-The Butterfly Effect
I walk this empty street on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, when the city sleeps and I'm the only one and I walk alone. –Billie Joe Armstrong
A single emaciated foot collided with the ground in the outskirts of Airosfield as fog settled gently on the plains. He stalked his target, ever so carefully, occasionally leaning on the staff in his right hand.
The chilled night air whipped against his bones and nearly blew his cloak away. His breath was visible in a small, thin cloud in front of him. He looked to the left, then to the right, and then he set his sights on a sole house set upon a winding hill. Inside was an elderly man on the eve of his 100th birthday.
Shakily the elderly man grasped his cane, rose out of his chair, and inched towards his bed. Just then, he was struck with a violent cough; grasping his chest, he dropped his cane and fell to the floor. The man’s door crept open and a black mist slithered in. The mist settled in front of the old man and took on a deathly shape. The man turned around, coughing and wheezing, he regained his balance and when he turned around, he faced his demise, the Grim Reaper.
“The – The,” he hoarsely wheezed.
“Ceasel Kingman, I have come for thee,” the voiced hissed. Ceasel's cough intensified, but with the stroke of his scythe, there was silence. The old man's head lay gruesomely on the ground, mouth agape. The Reaper tipped the point of his scythe into the neck hole. It radiated a fierce green ember as he carefully extracted the old man's soul. Atton Brown had yet another reaping.
“110,000 deaths,” he muttered to himself. “Hmm, I've had a slow year.”
Atton stole into the shadows and found his way to Mid-Airosfield where the love of his life, Nirvana, lived. It was a cozy looking one-story house; hand built by Chris himself on 817 Depriest Downs. He looked into the house and saw her, he also saw her husband Chris Jacobson.
“Don't worry your time will come, Chris,” he promised himself.
He promised himself that same thing every day because Chris was sleeping with the woman Atton loved. Nirvana stood up and walked silent as the night to her closet. She pulled out Atton’s old jacket, and, oddly enough, she danced with it.
Nirvana did a quiet waltz around her room and for a moment, Atton was there with her. He pictured himself human, dancing with Nirvana. They were together in a ballroom, just the two of them. When the dance stopped, she buried her face in the jacket and sobbed.
He passed the children’s rooms. A boy, AJ and Atton also noticed the twin girls in the other beds, Willow and Winter.
After his visit, he returned to the hill where he'd reaped the old man. Instead of revisiting the house, he pressed his hands to the hill and phased through to his lair. It could not compare to the size of the lair in Limbo but Atton rather liked it, it was… comfy.
There Atton beheld his throne, two extra rooms, and all of his gremlins, imps, and demons, including Marty.
“Hey Marty,” Atton said walking to his throne.
“Ay boss,” he said having to run to keep up with Atton's steps. “So uh… 110 thou, ya having kind of a slow year,” he noted.
“Yeah, well people just don't die like they used to Marty. Have you found her yet?” Atton asked.
“Uh… well ya see–,” Marty stuttered.
The ''her'' he had referred to was Vigor's ferocious pet banshee, Berzerk. She was actually a half- breed, a cross between werewolf and a banshee. She was the most ferocious and vicious half-breed ever, seven and a half feet tall, white fur, and claws as sharp as The Grim Reaper’s scythe. Berzerk was born with a lust to kill. She had narrowly escaped the grasp of Atton before and now they were both hunting each other. If she ever found Atton, she would take his scythe, revive Vigor, and then kill Atton; but if he found her, he would kill her before she had the chance.
Berserk was of one of the few of Vigor’s followers that operated outside of Airosfield. She was drawn back when Vigor died, because when he died, she felt it and she wanted revenge on his killer.
“It's a yes or no question, Marty,” Atton looked down.
“No,” Marty confessed. Atton let out an exasperated sigh, “but we still don't know da extent uh her power,” Marty spat out, “If Berzerk can inhabit bodies, she could be anywhere’s.” Changing the subject, “Ya know, tomorrow is da first day of school.”
“Yeah Winter and Willow are moving on to high school and AJ's starting 10th grade. Man, I remember my first day. My freshman year sucked so I tried to start a new trend; going to school barefoot.”
“You watch dat family real close doncha?”
“Just the boy,” Atton snapped, “there’s something special about him.”
