Rocky Tracks

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Her hands cling onto her suitcase, knuckles white, while the wheels rush against the pavement with a low mumble. The sign above the benches light NXT TRAIN 5 MIN and she exhales, walking forward towards the edge of the track. The toes of her shoes kiss just the edge of the yellow line, and the light breeze brushes her hair along her cheeks.

Thumps are heard to the left. Desire and motivation seep through his heavy breaths, and he stops at her side.

“What are you doing here?” She inquires in disbelief.

“You can’t leave.” He throws out with exasperated words between each breath.

“I have to. The train is al-”

“No.” He cuts off.

She stares at him, bewildered and vexed. “What do you mean by no? I have to go back. I have so mu-”

“No. Stop. Stop saying that. You don’t have to go anywhere. Stop making excuses because I know you and-”

“No! You don’t know me and stop pretending that you do.” Her voice becomes raspy, and the light reflects off the iron tracks.

“No, but I do know that you believe soul mates don’t exist, marriage is overrated, and finding love isn’t real because there is no such thing as love. I get that. But hear me out when I tell you that even if that may be true, we won’t know until we try us, okay?”

“But there isn’t an us! And you don’t seem to understand that. Do you hear me? Spending time with you the last few months made me smile like I haven’t been able to in years but-”

“But what?” The aggravation is tensed within his voice. “We’re good together, and we both know it. Just give us a chance to be happy together. It’s human nature to love, and I just so happen to love you.”

His eyes widen in astonishment at the words he spoke. Her breathing halts, and her body is paralyzed. She remains unspoken, but he refuses to let the silence disconnect the bridge them two.

With desperation, and his heart surging through his entire being, he voices,”Please just listen to me.” His voice begins to back out, but he forces the words to choke out. “I will spend all of eternity to mend your heart back together. To hug you every second of every day until all the broken pieces make you whole again, pour every ounce of love back into your soul, and make the world shine colors through your eyes again. Whatever it takes for me to be with you, I’ll do it. But the only thing I ask from you is to not push me away.”

Tears trickle down her cheek, and his face remains flushed scarlet. His heart beats past his chest, trying to reach towards hers. Yet her heart is sunken down deep behind her, burying itself away from anything else.

She shakes her head, tightens her grasp on her suitcase and boards the train.

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The Epilogue

Processed with VSCOcam with x1 preset
Processed with VSCOcam with x1 preset

(Initially written in request)

Crinkled pages lay between my shaking fingers, and I hear Brooke’s mom call my name. The whites in my eyes shine back at her and begin turning into a slight pink. Brook’s father hugs me close, reassuring me. I wipe away the forming tears from my waterline.

With delicacy, her voice floats through the room. “Ava, do you care to say a few words?” She intertwines her fingers of each hand, holds her hands close to her heart, and shifts her lips into a small smile – small enough so only I could see it, but big enough for me to build the courage to walk up.

Pulling my sleeves up just above my wrists, I tighten my grasp on the papers and begin walking. My heart pounds heavier – about to burst through my ribcage – and my long, frantic strides take me to the stage faster than expected.

Standing at the front, I look up to the anticipating audience. Eyes overwhelming me lead me to a slight panic, but then I take a deep breath and remember I’m doing this for her and the people who love her.

“Brooke…” I choke out a little giggle. “She really was something, as most of you would know.” I can hear the audience snicker under their breath – relief: that’s what we need.

I continue, “Always spontaneous, always living in the moment, and always driving you insane.”

“You can say that again!” Brooke’s dad yells from the seats. I look up at him and give him a weak smile. He grins back at me with support and love – what Brooke and her brother were always so lucky to receive. Mrs. Bailey leans into her husband and laces her fingers around his; their warmth touches mine, and I wish Brooke were here to see this image. Talking about her parents’ romantic and childish love brightened her day, giving her something to hold onto.

“Most people saw her as the girl who wasn’t afraid to speak out what’s on her mind; nonetheless, be hesitant on – what she would call – adventures, even though we would go to a drive-thru restaurant at two in the morning. She’s definitely more than the rambunctious girl she was.” I clear my throat and clench the pages a little tighter. “To me, she was a shoulder to cry on, my chauffer whenever I was hungry, and the girl who prevented my from being a social laughing stock.”

I stare at the papers for a little longer than intended, and I fold it in half and keep it to my side.

“If she were here right now, I’d ask her ‘Why?’ But I do know why, unfortunately.” The audience shifts in their seats, lean in intently, and bring up their tissues and handkerchiefs closer to their faces. “Mrs. Bailey let a couple of us go into Brooke’s room a few days ago. She let us grab one item from her room for memory’s sake if we wanted.” I begin thinking about her journal she tucked away between her mattress and headboard of her bed. I walked into her room, knowing where everything was, and immediately went to her journal. I knew that’s what Brooke would’ve wanted. For me to either burn it or to keep it. Nonetheless, she would forbid anyone else to lay a finger on it.

“She was sad. She loved on so many people, but she felt like no one ever loved her back.” I realized how selfish that sounded, but that’s not who she was – not even close.

“She enjoyed making people laugh until they could hardly breathe, or surprising someone whenever she attacks them with a hug. For some reason, almost everything she did was to make someone’s day a little brighter. She never thought twice about it.”

I sigh. “But, I guess, the primary reason was so she could try to feel good about herself too. I remember sitting on her bed after school, and she would continuously ramble about how a random person would thank her later in the day for complimenting him or her earlier. She always perked up whenever something like that happened, but then it would fade.”

More than anything, Brooke strived to put others before her. I look down at my sheets of paper, and my inked scribbles looked like a foreign language to me.

“She loved Michael too. So much that I practically had to compete for Brooke’s love between Michael and I.” I snicker. The chapel coughs out a minuscule laugh.

“She was sad because she wanted little Michael to stop having to come home crying because the other kids bullied him at school. Brooke was always there to run, pick him up, and smother him in hugs and kisses.”

From the corner of my eye, I can see Michael swing his legs inversely underneath the seat, as his feet weren’t able to touch the ground. He’s staring at the ground, clasping on the edge of his chair.

“She loves, and she practically taught me how to do so too. But, for some reason, she couldn’t find a way to love herself.” All those who love her or even hardly knew her shifted in their seats. I watch their faces adjust in bewilderment, unable to comprehend that Brooke, the shining sunflower, wasn’t happy.

