That night the four of us still went to Jordan’s to play Magic. It was Friday after all: What else were we gonna do?
James showed up last, buttoned to the neck in the suit he’d worn that morning, and in his James-way started getting all prissy when he saw that the rest of us had changed. (“You know, in Victorian times someone in mourning would stay in black for-” “Dude, shut the fuck up.”) We said hello to Jordan’s mom—who looked at us like her chest was imploding but couldn’t find anything to say—and climbed the stairs to the attic room we referred to as The Hole. This was a cramped, dust-smelling space no one else ever set foot in, crammed full of boxes the color of rotting olives and squeezed smaller by the ceiling beams we’d just started having to duck. We had a card table wedged near the center of the room, just below the lightbulb that spidered from the rafters.
We took our seats at the mismatched chairs we’d pulled from the surrounding junk, noticing only when we were all sitting down that we now had one chair too many. It sat there empty between Jordan and Jane, a broken wicker rocker, still pushed back from the table. Without a body to cover it, the crack in its back was like a wide, dopey grin. Hey guys! it seemed to say. Josh just down in the bathroom or-?
To keep from falling apart again, we got out our decks and shuffled. We started rolling to see who went first, but when the die got to Jane, she stopped and looked at the chair. “Should we…you know,” she said, and gestured, like trying to Force-push it away.
“No,” said Jordan, standing up again. “Not yet.”
She went downstairs and came back shuffling a deck we all recognized as Josh’s.
“How’d you get that?” said Joey, but Jordan, permanently banned from the comic book store for stealing, suspended once for breaking into our school, just shrugged. She sat down in the rocker, and drew Josh an opening hand.
We didn’t talk about it. Following Jordan’s example, we all took turns playing for our friend. We cast his spells, we summoned his creatures, we attacked his opponents, us. We played dumb during our own turns, walked willingly into the tricks and traps we shouldn’t have known he had waiting. We had to pause a couple times—somebody was crying, or shaking too badly to draw—but we didn’t stop playing until the game was over for real. It’s a testament to Josh as a deck-builder (and maybe to us as friends) that with four different people making his decisions, with his in-the-moment enemies seeing all his cards, and with he himself then eight hours underground, he won.
As we left that night, we hugged for the first and only time since we’d started gaming together. There was an understanding, as unspoken as everything else had been, that while we’d still be playing Magic every Friday night, we wouldn’t be playing like this ever again. Next week only four chairs would be set up in The Hole.
—Our story doesn’t really get started until a few weeks later, but Jane likes to point to this night as The Moment It All Began. Josh was, by far, our group’s best Magic player. He had a bunch of different decks, each tested and tuned until it practically ran itself, but the one he loved playing the most was his Zombies. It was basically just a pile, every card related to zombies Josh could get his hands on, and it had less strategy than even the worst of his other decks. All he cared about when he played it was getting as many zombies on the board as he could. His favorite card was called “Army of the Damned,” this massive spell that creates an attack force of twenty-six fucking zombies in groaning waves of unlucky thirteen. He’d cast that thing and cackle like a witch as he laid out his army one zombie at a time. We’d laugh, too, the entire game.
We might have buried that deck with him had that been our call to make, so instead it was the one we used to beat ourselves that night.
Our friend’s new-carved headstone set up not five miles away, our loss still a mind-blanking bottomlessness in our guts, and nearly every move we made in that game had something to do with zombies.
Sometimes death comes knocking,
reads the flavor text on “Army of the Damned”
Sometimes it tears down the walls.
Lisbon Grove was quiet then, a suburb of a suburb of a suburb of Chicago. There have never been any murders here, singular or serial, and the only thing creepy about the houses is their sameness. (Hold one two-story/two-car garage blueprint between two mirrors and you have our streets.) It’s true that the local cemetery does run right up against it, but the oldest stones there only date back to the 80s. No Civil War dead. No witches. We’ve lived here all our lives and have never heard a single ghost story about it.
The idea stirred by Josh’s zombies should have been easy to shake in our town, but in the three months after the funeral, it seemed to be waiting around every corner. In English, Joey and Jordan read “The Monkey’s Paw,” while over in their advanced class, James and Jane got assigned Frankenstein. Joey’s older sister got really into this French show called Les Revenants, and she watched it in their living room every night for a week. We were zoned out as usual at Good Friday Mass, but perked when our priest started reading about the moment of Jesus’ death:
The earth shook, the rocks split, and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.
