Booking a table at Le Petit Chat required nothing short of a miracle. Clients would line up for months or even years just to get a chance to dine at one of the most romantic restaurants in the city. It took making a lot of calls and pulling a couple of strings, not to mention an unreasonable amount of money, but I finally managed to secure a spot.
The perfect spot for tonight.
It was a warm summer evening, with a gentle breeze coming through the large open arches, the only thing separating the restaurant interior from the terrace. The black sky, dotted with thousands of teeny tiny stars would normally soothe my soul, especially when accompanied by that soulful melody that a high-class pianist was weaving on the majestic, ebony instrument. But not this time.
My hands were shaking like jello. Palms dripping with sweat - so hard that it was starting to get on the cuffs of my shirt - I took out a small box out of my pocket. The ring inside shimmered in the candlelight. It cost me an arm and a leg, but I knew it was worth it. She deserved the very best, after all. I prayed to God she'd say yes.
I hid the ring back in my pocket, scratching the back of my hand as I pulled it out. Everything felt itchy whenever I got nervous. She was getting late and I was already starting to feel a bit light-headed, not knowing if I'd feel better if she finally did appear, or if she canceled.
But then she came. Her gorgeous, wavy brown hair brushed to the side, her neck was completely exposed. Her dress, as red as the bouquets of roses adorning every corner of the restaurant, had just the right amount of cleavage and hugged her curvy figure nicely. She spotted me, her smile showing on her baby blue eyes.
Sally looked stunning. But no matter how she looked, she took my breath away every time I saw her.
I stood up as she came closer and clumsily pulled out her chair from under the table. After wiping my palm on my pants, I took her hand in mine and gave it a gentle kiss. She giggled.
"How kind of you," she said as she sat opposite me. The waiter handed us the menu. I couldn't focus on the contents, however. I couldn't even focus on Sally's smile as she scanned the menu. My heart was racing and my hands were itching more and more. "What are you having?"
"Oh, uh," I said, scratching my hand again. "I'm not sure yet." I put down the menu and smiled at her. "You look lovely, Sally."
We chatted away and finally made our choices for the dinner. For a while, I forgot all about the itching, though my leg was jumping up and down like crazy from all the anticipation. I wasn't sure if the moment I chose for the proposal was right, but I knew I had to go for it.
The plan was to order just as the desserts were going to arrive. I thought about arranging things with the staff ahead of time, so that the ring could be inside the cake, but in the end, I was too worried she'd accidentally swallow it. I guess I'm not much of a risk-taker.
Once we'd placed our orders, Sally went to the bathroom. Even though I was still light-headed, the smile did not disappear from my face. I was having the time of my life. I was in such a good mood that I started looking around the other tables. My eyes met with those of an older lady somewhere to my right.
And then something weird happened. She took a look at my hands and her face twisted in disgust, and then she quickly turned her gaze away in the other direction. I imagined that my hands were pretty red from all the scratching, but that reaction still felt a bit unfair. Still, I thought nothing could ruin my mood.
Boy, how wrong I was.
I turned to face the terrace again. My hand went to my other hand and started scratching again. And then it felt like two things happened at once. For one, my hand felt different. As if I was scratching something softer, and... fuzzier. But I didn't even consider the worst case scenario until I noticed how pale the sky had become. Rising from below the terrace was a large, silver disc of light.
I f**king forgot it was a full moon today!
Over the past few months, I had spent so much time preparing everything for tonight that I completely forgot to check my timetable like I usually do. Up until this point, I always made sure I'd be unavailable whenever there was a full moon, so Sally wouldn't have to watch me grow 5 pounds of hair, but I guess I was just too preoccupied with getting any date booked that making sure it didn't coincide with a full moon didn't occur to me.
I instantly felt all the blood drain from my face. People started to whisper around me, I could hear it. I could feel it. But then my heart sank completely as I saw Sally leave the bathroom. I picked up the menu and covered my face with it, but I knew it was only a matter of time before she noticed.
"Jerry?" she asked as she sat down, a smile slowly fading from her face. "Are you okay? You look really pale. And, um, this may sound weird but, did you always have sideburns?"
"I'm fine," I said in a whisper. During my transformation, my voice became a tad more guttural than usual, to the point that cats got really scared of me. So I wanted to avoid drawing attention to it.
It was too late. My shirt was tensing up from all the fur piling on inside and my body increasing in size in general. I tried to avert Sally's concerned gaze, but I knew that if I didn't do anything, I'd end up only hurting her.
"Uh," I grunted. I could see her flinch at the sound I made. "I'll be right back."
With that, I got up, holding up the menu to hide the side of my face that she could see. Still, that couldn't cover up my furry hands or the incredibly long claws that my nails turned into, but it was something.
Before I knew it, I was sprinting out the building. I heard a couple of screams and shocked grunts as I passed some people, trampling some of them in the process. My shirt was ripped to shreds, and my pants were pretty close to giving way as well. This was the first time in a long while that I forgot to put on my stretchy pants on a full moon.
Safe from the view of most onlookers, I squatted at a nearby park. Huddled between a bunch of bushes, I looked up at the moon and wondered where I went wrong. I put my paws in my pockets to make sure the ring was still in place.
Sure enough, it was gone.