“I was there the night that it happened.” My throat begins to tighten up and my words are hardly being choked out. “We just wanted to kick back after a stressful week, and the word of a party popped up on our screens in seconds. I remember eating a burger while she was dipping fries into her milkshake. She was smiling, laughing, and I saw a little twinkle in her eyes that made me believe she was happy again – just like she used to be. I was so convinced…”

I sigh, but I know I have to continue. “We stopped by my house so we could freshen up, and we get to the party and it was far larger than we expected. Like second nature, Brooke dove into the crowd, and I lost her for a few hours. We trusted each other to be responsible and had a system: I’m always the designated driver because I hate alcohol and we socialize while checking up on each other every few hours.”

Retelling the evening feels like reliving it. I couldn’t bear go on, but I understood the lingering curiosity as to why she would ever do it. For the sake of the rest of them, I wanted to give them the few answers I’m able to provide.

“After realizing we haven’t checked in with each other for several hours, I went on a search for her and found that she was far too drunk. At least, more drunk than she usually is.” My face brightens red. “I know I should’ve never let her drink in the first place, but I figured I had to follow the ‘Live while you’re young’ rule, which I immediately realized is some reckless façade.”

I swallow hard, and brace myself for the next couple of minutes. “I catch her stumbling through the house, falling on random strangers’ laps, and I quickly pick her up. I carry her off to an empty bedroom and tell her to wait there until I got back. I left to grab a bottle of water for her to douse down, but by the time I got back…” The words begin choking again, and I battle the tears. “By the time I got back, she wasn’t there.”

“I search around the house, pushing people out of my way, and I run into Dan.” From the audience, he directs eye contact with me and nods in reassurance.

“He noticed I was frantic. ‘Are you okay?’ He asks me. Of course I was. It was Brooke who wasn’t.” I shake my head, trying to rattle off the memories, but it’s engraved into my head.

“I quickly tell him that Brooke didn’t look to well when I left her in the bedroom, and that I couldn’t find her.” The amount of guilt floods me, and my hands begin shaking more rapidly.

I grasp the papers at my side, but I knew what I prepared was useless now. The tears begin to glide down my cheek, and I close my eyes to try to make it stop – make all of it stop. Feeling a hand on my lower back, my eyes shot open and Mrs. Bailey is standing at my side. She whispers, “It’s okay, sweetheart. You can do this.”

I nod, readying myself.

“Dan grabs two of his friends and tells them to keep an eye out for Brooke Bailey while keeping it on the down-low. We continue searching the house, but it wasn’t long until one of Dan’s friends ran up to me.” Hearing the words again tore me.

“He said, ‘Apparently Brooke found a pair of keys on the ground.’ As soon as I heard ‘keys,” I quickly rushed to Dan, grabbed him by his arm, and pushed myself through the crowd while screaming ‘Check if you lost your keys! If you have, head to the driveway!’” Repeating my own words slurred into an ache that made my voice sound raspy and petrified. The entire night felt like a nightmare.

“I explain to Dan what one of his friends told me, and I remember watching him pace back and forth on the grass. I tried calming him down, but I frankly couldn’t even calm myself down.” And I still can’t.

“I heard a voice screaming through the front door and out to the porch. ‘Someone took my keys! Have you found them?’ A blonde girl I hardly recognize pranced towards me, and I had to explain the situation.” The blonde girl sits towards the back corner, and I gaze at her. With her eyes and nose vibrantly scarlet, it’s obvious she has been shedding tears.

“She then told me that she has a yellow bug and the hood of the trunk has a white stripe in the center of it. I forward the information to Dan, and he and his two friends split up to find the vehicle while the blonde girl and I team up. Running up and down the streets, sprinting through trees, and waving flashlights for the next hour only left us with fused worry. It was at that point when I knew something was terribly wrong.”

I tuck my brown hair behind my ear while I glance down at my feet pointed towards each other. You’re like an inverted duck, she would say.

“My phone begins buzzing along with a screeching ringtone I set up, so I can easily recognize it. From the other static end, I can hear Dan gasping for air. His two friends’ voices are heard faintly in the background, and he finally speaks out, ‘Ava, you have to get here…’ Hearing his voice already broke my heart. I knew for sure something was wrong, and I can hear him begin to sob. ‘I already called the cops, but please get here. I’m on Infelix and Vita. Just… Just keep going north and you’ll see,’ is what he said to me. He hung up before I could spit out a word, and I begin sprinting down the streets.”

Images pop into my head. It feels like a dream – I’m sprinting as fast as I can, I can feel my lungs inflating deeply, and my legs are giving out. But all the power I surged into my body seemed to get me nowhere. I feel the pain, but nothing’s there.

“I finally got there after a couple minutes.” The tears weren’t flowing anymore, my heart stopped trying to escape my chest, and my hands swayed with the beat of my breathing. It doesn’t feel real. But it is, she whispers.

“My eyes were fogged with a blanket of grey smoke, and I saw the yellow bug annihilated by the tree. The cops were already there, and they told me that there are no signs of other vehicles, and there was a chance it wasn’t an accident. I didn’t know what else to do other than fall on my knees and scream, wishing Brooke would somehow hear me in Heaven.”

My body shivers as if I felt her brush past me. “She was supposed to graduate with me and go go-cart racing after prom in our ridiculous six-inch heels. She was supposed to go to college and study in Europe for six months. She had everything planned out, but the grim reaper took her too soon.”

Mr. and Mrs. Bailey walk up to each side of me, and rest their arms behind my back. Michael wraps his arms around my legs and the Bailey family filled me with love once again. Except, this time, there’s one less person hugging me.

Mrs. Bailey steps forward. Her voice feels like a fireplace on Christmas morning, “Brooke had so much potential and she was following the path that promised great things. But now, she can’t attain the promises that were set. God was working on her, but the devil got in the way.”

Mr. Bailey finishes the final thoughts, “We love you, Brooke.” Then he lays a golden sunflower on top of her chest. Her golden-brown streaks sit around her face, enhancing her beauty.

I gaze to all the individuals in her life who loved her, took care of her, and wanted to spend another second with her. Closing my eyes, bracing myself and imagining I can hold her once again, tears fall down my cheek and onto the wrinkled pages. I love you, Brooklyn. And you taught me how to do that.

When I Thought I Was the Predator

Underneath “Stories,” friends and others suggest short writing prompts that I am challenged to create and portray. Idea credit to Ethan.

