The Man Who Jumped

Life can be very cruel, which is why a lot of us turn to death. Life’s uncertainties get too much for us to handle so we look for something certain. And we think death is it. But is it? A few hours ago, I don’t know how many hours exactly, a man jumped off the terrace, right in front of my eyes, to a fatal fall. He lives in my building, I mean he used to, but we never really talked to each other or even looked at each other. Sometimes we would collect our mail together from downstairs but none of us ever said a word. And tonight, he just frantically opened the door to the terrace, and walked past me and straight towards the marble railing. He didn’t see me sitting there, wrapped in a black blanket, resting against the wall. I didn’t say anything to him, I just observed him. I saw him look down first, where he would later land, and then up at the sky, maybe where he thought he would go after he crashes on the ground. I knew what he was doing, but I didn’t want to say anything to him. He rested his hands on the railing, which he would later climb on. But then his face fell, and he broke down. He made ugly noises as he cried, and he dropped to the floor of the terrace. He banged his head against the floor, and cried with a lot more vigor. And at that very moment, I sneezed.

“Holy fuck!” He said, startled. But he only looked at me for a second. I couldn’t catch his eyes, or even his face.

“I’m sorry,” I said to him, without looking at him. “I wasn’t planning on sneezing.”

He didn’t say anything after that. He stood back up, and stared at the sky. I could tell he was still crying, because he was wiping his face with his sleeve, constantly. I would’ve preferred for him to just jump without ever knowing that I was sitting right behind him, watching. But he saw me. That changed a lot of things. A very long period of silence followed. Well, it wasn’t technically silent. The noise of the traffic lingered in the air, and the noise the man’s nose made was very prominent as well. He then, finally, started to climb on the railing.

“You don’t have to do it, you know,” I said, and he stopped. And after a few seconds, he turned around to face me. And I saw him. It was dark, but I saw him, I saw his face, and most importantly, his tear filled eyes. He smiled at me, through the tears and the pain, and whatever else he was feeling, and then turned around again, climbed on the white railing, and jumped. I heard him hit the ground, but I had no intention of seeing what had become of him. I stayed there, wrapped in my blanket, and imagined what he would’ve looked like. I wondered if he looked just like they looked in the movies, face down, hands stretched, blood all around their head, or if he looked different. I wondered, sure, but I didn’t care. Which is why I stayed where I was. A short while later the police came, they noticed me sitting on the side, they thought I was hiding. They asked me how long I had been sitting there, and if I had seen what had happened. And I told them everything. I told them about his eyes too, but about that, they cared even less than I did. They asked me if I knew the guy or if I knew why he did what he had done. So I told them. I told them he was looking for certainty, but that he jumped only to something more uncertain. For all he knows, he landed in a world worse than this one. He escaped one world, but uncertainty is something he couldn’t escape. The police then asked me if I tried to stop him, and I told them I didn’t, not really anyway. They then asked me to leave the premises and I refused, telling them I liked the comfort of the night sky, and that I wasn’t planning on jumping. I told them I would go to my apartment when the sun comes up, and that they couldn’t make me leave unless I wanted to. They left after asking me a few more irrelevant questions. And I stayed. And I’m still here. On this cold terrace, wrapped in a blanket. And when I close my eyes, I see the eyes of the man who was in pain, the man who I don’t even know the name of, the man who jumped.

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The Last Letter

Picking up Amelia from the train station wasn’t my idea. My mother had coaxed me to do it because she didn’t want her to take a taxi alone back home. I knew that if I were in Amelia’s place nobody would bother to pick me up from the station, and even though I wanted to bring that up with my mother, I decided against it. Amelia was coming home for the holiday season. After she left for university, the house according to my mother felt really empty and lonely, but I liked it that way. My sister threw a lot of tantrums and somehow I was the one who ended up running errands for her and my mother. Our brother Barry mostly stayed in his room reading books and being utterly depressed. He was the oldest one of us all, 27, and while all his peers from high school and university were working, my brother just stayed home and read books. I would call him an avid reader, but his relationship with books was way more intense. And he was very messy. Mother used to shout at him a lot in the beginning for being so disorganized, never cleaning his room, but after his first suicide attempt, she decided to leave him alone. She was the only one who brought any money to the family. She spent nine hours a day working as a seamstress on the weekdays, and on the weekends, she worked at the local bakery shop which was just three blocks away from where we lived. Our house was a rather decent one. We lived in an apartment with three bedrooms. When Dad was still around, Barry and I shared a room, but then Dad left and Barry’s books grew in number, and I had to move out of his room. My mother decided to give her room to me, and she slept most nights in the living room. But after Amelia left, she started sleeping in her room. I was still in high school back then, somehow getting by. The year was 1965. I took a taxi to the train station and waited for my sister’s train to arrive. It wasn’t too cold that day, but I was still hoping to just pick her up and get it over with. I walked around the train station and spotted her. She had a white coat on, and black pants with black shoes. Her head was tilted and between her lips was a Pall Mall which she was elegantly lighting with a blue lighter. I couldn’t help but stare at her for a while, during which I was both astounded and disgusted. I walked over to her and before I could say anything, she spoke to me.
“You’re late, Georgie,” she said to me, blowing her cigarette smoke in my face. My goddamn sister didn’t care about anybody but herself.
“I’ve asked you a million times not to call me that,” I replied
“And I’ve told you a million times that I’m not going to stop.”
I rolled my eyes. “Do you want me to help you with your bag?”
“No thanks, I’m fine,” she said in her usual nonchalant tone.
We stood in unpleasant silence until she finished her cigarette, after which she picked up her bag and started walking towards the taxi stand. I followed her silently.
She talked to the cab driver while I put her bag in the car’s trunk. I got in with her in the cab and that’s when the silence grew out-of-proportion awkward. But I didn’t dare say anything. I just stared outside the window looking at our dreary town. I turned my head to look at my sister and saw that she was reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.
“Is that from Barry’s collection?” I asked, the thought of the awkward atmosphere still bothering me.
“Yes. He lent me a few books before I left,” she said without looking up to address me.
Barry and Amelia were rather close. He never let me borrow any of his books. I once borrowed Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, but I abandoned it midway which somehow irked Barry to a degree where he banned me from borrowing any more of his books. He hardly ever talked to anyone. He didn’t have any friends, except Amelia, who he regularly exchanged letters with. Their relationship always made me feel very distant and left out, like I didn’t belong in their world; every time the three of us were present in a room together, I felt like an intruder. My train of thought came to a violent halt when the cab stopped.
“Why are we here?” I asked my sister, looking out the window. We weren’t home. Instead, we were at my sister’s favorite pub, Sally’s.
“‘Cause I want to be here. Also, I thought maybe we should chat a little over a couple of beers and cigarettes before heading home.”
I was befuddled. It was very unlike of my sister to want to spend some quality time with me, but I tagged along anyway. She paid the cab driver, and before entering Sally’s, took off her band and let her walnut colored hair loose. They fell on her shoulders gracefully and it was truly an admirable scene. I wasn’t very fond of my sister, but I have to admit that she was beautiful.

We sat at a table in the corner and took off our overcoats. Underneath her white coat, she was wearing an azure full sleeved blouse. We ordered two bottles of beer and sat facing each other.
“Why are we doing this? This is so awkward,” I blurted out.
“Awkward? Is sitting here with me making you feel awkward, Georgie?” she said in a mocking tone. She smirked at me, fetched her lip gloss from her coat’s pocket, and applied it over her seriously chapped lips. I avoided her question and looked around the pub. There weren’t many people there on account of it being a weekday and the middle of the afternoon. There was a guy sitting alone in a booth with a glass of what looked like whiskey on the rocks. He was staring right at us. Well, he was staring at my sister, it was pretty obvious, but I was the one feeling uncomfortable. My sister was being her usual apathetic self.
“Quit staring at that guy,” she said, lighting a cigarette.
“He’s staring at you. How is that not making you feel uncomfortable?”
“Men stare at me all the time. If I start getting uncomfortable every time it happens I won’t be at ease any and everywhere I go.”
“You’re so vain,” I said in a low voice.
“Hey, you brought it up, kiddo,” she seemed to really enjoy her cigarette.
Our beers arrived a minute later and I quickly gulped one fourth of it down.
“Easy, Georgie.”
“WOULD YOU STOP CALLING ME THAT?” I screamed.
“Jesus Christ, would you fucking relax?”
She put out her cigarette, put both her hands on the table and looked me in the eye.
“What’s your problem, George?”
“You are! You keep calling me that name you know I hate. Just be a normal person and call me by my name. Why do you have to fucking modify it?” Our eyes were locked.
She was the first one to avert hers. She picked up her beer bottle, took a few sips, set it down, and apologized to me. I told her it was alright and that I overreacted and that I was sorry too, even though I really wasn’t. I was just being polite ‘cause I wasn’t used to talking to my sister one on one.
“How’s Naomi?” she asked me after a silent spell.
“Why do you care?”
“George, I’m trying here. Please stop talking to me like I’m the worst thing that ever happened to you.”
She really was trying, and I was being rude. But I didn’t want to talk about Naomi. I didn’t even want to be sitting in Sally’s with her. I wanted to pick her up, drop her home, and then go out and have a beer alone or with my then best and only friend Akito.
“I’m sorry,” I said. This time, I truly was sorry.
“So tell me, how’s your girlfriend?” She took a sip of her beer and lit another cigarette.
“Jesus, how much have you been smoking?”
“None of your business.”
And my bitchy sister was back.
“I don’t want to talk about Naomi.”
She didn’t say anything to that, just smoked her cigarette, drank her beer, smiled at me in irregular intervals, and looked around the pub. I was doing the same thing, except for the smoking part.
“What are you humming?”
She caught me off guard. I didn’t realize I was humming.
I took a sip of my beer and said, “It’s a new Beatles song from their new album Rubber Soul.” The album was released just a few days prior and I was having a hard time getting the tunes out of my head.
“What’s the song called?”
“Girl.”
“Sing it for me,” she demanded.
“Haven’t you heard it?”
“Of course I haven’t,” she said with utmost ease.
“Why? It’s a beautiful song, and the entire album is bloody brilliant.”
“The Beatles are too popular for my taste,” she said, with her fourth Pall Mall since she had arrived, in her mouth.
“So who do you like?”
“The Hollies. Through and through. Their last album came out in September and it was mind-blowing.”
“I haven’t heard of them,” I said.
She snickered and said, “Of course you haven’t.”
We ordered two more beers.

After chugging my second bottle in one go, I felt a little buzz.
“Wow, relax, kid. This isn’t a competition,” Amelia said with a smile.
“Amelia?”
“Yes, George?”
“Why are we really here?”
She let out a sigh, put her cigarette out, folded her hands, and looked at me.
“I want to talk about Barry,” she sounded serious.
“What about Barry?” I grew rigid. I could sense that something was wrong.
“His last letter to me was rather bleak, and I’m kind of worried.”
“Aren’t his letters always bleak?”
“That’s what,” she said, shifting in her seat, and leaning forward. “This letter freaked me out. It’s the reason why I decided to come home for the holidays.”
She fetched the letter from her bag’s outer pocket and handed it over to me. I took it and unfolded the papers, but looked at Amelia once before diving in. “Are you sure?” I asked.
“Under normal circumstances, I would never let you read Barry’s letter. But this concerns us both so I think yes, you should read it.”

