I used to listen to the radio from my boombox while taking bubble baths. I’d stare at the ceiling as I listened to the latest top 40 hits. I imagined in that same moment, someone somewhere was dancing, having sex or driving all night to the same song. I imagined their faces. I made guesses at their names. I wondered if they had imagined a 12-year-old boy taking a bubble bath just as I had imagined them. I wondered if this was all it took, a radio signal and suddenly these strangers and I were in communication: a psychic phone call, carried by a Madonna, Nirvana or Seal song.
One night the song “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses came on just as I was getting out of the tub. During the song’s guitar solo I began to sway my head back and forth: head banging just like the band did in their music videos. I felt a knock on my skull. I opened my eyes and I looked to the mirror to see myself standing naked with blood streaming down my face.
I tried bundling my head with toilet paper. I frantically searched for red specks that may have stained the white tile floor. I had wiped so much blood from my face that my skin had a blushed, raspberry tone. Every time I thought the bleeding had stopped more began to bubble up. When it was finally over I meticulously styled my bangs over the bandaged wound.
The next day at school I met Jeremy. Jeremy was the new kid. The teacher had brought Jeremy into the classroom and announced:
“This is Jeremy.”
He stood ripe for teenage judgment: redheaded, heavy-set, scattered freckles. During the end of the class I was handed a note.
All it said was:
What happened to your head?
That afternoon I went to Jeremy’s house and he showed me a video. As I walked in I saw pictures of a younger Jeremy standing in the snow with a fresh deer corpse laying on the ground. “That’s him,” Jeremy said as he pointed to a deer head on the wall. “That was my second kill.” Over the fireplace there was a picture of Jeremy and his dad wearing matching camo and standing in an identical pose, as if they were twins born decades apart. In all the pictures Jeremy had the same half smile that he wore as he gave me the tour.
“You want to see something?”
Jeremy looked through his bookshelf of VHS videos till he deciphered the proper smudged marker label. He pointed towards a recliner chair and told me to have a seat.
He slid the video into the VCR and turned on the TV. There were a few seconds of snowfall as Jeremy fast forwarded.
Then a grainy video of a dead deer hanging by its feet. A young Jeremy walked into the shot. He held something that looked like a machete and began to carve into the corpse. He was following the instructions of a voice off camera…“now be gentle, you don’t want to lose any meat.”
Video Jeremy looked into the camera and smiled. He followed the voice as he cut patiently into the deer. I watched Jeremy watching Jeremy. The voice said, “Ok, hold it tight…and go!” Video Jeremy pulled the deer skin all with one sure tug, and the skin peeled off like a sticky candy wrapper.
Jeremy looked at me as if he wanted to see me wince, as if this was a psychological test to see how much blood and guts I could withstand, but I was curious, so I was focused as I watched. I wanted to understand Jeremy’s joy, but I was reaching too far. It was like learning another language, you can’t do it all at once.
“Do you want a soda?”
As Jeremy left the room, the video continued to play. Young Jeremy continued to carve into the now skinless deer, blood sprinkling from its corpse and into the snow. Jeremy came back into the room and handed me a can of ginger ale.
“My Daddy died in that chair,” Jeremy said without looking away from the TV. “This chair?” I asked, pointing towards the chair I was sitting in.
“Yeah, at our old house. I came downstairs one day and I found him dead. We moved here because we couldn’t afford the old house since dad wasn’t working anymore.” The camera then swung towards the ground and showed a small puddle of blood cradled by a tree root.
There was a massive winter storm that year. It was a nor’easter and then a blizzard, which resulted in everything being frozen in a cast of ice. The power was out in scattered parts of the neighborhood and generators roared at night. Trees were down, blocking streets. Our house was without power for a few days. My family and I walked to the grocery store and that night my mom made BBQ chicken on the outdoor grill. We ate at the dinner table by the light of a single candle while all still huddled in our winter jackets.
The next day Jeremy and I met up to explore the aftermath of the storm. Children sledding, smoke from chimneys and the glare of TVs from living room windows were the only signs of life. The cold had infused itself into our bones and our teeth wouldn’t stop chattering. The world had been conquered by a new silent anarchy. There was nothing to do but explore. We had planned to cut through a field to get to a patch of woods but the field had flooded during the rainstorm and then it had frozen over. Overnight the field had been transformed into a sheet of ice.
Jeremy and I swerved down the hill to check it out. We skipped rocks on the ice and watched as the stones skidded and slid to the other side. We stepped slowly on the ice and we were held. The water was frozen solid. “Let’s go ice skating,” Jeremy said. I put one foot on the ice and then the other. I waited for a crack or any sign of danger but no sign was given.
