout the evening and took the shortcut through the stockroom that led to the receiving area and went straight up to a door with a sign that read: 'Must Be 18 Years Of Age Or Older To Operate!’ Johann opened the door and saw that the compactor was full. He used a metal pole to push the boxes through so they could get crushed. He pushed in the key to operate the machine. The boxes slid down and got shredded. That brought a smile to the teenager’s face. He had to push the key three times to clear the path for his garbage.

“Bombs away!” Johann threw his trash into the compactor and pressed hard on the key once more.

Nothing happened.

“What the hell?! Come on!” Johann pulled over a small stool so he could see what was wrong. He stepped onto it and leaned in to get a closer look, knowing better than to go any further; he didn’t need to lose his job on top of everything else. He looked deep inside.

The lights went out. Everything lost power. Through the walls, he overheard customers panicking and his fellow coworkers calming them down.

Suddenly, the stool Johann was standing on went out from under him and he felt something hoist him up into the compactor.

“This isn’t funny, man!” he shouted, having no idea what was going on.

He turned around and started climbing his way out, managing to reach the door and push it back open. Then the door flung back shut twice as fast, nailing him right between the eyes. Stunned, the fighting teenager began sliding down the compactor.

All of a sudden, the power turned back on. Everything was running again, including the compactor.

“Augh! Auggghhh! Auggggghhhhh!” were the screams coming from behind the compactor door as Johann was being compressed and shredded to death.


*****



That same Monday night, Donnie was at the movies. Just as the movie ended and it was time to get up and leave the theatre, he received a text message. Looking around first to make sure nobody was watching him, Donnie looked at his phone.

All the message said was: ‘Two.


*****



On Friday, July 15, 2016, Bobby Kravitz was supposed to meet his father at property belonging to one of his clients to work at eight in the morning. That was Bobby’s punishment for getting arrested and bringing shame to the Kravitz name. Of course, his father bailed him out, just as any father would do for his son, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t be disciplined.

The family business was successful for generations. For a small company that was born in Ocala, it had become quite popular, especially in the northern counties of Florida, where it’d be hard for any resident to be unfamiliar with the name Kravitz Homebuilders; it was plastered everywhere in sight.

Bobby strolled onto the site at 8:07 am, sipping coffee from a large disposable foam cup. He walked over to a group of workers and asked, “Where’s Dad?”

The construction workers laughed.

“‘Where’s Dad?’” mocked a supervisor.

“Well, where is he, Mathias? I ain’t got all day!”

“Neither do we. We actually have to make a living, unlike yourself, a spoiled rich brat who can get by with a thumb up his ass and have Daddy bail him out of jail. But guess what, Blobby? Today you find out what it’s like to get dirty.”

“It’s Bobby! Do you know who my dad is?”

Mathias couldn’t help but laugh, continuing his imitations. “‘Do you know who my dad is?’ Yes, I do. He’s a man I actually do respect. He gave me an opportunity here. It was no handout, like you’re used to getting. Now get over there and help those guys out with the wood.” The worker extended his arms out, palms flat, hard against the delinquent teen’s body, causing him to fall.

All the surrounding construction workers laughed.

“You can’t touch me! I’ll make sure my dad fires you.”

“I just did. I also have your dad’s number right here.” Mathias unclipped his cell phone from his belt and waved it in Bobby’s face. “By the way, he gave me permission to treat you however I want. If I want to break your nose, I can. If I want to kick you in the nuts, I can. You can’t do a damn thing about. Now get to work!” Mathias clenched his fist.

Bobby flinched like a scared little girl. He got up and walked over to the other construction workers. He helped them gather, measure, and cut lumber. The workers were giving him somewhat of a break, letting him use the hand saw; he might not have realized that it was only because they didn’t want to be responsible for letting a spoiled kid who had no idea what he was doing use power tools. Bobby was sweating like hell as the bright sun was shining down on him, but it was mostly due to the fact that he’d never worked a day in his life.

