JTK by SlimeBeast
I'm a nice guy. I try not to judge people on their looks or immediate behavior, and for the most part I like to think I've always been that way. There have only been a few exceptions to this rule. Mostly the random gibbering homeless people or ranting religious zealots. People you pass on the way to work, and don't want to get involved with. The one I remember most often, however, was Jeffrey Jones.
I went to school with Jeff. Mostly. I don't want to get ahead of myself, here, but it'd be more appropriate to say I spent about one school year with him. We were both freshmen at the stale, white-and-blue high school that seemed more like a prison or a factory than a place of education.
Jeff was fucking weird. Not in same way as someone who's way too smart or way too stupid, or a boy who's way into drama class. He was legitimately strange as a human being. Off. Wrong. He was tall and lanky. Almost as tall as his brother, Louis, who was two years ahead of him. I guess you'd call him “Goth” or “Emo” or whatever the term is. I was never into conformist subculture, but I'd label him that way due to the stringy black hair, one side of his head shaved, and the fact he didn't seem to own clothes in any color other than black.
Jeff barked at someone. Legitimately barked like a dog. Some kid gave him shit for his whole My Chemical Romance thing, and Jeff did his best Cujo impression right in the guy's face. It wasn't just a momentary scare tactic, like he drew a blank on how to handle the situation. Jeff barked loud, and long. He didn't stop until the other kid turned and walked away, Jeff barking at his back like a lunatic.
There are plenty of examples I can still recall at this point. At one point, we were given an assignment to write an essay about a "historical duo". The problem wasn't that Jeff picked more recent figures. The problem was that he selected Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Someone must've told the teacher what was up, because she never called on Jeff to present his essay in front of the class. That was the end of it.
The most telling thing was Jeff's notebook. He left it behind in class, one day, and someone decided to go through it. From what I heard, it was full of bad drawings of demons and terribly written "fan fiction" where Jeff teamed up with movie villains. He envisioned himself as the badass martial artist who earned the fear and respect of monsters and hardened killers. Instead of treating it like yet another red flag, kids were content just using it as a source of mockery.
I guess the real roadblock, though, was Louis Jones. Jeff's older brother was a pretty proficient player for our basketball team, the Haymakers. (Named long ago by a farming community with no idea of the secondary definition.)
Students wanted to stay on the good side of Louis and his clique. Teachers knew that the majority of the school's budget actually came from sporting events. Local authorities... well, the information would never make its way up to them, so I guess they can't be blamed. Jeff could do pretty much anything he wanted, short of murder, and he knew there would be no real repercussions.
I wasn't exactly an angel, of course. I mean, as much as I tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, Jeff really strained my patience. Girls would cross the hallway to avoid him. Not because he would accost or annoy them, but because he would leer at them. That alone almost seemed more distressing to female students than the awkward, hormone-fueled antics of other boys. It's difficult to explain... it was a look that almost seemed to say, “You know, if I did it, no one would listen to you.”
I don't know what caused this behavior. I have no idea what kind of home life Jeff and Louis had, but it was obvious their parents had remarried. Louis was like a younger, more lithe Shaquille O'Neil, and Jeff was more of a Rob Schneider. Someone you wouldn't be afraid of, or even give a second look, if not for the overt attempts at looking and being edgy.
A couple friends and I decided to take Jeff aside and talk to him, one day. It was a huge mistake, and while we knew it would probably be fruitless, we were high on teenage melodrama and saw ourselves as saviors of the student body. Maybe even of Jeff himself.
“Jeff.” I called out after lunch, drawing his attention before he went back into the school building. He was always the last one back. You know, to be fashionably late, I guess.
“You need to stop messing with everyone.” My friend Troy chimed in as Jeff stood toe-to-toe with me, arms folded.
“I don't mess with people.” Jeff whispered in a put-on, gravelly voice. “People mess with me.”
Keith, the third of our ill-advised Musketeers, laughed. Jeff instantly turned, cocking his head as if he hadn't clearly heard the boy.
