This story is true.

I knew I was really in trouble. My mom told me to go sit on the couch. Then she came and sat down next to me. My dad was home early from work. He sat down next to mom and I thought he was going to scream at me because I left my bike in the driveway again. They looked so serious I thought I was going to get grounded for a month.

Then, my mom held my hand. She looked like she was going to cry. Dad was really serious. He didn't say anything.

Mom said, "Charlie, Toby's very sick."

"I know," I said.

Toby's mom, my Aunt Margie, had to take Toby to the hospital last Saturday. Toby started to act really weird. He even fell asleep in the middle of a baseball game. He was standing out there in center field. I was playing short. Toby plonked right down on the ground and I ran out to him. Harry Gustafson didn't see us out there and pitched the ball anyway. The kid at bat hit it right to Toby. When I got to Toby he was already waking up and all the kids were screaming for us to throw the ball. But we didn't throw the ball, and the kid got a homer. Toby made me promise I wouldn't tell his mom.

My Mom said to me, "No Charlie. Toby's very very sick. He has a brain tumor."

Brain tumor? What the hell was that? Now I knew I was really in trouble. I shouldn't have blabbed to my mom about Toby passing out at the game.

"What's a brain tumor?" I asked my dad. He stayed quiet. He looked at his shoes. I knew he was going to kill me.

Mom said, "A brain tumor is cancer. It's very bad. Toby might die." Dad took out his handkerchief and blew his nose.

"How come he got cancer?" I asked.

Mom squeezed my hands. Tears started coming out of her eyes. I felt really strange. She said, "Nobody knows."

"Am I going to get it now?" I said.

"No, honey," my mom said. Then she hugged me really tight. I pushed her away and jumped off the couch. I wanted to see Toby for myself and ask him about this cancer stuff. "Is Toby home? Take me to the hospital to see him," I said.

Mom said Toby was at home, but she wasn't sure that I should go over to Aunt Margie's. She said they wanted to be alone. She said that Toby probably wouldn't want to talk to me anyway because he had some tests and was tired.

"That not true," I said. "Toby always wants to see me. I'm going over there right now."

I blasted right out the door and down the street to Aunt Margie's. My mom called me back a few times, but I pretended I couldn't hear her. I just kept running. I had on my nikes. I was fast as a Formula 1 race car. There was no way they were going to catch me. No way.

When I got to Aunt Margie's I went around back to Toby's window. I pulled the old tire from the broken swing over to the house and put the empty apple crate on it. Then I stood up on the crate and tapped on the window. The curtains were open. I could see inside. I could see Toby's bed.

There was somebody in the bed, but it wasn't Toby. It was some kind of creature. The face was white. The eyes were all black and blue and sunken. It had mummy bandages all over the top of its head. I knew it was going to kill everything in its sight.

I wanted to take back all my tapping. But, it was too late. The creature opened its evil eyes and tried to make a noise.

I yelled. I yelled for Toby and for Aunt Margie and Uncle Bill to get out of that house. I fell off the apple crate. I had to get out of that back yard before the creature came crashing through the bedroom window to get me. I started running back toward the street and slipped in a muddy spot. When I got to the front yard I tried to run out but the creature was there and it grabbed me. I screamed as loud as I could for my dad. I punched the creature as hard as I could.

But, it was Uncle Bill. It was only Uncle Bill. He grabbed my arms tight and pulled me toward him. I thought I was going to suffocate in the red plaid flannel shirt he always wears. He had horrible body odor. When I looked up at him his face was all red and full of lines and holes. I stopped punching.

"It's OK," he kept saying over and over. "Charlie, don't worry, its OK."

"I saw somebody...in Toby's room," I tried to say but I couldn't talk right.

"Toby's home," Uncle Bill said. "Um, I think he's sleeping now. Maybe you should go home." Uncle Bill let me go. He seemed very tired. I just knew he wouldn't be in the mood to hear about the creature in Toby's room. I'd have to tell Toby myself.

"But it's still daytime, Uncle Bill. He'll be awake now. I have to tell him about the thing in his room. Maybe I can just say hi and then go," I said.

Then my Aunt Margie came outside. "Let him come in, Bill," she said. She came outside too but she didn't close the front door to the house. "Maybe it will help," she said.

