“Oh Ryan, I’m going to have so much fun. It’s going to be so entertaining to watch you break apart slowly, the madness that I bring infecting your brain to a point of no return."
I hope you all enjoy this next part!
When Ryan woke, he was alone.
Raising his head cautiously from where he was laying on the floor, he glanced around his dark room, wincing as his head pounded and his body ached. His throat was dry and felt like he had swallowed razors; a reminder of the earlier events of the afternoon. Carefully, Ryan pushed himself to a sitting position, groaning and pressing his eyes closed tightly in an effort to stop the sudden nausea that radiated from his head, making his vision blur slightly. When the dizziness passed, Ryan rested his back against his bed, bracing his head against the mattress. Letting it fall to the side, he brought his hand to his face, pushing his hair back. He stopped when his fingers felt something dry and crusty.
In his haste to get to the bathroom, Ryan almost tripped over his feet and had to slow down a couple of times when his head got a bit woozy. He threw open the bathroom door, closing it behind him and moving to stand at the sink. He trembled when he saw his reflection in the mirror that was placed above the basin.
From his left temple all the way down to his ear, dried blood was crusted along his hairline. Black and purple bruises decorated Ryan’s right eye, and on his throat there were contusions that resembled hands and fingers. Ryan inhaled sharply in shock, and then grimaced as his chest was racked by pain. With shaking fingers, he pulled up the hem of his t-shirt until it was just below his chin. Darkly coloured splotches fell messily across his chest and stomach, some of them even looking like the imprints of boots. Letting his shirt fall down to cover his exposed skin, Ryan placed his hands on the cupboard that the sink sat in and leaned on them, lowering his head to stare mindlessly at the plug hole. It had to have been the man. There was no one else who could have done it.
Loud noises came from downstairs, and Ryan didn’t even flinch as they resounded in the bathroom dully. He’d grown too accustomed to them. He shook his head. No, it couldn’t have been his father. Ryan knew that his dad would never hit him regardless of whether he was sober or intoxicated. Raising his head, Ryan exited the bathroom, the darkened windows telling him that it was late. Pulling a face when his sore body was jolted descending the stairs, he saw a light emitting from a crack between the door and the frame that lead to his father’s room, telling him where his dad was. He paused at the foot of the staircase, surveying the over-turned chair and the scattered papers and books that remained from his ghostly encounter that afternoon. He slowly righted the chair, his body screaming in protest. Gathering his books, Ryan placed them neatly on the end of the table, ready to take them back up to his bedroom.
Muffled curses and slurred profanities filtered into his ears. They were soon followed by silence. Uh oh. Ryan knew silence was never good when his father was drunk, unless he was asleep. He forced his feet to carry his tired body to his dad’s room, not hesitating to push the door open. He found his father on the ground surrounded by a mess of photos and sheets of paper that had most likely fallen out of the small drawer from the bedside table that was lying on its side. Ryan froze, staring at the scene in front of him.
The big man that was his father sat silently, his shoulders shaking. He had his back to his son, but Ryan could still see that his dad held a picture in his hand. Biting his lip, Ryan mentally debated about whether or not he should step inside the room and comfort his father, who in his incapacitated state had knocked over the drawer that he had forbidden Ryan from ever looking in.
Until now, Ryan had never known what the small wooden chest had contained. Now, it seemed, he had finally found out.
From behind glossy pictures that shone faintly in the light, Ryan stared at the face of his mother for the first time in years. An unknown feeling uncurled in his gut, and he didn’t know what to think. He tried to tear his eyes away from the face which had been buried deep in his memories, but it was like something was stopping him. Finally, he was able to avert his gaze, which instead fell on a nearby sheet of paper that was covered in unfamiliar large and elegant loopy writing. ‘My dearest George…’
Trying to squash down a number of strange feelings and thoughts that raged inside him, Ryan turned and fled, pounding up the stairs and not stopping until he was back in his room. Slamming the door behind him, he curled up on his bed with his arms wrapped protectively around his bruised abdomen until the swirling tsunami of emotions began to die down. Ryan was obviously shaken, but he refused to let the shock and surprise of seeing that woman’s photo affect him. If he could just pretend that he never saw it…
To take his mind off it, Ryan placed a CD into his stereo and turned the music up loud, letting the strong bass line and whiny guitar sounds shred through his body. Where the blood had dried on his face felt itchy, and so he entered the bathroom and turned on the shower, standing dumbly as he watched his reflection fade in the mirror that was slowly being fogged up. Standing under the hot water did wonders for Ryan’s aching muscles and he stayed under for quite sometime, wishing that the water could wash out his recent memories and take them swirling down the drain.
