Zackery sneaks into the basement of the Gamma house. He's breathing heavy. Tears are rolling down his cheek. He doesn't know who else to go to right now. He doesn't know who else to talk to about this. The only person that makes sense to speak to right now is Flip. That's the only person that seems to matter.
Flip rolls over, “Z? It's 3am yo...”
It's late. The entire house is asleep. Zackery puts a finger over his mouth. He looks over at the other two pledges Mariano and Jordan. They are both knocked out on two cots. The cots were uncomfortable as hell purposely so it causes the two boys to toss a little bit but Zackery knows that they must be asleep.
“I know what time it is.”
Flip is squinting. He looks at Zackery so hard that Zackery turns away feeling a little embarrassed.
“Are you crying Z?”
Zackery wipes his face. He hadn't even noticed it. This isn't like him. He thought he was stronger than this but he knew that he wasn't. He knew that things were a little off right now and the worst thing that he can do was be weak.
“I need you,” Zackery admits to Flip.
He expects Flip to say no. Why not. He's been pushing Flip away since the first day he met Flip. He's been pretending as though he had no feelings for the boy but truth is when things got tough the only person he thought to run to was Flip. He trusted Flip more than boys he'd known for years. He knew Flip wouldn't betray him. He knew Flip wouldn't break him.
“I'm here,” Flip says.
Flip doesn't need to get any more details than that. Zackery nods at that moment, “Follow me.”
They head upstairs.
Zackery realizes the tears are streaming still. He's breaking down. He's losing it. The two boys walk past a bunch of drunk Gammas. Some of them are on shit worse than alcohol. It was his frat brother Reggie who had pulled out his stash of heroin. A bunch of the frat brothers started doing that shit. No wonder they were all passed out everywhere. Zackery realizes he doesn't really need to sneak around but he does it anyway.
He pulls Flip into the den. He realizes that he has to tell someone what happened tonight. He had to tell Flip.
“You OK?” Flip asks Zackery.
Flip reaches over to touch Zackery. Zackery wants to stay strong. He wants to be that strong, masculine guy that his father taught him to be. That was the kind of man a Gamma man was. For some reason though all that shit went out of the window as soon as Flip touches him.
He grabs Flip and breaks down in his arms. The tears fall into Flip's shirtless chest. Flip doesn't mind the fact that Zackery is crying on him. He doesn't even attempt to wipe the moisture away. He just let's Flip cry all over him and he patiently rubs his back letting every moment pass with this sober understanding that Zackery has never felt before.
“You're scaring me,” Flip says, “What's wrong?”
“Something happened tonight,” Zackery says.
“Where is he...”
“He was...punished last night,” Zackery explains.
His heart is beating. The memories from last night keep coming back. Zackery hadn't participated. He had been the only one who went against the others. He'd gone in the bathroom. He'd thrown up seeing the things they had done to Caliph. A few of the other boys had taunted him from outside of the bathroom calling him a pussy. Zackery had to pretend like he wasn't. He had to fit in. So he had to shake it off and go back out there. He had to watch every little thing that they had done to Caliph.
“Punished how?” Flip asks.
Zackery shakes his head.
“Bad...bad...” Zackery explains, “I can't say specifics. We aren't supposed to say things to pledges until you cross.”
“Yo fuck this pledging shit. This is real. You are here crying on my shoulder,” Flip explains shaking his head, “Clearly there is something wrong. I need for you to let me know what it is.”
“You should quit,” Zackery explains.
“Quit Gamma,” Zackery explains.
Zackery is warning Flip. After seeing what the Gammas did to Caliph he knew that they were going down a dark path. Zackery had seen something like this before a long time ago, but he thought when Barry took over the Gammas were going to go down a new path. That was all wrong.
“I'm not going to quit the Gammas,” Flip says laughing it off, “Be serious. Do you know what happened in my Economics class last week?”
Flip cuts him off.
“I failed a test. I completely flunked it,” Flip explains with this excitement, “The teacher gave me an A+. Then he gives me a wink. He said that rumor has it I was pledging to Gammas. Gammas don't fail. I've been getting as in every single class since I started with you guys. EVERY single class. I don't have to study anymore...”
Zackery knew what Flip was seeing. It was the Plug. It had already begun for Flip. It would begin for the other pledges too. By the times they crossed they'd be completely plugged in. It would be impossible for them to get out. They had no idea what they were getting into but they would find out. They would learn.
“Being a Gamma isn't everything it's cracked up to be,” Zackery explains.
