There’s Something Haunting Our Childhood Home In Washington, And I’m Going To Get To The Bottom Of It

ssrema
ssrema

People around town had taken to calling the place “The Jungle” and I couldn’t argue with their reasoning. A marshy little piece of land down by the lake surrounded by a halo of tall trees and loaded to the gills with the town’s rapidly-growing army of severe drug addicts, The Jungle, was a dark and mystifying labyrinth of dark woods, damp mud and dangerous animals.

I never imagined I myself would have to venture any further into The Jungle than the little clearing of brush on the edge of Baker Street that served as the entrance just a few blocks from the house where I grew up. Never, not possible, I always thought, but unfortunately, there I was, just after sundown, staring down that little entrance, knowing I had no choice but to follow the beaten path, littered with fast food wrappers and a few used syringes into the belly of the beast.

My fear almost got the best of my once I flicked away my last pre-game cigarette and started to walk towards the entrance under the light of the full, October moon.

I had no choice. I had to find my brother.

beetlejuice

Hazard Creek used to be Mayberry. Well, at least it was in our heads. Maybe it was always a depressing piece of shit wiped on the northwest corner of the state of Washington and we were just too young and ignorant to realize it?

It never could have been this bad though. It seemed about 10 percent of the 1,200 residents of Hazard Creek had turned to hard drugs in the past five years or so since I left town. Now the latest and greatest news to come out of Hazard Creek was my kid brother Tom was a portion of that 10 percent.

I myself was already worried about Tom before I received the call from Uncle Winnie on a Tuesday afternoon:

“Can’t believe I just saw it with my own two eyes, but I just saw your lil baby brother walking into the god damn Jungle with that piss ant Chode Massey. Just thought you should know. Bye.”

I had to call Uncle Winnie to clarify what that stream of words actually meant. I will translate it for you:

My Uncle Winnie saw my younger brother Tom walking into the wooded area of town where the heroin addicts have been living for the past few years with Chad (sadly nicknamed “Chode”) Massey, a career criminal/drug addict who was in his class in high school.

I already had my worries about Tom, no doubt. He had grown equally distant and unreliable in the past few years since my mother passed away and he moved into our childhood home in our small town and essentially retired in his mid-30s. I thought it was a horrible idea at the time, but what was I going to do? My little brother told me in the midst of his daily endless tears shed for our mom that he just wanted to take some time off, take care of the house, and figure out his wayward life. I let it go and got back on that plane for LA to try and lick my own wounds.

All those growing fears I had about Tom came to a head when I went on an investigation after Uncle Winnie’s calls. Each and every one of Tom’s old friends who I connected with said they had been seeing less and less of him over the past few years and had noticed him hanging out with some unsavory characters as of late. I found record of a DUI/driving without a license arrest on Tom’s record from about a year before and he rarely returned texts or calls, and it usually took him at least a few days when he did.

My investigation came to a head when I called the landline at our childhood house one morning, hoping to catch Tom off-guard and received an answer, but not from Tom.

“Yeah,” the bristly voice which sounded like it had been gargling gravel since birth froze me in my verbal tracks.

“Who is this?” I eventually forced the words out.

There was a long break of silence before the person on the other line finally let out the word “Steve,” and then hung up.

That phone interaction was the final straw which got me on a plane up to Washington.

beetlejuice

I was greeted by a cold, empty house, once my boots were on the ground in Hazard Creek. The only signs of life in my old childhood house were 100 killed Camel Crushes in my mom’s old oyster shell ashtray in the living room and a melted bucket of mint chip ice cream curdled in the sink.

The house looked, and smelled, like no one had lived in it in weeks, but I couldn’t shake the presence of someone, or something, while I walked through the place and it thoroughly broke my heart. The house where I was brought home by my parents on the day I was born looked like an episode of Hoarders.

I spent a good 10 minutes in the tight little hallway that led back to the bedrooms, looking at all of our family portraits which now rested crooked on the wall, the glass cracked, some even lying on the dirty carpet of the floor. My mother used to keep our little personal family art gallery in impeccable condition. She would have been horrified to see the documentation of our family so horribly neglected.

