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

Manufactured Immortality

Kato approached the window and laid his hand upon the cool, hard, glass. On the other side of it lie his trusted advisor, and surrogate big brother, unconscious. It had been exactly thirteen hours since the craft crashed, nearly taking Hays’ life. What was left of it, flesh and bone, was practically unsalvageable. As he watched the galaxy’s most renowned doctors busy about Hays’ crushed, inoperative, body – Kato couldn’t help but wonder if making him cyborg was the right choice. Hays had told him once, before he even became King, that the biggest obstacle humans have ever faced is mortality, and that banning cyborgism was the only way to make us face it. Cyborgism, he explained, was not a solution, but a pacifier. All the same, he added that if he were ever on the brink of death, that he’d take all the metal he could get, legally or otherwise. He had chuckled heartily at his own irony, and Kato had smiled along. But he never forgot those words, “a pacifier.” He recalled them in a public speech the day he signed the bill. Now he wondered if it was a pacifier for the patient, or their loved ones who simply won’t let go. Tomorrow, he’d have to publicly retract those words. Tomorrow.

© 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

The End

It was unexpectedly beautiful, the end of the world.

The fires, blazing west to east. The waters flooding north to south. The earths opening up, devouring our very being. The winds scooping up whatever was left.

I watched it all in awe, and not once did I consider stopping it. There’s nothing quite like the rush of devastation. My only loss was its completion.

The Anticlimax

I guess you could say it was like a dream. The kind of dream that you’re aware of, but isn’t quite lucid. You go through the motions; let the dream carry you, because fighting it seems like a waste of energy. Yeah – I guess you could say dying was like a dream.

And I wasn’t alone. Death was a strong presence, there to collect – more patient than a bookie, but threatening nonetheless. I tried to laugh, really, I did. It was funny; like a bad movie that’s meant to be taken seriously but can’t be. I think they call those cult classics.

My death: A Cult Classic. I like the sound of that. It’s fitting, since my life turned out to be an accidental joke with an anticlimactic punch line.

“So? What now?” I ask Death. My tone is almost annoyed; almost apathetic; definitely irascible. I suddenly think I might have to take a number and stand in a line, and the mere thought of it is infuriating. But that’s not what happens.

Death leads me down a tunnel. There’s no light at the end of it or anything cliché like that. But it is a tunnel that seems to go on forever. It strikes me that my legs aren’t aching though, and I have to appreciate that. Silver linings.

“This isn’t going to be a ‘pick a door’ kind of deal is it? I hate those,” I snicker.

We finally arrive at a threshold. Beyond it, there is blackness. It’s absence of color, absence of light, absence of life. It makes me very uncomfortable, and I can’t even think of a snarky remark to cut the tension.

Death gestures for me to sign in, and I do. I sign my name, and beside it appears today’s date – my date of death. Again, I’m uncomfortable. It’s slowly but surely becoming real.

I look at Death. Death is also absence. There’s no black hooded cloak; rather, Death is just a shadow. And that’s when I realize, it’s my own shadow. I squint for a better look, but it’s unnecessary. For at that moment, the Shadow is coming to life. First, the eyes, then the hands. A vibrancy takes hold, as though watching one’s reflection manifest from thin air. Terrified, I instinctively hold my own hands in front of me. But they are dissolving, like sand in acid rain. And then… everything goes dark.

When the light comes back, I’m something altogether different.

*****

“Are you a ghost?” she asks me. I smile. Mainstream cinema has taken on the unfortunate task of representing a figure of the afterlife that floats through air and has a transparency about it. That’s why she’s confused. Indeed, I float. Indeed, my form is less than solid. But ghosts aren’t real. And I am.

“Not exactly,” I say. “I’m a spirit of the Otherworld.”

She ponders on this for a second; bites her bottom lip, then resolves to obtain more information.

“What does that mean?” she asks. “Are you dead?”

I smile, fully expecting to have to answer such questions. “Not exactly. My consciousness once belonged to a human, but that being has died, and its consciousness re-formed. It belongs to the Otherworld now, and it lives inside of me.”

I pause to let the little girl take it in. She is a willing believer, provided she is given the right tools. I watch her carefully process what I have said, and when I decide she is ready for more, I continue.

“Not everyone cans see us. You have a very special gift, and it will become stronger as you grow.”

She looks up at me, doe-eyed and curious. The compliment appeases her, but she’s still confused. I can see another question bubbling in her gut.