Getting into bed soon after, Ryan thought falling asleep would be difficult, but he was soon lulled into dreams of a faceless woman and a sweet voice singing a haunting melody that wrapped itself around him, holding him in its clutches.
Ryan was expecting to see the daunting figure of the man leering over him, but was pleasantly surprised that he was wrong when he opened his eyes in the late morning sun that shone through his window. Rolling over to glance at the clock by his bed, he gasped as he felt his stiff joints and aching body comply painfully. The time read 9:48 am. Fuck school; I’m not going looking like this, and I’m certainly not gonna show my face after yesterday’s embarrassment, Ryan thought. Ever so slowly, he eased his body out of bed, yawning and shuffling down to the kitchen to make himself breakfast. As he passed his dad’s door, he hesitated slightly. He needed to make sure that his dad hadn’t drowned in a pool of his own vomit or something during the night, but he didn’t know if the photographs and letters were still on the floor. Finally, Ryan came up with a compromise. He would open the door only a little bit, and see if his father was in bed. And if he was, well, great. If he wasn’t… Ryan knew he couldn’t make himself enter the room if the drawer’s contents were still yet to be put away. He just couldn’t.
Moving silently over to the door, he frowned lightly as the hinges creaked a little when he opened it. No, his dad wasn’t in bed, but were they… yes, those were snores that Ryan could hear. So his father was still alright. Well, as alright as a person who would be hungover when they woke up would be.
Ryan had just finished his breakfast of toast and orange juice and was walking out the kitchen when he ran into his father, who looked ashen-faced and had rings under his eyes. He could smell the drink still on his father’s putrid breath, and saw from his bloodshot eyes that his dad was still slightly drunk. His father stopped dead when he saw him.
“Ryan…” he said, his voice husky. Probably from throwing up. Ryan didn’t say anything as his dad stared at him. This went on for a little while, and Ryan shifted his weight from one foot to the other uncomfortably. “What happened to your face?” his dad asked, frowning in confusion. Ryan’s hand immeadiately flew to touch his black eye.
“Oh, I um, tripped over in the dark and um, crashed into a doorway,” he lied, coughing slightly to clear his throat when his voice came out as a low rasp and averting the unfocused gaze of his father. His father didn’t seem to pick up on the untruth. Ryan could feel his eyes still on him.
“You look so much like her,” his dad finally murmured. Ryan felt his face heat up, and he mumbled a random excuse, pushing past his father to escape to his room, closing the door behind him like he so often did. He sighed, absently rubbing the back of his neck. He knew that he and his father didn’t share much in common in the looks department apart from eye and hair colour. And Ryan’s slight build definitely wasn’t inherited from his dad either. No, most of his looks had come from his mother. A fact that Ryan didn’t know how to feel about.
He spent the rest of the day in his room, catching up on homework and occasionally surfing the net on his laptop. His father had left to do something; the front door had been closed and the house had fallen silent as the car was reversed out of their driveway. Ryan was just about to go and stretch out on the couch in the living room and watch some TV when the doorbell rang. Leaving his room, Ryan grabbed a yellow scarf to hide the bruises on his neck and a cap to pull over the wound on his hair line, positioning it so that it also put the right side of his face in shadow. Opening the door, he found Spencer standing outside on the porch.
“Hey,” the other boy greeted. “Uh, what’s with the hat and scarf? Dude, it’s like, almost summer.”
Ryan shrugged, trying to think up an excuse. “I just felt like wearing them. Do you wanna come in?” He stepped back, holding the door wider so Spencer could pass him and cursing the fact that his voice hadn’t gotten any better. He closed the door behind them.
“So, I missed you at school today,” Spencer said, dropping his school bag by a pile of shoes. “What happened to your voice?”
“Oh, uh yeah,” Ryan answered awkwardly. He cleared his throat. “I didn’t feel like going, especially after yesterday. And I think I might be coming down with something.” He walked into the lounge room and turned on the TV, Spencer following him.