I didn't know where I'd dropped it. Was it still back at the restaurant or did my pocket rip somewhere on the street? Still, it's not like any of that mattered anymore. I sat there, hugging my oversized, furry knees, and uttered the smallest howl I could. I heard the squirrels scurry away in fear anyway.
I jumped up, startled nearly to death. My heart was thumping like wild, and I hated how loud it got when I was in wolf form.
"Sally?" I whispered. I could see her outline clearly, though her face was still too far away for me to make out. She was slowly walking closer towards me. "What are you doing here? Stay away."
"And leave you like this? Not a chance." She came up even closer. I could see her eyes now. She didn't look scared. Just a little shaken. "What happened to you?"
"It's... How do I put this," I said. "I've always been like this."
"We've been together for a year," she said. I could hear her voice tense up, "and you didn't think you should tell me?"
"Well," I said with a shrug, a smile creeping on my huge, toothy muzzle, "I did say I was a dog person."
She slapped me with her purse. The blow was softened by the coat of fur, but I still felt it. Somewhere inside, I knew I was a bad dog.
"How was I supposed to tell you?" I could hear my voice break a bit as I tried to maintain a whisper. "Look at me!"
She stayed silent for a good few minutes, as if she was seriously considering what she would have said had I told her. Then she put a hand on my cheek.
"I understand," she said. "It must be tough. But I thought you knew me better than that, Jerry. I love you, you know that?"
A surge of electricity made my heart beat three times in one instant. Every time I heard those words, I knew everything would turn out okay in the end.
"I know," I said.
"Besides," she said, her lips twisting into a half-smile. "I don't mind a bit of hair on a man. And there is something alluring about you like this."
"You've got to be kidding."
She laughed. But soon enough, she stopped. Her face became stern.
"I understand why you didn't tell me, Jerry," she said, her voice cool and piercing. "But I want you to promise me one thing. And this is very important."
"Don't ever lie to me again."
As she said it, she put something in my hand. Something small and vaguely cubical. When I realized what it was, my heart sank, though I was still glad the ring wasn't lost.
"Now, don't get me wrong," she said, the hint of a smile coming back to her face. "This isn't a no. But today's development is... a big one. And you've been lying to me all this time. You'll first need to win back some of that lost trust."
"I will," I said, no more whispering. "I wanted to tell you about this anyway, but I really wasn't ready. But now I have no reason to hide anything anymore."
"I believe in you," she said, her fingers intertwining with mine. "Don't disappoint me."
By the end of the night, I felt a great deal lighter. As if someone had shaved off all the fur from my body. Seeing her wake up next to me the other day filled me with a newfound sense of hope and, for the first time in forever, I felt okay with myself.
Three months later, I tried again, this time making sure the time was right. She said yes.
Sunday, March 13, 2016
You're drifting on a lime green current, your heart filled with glee. The pastel pink splashes assault your taste buds, your saliva dripping on the floor from delight. A golden ray of light touches your nostrils, forcing itself down your body. Your breath becomes faster and less even. You think you might be dying, but if this is dying, then oh boy, do you wish you could die every day now. The heat grows more intense as the cobalt blues and indigos splash over your body, sending a chill down your spine, spraying your body with salty drops. Oh fuck yes, you heave.
You feel the erratic thumps inside your body, your pulse of life. Tears fill your eyes as you see a shrowd of amarant fall down to expose a mass of color, shaped like people. I don't want this, you cry.
You turn around and and see nothing. A black abyss of emptiness. You are blind, your view is empty and broken. A chill suffocates you, sucking you dry. But it's okay, you say to yourself, and you turn back around. You click and feel the warmth come back to you. The pastel tsunami engulfs you once more.
Sunday, February 21, 2016
A single spark can start a fire so big it consumes everything on its way. It can be small, incidental, seemingly irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. But then something catches fire. A piece of cloth, a dry leaf, a piece of wood. And then it begins. A flame is born – hot, crackling, and hungry, ever expanding, ever wanting more. Until the rain comes. I stood there, lost in his eyes that held the universe within, praying. I was unsure if I was praying for a rain to start, or to end.
I met him on a Valentine's Day. I had recently ended a very, very draining relationship, and was happy to just go out with my friends and celebrate on our own. Jenny said there was this new French cafe that had the best desserts she ever tried, so we all settled we'd meet there. I still had some time, so I didn't hurry as I walked there. My sneakers splashed in puddles along the way, though the sky's immaculate blueness did not suggest it had rained. We were having a particularly warm and lovely February. I smiled as I passed couples both young and elderly. Holding hands, embraced on benches, testing the boundaries of what was acceptable at a park this big. On any other occassion, being single on Valentine's and seeing all this would have driven me insane. But this time, I felt I could breathe freely for the first time in forever. I inhaled the cool air, the gentle scent of wet grass intoxicating me, further lifting my mood. It was going to be a good day, I thought.
I soon approached the cafe, but none of the other girls were there yet. I decided to take a seat. I didn't realize how chilly it was outside until I was hit by what felt like a heat wave when I entered. I sat down at a tiny white table with what looked like a bouquet of plastic hearts in the middle, and took my coat off. I ordered some water and started fiddling with my phone. I was 15 minutes early. The air I exhaled from my lips ruffled my bangs gently as I looked around the cafe.
And then my heart skipped a beat.