“But sir,” Marty interrupted, “you know what's gonna happen, doncha?” Atton wasn't paying attention. He was reminiscing about the times when he could go to school, when he was normal. “Boss, ya lissnen?”
“What? Oh yes, yes Marty, that crazy kid Leroy right?”
“Yeah, but how’s ya gonna get da body ‘round all dem people?” Marty asked.
“I'll find a way, Marty,” he mounted his throne, “I always do.”
Nirvana's house was going crazy with everyone was preparing for the first day of school. AJ was starting his sophomore year and now had to watch out for his two little sisters, Winter and Willow, who were starting their first year in high school. He'd had a rough freshman year and wanting to start something new. He came flying downstairs and tried to make it out the door before…
“And where do you think you're going?” Nirvana stopped him.
“To school,” AJ said, casually.
“You're forgetting your sisters and,” she glanced at his feet, “and your shoes.”
“Come on ma let me try it, just for a day,” AJ pleaded.
“Upstairs. Shoes,” she told him.
“But–,” he started.
“Aaron Christopher Jacobson; now,” she ordered.
“Pull out the government name,” he groaned, “jeez.”
AJ reluctantly trotted back up the stairs and swore under his breath.
At the breakfast table, Winter and Willow just finished a quick bowl of cereal. Then Winter reminded her mom, “Don't forget, hair salon after school today.”
“Yes I know, but do you really want blonde streaks?” Nirvana asked. Willow and Winter’s hair was a brunette color like their fathers.
“Yeah, I'm tired of looking like Willow.”
“But you're twins, you're supposed to look alike,” Nirvana said trying to hide her frustration.
“Hey mom, where's dad?” Willow wondered.
“He uh… had to go away early on a business trip,” she lied. Chris was a mercenary and had left at about 3 a.m. on a special contract.
“What does he do anyway?” Willow continued to question.
“He um…” Saving her from another uneasy lie, AJ came back downstairs with shoes and socks on.
“Are ya happy now?” he said wearing his shoes.
“Yes,” she said kissing his forehead and she did so with the girls as well.
His sisters started out to the bus stop. As AJ left, his mother grabbed his arm. “Watch out for your sister’s,” she whispered.
“Willow could probably take half the people in that high school,” AJ said honestly. “I don’t know where she learned to fight like that.”
From me, Nirvana thought. Willow had inherited Nirvana’s intense fighting skills, but Winter was the exact opposite of Nirvana. She was somewhat ditzy. Winter was the type of the girl that cried when she broke a nail.
“True,” Nirvana realized, “watch out for Winter.”
“Sure,” AJ grumbled to himself.
As he and his sisters walked to the bus stop AJ noticed the bullies that tormented him almost all his life, Buzz and Spike.
“Well look who it is, and just who are these twin turds,” Spike asked pushing AJ.
Not making eye contact he told them, “This is Willow and Winter. They're my sisters.”
“Three sisters in one house,” Buzz joked. AJ didn't respond.
“Was that supposed to be funny?” Willow dryly questioned.
“Yes, little girl, so laugh,” Spike said pushing her.
“Ha,” she chuckled, “you called me little girl. You should take that back, now.”
“Aw you gonna get big brother to beat me up,” he continued to taunt. “I’d love to see him try.”
“No,” she said slowly. Spike went to push her again but she grabbed his hand and twisted his wrist.
“Aieeeee,” he tried to hold it in, but ended up screaming in pain.
“Demonic little…” Buzz began, but stopped.
“Please,” Willow prompted, “finish.”
AJ stood idle, enjoying their slight torment but Winter decided to intervene.
“Willow,” she pleaded, “stop it. Girls don’t do that.”
Willow rolled her eyes and released the bully’s wrist, just as the bus came. Spike started to board the bus, but decided to let Willow go first.
AJ wasn't a complete loser, he wasn't anti-social or without friends. In his mind, he had enough friends; he had one best friend, Malik. He plopped down next to Malik on the bus.
“Malik,” he said, “what’s up, man?”
“Not much,” he responded. “My folks made me work this summer.”
“Yeah,” he continued. “They sent me down to the ranch where my grandparents live.”
“Manual labor,” AJ shook his head. Last summer, AJ had wasted away into a vat of laziness.
