the gremlin

K that party was a total disaster. Like… okay, well I’ll start from the beginning.

Warren Miller pulls into my apartment parking lot, which I could hear through my bedroom, both because the brakes scream bloody murder, and because he was playing the Ramones like super loud, as if he weren’t the biggest cliche on wheels. I don’t remember what Ramones song it was, but for the purposes of this story it’s gonna be I Don’t Care. A classic.

I shouted at my mom that I was leaving and ran out the front door before she could give me a curfew.

Georgia had to climb out of the front seat. She was wearing a tiny dress made of gold sequins and a huge leopard print coat and black lipstick. Her hair was up spiky space buns. She looked so cool. She looked like she was showing up to assassinate someone.

I suppose I should have known what kind of party it was going to be. Trevor Fabriano is friends with just about everyone in school. He’s an athlete so he’s got a lot of athlete friends, but he’s also into videography so the drama kids and nerds are also friends, and plus he’s super hot so Maisie’s crowd (whoa, I just wrote Maisie and Bella’s crowd, that’s super weird) all like him too. Plus, its senior year. If there were ever strict lines between all the different cliques they’re pretty much gone now.

So yeah, I saw Georgia in sequins and realized that this was going to be a real blow out.

I climbed into the back seat beside Keith. He didn’t acknowledge me at all.

“Can we stop by Taco Bell before we get there?” he said to Warren.

We lurched off the curb and roared into the street.

The Taco Bell stop turned out to be so that Keith could buy pills from some sketch dude in the parking lot, which was annoying because I wanted a crunch wrap supreme but whatever.

“Who is that?” Georgia asked, leaning forward over the dash to squint at the guy he was buying from.

Warren shrugged. “Dunno,” he said. “New guy I think.”

“We should buy him a taco,” Georgia said and Warren snorted.

He really was awfully skinny. He was only wearing a t-shirt despite the cold and I could see the sinews and cords that clung to his arm bones.

I pretty much decided right there not to take any of the pills. I’m not a big drug person anyways but there was no way I was taking anything from skeletor.

So then we drive out to Trevor’s. He lives sorta out there, up this super long gravel driveway. His parents have horses, money and no neighbors.

It was almost ten by the time we drove up. A bunch of people were smoking cigarettes on the porch. They all shouted “the Gremlin!” when we drove up. See, Warren Miller drives a 1974 Chevrolet Gremlin, which I only know because people always shout THE GREMLIN whenever he pulls up somewhere. Warren Miller pretends like he doesn’t care about this, but he totally loves it. Like buddy, I also play the ‘I don’t care about anything’ game and trust me, I care about everything so much it’s excruciating.

ANYWAYS, Georgia and Keith climbed out of the car right away, but I hung back for a moment, taking deep breaths.

“Here we go, right?” Warren Miller said from the front seat.

“If we have to,” I sighed, and caught his grin in the mirror.

“Come on, we’ll get through it together,” he said.

We’ll get through it together.

Hahahaha uh oh.

“The drugs have arrived!” Keith crowed, climbing the porch steps, and there was a great roar of approval from my classmates.

Hahahahahaha uh oh.

So we’re at Trevor Fabriano’s party. I’ve been to a handful every year since eighth grade, and I could tell this was already a good one. Someone was playing obnoxious trap music somewhere. Girls were dancing. The boys were all congratulating each other on their beer pong skills. It was a party.

And then I walked in. Everyone stared. Literally a path opened up in front of me as people instinctively got out of my. It was so awkward. And like I can’t really blame them I guess because it’s not like I’ve really been out and about, or talking to anyone, or going to class… so like idk I guess it’s fair that they’d be surprised to see me there.

So I was feeling sorta on the spot. And then Warren fucking Miller looped an arm around my shoulder and said, “someone get this girl a drink we’re burning 2018 down!”

And everyone laughed? And it was sorta… cool?

Idk maybe it was the trap music.