“I can see why you stayed away; the rumours flying around about you today were out of control,” his best friend told him, throwing himself down on a seat. Ryan rolled his eyes.
“Thanks for making me feel a whole lot better about it,” he commented dryly. Spencer grinned, his smile saying that he was teasing but his blue eyes showing that he was concerned. Ryan turned to sit on the couch opposite Spencer. Normally, he would sit next to his friend, but today, with his face how it was, he wasn’t going to do that. Unfortunately, as he turned, the right side of his face caught the light. Spencer’s relaxed position tensed immeadiately, his body shooting up as he stood.
“Shit, Ryan! What the fuck is that?”
“What do you mean?” Ryan asked, hoping that if he just played dumb, Spencer would leave it alone.
“What do you mean, what do I mean? You know fucking well what I’m talking about! How the hell did you get that black eye?!” Spencer’s eyes flashed protectively as he reached out. Ryan hastily side-stepped out of his reach.
“What black eye?” he said, trying to pretend that his friend was seeing things. “I don’t have a – ” Spencer took another step forward and knocked off Ryan’s hat with his hand. “- black eye,” Ryan finished dumbly.
“Fuck, and the side of your face too?” Spencer’s eyes widened. “Ryan… that scarf… your voice…” Hanging his head, Ryan didn’t protest or fight when Spencer gently pulled the scarf off from around his neck. Expletives burst forth from the other boy’s mouth as his hand that held the scarf fell to his side. Ryan tried to break in.
“Spencer, it’s not what you think – ”
“Not what I think? Ryan, your dad’s fucking abusing you, and you tell me it’s not what I think?!” Spencer’s voice was rising as he got angrier and angrier.
“No, Spence, he’s not – ”
“Not what?” Spencer demanded. “Not what, Ryan? Have you even seen yourself?”
“Spencer,” Ryan pleaded, desperation shining in his eyes. “Just listen. It’s not – Dad’s not abusing me. He’d never do that; not even when he’s drunk. It wasn’t Dad. Spencer, you have to believe me.”
“No, what I believe is what my eyes are fucking telling me! You have a black eye, a cut on the side of your face, finger marks around your neck like he was fucking strangling you!” Spencer shook his head. Ryan could tell he was absolutely furious. “How long has this been going on for, Ryan? Huh?”
“Spence, it hasn’t - Dad didn’t! I fell down some stairs, I – ”
“The standard response: I fell down some stairs. I’m not believing that one, Ryan. That’s fucking pathetic. I know that you didn’t get those falling down stairs. That’s it. You’re coming home with me. You can stay as long as necessary; you know Mom loves you – ”
“Spencer!” Ryan spoke with more force this time, ripping the scarf out of his friend’s hands at the same time. “I am not going with you. Dad didn’t do this. I told you. I fell down some stairs. That’s all. Dad would never do something like this. It’s not – I’m not getting abused.” He struggled to keep his voice calm. No, he added silently, I’m not getting abused by my drunk father, but by some sort of… Phantom?
Spencer crossed his arms defiantly, glaring at Ryan. “Then how do you explain the hand marks on your neck? And your voice…” Ryan rolled his eyes, trying to keep his facial expression neutral as he hurriedly thought of an excuse.
“Geez, Spence. It’s just make up. I was bored, so I thought I’d muck around and try to do all this stuff with it. You know, like stage make up for actors and stuff. Honestly. I swear they’re not real. And I said before: I think I’m coming down with a cold.” For the second time in two days, Ryan really hoped that Spencer wouldn’t call him out on his lie. Spencer glared at him for a few more seconds, but Ryan had seen his body soften slightly when Ryan had said it was make up. He so desperately wanted to believe that his best friend wasn’t getting abused. Finally, Spencer sighed.
“Are you sure?” he said, his voice sounding cautious.
“Yes,” Ryan stressed, winding the scarf around the ends of his fingers absently. “I heard the doorbell, and I didn’t have time to take it off, so I put the scarf on to cover it up.”
“So, the black eye’s real, but the hand marks are fake?” Spencer clarified. Ryan nodded.
“I told you; I tripped down the last few stairs last night when it was dark. It’s nothing to be worried about.” Spencer bit his lip, worry sliding off his face and being replaced by slight embarrassment. He smiled softly.
“Well. Now I feel like the world’s biggest idiot for making that assumption,” he said, scratching the back of his head. Ryan touched his friend on the shoulder.
