Gone for Good Page 31

Again, that alone would not cause too much alarm. I do not make it a practice to leave music playing like some security-conscious New Yorkers, but I confess to a major streak of absentmindedness. I could have left my CD player on. That alone would not chill me like this.

What did chill me, however, was the song selection.

That was what was getting to me. The song playing—I tried to remember when I last heard it—was “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” I shuddered.

Ken’s favorite song.

By Blue Oyster Cult, a heavy metal band, though this song, their most famous, was more subdued, almost ethereal. Ken used to grab his tennis racket and fake-guitar the solos. And I know that I do not have a copy of that particular song on any of my CDs. No way, unh-unh. Too many memories.

What the hell was going on here?

I stepped into the room. As I said before, the lights were out. It was dark. I stopped and felt awfully stupid. Hmm. Why not just flick on the lights, numb-nuts? Wouldn’t that be a good idea?

As I reached for the switch, another inner voice said, Better yet, why not just run? That was what we always yell at the movie screens, right? The killer is hiding inside the house. The stupid teenager, after finding her best friend’s decapitated corpse, decides that this would be the perfect time to stroll through the darkened house instead of, say, fleeing and screaming like a mad animal.

Gee, all I had to do was strip down to a bra and I could be playing the part.

The song faded down in a guitar solo. I waited for the silence. It was brief. The song started up again. The same song.

What the hell was going on?

Flee and scream. That was the ticket. I would do just that. Except for one thing. I had not stumbled across any headless corpse. So how would this play out here? What exactly would I do? Call the police? I could just see that. What seems to be the problem, sir? Well, my stereo is playing my brother’s favorite song so I decided to start running down the hall screaming. Can you rush over here with guns drawn? Uh-huh, sure, we’re on our way.

How dorky would that sound?

And even if I assumed that someone had broken in, that there was indeed a prowler still in my apartment, someone who had brought his own CD with him . . .

. . . well, who was that most likely to be?

My heart picked up a beat as my eyes began to adjust to the dark. I decided to leave the lights off. If there was an intruder, there was no reason to let him know I was standing there, an easy target. Or would turning on the light scare him into view?

Christ, I’m not good at this.

I decided to leave the lights off.

Okay, fine, let’s play it that way. Lights stay off. Now what?

The music. Follow the music. It was coming from my bedroom. I turned in that direction. The door was closed. I stepped toward it. Carefully. I was not going to be a total idiot. I opened the front door all the way and left it like that—in case I had to scream or make a run for it.

I moved forward in a sort of spastic slide, leading with the left foot but keeping the right toes firmly pointed toward the exit. It reminded me of one of Squares’s yoga stances. You spread your legs and you bend one way but both your weight and your “awareness” go in the opposite direction. The body moves one way, the mind another. This was what some yogis, not Squares thankfully, referred to as “spreading your consciousness.”

I slid a yard. Then another. Blue Oyster Cult’s Buck Dharma—the fact that I remembered not only that name, but that his real name was Donald Roeser said a lot about my childhood—sang how we can be like they are, like Romeo and Juliet.

In a word: dead.

I reached the bedroom door. I swallowed and pushed against the frame. No go. I’d have to turn the knob. My hand gripped the metal. I looked over my shoulder. The door was still wide open. My right foot stayed pointed in that direction, though I could no longer be sure of my “awareness.” I turned the knob as silently as possible, but it still sounded like a gunshot in my ear.

I pushed just a little, just to clear the frame. I let go of the knob. The music was louder now. Crisp and clear. Probably playing on the Bose CD player Squares had gotten me for my birthday two years ago.

I stuck my head in, just for a quick look. And that was when someone grabbed me by the hair.

I barely had time to gasp. My head was tugged forward so hard, my feet left the ground. I flew across the room, my hands stretched out Superman style, and landed in a thudding belly flop.

The air left my lungs with a whoosh. I tried to roll over, but he—I assumed it was a he—was already on top of me. His legs straddled my back. An arm snaked around my throat. I tried to struggle, but his grip was impossibly strong. He pulled back and I gagged.

I couldn’t move. Totally at his mercy, he lowered his head toward mine. I could feel his breath in my ear. He did something with his other arm, got a better angle or counterweight, and squeezed. My windpipe was being crushed.

My eyes bulged. I pawed at my throat. Useless. My fingernails tried to dig into his forearm, but it was like trying to penetrate mahogany. The pressure in my head was building, growing unbearable. I flailed. My attacker did not budge. My skull felt like it was about to explode. And then I heard the voice:

“Hey, Willie boy.”

That voice.

I placed it instantly. I had not heard it in—Christ, I tried to remember—ten, fifteen years maybe? Since Julie’s death anyway. But there are certain sounds, voices mostly, that get stored in a special section of the cortex, on the survival shelf if you will, and as soon as you hear them, your every fiber tenses, sensing danger.

He let go of my neck—suddenly and completely. I collapsed to the floor, thrashing, gagging, trying to dislodge something imaginary from my throat. He rolled off me and laughed. “You’ve gone soft on me, Willie boy.”

I flipped over and scooted away in a back crawl. My eyes confirmed what my ears had already told me. I could not believe it. He had changed, but there was no mistake.

“John?” I said. “John Asselta?”

He smiled that smile that touched nothing. I felt myself drop back in time. The fear—the fear I hadn’t experienced since adolescence—surfaced. The Ghost—that was what everyone called him, though no one had the courage to say it to his face—had always had that effect on me. I don’t think I was alone in that. He terrified pretty much everyone, though I had always been protected. I was Ken Klein’s little brother. For the Ghost, that was enough.

I have always been a wimp. I have shied away from physical confrontations all my life. Some claim that makes me prudent and mature. But that was not it. The truth is, I am a coward. I am deathly afraid of violence. That might be normal—survival instinct and all—but it still shames me. My brother, who was, strangely enough, the Ghost’s closest friend, had the enviable aggression that separated the wanna-bes from the greats. His tennis, for example, reminded some of a young John McEnroe in that take-on-the-world, pit-bull, won’t-lose, borderline going-too-far competitiveness. Even as a child, he’d battle you to the death—and then stomp on the remains after you fell. I was never like that.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies