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Joshua Ericson was dead; it wasn’t my problem. Word on the street was that the freak couldn’t take any more of the “bullying” and took the coward’s way out yesterday night. He was gone now, and would soon buried in some sad old cemetery beneath a bittersweet headstone draped with a wreath made by some kids who barely even knew him. The whole ordeal devastated his parents, so their solution was to threaten to press criminal charges. There was a lack of evidence to prove that any misconduct had occurred. No antagonizing messages could be found, nor any eyewitnesses willing to step up and explain the “bullying” that occurred. The charges were all a waste.
Why, then, did I feel so guilty about the entire situation? I did nothing wrong. He had tied a checkered blanket around his scrawny little neck and killed himself. Why was I pacing back and forth across the living room listening to the soles of my Converse slap against the hardwood flooring? Why were my hands trembling and lips quivering and black hairs standing on edge on top of my bronze neck? What was wrong with me?
A beeping interrupted my internal monologue. I shoved a fist into the pocket of my black, straight-fit jeans and pulled out my glossy black cell phone.
“Hey, Mom,” I answered. “What’s up?”
“Your father and I just checked into our hotel,” she said, “and I just wanted to remind you that the wake for that Joshua boy is tomorrow.”

“Is it?” I really didn’t care.

“His family must be devastated.”

“I’m sure,” I answered dryly.

“It would be nice if you showed up, Cody,” she offered.

I rolled my eyes. I barely wanted to be near the freak when he was alive, let alone dead. “I didn’t really know him.” It was at that moment that the slightest ripple in time and space grabbed my attention. It was a small movement, perhaps not even a movement at all as much as a change in reality itself. My back was to my brown leather couch and the flat-screened television was tucked into the corner of the room to my right, next to the wall-length window that looked out to the California weather and the goliath sycamore on our emerald lawn. On the right wall was a red brick chimney slithering up florid wallpaper. On the left wall, above the doorway leading to the pearly white grand foyer of my Granada Hills mansion, hung a framed black-and-white photograph of my grandfather, the man who opened the law firm and brought my family wealth and prestige. Somewhere deep in this picture, a foreign movement as slight as the flutter of an eyelid caught my attention.

“Something about the eyes,” I murmured to myself. It was some change of feature in the eyes of my grandfather. He sat in a plush leather chair with his hands folded gingerly on his lap and his chin held high. He was clothed in a tuxedo and top hat. My grandfather was in his forties at the time, but he could easily be mistaken as a ninety-year-old. His face was wrinkled like a plastic bag from a hard life of work and vaguely resembled that of a body lying in an open casket, but an I-don’t-want-to-be-in-this-picture-but-I’ll-smile-anyways smile gave his countenance life.

Suddenly, his eyes that stared off into the distance came to life and moved in my direction. His smile vanished, his brow furrowed, and he slowly lifted his tuxedoed arms and folded them across his chest. I jumped back and felt something brush behind me.

Suspended in the air was the body of Joshua Ericson, as pale as a ghost and unfortunately small as ever. He was a mannequin with colored eyes and bruises. His forearms appeared dipped in slimy black oil from the pooling of blood occurring shortly after he hung himself, and what vaguely resembled a clump of raspberries protruded from swollen lips. Is that what his parents saw when they found his body? Did the coward really do that to himself?

“You did.” I whirled around yet again to see my grandfather’s lips move.

My mouth moved, but my voice was afraid to come out of my mouth and project itself. “Did…what?” I finally croaked.

“You’re a murderer.” My grandfather’s words hit me and I turned back to find the apparition of Joshua gone and replaced by my glass coffee table. “You are guilty.” Echoes of past encounters with Joshua Ericson began to swirl in my mind, and I heard myself calling him a loser and a shrimp and other names that made me cringe. For how long had I tortured the kid for being so short? Since kindergarten? Did Joshua really have to live with my abuse up until his ninth grade year?

“I’m not a murderer. Josh…killed…himself…” Forcing the words out seemed bitter. I knew I was wrong. “He did it! I’m innocent!”

My grandfather sat back down in his portrait and returned to the life of a painting, but the eyes remained glued on me, following me wherever I paced throughout the room.

“Stop staring!” It seemed like an absolutely preposterous idea to waste my time shrieking at a painting, but those eyes! They were driving me insane! I felt my stomach begin to drop and my legs begin to weaken. A cold chill wormed its way up my spine. “Stop it!” Beads of icy sweat were pooling under my arms and trickling down my forehead. Thump…thump…thump… My heart beat like a bass drum and with each beat sent tremors throughout my body. “Stop…” Thump…thump…thump… Faster and faster my heart raced, like a train speeding off a rocky cliff. It was maddening! I took my phone out of my pocket and threw it at the picture frame, watching it fall to the ground and shatter in broken glass and blocks of wood. Thump…thump…thump… Did I really kill Joshua? Was it my fault? Did I deserve to live anymore?

“STOP!” With a scream that I could barely hear myself, I threw my black sweatshirt and tee off of my tall and lanky body and began to claw away at the skin of my chest. If my heart wasn’t going to stop beating, I’d gouge it out of my chest. I killed him! My nails dug canyons into the soft, tan flesh above my heart. “MAKE IT STOP!” Like a fish out of water I flailed onto my sofa and began tearing out locks of the raven hair on my head. I kicked my legs and beat my fists and dug my nails deeper and deeper into my chest and screamed until my raw throat could handle no more.

I stood up, grabbed my thick black sweatshirt off of the ground, and prepared myself to march outside. Like Judas Iscariot I would tie the sweatshirt around my neck and hang myself from the sycamore. Evil didn’t deserve to live.
I had barely made it to the grand foyer when my legs refused to move anymore. I couldn’t do it. I had just killed an innocent boy, and I couldn’t even hide from it. Maybe he wasn’t a coward for killing himself. He had gone through more agony in his life than even my bleeding chest could imagine.

I needed to do something. I returned to my living room and picked my cell phone out of the remains of the painting. Joshua Ericson’s parents were devastated. So devastated, in fact, that they threatened criminal charges just to know what kind of monster drove their son to suicide.

Knowing that criminal charges were waiting for me, but truly just not caring anymore, I fished through my contact list until I found the number I had never called before. I figured Joshua’s landline would be busy with calls to funeral homes and such, but maybe his parents would notice if his cell phone rang.

I pressed the call button and listened to the ringing.

“Hello?” a woman’s voice answered weakly.

“Mrs. Ericson?” I asked slowly. “My name is Cody Donovan, and I’m responsible for your son’s death.”





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