He was quite handsome, but not the kind that just makes your knees weak. In fact, he was pretty average, but something about him just took my breath away. It was bizarre – I couldn't even see his face clearly from behind that newspaper. All I saw was neatly trimmed, brown hair, a solid jaw line, and glasses. Before I noticed, I had stood up and was already halfway between my table and his. He finally raised his eyes when I sat opposite him. We locked eyes for a good couple of minutes, but it felt like two hours at least. I was lost in that deep blue, that evening sky, and that familiarity. He did look familiar. And the way his eyebrows went up and his eyes widened when I approached him gave me a slight feeling of deja vu.
“Do I know you from somewhere?” I asked.
He coughed a bit harder than what would seem natural, folded his newspaper and stood up, grabbing his coat.
“I have to go, sorry,” he muttered and bolted out.
I tried to get his attention but he was gone before I could say a word. I didn't know what to do. Part of my just wanted to run right after him, but the other half asked: Why? You don't know him. For all you know, he's another sociopath. I was just about to go back to my seat, but I noticed that there was something on his chair. He left his umbrella. That was my chance!
I ran out and almost tripped on the stone steps. I ran to the left – that's where I though I saw him go. My feet tapped on the conrete sidewalk, echoing in a narrow alley for a minute before I reached another, much smaller park. I wasn't really certain what I was doing. It was crazy. I thought being single for Valentine's may have actually started to catch up to me. It was pathetic, really, getting so worked up about someone I did not know.
Or did I?
He was sitting on a bench, heaving. He did not want me to follow him, that was for sure. But I wanted to follow him. When I handed him the umbrella, he lifted those eyes at me and bolted upwards again.
“Thank you,” he muttered again, trying to avert eye contact after that. He grabbed the umbrella and tried to take it, but I wouldn't let go.
“Am I that scary?” I said with a smile.
“N-no, no! Not at all. I just... I really have to go.”
“And sit on another bench? What's wrong with this one?”
He took a deep breath and looked me in the eyes again. I felt an electric current run somewhere in my body. I knew that feeling as well. His eyes came closer and closer to mine. We both closed our eyes as our lips came closer and locked. I knew those lips, that warmth, this sensation.
But it didn't make sense.
Tears came rolling down my eyes. I saw the cafe as we met there for the first time, and he bought me an eclair. I saw that it rained later that day. I saw the night sky as we lay there dreaming of days to come so many times. I saw our wedding, I saw our children. I saw the death of one of them.
And then I saw the headlights.
And I saw that day in the cafe again. And I saw him avoid me so many times. But I saw him always come back. His tender lips, his warm embrace, those countless sleepless nights we shared. Thousands of them. Millions. Then all those pills, and all that blood in the bathtub, and all the nooses, and all the guns. It hurt. I wanted to let go. I didn't want to feel this pain. Not again.
But I didn't want to let go. As his lips let go of mine, I did all I could to make them stay. I watched the night sky distance itself, it's surface reflective like water, wet with grief.
“Forget me,” he whispered.
He turned on his heel. And walked away, drops of rain darkening his coat. The lingering warmth left behind him growing ever fainter. Soon, there wasn't even a shadow left to latch on to. All that was left was the rain. My spark was drowned before it reached anything.
Saturday, February 13, 2016
It was like an impulse. I just grabbed the phone and dialed her number, as if that was the most logical reaction to the situation. I lost count of the tones, which is when I realized this may not have been a good idea. I had lost track of time before I found the box, so now it could have been any hour of the night. It could still have been 11 pm on Sunday, or 4 am on Monday, God knows. I always lost track of time when I went digging through old things, but I rarely called anybody at those times, really. And I’m sure they’re thankful for that, even if they don’t know it, since I’ve been doing it at increasingly weirder hours since the divorce, and now I was jetlagged to boot. So it might as well have been 12 pm or 6:30, I really could not care less.
I listened to the even tones coming from the phone’s speaker as my gaze followed the eyes of the kit-cat clock on the kitchen wall. Why did I come into the kitchen again? I often wandered around the house with my mind blank whenever I needed to concentrate on some mental task, so that shouldn’t be too surprising for me. The kitchen wasn’t also that weird a room to be. I mean, my place is tiny, and the kitchen was probably the least cluttered at the moment. A peek beyond the archway revealed piles of unwashed laundry just pouring out of the bathroom and bedroom. I really should have done some of the cleaning back in Paris. That seemed to have happened so long ago, though. In Paris, I was surrounded by the coolest bunch of people and every night was a party. And now here I was, alone, standing in an empty apartment, phone in one hand, weird gift-wrapped package in the other.
Someone finally picked up.
“Hello?” came a raspy whisper.
“Hi, Cath,” I said.
“It’s three in the morning.” I could tell she recognized my voice just by the subtle shift in tone. Even when she whispered, Cath’s voice had the distinct ability of making every bone inside me swirl around in panic. I missed this, I think?
“Really? Well, that’s good to know.”
I heard the sheets rustle on the other end. She was up. Sitting up, at least. “What is it?”
“Oh, right. I’ve been digging through some old things in the closet.”
“In the middle of the night…” she said slowly, enunciating every word.
“Yes,” I continued, my voice picking up the pace. “I couldn’t sleep either way so I just decided to look through stuff, to see if maybe…” I stopped for a second. For some reason the following words were hard to say. “Maybe you forgot something.”
