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Break For Madness

This was not what he expected.

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He watched as the blood ran its small river, falling off her chin to cascade onto her chest as the gentle rise and fall of her bosom ceased. This was not what he expected. This was not how this day was supposed to end.

Ben stepped into the bright sunshine of the day. Many of the other students were running past him as they left; some bumping into him, none of them apologized. They irritated him. Some would holler, “Hey Dover!” it was not a greeting of endearment. That nickname started his freshman year, about the same time as the wedgies. The wedgies had tapered off, but the name stuck. Just one more year of school to go and he wouldn’t have to look at any of them again.

He was tallish with brown eyes and brown hair that was turning blonder now that summer was almost here. He had his small group of friends, but most of the others picked on him, especially the jocks. He didn’t play sports and was mostly a social misfit. He had skipped a grade coming into high school; so at just sixteen, this made him a year younger than everyone else in his Junior class. This didn’t help him any.

So, alone he walked, headed towards home or wherever he landed between here and there. He ignored the rude comments the best he could, instead, letting his mind drift to Tracy as he often did when he was having a rough day. Tracy was the only girl who had ever shown him kindness. He thought about the day they had met. He had been on his way home when he was approached by three older kids. They had dumped his backpack and were about to dump him into a trash can when she intervened. When she told them to stop, they did, looking at her with some sort of reverence. They put him down and ran off laughing. He stood there staring at his savior, this angel with blond hair and blue eyes.

She had a genuine look of concern, “Are you okay?”

“Yes, thanks,” his voice was little more than a croak.

“I’m sorry,” her eyes were sympathetic.

“You have no control over them,” he was still in awe of her.

“I know,” she tore off a piece of paper and began to write. “Here,” handing him the paper, “it’s my email. Hit me up if you ever need to talk, I’m Tracy.”

“Okay,” he absently took the scrap of paper and she was gone. He had expected it to be fake, just another joke on him. But three days later, he emailed her and to his surprise, she responded. They had been talking ever since. That was almost two years ago. He hadn’t seen her again, and was too scared to suggest they meet up; but he looked forward to their conversations, like a pen pal, a guardian angel pen pal who always made him feel better. She knew him better than anyone, and he thought, hoped, he knew her as well.

~

Lindsay walked down the sidewalk, lost in thoughts about Joe, imagining what he’d be doing about now. Practice ended about twenty minutes ago, he could still be in the shower. She contemplated, as images of his strong physique and jet-black hair ran through her mind.

“Hey, hon.” Lindsay was startled out of her thoughts by Joe’s voice and almost dropped her phone. “What were you dreaming about?”

“Oh, nothing. Just this weekend,” Lindsay shrugged.

Joe gave a sage look, “Yeah, I feel so… Old. Eighteen. It’s gonna be great though.”

“Yeah, it is,” Lindsay made a mental note of everyone to make sure she hadn’t forgotten to invite anyone. Too bad Joe’s parents wouldn’t allow a party like they wanted to have. But Joe’s best friend Steve had already planned a big party for the following weekend at the lake, so it was all good.

“Hey, let’s go to the diner and grab a burger. I’m starved.”

Lindsay looked at Joe. “And ruin this cheerleader bod? Are you nuts? And what if I get a pimple?” Joe gave Lindsay an exasperated look. “I’m teasing. I’d love to.”

“Great! I’m buying.”

As they sat down in a booth they heard a familiar voice, “Hey! Joe, Lin!” It was Joe’s best friend, Steve, “Mind if we join you?”

Joe greeted the couple, “No, have a seat. Hi, Sara.”

“Hi, Joe,” she answered back as a waitress arrived to take their orders.

“So, any new additions to the birthday list?” Steve looked hopeful.

Joe groaned, “No, not yet. We have to keep the list small, my parents are being a pain in the ass. I can invite one more person, my folks think it should be someone for my sister to hang out with.”

“Let’s invite Ben Iris.” Sara looked at them straight-faced.

“Why would we want to invite that… Loser?” Steve questioned, for lack of a better word.

“Because, I have an idea, a trick,” Sara leaned in. They all gathered around her to hear her idea. “This is what we’ll do: we’ll invite him to the party, then around eight o’clock, when it’s dark out, I’ll suggest that we play Hide and Seek. We’ll ask him to be “it”, and he, being so excited about being there, will say ‘yes’. We’ll play in the woods, then we’ll get him lost and maybe go get him after he’s scared out of his wits and probably screaming his head off!” At that last remark, they all laughed.

~

“Ben!” Joe called as he ran down the hallway towards Ben.

“Hi, Joe.” Ben waited. “What’s up?”

“Well,” Joe said, stopping beside Ben. “I was wondering if you’d like to come to my birthday party tomorrow?”

