tanley Burbage and his brother Frank had a reputation for putting on wild parties back in high school in the small town we all lived in during the early ‘90s. They were so wild as to be almost mythological in scope. I know that on one occasion a party went on so long and so hard that Stanley and Frank woke up the next day – with probable hangovers – only to find that butter knives had been shoved into the drywall of their parents’ TV Room. This was all hearsay, of course, because I never actually attended one of these shindigs. I almost did, and I say almost because I wound up going to the Burbage residence on the fringes of town one day after a party happened. I thought the party was happening on a Saturday, not a Friday night. And I don’t think I was ever formally invited, either. I think someone might have suggested it to me in the halls on the way to class, and I wouldn’t have put it past them to give me the wrong date just to embarrass me. But maybe I just got confused. I don’t know. Memory is such a fickle thing, though there are indeed some things you never forget.
Now, I wasn’t a complete loser or geek growing up, but I did spend a fair amount of time to myself, so I wasn’t really “in” with any social group or strata. Perhaps, this desire for solitude and singledom set me apart from my classmates. The only thing I was good at, in social circles, at least, was bringing music from the big cities and making dub cassettes of the CDs I’d bought for interested parties who were curious as to what I was listening to on dubs on my walkman in Math or History class. I introduced people to a lot of stuff. I was the first kid to know of Nirvana in my school, weeks before “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became a bona-fide hit. I must have made dozens of copies of that Ministry live album, In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up. I turned a few people onto Hüsker Dü – unfortunately, long after they had broken up. But that was ultimately the extent of my interaction with most people. So maybe I was cool enough for my tastes in music to get a suggestion to go a Burbage party – at least, on one occasion – but not cool enough to be given the proper date. That’s the only explanation I can come up with. Sorry if that sounds lame. I really don’t have anything else to offer.
I borrowed my parents’ car that fateful Saturday night in January, right before the exams period kicked in and just right after Christmas and New Year’s, and headed to the Burbage house. It was a fairly extravagant house by small town standards. I wasn’t really sure what their parents did – I never asked, and nobody bothered to tell me – but I knew that they were loaded. They had a nice wooden frame home, a two-story deal, and it was pretty intricately furnished with all sorts of weird art from Africa and other places. I wonder if that stuff ever got trashed, but I can’t say that I know for sure. Anyhow, I was naturally a bit surprised to pull into their long driveway, only to find it mostly devoid of other cars. I guess I thought I was a bit early, even if it was maybe nine o’clock at night – time enough, I figured, for some people to be trickling in. In any event, the most memorable thing about that drive is that once I got past the dense pine and maple forest to the clearing where the house stood, I saw a couple of figures flickering in the light of what appeared to be a bonfire. It was a cold enough night for it. I parked and got out of the car, and upon walking up to the house, I could make out the figures: Bryan and Erik Angel. Despite the last name, they were anything but. In fact, they were really known as the Devil Brothers. They were always trouble-makers, and I did well to generally steer clear of them. For instance, they were both cast in the same high school drama play that their homeroom put on as part of a fall festival of the arts in front of the entire school, and the brothers spent the entire time bungling their lines, dropping f-bombs that weren’t in the script, and, what’s more, dry humping and kissing each other full on the mouth at every opportunity they could get. (This was also not in the script.) This wound up getting them a stern lecture by the principal, though I don’t think they got suspended. Probably a phone call to their parents for their rather incestuous behaviour – which the brothers likely found to be hilarious, especially given all the laughs they got from the audience.
I also was one the receiving end of a Devils Brothers prank. They wound up calling a local computer supply store after hours and left all sorts of rude messages on the answering machine. Then, at the very end, they would say it was me. Well, a cop pulled up in my driveway one day, and I had a whale of a time explaining to him that I hadn’t made the phone calls. However, the cop let me listen to the recordings on a portable cassette player he had with him, and, sure enough, it was the Angels. I told him so, and it would come to pass that, sure enough, it was them. The cop wound up telling my mother at work one day afterwards about this, and he thanked me for my help solving the case. He also told her that no charges would be forthcoming, because he believed that they would be in enough trouble from their parents. As if! Anyhow, I never got an apology, so, needless to say, I stayed pretty clear of those jokers normally. If I could help it.
When I saw what they were doing in front of the Burbage house that night I pulled up in my parents’ car, it gave me a great pause. They had arranged some logs to form a rather large swastika, which, of course, was on fire. The duo were laughing manically and adding fuel in the form of something in a small tin – motor oil, I guess – to the flames. I just gave them a wide berth and continued on in the frigid cold to the door of the house. I don’t think they understood the gravity of what it was that they were doing. I’m sure, to them, it was just something of a laugh. Of course, six million Jews would obviously beg to differ.
