Jim turned off the car and stepped out into Brandon’s driveway. Brandon had sounded weird on the phone. He’d asked Jim to come right over, but wouldn’t tell him why. This might be an actual emergency, or something really bad (Jim had a good idea what that might be), or it might just be Brandon up to his same goofy tricks.
Jim and Brandon’s friendship was almost old enough to drink. But Brandon had gone off the rails in a fairly serious way over the last year or so. Pretty much since his Mom had died, he’d turned into a real bastard.
It had started out really small. Jim had been with him at the magic shop when he’d bought two servings each of fake barf and fake poop. Innocuous, right? A little plastic “oops” never hurt anyone. At least it hadn’t before Brandon got hold of it. He was insistent and enthusiastic about trying to trick people. Any normal human should have been able to see that the waitress at the diner, or the guy stocking shelves at the grocery store, were just regular folks trying to get by, but to Brandon, they were marks, prime guinea pigs for a comedy routine that only he found funny. Brandon was in his own little world, and fooling random people into thinking a dog had shit near them seemed to have become a primary focus of his life.
Jim wasn’t complaining, though. Brandon having his head up his ass had put him on the outs with Julie, and just lately, Jim had figured out a way to step in. It was incredibly unsavory, of course, that Jim would mess with Julie when she was married to his best friend, but Jim saw this more as Brandon’s problem than his own. Brandon was the one screwing things up. He’d been married to Julie for a decade, so surely he knew how absolutely perfect she was: funny and smart and fun to hang out with, pretty, too. Jim had always had a thing for Julie, ever since she and Brandon started dating, but had steered clear out of respect for his friend. When they’d gotten married, Jim had assumed that clinched it, and Brandon was the guy for her, but ten years is a long time, and things change.
One night Jim had stopped by when Brandon wasn’t home, and he and Julie got to talking and then all of a sudden some great stuff started happening. Fireworks for both of them, hot, heavy fireworks. Now, they’d had a regular thing for three months, on Monday nights when Brandon taught his class. Jim had thought a lot about his friendship with Brandon during that time, and about whether or not he, Jim, was or wasn’t the biggest jerk who had ever lived, and decided finally that he wasn’t.
They were all friends, after all, and if Jim helped Julie through a rough patch, filled a need that wasn’t being filled otherwise, wasn’t that better than her going to some outsider? He was being friendly to the family in a way that only the best kind of family friend ever can. Of course, he was also a little concerned that Brandon might get over this weird practical joke phase of his, and then the thing with Jim and Julie might just implode, and it all might go back to how it had been before. Jim wasn’t looking forward to that any more than he would look forward to telling his best friend he’d been sleeping with his wife. The way it was just then was the only way it worked well for Jim.
He climbed the three stairs to the front door and knocked. He used the same “shave and a haircut” knock that he’d used on the same door just that past Monday, when Julie had answered the door in her bathrobe. He smiled to himself, remembering.
“Come in — it’s open,” that was Brandon’s voice, and he sounded more cheerful than usual. Too cheerful. Something was definitely up. Jim turned the doorknob and pushed.
And then, for just a second or two, a snowstorm. A big pile of white powder dropped from the sky and Jim was right underneath it. The coffee can hit him in the head next, and there was Brandon right in front of him, laughing like a goddamn loon.
“Direct hit!” he screamed, doubling over, then crumpling to the floor in ecstatic glee.
Jim sighed, and continued to stand in the doorway, just about ready to turn around and go home. “Asshole,” he said out loud. Brandon was too busy laughing to notice.
“Hey, Jim, I think you need some new shampoo.”
Brandon mimed brushing flakes off his shoulders. “Got a lot of dandruff, buddy!”
Jim held his breath and shook his head back and forth several times. Another snowstorm, this one from Jim’s head and shoulders down to the floor. This set Brandon off again. His laughter was more annoying than infectious in general. Jim didn’t smile along.
“So that’s it, huh? That’s the emergency? You just wanted to dump some shit on my head?”
“Come on, man. You should have seen the look on your face. You gotta admit, that’s funny.”
“Yeah,” said Jim. He didn’t think it was funny at all, but he didn’t want to act like too much of a bad sport — after all, he was actively schtupping the guy’s wife. “I’m gonna use the bathroom.”
“Aw, don’t be like that, Jim. Just a little fun.”
Whatever, thought Jim. He wasn’t mad anymore. He’d be cleaned up soon and anyway, it wasn’t his house. It wasn’t like he was the one who’d have to vacuum up all that flour.
Jim flipped the switch in the bathroom, but the light didn’t go on.
“Bulb’s out?” he called over his shoulder on his way to the sink. The daylight outside lit the small bathroom from the doorway, but there was no window. He stood in front of the mirror and surveyed the damage. There couldn’t have been more flour on him if he’d done it on purpose. “I’m about to mess up your guest towels…”
That was fair warning enough. He knew Brandon and Julie each did their own laundry, and assumed this bit would fall to him. A small satisfaction, but a solid one. He turned on the water, and picked up the soap.
Brandon stood in the doorway. “Sorry about that, Jim. The world’s a terrible place, you know?”
“Thanks for reminding me.” Jim put his lathered hands to his face and began to scrub.
Brandon giggled, and Jim opened his eyes immediately.
“What now?” he asked. Brandon pointed at the mirror.
Jim looked at himself– his whole face was blood red. Yeah, trick soap.
“Nice one, you–” Jim started, but just then, Brandon pulled the bathroom door closed. Jim was suddenly alone, and in the dark. He stepped to the door, but couldn’t get it open. “What are you doing, butt-head?”
