Death is Only for the Living

By Jess Charle

“Your dead grandmother doesn’t give a shit that she’s dead. You do.” Chasey told me when I came back to school after the funeral.

That was when I decided I did not like the new girl.

While the other girls and teachers showered me with flowers and cards, Chasey sat at the back of the room, her eyebrow arched. The pretentious smirk that I later would recognize to be her trademark mocking me. I hated her.

Chasey was an odd person. It’s a weird thing to say, but she was kind of what you’d expect from someone whose name is most often associated with a pornstar. She showed up one day, our school uniform altered into her own interpretation of couture. There was the green plaid skirt and white button up top we were all wearing, but her skirt was littered with safety pins and her right breast was covered with band pins I recognized from movies about drug-riddled anarchist teens. Her shirt was unbuttoned almost to the point of scandal and her long black hair was tied into a messy knot at the top of her head. She had rings in her nostril and septum, a bar in her eyebrow, and her ears were filled with studs, hoops, and barbells. Her eyelids were heavy with thick black liner and dark purple shadow, her thin lips painted a deep matte red. Her black messenger bag was covered in patches of devils, horned creatures, and bones, the largest of which was the skeleton of siamese twins conjoined at the head.

Her darks eyes surveyed the room and landed on the empty desk beside me. My stomach twisted as she approached, her dark confidence intimidating. She sat down and looked at me. I blushed as I realized I had been staring. Chasey winked and I looked away quickly, my cheeks burning.

From that moment forward, no matter how much I tried to avoid her, Chasey would appear everywhere. I was the president of the Philosophy club and she was our newest member. I was one of the editors for the school newspaper and she became one of our photographers. She would eat lunch at the table next to me and my friends. She’d show up at parties and raise an eyebrow at me, smirking as if she had something on me. As if she knew something about me no one else knew.

My 15th birthday was in the summer. I invited everyone from my class to a pool party at my place. Unsurprisingly, Chasey was there. While everyone else played pool games and lounged around, Chasey stood in the corner talking to my father as he grilled hot dogs and hamburgers. We all sported colorful bikinis while Chasey wore ripped up jeans and a black band shirt. It had a skeleton wearing a pope costume, it’s tongue shooting from its mouth as it wildly brandished a cross. I watched her nod as my father excitedly told her about his new film project. Her eyes locked on mine and she smirked, one eyebrow raised. I looked away, engrossing myself once again in our game of volleyball.

As night came, most girls went home but a few stayed. We watched a movie and did our nails, talked about boys and school and how Ms. Kazer really needed a good fuck. Chasey was there, sitting in the corner. I watched her sip her soda and pop a cheese curl in her mouth. She winked at me and I blushed.

My best friend Rachel seemed to notice as she looked in the direction I had been staring. She gave Chasey a smile, her voice soaked in false nicety,  “What about you Chasey? I bet a girl like you gets lots of dick.”

The others erupted in laughter. Chasey smiled cooly in response, unirritated by the attention.

“Dick isn’t really my thing.” She said nonchalantly.

The giggling stopped abruptly and the room grew silent with discomfort.

“I’m going to go to bed.” I said abruptly, standing so suddenly the remotes sitting on my lap fell to the floor. Everyone stared at me.

“What?” Rachel asked, “but it’s still early.”

“Yeah, I know.” I sighed, “I just… I’m beat. You guys can crash here or in one of the guest rooms.” They looked at me silently, waiting for more, so I added, “I got a lot of sun today.” As if that explained it.

Rachel shrugged and put in another DVD as I quickly walked to my room.

I was reading in bed when my door opened about an hour later. Chasey stuck her head in, “so you’re still awake.” I shrugged, resting the book on the nightstand. “Can I come in?” she asked, pushing the door fully open and entering before I could reply. She was wearing nothing but a pair of dark blue underwear and the t-shirt she had been in earlier.

I sat there in silence as Chasey walked around my room examining everything on the walls and furniture with intense concentration. The silence between us would be periodically interrupted with a question, “who’s that?” She’d ask pointing to a photo.

“My uncle.”

She picked up a small trophy – my third place award for the Junior Bass Fishing Tournament I was in when I was seven. She turned, a huge smile on her face as she angled it towards me.

