Part Eleven: Alia's Attempt
Once I can no longer see the sleeping area through the trees, I count to a thousand, following the path that provides the least resistance. Thorns scratch at me and rocks tear into my palms and knees, but I barely notice. I move forward robotically, brushing branch after branch out of my way. The only thing on my mind is getting far away.
Every once in a while I throw in a turn to make sure I'll be hard to track. I don't want Rachel or her imaginary friends to find me. I don't want to hurt them. I only want myself to stop hurting.
Several times I lose count, so I continue from the most recent hundred. I stop before I reach a thousand, but I'm sure if I never stumbled I would've counted past that anyway.
I sit against a boulder and take out the knife. Now's the time. This is the end of my plan. I'm going to do this now. Instead, I pass the knife from hand to hand.
"What are you doing?"
Right. There's a voice in my head that wants to kill everyone. That seems like a hard thing to ignore. I'll blame it on the facet that I was in bad physical condition and pretend my mind's not scaring me with its faultiness.
"Where's you go?" I ask. Maybe there's an explanation. Maybe my mind's not shutting down or breaking or leaving me. I'm only twenty five. Aren't I too young for my brain to stop working? I mean, it's never worked the best, but when it's not worked it's always been to my advantage... from what I remember, at least.
"I couldn't talk to you when you were with Rachel. What if Ava was hiding in Rachel's mind? Psychic jerk. Luckily, I think Ava's forgotten about you, just like how I made you forget about me. Scary, isn't it? Rachel's relatively harmless on her own... most of the time. Anyway, now we're back on track. I want you to go to one of the neighbourhoods near where you used to live. Knock on the doors. I'll give you more instructions once you get there."
I'll do exactly none of that. I'm not going to be a toy. I'm not going to be a wife. I'm done being someone's puppet. I'm done. What's the point of living if my life's not my own?
I unsheathe the knife.
"What are you doing? Put that down."
No one can own me, hurt me, or torture me if I'm dead. A flicker of sorrow runs through me. Why am I sad? This is a good thing. The only way I won't belong to anyone is if I die. It won't affect anything. No one will care. It'll be like nothing happened; like I never existed.
My baby would care. She can't be without her Mummy. Everyone needs their Mummy.
No, she was murdered. She's dead. Dead people don't have feelings.
My other baby doesn't care, either. He left without saying bye. He doesn't love his Mummy anymore. He wouldn't care if she died.
I need my Mummy. No one cares enough to by my Mummy. No one even cares enough to be my friend. Friend's my friend. No, he's killed and tortured people. Even if he hasn't for a while, that's not a good friend.
Nice La— ...Nice Lady? I guess that's her new name now. Nice Lady's kind of like a Mummy. She's nice to Alia. She takes care of Alia. She keeps the husband away.
No, Nice Lady has a daughter. A real daughter. She loves the real daughter more than the Alia baby. Even though the real daughter can be bad. She has bad eyes and bad closeness and bad hands. I can't be there when Real Daughter's there. If Nice Lady found out Real Daughter was scary when she wasn't looking, she'd get mad at me and kick me out. Then I wouldn't have any Mummy.
Nice Lady doesn't really care about Alia. She only feels sorry for her. If Alia was gone, Nice Lady would have more free time on her hands. She's be able to garden more. She'd be happier.
Alia makes people's lives bad. Alia is bad. Alia needs to go.
The New People like Alia. They think she is good.
No. The New People like the powers they think Alia has. They do not care about Alia. They are only nice to Alia because they know Alia is an idiot and trusts people who are nice. They will hate Alia once they find out she is useless. They don't really like Alia.
I don't want myself to be here. No one would be sad if I was gone. There's no reason I shouldn't do this. Maybe I'm making people's lives worse without realising it. Maybe the world would be a better place if I was gone. Maybe my husband would be a better person.
I need to stop trying to talk myself out of it. I'm only putting off the inevitable. This needs to be done.
I position the knife below my left breast, between two ribs. The beat of my heart travels through it and into my hand. I'll need to plunge the knife into my heart as hard as I can. I can't hesita— Of course. There's never a bad reason to visit— My mind won't be able to malfunction when I'm dead, either. The thought of not existing brings me relief. I can— Of course. There's never a bad reason to not kill yourself—
I can't even think clearly. This is why I need to do this. I press the knife against my shirt. It sends a jolt through my body. My nerves feel electric. I'm going to do this. I'm going to do this now. In three... two... ONE!
I toss the knife into the forest. Not today, I guess. I don't know if I'm relieved or disappointed. I feel nothing.
I imagine the sleeping area, and its location pops into my head. I crawl until I find two big sticks, which I use to help myself walk. It's slow, but eventually I reach the sleeping area. I'm careful to avoid stepping on bags while going through the ring.
The sleeping area's empty. A fair amount of blankets are missing, but everything else is untouched.
"Rachel?" I try to ask, but I know I'm wasting my breath. Rachel's not here. She left me again. To be fair, this time I did leave her first.
Maybe she just went out to get something, or is looking for me. Maybe she'll come back. I doubt it, but I'm still exhausted, so I'll have a nap here. If she's not back when I open my eyes, she'll probably never come back. Who can blame her?