No response from Brandon. Jim banged as loudly as he could. No smart-ass, yeah-I’m-doing-your-wife knocks this time, these blows were furious and desperate. No one likes to be alone in the dark.
Jim decided immediately to knock the whole door down, but when fifteen minutes of consistent effort hadn’t achieved the desired result, he sat down on the closed toilet lid and started playing with his phone. He thought for a second about live-streaming this experience, but yeah, no thanks. Who was he going to impress covered in flour and red soap? Instead, he sent a message to Julie.
“Hey, are you around? I’m locked in your bathroom.” They had a rule against sending each other messages, but this was close to an emergency.
Jim put his ear to the door, but all he could hear was the vacuum running. He started to look at the news on his phone, but he was too nervous, and wound up just sitting there, looking at the light the phone made on the wall.
Brandon wasn’t a violent person in general, but Jim had seen him lose his shit once or twice and it hadn’t been pretty. If this bathroom business had to do with him and Julie, he had no idea what Brandon might do.
After half an hour or so, Jim heard the front door open. Not long after, he saw a shadow across the bottom of the door. And then Julie was whispering to him.
“Hey, are you in there?”
“All day, seems like.”
“He knows about us,” she whispered, “He’s going to confront us together. Whatever you do, whatever else happens, even if I do, do not admit anything. I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but we’ll get through it together, okay?”
“Yes, let’s do that, please.”
“Yeah,” she said, and then she was gone.
Jim sighed. Whatever happened next, he knew things would have to be different from here on out, and that sucked.
Julie was right, though — even if he were confronted with direct evidence, it was best to deny everything. Still, he hoped there wouldn’t be photographs or (god forbid) video involved.
He didn’t have long to wait this time. Footsteps, then the door clicked, then opened. The air outside the bathroom hung heavy with the smell of booze. Jim looked out at Brandon. He was holding the gun Jim himself had chipped in to help buy him for his birthday a few years before.
“What’s up, man?” Jim asked.
“Let’s go in the living room.”
From there, it all went downhill quickly. Jim and Julie sat on the couch, and Brandon sat on the recliner with the gun. He threw around a lot of accusations, a lot of dirty words, several things that were plenty true, but even more that he must have just made up.
Jim kept to the plan and denied it all.
When it was Julie’s turn to talk, she turned back and winked at Jim before she started. Then, in no uncertain terms whatsoever, she told Brandon the entirety of the awful truth. She said it started three months ago. She talked about the affair unfolding. She talked about their romance blossoming. And most of all, she talked about them getting it on a whole bunch of times right behind Brandon’s back.
Brandon sat quietly through all of this. Jim listened, too, with a big scowl on his face, and an occasional shake of the head. Jim remembered what Julie had said, and had already taken it to heart. He wouldn’t be backing her up on this. He would continue to deny it all, and just hope like hell his friend would refrain from shooting him.
When Julie finally finished talking, Jim looked over at Brandon, and felt a little ill. His reaction wasn’t what he’d been expecting. There seemed to be a smile hiding in the background on Brandon’s face. Was he actually getting off on this? Or was it one of those crazy-person sadistic smiles you see in the movies? Not good either way, Jim thought, whether this is all about to shift into extra-naughty mode, or whether I’m about to get killed, not good either way.
“Brandon,” he pleaded, “This is bullshit. We’ve been friends twenty years. You really think I’d do that to you? I wouldn’t. I swear to god, man, I wouldn’t. We’ve got to put this behind us. It’s a crazy world to start with, and way too crazy if we can’t even trust each other.”
Brandon and Jim sat across from each other. There was that shadow of a smile again, and Jim thought this might be the end of his life, that’s it, nothing else, el finito. Julie stood up and crossed the room. Brandon didn’t seem to notice her leaving, maybe it was the booze, and Jim did his absolute best not to look at her, and risk drawing his attention.
The staring match continued. Still, somehow, Brandon didn’t seem as upset as he had seemed before. Julie re-entered the room, carrying a heavy glass vase. Jim knew it was heavy because she’d asked him to move it for her on Monday. He’d put it on one side of the window and then the other and then back in the closet where it had started. It had seemed like a strange request at the time, and now, as she came up behind Brandon with it, wearing gloves no less, it seemed even–
Brandon broke into his regular wide smile. He wasn’t even trying to hide it anymore.
“Gotcha! Oh, man, you should see the look on your face!” Brandon howled with laughter.
“You thought I really thought… man, I know you did. Ah, it’s okay, come here, buddy.”
Brandon dropped the gun on the side table and moved over to the sofa to administer a post-prank hug.
Jim still didn’t quite understand what was happening, only that his friend didn’t seem to be mad at him anymore, but that was good enough.
But then there was Julie standing behind Brandon, with the vase up over her head in both hands.
Jim’s mouth was open, and he pointed, but by the time Brandon turned around it was too late– the vase was already on a horrible collision course with his skull.
The blow cut him off in mid-chuckle.
Julie had the gun then, and turned it on Jim. She motioned down at Brandon’s bloody head, and the solid crystal right beside it.
“Oh, man, Jim, you really shouldn’t have done that. You just about broke his little head. You’d better do it again, just to make sure.”
Jim looked down at his still-twitching best friend lying face-down on the bloody carpet, then up into the cruel eyes of the woman he loved most in the world.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” he said.
Eric Henderson had a zine in the early 90s called SCAREBOB about being terrified of Bob Hope. In the late 90s he moved to California and went to Bob Hope’s house on Halloween. Bob Hope didn’t come to the door. His butler handed out pencils that said Happy Halloween 1997, but it was 1998.