by Sean Lewis
NOTE: 1992. Nathaniel White started killing women in my hometown. In the summer between 8th and 9th grade, women went missing, including a classmate. This story is fiction. Names have been changed and events have been conflated and re-imagined. But it is inspired by real events.
It was the end of 7th grade. The summer was filled with baseball, anime and X-Men comic books. My best friends were Paul, a tough kid from Bogota, and Vince, a handsome Filipino. I was the fat white kid riding his bike between the two of them through the streets of upstate New York.
We went to our first parties. Paul and Vince had their first kisses. I had my first rejections and we all prepared for 8th grade.
Yet, on the outskirts of our town, a darker future was coming to light.
In August, a woman was found killed in a field. Hunters had found her body. They said she was cut from the belly button up through the throat.
It was seen as an anomaly. The woman wasn’t from our area. There were no witnesses and no evidence. Only gossip was left in the murder’s wake…
“Either way, that killer is a million miles from here by now.”
By the fall, it was forgotten. It didn’t concern us, and everyone went on with our lives.
8th grade had ended and the eve of High School was upon us.
The three of us rode through the streets of Scotchtown, New York, losers who hadn’t gotten the memo they weren’t popular yet. We would chase girls who were no longer interested in us. They were now being picked up in cars owned by high school seniors- boys who were looking for easy scores. Suddenly, summers we used to spend hopping from pool to pool with our female classmates, turned into us riding alone, seeing if friends would let us crash in their parents’ basement while their folks were at work.
This is the summer that I fell in love with Lauren Clemmons.
She lived in a place called Breakaway Terrace. It was a low-income housing project where we would watch older boys play basketball on weekends. In the summer, fist fights would break out on the blacktop, hard fouls and hot temperatures leading to blood.
It was always a strange mix of teenage boys and grown men running up and down the courts trying to relive glory years that may or may not have ever happened. And there was the three of us: Paul, Vince and I, riding like lunatics beyond the chain link cages, into the woods lining the subdivided streets. We’d go to Diane Kennedy’s house. She stood 4 foot 10 in heels and had long blonde hair. Her older sister Kerry had acne scars to match her red hair and she was ready to fight anyone- boy or a girl- at the drop of a hat.
Kerry started to hate Diane that summer because of the boys that were suddenly knocking on their doors. Classmates of Kerry who had no interest in her now wanted to fuck her younger sister. Tension was high. But the Kennedys’ parents were always gone and the liquor cabinet was stocked. So- between visits from Diane’s suitors- we’d make our way over there.
We’d flirt a little bit with Kerry; none of us were actually interested in her but it made her tolerate us. She pretended she was too old to take it seriously but whenever she saw one of us alone, she’d ask if we wanted to see her room. We never said “yes.”
But we’d hang out as a crew: Diane and Kerry, loading us into the Kennedy family car, and driving over to Amy Holmes’ house. Amy had a constant flow of young men moving in and out of her rooms. Her mom was always home but she was a “cool” mom. Mama Holmes would let us drink. She’d also let herself fuck football players.
We’d down a pack of Coors Light and guess what high school life was going to be like and Amy would go on about how she couldn’t wait until she dropped out or graduated because then she could finally move to Florida,
“It’s the only place with sane people in it. Plus, Disneyland,” she’d say.
Obviously, Amy didn’t know shit about anything. It’s here that I would meet Lauren. My friends were full of libido and misdirected confidence. They subscribed to the idea of volume shooting: you only make the shots you attempt.
“Derek, go on sit next to her,” they’d say to me.
“Paul’s right man. Lauren is mad cute. Sit by her.”
“I’m really sweaty. Like my underwear is straight swamp ass, right now. I don’t
think it’s the best moment.”
“Dude. You’re always sweaty. She’ll just think she’s making you hot.”