The deafening, screeching sounds as the silver blade glides against a moist stone leaves a thin, fragile edge. My index finger slightly touches the sharpened side of my knife, and I can tell the harsh blade will allow a smooth puncture as I hunt. I take my knife and slide it into my utility belt, and I tighten the laces of my boot and begin walking out my shed. To the right of the double wooden doors, my Diamond Carbon Cure bow my father gave me hangs next to my variety of arrows. I grab a couple of the Beman ICS Hunter Patriots and attach them to the right of my pack. Walking out of my shed, I lock the double wooden doors and find my wife standing, waiting for me.

She’s in a white dress that drapes just until mid-thigh with her brown boots I got her for her birthday last year. Her light brown hair shines in the sunlight, and her white pearls smile at me.

She looks over her shoulder and calls out, “Boys! Say goodbye to your father!”

From the house, Michael runs towards me with open arms as Peter casually walks towards me. Michael, as his short legs stagger through the grass, eventually reaches me and his short arms wrap around my leg. I pick him up and begin spinning him around in my arms as he giggles and his soft, brown hair flops on the top of his head. Peter, reaching his growth spurt, stands next to me as we make direct eye contact and nod at each other with slight grins on our faces in respect. I wrap my arms around my growing son then I look towards my wife. Finally, I grab her by the waist and pull her in against my body, and she brings her hand up to the left side of my face. Her green eyes are gazing into mine, and I lean in for my desiring lips to touch hers. I pull her into a hug, embracing the woman I love so dearly and kiss her on the cheek.

“Goodbye, I’ll see you in a few hours,” I tell her. I wave to my boys, and I swing my bow around my back and begin walking south towards the woods.

The leaves lightly crunch as my boots slowly take each step. Every now and then, I take sips of water from my canteen as I walk in between the trees with the beaming sun burning against my skin. I keep walking south towards the creek I’m familiar with which surrounds an area homing several types of animals nearby. Living around the mountains, the sounds of nature have become significantly distinct to my ear, and the chimes of birds singing and the wind rustling against the fragile leaves consumes me into deep focus.

Within the distance, my eyes narrow in light cream-colored antlers peaking through the green leaves of the trees. Hearing silent rustles of the leaves by its movement, I slyly move towards the deer, in an attempt to view the creature more distinctly.

Pulling my bow in front of me, I secure the grip between my left hand and bow on the nocking point of the string. I look back to the deer, standing on its four legs in clear shot, and I precisely line my aim just above the front legs, targeting the heart. I inhale deeply, and release my breath while my fingers let go of the drawn string. In perfect sight, my bow soars through the wind towards the deer.

In the midst of watching my bow, at the same time, a thunderous fire from the other side of the trees sound through the echoing land. Feeling a piercing, unbearable spike on the right of my stomach, I look down and I see the vibrant color leaking through my shirt. My hand reaches up and cups the agonizing pain, placing pressure on the wound to prevent myself from bleeding out, but I can feel the warm, chemical redness staining my palm and fingers.

As my knees fall weak, I find myself laying on top of the tall green grass, and as my vision begins to blur, I see light brown boots thumping towards me.

———

In the distance, I can hear a faint beeping by my left side, and a cold, thin sheet laying across my body. I feel a minuscule puncture on my lower right, and as my body begins to become conscious again, my eyes foggily open. Focusing my vision, I realize I’m lying on a hospital bed with clear tubes linking to my body.

I throw the sheet off and toss my legs to the right side of my bed. Trying to sit my body up, my body winces from the excruciating wound, and as I land my weight upon my feet by standing, my strength fails me and I collapse to the cold, hospital floor.

As I reach for my bed in an attempt to get myself up, a nurse in her blue uniform runs towards me and aids me back into the bed. As she helps me lie down, I gaze at her blonde, shaggy, shoulder-length cut. Her front bangs are tucked in behind her left ear, revealing the little diamond duds that compliment her viridescent eyes. Her warm hands grasping my lower back as I lean back onto my pillow brings comfort. Yet I wince in pain as she moves my legs to lay flat with the rest of my body. After being in place, she throws the cold white sheet, and her matte, vibrant red lips smile at me, distracting me from being able to catch her name tag before she walks out the door of my room.

The faint beeping from my monitor continues to obnoxiously annoy my ears. I assume the pain medicine I’ve been given is starting to wear off, leaving me in question as to how long I’ve been lying on this hospital bed, nonetheless how I ended up here. I roll over to increase the amount of narcotics, but the sharp wound continues to slice through my entire body.

Reminiscing to my last memory, I only recall a pastel shade of brown boots jogging towards me as I vulnerably lie amongst the leaves and dirt by my feet. I don’t remember hearing voices, and as far as I know, there was one pair of feet running towards me before I blacked out.

A man in a white lab coat draped over his peeking collared shirt and tie walks through the door with his clipboard in hand. Growing up, I learned that doctors were people who thought they were at the top of the social pyramid, like they’re the saviors of the world.

“Good evening, Mr. Watkins.” He nods in acknowledgement. “I am Dr. Marx.”

I grimace at him.

“I see that you’re in a bit of pain, so I will have a nurse come in and assist you with that. I heard you tried getting out of bed a few minutes ago, am I mistaken?” His eyebrows raise at me in interrogation. He clearly knows the answer to that question himself. I roll my eyes, and attempt to shift my body, signing that I don’t care, but every nerve shocks in pain.

“Sir, I will ask you to not try to move much, including getting out of bed because you need to rest. A man accidentally shot you as you were hunting with your bow. I suppose he was taking the easy way, which doesn’t sound much of a manly way to do it,” he snides as if I’m supposed to be amused by the fact a halfwit used a gun on a deer and evidently missed.

I glare at him repulsively, and look away to the opposite direction of the room. Dr. Marx stands there for a few seconds and taps his pen against his clipboard, and finally says, “Okay, sir. If you need anything, just press the button on the remote. I will send in a nurse for the pain.” He turns around and walks out the door.

It didn’t take long for the red lipstick, blonde nurse to come in and adjust the machine next to my bed. Her dainty fingers fidget with the tools and tubes with such security and confidence. She walks out the door and back in after a few seconds with a square and rectangular envelope. Handing me both, she looks at me with her green eyes, “This is for you. It came from the man who brought you here to help you out. He said he had to leave and get back to his family.”

