Landon could see the people below him walking around the quad like nothing was going on. There was a lot going on so far as he could see, and it made him nuts to think that no one else in the world could see and hear what he could. He glanced over at the letter he’d gotten from his parents’ attorney this morning and then back out the window. Happy birthday to me, he thought.
It occurred to him then, and not for the first time, that he should just jump. End his life. It wasn’t much of one…even at nine he knew that. And now…he figured that everyone might be a little better off if he did. He knew now that his parents thought so. They seldom, if ever, had anything to do with him other than to tell him what a disappointment he was to them, and that they wished they’d given him away as soon as he took his first breath. They certainly knew how to make him feel good. Picking up the letter again, he read it aloud.
“I’m to inform you, Landon Michael Logan the Sixth, that your parents have taken steps to not allow you back into the family home. Should you try, you will be arrested on sight. If you attempt to contact my clients, you will be arrested and charged with trespassing. They have, in their words, written you out of their lives.
“Provisions have been made for your care. You will be allowed to finish your school years there at the academy, and so long as your grades are not below par, you will continue to have money in your account should you need it, but this is limited to what they feel is necessary, not you. Tuition, as well as your books, will be paid for out of that fund as well.
“At this time you have not been taken out of their will. They feel that doing so will make it so that, should they pass away too soon, you will not be cared for in a manner in which they have said. In addition, they feel it would be an embarrassment to their good name should they cut you out without anything and people were to find out about it. But there are rules that apply to you for the rest of your youth that you must abide by, or there will be nothing. You will not, however, inherit anything from their estate.”
Landon knew that his name, or that of his parents, would have opened any doors for him should he want it to. But for him, it had only been a name. Nothing much to brag on, and certainly nothing prideful about it as with other families he’d seen at school since he’d been here. As long as he didn’t ask for or expect any comfort or love from the two people in the world who were supposed to provide it for him, Landon had hoped that they’d forget about him. Apparently, they had not. His father was abusive, both physically as well as verbally, and his mother a tyrant, only out to get what she could from others and never give a dime back, even when it was expected of her. His parents were the perfect couple for each other as far as Landon was concerned. Picking up where he left off, he read the rest of the letter.
“At that time you turn eighteen you will be given a lump sum of cash. This money will be all that you will receive from the estate. You will not under any circumstances tell anyone of this settlement, nor will you ask for more. There simply is nothing for you.
Then when you are twenty-five you will receive the rest of your money as has been willed to you by your grandfather. In the event that your parents should die at any time before the dates mentioned in this letter, this accounting will be carried out by their attorney and there will be no more funding after such time. At this time, you are their child in name only. A full accounting of the rules will come to you when it is time.”
If they died? He was pretty sure that they would if any of the things around him were any indication. There were dead walking around all the time. Landon looked over at the man who was standing there staring at him. His grandfather, he’d told him the first time he’d come to him, was the only man in the world that Landon had ever trusted.
“They disown you?” Landon nodded. “Selfish shits. What do they think you’re going to do as a kid? Find you a job or something? Not likely. I didn’t leave them that money…I didn’t leave it so they could be cold and heartless to you.”
“I’m pretty sure they think they have enough reasons. You know what kind of person I’ve been.” His grandda, a Landon too, only shook his head. Landon looked out the window again and continued. “I’m thinking of joining you. I just don’t know what I have to live for anymore. I think Mother and Father would be much—”
“You’ll do no such thing. Why do you want to go and do something stupid like that? You think they’re going to mourn you? They will not. They’d have to have a heart to do that, don’t you think?” Landon said he was tired of it all. “Yeah, I know that feeling. Got me a terrible case of the tiredness until I realized that you could see and have a nice conversation with me. What am I to do if you’re not around? Now that I got you here and I’m not ready to stop talking to you as yet.”
Landon watched a boy he knew running across the quad, with a bunch of the older boys chasing him. Two weeks ago that had been him. Since then he’d been hiding out in his room, only leaving when he absolutely had to.
