This is After The End: King’s Kid 3 (This Means War)

In spite of how thick I figured the walls are, I think the whole neighborhood can hear Halley and me as we go squealing up the basement stairway. We are in the neighborhood haunted house, and we just saw what I am sure are the bones of Marty Page, this kid who died in the very basement we are running from some decades ago.

Maybe it’s because my eyes have adjusted to the dark a little more, but I can see the front door when I reach the ground floor. I jump at it, but it seems to be locked or barricaded from the outside, and no matter how hard I try, I just can’t get it open. During all this, the image of Marty Page’s bones keeps flashing in front of me. If he really did die down there, then this house really is haunted, and it’s only a matter of time before Old Simon comes for us. I bang the door even harder after coming to that conclusion, but still to no avail.

“There! The Kitchen!” Halley shouts, and I see just now that there may be some daylight coming from there. If there’s even just a window that’s only slightly open, I am ready to jump through it if it will get us out of here. This time, I grab Halley’s hand and start rushing toward the kitchen. And indeed, the door looks like it could be forced open, because there is a considerable space between it and the frame, and I can see that the bolt keeping it shut isn’t as strong as they come. As it turns out, it isn’t even close. I kick the door and it swings open with almost no resistance. But being in flight mode, I rush out into the light without any caution, as lost as a mouse coming out of its fumigated hideout. And because I am practically blind while my eyes are adjusting to the new brightness setting, I bump into a blurry figure of a man.

An old man.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was old Simon.

This time, my body just can’t take any more shocks, and within seconds, I black out.

I can now fully appreciate the term ‘rude awakening’ when I come to a few moments later. Tate took the liberty of thrashing me with a pale of water to bring me back to consciousness, and I don’t need a mirror to know that I am looking like I just woke up from a nightmare. Except, it wasn’t a nightmare. The old man I saw is still standing there next to Tate (who has the console in her hands, by the way), and from the smug look she has on her face, I can tell that it was all part of her plan.

The old man, I soon find out, is Mr. Natelly. He stays next door to the Grange Villa, and he gives Halley and me a scolding for going into the house in the first place. Tate probably went and snitched on us when we were in the basement, only moments away from wetting ourselves. She must have had everything planned out, and now I feel only half as mad at her as I feel stupid for falling for it. A haunted house? How could I have been that gullible? And the joy that she is getting from seeing me like this – immeasurable.

“Tate, why do you hate us?” Halley asks innocently when we are halfway home. She had been going on and on about how scared I was when I saw Mr. Natelly, and I think the question really catches her off guard. It came at just the right time because I’ve pretty much had enough by now.

“Kid, if I hated you, I would have kept you locked up in that house, I wouldn’t have given you your console back, and I wouldn’t have recorded the stupid look your brother had on his face when he thought he saw a ghost. That video is going viral!” She laughs out loudly (probably supposed to be an evil laugh), and then gives a long sigh afterward. “It’s all love, dear cousin,” she says with as much sarcasm as I have come to expect from her; hand gestures and all, just to add effect. “All love.”

“Don’t mind her, Halley, she’s just mad at the world and I don’t blame her. Besides the fact that her dad has another family and doesn’t want her, her mom is on tour on the Korean Sea and she’s not sure if she’ll even come back.” I don’t mean for my words to be laced with so much venom, but I am just so mad at her for what she did, and especially since I can’t hit her, I feel like words are the only thing I have in my arsenal to use against her. But still, I know I may have gone too far with my counterstrike.

“You have no idea what you are talking about, and keep my mother out of this, you rascal!”

“You can act as tough as you like, but I know everything. Yeah, I know your mom didn’t tell you about the divorce until a week before she was deployed, and your dad wouldn’t even consider you staying with him. So go, ahead; upload the videos and see how much I care. Which is probably a whole lot. But you just have to face it. Nothing you do to me and Halley will make your mom come back, and no prank you pull will make your dad want you again, or even get back together with your mom. And that’s a fact.” Okay, I may have said what I felt needed to be said, but I still feel really awful almost immediately after, no matter how much of a pain in the neck Tate is. Maybe that was a little uncalled for. She gives me a disconsolate look with a tear in the corner of her eye and then runs ahead of us toward home.

“That was cooooooold bro. Real cold,” Halley says.

“Dude, I had to,” is all I can respond. For a moment, I thought he would take my side, but I know he is right. It was sub-zero actually.

