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The Harvest Children

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8250 County Road HH, in Marshfield, Wisconsin. There was a cornfield behind it, and nothing directly across the street except for a street lamp. The house itself wasn’t too bad, even though it was small and there was nothing around except for Elena’s three farm cats. It was Mikey and Gee’s new home, though, now that they were orphans.

 

“I guess this is what people mean when they say buttfuck nowhere,” Gee said. She was making her voice higher on purpose, and it annoyed Mikey even though he knew why she was doing it. She’d convinced their mom and dad to let her start taking HRT last year, because she was sixteen and Jersey allowed it with the parents’ permission. Now, though, Gee and Mikey were in a tiny town in Wisconsin, because their grandmother owned a small farm, and they had nowhere else to go. Everyone else in their family thought that Gee was a pervert for being trans, and didn’t want her. And if they didn’t want Gee, they sure as fuck weren’t getting Mikey.

 

Mikey pushed his glasses up his nose. “Do you think she has wifi out here? Or am I completely fucked?”

 

“Why are you worried about wifi?” Gee said. “I’m about to go into a new school as a junior , Mikes. I’ve got three and a half semesters left, and I have to completely start over. And on top of that, mom and dad are gone, and it’s just… it’s fucking weird.”

 

“I know, but I just want some sense of normalcy,” Mikey said. He pulled his backpack out of Elena’s truck. She was already at the door, talking to the CPS worker who’d brought Mikey and Gee out to Wisconsin. It was a long drive from the Austen Straubel in Green Bay to Marshfield. Mikey had seen a lot of corn fields fly by while his grandma drove with the radio fizzling in and out the farther they all got from civilisation.

 

He followed Gee up the driveway and into the house. There was grandmothery, peach coloured wall paper in the living room and dining room, both of which were tiny. There were also two deer heads on either side of one of the windows in the dining room, and they were staring Mikey down as he looked around the house. He’d never been here before, because his family had lived too far away and Elena was always too busy farming to have her grandkids come and visit just for fun.

 

Elena showed the Way kids up to their bedrooms, which were on the second floor and had sloped ceilings that made Mikey think he’d wake up in the middle of the night and accidentally give himself a concussion. Their bathroom was one of the funniest bathrooms Mikey had ever seen, but he couldn’t bring himself to laugh at the shower squished into the sloped ceiling. He and Gee weren’t here by choice, but because their parents had been killed during a house robbery.

 

Mikey missed New Jersey, but he was glad that he and Gee were going to finish out high school in a less violent area. Mikey didn’t think most fifteen year old kids walked around with a pocketknife and a can of mace to protect themselves. It would be weird, going to sleep to the sound of crickets instead of gunshots and sirens and people screeching at each other.

 

Mikey dropped his things down onto his bed and carefully flopped down onto it so that he didn’t hit his head. “I miss Jersey.”

 

Gee was in her room, blasting the Talking Heads and doing whatever she did to mourn. Mikey wished he had his music library, but unfortunately he’d been cocky and had made a giant playlist on YouTube of all the music he listened to. He hadn’t heard Elena say anything about WiFi, and he didn’t know if it was too soon to ask her about it.

 


 

Elena did have WiFi, but it wasn’t the greatest connection, and Mikey had to sit with his back against the door to his room to get any signal. Luckily, there was a plug nearby, and he could place his laptop by the door and walk away from it to do other stuff. Some of that stuff included unpacking all of the things he’d brought over from Jersey, and then turning his music up louder when he couldn’t stop thinking about his mom and dad and how it sucked that Gee had been the one to find them.

 

It was almost a month ago, now. Mikey’s parents had been killed just a week after his fifteenth birthday, at two in the morning. Mikey had been in his bedroom, playing GTA on his laptop with his headphones in and the volume turned up too high too hear anything. Gee had been out at a party with some of her friends, smoking and drinking and doing all of the cool teenager things she could do because she was goth and interesting while Mikey was just awkward.

 

Gee’d come home about an hour after their parents were shot, and found them lying in their own blood in the living room. She called 9-1-1, terrified, because she didn’t know what had happened, and then went to look for Mikey.

 

Mikey still hadn’t seen a dead body, but he had seen the blood his mom and dad left behind. It was… Mikey didn’t have the words for it. He turned up the volume on She’s Lost Control again and pulled out his school stuff. He and Gee were going to be starting school tomorrow, at the local high school, and while Gee was worried, Mikey was just tired. He didn’t hate school, because his high school in Jersey was big and underfunded and overcrowded, but it had a really good science program. Mikey could hang out in the upstairs science lab for hours on end, messing around with dying herbs and crawfish that had seen better days.

 

Mikey hoped there was a good science program at Marshfield High. Elena had mentioned that it was a good school and that it offered a lot of AP programs, but Mikey didn’t care about AP shit or bumping up his high school resume. He was fifteen, and his parents had just died. All he wanted was to get to study little animals doing their thing. He’d convinced Elena to let him sign up for both Biology and Anatomy, though, which Mikey counted as a win.

 

It was late at night, and the only light from outside was the street lamp on the other side of the road. Mikey walked over to his window and looked out at the darkness. It was so weird, looking outside at night and not being able to see anything. The house in Jersey had been right between a bagel shop and a liquor store, so there were always lights on outside when it was dark. There was nothing out here, just the windy October air and miles of corn.

 

Mikey opened his window, because he could for the first time in his life, and leaned out. He peered down the road for as far as he could see, trying to see into the town of Marshfield, but all he could see was the faint light of the trucking company down the road. Mikey’d been repeating himself a lot, but it was still so, so weird to go from constant noise and light to absolutely nothing.

 

He hoped he’d get used to it, because it was pretty out here. It just also felt like he was being watched, because there was no way one area could be completely devoid of people. Mikey was too much of a city kid to believe that.

 


 

Mikey and Gee were riding the bus. It wasn’t a big change, because they’d rode the bus too and from school back in Jersey. It was strange, however, to stand out alone in the dark with only Gee and a dull street light to keep him company. Elena had to get up early to make breakfast for Gee and Mikey and for the three guys who helped her out on the farm. She kept chickens and two dairy cows, but she was too old to take care of them all and keep up the corn and other vegetables she grew as well. Because of all that, she couldn’t come out with them and wait at the bus stop.

 

“Someone could come by and kidnap us right now and no one would realise it,” Gee said.

 

Mikey rolled his eyes. “Elena’s still there, you know. And she’d hear us if we started screaming. She’s not deaf, you know.”

 

“Yeah. I think that’s why she sleeps downstairs, so that she doesn’t have to listen to our music all the time,” Gee said. “We’re really loud.”

 

“No shit,” Mikey said, and squinted because a pair of headlights were coming towards them. Sure enough, it was the bus, and it pulled to a stop in front of them. Mikey let Gee on first, since she was a girl and Mikey was trying his best to let everyone around them know that she was a girl. He followed her on, and the two of them grabbed different seats.

 

There was no one in the back two rows, which was strange, because back in Jersey, the back of the bus was coveted by everyone, and it was a sign of status to get to sit in seat 12. Gee always sat up in seat 3, behind the driver, because she was trans and bisexual, and she was afraid of getting hit. Mikey didn’t worry about that, because he hadn’t told anyone that he was gay, not even Gee, and no one seemed to realise it on their own.

 

Mikey stretched out in seat 12, passenger side, and kicked his legs up on the seat. The bus started up, and Mikey pulled out his earbuds. He had some music on his iPod, but it wasn’t as good as his YouTube playlist. Mikey had spent hours making that playlist, and now he was out in the middle of nowhere and unable to use it.

 

While the bus was still moving, a guy stood up and walked back to where Mikey was sitting. He tapped at Mikey’s ankle until Mikey paused his music and looked up. Mikey frowned. “Is this your seat?”

 

“No, but you definitely don’t want to be sitting here,” the guy said. “You can sit with me, if you want, but the back seats are reserved for the McGuinness kids.”

 

Mikey wasn’t going to argue with that, even though he had no idea who the McGuinness kids even were. He grabbed his backpack and followed this new guy back to seat 7, passenger side. Because the other kid had gotten there first, he got the window seat, but he didn’t pull out of his earbuds or anything. Instead, he turned sideways in his seat and looked Mikey up and down. “I’m Gabe, by the way. You’re new, aren’t you?”

 

“Yeah, my sister and I just moved in with our grandma,” Mikey said. “I’m a freshman, but I’m from Jersey, so, you know.”

 

“I don’t know,” Gabe said. “The only thing I know about New Jersey is that Sookie lives there, and that they have some stupid ass accents.”

 

Mikey rolled his eyes. “It means I’m tough, okay? Not, like, physically, but I don’t get scared. People got shot or robbed or stabbed all the time, and it… I mean it sucked, and it was scary, but in comparison to starting high school, it wasn’t that bad.”

 

“It’s cool. I’m a freshman too, but most people don’t realise it because I’m tall,” Gabe said. “And I totally get the whole Jersey thing, now. My mom and dad are from Uruguay, and they left when I was a kid because of all the violence down there.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Mikey said, because they didn’t know what else to say. Gee had been bullied for being transgender, but he’d never been a target of violence himself. He couldn’t imagine having to flee a country. He knew, that if Gee’s life was ever in danger, or Elena’s for that matter, he’d run away with them. Mikey wouldn’t let anyone hurt his family if he could help it, especially after losing his parents. He and Gee were orphans, but Elena had also lost her daughter, the one who had made it big as a dancer in New York before meeting and falling in love with a desk job man.

 

Mikey’s parents’ story was like the American dream, except for where they couldn’t get out of New Jersey and ended up getting shot at two in the morning. Other than that, it was perfect.

 

“It’s okay,” Gabe said. “I don’t know why my parents picked Marshfield, though. There’s nothing here, and everyone is fucking white.”

 

Mikey looked around at the other people who were on the bus. Sure enough, there were a lot of pale, blond haired kids sitting in the seats. Other than himself, Gabe, and Gee, there were only two other brunettes. “Holy shit, you’re right.”

 

“How white was New Jersey?”

 

“Not…. not at all like this,” Mikey said. He’d never paid much attention to how many of his classmates were the same race as him, because he’d never really had to. Now, though, he was starting to realise how monotone this town was. Gabe stuck out like a sore thumb with his thick, dark, curly hair and his olive skin. He was pretty, but he didn’t look like the other kids. Mikey and Gee were pale enough that they looked like the others on the bus. He shook his head. “Jesus Christ, dude. This is so weird.”

 

“It gets worse; my family’s Jewish, too,” Gabe said. “We’re one of the only Jewish families in the area.”

 

“Who else is Jewish?” Mikey asked. There’d been a large-ish Jewish community near where he and Gee had grown up in Jersey. They lived in an Italian neighbourhood, obviously, since their dad was second generation Italian. The next neighbourhood over was a Jewish one, and then a Hispanic one on the other side of that.

 

“The Trohmans, but it’s just Mr. and Ms. Trohman and their baby,” Gabe said. “I’m the only teenager who doesn’t go to church on Sundays. This place is like a ghost town on Sunday mornings.”

 

“I wouldn’t know,” Mikey said. “My family’s Catholic.”

 

“That’s cool,” Gabe said. And then, “ah, fuck. Here they come.”

 

“They?”

 

“The McGuinnesses,” Gabe said, rolling his eyes. “Their dad owns the manufacturing company, and so they’re like, super rich because of it. But like, country rich, not Kardashian rich. And there are a fuckton of the kids, too. I’m pretty sure at least two of them are sleeping together. They’re fucking weird.”

 

The doors to the bus opened, and five stocky blonde kids came up onto the bus. There were three girls and two boys, and they all had the same face. They looked like they’d all run into a door as babies, and now their faces were permanently flat. They had the same white-blonde hair, with the boys rocking crew cuts and the girls parting their hair in the middle.

 

Mikey whispered, “they look like they came out of an ad for Nazi Germany.”

 

“They probably did,” Gabe said. “Pretty much everyone here is German or Polish.”

 

“Oh, damn,” Mikey said, remembering that Gabe was Jewish and that that had to be awkward for him. He looked around the bus again, and realised that the McGuinnesses weren’t the only ones who looked like a ripoff of a Fascist ad from 1938. He sucked in a deep breath. “Shit. I thought Wisconsin was supposed to be progressive.”

 

“Like most places, it’s only progressive in the big cities,” Gabe said. “Out here in the country? There are no rules, and the white guys rule, as usual.”

 

“Fuck,” Mikey said. He was talking both about Gabe’s situation and about Gee. She was trans, but she was presenting herself as a girl, and the only people who knew were Mikey and Elena. No one else knew, but if this was the type of town they were living in… Mikey was worried for whenever someone did find out.

 

He fished his schedule out of his backpack as they approached the school. “Wait, quick, what classes do we have together?”

 

Gabe took Mikey’s schedule from his hands and scanned it over. “Just English and lunch, but that’s not too bad. Our English teacher is pretty cool. She’s hot, too, and she likes Stephen King.”

 

“I already know that’s gonna be my favourite class. I love horror,” Mikey said. He and Gee had a huge stack of classic horror films and novels that they’d brought with them to Wisconsin. It was sitting down in Elena’s tiny living room, leaned precariously against the TV set. He and Gee had slowly been going through the movies in preparation for Halloween, and as an excuse to avoid talking about how they were now orphans.

 

Gabe and Mikey ended up chatting about their favourite horror stories while Gabe gave Mikey a quick tour of the school. Mikey figured he was pretty lucky, to have ended up sitting with Gabe on the bus instead of one of the McGuinness kids. He crossed his fingers tightly under his schedule and prayed to whoever was listening that the rest of the year would go well for both him and Gee. He figured they’d earned it.

Chapter Text

Mikey grabbed the seat next to Gabe in the back row for their English class together. There was a poster with an Edgar Allen Poe quote hung up behind the teacher’s desk. Mikey grinned. He hated Poe, because the dude’s writing didn’t make any sense, but the guy had invented horror and Gee loved him, so the poster was still a good sign.

 

“I see you made it in one piece,” Gabe said, and offered Mikey a piece of gum. Mikey took it willingly, wondering how Gee was doing and wishing there was better phone service in the school. So far, he’d only been able to use his phone in his first period Bio class, but he had to be sitting in the back row, right under the window. The windows were not heat proof, and Mikey had been shivering for most of the class, even in his fake leather jacket.

 

“It’s nothing compared to my old school,” Mikey said, thinking about how many fights he’d had to skirt around trying to get from class to class. There were still straight people making out in the halls and kids refusing to use headphones to play their music, but at least no one was threatening to stab someone.

 

“You’ve only been here one day,” Gabe said. He wiggled his eyebrows. “There’s some weird shit in this town.”

 

“Alright, everyone stop your conversations and open your textbooks to where we left off last time,” the teacher said, standing up from her desk. Gabe whispered the page number to Mikey, who nodded and opened his book to act like he knew what the hell was going on. At least the teacher wasn’t making him introduce himself to the whole class.

 

About ten minutes into the lesson, there was a series of rapid knocks on the door, followed by it being swung open. Everyone in the class looked up to see the tiniest kid Mikey had ever seen standing in the doorway. He had his hair styled up into what must have been a mohawk, but looked more like a bad case of bed-head, and there was blood streaming from his nose and a split in his lip. He grinned up at the class, not at all worried by the carnage on his face. “Sorry I was late.”

 

“Do you need to see the nurse about that?” the teacher asked, frowning. “It looks pretty bad, Frank.”

 

“I have bandaids, don’t worry. My mom keeps me prepared,” He said. He pulled out an inhaler from inside of his jacket, and a crumpled pack of Marlboros fell out with it. Frank looked down at the cigarettes and then up at the teacher. “I have no idea what those are.”

 

“Put them in the trash behind my desk and I won’t write you up,” she said, looking unconvinced. Frank nodded, took a breath from his inhaler, and brought the cigarettes over. He then took the seat on the other side of Mikey, and pulled out a packet of tissues and a box of Bandaids from his jacket.

 

Frank looked up at Mikey with a tissue half covering his face and glowered. “What’s your fucking problem? You’ve never seen a kid with asthma before?”

 

“Sorry,” Mikey spluttered out, and went back to pretending to read. Gabe was snickering beside him. At least one of the three boys were having a good time. Frank smelled strongly of cheap cigarettes, and reminded Mikey of the house back in Jersey. Both of his parents had smoked, and Gee did it occasionally. The whole thing smelled like nicotine. Mikey was used to it, but that didn’t make it smell good.

 

He pressed the sleeve of his jacket to his nose to try and mute the smell, but his jacket smelled vaguely of a campfire and wasn’t very helpful. Mikey wondered if his clothes would ever stop smelling like home, or if he was destined to smell like Kearny for the rest of his life.

 

Mikey made it through class by bullshitting his way through Shakespeare, and then scrambled to get his shit into his backpack so that Gabe didn’t have to wait for him at the door. Mikey slung his backpack up onto one shoulder and pulled his schedule out of his pocket. “I have… Fit For Life? What the hell is that?”

 

“Oh, shit, you have gym?” Gabe said, laughing as he snatched Mikey’s schedule out of his hand. Mikey flipped him off and took it back. Gabe ran his hands through his own hair. “Well, it’s your first day, so you probably won’t get in trouble for not having gym clothes, but you should get on that. Coach Mulligan is a bitch, and he doesn’t like kids unless they’re like, hardcore jocks.”

 

“I’m fucked,” Mikey said. “I used to skip gym to sell bootlegged DVDs to stoners.”

 

“That’s one way to spend your spare time, I guess,” Gabe said. Mikey couldn’t tell if he was impressed or thought that Mikey was a wild criminal for selling five dollar DVDs under the school bleachers. It wasn’t a big deal, really. People had sold worse under those bleachers, and done worse. Mikey hadn’t been there at the time, but apparently, on the first day of Gee’s freshman year of high school, three guys had gotten arrested for getting a girl high on cocaine and then bukkaking her under the bleachers.

 

Mikey’s old high school was fucking weird. He’d heard that one of the three guys had somehow not gotten jail time, only for the girl and her friends to all gang up on him in the bathroom at homecoming and chop his dick off. Honestly, Mikey would have helped those girls if he’d known. Rape was fucking gross, no matter the situation.

 

Gym wasn’t anything special. Gabe was right about Coach Milligan being a bitch. He was also sexist as fuck, which pissed Mikey off. Mikey didn’t say anything, though, because he didn’t want to get in trouble on his first day at school. There were already a few people in the halls who’d given him weird looks because he had a Jersey accent and dressed like a punk. Mikey didn’t need to add to the image people were already giving him.

 

He re-found Gabe at lunch, sitting at the end of a table with his lunchbox already out. Mikey had a lunch box as well, since he and Gee were both trying to go vegetarian and Lena was doing what she could to help them out. Lena’s farm was mostly crops, with a handful of chickens and two dairy cows who were dumb and adorable. Gee had already attached herself to them both.

 

Gabe waved at Mikey and took his feet off of the chair next to him. “I saw we had the same lunch when I looked at your schedule in English. Figured you might want to sit with someone you knew?”

 

“Yeah, you’re not too bad,” Mikey said, and sat down beside Gabe. The rest of the table was filled with a bunch of girls. Mikey wasn’t at all interested in girls, and didn’t see the appeal of them. Gee was cool, but she was also really weird about a lot of things. Mikey sighed. “You know what I don’t get? Makeup. What the hell is concealer, or highlight, or an eyelash curler, and why the hell do people use them?”

 

“Aren’t you wearing eyeliner, though?” Gabe asked, pointing at Mikey’s face.

 

Mikey rolled his eyes. “Eyeliner’s different. Pretty much everyone in Jersey wore eyeliner, unless they were, like, super preppy. It’s just… I don’t know. When you’re that close to New York and the punk scene, it just bleeds over, you know? Eyeliner isn’t makeup. It’s a status symbol.”

 

“Cool,” Gabe said. He bit into his sandwich. “Fair warning, though: people might call you gay or like, a faggot if you wear eyeliner at school.”

 

Mikey wrinkled his nose, ignoring how his heart had suddenly started pounding in his chest. “Seriously? What year is it, 2017 or 195-fucking-7?”

 

“Sometimes I ask myself that,” Gabe said. He sighed, looking past Mikey at the girls at the table. “You know, even with the whole makeup thing, girls are still pretty awesome. I’d love to actually date one some day.”

 

“You could just ask,” Mikey suggested, even though he’d never asked anyone out in his life. He didn’t know how he’d ask a guy out, especially now, since this town was apparently a homophobic shit hole. He’d kissed a guy before, at a show in New Jersey, but he’d never had a boyfriend or held hands with anyone. Mikey was pretty sure that the guy he’d kissed didn’t even remember him.

 

Gabe made an unimpressed face. “Dude. You can’t just ask girls out.”

 

“Sure you can,” Mikey said. “That’s how my sister got her last boyfriend. I mean, they were both at a metal show, and the guy was keeping her from getting her ribs smashed at the barricade, but other than that, he didn’t do anything special. Just, hey, saw you at the barricade, you looked cool. I’m Bert, wanna go get milkshakes? And then, boom, boyfriend.”

 

Gabe frowned, looking at Mikey like he didn’t believe him.

 

Mikey pushed his glasses up his nose. “Is there a particular girl you like, or are you just… girl crazy?”

