I ran into the room and skidded to a stop. True as light, John Doe was gone and the floor was bare of his body. My thudding heart did what could only be called a somersault. It rolled over, in multiple angles, and returned to its unsteady hammering state.
“What did you do with him?” I spun around and grabbed Petey.
“Me?” He struggled with my throttling grip. “I didn’t do anything with him. I walked in here and found he was gone.”
“He can’t just be gone, idiot!” I slapped him. I was panicked and the rush of fear was rendering me incapable of reason. “He is dead and he just can’t get up and stroll out of here. Where have you dumped his body? Where did you take him to?”
“I didn’t take him anywhere, Tec!” Petey yanked my hand off the neckline of his T-shirt and stumbled backward. “I didn’t touch him. You know I wouldn’t touch him for anything.”
“Then who took him away?” I spun my wild gaze on Berlin and Leye.
“We were with you all the time, Tec.” Berlin whimpered. Her voice shook.
The fear in her eyes now seemed to have a life of its own.
“I don’t think anyone took him, Tec.” Leye’s voice was quiet.
I could hear the trickle of fear beneath the quiet reason. I could see it in his darting eyes.
“At least, not anyone of us here.” He added.
“What?” I almost tripped as I stumbled back. “You… you think someone walked in here and took John Doe away?”
There was a deafening silence, and all eyes were on Leye.
“He’s gone, Tec. He couldn’t have walked out of here all by himself. Someone must have taken him.” Leye paused and visibly swallowed. “Maybe the person who dumped him on your backyard, returned and took him away.”
“Returned and took him away?” I stared at Leye stupidly. “Why?”
“It’s his dead body?” It was more question than statement and Leye added a puzzled shrug to it.
“His dead body?” Dead John Doe belonged to someone? I couldn’t fathom it. “Then why did he dump him on my yard and not on his own?” I shook my head. I think I was struggling to think again. “But… who is he?”
“I think the person who killed him.”
We all, all three of us, stumbled back at Leye’s response.
“Someone killed him?” Berlin whispered.
“The person who killed him has come for his body?” I screeched. “And he walked into my house and… and took him away?”
“Oh God! The murderer is here and he is probably going to kill us all.” Petey whimpered.
“What do you mean, he is here?” I grabbed Petey and raised my hand to slap him.
But Leye stopped me. “Shush.” He cautioned, and placed his finger across his lips. “We need to be quiet.” His voice went low. “He is probably still in here.”
“Still in here? In this room?” I tasted fear—right on my tongue.
“Or somewhere else in this house.” Leye whispered.
“Maybe he’s an axe murderer.” Petey gripped my hand and pressed it hard against his wild beating heart. “Tec, we’ve got an axe murderer in the house.”
“Don’t be stupid!” I snarled, and snatched my hand away. Barely stopping myself from slapping him again. “He can’t be an axe murderer. There was no single cut, or blood, or John Doe. Axe murderers only exist in books.” I sorely hoped so.
“But he’s a murderer and he’s come back for John Doe’s body. Maybe he will kill us for moving him from the backyard where he left him.” Berlin’s eyes welled up. “I don’t want to be killed by an axe murderer… or by any kind of murderer he is.”
“No one is…” I broke off at the thud of something hitting the floor. “What is that?”
“Jesus!” Petey and Berlin whimpered in unison.
“Something falling.” Leye whispered. “On your bedroom floor.”
“My bedroom?” My heart did that somersault thing again. “He is in my bedroom?”
“Oh God! We are all going to be killed!” Berlin wailed.
“Not if we kill him first.” Leye murmured.
“What?” I gaped at him. “You want us to kill someone?”
“I’d rather kill someone than be killed by that someone.” Leye snapped, and glared at us all. “This guy, whoever he is, means business. I think he got in here while we were gone and then laid in wait somewhere in this house—probably right here in Petey’s room.”
“And when we returned the body here, he got out of his hiding place and took the body.” Leye went on with his chilling conjecture. “But Petey coming this way must have alarmed him as he tried to get away and he must have entered your bedroom to hide.”
“He’s hiding in my room?” My head literally spun. “With John Doe’s body?”
Something else thudded against the floor.
“I think he’s trying to escape.” Leye whispered. “We shouldn’t allow him escape.”
“And why the heck not?” Berlin grabbed him as he sprung forward. “If he murdered John Doe and he is taking the body away and escaping with it, why should we stop him?”
“Because he might come back and murder anyone he sees in this house after he’s done away with John Doe’s body.” Leye muttered and wrenched free his arm. “Come on, this is survival of the fittest. It’s either we kill, or we get killed. It’s four to one. We can take him.”
“How do we know he’s just one?” I didn’t want to face a killer. I didn’t want to kill anybody. “What if he has a partner and they are together right now in my room?”
The thought of two, or more, killers in my bedroom, carting about a dead body gave me the chills and I couldn’t stop my shudder.
“If they are more than one, then we must protect ourselves because we are more in danger then.” Leye hissed out. “They killed that guy and they will kill anyone who could rat them out.”