Scattered around the pews, we all exchanged glances.
Finally, one night, another Friday up in The Hole, Jordan used a kill spell to take out James’s best creature.
“Good one,” said James. “Too bad I have this ‘Raise Dead’ to get it back.”
He put his spell on the board, and we froze. We all stared at the card for a moment, then found other things to look at until James cleared his throat. “Actually,” he said. “I don’t think I wanna do that.”
“No you should,” said Jane, and she peered over her glasses to look around the table. “We should.”
We were quiet for a moment, and then Jordan said, “How?”
“We shouldn’t,” said James, but it was too late.
“There are books,” said Joey, sounding embarrassed that he knew. “Websites.”
“Websites?” said Jordan. “Like howtoressurectthedead.com?”
“You’re joking, but…”
“I really don’t think-” James started, but was cut off by the video Jane had pulled up on her phone. She turned it to make it full-screen, and set it in the middle of the table.
It was a low-quality video from a village in South America, fifty-five seconds in length. The guy behind the camera was filming through a dirt-streaked window, tracking the shambling movements of this…thing out in his yard. Zooming in and moving around the house, he was able to give us a semi-clear look at what appeared to be a very sick man. Grimy clothes. Pale grey skin. He batted at some chickens, dug in the dirt like a dog. The cameraman claimed it was his brother, dead for a month, alive again for a week.
Though the footage was blurry and shaky, you could still see a lot to make you buy that the guy was dead. Fly bites. Bruises. Swaths of blue-green rot. Also the side of his head looked like a cantaloupe shot with a twelve-gauge.
Still when it was over (when the corpse-man had turned in the direction of the house and his brother had ducked down quick and dropped the camera), James said, “How do you know that was real?”
Jane gave him a look that told us all how long she’d privately spent on this, how sure she now was about things like fake and real.
“Does it say how he did it?” said Jordan.
“A little,” said Jane. “He mentions a witch. It’s hard to make out.”
“I don’t think that’s the one we want,” said Joey.
“It’s just a start,” said Jane. “A lead.”
“Guys, come on,” said James, shuffling the cards in his hand round and round. “We can’t really be talking about this.”
“Why not?” said Jordan.
“Because it’s…dark. It’s fucked up. Think about what it means, what we’d have to do. We’d be breaking laws.”
“I’ve broken laws before,” said Jordan.
“That’s not what I mean.”
“He’d do it for us,” said Joey, his voice grown suddenly musical and rich. “He kind of did, when you think about it.” He put his hand on top of James’s, waited until James looked him in the eye. “We owe him one.”
We saw James’s doubts and reservations melt, a near-righteous conviction start to blossom in their place. Sensitive in a way that got his ass kicked a lot but that our poetry and art teachers were always quick to praise, Joey could sometimes just move you like that. His words cinched it for the rest of us too. We weren’t just talking anymore. We were planning.
James pushed his glasses up, rubbed his eyes, and put them back. “So that’s one lead,” he said to Jane. “What else have you got?”
It was a car accident that took Josh from us. The worst part? He was on his way home from a Magic tournament.
He was the only one of us who played Magic competitively. He’d discovered the game when he was eight and showed it to the rest of us as we met and became friends. Joey, Josh’s across-the-street neighbor, brought James, who he knew from chess club, who eventually brought his cousin, Jane. We weren’t really sure how Josh knew Jordan, but she showed up one night, and gifted us The Hole.
For the most part, the four of us were just there to play. We’d never really had friends before this, never had our fun with other people. We played video games alone in our basements. We stayed up late reading when everyone else was asleep. We went around stealing garden gnomes and lived inside our headphones. The game nights, orchestrated by Josh, gave us space to share our interests and hobbies, gave us people to hang out with at recess and after school. They gave us a group to hear jokes from, to complain to, to give shit. Put another way: they brought us all to life.
This was what Magic meant to us, but for Josh it was always something a little more. He never missed a Friday in The Hole, but he also spent most weekends playing in tournaments at our local game store. He could sense his own potential for greatness at this game, and he wanted it. He practiced. He read articles. He talked with older players. He practiced some more. With us, he played for fun. With everyone else, he played to win.
