The Incident. Part 16

As Cooper and Todd search the ruins of the middle school, Alex makes a call to a missing friend, and Gregg gives in to temptation.

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"No, f--k you" the boy muttered to himself, still half-asleep as he reached blindly in the dark of his dorm room for the phone on his nightstand. It had been buzzing non-stop for nearly an hour, and at this point, it was truly beginning to affect his nap. Feeling his hand close around the phone, he nonchalantly tossed it against the opposite wall, where it bounced lazily off the Between the Buried and Me poster. Feeling a sense of relief, the boy gave a warm sigh and lulled back into pseudo-unconsciousness. Then came the nonstop buzz of a phone call.

Roaring maniacally, he tore the sheets off of himself and leapt across the room, diving behind his desk with fury to grab the Nokia from the ground. Still snarling to himself, the boy placed the phone to his ear and pressed the green call button.

"'ello?" he managed to mutter in his tired state, eyes drooping as he rested his head on the cold tile floor.

"Gavin?" asked a familiar voice.

"Alex?" replied Gavin, now more awake upon hearing a friendly voice from his past. "The f--k?"

"Dude, it's been a long time!" rang Alex's obnoxiously loud voice through the tiny speaker on the phone. Feeling lazy, Gavin switched the call to speaker and placed the phone tenderly on his desk as he rose to his feet, still feeling rather groggy.

"Like, two months, dude," Gavin corrected, stretching his whole body in preparation for another long day in class. Berklee had taken its toll on Gavin's mental health. He was more than skilled enough to get by in regards to his classes, but there was something lurking beneath the surface that had been killing him softly. He just couldn't put his finger on it.

"Yeah" admitted Alex awkwardly, "but I mean, we miss you, man!"

Sighing, Gavin pulled the blinds up, revealing the bright sun of midday. He hadn't been sleeping through the night, so how better to remedy his utter loss of cognition than midday naps? Of course, it was hard to get these naps in if others were insisting on calling him. Now illuminated in the bright Boston sun, Gavin tore his shirt off and tossed it aside.

"Get to the point, dude," Gavin implored, tearing into the makeshift closet near the door and selecting a rather dirty-looking Led Zeppelin shirt.

"We're havingsome issues," Alex admitted, his voice faltering towards the end of his sentence. "We could really use your help."

"In what way?" Gavin asked, suddenly quite intrigued. The life he had left behind was certainly more interesting than the looming theology assignment he had yet to complete. In high school, he had never managed to make friends in his own grade, and instead had chosen to befriend the much more appealing gents a year younger. The boys back home had been his only respite from himself. They were his best friends, regardless of distance. He just hoped they missed him as much as he missed them.

"It's a long story, really," Alex laughed, a hint of nervousness in his voice. "Things have changed quite a bit."

Gavin smirked at the irony of Alex's statement. Glancing out the window, Gavin could see a number of people wandering on the campus green, but not one of them ever bothered to look up at the dorms above the first floor. Not fearing anyone would see him, Gavin plopped himself back into his chair and glanced down at his hand. Channeling his tired fury into the tips of his fingers, Gavin watched with a feeling of boredom as his fingertips erupted in smokeless orange flame. There was no pain in the flames; only the distant sound of anguished screams, which he couldn't be sure were only in his head.

"Yeah," Gavin muttered in the direction of the phone as he glanced out the window into the bright light radiating inward. "You're not gonna believe how much I've changed."

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"I've seen your band play, you know," said Todd as he rounded the corner, disappearing into the dark side-alley that divided the skeleton of the burned-out school and a fenced-in open field. Cooper followed close behind, not wanting to lose sight of his unlikely ally in the darkening light of the sunset.

"Oh?" replied Cooper, not really caring whether Todd had or not. This conversation was vapid; an attempt to lighten the moment as Todd led Cooper into god-knows-what. Todd had merely said that he had something to show Cooper. Not being one to refuse a chance to save himself and Bobby, Cooper had readily agreed to follow Todd toward the skeleton that had once been the middle school. But just because Todd was helping, didn't mean Cooper didn't have his guard up.

Todd didn't bother responding to Cooper's vague reply, and instead simply continued down the alley, running his calloused hand along the scarred brick of the wall beside him. There was a sort of malicious glee in his eyes and he rounded the next corner and stopped at the wall before him, wringing his hands as if they were cold. Cooper rolled up behind him, and took a sharp breath in as he beheld the writing on the wall before him: a massive pentagram, scribbled on the wall using the ashes from the school.

"Did you do this?" Cooper asked, fearing he had walked right into a trap.

