This story is by Luke Milavec and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It would have been Keaton O’Connor’s first time. Excited but nervous, he was finally going to take the rite of passage from boyhood into a man. This Saturday morning was going to be a day he’d never forget!
He had grown up in Burntbush, New York, an affluent, but rural Victorian town at the Adirondack foothills. Burntbush Commons, an elaborate recreational park and playground, was in the center of this quaint village. The Commons offered wooded trails to the southwest and bordered Turner’s Orchard to the southeast. There was one main street, Marceline Ave., lined with small, locally owned businesses, including Turner’s Café, filling an Autumn morning air with the scent of cinnamon and apples.
He had met Mandy Smolinsky in English class at the end of their Junior year, and they had a memorable summer together looking for colleges and planning their futures. Although the Sherriff had closed Marceline Ave. this morning, he insisted on commemorating their first 6-months together with an autumn breakfast of apple fritters and hot cider at Turner’s Café. After breakfast, they walked aimlessly through the Commons, talked, laughed, held hands, and eventually strolled into a secluded trail.
Passions began to heat up the brisk Autumn morning. Keaton and Mandy retreated further into the woods and gazed into each other’s eyes. Their youthful desires intensified, and they become overwhelmed by boiling hormones and burning sensations.
Then Mandy screamed. Keaton looked in the direction of her wide-eyed stare, paralyzing them both. A woman camouflaged with a red, orange, and yellow dress, looked up at the trees with lifeless, empty eyes, her jaw collapsed open. According to the examiner, her neck was broken, she was in her mid-20s, and had been dead for less than 12 hours.
Nick Williston’s eyes opened to a clear night of a million pin lit stars. Despite the frigid temperature, he felt like he was in an arid, scorching desert. His mouth was desiccated, his whole body ached, his heart was pounding, and he couldn’t seem to remember anything. His nerves felt pressure like an erupting volcano, enraged for no reason.
He laid in a crucifix position, his fists gripping small pebbles. A complex system of wooden bridges and towers surrounded him. From the towers, he saw miniature knights in full armor emerge, shooting miniscule arrows, preparing miniature catapults, and attacking him with tiny swords that felt like piercing needles throughout his body. Nick violently swatted at them like bees, but they vaporized as his hand passed through them. Then, in an instant, they all vanished, leaving no trace of their existence. The night was silent again, leaving him sedentary in the extravagant playground of Burntbush Commons.
As he attempted to rise, he noticed a beautiful woman with brunette hair pulled back in a loose braid, looking at him with cold, empty eyes. She was wearing a black dress with an array of red, orange, and yellow shapes. Dazed, he reached to her, but fell short, misjudging the distance between them, and fell onto his face. Something seemed familiar about her, as if he knew her, and he looked up at her again, stunned.
“I’m dead, Nick,” she said solemnly.
“What?” he asked, looking up and trying to focus. “Who are you? How could you be here if you were dead?”
“I’m Chelsea,” she pressed. “You know how I died; you were there. But I don’t blame you, Nick. I wanted to tell you, you were my choice. I loved you…”
“What happened?!” he cried as she faded away. He had been hallucinating, but she looked, sounded, and felt so real. This caused a perilous anger to boil inside, releasing screams shattering the stillness. She too vanished, but his screams took the form of wild bright white and yellow ribbons, a black vine growing up the streams, constricting his cries. He jumped up, and ran in a frenzy to Marceline Ave., grunting with a deep primal rage.
Upon rounding the corner, he slammed into a large solid man, with enough force to knock both to the concrete. He peered over at the man, attempting to regain focus.
“Hell, Nick!” the man yelled.
“What the hell is happening?” Nick managed. “Who are you supposed to be?” He anticipated this man to disappear, also, but the man seemed corporeal. A strong suspicion came over him that he knew this guy, too.
“I took care of her,” ignoring Nick’s questions. “They’ll find her eventually, but your prints will be off her head.”
MY prints?! Nick thought. What have I done! She loved ME!? WHAT HAVE I DONE?!
Nick felt the rage intensifying again. His body shuddered and he sprang up, sprinting down Marceline Ave. He felt the rage grow stronger and his heart beat faster. He felt like there was a vice crushing his chest, strangling him until the pressure burst his heart into pieces. He fell to the asphalt, first quivering, then coming to a final rest.
In one last breath, he muttered, “I love you, too, Chelsea.”
Chelsea Bainbridge moved to Burntbush last Autumn. She came from Exeter, New Hampshire on a venture to open an antique shop, and start her life. It was far enough from home to establish her independence, while remaining on a tether if she needed help. She had attended Skidmore College in Saratoga, so she knew the area well, but the risk was still large since she knew no one locally.
She was 26, had brunette hair she normally kept back in a loose braid, and bright green eyes. She loved adventure, and wanted to get the most out of life. She was brought up to be independent and strong, and always knew what she wanted. Until she met Nick Williston and Brandon Krebs.
She answered an ad to rent the top floor of a Victorian house owned by Nick and Brandon, who lived on the bottom half. Nick was slender, toned, had a thin beard that funneled to a six-inch braid at his chin, and had a lot of energy with a taste for adventure. Brandon was a built, muscular figure with wild thick hair and similar impulses for excitement. Chelsea shared their sense of adventure, and secretly began thinking more than friendly thoughts about both.
This was her dilemma. She first started to fall for Nick, but was lured to Brandon as the three had spent summer weekends in the Adirondacks. Soon, her attraction for either would alternate between them after each weekend. She would become more unsure as she got to know them. One weekend, she loved the toned agility of Nick. Another, Brandon’s brute strength would occupy her thoughts. Brandon and Nick were each also falling for Chelsea, while growing suspicious of each other.
Over the summer, Brandon’s jealousy formulated into an idea. At first, the thought was ludicrous, but it became more conceivable as time passed, and the idea became a plan. While mowing the lawn, he noticed strange wildflowers growing on the edge of their property. Research revealed it was Datura stramonium, or Jimson weed, a drug that caused someone to go out of their mind. He learned the seeds were the most effective part of the plant, which appeared in Autumn to replace the dying annual. When ingested, the drug caused hallucinations and wild behavior; it could be fatal, but users had normally made a full recovery with treatment. Brandon would have to be cautious, he only wanted to scare Chelsea and make Nick appear volatile, hoping Chelsea would choose him.
He harvested the seeds in October, keeping a handful to use at a dinner Chelsea hosted the first Friday of November. Despite the strong taste, detection of the seeds would be masked by the zest and seasonings of the zucchini casserole Chelsea served.
Over dinner, they talked about a rafting adventure they took on Kayaderosseras Creek in September, where Chelsea claimed the ride was not as challenging as Nick had lead on. Nick, who was now feeling the effects of the Jimson weed, defensively lashed out at them both. Brandon’s plan was working; Nick was losing his mind, and scaring Chelsea.
As Nick became more enraged, however, he began to physically attack Chelsea. Yelling, he went after her and aggressively grabbed the sides of her head to turn her focus to him. He snapped her neck in the process and, as her lifeless body fell to the floor, Brandon was frozen in shock. He had lost control of his plan! He panicked, forgetting Nick, and took Chelsea’s body to a secluded area behind the Commons. Meanwhile, Nick escaped in an unsupervised rage, running wild through the town before passing out in Burntbush Commons.
Certain he was responsible for both deaths, Brandon confessed to his crimes. Many years later, late one night, he laid in his bunk reflecting upon the grey walls of his prison cell. He could never forgive himself. Until he committed one last murder, alone in his cell.