Because of the sour note things ended on, Halley and I walk in pin drop silence – something that never happens – all the way back to the house. I see my mother’s car in the driveway, and I get a little concerned. If she starts asking where we have been, she might find out we went to the Grange Villa; a place she long forbade us from going to. And I’m such a terrible liar, I can only tell her the truth. Tate’s crazy scheme to…….Tate’s crazy scheme! This is all her fault! With Halley as my witness, maybe I can finally get her in the trouble she deserves. It’s opportunistic for me to be thinking about this now, but maybe I’ll go at least a month without her bothering me. It’s brilliant. Brilliant! This new plot of mine has me rushing home, just itching to snitch on Tate. I pace through the front yard, up onto the porch and barge into the lounge, with the whole story on the tip of my tongue, ready to spill out. But instead of an interrogation, I find my mom standing next to Tate, facing the television.

“What’s…….what’s going on?” I ask. None of them respond. I can’t see the screen from where I am standing, so I go around them and start watching a breaking news bulletin. I slowly pick up the remote and turn up the volume. The reporter is talking about fighting that broke out in the demilitarized zone on the Korean Peninsula, and then something about the North readying their nuclear arsenal, along with a whole lot of other words I’m not quite getting. I’m struggling to keep up with the interpretation of what this will mean for us, but it’s spelled out for me clearly enough a few moments later by a voice that now weighs heavily with the news it’s carrying.

“US forces in the area are on high alert and remain ready to engage should this escalate any further.” The Korean sea is where Tate’s mother’s battalion has been undergoing military exercises. Perinne King might just find herself on the front lines of a nuclear war.

Suddenly, everything mean, nasty and plainly uncalled for that Tate did to me and Halley seems irrelevant. I was so intent on getting her in trouble, but with a capricious change of heart, I now just want to tell her that everything will be alright, even though it will mean nothing coming from me. I turn around to say something, but I notice she isn’t anywhere around.

“Tate?” I call. This brings my mom’s attention to the matter too, and she also calls for her, but there’s no answer.

“I think she went upstairs,” Halley says, and my mom starts making her way to Tate’s room just to check on her. When she gets to the door, she knocks a few times, but still, there is no answer,

“Tate, honey, are you alright?” She slowly opens the door. “Hey, I know this may be a lot to take in, but I just want you to know that-“

When she enters Tate’s room, she realizes that she had been talking to no one. The windows are wide open with the wind blowing the curtains in the dramatic fashion that this moment necessitates, and her wardrobe looks ransacked.

If Tate was ever here, she is long gone now.

~~

Tate’s been gone for four days. I may not understand why she did it, but I certainly do feel responsible, and extremely terrible for wishing she could be struck by lightning or that a meteor could crash into her on a good number of occasions. The police have been searching everywhere; at her dad’s place, a couple more of our other relatives’, some of her friends’ (as rotten as she was, she still had friends. Believe that), but she’s just nowhere to be found.

My mom is a wreck because Tate has always been the daughter she never had (and the daughter I’m glad she never had. Sorry, just speaking my mind), and it’s breaking her heart that Tate ran away under her watch. My dad seems to be constantly on the phone, always talking to someone who could help, have information or who could have seen her somewhere. Halley doesn’t blame me straightforwardly, but I think we both know that if I never said those words to her when we were coming from the Grange Villa, she may not have run away.

Doggone Grange Villa.

Wait…..what if…..what if Old Simon has her already? It could only mean Halley and I are next – no, no! I am not doing this to myself. Arghhhh!!!!!! I know haunted houses aren’t real, but what if they are? Is something deeper going on here? Or do I just want to believe that Old Simon and Marty Page took her because it exempts me from the blame? Maybe I have to stop trying to exonerate myself and looking for excuses. I think I just need to face the truth.

This is all my fault.

Every day, I make sure I hear the prime time news bulletin. Not only to hear news about the Korean Peninsula, which is on the verge of having its second war but also just to see if there will be anything about Tate. It’s driving me crazy trying to figure out what could have happened to her. I’m in her room most of the time, looking for clues that could help lead us to where she is, or at least get us on the trail. She didn’t leave a note or anything, but I have to at least try. There isn’t that much that I can do, and trust me, if there was, as much as my inner self would resist, I would do it. Because as much as I may hate her, in a way, she still is my sister.

And in the words of one of my favorite actors, family, never turns their back on family.

~~

Jack

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