“The Boys in the Basement” by Jann Everard

We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Welcome page for more information about us. This week, five teenagers debate what to do with a list of names.

Please enjoy our Feature Story: “The Boys in the Basement” by Jann Everard:

We were at Mick’s house because Mick’s dad had put a soundproof media room in the basement. Yanni and Ahmed grabbed the big leather couch the way they always did. Petey had the beanbag chair and Mick and I stood on opposite sides of the foosball table.

The envelope was on the couch next to Yanni. He’d typed up the note inside and printed it at a library that wasn’t in our neighborhood. He didn’t think there was any way it could be traced to him. The note said: Here are the names you’re looking for: Aaron, Vit, Louis.

“So, we all agree?” Yanni asked for about the tenth time.

The guys nodded.

“So now we just gotta decide who to give it to,” Yanni said. He looked at Mick, who usually decided stuff for our group, but Mick said nothing.

“The police?” Almost everything Petey said sounded like a question.

Ahmed put his hand on the envelope. “No, I’m not turning these guys over to those assholes.” Ahmed had told us that his older brother had had a run-in with the police “back home.” There was no point arguing with him that the police were different here.

“Not the police,” said Mick. He flicked the ball into my goal. He was still four points from winning when he dropped his hand off the handle. “You lose,” he said, and walked away from the table.

“What about the principal? Or Ms. Alexander?” Petey’s eyes darted between the guys, looking for allies. Petey and Yanni were both Greek Catholics; their families went to church every Sunday. Petey didn’t know it, but I’d seen him crying at the assembly this afternoon.

Only the kids in grades six to eight were called to the gym. All the teachers were there. The principal introduced two ladies she said were from the school board. She said they’d be in the empty office on the second floor in case anyone wanted to talk. She said it was okay to feel sad.

Then the principal introduced Devon’s dad and stepmom. They sat on the stage with the school board ladies, but Devon’s stepmom just stared at the floor while a picture of Devon was projected on the wall. It must have been taken a couple years ago. He looked younger, and in the picture, his front teeth weren’t broken.

“I could drop it off in Ms. Alexander’s box,” said Yanni. The box outside the guidance office was for stuff kids were too embarrassed to ask in person. “I pass it on the way to Science.”

Ahmed and I said, “No way.” Even Petey looked away. “No,” said Mick, making the decision final. “She’s a tool.”

I could tell Mick knew the real stuff about Devon—the stuff I knew. I wasn’t surprised. He’d told me once that Devon’s family had been to his house for dinner, and that he and Devon had eaten pizza down here while the adults ate upstairs. “So you’re friends with him now?” I’d asked, confused, because Mick never said hi to Devon in the halls. Mick had made that face at me—like I was a loser and he didn’t know why Yanni and Ahmed had let me in the group.

At the assembly, Devon’s dad told us that Devon had been sad for a long time, starting when his mom had died of cancer. Then Devon’d been diagnosed with MS and he’d become sadder because his muscles got weak and he couldn’t do sports anymore. We all knew about the MS; Devon’s stepmom had come to our homerooms in grade five to explain it to us. She’d asked us to put ourselves in Devon’s shoes and to help him. We’d all agreed afterward that Devon was a jerk for letting her come to class.

Devon’s dad said that no one blamed anyone for what had happened, but that part of Devon’s sadness was from being bullied. The gym got real quiet when he said that. Every kid knew that Brett Keyes had been kicked out of school last year for stealing Devon’s iPod. Most kids also knew that Brett had knocked Devon to the pavement and broken his front teeth.

And a lot of kids knew it hadn’t stopped there. Brett’s buddies had harassed Devon all summer. I’d only seen it happen once—Aaron, Vit and Louis riding so close to Devon that he lost his balance and fell. But I’d heard other stuff. I mean, we were all on Facebook. So it got real awkward when Devon’s dad said it was no good to be a bystander, and that unless someone spoke up, the bullies would find some new boy to go after, now that Devon was gone.

I think that’s why we decided to make the list. We didn’t want to be the next target. Of course, no one would admit that was the reason—but Petey, he was small for his age, and Ahmed, he was brown, and Yanni sometimes got teased because he was shit at reading and spelling in English.

And I’d always felt like an outsider. There was no reason for it. I just felt like most of the time, I was there, but nobody saw me. Hell, it was already a month into the school year and not one teacher had asked me a question in class. Not once.

I looked at Mick. He was staring at the plastic bag that lined a garbage pail next to the couch. That proved it—he’d found out too—that Devon had killed himself by tying a plastic bag over his head.

When I spoke up, the other guys seemed surprised I was still in the room. “How about I put the envelope in the mailbox at Devon’s house? I could do it after dark when I walk the dog.”

The thing is, I didn’t really care about the note. I knew the three guys we’d named would never stop being assholes, no matter what the adults did. I just wanted to get up close to Devon’s house. I wanted to get close to where Devon had taken his life, so maybe I’d know. Was it easy or hard to do?

The guys looked at one another and nodded. Mick picked up the envelope and handed it to me. He didn’t let go right away. For a long second, each of us held tight to our end. Then Mick said, “I’ll go with you.” He stared at me like he was meeting me for the first time, and he wanted to remember my face.

Jann Everard lives in Toronto, Canada, and has raised two sons, now 20 and 16. Her short stories and creative nonfiction have been published in Canadian and American journals including The Los Angeles Review, The Mom Egg, Room, and The Dalhousie Review. New writing is forthcoming in The Fiddlehead, and in the anthology Emails from India-Women Write Home (Seraphim Editions, Fall 2013). Learn more about Jann on her website.

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