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loosen this rope around my neck

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Reality hit him a lot earlier than it should’ve. The shove to his back was just another reminder.

The rough concrete against his cheek leaves it burning hot. It doesn’t bleed, instead leaving pink flesh exposed to the warm spring air. 

He picks himself up, ignoring the pulsing pain in his palms, and dusts off his sweater. The contents of his school bag are sprawled across the path and onto his front lawn. He gives up looking for his only pencil, lost in the grass, but he shoves his notebooks and a bruised apple back into the bag’s large pocket. The broken zipper forces him to clutch it awkwardly to his chest.

“No more useful than a corpse.” his father mumbles, shutting the door behind him.

He already missed the bus. Walking is the only option.

This isn’t the first time his alarm clock failed to go off, or rather, not the first time he’s forgotten to set it. He was having a happy dream while he slept. The kind where he wasn’t living at home, where he wasn’t Corpse. The kind where he’s someone new, with a new family, and a new house.

A slap to the cheek pulled him out of his fantasy at around seven in the morning.

Corpse didn’t understand why he had to keep going to school. He’d already learned how to care for himself. Heating up food, keeping himself clean, getting where he needed to be. 

But school keeps him out of his home for half the day. In those eight hours, his father would work, come back, drink himself unconscious, and Corpse would come home to a silent house, free to do what he wanted as long as he was quiet enough.

 

Corpse begins his march, putting one small foot in front of the other, towards his school. On his way to his fourth grade class he goes, one step closer to middle school. 

He would probably miss morning announcements as well as the warm up activity his teacher would put up on the board. She wouldn’t mind. Ms. Harding was a very relaxed educator. As long as Corpse submitted his work on time, she’d let him do as he pleased.

Almost half an hour later he arrived at the front doors of his school. Sweater in hand, and out of breath.

Fifteen minutes late.

He steps into his classroom, tardy pass wrinkled between his fingers, and feels the eyes of his classmates following him as he takes his seat in the back.

In his way, however, is another little boy, one he’d never seen in his life.

He sits in the desk right next to Corpse, where he’d usually place his bag. Messy hair covered his downcasted eyes that focused hard on the word problem on his paper. 

“We have a new student today.” Ms.Harding whispers, apparently having been ghosting Corpse’s steps all the way to his desk, “Introduce yourself, Thomas.”

Thomas looks up in surprise, not having noticed the two. His eyes settle on Corpse.

“Hi, I’m Thomas!” he draws in the attention of the class, heads turn to the three of them. Ms.Harding gestures for them to turn towards the front, and gives Thomas a small pat to remind him to lower his voice. “I just moved here and I like dogs and video games and nail polish.”

It’s all in one breath, rehearsed and awkward. But Thomas’ smile is genuine, gap toothed and lopsided. 

It pisses Corpse off.

“Does he have to sit here?” He looks up expectantly at his teacher.

“Now, -” Corpse wrinkles his nose at the sound of his name. Ms. Harding places her hands on her hips in feigned disappointment.

“Hi, -” Corpse flinches again, “Nice to meet you and that’s a cool name.” 

“I think you two will get along just fine.” Corpse’s teacher places a hand on top of Thomas’ head, “And there’s nowhere else for him to sit either.” she winks at Corpse, walking away with his deskmate’s finished work in hand.

Corpse sinks down into his chair, tugging out a notebook and tossing his almost-empty bag to the floor.

“Do you have a pencil?” he asks his new friend to the right. 

Thomas looks at him, ecstatic. He turns to his side to pull out a large pencil case filled with too much of everything. Pencils, pens, markers, crayons, you name it. It rattles like a maraca when he pops it open.

“What color?” He holds it out like an offering to his friend.

Corpse grabs a regular yellow pencil with a purple eraser at the tip. It’s brand new and sharpened. He almost feels guilty knowing that it’ll end up in his mouth within a few minutes.

And he’d probably lose it before getting home.

“Can I have two?” he asks.

“Sure,” he holds up the pencil case again, “Keep them, -.”

Corpse hates the way Thomas says his name.

“If we’re going to be friends you have to call me Corpse.” he demands. Thomas gives him a look of confusion.

“Why? That’s weird.”

“I like that name better. So you have to.” he pokes the soft end of his new pencil at Thomas. He squirms.

Ms, Harding shushes them from the chalkboard where she’s writing out the notes for their science lesson.

“Okay, Corpse. You’re the boss.” Thomas smiles that same smile again.

“I’m the boss.” Corpse echos, and hunches over his desk to start writing.