The tears finally started to come when I saw the military portrait of my father which usually hung at the end of the hall, just outside of my childhood bedroom, lying face down on the floor. I wiped the tears away, bent down and picked it up and sobbed while looking at my father, who had now been dead for 20 plus years, staring back at me in his Navy hat.

I picked the picture up, glared at the jagged crack which ran across my father’s face now one more time and hung it back on the wall before I turned my attention to my childhood bedroom. I had planned on staying in the room my mom had kept almost exactly as I had left it before I went off to college, complete with a twin bed with a Seahawks comforter, but was wondering if I should even stay in the wreck that was the house. The thing could have had a meth lab in the basement or something.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers poster which greeted me at my bedroom door was the first thing to warm my heart in weeks. It instantly took me back to wasting countless hours in the that bedroom with my headphones on dreaming away to my favorite music. The skeletal, opening guitar riff to “Under The Bridge” played in my head when I opened the flimsy wood door and looked into my old stomping grounds.

All that nostalgia and whimsy blew away as soon as my bedroom door opened and I laid eyes upon an emaciated young woman, possibly dead, lying naked on her back on top of my Seahawks comforter and not moving.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I seethed to myself as I took a few cautious steps into the room.

I turned around to go get my phone and call the cops, but stopped when I heard a disgusting cough rumble from over by the bed.

“Tom?” the thick coughing fit was interrupted by the mumbling of my brother’s name.

I stood in the door and watched the naked young woman come to life, wondering if she was even 18. Her face so sunken, her body so frail, she looked like she couldn’t have been much more than 100 pounds. I felt pained myself when I watched her sit up and look at me with raccoon eyes.

“Tom isn’t back?”

I was alarmed with how casual the girl was about waking up naked and seeing a complete stranger in the room she was sleeping in.

“No,” I answered while examining the girl’s face a little more.

That further glance strangely brought back that warm nostalgia which had tickled my heart before I had opened the door. The symmetry of the girl’s face, the gap between her two front teeth, the amber blonde/brown of her hair. I knew her. It was my high school girlfriend Valerie.

“Valerie?” the name dropped out of my lips.

I watched my first love’s drawn-on, black brow furrow and saw the gears turn in her clouded head.

“It’s Michael, from high school,” I gave an explanation I can’t believe I was giving to the girl who I lost my virginity to, who also came to multiple Christmases and Thanksgivings at my grandma’s house in Idaho.

“Oh my God,” the words appeared to hurt when they came out of Valerie’s cracked, white lips. “Oh my God,” she repeated before she fell down onto her back again and lazily scrambled to pull the blankets over her exposed pale body.

“Don’t worry, I’ll just be out in the living room when you are ready to talk,” I said and walked back out the door.

I passed the nearly 30 minutes it took Valerie to “get ready” and join me in the living room in one of my mom’s old bathrobes drinking one of those syrupy, bottled Starbucks coffee things. It was the only thing I found in the refrigerator.

“I can’t believe I woke up,” Valerie announced after a few moments of sitting next to me on the couch.

“What do you mean?” I asked while she lit up a smoke.

Valerie laughed and watched a hearty puff of smoke flow out of her mouth before she answered.

“We thought it was the big shot. Me and Tom.”

“The big shot?”

“Some crazy ass dude up river gave it to us. Said it was this new kind of heroin. Said it might kill us, but if it didn’t, it would be the best ride ever. He might have been right. I think I have been asleep for like a week.”

“Tom took it? Where is he?”

“Hell if I know. I’ve been asleep for at least three days, but if my 99-pound ass made it, I would assume he did too, but he might be somewhere fucking scary.”

“The Jungle?”

“How do you know The Jungle?”

“I’ve been told, but that’s where he is, right?”

“Could be. Not really sure.”

“Well, let’s go look.”

Valerie laughed.