"Damn it Margaret, you leave the goddammed front door open. For Chrissakes, he'll get a draft! Do you want to put him in his grave early?" Uncle Bill ran into the house and slammed the front door. Aunt Margie stood outside and started to cry. I didn't know what to do. I figured I'd go down to the creek and sit in the fort till the grown-ups got themselves calmed down. But, Aunt Margie grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me up the front stoop and into the house.

When we got in the house she was really mad at me. She yelled at me, "Go see Toby. Go on. Get in there!" And she pushed me to Toby's room. I just wanted to go home. I waited for a second to see if I could run past her, but she yelled at me again, "Go ON!" Then she started bawling her eyes out and she ran into the kitchen and got some tissues. I don't know where Uncle Bill went. So, I walked over to Toby's room.

The door was closed. Normally, I just go blasting in. But, that creature might be in the room. So I knocked and I got ready to run. Nobody answered. Then I knocked again.

"Hey, Tobe, it's Charlie. Hey, you goon, it's me. Can I come in?" I heard some shuffling around in the sheets. Then I heard a low voice, but it was so faint I couldn't hear what it was saying to me. I hoped Toby was OK. I hoped that blood sucking monster didn't get him. I figured, well Charlie, just open the door a crack. If that thing comes to the door, just slam the door in its face and head for the front door. So, I opened door just a crack.

I heard the voice again. It was really quiet, but this time I could hear what it was saying. The voice said, "Who is it?"

I said, "It's Charlie."

"Come on in," the voice said, but it didn't sound like Toby. I thought it might be a trick. So, I opened the door wider. I didn't see anyone standing. I could only see somebody's feet in the bed. Finally, I just pushed the door open and walked in.

Then I saw it was Toby in the bed. His head was a skeleton head. I couldn't believe it. He was a monster in his Major Matt Mason pajamas. It hardly looked like him at all.

"What did they do to you?" I asked him.

His eyes were like black marbles stuck in mud. "Hey, man," he said. But his voice sounded full of water. He raised his hand to say hi.

"How do I look?" he asked me.

"Man, you look like Frankenstein or the mummy or something."

"Am I really scary?"

"I think you could even scare Mr. Dillon," I said.

Toby smiled a little bit. He said, "Yeah, I could go to old dildo face next time he tries to get us to play dodge ball in gym class and pretend I'm going to curse him for his whole putrid life."

"What happened to you?" I asked him. I started to feel really bad. I said, "I'm sorry, man, I told my mom you fell asleep at the game."

"That's OK," he said. But I don't think he really meant it. He said, "They put some stuff in my veins and locked my head in this humungous machine. It was like a big tube. They made me sit there for three goddamned hours with my head in this huge clamp."

"They clamped your head?" I said.

"Yeah. A big, spider clamp with screws that drill into your head."

"GOD!"

"Then they took me to this room and they started to put me to sleep but I didn't get all the way asleep, you know? I was just really tired. They shaved off all my hair so I looked like an alien. Then, they took a drill and put on a huge bit and drilled a hole right in the top of my head."

I couldn't believe it. I had seen my dad drilling through wood. I could imagine bits of Toby's head coming off in curly-q's and falling on the ground.

"Was it an electric drill?" I asked.

"Yeah, it was a huge Sears plug-in drill. They drilled a big hole in my head."

"Man. Did it hurt? Did your any of your brains leak out?"

"It didn't hurt, really. It just felt weird.. It wasn't great, though. So, they put some wires in my head and took some pictures . Now I just have this bad headache."

"You look like a mummy skeleton head in pajamas," I said to him. I laughed.

He just laid back in his pillow and closed his eyes. After a while, I thought he went to sleep, but he opened his eyes again.

"Do you know I have cancer?" he said.

"My mom told me."

He lifted his hand and tried to point to his head, but his hand kept falling back down on the bed. "In my head. In my brain. There's cancer in my brain. It's some kind of lump that's eating my brain."

"Man, that's gross!" I said, "Didn't they cut it out when they drilled the hole in your head."

"No. The doctor said it was too dangerous. They gave me some rotten shots that made me throw up." He fell asleep again. While he was sleeping, I looked around his room. His Mom put away all his stuff. He used to have the spaceman stuff on top of his dresser. He used to have the whole Hot Wheels car set put up in the corner, but that was gone too. It looked like an old person's room.