“Yeah, believe it or not AJ; not everyone detests hard work as much as you.”
“Whatever,” he rolled his eyes. As he did, he started taking off his shoes and socks. “So I’ve been thinking,” he started.
“Hmm, that’s a first, what about?” Malik asked.
“This year we need girlfriends,” AJ told his friend.
“I’ve got one,” his friend told him.
“What?” AJ was taken back, “When?”
“This summer, one of the ranch-hands that worked for my grandparents, she’s sexy as hell dude.”
“Is she your cousin?” AJ joked.
“No,” Malik forced a smile, “I ain't that desperate, her name’s Carrie. Looks like you're out to dry but don't worry I’ll help you out.”
“Cool,” AJ said, “thanks man.”
“For starters,” Malik began, “put some shoes on.”
Half of the school day passed until AJ met up with Malik again.
“You ready?” he asked AJ.
“For what?” AJ wondered.
“Your crash course,” Malik told him. “Now to get a girl you’ll need –”
“Wait, wait hold up, stop,” AJ interrupted. “I’ve had girlfriends before, I can get girls. It’s just in this school you never know who’s with who, or who’s available.”
“Oh,” he realized, “you need the breakdown.”
“Yep, listen up. There’re roughly one thousand girls in this school. Five hundred are taken in a never-ending on again/off again relationship with complete douches. Two hundred are saving themselves.”
“For marriage?” AJ asked.
“For prom night,” Malik told him. “Don't interrupt. Now if you eliminate all of the whores, sluts, hookers, lesbians, transvestites and girls that are just plain ugly… you are left with about twenty girls. Seventeen of those girls are desperately, and I mean desperately, out of your league. The remaining three are always free: Alison Kwan, Elora Smith, and Sierra Reagan. Take your pick.”
“Isn't Alison’s dad a –,” he paused. “Hey, what's going on over there?”
Across from him was another row of lockers and a sophomore named Leroy, who was an even older victim of Buzz and Spike than AJ and he was sick of it.
“Hey Leroy,” Spike said slamming him against his locker.
“Did you like your midday swirly?” Buzz asked. “You'll get one every time you come in our bathroom.”
“Look,” Leroy said shaking, “can I just go to my locker in peace?”
“Sure,” Buzz slapped him and stepped away. Just as quickly as he did, Leroy pulled a gun from his locker. It was his dad's .9-millimeter.
“Back up!” He said holding the gun to Buzz and Spike. AJ eyes widened.
“Someone should do something,” Malik realized.
“Why don't you?” AJ snapped.
“I ain't gettin’ shot for them.”
“N –now Leroy, don't do anything crazy,” Spike said cautiously.
“Ha! You don't want to slap me now, do you? Do you! All my life,” he began with his whole body shaking, “I’ve had to put up with you two. You tortured and humiliated me. You made me wish I was dead.” Leroy cocked the gun.
“Leroy what are you doing?” The principal appeared in the hallway. Leroy quickly turned and his finger slipped. The students watched in horror as the hot lead poured through his forehead and came out, only to ricochet off a nearby locker.
AJ took out his cell phone and called the police. When they got there, Leroy confessed to it all.
“I didn't mean to kill him,” he said shaking intensely and crying. “I didn't mean to kill him.”
After this, the halls cleared so the police could get statements from the witnesses and the body just lay in the halls. Slowly out of a corner, the Reaper emerged. Atton knew he couldn't slice the head because that would cause new complications to arise, so he extracted the soul from the bullet hole in his head. After finishing his statement, AJ reentered the building to get the rest of his things to go home. There, he stood face to face with the Reaper. AJ stood as still as a statue in a hall as silent as a grave. He couldn't believe it; but the moment he blinked Atton disappeared into the shadows.
“Whoa,” AJ said in disbelief.
That day school was released early for obvious reasons. AJ called his mom to pick them up; she did, and took Winter to the hair salon.
Nirvana walked her daughter in and told the hairdresser what to do. While they waited, Nirvana wanted to know what had happened.
“Somebody got shot,” AJ said putting it plain and simple.
“That's it, no motive or anything?” Nirvana asked. “There’s got to be more to the story than that.”
Willow chimed in with the rest of the story, “This kid, Leroy, got real pissed at Buzz and Spike. So he got a gun but he missed and hit the principal.”