I went inside, took off my coat and boots, and set about proceeding directly to the kitchen, where I supposed there would be a natural supply of beer in the form of a keg that I could crack into. On my way there, I passed the TV Room, and noticed through a bit of a crack in the door that Jerry Harris was upright on the couch with Sarah Dillabough sitting in his lap. They were necking, lips entwined together as though they were permanently glued. I paused for a moment and smiled, thinking of the gossip I was now in on. They seemed like such an unlikely pair. Sure, they were both jocks, I suppose, with Jerry being on the basketball team and Sarah the star of the volleyball squad, but I’d never thought they would actually get it on or be a couple. I thought about this, listening to the muted strains of what was a Nine Inch Nails song from the Broken EP, “Wish” probably, being played from what I thought at the time was presumably the kitchen, when a hand clapped me on the back and gradually nudged me forward down the hallway.
I turned my head around and the lanky six-foot-five giant Derek Michelin, also a star of the basketball team, stared at me shaking his head.
“Let them be,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “They’re just having some fun.”
I turned beet red and offered an apology, muttering something about my surprise at see the two go at it so amorously.
Derek seemed nonplussed at my mumblings.
“Go on,” he said, waving me off. “Stan’s in the kitchen eating. Talk to him if you want.”
Derek then walked the opposite way down the long hallway, and rounded a corner into some other room. That was the last I saw of him that night, so it’s possible that he left not long after encountering him. Or maybe not, given what happened later. I have to wonder if he was in on the whole thing, playing guard dog for the Angels. Who knows?
When I got to the kitchen, Stanley Burbage was, indeed, at the table eating. However, I was shocked to see him lifting a spoon of brown crystals to his mouth from a tin of instant Iced Tea mix. I’m must have raised an eyebrow, because he immediately explained himself, “There’s nothing left to eat in the house. Nothing.”
“How can there be nothing to eat?” I asked rather naïvely.
“Big party last night,” he said. “Everyone was here. Everyone. They ate everything in the fridge and in the cupboards. And me and Frank have no money until the folks come back in a couple of days, so this is all I have left.”
“Oh,” I said, sheepishly. I glanced at the nearby sink, and, sure enough, it was loaded top to bottom with dishes and glasses. There were even some dirty dishes on the counter, and a small pile on the floor. Clearly, the Burbage brothers had been eaten out of a house and home. Almost literally.
“There’s no beer, either, in case you were about to ask,” said Stanley. “Pretty lame. So what brings you here on a Saturday night?”
“I thought there was a party,” I said. “Someone said to come down here tonight.”
“Well,” said Stanley, “That was last night. There’s only a few stragglers from yesterday here. Frank’s gone, but Derek’s here somewhere. The Devil Brothers are here. Also, there’s a bunch of guys who had enough LSD left over from last night that they’re now out tripping out in the back yard. All of ‘em are up in a tree. They say if they come down, snow sharks will get them.”
“Oh,” I said, noticing that the dying strains of the Nine Inch Nails song was giving way to a Love Battery tune on a portable stereo on the kitchen counter. One of my mixed tapes!
“Say, could you do me a favour?” asked Stanley, taking another spoonful of Iced Tea mix. “Could you stick your head out the back door and yell at them to come down? I’m tired of hearing them hoot and holler back there, and I’m sure the neighbours probably can hear ‘em. Don’t want to get in shit.”
Funny, I thought. The neighbours must have lived a good half mile away.
I agreed, though, to go out back and see what the group of fellow teenagers were up to. I borrowed a coat on a peg by the back door and threw on an oversized pair of work boots that happened to be by the door as well, and ventured back outside into the cool, cool night air of winter. As I closed the door behind me, so as not to have a draft of air come into the house, I swear I thought I heard Stanley say, “Who invited him?” But maybe that was just my imagination.
I walked outside, turning the light over the back door as I walked out, and immediately my foot sank more than ankle deep in the crusty snow. There were no discernable tracks that I could see, at least once you got past the back door area, and the thin orb of light cast nothing in the way of anyone being out here for a few days at least. I found that odd. If there had been someone out here, they must have come around from the front of the house or through the woods. It was just my lone steps crunching through the snow, as though nobody else had bothered to make the trek. I carried on, my feet sinking with each careful step until I was out of the light cast by the back door bulb. I walked all the way out to the very edge of the backyard, calling out the odd “Hello” every now and then. Nobody answered. However, I quickly found what I was looking for when I got to the very edge of the property line and the backyard gave way to forest.