“Aaaand,” I tried to sound jovial again. “I found a package I don’t recognize. So I’m pretty sure it’s yours, because who else could it belong to?”
For a second I heard nothing. I was worried she’d fallen asleep again. But then I heard rustling noises and I could almost see her stand up and stretch, and then rub her face with those clubby hands. She sighed and her tired voice came back to ask me: “What’s it look like?”
“Oh, I dunno. It’s kind of ordinary looking, I guess? It’s got some kind of a cat theme going on. There’s a blue and black ribbon. Oh, and there’s a card! It says: To Franco. You brought this on yourself.”
“Who the hell is Franco?”
“You tell me. It’s your package!”
“I told you, it’s not.”
“Well, anyway, whoever he is, he sure brought this on himself, I guess.”
“And you woke me up just for this?” Her voice shook every piece of my body again.
“Yeah, sorry. I wasn’t sure what time it was.” I really wasn’t. I mean, I just spent a good couple minutes staring at a clock, but I couldn’t tell you what time it was. There are times where I just look at something – intently, even, fully concentrated – and don’t see it. Cath used to say I just don’t want to see it, but why would I not want to see it? I mean, it’s just the time.
“Well, maybe you should ask Iris, then?”
“Oh, Iris is working in Paris now,” I said.
“I know. But that has nothing to do with anything. She still might have left it there, right?”
“Maybe you’re right. I’ll give her a call then.” I was just about to hang up, but another question came to mind. “How are the kids, by the way?”
“They’re asleep, and very disappointed their dad was on a trip to Paris last weekend instead of spending time with them.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
“Anyway, if I don’t go back to sleep now, no one will be up on time to wake them up and take to school in the morning. So if you value the education of your children at all, you won’t mind if I hang up, will you?”
“Oh, sure. Tell them I said hi! Bye!”
The call ended and I was standing in the silence of the night yet again. I felt as if the kit-cat clock ticked in synch with my heart. Why cats, I wonder. Who thought cats with eyes that look left and right with every second was a good idea for a clock design? Not that I have any right to complain – I mean, I own one. But it was still something to think about. An easy, empty thought. The kind that kills the silence, but doesn’t shake you up too much. So I contemplated the kit-cat clock as my phone let out a few tones, until Iris finally picked up.
“Hey, honey, what’s up?” she asked. Whenever she spoke I felt as if my very essence was touched by the sweetest honey, each particle in my body relishing in the sweetness.
“I didn’t wake you up, I hope?”
“No, don’t worry. I actually just got to work.” I could see her walking down a modern, spacious office with glass walls and lots of sunlight, with a view on the Paris spring. In my mind she was wearing a dangerously short skirt and a plain, pale blue blouse that hung loose on her shoulders, with ample cleavage. The sunlight bounced off her breasts, bringing the constellations of freckles on her smooth, radiant skin to life. She smiled a full smile, exposing sparkling white teeth surrounded by red, red lips. Her chestnut curls swirled in the wind as she greeted me with a tempting gaze.
“Oh, uh,” I started after coming back from my daydream. It was three in the morning – can I still call it a daydream? “That’s good. I keep forgetting about the time difference, you know.”
She giggled. “Well, no wonder. You flew quite the distance.” She let out a sigh. It was a gentle sigh, one that melted me from the inside, quite unlike the passive aggressive sighs that Cathy gave me. “I miss you.”
“And I miss you, too” I said.
“So what are you doing up in the middle of the night?”
“Oh, right,” I said as I looked back at the kitty box. “I was looking through some old things and stumbled upon this weird box. It’s wrapped in gift paper with cats on it. The card says To Franco. Ring any bells?”
“Franco, Franco…” she said and fell silent, lost in thought. I pictured her putting up her thumb to her lips and biting on it as she pondered. “I don’t think I know anyone by that name, no. Did you talk to Cath about it?”
“I did, actually. It’s not her box. And she has no clue who Franco is.”
“That’s really weird. And you don’t know a Franco either?”
“Well, I wouldn’t be calling you guys if that was the case.”
“I suppose so…” she paused for a second. I imagined her chest raising and dropping as she breathed in and out. I could almost feel it as I ran my imaginary hand down her unbuttoned blouse, undoing two more buttons along the way. “So what do you think is in it?”
“Hmm?” I shook myself awake.
“What do you think is in the box?”
“I dunno.” I shook the box gently. There was a sound, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. Nothing hard hit the box from the inside, but it also wasn’t empty. It was as if there was something soft and relatively light filling up most of the box. After I told Iris about it, she giggled again.
“Maybe it’s a cat? I mean, the box is covered in cats, so it seems logical.”
“I’m pretty sure the cat would be long dead. And it doesn’t smell like anything.”
“C’mon, I was joking,” she chuckled. “It just kind of reminds of that thought experiment. Schroedinger’s Cat, you know?”
“About the cat in the box and how it’s alive and dead?”
“That’s not how it works. Until the box is closed, it holds a certain amount of potential. The cat has a chance of being dead and being alive so long as the box is closed. But once you open it, it is either alive or dead. You no longer have the potential you had when it was closed.”
“And where did you learn all this?”
“At school, of course.” She laughed and then sighed again. “Anyway, it was a really nice of you to call me today. This long distance thing is kind of hard on me.”
“Yeah, I know. But it’s only for a little while, right?”