As soon as she walks out the door, I open the square envelope and take out a folded piece of paper.

Dear Watkins,

I sincerely apologize for my ignorant, foolish mistake leaving you in the hospital.

My family decided to take a vacation and we recently ended up moving into the mountains for a new lifestyle. However, as I was out in search of food for my wife and kids, with my lack of knowledge to hunting, I caused a tribulation to your health.

In fear, I ran towards you and aided you in search of a hospital.

I am sorry for not being there with you right now, but I needed to return to my family without worrying them.

I explained to the doctors and nurses the situation, and I confirmed that I will be paying for the costs. In the second envelope, I have included $60,000 in hopes it covers the damages.

Again, I profoundly apologize for the misfortune I have caused you.

God be with ye.

I notice the paper was not signed. Laying the folded paper onto my lap, my fragile fingers open the rectangular envelope, shuffling through hundred dollar bills thick enough to account for sixty grand.

Appalled, I eyeball the wads of cash casually handed to me as an apology to his mistakes. If he can immediately pay for my injuries, it’ll be fine with me. With the sixty grand, it probably covers more than enough for my bills and it can potentially cover the food I would not be able to hunt for. With satisfaction, I tuck away the envelopes into my pockets, aching at every movement I make.

I lay on my bed, and my vision begins to cloud over, forming the hospital lights into streaks rather than clear bulbs shining through. Yawning, my eyelids feel heavy and start to weigh down shut. In only a few seconds, I fall asleep, letting the narcotics take the pain away and put me into a restful sleep.

———

Waking up, I see the thin, white sheet that was laying across my body was replaced by a cleaner one – one that doesn’t reek with mixed blood and topical treatments absorbed by my bandages.

My stomach begins to grumble, hungry for food, so I prop myself up. Reaching over to side of my bed for the button to call the nurse, I notice small scars on my left arm at the inside of my elbow. A few minuscule dotted scars, but one in the center the appears a bit larger than the others, as if a needle has poked me in that area more than once.

Right as I’m about to push the nurse call button, the blonde nurse walks in. Instead of her blue scrubs, she’s wearing a white uniform of purity and innocence. Her red, matte lips gleam at me as they begin to speak, “Good evening. I was wondering when you’d wake up.”

I stare at her while feeling my stomach growl at me. “I’m hungry. Would you please bring me food?” I ask.

She smiles and nods, not taking away eye contact from me. Walking out of my room, I see her hips move from side to side in her tight uniform. In those few seconds, all my attention drew into her, extirpating any emotion of pain.

I fix myself so I’m sitting straight up, and the wound on my side does not feel like it exists anymore.

Blondie walks in with a tray in both her hands and sets it up on the mobile table by my bed. I stare at the piece of ham underneath a pool of gravy siding next to a scoop of mashed potatoes and peas. It’s not Thanksgiving, but I’m not complaining. Whatever will silence the hungry monster inside me is okay.

While I vacuum the food off my plate, Blondie flips through my chart and makes eye contact with me once again. “It looks like you’re well rested, which is excellent. I was instructed to keep sending you some sedatives to keep you in bed and rest. The doctor didn’t want you trying to get up again.” Her matte lips grin at me. She shuts my file, looks at me once again, and turns to the door.

After I finish eating, the need to get off my lazy ass surges through me. Even though the doctor practically forbids me from crawling out of bed, I need to stretch or do something. The pain isn’t bothersome, so as I walk out my door and stroll through the hallway of the chilly hospital, it feels like seeing daylight for the first time. The stars glimmer through the windows and reflects off the white walls, bringing a new sense of life into the building.

All the other doctors and nurses seem too busy to pay attention to the fact a patient is walking through the halls, but I’m only searching for a bathroom or maybe even the cute Blondie I’d be so glad to spend an evening with in this dull place.

Striding through the halls and realizing my hopes with the Blondie, I remember my wife and kids at home – however far that is from here – and an immense emotion of guilt brings my fingertips warm. My pace down the hallways begins to slow down as my eagerness to find her halts me. Of course, it’d look socially obscure if I stopped suddenly and just turned back around, so i continue to walk down towards the main front desk, and ask if I can borrow the phone to contact my family. The woman at the desk was hesitant at first, but breaking through to her, she eventually allowed me.

I pick up the phone and start dialing. Within the first ring, the other end was picked up.

“Hello?” I hear my beloved wife’s voice.

“Daniella, it’s me. I’m-” She cuts me off with her high-pitched, daunting tone.

“Honey! Where have you been? I’ve been so worried, it’s been four days since you’ve left! What happened? Where are you?” Daniella’s beautiful voice, even though it’s disturbed and nervous, brings me back home, wanting to get back to my family and immerse my face into her soft her, holding her body close to mine. My fingers grapple around the telephone, yearning her touch.

“Daniella, I’m at the hospital. I don’t know what hospital, but I was shot by some bloody idiot when I was out hunting a deer. Apparently he brought me over after the incident and he’s paying for the bills.” I sigh out, grasping the phone in my tight hands.

“I can come pick you up tomorrow morning. What hospital are you at?”

Frantically glancing around, I seek for signs or logos then I look over the desk to the lady filing out papers. “Parkridge Hospital.”

“Okay, sweetie, I’ll be over there tomorrow morning. I need to see you.”

“All right, darling, I love you.”

“I love you too. By the way, what do you mean by ‘he’s paying for the bills’?”

“The lunatic who shot me left me a note and envelope with sixty grand in it.”

I hear her gasp, and her curiosity got the best of her. “How the hell did that happen? Did you get his name? Where is he from? So he’s the same man who shot you? What time should I get you tomorrow?”

“No, Daniella, I don’t know who the hell he is, and-” the woman at the desk aggressively yanks the phone away from my ears and our of my hands and slams it back down on the receiver.

“What the hell was that for?” I angrily yell.

She stands and leans back with her chin high, not caring, and points behind me. I turn around, and it’s the doctor with Blondie next to him.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Watkins, but you were specifically told to stay in bed.” He looks over at Blondie, and she nods her head in obedience. Her short hair moves with her in every motion taken. Dr. What’s-his-name continues, “She’ll assist you back to your room,” he looks over to her, “and after that, you level his oxycontin to guarantee he’s comfortable and not in pain, then you can go home and get off your shift.” He grins at her. She replies, “Yes, sir,” like the compliant girl she is – she’ll do anything that doctor tells her to.