Up in the branches of a tall, thick maple tree, I could barely see a few figures shuffling about overhead. It took me a few seconds for my eyes to adjust in the dim moonlight, but I saw that the figures were Andrew Irving, Dale Morrow and Theodore Lindsay. All of them were up in the same tree, all of them seemingly shuddering in the dark.
“Dude!” Dale suddenly screamed. “There are snow sharks down there! Get up out of there!”
“Yeah, man,” said Andrew said, barely hanging onto a branch “I ain’t getting down from here! It’s dangerous down there!”
About then I realized that I probably had my hands full.
“OK, how much LSD did you guys take?” I asked wearily.
“There are snow sharks out there, man!” Andrew replied in turn. “Get up here in this tree or you won’t be safe!”
“Yeah, there’s snow sharks!” added Theodore. “Get up in this tree before you get into some real trouble!”
“I am not getting up in that tree,” I said. “You guys need to get down here. You must be freezing.”
They stayed silent for a moment, and then I heard someone making the ba-dum sounds of the theme from Jaws.
“Holy shit!” cried Andrew. “There’s one now!”
“Yeah, man,” said Dale. “There’s one coming up on ya! Can’t you see the fin?”
“Oh no!” shrieked Theodore. “He’s about to get ya! Hold it, hold it! Man, he’s gone!”
There was silence for a few beats. Then Dale spoke up.
“Shark got him,” he said, his voice now lowered a pitch, almost in reverence. “I knew that it would happen.”
“Damn asshole wouldn’t get up in the tree,” said Theo. “It’s safe here. I won’t be coming down.”
“Not until these snow sharks go away,” said Dale.
The trio then grew quiet, almost sombre as though they were in mourning somehow. Even though what had happened had only taken a minute or so, maybe less, my patience was running pretty thin.
“Would you clowns knock it off?” I yelled up into the tree. “There are no snow sharks. I’m here. I’m still alive. Would you get out of there and get into the house? Stan’s worried about you three.”
A branch shifted up in the tree, and for a moment I thought the guys were about to get down out of there. No dice, however. I glanced back up and now saw Andrew huddling against the trunk, holding on for dear life. I felt that there was nothing I could do or say would get these morons out of the tree. My efforts would be futile. They would be still there in the morning, by which time they would be suffering from hypothermia or some such thing. I have to say I felt sorry for them, but I wasn’t going to stand around and let these guys get the better of me. Let them be, I thought. And let them hang out up there until the LSD wears off. I had had enough of this bullshit.
So I turned around and started trudging back to the house. I got about halfway there before I started having thoughts of leaving this “party”. Nothing was happening, nothing great anyway. There was apparently no beer, and, despite the presence of Sarah Dillabough, no girls that I could see – part of a reason for coming, I suppose: the hint or possibility of something happening with someone. In fact, there just appeared to be a loose handful of people who were Burbage hangers-on. Boy, did I ever feel like a fool. There was nothing, nothing, going on. I was going to tell Stanley this when I got back to the kitchen and then take my leave, but when I finally got back to the house and returned the coat and boots to their original location, I noticed that the kitchen was empty of any one person. Just the strains of some Velocity Girl now playing on the stereo was the only sign of life. Stanley’s tin of Iced Tea mix was sitting on the table beside a spoon that had been clearly licked clean. I peered inside the tin. It was empty. Completely devoured. Stanley had gone to town on it.
I stayed awhile, sitting at the kitchen table, hoping that someone interesting would stop by and say hello. Ok, and the real reason I stayed there was because I wanted to listen to my mixtape. I was incredulous that someone had thought that I was important enough to put on my compilation. I wracked my brains and tried to think of when I had given Stanley or Frank Burbage a mix. I couldn’t think of any. That didn’t mean that I didn’t make one for them – God knows I made a lot of stuff for a variety of different people that I practically lost count. And I’m sure that the music was popular enough for it to get dubbed to second-generation tapes for others to impart. Still, I was flattered, and I must have stayed in that chair for a solid half-hour waiting for the tape to end. When it did, I went and flipped it over, and listened to some more. Nobody came into the kitchen during that time, though the Angels must have, at some point, doused the flames of their burning swastika, and entered the house. I was too busy listening to the music to pay much attention, I guess.