While I was looking around he woke up again. "Charlie," he said. He sounded really serious so I went over to the bed and stood next to him. "Did ya know I'm gonna die?"

"Don't say that, man. You'll get better. Just rest. I bet those rotten shots will make you better. It always works that way."

He looked right in my eyes. He was more serious than my dad ever was. He said to me, "No man. I know I'm gonna die."

"Don't say that," I said, "It's not going to happen."

"You can have my Hot Wheels and my GI Joe stuff. I'm gonna tell my mom to give it to you."

"But I already have a lot of that stuff. I don't need it. We get the same junk for Christmas every year anyway."

He said, "You have to listen to me, OK? This ain't a joke. We're best friends, right? So, you have do what I say. Promise me you'll do what I say. Swear."

I nodded to him.

"No, SWEAR IT," he said.

"I swear. I swear I'll do whatever you say."

"Ok, man. Now listen. After I die, I'm gonna try to come back. I'll be a ghost, but it won't be scary because it will be me. OK? So, promise me you'll go down to the fort and wait for me. Just promise. I'll come back and I'll tell you what it's like. OK? Swear on a stack of bibles you'll go down there and wait for me."

I said, "I swear."

"Put your hand on your heart and swear you'll die if you don't do it."

I put my hand on my chest like I was saying the pledge of allegiance and I said, "I swear I'll do it."

"Swear that a million rats will eat out your eyeballs and killer bees will sting you to death if you don't do it."

"A million rats can eat my eyeballs and I can be stung to death by killer bees if I don't do it," I said.

"Good," he said, "Don't forget. Promise you won't ever forget."

"I won't ever forget," I said. He fell asleep again. Then Aunt Margie came into the room and saw him lying there.

"Go home now, Charlie. Go home and tell your mother everything is OK over here. Tell her we don't need anything," she said. She was starting to look like Toby. Like Frankenstein. Everybody in that house looked like Frankenstein with sunken black eyes and pale skin. So I ran home before they made me look like a monster too.

I woke up that night and there were red lights flying all over my walls. They started on one side of my bedroom, flashed across to the other side, and started again. I heard loud voices, car engines, and sounds like police car radios. When I got up to look out the window, all the noises and lights went away. The hallway light went on. And my mom came in my bedroom.

I had to squint to look at her in the bright hallway light. It looked like she was all dressed, even though it was the middle of the night. She said, "Go back to sleep, Charlie. Everything is OK."

"Where's Dad? What happened?" I asked her.

"Your father is over with Uncle Bill and Aunt Margie. Toby...they had to take Toby back to the hospital." She sat down in the chair by my desk. She was breathing heavy, and she kept wiping her nose with a balled up kleenex.

"How come? How come they took him back?" I asked her.

Mom got out of the chair and knelt down beside where I was standing. She tried to hug me, but I pushed her away.

"Come on Mom," I said , "What happened to Toby? Take me to the hospital to see him."

"I can't, Charlie. Honey, Toby died tonight."

I started to put on my sneakers. She would never be able to catch me with those on.

"What are you doing?" she said.

"I'm going to see Dad and Uncle Bill," I said, trying to make my voice sound deep and strong. She came over and tried to put her arms around me again but I was too fast for her with the nikes on. I dodged her; she was so slow. I ran down the stairs and out into the cold night as fast as I could. I ran like the time the big kids chased Toby and me with rocks. We ran all the way down the creek until we wound up at the grocery store. I ran even faster than the time we set off a firecracker in Ms. Baker's garbage can and the garbage caught fire. When I got to Uncle Bill's house the lights were on so I rang the doorbell over and over. My Dad answered the door and asked me what the hell I was doing there.

"I want to see Toby. I have to tell him something. I have to see him now," I told my dad and I ducked past him into the house. I ran back to Toby's room. The light was on in there too. But when I got in there, I couldn't find him. The place was still as neat as my grandmother's house except the bed was all messed up. My dad came into the room.

"Charlie, you have to go home now. Where is your mother? Go back home and stay with your mother," he said firmly.

"Where is Toby?" I said. I was getting very angry with these old people and their stupid Frankenstein eyes and stern voices. "He must have just been here. Look, his bed is all messed up. Where did he go?"

"They took him back to the hospital, Charlie. Go back home."