“Wow,” Nirvana said, surprised at what kids did these days. Nirvana would have taken him on, no weapons. His sister left to use the bathroom and Nirvana noticed AJ seemed more distant than usual. “AJ what's wrong?”
At first, he didn’t answer; he was filing through his thoughts making sure what he saw was real. “Today in school,” AJ began. “I saw… what's the use, you wouldn't believe me if I told you.”
“Try me,” Nirvana prompted. “I’ve seen plenty of wild and crazy things in my time.”
“I saw a man… but he had no skin,” AJ began slowly. He wore a black cloak and held a… a blade. I think it’s called a scythe. However crazy it sounds I think I saw the Grim Reaper,” AJ blurted out. “There I said it.”
Nirvana gasped, “Atton,” she half-whispered to herself. She thought about it and it made sense, every time someone died, he had to be there. Was he there every time Chris killed someone?
Nirvana’s thoughts wandered back to the months she spent with Atton. He said it would last fifty years. He said Vigor wouldn't die, but she’d seen him slice off his head. Was he still alive? Were these events leading up to something greater than she could imagine? Would AJ be safe?
“What, ma? I was just seeing stuff right,” AJ asked but she didn't reply. After waiting awhile, Winter's hair was done, but Nirvana wasn't expecting what she saw next.
“What did you do to her hair?” Her hair was all white. “I said blonde streaks, you flippin’ moron!”
“Oops. That's $50 please,” the hairdresser said twisting her gum around her finger.
“Yeah right, I’m not paying for this you retarded bimbo!” Nirvana said taking her family and leaving. In the car, Nirvana kept looking in the rearview mirror at Winter's hair.
“It's not that bad,” Winter said stroking it. “At least people can tell me and Willow apart now.” AJ sat there laughing to himself.
When they got home Chris was there waiting. “Hey guys. You're home early, I made you guys lunch.” As the kids settled in for lunch, Nirvana walked up to Chris. “Who'd you kill today?” she said kissing him.
“Nobody important,” he responded with a smile.
When Chris and Nirvana went to bed, she was in a strange mood. All she could think about was Atton. Chris kissed her on the cheek.
“I love you,” he whispered in her ear. He awaited her response. “Nirvana?” Chris asked.
Nirvana did not respond because she was lost in thought and unfocused on Chris. Chris sat up in bed. He decided that it was his job to console her, whatever the problem was.
“Nirvana,” he asked again, “what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” she lied.
“Nirvana,” Chris started, “I know you better than that.”
“Ok, Chris, when I married you,” she began. Chris rolled his eyes because he knew what she was going to say. They had had this conversation many times before. They had never finished it though, tonight they would. “I hoped you'd fill a void.”
“And I did, right?” Chris asked hopefully.
“No, and I kind of knew you wouldn't, but I still needed something to replace him,” Nirvana continued.
“Oh, here we go, Atton, right; your imaginary boyfriend. After all those years of therapy you should know he was never real,” Chris explained.
“He was real,” she angrily snapped. Actually, she was unsure of her own words. Many years in therapy had changed her views on Atton. She was almost convinced he was not real.
“I know he was,” Nirvana whispered. “It’s not even about him really. I thought you’d at least be here for me, for us. I have to lie to the kids every day!” “Nirvana, you know I can’t tell them the truth,” Chris reminded her.
“I just wanted you to be there for me,” she said sadly. She’d always had someone there for her. First, she had her father, then CJ, then she met Zak, then there was Atton, and now no one. She still talked to CJ but it wasn't the same.
“Nirvana, I love you,” he repeated. “I –”
“You say that,” Nirvana snapped. “You say you love me, you want me, you need me; but you don't mean it.”
“I do,” Chris pleaded.
“No you don't. They’re just…words, empty words and I’m sick of hearing them. Cus, guess what, I don't want you or need you,” Nirvana said harshly.
“Nirvana,” he said, shocked, “I’m sorry I –”
“It’s too late,” she spat out, “to apologize. It is over. I don't love you,” she whispered.
“Well,” Chris inhaled deeply and gritted his teeth, “I’ve got a… uh – special contract in the morning, looks like I can leave early.” He got out of the bed and decided he would get dressed on the way there. “When I come back we can–”
“Don't come back,” Nirvana interrupted.