 

Mikey hoped that was a thing. His parents had always joked about Gee being boy crazy, both before and after she’d dated Bert McCracken for seven months during her sophomore year. Gee and Bert had stayed friends after a short and bitter break-up period, and Mikey was pretty sure she still kept in contact with him.

 

Gabe was blushing. “Uh, maybe.”

 

“Which one?” Mikey asked, not at all subtly looking over his shoulder at the group of girls. There were eight of them. Four brunettes, two blondes, a redhead, and a girl with long, bright blue hair. One of the brunettes looked over at Mikey and Gabe, and made a face. Mikey arched his eyebrows. He was allowed to observe. He wasn’t being creepy; he was just seeing who else was at his and Gabe’s table.

 

“The, uh, the one that just glared at you, actually,” Gabe said. He was paying very close attention to his sandwich. “Her name’s Victoria, she’s a junior, and I have no fucking chance.”

 

“My sister’s a junior,” Mikey offered. “I could get her to talk to Victoria for you? Maybe?”

 

“Is your sister cool?” Gabe asked. “Because Victoria’s a cheerleader. “They all are, except for the other girl with bangs and the one in the ponytail.”

 

Mikey looked back over his shoulder. He tried not to stereotype people, but looking at these eight girls… it was pretty obvious that Gee would have nothing in common with any of them. First of all, they all looked incredibly heterosexual, and Gee was all about LGBT issues and being open and proud. Second, they all dressed like, well, generic white girls. Except for the one with blue hair, who had more of alternative vibe going on, but not really alternative. More of a “oh, I’m not like other girls, I like bands like Arctic Monkeys and the 1975,” alternative.

 

Mikey turned back to Gabe. “Why the hell are you sitting with cheerleaders?”

 

“Because I thought it would make it easier to talk to them?” Gabe asked.

 

Mikey rolled his eyes. “Jesus fucking Christ.”

 

“Hey, I’m sorry to interrupt, but please don’t use the Lord’s name in vain,” the non-ponytailed blonde said. She had big green eyes and a soft smile. She gently placed her hand over Mikey’s wrist. “I know Gabe doesn’t believe in Jesus, but He is the Lord, and it’s not cool to talk about Him like that.”

 

“Uh, I’m Catholic?” Mikey asked, and pulled his arm away. The other blonde snickered. Or at least, Mikey thought she was snickering. Now that he was really paying attention to them, he’d realised that she had her notes out and was working on something. Mikey frowned. “And, uh, no one knows for sure what the fuck happens when you die, but Gabe’s allowed to believe whatever the fuck he wants, and since we still live in a democracy--for now--there’s this awesome thing called freedom of religion. And speech. Pretty sure they’re under the same amendment. You should look it up some time.”

 

Gabe was staring at him with wide eyes, but Mikey wasn’t freaking out. He didn’t care who someone was; if they were a dick, Mikey would be a dick back. Treat others how you want to be treated and all that. There had been way too many insensitive jackasses in Jersey, and Mikey’s tolerance for bullshit had long run out. Mikey crossed his arms over his chest. “Also, eavesdropping is frowned upon, regardless of what you believe in.”

 

“Well, you could always move to another table,” Victoria said, sneering a little. “This isn’t class. There aren’t any assigned seats, and there are plenty of other tables for you two to choose from.”

 

“I’m good here, thanks,” Mikey said. “Just mind your own business and we’ll mind ours, alright?”

 

He turned back to his lunch, and finished it up before the bell rang. Gabe followed him out of the cafeteria, still looking at Mikey as though he were some kind of Greek God. Mikey didn’t feel like a Greek God. He hated bullies, no matter who they were, and that Victoria girl had been really curt towards him and Gabe. Sure, Mikey wasn’t too nice to her Christian friend, but she didn’t need to tell him to move. It was a free table, and Gabe had been sitting there for months without any issue.

 

“I can’t believe you said that,” Gabe said. “No one talks back to girls like that. They’re… they’re actually cool. Like, can fix your social status and make you feel like you’re not just some kid from buttfuck nowhere cool. And you basically told them to go screw themselves.”

 

“They were being dicks,” Mikey said. “I don’t care about social status, I just don’t want to roll over and be a kid in need of saving for anyone.”

 

“Yeah, Jenna’s kind of over the top,” Gabe said. He let out a hollow laugh. “You should meet her boyfriend and all of his wacky siblings, though. I heard their parents wanted to homeschool them all, but couldn’t because their dad refused to teach, and their mom couldn’t handle seven kids at once.”

 

Mikey’s eyes widened. “ Seven?

 

“Yeah, but four of them are adopted,” Gabe said. He stopped in his tracks. “Holy shit, there’s a fight? Again? Who the hell…?”

 

Mikey pushed past Gabe, towards the scuffle. It was between one of the McGuinness kids (Mikey recognised him from his tomato red face, broad shoulders, and white blonde hair) and the bloody nose kid from English. The bloody nose kid looked like he was losing.

 

Mikey bit his lip, “fuck,” and pushed through to get between the McGuinness kid and the one with the bloody nose. He took a punch to the jaw almost immediately, and it almost knocked him onto his ass. Mikey steadied himself and grabbed the McGuinness kid’s right wrist with both his hands, pulling the kid away from bloody nose and hopefully away from the middle of the hall.

 

“Who the hell are you?” McGuinness spat at Mikey. “Some little fairy, out to come save your punk ass bitch?”

 

“I’m Mikey,” he said. “Go fuck yourself.”

 

“Get the hell out of here, dude, I’ve got this,” the kid with the bloody nose said, stumbling up from the floor. He did not look like he had the situation under control, and Mikey raised his eyebrow in disbelief.

 

It was at that moment that the McGuinness kid realised he had a second fist and hit Mikey in the face, snapping his glasses in half. Mikey closed his eyes and tossed his glasses off of his face, carefully touching his face and eyes to make sure that there wasn’t any glass. Luckily, the McGuinness kid had only hit the frames, not the glass, and Mikey was fine.

 

He opened his eyes and grabbed his glasses off the floor, hating how blurry everything was. Without thinking about where he was, and how this wasn’t his high school in New Jersey, Mikey pulled his pocket knife out from his jacket. He turned towards McGuinness, squinting and hoping he didn’t look like a dumbass. “What part of go fuck yourself did you not understand the first time? Or is my accent too fucking foreign to you?”

 

“Oh my God he has a knife,” Mikey heard people murmuring from around him.

 

Mikey adjusted his grip on his knife. He wasn’t going to use it, obviously, but he was hoping that the mere sight of it would make the McGuinness kid shit his pants in fear. “Go to class, dickface. And next time you want to pick a fight with someone, at least have the guts to fight someone your own size.”

 

Mikey snapped his knife shut and stepped back, shaking his head. “Fucking coward. Come on, let’s go see the nurse.”

 

“Do you want your glasses fixed or…?” the bloody nose kid asked as the crowds parted around him and Mikey. Gabe rejoined them, apparently uninterested in going to his next class, and the three of them headed to the nurse’s office.

 

Mikey looked down at the two halves of his glasses. “Tape’ll fix it. I just hope he doesn’t go crying to the principal or whoever about the knife. I forgot where I was for a second, and I wasn’t going to use it, anyway.”

 

“You’re fucking wild, Mikey Way,” Gabe said, shaking his head.

 

Mikey shrugged. “I guess.”

 

Mikey and Gabe hung out in the front of the nurse’s office while bloody nose kid was taken behind the curtain to get his face looked at for the second time that day. Gabe reminded Mikey that the kid’s name was Frank, and Mikey asked Gabe to help him tape up his glasses. This was ridiculous, honestly. Mikey’s frames weren’t cheap, and they were supposed to be a sturdy yet stylish plastic. Now, they were neither stylish nor sturdy, because there was a big hunk of tape over the nose.

 

Frank came out from behind the curtain with a bandage over his nose. “Good news, it’s not broken. Bad news, the nurse has to call my mom since I got in a fight.”

 

“What were you even fighting about?” Mikey asked. He couldn’t imagine what kind of arguments went down in such a small, boring place.

 

“I stole his wallet,” Frank said, and held up a twenty dollar bill. “I didn’t realise he was a McGuinness, otherwise I would have picked someone else. Those guys are fucking huge, dude. And angry, apparently. It’s not my fault, though. If our English teacher hadn’t made me throw out my cigs, I wouldn’t have had to steal any money to go get a new pack.”

 

Mikey rolled his eyes. “Or you could just not smoke.”

 

“Whatever, new kid,” Frank said, and shoved the twenty into the pocket of his jeans. “Where’d you say you were from, anyway?”

 

“New Jersey,” Mikey said. “Just north of Newark, specifically. It’s kind of close to New York City without being cool like New York City.”

 

“It sounds pretty cool to me, if it produces guys who aren’t afraid of pulling a knife on someone in the middle of school,” Frank said. He grinned. “We totally have to be friends now. You have to teach me how to be such a badass.”

 

Mikey could think of quite a few smartass comments to respond with, but he didn’t say any. He didn’t think that Frank would be a great influence, considering he got into fights and stole money and smoked, but hey, a friend was a friend. Frank would have fit right in in Jersey, too, with his overconfidence and general disregard for his personal well-being.

 

“So, guess we’re gonna have to move lunch tables after all,” Gabe said. He shrugged. “So much for Victoria, then.”

 

“Don’t get bent out of shape about it,” Mikey said, nudging Gabe in the side. “I’m sure your perfect girlfriend is out there somewhere for you.”

Chapter Text

Mikey opened the window in his room again. The Smiths were playing in the background, and while he wasn’t feeling particularly sad, he didn't feel all that great, either. Gabe and Frank helped while he was in school, but it was harder out here. It was the hardest at night, when everything was quiet and the only things that were awake were Elena’s three cats.

 

Bowie was the friendliest, and she liked to sleep at the foot of Mikey’s bed. She was currently curled up in a tight ball on his pillow, not letting him get to sleep. Freddie was a grouchy old man, but everyone loved him. He owned the basement, where Elena’s bedroom was, and he liked to sit at the window and watch the cows and chickens. The third cat, George Michael, was the youngest, and he was a fucking hurricane of a kitten. He was also really loud, and would yell at anything that wasn’t paying attention to him.

 

“I’d like you better if you weren’t on my pillow,” Mikey said to Bowie. “But it’s cool. It’s not like I’m supposed to be getting a healthy eight hours of sleep anyway.”

 

He’d tried texting Gabe and Frank earlier, but Gabe was babysitting for the Trohmans and Frank wasn’t responding, so Mikey was on his own.

 

He needed more friends. Gee already had two super close friends of her own, Ray Toro and Lindsey Ballato, and they’d both already been to the house. She and Mikey had only lived here for a week. Mikey was impressed. Ray and Lindsey were cool, too, and they didn't treat Mikey like he was a baby just because he was Gee’s kid sister. Lindsey was a weird hipster goth girl, and Ray was super into music and knew a bunch of metal bands that Mikey had never heard about.

 

“I wish cats counted as friends,” Mikey mused into the night.

 

The streetlight across the road flickered. The wind picked up, causing Mikey to shiver and lean back from the window. It was fucking cold out here, and he knew it was only going to get colder. Mikey was glad there wasn’t snow yet, because that sounded like hell, especially out in the country. He didn’t know if there were snow plows out here, or if people just had to walk around everywhere and suffer like it was 1825.

 

There had been snowplows back in New Jersey, and sometimes they’d wake Mikey up when they came by in the morning. Mikey had issues sleeping whenever he got too stressed, and he supposed that was why he was still awake this late. The snowplows in Jersey sucked only because they were good at doing their job, and if the roads weren’t iced over, Mikey and Gee still had to go to school. Mikey enjoyed science, but if they had to choose between science and playing out in the snow, they’d always choose snow.

 

There was a soft click, and the streetlight went off. Mikey’s heart pounded, and he grabbed his phone. He turned on the flashlight and shone it out into the street. He couldn’t see much, because it was dark and his phone’s flashlight could only go so far, but he was pretty sure there was something moving on the edges of the cornfield over there. Mikey let out a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding, and kept the light up. He’d watched enough horror movies in his life. He knew that turning off the lights made the monster get closer.

 

It probably wasn’t a monster. Maybe it was a moose, or a deer, or whatever kind of animal hung around in the middle of nowhere, Wisconsin.

 

There was another soft click, and the streetlight came back on. It flickered once, twice, and then stayed. Mikey turned the flashlight on his phone off. His heart was still racing in his chest, and his hand was shaking a little as he lowered it. There, standing under the light, leaned against the pole, was a boy. He looked like he was about the same age as Mikey, with curly black hair styled into an afro and a ratty, punked out leather jacket.

 

He raised his head up so that he was looking at Mikey. His eyes went wide, as did Mikey’s, and Mikey’s heart beat faster. He wasn’t scared, he told himself. It was just a guy, probably someone from Mikey’s high school who was waiting to meet up with his secret girlfriend or something. Mikey couldn’t look away from him, though, even though he knew he needed to.

 

The guy snapped his fingers, and the streetlight went out again. Mikey fumbled to turn on his phone’s flashlight, but by the time he had, the guy was gone. Mikey frowned, turning his phone and scanning the outside to try and find where the guy had gone off to. There was nowhere for him to disappear into other than the corn.

 

Mikey closed his window and shut off his music, deciding to at least try to sleep. Something about that kid didn’t seem right. There was something off about him, besides the obvious, and Mikey couldn’t put his finger on it. He pulled the curtains shut over his window just to be safe, and then changed into his pajamas before climbing into bed.

 

Mikey stared at the ceiling, trying to figure out what was so weird about this kid. Hopefully Mikey would be able to find him tomorrow in school, and ask him about what had happened tonight. The guy dressed like the punks back in Jersey, so maybe he and Mikey could even end up being friends. That would be awesome, but it was unlikely. Mikey couldn’t see himself being friends with a weird dude who hung out on the edges of cornfields and generally gave off a creepy vibe.

 


 

Gabe, Mikey, and Frank decided to meet up at the skate park after school the next day. Gabe usually biked to school, as did Frank, but the tires on Gabe’s bike had been slashed a few weeks ago and so he’d been forced to ride the bus. Mikey knew how to ride a bike, obviously, but he’d never ridden one to school. It wasn’t safe, in New Jersey. The drivers there were fucking ridiculous, and all of the sidewalks were fucked up.

 

There was a bike shop by the skatepark, and Frank was convinced that he could get the employees there to give him free shit. Mikey didn’t believe Frank, and so he’d brought all the cash he had with him to try and buy a cheap bike. Mikey had no idea how much bikes cost. He had a little over a hundred dollars, though, so hopefully that would be enough.

 

It was fucking cold, but the three boys were walking anyway. Frank said it wasn’t a bad walk, and since he was the only one of the three of them who’d walked to the park, Mikey had to trust him. Frank also had asthma and smoked, so it wasn’t like he secretly ran cross-country and didn’t understand how normal human bodies worked.

 

Mikey looked around at the houses they were passing while they walked. He frowned. “Why doesn’t anyone have Halloween stuff up? It’s in, like, two fucking weeks.”

 

“Did your Grandma not tell you?” Gabe asked. “This town doesn’t do Halloween.”

 

Mikey rolled his eyes. “That’s fucking dumb. What is this, Footloose ? It’s Halloween. It’s not going to kill you if you dress up and eat candy, come on.”

 

“I mean, it might,” Frank said. He lit a cigarette and looked up at Gabe, a sad look on his face. “Remember last year? Travis or whoever… he and a few of the seniors tried to have a Halloween party the Saturday before, and then Travis got killed. I didn’t think it would be Travis, either. He was cool, and everyone liked him.”

 

“He was also black,” Gabe said, glaring at Frank. Mikey was missing something here. Something really important. Gabe crossed his arms over his chest. “Not that you would know what it’s like to be a minority here.”

 

“I’m a chronically ill asshole and the son of an unmarried mom,” Frank said, blowing smoke up at Gabe’s face. “So yeah, I might be as white as bread, but I’m not safe, either.”

 

“Safe from what?” Mikey said. He frowned. “The McGuinnesses aren’t really Nazis, are they?”

 

“No, but…” Gabe looked at Frank. Frank looked back. Mikey felt unsettled again, just like last night when he saw the random kid. He wondered, for a moment, if he’d somehow fallen into a rejected Stephen King novel, and this was the first chapter. Mikey knew that wasn’t a thing, and horror was classified as fiction for a reason, but he couldn’t help but think about it. Maybe his parents had been right, and he needed to lighten up on all the murder and horror.

 

The skate park came into view, and the conversation was forgotten for a moment as Frank pulled the taller boys across to the little shop. There were two stoner looking types in the store. One, the brunette with red streaks in his hair, was settled behind the counter, looking bored as he scrolled through his phone. The other, the blonde with his hair up in a man bun, was hunched over a bike, working on something.

 

“Hey, where do you guys keep your tires?” Frank yelled. The brunette looked up for a moment and then looked over to his coworker, who rolled his eyes before putting the bike down and standing up. Frank grinned and breathed out smoke into the store. “Hey, man. How’s life?”

 

“You know you can’t smoke in here, come on,” blondie said, shooing Frank towards the store.

 

Frank didn’t move. “But I brought you customers. And weed. Like, a bag full of weed.”

 

“You don’t know anything about weed. Aren’t you, like, ten?” the brunette asked without looking up from his phone. Mikey hadn’t had a job yet, but he could relate to the brunette. Retail didn't seem very fun, especially in a bike shop in a tiny town where there was no Halloween.

 

“I’m almost fifteen, you know that,” Frank said. He stubbed his cigarette out anyway. “Come on, guys, I come in here almost every week. Surely you’ve retained something I’ve told you about myself.”

 

“Nope,” the blonde said. He looked at Gabe and Mikey. “Which one of you needed new tires?”

 

Gabe raised his hand. The blonde took him over to the other side of the store to look at tires, and Frank pulled Mikey up to the counter. He pulled a bag of something out of the pocket of one of his jackets, and dropped it on the counter. Frank grinned at the brunette, who looked entirely unimpressed. “Boom. Weed. As promised. Now get my friend a bike.”

 

Mikey sniffed. “Frank. That’s oregano.”

 

Frank kicked Mikey in the ankle. “Dude. Come on, I’m helping you get a bike.”

 

“You know, if the kid could figure it out without opening the bag, then there was no way I wouldn’t, too,” the brunette said. He pushed the bag back towards Frank. “And on top of that, no drugs. You’re not a drug dealer, Frank, and we’re gonna keep it that way.”

 

“Can you at least be helpful for once?” Frank said, rolling his eyes.

 

Mikey pushed Frank away from the counter and pulled out his money. “So, I need a bike. What’s the cheapest one you have that won’t fall apart as soon as I leave the store?”

 

The brunette didn’t smile, but he looked relieved that he wasn’t dealing with Frank anymore. He was helpful, and Mikey ended up with a basic black bike with silver detailing and a little bell on it. Mikey ran his hands over the handlebars and handed it over to Frank while he paid. It ended up being ninety-two dollars, with tax, and that left Mikey with eighteen dollars and forty-three cents left over. He could totally buy an album with that, and get his collection started.

 

“He doesn’t have money,” the blonde said, pointing back at Gabe. Gabe was standing on the other side of the store, looking at all the bikes on the wall with a defeated expression. The blonde shook his head. “He came in for tires and he doesn’t have any money.”

 

“How much are the tires?” Mikey asked without thinking.

 

“Fifteen fifty,” the blonde said, like he had the price memorised.

 

Mikey sighed. So much for a music collection. He fished out the right amount and dropped it into the blonde’s hand, and then he, Gabe, and Frank walked out with three working bikes. No helmets, just bikes, because helmets were overrated anyway. Mikey wasn’t an idiot, and he wasn’t going to try anything reckless. He just wanted to keep up with his friends, and not have to ride the bus in the mornings.

 


 

Gee was painting in the kitchen. Mikey was trying to do his math homework, but it was a Friday afternoon, and he didn’t want to do anything that wasn’t immediately due. He looked over his shoulder, out the front window, to where the streetlight was still standing. The sun was still up, so it wasn’t on yet, but Mikey wanted to see if the punk guy would show up again. Mikey wanted answers.

 

“Gee, Mikey, can you guys come out to the back?” someone called from the other side of the house. It was Patrick, one of the three guys who helped Elena out on the farm. Patrick was the veterinarian of the town, and the only things Mikey knew about him were that he had a wife and he loved to sing to the animals while he took care of them.

 

Mikey nodded and tapped Gee on the shoulder, careful not to mess up what she was working on. “Gee, Elena wants us.”

 

“Okay,” Gee said.

 

“Actually, it’s not your grandma,” Patrick said, as he lead them to the storage shed in the backyard. Elena was back there, as well as the two other guys who worked for her, Andrew and Joe, and they were all watching something inside of the shed. Patrick motioned for Gee and Mikey to look inside as well. “Turns out Bowie’s been a lady this whole time, and she and Freddie have been repeating history.”

 

Gee furrowed her eyebrows. “What?”

