The Junction
Published in

The Junction

The Stunt

October had arrived three weeks ago and autumn was in full swing. A distinctive chill held that first hint of winter. The trees burned yellow and orange and the gutters of the street were choked with dead leaves. A great yellow sun prepared to sink below the horizon, and the sky was light blue streaked with smoky clouds. It was a beautiful evening.

Brandon Holmes, age seventeen, pulled up to his friend Ethan Aries’ house and honked the horn.

Ethan appeared a few moments later, throwing on cologne and the navy blue Varsity jacket he received for swim team. He hopped into the passenger side and the two were off.

“What’s going on?” Ethan asked, pulling out a small comb to tidy up his thick, greasy black hair.

“Party at Rachel Silverman’s,” said Brandon. “Unsupervised.”

“Who’s going to be there?”

“Billy,” said Brandon. “Fish. Bunch of other people. Probably Paul. Bunch of other people.”

“Paul’s showing up? Paul Hoss? The squirrelly one?”

“When doesn’t he show up?”

Brandon flashed his turning signal and pulled onto the two-lane highway that ran like a spear through the center of their town.

“Everyone treats him like shit,” said Ethan.

“Including you.”

“Yeah, but that’s just cause it’s so goddamn easy, dude. I don’t want to, it just has to be done. It’d be mean not to do it. Have you ever looked at the kid?”

He finished with his comb and put it back in his pocket.

“Where’s Silverman’s parents?”

Brandon explained. The rumor was they’d gone out of town for the weekend, some benefit party in New York, leaving their only daughter Rachel by herself.

They’d left specific instructions: Nobody allowed over, remember to take out the trash Friday night, and don’t forget to feed the cats. Rachel dutifully performed the latter two tasks and then threw a party on Friday night after she’d dragged the trash bins down to the curb.

The Silvermans lived on a huge farm off Route 82, and its remote location and spacious accomodations made it one of the best places for students of Robert F Kennedy High to congregate and act out. There was a pool, a rec room and home theater in the finished basement, an enormous back porch with a hot tub, and seven other rooms to find privacy. There were no neighbors around to complain about noise or parked cars. Unfortunately, Rachel’s parents, both of them corporate lawyers, were extremely strict. Very few parties occurred and the ones that did felt almost like church functions in their tameness.

Tonight the long gravel driveway in front of the Silverman’s house was full of teenager’s cars. They’d all shown up within an hour of Rachel’s private event posting. Texts, Facebook messages, Insta messages, Snapchats and Kiks were all sent out in a digital flurry and soon the event list had ballooned to nearly the entire student body. Most of the kids had brought alcohol and even more had brought weed and several other substances. It was probably going to get wild, and fast.

Rachel had gone throughout the house beforehand, making sure everything breakable was in her parent’s closet upstairs. She‘d covered up the living room floor, which had just been re-carpeted, with rolls of plastic wrap from the garage and masking tape to make sure nobody stained anything. Then she’d taken to social media.

Brandon and Ethan arrived about half an hour after everything had started. They said “Hi” and “Thanks” to Rachel, whom they’d known since elementary school.

There were people everywhere. Standing, sitting, talking, wandering, smoking, drinking, cussing, swinging, kissing, necking, play-fighting, shouting, lurking. It was still early, and most were still behaving. No one was drunk enough for any crazy to happen yet. Social clumps were formed according to class year and clique — freshmen with freshmen, seniors with seniors, gamers with gamers, athletes with athletes.

Brandon and Ethan plunged into the living room and joined in. Ethan’s suave acquaintance Billy Orlander was already there, wooing a girl he hoped to have in bed by the end of the night. Ethan made a beeline for the garage fridge and coolers. Brandon accepted a beer and joined a ring of Twitch buddies.

Sure enough, Paul Hoss had shown up, just as Brandon had predicted. He was a skinny little freshman with a shag of sandy hair and a naive look on his narrow, acne-speckled face. Nobody liked him, but he still came to every get-together there was. He’d run to this particular party, all the way from his house in town, unable to get a ride. The run was a good five miles. Fortunately, he’d just finished Cross Country season and managed to arrive without fainting or throwing up.