Swamp ass was just one of the things working against me. I was fatter than most of my friends. I was awkward in social settings. I loved to bring up whatever weird thing I was obsessed with to an entire room of drunk and stoned teenagers and demand they respect it. (Seriously, I’d just rant excitedly about Japanese anime or Scandinavian death metal or films I’d read about in Film Threat that would never play in our town).
“Ad Rock of the Beastie Boys made a movie with John Doe of X,” I’d yell, as the
whole room just looked at me.
“Who the fuck is X?” Some boy I didn’t know would laugh.
No one gave a shit. I’d sit there confused, wondering why I couldn’t figure out how to fit in. But, Lauren didn’t mock me. She would giggle. She would smile, too. She’d ask me follow-up questions.
“I’m, not laughing at you, but like that guy said: who the fuck is John Doe?”
“He’s a singer.”
“Like Keith Sweat.”
“Shit. I gotta make you a mixtape, catch you up to the 90’s.”
Lauren was all hip-hop. She dressed like a dancer in the “Around the Way Girl” video; big door knocker earrings, overalls with one of the arms down, giant multicolored hats, with her skin dark brown and olive.
She was gorgeous.
I will remember that. Always. She was really kind.
“If you’re bored, you should swing by my house during the summer. It’s not as
wide open as Diane and Kerry’s but, you know, I crash with my Aunt and I don’t
have much to do this summer. We can be friends.”
“Right, friends,” I said. “Absolutely.”
And I tried to shake her hand. She just laughed,
“Dude, you need work.”
I started going to her house after that. She’d make me mixtapes (En Vogue, Kris Kross, Keith Sweat) and I’d bring her old horror movies like (Hellraiser, Troll 2, Nightbreed). We’d trade the two, giving each other entry into our little worlds.
“What the fuck is this?”
“Nightbreed? It’s great. They call it splatter core. Lots of blood. But really good.”
“Ha, for real, I just love that the guy’s mask has buttons for eyes. Freak show!”
She loved the movies. We’d play little sections of them back-and-forth, quoting them whenever we saw each other. If I was feeling really confident, I’d break off a song from the mixtape she gave me-
“Feels so good when I'm with you You know I gotta have your love Every day and every night You're the one I'm thinking of”
Cheesy as fuck.
But it was like a little secret between us. We were Beauty and the Beast, only her Beast was armed with Wes Craven and bad Keith Sweat lyrics.
Lauren lived with her Aunt Jill and Jill’s boyfriend, Nate. Nate was a big dude. But nice. Jill kind of hated me, she’d call me the “fat one” and leave me at the door until Lauren was able to come down from her room. But Nate always had a soft spot me.
“What up playa?”
He’d ask when I stopped by, like I was some lothario making rounds.
“Don’t mind Lauren’s Aunt. You be sweet. You be you. Hear me?”
I nodded and watched him traipse inside as Jill called after him. When I visited he’d always be watching action movies and asking what cool shit I’d traded with Lauren.
“Lauren told me you gave her, Nightbreed? Impressed her.”
I think it’s the last thing I remember us talking about. But, I remember being excited because it meant Lauren mentioned me. I was a part of her life she talked about.
* Paul and Vince wanted to know what was going on. I’d disappeared a few days in a row. So, they knew something was up.
I told them I’d been spending time with Lauren.
They jumped up and down and started high-fiving each other like we’d won the State Basketball Championship!
“Swamp Ass going to get himself some butt!” They howled.
It was a victory for all of us. A girl was showing us attention?! Amazing.
It was the first time I felt seen outside of my misfit cabal.
June 30th, I called Lauren to see if she wanted to watch a movie I stole from my uncle’s room.
“What’s it called?”
“It’s about this girl who gets murdered and all her friends know who did it.”
“Oh, hell yeah. Come by Friday.”
Friday, it rained. I wrapped the video in plastic supermarket bag for ‘safekeeping,’ and brought it over to Lauren’s. I knocked on the door, drenched from head to toe, the neck of my Metallica shirt swinging toward my nipples.