"Then I want to go and see him at the hospital. Mom said he died. But, look, he was just here. Somebody has to take me to see him," I said to him. I looked around the room. His nikes were beside his bed. His BB-gun was there. His jacket was still hanging in the closet.

"Young man," my dad said, and he grabbed me by the arm really hard, "Get your ass home right now." I tried to squirm away from him but I couldn't. He dragged me down the hallway and opened the door. Then he tried to push me out the door. But, just as he did I got free and punched him as hard as I could in the stomach. I tried to run, but I didn't get far. He grabbed me by the arm again and I felt a pop on the side of my head, saw a flash of light in my eyes and heard the blood flowing back and forth in my ears. He let me go and I fell on the concrete doorstep and scratched the side of my face. I looked up at him standing there like a fool in the doorway.

"You idiot!" I yelled at him. If I had a gun I would have blown his guts across the living room. I yelled, "You shitface idiot. I hate your stinking guts!" Then I ran. I knew he couldn't catch me with my nikes on. Even in his car. I could run over mountains and rivers and through forests. He'd never catch me, not for as long as he lived. But, I got scared in the dark. I just ran home. I ran back to my mom. I told her I fell running down the street, and she cleaned my scratches with soap and stinging peroxide and made me go to bed. I didn't want to deal with the Frankenstein people anymore. I promised myself I would get my money out of the bank and run away in the morning.

My dad stayed at Uncle Bill's that night. When I got up in the morning, Madeline the teenager from down the street was there instead of my mom. She told me my mom and Dad were with my Aunt and Uncle. She said she was sorry my cousin had died, and tried to pour me a bowl of Corn Flakes for breakfast.

"I don't want any, dickhead," I said to her, "And my cousin didn't die. He's just in the hospital. Shows what a jerkface like you knows."

"Your mom said you had to eat breakfast," she said back.

"Well, I don't want any. You eat the goddammed Corn Flakes."

"I'm gonna tell your mom you're using foul language," she said.

"Go ahead. Chicken chicken, cluck cluck," I said. I flapped my arms. She stuck her tongue out at me and picked up the phone and called her friends. I knew she would be gabbing all day.

I went into the living room and turned on the TV and plugged in the pong game. I didn't want to ask Madeline to play, so I had to play against the computer. Screen on the TV went black, and the score and the little paddle lines came up. I picked up the paddle control knob."Tic-bop, tic-boc, ticop," went the TV. I followed the little white pinpoint back and forth across the screen with my eyes. I was hot. I couldn't miss. I knew I could get a really high score and beat Toby's record.

I thought about what it would be like to die. I wondered if it hurt. I thought about the way Toby and his parents looked. Pale, shriveled, sunken black marble eyes, bald taped up head. That was the look of death. It came in and turned people to living skeletons before eating their brains from the inside. Then, they became real skeletons.

"Tic-bop."

Toby said they drilled a hole in his head. People can't live with holes in their heads. All their blood and brains would spill right out. I imagined the doctors in their white operating room clothes, all masked up, pulling out that Sears drill with the huge bit and drilling into Toby's head. Toby's head, clamped down in a spider vise with screws that drilled into his skull in four places, through the skin and into the skull bone with Toby's blood pouring out the holes where the screws went in. Doctors slipping around in a big puddle of Toby's head blood.

"Tic-bop."

They sealed his head in a giant machine. Clamped his head in a spider. Drilled a hole in his head and let his blood and brains fall out. His head was in a giant machine. They were feeding the blob in his head so it could eat his brain. I should have never told my mom. I saw a greasy yellow blob eating Toby's wrinkled brain.

"Tic-Bop"

Son. Son. He was Uncle Bill's son. We used to go camping together, Uncle Bill, Toby, Dad and me. All year we saved up packages--the spare packages of sugar, salt, and ketchup we got from fast-food places. Then we'd use them camping in the summer. We'd go out in the canoe and fish. Once, Uncle Bill tipped the canoe and we all had to swim back. Toby and I even got the same junk for Christmas. Son. Whose son am I? I wondered how it felt to have a death monster in white doctor robes drill a hole in my head with a huge drill. Huge curly pieces of Toby's head falling on the ground like the wood curls from the holes my dad drills. Blood spurting onto the Doctors' white robes, turning Toby into a skeleton mummy head with a greasy bubbly yellow blob eating his brain.