 

“Freddie and Bowie are had babies,” Elena said. Mikey peered over her shoulder. Sure enough, there was Bowie, laying in a pile of tarp and surrounded by four tiny kittens. Mikey gasped. He’d never seen newborn kittens before. He looked over to Gee, to see what her reaction was, and she was crying a little. He looked back to Elena, opening his mouth to ask the obvious question. Elena smiled and nodded. “Yes, we can keep them. We’re just waiting for her to trust us enough with them to move everyone inside. They’re too young to survive an outdoor winter.”

 

“I love them,” Gee whispered.

 

Patrick and Andrew ended up sticking around for dinner after they got the cats and kittens inside, but Joe had to go back to his own family. He had a wife and a one year old baby, and Mikey had only just realised that he was the Mr. Trohman that Gabe knew. Mikey hoped Joe wasn’t rushing home so that he wouldn’t be out after dark. Mikey hated that there were still people who were afraid for their lives, but it was a thing, and he didn’t want that to be an issue in Marshfield.

 

“So, how old are you two again?” Patrick asked over dinner. It turned out he was much more interested in learning about people than talking about himself.

 

“I’m seventeen, and Mikey just turned fifteen a month ago,” Gee said. “And no, I don’t have my license yet. I have my permit, though, but I’m not in a rush to get it. I don’t like driving that much.”

 

“That’s fine. Driving isn’t for everyone,” Andrew said. He motioned towards the driveway, where Mikey’s new bike was leaned against the mailbox. “Do you both bike to school? I only saw one bike, and I’m trying to figure out the story.”

 

“Oh, man, remember when we were in high school and we biked everywhere?” Patrick said. “And Joe’s parents hated it, because we never stood our bikes up everywhere and his kept getting run over?”

 

“How else were they supposed to know where you three were?” Elena said. She turned to her grandkids. “Back when these two were your age, there weren’t any cell phones, and parents couldn’t send a thousand texts when they got worried about their kids. They had to drive around town, looking for the right bike to match to their kid, and even then, it was hard to find who you were looking for.”

 

“Does that mean I’m allowed to drop my bike anywhere?” Mikey asked.

 

“Do you want your front wheel getting crushed?” Andrew asked, raising an eyebrow. Mikey wondered if he was a dad. He acted like a dad sometimes. He had this aura of maturity around him that Patrick and Joe didn’t seem to have. He was only two years older than them, too, which was why it was so weird to Mikey.

 

Mikey shook his head. He’d only had his bike for a day, but he loved it.

 

Andrew nodded. “Thought so. Better keep it somewhere safe, even when you’re out with friends.”

 

“And don’t forget the buddy system,” Patrick said. He sighed and rolled his eyes, seemingly at himself. “I know, I’m just an old guy telling you to be safe, but I’m serious. This isn’t a big city where there are lights and people everywhere, and a lot of areas around here don’t have any cell service. Especially when you’re young, you should have friends with you if you’re going to be going out late.”

 

“Don’t go anywhere alone, is what he’s saying,” Elena said. Andrew’s mouth turned into a thin line, and he looked like he was remembering something. Mikey wondered if all of this paranoia had anything to do with the Travis kid who had died last year.

 

He crossed and uncrossed his ankles. “Is this because of Travis? The kid who died last Halloween?”

 

All three adults frowned. Gee looked confused. Elena broke the silence first. “Who told you about that?”

 

“Frank and Gabe,” Mikey said. “They’re friends from school. Gabe’s mom knows Joe, I think. They said something about a guy named Travis who died on Halloween? I don’t know, I didn’t want to sound weird by asking a bunch of questions.”

 

“We should probably go,” Patrick said, slowly, looking over at Andrew, who was looking more and more like Travis’s death had affected him personally. Elena nodded and took their plates from them. Both men apologised for bailing out, but no one was explaining anything to Mikey or Gee. Mikey was pissed. Secrets were bullshit, especially when they involved someone dying.

 

He turned to Gee while Elena was around the corner in the kitchen. “What the hell is going on?”

 

“You tell me, you’re the one who brought up a dead kid,” Gee said. “How are you already talking about dead kids with your friends? I’m still trying how to bring it up around Lindsey and Ray that I’m pan.”

 

Mikey shrugged. He had no idea. Maybe it was a guy thing; boys went straight to the gory stuff while girls danced around everything. Ray wasn’t a girl, though, so maybe it was just Gee, and she didn’t know how to get friends.

 

“Mikey, Gee, there’s something we need to talk about,” Elena said. She returned to her seat at the table and folded her hands. She looked pensive, like this wasn’t a conversation she was looking forward to having. “I didn’t want to tell either of you about this when you first got here, because of what happened with your parents, but this is… unfortunately a part of Marshfield.”

 

Gee and Mikey looked at each other. Eerie.

 

“Thirty one years ago, a fifteen year old boy was murdered on the edge of this town. Not far from here, actually. His body was never found, other than a right arm, which was buried in a casket in the local cemetery,” Elena said. She took a deep breath, holding back tears. She would have been here when that happened, and Mikey’s mom would have been around that kid’s age. Maybe that was why Elena never complained about her daughter moving away from here. “Every fall since then, someone between the age of thirteen and eighteen has gone missing, only to turn up dead right after Halloween. The police know it’s a serial killer, because everyone except the first boy have been killed the same way, but they haven’t been able to find him.”

 

“Is that why no one here celebrates Halloween, then?” Mikey asked. “Because they don’t want to associate it with murder?”

 

“That, and most people are worried that, by letting their children out, they’re putting their kids at risk of being killed,” Elena said. She took another deep breath, and looked right at Gee this time. “Unfortunately, a lot of us think the kids aren’t being picked at random. The first boy was mixed race, and he was the first openly gay person in Marshfield, as well. Travis, the boy you heard about, was also black, and almost all of the other victims have been minorities.”

 

“So this killer… picks on kids who are already getting picked on?” Gee said. She frowned. “That’s fucked up.”

 

“Gee, Andrew and Patrick were giving good advice, but they should have been directing it towards you,” Elena said. She reached out and placed her hand over Gee’s. “I know you’re proud of who you are, and I am too, so don’t take this the wrong way, but if it were to get out at school that you were pansexual, or that you were transgender… you’d be putting a target on yourself. In more ways than one.”

 

Gee stared at Elena, fear crossing her face for the first time since her and Mikey’s parents had died. Mikey swallowed. He was gay, too, but no one knew, and he was going to keep it that way. For Gee’s sake, and to keep her and Elena from worrying. He reached out and put his hand over Elena’s, and looked Gee in the eye. “We’ve got you, Gee. You’re not alone, and I won’t let anyone hurt you, classmate or otherwise.”

 


 

Mikey stayed up late that night on purpose. He didn’t have school, and he was worried about Gee anyway. He wanted to see if the kid would come back, too. Mikey was still dressed, including his shoes, and he was ready to run downstairs and out into the street if the kid came back.

 

Mikey was going to figure this shit out. There was a serial killer running around Marshfield, and even though Mikey didn’t know this random kid, he wasn’t going to let the kid die.

 

Around one in the morning, the light finally started to flicker. Mikey shook his head, to wake himself up, and waited. The light kept flickering, for what seemed to be hours, but wasn’t even three minutes. It shut off, finally, and Mikey started to rise to his feet, watching the pitch blackness for any sign of movement.

 

The light came on. Boom. There he was, just like the other night, looking bored. He looked up at Mikey’s window, but since Mikey didn’t have his own lights on, he couldn’t see anything. Mikey grinned, and rushed out of his room. He went down the stairs as quietly as he could in his boots, with his phone in one hand and his pocket knife in the other. Just in case, Mikey kept telling himself. He didn’t know what he was getting into. He wanted to be prepared for anything.

 

Mikey fumbled with the front door, but finally got it open. He made sure to close it behind himself so that the cats wouldn’t get out, and turned on his phone flashlight.

 

The boy was still there, eyes wide and terrified as Mikey came down the front steps. Mikey lifted his flashlight towards the boy, and as soon as he did that, the boy snapped his fingers. Mikey grinned, though, because he still had light, but when he focused on the spot under the lamp, no one was there. Mikey frowned, and sprinted over. He swung his light around, looking for any sign as to where the guy had gone, but there was none.

 

The streetlight came back on. Mikey looked up at it, and then out into the corn. “Hello? Hello?! Who are you?!”

 

There was no response. Mikey wasn’t sure what he’d expected.

Chapter Text

Mikey wasn’t sure how Gabe had managed to convince him and Frank to go to a football game with him. But, there the three of them were, sitting in the stands and freezing their asses off. Gabe was enjoying himself, because he had a clear view of Victoria and the rest of the cheerleaders. Frank wasn’t doing so bad, either. He’d started up a conversation with the girl beside him back in the first quarter, and the two of them hadn’t stopped talking since.

 

So, Mikey was the only one sitting there and freezing his ass off. It sucked.

 

“How long are we going to be here?” Mikey said. “I’m cold.”

 

“Why didn’t you bring a thicker jacket, dude? It’s October,” Gabe said, and tried to get Victoria’s attention again. The one with blue hair waved back, winking at Gabe before laughing. Gabe frowned. “Why does Ashley keep waving back, anyway? I could not have more clearly been waving towards Victoria. And Ashley isn’t even hot. Her hair’s blue, how is that attractive?”

 

“Blue hair is cool,” Mikey argued. Bert had had blue hair for a few weeks. Gee had tried it, and had somehow managed to only get her roots blue. No one knew how that happened. No one had been willing to try it themselves to see if it was possible to reproduce.

 

Someone tapped on Mikey’s shoulder. He turned around to see three people sitting behind him. Two guys, and one girl. The guy who had tapped on Mikey’s shoulder was wiry, with cold dark brown eyes covered by an impressive emo fringe, considering it was 2017 and emo had stopped being cool years ago. Mikey looked at the guy for a moment. “Can I help you?”

 

“Yeah, you two were arguing about who Ashley was waving at,” the guy said. “It wasn’t either of you two. She doesn’t know you two. She was waving at Linda, probably.”

 

“Thanks for clearing that up, I guess,” Mikey said, because he didn’t see why it mattered who the cheerleader was waving at. Mikey didn’t care. He didn’t want any cheerleader’s attention, unless they were a guy cheerleader and they were cute. Then, maybe. But probably not, since Mikey wasn’t very preppy and he couldn’t think of anything he’d have in common with a guy cheerleader.

 

Mikey frowned, suddenly. “Wait. Who’s Linda.”

 

The guy pointed to the girl sitting on the other side of his friend, in a duh motion. Like everyone was supposed to know who Linda was, even though Mikey was new and he knew maybe ten people in this town so far. Eleven, if he was going to count this new guy.

 

Luckily, Linda was a lot more friendly. She stopped playing charades with her friend (Mikey assumed it was charades; he wasn’t quite sure what the fuck those two were doing over there) and introduced herself. Mikey recognised her from his and Gabe’s lunch table, and was surprised to find out that she wasn’t a cheerleader at all, but was instead on the volleyball team.

 

“The girl’s team?” Mikey guessed, because there had been a girls and a guys volleyball team back in New Jersey.

 

“Nope, there’s only one volleyball team here because the school has girl’s only gymnastics,” Linda said. “I was in a middle school varsity league before my family moved here, though, so I kind of campaigned to get onto the team. There’s nothing in the handbook that says any sport has to be gender exclusive, by the way. And I’m good, too, so it’s not like the guys have anything to worry about.”

 

“Do you wanna take my gym class for me, then?” Mikey offered.

 

Linda laughed and shook her head. “Nah. I’m too busy already.”

 

“She’s an overachiever,” the first guy said. “And I’m Ryan, by the way, since you’re not going to turn around and talk to your own friends.”

 

The guy in the middle rolled his eyes and made some weird hand motions, mouthing something at Ryan. Ryan flailed his own hands and mouthed back. Mikey had no idea what was going on. He wondered if this was a weird Wisconsinite thing going on, or if these three had developed a code of their own.

 

“Oh,” Linda said, noticing Mikey’s confusion. “Spencer’s Deaf. Not, like, entirely deaf as in he can’t hear anything, but he doesn’t bring his hearing aids to school events because they get really loud sometimes and everything gets all staticy and bad. We usually just sign to each other.”

 

“Like, sign language sign?” Mikey asked. Linda nodded. Well, that made more sense. He knew that Wisconsin was weird, but he didn't think it was so weird that there were people communicating through charades in public. Mikey pushed his glasses up his nose. “Well, that's cool. I guess. I mean, it's cool that you and Ryan learned it so that Spencer wouldn't be alone. That's friendship.”

 

“That's caring about other people,” Linda corrected. “Friendship is learning all the swear words so that we can insult jerks to their face and they won't know what we're saying.”

 

She had a point. Mikey got Gabe's attention and included him in the conversation. Frank and the girl he'd been talking to were now making out in front of everyone, because they were straight and they could get away with that kind of thing. Mikey introduced Gabe to Linda, Spencer, and Ryan, and then Ryan turned and signed everything Mikey was saying to Spencer. Spencer signed back, and Ryan said, to Gabe and Mikey, “he says it's cool to meet you guys and that he's glad someone else in this school is indifferent to football too.”

 

Ryan dead-panned at Spencer and signed as he spoke. “Apparently I don't count anymore. I hate football, Spence.”

 

After that, the five of them ended up talking for the rest of the game. It was nice, even though Mikey never knew how to talk to Spencer. He didn't know if he was supposed to look at Spencer when he spoke to him, or at Ryan or Linda, so that they could pay attention to what he was saying and Spencer could pay attention to what they were signing to him. Other than that, it felt like a normal teenage conversation, and no one asked Mikey about his mom or dad or why he lived with his grandma.

 

Marshfield won, and so the students all ran down onto the field to celebrate and mingle with the players. Spencer and Linda grabbed each other's hands and Gabe, Ryan, Mikey, Frank, and Frank's girl followed them down onto the field. By the time they were all down and headed towards the cheerleaders, Frank's girl was long gone.

 

Mikey tapped Frank on the shoulder. “What happened to the girl you were talking to?”

 

“I don't think she was interested,” Frank said, shrugging. He frowned. “Why are we going over to the cheerleaders? They're all a bunch of dumb sluts.”

 

“Don't call girls sluts, Frank,” Mikey said, rolling his eyes. “That's probably why you can't get any of them to spend more than an hour around you.”

 

“Damn, no need to be so intense,” Frank said, but he looked like he understood Mikey's seriousness. He and Mikey joined back up with Gabe and their new friends, who were talking to the blue haired girl from earlier. Now that the whole squad was together, Mikey realised that he'd actually seen Linda before tonight. She was one of the girls at his lunch table. The blonde one who usually had her notes out while she was eating and didn't always talk with the other girls.

 

“So you're not a cheerleader, you just sit with them?” Mikey asked Linda.

 

“Kind of. I mean, I hang out with some of them. A lot of them think I'm a crazy feminist or that I hate men or something, so I'm trying to show them that I'm… not like that,” Linda said. She turned back to the blue haired girl, who was talking and awkwardly waving her hands around at Spencer and Ryan. “Ashley, hey, these are the guys who sit at our table.”

 

Ashley looked up. “Oh, hey! Aren't you the new guy, Mickey or something?”

 

“Mikey,” Mikey said. “Not Mickey.”

 

“Got it. I won't call you Mickey Mouse then,” Ashley said, and giggled. Mikey knew she was just teasing, but it was still a little awkward. Ashley dropped her gaze and tucked a stray piece of blue hair back behind her ear. “Sorry. That was supposed to be a joke. I wouldn't call you that, even if your name really was Mickey. I don't--I try not to be mean to people who don't deserve it. There are enough assholes in the world already.”

 

“I didn't think you would,” Mikey said, because he tried to not judge people he didn't know. “I just got made fun of a lot in middle school, that's all. I'm still getting used to not being a total loser.”

 

“Being popular isn't everything,” Ashley said. She glanced over at the rest of the cheerleading squad. Most of them were mingling with the football players and the kids with paint all over their faces. Mikey's friends were off on their own, hovering on the edge of the group and not knowing where they belonged within it. Ashley twirled her pom pom around. “Do you and your friends wanna come over to a house party tonight? We always have one when we win, and it'd be a good way for us to get to know each other.”

 

“Let me ask,” Mikey said. Unsurprisingly, Gabe agreed, as did Linda and Frank, but Spencer and Ryan declined. Spencer signed that his mom was expecting them back before midnight because Spencer's younger sisters had a swim meet the next morning and Spencer had to attend it.

 

Ashley, Linda, Gabe, Frank, and Mikey swung by the bike rack on the way out. Ashley had changed into jeans I'm the bathroom, and she now had a little backpack slung over one shoulder. They all got on their bikes, and Ashley led the way to her friend's house where the party was going to take place. It was cold, and Mikey wrapped his scarf tighter around his neck before he got on his bike. There wasn't a lot of wind, thankfully, but Mikey was glad when they finally got to the house and could ditch their bikes in the front yard.

 

“Come on, let's go have some fun,” Ashley said, looping her arm around Mikey's. He grabbed onto Frank before Frank could run in, and Gabe and Linda stuck to the back. They were talking about politics, which Mikey didn't feel the need to jump in on. Most of his political stance was eat the rich and destroy capitalism. He was a tired 15 year old boy who had seen the ugly side of poverty and drug culture, and he was perfectly fine with burning it all to the ground.

 

Everything turned into a blur once they were inside the house. Mikey had been to a few parties before, as had his sister, but none of them were like this. There were people everywhere, and they were all blonde and white and loud and drinking. The girls were barely clothed and the guys all looked like 8 year old boys on Easter. Ashley stood out because she was wearing ripped jeans and her cheerleading crop top, and Mikey stood out because he was in a scarf and a black denim jacket with patches on the front. Ashley didn't seem to notice, order was cool enough that it didn't matter, and so she grabbed a drink for herself and a beer for Mikey.

 

Mikey popped open the beer against the countertop, just like he'd done when he and Gee split a beer over New Year's. Mikey wasn't much of a drinker, but he figured he had nothing to lose here. It was a high school party. He was allowed to have fun.

 

“You look a little warm,” Ashley said, reaching for his scarf. “Do you wanna take your jacket off?”

 

“I probably should,” Mikey said. He handed her his beer and unwound his scarf, but kept everything else on. He tossed it over the back of the couch, because a few other people had dropped their jackets and hats there as well. He also took off his beanie, and ran his hands through his hair so that it didn't look too stupid. Mikey didn't know what he was trying to do with his hair at this point, which was why he usually wore a hat. Now, though, he was at a party and wearing a relatively political Jean jacket, and he didn't trust these people enough not to destroy it if he left it alone.

 

“So, are you into politics then?” Ashley asked, looking down at Mikey's jacket. One of his patches said Nazi punks fuck off! and another said No Trump No KKK No Fascist USA .

 

Mikey looked down at his jacket. “Uh, yeah. Kind of. I mean, it's more activism than politics, I kind of hate politics the way they are now.”

 

“I feel you,” Ashley said, taking a long drink from her cup. “My mom is white and my biological dad was black, right? But because they dated in high school and he went to Green Bay to make a better life for himself, my mom's considered white trash and I’m just a token ethnic fill in the school.”

 

“That's dumb,” Mikey said. He turned his beer around in his hands. “Do people… do people make fun of you for it?”

 

“Some say I'm faking being half black, but those are the same people who used to threaten to cut off my curls when I was a kid and wore my hair natural,” she said. Mikey hadn't noticed it before, but Ashley did look mixed. At first, he'd thought that she was just Italian or Greek or something, because she was just as dark as some of the people on Mikey's Italian side of the family. He wasn't going to mention that to her, though, because that would be an asshole move and Mikey tried not to be an asshole towards his friends.

 

Mikey took a swig of his beer. “Fuck those people, then.”

 

“I'd prefer not to,” Ashley said, and Mikey sputtered a little, trying to explain that, no, he was not advocating for revenge sex to make people feel bad about their previous actions. Ashley laughed and shook her head. “No, no, it's okay, I know what you meant. And yeah, definitely fuck those people. They don't deserve anything from me. I just wish I didn't have to deal with it, you know?”

 

“I mean, I'm a white dude, so probably not, but I understand what you're getting at,” Mikey said. He didn't mention that he was gay. He didn't think that now would be a good time for that kind of admission. So far, Ashley seemed cool, but that could change at any moment, and Mikey didn't want to risk it. Besides, she was a cheerleader, which meant she knew people, which meant that if Mikey told her, she could tell the entire school, and Mikey was not ready to be out to that many people.

 

Ashley patted him on the arm. “You're a really good white dude, if it makes you feel better.”

 

“It does,” Mikey said. “A little. My older sister was really into activism at our old school, so, I don’t know. Maybe some of it rubbed off on me. I try to be a decent person, just in general.”

 

“You’re doing a good job,” Ashley said. The two of them wandered through the house, talking about whatever came to mind. Ashley asked Mikey a lot about New Jersey, and he told her some of the things about it. He didn’t mention all the shootings or the drugs, because he didn’t want her to think that he was a total badass the way Frank did and Gabe somewhat did. Mikey wasn’t a badass. He’d just grown up in a shitty neighbourhood, and adapted to his environment. It was simple science.

 

“I heard you pulled a knife on someone on your first day here,” Ashley said, spinning around to trap Mikey in a corner. She was smiling behind her cup. “People are saying you’re a really tough guy, or that you’re just plain crazy. I just wanna know if the rumours are true. Did you pull a knife on a guy?”