She walks by my side down the hallways where all the nurses and doctors have mostly cleared out. The ticking clocks alarm two in the morning, and the vacant foyers consume of nothingness except for the echoing monitor beeps and the faint buzz illuminating from the vending machine down the hall. It seems as though night shifts are coherent to the workers, but it didn’t matter much since all the patients were asleep by now. Anything urgent happening would probably be covered by those still working.

To my right, Blondie seems to mind her own business, strolling by my side, cautiously making sure I don’t fall over to a seizure of pain. I notice her short hairs aren’t tucked behind her ear, falling loosely across her face. It’s obvious she’s been working hard throughout her shift: running monitors, aiding helpless ills, injecting whatever smartass chemical these people put into our bodies, and doing practically anything that’ll satisfy any of her patient’s needs. A good girl willing to do anything. God, help me. Unaware of her capability, nonetheless what she’s mindlessly doing to me, I’m staring at her, dismissing the fact I’m a hurt cripple still recovering. However, she glances back towards me and gleams her desiring, taunting lips at me. Her olive-colored eyes pierce through mine with such competence, and her hands slide down to my lower back, sending benevolent signals to every lustful chemical in my body.

We both reach my room, and she guides me into the uncomfortable, bulky hospital bed. The wound still remains, making me wince. She turns up the levels of the narcotics, and holds out my left arm. Picking up an injector from the tray, she tells me they’re doctors orders to help me recover a little faster. “Antibiotics,” she says. Injecting the needle into the inside middle of my arm, she stares into the procedure with such focus.

Putting away the materials back onto the tray and cleaning the area, she double-checks the settings for the machines attached to my body.

With Blondie’s eyes smiling at me, her scarlet lips verbalize, “Everything looks good,” she looks up at the clock, “my shift is over, finally. Good day, Mr. Watkins.” After spending much time observing her, watching her prance around with such mystique, all I wanted was to be with her, and as she was about to clock out of my room, I couldn’t let the perfect opportunity pass by. Her body turns to the door, and takes a step before I grab her waist from behind. Staring at her, my fingers started to inch from her waist to under her white uniform. Softly her skin lingers among my fingertips, and she leans forward for her gentle blonde hair to fall onto my cheeks, and her warm lips to finally reach mine. I lift the bottom of her uniform up her body as she climbs on top of me.

———

Instead of a new, fresh sheet I woke up to, I found the same one laying across me with several wrinkles from last night.

With Blondie, she made me feel more alive than I have in the last few years. Her short, shaggy hair moved with everything else that went along with her, and the way her red lips drew me in, my temptation and desire made me pink-faced. I can’t stay here. I can’t be around this woman, especially when I have a wife – a wife. Shit.

The clock on the wall in front of me points at 11:13am, and I notice the tray besides me holds a plate of cold eggs and a glass of orange juice. I  scarf down the setting breakfast and scramble out of my room.

Down the hall and to the right is the front desk, and as I turn the corner, I spot a beautiful woman with light brown wavy hair tied into a ponytail, also wearing jeans and a light pink top. I can recognize that ass anywhere.

“Daniella!” I yell out.

Already knowing the sound of my voice, she turns around immediately and runs towards me. Throwing her arms around my recovering body, her warmth and the smell of the oak trees in her hair engulfs me into paradise.

However, over her shoulder, I see Blondie with her arms crossed, leaning against the counter by the telephone with a red smirk shining on her face. Her hair has obviously been fixed up.

Flushed, my face feels heated and guilt overwhelms through my fingers as they’re still grasping my wife. Blondie walks away in the taunting way she does.

“Sweetie,” Daniella pulls away, her hands clinging onto my warm cheeks, “I asked the desk ladies about the envelopes you were given, and they took me up to the security cameras,” leaning in closer to me, lowering her voice, “‘Course I bribed ’em, but I had a look at the cameras and apparently no one left an envelope?” She states with a confusing tone. “And apparently none of the workers recall anyone leaving an envelope, and leaving cash for another person’s hospital bill never happens, so they would’ve remembered something about that.”

Dismissing her concern, “I’m just glad the bills are paid for. Can you check me out? I need to get out of this damn place.”

Daniella sighs with disappointment, “I’m sorry, hun, but they said you have to stay here until at least tomorrow. After that, you’ll have to rest at home as well. According to the doctor, you’re not completely recovered yet.” With a little snide, she continues, “Especially since you’ve been up, roaming around. You need to rest so you can come home,” she reassures me.

I nod at her, and she wraps her arms around my waist, “I need to get back home to the boys. I need to make them lunch. I’ll be back later tonight.” She kisses my lips, and walks towards the elevators.

———

Daniella stops by late at night, filling me in about the last few days and how she, Michael, and Peter have been managing to kill off rabbits and chickens for dinner. Then she tells me an amusing story where Michael was trying to herd the sheep with Peter, climbing on top of one to guide. Then the sheep he was on started to sprint, leaving Michael clinging onto its wool, screaming for help. My little Michael, with such innocence in him, saddens me to know he’ll one day grow up learning about what the manipulative world already has set up for him.

She leaves, and it wasn’t long until Blondie slipped in through my door before her shift ends.

She lightly frolics towards my bed and leaps on top of me, smacking her lips onto mine with such security and dominance. I pull away, and she cuts in before I can verbalize anything, “I already clocked out of my shift.” She pulls in once more. I repulse her off.

“Get out!” I viciously scream.

“Oh, c’mon! I see the way you eyeball me whenever I’m around. How your pulse increases and how your pupils dilate.” Her hips wriggle on top of mine.

“Stop! I have a wife!”

She scoffs, “That doesn’t matter, halfwit. You’re in this room, and you are mine.” She leans in.

I grasp the inside of her wrist, twisting her arm back, and bringing it behind her. “I’m going to say this one more time, and if you don’t stop, I’m pushing the service button.”

Ridiculing my threat, “Sweetie, that button doesn’t work. Why else would I be the only nurse to come assist you before you even ever pressed it?”

I yank her arm. She reacts in agony, but then she relaxes and snides at me, “You’re getting aggressive. I like that.”

“Stop it. Why does the button not work?” I tug her arm again. “Explain.”

“Because I wanted you.” So direct, so pugnacious.

