The sounds filling the school slowly disappeared. Happy laughter, slamming lockers, squeaky tennis shoes quickly turned into a deafening silence as the last students hurried out of the building, heading home for the day, just like Gibby should have been doing.
Home! Jonathan wouldn’t notice that Gibby never made it home from school for at least a few more hours.
After the ducktape was ripped off and readjusted over his mouth, Gibby felt his hands being lifted off his chest as his wrists were bound together, too. He tried to move away from the fingers pulling at him or to roll onto his back to get away, but a sharp pain shot up his shoulder, already forming a bruise from where they had dropped him on the dirty, bathroom floor. He mumbled behind the tape and gasped from the wave of pain.
Gibby opened his eyes and immediately closed them again. The bright fluorescent lights in the ceiling made the headache throb behind his eyes, hurting twice as bad. He settled on squinting through the pain to get a good look around him before his left eye swelled completely closed.
Mike and Mark Butler nervously paced around the small room. By appearance alone, Gibby couldn’t tell the two boys apart, but after watching them for a few minutes, he determined that Mike was the one positioned at the door, designated as a look-out, and Mark was in charge of controlling their prisoner.
“So, what now?” Mark impatiently asked.
His brother shrugged his shoulders and opened the door wide enough to take a peek down the hallway to make sure nobody was there. “Ethan just told me to snag Robinson before he left and to hold him until he gets here.”
Looking down at Gibby laying silent on the floor, Mark pressed on. “Well, how much longer?”
“He’ll be here when he gets here, jeez. I think they’re planning a prank or something, from the sound of things.”
Dread started to edge in. If this was some sort of twisted joke, Gibby wasn’t laughing. The last thing he wanted was to be the butt of some crazy prank that Amanda or Ethan dreamed up to try to embarrass him or make his life miserable.
“I wish he would just hurry up. I don’t like this at all.” Mark’s eyes darted around the room.
Gibby would have agreed with him if he could.
Mike’s cell phone suddenly rang. Pulling it free from his pocket, Mark inched closer, catching a glimpse of Ethan’s number on the screen.
Before the twins could answer the call, Tanner appeared in a thick veil of white mist. He spotted Gibby sprawled on the floor and dropped to his knees beside him.
“What the hell is going on here?” Tanner shouted at the guys who use to be his friends. “Jesus, Gibby, your eye. What have they done to you?” Clawing at the restraints against Gibby’s wrists did no good. Tanner’s ghostly fingers passed through the tape binding his hands together.
Gibby wanted to tell Tanner to stop and just focus for a second. He needed to take a long deep breath and calm his racing mind, but Tanner was too frantic and continued to helplessly grab at the tape.
“You want him down there… right now?” Mike questioned Ethan on the other end of the phone.
Mark started pacing again and rubbing his fingers over his forehead. “How the fuck are we supposed to get him downstairs? We can’t just stroll down the hallway. Principal Grady’s office is at the bottom of the goddamn staircase.”
“It’s not too late to stop this,” Tanner begged his friends who couldn’t hear him. “Please, oh please, let him go!”
Mike snapped his phone closed and shoved it back in his pocket before grabbing the front of Gibby’s sweatshirt and pulling him to his feet by his collar. “We aren’t going to go down the main stairs.”
Fear flashed through Gibby’s eyes as he suddenly wondered how he was getting down there if they weren’t going down the stairs and hoped it didn’t involve an open window and a hard shove against his back.
Gibby never noticed the narrow wooden staircase tucked away in the back of the library, before today. It looked like it was original from when the school was first built. Opening the short metal gate that stopped hip high, Mark hurried down the rickety steps two at a time as Mike pushed Gibby ahead of him. The boys kept him between their large frames to prevent him from running away.
Swaying slightly from the pain inside his head, Gibby reached out towards the metal hand railing, earning him a hard shove from behind.
“C’mon, dude, hurry up!” Mark’s voice was irritated as he reached the bottom first. The guy looked as if he was going to puke at any moment. Mark didn’t want to be here. Gibby could tell by the look in Mark’s dark eyes that he wanted out. Gibby was willing to bet money that the boy wanted out of here, but Gibby wanted out of this situation even more Mark does.
