Excerpt from Stacy Padula’s novel “The Aftermath”
Jason Davids glanced at his bedroom clock. Seven nineteen. Twenty-four hours had passed since one of the darkest moments of his life. He sighed and fell back on his unmade bed. He curled into the fetal position and tried with all of his might to will the horrifying image out of his mind.
He had not slept a wink in thirty-seven hours. He glanced at his clock again. Seven twenty. You can do this Jason, he urged himself silently. Just get up and go. Go tell them the truth. Tell everyone at Alyssa’s party that you found Andy’s body. Tell them that he looked dead. Tell them about the horror in Chantal’s eyes when she came rushing up the stairs. Make sure you tell them that it is entirely your fault.
Jason heard a loud knock on his bedroom door. “Jay-dawg, you ready?” Luke’s voice cried out. “We have to pick up Laurelle and Missy on the way,” he added as he whipped open the door.
Jason sat up in his bed and rested his head in his hands. “Yeah,” he replied to his older brother. “I’m good.”
“You’re going to Alyssa’s party in a t-shirt and sweat pants?” Luke asked as he sat down at Jason’s desk and stared at him with amusement.
“Oh,” Jason said and glanced down at his attire. The thought of getting dressed had not even occurred to him. “No, I guess I’m not.”
Luke laughed. “What drug are you on right now?” he questioned him.
“None,” Jason stated flatly and stared blankly at his feet.
“Then what the heck is wrong with you?” Luke asked.
“All right, well, get dressed and come downstairs when you’re ready,” Luke said, eyeing Jason with a look of concern.
Jason nodded slightly.
“Did you sleep last night?” Luke pressed him.
“No,” Jason admitted quietly.
“You and Cathy all right?” Luke asked, holding his stare on Jason.
“Well, freshen up. I’ll see you in a few,” Luke stated. He tossed something at Jason as he exited the room.
Lifelessly, Jason glanced at the minuscule bag that had landed beside him on his bed. If he had the energy, his eyes would have protruded from his face in horror. “You have got to be kidding me, Luke,” he heaved, shaking his head in dismay. He flung the bag onto his floor, fell back on his bed, and closed his eyes. You can do this, Jason. Just get dressed and get out the door, right now. Bring out the charm and the plastic smile. Forget what Cathy said. Just get up and face the facts. You’ve made a mess of a good person’s life. You have to tell them the truth. It doesn’t matter what Cathy wants. Andy is all that matters now.
(Three Weeks Later)
It sounded like a train coming toward him, but there was not a train in sight. A flash of light shot through the room—the capsule. Was this a time warp? Or, perhaps, a flashback? Running—more running without getting anywhere. “No, Chantal! Stop!” he screamed. His words froze in the air.
She could not hear him. Time was running out. She was running toward the staircase with her long auburn hair flowing into Jason’s face. Watching, he knew that she was not going to make it before the trembling began. She fell over before he could reach her. Once again, he had let her down.
The light flickered, and he struggled to remain standing. He reached the stairs, but did not stop by Chantal’s side. The door ahead looked like a castle wall—a barricade. The other side held the destruction. The other side possessed the danger. This door—his enemy—was keeping them safe.
“Jason, don’t!” Cathy’s voice cried out. She did not sound like his fifteen year old girlfriend; she sounded like a hissing demon.
He latched onto the doorknob as it transformed into a vault. It looked like his locker. His mind was blank. I can make this right, he thought. He pressed his hand to the door. It was a glacier. Water began trickling through his fingertips. He felt completely alone. A crackling sound above caught his attention. Wake up, Jason! he screamed at himself. Wake up before you see him. Not again.
In an instant, Andy’s pale face appeared through the water. Jason’s heart pounded. “Trade places with me!” Jason pleaded as he reached out toward Andy. There was a crash, and then Andy was gone.
Breathing heavily, with sweat dripping down his forehead, Jason shot his large blue eyes wide open. “Again? Really?” he said aloud in the stillness of his dark bedroom. He brought his hand to his chest and breathed in deeply. He turned toward his alarm clock. Three thirty-three a.m. It had been three weeks since the storm had struck Montgomery, since Andy had slipped into a coma and since Jason had realized that he was living in a cloud of darkness.