“What's funny?” Jeff snarled, “Do I look like a joke to you? Do you not recognize darkness incarnate when it stands before you?”
“Man, what's wrong with you?” Troy drew Jeff's attention back off of Keith, who was visibly shaken, and clearly falling for the paper-thin tough guy act. “Are you, like, literally crazy, or do you just like scaring everyone all the time?”
It was a clumsy retort, but it worked well enough in the moment.
I'm not blameless for what happened. Not at all. I don't want this to seem like I'm stacking the deck against Jeff, here. He was obnoxious, threatening, and on occasion, violent. However, that doesn't excuse how we reacted when he made the hot-headed mistake of shoving Troy to the ground.
Keith and I were frozen in shock for a moment. In an instant, Jeff was in Troy's face. The next second, Troy was on his ass, and Jeff was barking at him. If we weren't so shocked by the sudden turn from argument to assault, we might've been able to collect our thoughts. We could've just helped Troy to his feet, made a useless report to the Principal, and went on living our lives.
That's not what we did.
I was the first one on top of Jeff. I tackled him to the ground, hard, as if he had killed Troy instead of just shoving him off-balance. I think he was screaming as I punched him repeatedly in side of the head. The shaved side. Keith was with me in a flash, kicking Jeff in the leg and hip. I didn't even know Keith was doing this at the time, in the rush of adrenaline. Before long, Troy was back on his feet, and, apparently feeling that he should join in since he was the one who had been shoved, he delivered a single stomp to Jeff's stomach, crushing the breath out of him.
The fight... or, I guess, the attack... lasted for mere seconds. It was a brief display, showing Jeff that he might be able to fuck with the other hundred-plus kids at school – but not us. Never us. We felt like the only ones who actually put morality over popularity.
Ironic, I know.
The funny thing about that day, if you can call any of it “funny”, is that we never got in trouble. Jeff didn't tell a soul. It's almost like the influence his brother had over the school went both ways. Maybe Jeff didn't want Louis coming back at us and risking his future. Maybe he was just embarrassed to admit that “darkness incarnate” was left wheezing and crying in the school courtyard. I'll never really figure it out.
The up side of the whole thing was that Jeff was an absolute dream for the next couple months. No leering at girls, no taking things that didn't belong to him, and no barking. The gossip at the time was that Jeff finally got reprimanded by the faculty... but Troy, Keith, and I knew the real reason.
The next big controversy was a shake-up in the yearbook department. A couple of the kids running it were caught giving students unflattering placeholder names. "Slutty Sarah", "Nick the Nerd”, “Fatass Felix”, stuff like that. They were reprimanded harshly, and it seemed like that was going to take root as the year's “big scandal”.
Everything seemed to be normal as Halloween festivities approached. This was at the start of our Sophomore year, and nobody really paid attention to Jeff anymore. Louis was free to be head of “Respectful Costume Day” without being tacitly involved in borderline felonies. And yes, in case you would ask, it used to just be “Costume Day” until a “mariachi band” arrived a couple years prior.
I'll give you three guesses as to who Jeff dressed as, that year. If all three of your guesses weren't “The Joker”, then I've failed to accurately explain this guy's personality and behavior. Of course it would be a crude attempt at mimicking a deceased actor's psychotic tour-de-force.
Now, when I say he came to school dressed as the Joker, I don't mean exactly. For the most part, his clothes were the same. Black, ripped jeans, black boots (with elevated soles), black shirt. With the addition of a black trench coat, black and white face paint, and red lips, his everyday outlandishness almost seemed to make sense. Almost.
I was talking with Jane, my girlfriend at the time, when we both fell silent just to watch Jeff skitter past. She was dressed as Jesse from Toy Story, and even tipped her hat to Jeff as he stopped briefly to flash us an unbalanced grin. I didn't notice the prosthetic scars on his cheeks until that very moment... but at least he wasn't giving her “the look” again.
For some reason, seeing Jeff made up like that caused me more shame than anything else. I was Heathcliff the Cat. It was an old sweater and orange pants my mother had “striped” a while back, and it still fit pretty well, so it seemed like an obvious choice. (Jane thought I was a tiger, and I went with that.)