"Son. Son. Are you OK Charlie?"

"That's my name," I said, "don't wear it out." When I looked up from the TV, all the lights were on in the house. Out the window, it was dark. Mom and dad were looking at me. They were dressed up in their good clothes. My dad had crouched down next to me. He touched the scratches on my face.

"I'm sorry, son," he said to me, " Please forgive me. I didn't mean it."

"It's OK, Dad," I said.

"Are you hungry, are you tired?" Dad asked me.

"Not really. I'm OK. How come you're all dressed up? Where's Madeline?" I asked.

My Mom said, "Madeline went home honey. It's nighttime now. It's almost eleven o'clock."

"Tic-gack" went the TV.

"You made me miss," I said.

"We're sorry, son," said my dad. "Why don't you get up and come in the kitchen and have a glass of juice with me?"

Suddenly I felt really tired. I tried to stand up, but my legs were stuck and they hurt. I couldn't feel my feet.

Mom helped me get onto the couch and my dad brought me a big glass of HiC. I told him thanks. When I put the glass to my mouth, I got really thirsty and I drank the whole huge glass without stopping. Then, Dad got me another glass.

"Mom," I asked after I finished my second glass of juice, "Do you think it hurt Toby when they drilled that big hole in his head?"

"Try not to think about that. Charlie. Its all over. He's happy now," she said.

"Ok," I said. We all went upstairs to bed, but I couldn't sleep. All night I lay there, looking at the ceiling in my room. I waited for the red lights to come back.

The next day we all got dressed in our church clothes and went to the funeral parlor in town. We must have passed the white funeral parlor building a million times on our way to the grocery store or the movies. I always thought it was just somebody's big house, or a doctors office. I never even thought about it until the moment my dad pulled into the driveway.

When we walked in the door there was a black sign with the press-in white letters in the foyer. It had names and arrows on it. I saw Toby's name and started to follow the arrow but my mom put her hand on my shoulder and stopped me.

"Are you going to be OK?" my mom asked me.

"Sure," I said, "why not?" Then she let me go.

I followed the arrow down a hallway that had a lot of doors. Over one door was Toby's name, and I went inside. There were a bunch of our relatives in there. They were all dressed up in their good Sunday clothes with their hair combed neat, sitting on folding chairs facing toward the front like they were at church. It was pretty dark in there. I could hear my aunts and uncles all talking in low voices and sniffing . In the front of the room they had a lot of flowers and some dim pink lights. Under the lights was a coffin, just like in the vampire movies. People were walking up the coffin and kneeling in front of it like it was god or something. I had never seen a real coffin before. Nobody I knew ever died. I walked up to the coffin and touched it. It was dark blue and it felt like a soda can. I tapped it a few times. It even made a noise like an empty soda can. The coffin top was opened and covered in bright white sheets. Then I looked inside and saw the wax dummy.

The dummy looked like a big candle. The skin was all pink and tight and looked like you could see through it. The eyes were closed, but they were flat like there were no eyeballs. The mouth was shut tight and looked like he was trying to keep something from jumping out. It was dressed in Toby's baseball uniform, but, it didn't look like Toby at all. "Dad," I called from beside the coffin. My dad came walking up with his finger up to his lips.

"Shhh," he said to me.

"Why Dad? What's this thing?" I pointed to the wax dummy in the coffin.

"Come back with me," my dad said, "Come on. Let's go down stairs and have something to drink."

"What is this? Is this supposed to look like Toby? It doesn't even look like him. He's going to get a big laugh when he hears about this," I said.

I followed my dad out of the coffin room and down some stairs to a much brighter room. They had some bathrooms there, and people were drinking coffee and soda. My grandma and grandpa were there. They were dressed all in black. My grandpa was in his black suit, white shirt and blue tie. My grandma had on a black dress and a black lace veil. When they saw me, they called me over. grandma was sitting in a big chair and she gave me a huge hug. Then she started bawling her eyes out.

"Death has taken the wrong person," she said when she cried. "The Spectre of Death visited and couldn't find me and took my Grandson instead! Why couldn't he take me? I'm old and I've lived my life. Leave the children alone!" My grandma started shouting and I had to push myself away from her.