 


 

“Is that all you have for lunch?” Thomas stares at the tragedy of an apple between Corpse’s fingers. 

Lunch time is loud, and Corpse usually spends it alone, head down as he sleeps away his hunger, school lunch being too pricey for him. 

Thomas had glued himself to Corpse all the way from the classroom to the cafeteria, where he unpacked a neatly organized lunch box that has Corpse’s stomach growling even louder.

“Yeah, what about it?” Corpse pouts.

“Do you want half?” Thomas holds out a half of diagonally sliced peanut butter and jelly with his bare hands.

Corpse considers for a split second, and then takes it, immediately biting into the soft bread. It’s too much jelly for his liking, but he has no room to complain.

“Thank you.”

“Yeah.”

Corpse is treated to half of Thomas’ grapes, baby carrots, and Cheez-It pack.

And for the first time in a long while, Corpse feels full.

 


 

Recess isn’t Corpse’s favorite part of the day, but he doesn’t hate it either.

He sits under a large tree. His large tree.

He protects it with his presence so no one tries to climb or deface it’s graceful branches, or carve their names into the tough bark.

His classmates aren’t afraid of him, though. They respect his need for solitude without question, often tossing their sweatshirts beside him to watch over them as the March days have gotten warmer.

Any conversation between him and his classmates is kept short, often asking him school related questions, or leaving comments about his cool hair. Corpse doesn’t think his hair is anything special, just really hard to manage.

The fourth grade class is mixed in with the third graded for their few minutes of outdoor play. And Corpse studies the little cliques that form within their respective classes.

He knows, without a doubt, where Thomas would fit in. 

A small group of boys is huddled around a deck of trading cards underneath the playground’s bridge. They show off their rare ones, desperate to cheat the ignorant kids out of their stronger cards.

Sure enough, Thomas finds his way into the circle after staring at them for a few minutes, with his own cards in hand, excitedly showing off his deck to the group. 

Corpse stares, choosing for Thomas to be his entertainment for the day.

Some days it’s the girls playing hopscotch. Jess, Laura, Nicki, and their nimble feet can be hypnotizing. Other days, it’s the rude soccer players; barely in control of the ball but tough enough to knock each other over with a well placed shove. Ethan and Ericka, twins, have had a long lasting rivalry that Corpse can’t help but be invested in.

But Thomas just sits there. Throwing his head back in laughter over whatever they might be babbling on about. He seems to be a comedian as well, earning soft punches to his shoulders every now and then.

Corpse wonders why he’s so interesting to look at. Maybe it’s the way he stands out as the new kid, or how easy he can fit in. Corpse never exactly fit in, making a place for himself on his own that his classmates looked at, and accepted.

His classmates would save him seats, acknowledge his presence and absence too. Corpse thinks he’d have a chance to make friends if he really tried.

Thomas notices him staring, and locks eyes with him. 

Corpse yanks his head to the side, hoping he didn’t take him for some kind of weirdo.

When he looks back, Thomas is waving off his friends and making his way towards the big tree.

“Corpse!” he calls out. “I have a surprise!” he whispers out loud.

“I was going to show this to my friends over there,” Thomas gestures behind him. Corpse scoffs at how quickly Thomas can call them his friends, “But I figured since I sawed you all alone here I would show you instead.”

“Saw.”

“What?”

“Saw, not sawed .”

“Ah, whatever.” Thomas giggles, “Check this out.”

He lifts his oversized uniform shirt above his stomach, exposing his belly button as well as a GameBoyAdvanced tucked into his pants. Corpse’s eyes widen.

If they’d forced him to tuck his shirt in like they do with the rest of the class, they would have confiscated it within seconds.

“Don’t tell anyone.” he pulls it out, sitting in front of Corpse, blocking the device from sight of the teachers with his own body. Corpse, mesmerized, leans forward to see Thomas starting up Super Mario Bros. 3. The sunlight is enough to light the screen up properly and Corpse watches his friend start up a level

He doesn’t mind not being offered to play, enthralled by the concentration in Thomas’ eyes and the movement on screen. His fingernails are painted a soft blue. It’s a pretty color, Corpse thinks, but in violation of dress code.

Thomas cheers after dodging the enemy character, pushing buttons so that it’s crushed under Mario’s boots.

Corpse finds himself smiling, struggling to not throw his hands up in victory when Thomas finishes an underwater level.

Thomas just keeps getting more and more interesting. And Corpse is having fun.

