by Zeke Jarvis

Raychel looked up. It was Hunter, the boy from a few doors down. He was two years younger than her, which meant that he wasn’t able to drive, like Raychel was, which meant that he seemed like a kid to her. ‘Hey,’ he said again.

Raychel shut off her iPhone’s screen. ‘Hey,’ she said back.

He looked away from her, kind of squinting. The park was kind of bright, but not really squinting bright. ‘So,’ he said. ‘There’s this thing that my dad is making me go to. He probably shouldn’t, because, if he does, then I know that I’m just going to go on a killing spree there. But he’s making me go.’ He looked back at Raychel. She was thinking about going back to her iPhone, but she decided to keep giving him her full attention so he wouldn’t flip out on her while he was talking. ‘He doesn’t know what I’ll do,’ Hunter continued. ‘But you shouldn’t worry. You’d be safe. If you come with me, I mean.’

Raychel nodded. ‘Am I in danger if I don’t go?’

Hunter kind of laughed. ‘You’ll be okay either way. It’s at a country club that I’d be shooting up, if that helps.’

‘You mean because the food will be good or because it would be more fun to watch country club members die?’

Hunter laughed, for real this time. He shook his head in a quick, small way. His bangs moved just a little. ‘We won’t really have that much food before I go on my rampage anyway. But, yeah, the food is pretty good.’

Raychel looked around now. It was a nice day, so the park was crowded. Raychel was glad that there were so many people. It made her feel safer. ‘What night?’ She really didn’t want to go with Hunter. He could be a creeper. But she didn’t want to make him angry, because he could be a creeper.

‘Friday,’ he said. ‘They’re dedicating this thing to some old prick.’

Raychel tried not to look relieved. ‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘but next Friday is my mom’s birthday. My sister’s coming home from college and everything, so they’d be kind of pissed off if I wasn’t there.’

Hunter squinted again. ‘Not as pissed off as my dad will be when I go on that killing spree.’

Raychel gave a half laugh now. ‘Well, if you take him out, then he won’t have to be disappointed for long.’

Hunter smiled. ‘That’s what I’ve been thinking, actually. Isn’t it funny that we both thought that?’

Raychel turned her iPhone’s screen back on. ‘Well, I hope it goes well for you.’

‘It’ll be cool. Well, have fun with your mom’s birthday.’ He started to turn around, then he turned back. ‘Oh, and don’t tell anyone about the killing spree, okay?’

Raychel pretended to zip her lips, then take the zipper off of her lips, then throw it over her shoulder.

‘All right,’ Hunter said. ‘See you around.’

Raychel thought about telling him that she wouldn’t see him if he was in jail, but she decided that her lips were zipped, and they should stay that way.

Raychel didn’t think that Hunter had been serious about the spree, but that Friday night, a lot of the Facebook posts started. Stuff like, ‘WTF at Whistling Acres?’ or ‘Thoughts and Prayers for the people at WA’. There was speculation about who was responsible, and, of course, Raychel’s mom had to stop their meal (Thai Kitchen, her choice) to remind the family that they were all lucky to be safe.

That night, when Raychel was messaging a couple of her friends, there was a knock on her window. She saw Hunter there. His face was a mess, mud and maybe a couple of leaves. But he was smiling. Not crazy smiling like she would have expected, but just like he was proud of himself. Raychel thought about running out of the room and screaming, but she was sure that he’d follow. Her sister was two years into college. Tomorrow night, she’d go out with friends, and some day, she’d probably get married and have kids. Raychel’s parents worked hard. None of them deserved to die. Not that the people at the country club deserved to die, but this was different.

Raychel went to the window. She opened it a little, but not enough for Hunter to come in. ‘What the fuck, Hunter?’ she said.

He smiled a little less, then he shrugged. ‘I told you I was going to.’

Raychel leaned back a little. ‘Seventeen dead. That’s the latest number on the news.’

Hunter nodded. ‘There must be a few still injured but not dead. Or maybe I lost count. Things moved pretty fast.’