I blushed and pulled the blanket around me. “I-I used to be really into fishing.”

She snorted. “That’s adorable.”

A lightning bolt of heat shot through my stomach. My body felt like it was burning from the inside out.

Chasey stopped at my bookcase. “Oh shit!” She exclaimed, pulling out one of my board games. She turned and presented a Ouija board.

“Oh, I was also really into ghosts and stuff when I was a kid.” I tried to sink further into my bed without success.

“So there was a younger version of yourself that was super into demons and fishing?” She asked.

I shrugged.

“That’s amazing.” She sat down on the carpeted floor and lifted the box, allowing the bottom to fall with a loud sucking noise. She took out the board. “Holy shit, real wood!” She examined it, her nose barely an inch away from the black intricate designs around the edges. “Man, this is fucking fancy!” She looked up and raised her eyebrow. “Aren’t you going to join me?” She asked, that damn eyebrow luring me towards her.

I swallowed and slid out from under the covers, very self conscious of my baggy pink pajama pants. I groaned internally as I remembered that they were even covered in little hearts. I wished I had been wearing something more mature, something sexier. I sat across from her, the board between us. Without a word, we both placed our fingers lightly on the planchet.

Chasey straightened her back and shifted her shoulders. She cleared her throat and, in an airy voice, said “we call on you, spirits of old and new. Tell us your secrets.” She swayed side to side as she hummed a static tone, as if meditating.

I watched, mesmerized, and then she stopped, her eyes shoot opened as the planchet slid easily over the wooden surface, stopping at the hello carefully printed in the bottom left hand corner.

We locked eyes, my heart thumping in my chest. Chasey smiled wickedly at me.

“You’re fucking with me.” I said incredulously.

Chasey rocked back in laughter. “Oh my god, your face!” She squealed. Embarrassment and anger grew inside of me. I stood, awkwardly, and sat on my bed. “Oh, Emma! I’m sorry! You were just so into it!” Chasey stood and hopped onto the bed with me.

Heat rushed through my abdomen as she scooted towards me, smiling. I was suddenly aware of a fresh scent I couldn’t identify filling my nostrils and sending a slight shiver down my spine.

“You love that shit, don’t you?” I asked.

Chasey smirked, “what do you mean?”

“All that dark shit. Voodoo, seances, summonings, demons.” I waved my hand around my head, nonverbally indicating the etcetera.

Chasey laughed and leaned against the wall, stretching her legs out in front of her. “I guess you could say that.” She looked at me, her face fallen, filled with a sudden and intense interest. I waited for her to say something, to do something.

“What?” I asked.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Uh, I guess so? Do I have to answer?”

She laughed, then grew serious again. “Emma.” She said, leaning closer. My heart quickened.

“Yeah?”

“How do you want to die?”

I scrunched up my nose, “w-what?”

“How do you want to die?” She asked again, no hint of a joke or even a smile on her face.

“Uh… I don’t know.” I answered with a shrug.

She leaned back, thoughtfully examining my face. “You never think about your death?”

“No, I have… I just… I dunno…” She waited, watching me expectantly. “I guess I want to die peacefully in my sleep.” The edge of her lip lowered in disappointment, the skin between her eyebrows tightening. “Isn’t that what everyone wants?” I added.

“That’s not how I want to go.” Chasey said, her voice low and filled with sincerity.

“How do you want to die?” I asked quietly.

Her eyes glazed as she looked at a spot above my head. She seemed suddenly distant, removed. “I want to die in a slasher film.”

I waited for additional details, but she was silent, her eyes still absently locked on the wall. “Like, on the set?” I asked.

She looked back at me, her eyes sharpening back into focus. “No, no. I mean, I want to be chased through the woods by a serial killer. A butcherer of men.”

I pulled away, suddenly aware of how close her face was to mine, and rested my back against the firm headboard. Chasey took this as an invitation to adjust her sitting position as well, crossing her legs in front of her as she turned to face me. She settled and I tried to ignore that her knees were now resting against mine. She leaned in, her face filled with urgency.

