The Un-End

It started out like any other day – a lot of stories do. I was walking my dog, Patsy, at the usual time in the usual place. But there was something distinctly unusual about the air. It was cooler than the average autumn morning (if you can really call it morning when the sun has barely yet committed to rising). More to the point though, the air was heavy, as if it should have been thick with fog or humidity. Instead, it just seemed to weigh on Patsy and me.

After urinating on her favourite tree, Patsy bellowed a deep gurgled cry and began digging. Any other day I’d have left her to it, anxious to see what all the fuss was about. But not that day. On that particular morning, the cumbrous chill was burying itself in my pores and nesting an uneasiness all through me. I felt uncomfortable; irritated. I tugged on her fraying leash to hurry her along and had half a mind to bark back when she vocally resisted. I crouched down and plucked her off the soft grass, wetted by the fresh morning dew. She struggled to free herself from my grip – and that’s when I saw it. Her paws were caked with blood. I know you see that sort of thing in the movies all the time, but somehow I hadn’t been prepared for the absoluteness of having a stranger’s viscous, rancid, heart-juice pawed onto my chest.

So that’s the story of how Patsy found poor Bailey Marcus; a plain-jane, straight B student majoring in nothing, holding no special achievements with which to mark her gravestone. I know that sounds pretty harsh, but it’s true, and I’m sure she knew it. What the unremarkable Bailey could not have known on the night that she got done in, though, was that she was finally about to have a profound effect on someone’s life – mine.

See, it was right about then (the moment with the viscera and the barking) that I started obsessing about Bailey. Her blood was on me, and it doesn’t get much more weirdly intimate than that. I felt like I owed it to both of us to seal that bond. The problem, of course, is figuring out how one goes about sealing a bond with a dead girl. Thinking about it made my head blur and swirl, the way cream does when it hits the dark abyss of coffee in a black mug. Spinning in circles seemed appropriate, though, since I had no starting point and no idea what the end point would be.

After the police questioning, the bagging and tagging, and the four hour diner shift that managed to feel like 16 rather than the typical 8, I headed home intending to crash land on my bed. During the walk I let my head blur and swirl as it pleased until I looked up and realized I was no where near my bed. I’d wound up at the university. It was as if I had been drawn to it by a magnetic force. At the scene of the crime, I had overheard the detectives going through Bailey’s wallet. It’s how I had learned her name, and that she was a student. I guess I was curious. I never applied to university; never stepped foot on a campus until then, which seemed as good a time as ever. As did the next day, and the day after that. I had no idea what I was looking for, or what I was getting out of the experience; but somehow walking those same grounds that Bailey had walked brought me peace of mind. It felt natural; right, even. I hadn’t considered how strange it might be until a detective questioning some of her classmates noticed me.

October was just closing in and the air was dry and rough against the skin. I was sitting on a rock in front of the entrance to the Film Studies department. I suppose it looked as though I was people-watching, but really I was just in my own head. I had recently taken to making up stories about Bailey that would take place wherever I happened to be on campus. On this particular occasion, I was imagining she had sat on this very rock skipping class, reading The Bell Jar, when a fire alarm hurried everyone outside. She would have dropped her book in the crowd and had to crawl over people’s feet to find it. I’m not sure where that story was going, because it was abruptly interrupted by a stern man looming over me, his badge catching the only bit of sunlight peeking through the dense mid-morning clouds.

He obviously had no leads on Bailey’s murder yet, and asked me why I was sitting outside of her World Cinema class, and whom I was waiting for. I explained that I had no idea that it would have been one of Bailey’s classes, and that I just liked the scenery there. His inquisitive nature led to a few more questions, to which I gave snarky remarks. But when he left, my heart began to pound. I had managed to find Bailey, a real piece of her. World Cinema.

That day, I sat in on a lecture about the ephemeral nature of Italian Neorealism; how it has no beginning, and no end. How it is independent of rules, of law, and of death. The room was surprisingly warm for its size. With an amphitheatre structure, it was easy to just become another face in the crowd – Bailey’s, even. So as the days grew colder, and shorter, I was comforted by following the day-to-day of Bailey (or what I had created of her, anyways). And then it happened. It always happens when you least expect it, I guess. Death.

I was walking home from an evening lecture on Gothic Architecture (I had branched out my stolen studies), when I caught a glimpse of a shadow behind me. You always like to think that when it happens, you’ll do all the right things, and put shame to those scream queens on the silver screen. But you don’t. He came upon me with such force, such intent, I almost admired his gumption. I fought back of course, but it didn’t matter. Seeing his face became immeasurably important. I snatched off his hood, and pulled down the scarf. Lyle Jones. An obnoxiously well-spoken front-row student in Bailey’s World Cinema class. He’d been eyeing me, but not in a way that put me on edge. Actually, it was flattering. When he looked at me, it was as if a familiarity shot between us. But now, there was nothing between us except blood.