Raychel picked at a groove in her window’s ledge. ‘Why did you do it?’

Hunter looked behind him. Raychel wondered if the police were coming to her house, if they knew that Hunter was here. ‘I couldn’t not. That’s the only way that I know how to tell you.’

Raychel looked behind Hunter. She couldn’t see anything in the night. ‘Is your dad dead?’ she asked.

Hunter wiped a little of the mud off of his right cheek, then he scratched. ‘Yeah, he’s dead. Not that anyone would really notice. Look, I want you to come with me. You know, on the road.’

Raychel took a step back. ‘The road? I don’t think that I’m cut out for the road.’

Hunter nodded. Raychel was surprised to see that he wasn’t mad. ‘I get it,’ he said. ‘It’s not for everyone, and I know that I’ll have to kill again if I want to keep moving and stay out of jail.’

Raychel looked behind herself, now. She wondered what would happen if her parents came into her room. ‘How did you figure out which room was mine?’

Hunter stopped scratching his face. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I won’t hurt you, I won’t hurt your family. You’re all safe, but how about this? How about I come back and visit you once a year? If you’re sick of your life, then you come with me?’

Raychel did not want Hunter to come and visit again, but she didn’t really want to tell him “no” either. She didn’t think that he’d actually come back if he was on the run. On the other hand, she hadn’t thought that he’d shoot people, and he’d gone through with that. ‘Good luck,’ she said.

Hunter seemed to get that she hadn’t agreed or disagreed. He looked behind him again, then he leaned through the window, but just his head. ‘Can I get just one kiss?’

Raychel hated the idea, but if it would get him out of her room, she would do it. And she did. It was quick and mostly dry, but Hunter seemed satisfied. He leaned back out of the window. ‘See you in about a year,’ he said.

Raychel waited until Hunter had left before she wiped her lips off. That night, she stared at her ceiling for over an hour before falling asleep, and she was actually thankful that her family was safe, like her mom had said.

It was a little over a year before Hunter came back. There had been rumors of him being around for a few days before she saw him, but Raychel kept telling herself that it was just people thinking about the anniversary of the shooting. Or that she was paying attention to these rumors because she felt guilty about not telling someone about Hunter, even though she thought that he was joking.

The night that he came, Raychel had been on her computer, looking at college web pages and planning out campus visits. The knock on her window startled her, even though it was soft. She didn’t have to look to know it was Hunter, though. She knew. He looked bad. Thin and pale. Raychel opened the window again. ‘It’s dangerous to come back here,’ she said.

Hunter smiled and shrugged. ‘It’s dangerous everywhere, for me.’

‘Have you had to kill anyone?’

Hunter hugged himself, like he was cold, though it wasn’t that cold outside. ‘I’m an American, Raychel. We all kill someone.’ After she didn’t say anything, Hunter said, ‘I’ve killed a few people. Like you mean. But if you added up everyone that I killed in the past year, it would be less than how many I killed in just that one night at the country club.’

Raychel nodded. ‘Is it scary?’

Hunter unhugged his arms, leaned back a bit and stretched. ‘You get used to it pretty quickly, actually. Speaking of, you change your mind?’

Now Raychel hugged herself. ‘I still don’t think that I’m cut out for it.’

Hunter stopped stretching. He nodded and sighed. ‘Give me some gossip then. What’s happened while I was gone?’

Raychel thought about it. ‘Lisa dumped Brody two days before junior prom.’

Hunter laughed, and Raychel felt a little better about talking to him. ‘Did she go with someone else?’

‘Steve Nelson.’

Hunter laughed again, this time covering his mouth. ‘I bet Brody just about shit his pants.’

Raychel looked back at her bedroom door. When she turned back to Hunter, she had just a bit of a smile. ‘Just about. I guess he went to prom for like fifteen minutes, but then he left. Couldn’t take it or something.’