Ben was dumbfounded. “Sure, but why would you want me to come?”

Surprised by the query, Joe quickly came up with a response, “Well, everyone there is going to have their boyfriend or girlfriend with them, except my little sister, she’s fifteen. So I was hoping you’d come to even the odds so that she doesn’t feel like an oddball.”

“Sure, I guess. I’ll be there,” Ben stammered.

“Great, come by around ten a.m. Later,” already trotting off.

“Bye,” Ben responded to no one, then walked home. Alone.

~

“Hi mom,” Ben said as he entered his house.

“Oh! Hi dear,” his mother answered without looking up from her dinner preparations.

“Mom, I’ve been invited to Joe Myers’ birthday party this Saturday. Can I go? It’s a sleep-over.”

“Joe? The head of the basketball team?” Her tone was quizzical, but she did not look away from what she was doing.

“Yeah.”

“Why of course dear. Now, go get your father for supper, he’s in the garage,” she continued to set the table, not bothering to look at Ben.

“Okay, thanks, mom.”

Ben woke up at seven o’clock the next morning. He ate, showered, dressed, combed his hair, brushed his teeth, then packed his knapsack.

Ben entered the kitchen. “Morning, mom. What time is it?”

“It’s… Eight-thirty.” His mother was busy making pancakes.

“Thanks, see ya later.” Ben hurried toward the door.

His mother feigned offense, “Aren’t you going to eat? Why are you leaving so early?”

“I already ate, and I’m going early because I have a couple of things to do first,” Ben tried to not sound impatient.

“Oh. Do you have everything?”

Ben rolled his eyes. “Yes.”

“Pants, shirt, toothbrush, toothpaste,” his mother continued.

“Yes,” Ben interrupted.

“Underwear and socks?”

“Yes, mom, see ya,” he answered impatiently, then went out the door.

“Bye,” his mother said to the door.

It was five minutes to ten when Ben walked up the driveway to Joe’s house. As he climbed the three steps to the front door, he heard rock-n-roll playing in the backyard. He rang the doorbell and waited, a few seconds later it was opened by an average-sized blonde woman with big, beautiful blue eyes.

“Hi!” she said, “you must be Ben. I’m Joe’s mother Elaine, but you can call me Lainey, everybody else does,” she continued with her voice that told she could be quite loquacious. “The rest of the kids are out back, go down the hall, first right, through the kitchen, and out the door.”

“Thank you,” Ben responded.

As he stepped into the backyard and looked around he a gazebo, a love swing, an inground swimming pool, and a volleyball net. The whole backyard was surrounded by a six-foot red wooden fence, that became chain-link to border a forest. Everyone was playing volleyball, and Joe was the first to notice Ben.

“Hold the ball!” Joe called as he jogged toward Ben.

“Hi, Ben,” Joe slapped him on the arm. “Come on, I think you know everyone, Mike and Jackie, Steve and Sara, and of course, Lindsay.” They walked toward the center of Joe’s team where a girl was standing. “Ben, this is my sister Tracy. Tracy, this is Ben.”

“Hi, Tracy,” Ben croaked, unable to believe his eyes. A lump formed in his throat and he found it hard to breathe. Here stood his savior, his angel, the one girl who had been kind to him. He stared a moment taking in Tracy’s long golden hair and big beautiful blue eyes; like her mother.

“Hi, Ben,” Tracy beamed, recognizing him as well.

Joe was back in game mode, “Ben, you can stand here, next to Tracy. Okay, let’s play!”

~

Tracy looked at her watch, twelve o’clock, “Joe, I’m going to take a break okay?”

Joe barely acknowledged her, “Yeah, sure. Get it, Steve!”

“Come on, Ben, let’s sit awhile,” Tracy requested, pulling Ben toward the love swing.

“Alright,” Ben happily left the court to sit with her.

Tracy and Ben talked for about an hour, still in disbelief of this chance encounter.

“I’ve been wanting to meet up with you, but I was afraid you’d think I was weird if I asked,” Ben finally admitted.        

Tracy looked at Ben with an understanding look. “That’s funny, I’ve been thinking we should meet in person as well, but didn’t know how to say it. Ben, I think… I think I like you, despite your looks,” Tracy blushed realizing how what she said must have sounded. “I’m sorry, that’s not what I meant.”

“That’s okay, I’m used to it,” Ben said.

“No, really, I mean it, it’s natural, everybody gets pimples. I think you’re very nice looking.”

“Thanks. You’re beautiful.” This made Tracy blush even more.

“It sure got hot out here, let’s go swimming,” Sara panted as her body glistened with sweat.

“Yeah!” the rest of the group responded excitedly.

