by Nathan Pettigrew:
Roland brought the saw down to her waistline, breathing in, breathing out; he couldn’t calm down. The fact that he was even breathing in the presence of Sophia’s body was the very definition of insult to injury.
It’s just a body. It’s not her. I can’t hurt her anymore. It’s just a body.
“Get it over with,” said Kenny from behind. “We don’t have time to spare here.”
He was right. They didn’t have time; they had their dilemma, while Sophia had peace. Covering the washer and dryer beneath her body were two of Roland’s blankets. He used an edge to wipe the sweat from his eyes, and then he caught Sophia’s stare, lifeless and discolored, looking right at him through a grainy film of faded brown. Roland almost believed that she could see him, but where the thought of his roommate coming back to life should have brought him comfort, in this moment it didn’t. Her unblinking eyes were just daring him to touch her again.
But I have to, Sophia. I’m sorry. I mean, you’re a ghost now. So you have to know how sorry I am. Right? You have to know that I never meant to hurt you.
“Come on already, Roland.”
Another deep breath, and then he cut into her; and it felt too easy, like a plastic knife cutting into a soft, fat burrito. Saliva swelled at the bottom of Roland’s throat, the back of his tongue tasting the scratchy sting of bile when he swallowed.
He continued to cut, mowing corpse flesh into an intestinal pie of dark red, bright purple and brown. His nose twitched and freaked from the stench fumes of copper and feces, his eyes caught in a squint. Roland held his breath, his mouth closed so that the taste of the stink could not find his tongue.
He sawed through, hitting bone, her spine. His hands stopped. “I can’t anymore.”
“You have to, Roland. You’re almost there.”
Roland tried to breathe, but the bile came back, pushing up in his throat before a fierce gulp and a gag. His body couldn’t hold it together; he shook and he cried, and he lost all confidence. “I can’t do it, Kenny. I can’t do it.”
“You can,” said Kenny. “You hear me, Roland? I know you can. We’ve been through worse.”
There it was, that little reminder of what they had gone through together at twelve—a reminder that Kenny would continue to feed Roland through the hard times that followed—the first being the fall dance in junior high. Normal boys were expected to approach the girls, and so Kenny introduced Roland to confidence. It came in a bottle. Though it tasted more like cough medicine than confidence, unbearable cough medicine that burned his throat—but only at first.
The more Roland drank, the less he could taste, and the less there was to drink, the more his confidence increased—temporary as it may’ve been. Kenny had proven right. Not only could Roland find confidence, but together, they had been through worse.
His drinking would help to bury their secret for years, but tonight, Roland had to dismantle a corpse to bury a new secret. He stood before his roommate’s body, a cutting instrument in hand, and his best friend standing by as a witness. A way out.
“You… You were the last person I wanted to call when I woke up this morning. But when I found her like this… I mean… You’re the only person on this earth that I could call.”
“I know that,” Kenny said, his voice hoarse. Tired.
“I feel so… I mean I never wanted to drag you into this. I’m so sorry.”
“Finish it, Roland.”
Like cutting a body to pieces was nothing.
So Roland sliced through body and blanket and into the crack between the washer and dryer. Kenny was right about that, too—they needed all three blankets with the third tucked down between the machines to catch the excess.
He put his hand on Roland’s shoulder, his other hand guiding Roland’s arm to put the saw down.
But only for a breather.
He didn’t want Roland to stop; he wanted Roland to cut below the kneecaps. Detach the arms. Remove the head. He wanted Roland to separate the hands from forearms, and forearms from their upper counterparts. Same with the feet. Cut ‘em off from the ankles. Use the blankets to wrap the remains before filling four trash bags. Extra-large. They double-bagged each one.
“You said you knew…” Roland swallowed. “Where to take these?”
One slow nod from Kenny, and Roland knew exactly where his best friend was thinking.
Hefty bags of blankets and body parts were heavier and heavier for Roland to carry through a shit storm of fucks and grunts. Exhaustion set in, and while he could’ve tumbled over and passed out, Roland would also spend the rest of his life behind bars if he failed to see this through.
He set his sights on Kenny’s calves a few yards ahead, both bigger and more muscular but belonging to a crazier mind for wanting to come back to these woods.