And that’s when I realized it. The story was never about Patsy finding Bailey, or my obsession with Bailey – hell, it wasn’t even about me. All along it’s been about this guy; Bailey’s killer. And now, I won’t get to see how it ends.

 © Shyla Fairfax-Owen

Time Machine

“Don’t you wish you could go back?”

“Go back where?”

“To a better time.”

Cassie thought on this for a long moment.

“There hasn’t been a better time,” she finally replied, her eyes on her bare, dirty, feet.

A warm wind washed through the two girls; it was almost comforting.

“Besides,” Cassie continued, “time travel isn’t real. We’re… stuck here.”

Tanya looked upon the vast emptiness before them, and after them. Father would be making his rounds soon. She sighed.

“I know. I just like to pretend.”

The girls carried on with their shovelling in silence, until father had came and left.

“Where were you before this?” Tanya asked. She had always been one to speak out of turn, but even for her, this was bold.

Cassie kept her eyes on her work, her heart thumping. She couldn’t tell if it was excitement, or fear, or an oddly pleasant mixture of both.

“No where.”

“You were somewhere. We all were.”

Cassie shivered, growing uncomfortable now. “I was no where. Or – well, I don’t remember.”

Tanya shook her head as if to say she understood completely. “I was somewhere. Somewhere beautiful. That’s where I’ll go back to. When I build my time machine.”

Cassie flinched. Angered by something she could not describe.

“Stop being a fool and work. He’ll be back before you know it and you’ll have no progress to show for yourself.”

“I will you know; build it.”

“Shut up!” Cassie directed her eyes right into Tanya’s now.

“You can come with me Cassie. I’ll take you with me, I promise!”

Tanya leaned into Cassie but Cassie’s stiffened body pulled away.

“I’m not going anywhere, Tanya. I’m a Child of Mercy and so are you. This is where we belong. Now stop your daydreaming and get back to work.”

The next morning the girls awoke to find that their number had been reduced to 12. Tanya’s bed appeared un-slept in, although the other girls could swear they had seen her turn it down with the rest of them. No one had heard a thing. No one had saw a thing. There was no note left behind. No good-byes. No explanations.

Tanya was simply gone. Vanished. She hadn’t built a time machine. Cassie was sure of that. If time had been turned back, Cassie herself would be back at home by her mother’s side, singing a lullaby to her baby brother – wouldn’t she?

 © Shyla Fairfax-Owen

 

 

 

The Morning After

The sound of his heaving envelops you; your heart rate syncs itself to the chase. At some point you start to pant and realize your sweating – slippery, sticky, terrified. Your legs go numb. Your thoughts start to jumble. You try to plan your next move and the one after that. The only signal your brain seems to compute anymore is GO.

So you go. It’s all instinct, now. You go, go, go. You know you can’t keep going, and yet – you do. There’s a desire you never knew you had; a desire so strong it fuels you when you have nothing left to give. It’s the desire to live.

He catches your arm and in an instant it might be all over. Might be – but it’s not. Because you drive the knife right through him. And the skin is tougher than you imagined; everything under it, softer. Physically, it’s a difficult thing to do, but you do it. He drops. The blood seeps out of him and crawls towards you; disappears under your feet and surrounds you.

You did it. You survived. Now what?

Survivor

It’s 11:53 am. I head to the back of the room, nodding at Linus, the bartender. I take my usual booth, hood up. I know it’s a bit conspicuous, but no one here pays much attention to anything other than their pints and newspapers.

I always tell my clients not to arrive even a moment earlier than the agreed upon time, which in this case is noon. I like to watch them enter, so I can get a full read on their intentions before they even say a word.

At 12:00 exactly, she enters. She’s a little short, thick with womanly curves, but as she approaches I can see in her face that she’s just a child. A scared child at that. I have no idea how a teenage girl would get my number, but I immediately want to hit someone.

She comes directly to my table, as directed, and sits down.

“Jamie Medes,” she offers with her hand stuck out.

“How did you find me?” It’s always the first question I ask, but it’s the first time I’m burning for an answer.

“Does it matter?” she asks. There’s a bite in her tone that tells me she’s tougher than even she knows.

“As a matter of fact, yes, it does.”

Jamie shifts in her seat, visibly uncomfortable. “Friends of friends.”

I hate that answer, and I sigh hard so she knows it. Her gaze wanders.