“Get the fuck out of here.” My words grind through my sharp teeth ready to devour every last bit of her.

She leans back, snickering, “You wanted me last night. You wanted me so bad, you were too distracted by me that you were too blind to see that you’re here because of me.”

“What are you saying? I was hunting for m-“

Cutting me off, she mocks me with laughter, “You’re truly an idiot, aren’t you?” My face falls into confusion. “God damnit. I’m the one who shot you as you were pathetically shooting for that deer. I’m the one who brought you here. I’m the one who paid for you bills so your wife wouldn’t be running her impertinent little ass over here.”

I blankly stare at her, my nails digging deep into her wrist, leaving four indentations by penetrating into her fragile layers. She’s not phased.

She looks at me with such astute, still straddling over my body, “Remember the little injections I gave you?” She giggles. “They were high levels of testosterone with extra spices to kick start your desire. A little personal juice for you to me. I just happened to be the only appealing woman around.”

“You’re fucked up. I’m getting you fired,” I threaten.

“You’re not the first victim I’ve done this to, y’know.” Her fingers with with her other arm begin to fidget below my waist, but then I aggressively jerk the other arm back, matched with the other.

“I saw you, and I hunted you down. I prey on what I want, and I get what I want.”

I Remember

My alarm blares by my ears at 7:30am, and I roll over to shut it off. Dreading to get out of bed, I finally throw the covers off of my body and swing my legs to get up. Getting ready as I’m brushing my teeth, I run over to my laptop and print my paper due today. Regrettably, I stayed up late last night procrastinating to finish a three week paper, so then I spent my entire morning scrambling through my book bag while avoiding toothpaste and saliva to drip from the corners of my mouth.

My phones starts buzzing, alerting me it’s already 8am, and I need to get to my 9:00 class. With my luck, well, I frankly don’t have any. Misfortune and a mess of things always seems to take play into my day.

Shuffling through my papers, I double-check my assignments, guaranteeing everything is there. I cannot afford a low grade. I tie my hair back into a bun, swing my book bag onto my shoulder, and scramble my shoes onto my feet, hopping my way out of the door.

It took about thirty minutes for me to get from my apartment to Broadway Street. Walking along the streets, the usual morning rush of people overwhelmed the concrete, as if so many people and their steps were making the ground shake beneath our feet.

I spot the subway I take to get to Stony Brook Manhattan, hoping I can make it in time. I check my watch: 8:37. At this rate, I’ll be late, but it’s better to be late rather than way-past-the-hour late. Lightly jogging to the subway ahead of me, the rush of people begin to run the other direction, pushing me away from the subway. At first, all I hear are the noises of people talking, car engines running their gas, and it overall feels like the typical day in Manhattan.

However, as I thought it was a typical morning, I begin to hear the sound of a vibrating, threatening plane from a distance that seemed to soar right above our heads, and then police sirens and the ambulance start rushing southwest of the subway.

At that moment, I completely disregard the fact that I’m supposed to be getting on the train right at this second to turn in an urgent assignment that can potentially drop me from the class, but as the hectic crowd dragged me towards the incident, even from a few streets away, I can feel the terror attacking the Twin Towers.

I check my watch again. 8:46am. Clambering among the streets, I can hear the taunting ambulance sirens, firefighters in their black and neon-yellow striped uniforms, and the static voices speaking through their walkie talkies. Overhearing the yelling amongst the fighters trying to save them, it was stated that the plane has crashed into the North Tower through floors 93 and 99.

With fear and the erratic sensation overwhelming my body as I process what’s going on, I begin screaming. My heart pulsates, making my hands and entire body quiver. I begin running towards the buildings, trying to find some way to help. That’s all I want to do.

Dashing through the streets concentrated with other individuals sobbing and voices shrieking out, on my way over, a second plane strikes the South Tower, and I stop running.

I stand there, panting, trying to catch my breath, but all I can do is scream. I scream. I scream and I scream until it feels like my vocal chords are bleeding, and tears stream down my face.

Staring into the sky, I see clouds of smoke padding the air into an entire screen of grey. The incomprehensible factor to it all drives me insane, trying to figure out why the hell this has to happen. My lungs feel heavy, my legs feel as if they can hardly move, and my head throbs in torment. I look up, and I spot a small black figure falling from the South Tower. Right then, it felt as if the entire side of Manhattan began screaming. I catch a fireman speak into his walkie talkie, “Repeat that, please?” From the other end, the static voice replies, “People are starting to jump!” I can feel the tense strain in his voice. “They’re trying to save themselves somehow.” The fireman exhales in desperation, and charges towards the site.

Pacing back and forth, my eyes blur from the mixture of fire smoke and the tears in my eyes. Focusing my eyes, I search my surroundings, and I spot a little boy standing by a tree, wailing for help as he points up above his head. He’s looking around, and his face moves towards my direction, and I can hear him bawling, “Mommy! Mommy!” through sniffles in between. Surrounding him, there is no woman who can possibly be his mother nor is there anyone paying attention to him. Racing towards him, I kneel down on my knees, so I’m at the same level at him. Grabbing him by the arms, I make eye contact with him.

His eyes, matched with mine, are red and surging with pain and horror. Acknowledging the stranger holding him, he continues crying, “Mommy! Mommy!” except it grows fainter, slowly giving up on his hopes of security. This young, innocent boy in a suiting light blue collared shirt is far beyond pure to experience this despair. I will not let him stand here and accept this. I will not let him. This world still has so much to offer – looking up at the buildings – no matter how horrid it can be.

The young boy and I still do not break our eye contact. “Mommy? Where is she?” I ask him in urgency.

He sniffles, swallowing down his tears and croaks, “She went to look for daddy.” His lip begins to quiver, unable to continue.

“Okay, sweetie, where is daddy?” My eyes dagger into his in seriousness.

At first, he’s hesitant to tell me, too afraid to come to the truth as if he already knows what it is. “He went to work this morning. He’s inside.” He tells me.

As soon as his sentence finishes, we hear a thunderous rumble. Instinctively, I stand and cover the young boy with my body in an attempt to protect him. I can feel his arms wrap around my legs, and his damp face wets my t-shirt.

My ears are ringing, and I realize the boy’s ears must be ringing as well. I cover his, and look up at the sky, seeing that the South Tower completely collapses to dust.

My heart aches more and more as this goes on. “No… no… no no no no no,” I’m hyperventilating. No, this cannot be happening. No no no no. Where… Why… Make it stop, please make it stop.