“They’re not nice here. I mean, I’m not either, I guess, but they’re cruel to each other and even to themselves. I’m betting that not one person would care. I even doubt anyone here would notice me for days after I was gone. It wouldn’t be me that brings them looking, but the smell of it.”
“That’s enough there, Landon. I don’t want you feeling sorry for yourself. You should just get your ass to class and forget all that other crap. You know I got me a powerful need to see what lies that history teacher is telling you kids. If I was alive, I’d tear him a new ass, let me tell you.” Landon smiled and thought that a smile shouldn’t be painful like this one was. “Landon, son, don’t do it.”
He pulled the gun out of his pocket and held it in his hands. He heard the sharp intake of breath and wondered what his grandda would do if he were just to look him in the eye and use it. Landon had bought it several days ago, and had been surprised at how easy it had been to do so. His grandda came to stand beside him and Landon put it out to him, knowing that he couldn’t touch it, wanting him to see how serious he was about ending his life.
“They don’t like me. They never have. I know that I’ve not been the best of kids, but I only wanted them to see me. See that I’m a person too. But they never did, not when I was good nor when I was bad. I can’t take this anymore, Grandda.” His grandda told
him that he could see him. “It’s not the same. I wanted them to say they love me. That they want me in their lives. But what do they do? They send me a letter from their attorney and have him tell me that I’m not to ever come home again.”
The longer he stood there saying nothing, the more appeal it had to just put the gun in his mouth and pull the trigger. He knew that he could do it. He’d even read up on how his head would look when he was done. Not that it mattered really, but he did want to just end his life. Looking up at his grandda when he said his name, Landon knew that it was time.
“Goodbye, Grandda. I’m so glad that I had you in my life.” Putting the small gun to his head, he closed his eyes. Pulling the trigger was as easy as opening the door, and he knew that he’d be dead long before he hit the floor. But nothing happened. Pulling the trigger again and again, he opened his eyes to see his grandda looking at him.
“Got me ways of making sure you’re safe.” He asked him what he meant. “Took me a person and had him come in and take the bullets out for you when I saw that you had it. Can’t lose you, boy, you know that. You’re all I have in this here entire world, dead or alive. I can’t let you do this because of them. I had him take them out and put the gun back where you had it. Throwing them bullets away was the best thing I’ve done for anyone in a very long time. I can’t be letting you do this to yourself, Landon. You’re my grandson and I have a need for you to be around for a bit longer.”
Landon threw the gun at the ghost. He, of course, didn’t move, but Landon’s anger spiraled out of control. As he began tearing things up, curtains from the windows, his sheets from his bed, he began screaming how his life was his own and no one else’s. Then he saw the candle. Grabbing it up, he looked for matches as his grandda begged him to stop.
He wasn’t sure what happened then. Landon woke up with his head spinning and the room he was in filled with smoke. The curtains were burning, as were his sheets and his books, and the letter from his parents’ attorney was there as well. As he started for it, to…he had no idea, he heard the first screams and knew that the fire had spread. He’d caused the building to fill with smoke and now people were going to die. Because of him.
Landon had no idea how he’d gotten into the hallway. He was sick with the pain in his head, and his arm was hurting as well. Tumbling a few times as he tried to make his way down the smoke filled hall, he started pounding on doors to see if someone needed help out. The third door he came to was hot, but he opened it anyway. Pushing hard on the door nearly had him passing out, but he finally managed to get it open enough to see the boy lying in front of it.
Dragging the boy out by his legs wasn’t easy. He was heavy for one thing, and Landon was sick now. Throwing up twice as he moved down the hall, he noticed that there was blood in his puke, and that scared him. Not that he wasn’t ready to die, but that the boy with him would as well. Getting him to the stairs, he sat down, trying to get his bearings. Two boys came up the stairs toward him, their hands full of something that looked like trash bags. He pleaded with them to help him.
“Help me get him out of here.” They said they had things to do. “But he’ll die. I can’t let him die like this. Just help me get him out of here.”
