I turned twenty years old at the end of September.
My birthday was as unremarkable as always, but this time it was practically crushed into nonexistence following a particular event - one you might ironically call life changing, I suppose. Along with the rain and cold that coincided with the fall, I developed something that clung my mind like frozen particles of water. And that something was the nonsensical notion of ending my life.
By attempting to carry out this notion, I consequently ended up with the strange eye defect that kept me intertwined with the dying. Looking back now, I can't believe how stupid and selfish I had been. If there had been one thing I could take back in my entire life, it would be the very instance I had decided to overdose on sleeping pills.
I know what you're probably thinking. Why would this fool do something like that? What would prompt him to consider such a thing? Even I don't know. This all happened during a particularly dark time in my life, but nothing in its entirety should have made me so morbid, so ready to die. I confess that I was struggling to live up to my parents' high expectations. My mother, after all, was an esteemed surgeon while my father was a mayoral candidate, so you can imagine how lofty their ideals for me were. School was swallowing me without mercy, and in the meantime I was living with the coldest loneliness smeared upon my face, suffocating me, stripping me of any fragment of solace. But those are no excuses for the deed I was so determined to carry out, not at all.
Strangely enough, many other people in Seattle and across the United States were committing suicide at that time. These mass deaths were reported in newspapers, television reports, and Internet news feeds. Studies were conducted; police departments and specialized enforcement agencies were on edge. I remember hearing about the suicides on the news, feeling sick to my stomach but also strangely envious, as though I almost wanted to join those who plunged from skyscrapers and jumped in front of bullet trains. It was like the idea of killing yourself was parasitical, readily spreading from one person to the other.
I had chosen the time and date specifically for my death. September 30th, one day after my birthday, 2:31 a.m. Not a minute later, not a minute before. I had dwelled on committing suicide for a couple of weeks, but had only opted on it in a handful of seconds. A string had snapped inside me, cutting off any doubts I might have still harbored. My resolve for death was unbridled. I wanted to end it. I found myself actually looking forward to whatever came after.
Paradise, I assured myself, blinding myself with an ersatz illusion. Paradise.
I knew where I was going to die. The bathroom. My parents' bathroom, to be precise. At the time I didn't even care how much harm this might have caused them. They were out of town that night. Cree was locked in his bedroom, absorbed in his medical studies, no doubt. I was left alone to prepare. I had always had a strange affinity for water, as it was calming and very soothing for me, so I ran a cold bath in my parents' massive tub. I would swallow the pills before submerging myself underwater. And then I would let go, and allow myself to glide into shadowed hands of a proposed paradisiacal oblivion.
As I filled the bathtub, I remembered something my grandmother had told me some years ago.
"Your soul has a great deal of water. Why else would you swim like a fish and have eyes the color of rain?"
She had always been a spiritual woman at heart, convinced that people were made up of the elements. I considered her words as jets of water spewed from the faucet and into the bathtub. Then I startled myself by saying aloud in a singsong voice, "As I was born from water, so I will die within it. The forest guardian laughs at the prospect of waterfalls breaking through the tiger armies and beyond."
I quickly slapped my hand to my mouth, startled by the eerie, inexplicable words that had just come tumbling from my mouth. But then I started laughing. I was just nervous, that was all.
It came quickly, but I was ready.
I swallowed down maybe twenty or thirty of the white tablets and then looked into the mirror at my reflection for one last time. Several seconds passed as I studied the tall, pale, thin young man who appeared so tranquil and so calm, his unkempt black hair falling into round gray eyes circled in shadows from little sleep. Then I lowered my naked scrawny frame into the bathtub and ducked my head into the chilled swathe of crystalline water.
Being the genius I am, I failed to calculate the number of pills I had taken versus how much my body could respond to such toxins. I lived, but only barely. Cree was the one to find me passed out and also call for an ambulance. I still have no idea how he knew I was in trouble or how he managed to break through the locked door. My older brother, the trained EMT on his way to becoming a paramedic, wrenched me out of the tub and immediately began resuscitation. I spluttered to life and then vomited, my head and my stomach smoldering with pain. Then I fell into the tides of unconsciousness and found myself in an airy blue hospital room a couple days later, a strange crystal pocket watch lying in the palm of my hand. I turned the watch over and over in my fingers, perplexed even in my lethargic state. I wanted to ask someone where it had come from, yet when my family entered the hospital room, I hurriedly stowed it under my covers.
