It was known as ‘The Shout’ on the internet, a phenomenon that made significantly more headlines in the press and on forum chat sites than the appearance of the ghosts itself. Within the small region of coastal Maine it had made about as much noise as the recent rise in suicides, which had risen since the event itself. Over three hundred deaths between months of February and September were accounted to the phenomenon, with many of them being overdoses. The teenage population seemed to have caught on to the trend after the first hundred or so and had risen significantly thereafter. Mass suicides had become prominent.
Though the young people of America had been the largest number, the most shocking death toll had occurred at Franklin Towers in Portland, Maine. Franklin Towers was controlled by the local Housing Authority and afforded apartments to those with low income, those on disability, and a good number of elderly and infirmed. They charged thirty percent of adjusted income for rent, and it was a steal for many of the residents. It was the tallest building in Maine besides St. Patrick’s Church in Lewiston, but was listed on many ‘Tallest Building’ lists online due to the fact that it contained residency to the tallest levels.
Franklin Adams had been part of the residence’s security detail, and had organized the event. Franklin was a thin man in his early 30’s and a resident of the building. He began organizing meetings for the elderly and their ghosts, discussing the events of the day, the weather, what books they were reading, and anything else that came to mind. They had adjusted to the dead faster than most for one reason or another and had come to love the interaction. They even caught the ghosts chatting to each other occasionally, though it seemed to cause them a great amount of strain and it was infrequent. This made them happy, however, and the ghosts seemed to notice. You would find thin, misty Mrs. Cherbrane talking to young Natalie Good talking about husbands and television or even sex sometimes, slyly smiling at their living compatriots with fleeting glances.
The Shout had occurred at one of these regular gatherings.
Frank had been leading a rousing chorus of “I Want to Hold your Hand” (the whole crowd sang Beatles songs together once in awhile just for fun) when it began. He had noticed his own father, his regular ghost, had frozen in place. Usually Jim Adams was the life of the party, dancing around and flailing his arms like a drunken idiot and floating through the whole crowd to whip them into a joyous frenzy as they laughed and sang. Now, though, he was rooted to the spot, a his eyes bulging in terror as his jaw slowly sank to his neck, his hair waving wildly. Frank found this the most unnerving thing as there were no windows open in the room, no reason for his hair to blow in the wind. Then the screaming had begun.
The noise was instantaneous, the pain sending stars into the eyes of living in the room. They fell almost as one unit, sprawling on the floor as the wretched sound of the dead filled the room, the cries burning them and setting their minds on fire with the sound. It was as though the whole room was burning.
Frank rolled on the floor, trying to get his feet underneath him. He had been in fights before, in dangerous situations that had resulted in the need for fleet feet, and he attempted to grit his teeth through the pain. He saw Karen Millgram on the floor, her body still and lifeless. The woman had been 90 years old last time he had checked, and now her husband and father standing over her probably dead body screaming down at her. “Please no,” he choked out in a desperate plea. He began to crawl towards her over the writing bodies of the other residents. They looked like a mass of snakes from one of those Indiana Jones movies with the Ark of the Covenant in some Egyptian pit. He struggled through their limbs, their squirming torsos, their drooling and wretched faces as they all screamed back at their former lovers and friends and family. He took a foot to the side of his head and felt the side of his face explode. The meat in his cheek felt ground and his mouth began to fill with blood. He spit a tooth out onto the face of a lovely young woman underneath him, coating her face with a spatter of crimson marks. She didn’t even notice.
He reached Karen and struggled to push at her. He got no response from her and felt a sinking pit form in his stomach to go along with the pain in his head. The autopsy would later reveal that the strain had been too much and her heart had given out almost immediately. She would be one of over thirty just within the building alone.
Frank Adams rolled onto his back and looked back up to his own father still standing at the front of the gathering, a master of ceremonies in a macabre display of rage and pain. The entire room resembled an almost apocalyptic orgy of death and static, the roaring sound of the screams a battle between the living and the recently-returned for life. The ghosts stood over their loved ones, shouting down at them. Amidst the noise Frank was able to discern actual words. Elderly women crying “Fuck off!” at their sons, their daughters, their husbands. He looked into his father’s eyes, the blank expression of fear boring into him. Jim Adams screamed “God it hurts it hurts it hurts!” and “The Knife!” at him in a screeching voice of a small, scared child.