 

“I didn’t mean to,” Mikey said, shrugging, and taking another drink from his beer. “It just… he was shoving Frank around, and I stepped in to try and stop him, and then he tried to hit me and, boom, there was a knife in my hand.”

 

Ashley’s eyes widened, and she grinned. “That’s badass.”

 

“Would it be more or less badass if I’d actually used it?” Mikey said, because he couldn’t get a read on these small town kids. Some of them thought he was cool, and some of them thought he was a serial killer in the making.

 

“I don’t know, but hopefully you’ll never have to find out,” Ashley said. She glanced down at Mikey’s bottle, which was almost empty. “Do you want another beer?”

 

“I probably shouldn’t; I have to bike home after this,” Mikey said. He twirled the bottle around in his hands. He didn’t feel drunk. His cheeks were warmer than usual, and he felt a little sleepy, but he didn’t think that was all the alcohol’s fault. The house was warm, and Mikey had been up since five in the morning anyway. Mikey smiled back at Ashley. “Thanks, though. For the offer.”

 

“Don’t let it get to your head,” Ashley said. “I offer free drinks to all the cute guys.”

 

Mikey frowned. “Cute?”

 

“Yeah. Come on, don’t act like you don’t know. You’ve got this whole tall dark and handsome thing going on, and yeah, you’re a little edgy, but I think it’s hot,” Ashley said. Mikey opened and closed his mouth, not sure what to do in this kind of situation. He couldn’t tell her he was gay, because he hadn’t told anyone yet and he was scared, but he didn’t want to tell her that he wasn’t into her, because he didn’t want her to think he thought she was ugly or anything.

 

Mikey swallowed. “Uh. Thanks, I guess. You’re not too bad yourself?”

 

“Boys,” Ashley said, rolling her eyes. She leaned up on her tip toes and kissed Mikey, and he was so startled that he froze entirely and didn’t even think about kissing her back until she’d pulled away. Ashley was frowning at him. “Wait, were you…?”

 

“No it’s--” Mikey sputtered out, waving his hands and almost empty beer bottle around. “You’re great, and I think you’re super cool, and I dig the fuck out of your hair but… I mean. Shit, my parents just died, and I don’t know if I’m ready… I don’t. I’m sorry?”

 

“I had no idea,” Ashley said, her expression changing to one of concern. “I’m so sorry about your parents, Mikey, that sucks.”

 

“No, it’s…” Mikey had no idea where he was going with any of this, and was talking entirely out of his ass. “I think you’re cool. I just. I don’t know if I want to date anyone, or kiss anyone, or… I’ve got, like. Shit to sort out. And stuff. But you’re really cool, I promise. And maybe if things were different? I don’t know.”

 

“It’s okay, trust me,” Ashley said, and she didn’t look too upset so Mikey believed her. She opened her arms and raised an eyebrow at him. “Hug it out? As friends?”

 

“Yeah,” Mikey said, and hugged her. She gave really good hugs, and she smelled faintly of grass and blueberries. She was a cool girl, and it was a shame that Mikey only liked guys, because she would probably make a great girlfriend. Once they pulled back from the hug, Mikey finished his beer and checked his phone. “Ah, fuck. I should probably head home. It was cool to hang out with you, though. For a cheerleader, you’re pretty fucking awesome.”

 

“And for a crazy knife-wielding guy from New Jersey, you’re actually pretty chill,” Ashley said, bumping her elbow against his. “Come on, I’ll ride home with you. This party is pretty boring anyway. I’ve definitely been to better.”

Chapter Text

Mikey and Ashley split off at the edge of town. Mikey wasn’t sure how he felt about letting her bike to her house alone in the middle of the night, but she assured him that she’d done it before and she’d be fine. Mikey wasn’t worried too much about himself. He had his knife, and he was used to more dangerous things than serial killers.

 

The roads were dark, and Mikey spent most of his concentration on not cycling off of them and into a field. He knew the way back to Elena’s house, but he was used to riding in the light, and his head was kind of a mess. He’d had his first kiss, but it was with a girl, and Mikey didn’t even like her like that. He’d meant what he said when he thought that Ashley was a cool person, but Mikey didn’t feel anything towards her. He’d felt nothing when they kissed, and now he’d have to live the rest of his life knowing that his first kiss was with someone he didn’t have feelings for.

 

It was no surprise, then, when he almost ran someone over. Mikey let out a scream, as did the person, and he swerved away from them. His bike tipped over and he bounced onto the pavement, scraping his knees as he did. Shaking, Mikey sat up and gently touched his knees. They stung, and he regretted wearing pants with holes in the knees. He was probably bleeding.

 

“Are you okay?” a voice said, sounding rather distressed. Mikey looked up to see the person he’d almost run over, only to realise that it was the guy from under the lamp post.

 

Mikey nodded. “Yeah. I’m fine. Are you okay?”

 

“I don’t get hurt,” the guy said.

 

Mikey got to his feet, slowly, wincing a little as the fabric of his jeans scraped over the fresh cuts. “What do you mean, you don’t get hurt? Are you a mutant or something? I almost ran you over with my fucking bike.”

 

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he said. He was looking back down the road, with fear in his eyes. Now that Mikey was up close, he could see that the guy’s curly hair was actually a shaved and styled afro, and that he was a bit darker than Ashley. Mikey remembered what his grandma had said about the kid who’d died last year, and how he was black and a bit rebellious.

 

“Are you Travis?” Mikey asked. “I’m not going to hurt you, if you are.”

 

“I’m not Travis,” the guy said. So, never mind that then. He wasn’t the ghost of a dead kid. “My name is Pete, and I’m… I don’t know what I am.”

 

“Do you live here?” Mikey asked. He reached down and picked his bike up off the road. It wasn’t damaged, thankfully, because Elena would probably be pissed if Mikey wrecked his bike less than a week after he bought it. Mikey turned the handlebars around. “Did you know Travis?”

 

“No,” Pete said. He looked Mikey up and down. “You shouldn’t be out alone. He’s going to get his next victim soon.”

 

“The killer?” Mikey asked, tightening his grip on the handlebars. “You can tell me who he is, you know. I won’t let you get hurt.”

 

“I don’t know who he is!” Pete said, his voice angry now. A gust of wind came over them, knocking Mikey back a step. Mikey shivered. Who the hell was this kid, and what did he have to do with the murders? Pete clenched his fists, and the wind started up again. “Everyone wants to know who he is but I don’t. Know. He won’t tell me, and I can’t remember!”

 

“You don’t have to remember,” Mikey said, his teeth chattering. He wanted to get on his bike and ride as fast as he could, but he couldn’t leave Pete behind. There was something about him that made Mikey want to abandon all common sense and help the guy out. “You don’t have to know who he is, but if you know who he’s going to kill, please , tell me. I don’t want anyone to get hurt, and the killer might be after one of my friends.”

 

“He only goes after those who make a scene,” Pete said. The wind died down again, leaving the two boys in the still, cold air. Pete wrapped his arms around himself. “I remember that. He told me… he told me people like me were… were asking for it. That we were fucked up, and should all be killed.”

 

“That’s a load of bullshit,” Mikey said. “No one should be killed for being different.”

 

The world paused. Mikey looked around him, searching for some kind of movement, or proof that he wasn’t hallucinating, but everything was still. So still. Too still. Mikey didn’t even feel the cold anymore. It was like being in a vacuum. Pete was staring at him, his eyes big and sad and a deep, deep gold. “I was.”

 

And like that, he was gone, and the world started moving again. Mikey lunged forward, to where Pete had just been, but his hands only caught air and the slightest hint of hairspray. Mikey pulled out his phone, shining the flashlight in every direction, but there was no sign of the guy. Mikey turned his phone’s flashlight off again and shivered before shoving it back in his pocket. He frowned, looking up at the sky because he didn’t know where else to look. “You don’t have to keep running away, you know. I’d listen to you.”

 


 

Mikey was exhausted. He’d stayed up most of the night waiting for Pete to come back. Luckily, it was a Saturday, so he didn’t have school or any reason to get up early. He just pulled the blankets tighter around his shoulders and pressed his face into the mattress.

 

None of this made sense. Was Pete dead? How did he know so much about the serial killer without knowing who the guy was? Was Pete even telling the truth, or was he just some asshole who wanted to make Mikey look like a complete dumbass? If that was the truth, it wasn’t going to work, because Mikey was stubborn and he didn’t like going to other people for help unless he absolutely had to.

 

“Mikey, come on, it’s almost noon,” Gee said from the other side of his door. Mikey let out an uninterested groan into his pillow and wondered if he’d be able to go back to sleep. Gee was still knocking on his door. “I’m having Ray and Lindsey over. Seriously, you can’t just sleep the entire day.”

 

Mikey lifted his head off of his pillow. “Watch me.”

 

“Hah!” Gee shouted through the door, sounding far too excited. “Now you can’t fake sleeping anymore! I know you’re awake now, fucker!”

 

“Eat shit,” Mikey said, and dragged himself out of bed anyway. He grabbed his glasses and then opened the door wide enough that Gee could see his face. He sent her his sternest of glares. “What do you want.”

 

“Are you wearing yesterday’s clothes?” Gee asked. “How late were you out?”

 

“Like, midnight,” Mikey said. “It was a boring party.”

 

“Then how are you so tired?” Gee asked. She wiggled her eyebrows. “Ohh, did you bring someone home last night? Or did you go to someone else’s house? What’s her name, Mikes? I promise I won’t tell anyone, but I am your sister, so I’m legally obligated to know every girl or person you go out with.”

 

Mikey sighed. He was too tired for this. “I’m.”

 

“You’re?” Gee echoed.

 

Mikey opened his eyes and looked at his sister. He didn’t know why he hadn’t told her already. “I’m gay, Gee. So it wasn’t a girl, and it wasn’t a guy, either. I just… I had a lot to think about last night, okay? That’s all.”

 

Gee swung the door open and pulled Mikey into a hug. Mikey slumped against her, because he was still tired and it was also relieving to have finally told someone. He didn’t hate Ashley for being his first kiss, or hate that Pete guy for knocking him off his bike. He just wanted to go back to sleep and wait for everything to settle down a little.

 

He didn’t go back to sleep, though, and instead took a shower while staring at the slanted ceiling a few inches away from his head. He joined Gee downstairs and hung out with her and her friends for a bit, but he felt like he was the kid brother who got dragged into things out of pity.

 

It was a relief when the doorbell rang. Mikey got up without being asked to and headed to the door. Linda and Gabe were on the other side of it. Mikey frowned. “Um. Hi? What are you guys doing here?”

 

“She showed up at my house,” Gabe said.

 

Linda rolled her eyes. “I called your parents first to make sure you’d actually be home. Don’t make me seem like a creeper.”

 

“I wasn’t doing that,” Gabe said. He turned back to Mikey and pulled his hat down further over his ears. “So. Anyway. Linda had this brilliant idea to go into town and see if there was anything interesting to do, because she hasn’t lived here long enough to know that there is never anything to do, ever.”

 

“It’s better than staying at home all day,” Linda said. She glanced down at Mikey, who had bandages on his palms now. “What happened to you?”

 

“Fell off my bike on my way home,” Mikey said, and took his hands off the door frame. “I think I hit a patch of ice or something. I don’t know. It was cold.”

 

“So you didn’t go home with Ashley then?” Gabe asked. Mikey leaned into the house to make sure that Elena wasn’t around and then flipped him off. That was what straight guys did, probably. Gabe laughed. “Come on, dude, don’t take it seriously. Grab your jacket and let’s go.”

 

“Give me five minutes and I’ll be back down,” Mikey said. He left the door open for them so that they could come in if they were cold. Mikey wasn’t too worried, though, since Gabe and Linda were from around here and had gotten used to the cold. It was ridiculous. Jersey got cold and snowy in the winter, but it usually hovered around the teens or the low twenties. Marshfield, though… Marshfield threatened going into the negatives every other day.

 

Mikey returned with boots, scarf, hat, and jacket on, and grabbed his fingerless gloves from the bowl by the door on his way out. He called out to Gee and Elena and anyone else who cared to know that he was going out with friends, and that he had his phone on him. He didn’t wait for an answer before following Gabe and Linda down the driveway.

 

“Do you guys know where Frank lives?” Mikey asked.

 

“Yeah,” Gabe said. “And Linda knows where Spencer and Ryan live, so we’re all good.”

 

“And Ashley, if you wanted to invite her?” Linda offered. Mikey nodded. He wasn’t going to date Ashley, but he wanted to be friends with her. If she was cool with hanging out with weird kids instead of her cheerleader friends, then that only added to the appeal of having her in the gang.

 

“Are we a gang?” Mikey asked. “Friendship wise. Like, do we call ourselves a gang or a club or…?”

 

“Squad,” Gabe offered, and Linda mimed ramming her bike into his. Gabe grinned. “Not squad then. Gang works, I guess.”

 

“A gang of fuckers,” Mikey said, and hopped on his bike. He pulled ahead of the other two, but let Gabe get ahead of him since he knew where they were going. Linda looked like she wasn’t even trying. She had really strong legs, from volleyball, and she spent most of the ride from Mikey’s house to Frank’s just gliding along between the two boys.

 

Frank sprinted out of his house, yelling back at his mom as he did. He stumbled and yanked his bike off of the side of his mailbox, and then nearly keeled over. Mikey rolled his eyes and reached out a hand so that Frank didn’t pass out. Frank gave Mikey a thumbs up before taking a few puffs from his inhaler. “Thanks, dude. I forgot how hard it is to breath in the cold.”

 

“The cigarettes probably don’t help,” Mikey said.

 

“Let me live my life,” Frank said, and flipped him off.

 

Ryan was next. Linda’s shoulders tensed the closer they got to Ryan’s address, and Mikey reached down to press his hand against the pocket of his jacket. His knife was still there. He didn’t think he’d need to use it, because Ryan hadn’t seemed dangerous the other night, just an asshole, and Linda was friends with him. Linda seemed like a smart person. She didn’t seem like the kind of girl who hung out with guys who were assholes.

 

The house was bright blue, set far back from the road, and very narrow. Linda leaned her bike up against the mailbox, which looked like it had been hit by a few cars in it’s life, and turned to the other three. “You guys can stay back here, if you want.”

 

“I’ll go up with you,” Mikey said. He shoved one hand into his pocket, wrapping his fingers around his knife. Frank and Gabe didn’t say anything.

 

“You sure?” Linda said. Her eyes flicked to the other two boys. “Ryan’s dad… he’s…”

 

“I’m not scared of dads,” Mikey said, and brushed past her. It didn’t matter how Linda was going to finish that sentence. If Ryan’s dad was an asshole, it didn’t matter that Ryan was an asshole. Ryan’s dad was an adult, and therefore should know better than to be a piece of shit to kids.

 

He knocked on the door with his free hand. Linda was on his left, her face set. There weren’t any other bikes around.

 

The door swung open, and Mikey almost gagged from the smell of raw alcohol coming from inside the house. Ryan’s dad was the same height as Ryan, but with a bad moustache and greying hair. His hair was also a lot shorter than Ryan’s, and he was holding a shotgun. He narrowed his eyes at Mikey. “Who’re you?”

 

“Ryan’s friend,” Mikey said, and tightened his grip on his knife. Guns didn’t scare him. His middle school had gone into a lockdown once because some fucker ran into the school after fleeing a gunfight. Guns weren’t the scary part. The people holding them were. Mikey peered around Ryan’s dad. “Is he here?”

 

“No,” Ryan’s dad said. “You’re not like him, are you?”

 

Mikey frowned. “Like him how?”

 

“Fucked up in the head,” the man said. “You know, retarded.”

 

“I’m--Ryan’s not that,” Mikey said, and wasn’t surprised when Linda’s hand clamped down around his wrist. Mikey swallowed, hard. “Have a day.”

 

He let go of the knife and took Linda’s hand, pulling her down from the house and back towards the bikes. Once they were off the porch, he let go, and shoved his hands deep into his pockets, kicking the snow as he went. He felt uneasy. Angry, but also like he’d just encountered something vile and was about to puke.

 

“Sorry about that,” Linda said. “He’s kind of a bad person.”

 

“Who the hell calls their own son the fucking r-slur?” Mikey said, and shot a glare back over his shoulder. “Fucker.”

 

“Ryan’s probably at Spencer’s,” Linda said. “Don’t know why I didn’t think to check there first… Ryan’s almost always at Spencer’s.”

 

It wasn’t an answer. Mikey felt like he’d just gotten a glimpse into a world he wasn’t ready to know about yet, because he’d just met Ryan and Linda, and he hadn’t earned that much of their trust. He didn’t say it out loud to Linda, but he promised himself not to bring up that interaction ever again. Not with anyone, even if it ate away at him at night.

 

Ryan was at Spencer’s after all. There was also another guy there, with soft brown hair and sad eyes. He kept staring at Mikey, like he’d never seen a kid with glasses before, and Mikey considered asking him if he wanted a fucking picture. He didn’t, though, because he was trying to be nice.

 

“Aren’t you one of the Weekes kids?” Frank asked the tall guy.

 

“Yeah,” he said. He looked a little embarrassed. “I’m Dallon.”

 

“Cool,” Frank nodded. “Can you tell your parents to fuck off, maybe? My mom’s more of a Christian than they could ever be, because she doesn’t fucking judge people for their unfortunate circumstances, and she knows when to stop having kids.”

 

“Eat shit, Frank,” Ryan said from where he was putting on shoes. Spencer was beside him, and signed something that probably meant the same thing in English. Mikey couldn’t help but agree. Over-zealous Christians sucked ass, but that didn’t mean Frank had the right to insult Dallon’s family.

 

“He has a point,” Dallon said.

 

“Doesn’t mean he should say it,” Mikey finally said. Frank looked a little offended that Mikey wasn’t taking his side. Mikey shrugged. “What, dude? You can disagree with people all you want, but if you’re gonna call them a shitbag, at least go directly to the person you have beef with.”

 

“So… are we going to sit around insulting each other all day or are we going to go see if there’s anything to do?” Gabe said. Ironic, considering he’d been the one against this plan in the beginning. But they were all here now, sans Ashley, and so it made sense for them to try and have fun. It was the weekend. Weekends were made for doing hooligan shit with friends.

 

They didn’t find anything, but Ashley joined up with them around five, and they decided that food was a good idea. Spencer offered up his house, since it was closest, and no one argued.

 

“Well, that accomplished nothing,” Gabe said as he dropped his bike on top of Mikey’s.

 

Mikey flipped him off. “Eat shit. We didn’t find anything, but we had fun. And Ashley invited us into her homecoming group, so that gives you a better shot at getting Victoria to notice your existence.”

 

“Good point,” Gabe said. Mikey personally didn’t care about homecoming, but it was the Saturday before Halloween and the closest thing he’d get to a Halloween party. Mikey didn’t want to become the next Travie. He wasn’t going to risk throwing one of his own.

 

The eight of them settled down in Spencer’s living room, and he popped his hearing aids back in. He was still signing, for the most part, but Mikey wanted to know what the hell he, Ryan, and Linda were talking about behind everyone’s back, so he tried to pay attention to the shapes their hands made. Mikey pushed his glasses up onto his nose. “Hey, so, how did you guys learn sign language anyway?”

 

“I taught myself,” Ryan said. “And then when Linda asked, Spence and I taught her.”

 

“Did you want to learn?” Spencer asked. It was the first time Mikey had heard him talk, and his voice threw Mikey off a little. It was higher than Mikey had expected, and he had a noticeable lisp.

 

“It’d be cool,” Mikey said. “It might come in handy, who knows.”

 

“What would it come in handy for?” Linda asked.

 

“If we need to talk in code, duh,” Ryan said. “I mean, that’s what the four of us do. Why not expand our powers a little?”

 

“They’re not powers,” Spencer said, signing as he spoke. Ryan and Linda were signing as well, even though they weren’t necessarily talking to Spencer any more. It was pretty cool. And it would definitely work as a code language, if any of them needed it.

 

“I want to learn,” Gabe suggested. Ashley nodded in agreement, and after she elbowed him, Frank agreed to it as well. So, instead of going out and wreaking havoc on the town, the eight of them paired off and started learning how to sign. It wasn’t as easy as Mikey had thought it would be, because ASL really was a new language, and Mikey was so used to using his hands for meaningless shit when he talked that it was hard to use them to communicate directly with someone.

 

Dallon was patient, though, and didn’t laugh at Mikey when he accidentally hit himself in the chin while trying to sign.

 

Mikey sighed. “This is hard. How long did it take you to learn?”

 

“Not long,” Dallon said. “But I had Ryan teach me, so don’t feel bad about it.”

 

“Ryan’s a good teacher, then?” Mikey asked.

 

“Well, he knows what it’s like to have to learn a different way, so he’s adaptable,” Dallon said. “He’s also really into linguistics and secret languages, so he’s done a lot of research on how to learn and teach languages. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up as a teacher or something.”

 

“He’d have to stop being an asshole,” Mikey muttered, and then tried to sign what he had just said. He had to spell out asshole because Dallon refused to teach him how to swear. Mikey swore a lot. He wasn’t being juvenile by asking. He was being practical. If he was going to speak with his friends in ASL, he was going to need to know how to say fuck.