“Sucks to be you, I guess.” They were laughing as they made their way around him and to the next flight of stairs. Landon had no idea who they were or why they were in this part of the building, but he could see that they’d escaped being burned by the fire and soot had gotten them. Their bodies were dark with it.
“Follow me.” He looked at his grandda as he stood over him, his body floating just about a foot from the stairs that he was on. “Going down with your burden is going to be easier than going up. Just make sure that you pull him by his arms and not his legs. You don’t want to hurt his head any more than it already is. Come on, son, you can do this. I’ll get you out.”
“I hurt him.” His grandda asked him how he figured that. “I set the fire. He wouldn’t have been hurt if I had just jumped like I wanted to.”
“You didn’t do this, Landon. Not you. Them others, they did this, not you.” Landon nodded and said that he had the candle and it had caused it. “No, you didn’t. You might have been in the blast when it…why do you think you had a thing to do with this fire?”
“I set it. It’s what I was going to do when you hit me.” He told him he’d never touched him, that he’d been knocked out of the room before Landon had found the matches, that the explosion or whatever it had been had done it. “I must have found them then. I set fire to my room.”
“You didn’t, I tell you. You didn’t do anything.” Landon picked up the boy’s legs and started down the stairs again, knowing that he was going to go to prison for this. And wouldn’t that just make his parents thrilled. “You didn’t do this, boy, I swear to you.”
The next explosion rocked him. Hitting his head again, Landon knew a new kind of fear. The staircase was filled with flames now, and he was going to be burned alive, he just knew it.
Landon sat up in the bed. The dream of that fateful day as a child coming back to haunt him every night was taking its toll on him. His body was covered in sweat, and he could hear the echo of his screams in his head. Whether or not he had vocalized them, he wasn’t sure. But it was bad enough that they were in his head. Again. Sitting on his bed, the shaking began and he pulled a blanket from the floor, soaked now with his sweat.
Wrapping the blanket around him to keep the chills at bay some, Landon made his way to the bathroom to warm up. He nearly fell twice on his way, and had to go to his knees once when the tremors nearly had him throwing up. His body was frozen now, his head pounding so hard that he had trouble thinking beyond getting warm. Once he was in the bathroom, he turned the water to its hottest setting, and with his back to where the mirror usually hung, he leaned against the tile wall.
“I’m here, boy.” He nodded, knowing that his grandda would never leave him no matter what he’d done now or back then. “You gotta talk to somebody, Landon. You can’t keep this up. You’re killing yourself.”
“I’m fine.” Grandda snorted. It was no less than he expected of him. “You never did tell me how you like the house. Did you find your way around all right?”
“I like it right fine, and don’t change the subject. Get yourself cleaned up and come on out here, and we’ll have ourselves a pow-wow, you and me.”
There was no point in arguing with him. His grandda had been telling him what to do since he’d been about three and no one else was talking to him. Or listening to him. When he realized that not everyone could see what he could, Landon had lashed out, hurting those that might have helped him but letting his anger at being alone most of his young life keep everyone away. He’d figured that would keep his heart safer. Not that it had.
Stepping into the hot water, he was warmed immediately. From experience he knew that he’d be doing the same thing again tomorrow, so he turned the water to a relatively cooler temperature so that in the morning his skin wouldn’t be tender from his abuse today. Scrubbing his body several times, Landon leaned against the wall and thought about his life.
He was nearly twenty-nine years old, next week as a matter of fact. And it had been almost twenty years to the day since he’d blown up the building he’d been staying in, as well as two kids that he talked to daily, ones that haunted him still. And in all that time, since he’d been released from the hospital a month later, he’d not spoken a word to his mom and dad. That was until recently, when their attorney had reached out. They wanted to speak to him.
Getting out after washing his body again, he dried off, still not looking in the mirror. He would have had it removed as he had in every other place he’d been in, but he’d not figured out how to do it. Someone had adhered it to the wall, and other than busting it to get it down, he had yet to get it out of this room. Landon figured that he didn’t need any more bad luck.