I obeyed.

 

My dearest Amelia,

Today, I’m not feeling very well. I didn’t even want to write this letter, but I owe you it, and so here I am, penning everything down. You’re the only one I can be painstakingly honest with. I am so glad to have you. When you left for university, I was distraught, as you know. But I somehow like this letter arrangement of ours much better. I know I’ve told you this a thousand times, but if this turns out to be my last letter to you, I want to address everything I can on these papers.

 

“Last letter? What does he mean?”
“Keep reading,” Amelia said with some smoke accompanying her words out of her mouth.

 

Lately, I’ve been feeling indisposed. It feels like my insides are engaged in some kind of a violent quarrel within themselves, and I’m the one who is losing the battle. I’ll confide in you and tell you that I haven’t even been reading lately. Every time I pick up a book, I read a few words but I’m not able to comprehend them. I don’t want to live a life where I’m not even able to read or where I’m losing interest in the only thing that I ever wanted to live for. I don’t know what to do, Amelia. I don’t know who to go to. I know you asked me to visit Dr. Lillian, and I kind of did. I reached her office but couldn’t gather the courage to walk in so I walked back home, locked myself in my room, and cried as much as I could muster. On some nights, I force the tears out, on other nights they just refuse to materialize.
I often feel like I have these versions of myself hidden deep inside me that I’m somehow not able to access. I don’t think I know myself anymore.  The last book I read was The Catcher in the Rye, which I read for the eleventh time, which I’m certainly too old for. I know it’s one of your favorite books and the reason why I read it recently was because you were on my mind. I think about you a lot. I think about the pain you endure, the pain I endure, the pain Mamma endures, and the pain George endures. He always seems aloof and I can tell from his eyes that there’s plenty he is hiding; there’s sorrow he just won’t accept. I’m worried about him, I’m worried about you, and Mamma, and myself. I’m worried about our family. Do you think we’re falling apart? Both as individuals and as a family? The only time we ever sit down together is for dinner, which George often skips. And during the dinner, nobody ever speaks. The silence kills me a little every day, Amelia. Nobody talks about you, nobody talks about themselves or their day or anything at all. George is always in his room listening to the radio, Mamma is always at work, and I just stain the pages of my favorite books with my forlorn tears. Some days, I really wish you were home, that maybe things would’ve been different if you were here. But I believe that’s just wishful thinking. Things are how they’re supposed to be, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Mamma thinks otherwise. She thinks I can do something and that I can start by going out of the house, but the mere thought of it scares me. But I took her advice the other day, and I went out for a walk. It was crisp, but I felt heavy, like an invisible force was sitting on my shoulders. As I walked I realized that I wasn’t just carrying my own weight, but someone or something else’s as well. Something has been weighing me down, and some nights I feel it gently creeping inside of me. Like darkness. I don’t know what to do anymore with this wasted life of mine.
Some nights, I recollect the memory of the day I tried to hang myself. I see your face, and Mamma’s, and George’s. And I decide against trying it again. But now, I’m not so sure anymore. I’ve been reading and thinking about death a lot and I think I want to give it another try. Now I know you would not approve of this, and neither will anyone else, but I don’t want you to worry. It’s just a thought as of now. I remember the last time I wrote to you about having a thought about killing myself, you told me “But Bear, there are still so many books for you to read, and so many letters for you to write to me.” I think if I die, I’m going to miss writing to you more than I would miss reading books. You’re my sanctum, Amelia. I can spill my blood and my flesh and every other aspect of my being on these pieces of paper and I know you would hold them close to your heart and shed a tear or two thinking of me. I wish I was a better brother to you, a better brother to our little Georgie, and a better son to Mamma. I hate the fact that I was always the closest to Father. Ever since he left, I haven’t been able to do anything. Why did he leave us, Amelia? Why did he leave Mamma? I know it has now been a long time and that I should stop thinking about it, but I just can’t. The memories of all my time spent with him still haunt me. But I guess there’s no going back.
Coming back to the main subject, Amelia, I am truly exhausted. I don’t think I can go on anymore, and if this is what my life has become, sleeping amidst books that I desire to read but I’m not able to, living with a family who never talk among themselves, having my dear sister around me only in the form of words, then I don’t want this life. If I decide to go through with what I’m thinking of doing, and if this indeed is my last letter to you, I hope that you can find it inside of yourself to once again fold these papers, hold them close to your heart, and shed a tear or two thinking of me. I love you, little sister. Tell Georgie and Mamma that I love them too. I would’ve done that myself, but they’re too close; literally, not figuratively. I hope things work out for you in your life. You’re a bright young woman with a wonderful future ahead of you, which I’m sure of. You have a dark streak to you which, in my eyes at least, makes you exquisitely beautiful. George doesn’t know it and would never admit it, but he’s capable of grand things. I could never personally tell him that, because people have said that to me and I have always found it to be very annoying. So if I were to say this to George, he would roll his eyes, hiding his pain, and walk away. I know him and his eye rolls.
Anyway, Amelia, take care of them, and take care of yourself. Try not to worry about me too much.
Lots of love,
Barry

 

When I finished reading the letter, I had tears in my eyes. I knew my brother was depressed but that he was thinking of killing himself again was something I had no idea about. When I looked up, I saw that there were two new fresh bottles of beer on our table, five cigarette buds in the ashtray, and that my sister was smoking the sixth cigarette, with tears streaming down her face. I was stunned; I really didn’t know what to say. It was my sister who broke the silence.
“What do you think?” she asked me, staring at the table.
“When did you receive this?”
“Just day before yesterday, and that is why I decided to come,” this time she looked at me. “Did you see Barry before coming to pick me up?”
“No, he was in his room, like always. The last time I saw him was during dinner last night, but he seemed fine. He seemed like his usual self,” I said.
“That’s the thing, George. Barry’s usual self is not fine. He is suffering, can’t you tell?” Amelia was fighting her emotions, trying to put on a brave face, but her tears were giving her true feelings away.
“Let’s go home,” I said. I gulped down my beer, Amelia gulped down hers, we paid the bill, and started to walk home. Sally’s was just two blocks away from our apartment building. When we reached home, mother wasn’t home. And I was glad.
“I know what to do,” I said to Amelia.
I knocked on Barry’s door, and waited for him to respond. A few seconds passed but there was no response. Then Amelia knocked and said, “Bear, you in there?” She sounded scared. I was getting anxious too.
But then, after a short while, the door opened and Barry came out. He saw Amelia and at once hugged her real tight. They stood that way for about 30 seconds and that sight would usually have made me very jealous and I would’ve rolled my eyes and walked away, but that day, I self invited myself to their little hug retreat. Both Barry and Amelia wrapped their hands around me, and for the first time in a really really long time, I felt safe and protected. When we broke apart, I looked at Barry from head to toe. His hair were long and unkempt, he was wearing a plain black t-shirt with red pyjamas. I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Put some shoes on, big brother. We’re going out for drinks.”
My brother opened his mouth to refuse but Amelia interfered, “I won’t take no for an answer. You asked me to take care of George and Mother and myself, but you forgot to ask me to take care of you, which at this point of time is all I want to do. So c’mon, let’s get going.”
“Wait a minute,” my brother said and he went inside his messy room full of books, and brought back two books to us. He handed the first book, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, to Amelia. Amelia hugged him in return as I stood there, once again, awkwardly. He then presented the second book to me. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, much to Amelia’s amusement.
“You won’t be able to abandon this one,” Barry said to me.
“And if you do, I’ll abandon you,” my sister added.
The three of us hugged again, and then Barry looked at the two of us, his eyes welling up with tears. He smiled his wondrous smile, and said, “Are we going out now or what?”

As the Days Go By

I carry around a world of grand liaison on my shoulders,
a dark cloud strolls right above my head,
subtle raindrops fall on me like hard rocks,
my feet sway gently on the withered ground.

My feet sway gently on the withered ground,
arms lazily fling on the sides,
my palms fight an endless battle between confinement and freedom,
my eyes twitch wildly at your sight.

My eyes twitch wildly at your sight,
a sumptuous pain creeps inside my dying heart,
‘Cause I carry around a world of grand liaison on my shoulders,
and my feet sway gently on the withered ground.

The Cult (Part III – The Escape and the Aftermath)

If you’ve read Part I and Part II of the story, you may proceed.


 

