Everything had been going so well.
Until it wasn’t.
Their family had just moved to a new town. A suburban paradise, with neat cut lawns and privacy fences. The curbs were long and straight, the sidewalks uncracked. Their own home, the new beginning for the Woods family, like a lullaby from the start of an apocalypse movie from the 80’s. It was two stories, the paint new and white, the porch wide and shaded. Every window had new screens, and the roof looked untouched from anything but brand new black shingles.
Liu had stood staring at it for a while. His dad had gotten a promotion recently, his parents deciding that meant they could move to a better place. He hated it, but he was going to make the best of it. This can be home. This can be home! He thought, carrying a medium sized box up to the porch, waddling as he tried to keep it from slipping out of his grip. His mother and father were moving quickly, and he didn’t know where his brother had disappeared to. Probably to sulk somewhere inside. Liu knew that his brother definitely didn’t like the idea of having to move here, this too clean and too nice place that was nothing like the home he had grown up in the past 13 years.
As soon as he got the box inside, he plopped it down with an exhaled breath, he straightened to swipe the sweat off his brow. Why did they have to move while summer was still beating them down? It was September, still, but that didn’t mean the heavy weight of summer had left.
His attention was taken in by someone approaching their porch. Dad had just brought in a box much bigger than Liu’s, and Jeff had finally shown up. The woman walked up, a beaming smile on her face. A younger boy was with her, younger than Jeff and Liu.
“Hello,” She greeted, overly cheery. “I’m Barbara. I live across the street from you. Well, I just wanted to introduce me and my son.” She patted her son’s shoulders. He looked like he wanted to be everywhere but here. “Billy, these are our new neighbors. Say hi.”
The boy quietly said as he was told, then slipping away from his mother to return to his own yard across the street.
Their mother stopped, smiling back at Barbara just as cheerily as she did them. “I’m Margaret,” She said, a dainty gesture to their father. “This is my husband, Peter. Those two are my sons, Jeff and Liu.”
The two offered half waves, Jeff a lot more reluctant about it than Liu. Here was his chance to make this place his home! If he can get along with the people here, then maybe high school won’t be so hard.
“I was just wondering if your two sons would like to go to Billy’s birthday party. It’s going to be next weekend, and I want you guys to feel welcome.” Barbara spoke up, looking at Jeff and Liu with bright, kind light. Liu didn’t like the idea. He was too old for birthday parties, but why couldn’t he go to one to get his brother to open up? All Jeff had done was act pissy about the whole trip. Maybe something childish was what they needed. He could see his brother about to object, and his hand shot out to hit his shoulder to stop him from speaking. He was awarded with a glare, his mother speaking before Jeff could get a word in.
“Of course! I’m sure they’d love it. Thank you, Barbara!” She answered, still so cheery. Barbara left after that, and they finished bringing in everything from the U-Haul. The door was closed, and he could finally relax for a moment, still wiping sweat from his face and a few other areas.
Jeff hadn’t spoken to anyone at all today, all gloom and doom. It was now, however, that he chose to talk.
“Mom, why’d you invite us to some kids party?” He asked, his voice angry. “If you haven’t noticed, I’m not some dumb kid.”
Liu wanted to laugh. He was only three years older than his brother, but he could understand what was funny about him saying he wasn’t a dumb kid. Every kid was dumb when they were under fifteen. He didn’t speak, keeping his expression neutral.
“Jeff,” His mother began, exasperated. “We just moved here. We should show that we want to spend time with our neighbors.” She said, in the same tone as one would scold a child. “You and your brother are going to that party. That’s final. Don’t complain about it.”
Liu knew that tone. It really was a voice that meant nothing either of them said would change her mind. He watched as his brother stormed upstairs without another word. His mother turned to look at him, giving him a harsh look.
“Are you going to try to ask to get out of the party, too?” She asked, her tone still scolding.
He quickly shook his head. “Nope. I’ll go, no fight.” He said, a quick surrender.
She let out a short breath through her nose, kind of like a bull in the cartoons. Then, her eyes landed on a box of stuff, still unpacked – his brothers name scrawled over the side. “Jeffrey!” She yelled.
It was going to be a long week.
The next day, they begun school. Throughout breakfast, everyone was quiet, though their father mumbled quietly to himself over something on the news. It was a quick affair.
