On the morning of the seventeenth of October, it was silent in the halls of Pembroke High School. The students aimlessly wandered about the wide hallways, awaiting the crisp and rude awakening of the first bell. The staff sat at their desks and took one last sip of coffee to prepare themselves for the horde of angsty teenagers. The school building itself groaned in its mortar, as if it knew the true overshadowed future that would become the town's legacy.
Everything was normal... or so it seemed.
On this day, the usual sight of three students outside a bottom locker on the second floor could not be seen. Instead, there were only two. A boy and a girl, both bottom feeders in the high school hierarchy. They sat with their backs to the pewter lockers, few mumbled words were exchanged, and two breakfast bars were consumed.
At 7:53 AM, a flurry of heads turned to the main doors of the institution in confusion and paranoia as they were opened, and two members of the police force entered. They flashed their badges at any approaching staff, continuing down the hall and up the first flight of stairs. Their footsteps bounced off the brick walls, seeming louder and more ominous as they approached the two teenagers in front of locker 243. Their heads snapped up to meet the officers in their peripherals, and they instantly tensed. Earbuds were removed and music was paused in an attempt to show sufficient respect.
"W-what can we do for you this morning officers?" His voice was shaky, and his eyes shot between the adults in navy. His discomfort was clear from the first blink.
"We were hoping we could take this somewhere more private." The scent of cigarettes followed the woman officer as she leaned towards the floor and took a knee, making her hazel eyes level with those of the teenagers. "Well, not just hoping. By law, unless you want persecution or further questioning, you can't say no.” She hummed, smirking at the boy who seemed to shrink under her gaze.
"Knock it off, Officer Dalino," her male counterpart spoke with haste. His voice clawed at the air around them, quite husky and rough. He turned his attention to the hyper-aware freshmen. "If you two would follow me please." The teens stood wearily, shaking the morning sleep from their eyes and letting the dread settle in their bones. “We wouldn’t have brought this to the school grounds, but when we tried at your places of residence you’d already gone." The officer explained.
Onlookers saw four individuals retreat from the second floor: two adults, an apathetic man and a proud woman, and two teenagers, both scared as kittens. "Excuse me." the group halted in front of a short, round man fostering a receding hairline. "Where would you be going with two of my students?" Badges were presented, though the uniform would have given it away regardless. The man scowled, knowing his cooperation was a necessity.
"I'm Officer David Warren, this is my partner Miranda Dalino." he gestured to his smug partner. "And you are?"
"Jason Merchida, the principle of this fine institution." he replied in almost disgust.
"Principle Merchida, we have a warrant for questioning, and we'll be borrowing Mr. Sloan and Ms. Davidson for a little while." Warren regarded the small man with respect and nodded before leading the two children outside to the police vehicle. The principal scoffed quietly to himself as he watched them go, but deep down he was shaking.
The teenagers were set in the back of the car, safely behind the cage meant for criminals. The silence blared into their ears as the vehicle rounded the corner and took off towards the station, all while the police radio quietly emitted sound. The arrival was swift, and soon enough the children were separated and sat down for questioning, Warren with Sloan, Dalino with Davidson.
“If you wish for a lawyer or your parents you can say so at any time.” Warren and Dalino informed them. With a shake of the children’s heads, the officers proceeded. "Are you aware of last night's occurrences?" They asked, accusations apparent on their faces. The teens attempted to remain at least the slightest bit calm but came up short and panicked. Each sputtered out something along the lines of 'what happened last night?'
With a sigh, David Warren placed his hand-held recorder on the table between him and the fourteen-year-old Evan Sloan, who's mind flashed with everything he'd ever done that could possibly be perceived as illegal.
"It is of my knowledge that you are friends with Abigail Stephens. Am I correct?" Evan nodded as he fidgeted with his hands below the table. "Please verbalize your responses."
