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I sat at the desk and staring at the box. Terrified and shaking as I reached in and pulled out a faded newspaper article. It smelled musty. The date on it is May 26, 2000. I was two years old. It was an article about my mom.
As I unfolded it, it flew out of my hands and landed on the linoleum floor. I bent over to pick it up, but it was hot. I leaned over again, but as I got close to it, smoke started coming from the edges and it caught on fire.
Stepping on the paper, I put the fire out. I waited a few minutes to see if it was cool before picking it up. Somehow it didn’t melt the linoleum. I sprayed some air freshener to get rid of the smell, but it made it worse. The two smells mixed together made me want to vomit. I pulled my shirt over my nose, but it didn’t help.
Turning to look at mom’s picture: “What is going on mom? What are the big secrets? Are you keeping from me also? Your choices affected me. Thankfully I have grandparents that took me in and didn’t send me off to foster care after you chose to take your life. Yes, I’m angry, I’m pissed, and I don’t understand. I have a right to know.”
Just as I got the words out, a hand was placed into my hand and I was pulled forward. There I stood looking at my mom face to face.
“Little girl, you want answers, you’re going to get answers. I’m going to show you just how my life was before and after you were born.”
I tried to hug her, but she backed away from me. Her spiral permed brown hair blew in the wind. I stared at her and asked, “How did I get here and where am I?”
“I pulled you through the picture. We’re on the street where you and I grew up, but the year is 1988, when I was a freshman in high school.”
Turning around I heard loud hair band music and saw a car coming towards me fast. It stopped a block away at another house. Two guys got out and walked up the driveway into the garage.
I looked down at my clothes. “Don’t worry, we’ll fix it, so you can fit in.”
“I don’t understand. You seem so nice. Why is everyone afraid of you?”
“What have you heard?”
“Nothing. That’s the problem. The cedar box, no one wanted me to take it from the house. They said I would be in danger if I did.”
“They’re right. You are in danger. You should have left this alone. I watch to make sure they’re taking care of you. They did a good job. I was an evil person. I couldn’t control myself. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. The problem is, if certain things happen now because you’re here watching, it will change the course of the life you’re living now. All you can do is watch. Everyone will know you’re there. You’ll just be my quiet friend I took pity on. Let’s call you Jennifer. Are you ready? Are you sure you want to do this? Your life will be changed forever after this.”
“I’m sure. I have to.”
“No, you can choose another relative. You don’t have to do your homework about me.”
“Let’s do this,” I said as I stood up taller showing I could be brave.
Standing in front of my house, the grass was freshly cut and smelled so good and rain clouds could be seen in the distance. I inhaled the smell of the rain and fresh cut grass. The energy had a different feeling. I felt free and a bit wild.
I turned around and saw the Simpson’s house had toilet paper hanging from the trees. Mr. Simpson was pulling it down and cussing. “Damn kids don’t have respect for anything anymore! I’m sick of the kids now a days.”
I giggled and looked at my mom. “Mom, he’s not mean like that anymore.”
“You can’t call me mom, it’s Sarah,” she said as she pulled a powder compact from her purse. “Look in the mirror. When we came into this time, you changed.”
I looked and saw my hair was teased and big with wings. I had black dark eyeliner on, ripped up jeans, a t-shirt, and jean jacket. My skin wasn’t the same pale skin it was before. I had so much makeup caked on, my true face was hidden behind it.
“Do you really wear this much makeup?”
“Sure do,” she said as she opened her purse, “You also should have hairspray in your purse, powder for your face, lip gloss, and eyeliner at all times. Your makeup and hair must perfect at all times.”
“Nope. Let’s go. Darren is waiting down the street for us.”
“Why down the street?”
“He’s at Jack’s house. Plus, my dad doesn’t like him so I sneak around to see him.”
“Is he my dad?”
“He sure is. We were high school sweethearts that got married right after we graduated. Your grandparents couldn’t say a word about it then. Check the inside pocket of your jacket.”
I held out the side of my jacket and felt inside. I pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. I put them back almost as fast as I pulled them out.
“If you’re going to do this, you have to smoke. Everyone I’m around smokes. Now, we must act like you’re the new girl in town and I just met you, Jennifer.”