“You’re just going to waltz into The Jungle like that?”

I looked down at myself dressed fairly casually in a flannel shirt, jeans I had worn more than 10 times without washing and well-worn New Balances.

“You go in looking like that, you will be coming out someone’s asshole. Especially with this big shot stuff going around. Stuff’s crazier than bath salts.”

“So what? Am I supposed to put on like a drug addict costume and go in there?”

beetlejuice

Valerie and I sat in my red Kia rental car just about a block from the entrance to The Jungle while I questioned our next move in my head. Thankfully the clothes Tom had strewn about the house provided the perfect wardrobe for me to stroll in there and fit in, but that only did so much to calm my nerves.

I looked over to Valerie in the passenger seat dressed in her regular clothes which looked like blankets on her because of her level of emaciation. After taking in her bizarre get up one more time, I noticed her eyes were stuck on the entrance to The Jungle.

“Still want to go in?” Valerie asked in a mocking tone from the passenger seat.

I legitimately thought about giving up for a few moments – kicking Valerie out of my rental Kia, getting back on I-5, driving south to Seattle, going to Sea-Tac International Airport, flying back to California, never coming back.

“No, we can do this,” I confirmed.

The memory of waking up before 6 a.m. on Christmas morning to the sound of my little brother’s feet pitter pattering on the wood of my bedroom floor shot into my head. Then the feeling of his warmth climbing underneath my Seahawks blanket, nudging me awake to start pleading about how we should get up to start analyzing the presents while they were still in their wrapping paper, crept in.

I couldn’t shake it all, even when I physically shook my head back and forth to try and sober myself back up from the rush of fear which had taken over me.

I didn’t say another word, just opened up my door and stepped out into the cool, moist rush of the late-Fall night. I took a few moments to take it all in and listened to Valerie get out of the car from the other side and then felt her brush up against me, the outside of both our coats touching as a stiff wind pushed us from the direction of The Jungle, almost as if it was trying to tell us not to go.

Valerie and I ignored the wind’s warning and walked right through that entrance. Nothing but pure darkness and the sound of tall grass swaying in the breeze greeted us.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out my flashlight, but Valerie stopped me before I could flick it on.

“You’ll scare the shit out of everyone. Think we’re cops.”

Valerie pushed my flashlight back in my pocket and pulled a Bic lighter out of one of hers, quickly flicked it on. At least two inches tall, Valerie’s lighter looked more like what I have called a “crack torch” as it spewed out oil and light into the night air in front of us.

The world around us came a little bit to life. I could now see that we were in the middle of a small field of tall grass, making our way up a trampled path about five feet wide, which cut through the shoulder-high grass all around us. I felt like I was in a Jurassic Park movie, foolishly walking through the killing fields while predators moved in on me from every direction.

Those velociraptors would not come and slash our bellies with their clawed toes though. We would reach the end of the trail and met a charred, tipped-over refrigerator filled with scraps of dirty diapers, potato chip wrappers and used condoms. I gagged in the back of my throat when the smell of the wreckage tingled my nose.

That burning scent was quickly replaced with a smell I held much closer to my heart – the smoky haze of a crackling fire.

“Come one, I think I know where he is,” Valerie whispered into my ear.

Valerie darted off to the right, towards what looked to be nothing but thick brush, as opposed to the well-beaten, muddy path which lay in front of us. Unnerved by her sudden whisper, I grabbed her before she was out of reach.

“Why are we whispering,” I whispered into her ear.

“We just don’t want to disturb anyone who might be in here if we don’t have to. Come on.”

Valerie took back off in the direction of the brush.

“We’re going into that shit?” I asked at a regular volume.

Valerie turned around and glared at me through glazed eyes and put a silencing index finger to her lips before she turned right back around and disappeared into the dark brush.

I followed Valerie through the tangle of brush and instantly felt my entire body get soaked with the moisture which had been left on the leaves and branches. Mother of fuck. I pushed myself through for a good 10 seconds before I reached Valerie and an upright refrigerator nestled between two thick tree trunks and endless seas of sticker bushes.

