Ash Part 9, and the End of Summer Contest
August 24, 2011 § 3 Comments
Nah, it’s not actually the end of summer, I’m just going to the CNE this weekend, and everyone knows that means Labour Day’s a-coming. For those of you who like the heat (eww), enjoy it while you can. I’m going to be looking forward to thick sweaters and coats. Autumn is best season, just barely ahead of early Winter.
I was watching this trailer and Oh my God in Heaven this game looks amazing. More than that, it looks like a good game by Square Enix that isn’t a FF or Ogre Battle remake. It just might be possible that they don’t totally suck.
Maybe. My fingers remain crossed.
Because Youtube is being annoying about letting me sometimes play movies on this site, I’m not going to post a song. In my defence, this story part is quite long, so you get more bang for your non-existent buck.
Finally, surprise is surprise. If YOU, yes YOU, want a commissioned story by none other than the great and mighty Me, then I am holding the 2nd Contest (yayyyy wooooo). If you didn’t see the last one, here’s the scoop:
I like writing things of different genres and settings and whatnot, and now there are 2 examples of me doing that (yes, I’ll upload Ghost as soon as I can) on the site. I have a longer project, Crown of Ash and Dust (GOD I HATE THAT TITLE THE MORE I SEE IT), that runs concurrently with my commissioned projects.
So if you want a story from me, all you need to do is comment below. I’ll pick a winner, we’ll hash out a topic, and I’ll write something just for you. Aren’t I sweet? So when I say all you need to do is comment below, what I really mean is this: either give me a piece of criticism about what I’m posting right here and now, or criticize one of my other stories as a complete story. You get to play at being a critic for me, and in return, you’ll be entered in the draw.
Sound like fun? It is for me, so I hope you’ll take part. And criticize me, if you would. I like being critiqued.
With that, more story for you. Enjoy, and forgive the lateness.
Chapter 9: Of Holes and Rabbits
Depression was sobbing with exertion. I couldn’t tell why, exactly. It wasn’t like he had muscles to ache, or lungs to sob with, for that matter. It wasn’t even exactly hard running. I remembered that I was a detective with the Metropolitan Toronto Police Service, but also that I hadn’t run down a perp since my early days. Yet here I was practically flying through the air. Grey shapes blew by me and the frustrated screams of ghosts followed me.
Yeah boys, I know, being so close and so far sucks, don’t it?
Depression stumbled in a gutter and pitched forward, his wire hands splayed out to catch himself. With a squeal, he went face down into the brackish water of the gutter.
I stumbled up short behind him and trained my gun on him. “Don’t move,” I said, my voice high with excitement. God, it was like I was fifteen again, my voice cracking like ice in spring. I shrugged off the memory and pulled back the hammer.
“D-don’t!” Shouted Depression from where he lay in the water. His featureless face hid any emotion, but the fear in his voice spoke volumes.
“Why not?” I asked, actually intrigued. In all fairness, I only had Spes’ word to go on that Depression was important. For all I knew, he just owed Spes a few bucks.
Unlikely, but I was high on hormones and that’s bad news. Seen a teenager lately? They make you stupid.
Depression shifted in his body, like he turned the frame around to face me. One second he was lying face(-ish) first in the water, and the next he has spun completely inside out and looked at me now. In his face, right were the eyes should have been, were two glowing lights that bounced like an ECG. Beep. Beep. Beep.
I motioned with the gun. “I’m waiting.”
The eye suddenly erupted with light, slamming into my consciousness like a pickup truck. It overwhelmed me and filled me with searing cold.
I had time to mutter “Oh shi-” before I was gone. I definitely should have seen that one coming.
High school was where all the Fallen congregated. There wasn’t one single person in there that didn’t deserve all the hell that they had coming to them when their pathetic, miserable lives were over. I comforted myself with that thought most nights when I couldn’t sleep.
Man, who was I kidding. I was fat, tall, awkward, and the son of a gay guy. That made high school a hell all by itself. The fallen angels were window dressing compared to Vince Morrisey or what my dad did in grade 9.
It wasn’t that my Dad didn’t love me or Mom, as he kept saying over and over again, it was just that I didn’t believe it after that night. We didn’t even know he was gay until it was far too late. He came home one night with a new haircut, two tickets to Thailand, and his partner, James.
I didn’t pay much attention as he actually came out, because I was in awe of James. James could have benchpressed a tank, and I was impressed. I figured he was a real man’s man, but now, I wonder if that meant he was the top and my dad was the bottom. I still wonder sometimes, and I’m kind of grossed out about my family.