“Don’t be,” he said. “I probably would have done the same if it had been you.” He shrugged. “It just shows you care.” Spencer pulled him into a hug, and Ryan had to try and stop himself from groaning or whimpering in pain as his ribs and stomach were squeezed tightly. Letting go and pulling back, Ryan sat on the couch, reaching for the TV remote.
“Now that that’s sorted,” he rasped, “I wonder what’s on TV?” Spencer made some comment about shitty reality shows, and Ryan choked out a strangled laugh, agreeing with him. Inside though, he was worried. That had been twice that he’d had to lie to his best friend. Sooner or later, Spencer was either going to work it out or Ryan would lose track of all the lies and slip up. Until then though, he just hoped that his ‘everything’s fine’ act would be enough to keep Spencer fooled.
The next day was Saturday. Spencer came over in the morning and convinced Ryan to get out of the house. He put the yellow scarf and the cap on again and hurriedly followed Spencer out the front door. Last night had been the first time in a long time that his dad hadn’t come home drunk, but he couldn’t enjoy it because the voice had started in his head again. It had only been whispering and throwing a rude and terrifying comment every now and then, but it had been enough. Ryan knew that it would only keep coming back, and as far as he knew, there was nothing he could do to stop it.
Spencer took him to the mall where they entered the music shop first, spending a large amount of time browsing in the CD section. When they got hungry, they visited the fast-food outlet nearby and ordered some food, heading outside to eat in the warm sun. Ryan kept his head low to cover his bruised eye, using his hair to hide the healing cut on the other side of his face.
They finished eating, the sun making them too lazy to move. Spencer struck up a conversation about something annoying that his sisters had done, and then glanced at his watch and swore, telling Ryan he had to leave; his family were apparently going to visit his Great-Aunt Daphne, and he should have left five minutes ago.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine; you gotta go,” Ryan told his friend as he apologized for rushing off.
“I’ll call you tonight!” Spencer called over his shoulder as he sprinted off, leaving Ryan alone. He sighed, standing up. There was not really any point in hanging around by himself, so he decided that he may as well walk home too. He put his hands in his pockets and ducked his head again, keeping his eyes trained on the cracked concrete in front of his feet. He was walking past the park that was only a block away from his house when it happened.
Something hard connected with Ryan’s shoulder, knocking him a few steps back. There was an “Oof!” as the hard thing lost their footing and toppled to the ground, their body sprawling out at Ryan’s feet.
“Are you okay? I’m sorry, I should have looked where I was going. Here, I’ll help you – ” Ryan halted midsentence as he stretched out his hand to help the dark-haired boy up. His lips parted in surprise and his eyes widened in horror. The other boy wore the same expression on his face too as he stared at Ryan, though Ryan had no idea why.
“I, I, I…” Ryan stupidly began, his sore throat suddenly dry as his voice left him. He stumbled backwards, then turned and ran blindly, ignoring the other boy’s calls and his aching ribs that felt like they were going to break at any moment. Taking the long way home, Ryan didn’t stop running until he reached the front door of his house. It took him five minutes to insert the key into the lock because his hands were shaking so much. Pushing the door open hurriedly, he bolted into the safety of the house, slamming it behind him and sliding to the ground in a trembling mess. His breathing was loud and erratic in the silence that greeted him.
“Oh Ryan, I’m going to have so much fun,” the voice, which had returned upon point of entry, whispered nastily, echoing throughout the hallway. “It’s going to be so entertaining to watch you break apart slowly, the madness that I bring infecting your brain to a point of no return. And you know what? When it’s almost over, I’ll pick you up just to watch you fall again. Oh yes,” the eerie voice laughed, the sound ringing out loudly, “so much fun.”
Ryan curled in on himself, reverting to the fetal position. He closed his eyes, just wishing for it all to go away; for the haunting voice and malicious man to leave him alone, to forget about his mother again, but most of all, wishing to forget about the boy he had literally run into, who (even without the costume or makeup) was the spitting image of the devilish apparition that was stalking him.