Jill answered the door. I swallowed hard.
“She ain’t around.”
“Do you… do you know where she is?”
“I think the city but you shouldn’t be asking. You don’t need to know where my
I got out of there.
That night on the news, there was a report that a woman was found on the train tracks downtown. It felt like last August even before the reporter shared the biggest detail: her stomach had been cut out. Gutted. Just like the unidentified woman last summer.
I waited a day and called Lauren again.
“Hi? Can I talk to Lauren?”
“Who is this?” Her Aunt answered.
Jill hung up. I didn’t think anything of it. Maybe Lauren was in the city. Maybe she just needed a break. I’d see her soon enough.
I forgot the call and went on with my day.
Days later, the police still hadn’t identified the woman on the tracks. Town was abuzz. Everyone had gossip: the cops were asking people if other girls were missing? Was there a pattern?
If it continued into the school year we might need a police officer on campus. The mayor was debating a mandatory curfew… the adults were all freaking out but honestly, us kids didn’t even think about it. What were the chances we’d go missing? Or be killed? It seemed insane. That shit happens in movies. But all over town you heard grown ups muttering-
Just how big is this thing we’re dealing with, you think?
Two summers and two women dead.
It was just whispers, but this is when the parents started imparting curfews. We were royally pissed off. We were teenagers. Give us our freedom! But Scotchtown was on lockdown and we were the captives.
Three days into curfew, Vince called. He was my only friend with three way calling, so Paul was already on the second line.
“Dude, you gotta sneak out of your house. Paul wants to do something stupid.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Go down to the train tracks.”
Paul got on the line.
“I want to see where the body was.”
Paul’s parents had moved to New York from Colombia when the drug wars got insane. His mom and mine both worked together in the school lunchroom. Their family had seen a lot before they left. It made Paul macabre as fuck. Vince always gave him shit about it. “I’m Filipino,” he’d say, “we’re dirt poor but, shit! We don’t have the bloodlust you Colombians have.”
Vince hopped back on,
“Derek you have to come along. You’re our X-Man! Who else is gonna shit
themselves when the enemies come out? We need your swamp ass to repel them
I thought about it.
“You’re right. I am the most powerful mutant you have.”
And with that, we agreed to meet down the block in an hour.
I pulled myself through my bedroom window and snuck into the garage to get my bike and then I hit the road.
The streets were empty. There weren’t many stoplights to begin with, but it felt like the ones that did exist were all burnt out. The ride was shadows. I never had thought of my town as creepy before, but tonight it seemed like a different place. The stores were closed. The neon lights of the local bars were dimmed.
Paul and Vince kept laughing and making bad jokes.
“Yo, maybe we’ll meet a serial killer! Can you imagine? Some hockey mask
wearing motherfucker coming after us! Ha!”
At the rail station, there was police tape everywhere. No cops, though. We’re a law-abiding locale. If you put up yellow tape we’ll abide. Unless you’re 13 and bored.
Paul crossed the tape.
The dead body was long gone but you could still see blood on the rails. Chalk had been put down where she’d laid. It was weird to think a few marks were once a person.
We stood there quiet.
The train tracks in Middletown are surrounded by overgrown brush on each side. If you stand on the track you’re visible to everything but you can’t see shit yourself. It does weird things to the mind. I thought I had heard a twig snap, but told myself it was the wind-
“You hear that,” Vince asked.
“Fuck yeah! I thought I was imagining it,” Paul said, resting on the seat of his
“Shit,” I offered. “I heard it, too.”
Paul saw someone and took off.
We could hear the branches rustle, someone was running. Vince and I started to follow on our bikes, pedaling like mad. Somebody had either been watching us, or like us, watching where the body had been. But if they were curious, why were they hiding?
The person made their way up an embankment, over some rocks and into the parking lot. Our bikes couldn’t ride up the incline, so we hopped off and sprinted to the top. But they were already in their car, peeling out.