As soon as everyone realized Paul was around, things began to get out of hand. He was a bully magnet, and it wasn’t long before he was held by his ankles, dangled upside down in Rachel’s bathroom with his head jammed in the toilet bowl. He gagged and choked on the water, trying to laugh along with the football players holding his legs.

“This is so 90's,” remarked one of the players, his phone in hand, documenting the moment.

This went on for about thirty more seconds before Rachel barged in and broke it up.

“You’re gonna break my toilet,” she exclaimed.

The football players dropped the soaked Paul into a corner and walked out. Paul caught his breath, dried himself with a damp towel and walked back out, feeling dizzy and wet.

Around the same time, Ethan, who was already on the wrong side of tipsy, decided to do something crazy to lighten things up a bit. He’d always had a knack for getting himself injured with dumb stunts, pulled to impress or rile up others. As a matter of fact, if it hadn’t been for Brandon’s reasonable talk-downs, he probably would have been dead by then.

He finished off his fourth beer and looked around from his perch on the arm of the family room couch, a bit disgusted with everyone’s calm, respectable attitudes. They were just standing around sitting, or talking. A few were making out. A Cardi B playlist streamed off the huge surround stereo system.

There weren’t any authority figures around around for miles, except the occasional one speeding by outside at 55 an hour. And nothing interesting was happening. How upsetting. What a waste of freedom.

Ethan looked around the room, his mind swimming, for something to throw or jump off. His eyes rested on the arched family room ceiling and he got an idea.

A few minutes later he’d dragged Rachel’s giant trampoline onto the deck and removed the safety netting, positioning it so that if one bounced the right way, they’d end up in the deep end of the pool, the edge of which was about five feet away from the edge of the deck. He peeled off the canvas pool-cover and made sure the water wasn’t frozen.

He went onto the porch where all the stoners were gathered and called the ones who would listen onto the deck. When he had a good sized group gathered on the porch watching, he shrugged off his jacket and shimmied up the gutter onto the roof, aided by a few willing hands from the stoners, leaving his phone and wallet with a reliable stoner named Hal Cramden.

He climbed to the apex of the roof and saw the last line of sunlight disappear over the horizon with all its naked tree branches grasping like skeleton fingers. The air smelled like burning wood and leaves. He sucked it all in and his mind roared like a new V8 engine.

He was fucking young and fucking alive and fucking drunk and fucking invincible.

Down on the deck, Rachel and Brandon had forced their way to the front of the growing crowd, yelling for him to come down. Standing next to them, watching with wide-eyed intensity, was Paul Hoss.

For everyone else, a chant had started. It was quiet at first, then louder, then demanding. The crowd was a barricade of raised phones, cameras rolling and flashes flashing.

JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP.

Ethan didn’t need to be told what to do. This was the plan all along. He took two giant steps and leaped off the roof. He landed gracefully, feet first with his knees bent, in the center of the trampoline. It heaved downward with a stretching creak as the canvas threatened to tear, but it held, cradling his fall and throwing him up as quick as he’d come down.

This is where he lost control and started to wobble forward. His arms crazily pinwheeled backwards to right himself, and he landed SMACK on the water’s flat, glassy surface. There was a huge crack as his torso collided. A few people gasped at the noise. Phones were still raised.

Ethan sank like a stone and bobbed up again, facedown. He lay like that and everyone stared, most through their phone screens.

Finally, after a few tenuous seconds, Ethan rolled over and clambered to the side of the pool. He was stunned but more than satisfied. He grinned as Brandon and several others yanked him from the pool’s edge while Rachel and a few others pulled the cover back into place.

“That… was…awesome,” he wheezed, finding his feet. Brandon glared down at him.

“You’re fucking crazy, Aries,” a few juniors yelled giddily. “That’s going straight on reddit!”

A couple came over to ask Ethan if he was all right. He kept grinning and nodded. Brandon and Hal Cramden helped him walk shakily up the deck stairs and into the warm porch.

Once he was inside, Rachel threw a towel in his face and screamed for him to get out before she castrated him. Ethan leaned forward and tried to smooch her with big, puckered, mocking lips. She jumped back and he flopped to the floor. She screeched in frustration again and stormed back into the house.

Ethan wiped himself down so that he was no longer dripping and strolled in after her, calling, “Aw, come on, honey, you already plastic-wrapped everything so it’s not like anything’s gonna get wet!”