Ryan finally managed to make himself stand, walking into the lounge to watch TV mindlessly. His mind was frantic, never staying on the same thought for more than a few seconds, and he found that he barely noticed the hum of the TV in the background as he stared blankly at the screen. He wasn’t sure how long he spent sitting like that – a few minutes, a couple of hours, maybe – but all of a sudden, his thoughts were broken by the doorbell ringing shrilly. Groaning, Ryan rose from his position on the couch, a glance out through the curtains of a window telling him that it was late afternoon. The doorbell rang again.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming,” Ryan called, moving into the hallway. Pulling the door open, his features arranged themselves into the same horrified expression as earlier when he came face to face with the ‘Phantom,’ as Ryan had nicknamed him. Or rather, the boy who looked like him.
Ryan’s mouth opened and closed not unlike a fish a few times, before he swung the door shut again. But it was stopped by a foot.
“I think we need to talk,” the boy said. Holy shit, the voice was exactly the same. It sent shivers down Ryan’s spine.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Ryan asked, wanting the strange boy to go away as soon as possible, never coming back to bother him ever again. And he could take the Phantom with him, too. “I already apologized for knocking you over.” He tried to force the door closed, but the stranger’s foot stayed firm. “Move your fucking foot and go away.” Fear and anxiety made him rude and rash, his voice breaking suddenly mid-sentence as a result of his emotion.
“I said, I think we need to talk,” the other boy repeated, and Ryan could feel him staring at his face. “That hat…” he heard him whisper.
“What about my hat?” Ryan demanded, glaring at the boy but refusing to look directly at his face, finding it too unsettling.
“It’s uncanny,” the other boy murmured. “Look, if you let me in… I promise, I’ll – ”
“You’ll what?” Ryan asked. The dark-haired Phantom-clone sighed.
“I don’t know. But. Look,” he began, “you’re gonna think I’m crazy, but I swear I’m not. This is all real.” He sighed again, running a hand through his hair as Ryan stared at him darkly, hoping that he could read how much he wanted him to go the fuck away and leave him alone. “Look,” he said again, “here’s the thing. So, I’ve never seen you before in my life, but something, this… thing that looks and sounds like you has been… following me. Stalking me. Haunting me, whatever. The thing is, it looks exactly like you. It even has the hat and the scarf-sash-thing.” The boy stared at him with wide brown eyes, willing Ryan to believe him. From the moment he had started talking, Ryan had felt this cold, icy feeling inside his chest. Now, as he stared at him, it grew bigger, fuelled by his horror and the realization that he was being haunted by a different version of this boy, an alter-ego almost, and the boy… was being haunted by a different version of him.
What the fucking fuck was happening?
Gnawing his bottom lip, Ryan opened the door wider, knowing that there was no way he could turn this other boy - whoever he was – away now. With a sigh, he beckoned with a long finger.
“I guess you better come inside then,” he said resignedly, closing the door as them as the other boy stepped into the house.
Maybe, just maybe, Ryan was about to get some fucking answers.
“My name’s Brendon,” the boy said as he sat on the couch in the living room. Brendon. So now Ryan finally had a name for the Phantom. A silence descended until Ryan realised that Brendon was waiting for him to introduce himself.
“I-I’m Ryan,” he said, noticing the way Brendon nodded his head, a serious look pasted on his face.
“I know you probably think I’m crazy for what I said,” he told Ryan. “But… it’s true. I have no idea what is going on, or why it’s happening… but it just is.” Ryan knew he should say something, tell Brendon that he wasn’t the only one being haunted, but he just couldn’t bring himself to say the words out loud. So he said nothing. More silence followed.
“Nice place you got here,” Brendon said, trying to break the ice. He looked around, taking in every detail of the room they were in.
“Um… thanks,” Ryan said. “Uhh… kitchen’s over there,” he motioned with his thumb, “do you want anything to like, eat or drink?” Standing up, he walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge, bending over to peer inside. Shutting the door, he moved to open the cupboards.
“Um, water’s fine, thanks,” Brendon said, getting up to follow him into the kitchen. Ryan filled two glasses with water, handing one to Brendon and keeping the other to himself. He watched as Brendon drank, observing all the similarities between this boy and his look-a-like Phantom.
“Are you okay?” Brendon asked. “Do I have something on my face?”
“Huh?” Ryan blinked. “Oh, no. Sorry, I just…” He raised the glass to his lips and took a sip to save him from having to answer. Setting the glass down, he turned his head to stare out the window over the sink that looked out onto the small backyard. He felt eyes on him, and he immeadiately knew that Brendon was doing the same thing; staring at him in amazement as he tried to vision him as a Phantom. Ryan turned his head back, and the dark-haired boy looked away hurriedly, blushing as he realised he’d been caught. To try and cover, he asked, “What happened to your eye?”