“Name one reason it's not,” Flip asks Zackery.
“We are cursed,” Zackery says.
Flip starts laughing.
“I'm not joking. I'm dead serious,” Zackery explains.
“Z... you been drinking man?”
“You don't know what happened in the past,” Zackery explains, “It will get better. Once you are plugged in Flip...there is no getting out. You hear me? Don't plug in.”
“I'll be fine.”
“I care about you,” Zackery says.
“You care about me?”
The way Flip looks at him makes Zackery think that it is so unbelievable. Was he that cold? Was he that detached that whatever he was saying just didn't translate to Flip. He didn't get it. The look on Flip's face just doesn't seem to click.
“I can't tell you why. I can't tell you what happened last night,” Zackery explains, “I can tell you this though. If you aren't going to quit the Gammas. At least lay low for a little while until Barry comes back.”
“Gaige. He isn't...”
Zackery stops. He just starts thinking about the past all of a sudden. He's warned so many people about Gaige. He'd warned Barry and the others about Gaige. He'd tried his hardest to get Gaige out of the Gammas. He knew the effect Gaige had on the Gammas. He knew about the curse. No one ever listened to him. They never listened.
“What about Gaige?” Flip asks.
“Yeah what about me?”
Just at that moment Zackery hears someone stir in the den! He turns and sees Gaige waking up. Gaige must have fallen asleep in the den. He hadn't even seen the muscular body coming out from behind the couch until he does. Zackery panics wondering how much of the conversation Gaige actually heard. Gaige is wiping his eyes clearly hung over and a little sleepy. He makes his way over to where Zackery and Flip have been talking. Zackery smells Gaige. He smells like sex and blood. The stench on him is strong. Zackery wonders if Flip can smell it too.
“Nothing. We were just bullshitting man,” Zackery says to Gaige.
“Bullshitting? Really?” Gaige asks Zackery.
“That's all,” Zackery states.
“Ok,” Gaige says, “Flip you should head back to the basement. Pledges aren't allowed out after a certain time.”
Flip nods at that moment.
“Ok,” Flip says.
With that Flip starts leaving. Zackery is leaving right behind him but Gaige stops him slamming the den door shut behind Flip. As soon as he does that Gaige is staring at Zackery.
“You got a big mouth...” Gaige tells Zackery as soon as they are alone.
There is some tension. Zackery feels like Gaige may have heard a little bit more of the conversation then he let on earlier but he has no way of being sure. Gaige is bigger than Zackery. He's more solid. It's not only that either. Gaige was the president of the Gammas. He had complete control of everything until Barry came back. He desperately needed Barry to get back soon.
“I don't know what you're talking about,” Zackery explains.
“You were about to snitch,” Gaige explains.
“No I wasn't.”
“You don't snitch on a frat brother. You know what we do to frat brothers who turn against one another,” Gaige reminds Zackery.
Zackery remembered. He remembered everything.
“I know. I wasn't snitching. I'd never do that. You need to be worried about if Caliph is going to tell people that you raped him.”
“He won't. He's a Muslim zealot. He'll probably kill himself before he lets anyone know what we did to him,” Gaige says before smiling a little bit and adding, “Hopefully that happens.”
The smile is sick. Gaige felt like he was so untouchable. Zackery knew the feeling. When you became a Gamma you felt like nothing could take you down. Nothing could stop you. Everything was yours for the taking. You got anything and everything you wanted in life. It's a simple thing that happens and everything is yours.
“Well then you have nothing to worry about,” Zackery explains.
“Actually I do. Someone told Shady Shanice about Caliph and Mariano. Word around here is that Flip works for her.”
“He's just doing a work study.”
“Or maybe more,” Gaige explains, “You seem like you are getting close to him. Be careful with that.”
“If I find out that Flip is spying on us for Shady Shanice...what happened to Caliph won't be anything compared to what happens to Flip.”
He was threatening him. He was threatening Flip.
“I need Barry's contact information.”
“What you going to tell him I'm threatening your boyfriend?”
“Oh please,” Gaige laughs, “You think I don't know. After years of being in the closet with Mariano I can tell a DL couple from a mile away. Go ahead. Call Barry's family. They can't get in contact with him. No one can. For some reason Barry just poof. He up and disappeared. You're stuck with me. Welcome to hell, Zackery.”
Zackery can feel the heat between them. Gaige raises a cocky eyebrow as he leaves the room. Welcome to hell, he had said. And Gaige...he was the devil.