I honestly couldn’t tell if the music was still coming out of the tent or if my ears were ringing and I was the only one who could hear it. The rope around my body had suddenly started to hurt; it felt like someone had just tied me up. I didn’t know for how long I had been unconscious. It was still dark but it felt like I hadn’t been conscious for days. When I looked around, I saw that Marty and Evie were also tied up, but they were still unconscious. Jeremy lay on the grass in front of me, just looking at the sky. When I made a movement and sound, he tilted his head to look at me.
“Ah, you’re awake. It’s such a beautiful night,” Jeremy said, resuming looking at the sky.
“What the hell is happening?”
When I moved a little more, I could feel the grass under me wet and that’s when I figured out that I had peed myself, even though I was hoping I hadn’t, and I stank of different things. I was disgusting.
“Wait,” Jeremy said. And then he called out to the man behind all of this. “Dr. Fujita! Vivien Turner is awake! The Quaalude girl.”
Fujita felt like a familiar name, but I was in no shape to dig in to my memory. But when the man came out of the tent and removed his gas mask and stood in front of me, I didn’t have to dig into my memory because I recognized him instantly. It was Dr. Itsuki Fujita, the psychiatrist who used to practice in Hemlock Creek a long time ago. He was born and brought up in our town, and I remember when I was in middle school, a lot of Creek High’s students were his patients. He was forced to leave town when he had started doing drug experiments on the high school students and almost everyone was always spiralling and were getting addicted to Dr. Fujita’s special drugs. I had never officially met him, he wasn’t ever my doctor, but he was in the news for the shit that went down at Creek High, and that’s how I remembered him; only on TV, and in the papers. But that night, he was right in front of me, and in a position of power.
“How are you feeling, Ms. Turner?” He asked in his deep voice, with his hands at the back.
“What – what are you doing here???” My head was spinning and it was a struggle to keep my eyes open.
“Yes, I shall tell you that, of course. Jeremy, wake her brother and her friend up, please.”
My eyes followed Jeremy. He picked up and wore a gas mask before entering the tent. When he came out of the tent, he was holding two needles. He went over to my brother first, and put the needle in his neck.
“JEREMY!” I cried, “What the hell are you doing?”
“Relax, child. It doesn’t hurt. Much,” Dr. Fujita said to me.
My brother started to move. He was trembling at first, but then his body slowly started to calm down, and he opened his eyes.
What followed was a series of curse words thrown at Jeremy, a few “who the fuck are you anyway” directed to Dr. Fujita, and a few tears that were shed in the fear of the situation. I was really scared too, which is why when Marty started crying, I joined him.
“Tch. Tch. Look at the Turners weeping,” said Jeremy, chuckling at our misery.
He then went on to wake up Evie. Evie awoke the same way that Marty did, her body trembled at first and then slowly started to calm down. But the minute she looked around and realized that she didn’t understand anything that was going on, she freaked out, and fumbled a lot, so I didn’t quite understand a word she said. At one point of time, all three of us were talking simultaneously. We wanted answers, the ropes around our bodies hurt us, and we obviously weren’t completely sober.
“Shut up! Just, shut up everyone!” Dr. Fujita shouted. “I haven’t assembled you here to listen to this constant nonsensical indistinct chatter. I have assembled you here to help you. And I can’t do that until and unless you cooperate with me.
“Help us? We don’t need your help, Dr. Fujita,” I said, crying.
“Fujita? Oh God, is this the same Fujita who was banished from the town when we were in middle school?” Evie asked, bewildered.
I could see rage building up on the doctor’s face, but then I also saw him drop the rage and take a calm and composed tone with Evie.
“First of all, my child, I wasn’t banished from Hemlock Creek, I left on purpose. All I ever wanted to do was help everyone, but everyone in the town had such closed minds, I could never have achieved what I desired here in an office without patients, because everyone thought my methods were dangerous; it’s utterly outrageous, to call my methods dangerous. They’re not dangerous, they’re unconventional. They are experimental, and they are fresh, and humans fear any and everything they don’t already understand. Their demeanor told me that I wasn’t a part of my own town anymore, and that’s when I left. I left and I formed a group, a group of people with open minds, people willing to try new things, people willing to give life a chance. Don’t think of me as your enemy, children. I’m not it. I’m only here to help,” Dr. Fujita closed his eyes after he finished talking, took a deep breath, and let the breath out, and opened his eyes.
“By group, you mean cult, don’t you, doctor?” I asked. “I don’t want to listen to your bullshit. You have to let us go, all of us, or this time you will be kicked out of the town, maybe literally.”
“But you see,” the doctor sat down in front of me, pulled on the string of rope attached to my chest, with his index finger, “I can’t let you go. Not yet, anyway.”
“What the fuck do you want?” I was agitated and it was showing.
“I want to make your lives better, it’s as simple as that, my child,” he said, slowly moving away from me. “I want to help you see life in a different light, I want to help you live your life better.”
“And how are you going to do that?” Evie asked. She sounded scared.
“By altering your brain chemicals, of course. I’ve been doing this experiment on your brother,” he said to Evie and then turned towards me, “and your friend. And the other boy from your school and when I’m done, they’re all going to feel much better and they’re going to lead extraordinary lives.”
“What you’re doing, is going to ruin them. You were the reason behind so many students’ deteriorating mental condition when you used to practice in the town. I remember everything. It was all over the news. You call your methods unconventional, but you know that they are dangerous, and sick,” I said.
“Well, I’ll agree they are a tad dangerous, and I’ll take pride in it because a little risk is necessary to reap benefits properly.”
“Little risk?! It’s not little! You’re toying with the minds of young people, why don’t you realize that? Ever since Jeremy’s party the other night, Ava has been acting weird. Not happy, but weird. Like a fucking zombie. Who knows what she’s going to be like when you’re through with her. Where is she anyway? Still unconscious in the tent?” I asked.
I could see Dr. Fujita’s face turn red. I was annoying him, I was making him angry, and I wanted to continue doing that because some part of me thought that he would let us go. But it really wasn’t going to go down like that.
“Enough talking. Jeremy, get them inside the tent. It’s time we start the healing process,” the doctor said, put on his gas mask, and went inside the tent. When he came out, he was holding three needles. He gave two of them to Jeremy who went on to inject the needles into my brother’s and Evie’s skin. I could hear them screaming, resisting the needle, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of Dr. Fujita. His gas mask made him look creepy, and I remember I didn’t resist and I let him inject me ‘cause I knew there was no getting out of that situation. Not yet, anyway.

When I woke up next, my eyes opened for a very brief period, I looked around but couldn’t see anything except for smoke and the color red. I could hear the music and the chants. I knew I was inside the tent. I wanted to move and get out but before I could do that, I breathed, and I was unconscious again. The next time I woke up, I woke up with a flinch. I sat up immediately and had major difficulty breathing. I was lying next to Marty and Evie, both of them unconscious. I wanted to get up and run away, but I couldn’t feel my legs. I turned around, while sitting down, and saw that I was not alone. A guy I had never seen before was standing behind me.
“Jeremy!” he screamed. “Come out at once, one of them has woken up. Jeremy!”
“Please, please let me go,” I held the guy’s leg and begged.
Jeremy came out of the tent, wearing his gas mask, and holding a needle. He took off his gas mask, and threw it over me for the stranger to catch.
“Go inside, Zachary. The doctor needs people. I’ll deal with her.”
Jeremy sat down, and came close. I wasn’t tied up, but I felt like I was. It was really hard to move.
“Aren’t you a feisty little girl?! Now c’mon, let’s go back to sleep,” he said, and was about to poke me with the needle, but somehow, I gathered strength, and punched him in the gut. He wasn’t expecting it and dropped the needle accidentally. I quickly reached for needle, and even though I couldn’t feel my body, I think it knew what it was doing. I jabbed the needle in Jeremy’s neck and before he could scream, he drifted into a deep slumber. I tried to get up, but couldn’t. I could hear the chanting, and I had to get away from there before anyone came out of the tent and caught me.  I crawled my way to Evie, reached inside her jeans’ pocket, and took out her car’s keys. And then I crawled for as long as I could and when I could get up, I did, and walked out of the forest. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. I got lost, and bruised, but what matters the most is I got out of the forest, I started the car, and I went straight to Hemlock Creek’s police station. I drove in a very rash manner; if I had encountered any cars in the way, I would’ve definitely hit them. I wasn’t sober, but I made it to the station alive.

It was an arduous task to explain to the officer what was happening. I was fumbling with words and I kept feeling like I would pass out any minute.
“Miss, calm down and tell me what’s going on,” Officer James said.
“No, we have to hurry, the doctor and his henchmen are going to ruin our lives. We have to go to the forest. NOW!” I was definitely panicking.
I think I passed out in the station after that. The process was pretty simple thereafter; the cops busted Fujita’s practice and retrieved everyone. Fujita and his men obviously had a terrible fate waiting for them, but to say that we were better off would mean underestimating the damage that had been done to us. When I woke up in the hospital, I couldn’t tell what day it was. I saw my Dad in front of me, and before I could talk to him, I passed out again. The next time I woke up, I saw my Mom on the chair next to me, but she was fast asleep. I wanted to get up but couldn’t, cause I was hooked to a machine and to a glucose bottle. I felt heavily sedated so I tried to close my eyes and go back to sleep, but I just couldn’t. So I decided to wake up my mother.
“Mom! Hey, mom! Wake up!” I whispered, but she didn’t move. Then I realized we were in a room and I didn’t have to whisper.
“Mom!” I yelled and she woke up with a start.
Disoriented in the beginning, she soon realized that I had woken up and that it was a big deal but instead of saying anything to me, she ran to the door, opened it, and shouted for the nurse to come in.
I wished back then and I wish even now that I would’ve woken up with Dad in the room. But, at least I was conscious again.
“How are you feeling?” A question that my mother should’ve asked me instead came from the nurse.
“A bit sedated, but not enough to go back to sleep,” I said, clearly. I was surprised I wasn’t slurry.
“The doctor will be right with you!”
The nurse left the room and my mother just stared at me.
“Are you not going to talk to me?” I asked her.
“No, honey, I just thought you weren’t ready – ah – forget it. How are you feeling?”
“Like shit.”
“No wonder, sweetheart. Can I hug you?”
Before I could say yes, I started crying, and then in between tears I said, “About time you did!”

It felt like a really special moment back then, but every time that I have thought about it since, it hasn’t felt all that special. I was directed to stay at the hospital for one more week. For that one week, I saw neither my brother, nor Evie. They were directed to stay in the hospital for one more week, and so was Ava. After I was discharged, I didn’t go home. I stayed in the hospital, in Marty’s room and waited for him to wake up. It was cold in the hospital, so I had asked my Dad to bring me my coat from home. I was sitting in the chair next to Marty’s bed, just looking at him, waiting for him to wake up, all the while rattling the bottle of pills I was prescribed to keep the withdrawal symptoms in check in my coat’s pocket. When I started to fall asleep on my first night at the hospital after my discharge, I felt like Marty woke up and tried to talk to me. But I realized soon that I was hallucinating. The next morning both the doctor and my father suggested I go home and rest. But I refused to leave Marty’s side.
“At least go take a walk. Don’t stay holed up in a room,” the doctor said.
“Okay.”
But I didn’t go for a walk. I swallowed two pills and asked at the reception for Ava’s room. I had to see Evie too, but Ava had me really worried. When I reached her room, I opened the door, and saw that her mother was sitting on the edge of the chair, as if just waiting for Ava to open her eyes. She looked at me and got up.
“Vivien! How are you, child?” she came up to me and hugged me. It was warm. I hugged her back.
“I’m doing okay now, Mrs. C. How are you holding up? And how’s Ava?”
Before she could reply, she broke down.
“She hasn’t – hasn’t woken up. Is she ever – is she going to wake up?”
“She has been through a lot, Mrs. C. But don’t worry, I’m sure she’ll wake up soon,” I reassured Ava’s mother but I wasn’t sure about when she would wake up, or if she would, myself. I planted a kiss on Ava’s cheek, and walked back to Marty’s room, too upset to say another word to Ava’s mother. That night, sitting in the chair next to Marty, I had a nightmare. I saw that all of us were back in the forest and we were tied to the trees and the ropes were searing and leaving burn marks all over our bodies. I woke up with a violent jerk when it started to ache too much in the dream. I was trembling and I reached for my bottle of pills and downed three of them. After that, I called my Dad and asked him to come over. Dad brought me some lasagne from home which I hurriedly ate.
“Dad, I think I wanna go home,” I said; I was really tired. I hadn’t been home in god knows how many weeks and I needed to rest in my bed. I couldn’t have waited forever for Marty to wake up.
“I’ll give you a ride and then I’ll come back here,” he agreed.
“Oh, one last thing!”
I had totally forgotten about Evie. I had to pay her a visit. I asked for her room and one of the nurses took me there. When I opened her room, I was happy to see that she was awake and her father was feeding her soup.
“Vivien!” She said, with her mouth full. “It’s so good to see you. I’ve been asking about you since morning, how are you doing?”
“I was discharged a few days ago; I just stuck around in the hospital to be with Marty. You look well,” I said that because she really did.
“Yeah, my dad here has been taking care of me. Dad, this is my friend Vivien, who I was telling you about. Vivien, this is my Dad, Noel.”
“Hello!” I gently said, and Evie’s father flashed a big smile and nodded, with the soup bowl in one hand and a spoon in another.
“How’s Marty?” Evie asked.
“He still hasn’t woken up. Neither has Ava.”
“Shit! I hope they’ll be okay. I’m getting discharged tomorrow, I think.”
“That’s great, Evie. I’m going home right now. I’m very tired,” I said to her.
She smiled at me and said, “No wonder you are. Get some rest and I’ll see you soon.”
I walked over to her, kissed her on the cheek and left her room.