Once a month, his dad would drive him to Chicago for a big tournament. Prize money. Professionals. Josh knew he was never going to win any of these; his only goal was to do better than he had at the last one. He only wanted to grow.
Coming back from a tournament in February, they got caught in a late-winter storm. Josh had just broken his own best record and was basking in personal victory while his dad stared hard through the sleet. Josh was doing this thing he did when he was bored but in a good mood, flipping his deck card-by-card over his head with one hand, effortlessly plucking them from the air with the other. He usually got them all, but sometimes he misjudged. This one hit the moon-roof and landed in the back. He unbuckled his seatbelt and crawled halfway over the cup-holders. Pawing for the card, he poked himself on an earring his mother had lost, and when he said “Ow, fuck,” his dad looked over for just that second. The car in front of them slammed on its brakes. Josh’s cards went everywhere.
Lisbon Grove’s only priest presided over the funeral, an insult considering how much we all hated him. Tubby and pink, he had once seen us playing Magic and told us calmly that it was devil worship. We despised this guy but bring him up now to highlight his pet cliché: “If you want to make God laugh,” he was fond of repeating, whether a situation really called for it or not, “tell him your plans.” We mimicked his smug way of saying it, laughed his haughty little laugh, but we learned while trying to bring Josh back that in this at least, he was right.
Our search began with an elating sense of hope. Don’t get us wrong: We spent that May combing through a lot of awful shit. People in seedy chat rooms said they’d give us what we sought, but only at odd hours in warehouses and truck stops. A picture of Jordan topless could have gotten us a powdered skull, and we could have bought some earth from the supposed tomb of Lazarus for the low price of a video of the boys wrestling naked. (It was Jane who said no.) But down in these dark, fucked-up corners of the web, it didn’t take us long to find exactly what we were looking for. Spells, rituals, potions, machines. There were a lot of dead ends, a lot of things we voted against, but by the start of the summer, we’d found enough workable methods for plans clear down to “N.”
Yet even in an age where the sickest of shit is literally just right there for you to buy, the tools of resurrection are still not available to seventh-graders. How, after all, did a bunch of kids from the suburbs get their hands on that much goat’s blood? One recipe called for the skull of a snake, so James spent close to a month studying taxidermy before accepting his own unwillingness to kill his brother’s python. (We’re gonna skip right over the scene where Jordan gets kicked out of the zoo after sneaking too close to the monkey cage with a banana and a knife.)
Everything we needed cost money, was most of the problem. Jane found a great electrostatic method, but the components of a dynamo cost a lot on their own, let alone for someone whose household chores earn them five bucks a week. You could of course do like Jordan and use your parents’ credit card to try and order a skin-bound grimoire, but then you might have some explaining to do when your dad’s identity gets stolen.
We made a real effort to build this one device. We pooled money, collected cans, shoplifted copper wire. We started trying to assemble the thing, but realized almost immediately we had no clue what we were doing. We were not that kind of nerd. We had no kindly science teacher we could go to for advice, belonged to no online forums that might have helped us out. We tried learning the shit ourselves from the internet, but it was clear after only a short while that it just wasn’t going to happen.
We had no talent for laboratory science, no money for magical solutions, and too much soul for satanic ritual.
(Plus, also: how did we get him out of the ground?)
We were all getting frustrated. Every failure felt like losing Josh all over again. We could almost see his eyes flicker open, his fingers twitch. Then nothing. Flat-line. It was like we’d reached the top of some impossible fucking mountain, only to have God Himself reach down and flick us back to the bottom. Ha ha ha.
Near the end of June, there was a night in The Hole when an hour into our starting game, nobody had tried to attack. This was how heavy our sense of defeat had grown: Why try to win at anything when we were all such natural losers? Then, out of nowhere, Jane ramped herself into her win condition. Her army of elves was suddenly monstrous and unstoppable. She swung and then looked up at us, waiting for the response she knew we didn’t have.
“All right then,” she said, and started picking up her cards. James asked if she wanted to play again, and she answered by dropping all her stuff into her backpack. We didn’t try to stop her. She and James had shown up late that night, and while James was neatly put together as always, Jane looked like she hadn’t slept in days. Her eyes were shiner-black with bags. Her shirt was on inside out. When they walked into The Hole, Jordan had said something like, “Nice of you to join us,” and Jane had shoved her out of her chair.
