“Sometimes, it’s not the people who change; it’s the mask that falls off”
In the middle of July, when everyone seemed to sweat more than the melting cherry popsicle in my hand, I listened to the girl next to me prattle on about the most inconsequential things.
Rather, it looked like I was listening to her, but I had other, more important things on my mind.
Like the boy who stood ripping apart a bluebird with his bare hands not ten meters away from us, slightly hidden by an Azalea bush in full-bloom.
His name was Elliot Mason, who lived with his father and little sister a few houses away. We used to spend every Sunday laughing through the day while our parents went off to church. No one else in our town seemed to really like the Mason family, as Elliot’s father, Robert Mason was known to be an alcoholic.
I knew that killing smaller creatures wasn’t particularly unusual for Elliot; he’s always had a mean streak several miles long, even with me. What bothered me was his strange and sudden hatred for me.
Never had he stared at me with such cold eyes.
Ever since Emily Aliway arrived in our little old town, Elliot seemed to have changed overnight.
He was always a troublemaker, stealing Mrs. Remy’s freshly baked cookies, smiling whenever someone in our class got in trouble, and laughing with me as his little sister got the brunt of his almost sadistic pranks.
However, a week ago, the young girl who finished unpacking in the house next to mine came over to introduce herself. Elliot had stayed the night and met her the same time I had. Gone was the childhood friend that would help me collect marbles, replaced by a stranger who carried the subtle scent of smoke with him wherever he went.
Everyone in our town could easily admit that the new girl was pretty; even I could, with her big blue eyes and charming smile.
It was startling how quickly Elliot had become smitten with her, vying for her attention like a lost puppy. It was a pathetic show in my eyes, with how jealous he was when she had taken an immediate interest in me.
She invited me to eat lunch with her.
She gave me flowers as ‘gifts’ (although I always thought that the guy was supposed to do that).
And she rarely stayed away from me.
Instead of returning her affection, I became worried over Elliot’s behavior.
“What have you been up to?” I asked Elliot the next day, since both of us didn’t have anything to do.
He scowled, and for some odd reason, the smell of smoke became stronger. “Nothing,” he replied and we were at a standstill.
Why was he being so difficult?
“Well, we could do a number of things. If you want, we could-” I was abruptly cut off .
“I don’t want to do anything with you. You call yourself my friend? Don’t make me laugh! You just want to make yourself look better standing next to me! Does it feel good being friends with the town outcast?” He snarled.
Where had that come from?
Suddenly, he smiled. The nice smile that he used to wear all the time whenever we accomplished something brilliant in our childhood, which to say, wasn’t often. These days, Elliot had more mood swings than a pregnant woman.
“I found a new hiding place in the woods; I’ve wanted to show you for awhile,” he explained, and I nodded, bewildered. It was odd how he suddenly brought that up, but I didn’t question it, as I was just happy Elliot seemed to have cleared his head.
We ran through the forest with the summer air burning in our lungs until I thought we would physically drop. I took a look around until I concluded that we had gone farther in the forest than we ever had before. The tall, sweeping trees and bird calls came from every angle with barely any sunlight penetrating the thick foliage.
As I was about to ask Elliot what he meant to do by bringing us here, I spotted a tiny log cabin up ahead.
Obviously, it had been abandoned many years ago, as the wood was rotting and the vines from a nearby flowering plant had clasped onto the door hinges. A lone window appeared on the side of the cabin, though it took me a moment to realize it was there, since it was covered with filth and grime the same color as the wood surrounding it. To me, it looked like the kind of place my mother had warned me about as a child. A place where vengeful spirits never rest, a place where demons visit at night…
“Never go to those places… Or you’ll be taken away,” my mother’s voice resounded in my head.
I was worried, but Elliot stared resolutely ahead, urging me to follow.
He was never one to follow superstition.
I trailed after him, hearing the snapping of twigs under my weight and my eyes staring down at my friend’s tense form. As we stood near the old wooden door, Elliot brought out a single rusted key from his pocket and opened the door slowly. I peered into the darkness inside, and in my mind, whispers of forgotten souls echoed in the room.
Goosebumps rose on my arm, and warily, I looked up at Elliot’s face. He didn’t seem to be paying attention to me, but I could see the malice in his eyes. My nose picked up an odd smell that didn’t fit into the moldy wood of the cabin.
It was something… Thick. Greasy, even.
The silence engulfing us made me even more unsettled than I already was.
“You were always the nice one out of the two of us, and smiled at every disgusting mongrel in town. You had loving parents, enough money… Everything I didn’t have,” Elliot muttered, and I had to strain myself to hear him.
“What are you planning on doing about it?” I asked, keeping my tone steady. I knew very well how jealous Elliot was of me; however, I never did anything about it in the end.
The smell of smoke came stronger now; I tried to not to show how unnerved I was.