I watched Valerie fumble around with a thick ring of keys and then go to a lock which was strapped across the handles of the refrigerator and the freezer portions of the dead appliance which laid rusted in front of us. I was truly impressed when I saw her stick a key in the lock, rip off the chain of a restraint and then open up the frig portion of the thing.

Valerie ducked down and led me through the heart of the refrigerator and out the back of the thing which had been hollowed out. Once back on standing feet, I found myself in a clearing centered around a massive oak tree which tangled out thick branches all around us.

I thought I remembered seeing the tree before when I was a kid. I thought I could remember sneaking into these woods with other kids from the school and climbing the thing’s sturdy branches, which were low enough to climb up on if you could throw a rope over one and pull yourself up, but I wasn’t exactly sure.

The one thing I was sure of was the white trash wet dream of a tree house which now rested in the heart of the tree was not there if I had been there before.

Constructed of what street signs, scrapped sheet metal, pallets and what looked to be remnants of parts of nylon camping tents, the tree house looked to be about 10-feet tall from the first sturdy branch of the tree and looked to stretch out about 15-feet wide. The thing looked like a shittier version of one of those huge tree houses you might see a group of children have in a Disney movie and drool over because you know your drunken parents could never build something like that and even if they did, tweakers would be living in it in about two weeks and shitting on the floor.

Well, actually, based on what I could see from the ground, it looked exactly like that drug addict taking dumps in coffee cans scenario may have been playing out.

“Follow me,” Valerie interrupted my daydreaming just as my eye caught glimpse of a lantern shining through one of the clear pieces of nylon on the side of the structure which appeared to serve as windows.

I followed Valerie through the mud which my boots sunk into past the tread until we were at the base of the tree.

“Tom,” Valerie called up at the treehouse.

There was no answer, just a whip from the wind.

“Tom,” Valerie called up again.

There wasn’t an answer, but through the clear, nylon window, I saw the lantern get closer and then saw a familiar face through the stained fabric.

“Oh shit,” I heard my brother’s froggy, throaty drawl leak out of the treehouse.

Within a few seconds, I was looking at my brother’s sunken eyes resting above by what looked to be a beard of a few months, dangling out of the front door of the treehouse. Those eyes went wide when he fully laid eyes upon the both of us standing down in the mud. He looked at me confused for about five seconds, giving me the look a dog gives you when you pretend to throw a ball and then tuck it behind your back.

Tom’s anger appeared to melt to just annoyance. He shook his head and muttered.

“Just get up here.”

A chain link ladder dropped out of the front door of the treehouse, smacked the base of the tree hard and swayed back and forth while Valerie and I walked up to the tree.

The treehouse looked nothing like something out of a Disney kids movie once inside. Filthy, moist and crawling with pill bugs, I felt like my skin wanted to jump up off of my muscles and run for the hills once I came inside and took a seat on the rotting wood of the floor across from Tom. Making matters worse was Valerie, who was already shooting up in the corner.

Tom looked me over again in the pale light of the lantern for a few moments in a manner that suggested he either didn’t believe it was me, or still wasn’t sure who I was.

“Fucking Michael,” Tom confirmed he did know who I was and that he was not happy about my presence at the same time. “What the flying fuck are you doing in the god damn Jungle?”

“Well, I came to help you out, I guess?”

Tom laughed with a zest that suggested sobriety.

“Ah, the liberal white knight descends from the Valhalla of California to save his small town junkie brother. Noble, noble indeed brother, but you should have kept your ass back in hipster town, because you only made things worse. You want to help the small town fuck up? You should have thought about that before you abandoned us all for Pussyville.”

Tom interrupted his tongue lashing to go peer out the window in the side of the room.

“What’s the problem, then?”

Tom pulled back into the room as soon as I finished my question and flicked off the lantern, sending us into complete darkness.

“I wish my problem was as simple as fucking heroin or meth or crack or something. That would be nice,” Tom’s voice cut through the night.