 

Dallon frowned. “He doesn’t mean it. It’s just who he is.”

 

“Huh,” Mikey said. Some people were more blunt than others, and maybe Ryan was just one of those people. It would suck if he decided to go into teaching, then, because teachers were supposed to be nice. They weren’t always nice, and some of them were complete jackasses, but they were supposed to care about their students. Mikey cracked his knuckles. “Okay, so. Let’s get back to signing. I’m gonna figure this shit out eventually.”

 


 

Mikey saw Pete again that night. He was ready this time. He’d convinced Gee and Elena that he wasn’t super tired and that he was going to just hang out downstairs for a bit longer, and then shut off the TV once he was sure they were both asleep. He then turned his attention to the window, turned up the music on his phone, and waited.

 

It took two hours, but Mikey’s patience finally paid off, and he grabbed his jacket before sprinting out across the front lawn again. Pete didn’t disappear this time, and Mikey grinned. He picked up speed, in case Pete decided to change his mind and try to run away. Pete brought his arms up and made a shoving motion, and Mikey, who was still about ten feet away, flew back and into the snow.

 

Mikey got to his feet, shaking a little. He looked at Pete, and was surprised to see that the snow between them had been blown away. Mikey narrowed his eyes. “What the fuck was that?”

 

“Don’t… don’t come closer,” Pete said. He still had his arms out. “I’ll do it again.”

 

“Are you human?” Mikey asked. He rubbed his ass, which was sore from the landing. His whole back was sore. “Or are you like, a mutant or something? Like Eleven?”

 

“Eleven?” Pete asked.

 

“The X-Men?” Mikey offered. Maybe Pete didn’t have Netflix. “I mean, you definitely have superpowers. Normal people can’t throw guys across the street without touching them.”

 

“I’m not a mutant,” Pete said. He started lowering his arms, slowly.

 

Mikey took a hesitant step forward. Pete didn’t react, but he didn’t relax. Mikey looked Pete up and down. “Then what are you?”

 

Pete looked at Mikey. His eyes looked like molten steel. He was almost glowing, with an eerie purple haze around him. “I’m dead.”

Chapter Text

Mikey was out of it on Sunday. He went to church with Gee and Elena, but he had no idea what the preacher was talking about. All he could think about was Pete. Pete was a dead kid, but he was still alive, and the man who had killed him controlled him. It wasn’t that Pete had no control at all, but he could only be seen while the killer was choosing and hunting his victim. Once the kid died, Pete went back into hibernation.

 

Pete had been living like that for years. Decades. Shit, he was probably one of the first kids to go missing.

 

Mikey froze. The rest of the church was singing some hymn about the coming of Jesus, but Mikey was not. Pete wasn’t just one of the first kids to be killed. He was the first kid who was murdered. He was the one who’d gone missing, only to have an arm recovered weeks later, and his parents had left the city because they were too traumatised and hurt to stay where their son had died.

 

Mikey gagged. He felt like he was going to puke, and so he pushed past Gee, ignoring the worried look she gave him, and raced to the bathrooms in the back of the church.

 

He did puke, dry heaving against the toilet while his heart pounded in his chest. He’d been talking to a dead kid. He’d been talking to a kid who was brutally murdered in an unsolved hate crime, who was still tied to his killer…

 

Mikey heaved again. This was… this was horrible.

 

“Mikey? Dude, are you in here?” Frank called. Shit. Of course Frank came to this church, too.

 

Mikey grabbed some toilet paper and quickly wiped his mouth. “Yeah, I’m in here. What’s up?”

 

“You fucking bolted in the middle of a song, that’s what’s up,” Frank said. He came over and stood in front of the bathroom door. Mikey could see his ripped up black Converse and the ends of his jeans. He realised now that everyone in the congregation had probably seen his hasty exit. He could explain it as food sickness to Elena and Gee when they asked, but Frank deserved the truth. Frank believed in the murder mystery covering this town.

 

Mikey got up slowly and flushed the toilet. He wished there was a sink so he could rinse off his face, but there wasn’t. He unlocked the door and washed his face off before turning and leaning back against the sink. Mikey took a deep breath. “So. You know that Travie kid? The one who died last Halloween?”

 

“Yeah, my mom wouldn’t let me ride my bike anywhere for months after it happened,” Frank said. “I don’t know why she was worried.”

 

“She had every right to be. I mean, Travie was killed by the same dude who’s been killing kids for the past thirty years,” Mikey said. He swallowed. “And, you’re probably not going to believe me, but I met the first kid who died. Pete. He’s still… he’s still around.”

 

“Wait, the kid from the eighties, where they only found his arm?” Frank said. He shook his head. “No way. Come on, Mikey. That’s not funny. That kid’s parents were fucked up after that.”

 

“I’m serious,” Mikey said. “I think he’s tied to the murders.”

 

Frank rolled his eyes, but he didn’t walk out on Mikey, so that was something. “Alright. You’re more interesting than the pastor even though you’re both spewing bullshit. How?”

 

“I don’t know. Something supernatural, probably. All I know is that Pete starts showing up whenever the murderer picks out his victim, and he stops showing up when the victim dies,” Mikey said. The more he talked out loud, the more ridiculous it all seemed. But he’d started this, and he was going to finish. He just hoped that Frank could suspend his disbelief for a little longer. “I’ve… I started seeing him a few days after I moved here, and he kept running away from me. But last night, I finally talked to him.”

 

“You sound fucking crazy, dude,” Frank said.

 

“I know,” Mikey said. “And I wish I had proof, but I don’t. All I know is that some kid in this town is going to die soon, and someone has to stop this.”

 

“And you think you can do it?” Frank asked, raising his eyebrows.

 

Mikey shook his head. “Not alone. I know how horror stories work. You never go out alone, and you never try to take on the monster without some kind of back up plan. I mean, this time, the monster is a person, but I still think we should be careful.”

 

“We?” Frank said. “When did I sign up for this?”

 

“Frank,” Mikey said, whining a little. “Please. You can’t ignore that there’s weird shit in this town.”

 

“There’s weird shit in every town,” Frank said.

 

The door to the bathroom opened and closed, and the two boys froze. Mikey hoped that whoever had just come in wouldn’t be an adult and wouldn’t care that they were technically skipping church service. Dallon, Linda and Spencer’s friend from the other day, came around the corner. His hair was combed down now, and he was wearing a shirt tucked into his pants. He looked down at Mikey and Frank, worried. “Should I leave?”

 

“Do you believe in ghosts?” Frank asked.

 

“I don’t not believe in ghosts,” Dallon said. He looked between the two of them. “Why?”

 

“Mikey thinks Pete Wentz is haunting Marshfield and trying to warn us that someone is going to die,” Frank said.

 

Mikey rolled his eyes. “Don’t say it like that. It makes me seem like a conspiracy theorist. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I just like spooky shit, and I had an actual interaction with a ghost. Or zombie. I don’t know what Pete was.”

 

“You saw him?” Dallon asked. He looked like he believed Mikey, which Mikey hadn’t expected.

 

Mikey nodded. “Yeah. I’ve seen him a lot.”

 

“I saw him, two nights before Travie died last year,” Dallon said. He shoved his hands into his pockets and looked down at the ground. “I thought maybe it was because--because of something else, but maybe it was just Pete being there as a warning. Maybe it had nothing to do with me.”

 

“Whoa, you saw Pete?” Frank said. He looked back at Mikey. His eyes were wide now, and he looked like he was actually starting to believe Mikey’s story.

 

Mikey raised his eyebrows at Frank, silently saying I fucking told you , and turned his body towards Dallon. Mikey hadn’t expected Dallon to be the one to believe him, or to have seen Pete himself. Dallon wasn’t a freak, or an outcast. He had a bunch of siblings, and his parents were really religious, but he fit in with everyone else in this town. He was just another straight white dude, so there was no reason for Pete to acknowledge him.

 

“Yeah,” Dallon said. He looked over at Mikey. “Where did you see him?”

 

Mikey repeated what he’d just told Frank to Dallon, and Dallon nodded along at the right places. Dallon believed him, but Dallon also knwe that Pete was real and Mikey wasn’t just pulling this all out of his ass. Mikey crossed his arms over his chest. “So what do we do? I mean, someone’s going to die soon, and we can’t just sit back and let it happen.”

 

“Couldn’t we tell the police, or a teacher or someone?” Dallon said. “I mean, why does it have to be us?”

 

Mikey remembered something Gee had said to him a few years ago. He’d asked her why she cared so much about politics even though she couldn’t vote. He still remembered it. “Because the people in charge don’t give a shit about us. Some of them do, but it’s not enough, and if we want to change things, we have to do it ourselves. And in this case, that means contacting Pete again and trying to figure out who this murderer is.”

 

“We can’t do it on our own, though,” Frank said. He pointed at Mikey. “I mean, you could, because you’re a total badass, but we don’t know what we’re up against. I mean, if everyone’s right about this guy, he’s been killing people for thirty years. He’s got to be pretty good at it, and I don’t want to die trying to save someone I don’t even know.”

 

“So we’ll get the others to help us out,” Mikey said. He shrugged. “The more people we have looking for this asshole, the better our chances are of catching him.”

 

“Sounds like a crime novel,” Dallon said. He sighed. “I don’t know how helpful I’ll be, though. I have to take care of my younger siblings a lot, since my dad’s always working and my mom does a lot for the church.”

 

“We can meet at your house,” Mikey said. “That way you don’t have to abandon your baby-sitting duties, and we could even help you if you needed it.”

 


 

“If either of Dallon’s parents are here, I’m leaving,” Gabe said as he and Mikey dropped their bikes by the Weekes’ driveway. It was Monday afternoon, and cold, but Mikey didn’t want to wait around and let the killer take someone else’s life. This was a serious situation going on. Mikey was going to take it seriously.

 

“Don’t leave alone,” Mikey said. He looked up at Gabe, his expression serious. “You know the rule.”

 

“Don’t go anywhere alone, I know,” Gabe said. “You keep forgetting that I’m a double minority here. I know how not to get beat up, Mikes.”

 

Mikey nodded. He and Gabe walked up to the house. It was painted grey, and relatively average. There was a cross on the front door that had As for me and my house we will serve the Lord inscribed on it. Mikey rolled his eyes at that. He didn’t mind when people had crosses or religious symbols in his house (his parents had been Catholic. He was used to it), but that kind of shit was tacky.

 

The door opened to reveal someone who was not Dallon but was a shorter dude with buzzed dark brown hair. He looked Gabe and Mikey up and down. “Are you two homosexuals?”

 

“What,” Gabe said. He looked at Mikey, frowning. “Are you sure this is the right house?”

 

Dallon appeared behind the shorter teen, flustered and annoyed, and pushed him aside. “Sorry, ignore my brother. Tyler, don’t be rude, those are my friends .”

 

“You shouldn’t be friends with homosexuals, Dallon,” Tyler said. “What would Jesus say?”

 

“Probably something about loving your neighbour, and the old he who is without sin may cast the first stone thing, but what would I know?” Mikey said. He brushed by Tyler, making certain to hit him in the shoulder. “I’m just a fucking Catholic.”

 

Dallon pressed his hands to his face and then moved Mikey and Gabe away from the door and his brother. There were more crosses inside, as well as Christian reminders everywhere. Mikey recognised some of the Bible verses, but he hadn’t actually read the Bible in a while so he was still a little lost on the whole plotline.

 

There wasn’t a TV anywhere. Dallon explained that his parents thought cable entertainment was the work of the devil, and so they weren’t allowed to watch TV shows or movies or anything. There were two girls sitting on the couch, and Mikey recognised one of them from his lunch table. Even though he was pretty sure they’d hate him, he still waved. “Hey. I think we sit together at lunch.”

 

The girl looked up and looked Mikey over. She smiled. “Oh yeah, we do! I’m Breezy, by the way. One of Dallon’s bio sisters. And that’s Ashley.”

 

“Another Ashley?” Gabe asked, raising an eyebrow.

 

Ashley nodded. “Yeah. It’s a common name. Your hair is cute.”

 

“Uh, thanks, but I think I’m too old for you and I think Dallon would kill me if I said otherwise,” Gabe said.

 

Ashley frowned. “Violence is against the Bible. Dallon wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

 

“Nope,” Dallon said, and again moved the two boys up the stairs. There was another sitting area there, where a different boy who looked similar to Ashley was laying across the couch and working on his homework. Dallon introduced him as Josh, Ashley’s bio brother, and explained that most of his siblings were adopted because his parents were into charity work and getting kids out of third world, non-Christian areas.

 

“Glad they didn’t know about me when I was a kid,” Gabe muttered under his breath.

 

Dallon frowned. “They mean well. And I’m sorry about Tyler, by the way. He and I are in the same grade, and I think he takes things to an extreme because he’s trying to prove that he’s the better son or something. I don’t know. It’s annoying.”

 

Dallon’s room was small, with bunk beds in the corner and a desk next to the door. He shared his room with his youngest brother (Brendon), who was still at school because he was in an after school program. Tyler, Josh, and Dallon’s bio older brother had a room together, and then the two girls had their own room as well. His parents also had their room, but it was on the first floor.

 

“That’s a lot of siblings,” Mikey said. He was glad now that he only had Gee. “How do your mom and dad do it?”

 

“Well, they thought about homeschooling us, but that didn’t work too well because Brendon has ADHD and can’t be inside for too long,” Dallon said. Ryan rolled his eyes and Dallon frowned at him. “What?”

 

“That’s not how ADHD works,” Ryan said. Spencer elbowed him and signed something angrily. Mikey picked up the signs for not and issue but couldn’t figure out what Spencer was trying to say. He needed to work on his signing. Ryan tapped his heels together and said to Dallon, “sorry. But… ADHD doesn’t turn people into explosives. Your mom and dad just don’t know how to handle it.”

 

“I know,” Dallon said. He tapped the books on his bookcase. “I’ve been doing my own research.”

 

Ryan smiled at him, and Mikey felt like he was third wheeling. He sat down on the bed next to Frank and Linda and pulled out the folder he’d started for this. He didn’t know if it was okay to call it a case or not, since none of them were professionals. He had a lot of information, though. Some of it was from paranormal forums, but he’d made sure to do his research so that he didn’t get any of his friends in trouble.

 

“That’s a lot,” Ashley said from where she was sitting on the floor with Ryan and Spencer. She leaned forward and tucked her hair behind her ear. “Is that all about the murders?”

 

“Yeah,” Mikey said. “It took forever to print out, too. My grandma’s printer sucks.”

 

“So what do we do with all of this?” Linda asked. She reached forward and pulled out one of the information pages on the victims. “Are we making a suspect list?”

 

“That’d be a good place to start,” Mikey said. He turned to Frank. “Did you bring the map?”

 

Frank nodded and pulled it out of his backpack. It was large, but it had all of Marshfield on it, including the surrounding farms. He hung it up over Dallon’s desk, and Dallon pulled out a box of thumb tacks. Frank grinned. “Do you have red string, too? We can make one of those things like they do in the movies.”

 

“This isn’t Pepe Silvia, Frank,” Mikey said. “But that’s not a bad idea. Let’s get all the locations up first, and then we can see if connecting them does anything.”

 

It took a while, but they finally got all the points up on the board. They added tacks for where Dallon and Mikey had seen Pete as well. Dallon’s Pete sighting was close to where Travie McCoy’s body was found, and Mikey’s sightings were close to where Pete’s arm had been found. The other bodies were scattered around town, with a few clustered near the school and a few others clustered around the neighbouring town of Hewitt.

 

“How many people live in Hewitt, though?” Mikey asked. Based on the map Frank had, it didn’t look very big. He turned and looked over his shoulder at his friends. “Because if it isn’t that big, then maybe the killer lives there but kills in Marshfield because he has a bigger population to choose from.”

 

“I think the population is around a thousand,” Linda said. “My mom’s on the district board, she would know exactly. But everyone in Hewitt goes to school here, because they weren’t big enough to have their own.”

 

“Are we sure this guy has some connection to the school?” Frank asked.

 

Gabe shrugged. “It would make sense. If the murders have been going on for thirty years, and they’ve always been teenagers, that means whoever’s doing it knows the kids of this town. I wouldn’t be surprised if he worked at the high school.”

 

Spencer tapped Ryan on the shoulder and signed something to him. Ryan nodded. “Spencer said that would explain the murders around the school, too. A teacher or administrator would be around the school a lot, and it wouldn’t be weird for him to be there after school had closed or before it opened for the day.”

 

“Does he kill the people where they’re found, or are they killed somewhere and then placed at the crime scenes?” Ashley asked. She leaned forward and took some of the papers Mikey had collected.

 

Mikey bit his lip. “I think? I know with Pete, he was killed somewhere other than where he was found. I mean. They only found his arm, so. He had to have been killed elsewhere.”

 

“Do you have the last seen places of the kids?” Dallon asked. He pulled out a box of blue pins this time and shook it. “Because that might help too.”

 

“Good idea,” Ryan said, and started flipping through the papers. He and Ashley found the last locations of twenty of the thirty kids. Most of them were last seen leaving a friend’s house, or their parents’ house to go somewhere else. All of them were alone when they disappeared.

 

“Wait, why are a lot of them on the railroad track?” Ryan said suddenly.

 

Mikey looked at the map. Seven of the kids had last been seen by the railroad, and four more had last been seen somewhere between Hewitt and his grandmother’s house. He frowned. “Guys. I think the murder site might be near my house.”

 

“Oh my God,” Linda whispered. “I think you’re right.”

 

“Well, that explains why you’ve seen Pete multiple times, but shit, Mikey,” Frank said, “you need to be careful.”

 

“I know,” Mikey said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his knife. It had been effective in scaring off bullies, but Mikey didn’t know if it would be enough to deter a serial killer. He didn’t even know how the guy killed off his victims. Mikey swallowed, nervous all of a sudden. “How… do any of the police reports say how the kids died?”

 

“Stab wounds, mostly,” Ryan said. He raised an eyebrow. “But I think you’ll need a bigger knife if you’re planning to do what I think you’re planning to do.”

 

“Don’t try and kill the killer,” Dallon said, frowning. “That’s dangerous.”

 

“Yeah, I mean, I trust you, and I know you’re a badass, but he’s trained,” Frank said. “He probably has a gun, too, because everyone here has a gun.”

 

“My dad doesn’t,” Ashley said. “But my dad’s black so that’s probably why.”

 

“So no guns,” Mikey said, nodding to Ashley. He wasn’t a fan of them himself. People in power liked them, because guns killed people and it was easy to throw labels at someone with a gun. Mikey could handle himself, and he still had his knife and pepper spray. “But we should have some way to defend ourselves, if we’re gonna find this guy. I can’t be the only one holding a sharp object.”

 

“I have baseball bats,” Linda said. “And pepper spray.”

 

“Sweet,” Gabe said. He frowned, and looked to Mikey. “We’re not going after him now , are we? I have homework.”

 

“We don’t know who he is yet. I’m just being proactive, in case he figures out we’re onto him,” Mikey said. He didn’t want any of these guys to get hurt. He’d only been in Marshfield for a few weeks, but these people were his friends, and he cared about them.

 

Mikey walked up to the map and stared it down. “Let’s get a list of all the people who’ve been at the high school since 1986. It’ll be a lot, I bet, but we gotta start somewhere,” he looked over his shoulder, “and remember: don’t go anywhere alone.”

Chapter Text

Mikey stayed up for Pete again that night. He had the folder in his hands and he was ready to talk to Pete. He had to convince the guy that he wasn’t going to hurt him. Mikey needed Pete’s help, even though Pete seemed to think he couldn’t help stop the murders.

 

The light came on, and Mikey walked out into the snow. He had on his jacket and some fingerless gloves, but he still shivered. Snow was falling lightly down around the two boys. Mikey knew he was taking a risk by coming out alone at night, especially now that he knew the kids were being killed somewhere nearby. It was dangerous, but it would be worth it once Mikey got Pete’s trust.

 

“What do you want?” Pete asked. He didn’t throw Mikey, or try to run, which was good.

 

“I want your help,” Mikey said. He opened the folder to show Pete all of the information he and his friends had collected. “My friends and I… we’re trying to figure out who killed you, but we can’t do it alone. You were there, and I know you can’t remember, but maybe you can still help us?”

 

Pete looked the papers over. “Where’d you get all of this?”

 

“Online,” Mikey said.

 

Pete gave him a weird look. “Online? On what line?”

 

“Uhh…” Mikey said. He looked back at his house. Hopefully Gee and Elena were deep sleepers, and hopefully the cats wouldn’t hiss at Pete. “Do you wanna go inside for this? I don’t know if you still get cold, but I do, and there’s a lot of stuff I have to tell you.”

 

“Okay. Your family won’t mind?” Pete asked.

 

“They’re asleep,” Mikey said. Pete nodded, and so Mikey led him into the house and up to his bedroom. He locked the door once the two of them were in there and turned on his lamp. It wasn’t super bright, but it was bright enough that they could see each other easily. Mikey grabbed his laptop from under his bed and sat down beside the door. “I’ll show you, hold on.”

 

“What the hell is that?” Pete said. He set the folder down on Mikey’s dresser and came over. He sat close to Mikey, leaning over his shoulder to look at the laptop screen. He smelled like grass and smoke. Mikey didn’t expect that from a dead kid.

