South Park and its characters belong to Matt Stone, Trey Parker, Comedy Central, and a host of other people who are not me. I own only the mental illness that enabled me to write this story.
It wasn't my fault... he kept coming back. At first I was scared... I kept waiting for that look, that fire in his eyes that meant searing flesh, burning agony, and the stinging deception that always crept its way into my nightmares. The first few times it happened I made an honest effort to avoid him... but when I realized that his eyes never sought mine out, regardless of whether or not I was hiding behind the nearest rubbish bin, the feeling turned to hurt. Had he forgotten me? There was no sign at all of recognition in his facial expressions or body language, and I was always watching out for one. I made excuses to bump into him on the street, waiting for some hint that he felt remorse – or humor, even, I was that desperate for a reaction – over the calamity that was our short-lived friendship... but there was nothing. Eventually, my attitude towards the whole matter became impatient frustration. Did he honestly think he could keep coming back to this town that hated him and ignore – forget about apologizing to – the one person who didn't?
It wasn't my fault. It was his own arrogance that led me back to him.
Chapter One — Bitter Reunion
By fourteen, I had begun to seek him out. It was no longer enough to be annoyed at his frequent reappearances. I needed closure, or at least the chance to exorcize myself of the phantom that had haunted me for the last six years of my life. He proved, however, to be surprisingly elusive. It was one thing to catch a glimpse of him at the movie theater and another thing entirely to attain an address or phone number. I had no last name, nor the names of any family or friends – anyone he could be staying with. I listened out for hints, asked around for clues, but it seemed as though I was the only one who noticed him... who even remembered him. I wasn't subtle; if I caught sight of him on the street I would give chase, but then he would vanish behind a cluster of people, the corner of a building, and that would be it. Gone without a trace. By seventeen, I was completely obsessed with finding him. A sinister coincidence had turned into habitual torture, and I needed just one opportunity to ask him why.
"You know something, Pip... you're fucking insane."
I gave a startled jump and fought the unpleasant sensation of my stomach leaping into my throat. I whipped around to see Wendy standing behind me, a stack of library books in her arms and a satisfied smile at having scared me shitless on her face. "I know you're not looking for my phone number in there."
I let out a small sigh and couldn't help but smile at her. I couldn't get angry at Wendy. "Think of it as a hobby. It sounds less unhealthy that way." I closed the phone book in front of me and resigned myself to another lecture from Wendy. "Pull up a chair." She gladly obliged.
The circular library table was set for six people, but between me and Wendy the entire thing was completely covered in books. "I was just in here picking up a few—" (I couldn't help laughing) "—books on the upcoming physics project... you've got Edwards, too, don't you? You might have a few of these books yourself beneath all these directories." She shot me a grin that I returned with a bored exhale. "I spotted you among the regulars and decided I'd say hi."
"Well, that's a relief. So I suppose, now that we've gotten that out of the way, you can—"
"What happened to you, Pip?" Wendy moaned, shoving some of my books out of the way so that she could prop her elbows up on the table and rest her head in her hands. I wouldn't have bothered, personally, but Wendy always had a strange reverence for books. "You used to be so nice."
I raised an eyebrow. "Pardon?"
Wendy shook her head a little. "Not that you're as much of an asshole as the other guys at school, of course... you're just so bitter."
"I had underwear yanked up my ass on a consistent basis my entire elementary school life. I'm entitled to a little bitterness." Wendy giggled.
"I miss your accent, too. You would've said 'arse.'"
I rolled my eyes and let out a long breath, drumming my fingers loudly on the table. I was beginning to get impatient. "I'd hate to sound like I have something more important to do, Wendy, because I really don't, but I'm just not in the mood for reminiscing right now."
"Oh, and that precious little hat you always had on—"
"No, Pip!" Wendy cried, jumping up and making a wild grab for my arm as I pushed myself out of my chair and started for the door. I'd be back tomorrow to pick up after myself. "Don't go; I was only screwing around with you. I have something to tell you." I glanced back at her with hesitant eyes, but I couldn't say no to her, sprawled desperately over the table and her precious books like that.
"I swear to god, Wendy, if it's about that bow tie I used to wear..." Wendy smiled up at me and released her hold on my arm, sliding back down into her seat and brushing herself off.