“What are you talking about?”

“Despite what it might seem with your old flame over there hanging out with me. This whole Jungle, junkie thing is an act. Sure, I was smoking a lot of weed for a long time, smoked heroin a few times too, but that was it. What’s going on with me is a lot worse than that.”

“Cut the mysterious shit Tom. What are you talking about?”

Tom first responded with a nervous laugh, then a hiccup, before he finally gave a soft answer.

“Something was after me. Something in that house was after me.”

“What?”

The nervous laugh returned again.

“Something, I swear. I kept waking up in the middle of the night with this shadow standing at the foot of the bed. When I got up in the morning, I swore I heard something running down the stairs. I slept with the light on like we were six again for three god damn months. Didn’t sleep for like half a year. Then I started waking up with these bloody scratches and like slap marks all over me. Like the ones you know they talk about on those old Unsolved Mysteries episodes and stuff. Like, this ghost is cutting me.”

“What? A ghost, Tom?”

“I swear. That, or I fucked with someone I don’t even remember and they are playing some serious long con shit on me. Either way, I had to split from that old house and I didn’t have the money to go anywhere else. I figured adding a layer of looking like a junkie would make whoever was doing this to just forget about me like you did.”

“Stop it.”

Tom laughed.

“At first I thought it was just coming from the few times I did actually try smoking heroin and doing a little molly, but then I started getting the creepy ass notes, and that was the last fuckin straw. Here.”

Tom clicked the lantern back on. He reached around and found a little box while my eyes burned from the blue light.

Tom spread out a cluttered pile of various papers, receipts and napkins which had notes written in what looked to be red colored pencil.

Save yourself.

Stop. Just stop.

You’re going to die.

Stop. Or I’ll make you stop.

Each note seemed to be at least mildly threatening, cryptic and mysterious. Just reading them sent chills down my entire body, especially when Tom shut the lantern back off, and we were in the dark again.

“Why…

I started in, but was interrupted by the loud clanging of the chain link ladder crashing against the tree trunk below.

“Shit,” Tom muttered.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Just shut the fuck up for a second,” Tom whispered back.

I felt Tom move over to the window and held my tongue until he flicked the lantern back on.

“What happened?”

Tom didn’t answer at first, just looked around the room with a look of concern for a few second until I realized what that concern was about.

Valerie was gone.

“Was that expected?” I asked. “Her bailing?”

Tom was staring at the floor and biting his lip.

“No. She doesn’t bail. I don’t think she bailed either.”

I followed Tom’s eyes to what he was looking at – a clump of stray long brown hairs and a fresh note lying right next to the entrance to the treehouse.

“Holy fuck,” I gasped.

Tom scooped up the note which read: RID HER FROM YOUR LIFE!

Tom let out a deep breath and I did the same.

“See what I’m talking about?” Tom started in. “Maybe I should just get into Valerie’s junk. At least it might numb this shit.”

I went over to the edge of the room and peered out the window. I couldn’t see anything down in the darkness of the little clearing all around the tree, but could hear rustling out in the brush.

“You think something took her?” I asked Tom.

I watched Tom slink into the corner of the room before he flicked off the lantern.

“I don’t even care anymore brother. I’m done.”

I felt Tom slump into the corner, his body shook the treehouse.

“You can peace out if you don’t want to be part of this shot?” Tom went on.

I heard those distant rustlings much closer once Tom stopped talking. It now sounded like they were right at the base of the tree.

“We should pull up the ladder,” I whispered to Tom.

Too late. I heard the ladder rattle against the tree trunk. Someone was climbing up.

“Better get out brother,” I heard Tom’s voice over from the corner. “I got a back escape exit on the other side of the room.”

Tom flicked the lantern on and shined it on a nylon piece of the wall with a zipper in the middle of it.

The light flicked back off.

“Come on,” I pleaded with Tom.

I heard the rattling chains of the ladder just below the entrance now.

“Better go now,” Tom replied.

