Disclaimer: Slash: This story contains a primary romantic relationship between two consenting males. Rated M for language and violence.
Copyright © 2013 by FishWings. All rights reserved. This story or any portion thereof including all related art may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever except with the express written permission of the author.
I have realized that the past and the future are real illusions,
that they exist in the present, which is
what there is and all there is.
~ Alan Watts
Muscles heavy and sore from his latest snowboarding expedition, Callen fought to stay awake as he sped down the old, excavated road down Blackcomb Mountain. He cranked the radio with his chapped fingers, but in this weather it was all discordant noises and static buzzes. Huge, fluffy snowflakes descended from the night sky in massive torrents, glancing off his windshield, the wind blowing them in different directions every few seconds. Although Callen had the fog lights of his Ford Flex blazing, it did little to improve his visibility of the road.
The weather network had issued a warning earlier in the evening that they were closing down all the main roads out from the ski resort, but Callen needed to get home in time to make it to his family's Thanksgiving dinner.
So, he took Guardman's highway. Callen had to detour around the base of the mountain to access it, but it was worth the search. Unmapped and hidden off-road, amidst boulders strewn from avalanches and frozen undergrowth, the abandoned exit was the perfect traffic-free ticket home. Unfortunately, it was also precariously narrow and completely unmaintained, but Callen's father would have his head if he was even an hour late. So, not taking this road was out of the question.
"What? You were stopped by this weather? It's barely snowing," Callen bellowed to himself, imitating his father's voice. He yawned and ran a hand through his short blond hair.
It was in that moment, in that fraction of a second, when he removed his left hand from the wheel that he lost control of the car.
Callen had approached the sharp left turn up ahead at a meagre sixty-three kilometres per hour, but the wind was blowing at an angle that had displaced most of the snow off the initial bend of the curb, exposing sheets of black ice frozen over the road. Blinking back tears of exhaustion and with his ass planted in a seat heated to three degrees below toasty, Callen didn't think to turn his car pre-emptively.
He didn't even know his car wasn't responding until he heard that awful sound of his tires skidding, like pebbles grinding against each other, and by then, it was too late.
Callen had time to counter-turn his wheel once before inertia propelled the side of his car straight through the iron railing.
Frail from the years of rust and ice expanding buildup in its core, the railing snapped like it was made of toothpicks. Callen's gleaming, dark blue, carnauba-waxed Ford Flex tipped sideways over the rocky edge in a puff of snowflakes, suspended in the frozen air, overlooking the stormy Pacific Ocean with a billion cobalt waves that reached up at him.
Callen stretched his legs out in front, pushing, as if it would propel him back from over the cliff, as if it would propel him back in time. He grabbed at his left window, stomach lurching, terror exploding through his chest.
He knew he was going to die.
The car smashed at an angle into a rocky outcrop twenty metres below the roadway. His seatbelt wasn't plugged in properly. With a snap, it pulled free. Callen's torso whipped forwards, forehead smashing into the top of the steering wheel. He blacked out as his brain hit the front of his skull. Blood blossomed from the split skin, bright red globules spinning backwards in the air like floating chains of cherry-coloured amoebas.
His Ford kept falling. Barreling in mid-air from the impact, it dropped with its accompanying debris of snow, broken icicles, shale, and hit the ocean two hundred metres later, nose first.
The sturdy windshield shattered, and so did Callen's fragile cervical vertebrae. Marine water smashed into him with massive force, tearing into his mouth. Yet even though Callen's heartbeat stuttered to a halt, the electrical impulses firing throughout his muscles fading like crackling embers, and at a physiological standpoint, his body was everything but alive, he regained consciousness through that split second of impact.
His eyes opened a fraction, and he saw darkness.
Unbearable coldness engulfed him, permeating his bones, freezing his vascular system. Terrible pressure built up when his lungs expanded like saline bags. Precious air fled his mouth in torrents of bubbles that he couldn't stop. Then there was the pain, ripping through his flesh like a million serrated razors where the glass had cut him. He couldn't move a muscle. He couldn't scream.
He felt the tether that held him to life stretch taut, little fibrous tendons fraying from where death pulled at him. Yet, by some mockery of the world, his mind clung to consciousness.
God, everything hurt. Everything hurt so much.
Callen didn't know how long it was before he began to feel the numbness set in. It could have been seconds, or minutes, or hours, even days. And when all the pain was gone, he began to see a strange light that shone in his periphery. Unable to even work the muscles that controlled the direction of his vision, he could only hold still and wait for the end.
Then suddenly, out of nowhere, transcending the medium of water, a strange voice permeated the silence, brushing ever so lightly against Callen's eardrums he almost thought it was a projection of his own thoughts.
Callen Worthwright, it whispered.
Callen started. He couldn't determine the source of the sound. It seemed to surround him like a cloud, fill his head, and be sitting beside him in the passenger seat all at the same time, manifesting as some strange omnipresence.