 

“It’s my laptop,” Mikey said. He frowned. “Like, a computer that you can carry around. Didn’t you guys have those?”

 

“No, but that’s cool,” Pete said. He tapped one of the keys. “What does it do? Like, math and shit, or is it more like a typewriter?”

 

“It does pretty much everything,” Mikey said. He opened up Chrome and typed in Pete Wentz Marshfield into the search bar. “This is Google, which is basically a dictionary but for everything.”

 

“It looks more like an encyclopedia, but okay,” Pete said. His eyes widened when Mikey switched over to the images. “Holy shit, that’s me. And my parents… wait, why are they old in that one?”

 

“Well, you’ve been dead for thirty years, and they haven’t,” Mikey said. He turned his face towards Pete, and jumped back a little because Pete was a lot closer than he’d expected. Pete was really pretty up close. His hair looked really soft, and his eyes were like molten lava. Mikey smacked himself internally. He was not thinking gay shit about the dead guy beside him. That was just weird. Gee wasn’t even that goth that she’d go after a dead person.

 

“What else is on there?” Pete said. “Can I try?”

 

“Sure,” Mikey said, and handed his laptop over.

 

Pete typed away into the search bar, and Mikey watched as he Googled various things from the 80’s that Mikey could have told him about. The Berlin wall, which went down about five years after Pete died, and then Star Wars , which had five more movies now and a sixth on the way. And then he typed in is Ronald Reagan dead and Mikey laughed.

 

Pete glared at him. “What?”

 

“Dude, Reagan’s been dead for a while,” Mikey said. “He died when I was, like, two or something.”

 

“Okay, good,” Pete said. He smiled. “Now I know what I’ll do whenever I go to the underworld.”

 

“You don’t like Reagan?” Mikey said. He was hoping that Pete would say he hated the guy, because Mikey hated him for many reasons. Pete had been alive when Reagan had been president, though, and so Pete’s opinion might be different.

 

Pete showed Mikey his shirt, which had dried blood on it and had Impeach Reagan Now written out in uneven handwriting. Pete gave Mikey a crooked smile. “What do you think?”

 

“Oh,” Mikey said, feeling like an idiot for asking in the first place. “That makes sense. I mean, Elena said you were gay, so…”

 

Pete froze. Mikey looked up at him. “What? She did.”

 

“I don’t… that’s--”

 

“It’s okay,” Mikey said. “Google gay rights. Or June 26, 2015. Either one works.”

 

Pete did, and he pressed his hand to his mouth when the results came up. Article after article about how gay marriage had been legalised. A few of them suggested that June 26 deserved to be a national holiday because of the significance. One even mentioned the significance of gay marriage getting legalised during pride month. Pete’s eyes were welling up with tears, and he choked out, “we have a pride month ?”

 

“Yeah. It’s… it’s better now,” Mikey said softly. He wondered if this was how older gay people had felt on that day. Mikey had been thirteen when the bill passed, and he’d been excited for Gee but he hadn’t really understood what that meant for the LGBT community as a whole. He swallowed. “It’s not… it’s not perfect, but it’s better now. We had a really good eight years while you were out.”

 

“That’s amazing,” Pete said. He wiped his face, smearing his eyeliner a little. Mikey was impressed that his eyeliner had survived thirty years of being dead. Pete smiled at Mikey. “If, um, if you find out who killed me and I don’t go back to the underworld, I want to go to a pride protest. My parents said they’d take me to one in Milwaukee when I turned sixteen, but I… I didn’t make it to sixteen so I never got to go.”

 

“Yeah, totally,” Mikey said, and wondered if he could just Google necromancy and keep Pete around that way. “We can definitely go. But they’re called parades now, and it’s more about celebrating the community and how far we’ve come. I mean, there are still protests, and we can go to one of those too, but pride’s different now.”

 

“That’s good,” Pete said again. “I can’t wait until every protest is a parade, though. I want to see that happen.”

 

“Me too,” Mikey said. He swallowed. “Um. There is one small issue, though.”

 

Pete frowned. “What?”

 

“The, uh, the current fucker in the White House is, um… he’s worse than Reagan,” Mikey said, because he didn’t have the words to explain what he thought about Trump.

 

“How can anyone be worse than Reagan?”

 

“Hold on,” Mikey said, and leaned into Pete’s space to pull up YouTube. He searched worst of trump and then trump homophobia because the first result was too generic for his liking. He clicked on one of the videos and warned Pete that it was going to be bad while it loaded.

 

“What the fuck,” Pete whispered. He clenched his jaw. “What the fuck.”

 

“Please don’t throw my laptop,” Mikey said, stopping the video.

 

Pete was physically buzzing with energy beside Mikey. He took a deep breath, looked Mikey square in the face, and said, “the FBI can’t arrest me for assassinating the president and vice president if I’m already dead,” and then typed distance to washington dc into the search bar.

 

Mikey yanked his laptop back, because he didn’t want the FBI to look into him even though he fully supported Pete’s plan. “Whoa, whoa, hold on. I appreciate the enthusiasm, but this is still my laptop, and my search history, and the FBI can arrest me.”

 

“The FBI knows what you search?” Pete said. He frowned and leaned over into Mikey’s space. He typed out hello FBI I hate the president (pete wentz not mikey) into Google and searched it. Mikey couldn’t help himself. He laughed at that. Pete flicked Mikey in the ear. “Hey. I’m making sure they know it’s not you saying that. I’m helping you out.”

 

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Mikey said, still laughing. He was trying to be quiet, so that he didn’t wake Gee up, but this was hilarious. It was better than watching Gee try to explain smart phones to Elena and the guys who worked on the farm.

 

“What else is there?” Pete said. “Is there music? Movies?”

 

“Yes to all,” Mikey said. He opened up Netflix. “This is where the magic happens.”

 

“Holy shit,” Pete said. “It’s like a movie theatre on one screen.”

 

“It is,” Mikey said, grinning. He yawned, and realised how late it was. He grabbed the charger and plugged his laptop in before getting up and looking down at Pete. “So, I don’t know how your dead thing works, but I still need sleep. You can hang out here for as long as you want, and watch whatever you want, but try to stay quiet? I haven’t told my family about you.”

 

“I doubt they’d believe you if you did,” Pete said.

 

“Yeah,” Mikey said. He blinked. “Oh! I have earbuds, so the movies won’t play out loud. Hold on.”

 

Mikey grabbed a pair of earbuds and plugged them into his laptop. He showed Pete how to adjust the brightness and volume, and then he took off his shoes and climbed into bed. He didn’t change into his pajamas because he didn’t want to get naked in front of Pete. That would be weird. Mikey took off his glasses, and Pete used his dead powers to turn off the light for Mikey. Mikey whispered, “thanks,” and then rolled over to face the wall.

 

He smiled to himself, thinking about Pete taking a bus to Washington DC. They could do that too if they figured this whole mess out. Mikey would do that for this kid. He’d do pretty much anything for Pete, because the guy was awesome and adorable.

 

Mikey winced. Shit. So maybe he did have a bit of a crush on the dead guy. Whoops.

 


 

Pete was still there when Mikey woke up the next morning, and he was crying a little. Mikey sat up and slammed his alarm off, and then crawled over to Pete. He shook Pete’s shoulder. “Hey. Are you okay?”

 

“Why do they always die in the movies?” Pete said. Mikey leaned over his shoulder to see that Pete had just finished Brokeback Mountain and had clearly spent all night in the LGBT section of Netflix. Pete rubbed his face. “God, I’m a mess. I promise I don’t cry all the time, it’s just… I wasn’t expecting this. Any of this.”

 

“It’s okay,” Mikey said. “And I don’t know why the gay movies always have sad endings. It sucks.”

 

“Yeah it does,” Pete said. He wrinkled his nose. “Also, you have morning breath.”

 

“Shut up, I haven’t been dead for thirty years,” Mikey said, covering his mouth.

 

Pete lifted one of his arms and sniffed. “I don’t smell that bad.”

 

Mikey flushed red. He sputtered out an excuse that he had to go shower, and Pete laughed, telling him to brush his teeth too. Mikey flipped Pete off, because he was bad at dealing with emotions, and grabbed a change of clothes. He actually did shower, but when he came back to his room, Pete was gone. Mikey tried to ignore the aching in his chest. It was stupid to have feelings for this guy. He was dead, and he was from the 80’s. It wasn’t going to work out, even in the best of universes.

 

His laptop was still open, though, and there was a fresh Google search sitting there for him. Mikey smiled when he read it: thanks for the history lesson. tell the fbi man i’m not going to kill the president (yet) . Mikey copied the text and then saved it to a Word Document. It was stupid, but he wanted to keep it.

 

“Mikey!” Gee yelled. “Gabe’s here!”

 

“Be down in a second!” Mikey screamed back. He quickly grabbed all of his things and threw his jacket, beanie, and boots on before running downstairs. He grabbed a granola bar on his way out, and waved goodbye to Gee and Elena on his way out the door. Gee was still taking the bus, for whatever reason. Mikey didn’t understand his sister.

 

Sure enough, Gabe was on the front porch, and his bike was next to Mikey’s. Gabe leaned against the house while Mikey swallowed down his granola. “So I think I saw Pete Wentz.”

 

Mikey raised his eyebrows. “Really? When?”

 

“Like, just now,” Gabe said. He pointed to the streetlight, which was on again. “I had just dropped my bike down and the light went off, and when it came back on and I stopped thinking I was going to fucking die, I noticed a guy in a punk jacket running into the corn.”

 

“That was probably Pete,” Mikey said. He was glad it was dark out, because he knew he was blushing. “I talked to him last night. He’s willing to help us.”

 

“Is he dangerous?” Gabe asked as the two boys walked to their bikes.

 

“No,” Mikey said. “Not unless you’re secretly a Republican who wants to kill gay people.”

 

“What?”

 

“I told him who the president was and how to use Google.”

 

“That’s dangerous,” Gabe said. He hopped on his bike and gave Mikey a funny look before speeding off. Mikey got on his own bike and followed Gabe, trying not to think too much. They had Pete now, which meant they could show him all of their suspects and maybe he would remember who killed him.

 

The sun was coming up by the time they got to the high school, and Mikey noticed a large crowd of people standing outside in a clump. He hooked his bike up to the bike rack and tapped Gabe on the shoulder. “That’s… not normal.”

 

“No it’s not,” Gabe said. He and Mikey started towards the crowd. Mikey put his hand in his pocket and wrapped his fingers around his knife, just in case. He didn’t know if the students were all watching a fight, or if it was something else entirely. All he knew was that there had to be a good reason for a bunch of high schoolers to be standing outside when it was maybe ten degrees.

 

As he and Gabe got closer, Mikey could hear people whispering. Someone was crying. Actually, multiple people were crying, and Mikey still didn't know what was going on. He saw Linda, shaking and holding onto Spencer. Ryan was beside them, staring at something Mikey couldn’t see with a hollow, dead expression on his face.

 

Mikey grabbed Gabe’s arm and pulled him through everyone to get to his friends. “Linda? What’s… what’s going on?”

 

“We’re too late,” she said.

 

Mikey turned to where she and the others were looking, and almost gagged. “No.”

 

Ashley was hung up on a tree, with her throat slashed and her bright blue hair hanging over her body and face. The word whore had been cut into her stomach, and she was tied up by her wrists. There were a few police officers walking around the scene, and there was tape up to keep the students from getting too close.

 

Mikey did not give a shit. He jumped over the tape and made it halfway to the body before someone grabbed him and pulled him down. He screamed, kicking at the person and not caring what would happen. He was just a white kid; they wouldn’t shoot him. He grabbed at the ground and looked up at Ashley’s body, and thought that it wasn’t fuckng fair. She didn’t deserve to die, not like that. She was a good person, and she was funny, and she didn’t care that Mikey and his friends weren’t cool kids.

 

She was cool and Mikey hated that she was the one who died.

 

He was pulled away from the scene and into the school, where he was taken to the nurse’s office and then abandoned by the police officers. Mikey curled up on one of the cots, with his knees to his chest, and stared at the wall.

 

“I’m sorry about your friend,” the nurse said. “Ashley was a sweet girl.”

 

I could have saved her , Mikey thought. He frowned. Yeah right. We didn’t know who was doing the killings, and it’s not like we all live together. Shit, even with me and Gabe biking to school together, there’s still time where we’re alone. He swallowed, thickly, and wiped the tears off of his face.

 

“Would you like a kleenex?” the nurse asked.

 

Mikey looked at her, and nodded, slowly. She came over with the box and sat down beside him. She put her hand on his shoulder, and gave him a generic sympathetic look. “I know this is hard, and I know I’m not qualified to be a grief counselor, but if you want to talk to me, or yell or cry, you can. You don’t have to be tough.”

 

“I’m not,” Mikey said. He didn’t know why everyone thought that about him. Yes, he came from New Jersey and he walked around with a knife in his pocket and wore a leather jacket with studs and patches on it, but he wasn’t tough. He liked comic books and DND and cheap horror movies and he cried when he saw baby cats sometimes. He was just a kid. “I’m really not.”

 

“That’s okay,” she said.

 

Mikey blew his nose into the tissue. He wanted to go home, but he didn’t want to leave his friends alone. He swallowed. “Can I… am I allowed to leave?”

 

“The officers brought you here because they thought you might be a danger to yourself,” she said. “So I don’t know if that’s the smartest idea.”

 

Mikey rolled his eyes. He wasn’t fucking suicidal. He was just upset, which made perfect fucking sense. He’d seen his friend’s mutilated body, and it was real and not just special effects in a movie. That was a real body, with real blood and a real death. And it was someone Mikey knew. He shook his head. “I’m not going to hurt myself. Or anyone else. I promise.”

 

“I still don’t think it’s a smart idea to go back out there,” she said. “The school administrators are trying to get everyone inside so that the police can do their job.”

 

“Do their job?” Mikey asked. “What exactly are they doing?”

 

“Well, I know this is hard for you, but Ashley was murdered. The police have to figure out who did it. That’s part of what they do,” she said.

 

Mikey nodded. Right, because the police were so great when it came to solving cases where the victim was a minority. Because this town hadn’t had a serial killer running around for thirty years, and the only leads anyone had came from a group of teenagers and a zombie kid. Mikey curled further into himself. “I think the police suck at their job. This guy has been killing kids for years and no one’s found anything.”

 

“We don’t know that she was killed by the same man,” the nurse said. “I know you want to put your anger on someone, but it might not be the harvest killer. It could have just been a random murder.”

 

Mikey stared at her. He didn’t believe a word coming out of her mouth. He grabbed his backpack off of the floor and put it on. “I'd like to go see my friends now. They're probably worried. About me, and about Ashley.”

 

Chapter Text

 

The entire school was given the day off. Gabe went home with Mikey, because his parents were working and his younger brother would still have to go to middle school for the day. The two of them and Gee waited around for Elena to pick them up. Mikey didn't want to leave Gee alone. He knew she wasn't in danger any more, since Ashley had died and Pete would be gone now, but he was still worried. This whole town was full of assholes. Gee wasn't safe until every minority was safe.

 

Gabe and Mikey went upstairs. Mikey thought that Gee would go to her own room, but when the three of them got to the top of the stairs, Gee paused. She looked at Mikey and Gabe. “Would it… would it be weird for me to hang out with the two of you? I know I didn't know Ashley--”

 

“It's okay,” Gabe said, and Mikey nodded.

 

Gee wrapped her arms around Mikey and Mikey let her hug him. He didn’t know how he was supposed to be feeling right now. He just felt hollow. Dead inside, even. He and Ashley… they were all supposed to stop this from happening. Mikey was supposed to find the asshole who killed Pete and every other kid in this town, and take him down.

 

And now… now they were all back to square one, but without Pete to help. Pete knew who the killer was, because he’d seen him.

 

“Hey, uh, did you wanna mention your friend?” Gabe asked slowly. While Mikey and Gee had been hugging, Gabe had opened the door to Mikey’s room. The window was open again, and the room was freezing, and Pete himself was sitting on Mikey’s bed.

 

Mikey’s eyes widened. “Pete?!”

 

“Hi,” Pete said. He waved. “I had some questions about one of the movies I watched. I didn’t know when you’d get back from school, so I came back early.”

 

“Who the hell are you?” Gee said. She moved between Gabe and Mikey and Mikey’s door, blocking the two boys from Pete. “And how do you know Mikey?”

 

Pete looked over Gee’s shoulder to where Mikey was standing. This was one of those moments that would work out much better in a movie. Pete and Mikey would have some story already ready to go, and Pete would impress both Gabe and Gee before explaining to them why he was still here.

 

Pete wasn’t supposed to still exist. Ashley had died, and she’d been the Harvest Killer’s victim of the year. Pete only existed from the time that the killer picked out his victim until the victim died. Ashley was gone, and so Pete was supposed to be gone. Mikey didn’t understand how Pete was still here, sitting on his bed and looking at Mikey.

 

“How are you still here?” Mikey asked before Pete could say anything.

 

Pete frowned. “What do you mean? He hasn’t killed anyone.”

 

“What?” Gabe and Gee both said.

 

“Yes he has,” Mikey said. He was shaking. It was like seeing Ashley all over again, except this time he was looking at her ghost. Or at least, what her ghost could have been. “He killed--”

 

“Holy shit, you look like Pete,” Gabe blurted out. He grabbed Mikey’s arm and pulled him past Gee, and then pulled Gee into Mikey’s room as well and slammed the door shut. Gabe leaned against it and stared the three of them down for a long moment. He crossed his arms over his chest. “Okay. Look. I’m not going to freak out or call the police or anything, because I hate cops and I don’t want to die. But, here’s the thing. Necromancy? Not cool.”

 

“Necro--what the fuck are you talking about?” Gee said. She looked from Mikey to Gabe and then over her shoulder at Pete. “Did Mikey raise you from the dead ?!”

 

“No, I did that myself,” Pete said. “Or at least I think that’s what happened. I don’t know how I ended up here. All I know is that the killer isn’t done, and whoever died had nothing to do with him.”

 

“Are you shitting me?!” Mikey exclaimed. He whirled on Pete, ignoring how there were tears welling up in his eyes. Ashley was dead, and he couldn’t fix that, but he knew that the Harvest Killer had killed her. “My friend is dead! And that piece of shit who killed you is the person who did it!”

 

“Can you guys stop yelling things at each other and explain what the hell is going on?” Gee asked. She looked frazzled, which Mikey could understand. She’d gone from comforting her brother to finding out Mikey was hiding an entire person from her, and then Gabe had accused her and Mikey of necromancy. And that last part was the only one that made sense. Gee and Mikey looked goth, and Gabe knew that Pete was supposed to be dead.

 

Mikey dropped down onto the floor. “Yeah. We should… we should probably figure out what the hell is going on.”

 

He explained Pete, and Pete explained what he knew about his situation. Gabe seemed to be following everything, but Gee looked suspicious about it all. Gabe knew all about Pete’s death, and he and Pete ended up talking about it.

 

Pete had died two nights before Halloween. He’d been on his way home from a house party that he’d decided was boring, listening to his Walkman, and someone had grabbed him and thrown him in the trunk of their car. Pete knew it was a man, and that he’d seen the man before, but he didn’t remember who the man was. Not even now.

 

“Shit,” Gee said. “He could be anyone.”

 

“Hold on,” Gabe said, and reached into his backpack. He pulled out the murder map that they’d made the other day at Dallon’s house. Mikey didn’t even know that Gabe had that. “Where were you when you got taken?”

 

“What… is that?” Pete frowned at the map. He looked up at Mikey. “Is this everyone who died?”

 

“It’s where the bodies were found, according to newspapers,” Mikey said. “We couldn’t find anything about where people were last seen.”

 

“Huh,” Pete said. He pointed at a spot on the map. “Here. I think. I’m not sure, though. It was dark out, and it was thirty years ago. Some things have changed.”

 

“It helps,” Mikey said. He bumped his shoulder against Pete’s. “Trust me. It does. We’re trying to find this guy, and stop him, and if we can figure out where he gets most of his victims from, then we can start looking for him.”

 

“He gets them from everywhere,” Pete said. He looked up at Mikey. His eyes were still rimmed with messy black eyeliner. This was how he’d looked when he died. Mikey didn’t know if he was immortal now, or a zombie or a ghost or what. All he knew was that Pete was still here, and the man who had killed him and Ashley and a bunch of other kids was still looking for a real victim.

 

“Doesn’t matter,” Mikey said. “We’ll stop him. Someone has to.”

 

“Mikey,” Gee said. “Can I talk to you outside for a second?”

 

Mikey nodded, and the two siblings got up and left the room. Gee brought them over to her room. Mikey hadn’t been in Gee’s room yet. It was covered in comic book posters, and there was paper scattered everywhere. There was a also an ashtray and three empty mugs of coffee by the window. Gee had moved in faster than Mikey.

 

“What’s up?” Mikey asked.

 

“I’m worried about you,” she said.

 

Mikey rolled his eyes. Of course she was. Their parents weren’t around to lecture Mikey about taking risks and being irresponsible, so Gee had to do it herself.

 

“I mean it,” Gee said. She sighed. “Look. It’s honourable that you’re trying to catch this guy. What he’s been doing to kids is horrible, but it’s not your responsibility. I don’t want to lose you.”