I rest the sticks on the side of the sleeping area, lay down, and fall asleep almost instantly.
My dream is about the same thing it always is. Nothing. I'm all alone; the only thing in an empty universe, and as always, I'm scared. Since there's nothing here, I don't know what I'm afraid of, but it's getting closer. I do the same thing I always do, beg for mercy.
"No. Please don't hurt me. Please! I didn't do anything. I didn't do anything. I didn't do anything. Please stop. Please. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Why are you doing this? What do you want?! Please, just tell me what else I can do. Anything. I'm sorry. I'm so, so, sorry. Please don't make me. Please don't hurt me. I'm just a little girl. I've never hurt anyone on purpose unless they were scaring me and I needed to. Please—"
As always, the nothingness doesn't listen. It consumes me, but doesn't kill me. It wants me alive.
Usually, this is where I float around until my dream ends, but this time I find myself somewhere else. It's dark and I have a feeling I'm in a closed space. Suddenly, there's shouting.
"I will RIP YOUR EYES OUT WITH MY BARE HANDS! YOU DON'T DESERVE THEM! YOU DON'T DESERVE TO HAVE BEAUTIFUL, AMAZING EYES! Demno twin..."
It's Rachel. She's yelling, but she doesn't sound angry. She sounds sad. I don't think I've heard her sad before. Is this real? Where is she? I can't move.
"COME OUT AND FIGHT ME, WHY DON'T YOU?! COME ON! STOP HIDING! YOU'LL GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS CHLOE THE COWARD, YOU FAKE! You think you're so tough and talented and indestructible, yet you need to borrow power from your evil-eyed boss to even GO NEAR ME! WHY ARE YOU SO SCARED OF RACHEL?! WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF? COME OUT, COME OUT, AND WE'LL SEE!" There's hysterical laughter, which turns to sobbing.
Suddenly, Noname, Brandon, Nonametoo, and the girl who's not a real nurse appear in front of me, sitting in a circle. They don't seem to notice me, and I'm unable to alert them to my presence.
"So, Rachel seems to be doing fine on her own?" asks Nonametoo, her eyes flickering back and forth between Noname and Brandon.
"Yeah," Noname reassures her. "If we came out now, we'd ruin her 'intimidation.' Then her upset would be focussed on us, and Chloe would leave, if she's still here, that is."
Brandon shakes his head.
It's quiet until the girl who's not a real nurse bursts out "Yeah, you are so right! And, by the way, isn't it so cool that I get to hang out with you guys now? I remember when I barely existed; when I was just a nonsensical little voice, and now I have a body and can go outside! This is so cool!" Her colours seem to change faster when she's excited.
No one says anything, but Nonametoo, who's sitting to the right of her, pats her on the head.
"There's something weird about this place," grumbles Brandon. He doesn't make eye contact with anyone. Instead, he looks down at his hands.
Nonametoo tilts her head to the side. "What?"
Brandon starts to fidget. "It... I mean, doesn't it... this place, wherever we are... it doesn't feel like home, but it doesn't feel like outside, either... right Noname?"
The girl who's not a real nurse jumps up. "What?! You think we might be outside?! But I don't feel myself draining... at least I don't think I do..." She slaps her arms and face, as if to convince herself she's still there. Her colours dim.
Noname stands up and puts an arm around the girl who's not a real nurse. She hugs Noname. "I don't know where we are, either, but I think we'll be okay, for now, at least."
Without warning, I wake up, feeling like I never fell asleep in the first place. If what I dreamt is real, Rachel's probably not coming back. Is she in danger? Would she still be here if I hadn't left? Does it matter? She seems to be able to take care of herself, and Shaida will either kill everyone in this place, or they won't. I don't really care much either way.
I guess I better start knocking on doors. This puppet has work to do. I teleport to a neighbourhood I don't recognise. I go from house to house, but nobody on the first street opens their door. Occasionally I see curtains rustling, but they're pulled shut as soon as I look their way. At least I'm not exhausted anymore.
On the second street, someone actually opens their door. I was starting to wonder if everyone had already died and I'd missed it. A guy stands in the doorway, his breath reeking of alcohol.
"Oh, hey, you don't need to work, you know. There's a lot of people dying for no reason and everyone's pretty freaked out about it Take a break."
Since Shaida's late telling me what to say, I ask "Work?" Despite misconceptions caused by rumours lead some people to believe, I don't have a job.
"Yeah, you know..." The drunk guy looks up and down the street before speaking in a loud whisper. "What you do."
Just then, drunk guy's drunk friend walks up behind him and confirms my suspicions of what they think I do.
"Heeeey, it's that famous whore chick! Whoa, the knees are blown out of, um, whatever that is that she's wearing. She must be bus-y! Do people get discounts for that, or do they like the look?"
I clench my jaw. Is Shaida's plan to not have me say anything and see how many people mistake me for a prostitute before I snap and go on a killing spree? I hate to admit it, but that might work.
"I'm not a prostitute," I state, my voice flat.
Drunk Guy One squints. "Are you sure?"