The construction team took an hour break for lunch. Bobby used the time to call his father and yell at him for how the workers were treating him. The response he got was to man up. His father reminded him that he could be in prison and explained that he wouldn’t be in his own cell; he’d be sharing everything with everyone, so working at a construction site should be a walk in the park for him. Then he told Bobby that he should be appreciative and hung up.

After lunch, Bobby reported back to work. He continued laboring with the large pile of lumber. He felt his cell phone slip out of his pocket. Bobby bent down to get it. A warm gust of wind blew his hard hat off his head.

"What gives, man?"

Bobby followed his hard hat as it skipped along the ground. It became hard to catch up with as it led him towards the edge of the client’s property. Finally, he got down on his knees and reached for it, but dirt blew in his eyes, practically blinding him. There was a tap on his right shoulder. He turned quickly and looked behind him. Nobody was there. A 2x4 smashed Bobby right in the skull with full force. He was hit left and right with the board of wood until he lay motionless.

Soon after, the rest of the workers returned from their breaks. One of them noticed Bobby lying still on the ground and hurried over to him. He saw the unconscious teen’s face was cut and saw a piece of lumber next to his head. The worker immediately went to inform the supervisor.

Mathias took his time making his way over to see what happened to Bobby, the rest of his construction team in tow. He walked over to the body and squatted down next to it. “I’d better call his father. One good thing that came out of this is this spoiled rich kid actually got dirty,” he kidded. “Back to work, everyone!”


*****



Donnie was spending the day playing an online game in his room. He heard a text come in. He reached for his cell phone, opened the message, and read it aloud to himself. “One.


*****



Later that evening, the Borders were eating dinner together. Dan told the family about some recent arrests. Sally mentioned which groceries were on sale for the week. Donnie basically kept quiet.

After dinner, Sally started washing the dishes. Donnie went up to his room and closed the door, not realizing his father wasn’t far behind him.

Knock, knock.

“Come in.”

“Hey, Donnie... is everything okay?”

“You just wouldn’t understand, Dad.”

"Try me."

“Do you believe in ghosts? Not the ones in cartoons, but actual ghosts… like when someone dies, then tries contacting you.”

“Not so much. But there’s been some strange stuff happening in this town. For instance, those thugs who killed Robert are suddenly ending up dead. Not that they don’t deserve it, but nobody knows how to explain it.”

“Well, I’ve been getting weird texts from Robert’s cell phone number. I told myself it can’t be him because he’s dead.”

“And his phone’s been disconnected, out of service… however you want to say it… since the day after his funeral. Tommy mentioned canceling his plan that day. He was telling me how hard it was for him and Ellen to start going through Robert’s stuff.”

“It seems like he’s avenging his own death. He’s counting down the deaths of the thugs who killed him and texting me after it happens.”

“Donnie, this is between me and you, and maybe your mom. Sanders and I read the reports for each accident, and the circumstances of all three of them are highly unlikely. Another thing… there’s a pendant that looks like the one Robert was buried with--the star in a circle--that’s been found at all three scenes. Now how does that happen?”

"No idea."

“Only favor I ask of you, son, is that you tell nobody outside this house anything and that you don’t volunteer anything.”

Donnie nodded in agreement.


*****



Late Sunday night, July 24, 2016, Louis Martine, more commonly known as ‘Louie Da Sluggah,’ was at the local batting cage, practicing his swings. It was closed to the general public since it was after hours, but that didn’t stop him. There were many things that Louie Da Sluggah got away with, murder being among the most recent. Something else that worked out rather well for him recently was receiving a scholarship; the privileged young man would soon be attending college in Miami to play baseball, and might even be considered for the major leagues. Also, he knew he wouldn’t get in trouble at the batting cage; the owner was a friend of the family. Louis Martine’s father was an important man with a lot of connections. Louie had developed plenty of ties to the community himself.