 

“Gee,” Mikey said. “What if you’re the target? I can’t just let some dude kill you because you’re trans. I have to do something. You’re my sister, and I’m gonna take care of you and make sure no one ever lays a hand on you.”

 

Gee rolled her eyes. “I get it, you’re a superhero now.”

 

“No,” Mikey said. “I’m your brother. And I have friends, and a guy who died in the 80’s who wants revenge.”

 

Gee didn’t look convinced.

 

“We’ll be fine,” Mikey said. “You don’t have to get involved if you don’t want to.”

 

--------------

 

Mikey regretted not bringing his sister along. It was night now. He, Gabe, and Pete were out looking for evidence. Linda was supposed to join them, but they didn’t want her walking around at night, and her house was far away.

 

It was the three of them versus the school yard, and Mikey only had a flashlight and a knife. He didn’t know how useful he’d be if they ran into anyone. Pete was the best off of the three of them. He had cool zombie powers. Ghost powers. Undead powers. Something. Gabe had a baseball bat and a can of pepper spray that he’d stolen from his mom. Mikey was in the front because he was the least worried of the three of them.

 

Pete didn’t look worried, but he’d knocked over a tree earlier because he thought it was a person, so Mikey knew he was freaking out.

 

Gabe wasn’t saying anything. He had the map in his back pocket, along with his phone. Mikey didn’t have his. He didn’t want to lose it, or have it go off while they were doing something important.

 

“The tape’s still up,” Gabe whispered. “Are we--?”

 

Mikey shone his flashlight over to where Ashley’s body had been found. Pete walked up to it and then crossed under the tape. No worries about getting involved. Of course Pete wasn’t worried, because he was already dead and it wasn’t like anyone could arrest him for trespassing. Pete didn’t exist any more, at least not where the government was concerned. Pete could do whatever he wanted.

 

Pete stood under the tree and looked up. “Do you think we could break into the morgue?”

 

“No,” Mikey said, at the same time that Gabe said, “maybe.” Mikey looked over at him, and Gabe shrugged. Mikey sighed. “Okay. Maybe. But not tonight.”

 

“We should do it sooner rather than later,” Pete commented. And then he scaled the tree. Mikey blinked, startled by how quick he was. He’d climbed trees and fences before, but he wasn’t that good. Pete climbed the tree like he’d done it a thousand times before, and then he crouched on the branch Ashley had been hung from and gently touched the wood.

 

Pete looked over at Gabe and Mikey. “She wasn’t killed here.”

 

“I know,” Gabe said. “I don’t think anyone could get away with killing someone at school.”

 

“That’s not what I meant,” Pete said. He leapt down from the tree and then adjusted his jacket. One of the spikes was starting to fall off. Pete fixed that too. “I meant… he took me back to some cabin. It wasn’t on a road. It was… it was abandoned. But he killed me there, and he kills everyone else there too.”

 

“Do you know where it is?” Mikey asked.

 

Pete shook his head.

 

Mikey nodded. “That’s okay. We can look for it.”

 

“Tonight?” Gabe asked.

 

“No. It’s dark,” Mikey said. “And there’s only three of us, and we don’t really have a plan. We’ll introduce Pete to everyone else tomorrow, and then we can go look.”

 

“I guess I’m spending the night at your house, then,” Gabe said. He looked over at Pete. “Hey. Not to be rude, but do you sleep?”

 

“I don’t think so,” Pete said.

 

“Cool,” Gabe said, and grinned. “Now we don’t have to fight for the couch.”

 

Mikey shook his head. The three of them headed back to their bikes, and Pete got on the back of Mikey’s again. Pete didn’t have his own bike, and Mikey wasn’t going to make him walk everywhere. Mikey was skinny, and Pete was small, and it was fine for two guys to share a bike together. Mikey didn’t think about how it felt kind of nice to have Pete’s arms around his waist. He knew he was gay, and he knew Pete had been gay, but he didn’t want to throw himself at Pete.

 

Besides, Pete was dead. Mikey didn’t know how that would translate into having a relationship. He wasn’t going to do anything. He didn’t want to make Pete’s life any weirder than it was.

Chapter Text

School was back in session the next day. It snowed. Halloween was in ten days now, and Mikey and Gabe were sneaking Pete into the school so that he could meet everyone else because Dallon wasn’t allowed to go over to Mikey’s house. It sucked that they were the only people in this whole town who knew about Pete and about the murders. Mikey would have loved to have someone older helping them out, but he couldn’t drag Gee into this and he didn’t want to explain himself to any of the teachers.

 

Pete was between Gabe and Mikey. He was still wearing his Impeach Reagan Now! shirt, but it had been washed and no longer smelled like death and dirt. He was borrowing Gee’s old denim jacket, the one with all the anime patches from her ninth grade obsession. He looked like a normal high school kid now, but he looked just as punk and out of place as Mikey.

 

“Someone’s going to recognise me,” Pete said.

 

“Nah,” Gabe replied, ruffling Pete’s hair. “We straightened your hair. You don’t look like Prince anymore.”

 

Pete rolled his eyes. “Prince wasn’t even that good.”

 

“Ouch,” Gabe said. “Don’t say that about a dead dude.”

 

I’m a dead dude. I can say whatever I want.”

 

Gabe grinned and looked at Mikey over Pete’s head. “I like him. Can we keep him?”

 

Hopefully , Mikey said. He only shrugged, though. He didn’t know how to explain all of his feelings to Gabe without having to come out to the both of them. Pete already knew. Gabe didn’t. Mikey didn’t think that Gabe would care, but he didn’t want to add coming out to his list of things to do before Halloween.

 

The three boys walked down the hall, not sure where Pete was supposed to hang out during classes. Teachers would notice an extra punk kid in their classes. No one else in this town looked like Pete, especially since Pete was still half-black and wearing ripped jeans. It didn’t matter that he looked modern, he didn’t fit in.

 

“Can I hang out in the bathroom?” Pete asked. “I don’t want to do high school again.”

 

“Sure,” Mikey said.

 

“And can I borrow your laptop?” Pete asked, looking up at Mikey. Mikey couldn’t say no to that face. He definitely had a crush on Pete, but he wasn’t going to act on it. It would only make him sad, because eventually Pete would go back to being dead, and while it would solve the murder problem, Mikey would still be pining.

 

It was better to not do anything than to do something and then live with the knowledge of knowing what it was like to kiss Pete.

 

“Yeah, duh,” Mikey said. He glanced over his shoulder. “Let’s go now, before the bell rings.”

 

The three of them ducked into the bathroom and headed to the handicapped stall at the back. Luckily, guys didn’t hang out in bathrooms, and so they were left alone while Mikey dug his laptop out of his backpack. Gabe leaned against the wall and kept watch so that no one would come in and bother them, and Pete made himself comfortable on the floor.

 

Gabe wrinkled his nose. “Dude. Are you sure you wanna sit there? Bathroom floors are disgusting.”

 

“I’m not sitting on the toilet,” Pete countered.

 

Gabe shrugged. “Fair.”

 

Once Mikey made sure that Pete understood the concept of charging, he and Gabe left Pete alone in the bathroom and told him to message Gabe through Mikey’s twitter if he needed anything. Gabe messaged Pete first, so that Pete knew who he was, and Pete responded with your name is weird while Gabe and Mikey were leaving the bathroom.

 

“Hey!” Gabe said, pausing in the doorway. He looked over his shoulder to glare back at Mikey. “My url is not weird. Fuck off.”

 

“Any time,” Pete called back.

 

Mikey buried his face in his hands and dragged Gabe out of the bathroom so that they could get to class. He then proceeded to spend the whole day wishing he had a way to talk to Pete, so that he also would know how Pete was doing. It was dumb, to be this concerned over a dead kid. Pete wasn’t stupid, he was just from the past and there were some things about the future that he didn’t know about yet.

 

Pete joined them for lunch. He, Gabe, Frank, Mikey, and Linda sat at the far end of the cheerleader table, watching the other girls pass around a sheet to make a memorial for Ashley.

 

Linda frowned. “They didn’t really like her when she was alive.”

 

“Girls are weird like that,” Gabe said, shrugging.

 

“I thought you wanted to date one of them,” Linda said. She raised her eyebrows. “Victoria?”

 

Gabe shrugged. “Eh. I’m kind of over her. She’ was a bitch to me anyway.”

 

“Yeah,” Linda said. She turned over one of her chicken tenders and looked up at Pete. “So. How’re you adjusting to the future?”

 

“It’s interesting. Guys still like to piss on the floor and say dumb shit about gay people,” Pete said. “I may or may not have decked some dude for calling people fags in the bathroom earlier.”

 

“Shit,” Gabe said, at the exact time that Frank grinned and said, “hell yeah!”

 

Linda shook her head. “You’re all dumb. Did you at least break his nose?”

 

“I don’t know,” Pete said. “He looked like a McGuiness, so probably not. Those fuckers don’t bruise easily.”

 

The other three looked at Pete like he’d lost his mind. Mikey didn’t. He wasn’t afraid of the McGuinness kids, and he knew why Pete wasn’t either. Pete had already been murdered, and it wasn’t as though the McGuinness kids could do anything worse to him. He’d already died. What was more terrifying than that?

 

“You’re something else,” Gabe said, shaking his head.

 

“I know,” Pete said. He chomped down on a potato chip. “What’s the plan now? Should we--that man is staring at me.”

 

The other four whirled around, not at all subtle, to follow Pete’s line of sight. Sure enough, there was a teacher staring at Pete as though he’d seen a ghost. He looked to be about fifty something years old, and though Mikey had seen him around the school before, he didn’t have any classes with this guy as his teacher.

 

Mikey frowned. “Do you recognise him?”

 

“No…” Pete said. He frowned harder. “Maybe?”

 

“Well, that’s not suspicious,” Gabe said. “What if he’s the killer?”

 

“If he is, and we’re with Pete, we should probably watch out,” Linda said. She’d lowered her voice, and was covering her mouth with her homemade chicken wrap. “And watch what you’re saying, we don’t know if he can read lips or not.”

 

“Now you’re just being paranoid,” Frank said, and rolled his eyes.

 

Linda glared at him. “Better paranoid than dead.”

 

“Good point,” Frank said. He turned away from the teacher to face the group instead. “So. How about we all gather under the bleachers after school? The only other people who go there are a couple of kids who think cigarettes are dangerous, and Mikey can totally scare them off.”

 

“I think you over estimate how intimidating I am, but sure,” Mikey said. He turned towards Linda. “You can tell Spencer, Ryan, and Dallon, right?”

 

“Yep,” she said. She pulled out her phone without looking away from the teacher--who had stopped staring at Pete but was now talking to the other teacher monitoring the lunch room--and sent out the text. “Pete might be in trouble.”

 

“I’ll say I’m a transfer student,” Pete said. “I’m here from Chicago. Chicago’s still a city, right?”

 

“Yeah,” Mikey said, nodding. “And you’ll need a new name, too.”

 

“Lou,” Pete said. “It’s my middle name. Lou Wintson.”

 

“That’s a shit name,” Frank said. “You don’t look like a Lou Wintson.”

 

“Doesn’t matter. He can’t look like a Pete Wentz, but for whatever reason, Mr. Warbeck knows he is,” Gabe said. He frowned. “I don’t think we did a good enough of a job disguising him.”

 

“Wait, did you say Mr. Warbeck ?” Pete said, whipping back around to look at the teacher again. “No way. That’s fucked up. Who the hell let Warbucks become a teacher?”

 

“You know him?” Mikey asked. He didn’t like where this was going. If Pete knew Mr. Warbeck, whoever he was, that meant that the guy had been around since before Pete died. And he might even be the killer. If he was, then all of them were in danger. Mikey didn’t even know what classes Dallon, Spencer, and Ryan were in.

 

Pete made a face. “Unfortunately. His real name is Alex Warbeck, but everyone called him Warbucks because he used to sell drugs and he was a racist piece of shit. He and some of his friends tried to set my parents’ house onf fire, and they sprayed the n word on my sister’s locker when she was only in third grade.”

 

“Jesus fuck,” Mikey whispered. He looked at the others. “Have any of you guys had a class with him?”

 

“No,” Frank said. Gabe and Linda also shook their heads. Frank made a face. “He was in charge of detention once, when I had it last year. I was one of the only middle school kids there that day, but he wasn’t an asshole.”

 

“Maybe he’s gotten better?” Gabe suggested, but he didn’t sound like he believed himself. Mikey didn’t. If Pete was right, and Mr. Warbeck was also Warbucks, then he was a shitstain who shouldn’t be left in charge of kids.

 

“Doesn’t he teach chemistry?” Linda asked. “Maybe that’s why none of us have had him. Chemistry is for juniors.”

 

“Shit,” Mikey blurted out. “Gee!”

 

He leapt up from the table without explaining himself, and started running through the cafeteria. He didn’t have his backpack, but he had his knife tucked into his jacket and he was more concerned about finding out who his sister had for chemistry than someone stealing his notebooks. He was, however, surprised when he heard four pairs of footsteps following him down the hall.

 

Mikey skidded to a halt and turned around. “Why are you guys following me? Now it looks like we’re up to something?”

 

“Never go anywhere alone, remember?” Gabe said. Mikey hated that he was right. They were Mikey’s rules, which meant he had to follow them as well.

 

Mikey nodded. “Okay, fair. I’m going to find Gee.”

 

He turned around and started walking again, not waiting for the others. He knew he should, because there were rules and they were all living in a horror movie for real now, but he was more concerned about his sister than anything else. She didn’t really believe in this. She thought Mikey was being ridiculous, and she didn’t want to get involved.

 

Mikey understood that, but if the killer was a chemistry teacher, that meant he’d probably know who Gee was. And he might realise that Gee was trans, and want to kill her for it.

 

Pete grabbed Mikey’s arm. “What’s your plan?”

 

“What do you mean?” Mikey asked.

 

“You can’t just burst into a classroom and say someone’s a serial killer,” Pete said, frowning at Mikey. “I know I’ve been dead for thirty years, but I don’t think the world’s changed that much. Can’t you just message Gee on your tablet?”

 

“It’s a phone, and no,” Mikey said. “She’s not gonna respond to a text in the middle of class.”

 

“Well, shit then,” Pete said. He looked over his shoulder at the others, and his eyes glowed for a moment. Mikey didn’t know who he felt about that. He felt colder, specifically on his shoulder where Pete was still holding is arm. Pete was cold. Pete looked back at Mikey and Mikey saw through him for a moment. “Where is she?”

 

“Upstairs,” Mikey said, glad he and Gee had decided to share their schedules with each other. “Room 209.”

 

“Meet us there,” Pete said over his shoulder. He tightened his grip on Mikey’s shoulder. “And don’t split up, just like Gabe said.”

 

His grip tightened further, and Mikey felt a shiver go through his whole body before he was lurched forward. He clung to Pete, not sure what was happening, and tried not to yell or throw up on the guy. He felt like he was being hurled towards the nearest wall, except that there weren’t any walls and he was just sliding between them like waterfalls.

 

Mikey fell forward and almost hit his head against the wall. Pete was still holding onto his arm. Mikey shrugged him off and turned around to stare him down. “What the hell was that ?”

 

“You looked like you were in a hurry,” Pete said, shrugging. “So I got you here faster. The school hasn’t changed since I was in it.”

 

Pete nodded towards the door behind Mikey, and Mikey turned around again. Sure enough, they were outside of room 209. He could see Gee through the thin window, sitting and doodling in her sketchpad instead of taking actual notes. Mikey rolled his eyes; it was a good thing his sister was smart, because she didn’t pay attention to anything that wasn’t gothic or involving art.

 

“Should we go inside?” Pete asked.

 

Mikey nodded. He didn’t know what excuse he was going to use to get Gee’s attention, but he knew he had to talk to her. Somehow.

Chapter Text

Mikey pushed the door open, and a hush went over the classroom. The teacher looked up first, frowning over at Mikey and Pete. She closed the book she’d been reading from. “May I help you two?”

 

“It’s Elena, Gee,” Mikey blurted out, even though that wasn’t true. It got Gee’s attention, which was the point. Gee stood up, not bothering to grab her sketchbook or her backpack. She apologised to the teacher and then followed Mikey and Pete out of the classroom. Mikey pulled her away from the door so that no one could see her. “Who’s your chem teacher?”

 

“Ms. Harris,” Gee said. “Why?”

 

“We found the killer,” Pete said.

 

Gee shook her head. “You don’t know that.”

 

“I do,” Pete said, clenching his fists. Mikey reached out and put his hand over Pete’s. He didn’t think Pete would hurt Gee, but he wanted to be safe. There was still a lot of Pete that Mikey didn’t know about, and that Pete might also not know about. The guy had been dead for thirty years, and he’d clearly picked up some supernatural powers during that time. Mikey didn’t know what he was capable of.

 

Gee frowned. “Okay. So. Maybe you do. What does that have to do with me?”

 

“You know,” Mikey said. He didn’t want to out Gee to Pete.

 

“Yeah, but I’m not the only not straight kid at this school,” Gee said. She looked over Pete and Mikey’s shoulders, to where the others were coming down the hall. “And I’m not the only one who looks gay, either. I’m not the only possible target here, Mikes, and I don’t want someone else to get hurt because you’re stuck on protecting only me.”

 

She had a point. Mikey was just worried. He’d already lost his parents, and now Ashley, and he didn’t want to lose Gee on top of all that.

 

Gee hugged Mikey and kissed the side of his head. “I’m just worried about you, dude. All of you guys. If you’re gonna pursue this guy, I want you all to be careful.”

 

“I will,” Mikey said. He pulled back from Gee and looked up at her. “You’ve still got your knife, right?”

 

“Of course,” Gee said. ‘Just because we’re not in Jersey any more doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared. Boy scouts.”

 

“Boy scouts,” Mikey said back, and gave his sister a peace sign. She gave one back. That was one of their things. They’d both been Cub Scouts as kids, and there was a rule in the handbook that said to always be prepared, and to never make more victims in a dangerous situation. Mikey and Gee had only cared about scouts for the pinewood derby cars and the camping trips, but those two pieces of advice had stuck with them.

 

Be prepared: keep your phone charged and your knife within reach.

 

Never make more victims: keep yourself safe, and don’t be stupid.

 

Mikey didn’t know how well he was doing those two things, but he knew he couldn’t let Gee down. He had a murderer to catch, and he and his friends were going to do it themselves. They had each other. Mikey looked over his shoulder and shook his head at Frank, Linda, and Gabe. Gee was fine. Mikey was paranoid, but Gee was fine.

 

They knew who the killer was. Now all they had to do was stop him before he could kill again.

 


 

Somehow, all five of them got in trouble for skipping lunch. Even Pete, who wasn’t a student. The five of them had to stay after school for an hour in detention, so Linda texted Spencer to tell him to tell Ryan and Dallon to hang back after school let out. The eight of them were going to meet in the library after detention and then head back to Mikey’s house to go over everything again.

 

“Shouldn’t we go to Dallon’s house?” Frank asked. “Since he’s the one with shitty parents who don’t let him have friends?”

 

“I don’t know about you, but I could go without getting called a fag again,” Gabe said, rolling his eyes.

 

“It’s not Dallon’s fault,” Linda said. “And Dallon can get away with it if his parents think he’s studying. And if they don’t know I’m there.”

 

Pete raised his eyebrows. “Why you?”

 

“I’m a feminist, and my mom’s the mayor and a democrat,” Linda said. She shrugged. “Dallon’s parents don’t like that.”

 

Mikey frowned. If Dallon’s parents had issues with Linda, who looked like any other generic white girl, then what did they think about him? Or worse, what if they saw Pete, who very much looked like a punk hoodrat. Mikey didn’t know if there were neo-Nazis back in the 80’s, but he was pretty sure that if there were, Pete would have been involved in Antifa.

 

Mikey turned towards Pete. “Hey. Did you guys have Nazis?”

 

“What?” Pete blurted out. A valid response, considering they hadn’t been talking about Nazis before.

 

“Not, like, World War 2 Nazis,” Mikey clarified. “But fascists. Super mega xenophobic dudes. Did you guys have that in the 80’s, or is that a now problem?”

 

“We did, and we still do if the McGuinness kids are anything to go by,” Pete said. He rolled his eyes. “Why?”

 

“Dude,” Gabe said. “Shit’s fucked up.”

 

“You can say that again,” Linda muttered under her breath. She had her history textbook open, and was taking notes while the four boys talked. Mikey didn’t know how she was able to work on school stuff now. Ryan, Dallon, and Spencer were waiting on the other side of the school, snow had started to fall again, and there was a serial killer somewhere in this building.

 

Pete nodded to himself. “Well. Considering the current president, I’m not surprised. Any protests going on?”

 

“Here?” Gabe asked. “No. But in actual cities, yeah. There’s a lot. There’s a protest pretty much every time you check twitter.”

 

“Not to mention all the activist and anti-fascist accounts popping up now,” Linda said. She looked up at Pete and grinned. “Socialism’s big now.”

 

“Cool,” Pete said, and then paused. “Wait. So does that mean the USSR still exists?”