“It’s… It’s kinda a long story,” Ryan said finally.
“I have time,” Brendon said. He looked at Ryan earnestly, his eyes wide and begging to be told. Ryan shook his head.
“No,” he said forcefully, coughing slightly. Brendon’s shoulders sagged slightly. Then he readjusted his posture again.
“Did you hurt your neck and the other side of your face at the same time?”
“What?” Ryan started. “What the fuck are you…?”
“I just wondered,” Brendon shrugged. “It’s like, practically summer. It’s too hot to be wearing scarves and stuff. Plus, your voice is all scratchy, too.”
“There is nothing wrong with my neck,” Ryan shot back angrily, his voice croaking as he raised it. He coughed, putting his hand up to his throat and wincing. A triumphant look slid onto the other boy’s face. Ryan glared. “Fuck you. I could just be sick.” He didn’t know why he was being so harsh, but there was something about this boy that made him uneasy. Maybe it was because he expected him to act like the Phantom.
“You don’t have to be so…” Brendon started to frown.
“So what?” Ryan countered, folding his arms across his chest.
“I was just showing concern,” the other boy said.
“Well, don’t,” Ryan said. “I don’t need your sympathy. Fuck, I don’t even know you. You know what? I think it’s time you left.” He moved over to Brendon, using his slight height advantage to stare the other boy down. Geez, this kid just didn’t know when to stop. There was an air about Brendon that unsettled Ryan and made him feel like all his walls and defenses he’d put up had been taken down, exposing his very being and soul. He didn’t like that at all. He’d never met anyone like him that could do that before.
Once again, Brendon’s posture slumped, and he set the glass down. “Oh… Okay. Well… I’ll just… I guess I’ll show myself out, then.” Ryan kept his position, standing there and watching as the suddenly forlorn boy set his glass down on the sink and walked out of the kitchen. “Oh,” he said turning around in the doorway, “thanks for the water.” Ryan just intensified his glare, not saying anything. Brendon sighed, lowering his head. He disappeared from view and Ryan heard the front door click shut as Brendon let himself out.
When the boy had gone, Ryan finally loosened his taunt muscles. Groaning, his pressed his hands to his face, careful of his injuries. Regret filled every pore in his body. His only chance for answers had walked out the door, all because he had to be stupid and get defensive. And it wasn’t like Brendon wouldn’t understand. Fuck, he was going through the same thing. Ryan sighed.
What the fuck had he just done?
“It was awful,” Spencer groaned down the phone later that night. Ryan sat on the kitchen bench, his back against the wall as he listened to his friend moan about how horrible Great-Aunt Daphne had been. He absent-mindedly twirled the phone cord around his fingers.
“She’s as blind as a bat, and as deaf as a post – trying to communicate with her is like talking to a brick wall! Argh, and she insisted we stay for ‘afternoon tea’, whatever the fuck that is.”
“Mmm,” Ryan said distractedly.
“Are you even listening to what I’m saying?” Spencer asked incredulously.
“Of course you should wear the white shirt,” Ryan answered. “Wait, what?”
Spencer sighed. “Okay, what’s up with you tonight? You’ve been zoning out for this entire conversation.”
“It’s nothing,” Ryan said, trying to avoid the subject. “I’m just tired, I guess. And maybe slightly pissed. This random kid knocked on my door this afternoon and tried to talk to me. I just couldn’t seem to get rid of him.” He pushed his fingers through his hair, careful of the scab that was forming on his hairline. “He was so fucking annoying. Like, just full of questions and was fucking - ” He broke off with a groan.
“What, was he trying to sell you cookies or something, like Brownies or whatever those shitty scout groups do?” his friend’s crackly voice asked.
“You know what? I don’t even know what he was trying to do,” Ryan lied. “But it annoyed the shit out of me.”
“Dude, calm down; it was just a random kid – you’ll probably never even see him again,” Spencer said, always the voice of reason. “I don’t know why you’re so worked up about it.”
Ryan exhaled loudly, causing a burst of static down the line. “You know what? You’re right. I’ll probably never see him again,” he repeated.