When I reached home, my mom asked me if I wanted to sleep in her room and I refused. I told her I needed to lie down in my own bed and be alone for a while; away from people checking my temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate all the time, away from all the machines, away from everything. When I lay in bed, I felt the need to take some Quaalude. I started sweating and reached for my bottle of pills again. I took 5 of them and went to sleep.

Ava took some time, but eventually woke up but to this day she is dealing with the trauma of what happened to her. She regularly visits a psychiatrist, some days she’s good, some days she’s back in the forest in her head and she sees and hears things that don’t exist but existed once upon a time. My brother on the other hand, never woke up. He died in his coma. The doctor said his body couldn’t take so many drugs mixed up and that even if he were alive, his withdrawal would’ve been very hard to treat. Evie had a speedy recovery and left town to go to University in a big city. It has been five years since the incident, since we encountered and fought a psychotherapy cult. I myself see a psychiatrist every now and then, because of my anxiety and the trauma that I went through partly because of my own mistakes. That’s the thing about mistakes, I guess. We either learn from them, or we repeat them. But under no circumstance can we eradicate them. We ruined our lives to a point where some of us had no life left to live. And we can now not afford to repeat our mistakes. We have no other option but to learn; we have no other option but to live.

The Cult (Part II – Into the Woods)

If you’ve read Part I of the story, you may proceed.


 

I could feel the sweat everywhere on my body – on my forehead, my neck, my armpits, everywhere. Sitting behind her never gave me the chills but what I was feeling was something entirely different. Maybe I was sweating because I was anxious about the pills, because this story is primarily about how drugs ruined us, or perhaps how we let drugs ruin us. But there was certainly something wrong with Ava; her vibrations were cataclysmic. When the bell rang, which again rang in my ears for longer than it did in reality, everyone stood up to leave. The literature professor said something and left the room before any of the students did. Ava made her way through, walking without caring if she bumped into others, and walked right out of the classroom. She didn’t look at me even once. I wanted to get up and follow her and shake her and ask her where she had been but my legs were numb and I just couldn’t get up. And a part of me knew, I guess, that she won’t answer any of my questions, so walking up to her and creating a scene in the hallway would’ve been profoundly futile. When I finally could get up, I looked for her outside the school but she wasn’t there. I wanted to search for her everywhere but I was exhausted. I went to the girls’ bathroom to wash my face. Evie was there, sitting exactly where we sat in the morning, smoking her bubblegum cigarette.
“Were you here all day, Evie?” I put my bag down and opened the tap. I stared at myself in the mirror while the cold water warmed my hands.
“There’s nothing better to do in school,” she replied.
I took my eyes off of the mirror, and smirked at Evie.
“You’re wasting water, Turner.”
I washed my face and used my t-shirt as a towel. I realized I looked like a terrible mess myself. My white t-shirt now had a dirty and wet patch on it, my hair was coming loose from everywhere in the pretentious bun I had put it in, and my lips were chapped; so maybe Ava’s appearance wasn’t that horrifying, I thought to myself. But it was. It really was. I went over to where Evie sat, and extended my hand. She passed me the cigarette and I took out my cell to call Martin.
“Hey, you at the parking lot?”
“I’m sorry Viv I forgot to tell you, but I left for Jeremy’s a while ago,” my brother said, again, calmly, like it was no big deal.
“Dude, what the fuck, Marty seriously?! I don’t even know what to say to you except that be wary of my tonight, I might fucking strangle you in your sleep.”
“Hey, I’m doing this for you, okay? Don’t forget that.”
“How am I supposed to go home, you asshole?” I passed the cigarette back to Evie.
“I’m sorry, Vivien. I had to go immediately, or else I would’ve dropped you home first.” He said he was sorry but I could sense nothing but nonchalance.
“I needed to talk about Ava too. Did you see her?”
“I did, actually. I waved at her but she just stared at me and walked away. I figured she was still mad at me so I didn’t try to talk to her or anything.”
“You’re pathetic, Martin Turner. PATHETIC.” And with that, I hung up.
Evie passed me the cigarette and I smoked, standing up.
“Jesus, Turner, sit the fuck down, you’re giving me a headache.”
“I can’t, Evie. I just, can’t.” I paced around in the bathroom.
She stood up and extended her hand. I handed the cigarette over to her. She took one last drag and threw it on the floor and crushed it with her boots.
“Let’s go, I’ll give you a ride home.”
“Don’t you live on the other side of the town though?”
“Yeah, but what makes you think I’m in a hurry to go home?”

Evie’s car smelled great. Evie smelled great. She had a Scorpions CD already in the player which blasted when the car started and Evie immediately turned the volume down and I think she said something like “Sorry about that” but my ears had started ringing again because the sound was definitely deafening. We didn’t talk much in the car, she was lip-syncing to all the songs on the album and I was sometimes watching her, sometimes the road, and sometimes I was just staring at my hands. Surprisingly, we weren’t smoking either. I was expecting her to light a cigarette but turns out, her car is a no-smoking zone. No wonder it smelled like paradise and not the ditch within ourselves that we always voluntarily fall in.
“I don’t really want to go home,” I said just a few minutes before we were about to reach my house.
Evie stopped the car on the side. “You could’ve told me this before, you know.”
“I know, I’m sorry, I just, don’t feel like going home.”
“Say no more.” She turned the car around and drove with a new found enthusiasm.
She stopped the car at the dead end of Birchwood Drive, where the opening to the forest was, welcoming us with silver birch trees. Our town is called Hemlock Creek because it’s dominated with Eastern Hemlocks, but at the clearing of the forest, silver birches overshadow the hemlocks.
“We can stay here for a while.”
“And do what?” I was pulling on my jeans. I was very anxious and it was very obvious.
“Relax. ‘Cause you need to relax. We can smoke outside the car, and,” she reached to the back seat and took out a big silver bottle, “I’ve got something that will definitely relax you.”
“Woo-hoo!” It was fake enthusiasm Evie couldn’t detect. Or maybe she did, who can tell?
“You can handle vodka, right?”
“Yup.”
We went outside and sat on the bonnet of the car, staring into the forest and drinking, and smoking. We talked about a lot of stuff. I talked, mostly, about my love-hate relationship with Marty, my irritating mother, how weirdly awesome my dad is, how Ava had been acting weird (which caught her attention). I think it was the first time Evie and I had a real conversation. And it was great because words just flew effortlessly. It was so comforting to talk to Evie.
“Yes, I saw your friend, Ava. The first thing I noticed was that she wasn’t wearing any shoes. I mean, who does that?”
“And did you see her eyes, Evie? ‘Cause I did, up close. Her pupils were so heavily dilated that all I could see was black; just a big black button in the centre of her eye. It was almost disturbing,” I said, with a shudder.
“Maybe she was on something.”
Before I could say anything, Evie came a bit closer to me. She took the hem of my t-shirt in her hand, and crumpled it up. Her hands touched my bare waist on the side and I felt a spark inside my body.
“I really like The Guess Who,” she said, looking me in the eyes.
At that moment, I kind of freaked out. The bottle of Vodka was in my hand and I gulped down a good amount of it, and said, “Oh yes, they were great.”
I think Evie received the hint because she let go of my t-shirt and moved away from me a little bit. Not too much as to make it obvious, but just enough to make it noticeable.
She lit a cigarette and we smoked it together, but we weren’t talking. There was a long awkward silence which continued and was only then broken by a noise we heard.
“What was that?” My head immediately started looking for the source of the noise.
“Maybe it was a deer,” Evie was also looking around now to see where the noise had come from.
We heard another rustle and this time we saw not a deer, but a person going inside the forest. With her hair tied up in a ponytail, and her red crop sweatshirt, I instantly recognized it was Ava. I got off the car, handed the bottle to Evie but the minute my feet touched the ground, I was so dizzy I couldn’t stand up. I fell on the ground.
“Dude, you okay?” Evie sounded concerned.
“That’s Ava!” I said to Evie. “AVA! HEY, AVA!!!” I screamed.
I saw Ava stop for a minute, but she didn’t turn around. She looked like she went home and changed and groomed herself but her going inside the forest made no sense at all. She went on to walk further inside but I was still on the ground, screaming her name. Evie was trying to help me up but she was drunk herself.
We somehow managed to get inside the car.
“You sure that was Ava?”
“100%.” I was.
“Call her.”
It was a good idea and I did call her but it went straight to voicemail.
“I should’ve gone after her, Evie, I’m so worried,” I said with my eyes slowly filling up with tears.
“And we would’ve if we could’ve. Don’t sweat it. Let’s get you home.”
“Hey, woah, slow down. You’re drunk. No driving, please.”
“I’m not that drunk,” Evie sounded confident.
“Maybe we should wait a while. Maybe we can see Ava come out.”
And so we decided to stay in the car, watch out for Ava and sober up before going home. But we were obviously very drunk and we passed out and woke up around 2 hours later.
“SHIT! Evie, it’s six! DRIVE!”
“Huh? What?” Evie looked charming even when passed out, I mean, is that fair to anybody?
“My mother has been calling me like crazy. We need to go home. She won’t know I’ve been drinking though, would she? Do I smell drunk?” I was getting anxious again.
“Don’t worry, just go straight into the shower, wash up, and get into bed. Call your mom right now and tell her you’re on your way.” And then, Evie drove even better than she drove when she was completely sober.

The front door was unlocked and I tip toed inside the house. I had no idea where my mother was, but I wasn’t in the mood to get curious about that. I went up the staircase and straight into my room. And there she was.
“Jeez! Mom! You scared me!”
“Sorry, honey, didn’t mean to. Just by the way, where were you?”
She was folding my fresh out of the laundry clothes.
“Why are you in my room?”
“Answer me first. Where were you?”
“I was with Evie. We were just driving around and lost track of time. I’m sorry.” I was trying to maintain distance so she couldn’t smell alcohol off of me.
“Still doesn’t explain why you weren’t answering your phone.”
“I’m sorry, I really have to pee, okay bye,” I said and hurriedly went to the washroom.
“You’ve escaped right now, but we will have to talk about this later, Vivien. You’ve been acting very weird lately and I’ve no idea what’s going on with you, and who is this Evie? Is she from school? I want to know everything.”
I didn’t say anything because I’m not too sure if I was supposed to. After a while, I heard mom leave the room. I took a long shower, and tried to relax in bed until it was time for dinner.

