There was nothing in this world that could prevent Cory from carefully observing the dying human body he found in front of him. The doctor was talking with his parents out in the hall, the improvised committee looked unable to come to make a final decision on what to do with the body. Cory's father, as usual, tried to convince Cory's mother that making this choice would be best for the whole family; she wouldn't feel a thing, and it wouldn't hurt at all is what the doctor assured them all of. Her response to that was simply for Cory's father to drop dead. He was in that car too and only had a few scratches and bruises while the body was hardly recognizable of the person it used to be. A father should die for his family she said, but he said back that a mother should care enough about her own daughter to not get hammered at a bar and be so drunk as to forget to pick their daughter up from school in the first place.
In the midst of the hurricane of family drama taking place outside the doctor tried to calm things down, but Cory knew Doctor Raffia's efforts were pointless, just like it was pointless to try and debate this. Cory thought that Grace is ultimately dead already, a corpse on its last leg, and it's only natural for people to bury the dead and move on. There was now a large commotion outside stirred up by his mom throwing a chair at his father who threatened to smack her in retaliation, as if his knuckles were not already accustomed to digging into his wife’s soft and glass-like skin. Cory balled his own hands into fists, holding back his anger when he heard his parents get violent with each other yet again, and with no remorse in his heart he wished they were the ones to suffer instead. "How much easier it would be," he thought to himself, trembling, feeling first for his disheveled mop of black hair before his fingers slid across the bandages on his head that has yet to fully heal, "if everyone in this Goddamn family had just died in that car crash."
The air of the small hospital room was packed with the smell of a thick musk thanks to his mother burning incense candles in the room, hoping to comfort the body. The pungent smell covered up any trace of pure air in the room and made it challenging for Cory to think clearly. Every time he tried to think about something his mind just reached a blank white wall before he was forced to surrender his consciousness to the noise outside, and retreated back down into the nebulous darkness in his head. His wandering chestnut colored eyes, eager to move away from the body, found their way to the window on the opposite side from him that partially illuminated the room and split the space in half with a thin, waning light and wide shadow. He looked outside on this partly sunny day and spotted a white dove and a black raven, sat perched upon two separate branches upon each side of the bulk of a cherry tree in full bloom.
He watched them with a sense of curiosity and understanding, wondering to himself how the two birds could ever be seen considered together. They watched the pensive Cory with intense, stalking gazes; patiently waiting for him to draw closer so that they may see for which of them he would reach his open palm out to touch. Alas, Cory rather not do that, not yet; he diverted his eyes from the birds to the clock hanging on the wall, ticking the seconds of fleeting time away. If not for Cory’s parents that were screeching war cries and turning a place of good will into a bloody war zone then things would be almost completely still and quiet, like if snow and ice had covered the entire hospital and everyone in it. If Cory was able to, he would have been able to hear the heavy and persistent beating of his still living heart, and the constant ticking from the clock on the wall.
Temptation soon took a hold of Cory as his eyes could not resist the urge to observe the body once again, his mind eager to discover what about this body was so interesting, yet so different from him that he could no longer consider it his sister. Man simply cannot resist the urge to touch the living with warm and friendly hands, but once the dead lie before them their hands turn white and clear, unable to touch death. It was like a contagion that all living things knew about, or a bad omen or curse was spread, preventing the living from ever connecting with the dead again. However, perhaps it was because the body was still hanging on to life with one arm grasping the edge of a cliff with the river of black far below, but Cory could almost bring himself to place his hand on the body that made him feel as if the dead was no more alive than he was. Or that this body was his equal in some way, a mere reflection or shadow of his own shell.
Fading, drifting in and out of the current world, the dead seem to have a way of always returning in unexpected ways. As if there were ghosts all throughout the room, they all watched Cory with fingers expanded towards him, singling him out. The motley crowd of wraiths appeared benign enough, and they created an evocative atmosphere about Cory. His hands trembled and fiddled with themselves within his lap, trying to avoid the spirits in the room; his eyes hoping not to gaze around too much in fear of seeing Death in the same room as he in every dark corner.
She was a young woman, no more than a couple years older than Cory and her name was Grace. Soon her name would be known in news headlines all around as “Car Crash Victim #XXX, but not today, for it was October 31st and many would rather be busy celebrating Halloween today. Cory imagined that there will be many children, teens, and adults walking the streets at night pretending to be the monsters they already are or the fantasies that they could never become. On today of all days, everyone would be participating in their fictional worlds and no one would bother to notice the reality around them, the truth or gravity of the situation that Cory alone must go through. This irked him more than anything that he had to suffer under the weight of this damned choice all alone.
In the space between one tick to another tock of the clock, Cory began to look backward through time to see how his sister had once lived. Because of their long history together Cory knew very well that Grace used to be a real beauty when she was considered to be completely alive and well. She had long, pretty blonde hair that she had spent forever to grow out like a waterfall; her bright, blue, drawing eyes held a bewitching charm; and a warm, radiant blossom shone within the edges that crafted her heartwarming smile that had made him smile in days past. There was a period when she used to love to sing as the lead vocalist of the band she formed when she was in high school. She was talented enough to hit the highest and most difficult of notes, she sung like no one else who had ever taken the mic in their hands. It’s a shame that neither her beautiful voice nor her band had ever gotten her recognized or noticed.
