Short story #6
Here’s a story inspired by college frat hazings. When I started writing I only conceived the opening line “oh my God you killed him” and I didn’t know where I was going from there. I won’t be surprised if it comes off as boring or draggy at some parts because of this. I contemplated on cutting them out, but I got too attached to them.
Rereading the story sentences I thought sounded nice at first sounded ugly and cheap the second time I read them. I tried my best to fix them. The ending didn’t have as strong an impact as I wanted. I’ll let you decide about that though.
“Oh my God,” Laurence said. “You killed him.”
A murmur grew among the other men who sat in a circle backs facing center blindfolded and hands tied. The other members of the frat stood silent around the body, members at the back peering over the shoulders of those in front to validate if it was indeed true. The body lay sprawled like a forgotten doll dropped in the middle of some child’s precocious and devilish imaginings of a human bedlam. Purple welts covered the legs and the arms.
“Reed,” Laurence said. “You killed him.”
Reed stood over the body still holding the paddle and his chest heaved up and down because of the energy he had exerted, for he really gave it to him. He was looking at Laurence with eyes opened wide but he said nothing.
“He’s not moving anymore,” said Laurence. He bent down and put his fingers on the neck. “He’s not breathing either. What have you done, Reed.”
“Take him to the hospital, Christ’s sake,” said one of the senior frat men.
“No use now,” said another.
The initiates started to move around uneasily in their circle and among incomprehensible gibbering one asked what was going on while some were trying to rid themselves of the rope tying their hands. Others started to sob and groan as if witnessing some horrible scene in another reality perceived only through the blindfold. It was a sorry sight.
“Stay still,” one of the frat men shouted. “Nobody move.”
“Let them go,” said Laurence. All of the frat men and Reed turned their faces to him. “This is enough.” Reed dropped the paddle on the floor.
“We can’t let them go,” said the senior. “They’re gonna rat on us.”
“What do we goddamn do?” asked Laurence. “Kill the rest of them as well?” At this one of the initiates pleaded mercy and the ones who were sobbing sobbed louder yet.
Laurence turned to the circle of initiates. “Listen,” he said. “No one talks about what just happened. If a word comes out every single one of you is going to get it. Do you hear? I’ll make sure of it.” All the initiates said they understood.
“Have some sense now,” said the senior. “Think it over for a minute. One of them is gonna spill it and get all the others protected and then it will be the end of us. Easy as that.” Some of the other frat men behind him signaled their agreement with this.
“Let them go,” said Reed. He spoke from his silence in a boom of a voice and it stopped all the talking in the room. “Untie them.”
“This is your fault, Reed,” said one of the other frat men. He had his finger pointed toward Reed as if pointing some sort of pistol and he wasn’t afraid to use it. “Don’t you forget it. We are going to get into trouble because of you. Don’t you forget it.”
“Untie them, I said,” said Reed. “Now.” The frat men went and did so. The initiates stood up and all of them looked at the corpse on the floor. Some stared and others couldn’t handle it.
“Remember the deal,” said Laurence. They made the initiates leave the apartment where they were holding the initiation rites.
“What do we do now?” one of the frat men said.
“The same holds true for all of you as it did the initiates,” said Laurence. “Not one word will be spoken about this outside of here. All of you made an oath to protect the members of the fraternity when you entered. Now is the moment to uphold it.”
“And if we get caught, what?” asked the senior. “If the evidence leads to us, what?”
“Then you say nothing.”
“Yes. Not a word.” Laurence turned to face all of the frat men. “Is this clear?” No one answered at first and then Laurence asked it again louder and all of them said it was clear.
“What do we do with the body?” the senior asked.
“Can’t we burn it?” one asked.
“That will call too much attention,” the senior replied. “Besides, it won’t be easy as you think it.”
“Bury it then?”
“In my yard,” Reed said. “We have a shovel at home and my parents won’t be around tonight. I’ll take the responsibility.”