It was an old car, straight angles on the sides with a white top. We didn’t even bother trying to follow.
Afterwards, we came to our senses.
“What the hell were we thinking, yo? We could’ve died”
“Yeah,” we agreed.
None of us looked at each other. We were barely teenagers. What would we do if we had caught them? We said good night. Split up and rode home.
A half hour later I rode home on County Route 52. No street lamps. No traffic.
I sang to myself
“Every day and every night You're the one I'm thinking of”
I tried to make the darkness feel less empty. But the more I heard my voice, the more I worried. Someone could be in the forest hearing me. Someone could be stalking me, my overactive imagination said. I shut up and pedaled faster, imagining bloodthirsty killers tracking my strides.
I was thirty minutes from home.
Behind me came headlights. I moved over to the side of the road to make a path and waved the car on.
But the light stayed right behind me.
It wouldn’t pass. I could see my shadow spread wide on the ground. I had hoped to ride through without being noticed and now… Someone was following me.
I looked over my shoulder. A blocky car, a dark outline driving it.
Straight angles on the sides. Wait? Was it the car from the train station?
My mind was buzzing: could it be the same person? Did they wait and see us leave? Did they choose to follow me? Did they figure I was fat and weak and wouldn’t make it home?
I tried to talk myself down. It might be a motorist wanting to ask a question. It might be one of my dad’s friends messing with me. I just knew I wasn’t going to stop.
I picked up my pace. The car revved its engine. It started to sound its horn. To the left and right of me were nothing but woods. There was an abandoned shit hole a mile or so down the street but otherwise I was stranded. There was nowhere to go.
My belly, said go. And I fucking did.
I went off-road: down a hill, my bike bouncing off of a rock, running into a tree... My breath was gone and I was telling myself, “I got to get away.” I picked up the bike ready to run off, but the front rim was bent.
At the top of the hill, the car stopped. It kept its headlights on. I could hear its doors open.
I hid behind a large tree stump. I thought, “disappear.” I tried to make my breath stop and ducked low, burying myself in leaves. I could see him… his feet passing through the dirt and rocks. But even with that I could tell he was big. He whistled. And then boom:
A light hit my bike.
Twenty feet away from me. He was using a flashlight.
At the same time, down the hill a deer ran away. He shot the light from his flashlight all around the woods, assuming it was me who’d run. I held my breath as he scanned the light across the ground. Then, he climbed back up the hill, got in his car, and drove away.
I got up and moved up the hill as fast as I could without making noise. I wanted to see him. His car was a hundred yards away. I watched from the woods. The blinker went on and it turned down a driveway. I walked along the edge of the woods, still hidden by the trees, where I could see the car parked by a house deep in the shrubs. I’d seen the house before. It was vacant with boards covering some of the windows. A few times- when driving with Kerry- Paul and Vince would laughingly call it Scotchtown’s ‘Murder House.’
I didn’t care about how creepy it was; I needed to know who had followed me. I ran across the street and ducked into the tall grass. I crawled on my stomach toward the house. At the front steps, the grass flattened out and I could see the car. A gold Crown Regal. No plates. Straight angles. White top.
I couldn’t see inside the windows. He could be sitting in the driver side seat, watching me as I crossed the road and I wouldn’t know. It didn’t matter. If he asked, I’d make up a lie. Say I was lost.
I got closer to the car. The driver side window was partially rolled down. All I could see was a matchbook in the front ashtray. It read:
The Blue Note Tavern, Poughkeepsie, NY.
It’s a shitty bar a few towns over from us. Some of my friends’ older brothers go there.
I opened the back door. The backseat was covered in blankets. I started to pull them up when I heard the door to the house open.
I ducked under the blanket. I needed to be still but the smell started to choke me, it was like an animal had been in it, rancid and decayed. I could hear him circle the car. Stop. Open the driver side door and press a button. Then a noise. The trunk, I think. Couple of seconds of nothing. And then the trunk closed. Then I heard some movement get further away and the front door close. I glanced out the windows. Nothing.