Anyways, there I was, wearing all black and hanging out with Warren Fucking Miller, who was not being a jack ass and actually was being really nice to me which should have been a huge turn off because the entire point of Warren Miller is that I pine after him and he’s oblivious bordering on rude to me. But it wasn’t a turn off. It was great.

He said, “see, was that so bad?”

At first it really wasn’t. But then slowly I realized what was going on.

We were all pretending as hard as we could that this was just any old New Years Eve party, like there wasn’t anyone missing. But there’s no escaping Madelyn’s shadow, and add Bella’s absence and there was a gaping hole in the middle of the party that we were all desperately trying to fill.

Maisie was absolutely trashed, she was already puking before midnight and poor Sarah Holder was chasing her around trying to keep her from making too big of a fool of herself. Scott Gerstell, Bella’s boyfriend, sat on the couch smoking pot, eyes red rimmed. Everyone took Keith’s pills.

“What are they?” Georgia asked, as she took the one he offered her.

Keith shrugged. “I think they’re like ex.”

Georgia gasped when she put it in her mouth. “They dissolve!” she said, delighted, and then her eyes got very wide and her pupils blew out. She stared at something over my head.

“Georgia?” I asked.

But then Warren said, “You coming Shi?” He stuck out his tongue and put the little white pill on it.

I said no, but then over his shoulder Tilly Marlow came in. Izzy Liddiard, the drummer for her band, was with her.

I took the pill off Warren’s tongue and put it on mine. Which seems like a cool thing to do, but I assure you I would have never have had the nerve to do it if I weren’t totally panicking about Tilly.

Georgia was right. It dissolved on my tongue. It tasted like burnt sugar.

And then everything got really really bad. For starters, it should not have hit me that hard that fast. Like I’m not a big drug doer or anything, but I knew right away that something wasn’t right.

Pretty quickly after that, I just started to feel horrible. Not like physically, but mentally. It was this rush of every horrible thing I’ve thought or felt in the last few months — lonely, betrayed, angry, scared. It hit me all at once, like a wrecking ball. I literally couldn’t get off the floor. It was like really bad depression, except instead of the endless emptiness and lethargy, I felt full, like 100% maxxed out, like if I felt even one thing more I’d explode into a million pieces.

I think I was screaming. I couldn’t get off the floor. It was the worst thing I’ve ever felt in my life.

And then, like a bad fever, it broke. I don’t know what time it was, or how long I’d felt bad. But suddenly I was okay. Better than that. It was the best I’ve felt in months.

I remember laughing. I remember colors feeling really bright. I remember going outside. I remember wandering out into the woods and seeing something white shining between the trees, and then I remember red and blue lights and Warren in my face shouting at me.

“Shiloh, we have to go! We have to go right now, the police are here!”

I don’t know what I said. I was totally delirious.

“Ambulances are here,” Warren said. “We gotta go.”

That sort of brought me back. “What?”

Georgia was with him too, but her eyelids were drooping.

“What?” I said again.

“That dealer showed up,” Warren said. His voice was pitching all over the place like he was really terrified. “That skinny pale dealer.”

Georgia suddenly puked, spilling sick all down her front.

“Oh fuck,” Warren said.

“Where’s Tilly?” I asked.

“Tilly Marlow?” Warren said. “She’s inside. I think she’s the one that called 911.”

“Is she okay?” I was already on my way back towards the house, but Warren grabbed my wrist.

“We’re not going back in there,” he said. “The car’s at the bottom of the driveway waiting for us, we gotta go.”

“Keith?” I said.

Something crossed Warren’s expression. “He left with the dealer. We gotta go.”

So I followed him down to the car, he drove us home somehow, and I went to bed. That’s all I remember.

I found out the rest later.

Apparently at some point after we’d all taken those pills, the thin, pale guy showed up. He came into the house with two of his friends and everyone was too fucked up to stop them.