"Y-yeah. Abby, Zoe, Ben and I are the best of friends. I-I don't think I've gone a day since the first grade without talking to them in some way, shape or form. I don't know who I’d be without them." Evan burned under Officer Warren's harsh gaze, the question and his position finally clicking. "Did something happen to her? I haven't heard from her since lunch yesterday." Evan frantically looked around, his gaze settling on David Warren.
The Officer felt his skin crawl. This was the worst part of his job. He'd always hated the interrogations, the questionings. Especially when it was with children, and they were clueless. And the peak of the terrible questions would be the kicker. The tear inducing snap of reality. He could tell already that he would break this boy, and he alone.
David Warren cleared his throat before continuing. "On the evening of October sixteenth, we received a call from 7294 Greenwood Ave, Pembroke County," he paused, wishing, begging, that he wouldn't have to tell him. He pleaded with his God to spare him another broken child. For a moment he made eye contact with Evan Sloan, seeing how similar his unkempt hazel hair and olive skin were to his own son. It made him want to hide. Evan's face fell into fear and confusion, as he surely knew the address by heart. David waited a minute more. Any second now. Someone will replace me, he thought. But he was wrong. This was his job. He grabbed a full lungful of air before dropping the bomb. "When we arrived at the scene, we were met with a bloody situation..."
Evan looked back and forth from the Officer's eyes, looking for anything that screamed prank. "Is she in the hospital? What happened?" Tears brimmed in his dark eyes as he shook. "When can I go see her?" Warren had no response.He could only sit and contemplate what to say. It never got easier.
Warren removed his hat and placed it on the table. "Evan... she's gone. Abigail Stephens is dead." The officer watched as the boy broke down, slowly crumpling to the floor his olive face turning red as sobs tore through his chest, occasionally mumbling incoherent things as he choked on his own grief.
"I-I'll leave you be. I'm very sorry for your loss." David Warren rushed out of the room, leaving behind his recorder and hat. He let out a sigh of relief as he sat down on the other side of the door, the sounds of Evan's screams muffled by the thick wood. David shook violently, unable to keep his hands still. From down the hall, cries similar to Evan's exploded. They were swiftly cut off though, and Warren was approached by Miranda Dalino.
"It's really sad, isn't it? These kids had no idea their best friend killed herself, and they have to learn because of a police investigation." Dalino sat beside her partner, pulling her tied hair over her left shoulder. "So, how'd your kid react? Did he have anything helpful to say?"
"Well, um... he's quite distraught." The exhausted man rubbed his eyes, holding his head in his hands.
"And?" She pushed.
"And, I didn't see it to be the right time to question him." The hallway held only the muffled sobs of children and the occasional ringing phone from in an office nearby.
"You... you didn't ask him if he knew anything?" Warren closed his eyes and nodded, a grimace on his face. "You can't do anything right," she rolled her eyes in discontent before abruptly standing and reaching towards the copper doorknob.
"You're going to talk to him?" He quickly leapt to his feet. There was a moment where no words were said, where the partners held eye contact as a hand lingered over the knob. The hall felt tense, but there was no blaming it on the teen suicide.
"Someone's gotta do their job around here." Dalino scoffed before swinging open the door, allowing the flood of despair to come seeping out the door. "Make yourself helpful and go fetch the paperwork." She flicked her hand before shutting the door.
David Warren sank to the ground; his fingers crunched his hair near his scalp. “God so help me.” He breathed.
Zoey reached over her knee for Evan’s hand. Her tears had dried, but her heart stung. After being excused from school, the two had fled to their tree house. It was a beautifully crafted one-room home up in the large oak tree. It had been a gift to Abby for her 6th birthday, and it had quickly become the group’s home base. Now, with the knowledge of her suicide, it felt wrong to be there. Not just in the tree house, but alive. Everything had slowed for the two. With Ben half-way across the country and Abby dead, they had no one else to turn to. No one to seek solace with. No comforting parent, no shitty counselor. Only each other, and the promise of a new beginning.
