Hopeless romantics make me sick.
You always read about storybook love, shrugging in disbelief. And yet you always find yourself watching the happy ending of that bad romantic comedy starring whatsername and whatsisface. And as usual, they kiss and the credits roll, leaving you to your there on the couch, trying to realize if you should shrug like you did when you were a kid.
One look left, another to the right. The same old realization of being alone creeping up your spine, making your fingers shake with fear, making your heart race and your breath slow down to a crawl. And then it hits you, for the millionth time.
Not again, but as always.
Same shit, different day. And the credits keep rolling, and you find yourself hating romantic comedies more and more. You find yourself shaking and crying at every musical number and heartfelt moment you were usually apathetic to. Every sad song is suddenly the anthem of your whole life. From Pearl Jam to the Scorpions, everything just speaks through you, and the fucking birds are chirping away outside in the sun, and you shake harder and harder, there in your room.
And you think you find momentary solace in the words of the dead. Just to have it swept from under your rug, making you fall once again, face smack in the dirt.
No answers from the dead and the dying, they all sing songs of loss.
And you find yourself asking ifs.
If Music doesn’t help
If movies don’t help
If writing doesn’t help
So fuck it. Suck it up, get angry, and alienate everybody. It might not be the answer you wanted, but that’s all you know, and you’re good at it.
God, I hate hopeless romantics.
Too bad I’m one myself.
Winter neighed with pain as he jumped over the tree trunk.
The forest around them was white with snow, so white in fact, that Winter himself had almost blended with the background.
“Whoa boy” The rider whispered and the creature slowed its pace towards the shadow of a willow tree.
The rider, dressed in a white cape and cowl came down from the saddle and patted Winter on the back, revealing a glimpse of golden armor under the robes. He slowly inspected the horse’s stomach. A deep gushing wound was slit across the ribcage, bleeding heavily and covering the rider’s bright leather glove.
“That won’t do lad, you gotta be more careful, it don’t help that you’re the last of your kind, so please be careful, for both our sakes.” The rider said looking scornfully at the mighty beast.
“And who might you be?” a mighty voice sounded from the trees all around them.
“Reveal yourselves, and we might tell you” The rider yelled, as he reached into his robe for a sword.
“Calm yourself, Rider” the voice sounded from above. The rider looked and saw a small man, no larger than a boy of ten, standing on a branch holding a crossbow. “Me name is Glasgow, after the city I wuz born in, im just a wee dwarf holding down my own fort of petty jewels and frothy beer barrels.”
“Fear not, oh wee dwarf, I mean no harm, my name is Morrigan” she said, as she took off the hood. Winter neighed once more, and she turned to him with the speed of the wind, her long chestnut hair almost waving, but stopped by a silver owl brooch. “Calm down boy, we’ll be there soon, ‘tis just a mere stop”.
A loud thump sounded behind her as the dwarf hit the ground tumbling, barely managing not to break his crossbow along the way. “Damned trees, why’d they have to make them so tall?” he mumbled.
Morrigan reached her hand out to help him, realizing her glove was red with Winter’s blood. Glasgow grabbed her by the arm, reaching around the bloodied glove and pulled himself up. Jittering and jumping he padded himself all across his body, checking for bruises and shaking off the snow from his black leather garments.
He picked up his crossbow, and tucked it in a holster on his back.
“Well, Lady Morrigan, what is yer business in my neck of the woods?” he asked with a huge grin.
“Just passing on my way to Lord Kenwall, that is all” she said, once more reaching her hand back into her white robe.
“On what business, might I ask, dear lady, and why is there blood on your hand?” the dwarf grinned once more, opening his eyes wide as he looked at her.
“None o’ yours, as it seems, now if ya leave me be, I have a wounded horse to tend to”.
“That is no horse, lady, as I am no leprechaun. ‘Tis a unicorn, a creature most think is myth. But not I, I have seen one when I wuz a but a wee lad, sadly, no smaller than I am now. And that my dear lady, is the last of them”. The dwarf chuckled, and his grin grew ever wider.
In a flash, Morrigan’s cape flew in the air, leaving her clad in golden armor. She drew her sword from the scabbard at her back and lunged forward. In one fell swoop, seeming as fluid as a dance, she slashed the dwarf from crotch to throat.
Blood gushed as the dwarf gurgled and choked. In mere seconds he lost his balance and fell to the snowy floor. As a pool of crimson formed in the white clearing, the white robe spiraled down to cover the dwarf’s body.
Winter neighed once more with pain. Morrigan looked at him with a grim face “Never trust a man from Glasgow, especially if he asks too many questions, that city is just full of liars and thieves”. She leaned over and threw her robe around her back. She crouched, looking at the body, checking his pockets for clues, but found nothing but one gold coin, a few twigs and steel needle. She took the coin, and got up. Flipping it in her fingers she approached Winter and threw it in his satchel. She tore a piece of her robe and tied it around Winter’s ribcage, closing the wound as hardly as she could. She grabbed him by the reins and started walking.
The walk through the rest of the forest took a few hours, and the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Morrigan looked at Winter with a determined look and whispered “C’mon boy, we’re not too far, just a bit more”. The unicorn nodded gracefully and kept going, leaving a trail of blood behind them.
At the edge of the forest, Morrigan found herself standing on a salt road, carved among the snowy hills. The blizzard had subsided and castle Kenwall was off in the near distance.
Morrigan gave a whimper of relief as she heard the sound of a crossbow being cocked behind her. She drew her sword once again, and as the bolt flew through the air, her sword slashed it midway as if it was merely wind.
“Damn you I say, you bloody warrior princess!” Glasgow shouted, blood still gushing from his throat.
With a horror filled face, Morrigan stuttered for the first time in her life “Wh…whaaa…what in the blazing hells is going on??? I killed you, I bloody well killed you.”
“Ye naive girl, I seem to have lied to you before, aye. I said yer horse is no more a horse than I am a leprechaun, but see, that’s the thing, I ain’t. But I ain’t a mere dwarf either. I be what you call fae-born. Me brothers left this forest long ago to wretched Ireland, and I stayed behind, the last scottish leprechaun ya might say. Now I be wantin my gold coin back lass, and I be wantin it with your creature’s head as well.” The dwarf spat and gurgled every two words, spitting out blood as his face grew grimmer.
“Take your damned coin, and then some” Morrigan yelled as she threw the satchel off of Winter’s back towards the dwarf. “But Winter’s head is not mine to give or take”.
Glasgow picked up the satchel, opened it and drew out his coin. He gave it a kiss, and closed his palm around it, chanting words in an unintelligible language.
Opening his hand once more, the coin was gone, and he got to rummaging through the satchel. “A dagger, some silver coins and the seal of the king, eh? Who are ya girl?”
“None of your business, I said once, and I say again. Now leave us be, you got yours back, and some more. We have land to cover, and Winter’s almost bled out.” She said with an assertive look.
“Give me your name girl, and you might leave.” He said chuckling through the gurgling.
“My name? What use is it to you?” Morrigan looked bewildered. “Very well fae-born, ‘tis Morrigan of house Vulgate.”
“Curse be unto your name Morgana of house Vulgate, curse of the fae upon you. May the fates of your creature and…” blood spewed out from the dwarf’s belly, and a great ivory horn stuck through it. Winter neighed again, this time in anger, and tossed his body aside.
Morrigan stood in awe, barely realizing what just happened. The unicorn realized what the wretched dwarf was trying to do, mustered all his remaining forces and drove him down, skewering the poor creature on his horn. She took of her robe one last time, and wiped Winter’s horn with it. She threw it over the dwarf’s body and whispered “May ye rest in peace, last of the scottish fae-born, ‘twas not my intention to harm you, only to pass through this forest to my lord Kenwall. May ye see better places than I.”
She took Winter’s reins again, and walked out of the forest. The salt road beneath her felt rough and rigid in contrast to the soft snow. She looked at Winter, patted him on his back, nodded to him. He nodded back, and she got on the saddle. In the horizon she could see castle Kenwall, and it’s Ivory and Golden clad towers. Stroking Winter’s mane she leaned and whispered “Took us a while, but were home dear friend, you excited?” she asked smiling as Winter neighed once more, this time with joy.
I wake to the sound of loud music playing. “It isn’t over yet?!” I think to myself, as i struggle to pull myself up from the bed.
I hold my head as if it’s going to fall through my fingers, and as I look at the floor it seems to be coming closer and closer to me.
Head still pounding, I get up and walk over to the sink. I wash my face again and again, I close my eyes, the world goes black, I open them, and in a flash of white my sight begins to clear.
I wipe my face with a towel, and throw it towards the bed as I make my way to the door. It opens easily, and a flood of lights and loud music fills me. Hordes and hordes of people stand in the hallway, blocking my way downstairs.
I make my way through them, ignoring their curses and shouts as I bump into a few of them as I go. I reach the main hall, and all I hear around me is unintelligible speech, loud obnoxious electronic music, and some drunk girl yelling as she jumps from the living room table to the arms of some frat guy.