Liu and his brother walked to the bus stop at the end of the street. Their parents had taken them on a drive yesterday, so they would at least see how their school looked beforehand, though they didn’t get the chance to check out the inside. The two sat beside each other, quiet. It was always quiet, ever since they got here. The only time he’s even heard Jeff speak was to ask why they had to go to the party.
It took him a moment too long to notice the sound of approaching wheels – small, plastic wheels, ones of skates. By the time he realized, the very thing he identified was going over his brother and his laps, landing with a harsh sound on the other side. He looked up quickly, his brother jumping up beside him. He seemed tense.
“Hey, what the hell?” Jeff said, his tone hateful.
“Hey, don’t cur-” Liu tried to whisper angrily, only to be cut off by one of the skateboarders as he kicked up his board.
“Well, well, well. Looks like we got new meat, fellas.” One of them said. He had an Aeropostale shirt and ripped jeans on. Two others stopped by his side, sneering at Liu and Jeff. “Well, since you’re new, let me introduce ourselves. Over there is Keith.” He pointed at the rail-thin kid, a dopey look on his face. Or maybe it was his face. Next, the boy pointed to a heavier set boy. “And he’s Troy.” He also had a dumb look on his face, but Liu wasn’t about to admit that aloud. His mom wanted him to make friends, not fights. “I’m Randy.” The leader of the little clique said, a dominating gesture towards himself. He was so little. Why was he acting like such a bigshot? Jeff was really tense beside him, and he didn’t know what to do to calm him. It’s just a bunch of rich kids who wanna act like delinquents. Maybe that’s something he can tell him once they’re away from the boys. Only they never got the chance. Randy had begun speaking again, high and mighty. “Now, in this neighborhood, there’s a bus fare, if you catch my drift.” He had a high pitched, girlish voice. Liu couldn’t believe this guy was asking for their money. Really? Who did he think he was, the president of the states? He was standing, his hands clenching into fists to teach the kid a little something about respecting those older than you, only to freeze once Troy and Keith pulled knives out. What the hell were kids doing with knives? This was a bigger problem other than rich little boys with a god complex. Randy just tsked. “I had hoped you’d be more cooperative, but it looks like we gotta do this the hard way.” By now, Liu had a rude thought that this kid probably talked to hear his own voice. It might be the only time he hears a girl voice so close to him. Randy, knife now in hand, walked over to the frozen Liu and plucked the wallet from his back pocket.
Jeff looked furious. He was moving, and Liu’s arm reached forward to grab his shoulder, but he only shook his hand off. He didn’t look at him, but the pure violence radiating off him was palpable. If Liu was facing Jeff, he would’ve been able to see his demented green eyes. Instead, he was stuck watching him from behind, staring at the other brunet with worry creased in his brow, waiting to see how he was going to resolve it.
“Listen here, you little punk. Give me back my brother’s wallet and there won’t be trouble.” He said, his tone low. Randy merely put the wallet in his pocket, gesturing widely with his own knife, smug.
“Oh? And what are you gonna do?” Randy drawled, that sneer only growing. God, he wanted to wipe the look from his face.
He got what he wanted right after that thought. Right as that thought passed his mind, Jeff had punched the kid in the face, right across his nose. Oh, that’s gotta hurt. Liu flinched back. He heard something crack with that hit. Randy screamed, and the other two boys were frozen in shock as Jeff snatched the blade from him, too quick. Since when was Jeff so quick? He remembers throwing blocks at his head not even a year ago and he was so slow it took him a minute to react.
Keith and Troy rushed towards Jeff, but even then, he was inhumanely quick. He ducked under Keith’s lashing movements, stabbing right into his thin arm. He was screaming, and Liu’s hearing dulled. He wanted to be sick. The kid was bleeding. Just was Liu stepped forward to stop him, Troy was going for him. Jeff didn’t even bother stabbing him. He just flat out punched him in the gut. He must’ve hit him pretty hard, because he curled over and threw up. Liu knew his face was written with shock. The scent of metal hit him.
“Jeff, how’d yo-” He started, only to be interrupted by the sound of a school bus turning the corner. Their corner. Liu and Jeff shared a look, right before they both started running.