Accounts of what happened between their arrival and Tilly calling the cops are muddled at best. Everyone agrees that they had more of those pills — handfuls of the pills, pills falling through their fingers and scattering on the floor. People were eating them like candy, the fervor of the party rising to some kind of frenzy. Johnny Undo jumped off the deck upstairs and rolled down the hill towards the woods, cackling maniacally. Maisie Jorna took her top off and ran around the house shrieking. Lucy Stumpton lined all the glassware up on the table and kicked it at the sliding glass doors until they shattered. There was broken glass everywhere, and everyone was bleeding, but no one seemed to notice.

No one wanted to talk about the dealers. When I asked about them, everyone — even the ones who remembered the night pretty clearly — clammed right up and stopped making eye contact.

By the time the police arrived on the scene nearly everyone was unconscious. It was like they’d all dropped off to sleep in the middle of whatever they’d been doing. The police came into a dark house full of broken glass and raging music to bust a wild party and found everyone draped across each other, sound asleep. I overheard one of the officers, Pete Wheelhouse telling one of the doctors that it was like Jonestown — all those bodies, limp on the floor — and for a few horrible minutes the cops thought everyone was dead.

They weren’t. Everyone was carted out of there on stretchers. They all spent the night in the hospital and woke up in the morning more or less okay.

Everyone was tested for drugs, and obviously some people tested positive for various things, you know. But there wasn’t one drug in common that explained everyone’s symptoms.

And then there was the question of Keith, who still hasn’t turned up. The last anyone saw of him he was apparently kissing the dealer. Or, at least that was the story at first. Keith was making out with the dealer and they left together before the cops arrived.

Keith is straight for starters, but you know, who’s really straight these days? So the first time I heard that story, I was a little concerned. But it kept coming up — it was the pinnacle of what most people remembered. It was the reason Tilly finally called the cops.

Warren finally explained what really happened: Keith kept taking the pills and the more he took the more intensely the dealer and his friends swarmed him, until finally Keith went very limp and the dealer leaned down and started sucking on his face.

It was about when I heard that part of the story that I called Neal again.

“I just heard what happened,” he said, without even greeting me. “Celeste is already on the case. We’ve already discussed sending someone to stay in Black Lake permanently. Does that cover why you called?”

Asshole. He’s such an asshole. “Yeah, just about,” I grumbled.

“Good,” Neal said. “I gotta go.” And then, before the line died: “are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I said.

“Good.” And he hung up.

I still haven’t seen Celeste, but she called this afternoon.

“I need you to describe those pills,” she said.

I hesitated. “Small, white, dissolved on your tongue.”

“Did you take one?” Celeste asked and when I admitted that I had she didn’t even pause. “What did it taste like?”

“Burnt sugar,” I said.

“And how long did it take to feel it’s effects?”

“Almost immediately,” I said.

“And how did it feel?”

I hesitated. I don’t know it felt. Like at first it felt fucking terrible, but after that it felt really good, honestly. And when I woke up in the morning, I still felt good, buoyant, better than I have in months. Like, I still feel pretty good. Not high. Like I’m not still stoned. I just feel okay in the world.

I tried to describe this to Celeste and she sighed. “Yeah, it sounds like I know what we’re dealing with. What I don’t understand is why they’re behaving like this. I’ve never seen winnows target unknowing victims like this before.”

“Winnows?” I asked.

“I’ll explain when I get there,” Celeste said. “On the bright side, your friend Keith is most likely completely fine.”

“Isn’t Keith diabetic?” Georgia asked from beside me.

“Shit,” Celeste sighed. “Alright, we might need to use Feather Dog to track him down. Did no one teach you idiots not to take pills from strangers?”

That was fifteen minutes ago or so. Celeste is on her way to my house to pick up Georgia and I. My mom is at the hospital thank goodness — technically I’m very very grounded. But they still haven’t released all the kids from the party yet, so everyone’s working overtime.

Anyways, wish us luck I guess. Gotta go find Keith before he dies of starvation.

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