“But we don’t know them. We won’t rat them out.” Berlin sobbed.
She was truly sobbing, in mute whimpers, with tears pouring from her eyes.
“Let’s tell them that we won’t rat them out.” Petey moaned. “Let’s swear to them that we won’t talk and I’m sure they’ll spare us.”
“Murderers don’t spare anybody!” Leye looked at us like we’ve gone nuts. “They only kill more people. Stop being such wimps and let’s go after them.” He pushed Berlin out of the way and grabbed the mopping stick right at the end of the corridor, yanked off the woolly mop and marched forward with the stick.
“I cannot kill anybody!” Petey whimpered.
I didn’t slap him. And I wasn’t tempted to. Not when he echoed my thoughts.
We all crept after Leye though. Why we didn’t run for our lives, I didn’t know. But we hunched and crept after him, swallowing our whimpers like the true wimps we were.
I have to confess, I was disgusted with myself. Disgusted with my lack of courage. But I couldn’t help the fear that numbed me. There was a murderer—if it was only one—in my bedroom, prowling about with the body of a man he had already killed for heaven’s sake!
“No sound.” Leye hissed out the warning through his teeth. Then he hunched, as much as his massive frame could allow, and then nudged my bedroom door open.
He tiptoed into the room. “In there.” He pointed to my bathroom and crossed his finger over his mouth. “Shush.” Then he raised the mopping stick, slinked forward and—
The door opened and we all yelped.
Including Leye—even as he flung out his hand and struck the intruder with the mop stick.
“Bloody hell!” The man howled and fell forward, right on his face.
We all stared at him.
It was John Doe.
“John Doe?” My pulsing fear skidded to an abrupt stop. “JOHN DOE?”
“Ooh!” He groaned and then rolled over. “What the heck did you do that for?” He blinked accusingly at Leye.
“He’s turned into a ghost, and now he’s talking to us.” Petey whimpered.
“What?” John Doe swapped his gaze to Petey. “Who is a ghost?”
“You are.” Petey replied and sobbed. “You are dead and you are now a ghost. Please believe me when I tell you, we didn’t kill you. We are not the ones who killed you.”
“No one killed me. I am not dead.”
“You are not?”
“Of course he’s not dead.” I pushed Petey out of the way and glared down at John Doe—or whatever his real name was. “Who are you? And what the hell were you doing at my backdoor playing dead?”
“I was playing dead?” He stared up at me with puzzled eyes. “At your backdoor? Why?”
“That is what you are going to tell me.” I hissed and snapped my fingers. “Get off my bedroom floor. Anybody else in here with you?” Better to be sure.
“Ah… no one else except you four. I think.” He hunched on his knees and groaned as he lurched to his feet. “Damn it! My head hurts.”
“How can you not be dead?” Leye still had a disbelieving look in his eyes. “You were motionless and 0ut cold the last twelve hours and more.”
“I don’t know.” John Doe—that was still his given name for now—staggered past us. “My head hurts. I need a cold compress for it.”
“Were you in a coma?” Berlin asked as we all went after him.
“Coma?” He turned left in the living room. Heading straight for my kitchen. “Maybe. I don’t know. I can’t remember.” He stopped and turned to me. “Cold compress, please. And some badass painkillers.”
“How do you know this is my house?” I demanded, not moving.
“I don’t.” He winced and pressed his hand hard against his temple. “I don’t know anything. I just need something for my head.” When I didn’t move, and no one did, he added desperately. “Please help me. Get me some painkillers. My head really hurts.”
It was the pleading, the imploring of the red-rimmed eyes, that pushed me to the refrigerator even when I was still reluctant to help him. I yanked open the freezer end and pulled out a blocked water sachet.
“Here.” I tossed it to him.
He neatly cut it and quickly pressed it to his left temple. “Thank you.” He breathed. “Painkillers, please.”
“Get him some painkillers, Petey.” I ordered, my eyes still fixed on him.
“Are you sure you’re not a ghost?” Petey asked, not moving an inch.
“I am sure I am not dead.” John Doe replied. “At least not yet. But this pounding head might kill me if something’s not done.”
“We might kill you if you don’t tell us who you are and how you came to be flat out on your back at Tec’s backyard.” Leye retorted.
“Tec?” He swung his gaze on me. “Your name is Tec?”
I narrowed my eyes. “So?”
“Odd name. Never heard it before.” He tried a smile and winced. “Christ! Those painkillers, please.”
“Petey, get the painkillers. And no, he’s not a ghost.” I added.
“Okay. If you’re sure.” Petey nodded and slipped out of the kitchen.
“Your name?” I asked.
I think three of us made that exclamation.
“My name is John.” John Doe—John Whatever repeated. “John Dada.”
“John Dada?” I nodded. Go figure. “What were you doing on backyard?”
“I…” He broke off.
Petey had come back in with the painkillers.