Tanner stepped in front of Mike, trying to block his friend’s path, but the boy didn’t see him. He didn’t even stop when an icy blast of energy shot through his body as he walked right through Tanner’s misty form. “Let’s get this over with,” Mike growled.
The lights were already shut off inside the gymnasium. Autumn’s last rays of sunshine reached the tall row of windows across the top of the high gym walls, casting a rainbow of color across the polished floor.
Ethan and Amanda were arguing in the center of the basketball court while Bethany and Sunshine sat on the bottom row of the bleachers watching what appeared to be a lover’s quarrel when Mike and Mark walked in, shoving Gibby ahead of them.
“Hey, hey, the gangs all here,” Mike teased as he grabbed Gibby’s arm and pulled him into the middle of the gym. “What do you say we get this prank underway so we can get the hell out of here?”
Sunshine jumped to her feet when she noticed Gibby. “What’s going on?” His face had paled except for the deep purple bruise that was already forming a black eye.
Amanda ignored the girl as she started barking orders at the guys. Pointing toward the bleachers on the opposite wall, she instructed Mike to tie Gibby to the basketball hoop at the top. The gym was equipped with two practice backboards that lowered over the bleachers when the metal seats were retracted and folded against the walls like an accordion.
Today, someone had left them both open. Mike pushed Gibby ahead of him, forcing him to walk up the bleachers to the hoop and net hanging down over the seats.
“Sunny, please make them stop.” Tanner begged her. He shouted at her and the rest of his friends. His voice echoed off the high walls. It was no use; nobody could see him or hear him, only Gibby.
Tanner’s fists clenched at his sides as he helplessly spun in circles, before he rushed over to Gibby’s side. His soft brown eyes were heavy from the earlier hit to his head. “Just hold on, babe, I’m going to go get help.” Tanner said and pressed a kiss to Gibby’s cheek before he disappeared.
“Everything is under control--”
Ethan snorted, cutting Amanda off. “You call this under control?” He growled pointing at Mike, tying Gibby’s hands above his head.
“C’mon, people, what’s the plan? You gonna strip Robinson down to his tighty-whities and email pictures to the whole school? If so, let’s get a move on.” Mark nervously joked around.
The thought of the entire student body looking at his burned body made Gibby want to scream, but the icy fear pumping through his veins told him that Amanda Grady wanted revenge…not humiliation.
“Guys, I don’t like this,” Bethany whispered, her voice lost in the growing argument.
“I can handle this,” Amanda glared at Ethan.
“Like you handled Tanner? For god’s sake, Tanner is dead! I think we should just go to the police, now, before it’s too late.” Ethan closed his eyes and tipped his head back waiting for Amanda’s explosion.
“What do you mean, like she handled Tanner?” Mark questioned.
“What’s Tanner have to do with this?” Sunshine joined in the line of questions too.
Amanda was losing control. Her friends all started talking at once. Her face flushed red and her pupils expanded until her eyes were pure black. Reaching behind her back, Amanda pulled her father’s gun from the waistband of her jeans and screamed, “Everyone, just shut the fuck up!”
Hospitals are always slow in small towns and Shepherd’s Crook was no different. Jonathan stopped at the nurse’s station to drop off a patient’s chart. One of the women looked up and smiled at him as he passed by. The scar running the length of the side of his face didn’t deter the female staff members from stealing glances at the handsome doctor every once in a while.
“Dr. Robinson! Dr. Robinson!” Tanner shouted until his voice was horse. He chased Jonathan down the long, wide corridor, unable to get the man’s attention. It was no use, the man wouldn’t stop walking. “Please, Dr. Robinson, your son needs you! I need you!”
Tanner dropped to the floor and trembled on his knees and sobbed. “I need someone, anyone to hear me…Please, Dr. Robinson, Gibby needs you to hear me!”
“Jonathan!” The woman’s voice was sharp, commanding Jonathan’s attention.
Looking up from the floor, Tanner recognized Gibby’s mother from his nightmare. Carol Robinson stood in front of Jonathan, blocking his path. Her face glowed as she smiled at her husband, her soft white gown billowing around her arms and legs.