“Why are you guys in the living room and not at the dining table?” I asked my parents, who were lazily sitting on the couch, watching something on Comedy Central.
“Oh honey, it’s ready, don’t worry. We’re just waiting for your brother,” my mom replied.
“WHY?”
“What do you mean ‘why?’?”
“I’m starving and who knows when he’ll come?”
“Well, young lady, unlike you, he has been answering his phone and he should be home in another 10-15 minutes. So, relax a little.”
There goes the R word again. So fucking stupid.
“Do you want to come and sit with us, honey?” My Dad asked.
“No, I’ll just wait for you guys at the dining table.”

My head was still buzzing so I pulled out a chair, sat down and kept my head and my arms on the table. After which I’m guessing I passed out again, cause Dad was stroking my hair.
“You alright, Viv?”
“Oh, Dad, yeah. I’m okay. Is Marty here?”
“I sure as hell am,” Marty said, coming out of the downstairs bathroom, wiping his hands with a towel.
“Language, boy. Language.” Dad and I both said this at the same time, and then giggled.
I had so many questions for Marty but I couldn’t have asked him anything on the dinner table.
“Please stop shaking your leg, Vivien,” Marty said.
“I don’t think I want to.” I was anxious.
“Go to hell!” Martin’s calm broke. But only the one of his words, his face and demeanor was still as calm as a foggy night.
I was expecting Dad to say what he usually says when someone uses a bad word, but he was mute.

After dinner, Marty and I went upstairs together and I asked him outside his room what he had brought for me.
“You’re going to be so happy.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was able to arrange the buttons,” he said with a sly smile.
“WHAT?! REALLY?!?!?! Maaartyyyy!!!” And with that, I flung myself at him. I didn’t usually hug Marty unless I was drunk or really happy and feeling the sibling love. I don’t know what it was that day but Marty probably got it right.
“You’re drunk, aren’t you?” he asked with a warm smile, which I saw when we were done hugging.
“I – erm, yeah, okay,” I was fumbling, still buzzed.
“Okay, go to your room and I’ll get you the stock for this week. Please don’t overdo it this is all I have for now.”
“Aye aye, captain!”
I went to my room and patiently waited for a knock on my door. I couldn’t, obviously, take my mind off of Ava. I sat on the edge of my bed and called her again. It rang for a while but then went to voicemail. I didn’t want to waste hours trying to contact her. I decided to let it be. Maybe she didn’t want to talk, or something. And then my phone buzzed, and I received a text from Ava. It read “I know you saw me today. Tell no one.” Vague. I called her again but she didn’t answer. We exchanged a few texts then.
V – Okay but are you okay? I’m very worried.
A – Going out tonight, telling mom that I’m sleeping over at your place.
V – Okay but where are you going?
A – Where I need to be and where I belong. The silver birches are calling my name out.
V – I have no idea what you’re saying. What’s going on, Ava? Why are you being so weird?
And that was the end of it because she didn’t reply after that. A few minutes later, while I was still thinking about Ava and her texts, my door flung open and my brother jumped on me with an injection in his hand, very close to my neck. My heart had started beating very fast and I wanted to scream but I couldn’t.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t jab this needle in your fucking neck, you bitch.” He wasn’t calm at all.
“ Get off of me! What the hell?”
He pinned me down on the bed harder, the needle coming ever so close to my neck.
“No don’t do this, please, Marty, what’s up? Why are you doing this?” I was about to burst into tears but even that couldn’t have melted Marty. He was really angry and it was justified, but I couldn’t figure out then what it was.
He got up, grabbed my hand, and violently jerked me out of my bed and took me over to his room and then to his bathroom. There lay the destroyed iPad.
“Why would you do that? Why are you such a bitch? And don’t deny it, I know you did this.”
I had started crying extensively.
“Don’t cry! Answer me! What the fuck, Viv? You know how important this was to me. Have you gone fucking psycho or what? Is it because I didn’t get you the buttons? Seriously?”
I was nodding.
He didn’t say anything after that. He went back into the bedroom and I sat down on his bathroom floor, next to the broken iPad, crying.

After a while, when the tears had stopped, I stood up. I was too anxious to face Martin but I needed to go back to my room and I had to face Martin before that because he was still in bed. I slowly built the courage to face him, and I walked out of the bathroom and into the bedroom. I saw Martin in bed, cleaning up after injecting himself, hiding the needle and the spoon under the mattress, and getting ready for a trip. It was a really sad sight, to be honest. I was relieved he was drugged because he would have screamed at me otherwise, but I still hated seeing him that way. I know he only used to take heroin in very small doses, never enough to completely pass out, but it was still a sad sight. Before I left his room, my eyes fell on his bedside table. He had taken the bottle of Quaalude out for me. I was feeling guilty about taking them, but Martin was almost asleep and I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed the bottle and went into my room. There were 7 pills in total, 1 for each night, but I hurriedly swallowed 2 with water. Then I got into bed, and checked my phone. There was another text from Ava. My heart started beating out of my chest. I initially decided to open the message when the pills would start to kick in, but I couldn’t wait. I opened her text and it read: “Help. Forest.” I called her immediately but it went straight to voicemail. I texted her a few things but the messages didn’t deliver. I was slowly moving on to the heavy sedation realm and I liked that, but the whole deal with Ava was freaking me out and keeping me grounded, somehow. I stood up but my entire room was spinning, or my head was, and I had to sit back down. I remember thinking to myself, I’ll lie down for a bit. When I woke up, to my phone buzzing, it was midnight. I checked my phone and there were around 10 missed calls from Evie. I picked up my phone and called her back.
“Hey, Evie, what’s up?”
“Dude, I’m standing outside your house, where the fuck have you been?”
“I was sleeping, what’s the matter?” I was still very sleepy.
“Well, initially, I was just driving down to come see you, because there was this huge fight at home where my brother just left, he was acting very weird, not speaking and all, so shortly after he left, I left too, didn’t want to be a part of my folks’ fight, they were driving me crazy. But then, when I passed the forest, I heard some really weird trance music, only, it was kind of disturbing but at the same time tranquilizing, I don’t know how to explain except that it was very weird.”
And it hit me. I had totally forgotten about Ava’s ‘Help’ text.
“Evie, wait for me, I’ll be down in five.”
Evie was about to say something, but I hung up. I dialled Ava. Voicemail. I stood up, and while still dizzy, I somehow put my jeans and the The Guess Who t-shirt back on, without caring how spoiled they were, and ran to Martin’s room. It wasn’t locked. I went inside and saw him sleeping. I had to wake him up.
“Marty,” I shook him. “Wake up, Marty!”
He tossed and turned for a few seconds and then bolted upright.
“What? What happened? What’s the matter?”
“We have to go. It’s an emergency.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Just, please, trust me. Are you stable enough to come with me?”
“I’m fine, but I don’t think you are.”
He stood up, held his head in his hands for a few seconds.
“Hurry up, we don’t have much time,” I cried.
“Would you chill? You look like shit. Go wash your face or something. I’ll see you downstairs in two.”
I went to his bathroom before he could, splashed some water on my face, and went downstairs. I kept staring at my phone, and I had to sit on the first step of the staircase because I was still dizzy. Exactly three minutes later, Marty tip-toed downstairs. Our parents’ room was downstairs and it was closed so we assumed they were asleep. We opened the front door, and snuck out.
“Shit! Wait, I forgot my car keys.”
“No, it’s okay. We’re riding with Evie. Don’t worry about it.”
“What the fuck?” My brother was irritated, but somehow still very calm.
“Bloody hell, you both look so fucking terrible. You guys aren’t sober, are you?” Evie said, sitting on her car’s bonnet.
“Everybody, just get in the car, and I’ll explain everything,” I held Evie’s hand as she slid down from the car, and pushed Marty to get inside the car.
I sat in the passenger seat, and my brother got into the back seat, and Evie started the car.
“Now, Marty, listen. Ava is in trouble. We’re going the forest, and –”
“Forest?!?!? Are you kidding me? Are you fucking nuts? It’s midnight, for fuck’s sake,” And at that point, my brother was as far away from calm as I’ve ever seen him in my life.
“Would you let me finish? I have a very bad feeling so please, just, roll with it.”
“If you have a bad feeling, then we should be doing the opposite of following the bad feeling. We should be at home sleeping like we were. I do everything you say, man, I get the buttons for you so that you can cope and sleep, do you know how hard it is to get them? And you want to go to the forest I mean what is this, some pretentious adventurous trip idea? Evie, stop the car.”
“No, Evie, don’t,” I said to Evie, and then turned my attention to Marty. “Marty, please just trust me. And thank you for everything, but it was your fucking fault in the first place. God knows what Ava has got herself into just because you were too fucking high to care where she was going and with whom.”
Martin shut up after that, and Evie was avoiding looking at me. I felt embarrassed ‘cause I was pretty sure Evie thought of me as a junkie, so I just looked outside the window, and there was complete silence in the car which no one tried to break, until we reached the forest’s clearing.
We got out of the car, and heard some noises in the distance. It was similar to what Evie described earlier, weird trance music. It was dark, and we could hardly see anything. It was simple. We only had to follow the music. So the three of us turned our phones’ torches on, and went into the woods. A few steps in, and I experienced a strong head rush which made me fall.
“Hey, you okay, Turner?” Evie helped me get up.
“Yeah, erm, I’m okay. My head’s spinning.”
“Mine too,” Martin added. “We should’ve done this sober. But then again, I would never have done something like this sober.”

We walked for a long time and then finally, in a distance, saw a red tent. Upon being closer to the tent, we realized that the trance music was accompanied by gibberish chants.
“Maybe we should go back. Now is the time to realize that this is a stupid idea and we should head back,” Martin’s voice was shaky.
Before I could reply, someone behind us spoke, with his hands on Martin’s shoulders and mine.
“I’m sorry, but it’s too late for you now, Turners.”
We turned around to face him, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. But it was a real shocker for my brother.
“Jeremy?!” Martin exclaimed.
“Hey brother. Glad you could join us. I never had the courage to actually ask you, but you found your way here, I’m so glad. We knew you would come looking for your girlfriend, and,” he turned to face Evie, “that you would come looking for your brother.”
“What the fuck kind of circus show is this? You know this guy, Turner?” Evie asked me.
“He – he is my – my brother’s friend,” I stammered.
“Oh, don’t be so modest now, Vivien,” Jeremy said, looking into my eyes. “I’m more than just your brother’s friend to you, am I not? I’m the reason you’re able to sleep at night.”
“Where’s Ava?” I needed to stick the point.
“Oh, you’ll know. She’s in the tent over there.”
I ran straight ahead to the tent, opened the zipper, and entered. I was welcomed by a strange smoke, and bright red lights, that had beautifully engulfed the tent in entirety. It had no scent but I immediately started to feel more light-headed than I was already feeling. And the tightness that I was experiencing in my throat and chest ever since I woke up started to fade away. I fell to my knees, my eyes were droopy but I could see, amidst the smoke, Ava, along with Evie’s brother Jayden, and another boy from school I didn’t know the name of, lying peacefully on the floor. Four people I couldn’t recognize stood above them wearing gas masks. They were looking right at me. The music was coming out of speakers, and the chants were a part of the music. And soon, I succumbed to the smoke and must’ve fallen asleep, cause when I woke up tied to a tree outside the tent, what I got to know and see, wasn’t pretty at all.