 

“No,” Linda said. She set her notes in her textbook and closed it, and then started giving Pete a history run down of all the politics he’d missed. Gabe chimed in occasionally, because apparently Gabe knew that kind of shit, and Frank and Mikey just sat back. Mikey felt bad that he didn’t know much about politics, especially since he’d been considered a punk for most of his life.

 

He looked down at his jacket, and then at Pete. Pete, who’s jacket from the 80’s was covered in dusty pins and patches that were falling apart. Pete, who’d been an actual punk, who was probably still an actual punk, and didn’t dress like this for the aesthetic of it all. Pete was genuine, and involved, and now he’d never get to do all the things he wanted to do because he was dead and some asshole had killed him.

 

Mikey frowned. “We have to find this guy.”

 

“Obviously,” Pete said. He looked over his shoulder at Mikey. “And we’ve already found him. Maybe we should start following him, to see if we can get to him before he gets to his next victim.”

 

“That’s called stalking and it’s frowned upon,” Linda said.

 

Pete shrugged. “Not the worst thing I’ve done. And it’s definitely better than murdering someone, so I don’t see the problem. Sometimes rules are made to be fucked with.”

 

“I like him,” Frank said. The others looked at him, and Frank started shaking his head. “No, not like, in a gay way. Pete’s cool, but I don’t wanna kiss him. Or any guy.”

 

“That’s cool,” Pete said, smiling the same way Gee always did before she went off on someone for being a bigoted dumbass. “I don’t date short guys anyway.”

 

“Oh damn,” Gabe said, hiding his mouth behind his hand. Frank flipped him off, but Gabe didn’t seem phased at all. Mikey’d never really considered Gabe to be gay. He was probably reading into it anyway. Just because someone approved of a comeback didn’t mean they were also gay. And Gabe had had a crush on one of the cheerleaders just a few days ago. People didn’t realise they were gay overnight.

 

“I’d date Gabe,” Pete said. “He appreciates me.”

 

“Thanks?” Gabe said. “But uh, aren’t you still dead? Wouldn’t that be weird?”

 

“I have no idea,” Pete said. “You guys are the first people who’ve talked to me like a person since I died. Everyone else just treats me like a ghost.”

 

You are a ghost , Mikey thought to himself, but he didn’t say it. Pete didn’t feel like a ghost. Sure, he was dead and sometimes his eyes glowed and he could bend nature to his will when he wanted to, but he wasn’t a ghost. If anything, he was like one of the X Men. A mutant. Different, but not creepy or bad. There wasn’t anything wrong with him.

 


 

Spencer and Ryan were still in the library when Mikey and everyone else got out of detention. Dallon was nowhere to be seen.

 

Linda frowned and signed at Spencer. “Where’d Dallon go?”

 

“He had to get Brendon from school,” Spencer signed back. He rolled his eyes. “He didn’t believe us when we said you guys would be out soon. I think he’s more scared of his parents than he is of getting killed.”

 

“I don’t blame him,” Gabe said. “His parents suck. I wouldn’t want to piss them off either.”

 

“His parents aren’t that bad,” Ryan said. He was picking at one of Spencer’s pencils and not looking at any of them. His hair was in his face. “They don’t hit him.”

 

“That’s not the only way to be a bad parent,” Spencer signed. It seemed like they’d had this conversation before, without Mikey or any other witnesses. Mikey didn’t ask about it. There were a lot of kids at his old school who’d had shit home situations, and Mikey knew better than to ask about things he wasn’t ready to hear. If Ryan and Spencer wanted to talk about it with Mikey, they would.

 

“We should catch up with him,” Mikey said to cut through the silence. “That way he’s not alone.”

 

The others nodded in agreement. Mikey didn’t know where the elementary school was, but everyone else (Pete included) did, and so he just followed them all on bike and let Pete ride behind him.

 

Mikey dropped his bike down in front of the school building. “You know, if you stick around after we figure this whole thing out, we should probably get you a bike. I don’t think I can just hold onto you for the rest of your life.”

 

“You can try,” Pete said, and winked at Mikey.

 

Mikey turned away from Pete to fiddle with his bike and hide the blush that had crossed his cheeks. He knew he could pretend it was from the cold, but he didn’t know if Pete would believe him. Or if any of their friends would. Mikey was a good liar, usually, but he hadn’t been around them for long enough to know how to lie around them.

 

Mikey frowned at himself. Wow. He was kind of an asshole.

 

Pete tapped Mikey on the shoulder. “Hey. I don’t know what’s going to happen after we get Warbucks, so I guess this is me saying sorry and thanks at the same time.”

 

Pete leaned forward, up on his toes, and kissed Mikey on the mouth. Mikey was so startled that he didn’t kiss back before Pete pulled away. Pete looked up at Mikey, his mouth slowly turning down into a frown, and Mikey realised that this was really one of those moments. One of those moments that only happened in movies, where the love interest and the narrator finally fell in love and there was a plot-changing kiss.

 

And if Mikey didn’t kiss back. Well. Mikey’d seen enough movies in his life to know that you always kissed back if you cared about the person you were kissing.

 

Mikey grabbed Pete’s face and pulled him in for a second, more enthusiastic kiss. He could feel Pete smiling into it, and for a moment Mikey wondered how Pete was feeling right now. Pete had gone from a time where it was genuinely illegal for two guys to like each other, and he’d woken up in a future where same sex marriage was legal and there were gay people out everywhere.

 

And not Pete was kissing a guy now, in front of a school. Mikey was pretty sure this was a first for the both of them.

 

Pete pulled back first. Everyone else was long gone, searching for Dallon and his younger brother. Pete and Mikey were alone, and Mikey was pretty okay with that.

 

“Now what?” Pete asked.

 

“What do you mean now what?” Mikey asked back. “We just kissed.”

 

“There’s still a dude out there who’s killing people,” Pete said. “And I like you, obviously, but you’re right and I’m still kind of dead and we don’t know if I’ll disappear when we get this guy or what. I don’t want to hurt you. I think you’re really cool.”

 

Mikey swallowed. That wasn’t something he wanted to think about. “Yeah. Well. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

 

Pete nodded.

 

The two boys looked at each other for a long minute. Then Mikey said, “we should go find everyone else. They might be worried.”

 

Pete nodded again. He reached out for Mikey’s hand, and Mikey took it. Neither of them knew what was coming next, and maybe that was okay. Maybe there were more important things in life than falling in love and having a crush on a guy who might actually like Mikey back. He had a murderer to catch, and he needed all of his friends together to get the guy.

 

Mikey squeezed Pete’s hand. They were going to do this. They were going to avenge Pete’s (and all the other kids’) deaths.

Chapter Text

Mikey and Pete circled around the building while the snow fell. Mikey shivered. The snow up here felt colder than the snow in Jersey, or maybe it was because Mikey was still holding Pete’s hand and Pete didn’t have any body heat. Either way, Mikey shivered as he pulled his hand away from Pete.

 

Everyone else looked up. Dallon wasn't there, and neither was his younger brother. There were, however, footprints in the newly fallen snow that looked like a scuffle and lead towards a pair of tire tracks. Dallon's bike was laying on its side, slowly gathering snow. Mikey shivered again, but this time for a different reason, and quickened his pace. He couldn’t tell if Dallon’s brother had gone missing too, but the kid was nowhere to be seen.

 

“Oh shit,” Pete said. He looked at the others. “We have to find him.”

 

“How?” Linda asked. She tucked her hands under her armpits, looking up at the sky. “It’s snowing again, so we can’t follow the tire tracks. And we don’t even know how long Dallon and Brendon have been gone.”

 

“Do you think he took Dallon’s brother too?” Mikey asked. It didn’t seem realistic. The killer had only ever taken high schoolers, people between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, and Dallon’s younger brother was ten. Brendon wasn’t in the right age range.

 

“He had to have taken him,” Ryan said. He was staring at Dallon’s bike. “Brendon’s loud, and smart. The murderer couldn’t just leave him behind.”

 

“We need to go back to your house,” Gabe said to Mikey. “Before it gets dark. We can get supplies and shit and and start looking for Dallon and Brendon.”

 

“Let’s go,” Mikey said, signing it as well. They didn’t have any time to waste. Mikey kept looking over at Pete, trying to tell how he was dealing with all of this. Mikey wondered if this felt like a nightmare for Pete. He was trying to solve his own murder and now one of his new friends might be dead. Mikey couldn’t imagine how Pete was feeling right now. He didn’t know if he wanted to.

 

They all got back on their bikes (Pete took Dallon’s so that it wouldn’t be left behind to rust in the snow) and headed back towards Mikey’s house. The snow was starting to glow pink as the sun gave up on them. There wasn’t much time. Mikey could feel the wind rushing past his ears as he rode, and it wasn’t until he got home in less than ten minutes that he realised Pete had been using his ghost powers to push them all forward.

 

“What do we need?” Spencer signed. “Bats? Knives?”

 

“That’s a good start,” Mikey signed back, his hands fumbling in the cold. He still had his fingerless gloves on, but they weren’t doing much for the ends of his fingers right now. “There are a couple baseball bats in the shed, and we can probably find knives or other weapons for you guys. I don’t want anyone to go into this empty-handed.”

 

He slipped his hand into the pocket of his jacket. His knife was still there. It had a three inch blade, so he didn’t know how useful it would be against a seasoned murderer, but it hadn’t failed him yet. Mikey wasn’t going to give up on that knife unless it gave up on him.

 

He lead the others around to the shed. Gabe, Spencer, and Ryan grabbed the three baseball bats that were huddled in the corner (Mikey’s mom had been a softball player in high school and Elena had never gotten rid of all the gear). Linda grabbed a slightly rusty machete and turned it around in the light filtering in through the window. Frank picked up a shovel and weighed it before looking up at Mikey and Pete.

 

Frank furrowed his eyebrows. “Aren’t you guys getting something?”

 

“I have a knife,” Mikey said, and pulled it out.

 

“And I’ve got powers,” Pete said, shrugging. “So I’m good.”

 

Ryan rolled his eyes and threw the bat at Pete and Mikey. Mikey flinched, and Pete caught the bat instead. Pete glared at Ryan. “Are you trying to kill me again?”

 

“No,” Ryan said. “Take the bat. I know where to get a better weapon.”

 

“Where?” Mikey asked. Linda and Spencer were shaking their heads. Mikey turned to look at them. “What’s he talking about?”

 

“You’re not going there,” Spencer signed.

 

“Why not?” Ryan signed back. “It’s not like he’ll be expecting a gun.”

 

“You know why,” Linda signed. She looked just as upset as Spencer. “You’re not going back there for anything, but especially not for a gun.”

 

Mikey felt very lost. He wasn’t surprised that Ryan either had a gun or knew how to access a gun. They were in the middle of nowhere. Everyone had guns. It wasn’t like in Jersey, where people had guns to defend themselves from each other. People out here went hunting, and kept guns in their houses to show their neighbours and the wildlife that they couldn’t be fucked with. It was similar to Jersey but with a very different feeling attached.

 

Mikey swallowed. “I think we should get the gun.”

 

Everyone looked at him like he’d grown a second head. Mikey shrugged. “What? As far as we know, this guy doesn’t use guns. He won’t be expecting us to have one, and if Ryan knows how to use it then he’ll stand a better chance.”

 

“I don’t like this,” Spencer signed. He turned towards Ryan. “If your dad lays a hand on you, we’ll hit him back.”

 

“That’s fine,” Ryan signed back. “Let’s go get the gun.”

 


 

Ryan’s house was as creepy now as it had been the first time Mikey saw it. It was still long and narrow and it still managed to smell like a bar and tobacco bin. The sun was nearly set now, even with Pete helping everyone get around faster. Dallon would still be alive though. He had to be. Pete had said that Warbucks kept his victims alive for hours, yelling at them and torturing them for being different.

 

Mikey still hadn’t figured out why Dallon was a target. Sure, Dallon was kind of awkward and shy, but he was a straight white Christian dude who went to church every Sunday and listened to his parents. He wanted to be a fucking history teacher, for Christ’s sake. There was nothing about him that screamed “freak of nature minority.” Mikey felt thrown off.

 

“Stay out here,” Ryan said over his shoulder.

 

“No,” Mikey said, surprising himself. “I’m going in with you. If your dad’s as bad as you’re saying, I don’t want you in there alone. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

 

Ryan stared at Mikey for a moment. For a long, long moment. And then he nodded and motioned for Mikey to follow him into the tiny, long house. Their feet crunched in the snow, and Mikey wrapped his fingers around his knife. He knew what alcoholic parents could be like, and he knew that Ryan’s dad was an alcoholic parent. If there was a gun involved, Mikey didn’t want Ryan to get hurt.

 

Then again, the seven of them were about to go after a serial killer. The chances of getting hurt were pretty fucking high at this point in their lives.

 

Ryan unlocked the front door and slipped inside, holding the door open for Mikey as well. He closed it silently but left it unlocked. Probably so that the two of them could bolt if they needed to. Ryan put his finger to his lips before starting through the house. It smelled like stale alcohol and unwashed dishes, and Mikey was reminded of some of the condemned houses that he, Gee, and Bert had explored back in Jersey.

 

Mikey wrapped his hand around his knife as he followed Ryan through the house. Ryan was on edge, so Mikey was also on edge. He could tell that Ryan’s dad was abusive, probably also an alcoholic. What he didn’t know was how dangerous the man could get. Mikey didn’t want to assume he and Ryan were safe until Ryan was holding the gun in his hands and the two of them were safely out of the house.

 

Ryan opened a door and he and Mikey headed down into a dark basement. Ryan didn’t turn on the lights, instead using the flashlight on his phone to lead them through the space. It wasn’t heated, and Mikey shivered a little despite himself. He didn’t like this as all.

 

Ryan turned the corner and shone the flashlight up against the wall.

 

“Holy shit,” Mikey whispered. He felt like he’d stumbled into a Fallout 4 bunker. There were guns and ammo everywhere, and every kind of gun Mikey could imagine as well. Mikey stayed away from the guns as Ryan moved closer. Mikey wasn’t a fan of guns. He knew what they could do to people, and he didn’t want anything to do with them.

 

He’d seen people get shot. He knew what that looked like. He didn’t want to ever see it again.

 

“Do you want one?” Ryan whispered.

 

Mikey shook his head rapidly.

 

“Okay,” Ryan said, and grabbed a pack of bullets. “Let’s go before my dad wakes up.”

 

Mikey nodded. He gripped his knife tighter as he followed Ryan back up the stairs. He wondered if Ryan’s dad kept a gun upstairs as well, to use against intruders. That was the excuse every pro second amendment person used when asked why they wanted to keep their guns around. Mikey thought that guns were useless. They hadn’t saved his parents, or anyone else who’d died from a home invasion.

 

“Shit,” Ryan muttered at the top of the stairs. The lights were on now. Mikey could see his friends still waiting outside, huddled around the bikes and looking worried.

 

Ryan wiggled his hands around, and it took Mikey a moment to realise that Ryan was signing to him. Mikey slowly moved around so that Ryan could see his hand, and signed back. Go first. I follow. Ryan signed back be close and then started walking again. He was moving painfully slow. Mikey adjusted his grip on his knife.

 

“Where the hell do you think you’re going with that?” a voice said.

 

Ryan didn’t stop moving. Mikey didn’t either. Ryan lowered his hand so that it was closer to the trigger on the gun. “Out.”

 

“Not with my gun, you’re not,” the voice said. Mikey finally spotted a man sitting on the couch and holding a gun of his own. It was a handgun, and there were a couple of crushed beer cans sitting on the floor around the man’s feet. He sat up, slowly, turning his gun towards Ryan and Mikey. “I knew you were into that fag shit, but I didn’t think you’d have the balls to bring it into my house.”

 

“I’m not doing anything,” Ryan said. Mikey quickly glanced around to see how far away they were from the door. There wasn’t anything to block them from getting shot if Ryan’s dad decided to escalate things. Mikey did not like his odds.

 

“And we’re gonna keep it that way,” he said. “Unless you want me to put you back in that psycho bin where you belong.”

 

“No,” Ryan said.

 

“Good,” his dad said. He motioned for Ryan to come over. Ryan did not move. His dad raised his gun. “Hand me the gun, boy. I know you’re slow, but you’re not that much of a retard, are you?”

 

Ryan looked down at his dad’s weapon, and then over at Mikey. He raised his hand and signed, go. I’ll deal with him.

 

No , Mikey signed back, even though he very much wanted to get out of this fucking house. I won’t leave you alone .

 

“What the hell are you two doing with your damn hands?” Ryan’s dad shouted. He pointed the gun directly at Ryan’s head. “Is this a fucking joke to you, boy? Give me the gun, now , or I’ll take it from your damn fruity hands.”

 

“No,” Ryan said, and then raised his gun back at his dad. His finger was on the trigger, and Mikey panicked. He grabbed Ryan around the waist and he booked it to the front door. The two boys burst through, Mikey heard a gunshot followed by Ryan’s dad yelling, and he picked up the pace. He didn't know how he was still carrying Ryan, because Ryan was taller than him and carrying a bunch of metal, but he did.

 

“Get on the bikes!” Mikey yelled as he got to his friends. He dropped Ryan and grabbed Pete instead, pulling the shorter boy towards his own bike. Mikey didn’t bother to wipe off the snow that had fallen. He glanced over his shoulder as Pete wrapped his arms around Mikey’s waist. Ryan’s dad was in the doorway, still holding his gun. He raised it towards them, and Mikey sucked in a breath. “Shit.”

 

“I got this,” Pete said, and let go of Mikey. Mikey felt a wave of cold air brush past him, and then the gun flew out of Ryan’s dad’s hand.

 

Pete grabbed Mikey again. “Come on. We need to get to Mikey’s house.”

 


 

The first thing Ryan did when they got off their bikes at Elena’s house was to punch Mikey in the arm. Mikey punched Ryan back without thinking about what he was doing, because he was scared and he was so used to things escalating to brawls in Jersey that punching back just seemed like the right thing to do.

 

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Ryan hissed.

 

“With me? You just punched me, dude,” Mikey snapped back. He wasn’t in the mood for this. Dallon was missing, they still didn’t know where he was, and Ryan’s dad had just tried to shoot his own son.

 

“He wasn’t going to shoot me,” Ryan said. “But you could have gotten yourself shot. You can’t just grab someone when they’re holding a gun and start swinging them around. Do you have any idea how dangerous that is?”

 

Mikey opened his mouth, and then closed it again. It wasn’t like he’d known Ryan’s dad wouldn’t shoot. All he knew about the guy was that he was an alcoholic and abusive and apparently liked to throw slurs around at his kid. Speaking of which… “why was your dad threatening to put you in a psych ward?”

 

Ryan tensed up. Spencer tapped him on the shoulder and signed something that Mikey couldn’t really see. Linda was watching the two boys closely, her eyebrows drawn down into a tight frown. Eventually, Ryan turned around and nodded to Linda. “It’s okay.”

 

“What’s--?” Frank said, and then stopped talking when Gabe elbowed him.

 

“I’m autistic,” Ryan said. “And not the way Rain Man is. Actually autistic. Meaning I have stims and I get overwhelmed when things are too bright or too loud and I have a special interest and shit. And because I’m diagnosed, my dad thinks it’s okay to threaten to lock me up whenever I don’t do what he wants.”

 

“That’s fucked up,” Mikey said.

 

“Maybe you should have shot him,” Pete said. When everyone else looked at him like he was being ridiculous, he shrugged. “What? It would solve a lot of Ryan’s problems. And he could probably stay with Linda or Spencer if he needed to.”

 

“I’m not killing my dad,” Ryan said. He let out a sigh. “Look. Let’s focus on the important stuff. It’s cold. Dallon is still missing. We need to find him.”

 

“Do you have any idea where the murder house might be?” Gabe asked Pete. He crossed his arms over his chest and shivered from the cold. It was still snowing. “I know you said you weren’t sure, but if you’ve got any kind of memory about that, now would be the time to share.”

 

“I think it might be near here, since this is where I show up a lot,” Pete said. He looked around and then started walking towards the one streetlight where Mikey had always seen him. The light flickered the closer Pete got to it, and then blew out when he touched the pole. Pete looked up at the light, which was smoking a little, and winced. “Well. That seems like a sign. Guess we’re going in the right direction.”

 

“Shit,” Gabe said. He looked over at Mikey. “I bet it’s in one of those abandoned farm houses.”

 

“I don’t want to walk through corn,” Spencer signed. He looked irritated. “Nothing good ever comes from walking through the cornfields at night.”

 

“We have weapons and flashlights. We’ll be okay so long as we stick together, right?” Linda signed. She looked at all the others and gripped her bat tighter. “We’re a team, and we’re going to find Dallon and his brother and get them home safe. No matter what.”

 

Everyone nodded. Linda marched up to Pete and brushed her shoulder against his. “You can lead the way, since you’ve got supernatural powers.”

 

“Okay. Here goes nothing,” Pete said. He took a deep breath, and parted the corn stalks in front of him. Linda flipped on her phone flashlight and held it out so that everyone else could see and follow Pete. Mikey pulled out his knife and flipped it open. He wasn’t scared of the corn or of the dark. He wasn’t even scared of coming face to face with Warbucks.

 

Right now, surrounded by his friends and the darkness of the corn, the only thing Mikey was afraid of was losing them all.