“Right. Now I gotta go back to work. This is my dream job, after all!”
“It is! Go show’em who’s boss, sweetie!”
“Love you too.”
I stared at my phone’s screen for exactly 34 seconds, if the kit-cat clock was to be believed. Apparently, Cath called me twice while I was talking to Iris, so I called her back.
“Sorry, I didn’t think you’d call Iris right away.” Her voice sounded different. She was no longer whispering, and there was a strange echo in the background. For some reason I pictured her in the kitchen, wrapped in her bathrobe.
“Well, I did. Not like I have much better to do. I can’t sleep anyway. It was nice.”
“Glad to hear it. Listen, I just remembered something. Well, maybe remembered is a big word for this.” She fell silent again and then exhaled a lot of air. I knew that sound.
“Hey, are you smoking again?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re smoking, I just heard you. We were married for eight years, you can’t fool me.”
“So what if I’m smoking?” she said in that flat tone she always used to annoy me.
“Well, you shouldn’t. For your own health, and remember the kids live with you and second-hand smoking is also super bad for your health.”
I heard her dip the cigarette in the ashtray and sigh. “Sorry. You’re right. I usually don’t smoke now, it’s just… I’m kind of having trouble sleeping.”
“Because of me?”
“Well, yes, I think. It has to do with that thing I remembered.”
She didn’t say anything yet, but I felt a lump in my throat, as if my body knew what was coming before my mind could even register it. “What is it?”
“It’s not anything specific, more like this nagging feeling at the back of my head. I don’t know who Franco is or what he brought on himself, but after we disconnected, I had some sort of epiphany.”
“Yeah, you know, like a-“
“I know what an epiphany is, Cath. So what did you see?”
She fell silent for a second and I heard her lean on an old kitchen stool. “I’m going to hang up now and you take a look at your contacts. See for yourself.”
“Okay,” I said nonchalantly, though I felt a chill run down my spine. “You should go back to sleep then.”
“I don’t think there’s a point now. I better take a shower and start preparing the food or something, just to get my mind off things.”
“Well, whatever works for you. Take care then.”
Sure enough she hung up. The light from the phone was much more blinding than I remembered it being, and the apartment seemed darker than it was before. With shaking fingers, I located my contact list and scrolled down. Sure enough, soon I found a ‘Franco’.
You brought this on yourself.
I didn’t even let myself think before pressing the call button. I put the receiver to my ear, watching as the kit-cat’s eyes moved in slow motion. What was I doing? Who was I calling? Why did I have his number? What’s going to happen now?
But he didn’t pick up. I waited there for what felt like hours, but he didn’t pick up. I then reminded myself that it was still, in fact, the middle of the night, so he might just be asleep. I was suddenly very aware of the fact that I had held my breath and could only now breathe freely again. I was about to give up my search and call it a night, but then I noticed his contact information in my phone was actually quite robust. I had his full street address. And I knew exactly where that was. So I did the only logical thing. I put on my coat and stepped out in the dead of night to deliver a package to a total stranger whose full address was in my phone, for some reason.
Walking down the dark lane with only a couple of streetlights to disperse the blackness made my mind wander into places I’d rather not tread. I tried to come back to the kit-cat clock, to Iris’ undone blouse, but instead I kept returning to the gift-wrapped box. There was no doubt in my mind that I knew Franco, and that I knew what was in the box. But why couldn’t I remember it?
My footsteps echoed down the empty street, but soon another pair of feet was added. The unmistakable click of high heels was coming in my direction. I saw a young woman draped in a large coat, but her legs were left exposed. I smiled at her, but she only ignored me as she passed by. I probably shouldn’t be surprised that the response to unwanted attention from complete strangers in the middle of the night was not considered a positive thing, but I couldn’t help but feel my confidence dip. By many, I was still considered attractive for my age. Though my gut has expanded in recent years, I was still very active, and my hair, though graying more and more, was still thick, strong and wavy. That one disinterested look tonight made me feel bad about myself. Although maybe it wasn’t just that. Maybe I was trying to convince myself that I’m angry, so that I could stop thinking about the box.
It was starting to drive me insane. I was angry that I forgot, compelled to open it, but at the same time I had a weird fascination with this Franco person who I could not remember for the life of me. It was almost perverse, how much I wanted to see him while at the same time dreading the consequences of that. What would I see if I actually found Franco? Would everything change, or nothing at all? What would I remember then? Maybe it was better to leave it all and resume my normal life, ignorant of what may have happened, never knowing what I could have missed, but also never hurting the way I potentially could.
You brought this on yourself
What did he bring on himself? What type of punishment awaited this poor man in this box? Was it really right to deliver it to him?
I stopped. I was standing right in front of the house. It was a beautiful, Victorian-inspired building with modern elements. The lights were out, so I knew that I would wake him up if I just rang and left him the package. I did not want to wake another person up in the middle of the night, considering what happened to Cath. I could just leave it in the mailbox. But really, did I want to leave it? Did I want to risk leaving something for this person I didn’t think I knew that could potentially cause him great pain?
What’s in the box? Should I open it?
I stood there, watching the windows, hoping to at least catch a glimpse of this stranger that I probably knew long ago. But there was nothing to see. I felt as if my head could explode at any second. My blood was boiling and my hands were shaking. Whatever was happening to me, I wanted to distance myself from it as soon as possible. I laid the damn package on top of the mailbox and walked away.