“Dying is the last thing you will ever do. Why would you want to die in your sleep? I want to be aware of my death. I don’t want to be numb to it, in shock like if you freeze or drown. I want to be in the moment for as long as possible. If I’m being chased by a crazed lunatic, my adrenaline will be heightened, I will be more focused than I have ever been in my life. Each second will stretch into hours. There I will remain for an eternity, trapped in my own demise. I will be in the moment, no longer existing outside of it. My thoughts won’t be in the past, the life I’ve led, my regrets and unfulfilled wishes. I’ll be there and nowhere else. Running. Surviving until I am nothing but a memory, my mind and thoughts vanished forever. I will be no more. But, before that, I will be aware of my death in a way most people will never be aware of anything in their entire lives. I will be forced to savor every last second of the last moments of my life.” Chasey stopped, she was breathing hard at this point, her face only inches from mine.

I swallowed and stared at her, unsure of what to say.

And then, she closed the space between our lips. My mind went blank. Her lips were so soft, her scent so delicious. She opened her lips slightly, pushing mine apart, and her tongue gently coaxed mine to join. Her mouth never leaving mine, she pushed me down into the bed, one hand at the base of my skull, the other on my shoulder. She dropped her body onto mine, her breasts pressing into my much smaller ones. I was jarringly aware of my inexperience, my small chest, my slight stomach rolls, and then she kissed harder and all those thoughts dissipated as I lost myself in the moment.

I awoke, my head resting on Chasey’s naked chest. I let my head rise and fall with her breath. The sun shone through the thin crack of my closed curtains, illuminating my bedroom wall in front of me. A wall so familiar to me it contrasted sharply against the new body beneath mine, unknown yet with a weight of intimacy that warmed my body from my spine outward. I sighed, forcing myself to remain still. I didn’t want to wake her. I didn’t want her to leave. I wanted this moment to last forever.

But of course, every moment has to end.

My bedroom door opened behind me and I sat bolt upright, covering my exposed breasts. Rachel stood in the doorway, her face frozen in shock. Chasey groaned and shifted beside me. She noticed Rachel and lifted herself onto her arm, blinking groggily.

“Morning, Rach” Chasey said, her voice thick with sleep.

Rachel was staring at Chasey, unable to move her eyes away from her nudity. Finally, her eyes moved to mine. We stared at each other. I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t react.

“I have to go home.” Rachel said, her voice flat. She stepped back, closing the door behind her. I sat there, my body trembling. Chasey straightened, watching me with concern, but I couldn’t look at her. Shame poured from the top of my head down, filling my heart and stomach with a disgusting sourness like yellow bile. Chasey rested her hand on my back.

“Are you ok, Emma?” She asked, her voice so innocent, so unaffected by what just occurred. I forced my face to turn towards her, to meet her eyes. Chasey leaned in and kissed my lips lightly.

I flew from the bed and ran to my dresser, grabbing a bra, shirts and jeans falling to the floor beside me in my haste.

Chasey stood from the bed. “Emma?” She asked, her voice sounded afraid. Something I had never heard before. I whipped around, holding loose clothing close to my chest. Hot angry tears filling my eyes.

“Get out!” I said, shaking with rage.

“Emma.” Chasey said, her expression one of hurt.

“Out!” I cried, pointing to the door with my free hand.

She picked up her shirt and panties from the floor and left, her head hung in defeat.

Months passed and I saw Chasey less and less. Rachel never told anyone about what she saw, and we never discussed it. But I made sure to distance myself as much as possible from  Chasey, and she seemed to get the message. When school started up again she quit the newspaper and never showed up to another meeting of the Philosophy club.

Yet, when I did see her, when I’d pass her in the hall or watch her give a presentation in class, my body would ache for her. I’d fall asleep at night thinking of her soft kisses. Thinking about how she tasted, how her body felt on top of mine, my hands running across her skin.

I wanted to take back rejecting her. I wish I hadn’t kicked her out of my room, that I hadn’t cared what Rachel saw. I wish I had turned back towards her and pulled her body to mine, falling back asleep with her warmth in my arms.

One morning I saw her as I was walking to the restroom during class. She was at her locker, scavenging the mess inside for something. I walked to her, standing above the open locker, listening to her mumble in frustration. My heart melting in my chest as she swore at a misplaced tampon floating around textbooks and loose papers.