I go to the far end of the room and pour myself a beer in hopes of numbing this evening. As I take the first sip she crosses my sights. “I’ve seen her before” I think and fail to notice I’m saying it out loud. A girl with glasses and dark hair hears me say it and mumbles “creep” as she steps away from me.
All I manage to see through the crowd is a familiar face, and a splash of red hair. I definitely saw her somewhere, where was it? Oh, right, the other party. A few months ago I went to a friend’s party, and he introduced her to me, she wasn’t the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen, but something in her eyes made her stand out. After a few drinks she seemed to be the thing I was looking for all my life. Funny, sophisticated, imperfect in a perfect way.
The red hair burns like fire through the crowd, and then she sees me. She waves lightly and signals me to come over. I remember how it ended last time. I got so worked up, so caught up in her eyes I just mumbled the whole evening. She giggled and laughed at me, and at the end of the evening when I asked for her number, she frowned and said “I’m sorry, I’m with somebody”.
So why should I go now? Well, I’m a hopeless romantic, that’s why. I make my way through the throngs of people once more, and I come face to face with her. “We seem to meet on these terrible parties, don’t we?” she says laughingly. I take a sip of my beer and laugh a bit “Well, this time it’s my party, so feel free to drink yourself to sleep here”. She gives me a crooked look “Are you suggesting that I stay here and sleep with you?” she says with a serious tone.
I don’t know what to say to that. “Yes, I hope for that more than anything”? “No, I was just kidding”? This woman baffles me. She notices my awkward expression and laughs out loud “I’m being sarcastic, but I will take you up on that offer if you have a spare bedroom or couch”. I laugh awkwardly at that notion and offer her another beer, she nods and says “I’ll just wait for you upstairs, bring yourself one too”.
Hours go by as we talk about everything, from our childhood dreams, to which ninja turtle was our favorite. Her blue eyes seem to penetrate through every defense I have. I’ve never been so helpless yet happy in my life. It feels scary, it also feels liberating. I feel like shouting, waking every god, and screaming to them, just out of joy. And then gravity pulls me and I come crashing back down to reality.
She looks at me baffled “Did you hear me?” she asks. I snap out of my trance and ask her to repeat what she said with an awkward giggle, making myself seem like a goofball. She gets up from the couch and asks “Well, where is the guest room?”.
I escort her to the guest room at the end of the hall. She bids me good night and I shut of the lights in the hallway. The music is still playing downstairs, I slowly get down the stairs and make my way to the stereo system. Masses of half-naked people lie on the pieces of broken furniture, not to talk about the floor. As I shut off the music, one of the guests looks at me with a half open eye whispering “Awww man, that was a killer track, why’d you have to…” not finishing the sentence he falls asleep.
I have no heart to wake all these people up and throw them away from here. So I just take a bottle of water from the fridge and make my way up to the bedroom. I open the door more people passed out on my bed, the dark haired girl who shrugged at me is laying on the floor, a pool of spit surrounding her mouth. I laugh a little inside and turn back to the hallway.
I look at the guest room door, hesitating. I take a sip of water and decide to go for it. I walk over to the door and knock. She opens the door, wearing a green velvet robe. “You forget something?” she asks, and i hear the fatigue in her voice. “No, nothing, just wanted to make sure you’re comfortable. I see you found the robe and whatnot, good night”. She looks a bit surprised “Thanks, I guess. You don’t need to check up on me, I’m a big girl you know. But thanks anyway, good night.” She says, and closes the door.
I take a few steps back to the hallway and drop the bottle on the floor. I turn back and open the guest room door. She’s there, laying in bed, and the open curtain gives enough room for the moon to shine on her. She wakes and looks at me. Her face looks so white in the moonlight, as if someone sketched her black against white, with rough edges and unfinished ink-work. Beautiful, just beautiful.
“What took you so long?” she asks. I can’t stop looking at her “I don’t know, I’m stupid like this sometimes”. She giggles, “Yes you are” and pulls the blanket off the bed, telling me to lie with her. I get inside the covers, and hug her. She pulls my shirt off softly and lets me kiss her neck. “I’ve waited for this for quite a while” I whisper. She gives me a cynical look “Well, you know what they say, the good things in life don’t come easily”. She kisses me on the lips for the first time, and says to me “you know, I’m still with someone, I don’t know what I’m doing here”. I kiss her back and just stare at her “I don’t know either, that’s the beauty though, isn’t it?” she kisses me and runs her fingers through my hair. She gets on top of me, and leans over to my ear, whispering quietly “shhhh, don’t ruin this by talking”.
I let her have her way with me.
I wake up, throat dry, still in deep embrace with her. I look at her for a few minutes, until my throat aches unbearably. “Shouldn’t have left the bottle outside” I think. I carefully slip from the covers and walk to the door. The hallway light is still on, and the bottle is just where I left it. I pick it up and take a sip. I look back at the door, the curtains are closed, and all I can see is pitch black. I take another sip of water, draining the bottle to its end.
I walk back to the room and close the door behind me. I slip under the covers again and into her warm embrace. I kiss her cheek and envelop her with my arms. She shivers a little and tightens her grip on me. I run my hand through her red hair and kiss her on the forehead, falling asleep slowly again.
Rays of sunlight break through the cracks in the curtain. One of them seems bent on hitting my eye. I hear people talking downstairs and I open my eyes against my will. The bed is empty, she’s no longer here. I crawl out from the bed and blindingly go to the right, where the door should be. “What the fuck?!” I shout as i stub my toe against the wall. My eyes open wide this time, and I see that I’m in my own room.
I get my senses and walk over to the door. I walk out to the hallway, and straight to the guest room. I open the door, and the room before me is empty. The bed is made, the curtains are open, and sunlight shines through the window. The green velvet robe is hanging on the bathroom door. I walk over to it and smell it. Her scent is still on it.
I make my way downstairs, and to my surprise, the voices shouting are just some stupid sitcom playing on the television. My mom sits on the couch, eating breakfast. “Morning sleepy, how are you?” she asks. I look at the living room, no broken furniture, no unwanted hungover guests. Nothing. “What happened to the party?” I ask. “What party? You went to sleep at nine last night, you were baffling something about inviting friends over, but you just fell asleep after dinner.
“Can’t be, no freaking way I just dreamt all that” I say out loud. “What?” my mom asks. Running up the stairs I yell “Never mind, be right back for breakfast”. I rush to my room, open my computer and check her profile. She was with her “someone” last night. At least that’s what it says there.
Never had a vivid dream like that, never. And it won’t seem to get out of my head for some reason. Am I fooling myself thinking the robe smells like her? Is it even really her scent? Guess I won’t ever know. Life goes on, limping slowly, looking for moments of perfection, be they real or dreams it does not matter, all that matters is how they make you feel. And right now, I’m happy as can be.
She gives away a smile, and her lips mumble her name. And all I wonder, is how it would sound if she took mine as well.
He walks the path of the righteous, with a blackness over him. And all I wonder, is how would his flesh smell when he burns at the stake.
They walk back and forth on the platform so high. And all I wonder, is if I’ll get caught after I throw them to the rails.
They don’t know me, but I’ve been here before. And all I wonder, is if I can just kill em all.
I don’t know if I am, you can call it whatever you want. I call it wishful thinking. It’s okay, I know I’m weird.
“I don’t need you!” screams the boy at his mother, stomping his feet at the ground.
“Come, buy yourself new friends” whispers the teen on the street corner, selling england by the pound.
“Please, Stay!” says the old man with no voice, while his daughter makes that wretched choice.
“Come back!” cries the newborn baby to his old life, filled with endless regrets and useless strife.
“I don’t need you!” screams the boy again, as he leaves old regrets aside. Forgetting a life once lost as if he simply went blind.
“You’ll know better when you’re old” says the mother to the boy who makes his furious stand, as she sobs with her father’s picture in her hand.
“Come on, give it a whirl” she says to me as she hands me the cup. I stare at her with a blank expression as she pokes at my consciousness again “Come on silly, it’s just whiskey. Didn’t you ever do shots with your friends back home?” she asks, looking at me with that condescending look she always gives me. “Yeah I have, just not I wanna enhance this trippy experience even further”. She laughs, revealing her gap-toothed smile. She looks pretty for what you might call a circus freak.
She hands me the glass as she proceeds to get up, walking half dressed in her outfit towards the curtain. “Come on, just drink it already, you’ll feel better” she murmurs behind the curtain. I look at the glass eerily, thinking about her act. Lily, the magician’s assistant. Or in this case, the poor girl who faces death every evening as the bastard drowns her, sets her on fire, and basically tries in every possible way to kill her. And yet, she tells me “Just drink it”, as if I’m the one who’s gonna strap on a silly outfit and march out there with knives flying at me.
I take a sip, letting the cold liquid swim around my mouth. It stings on its way down my throat, and yet I take another sip, never looking back. Lily comes out from the curtain, wearing a white leotard, embroidered with a crescent moon and two stars. Her legs wrapped in her signature fishnets she looks at me “Well squirt, are you gonna give me my hat, or are you gonna keep admiring my taste in booze?”