“Come on.” Tracy nudged Ben with her foot, as she peeled off her shirt.

“Okay,” Ben guiltily stole looks at Tracy as she waited.

“Last one in is a rotten egg!” Steve yelled and jumped in. There was a lot of screaming, yelling, and splashing as they all jumped in, Mike was the last one.

They swam until four o’clock when Joe’s parents called them out for ice cream and cake. They ate their food, and Joe opened his gifts, then everyone went into the house. They decided to take a break from swimming and to let their food digest. Joe looked inquisitively around the room, “What would everyone like to do now?”

“We could watch a movie,” Lindsay offered, holding Joe’s arm.

Sara gave a knowing smirk. “How about Friday the 13th? Part four, that one’s my favorite.” There was a general mumble of agreement, and the group went to the basement to watch the movie.

Ben relished the opportunity to hold Tracy and at least act brave as she buried her eyes in his arm during the scary scenes.

~

“So, what are we going to do now?” Jackie asked after the movie.

“Let’s go out back and dance,” Tracy suggested.

“Sounds good to me,” Mike exuded indifference.

“Sure, that’s a great idea,” Lindsay agreed as she headed out the door.

“Alright.” Joe followed. “I’ll D.J. too.”

They danced to a few fast songs, then listened to a couple of songs that couldn’t be danced to. Then Joe went and turned on the lights, as it was getting quite dark. He played a slow song, Sleepwalk, from the fifties. Everybody got up to dance.

Tracy looked at Ben. “Are you gonna kiss me?”

Ben was stunned. “What?”

“Kiss me,” she repeated. Ben leaned in and kissed her awkwardly. Tracy knew, felt, she was in love.

“Waooo! Ben,” Steve crooned, then laughed, the others laughed too, and Tracy blushed a deep red. Ben reddened, half embarrassed, half in irritation of the teasing he knew would come.

“Can I speak to you for a moment?” Joe whispered to Sara.

“Yeah, what is it?” she whispered back.

“What are we gonna do? I still want to play this joke on Ben, but I don’t want to hurt Tracy.”

“Come here and talk about this in private,” Sara said pulling Joe away.

“Okay,” he obliged.

~

“I’ll be right back,” Ben said to Tracy.

“You okay?” Tracy looked at him quizzically.

“Yeah, just need to get something out of my bag.” Ben walked to the back of the tool shed that was in the backyard; and listened to Joe and Sara talking.

“Yes, I want to do this, but like I said, I don’t want to hurt Tracy.” Joe glared.

“Then why’d you even involve her in all of this in the first place?” Sara scowled back.

“I needed some excuse for inviting him.”

“Well you mixed her up in it, so you’ll have to get her out of it.”

“I’ll think of something. You know, it wouldn’t be so bad, but I think she actually likes him!”

"Yeah, come on.”

At this, Ben went back and sat down beside Tracy.

“What’d ya have to get?” Tracy quizzed.

"This,” Ben answered, producing a gold necklace with a cross on it, which he always wore, “I took it off when I went swimming, but forgot to put it back on.”

“It’s pretty,” Tracy admired.

“You wear it,” Ben said putting it around her neck. “I don’t have a class ring yet.”

"Thanks,” Tracy reflected, giving Ben a flash of her beautiful smile.

~

“It’s almost eight, have you thought of something yet?” Sara whispered to Joe.

“Yeah,” he answered back.

“What?”

“You’ll soon know,” he replied, then called, “Tracy, will you come here for a minute?”

“Sure,” she answered back, “What do you need?” as she half-ran over to them from the other side of the pool where she had been sitting with Ben.

“Tracy, I don’t know how to tell you this,” Joe started.

“What?” Tracy asked curiously.

“Well, Ben, he has a girlfriend already, and they were feuding. Now, I am experienced in this field, and I know that Ben is just using you to get at his girl because he knows that today, and what has happened, will get back to her sooner or later.”

Tracey looked at her brother in disbelief. “He’s not using me. I feel it.”

“He is, would I lie to you? Have I ever lied to you? I just don’t want to see you get hurt,” Joe said convincingly. Tracy looked at him, remembering throughout her life that Joe had never lied to her, and she believed. Her eyes welled with tears, and turned and ran into the house, heartbroken, without consulting Ben.

“Clever, Joe,” Sara said. No one had noticed Ben standing nearby, and no one knew that he heard everything.

“What’s wrong with Tracy?” he asked innocently, as his anger welled inside him.

“Uh, nothing. She just remembered she had to do something,” Joe answered hurriedly.

“Oh,” Ben did all he could to hide his emotion.

“Let’s play Hide and Seek!” Sara suggested, there was a mutter of agreement, then she said, “Who’ll be IT.”