“Why’d she leave us, Zoe? Sh-she said she was getting better; she was getting better!” Evan cried. “Sh-she promised. Abby promised she was okay. She promised…” The weather out seemed unfair. The sun was bright and uncovered, quite rare considering the onslaught of rain that had plagued Pembroke the week prior. The sun filtered through the thin yellow curtains in the tree house, giving Zoey’s face a warm glow, despite her blank look. “What are we gonna do?”
“I don’t know. I don’t want to do anything.” Zoe stared at her crisscrossed legs; her wellies dusted with dirt from dried mud.
Evan leaned against the wooden wall, supporting his heaving chest. “We h-have to do something. Abby should be remembered.”
“What if she didn’t want to be remembered?” Zoey challenged impassively.
“Why wouldn’t she want to be remembered?”
“I sure don’t want to be. If I’m remembered, it’ll be for killing myself right after my best friend, not because I was the one chick who saved everyone’s asses in German. After what happened last night, she isn’t the sweet and smart Abby. She’s the suicidal girl from Pembroke High.” She replied dryly.
“Wait, w-what? Y-you can’t!” Evan panicked. His red eyes grew wide and stared into the girl beside him.
“Why not? Abby did, so why can’t I?”
“Because I need you! I need her too, but she couldn’t handle it anymore. She couldn’t handle him anymore. "Y-you don’t need to go. A-aren’t I enough to make you happy?” For a moment, Zoey’s blank face fell.
“Evan… please. She’s my sister. You can’t keep me stranded here without her. Just… let me go.” She pleaded. She leaned forward and held his hand. “I’m begging you. I don’t want to live if she’s not with me.” He remained silent, new tears following the path of their predecessors. He breathed slowly, a response laying gently on his chapped lips.
“What if I come with you?” His offer shattered Zoey’s blank stare completely, the emotion flooding back in on high tide.
“Ev, you need to stay here. For Juli, and for Cecilia. Your dad can’t take care of them on his own. And you have a bright future.”
“I have no future without you or Abby in it!” They sat in silence once more, listening to the birds and the occasional car driving past. A chilling breeze blew through the tree house, delicately tapping Evan and Zoey’s features. “H-how do we do it?”
The question seemed daunting in itself. How would one kill themselves? Of course, resources and pure fear limited the options. It was a tough decision.
“We… we could take down the rope swing… and the pulley system.” Her suggestion was strained in a way other than deciding to die. Her love for the home they’d created together was too strong and couldn’t bear to ruin it in her own downfall.
“Do you even know how to make a noose?”
“I… yes. It’s been a while, but yes. I still remember.”
They looked at each other again as if waiting to see who’d crack first and tumble. In the end it was Zoey, her emotionless stare returning with the fall of the tire swing.
She returned with all the rope after a struggle of wit and will, the rope dragging behind her as she climbed the ladder. “I’ll make them, just wa-”
Shock slammed Evan’s body as his phone rang, vibrating against the wooden floor. “Oh god, wha-what do I do? Shit.”
“Who is it?! Who could be so bad?
“It’s my dad.” The ringing stopped as the call died out, allowing Evan a sigh of relief. After a moment more, however, his father called again. “Gah. What do I say? Should I even answer? With what we’re about to do, with what we are doing, I just di-”
“Answer the phone!”
Evan’s thumb swiped to answer, holding the device to his ear. “H-hi dad. Oh, um… yeah, sorry. We’re at the tree house…. It’s… it’s a lot duller without her… Zoe and I weren’t going t-to stay much longer.” His voice shook as he spoke, knowing it would be the last time he’d ever hear his father’s voice. His body joining in the shaking as well in an attempt the contain the tears. “Y-yeah… See… see you later…. I love you dad. Tell the girls I love them too.”
Evan looked up as he set the phone down, his eyes blurry as they landed on Zoey. She’d finished the first and was finishing the second in record time, her hands moving frantically as she twisted the rope to form the noose. It looked right out of a movie but held more sinister vibrations. These weren’t props. They weren’t toys. And Evan and Zoey weren’t actors.