“Look, I don’t know what you heard but I’m not a hitman and I don’t fuck around with minors so I can’t beat up your prom date or whatever.”

Her glare comes at me like a speeding bullet and I see her chest begin to heave. Her entire demeanor hardens and I realize I’m way off base.

“Hey, I’m sorry. It’s just, you’re not my typical client. I’m a little thrown here. I don’t know what to think.”

“So don’t think. Ask.” She holds my eyes and I can’t help but smile. I gesture for her to go on, and she does. “I’ve been involved in a couple – incidents. Traumas, I guess.” Now she looks away again. “Cards down, I’m having some trouble with PTSD, and all the therapy and pills in the world won’t give me what I need.”

“And what’s that?” I recognize her now, from the news. The sole survivor of a home invasion, and later a witness to a bank robbery. She took two shots to the arm.

“Protection. I want you to train me. I know it’s not what you usually -”

“Yes,” I say. “When do you want to start?”

“Well,” she bites her lower lip, “how much -”

“No charge.”

“What?”

“A young girl like yourself is entitled to safety. No charge. I do have one rule though.”

“What’s that?”

“No slacking. Now let’s get out of here before you get carded.”

I never tell her that I know who she is, but I assume she figures I do. Either way, it seems like a courtesy worth extending. We train three times a week and the greatest improvement I see by month two is her confidence when she takes the gun from me. I teach her how to channel that strength that’s been inside of her all along – the strength of a survivor, like me.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

Nothing to Offer

Ash was having a difficult go at life when he met Alia. Undoubtedly, they were drawn to each other because they recognized their own desperation in one another. That was no way to start a relationship. He couldn’t take care of himself, so how could he take care of her? And, vice versa.

But…

She latched on to him, in a way that made him lust and cringe. That weakness in her drew him in, even when it repulsed him. His ex-wife was nothing like Alia. She was a fighter. She was strong, and smart, and hard-headed. One might imagine that those qualities in her were what created the barrier between them, but that wasn’t at all the case. It was Sandy. Losing Sandy. Actually losing her – she was just gone. And every time Ash looked into his wife’s beautiful eyes, he saw his daughters’ staring back at him, begging him to find her, asking him why he let her go. That was a barrier he simply couldn’t get by.

So one day he found that he was sitting there with Alia, drinking until he could no longer keep his thoughts straight. And Alia let him. Because she would let anyone do anything. Because she was meek, and timid, and lost. But Ash had found her. And she loved him for it.

He thought about all of this as he stood at the water’s edge. He was swaying back and forth now, likely too drunk to swim back to shore if he wanted to. But just to be sure, he had tied weights to his ankles. Now all there was to do was step in, and keep going. So why was he standing there, thinking about Alia? She would cry. She would quiver, and crack, and break. He would break her. It would be his fault. He didn’t love her. But that wasn’t the point. He couldn’t stand the idea of letting her down. He let down Sandy, his wife, his parents, his dog (where had that damn dog gone, anyways?) – and now Alia. Sweet, sad, Alia. But if he didn’t step in, if he untied the weights and climbed back into bed – dry and alive – well, what could he offer her then?

Nothing. And yet – he just couldn’t step in.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

Invisible

Eliza was always trying to be someone new; live another life; know another mind. When she was twelve she read a story about a boy kept locked away in an attic for months that turned into years and years that turned into decades. Eventually, he died, and became the ghost of the mansion. Of course, Eliza saw that he had always been the ghost. After reading the story, she locked herself in her own attic. She wanted to see how long she could stand it without going mad like the boy, but her mother found her after just two days, and she wasn’t mad at all. When she was sixteen, she saw a movie about a girl trapped in a well. She considered jumping down one, really she did. But she didn’t want to tear her dress. Now, as she stared blankly at the job application before her, she wondered if it wasn’t too late. Perhaps she could simply disappear, after all.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

Statement of Sanity

It was anarchy, the way you looked at me. The twinkle behind your eyes broke all the rules, and in a heartbeat, society crumbled. We weren’t star-crossed lovers, we were aggressive defiants of the social order. And when our eyes met, cities burned. The ignition? The simple idea that what was, was not what had to be.

It was chaos, the way you ran to me. The fire behind your eyes shook the earthly foundations, and with it, structures fell. We weren’t desperate romantics, we were dedicated destroyers of the status quo. And when our minds met, truths brightened. The light? The simple idea that what was, was not what should be.

I’m writing this to let you know I’m glad we did what we did. You see, this is not a confession of love, nor of guilt; but a statement of sanity – questioned as it may be. With it, I reclaim my body; my mind; and my name.

I need you to know, I’m not sorry.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen