Carson, Kirk, Michael and Garret had been my best friends since we were four years old. We had always done everything together, we were always on the same teams, we fought together, we went on crazy adventures together, we tried to pick up girls together (some of us were luckier than others) and we went to school together. There was a time when it looked like my parent’s restaurant would be closing and my friends rallied and somehow drummed up enough publicity to keep it alive. There was another time when Carson’s mother died in a car accident and he barely spoke for a week. Kirk, Michael, Garret and I did our best to help him through a tough time. I remember birthdays and recesses, championships and defeats. I remember the imaginary wars we would have with our army men and the real wars we would have with our water guns. The five of us were brothers in all forms but blood but soon August arrived and our little family would be breaking apart.
As long as anybody knew us us, we were inseparable, until now.
Carson would be going on to University with a full swim scholarship. Kirk and his band seemed perpetually poised to break into the mainstream and they were traveling to New York in September to meet with a record label. Michael and Garret were heading west to look for a job and I was staying in the city to help out at the restaurant and save up to go to culinary school the next year. That’s why we decided to have a final guy’s night; it would be the last one for months, maybe years, maybe ever.
We meet at the apartment Carson shares with his father and cousin. Oddly enough not one of us has ever met this cousin but we have seen traces of her presence when visiting. A sandal here, a textbook there; sometimes we find half eaten containers of food in the fridge and I swear I caught a glimpse of her getting into the elevator but nobody ever believes me. I think her hair is brown.
“We barely see Belinda either and she lives here,” Carson says laughing. He laughs with almost every word he says as if everything were a joke that only he understands.
Carson’s father is away for the weekend on a business trip giving us the time to be alone together. His father and mine also go back to their boyhood days but do not get along quite as well as their sons. Apparently there was a girl (neither of our mothers) and a basketball rivalry that got nasty. Whenever they meet, they try to stay on their best behaviour for our sake.
From Carson’s apartment we go to the movies to watch something a soulless executive approved after consulting a focus group. Michael complains about the price of concessions and Garret calls him a “cheap bastard” to which Michael replies “you didn’t buy anything but you ate half my popcorn and stole my candy.” Garret’s response “could you maybe put the Dill Pickle on it next time?” earns him the rest of the popcorn to the back of his head.
After the movies we play a round of pool at the arcade, walk through the valley where so many of our youthful adventures had taken place and head to the liquor store where Kirk’s fake ID and beard make it easy for him to buy all the booze we need. We stash the bottles in our backpacks and make our way to the apartment complex.
Exiting the elevator at Carson’s floor we are our usual rambunctious selves. However, out of the corner of my eye I notice something, something far down the hallway, a convergence being pointed out by an exit sign which seems unusually bright. I try to shrug it off, I have been up and down this hallway countless times in my life, but something just does not seem right about it. I take a step down th-
“Uh, Pete?” I don’t know where that voice came from.
“Pete!” That was Garret. “Could you get your head out of your ass and come help us pack the drinks in the fridge?”
I turn and enter the apartment. It was probably nothing.
Inside, we play video games, get drunk, sing karaoke and generally act like complete idiots, just as it should be and has always been. Carson’s neighbours ask us to keep it down and we giggle as he tries to talk to them and hide the fact that he just finished a bottle of tequila and cannot for the life of him remember their names. When the pizza arrives we perform our usual ritual to see who has to pick it up, a shouting contest involving repeated use of the phrase “you’re closer to the door, you get it!” This time it is my turn and I leave with two middle fingers pointing at the ceiling.
I pick up the pizza and pay the delivery boy. He smells the beer on my breath and asks me if I have any weed. I search my pockets and say no. He leaves without a tip. The trip up the elevator is disturbing however. I hear things, whisperings but I’m convinced that it is just the alcohol in my system although I doubt that hearing voices is a side effect of drinking. Anyway, the whisperings soon go away.
When I get to the hallway outside Carson’s apartment the same convergence marked by the same exit sign catches my eye. There is something about it, something slightly off. There seems to be a red glow coming from the corners that matches perfectly the colour of the exit sign’s lettering. I take a step, pizza in hand, and then another. The whisperings return. I take another step, and then another. They are no longer mere whisperings, but voices. There are many of them and each one is distinct. I can almost hear what they are saying There is a smell in the air, a smell of-
“Pete, door’s over here,” It is Michael. He goes back inside and the voices stop. From inside the apartment I hear “Guess what guys, Peter got lost!” followed by drunken laughter.
The whispering voices return an hour after we lay down (pass out) for the night. They begin as subtle murmurs in my ear but soon grow to full blown voices. I look over at my friends asleep on the floor and couch; they do not stir when the voices speak.
Peeeeeteeeer. Come to ussssss. We have the answer you seeeek to the hallway’s riddle.
The door. I must go to the door. I must open it. I have to be careful not to wake the others. They would try to stop me, but I have to know what is so compelling about the hallway. I have to know why it converges the way it does.
The voices guide me through the door until I am standing in the hallway. They call to me now. They are everywhere. Deafening.
Peeeeeteeeer. Coooome clooooseeer. Cooome tooo ussssss.
I take a step. And then another.
I continue walking. I am halfway down the hallway now. Past the elevators, closer and closer to the blood red exit sign. My eyes are fixed on the convergence. I walk down the hallway for far too long. It seems as if it will never end, as if the voices tricked me and I am trapped. Cursed to be walking forever.
And then I arrive. And I see where the hallway converges.
Now you knoooow. You must coooome tooo ussss.
“My friends. I can’t leave my friends.”
Then take them wiiiith yoou. You knooow whaat to doooo.
I am suddenly inside the apartment. My best friends, my brothers are all asleep, completely unaware. Garret is sprawled under the coffee table, Kirk lies with his Garret’s feet at his face and one leg behind the couch. Michael is halfway in the bathroom facedown, a bottle on his back and a permanent ink penis on his forehead. Carson is on the couch, one hand loosely gripping a bottle. He is snoring as he always has.
I only take a moment to consider what I am about to do. These are my brothers. The closest friends I have ever or will ever have. I love them like family. But the voices call for me, and I cannot resist in the slightest. It is because I love my friends that I am about to do something unspeakable. They must join me on my journey. We cannot be separated. I cannot go alone.
There is a knife in the kitchen sink. I pick it up. I feel the weight. I grip it tighter.
Be quiiick Peeeeeteeeer. We are waaitiiing.