Card Day 76: A fairy rescuing a small boy from the gaping maw of a green, dragon-like monster.
Brandon knew that he should have gone home hours ago, but wisdom had not won out. Instead, he was still attached to his dim seat at the sticky bar, eyes glazed and glass empty. He was drunker than he should have been, but still passed his most important test. He knew he was drunk, so that meant he could not be that drunk. Even though his stumbled and slumped against the chair when he stood—probably his legs had fallen sleep from sitting in the same position and same chair since the bar was full of Friday night hopefuls drinking to celebrate making it through the week. Now it was just clogged with the sad remnants who drank to make it to Saturday.
Alcohol was an effective, if blunt, tool, equally dimming all sensations until Brandon could experience his world from an arm’s length. Everything seemed distant, almost as if he were watching a video through someone else’s eyes. That at least explained why his arms and legs felt unstable even after his twenty-something years of experience with them.
Brandon was resolved not to be one of the regulars who remained there until grimy sunshine crept in and the lights went off. No, he had standards and enough sense to get home before he fell asleep in the quiet room. The raging pulsing music from earlier had faded to old and well-worn favorites; there was nothing to keep his mind from turning back to the sad thoughts he drank to forget.
He stumbled out the door, shocked into a higher level of sobriety by the surprisingly chill. It was late fall, so it made sense that it would be getting cool, but it had ben pleasant when he entered the bar. Then again, the sun had also been up. He rubbed his arms briskly, feeling the chill bumps already growing on his arms, and turned left down the street. No matter how drunk or not he was, he never drove home from the bar. It was just asking for bad decisions. And so he set off, walking through the dark streets under anemic pools of artificial light.
This part of town was not frequently traveled at night, so the lights alternated on and off in an attempt to save power. The whole city was spending itself into poverty, but at least they were saving some electricity.
He stumbled on his own feet, sliding against the brick wall beside him and banging his shoulder sharply. The pain radiated through his shoulder as he let out a few choice words. Apparently he was drunker than he thought, especially if he could not even walk home successfully.
Another mistake, another failure, and another disappointment. He leaned against the wall and considered his predicament grimly. He was a coward hiding behind alcohol s if it would bandage all the wounds he had given in his time. His own soul lay in tatters under his rage, and he left a path of destruction through the lives of others. The beers were simply his attempt to anesthetize that violent part of himself, preserve himself and others. Only it was a futile practice that left him alternatively numb and raging.
No matter how carefully he medicated, he ended up hurting himself—if he was lucky—or others either way.
Brandon tried to reason with himself, reminding himself that the alcohol made his thoughts darker than reality. But his inner self refused to accept his logic, instead wrapping himself in that cold blanket and shutting out any outside help. Irritated at his own stubbornness, Brandon pushed off the wall and stumbled down the road farther.
The next part of his journey led him along the bridge of a state highway, which at least meant other people were zipping past him in the world. It seemed right that he would slowly traipse along while the rest of the world flew past at 65mph. It was only fair. Then again, Brandon was not in a hurry to get back to his empty bachelor pad, recently gutted of any signs another human had once lived, laughed, and loved there with him. She could not take his sluggishness, the monster that lived inside and ripped him apart from within. She certainly could not take the vicious words that spilled out of his mouth, wounding her so that she would know how much he hurt. NO one should be forced to endure that, and he could not blame her from leaving. If he could leave himself, he would.
Brandon stumbled again, distracted by his own self-loathing, He smashed into the flimsy barrier between him and traffic Only this time, the waist-high wall crumpled and gave, sending him flailing towards the oncoming traffic.
No matter how much he hated himself, Brandon felt a flicker of fear at the slow realization that this was not going to end well.
Only instead of rolling off the hood of a speeding bullet or skidding along the pavement—or both—Brandon felt something grab the collar of his shirt and tug him back, sending him crashing into the concrete barrier on the other side of the walking path. The concrete did not give away, and he slid down to sit on the broken sidewalk. His heart thundered and he felt surprisingly sober in that moment. A car honked as it whizzed past him.
Beside him on the concrete was a frazzled looking woman. Her eyes hefted heavy bags, and her orangeish hair flared out in dozens of directions without any intention. Her clothes, once white, were muddied and stained. She glared at him with about half of the hate he generally directed at himself.
“Are you suitably proud of yourself now?” she snapped. Her voice was young and high-pitched, grating against his ears with the fury of her irritation.
Brandon’s mouth opened and closed, but he was still in a state of shock. His life had possibly flashed before his eyes, but all he remembered was a deepening sense of dread. Then again, that seemed fairly appropriate. His heart was a rhythmic thunder in his chest, pulsing louder than the sound of rushing traffic. The deep, gasping breaths he took made him feel as if he would never actually catch his breath again.
