After the big boys down the block go missing, it’s lights out and then lights on. Broad stretches of the street are washed in sodium light, and every station wagon in every driveway shines under motion sensitive security bulbs. Everyone’s doors get locked, you can almost hear every lock on the street like click-click-boom, a series of tiny gunshots. The officers are nearby. They are walking dogs, their free hands full of sweaters or socks. They’ll take their flashlights down to the ravine and shine them into the water, watching for a body to drift by all blue and bloated and wearing a Metallica T-shirt. For those left over, there’s nowhere to go to smoke cigarettes or kiss girls. The ravine is too quiet and smells like wet leaves and sweat.

Every time a car turns down the street, everyone with parents still awake hears the snap of a lamp and all up and down the block, twelve suspicious pairs of eyes peer through twelve sets of blinds. Everyone in the neighborhood is holding their breath, hoping whatever came for the boys won’t come for us next. This is what it’s like to spend the summer on the banks of the River Styx: we are all waiting for the ferryman to arrive and take another one of us away, on a forever voyage in his goodbye boat.

My older brother Bradley is at summer camp for two more weeks and he has not heard the news. But when he comes home, he’ll go tearing through the neighborhood, in the same disbelief as the rest of us, knocking on doors for Johnny, for Greg, for Randall. No one is ready for my brother’s reaction. At night, if I crouch down alongside my bed and hold my ear to the vent, I can hear our parents speak.

I stopped sleeping last week.



“The way it sounds to me is exactly the way it would smell.” This is the type of nonsense thing my dad says to make my mom stop crying. “Pot. Weed. Drugs, you know. Gotta be these kids got hooked on drugs and got bored and ran off together. They’re all old enough, they can all mow a damn lawn, and shit, wasn’t Greg on the basketball team? Maryanne, tell me how anyone could fit a kid that size into the trunk of a car?”

Mom doesn’t seem convinced. She’s wanted Brad home since the minute she heard what the police found, but Dad says he has enough hard times ahead of him, better let him enjoy camp while he still can. In the mornings, Mom sits with her coffee and Brad’s eighth-grade school picture, running her fingers over the slope of his cowlick. She hugs me a lot, presses her fingers into my shoulder blades, says, “I love you and Bradley so much, it would kill me,” and her whole body feels melty and soft, and I believe her.



The way you imagine it is probably the way it really is—a bunch of boy bodies lumped together in a sour-smelling crawl space. This is exactly how it looks, exactly how it feels: none of them are wearing pants. The edges of their young faces are green and mossy where stubble should be and all their mouths are hanging open too wide, and flies are laying eggs in their—see, I know why I can’t sleep. This is the feeling I get.

Somewhere, all my brother’s best friends are dead, and not a single one of them is wearing his pants.



Brad came home from Camp Okoboji and Mom and Dad waited three whole hours to tell him the news. They let him eat lunch, take a nap, and even ride his bike to the record store. He came home with a new Cure record, and a face that was red and puffy and full of questions he didn’t know how to ask.

I guessed he had seen the graffiti. I sent myself to my room, crouched down, pressed my ear to the vent, and listened to Brad’s entire world crack in half.




This is the graffiti the cops found spray painted in blue on the bridge the day the boys went missing. It’s also graffiti that keeps Brad loony—loony as a jaybird, loony as the moon. All of his best friends died, and all the cops ever found were their Levi’s jeans. So now, all over the locker rooms and the lunch tables and the bathroom stalls it says:




Someone wrote the last one on our driveway in bright blue sidewalk chalk.



Where you need to be, where you’d like to be, is in this bunk bed with me reading Spider-Man comics by flashlight. I am pretending to be asleep while Mom and Dad tear Bradley a new asshole for acting like an animal again. I am 12 and I don’t need to listen through the vents any more to hear what my parents have to say, because now that Brad is known for taking loony-tunes trips to Nightmare Land, things have gotten much louder.

 Tonight, when I came home from soccer, I went to put my cleats in the closet, but when I opened the door, there was my big brother, all bones and long black hair, crouched with his back against the wall, a butcher knife in hand. 

He wasn’t going to hurt me. He was yelling, screaming at me, flailing his arms. My heart stopped every time the knife caught the light. He was looking out for me, watching out for me, making sure I would be safe. He pulled me to him and the blade pressed threateningly into my back. He just wanted me to be able to sleep tight, you know. Because he doesn’t sleep, he can’t sleep, not anymore.

Not since that summer the boys went missing.

It happened as slowly or as swiftly as you can imagine. Brad not eating, Brad not sleeping, Brad pacing the basement for hours on end. Brad skipping school to sit at the ravine with only a switchblade and a couple pairs of jeans. Brad boarding up his bedroom window, then barricading his door—and a couple fun trips to the special ward, where ghost-faced Bradley tells a doctor in a long white jacket that he knows for a fact the Nightmare Man is coming, and that he’s going to take his body, leave the pants. 

Brad doesn’t sleep, yeah. He’s still waiting for the ferryman to take him away, on that forever voyage in his goodbye boat.



Somehow I survive my way to high school. Bradley finally packs up his shit one night and disappears. It doesn’t make the news, so going to school is no big deal for me, not yet.  On my way back home, I take my bike along the winding path that leads to the ravine. It smells as wet and dead as it ever did. But beneath the bridge, over the blue graffiti, in big, arching capital letters someone has painted:


When Mom comes home, she finds me sitting at the table with a cup of coffee and Bradley’s eighth-grade school picture. She sits down, reaches for my hand.

“Think of it this way, honey,” she tells me, rubbing my knuckles. “Now you can finally get some sleep.”

And yeah, it’s true that Brad’s car is gone, and so is his music collection.

But all I can think about is that he left behind all of his jeans.


Lisa Nohner was raised by a pack of screaming TVs. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from NMSU, and she teaches horror literature & composition classes at LSU. When she’s not moonlighting as the monster under your bed, she’s writing about shower girls and bleeding prom queens. 

Photo by Crawford Jolly on Unsplash

Published May 13th, 2019