“There you are!” She exclaimed, pulling it to her chest and shutting the door with a metallic clang. She jumped as she noticed me beside her. Her cheeks paled at the sight of me.

“Hey, Chasey.” I said, giving her a small smile.

Chasey narrowed her eyes and stood, turning on her heel with a loud “Hmph!” I watched her walk down the hall, her steps heavy and with purpose. My heart stung with the pain I knew I caused her, the pain I now felt.

A few days later I wrote Chasey an apology note and slipped it into her locker through the slats in the door, asking her to text me so we could chat about it. About us. Chasey never texted. I left a few more notes and even tried texting her, but I never got a response.

Until one day when I opened my locker and a black card fell out onto the dusty linoleum floor. I picked it up. My name was written in red ink on the front in Chasey’s handwriting. My heart fluttered and I shoved my books into my locker so my hands would be free to peel it open.

It was an invitation. Her birthday was October 22nd, a fact I hadn’t known previously, and she was hosting a Halloween themed party. This was it. This was my chance. I squealed in delight to the concern of my neighbors. I bit my lip, trying to keep my excitement under control. My smile stretched wide despite my efforts, a ting of copper touching my tongue as my tooth cut into the soft delicate flesh of my lip.

The address on the invitation took us to an old warped house far from the neat and uniform subdivisions me and my friends live in. My dad eyed the disheveled slate roof and drooping porch of the one story home with concern.

“Who is this friend again?” He asked.

“Chasey. You met her at my birthday! She was the only one who talked to you.” I said, exacerbated with repeating myself.

“Oh, the little goth girl!” He said. “Yeah, yeah, I remember. She was…” He eyed the house again, “nice.”

I rolled my eyes. “Dad, stop being a snob.”

“I’m not being a snob. I know not everyone has the money we do, I just didn’t expect her home to be so… “ He searched for the word, “rundown.”

I made a noise of disgust and opened the door to leave.

“Hey, hey!” He said, and I turned and gave him a quick hug. “Love you, kiddo! I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning.”

I gave him a peck on the cheek, “thanks, dad!” and shot from the seat.

“Be good!” He yelled, the car door cutting him off as it slammed shut. I pulled at the short skirt of my crushed velvet dress. It had taken me forever to pick a costume. I wanted something mature and sexy, without being too slutty. I decided to go as a witch. My deep purple dress was fitted, but not too tight, with a low neckline that complimented the large metal cross that hung around my neck. I wore the strapless bra I had bought for my cousin’s wedding the year before, the stiff tight padded cups giving me undeserved cleavage. To complete the ensemble, I wore a black pointed hat and carried an old wooden broom I had found in the attic.

My dad’s car idled in the rocky driveway as I walked to the front door, my heart hammering in my chest. I lifted my hand to knock but it swung open before I could, revealing Chasey dressed as Drew Barrymore from Scream. Her eyes drifted to my cleavage and she looked up at me smiling wickedly, her eyebrow arched. I felt warm, my breath taken away by the familiar expression I hadn’t seen in months.

“Come on in.” Chasey said with a small nod. I turned and gave my dad a final wave. I stepped inside and heard the heavy vehicle slowly pull away. The house was dark, illuminated only by that candles that covered every surface.

“Jesus.” I said, leaning my broom against the wall, “you’re gonna burn your house down.”

“This isn’t my house.” Chasey replied jeeringly.

“It’s not?” I asked.

Chasey laughed, “of course not! You really think I live in a shithole like this? No, I live in a nice little suburban McMansion, just like you. But I wanted someplace special for my birthday.”

Chasey walked through a doorway and I followed her into the kitchen. She grabbed a tallboy from the counter and passed it to me. “Drink up.”

I pulled the tab, piercing the thin metal with a sharp hiss. “Where is everyone else?” I asked, looking around.

“Oh, the guest of honor should be here soon.” Chasey said, looking at her watch.

“Aren’t you the guest of honor?”

Chasey looked up at me and stuck her tongue out flirtatiously. I wanted to kiss her. I wanted to hug her, bring her close to me, press my body into hers and kiss her. But instead I brought the warm beer to my mouth and drank. I felt uncomfortable with her. I still longed for her. As she walked in front of me back to the living room, I had to resist the urge to reach out and touch her. She sat on the couch and I sat beside her, giving ample space between us. Forcing myself not to lean towards her. To smell her. To lose myself in her.