As she walked out now, James stood up to follow her. She whipped around so fast her glasses went askew. “Don’t you fucking dare,” she said, and he lowered himself back down.
When the front door slammed, Joey asked James what was up. Jane was our group’s most secretive member, keeping her life outside our game nights mostly to herself. When her parents got divorced, we didn’t learn about it for nearly a year. We knew that she’d confided in Josh sometimes, but he’d never told the rest of us anything. Being in the loop often meant prying the insider family gossip out of James.
He sat there riffling his cards for a moment, then spilled the entire story. Earlier that week, Jane’s parents had caught her researching something called a “controlled suicide.” It was an idea we’d talked about briefly but had abandoned for obvious reasons. The thought ran that if you killed yourself but had someone at the ready to pull you from the brink, it might be possible to haul something back with you, maybe even the soul of your dead best friend.
With most of our other plans crumpled up and tossed away, Jane had taken it upon herself to reevaluate this one. In keeping with our luck, her mom had barged in while Jane was busy scrolling through possible ways to off herself. Now she and her stepdad weren’t letting Jane out of their sight. She’d only been allowed to come to The Hole when James agreed to be her chaperone. Worst of all, they’d confiscated both her computer and her phone, shutting down all her access to the few options we had left.
On their way to Jordan’s, Jane had insisted they take the path along the cemetery. When they passed the entrance, she swung off her bike, grabbed the locked gates of the graveyard, and shook them. “Fucking piece of shit,” she screamed. She whirled around and whipped the fence with her backpack over and over. When she was finished she stood there panting for a minute, then marched red-faced back to her bike. “Fucker’s not gonna win,” she said.
It was suddenly clear to all of us though, that yes, The Fucker was.
Ha ha ha.
We never officially gave up on Josh, but after that night, we pretty much stopped trying. We sunk down low, barely speaking to one another. Something within us had ruptured, geysering out sadness like sticky, black oil. There were days when we lacked the strength to pull ourselves out of bed, nights when we woke up crying and couldn’t stop. For the first time since we’d found each other, Friday night came and none of us went to The Hole.
This depression ran strong, keeping us out of commission for days. Every time we thought it was over, a new fountain cracked itself open. It drained us, exhausted us, and frankly made us mad.
Jordan was the first to put our anger into words. Seriously fuck this shit, she texted, and soon all four of us were talking the same way: Fuck it. This is bullshit. I don’t even fucking care anymore. Are you pissed? I’m pissed. So let’s fucking do something already. I hate feeling so fucking powerless all the time. So let’s do something about it. I fucking hate this. I wanna do something. Let’s do something. Let’s do something.
In our quest to find a spell that could resurrect the dead, we had sifted through a whole lot of other magical shit. We had passed over charms for invisibility and telepathy; we’d tossed rituals for limitless wealth over our shoulders. Now we flipped the spell book all the way back to the start, reading each item carefully, searching for something new. We didn’t know exactly what we were looking for, only that if Josh would continue to be dead, if things would really stay that unforgivably fucked up, we wanted to do something fucked up, too.
We don’t know who finally found it. One morning we all woke up and saw that someone had sent the link to our group. Some glitch had left the text nameless, but it wasn’t until much later that we started asking questions (I didn’t send it, I thought you sent it) and we never did turn up the truth.
Regardless: We had it.
The question turned from What to When.
I see by your eagerness, says Victor Frankenstein, that you expect to be informed of the secret with which I am acquainted; that cannot be.
We’re going to echo Dr. Frankenstein’s decree. While the rest of our story concerns the thing we brought to life, How We Did It is the tell-all book we’ve agreed to take to our graves. If, after reading, you still want to try and find it, we’ll say it now: You have been warned.
We waited for a weekend Jordan’s family was going out of town. We could have found somewhere to do it before then, but we knew that wouldn’t have been right. We knew we had to be in The Hole. On the morning of the trip, Jordan faked sick, and that night we all told some lie and went over.
We folded our card table and dragged it down the stairs, clearing as large a space as we could. We let Joey take the lead on reading the incantations, James, who’d researched the language, coaching him on pronunciation. Jordan took charge of collecting our materials, and Jane had all but demanded that she perform the required actions herself.