I started to cry.
What the fuck am I doing? I’m an asshole with a crush, not a fucking hero.
I opened the door. Crawled out and ran straight to the woods. I never turned around, but if you asked me I’d swear he opened the door as soon as I hit the trees. It could’ve been in my mind, but it seemed real.
I believed I wasn’t alone running home. I believed he was chasing me again.
I never ran that fast in my life.
Now, there were signs up in town-
With a picture of Lauren from our school yearbook. I’ll never forget that feeling when I saw it. Like a pain in my stomach. A clenching that never went away. My body felt tight. It felt scared.
Gossip continued to be king. It was everywhere. Even at home-
“Derek, did you know about this girl that went missing?”
“No mom. I didn’t.”
A July 4th party was being held at Lauren’s neighbors. I didn’t go, but Diane and Kerry told me all about it. It had been a week since Lauren had disappeared. Jill came out and put on a positive face. But everyone was expecting the worst.
Nate was there. He was greeting everyone. Lauren’s mom was there. She and Lauren weren’t close, but Diane told me Nate held her the whole night as she cried. Jill on the other hand had been asking about me. Diane said she was acting like I was a person of interest. She’d told Sue-
“If you see that little Weirdo tell him to call me.”
That night, I watched Nightbreed and listened to the mixtape Lauren gave me. I told myself everyone had it wrong. Eventually, Lauren would arrive like nothing had happened. I was going to bed when I heard my parents in the living room. I wandered in and asked what happened.
No more gossip.
Another body had been found.
And for the first time they said it on the news-
“Orange County, New York is in the grips of a serial killer.”
I was still on curfew the next night. So, Paul and Vince had to come by my window.
“Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou stank ass Romeo?”
I’d told them about the Murder House days ago. Paul had been obsessed with it since then. He guessed a homeless guy was staying there. Vince thought it was just for teens to go and fuck. Either way, they wanted to go and see if someone was hiding out there.
“You were there. Do you think someone’s staying there?” Vince asked.
“I have no idea.”
To which Paul said-
The Murder House looked like a face in the daytime – two busted windows set high above the ground, that appeared like eyes and a front door smashed slightly off its hinges, hanging at an angle like a crooked tooth.
We rode up to it, me standing on the back pegs of Vince’s bike, holding his waist for dear life. I looked around. This time there was no car in sight.
“All right, Paul, what’s the plan?”
“We search the place.”
I looked at Paul.
“I’m not trying to be a dick, bro. I’m just saying. If I killed a bunch of people I’d
store them there. I mean, look at it.”
The door cracked open and we moved around the opening entranceway of the house. It was from the 1930’s. The floors were cracked, with vines growing up and through them to the ceiling, the walls were covered in graffiti. It was clear this was where kids much scarier than us would come and draw pentagrams, drink beer and fuck their brains out.
Our steps made noise on the old wood. The sound reverberated in the walls, so that noises appeared to be coming from overhead, like steps above us. There was no car out front, though. No footprints in the marsh by the steps.
“This is like a horror movie, Bro,“ Paul says. “You two see anything?”
“No,” I croaked out. “Yo, let’s just check upstairs then get home,” Vince replied. “It’s getting dark.”
Paul and Vince headed into the bathrooms and the living room while I migrated to the kitchen. I started to go through the drawers and shelves. I opened a cabinet and found something sticky along the edge. It was crimson, almost black, partially dried but still with a smidge of liquid. Blood.
And then I jumped.
The sound of footsteps above me, again. Fucking house. Paul or Vince heading into the upstairs bedrooms I’m sure.
Paul and Vince were in the front yard. I could see them through the kitchen window. They were already starting to pick up their bikes to head home-
And then, I heard the footsteps above me again.