 

Proceed to Part III.

The Cult (Part I – Where’s Ava?)

I woke up very, very, very anxious that morning. I had no recollection of any nightmare which would have caused the anxiety, but I rolled out of bed wearing just my pink night gown, and nothing underneath, and I ran to Martin’s bedroom, avoiding any kind of contact with my parents who were preparing breakfast for us downstairs. I punched hard on his “DO NOT DISTURB” sign but the door swung open. There was no sign of Martin in the bedroom. I kicked open his bathroom door but he wasn’t there either.

“That. Fucking. Bastard.”

I went downstairs in a hurry, and before my mom could comment on my kind-of-see-through gown, I interrupted her.
“What time did he come home last night?”
“I don’t know, honey, but you sound anxious. Is everything okay?” My mom looked concerned, but I couldn’t tell if she really was.
“Where is he right now? I checked his room.”
“Oh, he left about twenty minutes ago, said he had to pick one of his classmates up from his aunt’s place or something.”
“WHAT A JERK!”
My dad chimed in, “Language, girl. Language.”
I said I’m sorry and ran upstairs.
My dad called me from behind.
“Viv, you’re going to change for school, right?”
I just stared at him for a few seconds and continued climbing up the stairs.

“What? I was just making sure she wasn’t wearing that to school.”
“She obviously wouldn’t, you didn’t have to embarrass her.”
I overheard this bit of their conversation from the floor above but I rushed into Martin’s room. I looked through his dresser, all the drawers, his cupboard, the pockets of the jackets he hung inside the closet, inside the pillow cases, the cabinet in the bathroom, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I was very furious that morning, so I smashed his iPad on the floor which he had luckily (for me) left on his bed that day.
“What was that noise?” my mother shouted.
“Nothing! I just dropped something.” I shouted back.

I shut his door with as much power as I could ascertain and ran towards my room. I shut my door behind me, locked it, jumped on my bed, screamed my lungs out (not literally) on the pillow, and then stood up, trying to breathe the situation in. I picked up my cell and phoned Ava. Voicemail. I called her again, and again, and around ten more times but it all went to voicemail. I think it’s safe to say that the morning of 23rd September 2016 was an utter disaster. I opened the door to my room, walked to Martin’s, closed his door properly shut, took his smashed iPad to the bathroom, and I banged it against the toilet seat and fucking destroyed it. I didn’t think of the consequences back then; I just couldn’t have. On my way back to my room, I stood at the top of the stairs and asked my mom, “What’s for breakfast?”

“Pancakes, sweetheart. Come down and eat some with – ” she stopped. After a hard look at me, she said, “put on your goddamn clothes and come eat breakfast.”
“Language, lady. Language,” my dad mumbled in the background.

I went to my room, locked the door again, opened my cupboard and wore the first pair of blue jeans that I saw with a white The Guess Who t-shirt, which was actually my brother’s so it was a bit oversized for me. I didn’t mind, though. I quickly packed my bag and started to run downstairs. I realized after two steps that I had left Martin’s room open. I went back and closed it, fixed his stupid ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign, and finally walked downstairs. I grabbed an apple from the refrigerator, and was on my way to exit from the front door.
“Honey, Vivien, I made pancakes for you.”
“Honey, mother, you know I hate pancakes.”
I couldn’t have stayed in the house longer. I had to find Martin.

 

I tried calling Ava one more time, but there was no luck. I started scrolling through the contacts of my phone, trying to fish people who could give me a ride to school. My dad came out to the front porch and sat next to me.
“I’m sorry Dad, I’m just stressed, and definitely not in the mood for pancakes. I mean, she knows I hate them anyway. Martin likes them, I don’t. How hard is it to distinguish?”
“You’ve got to cut her some slack, she’s always just trying to help,” Dad was very calm. I hated that. Why is Dad always so calm?
“So what’s up, now?” he asked.
“Ava isn’t answering her phone. I’ve called her like a million times but the goddamn woman just won’t fucking answer.”
“Erm, sweetheart – ”
“I know, I know, ‘language, Vivien’ so okay I’m sorry,” I interrupted.
“Do you want me to give you a ride to school? I don’t quite understand why you want to reach there so early but if you do, I could give you a ride.”

It was the only way. I had to reach Martin. I wanted to scratch his neck and make him bleed.
My dad’s car always smelled weird. Martin’s did too, but the cigarette and marijuana smoke killed all the ‘man’ smell. But Dad’s car smelled strongly of a mix of deodorant and sweat, and I don’t know, it just smelled like Dad, and the smell was very weird.
“You want to listen to the radio, sweetheart?”
“First of all, no thank you, I’m okay with the silence and the radio is trash anyway. Second, please don’t call me sweetheart anywhere near the school grounds or that’s all they’ll call me for the rest of my sweet little time in high school.”
“Roger that, captain!” My dad smiled, and it was a rather comforting one. I only saw it through my peripheral vision ‘cause my eyes were glued to the school, but Dad’s smile made me reconsider brutally injuring his son.

“Have fun at school,” my dad shouted from the car.
I guffawed and shook my head and waved him bye-bye. It was time to enter the building, find, and confront the monster. Since I was early, there weren’t a lot of people, which was a tad assuaging. I heard someone say “Hey, Vivien! How come you’re so early today?” but I was too fidgety and restless to stop and look at the person and/or reply. I hurried inside and went straight to the basketball court where Martin usually likes to chill. But he wasn’t there that morning; instead, I had to stand through Gary Graham’s vexatious attempts to flirt with me.
“Ah, so telepathy actually works,” he said. He was the only one there.
“Do you have any idea where my brother is?”
“No, but I’m here and so is my package,” he stopped to point at his groin, “and we’ve been waiting so long for you.” He came closer and I stepped back.
Gary was irritating and sometimes I felt like crushing his stupid face with a big piece of rock, but I was also kind of afraid of him.
“Fuck off!” I exclaimed and walked towards the exit.
As I opened the door and was about to leave, he shouted from behind, “The last time I saw Marty was last night at the party. But I didn’t see you. Why weren’t you there?”
“Cause you were, jerk!” I let the door close slowly behind me, and walked away.

I went to the girls’ bathroom and sat on the floor outside the last stall. I called Ava several times but she didn’t pick up, yet again. I didn’t want to call my brother so I just kept my phone aside, covered my ears with my hands and buried my face in my knees. I was growing anxious by the minute, rocking back and forth against the wall, and kept feeling like I would hurl any minute, even though I had just had an apple.
“What’s your deal?” Evie Stevens walked in along with her bubblegum scented cigarette smoke.
“Can I have a drag, Evie?” I asked. I was getting more and more restless.
“What if I say no?” She smirked and raised her eyebrow. She was wearing a pink knee length skirt with a tight white blouse, and brown boots. Her small purple sling purse reached her hips and its strap clung to her body. An average person, in my opinion, would look like shit if they were to dress up in such a manner. But this was Evie. Her dreadlocks fell gracefully on her blouse, and again, I find dreadlocks disgusting, but they looked fabulous on Evie.
“Well then you can go fuck yourself!” I screamed at her.
“Woah! Easy, tigress! Here, you can have all of it, I’ll light another one.”
She handed me the cigarette, I took a long drag, and tried to relax.
“So, tell me, Turner, what’s bothering you?” I made room for her and she sat down next to me, fetching another cigarette from her sling purse.
I think I was slightly attracted to Evie at that time. I guess half of Creek High was, but can you blame them? She was flawless. Her skin was so radiant and features so amazingly sharp, even racists forgot that they were racists when Evie was in front of them.
“I just really need to see my brother. He left early this morning and I’ve searched for him everywhere but I’ve no idea where he is, and I’m so fucking pissed,” I ranted and took a few more drags. The cigarette was too sweet for me, but I needed the smoke.
“Chill!” She said while some smoke was still inside her. After blowing it out, she said, “I just saw him by his locker talking to Pedro.”
I got up immediately, grabbed my bag, took one more drag, put out the cigarette in the sink, spit on it, and left the bathroom. Evie said something while I was walking out but I didn’t pay much attention to it, and therefore, don’t remember it now.

