The Monday after my day at the stream, I pushed back the heavy iron doors that led to the roof of our school building. After my eyes had adjusted to the blinding light of the autumn afternoon, a tall, skinny boy with light amber hair came into view.
“I’ve been looking for you.” I said as I approached the guy. Freeman slowly turned around to face me. I had expected to see the goofy grin and glimmering orange eyes, but instead I was met with an unreadable expression and dull eyes.
Freeman looked at me emotionlessly, as if I were one of all the other people who he wouldn’t respond to. His long amber hair fell in front of his face and shadowed his eyes, making them almost lifeless. He wasn’t dancing and waving his long limbs about as a child would when trying to pop all the soap bubbles his mother had blown to the air; he wasn’t babbling on nonstop as if he were still finding the ability to produce language fascinating.
I stared at his motionless figure, peered at his dim eyes that were gazing weakly back at me. A sudden wave of chilly fright went down my spine. “Freeman? Are you alright?”
I twirled around to see who had called my name. Behind me, standing at the iron doors, were my three best buddies, Albert, Paul, and Daichi.
“Hey! Didn’t expect you to show up here, dude.” Albert came over to pat me on the back, but I dodged away before he could break my bones.
“I didn’t expect you guys to be here, either.” I said, trying my best to hide the fear that was still clinging to the back of my neck. Do they know I’ve been hanging out with Freeman here?
“Look who we have with us today. Why not introduce yourself, buddy?” Paul swung an arm around Freeman’s bony shoulders. The silent boy turned his head slowly to face his new “buddy,” his expression as detached as a corpse.
After an awkward silence, Paul decided to do the speaking. “OK. Seems like you two have already met, but let me give you a formal introduction. Jamey, this is Tutto. Tutto, Jamey.”
“Hi.” My mouth automatically curled up into my signature smile, despite the uneasiness and helplessness that was boiling deep in my stomach. Should I tell my friends that I had already befriended “the Zombie?” Or should I temporarily forget about my friendship with Freeman and pretend I had never met him before? What would my pals think if I told them I knew more about Freeman than anyone else? How was I going to hide the fact that I had been meeting with Freeman quite a lot, yet still not offend him? I felt like a rafter caught on a rushing river, with the waterway forking into two in front of me. I had to choose a way to head to, and I had to make my decision fast because the water was carrying me forward with incredible speed. Yet I had no idea where the water in either direction led to. And what would happen if I didn’t make up my mind in time?
“Don’t worry, James.” Daichi could sense my anxiety, yet he thought I was merely uneasy about meeting the creepy guy who always sat in the dark staring at people. “Tutto is actually a very fun person. Right, guys?” The three boys winked at each other, snickering like hyenas that had cornered a helpless prey.
I tried to laugh along, but only managed to let out a nervous chuckle. “What’re you guys planning?” I asked, trying to sound as casual as I possibly could.
Albert slapped me on the back before I could dodge, and whispered into my ear excitedly, “Show starts at five-thirty. You might wanna find a good seat now.” He pointed down the roof to the area thirty feet below, and that was when I realized there had already been a huge crowd assembled in the wide courtyard.
Pushing at my back with his strong hands, Albert ushered me through the iron doors and told me to enjoy the performance. Before the doors thumped shut, I caught a last glance of Freeman’s large orange eyes, staring emotionlessly at me, as if he were still unaware of the misfortune that was about to happen to him.
I stood at the doorway for a while, frozen at the spot, not knowing what to do. At last I hurried down the stairs and joined the huge group of waiting students on the field, all of them chattering excitedly as if it were the opening night of a well-appreciated play.
“James.” I heard a gentle call amongst the loud talking in the crowd. Leona had pushed her way through the jungle of college students and walked up beside me. She was wearing a short navy blue skirt under a black halter top, with the colors emphasizing her silky golden hair that was let draping freely around her shoulders. “James. Do you know what’s happening?”
Looking up at the roof, where nobody had yet appeared, I sighed in frustration. “No. I have no idea.”
Just then, a loud cheer erupted from the crowd as Tutto Freeman stepped into view. His face was the same as when I found him on the roof, dead and unreadable. An eerie orange light shone behind him, outlining his skinny figure. The sun had already set, and the sky was a dull black. Albert’s voice came through the amplifier, deep and slow like that of a dark magician.
“Today is October the thirty-first.”
All the people around me started to cheer and whistle. It was obvious they all knew what the event was for. I was shocked at how I had managed not to be aware that Halloween had approached. It wasn’t after Albert announced the date that I noticed all the carved pumpkins sitting on the porches of the department building, grinning at me with their wide mouths and ragged teeth. Black paper bats hung across the window-frames, fluttering occasionally when the wind seeped through the slots of unclosed windows. As I peered at the people around me, I frowned at the fact that I didn’t even realize they were all dressed up in their scariest costumes. Blood-sucking maidens and furry werewolves crept around the field as if looking for prey; slime-oozing mermaids and vampires with ginormous bloody teeth danced around me as if the place were hell.