We sat there is stiff silence until she turned to me, quite abruptly, her eyes peering into mine with a surprising softness. I could see a genuine earnestness beneath the cool pool of her irises.

“Thank you.” She said.

“For what?”

“For coming.”

“Of course. Thanks for inviting me.” I hesitated. “I-I was worried you never wanted to see me again.” The air shimmered in the sea of flames surrounding us, a dull heat radiating from the candles, emphasizing the heat growing in my body.

Chasey leaned in and kissed me. It was as soft and sweet as I remembered. I pushed my mouth into hers, relishing the warmth as I placed my hand on her thigh. I parted my lips, preparing to deepen the kiss when a loud knock echoed into the stiff silent air of the room. She tore away, looking towards the door. Another knock, this one heavy and insistent.

Chasey turned to me, her eyes wide. “Run.”

“Huh?” I asked as Chasey jumped up from the couch, pulling my arm and leading me quickly back into the kitchen. My beer fell from my startled grasp, a wet stain growing on the carpet behind us. “Chasey, what the fuck?” I asked, trying to fight against her.

“Run!” She commanded.

A loud bang and crack made me look back in time to see the head of an axe being pulled from the split wood of the front door. My broom fell with the force, landing onto a wall of candles.

“What the fuck!” I cried. Chasey pulled again at my arm and this time my body obeyed without resistance. Loud cracks followed us as we ran across the kitchen to the back door, which Chasey threw open. She pulled me into the cool night air as I heard a final crack behind us, followed by heavy deliberate footsteps.

Chasey and I were running across the yard now, running towards a line of trees. I looked over my shoulder and saw the large shadowy figure of a man fill the open doorway we had just left, an axe hanging from his hand. I turned forward, quickening my pace.

“What the fuck! What the fuck!” I screamed as we burrowed deeper into the woods. I stumbled on a tree root and Chasey pulled me to her.

“We have to keep going!” She insisted as she started running again, her hand tight around my own.

“Chasey, what did you do?” Tears were beginning to flow down my cheeks. My entire body felt cold, not by the air but by fear. Instead of answering she pulled harder, pounding her feet against the cold autumn ground, my body following blindly. My breath was starting to catch in my throat with the effort of running. My gasps for air harshly mixing with fear, combining as well as water and oil, creating a battle of will in my lungs. I tried to scream and cough at the same time but instead sputtered out gibbered sobs.

“Come on, it’s just up here.” I looked to see her dragging me to an old dilapidated shed. Chasey dropped my arm as she thrust the door open. She pushed me inside as she looked over her shoulder. Satisfied, she followed me, closing the door behind her.

I stood there shaking as she examined the old rotten tools along the wall. She grabbed a hammer and quickly weighed it in her hand.

“What are you doing!? What is going on!?” I demanded, trying to catch my breath with large deep gulps of air.

She inhaled deeply before calmly looking at me and answering, ”I told you, this is how I want to go.”

”At 16!?!” I placed my hand on my chest, feeling my heart pounding against my ribcage as I took another sharp inhale of breath.

”I’m ready.” She replied, her voice eerily steady.

“You’re insane!” I cried.

“Keep it down! Do you want him to find us?”

I looked to a small window set in the wall, too dirty to see through. “Who-who is he?” My breath was starting to become more manageable as the tears began to dry. Instinct rushed through my blood, taking over my fear with a determination I didn’t recognize. I swallowed and steadied myself, sniffing back the snot that dripped from my nostril and looking at Chasey.

“His name is Jack. I found him on… on a site.”

”Jesus fucking Christ!” I pulled my phone out of my pocket and clicked on the picture of my dad on the homescreen. “This is so fucked up. Even for you.” I snap, glaring incredulously at Chasey’s back as she peered through the window, hammer in hand.

The ringing in my ear stopped and the phone clicked, “Emma?”

“Dad! Dad! You need to come quick! There’s a guy and he has an axe!” I whispered into the phone, my words toppling out over each other, losing all sense and direction. I could hear his muffled and confused voice on the other end.