“See?” Spencer said. “This is why you should listen to me more often.”
They talked some more, hanging up a short time later. Ryan was in the process of climbing up the stairs to his room, wincing as his ribs were jolted and wrapping an arm around his middle to try and stop them from hurting so much when the door bell rang. He groaned and turned around, heading back down the stairs to answer it.
And when he flicked on the porch light and opened the door to see Brendon staring right back at him, the only thought in his mind was that Spencer could never have been more wrong in his life.
“I don’t know what the hell your problem is,” Brendon said before Ryan could say anything. “But I refuse to let myself be pushed around by you.” Ryan stared at the boy in amazement, hardly believing his eyes.
“Look- ” he started, but the dark-haired boy cut him off.
“I don’t care,” he said firmly. “I know that what I told you sounds like a bunch of made-up crap, but as crazy as it is, that still doesn’t give you the right to be rude and unpleasant to me. Didn’t your parents ever teach you manners?”
Ryan’s eyes flashed angrily. Curling his lip into a snarl, he glared at the Phantom look-a-like. “For your information, my dad did teach me manners. He also taught me to not be a creepy stalker who follows people home and doesn’t leave them the fuck alone.”
Something flitted across Brendon’s face, and he flinched slightly, but he still didn’t back down. “You know what,” he began, but he was cut off as Ryan tore his eyes away from his face to stare at lights of an unfamiliar car that had pulled into the dark driveway of the house. It came to a stop, and the driver’s door opened. Ryan instantly recognised a former work colleague of his dad’s, a guy that his father had been good friends with. Pushing past Brendon roughly, he moved to the car just as his father was helped out of the passenger side, rambling on loudly, clearly heavily intoxicated. Ryan bit back a loud string of curses. Was it too much to ask for his dad to be sober for more than one freakin’ night?
“Hey, kid,” the man – Sid, Ryan thought his name was – said. “I found your dad and decided to give him a helping hand home.”
“Thanks,” Ryan said appreciatively, trying not to let his disappointment and annoyance bleed into his tone too much. He slung one of his father’s arms over his shoulder, giving a small gasp as his small and battered frame took on the dead weight.
“I’ve got to go,” Sid said. “Got somewhere to be. I hope you don’t mind me just dumping him on you like this?”
“Nah, I’ll be okay,” Ryan said automatically, trying to hide the fact that he actually did mind. Some friend he turned out to be, he thought to himself.
“Yeah, well.” Sid smiled awkwardly. “I’ll see ya, kid.” Ryan didn’t reply, too busy focusing on keeping his balance as his dad stumbled when he started walking. Ryan heard the car back out and drive away.
“Come on, Dad,” he muttered under his breath as his father proclaimed at the top of his voice that he was indeed fine, thank you very much, and not drunk at all. Ryan’s head immeadiately flew up when the weight was suddenly lessened, and he glanced across to see Brendon hitch his father’s other arm around his neck and provide support. Ryan felt his face flush. He didn’t want help; especially not from some kid who looked like the man haunting him. And he didn’t like the fact that he’d seen his dad like this. It embarrassed Ryan to see what his dad had been reduced to. Even Spencer, who had been Ryan’s friend for years, had only seen Ryan’s father when he was drunk a couple of times.
“I don’t want your help,” he told Brendon breathlessly, his ribs aching with a sharp pain.
“You might not want it,” Brendon panted, “but you need it.” Ryan glared at the ground beneath his feet and didn’t say anything.
Reaching the steps that led up to the porch, Ryan grunted with the effort as they lifted his father’s hulking body up the two wooden steps. The door was still open, so turning sideways, the two boys managed to navigate the large man through the doorway. The pair paused in the hallway so that the darker-haired boy could gently close the front door with his foot. They began to shuffle forward again, Ryan’s father muttering random words and nonsense under his breath. Ryan was sure he heard his mother’s name mentioned at least once.
When they got to his dad’s bedroom door, Ryan reached out and turned the handle, his shoulders burning. He gave a start and had to stop himself from crying out when the door swung open to reveal the Phantom sprawled out lazily on the covers. He looked up, giving Ryan a maliciously evil grin that held promises of horrible and unspoken things.
“I was wondering when you would show up,” he taunted. “So how many times is that now, Ryan? You know that if he keeps on doing this to himself, he’s not going to last much longer.” Ryan gritted his teeth to try and stop himself from reacting. Brendon glanced at him.