The lights flashes on, the crowd roars, the lion at my back wakes from the screams of joy, only to shrug off the excitement and turn back to sleep. “Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and girls of all ages! Welcome to the Kingdom!”. The roars sound ever higher as a single spotlight remains among the diminishing lights. Standing below it, the ringmaster grabs the microphone again “Tonight we have a show unlike any other! No hordes of spiders, no closet tentacles, and certainly no laughing harpies with ripping talons tonight Ladies and Gentlemen! And by that dear viewers I mean, no animals!”.
With that announcement the crowd goes wild, sounding discontent the likes of which I’ve never heard. “Hold on to your seats people, tonight, we have only the best of human feats you shall ever see!” Just like he promises, he disappears in cloud of smoke, only to reappear on the top of a pole, standing 80 feet above the stage. The microphone still in his hand, cordless now, still sounds a boom. “Illusionists, contortionists, tight rope walkers, and all the death defying acts you can imagine, and more!!!! Yes, more, what more you ask? Tonight, is the 50th anniversary of our little kingdom, and I, the unlikely king have prepared for you an act so dangerous, the last time it flew through our circus, it took the lives of our dear performers!”.
The crowd roars once again, as another spotlight shines on a pole opposite the ringmaster. Cascading in splashes of red and yellow, the pole has a trapeze and a rope attached to it. “The Flying Trapeze!” the crowd roars at once. “Right you are ladies and gentlemen, right you are, and who better to show us how it’s done, than the son of legendary Flying Frank? Come on out Rick!”
My legs go numb at the sound of my voice, Lily grabs my hand “Don’t worry, just focus” she whispers to me and kisses my cheek. She gives me a little nudge and I stumble forward into the spotlight, as the sound of the crowd roar above me. Suddenly a hand grabs me from behind, and I hear a booming voice over the crowd “Well folks, once we get him out of these silly clothes and into some unitard he’ll show us where his daddy’s genes went” the crowd laughs at this remark, as the ringmaster clutches his arm around me, whispering in my ear “See ya at the end of the line kid”.
- Why must bliss come hand in hand with suffering?
Damned butterflies, cursed butterflies.
What the hell is wrong with me, why am I like this?
- You’re too damn clever to know better, boy. You’re over-thinking it, just stop and you’ll be okay.
“Ah, fuck” Dick muttered as the branch came around to hit him. He ducked and the branch missed him. Just as he sighed a breath of relief, he overlooked the roots underneath his feet, and fell down rolling and tumbling, flat on his face.
It was a warm summer day when Dick lay there on the forest floor and cursed himself for trying to change things up by taking this route on his daily jog. It was also the first time he was happy with such a decision.
He stood up, shook his head and got his bearings. He checked for bruises, but there were none, albeit a minor scrap on the elbow. He rubbed it, and looked back at the culprit.
Usually Dick loved nature, but this it felt like the tree was truly against him. Two minutes ago, he came at it seeing the branch from a far. Just like any level headed person he pushed it as he ran, but he didn’t expect it to snap back at him with such ferocity. And the roots, well the roots were just a cruel joke , a sort of “Third time’s the charm” on the tree’s part.
Dick gave a mad look at the tree and kicked its roots “just to show it who’s boss” he thought as he gathered up his senses and kept going. The trees and bushed around him were getting thicker and thicker as he ran, but growing up in these parts meant he knew where he was going, and that the forest gets thick just before letting up, just like its darkest before the dawn.
He dodged another branch as he finally came out of the thick parts. Before him stood a clearing, perfect as a circle, as if from some movie. A stream ran through the clearing, and for the first time in the whole morning Dick could hear birds. He though to himself “Why not?” as he took off his shirt and pants and jumped into the stream.
The cold water made him cringe a little, but he plunged his head in anyway. He came out of the water thinking “This day might just get better” when he saw her. Standing by the stream, was a girl so thin the sunlight almost shone through her. The first thing Dick noticed was the color of her hair. A shade of reddish brown, shining among the green of the forest, and he started wondering what was the word for that color.
“It’s called Auburn” she said, as she handed him his clothes. Dick looked at her like a deer caught in the headlights, and just as he reached for her, she threw the clothes at his face shouting “Would you quit staring you perv?”. He scrambled around the stone floor for his pants, and as he wore them he mumbled “I’m sorry, just got caught up there, never happened to me. And how the hell did you know I was thinking what color your hair is?”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” she asked as she looked at him surprised “you were talking to yourself, muttering ‘shade of reddish brown….awesome color….wonder what it’s called’ as you stared at my hair like some pervert”.
Dick got red as an apple, he looked down blushing and muttering to himself “Damned butterflies”. The auburn haired girl looked at him with a crooked smile, walked over to the shirt laying on the forest floor and gave it to him. “Sorry I yelled at you, I was just nervous that you found my hideout. Silly of me to think I’m the only one who knows about it, since I’m new here”.
“Yeah, I haven’t seen you in town till right now, I’m Dick” is what he should have said.
Instead, he just stared at her for a full minute, struggling with his shirt when she finally grabbed it and pulled it down on him. He shook his head “I don’t know what’s wrong with me today, I fell back in the forest, I must’ve hit my head and didn’t feel it, sorry about all the pervy looks or whatever, my name’s Richard, Richard Roy”.
She noticed she still had her arm on his chest, and quickly pulled it away. “I’m Maddy Barnes, it’s short for Madison, but no one calls me that. So..uh….um…do you go by Richard all the time like a prince or do you go by Rick, RR or whatever?”
“No, sorry to disappoint, I actually go by Dick most of the time”.
“Really? Oh my god, it’s too good to be true. I never thought anyone this day and age still calls himself like a penis”.
Dick laughed hard “Yeah, well, truth be told I hate that name too, but my Dad used to call me that when I was a kid, so when he died, I took it officially”.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know” she withdrew “I…um…..if I knew why….”
“Don’t beat yourself about it, it’s not your fault my dad called me a dildo”
She laughed hard, blushing like he did moments ago and after a long while laughing she asked him “So what’s the deal with the name, really, your dad is a 50’s detective or something?”
“Nah, he was just a regular fella, used to be a handyman, owned a tool shop in town. I have no idea why he liked that name, but I just thought I’d do him one last honor”.
“Mighty noble of you Prince Dick” she laughed to herself.
“So, what brings you to my crappy town, Madison Maddy Barnes?”
“I don’t know really, I just had to leave New York, I lived there my whole life, and got sick of all the noise and hustle and bustle”.
“Hustle and bustle? Really? And you say I’m the old-fashioned one.”
They both chuckled, and after a while they both lost track of time, until she finally asked him “What were you doing in the woods this early in the morning?”
He looked at his watch, noon was fast approaching. He jumped up “oh crap, crap, crap!” he yelled “I’m late, my mom’s gonna kill me, she needs me at the shop, crap!”. He grabbed her arm and started running back into the forest. “Lets go, I know the way back to town, I work at that tool shop I told you about, and I’m late”.
He expected her to push him away and tell him she’d get back to town by herself, and that he should leave her alone. But she never did. Even though she met him a few hours ago, she clings to him like a newborn baby clings to its mother.
They finally reach the tool shop when he turns to her saying “Maddy, I gotta go, but I think I wanna see you again”. She stands there, still holding his hand. Suddenly she comes closer, and whispers in his ear “The world is a rather unpleasant place, but this was fun for a change, we should do it again”. She let go of his arm and walked away. He had found himself grinning the biggest grin ever. “And where were you this morning?” he heard his mother say, as the door behind him opened.
“Damn it stinks here” Detective Mick muttered, covering his mouth with his sleeve.
Mick closed the car door behind him, and stepped into the alley. The guys on the beat already got there half an hour before him, and the murder scene was all but bagged and tagged, awaiting the Captain’s arrival.
“Have some respect, Harvey, it’s a murder scene” Captain Bullock said while slapping the detective on the back of his head.
The alley was clean as a whistle, except for a young, red-headed woman, lying in it dead center. Her purse was laying near her, turned out, cash and all, and a small pool of blood was gathering near her stomach.
“What do we have here?” The captain turned his attention to the coroner crouching on the floor.
“Hmm….victim is approximately in her 20s, Caucasian, red hair, three lacerations to the stomach, done post-mortem I assume, and judging from the contents of the purse and marks on her neck I’m guessing she had a hell of an evening that turned sour, ha ha” giggling, the coroner got up, threw off one of the rubber gloves and shook the captain’s hand. “Great way to start a morning, ain’t it Cap?”
“You said it. Do we have an ID? Do we have the cause of death? Is it the cuts in the stomach? Or do you stand by your assumption of an overdose of good time, Frank?”
The coroner lowered his eyes and muttered “Sorry Cap, it’s the coffee talking, you know how I am at 5 in the morning, can’t think straight yet without a cup, and even then my brain is shot. To your questions, no ID yet, were working on it. Concerning the cause of death, as I said, the lacerations seem post-mortem, she died from asphyxiation, my guess is someone strangled the poor girl after she refused some hanky-panky, went through her purse, and then cut her when he found nothing there.”
