A.J. Brown joins us today to tell us a little bit about his favorite holiday and the story of a really good friend of his, now gone.
Halloween is my favorite day of the year. It also used to be Chris Dunne’s favorite day. I say used to be because Chris died on Halloween night in 1995. For the record, this is not a lead in to a fictional story of some movie slasher who wears a mask and carries a chainsaw or machete or has Wolverine type claws on his fingertips. Please, understand that now before you read any further.
I don’t want to tell you the story of Chris’s death, though I have to, somewhat, so you understand. I’ve already written a book about his death and the events leading up to it. For those who don’t know, he died of a gunshot wound to the head. I’m going to leave out the rest of the details. If you want those, you can pick up Closing the Wound and read all about it.
What I want to write about here today is the irony of something he did, something I helped him do. Stick with me for a few paragraphs and I’ll try to make this as painless as possible.
Most of you know me as an author of dark stories, most of which are considered horror. Before I began writing, I used to draw. My favorite things to draw were superheroes. I have entire sketch pads dedicated to just superheroes. One Sunday at church I wasn’t feeling the message. I’m not going to lie here, the sermon was boring and the preacher lost me at hello. On the back of the bulletin I drew a picture of a man holding a balloon and floating away—it was what I wanted to do right then: float away. It was nothing special, just a sketched out person holding a balloon, shaded to look like it could have been red or blue or some other dark color.
After church, in the car as I took Chris home, he said to me, “That’s a pretty cool drawing you did in church.”
Part of me was embarrassed that he saw it. The other part was flattered. However, I’ve never been good at taking compliments, so I played it off with, “It’s just a sketch. I do them all the time.”
That’s when Chris asked me, “Can you teach me how to draw like that?”
I shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”
A couple of weeks later, he came to my house. We sat at a picnic table in the backyard, each of us with paper and pencils in front of us. I showed him the basics of drawing, using shapes, like ovals, squares, rectangles and triangles. He drew those shapes on his paper, just as I had on mine. I showed him how to connect the shapes and add depth and layers to the drawing. He seemed to really enjoy creating something from a piece of paper and a wooden stick with lead in it.
That began a run of a few weeks where he came over on either Saturday or Sunday and we would draw together, me showing him and him learning and getting better.
Abruptly, those lessons stopped when he met Chris Pettite. He was a year older and looked like a weasel—literally, his face had the shape of a weasel’s. He was also a bad boy. He didn’t play by the rules and he was good at manipulation. (For the sake of the rest of this part, I will refer to the boys as CD for Dunne and CP for Pettite, otherwise there is the potential for a lot of confusion.) It was mid-summer when they met and CD’s life changed.
CD left the church we all attended. He started skipping school. He stopped hanging around all of his old friends. His skin took on a different appearance, almost waxy, as if he no longer took showers. The skin beneath his eyes always seemed to have gray or bruised bags beneath them. There was speculation that he was using drugs and doing things he shouldn’t be. During that time period, he turned sixteen, and what can you tell a sixteen-year-old rebellious boy? Nothing. That’s the answer. Not a thing.
On Halloween morning in 1995 I talked to him around eight. It was the last time I talked to him. Around twelve or so hours later, CD would be dead.
Just writing that sentence gave me goosebumps and brought tears to my eyes.
Before I go, I want to tell you about the irony of Chris’s death and drawing superheroes. Chris, as I stated earlier, loved Halloween. He loved horror movies and the darker side of entertainment. The last time he came to my house for a drawing session, he left a few pictures in a brown letter-sized envelope. I didn’t think anything of it and I put it in my portfolio of pictures. Years later, after I wrote the original form of Closing the Wound, I came across that envelope. Not knowing what was in it or who it even came from, I opened it.
My heart stopped. Well, I believe it stopped. If not, it missed a good chance to do so. There were three pictures, one that held a word and two that were actual pictures. The first one I saw made my stomach drop into my thighs. It was a picture of a coffin. Above it was the word FUNERAL. The second was the single word, which was the same one on the coffin picture and on the last one as well. The third image was of this big, muscle bound hero with a spike on the backside of each hand. He had a little, bald head and a huge body.
As I stared at the pictures, the only thoughts I had were I taught my friend how to draw a coffin and a hero who went by the name of Funeral. In writing, we call this foreshadowing. In life, we call it heart wrenching. I’ll never say my friend had a death wish, but you have to admit, that’s kind of what it looked like when I found those pictures.
Chris loved the darker things in life. He loved Halloween. In hindsight, he might have even foreshadowed his own death.
I leave you with this: though my friend is gone and has been for many years, I still think about him on a regular basis, especially on Halloween. So, this year, if you wouldn’t mind, get your favorite candy bar and raise it in the air for my friend, Chris.
I hope you all have a wonderful Halloween. As for me, I will, even as I remember my friend.
Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.
A.J. Brown is a southern-born writer who tells emotionally charged, character driven stories that often delve into the dark parts of the human psyche. Though he writes mostly darker stories, he does so without unnecessary gore, coarse language, or sex. More than 200 of his stories have been published in various online and print publications.