I tried to get Vince and Paul’s attention. They’d already started riding towards the road, assuming I got scared and left. I tried to call out to them. But my voice was caught. I could hear movement above me, coming fast, starting to move down the stairs.
I stumbled. Got up, ran towards the door and outside, screaming-
Vince almost fell off his bike, Paul started to make his way back on Route 52.
I hopped on the pegs to Vince’s bike and screamed for him to go.
We rode like motherfuckers, pedals up and down as fast as you could imagine. I was crying. I knew what I heard. We weren’t alone.
Eventually, we stopped. Completely out of breath, I choked out a few words – “There is someone in there. They were running down the stairs. “
Even Paul was freaked out.
“Fuck if I care, bro, let’s get out of here.”
The next morning a woman’s body was found in an apartment building a mile away from the Murder House. Her name was Ana. Her home was filled with boxes and moving crates when the police found her. Her landlord said she was leaving for the Caribbean in a few days to meet up with her son and continue her life there. Her son would be left waiting for news that he’d become an orphan. And the most gruesome details were that she’d been stabbed in the stomach and gutted.
Paul, Vince, and I hadn’t seen each other since the Murder House. Four days with no phone calls. No visits. We were too scared. But boredom’s a motherfucker.
“I’ve been putting together a map,” Vince said.
It was 9pm, late, even for him to call.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Can you guys come by tomorrow?” He asked.
Paul hopped on the three-way call and answered for me this time.
“As long as it’s during the day.”
The next day Vince explained:
“I drew a circle around Breakaway Courts that’s ten miles wide. The railroad and
the apartment fall within it. So does Lauren’s house.”
Paul looked at the space on Vince’s map.
“You think the dude doing this is within this circle.”
“Maybe,” Vince said. “My mom mentioned it to me when we were driving the
other day. She was freaked out because it’s all within her bus route.”
The marked area was roughly from Echo Lake Road in Goshen to Bell Street in Scotchtown. Like Vince said, ten miles between each.
“So, we ride out to each of these places and see what we find.”
We nodded. We had a mission.
At the same time, Aunt Jill and her boyfriend were doubling their poster-ing efforts. You saw Lauren’s face everywhere. They continued telling people they wanted to talk to me. They kept telling people I was weird. They didn’t trust me.
I said ‘whatever.’ Everyone was on edge. Anyone could be doing this. But honestly, I didn’t care that they wanted to talk. I avoided them left and right. I was scared. I’d help Lauren in my own way. I missed her. No one talked movies with me like she did. She was the only person I knew who behaved like I was interesting. I had to try.
Besides- Paul, Vince, and me- we’d started riding the area we circled on the map. We even called the Police and tried to give them info about the Murder House and the routes we were taking, but they just told us this wasn’t a joke and kids shouldn’t be fooling with things like this.
But then Vince heard something at the grocery in Scotchtown.
“Dude, there was a mom there putting up fliers for her daughter and niece.
Danielle was her name. Weird when moms tell you their first names. But she was
telling the shop keeper they were missing. Cara’s her daughter and Aya’s her
niece. She said they’d go up to a bar in Poughkeepsie where they got seen last. It’s
crazy. All these girls. Lauren’s fine though, right? That’s what you think?”
“Yes,” I said. “That’s what I think.”
A week later, a woman’s body was found in the burnt remains of the abandoned Hillcrest Manor Restaurant in Goshen. She was undressed and stabbed. Gutted. Same as the other victims. I watched with my mom and thought of Lauren the whole time. I started to wonder if she was in trouble. I started to think what if this person has her.
I got a phone call the next day…
I got silent. A rock in my gut.
“Could I talk to you? At my house?”
I wanted to say no. I was scared to see her. I was scared she’d think I was guilty and I’d get in trouble. How selfish is that? My friend is missing, and I can’t even try to comfort her family because I didn’t want to feel awkward. Jill cut through my thoughts-
“Today,” she said.
And she hung up.