"Cross my heart." I sat back down politely enough, organizing the books she had scattered everywhere into neat little piles while she performed some girly hand ritual over her chest that I hadn't seen since fifth grade. "It's about Damien."
I knocked over one of my piles in an involuntary spasm. My breath caught painfully in my throat; if Wendy wanted my attention, she had it all now.
"Yeah..." She spoke with an air so casual it was actually patronizing. "I was at the high school in Middle Park for the arts festival, real letdown, but I heard these two boys talking about a 'Damien.' He sounded like yours... dark, vicious, volatile... Well, I'm not painful to look at, you know, and it wasn't hard to get information out of them. I mean, I don't know if he's the one you're looking for, of course, Damien isn't that uncommon a name, but he's registered at Middle Park under the name 'Damien Hawthorne,' if you're interested."
I was out that door so fast I didn't even have the time to offer her a "thank you."
o o o
If he was registered, actually registered somewhere, there had to be a family, an address, a phone number... even if they weren't real. You couldn't just show up for class one day and expect the school to be cool with it. I had something solid now, something tangible. I made a mental note as I was bicycling through town just after nightfall to buy Wendy something expensive for her birthday.
There was the unpleasant possibility that it might not be the right person... but my brain rejected the idea. This boy had followed me through the years, intentionally or not, and there was no way it wasn't him. It had to be. It had to be. I had never come this close to tracking him down... it couldn't be a false lead. It would be too cruel.
I came to a stop at the gate around the high school – padlocked, of course, but I wasn't slowed down in the least. You spend years jumping fences to avoid another ass-kicking and you get pretty damn good at it. I leaned my bicycle against the fence and leapt up, grabbing a fistful of chain link and hoisting myself up over the enclosure. The descent wasn't quite as graceful, but the stinging went away after a few moments. What took longer was finding an open window in the building... I wasn't stupid enough to hope that one of the doors had been left unlocked. I found her towards the back of the building on the first floor, which was fortunate for me, as I was never much of an acrobat and probably would've killed myself trying to get up a tree or scale the wall. Whump. Yeah... good, headfirst landing on the floor. It was carpeted, at least.
It took me about half an hour to find the administrative office. The school wasn't particularly large, but my directional impairment led me up to the second-story bathrooms about ten times. I picked the lock with a nifty little skeleton key I'd nicked from a janitor's closet a few years back. Never know when you're going to need somewhere to hide.
The file cabinets I found near the back of the office, and I was so giddy with excitement it was becoming painful to breathe. Anything... anything with his name on it would satisfy me. A school directory, registration records, a bus schedule... I pulled out a miniature flashlight from my back pocket and started tearing open drawers, flipping hurriedly through folders. It's not like I didn't have all night, but the adrenaline rush was getting to me... I'd been waiting for this moment for years... I was finally about to track down the boy that had been fucking with my head for the last half of my life...
I came across the name on a manila folder in the third cabinet I'd searched through, and my heart gave an uncomfortable jump. Damien Hawthorne. I ripped the folder out of the drawer and gripped it so tightly the sides began to wrinkle. The school wouldn't miss it... I began to tremble so badly that I had to hold out a hand against the wall to support myself. I didn't even know what the folder was... hell, it could be a detention record... but it was mine, tangible proof that he wasn't just some sick figment of my imagination, that—
"You know... I'm pretty sure that's considered stalking."
If I'd had a full bladder, that would've been the end of those pants. Fortunately, all I did was jerk in shock and drop both the flashlight and the folder. I felt papers hit my legs and feet, and the flashlight flickered out violently the moment it hit the floor, but I couldn't move. I was frozen solid. Who... who was...?
"Don't worry," the voice assured me, its owner bending down to retrieve the dropped folder. "I'm not gonna bust you." But that wasn't what I was worried about.
Don't... don't look... The flashlight might have been out, but there was still enough light from the windows to adjust to. My eyes were beginning to already, and who knew how long he'd been in the office. Please don't look at the folder...
"Here." The folder was returned to my arms, and I finally summoned the courage to look up at the person who had so nonchalantly caught me in the act. I couldn't make out any distinctive features, but I could make out the general build: lean and gawky. Oh... he's just... just a student.