“Are you okay?” he asked, tilting his head to get a better look at the slightly taller boy.
“Fine,” Ryan snapped, walking forward and pulling his father along with him. They sat his father down on the bed, the Phantom moving off the mattress and seemingly blinking out of existence for a moment. He reappeared behind Ryan’s shoulder, his breath cold and daunting on a small patch of skin that wasn’t covered by his scarf. As Ryan and Brendon began to lay the man down, the Phantom began to speak again.
“You have no idea how easy it would be to just end him here and now,” he whispered. Ryan’s father groaned and rolled over onto his side, oblivious to the two out-of-breath boys who stood behind him silently. Frozen terror uncurled in Ryan’s gut as Phantom Brendon suddenly disappeared to stand by his father’s head. Pale fingers reached out, tenderly stroking the skin on his dad’s neck and Ryan stiffened, unaware that Brendon was watching him carefully. “You hate the drinking anyway, so I’d be doing you a favour. I could just do it here and now, and it would be so much fun.”
“No,” Ryan breathed. “Don’t you fucking dare touch him.”
The Phantom grinned, giving his now-sleeping father’s neck another gentle stroke with his index finger, and then blinked out of existence again.
“Ryan, are you… what happened?” Brendon was asking. Ryan started, turning to stare at the boy next to him and stumbling back in shock slightly as he met a face identical to the one he had just been staring at. It was still scary, even though he’d almost come to terms with the idea of a real life clone.
He turned and fled from the room, pushing his aching body to the limits in his desperation to escape. Leaping up the stairs and hurtling down the hallway, he was just about to make it into his room when his wrist was grabbed.
“Ryan! Didn’t you hear me calling for you to wait?” Brendon exclaimed. As he was yanked to a stop, Ryan could hear the confusion colouring his voice. Ripping his hand free, Ryan pivoted and entered his bedroom. Brendon followed. “What the hell was that about?” he demanded. “Ryan, what is going on?”
Ryan was silent, pacing the room and running his fingers through his hair. He could barely think; his thoughts were too loud, and each one that was crammed in his brain jostled for attention.
“Holy crap…” Brendon’s eyes widened. “Your dad… those injuries…”
Ryan froze, his head snapping to where Brendon was standing. “My dad is not fucking abusing me,” he spat. “Yeah, okay, he may be a drunk, but he has never nor will he ever be abusive. What would you know, anyway?” he sneered at the other boy. “We don’t even fucking know each other. Stay out of my life.”
Brendon held his ground, crossing his arms. In the darkness of Ryan’s room, he was just a shadow. “No. Not I until I know what the hell is going on with mine.”
Ryan threw up his arms. “Well that’s just great. I’m being haunted by a phantom version of you and the real you won’t fucking leave me alone.” He turned, stalking over to stand by his desk and staring aimlessly out the window while he tried to calm himself down. He knew his anger at Brendon was slightly irrational.
“What did you say?” Brendon asked hoarsely. When Ryan half-turned, he saw that the other boy had gone white. Shit. He hadn’t meant to say that.
“I… I…” Ryan began.
“You mean, all this time… all this time, you knew what I was going through, you knew that I wasn’t crazy?” Brendon whispered. Ryan tried to stammer a response of some kind. “Do you know how much I wanted someone to believe me? For someone to be able to listen to me and say, ‘No, Brendon, you’re not making this up; I’m going through it too’?” He took a step backwards, shaking his head, disbelief and a sort of panicked-horror on his features.
“Brendon,” Ryan tried to plead, a sick feeling worming its way into his stomach and settling there heavily.
“Why?” the shorter boy breathed desperately. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I… I… You don’t- ”
“Don’t tell me that I don’t understand,” Brendon shot back, interrupting Ryan’s pathetic attempt at an explanation. “I of all people would understand much more than others. I am your ‘Phantom,’ after all.” Ryan felt like he’d been punched in the gut as he watched while Brendon spun on his heel and left the room. He could hear his heavy footsteps on the stairs.
“Brendon,” he called out, following the other boy. “Brendon, wait!”
But it was too late. He made it to the top of the staircase just in time to see the front door slam shut.
Please rate and review! I will try and get the next instalment done as soon as I can. But hey, a long wait is better than nothing, right? :)