Before we began, we each took a pull from the vodka bottle Jordan’s mom kept in the freezer, our first. We stopped ourselves from drinking any more. We were worried about losing focus, Joey about slurring his words, but once we got started we discovered quickly that nothing on earth could have stopped us, even ourselves. In stories like these, you often hear people described as “Playing God.” That’s not what it was like it all. The power of the ritual entranced us, possessed us. Jane’s work became more furious, Joey’s reading thunderously bolder. What Jordan and James describe seeing makes us all feel sick even now, but for all that twisting horror, they couldn’t so much as blink. It felt much better than playing God, way better even than being Him. It felt like punching God in the stomach, like throwing Him to the ground and jumping on His chest, like slamming His head into the concrete and shouting, WHO’S LAUGHING NOW YOU PUNK MOTHERFUCKER! YOU SEE WHAT YOU GET WHEN YOU FUCK US LIKE THIS!
Things built and built until finally, with a roar that knocked us all to the ground, the monster, our monster, thrashed itself to life. From elbows and knees we watched in awe as it spun and snarled and snapped. Alligator-ape. Hulking, bone-white dragon. Its wings scraped dust and dead mice from the rafters. Its eyes glowed like something abnormal but ancient, a fish that has lived forever in the darkest part of the ocean. It swiped at our chests with twenty-fingered hands, chomped Jurassic jaws on the air above our heads. Worse than anything else was its tongue, a writhing mass of tentacles and spines that seemed to have a mind, to have intentions, of its own. It lashed and jerked around its own twisted face, skittering and probing like an octopus crossed with a spider.
We crawled away and it flapped its wings, launching itself cleanly and without damage through the ceiling, as if our monster, or the house, was nothing more solid than mist.
We scrambled to the window. We watched it rise slowly, heavily, through the sky, a dark spot blocking the stars, moving off over our suburb. When we could no longer see it, we listened to the massive whoosh of its wings until that too disappeared into the night.
The crickets started chirping again, and the fireflies began to blink.
“You’re bleeding,” said Joey, pointing to Jordan’s hand.
“We all are,” said Jane. She was right.
We didn’t see it again for the rest of the summer. James suspected we had in fact missed something during the ritual, that because of this it had simply dissolved or fallen apart. Jane thought that, like Frankenstein’s monster, it wouldn’t want to live in the world of men, that it would go somewhere deep in the forest and eat deer, maybe spook the occasional hunter, become a legend no one believed. Either way, we assumed it had left Lisbon Grove.
Then we started school.
Anderson Blevins was our class’s biggest douchebag. With lots of money, a great jump-shot, and admittedly incredible hair, you rarely saw Andy without his trademark princely smirk. The last time we’d seen him, he’d been beaming outright. On the final day of seventh grade, Misty Kendrew had sent him a picture of her panties, and his friends had spent the bus ride home alternately giving him shit and begging to see it. Andy merely sat there, just smiled and smiled and smiled.
It was something of a major shock, then, when he showed up late to the first day of school, looking like he’d spent the summer dead at the bottom of a lake. His skin was ashen. That perfect flaxen hair, once the warm homey yellow of the soft July sun at noon, now looked like a hunk of rain-moldy hay. He resembled nothing so much as the corpse from that first video.
Everything he did seemed to happen on a lag, as though he couldn’t quite remember how to sit up or hold his pen. People talked to him, but Andy himself never said a word. Then, just before lunch, Jane accidently knocked a book off her desk, and Andy literally leapt to his feet. He braced himself behind his chair, twitching like a prey animal cowering behind a tree. His eyes darted all around the room until they finally settled on Jane and the book. When he realized what had happened, he started to cry. “God,” he said, knuckles white where they gripped the chair back. “Would you be fucking careful? Is that so fucking hard? Like what the fuck is wrong with you? How hard is it to hold your fucking stupid-” His face contorted, and the rest of his rant melted into choking, snotty sobs. He continued to stand there crying until our teacher took him into the hall.
We knew as soon as the door closed but still felt the need to confirm it. At recess, we saw Andy and his friend Billy Fisher sneaking off behind the school, and we dispatched Jordan to follow them and spy.
“Just tell me what’s going on,” said Billy. “You can tell me anything, man. You can.”
Andy remained silent, but took a long steadying breath. Hidden behind the wall, Jordan leaned as close as she could.
“There’s this…thing,” he said at last. “I don’t know what it is but… It won’t leave me alone.”