Suddenly, I knew what was happening. The Spectre of Death had come. That's who I'd seen in Toby's room. The Spectre of Death. He was changing everyone to living skeletons. The sunken black beady eyes. The pale skin. The bandages on the head. All the mark of the Spectre of Death. He was hunting us like rabbits. One by one he would kill us all.

I ran into the bathroom to wash my hands. I had to get the stink of death off of me. But, when I looked in the mirror, I saw it was too late. My eyes were becoming black and sunken too. He was in me.

I dropped the soap cake on the floor and I started to feel dizzy. I started to get all sweaty and I felt like I was going to puke. I needed to get out of that house of death. I thought of racks of hanging red meat being eaten from the inside by evil yellow cancer blobs. The Spectre of Death was eating me alive from the inside like it had Toby. I could feel his tentacles spreading through my body.

I pushed open the bathroom door and fell down. My dad came running to pick me up.

"Charlie, are you OK?" he asked me, over and over. I could feel Dad's hands trying to pick me up, but I kept moving away. I thought I was going to barf right there on the floor.

"Dad, I have to get out of here. I have to go outside," I said trying to get air. I felt hot.

My dad and my grandpa grabbed me under the armpits dragged me upstairs and into the fresh air. Soon, I could stand myself again. I knew fresh air was the enemy of the Spectre. I could feel the cool air beating back his octopus tentacles. I hoped I could get him out of me.

My grandpa said to my dad, "I never imagined it would be so bad for him."

"They were best friends," my dad said. Then, "He's never seen death before." I kept breathing in the cool air. I never knew my dad and my grandpa were so familiar with the Spectre. I wondered how they could live with him.

"I always thought your mother or me would be the first to go," Grandpa said, "It's not supposed to be this way. It's not right for a grandson to be taken before the grandparents."

Then my relatives started coming out of the funeral parlor like a big Easter parade. My dad asked me if I was OK, and I said I was. The Spectre was very small in me now. I thought I had him beat.

Mom found us, and we got into our car.

"Where are we going?" I asked.

"To church, Honey," my mom said, "Next we go to church, and then we're going to the cemetery. How do you feel? Are you going to make it?"

"Yeah, Mom," I said. I was pretty sure I could keep the Spectre under control.

Dad drove the few blocks to our church and parked. We went inside and sat down. Soon, the rest of my relatives were there too. It was the same scene as in the funeral parlor. Everyone was talking quietly, dabbing at their eyes and noses with balled up tissues. I wondered when Toby was going to show up.

Then the organ music started. The priest came in and my older cousins carried the dark blue soda can coffin I had seen in the funeral parlor. They carried it slowly to the front of the church and put it on a table covered with shiny green curtains. The priest was dressed in the same kind of shiny green clothes as the table. He walked around the coffin and sprinkled water on it and shook a stinking smoking gold box around. Then, he went to the front of the church. And when I looked up at the alter, I looked the Spectre in the eye.

For the first time in my life I knew what I was looking at. My mom and dad had taken me to church every Sunday for as long as I could remember. Sometimes we went with Toby, Uncle Bill and Aunt Margie. Toby and I hated going to church. We sat on those hard flat pews and shot spit balls at each other until our Dads got mad. But now I understood something I never thought about before.

I looked into the black sunken eyes of Jesus on the cross and saw the Spectre. I saw his bloody hands, and the millions of holes in his head made by the thorns and I saw Toby up there. I saw Toby hanging over all of us, just like he looked when I went to his house that day with the holes in his head and the Spectre eating his brain out from the inside.

I had been tricked! The Spectre made me feel comfortable until I was in his clutches. Then, he sprung out at me with firebombs and buzzsaws. He grew so fast in my head that I couldn't think fast enough to stop him. I felt his greasy yellow tentacles reach out from my brain to grab my guts and strangle the life and blood out of me. I felt him boring holes through my skull from the inside while Toby hung like a rag doll from the cross above the altar.

I grabbed my head. I stood up in the pew and screamed as loud as I could. I screamed and screamed until I couldn't breathe. I pushed back the tentacles as they tried to explode my head from the inside. I fought and kicked. I threw myself into the aisle and laid on the floor, fighting the Spectre, pushing him back. I tried to push myself out of that church, that killer bee hive, that home of the Spectre of death. I pushed and pushed myself with my feet lying on my back on the floor, sliding on my back, screaming all the way, pushing the Spectre back in, keeping my brain and my blood inside. The puking sickness came into my throat from my stomach. The sweat came up on my chest and head. I heard a loud noise in my ears as I tried to scream the Spectre back to a small point that I could puke out.