"Not likely," Todd replied, snarling at the pentagram, "this is fresh. Someone's been here recently. And I think we both know who."

Not wasting a moment, Cooper immediately pulled his phone from his pocket and began snapping photos from multiple angles. As he maneuvered the image, Todd crossed his arms and rolled his eyes.

"You're not going to get much out of those photos, numbnuts."

"What do you mean?" Cooper asked, not even looking away from the pentagram.

"There's nothing new to see here," continued Todd, walking up to the wall and running his hand across the circle of the pentagram, breaking the flow of the design. "No symbol except fer the pentagram. Vicky's gonna have nothin' new to work with. Not that she'd be too good at it, anyhow."

"So it's just another summoning circle" sighed Cooper, lowering his phone in defeat. He kicked at a pebble on the concrete and it skittered away into the rubble of the school. For the most part, the school still had its basic structure: the frame of the entire building was still standing, aside from the roof and a part of the second floor, which had collapsed during the blaze. But everything inside was either completely burned away or charred into an unrecognizable mess. It was hardly worth looking at.

"Then why are you showing me this?" asked Cooper with an upturned eyebrow. Todd merely grinned in response, shrugging his lanky shoulders.

"It shows that he's been here," Todd replied through vile, yellowed teeth. "Your little friend's been around."

"Bobby was here?" Cooper echoed, his voice traveling through the ruins and bouncing back at him. For a moment, the two stood in silence, taking in the sight of the pentagram, a small corner of it smudged thanks to Todd's hand. Then, without warning, there came a sound from deep inside the ruins of the school. It started low, and gradually built, as if a cat were slowly being bled to death. It was a horrible, blood-curdling scream, burning through the night like a runaway train. It chilled the veins.

Cooper and Todd took no chances, and immediately turned on their heels and ran for their lives, unsure of what had made the scream, and honestly not caring at this point. Their only thought was to get as far away as possible.

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Closing the door behind him, Gregg didn't exactly expect to come face to face with his bloodless houseguest, albeit upside down. It seemed that she had been waiting for him, feet to the ceiling as she hung upside down right in front of the doorway, her red sweater hanging loosely about her shoulders.

"Jesus, God!" Gregg shouted in surprise, leaping backwards against the wall. Then upon realizing it was just Selina: "Oh, Selina. Don't do that! Jeez!"

It was then that Gregg finally noticed Selina's odd placement. She raised an eyebrow, as if to question his confusion at her ability to hang from the ceiling.

"What?" she asked.

"How do you?"

She snorted comically in response, dropping from the ceiling and inexplicably landing on her own two feet and rising to meet Gregg's confused glance. He had never really noticed how tall she was, but at this moment, he realized she was only two or three inches shorter than his 5'11" frame.

"I've been living here for what, a month now?" Selina pondered, looking Gregg up and down as if she were questioning a suspect in a murder case. "And you're still surprised at some of the things I do?"

"I guess I shouldn't," Gregg admitted, shrugging his backpack off his shoulders and tossing onto the nearby couch. "There's still so much to learn about you andyour kind."

As he spoke, it seemed Selina wasn't paying attention. Her eyes were still in full-blown detective mode, scanning every inch of Gregg's awkward physique, as if searching for a dead giveaway clue. But as she lost interest in what he was saying, Gregg noticed her nostrils begin to flare, and a look of mixed fright and anger spread across her normally tranquil face.

Nostrils still flaring, she bent over slightly to sniff his chest. As she returned to her normal posture, Gregg felt her initial warmness melt away into a frustration.

"I can smell it on you," she muttered, pulling his face in closer to hers with both hands upon his jaw. Her forked, snakelike tongue emerged from between her blue-gray lips and twirled about his top lip, taking in everything he had tasted in the past week. Despite the awkwardness of the moment, not for one moment did Gregg see the fire leave her eyes. Pulling away, she scoffed at him.

"I can taste her on your lips," she sneered, her normally pretty face scrunched into a horrible scowl. Gregg had to admit at this moment that she was quite appealing despite her state of being. She might have even been beautiful if blood had coursed through her cheeks. In life, she had probably been quite cute, but in death, she was as the rest of the eternally asleep: gray, cold, and empty.

"What of it?" Gregg asked defensively, taking a step back and folding his arms over his chest in an effort to hide his true self. But even as he attempted to stand against her, his mind couldn't escape the closeness of the previous moment. He had been used. She had probed him for information, not drawn him in for affection. It was becoming hard to differentiate between the two feelings.