The blue collared shirt catches my eye. I stare at the boy, and I realize that he will not be allowed to stand here and watch these people die. Rushing towards him, he sees I’m coming after him, and he spreads his arms out with his face still covered in tears, and I pick him up as he wraps his entire body around mine. “You will be okay. We’re not strangers anymore, okay? I am your friend and you will be okay.”

With the tragedy happening, I didn’t think it mattered whether or not he believes me, but I do know that even hearing simplistic words like that would bring some sense of comfort. Carrying him over, I transfer him over to a firefighter, “He was just standing there. His mom went to look for her husband who’s apparently in the building,” I tell him. The firefighter nods at me, and I look once more into the little boy’s eyes, “You’ll be okay.” I hug him, and run back.

Sprinting back and forth around the site, I search for anyone who needs comfort or just a mere hug. There wasn’t much else I could do being that I was just walking along the streets, but I will not stand by and let this be. I’ve lived my entire life finding my place in this world, trying to discover who I am, and at this moment, I knew who I needed to be right now, even if it was just temporary.

Pieces from the building are being flung around the area, creating a dangerous environment even for the people not in the building. They evacuate the premises and policemen start pushing people back. Another roaring explosion masks over our heads, and every pair of eyes fixes to the North Tower collapsing.

From there, I knew there wasn’t anything else I could really do. I was standing there, watching two buildings holding about three thousand lives become lifeless.

I felt like if I could do anything, I wish I would’ve been able to be a giant and just caught the planes in my fingertips before it even hit the buildings. Or that I could trade lives with at least one person in one of those buildings because if someone were to die, at least let it be someone willing to make the sacrifice. Those people in there have families and spouses who care so dearly, and I was down here crying with them. I wish I could’ve saved at least one person and one family.

A rescue and recovery act commences immediately, but there wasn’t much to recover as all that was left was unfixable damage, including the broken hearts of many. Including mine. For those I didn’t know, and for those I had just met.

I remember the screaming.

I remember the tears masking our faces, making us unrecognizable.

I remember the people pacing with me and falling to their knees, punching the ground in desolation and misery.

I remember knowing that I and millions of other people watching this even on live television were petrified at the known fact it was deliberate, and a twisted, wicked man wanted thousands of us killed.

I remember the little boy who doesn’t have parents anymore.

I remember the pain.

I remember the suffrage.

I remember what happened on September 11, 2001.

I remember the silence that came throughout the country on that day till the crack of dawn.

I remember, and I always will.

Not Just Lines

As my lamp dimly lights my room, I’m shuffling through my bag, recounting everything I’ve already put in it. Three extra t-shirts, two pairs of jeans, a few undergarments, a water bottle, several granola bars, $500 in savings, and my favorite red sweatshirt from Scotland. I’m surprised as to how I managed to fit everything in such a small pack, but it’s managing to stay intact, so I won’t question it.

I’m smoothing out the wrinkles in my bed and aligning the pillows into perfect, equal distances. I walk towards my laptop, rummaging through all my files checking if I left anything. All my photos are deleted from my iPhoto, all homework assignments deleted, all files were put into the recycle bin, my history is wiped out, I shut off my iCloud, and I permanently delete every last bit that could possibly trace my existence.

I take one more moment to sit at the corner of my bed with black and maroon sheets, looking around my room. I stare at my bookshelf I managed to stock with books ever since my freshman year in high school. Four years down the road, and it’s piling with more than what it could carry. Out of everything in this town that I’ll miss, maybe my bookshelf is the only thing.

I’m sitting on the corner as my hands unawarely clench onto the unwrinkled sheets. I have to do this, I think to myself. My heart starts beating faster and faster, and I can hear the blood rushing up to my head. Grasping the last of this, I close my eyes and inhale deeply through my nose.

1… 2… 3…

I exhale out my mouth. I quickly open my eyes, get myself onto my feet from my bed, and grab the strap of my black pack. Swinging it onto my back, I walk towards my window and my shaking fingers unlatch the metal locks and slide the glass upwards. Droplets of water creep onto my window sill and onto my tan carpet. I crawl through the opening while attempting to keep my grip without slipping down the roof.

My sensitive fingers reach inside my window and silently shut it. My body is balancing on an angle several feet above the cement, and water droplets are pounding onto my grey sweater. My unbalanced ankles begin scooting its way down the elevation without entirely losing my grip onto the roof, and I finally reach the edge. Sitting down, I dangle my legs off the side and use my upper body strength to hold the rest of my body from falling off. As I position myself for my hands to let go, I land on my feet with bent knees.

Relieved, I start walking down the street for several blocks. From a distance, I have a clear visual of the three-sided box with two benches inside. After running towards the bus station, I sit down on the dry benches until bright headlights slowly pull up right in front of me. The two slim doors open inward exposing an old white man in a blue collared shirt and a lit cigarette hanging from his mouth. We make eye contact, and my lips form into a minuscule smile. My hands are held onto the straps of my pack on my chest, and I look down at my feet, watching my white converse turn into grey and switch from left to right against the steps.

“Where to, miss?” The blue-collared man asks me, and I notice his name tag – “Jennings.” I watch the cigarette stub bouncing up and down from his lips as he speaks. I turn away from him, avoiding the smell.

Without making any eye contact, I say, “Just drive,” without any detail or tone.

I hear the double doors slide behind me as I’m standing at the front of the bus. In the second row, a white-haired man in a grey t-shirt – that clearly needs to be washed – sits asleep with his head tilted back, and his mouth slightly open as if he knocked out on the bus. On the left, fourth row back, is a middle-aged African American woman staring out the window with her purse on her lap, hands laid one on top of another. She looks peaceful, and her gentle smile as she gazes out to the deep darkness of the night felt comforting. The last person already seated is in the second to last row on the right. His black hoodie is placed on his head, and I can see headphones peeking through his jacket. Nervously, I sit on the left aisle a few rows behind the African American woman, but a few rows in front of the black hoodie.

Throughout the bus, the only sound you can hear is the sound of the brakes whenever the driver slows to a stop and the sound of the engine running its gas. Maybe the occasional position shift in our seats and the little taps of raindrops, but other than that, nothing.