Louie loaded the pitching machine with baseballs and programmed it to pitch twenty balls. He put on a helmet and grabbed a wooden bat from the rack, ready to swing.

First pitch from the machine and Louie belted it hard. “Is that all ya got?!”

Pitch number two, he hit a line drive. “Oh, your mom was good last night!”

Three pitches later, Louie decided to change things up. He reached for a metal bat on the rack. Standing at the five-sided white marking representing home plate, the teenager demanded the machine to fire it in. Not to his surprise, he got the same results with the metal bat; all perfect swings.

After the eighth pitch, Louie was getting bored. He walked over to the machine and adjusted the settings, increasing the speed so the pitches would be much faster.

Pitch number nine. “You can do better than that!”

Suddenly, he heard a sound and got distracted. He looked around. All the bats had fallen off the rack. “Who’s there? Show yourself, you little punk!”

Louie resumed batting stance. Pitch number ten came straight at his head at 80mph. He ducked just in the nick of time. “What the hell?!”

Irate, Louie marched over to the pitching machine and noticed it was facing a different direction. He straightened it back and started walking back to home plate.

Getting back into position, he noticed something was off. The machine was pointing towards center field. “This isn’t funny anymore! Losing my patience here!”

Once again, Louie walked over and straightened the machine to pitch towards home plate. As he was walking back, he tripped, flying forward. Confused as to what could have possibly been in the way, he turned around and got hit with a baseball going 80mph. He put his hand over his heart, where the ball had struck him. As he was holding his chest and gasping for air, he looked up and noticed the machine had moved again.

Walking slowly towards the machine, Louie was cursing up a storm. Then the machine fired another ball at him, but at 90mph, hitting the delinquent in the nuts. He fell like a sack of potatoes. Tears beginning to fall from his eyes, he held himself, hoping not much damage was done; he wasn’t wearing a cup.

Louie felt his baseball helmet being taken off his head. Then it was flung far to the side. There was not much he could do with the amount of pain he was in. He could only lie still, unable to move.

A final pitch shot out at 100mph, hitting him directly in his temple. Louie Da Sluggah completely blacked out, never to wake up again.


*****



A few minutes later that very same night, Donnie received a text. Reluctant to look at it, he knew he had to.

From Robert’s cell phone was the message: ‘Then there were none.’ Next to it was a baseball symbol with two X’s to represent eyes.


*****



The next morning, a maintenance worker dialed 911, informing the police that there was a dead body inside the batting cage.


*****



On Friday night, July 29, 2016, the Borders spent some quality time together, playing a board game.

“Just to let you both know, those thugs who killed Robert last month have been accounted for. All four of them wound up dead.”

“Is that possible?” Sally questioned her husband.

“Let’s just say Robert was looking out. Right, Donnie?” Dan winked at his son.

“Right, Dad.”

A few minutes later, Donnie received two text messages from Robert’s cell phone. He had thought the whole thing was over, and didn’t want to be haunted by his best friend anymore. He slowly opened the text, and then showed it to his parents. His mother was a little nervous until he and his father explained everything, which helped her to calm down.

The first text was: ‘Donnie… Thank you for being my best friend. I’ve avenged my own death. Your family’s been so great to me over the years and I will miss them as well, but I have to move on. See you on the other side, man.

The second text was a picture of Donnie, Dan, and Sally playing the board game. In the background was a foggy figure with the pentagram pendant and the 1993 Tales From The Crypt T-shirt that Robert was wearing when he was buried.


THE END


2017 James J. Murphy III

Bio: James J. Murphy III and Lisa G. Murphy are a married couple that live in New York. They both love watching movies, listening to tunes, and reading. James is the author of The Nursing Home, a horror novel that he and Lisa chose to self-publish in September 2010. James and Lisa have been working on short stories together and hope to sometime come out with a collection of them.

E-mail: James J. Murphy III

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