For the rest of the day, all I thought about was whether it was okay to find Jesse sexually attractive or not. It was one of those school days that's just wasted due to the spectacle of it all. You can't take a report on WWII seriously when comes from the mouth of a bad “Tony Stark” cosplayer.
Then, the fire alarm rang.
Everyone in the class room laughed immediately. We'd been waiting for some sort of prank or unscheduled “event” in the lead up to Halloween. Still, the teacher got us up and out the door in a regimented line. Dracula behind the Green Ranger behind Gomez Addams behind a zombie cheerleader. It was hilarious.
It wasn't until we were in the hallway that we heard the screaming. It wasn't prank screaming. Not even one of those lame Halloween sound effect CDs. It was real, bone-chilling shrieking. From multiple people. Many, many people.
The teacher told us to continue to the exit as her high heels click-clacked in a jog down the hall and around the corner. We were all silent. Other students from other classes had joined us, now, and the one thing we weren't doing was walking to any exits.
The screaming continued. The sound of a window breaking, like someone had fallen or jumped through it. Anything else was drowned out by the din of the fire alarm.
“Someone should go see what's up.” suggested a disembodied voice.
“We gotta go outside. The firemen will help them. We can't.” said another.
“Fuck this. Fuck it, man.” a third helpfully added.
Some kids broke from the group and went to leave the building. Others stayed right there on the spot, ready to run once they saw what exactly was going on. I, in one of my trademarked bouts of unbridled altruistic stupidity, made my way toward the panic.
As I left the others behind and rounded that corner, I saw the source of the commotion.
He stood to one side of the body-strewn hallway, his head angled away from me and toward the teacher who had just ordered us to safety moments before. She crawled on the waxed, faux-marble floor, blood trailing after her. I could see the glint of a knife still wedged in her back, between the vertebrae.
I let out an immediate scream. There was no time to stifle it. Upon hearing the nose, Jeff turned to me. I'll never know how he singled it out of the echoing cries already filling the building.
Jeff had added some accessories to his costume. Among them, a feather boa from the heavy-set girl I'd seen dressed as Lady Gaga... a loose necktie I recognized from a senior dressed as his own dad... and a distressingly familiar cowgirl hat.
The makeup on his face had all but vanished due to sweat. In that moment, even from that distance, I realized that the cuts on his face weren't actually prosthetic. They were as real as the viscous blood on his hands, arms, chest, and legs.
Jeff started to walk toward me. My first instinct was to run. I would've done just that if not for the injured girl who saw this as her opportunity to escape. As soon as she stumbled to her feet, steadying herself on a locker, Jeff reached beneath the bag of a nearby trash can and pulled out another knife with masking tape still stuck to its blade. Within an instant, he had cut her throat for a second time, and this one stuck.
I was already running toward the girl by the time he grabbed, then dropped her to the floor. I don't know if I yelled at him to stop, or if I let out a primal noise. All I know is that I retrieved a fire extinguisher from the wall, and hadn't even considered the fact I was about to attempt to bash in the head of another human being.
Seeing me coming a mile away... or maybe just hearing my less than stealthy approach, Jeff reached above a locker and retrieved yet another taped-down butcher knife. He must've been hiding them around the school for weeks. It's insane to think no one randomly found them.
So that was it. Dual-wielded kitchen cutlery vs. a crude, red metal bludgeon. It would be an inelegant, cumbersome, and messy display that would most likely leave the both of us slowly dying in a detestable heap.
Fortunately for me, that was the moment Louis finally stepped in and attempted to handle the train wreck his brother had become. I didn't even see where he came from, my tunnel vision blackened to all but the menacing figure that had been casually strolling my way.
“Jeff!” Louis boomed, “What the fuck are you doing?!”
I stopped. Jeff stopped. The world stopped.
“Rapture.” Jeff replied cooly, “Judgement day."