The senior shrugged. “That will do for now, I suppose,” the senior said.
They put the body in a rice sack and into one of the frat men’s trunk and then they buried it that same night in Reed’s backyard.
No one talked about the missing person until a week after and that was when the post of his image became viral online. It showed on every feed and everyone shared it and everyone knew about it and his name was everywhere. Philip Kung.
Reed was watching the evening news with his parents and then it came out. It was a video of an interview with the family of the missing. The father was thin and tanned and dried like a raisin and he spoke in a weak voice because of either his old age or the tears on his throat. The mother sobbed during the whole clip and did not say a word. The missing had two younger sisters and the younger one was silent and the older one begged her brother to please come home because they missed him.
“Poor folks,” said Reed’s father.
Reed’s mother teared up and she wiped her eyes with a handkerchief. “I hope he shows up soon,” she said.
“Kapanamakan State?” said Reed’s father. “He’s in the same university as you, Reed.”
“You ever know him?”
“Huh. Poor chap. Probably has no idea how much his family is suffering right now. If he did he’d come back right away.”
“Maybe something happened to him?” his mom said. “Oh, poor boy. There are so many evil people around here nowadays. It’s never safe to go out anymore.”
Reed kept his face on the television.
“You always try to keep safe, alright, Reed?” his mom said. He didn’t answer. She put her hand on his arm and then he jerked.
“You alright?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m fine.”
Both his parents were looking at him. “I have to do homework now,” he said.
“It’s a Sunday night, Reed,” his dad said.
“I have some left over. Almost forgot.” He went and locked himself in his room.
The next day Reed was in the fraternity headquarters at the university. When he entered the frat men stopped talking and there was a silence as everyone looked at him. Laurence took him aside and they talked in a corner of the room.
“Any developments?” asked Reed.
“None,” Laurence replied. “That I know of.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“We just wait for it to die down.”
“But how long?”
“Just wait for everyone to forget about it. A couple of months perhaps?”
“You see the news?”
Reed brought his hands up to cover his face.
“Listen,” Laurence said. “Here, take a seat. It’s alright. No one’s gonna give you away, got it? We’ll protect you. We’re a fraternity. It’s what we swore to do.”
“He had two younger sisters.”
“I didn’t mean for him to die.”
“I know it.”
“It was just a rite. Only to test the will of those who want to be part of the frat. Right?”
“Goddamn it all.”
Laurence patted Reed’s back. “Hey listen, there’s nothing else to do now is there? You just keep dwelling on the past and it gets worse. All we gotta do now is focus on something else. The body is buried now and no one’s gonna find it.”
“Think I’ll get the death sentence?” Reed asked. “If they catch me, I mean.”
“Reed. They won’t.”
“But if they do.”
Laurence sighed. “Probably not, I think. The worst is a life sentence but I doubt it. You didn’t mean it.”
“And you’re barely an adult yet.”
“There you go.”
“That’s legal age.”
“But they won’t catch you.”
“Will you rat me out?” Reed was looking at his hands on the table.
“Me? I already told you.”
“But if you get interrogated. If they threaten you. If they blackmail. Will you rat me out?”
Laurence swallowed. “We’re a brotherhood, Reed.”
“Why do we hurt each other then?”
Laurence didn’t answer.
“A fraternal tradition?” Reed said. “A brotherhood. Some brotherhood.”
Days later Reed went to the elementary school close to their university and he waited outside and watched the little kids in the playground. He looked at his watch and walked away from the school and then, stopping, walked back. He stood chewing on his fingernails. At last, she was there. She stood outside the gate, waiting.
“Hey,” he said to her.
“Hi,” she said.
“How’s it going.”
“My parents told me”
“Not to talk to strangers, I know it. Listen, I’m not a stranger. I’m a friend of your brother’s.”
Her eyes widened at him. “Really?”
“Yeah. Really. Saw you talking on the news video the other day.”