Hunter put his hands in his pockets. ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’

Raychel said, ‘There are no guys in my lovelife,’ which was true.

Hunter nodded. ‘Well, I’d better get going. I don’t want to stay in town longer than I have to.’

Raychel said, ‘I know the feeling.’

Hunter laughed again, though more in a way that Raychel could see it than she could hear it. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘see you in about a year.’

And he left. Raychel was glad that he hadn’t asked for a kiss that time. Hunter visited her the next year and each summer that she came home from college. After her last year of college, he visited her. He looked bad even by his usual standards. He had huge bags under his eyes, and he was very thin. Raychel opened the window. He leaned in. She could smell his breath and his sweat.

‘Congratulations,’ he said.

Raychel laughed a little, mostly just an exhale through her nose. ‘Thanks. It’s no big deal.’

‘You made it further through school than I did,’ Hunter said, and he did jazz hands. Raychel didn’t laugh.

‘How are you doing?’

Hunter blew out of his mouth. It stunk. ‘Not good.’ He’d never said that before. Even when he looked tired or underfed.

‘Sorry to hear it.’ Raychel took a step away from the window, but she didn’t actually invite him in.

‘This is it for me,’ Hunter said.

Raychel felt her body stiffen. ‘What do you mean?’

Hunter looked her in the eye. ‘I won’t visit you again. You’ll be off at some job somewhere, and I know that you can’t send me a message or anything to tell me where you are. And it’s getting harder and harder for me to get a sense of where people have gone.’

Raychel nodded. It was a strange mix of relief and guilt. ‘I hope that things get better for you.’

Hunter looked up at the sky. ‘They won’t. That’s another reason that I’m not going to visit. I’m not going to be around much longer.’

Raychel looked at the floor. The air outside was warm and sticky. ‘I hope that’s not true.’

‘Hope in one hand and crap in the other and see which piles up faster.’

Raychel traced a cross on her floor with her foot. ‘I’ll still hope.’

Hunter said nothing. When Raychel looked up, Hunter finally said, ‘Well, don’t lose sleep over it. Have a good life, instead. That’ll do more good than worrying about me.’

Raychel thought about what that meant. ‘I’ll do my best.’

Hunter smiled. He still looked very tired. ‘That’s all I ask.’

Raychel said, ‘Okay, Mom.’

Now Hunter laughed. They were quiet again, and then Raychel stepped forward. She leaned out the window and gave Hunter a hug. She patted him on the back. Hunter started to cry. Raychel could feel him shaking a little, then she could feel the wetness soaking into her neck. When he was done, he let go, and then Raychel let go and leaned back inside. He wiped his eyes with his left sleeve, and then he wiped his nose with his right sleeve. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I’m going to go.’

‘Take care,’ Raychel said.

‘Yeah,’ Hunter said. Then, ‘You know, there was this guy, a couple of years ago. And he figured out who I was, what I’d done. And he offered me a job as a hitman.’

Raychel didn’t say anything. She could feel herself just starting to sweat.

‘I couldn’t do it,’ he said. ‘I don’t know why.’

‘Maybe you’ve grown out of it,’ Raychel said.

Hunter rubbed at his nose. ‘I don’t know if it’s about growing.’

Raychel felt tired all of the sudden. ‘I don’t know what to say.’

Hunter started to back away. ‘I know. I’m sorry for all of this.’

‘Don’t be.’

‘It’s easy to get caught up in things.’

Raychel put her head out of the window. ‘I’ll miss you.’ She wasn’t sure if that was true or not.

‘Likewise,’ Hunter said, and then he disappeared into the night. Raychel closed the window. She listened carefully. Her parents were talking, she thought. They laughed a little, and then it died down. Raychel got into her bed, she curled up, and she failed to fall asleep, but at least that much felt normal.

Zeke Jarvis is an Associate Professor at Eureka College. His work has appeared in Thrice Fiction, Bitter Oleander, and Moon City Review, among other places. His books include So Anyway…, In a Family Way, and Lifelong Learning.