“Well? Nothing to say for yourself?”
Her anger confused him, and his brain was still too foggy to formulate the correct response. “Thank you?” he responded.
She rolled her eyes. Not the expected reaction. “Oh, thank you,” she singsonged, standing from the pavement and smacking her hands together.
“I—I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened, but thank you for grabbing me. I would have been—“
You would have been nothing but a slimy spot on the pavement, that’s what.” She viewed him dismissively from where he sat on the ground. Brandon hurried to stand up, even though his head spun a little with the rush.
“I know. You saved my life. I don’t have any money or anything, but if I could repay you?”
A bitter smirk crossed her face. “Yeah, you could stop making my job a nightmare. I mean, seriously, some people get easy marks who live a nice, reasonable life. Then I get assigned to you, and I haven’t slept soundly in six months from chasing after your ridiculous antics.”
Brandon began to worry that he had struck his head in the commotion, because nothing she said made sense. “I’m sorry, I just don’t understand. What did I do to you?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot, you drank half of the booze in Calacanas County tonight. Let me slow this down for you. I,” she pointed exaggeratedly at her own chest, “am responsible for taking care of,” she made an exaggerated pause, raising her eyebrow, only to deflate when he did not fill the silence, “you.” Her eyes crawled over his face, searching for understanding. Apparently, she found enough. “And you have made an amazing series of bad decisions. I had to save you from three different bar fights, keep you from stepping on a rusty nail and developing tetanus, not let you crack your head open on the sidewalk, and dive in front of a speeding vehicle to drag you out of the way. That was just tonight!”
Brandon’s mouth snapped closed, then drifted open again. Everything she was saying had a dim feeling of déjà vu, but he could not identify the moment. Then again, most of his night was a hazy blur painted amber-gold.
“So, I’m tired. If you could just try, for once, to stop killing yourself accidentally, I would really appreciate it.”
His mind finally caught up. “So, you’re like a…guardian angel?”
She rolled her eyes dramatically, hands on her hips. “Yeah, a guardian angel. See the wings?”
“No,” he stammered. She laughed.
“That’s cause I’m no angel. At least you got the guardian part right.” The woman ran a hand through her hair, flattening half of it, but leaving the rest just as much in disarray. Her voice calmed. “So, now that we’ve had this chat, think you could lay off the death wish?”
“I—I haven’t been trying, I mean, I’m sorry. I—I won’t do that anymore.”
Her head swung slowly side from side, a deep sigh slipping through her lips. “Just, do your best. Maybe take a vacation? I could use a vacation. No place dangerous like the beach or mountain climbing or anything. Just…how about you just go find a book and read for a few hours?” She turned her back on him, walking back down the street slowly with her head hung low.
A flame flickered in the dim night air and he watched her lift a shaking cigarette to her lips. “I need a np.” With that, she vanished.
Brandon looked around, stunned to find himself on the same sidewalk. There was no explanation for what had just happened. With all the caution and awareness he could muster, Brandon restarted his trek home, running a hand through his hair to find the head wound he was certain he must have endured.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
This is a WIP I really liked initially, but have cooled on it to some degree. I think the ending needs some additional work (though I like the very final paragraph), but I just have to figure out how to take it. I think there are some really good things here, but definitely something I am still mulling over and trying to nail down.
The knowledge of one’s own imminent death can provide the soul a remarkable sense of levity.
It certainly can also provide a sense of impending doom, dread, fear, and regret, but for me, the knowledge grants me the peace and joy of complete freedom. It is inevitable that I will be killed within the next few days. My case will be opened and investigated, but when neither evidences nor a suspect can be found, it will slowly descend into the urban legend obscurity of cold cases. You see, my murderer will never be caught because I am not sure if he exists.
Not to bore you with these paradoxes and conundrums, let me explain. He is real; he possesses form, mass, shape, gravity, and all those other things that often happen to describe “things.” In fact, he seems to even have the bones, blood, breath, and drives that define “human.” But he does not really exist, not in the traditional sense. He is. And he is going to kill me. I know this because he told me so.
No one else seems to see him. True, they may bounce into him on a busy street or lift their eyes in his directions when he laughs at my pitiful life, but they only look through him. They do not see what is staring right back at them. I know he is real, however, because I have felt his hands on my body, seen the scars and bruises he leaves on me. He has tried to kill me before. I know this because the hospital records serve as proof of his frequent attacks. Alas, no one is ever charged. Sometimes I wonder if the police even really try looking for him—not that they would find him. He’s just one more shadow in a city full of ghosts and half-lived lives.