“Carol?” Jonathan stammered in disbelief, watching her misty form, hovering in the hospital hallway. “Is it really you?”
“Yes, Jon, it’s me. Gibby is in trouble,” His body stiffened and he recoiled from her, terrible memories flooded back from that night, when she had said the same words to him, just moments before she tried to end their son’s life.
“Why are you here?” He asked, growling at her apparition.
“Our son needs you--”
“Please listen to her, Dr. Robinson. The same kids that killed me have Gibby. They are going to hurt him.” Jonathan turned and saw Tanner kneeling in the hallway behind him. Seeing the boy that he pronounced dead on the side of the road had Jonathan stumbling backwards.
“Oh my god, you’re dead…both of you are dead.” He muttered over and over.
“If you don’t hurry, Jonathan, Gibby will be dead too.” Carol’s warning had Jonathan turning on his heels and running out of the hospital as fast as he could.
The gym was completely silent as everyone nervously watched Amanda pace around the floor with a loaded gun in her hands. She mumbled and twitched. At one point, she even used the muzzle of the gun to scratch behind her ear.
The air around Gibby shimmered as Tanner reappeared on the bleachers beside him. “Just hold on, Gibby, help is coming, your dad is on his way.” He traced a tear down Gibby’s face. The electric sensation of Tanner’s touch soothed him as he breathed a sigh of relief knowing his father was coming to save him.
“What do we do now?” Bethany cried to herself as she hugged her knees to her chest, curled up in the far corner of the room. Sunshine shot her an angry glance and shook her head for the girl to shut up. Amanda was agitated. The slightest noise had her jumping and ready to go off.
Keeping her movements slow, Sunshine pulled her cell phone out of her pocket. After years of texting in class, the girl’s fingers memorized the keys as she typed out a quick message without looking.
“Daddy help! Amanda has gun. In gym at school. Help now!” It only took seconds to send the message to her father, but to be sure that he didn’t try to call her back; she switched the phone to vibrate. The last thing they needed was something startling the disturbed girl and by the looks of it, Amanda Grady was losing touch with reality, fast!
“Don’t you guys understand? I’m doing this for all of us.” Amanda suddenly shouted.
“How is any of this helping us?” Mark demanded.
Pointing the gun at Gibby, Amanda giggled. “He was going to tell on us, just like Tanner tried to tell, but now he won’t.”
Tanner protectively stepped in front of Gibby until Amanda swung the gun in another direction.
“Are you telling me that all of this,” Mark opened his arms wide, “All of this is over some stupid tests that we cheated on?”
“We would have gotten kicked out of school, Mark! Goodbye graduation, and in case you geniuses haven’t figured it out, that means college is gone too. You can forget about your fucking football scholarship, also. Do you think any school would want you after that? ” Amanda screamed, making Bethany start sobbing all over again.
Ethan’s hollow eyes darted back and forth, watching Mark and Amanda argue.
“So we cheated. I don’t see what the big fucking deal is. If we get caught, then we deserve to be punished--”
“No!” Amanda stomped her foot. “Nobody is finding out--”
“I think they already know,” Sunshine’s voice sliced through their shouting. Amanda turned on the girl, demanding her to explain. “My dad was asking me questions about you last night and…and…I think they already know.”
The bloodcurdling scream that exploded from Amanda’s chest sounded like a wild animal. She ran up the bleachers to Gibby and pulled the tape off his face, ripping out facial hair and tearing his skin as it peeled away from his lips.
“Aaaarggh,” Gibby jerked his face away from her hands.
“What did you tell them, freak?” Amanda raged.
“Come on, Mandy, you need to stop this before it gets out of hand.” Sunshine spoke softly to her friend. “This has nothing to do with Gibby. Why don’t you untie him and let him go so we can talk?” It was no use. Amanda couldn’t be calmed.
“Get your fucking hands off him,” Tanner yelled at Amanda. He heard his voice echoing in his ears until he realized that someone else had said the same exact words as he did.