I went to Jill’s house at 12:30pm.
She didn’t have make up on but she was still pretty though her eyes were bloodshot from crying. She didn’t smile when she answered the door. She told me to go to the kitchen. I could hear an action film playing downstairs.
“Nate’s sleeping through a movie. I think it’s better we talk upstairs.”
I went into the kitchen. I sat at a small table. An ashtray next to me. Jill across from me.
“You started to come around a lot before my niece disappeared.”
“You had a thing for Lauren?”
“You were trying to fuck her.”
I just looked at Jill. Nothing she said was a question. It was all definitive. I was nervous. I tapped my fingers on an ashtray next to me.
“You were trying to fuck her.”
“I… I’ve never done that, Jill.”
“I wouldn’t hurt Lauren.”
Her eyes got wide.
“Who said anything about hurting her?”
I said nothing.
“Maybe Nate should talk to you.”
She got up and started to walk past me. As she did, I saw something. A matchbook. In the ashtray. Blue Note Tavern. I could hear the explosions on the TV downstairs. I looked back at the matchbook. It was exactly like the one I found at the Murder House. Had the torn corner and the same letter N drawn on it.
I looked at Jill and started to stand.
“I gotta go.”
I was already down the hallway stairs.
“Nate! He’s leaving. Nate!!!”
I glanced down a second set of stairs. Her boyfriend turned and looked at me and I burst through the door. I ran. I cut through yards. I sprinted as fast as I could until I got to Diane Kennedy’s house. I was bawling. Kerry was in the pool-
“What the fuck-“
“Hide me,” I said.
Kerry started to mock me but she could tell something was wrong. She opened the sliding glass door and I went inside. Diane was wrapped in a towel and pouring herself a drink by the sink.
“Damn, Derek, what are you doing here?” she said.
“Take him to your room,” Kerry said to Diane.
“Shut the fuck up and take him.”
Diane brought me upstairs. I was shaking. Diane hugged me. Outside we heard a few voices, Kerry and Nate.
“Um… what are you doing in my backyard?”
“I’m looking for a friend of yours, the kid with the movies-“
“Not in my backyard, asshole. You can go now-“
“Asshole? I’m being nice.”
And then you could hear this menace-
“I told you. I’m being nice.”
“DAD-“ Kerry shouted.
His voice disappeared after that.
I asked Diane to get me the phone. I called Vince.
“Yo, what’s up, you’re out of breath.”
“I think it’s Jill’s boyfriend.”
“Nate. I think it’s him-“
“Dude. That guys always been chill.”
Chill in a way we looked up to: masculine, unaffected, confident… cold. It’s what I wanted to be instead of fat and vulnerable and anxious.
“I know. I know. I just don’t think…” I started to cry. “I don’t think Lauren’s
coming back. Vince, the women you met at the convenience store? The ones that
were looking for their relatives?”
“What about them?”
“Tell them to go to the Blue Note Tavern.”
“Whoah, wait. From the matchbook you found?”
“Yes. Tell them they’re looking for a man named, Nate.”
“Fuck. Okay. Okay. Are you all right?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. I’ll meet up with you soon.”
I hung up. Kerry and Diane let me stay there until my mom picked me up. She asked if I was in trouble. I shook my head and asked her, desperately, to bring me home. She did.
And I stayed up the whole night certain Nate would come to my door.
The next day, Vince called the phone number on the missing poster at the grocery. We met with the mom missing her daughter and niece.
“You think the matchbook is what?”
The mother, Danielle asked. She brought Cara’s sister, Jasmine. Cara had disappeared with her cousin one night after going to the Blue Note Tavern. Jasmine had caught a glimpse of the guy but hadn’t seen him again.
I swallowed and started.
“It showed up in two places. My friend Lauren is missing. So, we went looking for
her. There’s this abandoned house on Route 9. There was a car there. And a guy I
didn’t see. I think there were bodies in his car that he was moving.”