“So,” she finally begins, slowly. “Why are you here?”

Truth-time.

“A tragedy is going to befall your home soon. I’m here to cast a spell of courage upon you.”

The reference to tragedy sends a chill up her spine. Her shoulders tense, and she quickly tries to form her next question. Deep down, she probably knows I can’t answer it.

“Will something happen to my parents?”

I remain expressionless, and after a moment of silence, I move passed her unanswerable query.

“For all the elements of this world that seem out of your control, know that you are always in control of the elements within yourself.”

I let the words whisper through her, and while she’s still trying to interpret them, I gently release my magic. Then, with only a wink and a smile, I disappear from her forever.

Being a spirit of the Otherworld has given me the opportunity to bond with people in a way I couldn’t have when I lived among them. In that life, my consciousness was as selfish, petty, and mundane as the rest of them. I had always felt it, but could do nothing about it. But from the vantage point I have now, I realize how wrong that was.

People are not as fixed a state as I had once believed. And when that little girl crawls out of the fire, it’s my magic that will be carrying her. Her consciousness will be forever tethered to my strength. She will be amazing. And I will be a part of it.

I guess it’s still a little anticlimactic, but I’m no longer looking for an unattainable impact. Only humans have such trouble defining satisfaction.

In the Otherworld, everything is easier.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Throbbing Penitence

It is just passed the witching hour, and I make the regrettable decision to put out the fire. As the vibrant embers asphyxiate under the weight of the tepid well-water, they get their revenge by transmogrifying into a vengeful smoke that happily chokes me.

Immediately, I seek an escape from the caliginous prison that the room has become. Of course, there is none.

Outside, beasts howl at the moon, aching to taste my flesh and bones, and to swallow me up under the veil of darkness. I shudder at the thought and resign to sleeping away my nerves. By candlelight, I creep reluctantly through the empty house, romanticizing the security of my bed. But before I reach it, the ritual thudding begins.

From below my feet there comes a wretched pounding, the throb of a monster that is my own penitence. For below my feet I’ve laid a body and a soul which refuses to rest until I am by its side – as I should be. Suddenly, the beasts outside seem more inviting than the beastliness inside of my home; inside of that casket; inside of me. My own soul rots by the day, guilt crushing it from the inside. It won’t be long now until that soul gets its final wish.

Outside, the night knows my secret, and watches me in the form of a crow perched at the windowsill above my bed. As I sink below it, it takes flight into the unforgiving sky, the way a damned soul will not.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Haunted

There was no way to undo it. That’s the thing about surviving. The medley of blood, hair, and fingernails just kept swirling about in Jordan’s mind, imprinted behind his ocular nerve. Tugging and pulling so that the recalled sight of it was accompanied by physical pain. It was all he could manage to spread his eyelids every now and again; check if the world was really still there – wondering if he had really made it out, wondering if Jess and the others really hadn’t.

The melody of the epidecium hummed deep in Jordan’s ear drums, rattling them back and forth no matter how unpleasant. This was what it was to be haunted. The ghosts were only inside of his head, but they were real. They were persistent. They were his friends; all of them dead, along with the biggest part of him.

“Jordan Marks?”

Jordan looked up, surprised he had recognized a sound outside of himself. The secretary was trying to smile as she held the door open for him. “Dr. Casey will see you now.”

The doctor was gentle, but rushed. There were a lot of patients in the waiting room, so it came as no shock to Jordan that getting the prescription had been so easy. Anti-depressant experiment number 4. Maybe this one wouldn’t make him tear at his skin, drool on his sheets, or mix-up his words. Maybe.

The first few hours were good. Relief came like a tidal wave, throwing him off balance then gracefully carrying him away. He didn’t think about Jess; about the blood, the hair, or the fingernails. Instead, he thought about the beach on a sunny day. But once the high dulled, so did the sunshine, and Jordan was back in his dark, damp, room. No – he was back in the dark, damp, cave. And there was the medley of gore he just couldn’t escape. He thrashed in the swamp of sewage and bodily fluids. He clawed at the rocky walls, and screamed so loud he hoped he might break, and somehow blind himself from the horrors before him.

Jordan’s mother crashed through his bedroom door and eyed her son helplessly as he scrambled violently in his bed. She cried out his name through a tear-soaked tongue, trying to remember a time when he was just a normal teenager, vibrant and brave and full of life, seeking an adventure. A time before the monsters came.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©