My Mom wasn’t the toughest lady around and she took it hard. That was when I stopped believing that Dad loved us. Mom just sat there and didn’t say a word. She just hunched up like someone was hitting her and rocked back and forth with her head in her hands. I sat on the couch and at 13, already took up two cushions by myself. I remember eating Cheetos. It wasn’t conscious, I just took them from the bag and put them in my mouth. I guess that’s when I started fidgeting.
Mom didn’t say anything while my dad gave his talk. In retrospect, it was so obviously scripted that it hurts to remember. He said all the right things: I still value our relationship, I, in no way love Ryan any less, I just need to find myself.
But he didn’t say why he pulled it at the last second, or why he had slept with James a dozen times before coming out to Mom. Though I suspected, I knew things were different when he was about to leave and Mom suddenly croaked out, her voice so broken that I learned then and there was real despair was.
“But I love you.”
Dad just stood there for a second in his tight black Gucci pants and Vuitton shoes, looking younger and more vibrant than I could ever remember him being. James already had the pick-up truck running and ready to go, and actually honked the horn at one point. He considered what Mom said, and then fucked us so hard I still feel it some mornings.
“I’ll always treasure the time we spent together, Samantha.”
And he stuck out his hand to shake hers. She declined, and he walked out, carefully closing the door behind him. The engine revved up, and Dad drove away forever. That was it. Nineteen years of marriage and one fat kid, and he just ended it with a handshake.
I ate a Cheeto.
Mom shot up like a startled swan and began screaming. The memory is kind of funny because I blocked out what she said. All I remember is her running around, smashing the room in total silence. I just sat there like a fifteen-year old lump on the couch, my eyes lazy and glassy. I couldn’t comprehend what was happening and just stared at her like she was a lion at the zoo.
I reached for another Cheeto and she threw away the bag, bursting it against the wall in a neon-orange explosion. The slap came before I could react and I felt every chin jiggle. Mom wasn’t that big but it hurt more than anything else I can remember. She never hit me before. It wasn’t the pain, exactly, that got me. It was that when her hand hit my face I understood was loss was. I understood that Dad wasn’t coming back, even if he, Mom, and I wanted him to. And I understood that I wasn’t a kid anymore.
I started crying, weak chuffing sighs. Current Me grimaced. God, I sounded like a lawnmower that wouldn’t start.
Mom started crying too, and she fell into me on the couch, hugging and kissing and crying all over me. We just melted together like sandcastles in the waves. My mom, stick-thin, and me, built like a tubby boulder, so different that I don’t think we understood each other anymore, but we split our grief like it was two-for-one sundaes.
After a while, she walked off to make us something to eat. I didn’t move. I just sat there, staring at the wall. And, from the corner of my eye, I saw a thin, wire-frame hand reach out and take mine. His touch was clammy and made me sick to my stomach. But he was holding my hand and I loved him for it.
“You bastard.” I said from across the years.
“Don’t you see, Ryan? I’ve been with you a long, long time.” Depression’s reedy voice echoed throughout the memory. “This was the first time you looked for me, and how could I say no? You needed me so very, very much.”
“I needed you like a hole in the head.”
“But your hole was in your heart, not your head. There wasn’t anything that was going to fill it, Ryan. Only me, even if you didn’t realize that for a long time. You tried with food, for awhile.”
The memory abruptly shifted forward and I had grown. If I was fat before, 6 feet tall and probably 250, I was enormous soon after. Whales had nothing on my 300 pounds of bad eating and despair. I ate constantly, to the point that I knew I wasn’t hungry but I just couldn’t stop. I was never without a candy bar. Mom, God bless her, was so wrecked that for a while she operated out of instinct. I ate the chocolate she put in my lunches (I took two with me everyday), and she assumed that was what I liked. I didn’t. Hell, I loathe nougat. It was just…there so it got eaten.
“Just like me.” Despression sighed.
I could see him follow me around through the years while kids taunted me incessantly. Toronto is a big city, but you put a fat kid in a Catholic high school and give him a gay dad, you can bet your rolled-up kilts that it wouldn’t be secret for long. I didn’t try to hide it at first, I just…didn’t care.
But they were sharks, and any weakness meant fair game.