I looked at Leona who was standing quietly beside me. She never celebrated any holiday, not even Christmas. She doesn’t like to party, saying that she hated to be around noisy and drunken people. At first I found it difficult to hang out with her because she never does anything too exciting, but after dating her for some time, I began to understand her way of having fun, and I find that I actually prefer singing and dancing with the accompaniment of the piano and guitar to doing mindless things while blasting music that result in throbbing headaches the next morning.
Above our heads, Albert’s amplified voice went on: “On this year’s haunted holiday, we are honoured to have a special guest celebrate with us today. Let us welcome the star of the day: Tutto Freeman!”
A round of applause exploded out the group of costumed students. Some people held up signs that read “WE LOVE YOU, ZOMBIE-BOY!” Others simply shouted out the words at the top of their lungs. Everyone seemed to have waited for today’s event for some time already. They had all been looking forward to seeing Freeman do whatever he was going to do up there on the roof—or they were waiting to witness what was going to be done to him.
Despite all the chaotic cheering and shouting that was directed toward him, Freeman stood there behind the brick wall of the roof, in front of the orange light that was illuminating him under the dark, Halloween sky. He hadn’t moved a hair since his appearance, and it was impossible to tell what he was thinking because it was too dark to see his expression. The only feature I could make out of his face was a pair of large orange eyes, glimmering and reflecting the light of the same hue that outlined his bony figure.
“Let’s leave, James.” Leona pulled at my hand, signaling me to follow her. “I don’t like the looks of this.”
I held back. Even though I didn’t want to see Freeman humiliated, it felt even worse to leave him with the merciless crowd, knowing that what would happen to him was nothing close to good. When I tugged my hand free from Leona’s grasp, she looked up at me with angry eyes, accusing me of being like the rest of the people.
“It’s not like that, Leona.” I quickly said when she turned to leave.
“Then what is it?” Leona shot at me. “How can you bear to see that poor guy be humiliated in front of all these people?”
“I can’t.” I said, looking at my feet.
“Then why won’t you leave?” Leona folded her arms and stood firm on her spot. “You ought to go and talk your pals out of this. They’re wicked. I can’t believe you didn’t stop them in the first place.”
I curled my hands into fists. “What are you blaming me for? I didn’t even know about this until now!” But she was right. I should have stopped Albert and the others when I was still on the roof with them. I should have just told them straight that Freeman was my friend and I wouldn’t let them do whatever they were about to do on him. Who cares if they started to ignore me again, like they did all those years ago? Who cares if I would have to start killing innocent creatures and hurting myself, like I had done for so long by that stream?
I would care. This was why I didn’t tell anyone I was hanging out with Freeman. This was why I didn’t have the guts to stop my “buddies” from hurting Freeman now, and at the time when they were playing the practical joke on him in the cafeteria. This was why I kept silent when Leona asked me if something was bothering me.
After a few attempts to make me speak and tell her what was wrong with me, Leona eventually gave me a cold glare and walked away, leaving me with all the troubled thoughts that were craving to escape my head but could find no exit.
High above me, Freeman stood in front of the orange light, at the mercy of Albert’s improvised story of a zombie walking into the world of the living and being beaten up. Paul and Daichi were pushing him here and there as the story went on, trying to position him so that he conformed to the meaningless tale. Thirty feet below them, the audience in the courtyard was laughing hysterically, hooting and screaming along with what was happening “onstage.”
“After the guys in the park left Zombie-Boy all bruised and bleeding on the ground, Zombie-Boy finally knew what it was like to be in the world of the living. He had discovered that it was no better than living amongst the dead. At least the dead wouldn’t have the urge to kill Zombie-Boy, because they all knew that he was already dead.”
As Daichi adjusted the orange light so that it illuminated Freeman’s face, I caught sight of all the red and blue paint they had poured onto him to make him look bloody and bruised. Freeman’s orange eyes glowed in the night, as bright as the hollow eyes of the jack-o-lanterns dotting the porches of the department building. Nevertheless, Zombie-Boy’s gaze was as blank as the pitch black sky of a city night. It was deep, yet empty.
“Zombie-Boy slowly stood up, carefully as not to accidentally rip off a part of his already decaying body. He balanced his heavy head on his skinny neck and stomped off into the crowd that had gathered to watch him being punched in the face. Zombie-Boy wasn’t angry, he couldn’t have feelings, but the people around him hid from him when he approached them. He didn’t know how to make friends with the living people, and he knew he would never be able to. So he just stomped straight on without thinking where he was going. He decided to just go forward and not look back; move on, and never return…”
-羅寗 Michelle Ning Lo