Evan took the first in his hand, rubbing the rope from the tire swing in between his fingers. He imagined it tightening around his neck with a cringe, knowing the pain that would befall him if he really were to follow through. “I-I don’t know if we can use these.”
“Sure, we can.” Her tone was almost chipper, melodic in a way in her confidence. “The largest and highest branch is the strongest. Remember the time we fit the garden club up there in the fourth grade? Thirteen kids, Evan. That’s roughly one-thousand pounds. There’s no way we’ll be breaking the branch. We’ll see Abby soon enough, I promise.” She took the rope from his hand with no smile to fit her happy words and went out the window, climbing a few branches up to reach her destination.
Evan’s breathing quickened, and his pulse raced. His eyes darted to and fro, desperately searching for an escape. His body burned and sweat swelled from his pores. Looking down at his hands to block everything else out, he couldn't help but notice them shaking. His head swooned, and his gut clenched. He didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t bring himself to die, but he felt he couldn’t go on. Maybe… just maybe there was a way through it. Maybe, there was a way to live without his best friend, his sister.
Zoey clambered back into the tree house though the window and faced Evan. “Are you ready?” Against his fighting mind he walked forward, taking Zoey’s hand and following her out onto the branches. The loop of his noose dangled in the air far above the ground, the rope just in reach of his shaking arms. Zoey was eager, the loop already jewelry around her thin neck. “We’ll do it together.” She smiled sadly, pulling Evan’s roped up and setting the loop around his neck as she’d done. Zoey’s left hand enveloped his right with a soft squeeze for comfort.
Evan’s mind continued to fight, going back and forth the significance of this action, the permanence of this choice. If he regretted it, too bad. If he was grateful, too bad. There was no guarantee they’d see Abby once more, but there was no question that he wouldn’t feel the pain.
“1…” The scenes of his surroundings darted in his vision. “2…” His pace of breathing leapt like a gazelle. “3.” He’d decided he could move on, that he could continue to live. He saw himself with a family on Thanksgiving Day, telling his children how thankful he was that he lived that day, Zoey at the other end of the table. He saw his journey through law school, and his status as an attorney. He saw wealth, love, happiness. It all flashed bright, and Evan felt Zoey’s hand slip from his.
What he heard first was the choking, then the crying of the rope. His head dared to drop and saw her dangling.
Her body struggled, tightening the rope entrapping her neck, before falling limp with the lack of oxygen. Her eyes were wide open, allowing her soul to leave through the window. With the new onslaught of tears, he broke. His vision dispersed, leaving the cruel reality behind in its wake. He’d allowed his best friend, the girl he loved, to go. She’d jumped and he’d stayed. His future lost the happiness and the love; he saw depression seeping in, killing his dreams as well. It all crumbled into pieces, blowing away in the crisp October wind. “No… no-no-no-no-no!”
He wailed, his hands holding onto his rope. His lip quivered as he bawled, shaking his words out
in terror. “I-I’m so s-sor-sorry!” Evan went to collapse into a ball, to hug his whole body and feel
happy again but forgot where he was.
His soles slipped on the bark of the branch, sending him falling.
The rope tightened around his neck like a boa, tightening and tightening, waiting for the prey to
breath its last breath. It burned into his flesh, the friction searing as he struggled to escape.
There was no more time left. No more contemplation, no more uncertainty. Evan hoped that
his pain would be forgiving, that it would be over in the easiest last breath. But the rope
attached to his neck twisted, and he was left facing Zoe, her ghost eyes staring as her same fate
befell him as well: his vision became coal; his limbs had completely numbed. The rope-burn and
his seemingly imploding lungs became silent, and all could do was listen.
The birds chirped and flew happily, twittering in their secret language of Aves. The laughter of children streets away floated. The cars drove peacefully.
And the rope’s twisting fibers whined.