"Gregg, you can't do this," she answered with a certain look in her blue eyes. She was reading him like a book, as she always knew how to. "You're endangering your soul. If she falls in love with you again"

"She won't," Gregg answered boldly, "it's purely physical. No emotion. Making out. That's all."

"You can't ensure her feelings remain cold," Selina grumbled, turning her back to him and taking a few steps toward the kitchen. "She can always fall right back in love with you. And then you're right back on hell's to-do list."

There was a pause, and Selina felt a cold chill travel down her spine. For a moment, she wondered if it had been at the thought of Gregg disappearing into a fiery hole, forever lost to time. In a way, she was the only thing he had left. He had no parents, no siblings, no family. He was alone except for her. But as she turned back to face him, ready to apologize, she instead was met with the sight of Gregg with his finger to his chin. He was reading HER now, turning the tables.

"Time for ME to play detective," he said with a distinct disdain in his voice. "You've been playing games with me all this time. Bonding with me, and then pushing me away. It's a mind game. You get off on it. This is your bread and butter. Messing with the kid with no sense of social structure."

"What?" Selina shot back, aghast at Gregg's allegations.

"You must have a reason for coming here," Gregg continued, "aside from just because you can. You're running from something. Something or someone. And you need to be protected. You need someone to tell you it's alright, and that there's a safe haven in their arms. Am I right?"

"You don't even" Selina sputtered, attempting to fire back. But Gregg was on a roll. He was reading her with careful precision; hitting all the right nerves of the heart. Just as Selina had done a moment earlier, Gregg sniffed the air spitefully, a smug smile adorning his lips.

"You smell like smoke," he said, "a lot of it. You've been smoking to relieve some sort of nervousness. I saw the stains on your fingers."

Hearing this, Selina raised her hand to her own face to look. Indeed, between her long, pale middle and index fingers, there was a distinctly yellow stain. Ashamed for the first time in a long time, she lowered her head to stare at her bare feet. If she were able to, she would have blushed in this instant.

"And you're wearing the same red sweater you wore the first night I met you," Gregg said, pointing at the clothing in question, "is there some sort of special meaning to it? Someone give you it? Did you make it?"

Selina didn't answer. She simply kept her head down and rose a few inches above the ground, hovering there for an instant before floating to the door leading to the basement. For an instant, she glanced upward at Gregg, her eyes filled with a sense of defeat. He froze, suddenly very aware of his cruel demeanor. In an effort to redeem himself, he said her name aloud and took a step toward her, hand outstretched. But it was far too late for such gestures. A second later, Selina disappeared down the stairs and somberly closed the door behind her.

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As Cooper and Todd approached the safety of Cooper's neighborhood, Todd began to slow, going from an outright sprint down to a lazy jog, then finally, a walking pace. Cooper, seeing this, slowed his own pace, but still had the edge burning the back of his mind; there was still adrenaline in his veins.

"Why are you slowing down?" asked Cooper, looking over his shoulder at the oddly calm Todd.

"Calm your tits, there's nothing chasing us," Todd replied casually, glancing over his shoulder and into the darkness behind him. "F--ked up sound, but no balls to actually chase us."

"Jesus," Cooper sighed, falling into Todd's casual walk. Now breathing quite heavily, Cooper led the way as the duo marched back into town. Within a few moments of eerie silence, they had reached the odd structure Cooper called home. Todd had never really been to Cooper's home before, so the sight of an old brick house with barbed wire on the rain gutters surprised him quite a bit.

"Quite a shithole you got here, Benjie," Todd snorted, laughing a bit at referring to Cooper's first name, which Todd was quite aware he despised.

"Thanks," Cooper replied flatly, rolling his eyes at Todd's lack of tact. Realizing at this point that his father was more likely than not about 5 beers in, Cooper forewent trying the front door and instead went for the tin garage door, which had been improbably bent in half sometime in the past. Bending over, he scurried under the opening, with Todd merely bending down to look in.

"We're going back," Todd announced simply, looking quite bored with the results of the day's trip into the school's skeleton. Cooper laughed nervously and turned back to look Todd in the eye.

"Are you crazy?" Cooper asked, then realized that in all likelihood, Todd Langley was, indeed, insane. "You heard thatscreech or whatever it was. I ain't going anywhere near it."

"It's either go with me tomorrow," said Todd lazily, looking over his dirty fingernails in an oddly casual manner, "or never find your friend. Your choice, moron."

And with that, Todd Langley rose to his feet and went on his merry way, never once looking back at Benjamin Cooper's house. He had many, many things to go over in his twisted little mind before tomorrow came.

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