Jonathan Robinson stood in the doorway of the gym. He was outraged to see his child strung up like an animal. As he rushed forward towards his son, he never noticed the teenage boy darting out from behind the bleachers with a baseball bat in his hands, until it connected with his back, knocking the doctor to the ground.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Mark screamed at his brother standing over Jonathan’s crumpled body. Jonathan lifted his head, dazed by the sudden attack.
“Amanda’s right, bro, if anyone finds out, we can lose everything.” Mike dropped the bat and rushed up the bleachers. Ethan took off in the same direction, trying to get a step in front of him, but he wasn’t able to catch Mike before he charged up the bleachers.
The first blow knocked Mike forward, but he didn’t go down without a fight. Mark quickly joined in. He didn’t help his brother or Ethan; he was trying to separate the two boys as they exchanged jabs at each other.
Jonathan coughed as he rolled onto his side. The strike knocked the wind out of him, but didn’t do much damage. He tried to get up, but a wave of nausea flooded his body. As he glanced up at Gibby, he was shocked to see his son, standing in the last rays of sunlight while the other boys fought on the bleachers in front of him. Their faces were distorted as they fell and rose on the hard metal bleachers.
“Demons,” Jonathan gasped. As the boys fought, the sunlight cast light and shadows across their faces making them appear demonic. He shuddered, realizing that his wife, Carol was right. The demons were fighting for Gibby’s soul.
“Stop!” Tanner shouted, bringing a sudden end to the boy’s brawl.
Tanner Mitchell appeared in front of Gibby Robinson. The ghostly figure pulsed with rage. His gray skin was stretched tightly over his bones, to the point that his greenish-black lips pulled away from his mouth in a snarl. Gone were the sparkling blue eyes of life, instead the milky white orbs of death peered out from behind his dead face. Ethan and the Butler twins watched in horror as blood oozed from the open wound on Tanner’s head.
Amanda shook as she watched the grotesque form of Tanner Mitchell stepping closer to her. “You’re dead.” She yelled at him.
“Because you killed me, you evil bitch!” Tanner growled and took another step closer and another then vanished just before his outstretched hands reached her neck. Amanda whirled around, frantically searching the room for him.
Tapping on her shoulder to get her attention, Tanner toyed with her. He growled beside her ear, “I know all of your secrets.”
Amanda screamed and fired the gun in his direction as he quickly circled around her, but every shot went through him. Several struck the concrete wall behind him, chipping bits of paint and shattering stone fragments into the air. Bethany sobbed when the loud bang echoed through the room while Sunshine watched in disbelief.
“You can’t kill the dead, Mandy.” Tanner said before disappearing again.
The room was growing dark as the sun had finally set. Shadows flowed in from every direction, making Amanda nervous. She twisted and turned away from the ominous darkness, but it continued to inch closer.
“No!” Mark’s strangled cry had Tanner turning to see the carnage behind him. Mark cradled his brother’s limp body in his lap, blood spurting from where a bullet had hit Mike in the neck. Mark’s hands clamped over his twin’s wound, but it did little good as his life slowly slipped away.
Ethan’s lifeless body was also sprawled across the bleachers, his open eyes fixed on the ceiling as blood dripped down his forehead from a gunshot wound to the head.
Amanda trembled as the gun slipped from her fingers and fell between the cracks in the bleachers.
“Tanner…” Gibby’s voice was barely a whisper. Tanner tore his eyes away from his friends to find Jonathan ripping at the restraints holding up his only child. Gibby gave him a weak smile and coughed as blood gurgled from his lips.
“Oh my god, Gibby, I can’t lose you,” Tanner cried when he noticed more blood spreading across the front of Gibby’s pale shirt. Jonathan freed Gibby’s wrists and he collapsed to the hard metal seats.
Jonathan’s medical training kicked in as he ripped at his son’s shirt revealing a bullet hole just to the left of his bellybutton. Moaning in pain, Gibby gasped after each word as he told his dad that he loved him, seconds before his eyes fluttered closed and his head rolled to the side.
“Help! I need help,” Jonathan shouted as he started chest compressions on his son.
There were muffled shouts from outside the gymnasium door.
“This is the police!” Someone shouted through a bullhorn. “We heard gunshots. Whoever has the gun, put it down now…we’re coming in!”