A week has passed.
We just left the big football game watching Gaige whoop some ass. I'm walking with Jordan. It's the late afternoon and we head to the little local diner. We are eating when we see Flip. He's surrounded by people. It's clear that he's all of a sudden become one of the most popular boys in school. It's Jordan's idea to walk over and join Flip and as soon as we approach the table a bunch of the people who were sitting at the table get up.
“You guys didn't have to get up,” I state.
“No. It's all good!” a guy says.
The guy and a few girls who were sitting with Flip give up their seats. I swear a few of the girls are even flirting with me as they get up. I ignore them but Jordan is most definitely loving every moment of that, even reaching over and grabbing one of the girls' ass. He has no shame when it comes to shit like that.
“Isn't it crazy?” Flip asks as soon as I sit, “A week ago no one knew who the fuck we were and now we are the most popular people in school.”
Flip flashes me a smile. He's excited. I look around.
“Someone told Shady Shanice we were the new pledges,” I state, “My philosophy teacher fucking congratulated me.”
Flip sits there awkwardly, “That's weird. I wonder how she found out.”
Jordan shrugs, “Who gives a fuck? I'm glad they know. I've gotten more pussy in the past two days then I've gotten in my whole life.”
Flip laughs, “Seriously. Yo. I got 30 thousand followers on Instagram. I can't even approve them fast enough. Literally took a pic of me on the toilet and got 9 thousand likes...”
The two of them are loving this. They are loving every moment of it. Jordan had been the happiest I've ever seen him in my entire life. I didn't even know Flip but I feel like I have to hang around with him now because he can understand how my life is transforming right in front of my eyes. All of a sudden I feel like I have to spend more time in the gym because I'm getting all this attention. I can't just fuck around and be invisible anymore. People were looking at me.
“Everything is changing,” Jordan states.
“And the funny thing is...we haven't even crossed yet,” Flip says shaking his head.
“What about you Mariano?” Jordan asks me, “Anything changing for you?”
So much has changed for me. My grades were better for whatever reason. I spent more time in the mirror. I actually cared about keeping up on fashion now. I was getting attention from people that I never got attention from and I felt like I had to earn it. Even my fucking Dad seemed to call me a lot more than he ever had.
Still, it wasn't all good.
I look at the other two pledges and shake my head, “If you call being on the Shady Shanice Show every day if I piss and sneeze a good thing then I don't know.”
“They are just rumors. Gossip,” Jordan explains.
“Not all of it,” I state.
The story about Caliph and I was real.
“I didn't tell,” Jordan explains raising his hands at that moment, “I had no idea how they found out about that shit.”
Flip shakes his head, “I didn't tell either.”
I shake my head. It didn't matter who told Shady Shanice about me and Caliph. The fact was it was out there.
“Have you guys heard from Caliph?”
We hadn't seen him all week. The awkwardness of it all was getting weird. He'd just disappeared. No one really knew where he went. I hoped he was OK. He wasn't returning my text messages but then again after we were damn near about to have sex I didn't think he was going to really care to return my text messages.
“Isn't that him over there?” Jordan asks.
Jordan points across the way. Sure enough Caliph was there. He seems to be leaving some sort of electronic store or something. He has a bag in his hand.
“I'll be right back guys,” I state.
I leave the table at that moment and attempt to run him down. I finally catch up with him outside of the Student Financial Aid building. He is walking down the paved road with the bag in his hand with a very focused look on his face.
As soon as he sees me he stops. He looks...
I can't put my finger on what is different about him. I don't think it's physical. It's something else. Caliph's whole entire aura seems to have transformed a little bit. This new Caliph is something definitely darker and I can't really understand it.
He stops. He turns. He looks at me. The dark eyes glare almost past me.
“What's up?” he asks.
“You haven't been at the frat house all week,” I stated.
He says it with a little bit of an attitude. I don't get it. I look at him dead in his face and he seems almost to glaze over me a little bit.
“Listen I know me and you have some...tension between us, but I don't want that to effect whether or not you continue being a Gamma.”
“Is there anything else you wanted to say?” Caliph asks.
“Fine. Have a good one.”
With that Caliph turns to walk away. He is being short as fuck with me! I don't get it. I can't help but to reach over at that moment and stop him.
“Did I do something wrong?”
He pulls his hand away sharply, “Not everything in my life is surrounded by you, FUCK! LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!”