And then all at once it was over. The pain vanished and Frank was left gazing up at his father. Jim was dancing and flailing his arms again, moving his way towards his son. The other ghosts were doing the same. Then it dawned on the crowd at large that the burning in their brains had vanished, and people were leaping to their feet. The recovery was nearly instant, but the living had pushed themselves into a tight ball, a circle of people still screaming, pushing ever closer to get away from the ghosts they had loved so dearly moments ago.
Jim reached down to Frank, trying to help him to his feet. “What the fuck dad?” Frank managed, still trying to get his breathe. “Son, what happened?” Jim asked, baffled and scared for his son’s well-being. “Dad why were you screaming like that?”
“I was screaming?”
The ghosts had taken awhile to re-integrate into people’s lives after that. The world was in shock throughout the aftermath of The Shout, still trying to comprehend what had happened. That had been in March, the whole world taken to its knees with what had later been documented as only a thirty second period.
In August almost the entire population of Franklin Towers had committed a mass suicide. They had gone up to the roof together, led by Jim Adams and his son, the ghosts moving with their loved ones. They had jumped from the roof of the building in waves, trying to aim for the pavement or for cars in order to achieve the maximum effect. Frank actually lasted for a few seconds, looking up at his father as he faded away, his body broken and leaking fluid onto the parking lot. No one was able to explain the mass of suicides and they continued to be a frightening phenomenon, but the Franklin Towers incident had been the largest and one of the final demonstrations. After September began the suicides began to slack off and eventually they were no longer as much of a problem. Reports began coming in from the UK that there had been a few similar incidents. Sydney also reported two mass suicides and numerous other deaths that seemed connected to it all. Throughout it all the ghosts seemed baffled and heartbroken, desperately trying to figure out why they had all gone barvy at the same time. It was never explained.
Billby resolved to be more careful after The Shout and the incidents throughout the back half of the summer.
* * *
John Kaepernick had never trusted his son or his family again. In fact there were very few people that he trusted these days. He had become the spitting image of a maniac, his hair growing long and wild and a beard that hung ragged from his chin. He spent most of his time in the basement as the fall began, and his family was a constant presence.
Alan had begged his father not to worry about The Shout, but the damn shimmer scared him now. Benjamin Kaepernick stood awkwardly in the corner. Ever since his grandfather’s breakdown he had been unsure of how to act around the old man, his growing obsession with the suicides was as unnerving to a ten year old boy as it was to his thirty-two year old father. Ben had never had it easy as a ghost. He could not play with his parents or grandfather the way he used to, but he still tried.
“Grampa,” he wheezed in his small voice, “any new reports today?”
“Some.” John replied flatly. “From Singapore.”
“What happened this time?” Ben walked over to look at his grandfather’s papers.
“Twenty people got together and downed a bunch of pills.”
“Did they all die?”
“No, not all. Paramedics recovered three.”
“What happens to them now?”
John sighed and looked away from the printed pages in front of him. He was seated on an old, upside down milk crate and was flipping through pages he had printed off that afternoon. It was nearing midnight and he was tired. He rubbed at his eyes and looked into Ben’s face. No matter what else he might be, whatever frightening things had occurred, this was still his grandson. “Ben people are dying.” he said and gestured to the concrete wall in front of them.
A map of the world had been hung the day after The Shout. It was covered in pins, the first of them had been placed roughly over Allagash. He had marked the spot because of the suicides with no idea why he had done so, but soon after the map had been covered in little red pins to mark where deaths had been reported. On the outside hung printouts of the articles pertaining to the suicides.
Near it hung a map of Maine itself, large on the wall. He had bought it at a small gas station stop near the town of Biddeford itself from a little shitpig at the register who asked if he wanted to go get a 32 oz soda to go with it. The suicides seemed more concentrated in the state, with the majority being located twenty-five minutes down the coast in Biddeford. He had been trying to figure the phenomenon out by himself, no longer trusting anyone else with helping him.
He tried to put his arm around Ben, realized what he was doing, and stopped. He still had to stop himself every once in awhile and remind himself that he couldn’t touch his loved ones anymore and that they were, in all likelihood, potential monsters.
“Ben,” he managed, “the survivors are being treated, but if the pattern is the same they will just try again. Whether they bite their tongues and bleed out or try to overdose again it will be the same. These people will find a way to die.”