“I don't understand!” Louis all but cried out, his face twisted up into a knot of emotional torture. With thick arms outstretched, he slowly approached Jeff, who refused to look back at him.
“I'm judging the sheep for their sins. Their stupidity.” Jeff offered back.
Louis finally reached his brother's side, taking a cautious stance. He took Jeff's hand and removed the knife with no real resistance. The blade clattered to the floor.
“And sheep...” Jeff continued, finally looking his brother in the face with a blank, loveless expression, “Are are only good for slaughter.”
Louis had approached Jeff from the side. It only took a moment for my mind to register a crucial mistake. He hadn't seen Jeff's other hand.
“He has another knife!” I shouted.
Instead of looking to Jeff's hand or backing away, Louis turned his attention to me as if he had no idea what I was shouting about. It was one option I never would've accounted for. With a single, fluid motion, Jeff planted the knife in Louis' neck, releasing a shower of crimson-tinged profanities from a sports deity suddenly made frighteningly mortal.
“Shh...” Jeff sneered as Louis leaned against him, sliding to the floor, “It'll be over soon. It's like going to sleep. Shh.”
There would be no more inaction on my part. No more standing around like a fear-gripped child who was waiting for any given excuse to avoid what had to be done. I was raining down steel blows on Jeff before he even realized I was after him again.
He crumpled to the floor, but I didn't stop. This wasn't like the courtyard after lunch. This wasn't an overreaction, and I was more sure of myself at that moment than at any time before or since. Jeff had to die, and I was the one who had to save the world from his continued existence.
I broke several fingers while trying to use the fire extinguisher for unintended purposes. One when it got caught in the handle, and others when they were presumably pinned between the metal and Jeff's skull. Most of the details are still shrouded in a haze of panicked fury.
The numbness wore off quickly, giving way to stinging pain. I could no longer keep a solid grip of the weapon, and trying to wipe my own blood on the orange-and-black sweater only covered my hands in more blood than had spattered there.
Jeff dragged himself slowly, trembling fingertips pressed against slick floor. I could only fall into a sitting position and watch, panting, as he made a slug trail of gore toward a bench. I knew what would be there. Another blade, taped to the underside of the seat. I didn't care. He'd be dead soon. He'd have to be. Maybe I would be, too. I couldn't even hear the fire alarm anymore and considered I was having an eerily calm heart attack or stroke.
Before Jeff could reach the bench, a strong fist grasped his pant leg. Louis. Jeff's hands scrambled to regain traction as his brother slowly, painfully pulled him back toward him. The two lay there as Louis held Jeff's faltering body in a tight embrace.
I knew it wasn't out of love. It was simply the only way to keep him still.
Later, I'd find out that Keith and Troy had been among the first kids to actually evacuate the building when the alarm rang. No one outside knew what was going on, and Police were on the scene quickly... but not quickly enough.
Jane was dead. So were over a dozen other students and staff. So was Louis. So was Jeff.
We didn't go back to school for an inordinately long amount of time, until the board figured out where to send everybody. I didn't see Keith again, and only saw Troy in passing since our schedules were entirely different at the new location.
The only sense of normalcy after this incident came when our yearbooks arrived. Since most of the students had spent years together at that school and the events surrounding the school year's termination were “highly unusual”, people requested the yearbooks still be sent out as a much-deserved of keepsake. The well-intentioned idea was to remember the good rather than the bad and “memorialize the victims”. There was a big argument about funding and budget needs, but in the end, family and concerned citizens successfully shouted the school board down.
When I cracked open that book, a sense of bittersweet reverence fell over me. There was Jane. There was Louis. Complete with quotes beneath their pictures... ones their parents thought they would've picked.
The yearbooks were recalled right away. We didn't get new ones. I don't know who did it, or why. Just another sick joke from a random chucklefuck on the Yearbook committee, I guess... but there he was, staring back at me from the page.
Jeffrey Jones. Amateurishly photoshopped into a white-faced, red-lipped mockery of himself.
Beneath the picture: Jeff the Killer ~ "Go to sleep”.