In trembling bursts and stutters, Andy described our monster, exactly as we’d last seen it. He told Billy how it would come to him at night, how it could slip through his walls as easily as smoke. The first time it happened, Andy said, he’d expected to be eaten or carried off somewhere awful. Instead, once it had him, our monster popped its bottom jaw out of place and let its suckery, tendriled tongue unfurl into a swarm of bruise-brown strands. They went crawling blindly over Andy’s head, covering his mouth and eyes and nose, burrowing down into his ears like worms. What our monster did after this, Andy had no idea. Caught in the twisting coils of its tongue, Andy was lost in an acid trip of horrors even worse than the thing then holding him in just one of its giant claws. Writhing and pulsing, reaching out as if to grab him, floated hordes of creatures too horrible for words. Tentacled things. Scaled things. Things with great, greasy bodies and a thousand odd-placed eyes. Laughing things. Howling things. Things with no shape at all besides their vast, starving mouths. Many of them got close to Andy, close enough to touch his face, to coil their slimy appendages up his arm. Andy knew they wanted to kill him, or do worse than kill him, whatever that might be, but before they did, he always awoke. The sun was up, and he was alone.
“It happens almost every night,” said Andy. “I can’t remember the last time I slept. When it doesn’t show up, I’m still fucking freaked. I’m lying awake all night just waiting for it.”
He’d tried to fight it. He’d tried to run. Neither worked. Our monster’s strength was in line with its size, but its speed completely belied it, a gorilla that moved like a snake. He’d screamed his fucking head off but nobody ever heard; mornings after our monster visited, the rest of Andy’s family couldn’t believe how well they’d slept.
The whole thing had come to haunt him. Even on the happiest, sunniest of days, he’d spin around terrified, convinced our monster was creeping up behind him. Here it was now prowling through his blind spot. That was its shadow darting overhead.
“And those things,” he said, starting to cry again. “Those things I saw. I can’t explain it but… They’re real, man.” He kicked at the dirt, speaking through his teeth. “They’re not just dreams. Like they’re out there, they’re alive out there. They’re alive. And that means we…”
He stopped talking. Jordan waited, but Andy had apparently reached the end of what he was able to a say. She started inching away again, pulse racing with the need to come and tell us Andy’s story, when Billy let out a whimpering sound that made her stop in her tracks.
“Dude,” Billy said, his voice a quavering puddle. “I thought I was going crazy. But dude. Dude. It’s been happening to me, too.”
It turned out there was no shortage of stories. Not everyone in the eighth grade had seen our monster, but the number who had was steadily on the rise. We heard about it from all the other grades, too. Seniors in high school carved its image into desks. Kindergarteners drew it with finger paint. People exchanged their stories in the bathrooms and on the bus, wrote them down on passed notes and scribbled them into journals. Eavesdropping, snooping, stealing, we collected them all.
Most were identical to Andy’s, some a little less traumatic, some a little more. All included its ether-like entrances, its tongue; all included visions of nightmarish beasts so real kids awoke more sure of their existence than they were of their own names. The lucky were the ones who’d only seen our monster once. There were many it came calling on night after night after night. No one knew what it wanted. Some people thought it fed on their fear. Others whose minds were pretty much in tatters, came to see it as a kind of demonic prophet, just the first of these ghastly creatures to reach Earth, not the last.
Naturally, we felt responsible, but it was months before we decided what to do. Let’s just lay low, somebody said. Let’s figure out what we’re dealing with. Day after day we watched our classmates go crazy from their encounters. Our monster had shown them the frail stitching that held their reality together. It had revealed to them how easily all of it could come apart. They talked to themselves, trembled, pushed things under their skin. A fourth grader attacked his teacher with a chair. A junior girl drove her car into a cornfield and only stopped when it finally broke down. Every night their sleep got pillaged, got turned into a confrontation with ideas too terrible to bear.
We continued to wait.
The definitive call to action came one Friday in October. We were shuffling our decks up in The Hole, when a scream ripped down the street. (We often heard the screams, even though, by all accounts, nobody else ever seemed to.) This one was truly horrifying, throat shredding and shrill, unmistakably that of a young, young child. It couldn’t have been coming from more than three houses down.
We looked toward the window. We knew what our monster was now. None of us could say we didn’t. We knew what it was doing, and that we were to blame. There were no excuses for staying put, for not at least trying to stop what we’d unleashed.