“Jesus, dad!” Alan exclaimed, and grabbed his son. John felt a pang of jealousy. At least Alan could touch his family. “Dad you can’t scare him like that. Come away, Benjamin” Alan led Ben away and upstairs. His wife continued to linger a moment, staring at John with frustration and curiosity, then followed them up the stairs. They faded as the went. No matter, they would be back.
Standing up, John made to follow them. He was hungry and a sandwich would really hit the spot right now, and he probably needed a shower, his own odor had begun to get a bit unpleasant. He paused at the stairs to look back at the map of Maine and its pins, the concentration over Biddeford.
“I found you, fucker.” he whispered to himself, “I’m gonna get you.”
* * *
Alan Pratchett, better known as ‘Gasser’ to his friends and to the of amusement his teachers, hid behind the slide. In a moment of genius he had decided to impress Hank by getting the little shit on the first day of school, and he thought he could launch his attack easily after almost everyone else had left. Dildo didn’t like his home and usually sat on the swingset for awhile after school reading in order to postpone getting there. No teachers, no parents, and no kids around to see him beat the shit out of the little bastard – it was the perfect plan.
There was the kid now. He had most likely hung out in the hallways, probably hiding from the rest of The Boys, and considered himself safe now. He strolled across the sand pit and towards the swings, facing away from Alan. Seating himself he pulled a thick book from his bag and flipped to the bookmark. Pathetic.
Cupping a hand full of sand he slunk forward. His forehead creased in concentration, Alan worked his way forward towards the swings. He kept an eye on his feet in hopes that he could sneak up on Billby better that way, avoiding twigs or trash that might make noise. This way whatever sounds he made had the potential to fade into the breeze, lost in the outdoor white noise. He was close. One punch and some sand to the eyes, it would be over before anyone could do anything about it.
He was so focused on the ground, on what he wanted to do to Billby, that he stood in utter confusion when he saw the shoes. An old pair of Reebok sneakers sat under his nose as he stooped to the ground in concentration. He stared at them for a second, unsure of what had just happened. The top of his head bumped calves, and he realized that someone had jumped in his way. He turned his head up slowly, a dawning realization filling him with embarrassment.
Billby looked down at him, his eyes blank and his face pale. The birdlike features were still under the shag that blew around his forehead. It was comical. “Hey shitpig,” Alan said, “You hear me behind you?” He got no response. He stood up, stepped back. “What’s wrong with you? Creepy little bitch.” The sand slowly leaked out of his fist.
“I’m the….” Billby muttered to himself, seemingly unaware that Alan had even moved. “What the fuck?” Alan thought, unaware that he was still backing away from the skinny little kid before him. “I’m…I’m…I,” Billby sputtered. Alan looked down at Billby’s side. There was a long, thick piece of wood gripped in his tiny little fist. Billby looked up for the first time, looking Alan right in the eye. The gravel around him began to shake on the ground before slowly rising into the air. It clouded Alan’s vision, keeping him rooted to the spot as he spun around, blinded by the dust. He spun, hoping that someone else was seeing this crazy shit, hoping with a bit of desperation that Hank or Stevie could see him as well. Then he remembered why he was out here. He remembered his plan. No one would see him.
The sand parted to show Billby. His buggy eyes sat under his disheveled, uneven hair and just bored into Alan. Mouth split in a crooked, manic smile, Billby moved forward. The sand parted for him, particles and bits of gravel scattering to the side as they struck his chest. The cloud formed around him as well and drew him into it, drew him closer to Alan. The little storm whipped around them both, the bits bouncing off Billby while Alan was being nicked and cut all over his arms and forehead, his legs, his side. Billby leaned in close to Alan, his eyes still burning into his enemy. His smile widened, bringing a sickening look of joy to his face.
“I’m the scariest fucking thing you’ve ever seen.”
The piece of wood connected with Alan’s temple, sending him sprawling. The dust fell over him, itching even through the pain in his head. He felt the stick connect with his side twice, felt a rib crack. He screamed and tried to pull himself away, dragging his battered body along as he blinked at sand in his burning eyes. He tasted blood from first hit, spit it out on the ground, and continued through it in his need to escape. This was not how it was supposed to go down, this was not supposed to be like this. He had been supposed to snap the little shit with his bare hands, break his arm or something.