With that Caliph turns and walks away. I'm shocked. I wasn't expecting him to blow up on me. It hurts too. Caliph might as well have taken a fist and jabbed me in my abdomen. I feel the same amount of pain when he does what he does.
I realize that something is wrong with Caliph. He is changing and it is scaring me.
The days were getting darker for Caliph.
His attitude was getting darker.
He can still feel the boys. He can still feel Roddy and Cody holding him down. He can feel how it felt to be violated over and over by Gaige. He hadn't allowed himself to cry but he wanted to. Deep inside he wanted to cry the whole time.
“Hold the sand nigger down,” Gaige had been saying, “Hold him down.”
No condom. No lube. Just spit.
Ever since they'd fucked him he had found it hard to sit. He had found it hard to go sleep.
Caliph can feel the anger all inside of him after he screams at Mariano. He's more than pissed. It's been a week since he'd been at the frat house. His excuse was that he was going home for a funeral. Truthfully he had rented a hotel room two miles from the school. He couldn't be around these people anymore. He just couldn't make it happen anymore.
He leaves Mariano but then circles back to see him.
Mariano is sitting alone. He looks upset. It hurts Caliph to know that he has hurt him. It wasn't his intention. He wanted to hurt everyone. EVERYONE but Mariano.
Caliph turns around to see Kimmy standing there. She's the RA he had met on his first day. Ever since Kimmy had met him she had a crush on him. It was kind of annoying to tell the truth. Even now as Kimmy sneaks up on Caliph, he can't take his eyes off of Mariano who is sitting painfully alone not too far from the football stadium.
“Not in the mood,” Caliph responds.
Nadia would be upset if she knew Caliph wasn't even trying to fit in anymore. Caliph had seen what these people were capable of. Fitting in was the last thing that he wanted to do now. Now he wanted to do everything it took to get even.
“I didn't mean to bother you. Rumor has it you are pledging to Gamma now. I'm sure all the girls are probably going to be all over you now,” Kimmy explains at that moment, “But I was just wondering, you know if we can go out sometime or...”
Across the street Caliph notices Jordan and Flip walk over to where Mariano is. They seem to be trying to make him feel better. Mariano has a long face. For some reason it hurts Caliph to the core to see Mariano like that. Jordan and Flip give up after a little bit and leave.
Kimmy suggests, “I know that Gaige is having his birthday party next Friday. Everyone is going to be there. The whole school. It should be the biggest birthday party ever. I was hoping maybe we could go together.”
The girl didn't get the clue. She wasn't the only one. It was bad enough before Shady Shanice went on the radio to announce who the new pledges of Gamma were. Now Caliph found it impossible to shake the attention he was getting from girls.
He turns to her, “Kimmy. You aren't my type. OK?”
Kimmy is annoying as fuck. He is even more annoyed when he turns back to see what Mariano is doing only to find that someone had come out of the stadium and is standing in front of Mariano.
Gaige looks at Mariano. He lifts his head. It's clear he's comforting Mariano. Caliph can't see what Gaige is saying to Mariano but whatever he says makes Mariano laugh a little. Then it happens. The worse thing that Caliph could imagine happens.
Gaige kisses Mariano!
He kisses Mariano in the middle of the street!
Then he puts his arm over Mariano and the two of them walk away together.
Caliph almost freaks out when he sees this. He punches a pole next to him at that moment.
“So it's true?” Kimmy states.
“You and Mariano,” Kimmy replies, “It was on Shady Shanice. Everyone was talking about it but Gaige said that was bullshit. I figured that Gaige wouldn't have even responded to the allegation if there wasn't some truth behind it. So you are gay?”
“What did you call me?” he asks her.
“You're gay,” Kimmy responds.
All of a sudden those images came back into his head. The images of those boys. The images of those boys raping him. The images of those boys doing all those horrible things to him.
“Look at me, really good you American piece of shit. I am not gay. I just don't like you. I would never date an infidel. You are nothing to me and you never will be. You hear me?”
With that he goes to the room.
The time was closer than before.
The plan was changing.
He'd make the infidels pay by the end of the week.
Caliph heads back to his hotel room. He goes underneath the bed at that moment and pulls out the bomb that is underneath it.
The suicide vest has an improvised explosive device. It is packed with ball bearings, nails, screws, bolts and other objects that will be shrapnel to maximize the number of casualties once it's explodes. Caliph has been working all week building the suicide vest.
He pulls out his phone and texts Nadia: WHERE ARE YOU?! YOU'RE LATE.