“Well was it the hanky or the panky that killed her?”
“Good one Cap, but we won’t know till we do a full autopsy.”
“Well, keep me updated Frank, and lay off the coffee for awhile, your sense of humor got a bit stale lately”
“Will do” the coroner said with a fake smile, and turned back to the young woman’s corpse.
Bullock got up to survey the crime scene. “No trashcans, no rats, no tracks left, the scene is spotless. Either the killer found the cleanest alley in uptown or we’re dealing with a professional.” Bullock thought to himself.
Uptown was the kind of place that seemed like a ghost town during the day and a cesspool of sin during the night. The kind of place you go to see the lowest of the low. The kind of place a girl of this class shouldn’t have been at.
“Cap, we have an ID” Detective Mick said over the radio. Bullock turned and walked over to the car, Mick sat there, face white as a freshly painted wall, and held the terminal in his hand. “Well, who is she?”
“You’re not gonna believe this sir” Mick stuttered and turned over the screen to Bullock.
Madelyn Price. Social Security 613414
Born: 12.5.1912 Chicago.
Died: 18.7.1936 Manhattan.
Spouse: Price, Isaac.
See case file 3-5517.
“What the hell Harvey? Are you playing one of your stupid jokes again?” Bullock shouted at him.
“No sir, I swear, I am just as shocked as you are, I have no idea what this means.” Mick murmured.
“Well, pull up the case file Detective, we don’t have all night.” Bullock said angrily.
“Umm sir, I can’t pull it up, it’s too old to be in the system, we’ll have to go to the physical archives.” Mick almost whispered this time, afraid the Captain will pull his head off for this.
“Goddammit” Bullock grunted and pulled out a lighter. As the sun rose through the crevices of the building, he slowly lit a cigar, as he looked back at the young woman in the alley thinking back on the coroner’s remarks.
“I guess this girl really did have a hell of an evening”. Bullock took a hit from the cigar and got in the car.
It’s lonely at the top my friend.
The words on the radio keep repeating over the drum beats and guitar squeals. I turn the radio down, and push the throttle down harder, as if shouting “full speed ahead”, trying to sail further and further away from reality. The city lights turn on as evening approaches, and they flash before me as if I’m flying through hyperspace while driving in this forsaken hell-hole of a city. A city full of lifeless zombies, all crammed in their little apartments, and so self-involved with their petty little lives, with their petty little gadgets, and petty little dogs. No wonder the radio says it’s lonely at the top, everybody prefers to slum it down here in the city that never sleeps, a hell that never freezes over.
I find myself stopping by some vintage retro shop thingamajig, wading through the masses of hipster looking teenagers and Chinese immigrants who lack fashion sense. The shop is full of knick knacks, clothes and relics from a better, perhaps simpler world that’s gone by and away. From the corner of my eye, I see a pair of black leather shoes just like my dad used to wear. I always nagged him about getting rid of them, always remarking how old and outdated they were. And yet he never stopped explaining that they reminded him of his childhood, of a city that was smaller, a community of people who loved and cherished each other, and a world that acknowledged you when you passed it by.
A few moments after examining the shoes thoroughly I talk to the vendor, and I manage to haggle with him a bit about the steep price of twenty dollars. Walking out the store sporting the new leather shoes, I take my old ones in hand and throw them in a nearby dumpster. I grin like a Prozac addicted clown, and wave my arms back and forth as I walk towards the car.
Back at the hotel, the TV flashes back and forth from one room to the other in some twisted peep show reality program. The grin I had slowly fades from my face and I order some food and drinks from room service. I carefully take off the shoes and lay them on the table nearby, making sure nothing disturbs my newfound black echoes of the past. I take off my jacket and walk over to the balcony barefoot. As I light a cigarette, I close my eyes, hoping the fire and smoke take the troubles far far away. I think about my dad again.
No such luck as it seems, the doorbell rings, and with it reality crashes back down to me.
After ringing three times , the bellboy decides to open the door with his own key and check if everything’s alright.
It’s too late, I’m already up on the balcony, and the poor bellboy just stands there puzzled, looking at me with a crooked face of shock and awe.
I grin at the boy, shouting “It’s lonely at the top my friend, and you need a pair of good shoes to get down from there”.
I flick the cigarette gently, and fly.
I take a deep breath, my eyes closed shut. I reach in my pocket for another cigarette, I light it up and take a whiff. The musky air fills my lungs, I almost choke up, and then I remind myself its not the first time I’ve done this. The jukebox keeps playing the same sad Sinatra song again and again, in my mind I imagine myself getting up and changing the song, but I quickly snap back to the grim realization that I’m in a wheelchair, and that task is a little bit more time consuming to me.
My cigarette goes out, I pull out my lighter again, and like every now and then my eyes hang on the inscription: “Burn Bright when all is Black”. I open the lid and light my cigarette again, I shove the lighter down my jacket pocket and close my eyes.
The jukebox fades, and the stage lights up, a chubby little man in a tacky purple suit comes to the microphone, holding a little piece of paper and a handkerchief.
Sweating like a pig he proceeds to the microphone, anxiously muttering something under his breath and then suddenly he approaches the microphone and says: “L-L-Ladies and G-G-Gentlemen, tonight we have a s-s-special treat for you, m-m-m-miss M-M-Madelyn Price. The man wipes the sweat from his forehead, and walks back to the curtain.
The lights on the stage dim, and a woman comes out from behind the curtain. Her face obscured by her hair, and apart from her silvery glitter filled dress I can’t make out much of her. She slowly approaches the microphone, and the light beneath her turns on. For a moment I rub my eyes in amazement, and as I sit there in total awe, the cigarette burns my fingers.
I quickly put it out, still gazing at her. Not thinking I pull out another one and light it up, this time I don’t linger on the lighter. The woman fixes her hair, revealing a young 20 something year old face behind that golden hair. With a cold voice she says softly - “Hello, I’m Madelyn, and this is driftwood”. A spotlight appears behind her, revealing a man sitting with a piano. Slowly he taps the keys, and she starts humming to the music.
Her voice seems hypnotizing, and I have a feeling I’ve heard that song before. Every whiff of my cigarette I get a glimpse of her through the smoke and it seems as though she is looking at me. I take out my lighter again, and as I turn the flint I feel someone touching my hand. I look up and away from my cigarette, she is standing over me, holding my hand. Gently she closes the lighter and pulls on my arm. I struggle, trying to tell her that I can’t walk, this wheel chair is not for show.
She keeps ignoring me, and softly sings in my ear, pulling me along. My body goes numb as my feet touch the ground, for the first time in ages I can feel them. Every step divine, I am shaken to my core, still amazed I am standing, let alone dancing and swirling with this beautiful woman in my arms. The cigarette has long fallen to the floor and it lays and rots there with the wheelchair.
We swirl again and again on the stage, the spotlight following us as we tumble and turn. She throws away the microphone and embraces me harder, still singing. I drift further and further, she takes my jacket off, and the lighter falls to the floor. I stop spinning and crawl for the lighter. She pulls me back to her again as I struggle again, slowly whispering in my ear “burn bright when all is black”. The spotlight shines brighter, burning my eyes, I shut them in fear and embrace her harder. The music suddenly stops, she steps away from me only to embrace me again, and kiss me on the lips.
I blink again, the spotlight dims above us, and she is walking away from me, back to the curtain, I try following her but I fall to the floor. My legs are useless again, and I am lying there, crawling to the back stage. Blood comes rushing from my arms, scratching against the flimsy wood of the stage, never seemed to notice the horrible condition it’s in. I fall flat in exhaustion, weeping like a child until I am unconscious, a puddle of blood beneath me.
I wake up sweating, I don’t even know how long it’s been, the wheelchair only a few steps away from me. Weird how you still seem to think in steps even when your legs have no purpose. I crawl to it with my last breath, the cigarette still lies near it unlit, I pick it up as I struggle to pull myself up. The spotlight keeps flickering on the center stage, my lighter lying there, blinking in the light, giving off a glimmer.
I wheel myself to the front of the stage, and as I reach down to the lighter the lights suddenly turn on. I cover my eyes with my hand, and pick up the lighter. I try to light it up, but there is no fuel. I look around me only to see a burnt up bar, the signs hanging on threads, the stools burnt up, the jukebox broken, still showing the Sinatra song on display. I look back to the curtain, it’s all burnt up and frail.
Suddenly from behind I hear footsteps, and turning slowly I hear a man’s voice calling me “Isaac, are you alright?”. I look back and say “my lighter isn’t working”. The man before me is wearing a black suit and a fedora hat, his face is white as if he’s seen a ghost. “Where did you find this lighter?” he asks me, and i answer him “it’s mine, she gave it to me on our first anniversary, why?”. With a blank look on his face he grabs the handles on the wheelchair and pushes me outside. We step out the pouring rain, and I ask him again “what’s wrong?” he turns my chair around and opens an umbrella.