So I danced. I opened my arms and I spun in circles. I did my ice skating Chaplin-plie. I looked at Jeremy, and I shouted, “Your turn!” Jeremy put one foot on the ice and then another. He quickly jumped back. He had felt it before I did. I went under all at once, all of me did. Suddenly the sounds were silenced. I tried to pull myself back up on the ice but everything I reached for broke away.
Jeremy yelled out, “What should I do?” but I was asking myself the same thing, so I didn’t answer. I felt like I was miles away, even though I was just a few feet from the bank. I slowly pushed myself through the ice and muck as my shoes and clothes became infused with cold water.
Jeremy pulled me up as soon as I could give him my hand. I sat on the hill shivering. “Should I call your parents?” Jeremy asked. “No.” My teeth chattered. I began to remove my hat, gloves and jacket. I was sure that my clothes were only making me colder. I jumped up and down to warm myself. I bounced up and down in just a t-shirt. I began to laugh.
“Are you sure you are ok?” Jeremy watched on as if I had come out of the water possessed. “You should go home. If you don’t you might get sick and die,” Jeremy said.
He draped my jacket over my shoulder and then he pushed me towards my walk home. We walked together to end of the street and we went our separate ways.
“I’ll call you tomorrow, go take a hot bath.”
The sky was slowly going dark and everything was icing over again. Walking seemed almost impossible as my body numbed and my shoes slushed through the paths laid by truck tires. I didn’t see a soul on the road this time.
I yelled a greeting to my parents as I ran to the bath. I filled the bathtub with hot water. My skin tingled with the heat. I checked to see if all my digits moved as they should. I slid beneath the water and I held back laughter.
A couple days later Jeremy called. School was still out but his mom was back at work. He was home alone so he asked if I wanted to come over and watch movies. I wrapped myself in layers and put on my boots and I trekked through the snowy sludge. As I walked, the winds began to pick up and soon fresh snow began to fall again.
Jeremy’s cul-de-sac was at the bottom of a big hill. At it’s crest I stepped on some black ice and I slid on my ass all the way down. I was soaked. I knocked on Jeremy’s door and took off my boots and coat. Jeremy offered me some hot chocolate and laughed as I told him about the black ice. “This winter is going to kill you,” he told me.
Jeremy wanted to watch The Wizard of Oz while listening to a Pink Floyd record. He wanted to do this while stoned. I didn’t smoke weed. I felt bored and boring when I smoked weed. Jeremy proclaimed that we were going to get “super fucked-up.” The world had already frozen over. My fingers and toes had already gone numb. Now it was time for my brain to do the same.
The movie started and then the record started. Jeremy was locked in but I felt myself floating away. I was somewhere else. I was nobody. The deer heads understood. This human game was a drag. It was better to run through the woods. There was no life here between the brown carpet and weed smoke. I wanted to leave but I didn’t know how.
About 30 minutes into the movie Jeremy’s older sister came home. Jeremy made some paranoid glances my way and then he motioned that we go upstairs and go to his room.
He put on a Black Sabbath record as I stared out the window. The snow was coming down now in thick sideways sheets. I could barely see beyond Jeremy’s yard. I was hypnotized. I was super fucked-up.
Amongst the white I saw a small boy standing in the center of Jeremy’s cul-de-sac. He couldn’t have been more than five years old. He wore all red and his hat came to a point like a gnome’s. He was all alone. Jeremy saw me looking so he walked up right behind me. A smile grew on his face.
“Let me show you something,” Jeremy said. Jeremy grabbed a BB gun that he always kept leaning on his bedroom wall. He opened the window oh so slightly. He inched the BB gun between the crack of the window and aimed it towards the child.
I was still. He pulled the trigger. I heard a pop and a sigh. The little boy still stood upright. He appeared unharmed.
“Shit I missed.”
“Was it loaded?”
“Don’t do that.”
Jeremy laughed. He shot again. The boy went down and as sudden as a siren, he was crying. Jeremy pushed me against the wall as if someone was going to fire back.
“Why did you do that?”
“It’s just a BB!” Jeremy said.
“But he’s hurt!”
“It doesn’t hurt, let me show you!” Jeremy said.
Jeremy took his shirt off and closed his eyes. He handed me the gun and told me to place it right in the center of his chest. I imagined myself as one of the weak and easily transformed teenagers you see in afterschool specials; it all started with a harmless hit of weed, then he shot his friend in the heart….
“Shoot when you’re ready.”
“I don’t want to.”
“I am asking you to.”
“I don’t want to,” I said.
“Pretty please,” Jeremy said with that unreadable half-smirk, as if nothing would make him happier.
“Ok, ready?” I asked.
I pulled the trigger. Jeremy’s face went red as if he was choking. His eyes widened in disbelief, his belly jiggled as if blood was about to explode out of him. He smiled at me. He opened his eyes and shrugged. Jeremy took the gun out of my hand and began to crank it. Then he cornered me and placed the barrel on my forehead.