Callen, the voice crooned again.
Callen attempted to move his lips, but couldn't. So, he spoke with his mind instead.
"Who are you?" Callen asked.
A pleasant warmth bloomed in the centre of his chest. Callen ached to bend his arms to cradle it, to spread it throughout his body.
I'm here to collect you, the presence replied.
Callen swallowed. Or rather, felt like he did, although he was sure that his Adam's apple didn't de-escalate.
"So I'm dead, then?"
Amusement seemed to fill the water around him.
Not exactly. Your heart and organs have mainly all failed, but, there is still activity in your cortex, in the form of flickering action potentials.
Callen digested the words for a moment. "I don't understand."
Your body is dead, but your brain is alive. It will remain active for the next six seconds.
The warmth in his chest didn't seem so comforting anymore. Callen willed his body to move, but his body was locked in place. He was a patient in anaesthetic awareness, a victim succumbed to sleep paralysis.
"Wait. Wait... I'm not ready to go!"
Callen struggled, willing his muscles to move.
But, six seconds is a long time when we're suspended in a state like this. Translated to current terms, a single second of real time equates to what you would recreate and experience for an entire hour.
"So, I'm just going to stay here and wait it out?"
No, Cal, it said, I'm here to collect you. I'm here to collect all of you. In order to do that, I'll need you to be able to relinquish your hold on this world willingly.
The darkness around him exploded into a landscape. A sleepy city beneath, snow everywhere. Thin beams of light radiated from the street lamps, extending into the sky.
I can feel your soul, and it's stretched out taut, with too many strings tethered to your past. To your mother, your father, your cousins who are all there at the Thanksgiving dinner right now.
Callen's vision shivered and the world faded back to black.
Yet, there's this particular string that's holding you back the most. Who is that, can you tell me?
Callen hesitated. "I don't know. I don't understand..."
Who is pulling you back the most, Callen?
The question reverberated within him, and then, his memory stirred.
"I don't know... I can't remember who..."
You can. Let me help.
On cue, a million images flitted into his brain. He could hear the sound, like the amplified flapping of countless butterflies with glowing abdomens ascending into the air.
"Callen?" A boy's voice sounded in his periphery. "I just don't think it's very likely. I mean Cruz, he..."
Another boy's voice. It took Callen a moment before he realized it was his very own, but it was floating distinct and apart from him, as if he was hearing a fuzzy recording of himself. "We will go. No one can stop us, Sage. I promise."
A face in his mind stirred. Pale with a keen jaw and shining brown irises. Face eclipsed in a shadow cast by a baseball cap. Slight smile and prominent canines.
Something inside Callen snapped. The water around him exploded in a cacophony of bubbles, and suddenly he was propelled straight out of the water with a mighty splash, and his lungs heaved and convulsed and he could...
x x x
Rushing wind. Callen inhaled, and clear, sharp air rushed into his lungs, shocking his nasal capillaries all the way down and out. He felt like he could breathe forever. He blinked, eyes bleary, and waited for them to focus. When his vision cleared, Callen realized that he was standing upright in a dark and snowy valley cradled by powdered trees, overlooking a series of concrete buildings on a crown of hills a distance away. He stood atop, some fifty metres from the edge of what looked like a frozen lake, dusted with a thin layer of congealed snow.
Where am I? He thought. Then the breeze shifted and Callen, looking down on himself, realized something else.
He was completely naked.
"What," Callen said out loud, sinking down into a crouch, "the FUCK?"
Shivering violently, he swiveled in the darkness. The night was silent, and he was alone. So he did the only thing he could think of doing at such a time, and sprinted – bare-footed and with a hand cradling his balls – directly towards the series of concrete apartments. His legs burned as they sank knee-high into the snow.
He stumbled but didn't stop running until the slope softened and he was near the closest apartment.
Callen looked up, and then saw him.
Illuminated by the incandescent glow of the porch lamp adjacent to him, Sage stood at the top of an external stairwell with his jaw slack. His eyes, brown as he remembered, were almost black in the high contrast lighting. He looked different. With his short hair, he looked much older. And was that his clothes, or did he look several pounds more built? And was it Callen's borderline delirious state, or did Sage look simply beautiful?
Callen's chest heaved with inexplicable heaviness and pain, and he stopped in his tracks despite the cold. He couldn't move any further. He couldn't call out, even though every instinct, every fibre of his body, cried out for him to do so.
After all these years, Callen had finally found him again.
"Sage," Callen whispered. The world revolved around him, and he fell into unconsciousness again.
x x x
You have six seconds. Make them count.
Everything was silent. He blinked in the thick darkness. Panic squeezed at Callen's heart.
Don't be silly, Cal. Your heart is still and quiet.
"No..." Callen murmured, "I'm not ready to go..."
No one at your age is. I will be here when the night unravels and the tides sweep in.