Each of my family members reacted differently when they saw me.
"Liam," my mother whispered, tears in her eyes.
"You all right, son?" my father asked.
"If you weren't lying in a hospital bed right now," Cree spat, "I would kick your ass for what you tried to do."
Suddenly, the severity of what I had done finally sunk into my bones like dense, seeping saltwater. I think the very moment when I saw my brother and parents was when I realized what a fool I was. I didn't know what to say to them, so I bowed my head in the deepest shame. I had never been so disgusted with myself in my entire life.
Needless to say, my family kept me closely monitored after that. At university they alerted the faculty that I was depressed and had suicidal tendencies. I could have been embarrassed, but I just decided to accept it. I was the one who had made the mistake in the first place; therefore I was the one who would face whatever consequences drifted my way. I was urged to see psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, everyone. They wanted me to start talking, to come to terms with myself as well as what had happened. But I never really opened up to anyone. I had been quiet before and after the suicide, and I hated these people who tried to change me. I felt like water that they were trying to tame, to bottle up. But it didn't matter; their efforts were foolish and futile. Because even if water is caught or trapped, in time it will wear through its confinements, and flow its way through a new path.
At least, that was what I thought.
It happened several days after my attempted suicide, when the cold September gave way to a colder October.
The first person I saw with the blue Aura was my parents' housekeeper. Even now I can't remember her name, and I feel sorry about it. Something like Fatima, or Faith. She was a nice woman with skin the color of sunburned sand and eyes that reminded me of clean, watery streets after a long downpour. When I was a younger and living at my parent's house, she was always there for me when my mother and father were not. Her comfort as well as he encouragement was something I loved from my childhood well into my late teenage years. I smile when I recall her kindness and her laughter, knowing that she would have wanted me to feel happy instead of sorrowful when I came upon her memory. Sure, I smile, but the sadness is always there.
The morning was cold and nondescript when I arrived at my parents' house to do laundry. She was dusting the den, and I almost dropped the clothing basket I was carrying when I saw her. Hovering about her skin and clothes was a miasma colored the deepest sapphire shade. It sinisterly clung to her skin yet still seemed to drift around her with peaceful carelessness. Frozen where I stood, I let my startled gaze travel over every inch of her. She turned around, noting my stares.
"Is everything all right, Liam?" she asked me.
I stammered, "Y-yeah."
"Are you hungry? Shall I prepare you some breakfast?"
"No, that's all right…"
Remember that at this time I had no idea what the blue light meant. I wouldn't have known that she was going to die in six hours' time, or else I would have done everything in my power to save her life. She had been killed downtown while running an afternoon errand; a car had struck her after plowing through a red light. Either she had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, or else her death had been fate. I could not explain what had happened, but it didn't take an expert to realize that the blue light I saw was related to her death. There was a great deal of mystic and inexplicable things in the world, yet this was something entirely different. And although I hated to admit it, I was very, very afraid.
Three days later, the blue light appeared around Cree.
My brother wouldn't listen to me when I urged him to stay indoors for the next couple of weeks. "Why?" he demanded, looking up at me from his bed, the blue Aura ebbing lazily around him. "Scared I'll get all the good-looking girls in town?"
"No," I said, folding my arms across my chest and slouching against his navy bedroom wall.
"Ha, are you saying you already have a girl? She cute?"
I sighed. "We're not talking about women, we're talking about you. I need you to stay inside for a week or so. Preferably two. All right?"
Cree registered me with a mixture incredulity and amusement. His eyes, which were honey-colored and so starkly different from mine, narrowed. "Well, that's going to be tough to do, kid. If you haven't noticed, I attend university on a regular basis. I go hiking and biking on a regular basis. I even manage to squeeze in a little bit of party time - not quite on a regular basis, but it could very well be. And now you're trying to suggest that I keep myself indoors? For a solid week? You taking the crazy train for a ride right now or what?"
I thought of all the blue lights I had been seeing around people lately, and I swallowed down my agitation.
"No," I said indifferently.
"Are you bored, then? That might explain this weird little ploy you're cooking up. Weirdo."
"No, I'm not bored."