“What are you doing!” Chasey screamed as she grabbed my phone and threw it to the ground. I lunged for it as the hammer she held landed with a crunch that made my stomach heave violently. She turned, ”I thought you loved me!” She growled as she grabbed me by the hair.

My head throbbed with the pressure. ”That doesn’t mean I want to die for you!”

Chasey brought her face to mine, “that’s exactly what it means.” She said, spittle hitting my face.

”Fuck. You.” I spat back, shoving her away from me and into the shed door. My hair tore from my scalp with a painful rip. Chasey cried out as her shoulder bounced against the door with a loud shudder that echoed through the woods. I grabbed my destroyed phone, angry tears in my eyes, but it was useless, its shattered screen permanently black.

”Well, it’s too late now.” Chasey said as she watched, her hand rubbing her sore shoulder.

I looked up, my breathing clipped with pure hatred. A snarl escaped from my throat. It was a noise I didn’t recognize. One of anger, of betrayal, of bloodlust. “No.” I said as I straightened. “It’s not.” I threw my arm around her neck as I kicked the thin shed door open.

“Ow, what are you doing?” Chasey demanded, twisting desperately in my grasp. I gripped tighter. The shadowy figure of a large man stepped towards us, his features dark. The woods were barely illuminated by the stars above the dense treetops, but I could tell he was hungry. Hungry to feel our bodies break beneath him. Hungry for the sounds of bones cracking, blood gurgling, our childish screams swallowed by pain and desperation and death. Chasey screamed, feebly trying to push herself away from me. I moved to her ear, “isn’t this what you wanted?” I asked, my lips brushing against her skin. “Isn’t this what you fucking wanted?” I asked louder as Jack approached us. Chasey screamed, kicking and hitting me wildly. I threw her onto the forest floor, slamming my foot as hard as possible into her lower back. An anguished scream emitted from her.

“Happy birthday, bitch.”

Chasey tried to scramble away, her hands dragging through dead leaves, loose dirt, and bugs. I watched as Jack’s arms rose above his head and fell. The head of the axe shone in an nonexistent light, as if it were illuminated by some holy source, separate from the reality around us. The axe swung downwards, taking what felt like hours to land with a bloody thunk as it dug itself into Chasey’s leg.

Her screams followed me as I jogged back to the house. The windows glowed orange with the fire growing inside. In only a few minutes I was on the road, my head buzzing, an inferno behind me. I bent forward, resting my hands on my knees as I vomited the little bit of bud light I had drank less than an hour beforehand. Two headlights approached me and I squinted up into them. The car stopped and a figure stepped out.

“Emma?” My father’s voice, filled with shock and concern, shrouded me like an old blanket. I ran to him, falling into his arms as I started sobbing uncontrollably. I looked up at his kind face, illuminated from one side by the cool white of his car’s headlights, and from the other by the burning house. He looked like god and the devil, joined as one. An angel of mercy. A demon of hate. I collapsed as the image faded into black.

The police asked me a lot of questions. I told them it was Chasey’s birthday party. That the weird girl at school didn’t have any friends. That she invited me and I went to be nice That a man came and chased us with an axe. That I lost Chasey. That I didn’t know what happened to her. That I called my dad. That I dropped my phone in the woods. That I didn’t know how I had gotten away. That I had just ran.

They told me the man who attacked us was named Jack Fagerman. I nodded as their words turned into shapeless droning in my ear.

I should’ve been killed. I realize now that it would’ve made no difference. The girl I was when I showed up that night is dead. She will never exist again. Now I am a something new. Something shapeless. A confused lost soul that travels aimlessly. No longer a child but not a woman. A thing filled with trauma from a night I will never forget. A night that will never be washed from my mind. A night that has forever marked me.

Chasey was right, death is only for the living. Yet, I have come so close to death that my life will never be blemish free again. It is stained with the dark rust red of death and decay. I have not only lost my innocence, but any semblance of humanity.

The police still haven’t caught Jack Fagerman, yet I know where to find him. The police never even asked that. They listened to me recite the final girls’ epilogue, then closed my file and hid it in the back of an evidence box to grow dusty. They had no expectation that a sheltered teenager would know anything of real value.

I’m going back. I’m going to find Jack and finish what we started.

Death is only for the living, and I am still alive.

For now.

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