With Rachel out of sight, Ethan was about to head for the garage fridge again when Brandon grabbed his shoulder and held him back. He snatched a handful of his friend’s soggy shirt and hauled him to the nearest room, which happened to be the den.

There was a huge leather couch set in front of a flat screen TV, larger than the one in either Brandon or Ethan’s parents’ living rooms. It was flanked by two floor-to-ceiling mahogany bookshelves stacked with Mr. Silverman’s reading material. A hefty Mac sat on the desk with a crystal lamp, more books, and various papers. Plastic wrap covered the floor in here, too. It looked like the house was being remodeled.

Brandon threw Ethan against the wall and the TV wobbled perilously until Brandon steadied it.

“You’re going to get yourself killed,” he snapped at Ethan.

“No, I’m not,” said Ethan. “I’m done, mission accomplished.”

He tried to break away, but Brandon’s hand stayed on his shoulder. Ethan tossed his damp towel on the leather couch, which was also protected with more plastic wrap. Ethan wondered where the fuck Silverman had gotten all this goddamn plastic wrap.

“You’ve said that every fucking time,” said Brandon. “No more of these bullshit stunts. You only get lucky so many times.”

“Who the fuck are you,” Ethan snapped back, belligerent. “My dad? I already said I’m done. I just wanted to rile things up a bit. And I did.”

He opened the door and waved a hand to prove his point.

Indeed, the mood had gone from buzzy and frivolous to rowdy and loud. Everyone was drinking now. A few guys sparked a bong on the porch until Rachel shooed all the smokers onto the deck and spent another five minutes emptying a Febreeze into the porch. The smokers watched her and cackled like hyenas.

“Just take it easy,” said Brandon. He left Ethan to admire his handiwork.

A throng of people saw Ethan standing there in the doorway and came over to show him their recordings of his jump. They clamored for his attention, one person handing him another beer.

Brandon went over to the kitchen refrigerator to see if Rachel had any pizza rolls or hot dogs to heat up when Paul Hoss caught up with him. Brandon had his head lowered to see into the chill drawers at the bottom of the fridge when he heard Paul’s hoarse adolescent voice intone, “Hey, Brandon.”

Brandon grimaced and nearly banged his head on one of the shelves. He closed the fridge door and regarded Paul with a forced smile. Brandon was the type of person who wouldn’t torment or tell off a loser just for the fun of it, but he still felt obligated to avoid their radioactive social presences. He didn’t even know how the fuck this kid had learned his name. He’d just have to be blunt and ignorant hope Paul would take the hint.

“What was up with Ethan on the roof there,” Paul asked, trying to get a conversation going. He was still damp from his earlier swirlie and someone else had dumped a beer on him on the porch. “That was pretty slick, huh?”

“Yeah,” Brandon muttered, his head down. There weren’t any hot dogs or anything in the fridge, just a lot of vegetables and gluten-free stuff, so he opted for the potato chips and dip that were on the counter in front of him. He scarfed them down and paid close attention to the bowl, hoping his lack of attention would drive Paul away.

“He does things like that a lot, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Remember the time he, uh, wanted to hijack that bulldozer?”

“No,” said Brandon. He was lying — he remembered that incident very well.

“Remember? At Scott Kilbane’s house last summer? And they were redoing part of the street? And those construction guys left the keys in the bulldozer? And Ethan saw it and was trying to get in but you grabbed him and pulled him back and said he’d get arrested? And he tried to knock you out? And then that old lady next door came out and yelled she was calling the cops?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Brandon. “Yeah, I guess I do. Now.”

He stared down into the green bowl, at the yellow, greasy, salty chips. He glanced at Paul, who stared at him unwittingly.

“Yeah, so, he’s pretty crazy, huh?”

Paul helped himself to some chips. He crunched them loudly, stinking of beer and BO.

“He’s a moron,” said Brandon. “He’ll be lucky to see 20.”

“Everyone likes him, though,” said Paul, gesturing to the family room where Ethan was the center of a circle of admiration, females included. Brandon couldn’t help but notice the glassy-eyed longing in Paul’s eyes as he took in Ethan’s good fortune. “What other stuff has he done?”

“I really don’t know, Paul.”

