Why not me?
Why can I not bring myself to topple him?
Kill the king.
Take the throne.
“How did you find me?” I mumble nigh incoherently after gasping and choking on my own saliva.
Joey snorts. “You really think I don’t know where you go every time you run off? You’re my little brother. I know everything about you. Now come on. I have to show you something.”
“What?” I manage to get out before he yanks me away. Back through the halls I find myself wandering. His hand on my arm is light, almost non-existent, but I feel it. The autumn breeze has cooled his hand, and the cold ghost of his touch is comforting. We reach the window from whence I originally entered, and he motions for me to go through first. I carefully squeeze through again, and I see him stay behind.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“Well, I think I’m just a tad too big to get through that window. I’ll get out the way I came. You just go around back. I know you keep a bike there. Wait for me there,” he says with a bright smile. I don’t understand how he’s so cheery all the time. He’s been through the worst anyone could. After all—
Suddenly, pain. Images flash through my head. My dream rushes around me with the ferocity of a vengeful tornado. Purple blades pierce my throat, and vomit threatens to rise again. The pictures appear faster and with more clarity, like a flipbook speeding up. I see a child surrounded by murky black crying. He is kneeling before bistre brown, and the black is pulling on him, shrieking at him to get away. It manifests individually in a black form of the crone, and the child begins to fade into the crowd. He is thrashing and flailing about, but it is useless. He will be swallowed. I know it. For a brief second, I question how exactly I know it, but it is answered as I see the boy’s face for a brief second. It is begging, pleading, raging, mourning. It is confused and scared. It is dripping with tears from eyes that, as soon as they meet mine, burn with a hate-filled rage. And he screams one last time. Although I cannot hear it, the message is clear:
And I wake once more with a gasp. I hug my jacket close to my body as another frigid gust blows past. Slowly, I trudge my way to the back of the Psych Center. There, I find Joey waiting, leaning back on my rusted, old bike. I usually keep it here for times I need to return home quickly.
“Hop on, bud. You’re driving for once.”
“Where are we going?” I say as I clamber onto the bike. Joey takes a gentle seat on the metal seat post on the back.
“It’s a surprise I’ve been meaning to show you for a while. I’ll just fire off directions while you ride. Now get going!”
I sigh. I’m not in the mood for surprises, especially not after my little incident, but it’s always been wasted breath to argue with Joey. You somehow find yourself agreeing with him by the time he’s done with his little spiels.
“Cut across those dead trees there,” Joey instructs. “Alright, now just ride past this soccer field and hang a right. Careful, it’s bumpy.”
The directions continue on for the next hour and a half. I’m already a weak person, so just carrying myself that far would have tired me out. Combining Joey, I feel breathless by the time we reached our destination. Incidentally, that also happens to the middle of nowhere. I can see a excavator in the distance.
“Alright, bud. We’re walking from here.”
“What if my bike gets stolen?”
“Nobody would want to steal that scrapheap you call a bike. Besides, no biggie anyway. I can just call a cab or something.” To demonstrate, he dangles a phone in front of me.
“Whatever. Let’s just go,” I say sullenly. Something about this trip of Joey’s doesn’t feel right. I have an inexplicable itching in my chest, telling me to run away as fast as I can. But I ignore it and continue to follow my brother.
As we walk, several cars pass us by, and I see some drivers give us strange looks. I don’t blame them. I don’t think I’m exactly a sight for sore eyes. Juxtaposing that against Joey’s perfect condition, both clothing- and looks-wise, just adds to the confusion.
I see more and more construction equipment up ahead, but a large dirt heap obstructs me from viewing further. Silently, we walk until we pass the pile, and then, the itch evolves into an unrecognizable voice, screaming for me to get out.
“Why are we at a graveyard?” I ask quietly.
“There’s someone you need to meet,” Joey says. “You haven’t visited him in a while.”
We don’t talk much after that. I simply gaze on my left side, staring at the lines and lines of white extending infinitely. At one point, that white was divided into bright, electrifying tones of red to purple. Now, they all return to their origin. The discovery of its simplicity is somewhat jarring. That’s all there is to it, I realize. It’s just back and forth. Start at infinity, and end right back there. The voice in my head quiets for a second before shaking. I can feel it denying the truth. I walk forward, and as I walk, it quakes harder.
“Turn left,” Joey commands almost silently. He stands behind me as we enter the cemetery. I know the way from here, and Joey stops talking. A few quick turns later, I am back, and the voice is roaring static. “We’re here,” Joey says, his voice all but a whisper.
Jun 24 1990
Mar 18 2014
Son to His Parents
Brother to His Comrades
Hero to All
And suddenly, I give my internal voice external life.
“Joey, stop it. I don’t want to see this. . . . Dammit, Joey, say something!”
“Joey! Please, Joey! I don’t want this. I don’t want—” I choke on a sob. “—to see this! Joey, please. Come back. I’m sorry. It’s my fault. Please come back! I promise, I won’t be bad. I won’t be angry. I’ll be good to Mom. JOEY!” I scream. I grab the headstone and attempt to shake it but only end up destabilizing my arm. Streams flow down, and I cry out mindlessly, wordlessly. I don’t care who hears. I don’t care who sees. I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care. Nothing matters. It’s all insignificant. What is the point, when it all ends anyway? I grab the headstone again and scream at it, as if it were a window connecting me and my brother. I clench it between my fingers hard enough that a rough edge digs through my skin, and red laughs a bloody trickle, staining the white. I shriek one last time and, unable to do anything else, slam my head against the stone.
I am his retainer.
I am loyal.
I wake once more, this time without a gasp. I am at peace, surrounded by salmon pink and comforting blue. I lay still for a second, closing my eyes and simply breathing. The air is not icy but pleasantly warm, like a cozy hearth. I touch a finger to my right and push. A silent signal is sent to call the nurse.
“You’re still here, aren’t you?” I ask. My eyes are still closed, and I see no color. It is black but not the menacing nightmare black. Rather, it is the black of absence, of quiet, of content.
“That’s fine,” I say. “You don’t have to answer. I’m just going to talk myself before they get here. You’ve always been there by my side, but I think it’s time for me to move on.”
I clear my throat and continue. “I don’t know where they’ll take me next. Probably a better place than I’ve been in. But . . . you don’t have to be by my side, but will you still have my back?”
A painful blip of indigo, but the pain is not mine to feel.