"Wh—" I tried to force out, my hands trembling. "Wh-what are you doing here?" He cocked his head to the side and I could see a smile reflected in the moonlight; I clutched the folder tightly to my chest.
"Nothing that would interest you, I'm sure... but I could ask you the same question." His confident tone was beginning to make me nervous, as was his apparent comfort in the off-bounds office. "Those are confidential files, you know... are you looking for a boy's phone number or something? Pretty ballsy for a chick, sneaking in here like this so late at—"
"I'm a boy, thanks," I corrected indignantly, ditching the stutter. What sort of idiot would mistake me for a girl? But the guy didn't seem at all abashed. On the contrary, he started to laugh.
"Yeah," he confessed, making himself comfortable on a nearby desk. "I thought you looked a little too masculine. The hair, though, I thought maybe..." He snorted through his nose, apparently amused. "Well, to be honest, I'd just rather it be a girl sneaking in here to get a glimpse of my records."
No... my heart thudded in my chest. No way...
"Y-you... you're Damien?!" I stammered, stutter back in full force. No time for subtlety; I threw discretion to the wind and grasped frantically for my flashlight. I had to readjust the head and pound clumsily at the ON button a few times, but then he was bathed in artificial illumination and I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach. That was the face... that was the face that had been the subject of my nightmares for years. The hair, the skin, the eyes were perfect... if it wasn't him it was the cruelest coincidence I'd ever experienced. And yet... where was that aura he used to carry about him? And the stoic manner of speech? It didn't make sense.
"Yeah," he responded, tilting his head back in a bored fashion. He didn't even flinch at the light in his eyes. "And it's nothing personal, man, but I don't really do the guy-on-guy thing... you're cute, but I just can't get on board with the whole ass-ramming affair." I could feel my cheeks burning.
"I didn't come here to get my ass rammed!" I fumed, furious that I had finally found him, had him all alone with no one for miles to hear me scream, and this is how it was happening. "I came here to prove to myself that you weren't just some twisted hallucination, some childhood memory that kept materializing in front of me as some sick psychological torture device!"
The surprise on his face at my words was genuine. "I... do I know you?"
If my cheeks were burning before, they were flaming now. "You really can't remember me? You have no recollection whatsoever?" The blankness in his eyes was answer enough for me, but he made it worse for himself.
"I think you've got the wrong guy, kid."
I was on top of him so fast I can't even remember jumping on the desk, but there I was, with his collar tight around my fist and hatred flooding through my veins. "You've got the same eyes," I breathed. "And you've got the same face. You keep coming back... you keep coming back to this piss ant county, and it's been driving me fucking insane for the past nine years of my life. How can you show up here again and again and not remember me?" My grip on his collar loosened slightly, but the resentment on my face didn't ebb. "I know who you are." And he knew by the look in my eyes that I wasn't referring to his name.
But then... his response was all wrong. He wasn't shocked or surprised at all, and certainly didn't show any sign of discomfort. He just smiled up at me, a grateful quality in those beetle-black eyes. "Well, that's a relief. If you've kept quiet for nine years, guess you can keep quiet for a little longer."
I felt it before it even happened... the too-familiar sensation of fire in my stomach, my abdomen, my chest... my skin being ripped apart... my organs being torn to shreds... my melting eyes streaming down my cheeks... but maybe those were only tears. He only looked at me; he didn't have to say a word, didn't have to move a muscle, but I was thrown off of him and into the nearest filing cabinet in one powerful motion that only took a second. As I slid down to the floor I felt a wetness at the back of my head that could only be blood. "I told you," he hissed, everything about his presence suddenly familiar again, "that I didn't do the guy-on-guy thing. Some people just don't take 'no' for an answer." He hopped off the desk gracefully and stepped over to me, bending down to eye-level. At first, I thought he might touch me, but instead he grabbed the folder I'd come all this way for. "As it so happens, I was here for the same thing as you tonight. I had no idea you'd put up such a fight for it."
No... no, you can't... "N-no," I pleaded in a weak voice. It hurt like hell... I was so dizzy. I had no idea how much blood I was losing. "I... spent too long... looking... for this..." He parted his lips in a mocking smile as he straightened back up and started flipping through his folder to ensure that all of his documents were in it. "You c-can't just... go... again..." I was ashamed of the tears that were streaming down my face and prayed that he only thought they were a result of the pain. "I have... to know why..."