* * *
Later that evening, Jason sat upon the bleachers behind Montgomery Lake High School, leaning back comfortably and paying little attention to the JV football game in front of him. Surrounded by the popular MLH underclassmen, Jason continuously yelled obscenities at everyone who was not his friend. As usual, this caused obnoxious laughter to erupt from the crowd and embarrassment to burn within the innocent passerby. Each time Jason got a reaction out of someone, his friends gave him props, which only egged on his tactless behavior.
“Yo, dude! Is Luke really dating Missy Kent?” Nick Chandler, a sophomore, asked Jason. “I’ve heard some things.”
Jason shrugged carelessly. “I have no idea, dude,” he replied after taking a sip of vodka and Sprite from his soda bottle.
“Your brother’s the man, dude. Seriously,” Nick stated and slapped Jason’s hand before walking over to a group of junior girls.
Jason glanced toward the field. Where’s my boy? he thought as he shot his eyes from left to right, looking for Chris Dunkin. Coach Mitchell wouldn’t rest his star running back—not against Lincoln North. Jason looked toward the scoreboard. 7 to 3, us. Glancing back at the field, he saw Bobby Ryan throw a long pass toward the end zone. There he is. He catches; he runs; he scores! “Woot! Woot!!” Jason yelled loudly as the band began playing MLH’s touchdown song. Jason turned to slap hands with Bryan Sartelli. “If Chris had gotten sober before tryouts then he probably would have made varsity,” Jason commented beneath his breath as he turned back toward the field. “My brother should pull him up.”
“Let’s go back to Luke’s car. I need a refill,” Bryan said. He waved his empty coke bottle in the air, stealing Jason’s attention away from the field. “I don’t get many nights like this, without ‘you-know-who’,” he added and rolled his hazel-brown eyes. Jason assumed that Bryan was referring to his overbearing girlfriend—the mayor’s daughter—Courtney Angeletti.
“Ha!” Jason laughed as he rose from the bleachers. “Let’s peace-out. Luke wanted to go to Samson’s anyway. You can do a lot more than booze out of a soda bottle with that crew.”
“All right. See you guys later,” Bryan called loudly and nodded toward the large group that they had been sitting with.
“Yeah, later,” Jason said as he glanced at the field before descending the bleachers.
“Let’s grab Anderson,” Bryan suggested.
“Where is that kid? I haven’t seen him since we got here,” Jason asked as he paused to peer through the crowd.
“There he is!” Bryan called out.
Jason followed Bryan’s gaze and spotted Jon standing behind the cheerleaders with Katherine Rossi. “Ha! Of course he’s talking to type-A-quality. He never lets us down.”
“He’s so sweating that girl,” Bryan said with a laugh as he stepped in front of Jason.
“He’s ridiculous to think that he has a chance with her,” Jason stated. “She’s here trying to watch her boyfriend play, and Jon’s here trying to score points of his own.”
Bryan shook his head and laughed. “He’s the champ! I wouldn’t discredit the possibility.”
“Tru-dat,” Jason sang and flicked the visor of Alyssa Kelly’s baseball hat as he passed by her.
“Hey, guys!” she cried out with a bright smile. “Where are you headed?” She was sitting beside Marielle Kayne, who was wearing Chris’ football sweatshirt.
“Oh, hey,” Bryan said as he turned to face the girls. “I didn’t see you there.”
“Hi,” Marielle said quietly. Jason noted the suspicious expression on her face as she glanced at Bryan’s empty soda bottle.
“We’re grabbing Jon and then heading out with my brother,” Jason stated and nodded toward Jon. “What are you ladies up to tonight?”
“You’re not staying to watch the game?” Marielle asked. “Chris is playing so hard out there!”
“Obviously!” Jason exclaimed. “He’s winning the game for us. I don’t need to watch the whole thing. I have faith my boy will pull through.” Jason turned away from Marielle and took a sip of his drink.
“We’ll catch you girls later,” Bryan said as he jumped down a row of bleachers. “Have a good one.”
Jason waved goodbye, without making eye contact with either of the girls, and followed Bryan down the rest of the bleachers.