This could only end badly.
They both went through their first day of school filled with anxiety. Every odd look they got from anyone else was an accusing glare. Every time they had to be called up front to introduce themselves was an invitation to be arrested. It wasn’t a very good start to the day. Their anxiety only increased when they got home to police cars outside. They had made sure to not take the bus, both walking home together. Did those three tell them? Liu could tell Jeff was anxious. Scared? He’s just a kid. He doesn’t deserve to be charged for assault.
They stepped up to the porch, moving as if weights we at their wrists. It was Liu that opened the door, walking inside to their living room. His mother was sitting in an armchair, stiff, and two policemen sat on the couch. Her head turned, those familiar green eyes locking on her children.
“Jeff. These officers tell me three boys were attacked this morning. They were stabbed.” She said, her tone as stiff as she was. When Jeff didn’t answer, she seemed to s**k back a sob, turning to look away. One of the policemen were up to talking next.
“Son, this is a serious offense. We can’t let you off with just a warning. Their parents are going to sue your family if we don’t do anything.” He said, solemn. He was a pudgy, red face man, his beard drained of color.
Jeff skidded back a step, right onto Liu’s foot. It took a bit to keep that from showing on his face. “But they pulled the knives on us first! It was self defense!”
He couldn’t stand back and let this happen. Looking between the officer and his brother, he’s pushing past Jeff. “I did it. It wasn’t self defense. They hadn’t initiated the attack. I did.” He said, tone cold. His expression had changed in an instant. The officers looked at each other, reluctant, but they seemed like they didn’t want to arrest a 13 year old boy. One stepped forward, unlatching cuffs.
“Assault with a knife is a year behind bars. Since you’re a minor, you’ll only go to juvie, but it still ain’t gonna be very nice, son.” The ruddy male said, patting a hand on Liu’s shoulder. He hardly budged. A moment later, he was being handcuffed, arms pulled behind him. A jerked motion, pulling him to the door, when Jeff stepped forward, as if to reach for Liu, but hesitating. He never did really reach for him. His eyes were watering.
“Liu. Don’t do this.” He whispered, a soft voice.
“Sorry, broski.” Liu answered, just as soft. “I gotta own up to what I did.”
That was one of his first mistakes.
Being at juvie might as well been hell. The food wasn’t the best, the beds were hard and springs poked through, and the clothes they had to wear were stiff. Itchy. Liu had been stuck in a boys section the last few days, eating beside violence, sleeping in the same room as malevolent teens. Though he hated it, he kept up the pretense. There wasn’t much the court could do for him, since he admitted to it, and the victims seemed to have memory issues of that day. His story fit so well, since it was his wallet that was stolen, not Jeff’s. He’s the older boy. The stronger. He’s lucky, they tell him, that he’s so young or he’d be spending his time in someplace much worse than juvie. He supposed the detention center wasn’t too bad. Most of the other boys here stuck to everyone like glue. Their reasoning? They’ve all done something bad enough to get them here. Might as well see if they can be befriended, since they guess they’ll be seeing them again when they’re adults and get stuck in prison together.
He remembered when he first had been introduced. He had to wear the horrible orange jumpsuits, and his hair had been a wreck. If his mother could see him now, beautiful brown hair mussed in knots, emerald eyes defeated. But no, he wasn’t defeated. Jeff was too young for here. He didn’t deserve to be locked up with these thugs, who looked at him with apprehension, a look like what could this guy have done to get here? This twig?
“Explain who you are and what you did to get here. No secrets kept here, especially if you’ll be stuck here a year.” Said a guard, patting his shoulder slightly too hard as he stood before the small group of orange-clad boys.
His gaze snapped with annoyance, glaring at the guard before he turned to look at the group. Head held high. No regrets. “I’m Liu Woods. I’m here for the hospitalization of three younger boys.” Hardly a look from anyone else. They’ve probably done worse. He felt a prod against his back. The guard.
“And what’d you do to them?” He asked, voice rough, scolding. Tch.
“I stabbed two. Punched the other. Ran. Happy?” Liu asked, his tone drawling on with sarcasm as he looked back at the guard. Looks like he was satisfied, as he wrote something off his board, waving him off.