Before me I see the entrance to the bar, a huge neon sign above it reading “Isaac’s Jukebox”. Below it a white title sign, like the ones you see above theaters saying “Tonight Playing: Madelyn Price”. I clutch the lighter in my hand harder as the man behind me lowers his head towards me, and whispers to me “Mr. Price, shall we go?”. I take out a cigarette and ask him for a lighter. As I take a whiff, I can see her again through the smoke.
I always wonder how time always seems to pass in a blink of an eye, even the painful, seemingly never-ending, gut-wrenching moments you wish would end in a blink of an eye. Five months ago Madison dumped me, reasons unknown. She left me there, standing by the river, rain pouring on my head, mud puddles neath my feet. A winter had passed since then, one of the most snowy winters I’ve ever seen. Or in all actuality barely seen.
What do I mean by that? Well, apart from school and taking out the trash, I spent my winter days pining over that bitch. Yeah I said it, yeah I called her that, goddammit she’s still claws in deep in my mind. Focus, man, focus.
Yeah, right, winter. Winter was gloomy and dark, well at least in my room. My Ma and Pa left me alone for most of the time, and whenever they did come around I just pushed them away. I don’t want to go reasoning my actions, most of you have been teenagers, you know what that’s like, probably, maybe you’re less fucked up than I am. Anyway, aside from my room, school was hell too, all the classes seemed to pass in a crawl, every day ended in a rush of cold blood to the head as I was saved by the bell and began my daily walk to home.
Every now and then I saw her pass me by, at first I avoided eye contact, afraid to look her in the eyes but still wanting to see her some time.Later on I just adopted a new route home, unable to even look at her direction without wanting to wring her neck and beg her to tell me why.
Looking back, those five months that seemed like a nuclear winter went by in seconds. Here I am, sitting in the bus, on the way to the beach. My friends finally managed to get me out of the house. Yeah, I have friends, I just didn’t mention them until now. I just didn’t seem to think they were that much of an attraction, I’ll get to them later, don’t worry.
Its a two hour bus ride to the beach, outside my window I see the same things as always, trees, buildings, people carrying on with their lives, just same old same old. Fred keeps shoving me from behind screaming ‘snap out of it man, come on’. Oh yeah, Fred’s my childhood friend, we’ve been at each other’s throats since second grade, he’s the looker-slash-awkward guy in our band o’ brothers. You know, the guy who looks like a model but isn’t aware of it, and is actually shy with girls, weird creature that one.
I snap out of my trance, I look back at Fred, he’s wearing a ridiculous red shirt, with white flowers on it, as if someone with horrible taste flew to Hawaii and bought it for him. I grab Fred’s arm as he goes for another push. ‘Snap out of it huh? Or what Freddie boy? Are you gonna make me look at your shirt till I cry?’
Fred gives me a crooked look ‘you done, fag?’
I let go of his arm, and shove him back laughing. ‘Yeah man, don’t worry about it, a few hours on the beach tanning a bit and looking at some of our school’s finest rear ends will fix me up good’.
Fred screams with joy ‘Here’s my man, he is back ladies! Jimmy is back on the market!”
My face turns red with embarrassment, the whole bus is looking at us, giving us that condescending look, you know, that ‘who the hell are those guys?’ look.
From my left side I hear a murmuring sound. I turn to see Dick sitting there mumbling to himself while shaking his head ‘Fred you goddamn jackass. Would you leave the kid alone?’
Dick has never been the pompous type, he’s a quiet one, even quieter than me. So quiet I didn’t know the guy actually existed till the fifth grade, and he lived right next door to me. His actual name is Richard, but he likes us to call him Dick, you know, like some 30’s noir detective, or like Dick Grayson, you know, Robin from Batman and Robin. I never actually made sense of that nickname, how the hell did Richard become Dick? Was some bloke named Richard a real douche to someone, and that made the name stick? That’s what I like to think, but I still respect my friend’s wishes nonetheless.
After two hours of making fun of Fred’s new flowery shirt, the bus comes to a halt. We rush to get out, me and Fred throwing off our clothes as we run, Dick behind us picking them up and mumbling to himself again. We run to the cold water, splashing all around like little kids at the beach for the first time. Moments later grumpy joins us murmuring ‘thanks guys, I had a great time getting us a good spot and arranging our stuff while you rushed ahead’.
We both stare at him with guilty looks, then Fred grabs him and shoves his head in the water screaming to me ‘Hold him down! Come on dude!’
I grab onto his legs, keeping him from thrashing about, as he suddenly goes numb, Fred throws me a concerned look and we both let go of him. Dick floats around for a second before I reach my hand to him. He jumps out of the water, hands and legs thrown at every direction, finally grabbing us both and dunking us in the water. We all emerge from the water laughing ‘whoa that was a nice one, you are a dick, dude.’
After about half an hour I decide to leave the water and just throw myself on the hot sand, enjoy a little sunlight for a change. As I come out the world around me start to fade. Not fading to black or white or something like that, more like I’m still there, everyone is still doing what they’ve been doing, but everything is just silent, and I can only hear myself.
When you’re stuck in your own world, you start seeing things you haven’t noticed before. At first you notice the obvious things, the pretty girls playing volleyball on my left, and you linger on that for a moment or two. You also see the old couple sitting and rubbing each other with sun lotion, you don’t linger on that one, you turn away, as fast as you can.
Then comes the moment where the shit hits the fan, you start noticing the weird things. You notice that every girl has the same face, hers, and you look away, hoping that the ball was her head. You notice the old couple again and you think to yourself ‘we could have grown old like that’, dragging yourself into despair again.
At that moment you revert to a childlike state. Trying not to think about her, you find yourself sitting in the sand, making castles and drawing circles. You start thinking about stuff you hadn’t thought about in ages, you know, imaginary friends and worlds you created when you were five, something to distract you from the pain.
You know you’re fucked when you actually see a kid sitting on the beach, drawing circles, looking up at you with a weird look. That’s the moment you snap out of it. Well at least I did. I immediately kicked my sand castle to all hell, and the circles I drew got swept away by the tide. I lifted my head to look back at that kid, but he was gone, as if he was never there, gone with the wind, all that’s left are the circles he drew.
Fred and Dick come out of the water ‘you okay dude?’ they ask me. I nod and tell them ‘I don’t know if I can do it yet, I can still see her’. Fred looks at Dick saying ‘dude, we need to tell him’. For a moment I wonder what they’re rambling on about when I hear the words ‘she has a new boyfriend’ uttered from Fred’s lips. In my panic I ask a million questions, who, what, where, how long, and to all of whom the answer is ‘we don’t know, we just know his name is Isaac’.
The world fades back to a mute state, I see that kid again, this time he’s running on the beach, kicking the waves back and screaming at the top of his lungs. I look at the sand, I draw two circles and go back in my trance, drawing castles and masked men chasing birds, trying to catch them with spears and swords. I look up to see a weird looking guy sitting across from me, he’s also making sand castles and drawing circles in the sand just like me, strangely he looks familiar.I shake my head and shrug off that weird feeling, I get up to find another spot to keep drawing circles to my illusion.