They hadn’t been back in thirteen years, not since being stripped of their clothes, their souls, and crippled when forced to their knees, dicks shoved in their mouths.
Roland could say it—there was nothing but truth for him in these woods—his true home. This was the place that he would never leave behind, no matter how far away he tried to go.
Kenny making the call to dump Sophia’s body here may have been bold, smart even, but it was far from taking control. Roland could see that now. He could see that Kenny was no longer the one calling the shots in his life; he’d been reduced to cleaning the mess that Roland left behind.
They reached the pond and stripped down to their boxers, leaving their clothes on the rocks. Wasting no time, Kenny grabbed his bags and entered the water while Roland stared into the bright moon shining down on the calm, moving surface.
Other than belches from frogs, there were no immediate signs of life. A swarm of goose bumps attacked his arms, his back. Roland shivered with only a blanket of chills to cover his body. Holding his heavy bags, he inhaled the black air and walked into the water. His bare feet stepping on sticks and slimy rocks, Roland pressed on, and when his feet no longer touched the ground, he flipped to his back and kicked.
Kenny reached the middle, kicking and fighting and waiting for Roland to catch up. He didn’t see Roland getting closer or letting go of his bags; Kenny could barely see above the surface at all with water coming up to his ears and forcing him to keep his head tilted up.
He had a crystal clear and radiant view of Orion’s Belt, and then a thousand other stars that he didn’t know existed before water clouded that view, pulling him under.
Light from the moon was all that Kenny could see while he sunk into the black. He could go nowhere but down, and if Kenny went to hell, then it was Roland’s sins that would get him there.
He let go of his bags, shooting back to the surface where he found Roland swimming toward him.
Kenny waved him off, didn’t have much energy to speak, could barely feel his legs.
Roland looked around, scoping the long distances of water, and feeling the absence of relief. In the white ripples reflecting the moon, he saw his own reflection. He saw his hands around Sophia’s throat. Poor Sophia. He wanted so bad to tell her that he was sorry.
Or, who was he kidding? Sophia knew everything now, including the truth. Her neck hadn’t fallen into his grip by some accident. Roland had taken hold of her for a purpose. To have a purpose. To matter. Right or wrong.
Sophia just wanted to breathe, but for once in his life, Roland wanted to be the one who knew what control felt like, and even if just for once, to overcome a struggle on his own—without Kenny.
“Come on,” Kenny said, back paddling to shore.
Roland’s lungs were tired and burning, but the rocks were attainable. This pond had failed to kill him before; it would certainly fail tonight, for Roland was no longer the victim.
Cold air blasted out from the vents against their soaking wet clothes while Kenny kept a steady sixty-five.
“Jesus,” Roland said, his lips trembling. “Is your heater broken?”
Kenny remained silent, as if he was the dead one.
“Look, I know I’ll never be able to repay you,” Roland said. “But I never meant for this shit to happen, and I never wanted to drag you into it. You do know that, right?”
“I’m not the cops, Roland.”
“No, but it’s important that you know I did everything I could to prevent—”
“It doesn’t? Hold up. You seriously don’t care if I’m a murderer or not?”
“You are a murderer,” said Kenny, and their eyes met before Kenny’s returned to the road. “Roland, I didn’t help you because you might be innocent. I helped you because all that waits for you in prison is what we went through all over again. And I knew you couldn’t go through that again. But now, I want you out of my life.”
Roland laughed. “Listen to you. Are you serious? I mean what, you breaking up with me or something?”
“Yes. We’re done. Okay? For years I felt responsible for what happened to us. But not after tonight. You’re off in a completely different direction from me and I can’t help you anymore.”
Roland shivered from the cold pressing into his chest, his wet clothes sticking to his skin. They weren’t in junior high anymore, when Kenny’s arm would wrap around his shoulders while Roland shivered in fear from having to change in front of the other boys for gym class.
But they went through the same shit in those woods—the same exact shit.
So how in hell was Kenny able to change in front of the other boys?
Kenny got Roland through each class, day by day, and through every close call, year after year until they graduated. No one ever found out about them or made fun of them, and aside from his little drinking problem, no one ever figured that something was off about Roland.