I spotted him in the hallway, fidgeting with his stuff in his locker. There were a lot of people in the hallway so I had to keep it low-key. I kept my head down and walked towards Martin, avoiding any kind of contact with anyone else. As soon as I reached him, I pinched his arm really hard.
“WHAT THE FUCK?!” he shouted and jerked my hand off of his arm.
“Shhhh”, I said.
“Are you fucking crazy? What was that for?”
“Where have you been, Marty? I’ve been going crazy, looking for you all over the place, no idea when you came in last night, no idea when you left this morning, just tell me what the fuck is up and where the fuck have you been?” I grabbed his arm really tight.
“Would you fucking relax and LET GO OF ME?”
“NO! WHERE. THE. FUCK. WERE. YOU?”
He pushed me away a little and went back to organizing his stuff in the locker. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get it, Viv.”
“What the fuck do you mean by ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t get it, Viv’?” My voice became louder. “You know I fucking need it I’m out of what you gave me and you promised me you were going to get me some from the stupid party you went to last night.”
“Would you please keep it down? Come with me.” He shut his locker, took my hand, and we walked to the space under one of the staircases.
“I came into your room last night to tell you, but you were passed out. I checked the place where you keep the pills, but there were none so I figured that you took more than you were supposed to. If you didn’t abuse it the way you fucking did, you would still have had enough to last you this week and I would’ve easily arranged some by then. So this one’s on you, Vivien, not me.”
I felt like crying really hard, but was also considering scratching my brother’s neck and making him bleed. “Please, Marty, you have to do something. Anything. Why didn’t you get it from the guy you were supposed to get it from last night at the party?”
“Cause he didn’t have any either.”
“What am I supposed to do tonight now, tell me?”
“I’ll get you something else, just stop freaking out and pinching my arm,” he calmly said. Calm, always so fucking calm, just like Dad.
“But I need the buttons, not anything else, why don’t you fucking understand?” I was the opposite of calm. I was always frenzied.
“Jeez, move to South Africa then, stop bothering me.” He started to walk away, but then turned around and asked, “Why the fuck are you wearing my t-shirt?”
“Fuck off already, you jerk,” I was beginning to feel depressed. I sat on the first step of the staircase. I took his hand in mine. “Just please, can you try and arrange it as soon as you can? PLEASE?”
“Yes,” he said, squeezing my hand.
Just as he was about to let go, I tightened my grip. “Hey!”
“What?” he asked.
“Where’s Ava?”
I swear I saw his face turn pale as soon as I asked him where Ava was. He looked at me, bewildered, as if I was speaking a language he didn’t understand.
“What do you mean? How am I supposed to know where she is?” He let go of my hand and put both his hands in his jeans pockets.
“She was with you last night at the party, wasn’t she? You took her there. I’ve called her like a million times since morning but she’s not answering, not replying to my texts, not calling me back, I mean, where the fuck is she? You were the last person to see her so you tell me where the fuck is my friend?” My legs had started shaking.
“Maybe she’s on her way to school, or sick at home or something. Stop freaking out.”
“That’s the whole goddamn problem, Martin. I can’t stop freaking out. The last text I received from her was at around 10 last night which read ‘this party sucks balls wish you were here’. And I read it in the morning when I woke up. Ever since, there has been nothing. She was with you last night, aren’t you supposed to know where she is? Weren’t you supposed to drop her home? What’s going on?”
Martin kept staring at me, but didn’t say a word. He took his left hand out of his jeans pocket and brushed his fingers through his dark hair, then quickly put his hand back inside the pocket.
And then the bell rang.
“Okay I’ve to go, I’ll see you later, sis.” And with that, he walked away.
I kept staring at him until he was no longer in my sight. I had my first class for the day upstairs so I got up and climbed the staircase to reach the first floor hallway. The first class was Spanish, where Ava and I always sat next to each other. But the seat next to me was empty that day. When Ms. Torres asked, in Spanish, where Ava was, I told her I didn’t know, in English.
“Habla en español, Vivien!”
“No lo sé, Ms. Torres.”
It was so annoying with Ava not around. After Spanish, I tried calling her again. But she didn’t answer. I attended all my classes that day with a blank state of mind. Ava and I had three classes together – Spanish, Literature, and World History. All of world history flew over my head that day as I continued to stare at the empty desk where Ava used to sit. I couldn’t even pay attention in the classes I didn’t have with Ava. We were juniors. My brother was a senior. When the bell for recess rang, I swear it felt like it went on forever. I covered my ears with my hands and put my head on the cold desk. The ringing didn’t stop until Mr Jones, my Physics teacher put his hand on my shoulder, startling me.
“Sorry, Vivien, I didn’t mean to scare you. I called out your name but you didn’t respond. Are you feeling okay?”
“Yeah, Mr. Jones, it’s just a headache, I’ll be fine.” I wasn’t going to be fine.
“It’s recess, go to the cafeteria, eat something and I’m sure you’ll feel better.”
“Okay.” I said, and left the classroom hurriedly leaving my professor at my desk absolutely perplexed.

I had my food tray in my hands but I was afraid that it would fall any minute, ‘cause my hands were terribly trembling. I looked around the cafeteria, hoping to spot Ava, but there was no sign of her. I found an empty table and put my tray down; my hands were about to give up all responsibility any second. I called Ava’s home number this time. Her mom is a freelance photographer so I knew she would answer.
“Hey Mrs. C! It’s me, Vivien.”
“Oh, hey, Viv! How’s it going?”
“Everything’s A-okay. What about you? What’s up with you?” I was anxious and the fact that there was a lump in my throat was easily obvious through my voice.
“Nothing much, kid. Was just deciding what new show to start on Netflix. Got any suggestions?”
“Erm, yeah –“
“Wait! Aren’t you at school? You shouldn’t be on the phone. Come over today after school with Ava if you want. I’ll bake you girls something. Say Hi to Ava for me, okay? And tell her I missed her last night,” she said, with a harmless giggle.
I nervously gulped and said “Okay, Mrs. C. See you soon.”
With the help of that phone call, I deduced that Ava wasn’t home, wasn’t even at home last night, and she wasn’t obviously in school, which meant something was seriously wrong. I could feel a panic attack coming. I had already started sweating and I could feel my heart racing. I stood up, looked around, found Martin sitting with his friends, including the pervert Gary Graham, and I walked to his table.
“I need to talk to you,” I said, tucking on his plaid shirt.
“What is it, tell me?” He was so fucking calm, I felt like slitting his throat.
“Come with me, please, it’s important.”
Martin agreed and walked with me to where I was sitting. Gary Graham passed a lewd comment as we left the table but I was too anxious to actually listen to what he said. Once at the table, I told Martin about the conversation I had with Mrs. Collins, Ava’s mother. Martin didn’t say anything, and it didn’t seem like he was going to, either.
“Say something, Marty! Her mom thinks she’s at school with me, but she’s not here. The last time I saw her was when you guys left for the party. I told you to not take her. I have a really, really bad feeling about this, Marty. Like something bad is going to happen, or maybe it has already happened.”
He put his hand over mine. “Okay, I’ll tell you what happened last night.”
“I’m listening.”
“We were at Jeremy’s house and I told her I wouldn’t leave her for even a second; we even made out for a while in a bedroom upstairs, but when we came back downstairs to the party, I asked her to get us some drinks but Jeremy talked me into going to his house’s study with him, where he was, along with some of his older cousins, trying a new drug. I was pretty strung out from that drug and when I next saw Ava; she was drunk and super pissed with me. My car keys were with her, so she handed them to me and told me she was leaving. I asked her to stay until I was stable enough to at least drive her home, but she said she already had a ride. And then she left. I don’t remember what time it was, but it was late. And that’s the last I saw of her,” he said, with his head bowed down.
I was speechless.
“Say something, Viv!”
“I don’t know what to say to you. She’s your girlfriend, and your sister’s best friend, and a family friend too, I mean how can you be so fucking irresponsible?”
“I swear, Viv, if I could, I would’ve driven her home, but it wouldn’t have been safe.”
“And it was safe letting her go on her own? I mean did you even bother to check who she was going with?”
“I was really high.”
“That is always your excuse for everything. ‘I was high’. Did you even ask Jeremy for the Quaalude or were you too high?” Tears had started rolling down my cheeks.
“Hey, don’t cry, Viv, please!”
“MY BEST FRIEND IS MISSING, MY BROTHER IS AN IRRESPONSIBLE PIECE OF SHIT, AND I DON’T EVEN HAVE THE DRUGS TO COPE WITH THIS SHIT, SO WHAT DO YOU EXPECT?????” I shouted. Everyone was looking at me but thankfully the bell rang and everyone dispersed. Of course the Guidance Counselor Mr. Murphy called me into his office to discuss my ‘outburst’ and what I meant when I said ‘drugs’ and why I shouldn’t do drugs. I cooked some bullshit up and left his office. I just wanted to be done with the day and go home but I was also supremely scared because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep or even slightly relax.

But then something very weird happened during the last class of the day, Literature. We were reading Fahrenheit 451 that semester and that very day, we were in the middle of discussing some important part of the book, but I was busy staring at the empty seat in front of me; it was Ava’s seat. And then there was a loud knock on the door, and everyone’s eyes turned towards the figure that was standing in the doorway. At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought all the stress was making me hallucinate, but everyone else was looking at her too. It was Ava! I wanted to get up and hug her but I was feeling too stiff and numb. Also, something was terribly off. She was wearing the same clothes she wore to Jeremy’s party, the same navy blue tank top with white shorts, but both were stained with mud, or some kind of dirt, and she was barefoot. Her hair, long and straight, were a mess and her eyeliner, and lipstick, was smudged all around her face. She stood in front of the class, looking like she wasn’t even present in the room, while Ms. Tanya, our professor, said some stuff to her I couldn’t hear ‘cause I was too busy being horrified by Ava’s appearance. When she reached her seat, she sat immediately down without even looking at me. She smelled awful, and unusually distant. The class went on as usual but I couldn’t concentrate at all. I kept staring at the back of Ava’s head. Finally, I gathered some courage and tapped on her right shoulder. There was a long pause and just as I was about to tap on her shoulder again, she turned her head around and looked at me. Her skin was pale, and there was ruined makeup all over her face. What bothered me most were her eyes; there was something different about her eyes, they didn’t look like what they usually looked like. I tried to say something but words were trapped somewhere in my throat and refused to come out. She didn’t even smile at me; she just stared at me with a blank expression on her face, and weird eyes. In a few seconds’ time, she turned to her normal position and that’s when I knew. She was Ava, but she wasn’t really Ava. What I didn’t know back then, however, was that she was never even going to be the real Ava again. In fact, none of us were ever going to be the same.


 

Proceed to Part II.

Red

“I love you, Violette.”
It wasn’t the first time he had ever said those words to me, it wasn’t even the first time in the entire day that we had spent together. But when he held my left hand and surreptitiously slipped a ring in my ring finger, as we stood and stared at the lake beneath us, those words hit harder than they ever had. He held my hand tightly and we turned towards each other. Oh, what a truly beautiful evening it was. Families who were on picnics were packing things up while their children spurned to leave the swings, innumerable couples were walking hand in hand, stopping every now and then for a quick laugh, a punch on the arm, or a kiss, the ducks in the seaweed lake underneath the little bridge we stood on were quacking about, in twos and threes, and Kris and I, we couldn’t stop blushing. Love was in the air all right, on that fine Valentine’s Evening, in 2016.

“Yes!” I said, smiling really wide. I had answered a question that was never put into words. My jaw had started to hurt. I knew Kris felt the same way I did, because when I hugged him, with both my hands tugging on his black sweater’s neckline, I could feel his heart beating right next to mine. I don’t know if this usually happens, but the pace felt almost the same. It was just the right amount of unusual. I kissed his ear and looked up at the sky, while still hugging him. It was getting darker – the azure sky with clouds scattered like little balls of cotton we were admiring only a while ago. With one final squeeze, we let go of each other. I placed my left hand from his neck on to his face. I stared at the ring. The oval amethyst in between shone alongside its diamond studded border on a silver plated band. He turned his face and kissed my hand. I put my right hand on his left-side cheek, and pulled him in for a kiss. My hands went into his hair and he held me tightly around my waist. Neither of us wanted to let go but the fact that we had just got engaged hit us both at around the same time; we pulled apart, looked at each other, grinned, jumped and kissed each other again. When we finally stopped kissing, he held up his right hand for me to hold, while I still had my arms around his neck. I just didn’t want to let go.
“You know it’s time to go,” he said with a smirk.
“Fine!”
I put my fingers between the spaces his fingers left for me, and we both let our hands down.
“Oops!” I exclaimed. “Gotta be careful with that.”
“What happened?” Kris asked.
“I think you got the wrong size, hon.” I shifted the ring in my finger. It slid easily in and out.
“WHAT? Oh man, I had one job! Argh! You’re not an eight?”
“Seven, love. Seven.” I said, with a smile, with my right hand’s index finger and thumb still playing with my engagement ring.
Kris put his hand over his mouth and didn’t say anything for a while.
“Relax! It’s no big deal. We’ll go get it exchanged,” I told him. When he still didn’t speak up, I asked, “We can get it exchanged, right?”
“Yes, yes we can. That’s not an issue. I just can’t believe I screwed this up. This day was supposed to be perfect!”
“It is! Relax, it’s just a ring. I had a lovely day today, Kris. The lunch was amazing, so was the make-out session in the car when we pulled over on that empty street on our way here, the walk in the park with the crisp air in our hair, and now this,” I flashed my new ring; “you’ve no idea how thrilled I am to go show this to Mumma. She’s going to love it!”
“No no no, give it back to me. I’ll get a size seven and bring it to you tomorrow. Don’t tell Joanna just yet, please.” Kris looked depressed.
“No fucking way!” I put my hands behind my back.  “I’m keeping it. It’s mine now. We’ll go get it exchanged together and the argument ends here, this is it, this is the finish line,” I said, and brought my right hand in front of his face and with the index finger, traced his lips from left to right, something I’ve always done, and still do, which signifies that it’s time for him to seal his lips.
Before he could even try and say another word, I gave him a quick peck on his lips, which signifies a final seal on the seal, held his left hand with my right and started to walk. I had stuck my left hand’s thumb between the ring and the middle finger, to prevent the ring from falling off.

