I’ll only say this once, but our worlds are very different.
Welcome to Lancaster, a small town filled with smaller-hearted people. How is my world different from yours? Well, for starters, the most popular hangout spot is the Tater Tot Diner, or that if you can’t find happiness, you have to gain it—by killing others. But so far, I’m the only one who knows that.
My name is Heath Miller and happiness is all I want. It’s the last month of grade twelve, as the warm summer breeze picks up and the high school bell rings.
Step on the crack and your dog will die. Step on the crack and you won’t graduate. Step on the crack and you’ll die.
I hesitate, my foot hovering over a crack between two tiles in the middle of the school hallway. The next second, both my feet fly over the crack and I’m on the ground.
“What the heck dude!” I yell. I turn over to see a boy. He’s got a scar on his left cheek and fluffy black hair that he often brushes out of his eyes. Meet Malakai Davis, my only best friend.
“Good morning to you too Kai.” I get up, grabbing my school bag and running shoes.
“What’s up with the sneakers?” he questions, his voice deeper than usual.
“Uh,” I pause, “got track practice after school.”
“Since when do you do track?”
I don’t answer. Of course he’s the only one to notice, but I don’t know how to tell him. Heading through the narrow door with a periodic table chart taped on it, our science teacher continues to go through each of the students’ names on the line paper.
“Ah, nice to see you, boys. Good on you for coming in on time,” he says sarcastically.
“Good morning Mr. Demir,” Kai and I say together, covering up our tardiness with an enthusiastic smile.
“As I was saying, Casey. Is Casey Carter here?” There’s a long pause in the classroom.
“Is she missing again? But she never misses school when we have track practice,” two students whisper under their breath to each other. Kai and I both sit beside each other on the tall lab stools and pull out our notebooks. I look forward and stare at Casey’s empty seat.
“Are you happy now Heath?” a cold voice whispers into my ear. I turn around so fast and almost fall out of my seat.
“Dude, what’s wrong?” Kai says, grabbing a hold of me.
“Nothing, I thought I heard something.”
As Mr. Demir starts moving from chapter to chapter, everyone continues to take notes in their notebooks. I keep telling myself, open your damn notebook Heath, but my eyes are glued to where Casey should be sitting in class.
The next period bell rang, indicating it is the second period, but the exit door is calling my name. The pressure is so overwhelming that I made a run for it and decide to ditch school. I run to the back of the empty field and hide behind the tall grass.
Look what you did. I slam my backpack on the ground, throw my back against the grass, and stare at the blue sky. She’s dead and it’s all because of you. I close my eyes hoping the voices inside my head will shut up. I hope you suffer, since you’re the reason Casey is dead.
“SHUT UP,” I scream. A couple of startled birds fly away from the tree I was sitting under. I am to blame, but I had no choice. Killing her was the only way I could be happy. I try not to resort to killing innocent people and I wish I wasn’t cursed with this knowledge. But, I’m forgetting to feel what happiness feels like and I’m hungry for it. Casey obtains happiness from running. She was a track star at school and nothing made her happier than when she was on her ground. To fully absorb her contentment, I need to continue doing what made her happy. I might despise going anything faster than a normal walking pace, but I’m not in any mood to find out what would happen to me if I didn’t follow through with the rules.
I wake up the next day with my head spinning and pounding. Crap, I missed track practice yesterday. It was hard to keep my mind straight on the way to school, but getting there early and running laps with Coach made it all go away in a second. As I open my locker to grab my math textbook, I feel this wave of happiness fly through me. My head was in the clouds and for once I have the urge to greet others with a smile. This load of pleasure is overwhelming, but so addicting at the same time.
“Join the mathletes! Earn your extra credit and have fun learning too!” a kid yelled in the hallways. Owen Gilles, a sophomore and a huge nerd. Wouldn’t want to stand ten feet near him, that love for math feels contagious. But then again, that energy of happiness, I need it.
“What?” I say aloud, bringing myself back to reality.
“Would you like to join the mathletes?” Owen asks me in a squeaky voice. I look at him standing awkwardly and lean in towards him.
“Do you think you could meet me in the boy’s locker room? I need some help with uh,” I
Steady my voice, trying to make it sound believable, and possibly to cover the shakiness of my voice, “math.”