Eventually, when I grew tired of my solitude – it was fine if I were all alone, but at a party (for lack of a better term), the loneliness eventually washed over me – I got up and went back down the hallway to the front door to gather my stuff and go. The rest of the house was eerily quiet; there seemed to be no signs of life to be found anywhere. I didn’t even know where Stanley had gone to mutter a goodbye. However, as I passed the door to the TV Room, I noticed that it had been thrown wide open. Curiosity got the best of me and I peered in, double checking that Derek wasn’t somewhere behind me to lay a hand on my shoulder. I immediately noticed that Sarah was now gone – she had seemingly deserted the house much like most everyone else (and I have to wonder if she played a part in setting Jerry up for what happened next, though I don’t know for certain still to this day). Another thing of note: there were beer bottles littered all over the floor. Jerry was lying down on the couch, clearly passed out. So there must have been some beer in the house, or some that Jerry had brought with him – either that or Stan lied to me so I wouldn’t tap into his supply – because in the space of perhaps a bit less than an hour or so, Jerry was clearly lights out. Probably passed out drunk. But then I heard something. Snickering. Suddenly, the Angels – or Devil brothers, if you would rather – appeared from one corner of the room, and I saw that Bryan had a point-and-shoot camera in his hands. I don’t know what prompted him to bring one to a party, and I wonder if it had belonged to the Burbages. In any event, Erik eventually stood over in front of Jerry’s upturned face and I then heard the sound of what appeared to be a zipper being pulled. I could only see Erik’ backside as he was turned away from me, and, a moment later, he started wiggling in front of Jerry, and, not long after, Bryan came up beside Erik and started taking pictures. They were oblivious to my presence. The flash blinded me. Clearly, something weird was going on, but, as I noted before, I wasn’t a fan of the Angel’s antics, and just decided to get on with it and go. They were up to something, and something that I probably wanted no part in. I staggered away from the door and found my jacket and boots, and quietly put them on and left, being careful not to let the door slam behind me on the way out.
It took a few days into the school week to finally see what trouble the Angels had wrought. The pictures were everywhere. In the bathrooms. Inside people’s lockers. Hidden in dead ends of hallways where the custodial staff usually didn’t look or clean very well, but crowds of people gathered to gawk during break. It was completely humiliating. In the photos, Jerry’s gaping passed out mouth was open, and into it was (known only to me) Erik Angel’s flaccid penis stuck inside of it.
Jerry Harris stopped coming to school not long after that.
The story, as I would learn later, was that Jerry was so embarrassed by the photos, his sporting reputation literally in tatters, that he wound up telling his parents what had happened by bringing home once of the pictures. I don’t know what that conversation must have entailed, but it would turn out that Jerry simply transferred schools – not an easy thing to do in a small town. He wound up living with his uncle in the city two hours away.
I would, in the months ahead, come to regret my inability to have done anything at the gathering I’d found myself drawn to. Not just for Jerry, but others as well. I could have, for one, offered to buy Stanley Burbage some food – I’d had some money in my wallet that I had on me, after all. That might have ingratiated himself upon me, and not mutter what I thought I heard him say when I left through the back door of his house that night. I could have also done something more, possibly, to get the trippers down from their tree. I could have goaded them with more drugs, in retrospect, just to get them down and help them. That would have gotten them into the warm house, instead of having them nearly freeze to death in the cold. However, and this is the most important thing, if I had leaned in and spied on what the Devil brothers were up to with Jerry Harris more closely, or, put another way, maybe if I’d cared more, maybe I could have put a stop to it and prevented his humiliation.
But I didn’t.
I told you I never really attended a party at the Burbage’s. I missed it by a day. But after that, I never went back there. Not even once.
Too many sharks hiding in the snow, I’d decided. Too many sharks hiding in the snow.
* * * * *
Zachary Houle lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, where he works for the federal government as a Project Officer and is also an Associate Music Reviews editor for PopMatters.com, a pop culture webzine that reaches 1.2 million unique visitors a month. He also contributes regular book and music reviews to PopMatters. Houle has been awarded a $4,000 emerging artist grant from the City of Ottawa to write fiction, and was a Pushcart Prize nominee for a novella that appeared inMidnight Mind. His fiction or poetry has also appeared in places such as Broken Pencil, Word Riot, Pindeldyboz, Kiss Machine, The Danforth Review, Girls with Insurance, Thieves Jargon, Friction magazine, Megaera, and many others. His poem “Ode to the Long Lost Mini-Pops Album” was published in the book anthology In Our Own Words, Vol. 7 (MW Enterprises, 2007).