Part 1, by Donald Glover
This is on a bus back from camp. I’m thirteen and so are you. Before I left for camp I imagined it would be me and three or four other dudes I hadn’t met yet, running around all summer, getting into trouble. It turned out it would be me and just one girl. That’s you. And we’re still at camp as long as we’re on the bus and not at the pickup point where our parents would be waiting for us. We’re still wearing our orange camp t-shirts. We still smell like pineneedles. I like you and you like me and I more-than-like you, but I don’t know if you do or don’t more-than-like me. You’ve never said, so I haven’t been saying anything all summer, content to enjoy the small miracle of a girl choosing to talk to me and choosing to do so again the next day and so on. A girl who’s smart and funny and who, if I say something dumb for a laugh, is willing to say something two or three times as dumb to make me laugh, but who also gets weird and wise sometimes in a way I could never be. A girl who reads books that no one’s assigned to her, whose curly brown hair has a line running through it from where she put a tie to hold it up while it was still wet
Back in the real world we don’t go to the same school, and unless one of our families moves to a dramatically different neighborhood, we won’t go to the same high school. So, this is kind of it for us. Unless I say something. And it might especially be it for us if I actually do say something. The sun’s gone down and the bus is quiet. A lot of kids are asleep. We’re talking in whispers about a tree we saw at a rest stop that looks like a kid we know. And then I’m like, “Can I tell you something?” And all of a sudden I’m telling you. And I keep telling you and it all comes out of me and it keeps coming and your face is there and gone and there and gone as we pass underneath the orange lamps that line the sides of the highway. And there’s no expression on it. And I think just after a point I’m just talking to lengthen the time where we live in a world where you haven’t said “yes” or “no” yet. And regrettably I end up using the word “destiny.” I don’t remember in what context. Doesn’t matter. Before long I’m out of stuff to say and you smile and say, “okay.” I don’t know exactly what you mean by it, but it seems vaguely positive and I would leave in order not to spoil the moment, but there’s nowhere to go because we’re are on a bus. So I pretend like I’m asleep and before long, I really am
I wake up, the bus isn’t moving anymore. The domed lights that line the center aisle are all on. I turn and you’re not there. Then again a lot of kids aren’t in their seats anymore. We’re parked at the pick-up point, which is in the parking lot of a Methodist church. The bus is half empty. You might be in your dad’s car by now, your bags and things piled high in the trunk. The girls in the back of the bus are shrieking and laughing and taking their sweet time disembarking as I swing my legs out into the aisle to get up off the bus, just as one of them reaches my row. It used to be our row, on our way off. It’s Michelle, a girl who got suspended from third grade for a week after throwing rocks at my head. Adolescence is doing her a ton of favors body-wise. She stops and looks down at me. And her head is blasted from behind by the dome light, so I can’t really see her face, but I can see her smile. And she says one word: “destiny.” Then her and the girls clogging the aisles behind her all laugh and then she turns and leads them off the bus. I didn’t know you were friends with them
I find my dad in the parking lot. He drives me back to our house and camp is over. So is summer, even though there’s two weeks until school starts. This isn’t a story about how girls are evil or how love is bad, this is a story about how I learned something and I’m not saying this thing is true or not, I’m just saying it’s what I learned. I told you something. It was just for you and you told everybody. So I learned cut out the middle man, make it all for everybody, always. Everybody can’t turn around and tell everybody. Everybody already knows, I told them. But this means there isn’t a place in my life for you or someone like you. Is it sad? Sure. But it’s a sadness I chose. I wish I could say this was a story about how I got on the bus a boy and got off a man more cynical, hardened, and mature and shit. But that’s not true. The truth is I got on the bus a boy. And I never got off the bus. I still haven’t
Part 2, By Me
This is on a bus back from camp. I’m thirteen, and so are you. Before I left for camp I imagined it would be me, and three or four more girls I hadn’t met yet, running around all summer, being chased by guys. It turned out it would be me chasing one guy. That’s you. And we’re still at camp as long as we’re on the bus and not at the pickup point where our parents would be waiting for us. We’re still wearing those stupid orange camp t-shirts. We still smell like pine-needles. I like you, and you like me and I more-than-like you, but I’m not sure if you do or don’t more-than-like me too. You’ve never said, so I haven’t been saying anything all summer, content to enjoy the small miracle of a guy choosing to talk to me and choosing to do so again the next day and so on. A guy who’s as smart and funny, and if he somehow says something dumb for a laugh, I’m willing to say something two or three times as dumb, just to make him laugh, but who also gets weird like me and wise, sometimes in a way I could never be. A guy who reads books that no one’s assigned him, whose black framed glasses have just the smallest defect in the center, making them a bit crooked and funny, yet hard to look away from.
Back in the real world we don’t go to the same school, and unless one of our families moves to a dramatically different neighborhood, we won’t go to the same high school. So this is kind of it for us. Unless I say something. And it might be it for us if I actually say something. The sun’s gone down and the bus is quiet. A lot of kids are asleep. We’re talking in whispers about a tree we saw at a rest stop that looks like a kid we know. And I keep thinking about just telling you. And then you’re like “can I tell you something?” and all of a sudden, you’re the one telling me. And you keep telling me and it all comes out of you and it keeps coming and your face is there and gone and there and gone as we pass underneath the orange lamps that line the sides of the highway. And I sit there, with no expression on my face, thinking to myself “I’m probably going to break his heart”. After a point you’re just talking to lengthen the time where we live in a world where I haven’t said yes or no yet. And then I hear it. “Destiny”. I don’t remember in what context. Doesn’t matter. Before long you’re out of things to say. And there I am sitting, with a stupid smile on my face, and I say, “okay”. I don’t really know what I meant by that, I’m probably just trying to run from the future. And I see you there, squirming in your seat, thinking about running away, but I don’t want to let you go. And there you are, closing your eyes, pretending to sleep and before long, you are.
I kiss your cheek, and get up from my seat. We’re going reach the pick-up point soon, and I still don’t know what to do with what you just said. I hear the giggling from the back seat. Over the summer I met some girls too, they’re kind of childish and all cheerleader-like, and I don’t really like some of them. Like this one girl, Michelle, she’s all prettied-up, make up all over, and adolescence is doing her a ton of favors body-wise. Unlike me, puberty seems to take its time with me, well at least unlike her I have my smarts. And here I am, sitting with those girls, telling them all those things you told me. And I’m telling them not because I’m mean, but because I’m scared. Scared for me, for you, for us, if there is still an us after all this. And there I go, blabbering about it all for what seems like hours. The bus comes to a halt, here it is, my stop. I turn to the girls to ask their opinion, most of them encourage me to talk to you again, and that Michelle girl just looks at me and tells me not to worry, you’ll probably call me or something. I get a strange vibe from her, as if she’s not really on my side. I get up, and take a few steps towards the bus door, the giggling suddenly resumes, and I just stand there looking at them. And they whisper and giggle, and point at you, I turn my eyes to you, all serene looking in your seat. And I get off the bus, hoping I’ll see you again someday.
I take my bags and things from the bus, and turn to the parking lot of the Methodist church. My dad’s standing there near the car. I run to him, hugging him as if we were apart for years. I pile my things in the trunk and I’m about to get in. I see you waking up inside the bus, and I see Michelle walking to you, I see her standing there, and then she just walks away, and I can hear the giggling and shrieking all the way from here. I see her turn and take her entourage of woo-girls off the bus. I’m not really friends with them, I hope you know that.
“Let get out here” I whisper. My dad drives me back to our house and camp is over. So is summer, even though there’s two weeks until school starts. I hope you don’t think that all girls are evil. Well some are, but most aren’t. I hope you don’t think love is bad. I hope you know I learned something from this. And I’m not saying this thing is true or not, I’m just saying what I learned. You told me something, it was just for me and I went and told everybody. I’m sorry for that. So I hope you never give up on things like this. From now on, I’ll just say what’s on my mind, and stop over thinking things. Most importantly I’ll remember to keep things away from conniving girls. Is it sad? Our story? Sure. But it’s a sadness I chose. I wish I could say this was a story of boy and girl, and how that girl got on the bus, and got off a woman, more cynical and hardened and mature and shit. But I’ll probably repeat those same mistakes some time. So that’s not true. The truth is I got on the bus a girl. And I just kept standing there, staring at you. And I never got off that bus. I still haven’t.
I remember it was raining, I can’t really say what day of the month it was, or even what month, but I do remember it was raining. Yes I’m careless like that, and believe me, there’s a reason. I’ll get to it later, but first I need to tell you about rain, and sadness, and grey stuff.
As I said, it was raining, might have been early December or late November. I can’t seem to recall really, since my parents never believed in celebrating holidays or marking down special dates, unless it was some distant relative’s damn birthday, or some kind of doctor’s appointment.
I spent my days closed up in my room, playing my guitar and trying to write my angst away with songs about killing things and setting things on fire. Yes yes, very mature. Don’t judge me, I was only 17. Always thinking about how she left me, and how she betrayed me like that. That b…wait, I started at the wrong point. I didn’t tell you what happened since I left her there on the sidewalk, grinning like a doofus.
So let’s back up. Last summer I met Madison, yes I refer to her by that name and not Maddy since were not friends anymore, I’ll get to that in a second. So me and Madison spent a very interesting afternoon that summer, and ever since then I followed her around like a little stalker boy - only she was aware of it, and she was happy to let me do so.
Every day was perfect. No longer did the heat bother me, and the wind seemed to follow me around. From dawn to dusk, every moment was spent with Madison, my life was no longer my own. My friends had disappeared, my parents no longer knew who I am. All my time revolved around her. Whether it was good or bad, I still don’t know.
One hot summer day, we went hiking, against my wishes I must say. The height, and humidity in the air didn’t help my cause, and soon I was sweating like a pig. Madison, in total contrast to me, was jumping from rock to rock, whimsically singing her way up the mountain road.
I called out to her ‘Maddy, wait up, wait a sec!’ and frowning she turned to me ‘come on silly, if we keep going like this, we’ll never reach the top’. Reach the top? Was she nuts? This mountain was huge, it would take us hours to get there, and I’m sure to collapse mid-way. Gasping for air I belched out a shout ‘Maddy, I swear I’m gonna faint any second, will you just stop for a moment?’
She kept going for a few more seconds, when she suddenly stopped, stomped her feet against the ground and sighed to herself. She rushed down the mountain to where I was already sitting very non-comfortably on some rock.
She looked down on me, with her big blue eyes and sat on my lap. ‘You big doof, you can’t keep up with a scrawny girl like me?’ she was scrawny i thought to myself. And here I am, falling for that scrawny girl. She kissed me on the lips and asked me ‘do you want to keep going? Or do we deedle daddle back to town? I prefer the first option.’
I kept thinking to myself, what the hell, the girl has never seen the top of a mountain or a mountain up close for that matter. ‘Alright, we’ll go up Maddy, and I promise I won’t whine anymore, but you have to promise me something too’. And again she gave me that irresistible puppy face ‘whut do I need to pwomees?’ she asked in that stupid childish voice that made me laugh for some reason. ‘Just walk at my pace please, don’t rush ahead too much’. She then got up, started to walk away from me, then turning her head yelled at me ‘Why? You don’t like the view from behind?’.