Doing this wasn’t going to be easy. I hated cigarettes and the smell, not to mention, I wasn’t the quiet type and being shy wouldn’t be easy. I knew I would have to force myself to be in an observation mode and not mingle.
We walked down the tree lined street. I watched as Sarah put on headphones and listened to her Walkman. I could hear muffled music coming from the headphones. She lit a cigarette when we were about a block away from the house. She nudged me and handed it to me. I inhaled and began coughing.
She put her headphones around her neck laughing, “You’ve never smoked before have you?”
“No. It’s gross.”
“Don’t inhale it. Just puff it. That way you won’t get addicted to it and won’t choke again. It’s really uncool.”
I rolled my eyes at her. I started wondering what else I would have to do to blend in.
“Who’s she?” He asked in a very deep voice as we approached. His black hair shined in the sunlight. His tight jeans hugged every inch of his legs and hips. His leather bomber jacket fit perfectly over his black t-shirt. If hadn’t been my dad, I may have melted into his arms.
“This is Jennifer. She’s new in town. I found her wandering the streets alone and thought we could take her in and teach her before the preps got ahold of her. We don’t need any more preppies in this town.”
“Hey, Jennifer, where do you come from?” Darren asked.
I had a dumbfounded look on my face. I didn’t know what to say. “She comes from Missouri. She has that show me look from the show me state,” Sarah said laughing.
“Jack, get over here and check out the new girl!” Darren yelled.
A tall, blonde haired, blue eyed prince walked down the driveway out of the garage. He took a long swig out of the beer can, turned and tossed it into the trashcan next to the garage. “Two points! I knew I should have been a jock,” he laughed.
“Yeah, ok, poor boy. Your family doesn’t have enough money for you to be in that crowd. The trailer house you live in doesn’t meet the standards of the preps,” Darren said as he punched him in the arm. "Jennifer,” Darren and Jack both looked me up and down, “Where is your house at?”
I started to speak, but Sarah beat me to it, “Her family is temporarily living in a motel until they find a place to buy. Her dad was transferred here. He works for the railroad. Her mom doesn’t work.”
“Sarah, you speak a lot for her and know a lot about her. Kind of funny since we just dropped you off at home and you picked her up. What’s really going on?” Darren asked.
“Nothing,” Sarah purred as she snuggled up next to him and put her arms around him. “How do you know I didn’t meet her yesterday and we spent half the night talking on the phone.”
“You talk too much and your parents don’t allow you to be on the phone longer than five minutes. That’s how I know. Your mom starts that timer as soon as the phone rings.”
I heard a car coming up behind us. I turned around and saw a convertible full of girls in cheerleading outfits squealing. As they drove past us they yelled out, “Slut!”
Sarah yelled back, “You wish! All of you have banged the football team! Who’s the slut now?”
The car stopped and the girl driving put the car in reverse and drove back. She got out and Sarah walked up to her. They argued and Sarah punched her in the face. The girl grabbed her face, “You bitch! We’ll get you for this. You better watch your back.”
“I don’t have to watch my back. You freaks won’t do anything to me. You’re afraid of me.”
I watched in disbelief. This stuff didn’t go on now that I saw. I knew almost everyone when I was in high school and no one fought or bullied anybody. It wasn’t tolerated. Times were sure different.
Sarah turned and looked at me. Her eyes were fire red. She looked like a demon that was going to attack me. Her voice got deep, “If you ever become friends with those girls, I’ll kill you. I’ll watch the blood run down the street and laugh.”
I stepped back. I couldn’t breathe. I watched as the red from her eyes faded. Her voice went back to normal. My whole body trembled in fear. I wanted to run, but my feet wouldn’t move.
“What’s wrong, Jennifer? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost,” Sarah said laughing.
“I’m fine. What was wrong with you? It’s like you turned evil.”
“Nothing. When I get angry, something snaps in me. That’s why my parents lock their doors at night. Everyone is afraid of me.”
“Shut up, Sarah. You know that’s a lie,” Darren said. “Your dad isn’t afraid of you. I’m seen him take you down a few times.”
“Darren, let’s take Jennifer to the river. I know she would love it there. We can down a few beers, listen to some music, and skinny dip.”