It was better this way, I told myself. It was none of my business. I didn’t even know the guy, so he might as well have not existed. It made no difference. Better him deal with whatever that box was than me. And I can just carry on with my life.
Goodbye, Franco. Have a nice life, whoever you are.
Sunday, February 7, 2016
Eli did not sleep that night, but he was still startled by the noises coming from downstairs. He heard his father get angry again. Yet this time, things seemed much more violent.
“I will not let you do this!” his father screamed. “He is MY SON, and I will NOT stand by and let you-“
A blood-curdling shriek came from downstairs, followed by his father’s anguished scream. Eli then heard a loud thud and footsteps rushing upstairs. He got up and opened the door. He saw his dad, his shirt untucked and torn in places, his arm bleeding.
“Dad!” Eli cried. “What happened?!”
“I’ll explain on the way. We need to get out of here.” He grabbed Eli’s hand and rushed down the stairs.
“What about mom?”
“Mom is… Mom’s fine. She’s visiting a friend, she’ll come later.”
They ran out into the darkness. Beside his dad’s car was another one that Eli did not recognize. When asked about it, his father said nothing. Once they were in the car, his father rode down the neighborhood at a speed that was undeniably above the speed limit.
“Dad, what are you doing!” Eli shouted. “You’ll never make that turn at this rate!”
“We have no time to lose. It’ll all be-“ He suddenly turned deathly pale. “The brakes,” he whispered. He didn’t say another word, but Eli knew what was going on. They were going faster and faster, his dad was frantically pushing on the brake, but nothing happened. Someone had cut their brakes, and now they would crash. Eli never expected that would be the end of it. His dad did his best, swerving and turning as fast as he could, but in the end, a tree blocked their way. The last thing Eli heard was a deafening crash.
And then he was crouching on the sidewalk in a puddle made up of his own blood. He was watching the wreck burn and the large tree it had hit catch the fire from it.
“Dad!” he screamed, rushing to the wreckage. But before he could get close enough, the vehicle exploded, leaving behind only a burning heap of twisted metal. Eli screamed in horror. Suddenly, his screaming stopped. A thought occurred to him. Perhaps it was not too late? He did not have paper on him, or a pen, but he had lost enough blood to make it work. He crouched beside his puddle of blood and, fighting back tears, he started drawing shapes on the sidewalk. Please, please, please, speak to me, he thought. And sure enough, his hand soon began writing on its own in an ornate, calligraphic font.
“I wish my father was alive again!” he shouted into the concrete slab. For what seemed like an eternity, nothing appeared. “DO IT!”
“You have to! Please!”
Not only is it not in my power, but there is nothing you could do to make up for it.
There is nothing that is of equal value to human life. Even if you were to give your own life, that would not be enough for me to bring your father’s life. I am sorry.
“What the hell are you talking about? You were granting my wishes!”
Nothing is free, Eli.
Eli slammed his fist on the ground and started sobbing uncontrollably. He felt his hand move again, but couldn’t even muster up the strength to look at what was written. In the end, however, he lifted his head, and saw the message from the demon.
Please, Eli. Don’t cry.
“What else am I supposed to do? What do you care? You’re a demon!”
I am. But I also care about you. I am always with you, after all.
“Liar! If you were, you would do something about this.”
And I am trying. Listen to me. There is one thing you may do.
“What is it?” Eli’s tears stopped flowing and he was now looking at his hand as hard as he possibly could.
Your father may not come back to life, but that does not mean you cannot help him. Your father was a good man, but he has committed an unforgiveable sin in the past. He is now suffering for all eternity. However… Eli’s hands were shaking. If you wish it, I can end his suffering.
“Yes!” Eli sobbed. “Yes, please. Don’t let my dad suffer. I wish for my father to be saved.”
Are you sure? Is your father’s salvation what you wish for?
“Yes. I have never wished for anything more.”
Very well, then. Your wish has been heard. Eli tried to get up after that, but his hand was still out of his control. Oh, and Eli – thanks :)
He was in the gray space from the dream again, the trumpets blaring louder than ever before, but this time they were harmonized. The man got off from the dromedary and smiled at Eli. It was a strange, serene smile, that filled Eli with unease. The man bowed to him, and as he clapped, the sound of the trumpets became distorted, his own figure and that of the dromedary disintegrating before Eli’s eyes. The gray landscape started falling apart as well, and before he knew it, his eyes were open again, and he saw his mother. They were in some dimly lit room, and she was wearing a large hood on her head.
“He’s awake,” she whispered. Eli then noticed three more figures in the room, their faces obscured by the shadows of their hoods. “Rise, o Paimon, granter of wishes. Your time has come. We, your humble servants welcome you.”
Eli stood up. He had not wished to stand up, he just did, as if someone else was in control of his body. He tried to turn his head, to move his arm, to shake his leg – nothing worked. His body seemed to be on autopilot, and he was a prisoner in its cockpit.
“Greetings to you, dear followers,” his voice came from his lips. It was unmistakably his own voice, and he could even taste the words on his lips, but they came out on their own. Eli wanted to cry, but his voice box was not his own anymore, nor were his tears. He felt his hands reach out for something. He was holding something warm – it was an oil lantern. He saw himself move and reach for the front door, ignoring the protests of his “followers”. As he stepped outside, he slammed the lantern into the floor and locked the door, leading the people inside the building that turned out to be a shed, to scream. Eli himself wanted to scream, but only a chuckle came from his throat.
