The police seem eager to write the attack off as a random mugging, but Killian was there and he knows better. With the help of the murdered boy’s father and his friends, Killian starts his own investigation. His search turns up hatred in small town America, and before it’s over, more people will be dead, and Killian’s life will be on the line again.
PD Publishing (2nd edition, 2007)
(This version has been rewritten since the original version, published in 2001.)
As usual, no hands went up. All of us who took Mr. Tatum's drama class knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into. His reputation preceded him. Those who were serious about acting admired him for it. Everyone else thought he was a tyrant.
Personally, I adored him. Drama was my one escape. I did well enough in my other classes. In fact, I usually managed straight A's. Despite that—or maybe because of it—I didn't fit in. The group I hung out with was pretty popular, but somehow their popularity never rubbed off on me. I was just the hanger-on. No one ever noticed me. It wasn't like that in Drama though. In that room, or on stage, I shone. I could break away from my humdrum life and become someone else. I could lose myself in a part and, for a while at least, forget who I really was. The drama crowd actually respected me. Not that I was friends with any of them or anything, but they respected me. That was enough.
"Excellent," Mr. Tatum said, preparing to go on with his rehearsed spiel. Just then, the door opened and a head popped in.
"Yes?" Mr. Tatum snapped, somewhat annoyed at being interrupted.
The rest of the body came into view—and a nice body it was, I couldn't help but notice. I'd never seen him before so he must have been new. He was taller than I was, maybe close to six feet, and willowy thin. He had red-gold hair that seemed to stick up in every direction, and elfin features. In fact, he looked amazingly like an elf—even to his incredibly green eyes. I wondered if they were colored contacts. Then I wondered why I cared. Why was I so intrigued by this guy?
"My name is Seth," he announced. "Seth Connelly. I'm transferring into this class. Here's the paperwork."
He handed the teacher a file and looked around the room. He carried himself with an air of confidence. Not arrogance exactly, but not far from it. His eyes met mine and lingered. I looked away first.
After Mr. Tatum had mulled over the file's contents, he grudgingly admitted, "It appears this is all in order. Why don't you find a seat, Mr. Connelly, and we can continue with the class."
The new boy scanned the room and caught me staring at him again. I quickly glanced away, but it was too late. The next thing I knew, he was sitting down at the desk next to me. There were empty desks all over the room, but he had to choose the one beside me. Mr. Tatum picked up where he'd left off. I could feel Seth's eyes on me, but I refused to look over at him.
"Hi," he said after a few seconds. He extended his hand. "I'm Seth."
I gaped at him a moment before sliding my hand into his. "Killian."
He held on a bit longer than seemed necessary, then smiled at me before turning back towards Mr. Tatum.
My head was swimming and I suddenly felt warm all over. I wondered if I were coming down with something. I couldn't be attracted to Seth. He was a guy! I had to admit, though, I'd never felt like that before.
I tore my eyes away from him and tried to pay attention to Mr. Tatum, but they seemed to have developed a mind of their own. They kept finding their way back to Seth. I hoped like crazy that no one in the class noticed my sudden obsession.
Finally, the bell rang. I scooped up my books and headed for the door with my head down.
"Killian! Wait!" I heard Seth call.
I waited just outside the door for him to catch up, but didn't turn around.
"Hey." He came alongside me.
"Hey." What can I say? I'm a brilliant conversationalist. I started walking again.
"So look, I'm new here and I'm still getting lost. Think you could show me how to find my locker?"
"Yeah, sure," I mumbled, still not looking at him. "Where is it?"
He gave me his locker number and I led the way, neither of us speaking a word. I felt Seth studying me as we went. I thought I should say something to break the silence, but my brain seemed to have stopped functioning. I couldn't come up with anything that didn't sound stupid or dorky. The tension grew until finally he spoke up again.
"Killian. That's a different name. I don't think I've ever heard it before."
"It's Irish. My grandfather was from Ireland. He named me."
"Are you close to your grandfather?" Something in his voice made me look up at him for the first time since we'd left the classroom. He had a sense of sadness and loss about him that made me wonder where the question came from.
"No. He died when I was four. I don't really remember him."
I saw disappointment in his eyes. They were so expressive, every emotion laid bare as if you were looking directly into his soul.
"Why did you ask if we were close?"
"No reason. Just wondering." He glanced away, then looked back at me again. "I'm not close to my grandfather. I'm not close to most of my family these days."
I regarded him curiously. I'd been brought up with Southern manners, however, and it would have been a breech of etiquette to ask him to explain further.
He read the question in my eyes anyway. "Killian, I'm gay."
I stopped dead in my tracks.
"I think I can find it from here. Thanks, man. See ya around."
I watched him walk away, his shoulder slumped and head down. I'm not sure how long I stood rooted to the spot, maybe just a few seconds, maybe minutes. I was lost in thought and didn't care. The stream of people flowed around me but I didn't notice any of them.
I told Mom I was going for a walk and left. I had plenty of time on the fifteen-minute stroll to think about things—and I had a lot to think about. So much had happened in the last two weeks. I'd realized I was gay and admitted it to myself. I'd come out to one of the pastors at my church and to a new friend who was also gay. Then I'd alienated all my old friends, maybe for good. I had been kissed for the first time, and it was by a guy. I wondered briefly if it counted if you hit them afterwards, but decided it did. Then to top it all off, I'd found out that my mother was a real person after all—and I liked her. Who would have thought?
I wondered what Seth would add to my list that night. Would he kiss me again? Did I want him to? I wasn't sure. Part of me did, but part of me was scared too. I finally decided that if he did, I wouldn't stop him this time.