For two hours we went up the trails of that mountain. I swear to whatever deity that’s listening - there is NO way I’m hiking ever again, I’d rather enjoy a quiet picnic at the park than walk for three hours just to get to the top of a mountain, and three more hours getting down. But seriously now, the view from the top was amazing.
‘The last time I was here was when I was nine.’ Maddy looked at me, her hair neatly collected into a bun, god forbid her hair would get messy because of the wind, or rather it would carry away her precious head. She kissed me again, and this time she held on to my arm. ‘Jamie, I’ve never seen things like this. Well I’ve been in skyscrapers, but looking down on smoke and rooftops doesn’t even compare to this’. It truly was a sight, the whole town lay before us. From the river to the west, streaming down from the mountainside to the highway at the edge of town, borders clearer than you can draw a map to.
Hugging her tight, I looked at the back of her head, speechless. Yeah, two weeks and still I was speechless. After a while, I started feeling a bit strange, looking at her like that and not saying a thing. All the while she was looking towards the horizon, not saying a thing as well, maybe I wasn’t the only one that was speechless. With that blank stare in her eyes, she might have drifted to some far away land. ‘A penny for your thought?’ I whispered in her ear. She pressed herself against me and quietly she said ‘I don’t know Jamie, I’ve never felt like this, I’ve never been so lost’.
To this day I don’t really know what she meant. But she kissed me right after, and what possible doubt I might have had at that particular moment had simply faded away.
And here we are, at the end of September. The first rain had struck down a few days ago, and it has been raining ever since. Maddy became a little cold and distant ever since the hike. Every time I called her, she sounded un-interested and she always said she was preoccupied.
One day I decided I had enough, and went up to her house. Even though I walked that road every day since I could stand on my own two feet, something felt off that day. The white picket fences in front of every house looked grey and ominous, the sky almost black, as if someone, up in the sky was angry, and took it out on my town.
As I walked up the stairs and rang the doorbell, sounds of thunder came rambling from afar. Maddy opened the door, and looking at me she said under her breath ‘oh, I hoped we could talk, wait I’ll get my coat.’ And she closed the door in my face, and there I was, standing on the porch, a month after I met her, not grinning anymore.
She came out a minute later, wearing a blue velvet coat. I’ll probably remember that coat for the rest of my life, it was such an anti-thesis to that whole day - so blue, so vivid, so different from the bland and bleak sky. And her hair, gold as the sun, she was hope incarnate, maybe the world is just playing a big joke on me with this weird weather.
We walked in silence for about ten minutes, until we reached the riverbed where she stopped me. She then proceeded to kiss me, a brief kiss this time, no passion, no feeling, as blank as her stare that day on the mountain. She shrugged away from me, and walked towards the oak tree.
The tree was already naked, fall had done its dirty work in those few rainy days. And there she was, standing on leaf covered ground, one hand on the tree, the other on her face. I could hear her sobbing into her hand, trying to muzzle the noise with no success.
I put my hand on her shoulder, my heart shaking inside with fear. ‘What is it Maddy? What’s wrong?’. I sensed she was tense, ready to run away from here, back to that place she saw up on the mountain, her safe spot. She looked at me, her face filled with tears. I can’t stop thinking about her eyes, blue as the sea, yet red as blood.
Then, stuttering, she said ‘I can’t do this anymore, we need to stop, I have to go’. And she brushed my hand away, and ran back towards her house. Thunder came again, and lightning followed, and there I was, standing and thinking about what I might have done to make her say that. Standing by the river, rain pouring down on my head.
Let me guess. An arena, right?
They made you kill innocent people for their viewing pleasure.
And one day you picked up your sword against them.
Valiantly charged out of the prison and killed them all, am I right?
Alright, I’ll stop stating the obvious and let you tell the story.
I can scarcely recall what happened in the moments between my “verdict”, and my arrival in the pits. Only bits and pieces of what seems like a dungeon out of a fairy tale come into mind. From what I can remember, the screams are the most vivid - no wonder, I still hear them every night - never ending, always louder.
I guess, well, I don’t really know. Should have brought a watch.
My only clues as to how many days I’ve spent here are the meals and the screams.
Surprisingly enough, I get three meals a day, though I know not what they contain, for I eat them in total darkness. Other than that, the screams, they always come at a certain interval of time - right before they serve they first meal of the day. I shudder to think what is done outside my cell.
The food has grown to my liking. Though I still do not know what it is I eat, it keeps me alive and breathing for the moment. That is until they eventually decide to kill me, or their food source runs out. I’m hoping for the latter.
I am beginning to suspect they have an unlimited supply, and since I hear no other voices except the screams, I assume that what they are feeding me is other inmates.
I still haven’t decided if I am disturbed by the fact I am eating human flesh, or the fact that I don’t care anymore.
I wake up to the sounds of rattling chains outside my cell. I think they brought another prisoner. As I desperately try to eavesdrop, I realize that no meal came today.
Usually I wake up to the sound of screaming, and moments later a dish is slid under the cell door. But not today. Is the food supply finally over? Are they finally out of inmates? And is it time for me to die at last in peace.
In my heart I doubt myself, but still I hope the new inmate is not tomorrow’s meal.
Four days with no food, have my jailors gone soft? Clearly they had dragged someone into the other cell not four days ago, so what gives?
I hear someone scratching at the door. First at the bottom, then higher and higher, until finally I hear gears turning, a click, and a creak of a metal door.
Light shines in my cell, I struggle to adjust. It’s so bright, so inviting, yet somehow I want to crawl up in a dark corner, afraid of what’s outside.
The door creaks, opening wide, then I see a man crawling towards me, his guts spilling, his hands drenched with blood and with his dying breath he reaches out to me calling ‘Free….free!’
Gathering all my strength I manage to get up, barely standing I start walking towards the door. The man lying in the entrance has no pulse, he is shirtless, wearing tattered pants, with only a tattoo of a weird symbol on his forearm as some means of recognition. His guts are spilling out, his hands are bloody, with chain marks on them, and half of his fingernails are missing.
I step over him, walking out into the torture chamber. A dim white light shines through a hole in the ceiling, underneath it lies a great pit, filled with needles bigger than my head. I look over to the sides, two entrances, leading to other chambers, built the same way. No wonder they call it “the pits”.
From the nearby cell I hear a man shouting ‘Are you alright? Come on brother, please be alright, let me out!’
I walk towards the door, pull the metal handle all the way down until I hear a click. The door slides open, creaking to all hell. And then I see him, the one winged man from before, only now wingless, and thin - Icarus.
‘Oh it’s you’ he stares blankly at me. ‘Where is Prometheus?’ he asks me, and then he looks at the body, looks back at me with that cold stare, pushes me back and walks calmly to the body. He takes out two coins out of his pocket, lays them on the tortured man’s eyes and whispers ‘may you find peace in the river, brother’.
He gets up, looks around the room, fixating on a torch near the left entrance. He jumps over the pit, takes the torch off its wall mount and looks at me. ‘He lived a good life, don’t worry, the ferryman will take mercy on him this time. Now let’s go’. At that moment I notice he has the same weird symbol tattooed on his forearm. I follow, thinking there will be time for questions later.
We go through three more chambers, identical to the one we were held in. Not one word is shared during that time. And then he comes to a halt. ‘Shh, three masks up ahead, you ever been in a fight?’ I nod in acceptance, swallowing my guilt. It’s been a while since I fought someone, and by a while I mean since I was 10 years old.
We sneak quietly behind them, Icarus nods at me and goes lunging towards the masked men, blindly I follow. Bones crack, swords are drawn, fire rains down in a form of a torch, burning one masked man. I kick the other one, and manage to grab his sword. As I pull it out of its hilt, the world goes into slow motion, I plunge the sword into his chest as he grabs my shoulder. He tries to pull a knife with his other had, as I grab him by the hand, and pull him towards me. I hear a whimper, and there he is, hanging on me. I push him away, the world fades back to normal, and Icarus looks at me again with that blank stare ‘Are you done? We need to go’.
Beneath him lie two bodies of masked men, stripped of their weapons and masks. Their faces pale as the moon, eyeless lids, their tattoos gone, and somehow their bodies seem naked without them. ‘What are they?’ I ask. He looks at me ‘all will be explained, now put on the mask. We need to keep going, they will find us soon’.
I take the mask into my hands,it glows with a strange red light, humming and vibrating, as if it has its own will. I pull it over my head, adjusting it to fit , and again a tremor goes through me. This time different, it’s exhilarating, I feel like I’m parachuting from an airplane. I look at my arms, they become covered in tribal tattoos, just like the men we took the masks from. What on god’s green earth is happening here?
My skin starts to burn, my body goes into panic. Icarus grabs at me yelling ‘snap out of it, I know you’ve never done this before, but take control before the mask controls you.’ His mask turns blood red before my eyes, the world fades into a greyish state, and all I can hear in my mind is that devilish word again.