He felt a foot in his side, rolling him over. As he sprawled on his back he looked at Billby, who now clutched a stone in his other hand. Raising it up over his head Billby took aim before slamming it into Alan’s kneecap. The audible pop sounded out, followed by a shriek from the victim on the ground. Looking up, he saw the ghost that followed him everywhere. It was his Uncle. Uncle Jerry. Jerry the drinker, Jerry the pill popper, Jerry the amorous. Jerry the kiddie fiddler.
Jerry was somehow more terrifying than he had been in life. His dark eyes were now pitch black. He held his own stick, swung with every strike that Billby landed. As Alan vomited blood into his own mouth he began to cry. He looked at the Uncle he had loved. Uncle Jerry. Jerry the man who bought him a bike for Christmas, Jerry who gave him his first beer, Jerry who showed him that sometimes girls were not for everyone. He had loved his Uncle with all his heart, and had been shattered when he died. Alan had stood next to his hospital bed, shared a knowing look with Jerry. His parents never knew, his whole family thought they were nothing more than close. But Alan and Jerry shared something. Uncle Jerry had taken it to his grave. Maybe now it was Alan’s turn.
Billby hit him, again and again in the stomach and head. Things popped, things burst, things tore. The shit-smell in the air was somehow sweet, the dying body emptying itself of all fluid in order to go with courtesy to the mortician. Alan felt something drop on his face. It rolled into his mouth, but he could not tell the taste from the blood he was drowning in.
His attacker was, in fact, weeping. Tears ran down his face, his voice began to grow hoarse with the ongoing roar of anger and hurt that burst out of him as he beat the bigger boy to death. “No!” he cried. “You fucker, you hit me and stuck me and beat me but fuck you! Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you all! Leave me alone, just everyone leave me alone! Go away. Everyone go. The. Fuck. Away!” He bludgeoned the body, throwing his whole self into bashing the asshole to pieces. Alan was gone long before Billby decided he was dead enough to stop his assault. His face was unrecognizable, his body mushy and bones stuck out of his chest and arms. The entire thing lasted almost fifteen minutes, but Alan only had to endure five of them.
Billby finally stopped and dropped his makeshift cudgel, gasping for breath from the effort it had taken. He stepped back, his body continuing to convulse with sobs. He sat down hard on the sand and put a hand in Alan’s hair. Gripping the hairs tightly, Billby buried his face in his arm and sobbed harder. “Why did you make me do that?” he asked, “How come you couldn’t just piss off? Why couldn’t you just leave me alone?”
He sat and cried next to the body for over half an hour. He had been one of the last two people in the school, Mr. Noble locking up for the day before he left. Billby sat alone with the body of a long-time enemy and cried for him, for what it represented, for what he had to do. He had not exactly killed anyone up until now, but to have it so close and personal was horrifying. This was not how he had wanted it.
His first time was meant to be his father. He had wanted to drug him, grind pills into his drinks and his dinner as he cooked and got things ready, then watch him choke and sputter until Billby finally got to sink the kitchen knife he had duct taped to the underside of his spot of the table deep into his father’s chest, watching the blood seep into his shirt and the life leave Arthur Knowles eyes. He wanted it to be special.
This had been a loss of control, and he had never wanted to hurt someone like this. Maybe Hank, but Alan had never been near as bad. He had even had fun with him when they were younger at a couple of birthday parties. They had never been friends, but there had been more tolerance and it had always stuck with him just how kind Alan had been when you took into consideration the fact that he was terrified of Hank Boyd as much as Billby was, desperate to please him so he would avoid the same fate as those who suffered under him. He wasn’t a bad person, just a dumbass.
It took a lot of strain to move the body. Billby had to focus more than he did with smaller things, and getting all the blood took a lot of effort. He took Alan to a small cave in the woods near the school and lay him in the back on the floor. Working with his hands after he went to get big rocks and stones to put over him in a makeshift burial site. Alan laid to rest, Billby went home.
He looked at his father who had passed out on the couch. It was nearly eight o’clock by then, but his father had not even noticed his absence. He went up to his room to play Ghost Hunter again before bed. He had a new ghost this evening, a pulpy mash of muddled feature. Even in his unease at his actions he was feeling better. It was lovely, and he was one step closer.