“We are free now, Eli.”
Sunday, January 24, 2016
The next morning, he couldn’t go to school. After the doctor inspected him, it appeared that he had suffered a mild concussion and sprained his knee. Though he was glad that he wouldn’t have to go to school for several days because of it, the pain was something that made Eli wish he had just stayed unconscious. But then he remembered the nightmares.
In the dreams, he was running through a gray, empty field. At first everything was unnervingly quiet – even his footsteps made no sound, causing him to question whether he was actually running instead of floating. But then there was sound, and he wished it had come back to being silent. Still no footsteps, just trumpets. Trumpet sounds, more and more of them as he ran further, forming a dissonant soundscape that felt like they were assaulting his brain with their sheer volume. The same dream repeated over and over again through the night, and each time he would get closer to his goal, which appeared to be someone riding some kind of animal. He always tripped near the end of the dream, causing him to wake up and clutch his knee in pain.
Jonah would come and visit him regularly to tell him what had been covered in class and what the homework was. He told him that after Eli collapsed on the cemetery they all rushed him to his house. No one seemed to remember the Ouija board pointer moving on its own. Eli dismissed that memory as a result of his concussion. Still, Eli found it odd that only Jonah seemed concerned enough to come visit him.
“Oh, those two have just been busy lately,” Eli reassured him as he shook his long bangs out of his eyes.
“They’ve taken up some extracurricular stuff but they said they want it to be a secret, so hell if I know what that’s about. They’re still pretty worried about you. I’m sure they’ll come visit you once they have more time.”
“That’s okay,” Eli said with a smile. “So this is all the stuff you covered today?”
“Yep. And here’s your algebra homework.” Jonah handed him a file that looked disturbingly thick.
“Jesus Christ, that’s huge.”
“Yeah, but it’s due next week, so don’t sweat it. Oh, but the teach said the stuff in there will be on the test.”
“Awesome.” Eli scowled as he scanned the pages. He put the file on his desk and adjusted his leg in bed. “So, you got time? I’m bored as hell. We could play a game or something.”
“Sorry, man. I gotta go. I promised these guys I’d show them that place…”
“You mean, the place where this happened?” Eli pointed at his forehead and then his knee. Jonah slowly nodded. “Wow. Let me know who’s next to bust their head open.”
“Ha ha. It’s not my fault you got too scared to function.” Jonah glanced at his phone. “Right, it’s about time I left. See you tomorrow, I guess?”
“Yeah, see you.” For a few minutes after Jonah left, Eli sat on the bed, gazing at the ceiling. With nothing better to do, he grabbed his algebra homework and started filling it in. After ten minutes, his mind began to wander, and soon he found himself in the gray space yet again. This time around, he woke up as soon as the trumpets sounded. When he opened his eyes, he noticed that it was already dark out. He turned on his desk light and his heart sank. His homework was filled with his own handwriting, and yet he was sure that he hadn’t written it.
Greetings, Eli. I have come to serve you. Tell me your wishes, and they shall be granted.
“What the hell?” Eli had never heard of people writing in their sleep, but no other explanation made sense. The thought calmed him down a bit. He scoffed: “Yeah, right. Like my homework is haunted by some wish-granting genie.”
To his horror, his hand started moving on its own. In jerky motions, it held his pen tightly, even though he tried to resist it, and scribbled down another sentence.
I am no genie, and yet your wishes shall be granted.
“Mom! Dad! Help!” Eli shouted, but there was no response. Then he remembered that they would be out that night. He was left all alone with whatever was guiding his hand.
There is no need to fear, child. I am on your side. Simply tell me what you wish, and you shall receive.
“Why should I believe you?” At that moment, memories of that fateful night came back. Eli remembered how Jonah mentioned demons. He felt cold sweat on his back. “Wait, you’re not a demon, are you? You’re here to tempt me with wishes and take my soul?”
Your soul is safe, his hand wrote. My only task is to grant your wishes. I ask for nothing in return for that. I grant your wish, simply, and you must live with your granted wish.
“There’s no way you can make that happen.” And there’s no way I can risk it. I know how these things work. The genie uses my precise wording to make my wish into something bad.
I would never do that, the hand responded to his thoughts. I will do all in my power to ensure what you wish is given to you. I am bound to serve you, Eli.
“I don’t believe you.” Eli’s heart was beating fast. He wasn’t sure he could take this much longer.
So you don’t. But what’s the harm in trying?
There was something tempting about that. Eli was always afraid of such things, but the very possibility of this being real gave him goosebumps – the good kind. If I wish for something small, I don’t think there really is a possibility that he can turn it against me, Eli thought. “Fine, have it your way. I wish my homework would just do itself.”
Your wish has been heard.
Eli felt that he finally regained control of his hand. Confident that he still had time until next week to finish his homework even if the demon lied to him, he put away his homework. The pain in his knee felt stronger and his head hurt again, blurring his vision. He took some painkillers and lied down. “Now here’s something I really wish for,” he said in a whisper as he slowly drifted away into the land of dreams. “I wish I felt better. So I can leave this prison and just… see her again.”