He raised an eyebrow and glanced away from the folder to look at me. "Why what?" My head was spinning... his words sounded as though they were being broadcast from a thousand miles away.
"Why you keep... coming back..." The taste of salt filling my mouth was insult to injury. "Why I keep seeing you here... and why..." My vision started sliding in and out of focus about then; it was distracting. "Why you can't... remember... why you don't... feel remorse... over fucking up the... o-one kid who... d-didn't hate you..." Clumps of blonde hair were starting to stick to my cheeks and lips, but I didn't have the energy to push them away.
"... you're pathetic." But I swear I saw something almost like pity flash across his face. "I come back to this place because my father spilled blood here. The ground is distinctly unholy... I'm comfortable here, more so than anywhere else. But I can't linger anywhere for too long, kid... I lose the asset of being untraceable. I realize now what a mistake I made by staying here any longer than a month. People like you expect things of me I can't give... you want mercy, blondie? Whatever I've done to you can't be as bad as what I've done to hundreds of others; you're still alive." For some reason, that made me sob harder. "Still..."
Hope flared in my chest and eased the pain, if only slightly. "Still...?"
He smiled, a sad sort of grin that I wouldn't think him capable of. "I can't afford to be as stupid as I was then. I'm kidding myself if I think no one will question your death, and – injury alone – people will ask about that nasty gash... you're bleeding everywhere." He pocketed the folder and bent down on his knees, grabbing me beneath my arms and hoisting me up. "We're going to the hospital, and you're going to tell them that you were robbed on the street. We'll leave the blood for the janitor... there isn't anything they can prove. Come tomorrow, neither of us will have any affiliation with this place."
He hauled me to his car (borrowed from his "father," James) and propped me up in the passenger's seat; as a precaution, he also planted my bike at the place of my "assault." We drove all the way to the hospital in complete silence, but my mind was reeling with questions I didn't have the energy to ask. Despite what he had said, this seemed exactly like mercy to me. If, as he had implied, he would be gone by morning, what could they have possibly done to him if they had found me dead in that office? Maybe I was just flattering myself... I certainly didn't have my wits about me.
The car rolled to a stop in a non-parking zone, probably because Damien wasn't thrilled by the prospect of carrying me halfway across the parking lot. Even during the ten yard walk to the front door he made a point of complaining loudly about how heavy I was. He was relieved of his burden as soon as we stepped in the door, dripping blood. I lost him after that; I heard him telling the staff that had rushed to greet us that his name was Jim Hawthorne and that he'd seen me lying on the street with a serious head wound and couldn't in good conscience leave me there. I was smiling when they loaded me onto a stretcher and wheeled me into the ER.
I wondered, as I lay half-conscious on a little white hospital bed after the stitches, an IV in my arm, whether or not I was satisfied. I had accomplished what I'd set out to do since I was young... I had found him, spoken to him, and now I had my answers. I knew why he came back, and I knew why he left as abruptly. Perhaps it had been foolish to hope that he would have remembered me, but had he not among hundreds of others shown me pity? Wasn't that everything I had wanted? And if so... then why was I so devastated over the fact that by morning the name Hawthorne would mean nothing to me, that he would be gone again?
Around one o'clock, if it wasn't just a dream, he showed up in my room.
"Hey, kid..." He had that cocky grin on again, that grin that made him almost unrecognizable. "Thought you deserved a proper good-bye before I skipped town... you went through a lot of shit just to get a hold of me." Yeah... I did. "It's too bad about your hair... just wear a hat or something. I swear I'll come back and kill you if you cut the rest off." I smiled at him even though I shouldn't have given him the satisfaction. I could vaguely make out the boy I'd befriended a lifetime ago. He hadn't changed, really... still an asshole, still irrational, but still charming. "It's prettier than any girl's."
I don't know how long he stayed after I fell asleep, but when I woke up he was gone. A nurse came in shortly afterward and informed me that my procedure would be covered by Mr. Hawthorne but that she needed my name to contact my parents. "Testaburger," I lied softly, and I could see the nurse fight back a laugh at the name. Oh well; joke was on her.
I wondered what Wendy would say when I told her I was going to start wearing my hat again.