Then I saw a light. I was waking up and I didn't remember going to sleep. I was in my bed in my underwear. It was night. The hallway light was on. I could hear my mom and dad talking in their bedroom, so, I got up out of bed and walked over to them.

My mom and dad were in their bed. The light in their bedroom was on.

"Mom?" I said. My mom stopped talking to my dad and jumped up out of bed in her nightgown. She came over to me and made me sit down on the side of their bed next to where my dad was laying. She put her hand on my forehead.

"How do you feel, Honey? Are you OK?" In the dim light, she looked pale. I remembered the Spectre. I could see the dark shadows forming under her eyes. He was in everyone.

"I'm OK, Mom. What happened?" I asked her.

"We had to get the doctor to give you some medicine to calm you down," she said, "We were all very worried. Why don't you go back in your room and lay down? I have some pills here to help you sleep." She felt my forehead again. My Dad rubbed my neck and back from behind me. I nodded to her silently. I was afraid to talk. The Spectre would know I was awake and would try to take me again. He might kill all of us in one night.

Mom led me back to my bed and gave me a pill and a glass of water after I layed down. I put the pill in my mouth and drank some water, but I didn't swallow the pill. I knew I couldn't sleep. I knew I would need all my strength to fight the Spectre the next time he attacked. I would have to beat him.

When my mom left my bedroom I spit the pill out on the floor. Then, I waited for the light in their room to go out. I knew what I would have to do.

Toby told me to wait for him by the fort we had built near the creek. I was going to keep my promise. He said he was going to meet me, I was going to be there so he didn't have to wait alone. Toby could help me beat the Spectre. I knew he would keep his promise to me.

I slid into my jeans, put on a white t-shirt and my nikes. I took my flashlight and my aluminum softball bat, just in case. As I tip-toed past my parents room, I decided to look in the bathroom mirror. So, I went into the hallway bathroom and quietly closed the door and turned on the light.

It was worse then ever. My face was beginning to look just like Toby's. My skin was pale and streaked with red marks from where my dad had pushed me down on the concrete. My eyes were getting black and sunken. They were bloodshot and beady. The stinking yellow stuff was already eating me. I knew I would need Toby to help me.

Then my mom called, "Are you OK in there, honey?"

"Yes," I said, "I just had to go to the bathroom." I flushed the toilet. Then I waited a few minutes. There was no way those old people could catch me with my nikes on. I would go whether they were sleeping or not.

As quietly as I could, I opened the bathroom door and walked down the stairs. If Mom was awake, there would be no way to open the front door without her hearing. So, I counted to ten, unlocked the door, and bolted as fast as I could. I never even closed the door.

I threw myself into death's cold night. I could hear my mother calling to me as I ran. I knew they were turning on lights in the house and would be going crazy to find me. But, I knew they couldn't catch me. I was a cheetah, the fastest creature alive. The rats couldn't eat my eyeballs. The bees couldn't catch me. The Spectre couldn't live in the cold fresh air. I ran by feel. It was dark and there wasn't much light. But, I had been through the Brown's backyard and into the woods so many times I could have done it blind. I flipped on my flashlight so I could see if the rats were coming. I blasted down the path to the fort. The sound of my nikes hitting the path crashed through those quiet black trees. Beware rats. Beware bees. Beware Spectre of Death. I swung my bat.

Soon, I was at the creek. I could hear the water make gurgling noises where it hit the big rocks and went around. Toby and I put the big rocks in there so we could jump across without getting wet. I could see reflections of the moon in its ripples. And then, I spotted the fort. It was a big plywood box Toby and I made out of wood we stole from a construction site down the road. We nailed the wood together with hammers and nails from my dad's workbench. Then, we sawed a big hole in it for a door. The door wasn't a rectangle. It was too hard to cut a rectangle, so we just cut and cut and knocked the wood out with a hammer. Our door was just a hole. Toby said it looked like a cave door.

The plywood looked white in the dim moonlight. When I put my flashlight on it, it turned back to its normal yellow-brown. But, in the dark, the cave door stayed black. I couldn't light it up no matter how hard I tried. It just sucked up the flashlight beam like a big black mouth. I swung the flashlight beam back and forth across that black opening, but it just stayed black. I knew the Spectre was inside. I knew it was hiding in there, shriveling back from the fresh creek air.