Guess he’s glad for that. The other boys treated him like an old friend. He treated them the same back. He supposed it wasn’t complete hell. The only hell he went through was wondering how Jeff was faring. It had hardly been a week, but it ate at him. Witnesses, he’d been told, were still coming forward. A few families that watched the ordeal telling them that Randy was the one to have pulled the knife first.
He ended up being released early, the witnesses reports coming out sound. Something had happened at Billy’s birthday party, and Liu wasn’t there to help. God, he knew he was right to be wrecked with anxiety. Jeff was laying in a hospital bed, bandages covering his head, his arms, every inch of skin on him. It had taken weeks before the doctors felt secure enough to remove the bandages.
He was stuck stock still, watching as they clipped the bandages away carefully, his brother still as stone. The moment the rest fell away, the doctor grabbing them to throw them away, he could tell something went wrong. His mother screamed. His father gasped. Liu made no noise, staring at his brother. His skin had been flushed extremely pale, the insides of his lips bleedingly red. His eyes were shadowed, monstrous orbs. His hair looked as if he’d shaven his scalp and replaced it with raven feathers, it hung heavy and dark around his face.
“What? What’s wrong?” Jeff asked, moving from the bed. He was unstable on his feet, having been bedridden the last few weeks.
“Jeff, it’s not that bad-” Liu tried saying as his brother scrambled to the hospitals bathroom to stare into the mirror over the sink, wide eyed.
“Not that bad?” He repeated in a smaller, childish voice. He turned to face his family and doctor. “It’s perfect!”
Everyone’s faces but the doctor was sprayed with surprise. His mother looked to him, gesturing lightly at her paler son. “Is.. is he okay? In the head?” She asked, her voice quiet. Liu was stuck staring at his brother. Life’s going to be so hard on him.
The doctor nodded, speaking up. “This is typical of patients who have been on a lot of painkillers for a while. Let me tell you, the kind of thing he went through took a lot of painkillers to temper.” He explained, looking at the two shocked parents. His head shook gently. “If it doesn’t wear off in a few weeks, bring him back and we’ll give him a psychological test.”
She seemed relieved, thanking him quietly, then turning back to Jeff, her grip gentle as she turned him from the mirror. “Jeff, honey, we’re going to go home. You’re released today.” She said, her voice soft. She led him away, presumably to get his clothes before they left. It left Liu and his dad to talk to the doctor.
“Is there anything we should know? Will he have any problems moving or adjusting?” His dad asked, concern wrinkling his sun beaten brow.
“Nothing I’m aware of. We’ve never really had an incident like this. Your best chance is just to wait, and come back should anything happen. The front desk should give you his prescription. Your nearest medical center will give you his antibiotics. He’ll need to take them twice daily, to make sure he doesn’t get any worse.” The doctor said, tone formal, but light. Like telling a story to children. It annoyed Liu to no ends. His dad just nodded along, thanking the doctor before he and Liu left to find his mother and brother. Jeff had gotten dressed in odd clothes. A white hoodie and dark dress pants. Was that what he was wearing when he came here? Oh, Jeff, that’s an awful choice of clothes.
He missed so much in the short span of a week in juvie, didn’t he?
The night was tense. Everyone had gone to bed early, or at least attempted to.
A noise woke up Liu. He lay awake for a few minutes, listening closely. Raccoons? Probably. He relaxed back to his bed, verging on the edge of sleep once more, only to be woken by a noise in his room. He jumped, just to be shoved back down by a small hand against his mouth. His wide, green eyes were stuck staring up at his brother, his eyes ringed in black, a horrible, bloody smile recently carved into his face. Fear latched onto him, none unlike he’s ever felt before.
“Shh,” He whispered, hand raised. That was when he noticed the blade in his hand, already stained red. That same fear, increased, laced further through him like the knife Jeff held high. “Go to sleep.” He said, a finality. Then the knife plunged down.
Pain hit him like a trainwreck, and he began fighting, his hands grabbing onto his younger brothers arms, trying to wrench him off. Since when was he this strong? His grip slipped, looking at his brother. Why was he doing this? That only gave him the chance to slash upwards, the blade tearing across his face, and he’s scrambling back, hands reaching for anything he could use, anything. Anything. Nothing. Nothing but bedsheets and pillows.