“I will,” Ben volunteered.

“Okay,” she replied, “Count to a hundred, slowly, then come find us okay?”

Ben’s blood was still boiling and he answered flatly, “Alright.”

Sara eyeballed the group. “Everyone must stay in the woods, okay?” There was another mutter of agreeance, then, “OK, start counting,” and they all dashed into the woods.

Ben started to count, loudly enough for the others to hear him, then he went around the pool to his bag. He pulled out a small hunting knife and clipped it onto his belt, then he took out a machete, items he had picked up earlier that day. When he reached one hundred, he walked into the woods.

He came to a spot in the middle of the woods where the trees thinned slightly. As he looked around he noticed Steve and Sara were sitting on their haunches, with their backs to him. Slowly he crept up behind them. When he was standing about two feet away from them he raised the machete up over his head, to his right, and brought it down with a silent whir. Steve’s head landed in Sara’s lap, she tried to scream, but nothing came out. Sara jumped up, and began to run, but tripped over Steve’s limp body and fell on the ground. She rolled over onto her back and saw that Ben had started after her. Again, she tried to scream, but still, nothing came out.

“You shouldn’t talk so loud, Sara. I heard everything said in the diner, I was just going to scare you. But after hearing your conversation with Joe by the pool, now you will pay, as will the others.” Sara pushed with her hands and feet, backwards, away from Ben, until she backed into a tree. There she sat looking at Ben with wide eyes, full of fear. Ben raised the machete again and as he brought it down a scream escaped Sara’s lips, just before her head lay on the ground, totally detached from her body.

~

“Did you hear that?” Lindsay asked Joe. “Was that Sara?”

“Yeah, sounds just like when she sees a spider. Must be she just got caught.”

Lindsay chuckled, “Yeah.”

~

“Sara and Steve just got caught.” Mike chuckled quietly.

“Yeah, that was Sara alright. Sounds like her plan to scare him isn’t quite working yet,” Jackie agreed in a disappointed tone.

Mike stood silently, “Stay here, I gotta take a piss.”

“Okay, but don’t take too long, we still gotta find a better hiding place.” Jackie leaned against a pine tree to wait for him. Suddenly a hand came from behind the tree and covered her mouth, holding her to the tree. From the corner of her eye, she saw something to her right, and as she looked she saw the gleaming blade of a machete, still dripping with fresh blood. She followed the blade with her eyes until it touched her neck, and she felt a quick, sharp pain run over her throat, then there was black.

“Jackie!” Mike called quietly when he returned. “Jackie, stop playing around we gotta go hide.” Then he saw her foot from behind a tree. He snuck up and grabbed her arm. “Come on, we…” he was cut short, as she fell to the ground, facing up, showing the bleeding slash across her throat. Mike’s mouth dropped open in disbelief, then he saw a figure to his left. As he turned to face it Ben sliced his face open at the mouth, giving him a grisly slack-jaw appearance as his head nearly folded off backwards and he died without a word.

~

“Lin, you stay here behind this tree. I’m going to go and hide behind that one, okay?” Joe whispered, moving tactically.

Lindsay remained as silent as she could. “Alright.”

Five minutes later Lindsay heard leaves being rustled, and twigs cracking, so she crouched into the shadows of the trees as much as she could. The noise she heard sounded like it had stopped in front of her.  She looked up and saw Ben standing there, about two feet in front of her. The machete in his hand. 

She screamed, “Joe!  Jo…” but she was cut off, as the machete was rammed through her throat.  Joe stood up and started running towards Ben, but as he reached him, Ben pulled his hunting knife and stuck Joe in the stomach with it. Joe fell to the ground, and Ben smiled triumphantly, then walked back to the house.      

Tracy came out of the house shortly after Ben returned.

“Ben, Joe said you have another girl, is it true?” she asked having thought about everything.

Ben was calm. “No, it’s not. He lied to you.”

“No, he wouldn’t lie to me.” Tracy did not want to believe her brother would hurt her.

“He did, I don’t know why, but he did. I do know though that I love you,” Ben admitted, his eyes locked with hers.

“I love you too,” Tracy melted as Ben enveloped her small frame in his arms. Then Ben felt something painful running through him, and he heard Joe.

“Die, Ben!” Joe exerted, collapsing to the ground next to them, then he saw Tracy, the machete peeking through her back. With his final breath, “Sorry, Tracy,” was all he could get out.

Tracy gazed at Ben. “Now we’ll always be together.”

He watched as the blood ran its small river, falling off her chin to cascade onto her chest as the gentle rise and fall of her bosom ceased. This was not what he expected. This was not how this day was supposed to end.

 

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