Desperately, she tried to reach out with her voice and touch every upstretched hand in the crowds before her. She wanted the whole world to feel her. To hear and understand her soul that she so dreadfully, dreadfully wanted the world to comprehend. It was beautiful, the way the lights seemed drawn to her mere presence on stage like fireflies drawn to a fire, and then there was the message she wanted to give the world. Hear me, she sung to the crowd underneath the poetic lyrics she had written. Please, oh please, understand me. She wanted the world to see her, even thought she was absolutely terrified of exposing her true self, of revealing how broken she very well could have been. Cory could never know for sure, but doing what she did just had to be heart breaking.
She was so beautiful, once, but now she was just an ugly and mangled corporeal body. The fact that the doctors could salvage anything of her from the crash and manage to keep her alive was astounding. She was no longer so lovely and admirable to Cory; she was crumbling away right before his eyes and was becoming a transient memory to him of somebody he used to know so dearly. There was a stranger in the bed, a Frankenstein monster made out of his sister’s parts. It truly was hard to tell if she was dead or not already without the heart beat monitor reminding him that she still had some life in her yet.
He felt a tightness in his stomach and his lunch was planning a jailbreak just from looking at her. How could one even manage to look past her displaced right arm and her bended left leg as if a child played with her body like a doll? The trails of blood sprawled about the outskirts of her injuries and bruises resembled morbid crop circles that were chiseled into her body with a hammer and an ice pick. She was an absolutely horrendous mess of a garbled up human being that resembled a freshly made mummy with bandages wrapped closely about her body. Her neck was at an uncomfortable angle until they put a neck brace on her to keep her broken collar where it should be, her disfigured fingers had to stitched back on, her skin looked like the coarse leather of a chair, and Cory could not even fathom the idea of how they kept her feet from falling off completely.
“Hideous,” he spat, speaking in a drawling matter. “Just plain damn hard to look at. What was the point to anything that she did? All of her life she tried to do good for everyone else, and what does she get in the end? This. This is her fate.” A knot formed in his stomach that made him clasp his hand tightly against his belly. “She was always so foolish, always trying her best to not to hurt anybody.” He slammed his fist on his knee, trying not to yell but finding it difficult to do so. “How stupid could she be? She should have known it is impossible for people to not hurt the other. Without even knowing it people hurt each other by just existing. They do it when they’re alive, they do it long after they’re dead. They do it just by getting involved with them. They do it by trying not to get involved with them. Now who’s left hurting? Goddammit!”
He held one hand against his mouth and the other on his stomach tightly, feeling a wave of sickness come over him until he spotted the window again. Enough was enough, Cory could only handle so much before he his stomach forced him to sprint over to the window and hold it open before blowing chunks of green vomit outside. The insides of his stomach were now on the outside and had landed on some pretty flower beds below that no longer looked so pretty at all. Cory wiped his mouth and decided it was time to leave Grace be; he also wanted to get him some water to wipe the taste of puke from his mouth. It took a lot of willpower to gingerly avoid looking at the body again to avoid another accident.
On his way out Cory instead focused on the clock again and its meticulous ticking. It never took any breaks, the clock continued to move forward even if everyone in the world felt stuck. They would have to come to a decision soon, otherwise Grace will just continue to suffer in pain and agony. Cory already told himself that he is perfectly settled with his decision. He wanted Grace to die as painlessly as possible and his father agreed, but his mother and even the doctor protested the decision. They were the only ones who were foolish enough to hold onto hope, the most fragile of all forces in the universe. For Cory and his father, they could not so easily just throw all their bets into hope, not without hope having something to show for itself first. His father used to believe in it, but as he said to Cory before, then he got married and all of that just changed. Cory wondered when he gave up on it, too.
The shouting that prodded his mind drew him out into the hallway where he could see just at the end of it his mom and his dad still arguing and the doctor trying to restore peace. He saw from this distance the Doctor with only one of his hands in a plastic glove placed intimately upon the small of his mother’s back, while his father stood a set distance away in front of them both with a fierce, florid scowl. His parents were troubling everybody in the hospital, and they had to be restrained by the police that escorted them here to keep them from putting each other in a hospital bed like Grace was.
He was close to being just out of ear’s reach of his parents, but he could hear his father now of all times bringing up his suspicions of his mother’s whereabouts all those days she said she would come home late. His mother tried to avoid the subject and only wanted to talk about their daughter that was dying in a hospital bed as they speak, and how she was just appalled by him and Cory who she claimed were basically wanting to murder Grace themselves. The adult world, as Cory saw it, seemed really stupid and foolish. He was not looking forward to being an “adult” in society’s eyes if this is the crap he is looking forward to. It seemed the key to being an adult was being able to say “whatever” to everything.