She turned red at the ears. “What’s your name?”
He hesitated. “Reed.”
“Oh. Never heard my brother talking about you. I’m Sam.”
“Nice to meet you Sam.”
“Why did you want to talk to me?”
“Nothing. Just wanted to ask if there’s anything new about your brother.”
“So far, nothing.”
“I mean, did your parents have any clues about where your brother might be?”
“None.” She started sniffling.
“I miss him.”
“I know you do. I miss him too. Listen, I’m sure your brother is alright, okay? He probably doesn’t want you worrying so much about him, wherever he is.”
She started to cry. He looked in his pockets for something he could offer her but he didn’t have anything. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and clear snot was dripped from her nostrils to her lips and she sniffled.
“Some of my friends told me he — ” She broke into a sob again and hiccupped. “That he might be dead.” Reed didn’t say anything. He was at the point of patting her on the shoulder but he drew his hand away.
“God will take care of him, right?” she asked.
“God can’t have punished him. He didn’t do anything bad. He’s good.”
“Excuse me,” a voice said. Reed stood up from his squat and turned around to see who had spoken. It was the father. “Do I know you?” he asked, frowning at Reed.
“I, uh,” Reed said.
“It’s Philip’s friend,” Sam said. “He was just asking me if we’ve found out anything new.”
“Oh,” the father said. The tension on his face relaxed and he held out his hand to Reed and both of them shook hands and introduced themselves to one another. His face turned into a frown again when he turned to Sam.
“What did your mom and I tell you about waiting here outside?” he asked her. She kept silent and looked down.
“What did we tell you?”
“It’s not safe.”
“There. So you know it.” Sam’s bottom lipped quivered and she started to blink rapidly. The dad saw that she had been crying. He sighed and then he squatted down to her level. “Hey, I’m sorry. But you already know what happened to your brother. It’s just that your mother and I can’t lose another one of you, alright?” He hugged her. Reed rushed to wipe with the sleeve of his shirt his eye but no tears had come.
The father stood up and turned to Reed. “Sorry about that,” he said. “So much has been happening to us lately and we’re all a little nervous.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Reed said. “I understand.”
“Say, you wouldn’t know anything about Philip would you? Any inkling of where he might have gone before he disappeared.”
“Afraid I don’t,” was Reed’s reply. It extinguished the father’s hopeful face. His hand fumbled around on his side until he found his daughter’s hand. He squeezed it tight as if to remind himself that she at least was still there. It didn’t escape Reed’s notice. “I’m sorry,” he added.
“Well,” the father said. He sniffled. “Let us know if anything turns up, okay?”
“Say. You’re welcome to drop by our place anytime you like, huh. For coffee or a dinner. Sure gets lonely being the only man around the house nowadays.” He smiled at his own joke but it only made his face look sadder. “And I’m sure the company will help them have something else to think about.”
“You take care, alright?”
“I will. You too.”
That night in his room he looked at his window and he saw that there was in the upper part a place from which he could hang a belt such that his legs would not reach the floor. He stood there with his belt in his hands and then he put it back around his waist. He sat down at his desk and tried to cry but even that he couldn’t do.
He went out to his yard and stood looking down at the patch. The grass had grown back and you wouldn’t have noticed anything if you didn’t know about it. He turned around and he saw that his parents had gone out and the house was empty. He turned back to the patch.
“Hey,” he whispered. “I’m sorry. If you can hear me. Even if you can’t. I’m sorry.”
More than two months went by, the days passed and the hype in the news and the memory of the dead man himself all sucked into and left buried indistinguishably in that forgotten limbo of the past that subsumes the present. Reed had grown thin and the bags under his eyes looked like the shadows that reflected the growing darkness within as if just as the eyes were the portal to the soul then their state must be the reflection or overflow even of the interior.