Jeff lunged for him, and he ducked to the side, though he wasn’t quick enough to miss the blade that slashed across the side of his throat. It took him a moment to notice he was screaming. When did he start? His collar was warm, sticking. He was bleeding more than he thought, his face and torso burning with the wounds he already had. Oh god, his neck. He didn’t get an artery, did he? Liu slapped a hand to his neck just as his brother was back to attempting to stab him, the knife swinging low. Liu fell off the bloodstained bed scrambling too far, his skull cracking against the ground with a loud yelp. Something grabbed his leg. Jeff. His leg jerked, aiming to kick him in the throat as he scrambled to stand. He missed. What didn’t miss was the knife in his calf. His throat was burning — had he really been screaming this entire time? It was like a nightmare. Except he never felt such agony in his dreams, no matter how bad it got. His voice cut off, a rusted metal taste on his tongue, on his teeth. He was going to die. His brother was going to kill him.
That was his last thought, anyway. He ended up fainting. Whether it was from blood loss or the complete utter fear he held at dying, he didn’t know which.
He woke up to white. Sterile white. His head turned, regretting the movement immediately when pain laced through his neck.
“Don’t move. It’s going to hurt for a while.” A feminine voice said, beside him. The edge of his vision, he could see her. Her vivid red hair, eyes green as his.
He opened his mouth to speak, just for that to hurt too. His face hurt. His neck hurt. He didn’t dare move another inch for the pain that’d lace through him.
“Don’t try talking yet, honey. You have some stitches in a little bit of everywhere.” She spoke up again, still soft and gentle. “I’d ask you if you remember anything, but I don’t want you to move. So I’ll tell you what information we have so far — and when you’re better, we can add whatever happened to you, okay?”
He watched her from the edge of his sight. That edge of nervousness still ran in him. Like any moment could end. He heard her take a short breath before beginning to talk again.
“There were two bodies in one of the rooms. Your mom and dad. I’m so sorry. The neighbors called the police when they heard screaming, but it looks like they got there too late to save them.” Mom and Dad were dead? He wanted to cry. Yet he couldn’t eyes dry, fear ridden. “They were lucky to have gotten to you in time, though. You have several lacerations and stab wounds. We think — the police, uhm..” She had gone quiet, her head turning. He couldn’t spot her green eyes anymore. “We think he tried to carve a smile on your face before he was going to kill you. The doctors stitched you up really well while you were unconscious, but there’s going to still be bad scarring.”
He didn’t mind the scarring. What worried him was his brother. The sight of him, everything he did, ate at his mind like disease. Why? Why did he attack him? What happened? Something dark edges along those thoughts, a complete and different person whispering hateful curses and threats.
He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder, red hair above him. “Police are looking for your brother. He went missing. I only have one question to ask you so we know what to do with him when we find him.” She said, still so soft, as if he was going to shatter.
Did Jeff do this? No. It wasn’t him he saw. It couldn’t have been. “No.” He whispered, a fragile, light tone.
She took that as a genuine answer, it seemed, leaving afterwards. Even her footsteps seemed to be made to keep him from shattering.
The shadow eating at his worries was back.
Soon enough, he was able to sit up. Then stand. He was back to talking, though his voice was still careful, light. He could walk. He had physical therapy every day to help with his leg and chest. It took a few weeks before they even dared to remove the stitching. Looking at himself in the mirror, he could only stare. He looked like a war victim. Wretched scars arched over his neck, his face, a corpse-like appearance to the dead, purple smile he had permanently edged into his features. It should be despairing. He couldn’t make himself really care about the scarring.
“…It’s horrible..” He heard faintly, outside the bathroom. His hospital room? There must be nurses in there cleaning up while he was in the bathroom. He listened closely, moving to press his ear against the doorway.
“What happened to him shouldn’t have happened.” One voice was saying. Feminine. The redhead.
“It can’t be helped. What he was living with…” Another answered, masculine. A male nurse.
He heard a scoffing sound, close to a snort. “There’s no doubt that his brother did this. I don’t know why he lied for him. Maybe he didn’t recognize him. He’s so ugly now, he’s like a monster..”