He was going to break down the plan for Nadia. The plan was going to be simple. He was going to choose a function. He would blow himself up in the function. People would try to get out after the explosion but Nadia would be standing there with an automatic weapon to get everyone who survived the initial blast. He had worked on it for a week.
But he was going to make them pay. He'd make them all pay for what they'd done to him.
Just then there is a knock on the door.
He goes to the door and opens it, “You're late...”
Someone walks in the room but it isn't Nadia! It's Jordan!
“You were expecting me?” Jordan explains, “I followed you back over here. You hurt my best friend's feelings and I don't really like that shit.”
“No. Listen. I'm not a fan of him being with Gaige. I know that you think I was bullshitting when I said that I liked the two of you together but I actually really do. I...I...I... oh...shit!”
Jordan walks into the room before Caliph has the chance to stop him. Caliph is shocked that it is Jordan here! He's shocked Jordan actually followed him all the way back to the hotel room! Jordan walks into the room and immediately sees what Caliph has been working on.
The vest is laying on the bed. It's just sitting there! The fucking vest is just fucking sitting there and Jordan's mouth gets wide.
“Ho-ly Fuck!” Jordan screams.
Caliph shuts the door at that moment. He closes it hard.
“Shut your fucking mouth,” Caliph says.
Jordan backs up. He looks at the vest. He looks at Caliph. He looks back at the suicide vest. Jordan looks like he is having a small panic attack at that moment when he is slowly putting together what is going on.
“I didn't see anything,” Jordan says.
Jordan stares at the door. He is planning to make a run for it but Caliph can see it a mile away. Caliph stands in front of the door.
“I'm ISIS,” Caliph says.
“Holy fuck. This is not happening. This is not fucking happening,” Jordan explains.
It's not every day Caliph admitted to someone that he was a terrorist. He had a gun underneath his pillow. It was a small gun but Caliph figured he could kill Jordan if need be. Then he thought about it. There was no point to kill Jordan.
“I'm going to let you go...” Caliph says.
Caliph walks out of his way, “Go. Leave.”
“Just like that?” Jordan asks, “I don't believe you. You're going to shoot me behind my back. You have a gun somewhere don't you?”
“I do. I won't use it though.”
Jordan is sweating. He seems scared to make a run for the door. Jordan thinks this is some sort of trap so that he would get shot in the back or something.
“You don't think I'll go to the police?” Jordan asks.
“No,” Caliph responds, “Because if you go to the police about me, I'll make sure to let them know about what you did to Barry. You remember Barry don't you? You remember how you killed him don't you?”
Jordan swallows his spit at that moment.
All of a sudden Caliph can see Jordan must have come to a realization. Jordan needed him. He desperately needed Caliph to stay quiet about what happened to Barry. They'd both be sent to prison if the cops found out what happened.
“You're a terrorist. I killed him by mistake,” Jordan responds.
“Didn't look like a mistake to me. It looked intentional,” Caliph responds, “But I guess we can both prove our cases. Or you can leave out this room and don't look back.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that. You didn't see shit. You'll be safe. And Gaige...I'll make sure I get that motherfucker back for all the things he's done.”
Many other people would die as well. Many others. Caliph knew that. At one time he cared. At one time he wanted to escape Isis and start over. After being raped by the Gammas he knew that everything Isis told him about the west was real.
“Do you have a target yet...” Jordan asks.
Caliph is shocked. All of a sudden Jordan doesn't seem so scared. The idea of Gaige getting hurt must have calmed Jordan down somewhat. Caliph knew that there was no one who hated Gaige as much as he did except for Jordan.
“Because I want to fucking stay away.”
“I don't have one, but when I do find one I'll let you know under one condition,” Caliph states.
“Name it,” Jordan responds.
“Keep Mariano away as well.”
Jordan nods, “Of course.”
Strange. They had come to some strange and horrible understanding.
“I'll let you know.”
“I have an idea,” Jordan says.
Caliph is shocked at that moment. He's even more shocked when Jordan walks over to him and hands him a piece of paper.
“Gaige's birthday party. It's the perfect event and Gaige is the only one who is guaranteed to be in attendance,” Jordan explains.
Caliph looks down at the paper. It was perfect. It was going to have hundreds of people there. It was going to be the biggest event possible. Caliph would make sure that this was going to be the event that blew away all other events.
He was going to make sure that he left Gamma with a bang.
To read the next chapter in advance go to www.crushedcrown.com