"Well then?" My brother stared expectantly at me, eyebrows raised.
"I…think you might be in danger."
"What?" Cree propped himself up on his elbows. "Why?"
"Internet threats," I lied quickly. "They're posted on this site…someone in your past class apparently hates you after you scored higher than him in an old exam."
Cree laughed. "The interwebs has got a lot of superficial crap, Liam. Come on. Are you really that gullible?"
I stared at my brother for several seconds, my eyes flickering from his honey gaze to the blue light pulsing around him.
"I firmly stand by my claim, Cree."
"No, no, no. Drop it, kid. Go away, let me study."
My voice rose, the frustration within it hiding my anxiousness. "Cree-"
"Geez, Liam, calm down." Cree rose to his feet and walked towards me. As he neared, I pulled away from the wall and looked down at him; I had always been the taller between the two of us. But despite my height, Cree was always the one with more authority and generally more wisdom. His eyes locked on mine, he said steadily, "Nothing's going to happen to me. But to make you feel better, I'll be on the lookout for anything unusual and keep my cell phone on at all times. You can call me whenever. This is for the best. There's no need to resort to this drastic measure you're talking about. Okay?"
I glowered at him. Then my face softened and I stared at my bare feet, nodding in agreement.
"Excellent," Cree said, a grin on his face. He slapped me on the back with a strong palm. "You really need to loosen up and stop being such little sourpuss. Let's go for a hike this weekend, just like we used to. It can be like old times."
I agreed, because that was the only thing I could do.
I was on edge for the rest of the week, expecting to hear news of my brother's death. But the days passed, clean and untarnished by the worst thought to have ever come to my mind. Cree was very much alive, and consistently beleaguered by vocabulary exams and mechanical aptitude tests. By the time the weekend arrived, I was beginning to think that maybe this blue light meant something…else. My initial theory had been that the light marked people who would die in six hours' time, like my old housekeeper. But Cree was still alive five days after I had seen his light first appear, so that notion was promptly disputed. So what could it mean? I spent many hours lying awake in my dorm room, this question constantly pummeling my mind like multiple stones.
On Saturday my brother and I jumped into our sneakers and drove several miles west of the rain-washed heart of Seattle. When we arrived at my brother's favorite hiking spot, we began roaming the paths, winding our way through a world of verdurous life. At the time, it felt like any old October day. We were just going on another hike, just like we used to before university snatched at our lives. The rain had finally eased into a light sprinkle and lent the northwestern wood in a peaceful air. Green grass waved along the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean while the waves crashed viciously on the rocks thirty feet below. The sky was frozen and silver, and briny spray billowed from the crests of slate-blue seawater.
Like Colette, I can still bring back every single detail of my brother that cold, windy Saturday. I even remember what he was wearing - a heavy blue jacket with khaki shorts and a black cap. He had that hiker-look about him, something adventurous and almost a little gritty. Sometimes the memory of Cree flickers and fades, and I'm left with a monochrome image pockmarked with white mottles. But when I manage to grasp the recollection, everything turns discernible again: I can see his muscular figure and brown hair, his creamy skin and single-lid eyes he inherited from our father. I see the thoughtful look he used to wear, as though everything he saw required a pensive analysis. And of course, much to my extreme discontentment, I see that wretched blue Aura floating around him.
This was how I remembered Cree on that day, as we wound through the lush green vegetation with chills preying on our flesh. A simple image, yet probably the last that I would be able to keep safe and untouched.
We had just mounted the top of a hillock when he turned to me and said smugly, "It's been five days and I've yet to see someone come after my ass. I told you the Internet is just full of phonies and lies."
I dove my hands into my pockets and said nothing.
I glanced sideways at him, through thin eyes narrowed against the cold.
Cree went on blithely, "Yeah, you. You aren't still bothered about all that nonsense, are you?"
I scuffed at the dirt with my sneaker as we walked. "Only a little."
"Well, you shouldn't be."
"I can't help it."
Cree sighed. "You're too fucking pessimistic."
"I am not. I'm a realist."
"Yeah, and I'm the Prince of Wales."
I let out an angry breath and stormed past him along the trail.
"Take it easy, Liam," Cree laughed, jogging after me in order to keep up with my long-legged pace. He snatched my arm and we came to a halt on the path, sea breezes whispering around us. "When are you going to let this go? Huh?"