“I remember the time he threw that old computer monitor out of the window in G wing, and it landed on the contractor’s hood.”

“You saw that?” Brandon asked, perplexed.

He thought it had only been Ethan and him in the old classroom that Saturday. The situation had gone from amusing to terrifying in mere seconds as they’d realized the trajectory of their aerial projectile. The smash and the car alarm were enough to send them flying out of the room and down the stairs and out of the building so fast it was like their feet never touched the ground. No consequences were faced that day, but it was after that incident when Brandon began policing Ethan’s idiotic urges more forcefully.

“Yeah,” said Paul. “You guys didn’t see me, but I followed you in. Don’t worry, though, I didn’t snitch.”

Thank God, thought Brandon, chewing. He could’ve blackmailed the fuck out of us with that info. And that’s fucking creepy that he followed us around like that, like Gollum or something.

He looked into Paul’s thin, dumb-looking face and decided it was time to make his exit.

“Look, Paul, it’s been really nice talking to you, but I have to go over here now.”

The words fell out of his mouth like an armful of dropped fruit, and he spun around and headed for the nearest doorway before Paul could reply. He had to round a corner and go down the hallway, opening the first door he saw and ducking in. The shades were drawn against the setting sun and the room was dim.

This was the main floor guest bedroom. It was also the room that Billy Orlander had decided to try and get the girl he’d been flirting with to have sex with him. She was difficult, but had just been about to give verbal consent when Brandon burst through the door and flipped on the light.

There lay Billy and the girl, whose name was Danielle something, on the bed with their shirts off and their pants loosened. Brandon stared at them, and they stared back like surprised hamsters.

Finally, Billy spoke up.

“GET OUT,” he roared, hurling a pillow at Brandon, who flipped the light off again and slipped out with a quiet, embarrassed, “Sorry…”

It didn’t matter. The spark was extinguished, as Danielle reclasped her bra and readjusted her jeans and slid her shirt back on as Billy protested.

“I’m sorry, Billy,” she said. “I just don’t feel right about it.”

She got up and walked out as Billy stuttered a futile protest. She was gone, out the door to the clamor beyond. Billy’s blue balls throbbed in his pants. He’d been thisclose to getting his dick sucked by one of the hottest sophomores Robert F Kennedy High had to offer.

He lay there on the bed seething. He itched to break something. Brandon Holmes’ face would have to do.

He got up, threw his shirt on, stalked to the door, threw it open, strode stiffly down the hallway to the kitchen and to the doorwall where Brandon was now located, trying to get onto the porch so he could bum a hit off a joint and try to enjoy himself.

Billy snatched him by the shirt, spun him around, and jerked him forward so their noses were nearly touching. Brandon was too surprised to do anything.

“I hope you’re happy, motherfucker,” Billy snarled. He hurled Brandon back against the doorwall, which rattled as the back of Brandon’s head bonked off it. Heads began to turn in their direction. A few guys yelled out, “Fight!”

“Look, Orlander — “ Brandon started, well familiar with Billy’s hairpin temper, but Billy threw a perfectly-executed right hook into the middle of Brandon’s chest and the air rushed out of him. He squeaked, a humiliating sound, and sank to the ground, breath hitching. Billy was a wide receiver on the Varsity football team, and his muscles were rock hard this time of year.

Brandon probably would’ve been hospitalized that night if it hadn’t been for the wannabe antics of one Paul Hoss.

After Brandon’s rude disposal of him in the kitchen, he had climbed to the roof up same rain gutter Ethan had used, planning to pull the same stunt Ethan had.

Ethan was one of Paul’s favorites in the senior group, so much that he’d never even had the guts to say anything to him. Paul figured that if he did the same thing Ethan did, he’d at least win some respect. So after Brandon mumbled something and went to the other room without looking at him, Paul wandered out onto the porch. One of the stoners kicked him in the rump as he walked by and told him to go home. Paul didn’t even look up.

Now, on the roof with the chilled evening wind ruffling his hair and the treetops at eye level, he felt he finally had a way to impress at least some of the people at this party.

Down in the kitchen, Billy continued to pummel Brandon, who was still in a state of shock from that first juggernaut punch to his solar plexus. Rachel was practically hanging off Billy, who acted like she wasn’t even there. Billy had started to kick Brandon when they all heard the scream from outside.