“I’m down. Jack, climb in the back with Jennifer. Let’s go party.”
The river I was familiar with. My friends and I would go there and have bon fire parties. We didn’t have alcohol because it was now forbidden. A few too many people died from trying to swim after getting drunk. Some people say the river is haunted with all the souls that have drowned in it. I never believed in hauntings until now. I had a feeling this was a haunting.
Darren drove very fast to the river. The music was so loud you couldn’t talk and the cigarette smoke was heavy. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to smoke like Sarah said to, but it was impossible for me. I tried not to cough, but it was inevitable, I was going to cough.
“Hey Darren, can we go through a drive through somewhere so I can get a Dr. Pepper please?” I asked. “I really need something to drink.”
He laughed, “We don’t need a drive through for Dr. Pecker. What we need is the beer in the trunk. You’re going to learn how to party river style. A little drink, a little smoke, and the world becomes a better place.”
“Hey, don’t forget about the sex!” Sarah squealed as she punched his arm.
“If you don’t start taking those pills right, I’m going to find a new girlfriend. I’m not paying for any more abortions and I’m not paying for a baby. I’m here on this earth to party and party only.”
I felt my mouth drop open when he said the word abortion. That sent questions through my head. Did she think about having an abortion with me?
Sarah practically flew out of the car when we pulled onto the bank of the river. She put her arms out and spun in circles until she fell. She rolled around in the dirt and rolled into the river.
She went under the water and bounced up with a fish in her mouth. She growled and moved her head back and forth like a rabid dog would do with its prey. Her eyes glowed a fire red. I was afraid to get out of the car.
“Come on Jennifer. Come into the water and play with mommy. You wanted to get to know me, now come on in. You can be just like me. Crazy!” She said in a deep shrill voice.
I pushed the passenger seat forward and put one foot out of the car. I was trembling. I forced myself to get out. I walked over and stood next to Jack and Darren. We all watched as she killed the fish with her hands and mouth then threw it in the river. Blood covered her face and hands.
As Sarah glared at us, she began to lick the blood off her hands. I turned away and threw up. “What’s the matter Jennifer? You can’t handle what mommy does?”
Jack looked over at me, “Why does she keep calling herself mommy to you?”
“She’s crazy, man! Can’t you see it? She is crazy! I love it!” Darren yelled into the air. “That’s my girl!”
Jack put his arms around me in a way that was protective. I think he felt the same way I did, scared. He leaned down and whispered in my ear, “She’s the scariest person I have ever met. Don’t ever turn your back on her. What she did to that fish, she will do to you with a smile.”
A chill went up my spine. My grandparents tried to warn me. Now, there wasn’t any turning back. It was too late. I was stuck, until death do us part.
Jack’s voice trembled when he asked, “Sarah did you happen to take your medicine today or in the past week?”
“Who needs medicine? I’m not crazy.”
Jack pulled me back towards the car, “I don’t know how she thinks she’s normal,” he whispered. “You’re new in town and she will try to rope you into whatever crap she can think of. Don’t fall for it. She seems like she could be life of the party, but she’s not. Everyone is afraid of her, except Darren. He just goes along with whatever she says.”
“Oh, Jennifer! Come to your mommy! Mommy wants a big kiss!” She yelled from the river. She puckered up her blood covered lips and made kissing noises at me.
Jack shoved me towards the river. “Go with caution.”
I walked slowly, afraid to take the next step. I gagged as I looked at her. She dropped down into the water and emerged looking perfectly normal. I stared at her as I walked looking for blood, but I saw no evidence on her of what just happened.
“Jennifer, why are you looking at me like I’m a freak? Shit, this water is cold. Who let me get in here?”
Darren laughed as he went over to help her out of the water. “Jack, get the blanket out of the back of the car and the beer. Once she gets drunk, she’ll warm up.”
“Darren, she needs to go home. She needs to take medicine. You saw her.”
“Jack, she’s fine. Just get the blanket.”
I looked at Sarah as she cuddled up next to Darren. Her eyes started to turn fire red again. She spun on him and looked him directly in eyes and snarled, “I don’t need the damn blanket.” She broke free from his arms and ran down the bank of the river. The half moon and lights from the bridge provided a little light that reflected off the water.