First it was the locker. “Fag Son” appeared, and only a few days later defacing it was a daily occurrence. They would try to outdo themselves, sometimes with cleverness, sometimes with hurt. My favourite was “Return of the Fag”, and they drew a little scene in shaving creme on my locker. My dad was Vader, and, well, it was pretty obvious what he was using as a lightsaber.
The worst was “No Dad.” There were other kids who didn’t have a dad, lots. But I was fat, and my dad was gay so that made me doubly hated. And if it was a joke, I could ignore it a little. But “No Dad” wasn’t a joke. It was just the truth, and I couldn’t ignore that. I couldn’t ignore my mom’s crying at night, or how she took home other men. She cried even more after they left.
At the time, I shrugged it off. I just kept ignoring it and ignoring it, but even if it looked like I did, I couldn’t. It got under my skin and it burned like acid.
I watched myself go around the school while Depression followed me like a little dog. I never saw him, but he always had a hand on my shoulder, or he held my hand. He even rocked me to sleep at night. He never left my side, not for a second.
“I’m your truest friend, Ryan. I was always there for you when you needed someone. I would never abandon you, no matter how bad it got.”
And it got bad.
It was a cold night three years later. Being so fat meant I was always hot, even in September. I had opened the window, but it was an early cold snap, and I wasn’t used to the cold yet. But I left it open anyways. I just sat there, playing my Nintendo, and wishing that I didn’t have to go to school tomorrow. Depression sat on the bed beside me, watching me play and rubbing my back. I didn’t notice him, didn’t feel him, but I didn’t shoo him away either.
I wasn’t paying attention to the screen as Samus died yet again. All I could think of was the next morning. Amanda Simmons, maybe the only girl who wasn’t mean to me all the time, had told me the mandatory school physical was tomorrow. It was a simple fitness test, but our group was up tomorrow. That meant stripping down to our underwear and changing in front of our classmates.
That was impossible. I couldn’t hide my weight throughout high school, but I could damn well keep my shirt on. But no, tomorrow I would have to take it off, and they would see the fat, and the moobs, and the scars from where I cut myself.
Oh yes, I used to cut myself. Not deep, just enough to draw blood. I always grew terrified the moment the blood welled up. It was hilarious in retrospect. I wanted to cut myself open and die, but I was friggin’ terrified I’d cut a tendon and lose my hand for the rest of my life.
Which, Depression-willing, would have been five minutes after that.
Samus died again as Zebes exploded and I threw down the controller. It didn’t work anymore. Escape through games and food was always a possibility, but it wasn’t working anymore. Life was just a dream I floated through. It wasn’t real. I didn’t feel like the others. I just bounced around like a big pink balloon from pie-to-pie and hurt-to-hurt.
Depression uncoiled like a snake and tiptoed around me. The Memory Me just sat watching the screen while the Current Me followed Depression. He walked over to my bag and gently, very very gently, nudged the handle of the boxcutter I carried around. His hand moved like a ghostly apparition through the fabric and out the other side, like it hadn’t been there at all.
My breath caught in my throat. The handle moved. Barely, admittedly, but it moved just enough for the light to catch the blade and sparkle in the darkness.
“You…son of a bitch.”
“It was what you wanted,” Depression murmured, his voice chaste, “but were too afraid to grab. I didn’t go anything you wouldn’t have done yourself. I didn’t even plant the idea in your head. All I did was…be with you when you needed me there.”
My little pig eyes noticed the blade and I saw the decision as it was instantly made. Depression was right. It wasn’t something that I hadn’t already considered, because I had many, many times before. I was just…not afraid, that wasn’t it. It couldn’t have been worse than what I had. I just hesitated, and through the years and haze of memory, I could see myself asking why? Why wait? Why continue?
Why not end it now?
I stood, my legs shaking a little. My breath wheezed as I walked, but it always did that and I hardly noticed it anymore. I picked up the boxcutter and unlocked the blade. It slid out, so small and unassuming I almost lost it in the darkness.
First, I put it to my neck, but I wanted to be sure. I fumbled around for a bit, trying to find my jugular. My damn fingers and neck were too fat, and the elusive pulse evaded me. Depression’s fingers were vainly pointing it out to me, but I couldn’t see his furious efforts.
Next, I considered my wrists, but I didn’t know how. This was before the Internet and before “down the road, not across the street” was considered funny. I knew that Sammy Davis, Kim’s friend from De la Salle, the lucky prick who had parents with a sense of humour, had tried to kill himself by cutting across the wrists, but it hadn’t worked. I didn’t know the alternative, so I scratched it.