Suddenly, he whipped out a familiar object that I would know anywhere; his red lighter.
As soon as he dropped it, I felt his hand on my chest shove me to the ground before I could so much as blink. I heard the stomping of his rubber soles hitting the dirt floor as he ran toward the door.
The flames rose to the point of reaching the ceiling.
‘How is that possible?’ I wondered, dumbstruck. The flames shouldn’t have spread so quickly, especially with the dampness in the atmosphere that would actually hinder the flames. The wood was moldy, rotten and cool from the shade the trees from the forest provided.
The answer came to me in the form of a puddle of oil next to my hand.
The fucking bastard wanted to kill me.
I could smack myself with how long it took me to realize that it was all planned from the start.
Smoke curled in the room and I pulled my shirt to cover my mouth while resisting the urge to cough. The flames crackled, and the wood started to splinter. The smell of fire invaded my lungs despite my attempts.
I needed to get out.
A falling ceiling beam crashed in front of me, and I was forced to quickly take a step back before continuing to the wooden door just a few steps ahead.
My head swiveled to the pained sound of Elliot’s voice behind me. I had forgotten about him and assumed that he left the cabin a while ago.
Obviously, that was not the case.
I watched as Elliot clutched his bleeding leg and bit his lip in agony. A fiery piece of ceiling beam had fallen near the joint on his knee, ripping through his jeans. He stared pleadingly up at me, as if asking for help.
“Please…Find it in your heart.” I paused to look at him in his desperation, hesitating for a moment.
My mind wandered to a familiar situation five years ago, when we were still nine. It played out so differently then.
My finger barely managed to poke the red skin before me, and my tongue poked out in concentration. The fingers on my other hand already had five splinters embedded in them.
My fingers stretched two more centimeters before curling around and bringing my reward to my mouth and taking a triumphant bite.
The fresher the apple, the better.
After licking off my fingers from my treat, I looked down and realized that I was very high up. The ground was dry and packed with the drought we’d been having. Almost like concrete, in my eyes.
Did I really climb up so far?
Worried, I looked down. I knew that if I jumped down from this height, I would surely meet my end. What was I thinking?
Seconds flew by, and the hours seemed to drag by. Soon, Night had fallen, and my tears had already dried up. In the distance, I saw a dancing beam of light in the tall grass surrounding the area.
…Elliot had come to save me! I smiled through my misery, because Elliot could easily climb trees much higher than the one I was on with ease. He would help me.
“I’ve been looking for you! It seems you’re having fun without me,” Elliot yelled up to me, laughter in his voice.
“Can you help me? Please? Elliot, I can’t get down!” I replied, as if my predicament wasn’t obvious.
He laughed, pointing at me. If the sun was still out, I sure I would see a gleeful expression on his face.
The most alarming part was that after he finished laughing, he started walking away.
“Elliot?! You just plan on leaving your friend here. alone, stuck in a tree come morning?” I screamed, absolutely furious. Dread began to well up inside me, matching the tears gathering at the corners of my eyes. But I forced them away. Boys don’t cry, after all.
As I focused on the retreating beam of his orange flashlight, I only heard two words.
And then I was out the door.
Elliot’s screams followed me out as I smiled at the dissipating smell of smoke.
July 9th, 19xx
I feel it. I’m not going to live much longer. Whether it’s my sickness or my asshole of a father, I’m dying. Nicholas has been the bestest friend I could ask for; he doesn’t know about my condition, though. He would worry.
On the brighter note, I met Emily Aliway today. She’s a pretty girl from the city who recently moved to our dreary little town. Ever since I saw her, I knew that she was the kind of girl I would like.
She left some cookies for us, and I think Nicholas liked those more than the girl who brought them. That works for me.
July 11th, 19xx
Emily has latched onto Nicholas with a unexpected eagerness. It’s actually not very surprising now that I think about it. He was just as messed up as me (of course, or we wouldn’t have been such good friends to begin with) but he smiled so genuinely, everyone in our town liked him. Always helping out and listening to the old women talk; that guy had more patience than me, at least. But I’m pretty sure they’re dating.
The question is, why didn’t Nick say anything? It almost hurts, with how much time they spend with each other. Just thinking about it stresses me out. I need to relieve some of it before I snap; maybe I’ll find a bird of something…
July 15th, 19xx,
I hate it. Really, it sickens me how I feel my life draining away to this odd sickness while Nick doesn’t feel a shred of pressure.
What a guy.
I found this old cabin in the woods; it’s freaking creepy to be honest, but no one knows it’s there. I found the key next to the flowering pot by the door.
Maybe I can do something about my problem with Nicholas. Maybe I can light it on fire before locking the door and running. It doesn’t sound like a bad idea; people would miss Nick, but I think I’m doing myself a favour. We’ll both die in the same month that way, missed by some, and that way, each of us would spend a week dating Emily.
People like us will meet again in Hell anyways.