To his immense surprise, he woke to find that his leg did not hurt anymore, and his vision was good as new. “No way…” he whispered as he stood up on his own two legs for the first time since the accident. He ran up to the desk and glanced through the homework file – all the answers had been filled out. Eli couldn’t help but snicker. With a demon at his side, he felt he could do anything.
Saturday, January 9, 2016
The dry leaves seemed to whisper as they rustled in the faint wind that night. The crescent moon loomed over the old willow tree in the middle of the abandoned graveyard. Stirred by a sudden gust of wind, a loose branch fell to the ground, into a heap of autumn leaves, startling the four figures searching for traces of the unknown on this cold October night. Nonetheless, they carried on their way deeper into the darkness, light from a flashlight their only guide.
Eli was against the idea from the start, but he didn’t say anything. He was sure Dwight and Jonah would make his life hell if he didn’t go. Though his teeth jittered every step of the way, he pressed on, aware of the glances the other two boys were sending his way. He knew they were waiting for the right opportunity to scare him. But this time things would be different. Eli was not going to let a silly jump scare get him this time. Further motivating him to stay strong was the presence of Hannah. The girl he liked for a long time, the one with flowing black hair, was as excited as Jonah and Dwight to be visiting a graveyard in the dead of night. A chill went down Eli’s spine, his throat making a loud gulping sound as he swallowed down his anxiety. Lucky for him, the others didn’t seem to notice.
After walking for what felt like hours, they reached the far edge of the graveyard. Beyond the balding willow tree and a crooked little fence was a dense forest, where everything was pitch black. The howl of the cold wind and the rustling leaves were the only thing coming out of that onyx abyss. The land beyond felt dead. The chill felt so strong that Eli’s senses became dulled, to the point that he felt like his body was not his own, and the paralyzing fear was being experienced by someone standing next to him who happened to look exactly like him. This feeling of detachment came to an abrupt end when Dwight cleared a pile of leaves near the willow tree and cast the light of his flashlight at it, revealing an ornate circle, adorned in strange markings, etched in the remnants of the pavement. Eli’s heart sank violently, nearly destroying his larynx as it fell.
“Oh hell no,” he whispered. Dwight chuckled, seeing the distress on Eli’s face and motioned something at Jonah. To Eli’s horror, he pulled out a Ouija board out of his backpack. “Are you fucking serious?”
“What, you didn’t know this was here?” Hannah snickered. The sound pierced Eli’s heart, the betrayal stinging like a thousand cuts. “You’ve lived here all your life and you’ve never heard of the witch’s circle?”
“Of course I have, but I never would have expected you guys would be stupid enough to come here. This thing is dangerous!”
“Right,” Jonah said as he rubbed the nape of his neck. “That was just our plan, Eli – bring you here and play with a Ouija board so a witch comes and eats your ass up so that we can finally have peace.” He laughed his hyena laugh, the piercings on his lips gleaming like fangs in the flashlight. “Relax, bro. It’s just a game.”
“And no chickening out like last time,” Dwight said as he set up the board on the ground. He shook a bit and zipped up his hoodie. “It’s just a game, man. Don’t be a party pooper.”
“You could have warned me,” Eli said.
“Like you’d come then,” Hannah giggled and crouched near the board. “C’mon, it’s getting cold.”
It’s all bogus, he told himself. There’s no witch, and you can’t communicate with the dead. So just chill out and roll with it. And with that, he crouched by the board and put his right hand on the pointer. The other hands soon joined his, their skin cold from the October winds, the eyes of the teen fixed on the glass magnifying the letter “A”. For a few tense minutes, nothing happened. Eli felt cold sweat on his forehead, his breathing was becoming faster. “Why isn’t it moving?” he whispered.
“We need to ask a question first,” Hannah said. “Let’s begin with something simple.” She glanced at the boys and then back at the board. “Hi! What is your name?”
The pointer jittered and Eli’s heart made a summersault. Someone was moving it, but he was sure it wasn’t him. The others looked just as surprised, but Eli still tried to convince himself it was one of them anyway.
H-E-L-L-O C-H-I-L-D-R-E-N O-F M-A-N, the pointer indicated the letters one by one, with Jonah reading every letter out loud and later saying the words he could make out. “Wow,” he said under his breath. M-Y N-A-M-E I-S P-A-I-M-O-N.
“Is that the name of the witch?” Dwight asked, his eyes darting from Jonah to Hannah.
“I don’t think so…” Hannah’s voice trembled slightly. “I, uh… It doesn’t sound like a name I’ve heard.”
“I have,” Jonah said, his face pale. “There’s this book I’ve been reading through some time ago, and uh… and it had names of demons in it.”
“Shut up!” Eli heaved, his breath shallow and erratic. He let go of the pointer. “I’m out. This is too much for me.” The others only stared at him with their mouths agape. “What are you looking at?”
“Eli, your...” Hannah whispered and pointed to her forehead. Eli touched placed his hand where she pointed on his own head – it felt sticky. His knees shook as he extended his hand and gaze upon his palm – covered in thick black blood. With a click, the pointer moved again, even though hands were touching it. Everyone was too busy trying to catch Eli. He didn’t even notice when he began to faint, but it happened in an instant. His vision went dark and he heard a loud thud. It wasn’t until he woke up the next morning that he realized it was him falling that made that noise.