24

As soon as I clicked the radio on, I knew something was wrong. I had received this truck two days ago for my sixteenth birthday: it was beat, but the radio couldn’t be shot already. After kicking, punching, and screaming at it for a couple minutes, I left Rosemelt High assuming that our middle-of-nowhere-town finally got cut off from the rest of the world.

I got sick of listening to rubber meeting rock roads quickly. Desperately whizzing through the hundreds of stations that always produce static, the car generated station six-six-six.

The station was…silent.

That can’t be possible, I thought as I sat dumbfounded at the machine. Then, in the blank sound, I heard a tiny voice.

“H-” “e-” “p-” el-” “hl-” “hel-” “help” “help” “Help” “Help” Help” “HELP” “HELP” “HHHEEELLLPPP MEEEE!”

I shot out of my seat as my seatbelt locked against my chest. Swerving into a faded parking lane, I hit the curb just in time to hear a new message.

“Henry, he’s coming. Please trust me, he’s coming!”

I froze before I could repark. How does he know my name? 

“You have to believe me, please! He showed me what would happen if he tricked you too! The man, on fourth street, he’s not real! Please believe me, he’s fa-”

A ghastly scream spun through the car, and smoke shot from behind the radio as it shut down. When I reached for the power button and turned the dial, station six-six-six was nowhere to be found.

-o-o-o-

With hands so sweaty I was ice skating the steering wheel, I made my way down highway four-fifty and got off at exit seven.

The exit to fourth street.

The car seemed to drop in degrees. My Rosemelt sweatshirt was no match for the ice quickly spreading through my body. I didn’t know if I believed the man or not: obviously, what he said didn’t check in with reality. There was just something in his voice that made me want to believe. It was so real, so…familiar.

The road was empty, as usual. Like every street in Rosemelt, maintenance is rarely done, so the ride makes my stomach churn even more than the gut-wrenching scream. My eyes darted back and forth along the road, and I jumped at every leaf that crunched under the truck.

As I reached the top of the hill, I noticed something peculiar: two of the street lamps were on up ahead. None of these street lights have worked for years, decades even. 

Right in the middle of them was a man.

The car screeched to a halt on top of the hill, thanks to my foot jammed on the brake pedal. Looking down to the man, he seemed to look up at me and smile as if he had no care in the world. He looked…

Dead? Alive? Real? Fake? How could I be sure, how could I prove it?

The radio magically clicked on with a whirl. I looked over at it, and station one-two-six blared the news.

A man on fifth street was mysteriously murdered this evening. Police are still investigating…

FifthStreetFarmiliarDeadFakePolice14932PleaseBeliveHenryHelpFourthManFifthStreet

FifthStreet14932DeadSouthwestDeadFifthDeadStreetDeadHomeDeadManDeadDeadDead

Dad? 

The boiling blood in my body melted the ice instantaneously. More than road rage took the wheel, and I flew down the hill like an eagle seeing his prey. As I reached him, I flicked the knob and high beams shot into the man’s eyes.

He didn’t flinch. He just smiled.

Meeting that cold gaze, I honked my horn to hide some choice words as I slammed straight into the man’s stomach.

He didn’t leave a dent.

-o-o-o-

I walked back to where the man used to be, tears racing each other down my face. The bright-eyed ghost was nowhere in sight: my dad was telling the truth. He sacrificed himself for me.

But how did he die? That ghost couldn’t have killed him. The second I touched it, it evaporated: I doubt he would have been any more successful trying to kill my father. 

But if not him, then who…

“Mr. Peters. Congratulations on passing the first test.”

My shoes screamed as I spun, and I pointed my flashlight beam at the voice. 

“The great Henry Peters…the second Henry in the family, is that right?” a hovering cloak jabbed.

Smoke from the being running over my shoes was no match for the steam coming out of my ears. It wasn’t who killed my father: it was what. A hooded man seemed to float before me, the smoke coming from where its face and feet should have been.

“Where is he?” my voice portrayed rage with a hint of uncertainty.

“I’m afraid he lives in me now, aiding my return to human life. If you would’ve died in that car crash, you might have been with him”

“That’s bittersweet,” I replied flatly. My flashlight flickered as the cloak travelled closer to me.

“Well, you might just have a chance to fulfill the sweet Mr. Peters,” it reasoned as the flashlight died in my hands. “You seemed to survive that minute-long test, so how about a twenty-four hour one?”

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