She looked at me-
“If this is a joke...”
“It’s not,” Vince said.
“I hid. I didn’t see him. But I saw he had this matchbook in his console.”
“And?” I could tell she was hanging by a thread. She didn’t need a kid messing
with her emotions.
“Go on,” Vince said.
“I saw the same matchbook a few days later at my missing friend’s house. It
belonged to her Aunt’s boyfriend. And when it came up he basically chased me.”
Danielle stopped. This seemed like something to her. She turned to her daughter and said-
“It’s the last place she was.”
Jasmine nodded. “Yeah. I got the number of the police officer who told us when they found Cara.”
The Police got involved. They were skeptical. Scary houses and matchbooks weren’t hard evidence. But they could tell I was shook. That, at least made them think some of this must be real.
Danielle and Jasmine went to the Blue Note Tavern.
The plan was for Danielle and Jasmine to go up to him. Identify him, while myself and Vince sat in a Police Cruiser with an Officer.
He was nice, he told us-
“He won’t see you. Jasmine and Danielle will do the heavy lifting but if you see
him. Point him out.”
He was drinking coffee. I thought about Lauren. It had been so many days. A part of me thought, maybe, maybe she’s fine. Maybe she will turn up. But another part of me thought I should’ve said goodbye to her the last time I saw her.
And then Nate stumbled into the bar.
“That’s him,” I said.
“We have confirmation-“ Jenkins alerted the police.
Nate went inside. Jasmine approached him. He flirted with her. I can’t imagine what that was like for her, knowing this man may have killed her sister. She played a role, I guess, said she had seen him there before. He said he didn’t think so. She asked his name. He said, “Nate.”
And then police moved in.
In the days that followed, everything became known:
He’d used the Murder House to store their bodies.
He’d buried Cara and Aya in a field.
He’d murdered the woman at the train station.
He murdered the woman at the Hillcrest Manor.
And he’d murdered one that had gone unaccounted for…
And two days after he was arrested, he led the police to Lauren’s body off Echo Lake Road.
Less than two miles from her house.
Twenty years later, the Murder House burned down. People wrote about Nate in the newspapers again. It brought up memories for the town.
It brought up memories for me. I’d risked my life there. I’d been in that car. I’d run through those woods. There were more important places. Like the Blue Note Tavern. I’d never been inside. Never wanted after that night. Happy to only ever see it from across the street in a squad car.
I came home the summer the house burned. Ten years after I’d last stepped foot in my town. And it felt different. Like it was finally over.
I landed at Kennedy Airport and drove to Lauren’s former home. It was the same. Maybe a little nicer, even. I thought how surprised Lauren would be if she saw me now. Confident. Strong. Independent. I spent a summer looking for her and honestly, it had made me a man. It was hard to be a kid after all that.
I called up Paul.
“Bro! Good timing, Vince and I are getting together at the bar tonight.”
I met Paul and Vince. Been a decade since I’d even talked to them. I guess you get old and you want to leave some things behind.
We grabbed a six pack and drove out to Echo Lake Road. We hugged and shared a drink. We talked about that summer. The bike rides. The late nights. The Murder House. Nate. We toasted Lauren.
“So strange. I can’t even imagine, dude. I have a daughter now,” Vince said.
“I have two,” added Paul. “You?”
We laughed before I mentioned-
“Does anyone know how the house burned down?”
“Not a clue,” Vince said. “I like to think that sometimes the universe just sets some
We lifted our glasses and then we said the words that mattered, the phrase that brought us so close to this to begin with-
SEAN CHRISTOPHER LEWIS is an actor, writer and director born and raised in NY. He is the co-creator and writer of the comic books SAINTS, THE FEW, COYOTES and THUMBS published by Image Comics. He can be heard as a commentator on NPR’S THIS AMERICAN LIFE and most recently he directed the television series ADULT ED., which premiered at the TriBeCa Film Festival and currently streams on Fearless.