Of all of us, James was the one to act first:
He drew his opening hand.
“Can I go ahead and play?” he said. “Or do we want to roll for it?”
The rest of us all looked at each other, then drew our hands as well. “No,” said Joey. “You can go first. I’m gonna kick your ass anyway.”
That was all five years ago.
Things have gotten decidedly worse since then, and we can’t imagine they’ll be getting any better. It doesn’t matter to us, though. We’re leaving. Joey to Iowa. Jordan to Michigan. Jane to Berkley. James to NYU. We’ll be back of course, for holidays and summers, but as much as we can we’ve all agreed to leave Lisbon Grove to rot.
By now, there isn’t a child here who hasn’t met our monster. Kids born since we summoned it have grown up with its nightly visits. Andy Blevins disappeared halfway through our freshman year. The official story was boarding school, but the psych hospital reality was confirmed in under a month. About a quarter of our class wound up the same way before we finished tenth grade. Suicide attempts, violent self-harm, screaming-crying-begging to move or go live with relatives—all are fairly common in the houses of our suburb. Most kids develop drinking problems before they turn thirteen, anything to knock themselves out at night, anything to get through the day. There are no test scores to speak of, no school achievements. Teams and extra-curriculars all dried up years ago, and it was around this time that our least favorite priest wrote a letter to the bishop asking to be speedily transferred. With little sleep and an abundance of fear, no one here makes it far in life before their sanity simply gives. One day in English, Billy Fisher asked to go to the bathroom then walked to the wall and slammed his head through a window. Misty Kendrew got picked up just last May for attempting to burn her own house down.
Everyone’s parents remain at a loss. Only a few have sensed that the problem is not with their kids but Lisbon Grove and have hauled ass away from here as fast they possibly can. We don’t know why more of our classmates haven’t told their parents about it. On the rare occasions that people do try, the adults always seem not to hear or understand, as if the word monster is being blocked from reaching their brains. (Why it only goes after children is another mystery. Maybe there’s something about it that makes kids more vulnerable, grown-ups immune. Maybe that night we summoned our monster cursed an entire generation.)
The whole suburb feels like it’s falling down a hole. Property values have plummeted. Broken windows spring up overnight like spider webs. On the street that leads into town, someone has painted a warning sign in vibrant neon pink. The adults keep getting rid of it, but it keeps coming back. Two words, written tall: GET OUT.
We are. Tomorrow. We have gathered here in Jordan’s attic to play one last game of Magic together, to write all this down, and to make one thing clear.
Victor Frankenstein has his fate sealed not in the moment he creates his monster but in the moment he runs from it. Letting loose something horrific and then instantly turning his back—this is the reason Victor’s judged to be a villain. Had he attempted to kill it or capture it, to teach it right from wrong, then you might be able to call him an ethical mad scientist. As with all sins, you don’t get forgiveness for making monsters without at least trying to heal the damage they cause.
We, however, are not after forgiveness. We wanted our monster to go and fuck people up. We wanted the world to feel wounded and burned. We wanted for life itself to scream, for God to know that somebody had finally had enough of His shit.
We know what that makes us. In all these years, we’ve only seen our monster one time after that first night. It was earlier this summer. Joey was on his way home from The Hole. He was walking past the cemetery and thinking, as he always did, of Josh. Even back then, Josh had known where he wanted to go to college: the University of Pennsylvania, alma mater of Richard Garfield, the guy who’d invented Magic. It was dream he’d revealed only once to Joey, to not only be the best at Magic, but to someday make a game of his own, to gather people together the way Magic had done for us.
He rounded a corner, and there was our monster, crawling like a lizard on a house across the street. It was just about to lay its hand on the window, when it seemed to sense Joey standing there, and slowly raised its head to regard him.
They held each other’s gaze for what felt like quite a while. Then our monster simply nodded, and slithered through the wall.
—If you’re reading this, we want you to know: This is our fault. We are not sorry. We’re going to leave our monster here to do what it was made to do, and if this seems wrong to anyone, we want it on record that we don’t care.
But it isn’t fair! some of you might shout. These people are suffering and it’s all because of you! They haven’t done anything and you’ve ruined their lives!
We loved Josh. We really did.
That wasn’t fair either.