I followed his directions, ran at the wall, ripped down the zipper and found myself in the outside world in the moonlight, standing on a thick tree branch which dipped down just enough to where you could jump off the end of it and be fine when you landed in the mud. I scurried down the spine of the thick branch like a squirrel and launched myself off of the end and down into the mud where I landed hard with a thud.

Once on the ground and collected, I looked back up at the treehouse, but couldn’t see anything in the darkness of the window. Had what I heard just been Valerie coming back? I blushed in the darkness thinking about my cowardice.

I toyed with going back to the treehouse, but I couldn’t face Tom after abandoning him again. It was time for me to do my thing and tuck my tail back between my legs and take off, at least for the night.

It was easy, but I found my way back out of The Jungle and, within a few minutes, was back in my little Kia, cranking the heat and crying like a baby.

beetlejuice

Something pulled me back to my childhood home that night. It wasn’t just that it was 2 a.m. and there weren’t motels that would be open for more than 50 miles. I just felt like I needed to stay at least one night there.

I felt like sleeping a night in my old bedroom without the comfort of man-made heat, serenaded by the sounds of the mice running through the walls might give me some perspective on the last 38 years and the last 24 hours. I wasn’t sure if Tom was going to be okay, but there was also nothing I could probably realistically do. He was right, I was a coward and should have stayed in the comfort of my urban cage.

But there I was, still wrapped up in my junkie costume, laying on top of my filthy Seahawks blanket, staring up at the ceiling, which still had brown stains from when a bottle of root beer exploded on my bed when I was 12, feeling like there had to be something I could do. However, that confidence went out the window when I hear footsteps walk past my bedroom door.

The last drops of heroic confidence which were dripping in my veins went down the drain once I heard those soft footsteps walk past the wood of my bedroom door and head to the end of the hallway.

I had locked all the doors. That I knew. But had someone already been in the house? Maybe it was just Valerie? That was probably it.

I barely had any ounces of energy left, but I figured I had to get up and investigate to confirm it was Valerie. So exhausted, I almost fell on my ass as soon as I worked my way to my feet and staggered to the door.

The house seemed to be about 10 times colder out in the hallway. I instantly regretted getting up, and walking out there and not just because of the temperature. Maybe standing up cleared my senses, but that paralyzing fear instantly washed back over me once I was out there.

The fear only cranked up when I turned around to retreat to the room and saw a note, just like the ones Tom showed me in the tree house, pinned to my bedroom door. It read: CLEAN YOUR ROOM MICHAEL!

I had received this note before, or one basically like it, written in that same red colored pencil a hundred times before. It was the kind of note my mom used to leave around the house when she was frustrated with me or Tom.

It all started to click and that was before I even heard the light tune of a familiar song seeping out from the closed door to my mom’s old bedroom.

Strawberry wine, seventeen…

My mom’s favorite song, the one from the mid-90s she played all the time that Tom and I would scream her to turn off. I hadn’t heard it more than 20 years. I hated it back then, but it couldn’t have sounded any sweeter at the moment. I followed the tune to the closed door of my mom’s bedroom where it grew louder and toned out the warmth of vinyl, instantly making me remember laughing out my mom’s insistence on playing records instead of CDs.

I stood there for a few moments, just taking in the sweet sound of some long-forgotten country artists whose name I couldn’t even remember. A tune never sounded so sweet. Its lullaby made me forget that I should be afraid in the situation. It was possibly a complete stranger had just been in the house or broken in and decide to listen to some music before they went to work on disemboweling me.

I didn’t care anymore, I reached my hand down and opened that door I had opened a thousand times and never even thought about it.

The open door revealed a record spinning on the turn table next to my mom’s old bed, the lingering smoke of a recently-killed cigarette and the scent of the perfume my mom always wore. Drawn in by the nostalgic scene, I stepped into the room and walked up to the bed, where I saw another one of my mom’s signature notes resting next to her beloved stuffed duck Bill.

I bent down and picked up the note.