“Seriously, Kenny. What is this? You’re waiting for me to say that I need you or something? Is that what this is? You’re testing me here?”
“It’s not a test, Roland. It’s a reality check.”
“Yeah? You want a reality check? How ‘bout accessory to murder, motherfucker? You can’t just walk away from that. You think you feel guilty now? Just wait. I know you.”
“Yeah, you know what I know, but I’m choosing to move on. You should, too.”
“You say that like it’s so easy. It’s always been easy for you, hasn’t it?”
“No, I just tried, and you didn’t.”
Radiohead, a new song that Roland didn’t recognize, but that was Thom Yorke’s voice. No question. He turned up the volume, and Kenny didn’t object.
Together they rode the wee hour with not another vehicle in sight, just the sound of their tune, and for a few minutes, they were free from everything that separated them.
The song that came on next was classic rock. Boston or some shit.
“Jesus. How do you follow a perfectly good song like that with this?” Roland said, reaching a lazy hand across for the radio dial, and Kenny shook his head, almost grinning.
Their eyes locked. A showdown that Roland could win, seeing Kenny had to watch the road. He had no time, no choice but to look away, and when he did, he left Roland with no one looking back at him.
If Roland was going to face the rest of his life without a friend, then why wait?
He tried to open his door, but the wind pushed back. So Roland brought his boot to the fight, the wind ripping through the front seat and forcing the fat in his face to vibrate. Kenny’s mouth fell open like he wanted to call for God, but nothing came out.
He grabbed Rolland’s collar, almost choking him while pulling over, slowing fast.
“Close the door, Roland. Come on. You heard me. Close the door.”
Roland slammed the truck door shut.
“Fucking slam my door again and see what happens.”
Kenny shifted gears, and started to drive off when Roland opened the door again.
“Damn it, Roland.”
Roland threw a fist in his face, and Kenny slammed on the brakes, sending Roland into the dashboard. Kenny pushed him back against the seat and held him there with an elbow dug into his chest.
“You have to calm down, Roland.”
“I can’t breathe. You’re—”
Kenny dug in deeper. “You heard me.”
“All right,” Roland said.
But Kenny kept his elbow in place. “You have to calm down.”
“I said all right. Let go of me.”
“I’m being serious.”
“I am too. Let go of me.”
Kenny did, sitting back and watching Roland pull on his shirt to straighten it out. “Now close the door.”
“No. You want me out of your life, then I’m getting out.”
“Don’t be stupid. You know how far you’d have to walk? You’ll never make it.”
“That’s not your problem anymore, now is it? And screw you for doubting me after all these years of building me up to succeed. I’m getting out of this truck, and you’re going to leave me behind.”
“You know what? Fine,” Kenny said.
And with that, Roland stepped out of the truck. He didn’t slam the door; he ensured that it was shut with a gentle push, pressing in until hearing the click.
The truck pulled away, and Roland walked.
The taillights getting smaller and smaller, the bright reds ascended before disappearing over the hills of the road ahead in pitch black.
At this hour, in this dark, Roland would’ve bet on hearing the sounds of insects, or forest creatures of some kind, night owls, anything—but all he heard was the crunch of gravel beneath his boots. The sound of walking on his own.
A long hard road ahead it may’ve been, but Roland wasn’t a victim anymore. He could make it on his own without Kenny having to tell him that he’d been through worse.
And while he understood his responsibility in a human life ceasing to exist, it was Kenny’s life that ceased to exist in Roland’s.
After so many years, Roland finally found something that could drive his one true friend away, and though Kenny’s strength was the only thing he ever craved more than vengeance, Roland didn’t need it anymore, for tonight he’d found a new strength.
Nathan Pettigrew is a featured author and editor at Solarcide—A Writer’s Hideout. His stories have appeared in print and online through Six Minute Magazine, SPLIT Quarterly, InfectiveINk.com, and SNM Horror Magazine among other great places. Nathan is also set to appear in the upcoming horror anthology, Psychosis (from the editors of The Surreal Grotesque).
Born and raised near New Orleans, Louisiana, Nathan is now married and lives with his wife in the Tampa area of Florida, where they like to kick back and enjoy the sun, the chicken wings, and AMC’s Breaking Bad.
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