The teacher blows a whistle, signalling the end of their break. Thomas makes a sound of disappointment, having been caught in the middle of a level, but shuts down the device anyways. Corpse wonders if he even saved, and how much progress they’d just lost.

“Thanks for hanging out with me, Corpse.” Thomas says sweetly as if they wouldn’t be sitting next to each other for the rest of the afternoon. He tucks his game back into his pants, a dark belt holding it in place against his hip.

“Yeah.”

 


 

 Corpse can't help but think about Thomas on his bus ride home. He's never made a friend so fast in his life. It's as if Thomas refused to be shoved into the role of a background character and forced his way into Corpse’s attention.

Not that he was upset about it.

The bus screeches to a stop, and he gets off with a few other kids. 

They go in their respective directions and Corpse wishes he didn't have to. His heart rate picks up as he turns left, knowing that his house is only a five minute walk away.

His heart threatens to stop as he tries the door. It's locked this time, and he digs into his pants pocket for a key.

The air smells like his dad. Overwhelming and nauseous, the rotting smell of beer wafts through the air. He hears snores coming from the living room, an area of the house he never dares to enter.

Corpse creeps up the staircase after raiding his pantry for granola bars and goldfish crackers.

His room is his favorite part of his house because he can make of it whatever he wants, ignoring everyone and everything outside. He talks to himself, laying out his afternoon meal on his bed, reading over homework worksheets and assignment list.

His english assignment requires him to journal at least three times a week, and today seems like the perfect day to get an entry in. Pulling out Thomas’ gifted pencil and one of his notebooks, he begins to write.

“Today I made a friend…”

 


 

Corpse and Thomas have been friends for about a week and a half. March came to a close and the April air has Thomas sniffing loudly during their silent reading time.

He’s taken allergy medication that makes him drowsy, and Corpse makes it his job to elbow his deskmate’s side whenever his eyes seem to be resting too low. 

Corpse is a daydreamer himself. Eyeing the informative posters along their classroom walls.

He likes the poster explaining nouns the best. It’s the outline of a house, and everyone and everything inside. There are smiling children, a mother and a father holding hands, and a dog. It parallels his happy dreams, and the thoughts that Corpse holds close to his heart.

Corpse really would like a dog someday too.

“Thomas!” Ms.Harding shouts from the chalkboard. He jerks awake, wiping his nose with his sleeve and watery eyes with the same one. 

“Eyes up front.” she commands.

Thomas sits up straight, letting out a congested breath. The medicine doesn’t seem to be helping him.

Corpse solves his worksheet diligently, circling the correct answers and filling in blank lines. Thomas does the same, at a slower pace.

It’s a little past one in the afternoon when Thomas’ breathing becomes less obnoxious. His airways clear up a bit, and they can both focus a bit better. 

Two thirty until three. Between that time, parents have to pick up their kids, the school bus riders have to be seated and ready to go, and the after school program kids have to make their way to the cafeteria to wait.

Corpse always stops by the cafeteria for a free snack. Most of the time it’s fruit, today’s it’s celery sticks. They’re his least favorite because they’re made of nothing but water, as is, most fruit and vegetables.

Thomas follows him, grabbing some for himself and they join the rest of the class for dismissal.

They reach the front steps of the school as a group, Corpse turns to say bye to Thomas, but he’s not there anymore.

He watches Thomas run up to his mom’s car. She steps out of the vehicle, embracing him in a hug, pressing a kiss to his forehead, leaving Corpse forgotten.

Corpse shrugs it off, finding the yellow bus that drops him off near his home, and walks towards it. 

“Corpse!” a voice behind him shouts, and it’s him, running at full speed to catch up.

“Can you ask your mom if you can come over to my place? My mom said she can take us for pizza and stuff.”

“I don’t have a mom.” Corpse says, “But I think I can go.” he adds, cheerful.

“You should ask your dad.”

“He won’t care.”

Thomas cheers, running back to his mom’s car. She nods her head, and Thomas turns around and waves for him to come.

Corpse has to resist the urge to sprint towards them. His heart thumps in excitement with each step. He’s never been invited to someone else’s house. He wonders if Thomas has a dog, or a green front lawn, or a pool in the backyard.

“Hi,” he waves at Thomas’ mother, smiling up at the woman.

“Hello, Corpse ,” she smiles a smile that is almost identical to Thomas’, “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Yeah I talk about you a lot ! I told my mom to use your cooler name too!” Thomas shouts from inside the car, already strapped down with his seat belt.

He gets into the vehicle next to Thomas, fingers fumbling with the belt buckle, excited for what was to come.

