So, this is the chapter where I think I should fill you in about the most important character in the story, which is me. But I don’t really know what to say. I’m an appallingly boring person with an appallingly boring life. I like to read but you already knew that. So I think this chapter would just be a complete waste of time. And yet…
See, what’s coming next is a little bit strong, like eating a red onion as if it were an apple. Only, that’s understating things a lot.
I’m an only daughter of a couple of farmers who don’t really farm anymore. My Mom teaches school. My Dad tried to farm and ended up spending more time cursing the government. He had a heart attack when he was forty-six, then another one every year until he was fifty when his heart finally decided it was done. He had a dog named Marsh, a big, rangy, lovable thing who went for runs with him every morning. You’d think a guy who went for runs every morning wouldn’t die of a heart attack. Go figure.
I was one of those quiet kids throughout school. My policy was to ignore everything. I told myself this was my policy because I couldn’t really admit to myself that I was shy to the point of being socially anxious. I told myself I was good at making friends, online. In real life didn’t matter. The characters from books didn’t exist in real life and they mattered more to me than any of the other girls or guys at school, even the cute ones.
I did have a good friend, like I said, who lived in England. We met once for a glorious month in grade eleven. We wanted to take a gap year together when we graduated. A gap year is this thing English people do after they graduate their version of high school and before they go to university. (I think that’s how it works?) But it didn’t happen. Her parents were against gap years so she went straight into university. I entertained the thought of going to England for university, trying to attend the same university as her, but it was a short-lived fantasy. We still talk, still email, still hang out on the same games.
Anyway, back to this story thing.
We were sitting, standing rather, in my tiny dorm room. The fat Mounty was leaning against the counter where the sink and the kettle lived. The thin Mounty hovered by the coffee table / desk that held my binders textbooks and the plant who barely lived with me too. He’d been on the verge of death for the last month. He doesn’t come into this much, not yet, but I thought I’d mention him. Yes, I was and am the kind of person to personify plants. Too much personification in fact. I gave Gary hot chocolate once instead of water. Gary was the plant’s name, if you didn’t pick up on that. He didn’t like the hot chocolate.
Okay, Laura, enough about Gary. Get to it.
Right, well, what happened was that Billy, the guy from the bus shelter last night who’d told me the horrible ghost story, he said on the Mounty’s phone. “I found Billy. He’s here with me. I know your so closed-minded that you can’t see him. You’ve got your ears full of dirt. The government fills all our ears with dirt so we can’t hear. But he’s here. Say something. Billy.” A pause followed.
I mouthed to the thin Mounty: “Please hang up.” You see I knew I didn’t want to be involved. I knew that soon I would, inevitably, unstoppably be involved.
Billy must have been talking during the pause. Not the man Billy, the ghost. The little kid? The person to whom the house belonged or was named after? I didn’t know. I watched the man’s face contort with sadness. He had a blossom of pimples under his lower lip. He had black nose hairs that needed to be trimmed. His forehead creased in a frown as big as the Grand Canyon.
“I’m going to stay,” he said. “I’m going to stay with him. You can’t take him away. You can’t take us away from here.”
“No one is planning to take you away,” said the thin Mounty. “We’re just talking. You wanted to talk to Laura. Here she is.”
“Hello?” I said softly, my voice like a tired sofa being sat on. “Hi, Billy,” I said a bit louder.
“You can see him, Laura?” asked the man. “You can see Billy?”
I’d been referring to the man Billy. Not the boy. This was so confusing, them having the same names.
“I want you to do me a favour. Just a little favour. You don’t have to break your back or nothing because it isn’t that big, okay? Okay, Laura? You’re a nice person. Don’t have anything against you, which is why I’m asking. It’s why I tracked you down. You resonated. You resonated the right way. So will you do it?”
“Do what?” I could hardly look at him. I felt something steel-cold along my spine like the blade of a kitchen knife. I knew it was just in my head but my skin crawled anyways and I wanted the Mounty to hang up his phone.
“Don’t let them smash the Billy House,” he said. Then he lifted a gun, which had been in his lap, into view. He lifted it up to his temple and I screamed even before I heard the tinny pop through the speaker of the iPhone. His head seemed to explode like a dropped egg. It wasn’t a nice neat bullet hole like a hole punch through paper. It was a mess, a balloon-popping and exploding strawberry smoothie mess.
I couldn’t breathe. It took me a while to realize I couldn’t breathe because I was screaming so hard. But all I did when I drew breath was scream more. Doors slammed outside my dorm as other students woke up.
I don’t remember much else of what happened the rest of that night or the next day. I know it makes for a boring story that way, but it’s the truth. I just kind of shut down or built up walls. I didn’t talk about it as much as I should have after it happened. I was too far from home, too knew to the school, without enough friends. I gabbled a long incoherent story through the phone to my mother. She came down and took me home. I missed the entire semester. It was hard. I’m not going to lie. I sunk pretty low into myself.
I think at one point we tried to sue the pants off the RCMP for contacting me. I’m a little foggy on the details about that. It didn’t come to anything.
I basically checked out for a year, out of school, out of life, out of myself. That’s what happens when you see something like that.
I didn’t forget about what Billy had asked me to do. To look after the Billy House. But I didn’t do it. As soon as the crime scene was closed, the Billy House was torn down. They never found any sign of a kid. They’re putting up a low-rise apartment now, I think. I’ll check it out when I go back to school. I’m returning in September. I feel shut in at home. Shut into my head.