A sudden blow to my head shakes me up. I blink only to see Icarus standing over me, the butt of his sword aimed at me. ‘Did you snap? Or are you still a whiny bitch?’ he mutters at me. I get up, shrug my shoulders and tell him ‘guess we’re gonna find out’.
We walk for hours, torches high, passing through hundreds of torture chambers, and dozens of masked guards. I worry they will see through our disguise, being we’re not so subtle, and running through the dungeons. But surprisingly enough, they are oblivious to our actions, going about their business of torturing other inmates. Throwing bodies into the pit, pulling them out and repeating the process again and again.
The mask feels tighter and tighter every second that passes, the chanting burns my mind. ‘Thall’ over and over in my head. Its a constant battle, keeping it down and at the same time dealing with the silent treatment from my mysterious companion.
We reach another chamber, this time with no other visible entrances except the one behind us. Icarus looks at me, waves his hand in a “follow me” motion, and jumps straight into the pit. I approach the blade ridden thing, look down, and through all the metal I manage to see Icarus, now without his mask looking up. ‘Go on, it won’t bite….hard’ and he keeps standing there laughing to himself.
I jump, and as the blades cut through my skin, the needles drawing more and more blood, I focus on the chanting and for some reason the pain goes away. As I fall to the floor, so does the mask break into pieces. My mind goes back to normal, my skin turns to a pale white, the tattoos are all but gone. And then I see on my forearm the same weird symbol Icarus and Prometheus had and the shape starts to take form.
What seems like an upside down cross at first, turns into a hammer. Enveloped by a snake and a great eye watching over it. I stare at it for what seems like forever, until Icarus smacks me again and looking down on me he says ‘Are we gonna do this all day? I said I would explain everything’
I get up on my feet and look around. It seems we are in a white room, surrounded by torches, and behind Icarus lies a black door. He turns away from me towards the door, turns the handle, and opens it. Sunlight comes through, making my eyes burn at first. We toss our torches aside, and Icarus throws away his sword as well. Again he turn to me and for the first time he’s not shouting at me ‘Leave the sword here, we won’t need it where we’re going’.
Icarus rushes ahead through the thick bushes as I find myself flabbergasted, trying to figure out where I am. From bleak rivers to even bleaker dungeons, I now find myself in the most colorful jungle I have ever seen. The leaves glow in a bluish-green color, vast flowers, as colorful as the rainbow. The sounds of the forest envelop me, and the the vile chant that haunts me seems to fade to nothingness. I just wish he would slow down a little, this forest makes me feel much better.
As we reach a clearing Icarus grabs a hold of me and throws me into the bushes. Putting his hand on my mouth he whispers ‘silence, you see that?’ and he point to a raven ‘the ferryman watches us here too, were not safe yet, we must get to Mastaaden quickly.’ I stare at him strangely, hoping to understand what the hell he just said, but I know answers will come. Strangely enough, I trust him, I don’t really know why. But I guess that sort of thing happens to people when they share life endangering situations, right?
The raven passes us overhead, Icarus gets up and offers his hand in help. I get up, brushing off the leaves and then I see it, another pit in the ground. ‘How peculiar, why is there a pit in the middle of the forest?’ Icarus looks at me in awe ‘You really are here by mistake, are you? Pits are the local means of travel. Well, pits, wells, anything with a hole big enough to jump into, but more on that later - Mastaaden lies through that hole in the ground’
As I ready myself to jump again through hoops, a cold breeze rushes at me with a familiar scent. Even here, in this hell hole of a place, I can’t let go. Just as that wicked word, that wicked chant that I shall not name again, so does Madison haunt my afterlife.
I close my eyes, and as I jump inside, I hear my own words again.
‘Life’s too short Maddy, too short to be wrong. And maybe next time we’ll meet again.
And maybe I’ll be less of a bitter man. Even though if I could do it over again, I’d probably be the same man all over again.’
I awake to sounds of weird chanting, unable to move. My eyes shut, unable to see. All I manage to make out is the word ‘thall’ repeated over and over, whatever that means.
‘Thall, thall, thall, thall’ - I hear the devilish chant again and again
Again, and again, and again.
I struggle to open my eyes, and after a while, the deed is done.
My eyes wide open, my body floating down the river. I stare at the sky, a winged figure approaches nearer and nearer to the sun, only to burn off its wings, falling down to oblivion.
It lands near me, splashing all over, floating upwards, I hear the waves, and I hear him breathing, barely.
Yes, it’s a him, but since I am currently incapacitated, it seems no words come out of my mouth.
‘Thall, thall, thall, thall’ - The chant grows stronger.
Masked men gather at the riverside, chanting loudly.
The figure near me starts panting and screaming unintelligibly over and over.
Helplessly I keep drifting, barely, finally managing to scream out ‘Hey you! Are you okay?’
He keeps screaming, and through all the gibberish I make out one word - ‘Waterfall!!!’
Everything fades to black again. I awake to feel the sand touching my body.
Near me lies the figure from before, one wing burnt down to cinders, and the other seems a weird shade of metallic brown, and upon seeing it from this distance, I manage to conclude it’s artificial.
Suddenly a tremor goes through me, I am being bound, shackled and strangled by metal chains. They’re dragging me, to who knows where, dragging me alongside the one-winged figure. Almost choking I manage to see the masked men beside me, they are dark skinned, covered with tattoos, and their masks seem like voodoo masks, tiki looking things.
Suddenly they come to a halt, from the sky, a few rays of light manage to penetrate the darkness. And then I see him.
A black hooded figure, standing in front of me, oar in one hand, sword in the other, standing there, all silent. Beside him, to masked men, different from the rest, thinner, wearing white robes and a feathery headdress.
To the left of me, the winged man starts to wiggle and twist, choking and spitting out water from his mouth. He raises his head towards the black figure, and starts screaming in terror ‘No, no, it’s impossible, it can’t be, I was almost there, no, no!’
‘Silence whelp! You stand before The Ferryman, and you will be judged!’ the two white figures say simultaneously.
‘For reasons known or unknown, it matters not, you wretches have been cast into the abyss. And now a choice stands before you, will you rot in the abyss, until you are mindless and faceless? Or will you pay the ferryman, and cross the river Styx?’
Through bloodshot eyes, I stare at the black figure, under his hood only blackness, no face. The winged man at my side starts screaming again, only this time he makes sense, ‘I refuse to pay the ferryman! I am not supposed to be here, I was over the horizon, I know it, I know it!’
Suddenly the black figure takes a step forward, grabbing the the man near me by his throat.
‘Silence Icarus! You know full well why you are here, your attempt, as creative as may be, is a failure nonetheless. For one last time, I give you a choice. Will you cross the river silently, back to your home, or will you struggle once more, and become my servant?’
Icarus, I have heard that name before, the boy who flew too close to the sun. That’s Greek mythology, he and his father Daedalus, the architect of the labyrinth of the Minotaur tried to escape using wings, but Icarus kept flying too close to the sun, burning himself to death. But it’s impossible, It can’t be true, it’s just a myth, is it?
Wait, the ferryman, the river Styx, could it be? Could Hades be real? Could these myths be real?
‘I ooz erry an’ struggling to breathe, the man mutters to himself. The black figure lets go of him ‘what, whelp?’
‘I said, Ferryman, I refuse to pay’ and he clutches to his own neck, checking it for marks and scratches.
‘Very well then, take him men, strip him of his belongings, and mask him.’
Suddenly from the bushes four more masked men appear, they hold him down, and start pulling at his wing. ‘ Leave it bastards, it’s not an apparatus, it’s a part of me goddammit’
Blood gushes out from his back, they rip out the winged skeleton from his spine, small electric charges burst out of the base of the wings. Sobbing and screaming, he keeps struggling against them, but to no avail.
After ten minutes, they finally manage to severe all ties between him and the wings, and at that moment he finally faints. They drag him away to the bushes, leaving the artificial wings where they are.
All that time, the black figure watches, not flinching at the man’s pain and suffering. As they drag him away, the white figures turn their attention to me. ‘Will you pay, or will you serve?’
I don’t even look at them, the black figure is all I see or hear. They repeat ‘will you pay or will you serve?’ the black figure turns to me, staring at me, or at least i think he’s staring at me, i don’t really know, gazing into the abyss, what lies under his hood.
‘Why won’t he speak to me? Why do I talk to lackeys?’
The shackles tighten, one of the white figures approaches me, grabs me by my tattered clothes, and laughing tells me ‘you’re not worthy of his attention, whelp, now, will you pay, or will you serve?’
‘Pay? What can I pay? I don’t even know how I got here, and anyway, I don’t have anything to pay with.’
‘We have another non-believer, master. No coins for the crossing, and he doesn’t even know he is dead, what shall we do with him?’
The black figure grabs me by the throat, and examines me from all sides. He suddenly drops me to the ground, turns to the white figures, gives them a strange hand gesture, and walks away. The white figure looks at me again, and with what is definitely a grin under that hideous mask he says to me ‘to the pits then whelp, to the pits.