Looking at his body was a constant reminder of that day. The scars, old and faded, seemed as fresh and raw as they had then. No pain was there any longer, but he did feel it all the same. Steele had been the only one to see them, and he’d told him that they were barely noticeable. But Landon knew they were there. And always would be.
Going to his bedroom again, he opened the huge closet and had to grin at what was there. Or in this case, what wasn’t there. The thing was as big as most bedrooms, holding not just things on hangers, but drawers for shoes and cufflinks, as well as watches and under things such as tee shirts and his boxers. Right now it had three tee-shirts hanging there, two pair of jeans that had seen better days, as well as a black suit in a bag that he’d not opened in more years than he could remember. Pulling out the worst looking of the shirts, he pulled it over his head after he’d put on his boxers and a pair of jeans. This was his attire on his day off. He headed to the kitchen, where he knew his grandda was waiting.
Logan, what most people called him, watched his only grandson move around the kitchen ignoring him. He was fine with that…for now. As Landon pulled out a big box of those flakes of corn he liked to eat, Logan suggested gently that he get him a banana to go with it.
“No thanks.” They both eyed the fruit that had been in the bowl turning darker and darker since Addie had brought it to him a few days ago. “I have to go into town today. Are you going to be joining me?”
“I don’t think so.” Logan was sort of afraid of the town. There wasn’t really anything there that would hurt him, but he didn’t like all the people. It was why he’d never met any of the others that Landon worked with. Logan just did not like the living. He’d barely tolerated them when he was one of them and avoided them even now. But he didn’t want the same for his grandson.
After he ate, Logan watched Landon put his things away and clean up the counter. He’d been alone too long, Logan thought. The boy was a better housekeeper than most women he knew. And when he finished drying his one bowl and spoon, Logan looked at the sad state of affairs that was his cabinets.
“You gonna get you some dishes today? Maybe a pot or two. I heard you telling that other man, Mitch, that you wanted him to come on by and have some dinner with you. What you planning to do, share the one plate you have and that bowl?” Landon said nothing, but Logan was used to that. That was another thing he didn’t care for, his grandson being so lonely. “You call that attorney back?”
That got a reaction. Not the one he wanted, but enough that Logan could see that he was thinking about it. He needed to get this resolved if for no other reason than to show his mom and dad that he wasn’t nearly as bad as they’d always thought. Or worse yet, as bad as they always told him he was. Landon was a good man; a great one as far as he was concerned.
“I didn’t plan on it. In fact, I’d forgotten all about it.” Sure he had, thought Logan, and I can pull a rabbit out of my ass. “I’ll call them tomorrow.”
“You’ll do it now. You might have won one of them clearing house things, and they might give it away should you don’t call and claim it.” They both knew it was his parents, and Logan had a feeling he might know what they were gonna say. He’d been visiting them too. “Landon, call the man and get it done.”
“I don’t want to.” He sounded five, and before Logan could point that out to him, Landon continued. “They want to see me. And then they want to sit me in a chair and point out all the things I’ve done since I saw them last. Twenty years is going to be a long list, don’t you think? I’m not ready for that. I don’t know that I ever will be.”
“You’re a damned grown man. What do you think you would do if they try to sit you in the corner like a child? You answer me that.” Landon said he had no answer. “Didn’t think so. You don’t like the way they’re treating you, then you can leave. But you’ve no way of knowing shit unless you go there and talk to them. For all you know, they could be wanting to welcome you back with open arms.”
“You know that’s not ever going to happen.” Logan knew that too. But a man could hope, couldn’t he? His son and that wife of his had done them both wrong. “And what do I do, Grandda, when they ask me what I’ve been doing with my life? Do I tell them I start each day with you harping on me? Do I say that I work with a bunch of men just like me that talk to the dead? I’m sure that’ll go over just fine.”
“I don’t know why not. You’ve made a living at it. And from where I’m sitting you’ve done a fine job at that too. Not the living part, but the money part. Why, you never have touched that money they paid you. Building yourself up from nothing, now look at you.” Landon snorted. “You don’t no more live than them ghosts you help. Hell son, when was the last time you were laid? I’m thinking it’s been a long while.”