“Say your prayers,” he said, with one eye squinting. I took a deep a breath and I felt a gasp of air kiss the scar on my forehead.
Jeremy laughed. “It’s not loaded, my daddy told me to never keep it loaded indoors.”
“But the boy fell? He was crying!”
A few weeks later Jeremy called. He asked if I could meet him that night at a spot in the woods that we both knew. Once we had grown tired of the movies and the mall we created these invisible markers for places to meet. Jeremy said he had a surprise for me.
“What is it?” I asked. “It’s a surprise,” Jeremy said.
I walked over and cut behind the shopping center into the woods. I saw Jeremy’s silhouette and a white box on the ground. Jeremy opened the box and inside were all kinds of liquor, beers and wine. “Where did you get this?” I asked.
“I can’t tell you.”
“Secrets,” Jeremy said.
I had had a couple of beers here and there but I had never been drunk before. Jeremy sipped randomly from each bottle. Picking up one bottle, placing it back and then another. This liquor was different than what I had seen adults drink. Every bottle was brightly colored: light blue, purple and red and it all tasted like candy: peppermint, licorice, vanilla, etc. I felt dizzy and then nauseous. My gut burned.
“Shit,” said Jeremy.
“What ?” I asked.
“My mom is waiting for me in the parking lot…do you need a ride?”
We left the box. We waded through the woods until we were under the blinding parking lot lights. There was only one car in the parking lot. All the shops were closed. Jeremy’s mom had the car running. Jeremy climbed into the front seat and I got in the back. Jeremy’s mom looked at me in the mirror.
“We’re taking Dylan home,” Jeremy said.
“Ok,” she said.
“How was your night, Jeremy?”
“It was good. We just wandered around.”
I closed my eyes and leaned back. News radio played.
“Are you drunk, Jeremy?”
I kept my eyes shut.
“But Dylan is,” Jeremy said.
I opened my eyes. Jeremy’s mom looked at me. Jeremy laughed.
“Jeremy, you shouldn’t tell on your friends.”
Jeremy turned to me. “I am sorry, Dylan.” His smile was wide.
“It’s ok, Jeremy.”
That spring I found out I had been accepted into an arts high school and I would transfer at the beginning of the following year. I knew I would soon be seeing less of Jeremy.
During the final week of school, Jeremy and I walked home together. Jeremy suggested we cut through the rich neighborhood between school and our neighborhood.
“I saw the best fight the other day,” Jeremy said.
“It was just two guys on the side of the highway fist fighting. They didn’t even have cars. It’s like they just came up from the woods to put on a show for all the people driving home from work.”
“Maybe it was bait? Maybe they just wanted some concerned citizen to stop to help and then they would steal their car and drive off,” I said.
“You know the guy who has the neckbrace and the arm sling who is always standing outside of the supermarket with a sign asking for money?”
“My sister saw him eating at an Applebee’s with a pretty lady. His arm and neck were fine. He’s faking it.”
“He’s just an actor?” I asked.
“Yeah, he’s an actor,” Jeremy nodded.
We crossed through the woods to the busy road that acted as the main artery in and out of the rich neighborhood.
“Do you think any of these cars would stop if we started fighting?” Jeremy asked.
“Probably, but you never know with rich people.”
“Lay down,” Jeremy said.
“Ok.” I closed my eyes and I collapsed into the grass.
Jeremy began to stomp his foot just inches from my face. He swung his leg widely as I laid still. He held his arms up like a wrestler championing his own glory. Jeremy’s eyes bulged. His teeth snarled while spitting in every direction. He barked wordless insults as if he were speaking in tongues. He stomped harder and harder creating a mini dust storm. I began to writhe like a baby bird who had fallen from a tree.
I heard a car skid in the street and then another. For a moment I thought we had caused a pile-up. Car horns blared. I jumped up. A middle aged man in a light brown suit was running towards me.
He was coming to help me.
“Get up!” Jeremy shouted. I grabbed my backpack and I ran towards the woods. I looked back and I could see the man was still behind us. Others were standing by their cars.
“Shit!” Jeremy shouted. “Keep running!”
We ran into the woods and into a swampy area, our shoes filling with water. We looked back and traffic had returned to its regular flow. Jeremy laughed.
“Now they can go home feeling like heroes.”
Dylan Angell is a North Carolinian, a musician, and a writer currently based in Queens, New York. In 2016 he released the book An Index of Strangers Whom I Will Never Forget A-Z via his Basic Battles Books imprint. In early 2017 he released I’ll Just Keep On Dreaming And Being The Way I Am, a collaboration with the photographer Erin Taylor Kennedy. In late 2017, he released the zine Funeral Songs a collection of writings by anonymous contributors who speak of death-related experiences accompanied by a song.