“Sure, I’ll see you after school. Bye Heath!” he says eagerly. Grabbing his extra flyers and school bag, I watch him scurry himself down the hall to reach his class before the bell. I almost feel bad for baiting him, he seems so cheerful. But then again, that’s why I’m doing it.
The last period comes to an end and I make my way to the only boy’s locker room in the school. I drag my feet across the ground, waiting for the majority of the school to leave the building. I detangle some wires in my pocket and put my earphones in, setting my music at maximum volume. You think that’ll stop you from hearing his screams. I continued to press down on the volume button hoping it would be louder, but it made no difference.
“Hey Heath, you’re late,” Owen says, with his math notes laying on the bench.
“Sorry kiddo, it’s a long way from the music room,” Owen starts grabbing more notes and a calculator from his bag.
Do it, do it now and get it over with.
“I hear you’re finishing calculus, and I think I have some ways to help you,” Owen turns his head away from me. This is the perfect time; I really don’t want to see the look in this kid’s eyes when I kill him. I grab the hammer from under my shirt and toss it in my hand.
“What exactly did you need help wi-” I drop the hammer onto the ground. My hands immediately clasp over my mouth. A pool of blood starts to form under his head, exactly where the face of the hammer hit him. Immediately then, I feel it.
I knew it. What brought Owen happiness, as I guessed, is the mathletes team.
It’s lucky that I’m a pretty good lock picker, I think as I’m hiding Owen’s body in a closet that’s been locked for years. I rummage through his bag, grabbing his mathletes keycard and notes. This feeling, this sensation, it’s coming back stronger than today morning.
A few days pass and I start to notice how much more I enjoy the mathletes meeting compared to track practice, but I was attending each just enough to feel more joyful.
You’re still hungry for it, aren’t you?
“No, no I’m not,” I say to the voice in my head.
But it’s so addicting, you’re not going to stop.
“No, I’m done. I’m happy and I’ve stopped.”
I just realize how stupid I must be, talking to myself. I’m as happy as I can be and nothing can break that. Before I could take a step forward myself, something, or more like someone punches my right arm.
“Dude, dude, dude! Guess what.” Kai says, panting his way through each word.
With an eager smile on his face, Kai blurts out “I GOT IN!” I blankly stare at Kai.
“I got into Lan Tech. I’m going to my dream university!”
“Oh wow,” I say, trying to sound exciting, “that’s amazing bro.”
“I can’t believe it, today’s the best day of my life.” I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that none of the universities I applied to sent me an admission, he seems way too happy.
“Wanna meet in the woods after school. 3:30 sharp.” I ask, my hands in a fist.
“Okay sure, you good? No need to be so creepy about it.” I just nod and leave.
He’s right, why am I being so creepy about it? The woods, am I crazy?
“You know what you want to do.” The voice in my head tells me. Be quiet Owen, you don’t get it. I simply asked him because Kai deserves to celebrate.
“Oh come on, admit he’s never looked this happy and you’re craving it.” Shut up Casey, that’s my best friend. I impatiently waited for the last period bell to ring and head straight to the field and eventually into the woods. It’s 3:20, so I have some time. Time for what?
“No, no, no, no.” I cradle my head in my hands and try to wash away what I was thinking. I start going through my phone, photos of Kai and I, funny texts between us.
Yeah, that’s my best friend.
I smile as I continue to go through some of the best memories of my life.
“Heath, look at these sticks I found on the way here, we could play that game we used to as kids, for old times sake.” Kai cries out.
Don’t think about it. Get it over with. Do it now.
“We just need to find two rocks near the lake-” In a split second, I let go of the dagger I used to stab him and watch Kai fall to his knees and onto his side. The smell of dead fish from the lake starts to linger in my direction, the air begins to feel heavier and all I see is Kai laying dead in front of me. His blood starts to drain into the muddy ground, and the moment is sinking in. I killed Kai. Any minute now, I thought, my head would be full of images of him reading his acceptance letter to Lan Tech, or him playing soccer in the field with his teammates.
I was wrong.
Disturbing images of abuse at home, constant fear of disappointing everyone Kai cares about and his family neglecting him crowd in my mind. Kai never really talked about life at home, but I could never imagine it was this bad. I drop my weight onto the ground where Kai’s lifeless body is laying, holding him in my arms, I refuse to let go of my best friend. Kai’s happiness came from hanging out with me, his best friend, and I just killed my only one.
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