I’ve watched him destroy relationships and opportunities, pushing away every friend or romantic interest I’ve ever had. He’s sabotaged me at jobs, led me through paths of incredible misfortune, and tried his hardest to bury me without ever resorting to physical means, but he has always failed at that, and now he has left me beaten, bruised, poisoned, sick, and barely coherent. My thoughts center on him and his toxic presence all day, every day. It’s hard to focus on anything else. He has ruined my life.
But, now I know this drama is nearing the curtain, and I can’t help but feel freed in some way. Instead of dreading how he will destroy the next waking moments of my life, I can look forward to his success as I finally escape to a place he cannot follow.
This levity almost inspires nostalgia. I remember the first time I met him, dark one night when I couldn’t sleep. He sat by my bedside and smiled, whispering dark things to me.
“You know you’re hopeless? Couldn’t even hold on to the one thing that made your life worth something.”
He was right, of course. I had just “dropped out” of college, which was code for the fact that I had managed to fail most of my courses and lose the last scrap of scholarship that I hadn’t thrown away with partying and drinking. I was now just another unskilled, unmotivated, hopeless drop out who didn’t even have the sense to realize something was wrong. The clarity of death pulled away the fog of self-aggrandizement I had placed over everything, and I realized it then.
He thought about attacking me then. He whispered the things he could do to me, how he could flay my skin with razor blades, fill my food with pills and poisons, wrap my sheets around my neck until it snapped or I stopped breathing. He whispered dark things that shook me to my core. I knew at the same moment that he was going to kill me, and that he wouldn’t harm me. It was terror and comfort rolled into one, because in many ways it was refreshing to hear someone who finally understood. But the reality that he would kill me was hiding just below that understanding. Anyone who truly understood the failure I had become really had no choice but to punish me for squandering what I had been given.
Now I see him everywhere. He whispers things to me. I can hear him even from across a busy street, whispering hateful messages. But now….now I can be free to screw up my life however I see fit. My first stop was at the local bar.
He was in the corner, watching me, but I didn’t care. If he chose to end me here, so be it. At least I would go out with a drink in hand. . It was early yet, just passing six o’clock, so the bar wasn’t completely filled yet. Within the next hour, all the big shots with their nice jobs would trudge in, ready to wash away another day of work with some well-deserved revelry, but for now it was quiet and only home to a few patrons. I sidled up to a pretty girl at the bar, casting care and doubt to the wind. Rejection couldn’t sting now, because it was the last day of my life. He became jealous.
“Can I buy you a drink?” I was smooth; I didn’t care.
She smiled, agreed, and we spent some time together. My newfound confidence made me irresistible, I felt, and I took those chances that were far too risky. They paid off with a phone number I would never dial.
I left the bar a few shots heavier and began to walk to a movie theater. If I was going to go out, I might as well catch the latest blockbuster so I could fill in the folks in heaven. Besides, what did I care how I spent the last twenty dollars in my wallet? I was going out with a bang, movie theater popcorn and all.
The movie was good, but drinks with another pretty lady after was even better. This one I could probably do something with, I imagined. I was fearless and it was paying off.
The night was a blur, the edges darkened by his constant presence, counting down the moments. It was all drawing to a close, and I knew he would have some grand finish. I coul dfeel him bristling as I walked the girl towards my apartment. I didn’t deserve to spend the night with a such a beautiful woman. I was a failure, a piece of trash, and this was all nothing but a ridiculous farce. She was out of my league and then some.
My apartment was a travesty, and she quickly noticed. Her disgust was evident; he could sense it too. I didn’t deserve someone like her, but nevertheless, here we were. She grimaced at the dirty tile floor, the unwashed clothes lying on most surfaces, the extensive stack of unwashed dishes. She saw it all and she hesitated. He was right, I knew, I didn’t deserve her, and now she was about to get away.
His rage was palpable, though. How dare she entertain something as lowly as me. She had judged me, found me lacking, but in his thoughts, that wasn’t enough. She was still here, still stepping in time with my advances. I could hear him screaming, yelling, cursing her for seeing my filth and not reviling at once. In a flash, he had a knife, diving at her. I could hear her scream, watch her eyes panic, feel blood splashing over me as he savagely drove the blade in again and again. How dare she not think I’m good enough! How dare she reject me! Who was she to judge me?
No. That wasn’t right. He knew I didn’t deserve her. He must have been yelling something else. The memory is brief, violent, and hard to nail down. He was angry with her, and he killed her, that is all that matters. And now he is going to kill me.
This time he is serious; he will not make mistakes. He brought a gun with him, and I can feel the metal pressed against my temple as I sit in the only armchair in the world more run down than me, feeling the once hot blood cooling on my skin. It’s funny, as he pulls the trigger, I can almost feel its weight in my hand. He has finally won.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.