“Daddy,” Sunshine cried as she rushed toward the officers storming the building.
“Up here,” Jonathan shouted at the police officers, “Please help me, my son’s been shot.”
Tanner bellowed with rage. Officer Blackfeather’s mouth dropped open as he watched Tanner Mitchell leap at Amanda Grady. His ghostly body enveloped her as he carried both of them off the bleacher, soaring through the air, where Tanner dropped her from the center of the ceiling.
Amanda’s arms flung out as she fell from an incredible height before smashing onto the gym floor in a twist of shattered bones. Her eyes watched Tanner’s ghost hovering above her; his name was the last thing she ever said.
A brilliant white light surrounded Gibby as he opened his eyes. He blinked, trying to focus, but everything outside the light was cast in shadows, so he could only see inside the narrow beam surrounding him.
Gibby noticed that his clothes were gone. The white linen wrapping his waist was soft against his bare skin. Turning his arms over, Gibby noticed that his scars were gone too. His skin was perfectly smooth like it was before the fire.
“Am I dead?” He muttered to himself inside the light.
“Not yet,” Tanner purred against Gibby’s ear as he joined him, wearing an identical cloth across his waist. The heat from their skin, where Tanner pressed his chest against Gibby’s back, was wonderful.
Turning in Tanner’s arms to face him, Gibby pressed him for answers, “Is this Heaven?”
“No,” Tanner shook his head as he gently placed his hand on Gibby’s cheek. “This is sort of an in-between place, somewhere in the middle of life and death.”
Tanner’s blue eyes grew darker as he forced a smile to his handsome face. “I’m sorry, Gibby, but you can’t stay here--”
“But I don’t want to go back! I love you and I want to stay with you forever.” Gibby sobbed as he buried his face into Tanner’s shoulder. The soft auburn locks hid Gibby’s eyes and tears. “Please don’t send me back,” He begged.
Tanner caught Gibby’s chin and turned his face up to look at him. “I love you too, Gib, that’s why you have to go. You have to go back and do all of the things that I never got a chance to do. I want you to be happy.”
“But,” Gibby tried to interrupt him, but Tanner pressed his finger to his lips, quieting his protest.
“You’re going to go to college and travel the world, and live your life and most important… one day you’ll fall in love again.”
“But I love you!” Gibby shouted.
“I know, babe, I know.” Tanner held him as he cried. “I will never stop loving you, for the rest of your life, until we meet again…someday…” Tanner’s voice grew softer, “I will always have you in my heart…” As Tanner’s words vanished into the air, so did he.
“No! Tanner, wait!” Gibby collapsed to his knees and sobbed alone in the light.
“Gibson,” Carol’s soft voice was just as Gibby had remembered. It washed over him, comforting his aching soul, easing his pain.
He looked up and gasped at the sight of his beautiful mother, standing at the edge of the light, white linen billowing around her; Gibby ran to her. She caught him and held him to her chest. “Mommy,” He cried.
“Gibby, I’m so sorry for hurting you. I was only trying to protect you…” Her words trailed off as sadness filled her brown eyes.
“Before, I didn’t understand why you had set the fire, but now I do. I know that you were only trying to save me and I forgive you.” He said.
Carol stared into the eyes of her child, “I love you so much, Gibby.”
“I love you, too, Mom.” Gibby smiled at her.
The white light around them flashed.
“We have a pulse!” Someone shouted from the darkness.
Carol wrapped her arms around Gibby and whispered, “Your father needs you, Gibby. You have to go back, Son. It’s not your time…but we will be here waiting for you…”
The light flashed again.
Gibby blinked as his eyes as he fought to focus between the light and darkness. Tanner and his mother stood at the edge of the light, watching him go. Jonathan waited in the darkness, pulling his son back to him from the brink of death.
“He’s alive,” Jonathan said as he broke down in tears and wept at his son’s side. “My son’s alive!”
Wow, I can't believe the end is here... Almost!!! Please stay tuned for the epilogue to immediately follow this chapter. I won't make you wait another week I'd love to hear from you. Let me know what you think. Ask as many questions as you want either here, at the end of the epilogue or on the story forum.