“I’m not talking about my sex life with you. Especially not you. Christ.” He got up and put a load of wash in the washer as he continued. “In the event you didn’t notice, I just purchased this house and it’s taking up a great deal of my time.”
It was two more pairs of those ratty jeans he wore and five work shirts. He’d hang them on the bar when they were washed up and pull them down when he needed them. Work shirts never made it to the upper levels all that often.
“Yeah, I can see that. Laundry and dishes. Yesterday you run that vacuum cleaner until I plum thought you were going to wear a hole in the carpets. Then you dusted. If you ever want to change jobs in the future, you can make a right fine domestic.” Landon said nothing, but the shirt in his hand wasn’t going to survive the anger he was holding in much longer. So of course, Logan decided to push him a little harder. “You should get you one of them blow up dolls to screw. That way you can shove it in the closet when you’re satisfied and not have to think about it anymore. Much like you do most of your friends.”
The shirt ripped and hung limply in his hands. Logan wanted to get up and hug the boy. Hold him like he was sure no one had done in more years than was right. Logan watched his grandson struggle with his temper and his hurt.
“If I go and do this, you’ll go with me? See what they really are so that I can move on with my life?” He said that he would. There was no point in telling him that this might not turn out the way he thought, because they both knew better. But Logan was forever hopeful. “All right, but you’ll meet the others too. It’s a fair trade for what you’ve been doing to me all these years.”
“I can do that. But what about them boys? You gonna do something about them too?” Logan wanted to tell him to vanish them, but knew that he’d not do it. Landon had been tormented by the Bobbsey Twins, as Logan called them, since the fire.
“I don’t know. You know that they come and go as they please.” He did at that. Never here more than it took for them to upset Landon. Then they’d move on to some other trouble. And it mattered little to any of them that Logan knew just what had happened that day, and it had not been the way that Landon thought. And those damned boys knew it too.
The phone call from that pansy lawyer had upset Landon. Logan wanted to go through the device and choke the living shit out of the person on the other end. But he just sat there knowing that someday, not only would Landon listen to him about that day, but his son and daughter-in-law would as well. He’d been there. Logan had seen what had gone on that day and what had happened to cause it all. And it was not Landon. It had never been the boy. He also knew why he wasn’t there for his only grandchild, and he was gonna enjoy seeing their reactions to that coming out too.
Landon called to set up the talk. That’s what he knew it was gonna be too, a talk. He hoped that Landon would get in a few words of his own. Maybe a fuck you or a fuck off would be nice as well. Landon sat down when he closed his phone.
“I have to go there at one. They have an appointment open for me and I’m to meet him at the parents’ house. I have an appointment to go to my parents’ house.” Logan stood up to leave with him, not that it mattered. He could pretty much go where he wanted when he wanted to. “You really don’t have to go, Grandda. I was only…I was pissed off, and I didn’t mean you’d have to go. There isn’t any point in both of us having to suffer.”
“I want to. I need to.” Landon looked like he was going to say more. But Logan had a feeling he didn’t want to know what it might be. “I can see how well that son of mine aged. I’m thinking not so well. What do you think?”
“I think I’d rather you just pull my nails out with a pair of plyers than to go and see them both. And if you want to know the truth, I’m sort of sick about going there.” Logan knew that as well. “When this is done and you see what you need to see from them, you don’t bring them up to me again. Promise.”
“I promise, but on the condition that you have an open mind and don’t be going in there with your head up your ass.” Landon said he wasn’t make any kind of promises. “Then I guess I can’t either.”
As they made their way out of the house and to his truck, Logan had a shiver of dread. What if, his mind kept saying, and the list was too long for him to try and work out. What if Landon’s parents were as cruel as they’d always been? What if they were only bringing him there to hurt him again? The closer he got to the house, waiting on Landon, the more dread he felt. This was a mistake, he knew it. He just hoped the letter that he’d sent out would help his grandson more than he could.