"When are you going to listento what I'm trying to tell you?"
With a smirk, he said, "When you stop feeding me a load of bullshit."
My blood boiled as I stared at my brother. "I just want to help you."
Cree grinned. "I know. You're my brother, we're made to help each other. But…"
And then, with his eyes angled towards the sheer cliff and the ocean waves that spewed against it, he said something that completely derailed me.
"Do you think it will hurt?"
An icy sensation scuttled along the curvatures of my rib bones as I noted the unexpected sadness in his voice. "What?" I asked, bewildered.
"It probably won't. It will be like falling asleep, if it's quick."
"I'm afraid I don't understand you."
"How high up do you think we are on this cliff?"
"I don't know. Thirty feet, maybe higher. Why do you ask?"
My brother looked as though he was fighting the urge not to cry. "Don't grieve, all right? I want you to be happy. When you think of me, just smile. Don't cry. You're not allowed to cry, because I say so." Then he grinned at me, all signs of sorrow gone, and said in a loud, clear voice, "The pieces of the horizon are broken into watermelon rinds and broomsticks."
I stared at him, confounded. He had spoken this illogical sentence with the most serious face I had ever seen, and it startled me.
Cree continued calmly, "The ultimate emperor lies in the last eggshell of the bluest sea. Whilst parading in peach skin, the dandelions are breaking through outer walls that were originally built to keep out photographers and sluts! A key-blade is a ridiculous weapon of choice, but at least it opened the door to the light! I am keeping tabs on the man with the indigo skin, although the bartender is not, but the children with their broken glass and the adults with their bluebirds are cheering me on into the rivulet race. In this pseudo world of multicolor properties I am looking towards the realm of crystal tomorrow, though perhaps I should call it eternal paradise! Yes, eternal paradise! Wouldn't you agree, denizen of the sun?"
I stared at my brother, alarmed and uncomprehending.
"Cree…?" I said, the slight shake of my voice easily audible. Hesitantly, I placed my hand on his shoulder, but he knocked it away.
"Eternal paradise!" he shouted gleefully in my face. "And it won't hurt at all, I'm sure of it, because the Divine said so! The time has come! I'm ready!"
And laughing his head off, Cree spun around and raced down the hiking trail.
"Cree!" I shouted sharply, running after him with fear in my heart.
"AHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAH! HAHAHAH HAAAAA!"
My brother's maniacal laughter resonated all across the trees and the ocean cliffs, something foreign and frightening that I had never heard before. I tried to catch up to him, but he was too fast; years upon years of hiking and running had given him a strong, speedy build my lanky figure couldn't compete with.
"CREE!" I screamed, louder this time, when I realized he was running straight for the edge of the nearest precipice. "ARE YOU INSANE?"
But not even my desperate shouts could rise above his endless steam of hysterical laughter.
Suddenly, the world around me didn't seem real. Any sound in my ears sliced itself apart, sliced until there was nothing but silence. The edge of the cliff grew even nearer, its rocky face plunging into the storming sea, but Cree refused to halt his stride. He sped along the dirt path, winds slicking back his hair, the blue Aura around him deepening to a bluish-black shade.
And then his feet met thin air as he jumped, laughing joyfully, from the cliff.
All of this happened prior to the night Colette ended her life. And all of it had altered the course of my life, though certainly not for the better. My brother had told me not to grieve for his death. But that was damn near impossible. I was pretty certain I wouldn't have been in any more pain had I lost a limb or a chunk of flesh ripped clean from my bones. My brother was my best friend, and now he was gone. Of course I was going to mourn. I probably wouldn't smile ever again. There was no reason to smile.
There were some things I wished I could run from, but the memory of Cree was not one of them. Despite how much pain thinking of him still caused me, I could never forget him or the day of his suicide. Nowadays he was alwayswith me, a lingering ghost in the concrete darkness of my thoughts. Like a window left open to invite a draft, I always felt the chill the memory of him conjured. It made me so sad and shivery. Sometimes I wanted to close that window, but I knew I would never be able to. It would remain open for all time, until, little by little, I grew accustomed to the cold.