Thomas’ mother left them in the car while she picked up a pie of pizza from their local parlor. Corpse watched his friend place another game he didn’t recognize on his GBA for the few minutes she was gone.

By the time they’d arrive at Thomas’ home, Corpse is struggling to stay in his seat. He climbs out of the car trailing behind Thomas and his mom.

Corpse’s excitement reached its peak when he heard the high pitched barking of a dog the moment Thomas’ mother put the keys in the lock.

“Bimb!” Thomas squeals when what looks like a white puff of cotton trots over to him. ‘Bimb’ licks at his fingers as he unties his shoelaces. Corpse does the same, a little jealous when Bimb didn’t give him the same treatment.

“This is Bimbus.” he points out. Bimbus sniffs at Corpse’s legs, familiarizing himself with his scent, before turning around and disappearing into another room.

They set their things down, wash their hands, and sit at the kitchen table.

Everything about Thomas is inviting. His personality, his mother, and his home all radiate warmth and love. Corpse takes a bite of his slice of pizza, savoring the grease that drips down his fingertips. Thomas’ little sister joins them, sitting next to her mother.

“What happened to your cheek, darling.” the woman asks.

Corpse has felt her gaze on him since the moment he’d gotten in that car. She’s seen his school bag, his messy uniform, and has probably categorized Corpse as one of those rude, dirty children at school.

The skin on his cheek is scabbed over, hard and rough to the touch.

“I fell.” he speaks through a mouthful of pizza.

“Hm.” she narrows her eyes at him, suspicious.

 

They eat their pizza and chat, Thomas carrying most of the conversation. He talks about his family, his big and little sister, Bimbus, and his dad.

Corpse eats two slices and feels stuffed, Thomas is scolded for asking for a third.

“Let’s go upstairs,” Thomas says after they’ve eaten.

Corpse follows him to his room. They walk past his big sister’s room where music can be heard through the door, and past his little sister’s room, a door decorated with space themed stickers.

Thomas’ door is very… Thomas. It has his name spelled out in blocky letters and pokemon stickers placed randomly around it. His room is exactly how Corpse would’ve imagined it.

Shelves lined with comics and cartoon figures that Corpse doesn’t recognize. Large chapter books sprawled across a desk with a spinny chair. Corpse can envision Thomas spinning himself absentmindedly while reading.

Thomas shows him around, listing every single figure and book he has, and the many more still unpacked from the move.

He pulls out an album filled with pokemon cards, and they sit on the carpet floor as Thomas rambles on about each one.

He turns the page, and something catches Corpse’s eyes.

Between two of these cards, is a picture of two little boys. They’re standing straight up, arms over each other's shoulders, facing the camera.

The photo has been crudely cut with scissors, looking more like a rhombus than a rectangle. It’s been pasted onto a sheet of construction paper, styled to be another pokemon card. 

Corpse points at it, “Who’s that?”

“That’s me and Karl! From my old school.” Thomas pulls it out from the album. “I miss him.” he states, staring at the picture intensely, conjuring up memories from his old place.

Underneath the picture, there are names scribbled in messy handwriting. The smudged pencil reads:

 

Karl and Sykkuno

 

“What’s Sykkuno?”

“That’s me! We tried to make cool names for ourselves but Karl could only think of Karl.”

Corpse furrows his eyebrows at the strange name. There’s no meaning behind the word, but very fitting for the boy in front of him. 

“Sykkuno...” he feels how the word rolls off his tongue. “What does it mean?”

“Nothing yet.” Thomas says, almost disappointed, “I hope one day it means something. Something good.”

“If it means you, then you’re off to a great start.” Corpse says. Thomas smiles at that.

“I have an idea.” Thomas closes the album, standing up on his feet.

“Since you have a cool name, and I have a cool name,” he takes Corpse by the hand, pulling him up with him. Corpse notices he’s taller than Thomas by a little, “We can use them for each other. Like codenames.”

Corpse nods his head slowly.

“But only us. They gotta be special.”

Corpse nods his head enthusiastically this time. Thomas grins at him, eyes glimmering with excitement and pride for his amazing idea.

He reaches his hand out formally, as if to make these names official.

“Nice to meet you, Corpse. I’m Sykkuno.”

Corpse takes it, shaking it firmly. The other’s hands are soft, a weak grip around Corpse’s hand, and fingers that liken to limp noodles. Corpse’s hands are calloused, stocky, and his fingers are strong and stubby.

“Hi, Sykkuno. I’m Corpse.”