"Guys I really think this is a bad idea, we're so gonna get caught."
One of the other boys elbowed his way to the front of the group gathered outside the fence of an old abandoned apartment complex, brushing off Patrick's concern flippantly.
"No way dude, you're just being a pussy. I've been here a thousand times. The worst thing that could happen is we see some homeless guy naked or something.” His remark received a few snickers.
Patrick sulked under his cap and wrapped his arms around his stomach in an attempt to fight against the chill creeping up his spine. It was early October and the air was just beginning to have a bite to it. He didn't think it would be this cold tonight and had forgoed the hoodie in favor of a faded blue tie dye shirt and an old denim jacket, which did little to keep the cold out.
He didn't even want to be here in the first place, and had just agreed to come because Joe told him he was going to a party with some of the coolest guys he knew and he wanted Patrick to meet them. Initially, Patrick was pretty stoked to go, until yesterday, when he got a text from Joe apologizing saying he had woken up with a fever, and that Patrick should still go to the party and have double the fun for his sake.
He wasn't having even half the fun.
He didn't know any of the other boys, as most of them were from a different school or already graduated, and at this particular moment, Patrick was just wishing he could be back in the comfort of his own room, reading the next chapter of Redwall and notably ignoring his homework.
The boy who pushed Patrick was the first to climb over the chain link fence. He was lanky and climbed expertly, obviously familiar with the route. Patrick had seen him around school before, usually whenever he was in detention. He didn't know his name, but his long, girlish hair and thin stature made him stand out enough for Patrick to recognize him as the same.
One by one, the others followed him, there were about seven including Patrick, who made himself last in line.
Once inside the building, they made their way up the stairs to the second, then third story. The paint chipped off the walls revealing the drywall beneath, and the carpet was stained and frayed consistently throughout the areas they passed.
They entered apartment 3C. The blinds on the window had been torn off, and the light of the full moon shone directly through and illuminated the room almost as well as the overhead light would have, had the power not been cut. In the center of the living room was a white plastic table adorned with beer bottles, a couple bags of chips, and a tupperware container filled with cold chicken, most likely swiped from one of the boy's refrigerators. Next to the wall was an old couch, sagging in the middle, but still moderately comfortable looking.
This was...the saddest looking party Patrick had ever seen. He really really wanted to go home now.
They ended up playing poker with a deck of cards one of the boys brought, and used the potato chips as poker chips. One of them, named Ryan, Patrick recalled, won the first three rounds, to which he received increasingly louder groans and gripes each time.
As the night went on, the energy of the party declined.
Patrick sat with his legs folded under him and leaning on the arm of the couch. His eyelids felt so heavy, and he tried and failed to keep his head from nodding off with the sound of faint conversation lulling him to sleep.
"You okay there?" He heard a voice above him ask.
He looked up and saw one of the guys, named Andy, looking at him with concern. He remembered seeing Joe talk to him sometimes.
"Yeah, fine. I'm usually not awake this late though." Patrick checked his watch. 2:47AM stared back at him in burning blue light. He sighed.
The other boy shuffled awkwardly, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Do you wanna walk home with me? I was about to leave anyway...the fun's kinda worn off."
"Oh...yeah, okay. Thank you." Patrick said. He adjusted his cap and stretched his arms above his head, then the two snuck out while the rest of the boys were talking. Thankfully, they didn't seem to notice the two’s absence.
The moon was full that night, it made it easy to navigate their way home. The buildings around them grew scarcer as they got further into the suburbs. Patrick asked Andy where he lived and discovered they were just a neighborhood apart, about 10 minutes away from each other.
They went to Patrick's neighborhood first since it was closest. As they walked down the leaf covered sidewalk holding casual conversation, Patrick learned that Andy was friends with Joe from his old school, and they still hung out most weekends.
Andy had a lot in common with Patrick too. They shared some of the same music taste, like Star Wars, and strived to be more vegan, though Andy was much better about it than Patrick.
"-and I'm telling you, if he hadn't asked for his lightsaber to be purple, the depth of their lore would be basically nonexistent!"
While they were in the middle of a fierce mock debate on lightsabers, they heard faint sirens coming from the direction of the apartment they came from.
"Wait, hold that thought." Andy held a hand up. "You don't think...?"