That left my stomach. I actually groaned again as I remembered it. I would have had to turn my stomach into coleslaw before I would have died from a boxcutter, but I still decided to try. I was young, I guess. Stupid, too. Remember the hormones?
I saw Depression’s ghostly fingers ease up my shirt. I was so ashamed of my body that I actually turned the lights off just so I wouldn’t see my stomach. It hurt a little, to think of myself like this especially after things had gone so well in the last fifteen years. I patted my incorporeal Current Me stomach. If not hard and slim, it at least didn’t stick out beyond my chest.
The first cut was a long time in coming. I hesitated, a little afraid of the pain I knew would come. Razors were always better, because they were shallower and didn’t hurt as deeply as something more blunt. But it was late, and getting a razor from the bathroom meant putting a shirt back on and turning on the light. I was too committed to this to stop now.
With a muffled yelp, I quickly brought the blade across my stomach, biting as deep as I dared. A bright red line appeared in the ghost-light of the moon and a surge of pain boiled up from my belly. I almost retched, but I did drop the blade.
I would never have made the basketball team, but I had good reflexes and instinctively grabbed for the knife. I caught it and unconsciously grabbed hold. It cut my fingers deep; the doctors later told me it went to the bone on my right ring finger. I still have the scar.
As new, fresh pain flooded me, I stood and stumbled over, crashing into the window. The little block of wood that held up the glass popped out and the window collapsed with a bang. Panicked, I heard my mom get up and knock on my door.
“Ryan? Is everything okay in there?”
I tried to say something reassuring, but only “Ow” came out. My mom, ever the loving saint, opened the door and blinded me with the hallway light.
I felt my lips purse as the image froze in front of me. I now knew precisely how stupid I looked from my mom’s perspective. An impossibly fat kid, with a hand thrust out to block the light, bleeding from his stomach and his hand and half-naked in the darkness. It looked like a creepy porn. I could also see Depression wilting away in the light, slipping away into the shadows and appearing at Current Me.
“You didn’t make a very good case here, Depression. That wasn’t exactly the escape that I wanted. Life got better after that, man. You skipped out on the whole “counselling, losing weight, changing schools, getting married and having kids part” that came after.”
“And how well is that working out for you, hmmm Ryan? Your children are gone, Ryan. Your wife is gone, and both of those all your fault. Even Spes can’t help you here. You’re alone…but not quite. I’m here, Ryan. I’m still here. I always will be. Just come with me to Despair, and we’ll make it all better. If not, you’ll lose yourself, Ryan. You’ll go so far away that even I won’t be able to find you. We don’t want that, neither of us do.”
I had to admit, he had a point. Life wasn’t exactly stellar right now, and the prospects weren’t looking exactly promising. I mean, I didn’t really want to go with Depression. At all. But at the same time there was something comforting about his presence. He was familiar, even if he was a horrible monster that tried to get me to kill myself.
No, I corrected myself, I got me to try and kill myself. And it would not be hard to try it again.
My hand was suddenly singed and I yelped in pain. The Mercedes symbol was red hot in my hand and it burned the ring that I was wearing. A tight band of pain on my left hand mimicked the scar on my right.
A word screamed through my head: WIFE. WIFE. WIFEWIFEWIFEWIFE.
I didn’t remember what it was, but I saw what Depression was trying to do. He was just trying to lead me around for some end of his, and you know what? I was still tired of being led around. It was time to figure out what that word meant, and it was time to kick some ass. I also could have gone for some bubblegum.
“Yes, Depression, you’re right.” And I socked him right in the face. My fist collided with something solid in the emptiness and he reeled back. All of a sudden the image melted away into grey mist and we were back in the streets, surrounded by ghosts and standing in the gutter. I threw back my trench coat and planted a foot on Depression’s chest in a suitably dramatic pose.
“You’re right,” I repeated, “I am going to go with you to Despair, but I’m going to be calling the shots. Call off your ghosts, get me Spes, and start walking.” I pointed the gun at his head.
“Whatever little fantasy you had about us being together forever is over, Depression. I might be a stranger in a mighty fucking strange land, but right now, I’ve got the gun, and that means I make the rules. And you are not welcome in my head again. Touch me again, and you lose it. Schnell, mein freund.”
Sobbing his dry raspy sob, Depression started walking. The ghosts hung around but kept their distance, their moans sad and hungry. A dazed Spes appeared from the mist and joined us, his waggon nicked and scratched but it, and him, still in one piece.
Happiness, indeed, really is a warm gun.