"That's definitely not what I've heard," Drunk Guy Two laughs. "Oh, by the way, some people are randomly dying, so maybe you should ditch the job and enjoy life while you can. There's a lot of cool things outside the bedroom."
"Move your hand off the doorframe," I tell Drunk Guy One.
He doesn't have time to respond before I slam the door with my mind. What's the point of knocking on doors? If everyone's going to die, what could I possibly say to them that make a difference? What's taking so long, anyway? Why not get it over with now? It'll be no big loss.
I continue knocking on doors, barely waiting three seconds before I move on. "Why don't you kill them?!" I shout. "Why don't you get it over with?! There's nothing good here that you could want to save! Nothing!"
Without warning, I start sobbing so much I can no longer stand. In the middle of the street I sit, my knees pulled up to my chest. I pull a large chunk of hair in each hand, crying uncontrollably. "Kill them... Kill them all... Kill them."
That voice is coming from me, but it's not mine. I don't want everyone dead. There are some good people. Even the drunk guys weren't purposely trying to be harmful, I don't think.
My brain feels like it's being squeezed. There's pressure on my chest and the top part of my stomach. I can't think. Any thoughts I do have hurt. I'm crying so hard I can barely breathe; the air comes out in short, shallow breaths. Why am I still alive? After everything I've been through in only twenty five years, shouldn't I be dead? Don't I deserve a rest?
Everything's too much. The sound of the wind is grinding on my ears. The street is bumpy and irritating. My clothes and hair feel like they're made of fleas. The leftover taste of the fruit would make me throw up if my mind wasn't so busy building up to an explosion. My heart is banging around my skull and my breathing's loud and annoying. I wish it would stop, but I can't control my thoughts enough to make it.
"No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no."
At first I don't know if I'm saying that out loud or only thinking it, but soon an internal monologue begins and the 'no's' continue.
You're useless. You're a stupid whore. You're an awful, awful person. The worst person. No one would miss you if you died. The only people who'd look sad are the one's who would be trying to get attention by pretending to know and like you. What a laugh! Someone liking you. You're the reason your husband, Mean Lady, Scary Guy, and Nice Lady's Scary Daughter are such bad people. Nice Lady's Scary Daughter definitely did not get her badness from Nice Lady. She was probably an amazing person before she met you. You should've killed yourself when you had the chance. You're pathetic. You can't even die right. People die all the time. You're worthless. Whore. You're so stuck up. Can't you tell no one likes you and you have nothing to be proud of? Even your kids don't like you. You messed them up. They're going to be useless sacks of nothing, like their mother. The one that's alive, anyway. Your daughter died because of you, bad mummy. You were married off so young because everyone knew you'd never do anything useful with your life or amount to anything. You—
My mind continues to insult me with an enthusiasm even Mean Lady wouldn't be able to achieve, but soon my crying lessens enough that I can stand up and continue knocking on doors.
From then on, every little thing that goes wrong feels like a hammer to my brain, or my emotions, or my soul. The door doesn't make the sound I thought it would when I hit it. Bang, bang. I stumble over my feet or step off a stair too hard. Bang, bang. I lose my train of thought. Bang, bang.
I feel like a muscle about to snap if stretched any further. Maybe that's the plan. With my clenched fists, set jaw, and bulging, burning eyes, I certainly look like someone you'd see in the newspaper for walking into a crowded area and stabbing everyone in sight.
Eventually someone else opens their door. "Are you okay? Are you lost?" a young woman asks. She's placed her body in the centre of the doorway, with one hand against the frame, making it clear that she's willing to help me, but I'm not coming into her home.
"I... have something to say."
She moves her other hand ever-so-slightly, and I notice she's holding something in her pocket. It's not unusual for people to answer their door armed, usually for their own safety. I hope Shaida doesn't tell me to say anything that would get me stabbed. I really don't need that right now.
"What is it?" she asks, her voice stilted.
Shaida continues to say nothing. I don't see Rachel or Ava anywhere, so I don't know what their problem is. "I'm not sure."
The girl's about to say something when a small child, around two, I'd guess, toddles up to her. "Mumma, whoze dat?"
She shushes him and closes the door. I continue walking, but stop knocking on doors. "If you're not going to tell me what to say, I won't do anything."
Still silence. Maybe Shaida's too busy killing people to reply. I stop in my path as a thought strikes me: every single person whose door I knocked on is going to die. The people who weren't home are going to die. The people who ignpored me are going to die. The people who rustled the curtains are going to die. Real people with real homes; with real families; with real lives are going to die.
The drunk guys are going to die. The girl is going to die. Her baby is going to die. Everyone I know and don't know will die, and not just die; they'll be killed. Some of them might already be dead.
Even though I've met less good people than I can count on one hand, there must be more out there. They don't deserve to die. Maybe this is another test. Maybe there's a way to save them.
Until I receive more instruction, I'll go to the only place that's ever felt like a home to me.
I walk down empty streets until I find a cozy house with a backyard twice its size. I knock on the door. It takes a while, and I start to think that not even the person I saw as a mother cares about me, but the door opens to reveal a short woman with warm eyes. She motions for me to come in and closes the door behind me.