Paul had jumped off the roof and landed on the trampoline the same way Ethan had. Since he weighed less, it bent less, and threw him up again gracefully. But without the proper momentum from the trampoline, Paul would never make the pool. Now, a twenty feet in the air and feeling gravity’s dreadful pull as he hovered over the pool’s cement border, Paul Hoss knew there was no way he was going home tonight on his own feet.

He fell, fell, fell and slammed into the pavement face first. There was a soggy crunch, like someone dropped a trash bag full of wet garbage. He lay bug-eyed, his jaw shattered, his right hand in the pool’s shockingly cold water, in so much pain it became all he knew. A shudder wracked his broken frame, and his last breathe slipped from between his lips, his punctured lungs giving out.

He died wondering, “Why did I do that?”

The only ones who noticed him at first were the stoners on the porch. One of them, an acne-scarred hub everyone called Fish because of his uncanny resemblance to one, blinked.

“Hey,” he said. “Isn’t that the dorky freshman everyone rips on?”

His companions turned to look.

“I think he just jumped off the roof like Aries.”

They all walked outside in their mind haze, and when they saw Paul’s bloody, grotesquely ruined body lying next to the pool with a trickle of blood trailing down the lip of the cement and dripping into the pool, they weren’t sure if it was actually happening. Then Fish, who was the least brainfried of the group, turned around and yelled for Rachel.

His friends joined him and they dashed back in the house, where Billy was lining up for a knock-out kick. Brandon had turtled and was taking a hell of a beating, but he had three older brothers and could withstand more than Billy had anticipated. Just as Billy’s leg was cocked back, with Rachel still on his back like a baby monkey, the stoners burst in and Fish yelled, “I think that kid’s dead!”

Nobody moved at first. Billy stopped, Rachel sliding off his back.

“What?”

“Come on!” Fish said, motioning to everyone wildly.

When everyone was outside and goggling at the body of Paul Hoss lying on the cement, bathed in blood soup, they all stared, taking in the reality of the situation. Nobody said anything for a few seconds, and then, one by one, phones came out and pictures and videos were taken. They would stay private, or as private as a picture can stay without being voluntarily shared these days.

Rachel Silverman broke the silence, letting out a shrill scream.

“My parents are gonna kill me!” she shrieked. She started trying to wrench Paul’s body off the ground, to get him into a sitting position.

“C’mon, c’mon, you little shit,” she said, hysterical, thinking of the trouble she was in. “You’re fine, get up, get up!”

No one else did anything. Skinny Paul was too heavy for tiny Rachel’s arms and she let him slide to the ground with a nauseating thump. There was no mistaking the limpness of his body — the kid was indeed dead.

“Someone should call 911,” Billy Orlander, of all people, said quietly.

A few kids had started to edge towards the door, in the direction of their cars. They weren’t going to have any part in this. As far as they were concerned, they were never here. Within minutes, over half the crowd had drained through the house and out into the driveway. There was a chorus of car motors, and one by one they all sped into the night.

Rachel Silverman, Brandon Holmes, Ethan Aries and Billy Orlander were all that was left, eventually.

Ethan Aries took this the hardest. Not because he inspired Paul’s death, but because he had never seen anything like this. He’d never seen a dead body before. His reckless nature died that night with Paul. He went home after being questioned by police. Nobody mentioned that he’d done the same thing earlier, the posts on social media disappearing into the void within minutes of Paul’s death.

Rachel Silverman was grounded for a month and sent to therapy. Her parents never left her alone in the house again.

Brandon Holmes went home after being questioned. He stopped hanging out with Ethan after that. He took that night as a sign that he should make an effort be nicer to people, especially ones who are socially radioactive.

Billy Orlander was nearly arrested after the police saw what he’d done to Brandon Holmes, but at Brandon’s insistance they let Billy go. Billy never did get to fuck that sophomore, but he did score the winning touchdown that year in a playoff game against the school’s hated rival, so that was nice.

Paul Hoss’s parents settled out of court with the Silverman family for an undisclosed sum, and they moved to Chicago soon after. He was buried in the town cemetery. Not one of the party’s attendees came to his funeral.

His gravestone reads, “Loved by all”.

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