On that particular day he took his phone and then he called up the number that had shown up all over the public announcements of the missing. “Hello? Kung residence? Hey Mr. Kung. It’s me, Reed. I was just wondering if that invitation for dinner there is still open. Yeah. Well how’s Friday night? Okay. See you then.”
The evening of Friday he entered the house and when he looked around he saw that it was small and bare. “Hope you weren’t expecting much,” the father told Reed. He had noticed him looking around. “We’re a humble family, but we get by.”
“No, it’s a nice house,” Reed said, and it was. Though small, it was dignified and well-maintained and clean, and it emitted a subtle warmth.
He entered the house and he met the mother. Her face was red and puffy around her eyes as if all this time she had been crying and rubbing them yet. “Good evening, Mrs. Kung,” he said to her.
“You must be Reed. Nice to meet you.”
The dinner on the table was spaghetti and a roasted chicken. They looked delicious. The girls were silent and stiff, as if this kind of formality was not usual for them. Sam smiled at Phil but her older sister only looked down at the food and avoided the visitor’s gaze.
“So how did you know Phil?” asked the father.
“We’re classmates in some courses at the university.”
“Yeah. He was a good guy.”
“He is a good guy.”
“Yeah. Sorry. He is a good guy. He always thinks about the others, always helping those in need, and he works very hard. The kind of guy who knows what he wants.”
At this the mother took her table napkin and wiped her eyes with it.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Kung.”
“No, no. Please continue. It’s good for us to keep talking about him and keep the hope alive at least.”
“Well, there was this one time. I was absent for a class that exact day everyone divided into groups for a project. I, well I was left without a group. And then I, I mean, the next day Philip said that he was willing to drop out of his group to join me. And so. Just a good guy.”
“Yeah, that’s our Philip,” said the father.
At this the mother started to sob without control and she let escape a soft groan.
“Honey?” asked the father, backing up on his chair. “Are you alright? Do you want to be excused?”
The two sisters watched her attentively but without words, as if already used to this.
“I’m alright,” she said, and she wiped her face with the napkin and her eyes were red. “Please excuse me Philip.”
“It’s nothing, Mrs. Kung.”
“It’s a mother’s thing, you see. You spend all that time nurturing a child inside of you and nurturing him outside of you even and he growing to be the very imitation of you so that he becomes you. And then you losing him you lose not just a part of yourself.”
“He’s not dead, sweetie,” the father said.
“Let’s stop pretending for once,” she said. “Honey, he’s not the type who would run away. Why would he? Just the last time I saw him he offered to do the groceries for me. And stay away for two months at that? Without a single message?”
“Who are we kidding?” She broke into a sob again. “He’s gone.”
The father’s lips quivered into a grimace as well. “Don’t say that. Please. Not in front of the kids.” The rest of the dinner nobody spoke nor ate much.
When dinner had finished the father accompanied Reed out of the house. He stayed looking up at the evening sky and Reed turned to look as well.
“I wonder what he’s thinking up there?” the father said.
“Must be looking down at us now. Huh.” They stood some seconds looking in silence.
The father chuckled. “Once when he was a boy I stepped on his model space ship that he had worked on assembling for weeks. It was proudest achievement and I wrecked everything. Took him the longest time to talk to me but eventually he forgave me for it. Never could stay mad, that guy. So much like his mother.”
He sighed and turned to Reed. “Thanks for coming. It meant a lot to us even if it didn’t look it. I’m sorry about what you saw.”
“It was nothing. Thanks for the dinner.”
“You’re welcome to come back anytime, son.”
When the father had gone back in the house Reed stayed to gaze at the sky some moments more before leaving. When he got home he saw that the living room light was still left on. He opened the front door he saw his mother seated on the sofa reading a novel.
“Hey Reed,” she said. She put down the novel on her side and turned to him.
She took of her reading glasses and looked at his face and frowned.
“Hey. Everything alright?” She stood up and made towards him.
Reed tried to say something but it was choked in his throat and inaudible. He put his arms around her and inclined his head on her neck and started to cry.