The wheels are turning on the bus, and as the time passes by, we pass several signs on the freeway of little towns I’ve never heard of. I find my fingers tapping on my lap. I honestly have no idea where I’m going or where I intend to land, but if it’s anywhere besides home, I know I’ll be happier.

For the past four years, I’ve been kicked to the curb by people. They claw their problems at you, disregarding the fact that you may have some of your own, and once you tell them that you’re not stable enough to handle two different kinds of issues, they leave you. The only reason why people acted like they cared about me was because I was there with my mouth shut and my ears open. Besides that, I’ve had issues with my dad nicknaming me “Whore” and individuals with higher authority telling me that I’m a “waste of oxygen” and my goals in life “to be happy” is too simplistic and naïve. I’m reminiscing into the four years that have affected me by more people imaginable.

I try to stop myself from thinking about my past life, and begin counting the rain drops hugging my window.

1…2…3…4…5…

I make my fingers play thumb war with each other until my hands stop shaking. As the numbers begin to fill my head, I doze off into an empty mind and stop thinking about my previous memories or hurts. I’m solely just sitting on this uncomfortable pleather seat counting the the wet droplets as my thumbs aggressively wrestle each other. I wonder if I look as peaceful as the African American woman.

The squeals of the brakes fall into a stop, and I look up from my seat. After three hours of driving, the white-haired man has already left the bus, leaving the African American woman, black hoodie, and I. However, as a weed-infused male walks by me from the back of the bus, I can hear the rock and roll music blaring through his headphones. Black hoodie hands the bus driver some change and walks down the steps. As my eyes leave its focus on him, I look back to his seat in curiosity. Don’t go back there, it looks a bit sketchy, my thoughts tell me. I bite my lip in anticipation, but I know there isn’t anything to be curious for.

It’s four in the morning, and considering I couldn’t necessarily walk downstairs and fix myself up a meal before I left, I figure it’s an excuse to have an early breakfast. I unzip my backpack and reach for a granola bar, but as my hand slides past my stuffed clothes, my eyes catch a red, torn up notebook under the seat across from me. It looks so delicate and some pages are peeking off from the cover as if they’ve been ripped out and placed back inside. I ignore my grumbling stomach and zip up my backpack and shift it back. I slide to the edge of my seat, and lean over to the aisle across from me. Picking up the notebook, a few pages fall out, but I cautiously push them back inside. I sit back on my seat, close to the window, and bring my knees up onto my chest.

The red covers were leather, and at the frayed right-hand corner, gold letters engrave “H.J.” The cream-colored pages inside are scribbled and smudged with black ink with handwriting that is barely readable. My thumb flips through the papers, and I notice the notebook is nearly entirely filled from cover to cover containing diagrams, sketches, dates, but mostly illegible paragraphs.

I open up to the first page.

“We were born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.” -Orson Welles

Interestingly enough, the quote seemed applicable but it sure was depressing. My fingers curiously flip to the next page. The top left of the first page in the first line includes the initials “R.D.” My face grimaces at the letters. I continue to go down the page, squinting at the black scribbles that dragged together.

“31 July 1997”

I begin wondering as to what exactly this notebook implies and what its intentions were. It was a simple notebook I found on the bus, but reading through it, it shows more than what I imagined. With my initials and my birthdate written in an obscure, frightening notebook I found on a bus, I can feel my heart beating faster than the wheels turning on the vehicle. Continuing to read down the first few pages, it includes bulleted notes of information. My fingers are beginning to shake in horror as I persistently rummage through the all-knowing pages of my life.

“4 February 2014 – First psychiatrist appointment with Dr. Wilson”

My face shrinks down, trying to understand exactly the situation going on. I’m starting to panic and my throat begins to close up, preventing air to reach to my lungs. I take my eyes off the pages for a few seconds to get myself breathing again.

“6 May 2014 – Goes out with girl friends for dinner and a movie”

I have no idea what’s going on or why I’m reading a documented notebook of my life with minuscule details that shouldn’t matter to anyone – especially a complete stranger.

“18 June 2015 – Her father drags her by her arm as she’s crying and screaming. He throws her to the ground and slaps her  because he found out she slept with her boyfriend. She calls CPS. Police around her house at 2:30am.”

My tired eyes begin filling with tears, remembering the horrid memories. Reading them from someone’s disturbing, sinister writings in a notebook is making me lose my consciousness. I can hardly breathe, and my hands cannot stop shaking. I just want to understand what is going on, and all I wanted was to leave my cruel life behind me. But as I’m on this menacing bus, I’m screaming to get out. I can’t do this, I tell myself.

My eyes glimpse back onto the notebook in curiosity.

“8 June 2016 – She’s supposed to graduate.”

Scowling at the words, what does “supposed” mean? Does this wicked man predict my future and claims that I fail high school? Or does he somehow know I wanted to leave my town preventing me from graduating?

I thumb through the sensitive pages once again, and a paper that was originally ripped out but was simply placed back into the book falls out. I pick it up from under my seat and flip it over to discover the scribblings. My eyes grow and my body freezes into paralysis. A sketch – a portrait – of my face. My precise lips, small brown eyes, wavy hair, and the little strands that annoyingly curl upwards. So detailed, and so terrifying.

My damp hands are wrinkling the pages as my tight grasp cling onto the yellow, threatening ink smudges onto my thumbs. Little tears are trailing down my cheeks as the memories flash back and my petrified, trembling body tries to comprehend this portentous, sick joke. Get me out of here, get me out of here. Get. Me. Out!

I… can’t… breathe…

As I start to feel uneasy, and my head begins to sway back and forth uncontrollably and nods off, the brakes squeal once again. The screeching alarms my ears and my head pops up. A large figure stares down at me in the aisle and he’s hovering over my seat, blocking me off from the rest of the bus. All I see is a blue collared man and a newly lit cigarette hanging from his lips. His eyebrows lean in towards the center of his face, and his eyes dagger into my insecure eyes. I try to avoid his dark countenance, so I gaze back onto his collared blue shirt. “Jennings,” I read. I realize the bus driver is towering over me and my seat. My eyes widen, and I sprawl further into my seat as I somehow attempt to step back from him. Aggravated, he snatches the notebook out of my hand and begins to yell.

“Where the hell did you get that?!” He shoves the red notebook into his back pocket and yells for me to run out of the bus. I’m dragged and tossed onto the sidewalk as tears stream down my face. The double slim doors shut, and I see the bus make a U-turn, heading back to my hometown.