He had stopped listening. Monster. That’s what they thought his brother was. No. No, he wasn’t a monster. No. That wasn’t Jeff. Anger laced through him. He’s never felt this anger. No, it was lacing through him. Lacing would be mingling with him. This was… pushing. It was pushing at his mind, and he heard someone talk, so much closer, though when he spun around, he found no one.
“Do it.” It said, loud and clear in his head. His eyes caught no one in the bathroom with him, save for his reflection on the mirror. Something seemed wrong with the mirror. His image was distorting. The scars growing longer, his smile growing larger. “Do it. Kill them.” It repeated — no, his reflection repeated. Horror repulsed him, his hands scrambling for the doorknob. Only it wasn’t him scrambling. He looked at his hands, but he didn’t control them. He opened the door, he looked at the redhead nurse still cleaning up, back to him. But it wasn’t him. He quietly padded to pick up her pencil, but it wasn’t him. The small thing in his hand, gripped tight, he approached her as she fluffed a pillow humming softly. She seemed unaware of him, as unaware as he was of himself. He could feel himself slipping. His fingers grasping to take control of himself, but he could feel that dark voice against his mind, urging him forward, arm raised. Just as his arm dropped, the woman turned, and the pointed end plunged directly into her throat. A whistling sound, followed by the surprised look on her face. Her fingers grasped at the pencil stuck firmly in her throat, her body falling back as the wheezing sound grew. Liu felt horror. He wanted to scream, but he couldn’t. That presence, heavy on his head, was controlling him, moving him forward to her struggling body, his hand grasping the blood slicked pencil, shoving it further into her throat. She convulsed, and he removed the pencil with a yank. It dropped from his hand, clattering on the floor. What did he do? What did he do? What did he do? His vision was blurring, the dark presence gone from his mind gone. He was left alone to stare at the woman he had killed. He had stopped moving, though her blood still streamed from the wound. Such a small wound, but the longer he stared, the more he noticed how deliberate it was. He never really paid attention in anatomy, but it looks like he punctured straight through an artery. His feet skidded back, only stopped by the hospital bed. Blood was staining her front. Horror was what made him move, scrambling to leave the room. He ran.
And he didn’t stop.
He was further home than he thought. He didn’t end up on his porch until well past dark. The house was locked, so he had to break the lock to get inside. He didn’t want to keep wearing hospital clothes. Looks like the place was still being investigated, markers and tape everywhere, everything untouched. It made him feel sick to come home to this. He knew his parents weren’t home, he knew his brother wasn’t upstairs. He took a shaky breath, moving past the living room, upstairs. To his room. He didn’t dare look at his bed, still stained with blood. When will they clean everything up? He didn’t know. He was there to grab new clothes, a jacket — shoes. He was planning on just grabbing some clothes and leaving, but he hesitated by his brothers empty room. Peeking in, this room was marked more than any other. They must really suspect him of the murder of his parents. It made him angry. He stepped into the room, tearing down the markers with wild, frantic movements, no longer paying attention to the pain lacing with the sudden movements.
He stopped when something soft fell to the ground, his eyes catching on it. Jeff’s scarf. It was old, from when they were kids. Striped green and brown, blue mixed in. Careful, as if it were a fragile animal, he picked it up, staring at it for a long moment. Then he wrapped it around his neck, straightening. He knew what he was going to do, now. He moved from the room, downstairs, to the garage, where he grabbed a tank of gasoline, walking throughout the house — upstairs, downstairs, the garage. All of it, spilling a line of gas all over the floor, the evidence, the markers and blood.
Finally, he stood before the house, the dribbling line coming to a stop, tank now empty, finished on the front lawn. He had made sure to grab his dads lighter before coming outside. Liu Woods stood outside his house as he lit the lighter with a flick of his thumb, kneeling beside the damp concrete, watching as the flame burst up, burning his hand when he didn’t pull away quickly enough, nearly singing the tips of his hair as he fell back, watching the explosion of flame shoot forward to the house, filling it up with light and life, as if he were watching a party happen inside, dancing light and shadows filling the windows and lighting up the lawn with dim orange light. He had dropped the lighter, clutching the scarf that still smelled like home. Like damp stone and flora. It was a scent his mother always seemed to carry with her. He’ll make sure to keep it with him.
He straightened, brushing himself off, turning his back on the place he called home as he walked away.
He was going to find his brother.