Michael,

Thank you for coming back to help your brother. He needs it. I didn’t want to scare him, but I didn’t know how else to stop him from killing himself. Now you know who the ghost is. You can tell him. I tried. He never listened to me anyway. I think if you do that, then I can actually rest in peace.

Love, Mom

beetlejuice

I would have to brave The Jungle by myself this time. No burnt out ex-girlfriend to escort me, I walked through its dark little arbor of an entrance with my hands clutching a knife tucked into my jacket pocket. I may have known that the mysterious presence which was stalking Tom was the soft, loving ghost of my mom, but I still knew The Jungle was probably filled to the brim with unsavory characters who could spot the California pussy presence which had burned upon my soul the past 15 years.

Through the abandoned and unlocked (I assume by a high-as-fuck Valerie) frig door, I was back at the foot of the tree my brother now called home. I looked up and saw the little light his meager lantern gave off and felt a warmth in my heart despite the cold night all around me.

“Tom,” I called up to the treehouse.

I waited for a few moments, knowing I would see that lantern and his familiar, annoyed mug in the nylon window, but nothing came.

I saw the chain link ladder thankfully dangling just above my head. Thank you again, Valerie.

I grabbed a hold of the cold steel and pulled my exhausted body up into the treehouse, until I was at the zipper of the entrance, listening to someone loudly snore.

Relief. Tom was just sleeping. That’s why he didn’t answer.

I unzipped the tent zipper and slipped into the treehouse to discover that last thought I had was fucking wrong.

There in the corner, propped up against the rough wood of a pallet and out cold with a needle sticking out of his arm was Tom.

I was too late.

beetlejuice

I had to wait outside my brother’s room for hours before they would let me in to see that he had survived the overdose.

I burst into the room as soon as they let me and saw Tom lying there in the scratchy light blue bedding of the hospital bed and fought back the instant desire to strangle him the way Homer would Bart in early episodes of The Simpsons. He looked so tired and innocent in that bed, I didn’t have the heart to really even think about doing it.

Instead, I just stood at the foot of his bed and watched him sleep peacefully for a few moments. I relished in each and every time his chest rose and fall.

Despite Tom’s metro ridicule, I had done what I could to save him. I would be lying if it didn’t feel good to not only do what I set out to do, but also defy the doubts and barbs of my little brother.

I could never let it show. I just walked over to Tom and kissed him on his forehead. Would never tell him how the pussy, hipster piece of shit from Silver Lake saved his ass. Then again, maybe the prideful blood which was pumping through my veins was exactly the kind of shit Tom was talking about?

Even I kind of hated myself, but enough of that. It was time to split from Tom’s room and let him keeping charging his batteries alone.

I laughed every time I looked at that little red Kia I was driving. Wasn’t it the car those hamsters drove in commercials? The world was funny again.

Just a few steps from that hamstermobile, I realized the country tune I thought was coming from another car in the hospital was in fact coming from the inside of the rental car I was just about to floor board down to Sea-Tac. I picked up exactly which song it was before I opened the door and released the blaring tune out into the wild of the rainy parking lot.

Strawberry wine, seventeen…

I jumped in and cranked down the volume of the stereo. Hit eject on the CD player (yes, the rental car still had a CD player).

A familiar silver disc rolled out of the little slit of a CD player. The kind of plain print CD that used to fill up my prized soft pack CD collection back in the 90s and early-2000s.

The music now at a non-early-splitting level I turned my attention to the steering wheel where I saw a note waving in the wind above the wheel and up on the dusty dash.

I couldn’t have pulled the note to me any faster and the initial shock of the situation melted away when I saw that familiar red colored pencil and soft handwriting.

Michael –

I am so so proud of what you are able to do and I love you so so much. I couldn’t love you any more. And don’t worry about Tom. I will keep an eye on him ;)

Mom

I put the CD back in the player and let it fire up. Skipped ahead to track eight, which I knew by heart. I put the keys in the ignition and backed out of my parking spot. I was ready to go home. Back to Pussyville, as Tom would call it. TC mark

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