 

It was warmer inside the car once the heating had started to take effect. I removed my coat, folded it a little, and kept it on the car’s back seat. I put my hands out so Kris would give me his coat as well, but I could tell he was still kind of morose about the ring size fiasco.
“Kris, honey, you’ve got to let it go. I promise you. First thing tomorrow, okay?”
“The place doesn’t open until 11, and we’ve to be at work by 10, you know that, Vee.”
“Okay well then, lunch time. We’ll drive to the place during lunch hours. We can do that, right?” I put my hand on his shoulder, the hand with the ring.
“Yeah, but Vee, Joanna is going to hate me. She’s already not a fan or anything and she’s probably going to say ‘Oh he can’t even get your finger’s size right and you agreed to spend the rest of your life with that loser?’ or something like that.”
“Hey okay, first of all, bad imitation. Second, in all these years, she has hardly ever liked any guy that I’ve been out with. But I know her and I know that she likes you. Dad turned out to be a total jerk which is why she hates men and the only date of mine she would prefer over you would have to be Marion, I think, when I had the whole ‘I might be bisexual’ phase going on in college.”
We both chuckled.
“Seriously though, Kris, listen to me,” I held his face and looked into his eyes. I love doing that. “It’s been more than two years. And you’ve even been to our stupid extended family parties Aunt Karen can’t stop throwing. And do you remember that one time an old couple had cornered Mumma about her not having a job and raising me alone and shit, and you had come to her rescue?”
“Yeah,” Kris smiled. I was relieved to see him smile. “I could see her getting extremely uncomfortable and gulping down her wine like a maniac and I just went over to ask her to help me find you, even though I knew you were throwing up in the bathroom upstairs.”
“Alright, we didn’t have to remember that part.” I rolled my eyes and continued, “Besides, Mumma’s not the only one who hates Aunt Karen’s parties. Those things are day-time nightmares; they suck all the ‘thanks’ out of Thanksgiving.”
He laughed and said, “Oh man and I thought my grandmother was the crazy one.”
“Oh, we both know your grandmother is much much much better than Aunt Karen,” I spoke and waited as he removed his coat, then folded it and kept it on the back seat next to mine.
“I remember Joanna took me to the backyard and we talked about how irritating most of your family members are. And then you joined us after around fifteen minutes, looking and smelling like total shit and your mother stroked your hair while I rubbed your shins.”
“Yeah,” I said, looking out the window. “Helena didn’t even bother offering me another dress. So much for being a first cousin. Not like I expect too much out of her, considering the kind of sister Aunt Karen has been to Mumma. An absolute shitfest, this family has become ever since Dad left us and my grandmother died.”
“Hey, let’s not open doors to territories we can at least avoid in our heads, okay?” Kris held my chin and kissed me.
He started the car and soon we were out of the parking lot and on the road.
“I’ll have to make it up to Joanna though, right? We’ll also go to that fancy liquor store and get her a bottle of wine tomorrow.”
“Red!” We both said at the same time, and laughed.
“Erm, excuse me, Kris? What about making it up to me?” I raised my left hand and made a puppy face, to show how hard it was for me to keep my thumb sticking between two fingers.
“Alright! Let’s find that empty street again, I’ll pull over and take you to the back seat, or the woods, whatever you prefer, your majesty,” he winked at me.
“Shut up and take me home,” I couldn’t stop blushing. I stared out the window looking at the different people in different cars, trying to guess what they were talking about and then I zoned right out until Kris turned up the volume of the stereo.
‘I Saw Her Standing There’ was playing, and we suddenly started to sing along. We held each other’s hand tightly and kind of started dancing – bobbing our heads, and tapping our feet. It was the first song we ever danced together to. It played at a work party and we were both very drunk and back then we didn’t even know what song it was but we knew that it was fine as hell. And so were we, together.

 

“You sure you don’t want to come in and say Hi?”
“Oh no. I’m not walking through that door without a bottle of your mother’s favorite red, okay? Just tell her my grandmother called with an emergency or something,” Kris kissed me on the cheek.
I grabbed my coat from the back seat and we both got out of the car. All the lights downstairs were on, save the ones of the study, and the lights in my mother’s room were also on so I guessed she would either be downstairs watching T.V. and drinking, or upstairs in her room reading a book and well, drinking.
I hugged Kris and we kissed passionately. The lipstick must have come off entirely, I thought to myself.
“All okay?” asked Kris.
I chortled. “Yeah! Now drive away before my mother sees you without a bottle of wine in your hand.”
He held my left hand, touched the ring and the ring finger and said, “I really love you.”
“And I, you, Kris. I love you.”
A final peck on the lips and he was back in the car. He drove away and I walked towards my house. I don’t know why but I decided to be on my own for a while and I sat down at the top of the staircase on the front porch. I wrapped my right hand around my left, felt the ring and my hands, my feet, and my face getting cold. When I couldn’t take the cold anymore, I got up and rang the bell. No answer. I rang it again; and again, and again. Finally, I got out my keys from my coat’s pocket and unlocked the door. The wind was getting more vigorous and cold with every passing second.

Once I was inside the house, I removed my boots and went looking for my mother. I went to the living room. The T.V. was off. The kitchen was empty too.
“Mumma?” I shouted as I took to the carpeted staircase. There was a red stain on one of the steps that wasn’t there in the morning when I left for the date, so I deduced that Mumma had poured herself some wine and took it upstairs while already tipsy, dropped a tad on the stairs, and must’ve passed out in her room reading.
I knocked on her door. “Mumma?”
No answer.
I opened the door and went inside. The light was on, her bed was made, The Scarlet Letter, the book she had been reading, lay in perfect condition on the bedside table. My heart was beating really fast. I noticed that her phone and her earphones weren’t in the room so I thought she must be taking a bath. I knocked on the bathroom door.
“Mumma? Are you in there? You’re freaking me out okay?
Hello? Mumma?”
I thought she couldn’t hear me because of the music in her ears, and I didn’t want to walk in on my mother taking a bath. So I decided to call her but I remembered I kept my phone on the island top downstairs. It was a habit. I ran downstairs and phoned my mother. I was just walking up the staircase when I heard her phone ringing somewhere in the living room. She had left it on the sofa. I dropped my phone next to hers, her phone still ringing. My heartbeat was shooting up and my throat was getting really dry. I slowly walked to the foot of the staircase. My mind was stuck on Mumma’s phone’s ringtone. When the phone finally stopped ringing, I ran upstairs. The ringing continued in my ears though.
I knocked on her bathroom door one more time.
“Mumma, I’m coming in!” I felt choked up but somehow got those words out of my mouth.
I turned the knob and slowly opened the door. I peaked inside. She indeed was in the bath. But it was red.

I stood at the door a long while. There was an empty wine bottle on the bathroom floor, with a broken glass lying next to it, and some spilled wine. A blade lay on top of the pool of the spilled wine so I knew it wasn’t just wine. My mother’s head was resting on the edge of the bathtub. Her face, her neck, and her breasts were pale. The rest of her body was immersed in the red water. My eyes ran from the mix of water and blood to the mix of wine and blood. A chill went down my spine and as much as I wanted to move, I couldn’t. I was frozen. I don’t remember how long it took me to walk over to the bathtub, but when I finally did, I sat beside her and just glared at her. Her hair was still wet and the tips were dipped in the blood water. I knew she was left handed so the cut had to be on her right hand. I placed my own right hand on her cold, deadpan face, and with my left hand, I reached into the bathtub and pulled out her hand. It was a straight cut – vertical. She knew what she was doing. I couldn’t look at it for too long so I let her hand go. I reached in for her other hand and held it tight. I kissed her wet hand and tears had started seeping down my face, dropping straight into the bathtub. I wanted to scream but I obviously couldn’t. I let go of her hand and looked at my own. My ring was missing. Frantically, I put my hand inside the water again and after a bit of fiddling, found the ring. It was right next to my dead mother’s hand. I touched it, was about to pick it up, but I couldn’t. Instead, my hand moved on to hers, and I traced the vertical cut she had marked herself with. I touched the swollen skin around it and I thought of the amount of blood she must have lost. Not that I needed to think about it at all, it was pretty clear because of the color of the water in the tub. I took the water and splashed it on my face. To this day I don’t know why I did that. It stank of my mother. I splashed some more on my face and let my hands stay there. I got up and walked over to the sink. I looked at the mirror, my hands still on my face. The kohl had spread around my eyes and my fringes were wet. I removed my hands. I was still crying. My lips looked like they never had any lipstick on in the first place. I took the towel beside the sink and wiped my hands and then my face. I let it stay there for a while because I wanted it to soak up all the water on my face. Or maybe I let it stay because I didn’t want to look at my mother. Nevertheless, if not directly, once I threw the towel on the bathroom floor, I looked at her, but only because she existed in my peripheral vision. I turned around and walked out the bathroom door. I opened the first drawer of her bedside table, seized the bottle containing her sleeping pills, left the drawer open and walked out of her room. I went downstairs straight to the kitchen; I was shivering. I swallowed ten of her pills with water, went to the living room and picked up my phone. I didn’t look at the time but there were around five missed calls from Kris and a lot of messages. I could feel my insides twisting but I knew I couldn’t return his calls or reply to the messages. I threw my phone on the floor. I then picked up Mumma’s phone and dialled 911.
“911. What’s your emergency?” Emergency, Ha! I sighed.
I told them where I lived and hung up the phone. I had started to feel drowsy. I threw my mother’s phone next to mine on the floor, put on the T.V. and curled up on the couch. I don’t even remember what program or what channel was on or if it were just advertisements. I closed my eyes and the picture of my mother and I swimming in Aunt Karen’s swimming pool, from one afternoon when I was a teenager and had recently learned how to swim, came to me. We were holding hands and we were under the water, smiling at each other. The swimming pool water in the picture behind my closed eyes soon turned red, and I’m positive a deep sleep must have arrived that night, long before the police did.