After leaving the cemetery, I spent the next couple of hours wandering downtown Seattle in the pouring rain. Droplets streaked through the air, completely battering the streets and sidewalks and making the skyscrapers appear gray, muted. With only a black hooded jacket to shield me from the droplets, the deluge left me completely soaked and chilled to the bone. But I could care less. I was lost in my head, completely out of touch with the reality that whirled around me. Each step I took sent numbness spreading throughout the length my body. All I could think about was my brother and how similar his death was to Colette's. Paradise…For some reason, people who had committed suicide in the past five months had been convinced that they would achieve paradise by ending their lives, myself included. But how could so many people share the same singular resolution? Was there something else going on here, something delusional born from mutual insanity?
I decided to stop at coffee shop and order some tea. At first the female cashier regarded me with hostility, clearly annoyed by my dripping wet clothes. But when I removed my hood and approached her, she brightened immensely.
"Hi, what can I get for you?" She asked suggestively.
"May I please have three cups of green tea?"
"Of course! And what sizes, mister?"
"Just large, please. For here."
I shook my head.
"All for you?" The cashier was a little surprised.
"Yeah," I said with a shrug. "I like tea."
There was no one else in line, so she started flirting with me, asking me about my day and dropping hints that she was single. I just sort of stood there and nodded most of the time, wondering when she was going to stop talking and ring me up for the tea. She was extremely pretty, but I was horrible when it came to flirting with girls, and I wasn't really in the mood to try.
When the cashier finally handed me my teas and tossed me a coquettish smile of farewell, I found a secluded table near the back of the shop where I could sit and stare out the window. There I took out the pocket watch I had found at Cole's gravestone and laid it on the table. It glittered softly in the coffee shop's golden light, all dented brass and shattered opal glass. Looking at the thing now, I could clearly see how closely it resembled my own watch, which I retrieved from underneath my shirt so I could compare. The two were almost the same size, mine a little larger and made of crystal, not brass. But the main similarity between them was clear: they both had strange, unknown characters engraved on the back. It looked as though the writing could have been a mixture of Arabic and Japanese, but I wasn't too sure. It was nothing I had seen before.
"Kind of creepy, but cute."
"Tall, dark, handsome. Nice."
"Are you really going to go talk to him?"
"Why not? He's by himself."
"All right, but don't come crying to me when you get rejected!"
This high-pitched whispering came somewhere from my right. I sipped my tea and tried to appear busy, but it was to no avail. One moment I was turning Colette's watch over in my hands, wondering why she had refused to show it to me at the party and how it had ended up at her graveside - and in the next I was looking up at the sound of footsteps.
A young woman stood before me, perhaps my age or maybe a little older. Her dark hair fell to her chin, the ends cut cleanly to frame her angular face. Golden-brown eyes shone at me behind rectangular spectacles. I could tell she was nervous by the way she held herself, but nonetheless she said cheerfully, "Hi, mind if I join you?"
My eyes drifted away from the girl as she spoke. It wasn't that I was trying to be rude, of course not. It was just that something else had caught my attention.
For the first time since I had arrived at the coffee shop, I realized that a tall man was standing outside, staring directly through the window at me.
I wondered how long he had been standing out there - most likely a while, judging from his soaked appearance and motionless stance. The rain and the mist poured around him, almost blurring him into a slim, spidery shadow. But I could still see him clearly, could discern nearly every inch of him. Black glyphs formed a codex circuitry on the sides of his face, throat, and arms, mingling with the faint traces of rugged scars. He would have appeared human, if not for his towering height, nail-thin teeth, and arachnid-like appendages. His sopping black suit clung to his skin like ink, a bold contrast to his unhealthy gray-white skin. His bulging blue-green eyes were ringed in raccoon shadows. He cocked his head to one side and smirked at me, clearly amused that our eyes had met. I simply stared back, apprehension building like clouds of glacial dust in my throat.
The girl piped up again, "Um, hey? Did you hear me?"
I barely heard her. My attention was focused directly upon the man.
He just stood there, grinning and grinning at me as the rain fell quick and slantwise, the droplets so violent I wouldn't be surprised if the entire city was swept away.
This story is psychotic. I kind of know where I'm going with it, and then again I kind of don't.
Raux -Thanks for the review, much appreciated. If you read some of my old stories I'm sure you're aware that I am really...temperamental with my stories. But I hope I can suck it up and finish this one. Anyways, thanks again.