When the Sky Fell on Splendor(3)

“Franny, I’m not kidding.” Nick slipped deeper into his accent. “There was something—or someone—hanging from the bridge.”

“I saw it too!” Levi joined in.

Sofía rolled her eyes. “You guys are dicks.”

“Yeah, but we’re your dicks,” Nick said.

“Ew,” I said.

Nick threw his head back and laughed, and Remy’s dimple deepened as he turned off the bridge and sped away from that claustrophobic stretch of wooded road. Levi turned up “Monster Mash,” and my anxiety ebbed away.

Everything was right once more, or as right as things got for the six of us.

In a couple of weeks, Arthur would leave for college in Indiana, and Remy would be two hours north at Ohio State. Nick would bump up his hours at Walmart to full-time, and Levi, Sofía, and I would be back in the halls of Splendor High School for our senior year, being occasionally mocked and often ignored.

Things would be different, I knew, but if there were two subjects I did my best not to think about, they were: a) the past and b) the future.

We turned down Jenkins Lane and followed the gravel road to its dead end. There was nothing but a small electrical substation on one side of the street and the run-down wreck everyone called the Jenkins House on the other, our destination.

Years and weather had stripped the house’s whitewashed veneer to a drab gray, and a few small fires started by trespassers had charred the left side of the second floor. The porch had collapsed in the center, brush snaking through the holes, and the black shutters hung askew, like someone had tried to pry them off the house’s face, while the blood-red door looked like its center had been smashed to bits by an ax.

Remy cut the engine as a breeze rolled past, rattling the house.

“It’s perfect,” Levi said brightly, and got out of the car with the camera.

The wind blew a tuft of golden hair into my face, and I pushed it behind my ear, then wiped the sweat from my hairline.

Levi was already shooting B-roll of a loose shutter clapping against the house.

His voice dropped into the nasally, faux-British narrator impression he prized so much: “The travelers arrive to the alleged hotbed of paranormal activity, skeptical and unscathed.”

Arthur doled out the equipment we’d brought at the trunk. We didn’t have much. The Ordinary shoots were casual, the editing afterward practically nonexistent. Within a couple of days, Levi would have slapped tonight’s episode online so it could garner our feed’s traditional five to seven comments, ranging between “lol some people have too much free time” and “KILL YRSELF.”

To be fair, they were right on that first count. The six of us had a lot of free time (minus Sofía, who squeezed us in around a full schedule of Achieving Things).

We never talked about it, never said it aloud, but if things were different, if the accident hadn’t happened, the six of us wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t be the Ordinary; we probably wouldn’t even be casual friends.

Arthur and Nick raced up the porch steps, Droog bounding after them. Sofía and Levi were close behind them when Remy fell into step beside me halfway across the dark yard and grinned. “You’re not spooked, are you, Fran?”

I looked between him and the crumbling house. The rumor was that the man who’d lived there had murdered an entire birthday party’s worth of people.

More likely, the house looked like shit for the same reason the rest of the town did: because we all felt like shit. Half the town lost their jobs when the mill closed down. Foreclosed houses with busted porches and graffitied walls were a dime a dozen here. A birthday party massacre was hardly a prerequisite.

Still, I never would’ve agreed to come here if it weren’t specifically for an episode.

“I’m not thrilled,” I finally answered.

Remy flicked on his flashlight, and the beam bounced along the thirsty grass ahead of us. “It’s gonna be fine. Ghosts aren’t real.”

“What about demons?” I said.

“Certainly not.”


Remy smirked and shook his head. “What kind of monster doesn’t want unicorns to exist, Franny?”

Sofía had stopped on the porch to wait for us, her five feet and eleven inches towering over us even more than usual.

“You absolutely don’t have to go in,” she reminded me.

“I don’t mind,” I said, which was mostly true.

Inside, the wallpaper was tattered and peeling. Dust and grime covered the wooden floors, and torn-up books lay scattered across the overturned coffee table, the slashed drapes ruffling with the breeze from the door.

“Look!” Levi lifted his flashlight to a HAPPY BIRTHDAY banner on a red-splattered wall. Droog’s ears perked, like Levi had been specifically speaking to her.

Sofía’s flashlight lit up her face. “That’s not real. Police wouldn’t just leave blood all over the wall.”

“Care to weigh in, Handsome Remy?” Nick asked. “What would the sheriff do?” He reached for Remy’s hair, and Remy swatted his hand away.

“Get your digits out of my mane, Goth Grandpa.”

“Metal Grandpa,” Nick said. He was the oldest of us, a super senior who’d just graduated with Arthur and Remy’s class, which put him at nineteenish—though he wouldn’t tell us when his birthday was—and he did look a bit like a grandpa, with his shaved head and bulgey blue eyes. “Who do I get to be in this episode, Levi?”

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