Patrick looked back, he didn't see any smoke in the skyline at least. "It's not likely... I don't think those guys could get into that much trouble playing cards."
"They did have beer though. You didn't drink any, did you?"
Patrick shook his head. "No, and I know I didn't see you drink either." They looked at each other, Andy chewed on his lower lip. "We'll find out tomorrow I guess."
They arrived at Patrick's house, and Patrick waved Andy off, exhausted from the cold and the walking but happy he made a new friend. The night wasn't a total loss it seemed, and he hoped he, Andy, and Joe could hang out together sometime.
Patrick went around to the back of the house and grabbed the key hidden under a rock in the flower bed. He slowly, carefully, turned the lock and snuck through the back door and up the stairs to his room.
He collapsed in his bed, barely gathering the strength to peel his clothes off and huddle under the warmth of the blankets. He drifted off to sleep almost immediately, thankful that it was Friday, er, now Saturday.
Patrick dreamed that night, something strange and incoherent as usual, but it was growing increasingly more uncomfortable, bordering on a nightmare. He was in an empty elevator, but it felt like a pressure was being put on him from all sides. The roof contracted and collapsed right before he awoke.
Awoke to his best friend Pete lying across his bed, reading Patrick's copy of Redwall, and essentially crushing his legs from under the covers.
"Pete- what the hell are you doing here, get off me." Patrick groaned.
"Mornin’ sleeping beauty." Pete glanced at him, and notably did not get up. "Your mom let me in, I told her I had to return your Damn Yankees cd."
Patrick half-heartedly shoved at Pete and rolled onto his side. "I don't even listen to Damn Yankees."
"Hah, me neither, I just remembered some cd in the store yesterday. She doesn't need to know that though, I just wanted to hang out this afternoon." Pete said, grinning.
"Afterno-" Patrick blinked, he grabbed his alarm clock and saw the time. 1:07PM. "Oh my god." He dropped his head into the pillow.
Pete laughed at that and threw his head back over the lump made of Patrick behind him.
"So do you still wanna hang out? SkyLands opened up their Halloween themed rides today, we could go see the show too, while it's still light out."
Patrick spoke, muffled from the pillow. "I dunno, mom did ask me to help with the shopping today..."
Pete snorted. "Oh yeah, that sounds way more fun than SkyLands."
"Well..." Patrick sat up and bit his lip. "I can't really get out of it, you know how she is." He finally got a look at Pete and immediately saw his hair, or lack thereof, as it had been buzzed short.
He raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Woah wait, who is this guy and what did you do with Pete?" Pete smiled and ran his hand over his head.
"Like it? It was getting really hard to manage so I just buzzed it. It’s nice, but dude, it feels so weird now." He laughed.
Patrick reached over and ruffled his hand on Pete's head. It felt fuzzy, like a cat. "Yeah, I like it." He smiled.
They were interrupted when Patrick's mom yelled at them from downstairs. "Boys! Get down here, quick!" They looked at each other, then the door. Pete got off the bed and Patrick threw the blankets off...
Pete glanced down. "Nice."
...And immediately scrambled to pull them back on.
"Go wait outside, I'll be out in a minute." He said, blushing. He had been so tired last night he had forgotten about pajamas.
Patrick, now dressed in jeans and a camo hoodie, joined Pete outside the door and the two ran downstairs.
Patrick's mom sat in front of the TV, her hand clasped tightly over her mouth, and her eyes wide.
"Mom, what happened?"
She didn't answer, but pointed to the TV, which was on the local news.
The two boys looked, and Patrick's jaw fell open when he saw the apartment complex he was in last night, displayed behind caution tape.
Patrick couldn't breathe. The light of the TV bored into his eye sockets. It couldn't be real. There's no way it's real. He scrambled to pull his phone out to see 10 missed calls and 34 texts from Joe. He frantically started responding to Joe to reassure him he was alright.
Patrick's mom spoke quietly. "Patrick, you and Joe went out last night, please… please tell me you didn't go there..."
"I- we- I mean..." Patrick stuttered. He was still too shocked for words, and he knew he was already in huge trouble, but that didn't hold a candle to the event at hand.
Pete continued to stare at the screen, eyes wide. There were images of two boys next to the building, and the headline beneath stated in bold, red lettering:
2 LOCAL TEENAGERS FOUND DEAD IN GRIFFON COUNTY APARTMENT