“Here.” He stretched out the pack of Panadol Extra. But was awful careful not to touch John Dada.
“Thanks.” John took the pack, pulled out four tablets and grabbed a glass from the counter. He filled it with water from the sink and downed the tablets.
“Four tablets’ overdosing and that water’s not clean for drinking.” Petey said.
John Dada glanced at him and managed what I think was a grin. “For a guy who was supposed dead, I hardly think any of those matters.” He walked to the counter and slid into my kitchen stool. “I was at a party. Remember that now. Down at Ringers.”
Ringers was the nightclub on the next street. It had a titty bar.
“There was a whole lot of drinks—all kinds.” He did that grin thing again. “Party drugs too. I had a couple. Ground a few into my drinks and sniffed a few others. First timer excitement, I guess.” John chuckled.
It was a rasping sound. I chalked him up as a smoker. His voice was a tinge raspy too.
“So you had your drugs and then staggered out of your nightclub party and came to my backyard to pass out at my backdoor.” I summarised.
“That would be a safe summary.” John aimed that side-mouth weird grin at me. “Can’t quite remember much. Just recall walking… or staggering, as you put it, out the door of the night club right about three am-ish. I was feeling dizzy. Like dazed and really really high. My heart was palpitating. Beating at this speedy rate like it wanted to burst out of my chest and I was feeling like I was riding on the wind.”
He chuckled again, rubbed his left temple. “I staggered down the street. Didn’t know where I was heading. Just cut into another street—yours, obviously. I think I walked some time and then saw this house with a broken wall fence. I staggered into it. Somehow I walked around to the back and through the haziness that was my now my vision, I saw a door and aimed for it. Guess I didn’t quite make it because that’s the last thing I remember doing.”
“So you’re a drug addict that came to our door to die?” Petey glared at him.
“I’m not a drug addict.” John sent him an indulgent smile. “Just had too many party drugs all at once. And I, obviously, didn’t die. Think I went comatose for a long while.”
“Comatose.” It sounded like a too-simple term for what we’d been through because of the too-many party drugs and drinks imbibing jackass. “So what now? Ready to head on to your own home? You can be comatose, or whatever else you want to be, there.”
“Can I bunk here? It’s kind of late to be heading home.” He added at my arched eyebrows.
“You’re not sharing my bed.” Petey cut off my refusal. “I don’t want you anywhere near my room. Never again.”
“Ah, that was your room I woke up in.” John nodded his head. “Was odd finding myself on a bedroom floor that wasn’t mine. Had a long moment of confusion there.”
“And now you are not confused anymore, so…”
“I can bunk on the living room sofa.” John cut me off. And I gritted my teeth. “Think I saw one as I headed in here. You don’t mind, do you, Tec?”
“Tec?” What the hell? He now addressed me like he knew me? “Don’t call me Tec like you know me. You don’t know me and you have been enough trouble to us. I want you out of here. Now.”
“You can’t toss him out this night, Tec.” Berlin said. “What if he runs into any of these bad boys and they kill him?”
“Then his comatose state will become a permanent state.” I retorted. “John Dada, or whatever you’re called, you’re awake now, and you’re getting out of my house.”
“Don’t toss him out, Tec. It’s real late and you know how the neighbourhood is.”
I glared at Leye. “I don’t want him in my house another minute, Leye.”
“I’m sorry I was much trouble. Didn’t mean to be.” John looked real apologetic. “But I live down town and can’t start heading home now. I’m still feeling sort of out of it.”
“Please, Tec.” John broke in and quickly raised his hand at my glare. “Sorry. Just don’t know how else to refer to you. Please don’t throw me out. I won’t be any trouble again.”
I stared at him. All my thoughts screamed toss him out. But Leye was right. It was late and the neighbourhood was dangerous. If something happened to him, we’d still be the ones to end up in trouble if he makes it into the news.
“Fine.” I agreed with a sigh. “But you are out of here at the break of dawn.”
“Absolutely.” He gave that weird grin. “Thanks, Tec. Oops! Sorry.”
“No matter.” I waved off the apology. “This is Berlin and Leye. And my cousin, Petey.”
“Berlin and Petey?” John repeated. “You all have odd names. Except for Leye.”
“Goodnight.” I said and started towards the kitchen door.
They all filed after me.
“How come no one checked my pulse?”
We all stopped and turned to stare at him.
“Or didn’t I have any pulse?”
Bloody hell! None of us had checked his pulse. Berlin had suggested it. But we’d—we’d all been too scared shitless to touch him that closely, I guess. And too mindless to notice even when we did.
“You looked dead and so we thought you dead.” I said and turned again. “Now get to sleep. Petey, get into my room with your blankets. Berlin and Leye need your bed.”
“Why don’t you give your bedroom to them?” Petey whined.
“Because it’s my house.”
I marched into my room, slumped into my bed and shut my eyes. He wasn’t dead. The body I’d found on my doorstep this morning wasn’t dead. He’d only had too much to drink and too many drugs and had passed out.
What a jackass!