I was so lost in thought that I almost walked past the trail to the manmade fishpond sitting back in a copse. The forest was small but thick with lots of undergrowth and high weeds on either side of the narrow trail circling the tiny body of water. The pond itself was a murky green, fed by drainage ditches and rainfall. We'd had plenty of the latter so the water level was quite high. Although the town had built cutesy little arched bridges over the ditches, everything still looked rather seedy and creepy, even in the middle of the day. At night, it was downright frightening.
It was just at the edge of dusk, the time when it's hardest to see because the whole world looks like an old black-and-white movie with bad contrast. I didn't notice anybody near the pond, but I couldn't be sure, so I started to walk around it. Maybe I'd arrived before Seth.
As I began to cross the first bridge, I thought I saw something move on the far side of the pond. I paused and strained my eyes, but couldn't tell if I'd really seen it or if it was just a trick of the shadows. I picked up my pace as I got closer to the area where I thought I'd seen movement.
When I neared the spot, I called out in a hushed voice, "Seth?" If it is Seth, I thought, he'll never recognize my voice. I wasn't sure why I wasn't louder, but a sudden feeling of terror had crept over me. Goose bumps covered my arms and the hair was standing up on the back of my neck. I almost turned and ran. Then I told myself I was being stupid and kept walking. "Seth?" I called again in my new raspy voice.
Still no one answered me, so I thought maybe I'd imagined the whole thing. Just then, I saw a shape lying on the ground. I froze in my tracks. It looked disturbingly like a person. Could someone have had a heart attack? I wanted get out of there, but that seemed wrong if somebody was in need of help, so I reluctantly kept walking forward. I still wasn't close enough to see what it was when a sudden crashing sound came from the undergrowth. I spun around in time to see a figure explode out of the trees towards me with a feral snarl.
The figure slammed into me, cutting off my scream before it left my mouth. The impact sent the two of us rolling across the ground. It was human. I was sure of that much while we grappled. Fear gave me strength I didn't know I possessed as I tried desperately to get away, but my attacker seemed to have an equal source of inspiration. At first, I thought maybe it was Seth playing a sick joke. The ferocity of the grip quickly made that seem unlikely. I couldn't turn around to see, since my attacker now had me from behind in a tight hold.
One hand abruptly let go and the weight on top of me shifted. Before I could take advantage of that, the person raised an arm and quickly brought it down. I saw a metallic flash in the moonlight. It was a knife! Everything seemed to go in slow motion. I felt the impact of the knife in my side, and the air rushed out of me with an audible "oof." Almost instantly, a searing, paralyzing pain spread through my entire body, and I sensed my own warm blood gushing out.
I've been stabbed.
My brain registered what had happened in a kind of detached manner. It was difficult to accept. I wondered idly if this was what they called shock.
The fight had gone out of me and my attacker knew it. He let go of me with his other arm and yanked the knife out. I collapsed to the ground as he sat up over me, roughly flipping me onto my back. Though I tried to get a look at my assailant, the pain must have blinded me. I couldn't make out any facial features. The arm rose again, then stopped. I lay there staring helplessly up at the faceless monster above me, waiting for the knife to fall once more and finish me off. I could do nothing but whimper.
"Shit!" the person hissed. He lurched up and took off running.
What just happened?
I didn't move for a few seconds.
I'm still alive.
The thought was abstract. The pain was all I was really aware of. I was having difficulty breathing. With each breath, the knife pierced me again. When I struggled to sit up, agony flashed through my body and I felt myself blacking out.
I don't want to die.
Darkness surrounded me, but I fought back. Somehow, I managed to roll onto my side. With a little more effort, I got to my hands and knees. I pressed one hand tightly against the wound and tried to stand up. I almost collapsed again. My head was spinning too much. I could feel the blood pulsing between my fingers with every beat of my heart.
I wanted to scream, yet couldn't get enough air to cry, let alone call for help. I was also afraid my attacker would come back. Maybe he'd left me there to die and he'd come back to check. I looked around for help, but couldn't see over the weeds. Although I could glimpse the lights of nearby houses shining faintly among the trees, I knew my chances of getting through the underbrush in my condition were next to none. I was more likely to be found if I stayed on the trail. Sometimes people walked their dogs in the park.
The figure lying on the ground once again caught my attention. I could see that it was definitely a person. It looked like a man—at least he had short hair. He hadn't moved since I'd first noticed him. Maybe I had interrupted a mugging and the victim was just unconscious. Maybe I could wake the person up to get help.
I began to crawl towards the still figure. My progress was excruciatingly slow. Every movement brought a wave of intense agony. Nausea rolled over me in palpable waves and sweat ran down my face. My vision swam in and out. It was all I could do to stay conscious. Some detached part of my mind noted that my shirt was soaked with my own blood. I knew I was losing a lot, which probably explained why I was so lightheaded.
After what felt like an eternity, I reached the figure. He was lying on his side facing away from me. I grabbed his shoulder and rolled him towards me. As soon as the body fell flat on its back, I knew I wouldn't be waking him up. His throat had been slashed open, the gash angry and raw. It's amazing the little things you notice in a moment like that. I saw leaves and small pebbles stuck in the drying blood around the wound, and I wanted to brush them off. They looked unspeakably obscene, as if the gaping slit weren't obscene enough.
I felt the blackness swirling around me again and decided not to fight it this time. In the last second before I allowed it to overwhelm me, I looked at the face.
My last thought before succumbing to the void was, Oh God, not Seth.
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