Something moved in the woods. I heard a twig snap. "Toby?" I whispered, "Is that you?" But nobody answered. I heard more movement, twigs snapping and leaves moving. "Toby, are you there?" I called a little louder. I expected to see him pop into the moonlight, smiling and cracking jokes. We would kill the Spectre together.

But there were more cracking noises. I knew they were rats. I knew it. Maybe I had missed Toby. Maybe the rats were coming to eat my eyeballs. I beamed the flashlight at the ground waiting for them to come. The rats wouldn't scare me into that fort to be bled skeleton dry by the Spectre of Death. I had my bat. The rustling noises got louder and louder. "Toby," I yelled, "where the hell are you! Come on! Help, will you!"

I could see lights coming through the woods. They were coming fast straight at me. I dropped my flashlight and gripped my baseball bat with both hands. Then, I remembered what Toby said. He said he would come to the fort as a ghost. I saw two shadows coming at me fast. Maybe this was him. Then, I knew I didn't want to see any ghosts. Maybe as a ghost, he wouldn't remember me. He would be on the Spectre's side. He would be transformed to evil.

"Stay away!" I screamed, "Go away Toby. Don't Come!" I swung my bat at the shadows as they got closer. Over and over I swung at them. But the bat passed right through them. I knew they would get me. I yelled as loud as I could. It was a yell that sounded like a baby screeching, a cat being strangled. I swung my bat and yelled my high killer screech. The shadows surrounded me but I kept swinging.

"Stay away Toby! Get the hell out of here!" I yelled.

I tripped on a tree root. The bat came flying out of my hands as I fell face down in the creek mud. The shadows were on me. I felt their clammy arms grab me and lift me and start to squeeze the life from my body. The Spectre had me. It was the Spectre. He wasn't afraid of the fresh air. I had been tricked again. I kicked and screamed and tried to hit. But it was too strong. They had me. I knew I was dying. I stopped moving and went limp. I waited to die.

When I stopped I could hear the shadows talking. They talked as they blotted out the sky and the black trees and took me from the world. I felt myself being carried away to death. In the beginning, I couldn't understand what they were saying, they were speaking in a different language. Then I understood them. Just like that. They were speaking to me and I understood them as they carried me.

It was my dad. The shadows were my dad and my Uncle Bill. I could feel my dad's strong arms holding me, burying me in his body. I could feel the jerking movement of his footsteps on the path.

"Charlie. My god. My son. Dear Jesus in heaven help my boy. Please god, help my boy," I heard my dad say. He was crying. I could hear huge deep sobs rise out from his deep within his chest. I never heard my dad cry before. He was the strongest person I knew. I knew bullets would bounce off his skin. And now he was crying for me. It was the saddest sound I ever heard.

I asked my dad to stop crying.

"Charlie, what happened? Why did you come here?" my Uncle Bill asked me as he walked beside my dad.

"Toby asked me to," I said, "I promised him I would meet him here. He said he would meet me after he...after he died."

"Holy Jesus," my Uncle Bill said. Then I could feel something warm and light open up in my head. I knew it was the Spectre, but he had taken another form. He was all light and airy, like white dandelion fluff or firecracker smoke.

Uncle Bill said, "I'm sure he wanted to come back. He loved you very much. You were almost his brother. But he can't. He can't come back."

"Dad," I said, "Is Toby really gone? Is he really gone forever? He promised he would come back to meet me." The light burst in my head and lifted out of me. I saw the Spectre smiling. The Spectre himself. I thought I saw Toby smiling too. My dad hugged me tighter as he walked.

The light turned to the sun. The sun turned to clouds, the clouds to rain, the rain to tears. "Why did he have to go? Why did he lie to me? Why did he leave me?"

"I don't know," my dad said in a voice so light I thought the wind would carry it away. "But, it's OK to cry for him. It's OK. We all miss him."

In my father's arms, I cried. I cried out Toby and the Spectre. I cried out the blackness in my eyes, the greasy yellow blobs, the holes in my head until my insides were clean. I cried like a stupid baby girl for her bottle. I cried that Toby in his Major Matt Mason pajamas was gone forever.

I thought it would never stop.

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