The car broke down earlier today, but whatever. I have a lot of work to do by Sunday, but whatever. I could be starving, but whatever. I shouldn’t be doing this, but whatever. I don’t know how to understand myself, but whatever. I feel like breaking down inside, but whatever. There is a war or some natural disaster going on in some foreign country and lots of people have died, but whatever. Just whatever. If one can say whatever to anything that comes their way, then life becomes significantly easier. When in truth it only becomes harder for some other unfortunate soul.
As he debated going over to his parents to try and say or do something, Cory heard his mother talking and just shook his head. She foolishly believed there was a chance Grace could make it out of here alive and still be able to live her life happily somehow. The chance of that was a slim one Cory and his father believed, and even if she did manage to make it out of this hospital she would never be able to sing, dance, or live like she used to before. She would be dead even if she managed to survive today. If Grace could not live like she wanted to, then will it really be worth putting her through the hardships she will certainly have to face? The sufferings the whole family would have to undergo for her?
Without giving them a second look, Cory walked as far away from them as he could to where he recalled seeing a water fountain just outside of some bathrooms. He did not want to dwell on the decision anymore, even if he admitted to himself that he spoke hastily when he had to give his opinions, and although he would like to imagine a good life for Grace after this event, it was hard to see if living was truly better than dying for her. Additionally, it was much easier for him this way if Grace could just disappear as soon as possible, and then whatever happens to everyone else no longer matters. He desperately just wanted to go on a trip to the Bahamas with the money he has saved up from work, and then he could enjoy sandy beaches and hot sun and hot girls. There he could kick up his feet and just enjoy his life without having to worry about his family, school, or anyone that he knew. He could just disappear and drift away in the ocean forever.
He bent over to catch the stream of water in his mouth to wash away the putrid taste that had covered his tongue. It was then he felt the wound on his forehead ache with a sharp jolt, feeling like a dagger just went through his skull and gouged his brain effortlessly. The pain was immense, yet brief, and it seems to come and go randomly today. Cory was in the car crash with his father sister, but he was not seriously hurt all that much since he was in just the right spot in the back of the car to not take the full brunt of the crash. The wound on his head would more than likely leave a noticeable scar, one that would be difficult to hide and get rid of.
After he took a drink he made his way down the hallway where he took out a pack of cigs and a lighter from his black leather jacket’s pocket. He held a cigarette in between the gap of his teeth before he lit in and puffed out a white plume of smoke. The smoke stretched out across his field of view and when it dissipated he recalled the painful memories that he tried to block out, but instead managed flowed into the channel of his mind. He wanted to tighten the valves, seal all the doors leading from his mind to the outside world, but the scar on his head left his mind open to new things. It left an opening for the world to invade him and rummage around in his head until it was satisfied.
He remembered waking up in the hospital after the crash happened and his head was already treated by then. His father was talking with the Dr. Raffia, and his mother was sobbing over the bed where his sister was now lying in. He first was reminded of how confused he was, how everything looked and felt like a speeding white blur that his eyes and brain could not keep up with. His head was hit really hard, but that was nothing in comparison to what his eyes would see when he saw Grace’s condition.
When his eyes were clear enough disbelief was the feeling that took a hold of Cory followed by anger and despair. The sick feeling that was in his stomach then and even now. The anguish that was poured into his heart, brewing up utter despair. He was angry and upset at God, angry at the other driver that they hit, and angry at the world. Cory was a confusing mess of emotions that made it hard to describe how he felt exactly at that moment; he was only certain that he was just plain mad and sad. He did not need to have a conversation with Dr. Raffia and his parents to know how bad the situation for Grace really was.
Dr. Raffia spoke in a somewhat sonorous, deep voice, and said, “There is likely no chance that she will live the same life that she did before. Her body was rigorously damaged from her neck down to her vocal cords to her various appendages; they will not function as they used to before. This means that if she were to manage to get stable and well enough from her current condition for us to release her, she will more than likely will have to be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She will also need to take several painkillers and prescribed medications daily; she will also require constant care and supervision as doing things on her own will prove to be extremely difficult if not impossible with the state of her body. I suppose one could say, she will be less human than she was before.”
The mother of Grace cried some more, holding herself closely since her husband could not bring himself to move from the spot that glued his boots to the floor. He was crying too and Cory never saw his father cry until now. Cory did not cry. He did not want to cry either, and even though he felt terrible because he could not and had no desire to cry. He wished that all of this was just one terrible dream that he would soon wake up from, but the gash on his forehead let Cory know there was no way he could be dreaming of something as catastrophic as this. It was far too real and he was hurting too much.
Dr. Raffia placed a friendly hand on the mother’s shoulder, prioritizing trying to comfort her before asking for their undivided attention. “Currently, her condition is suitable to hold on for a few more hours at best. We have already performed surgery to remove the shrapnel in her vitals and we tried to improve her condition as best as we could. She is able to live now because of the machines we have hooked up to her. All we can do now is wait to see if any changes occur. Still, there is a chance…”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡKYsCxhqmX1
“A chance for what?” Cory’s father shouted. “A chance my baby girl can walk like she used to? Is there a chance that she will be able to sing and move like used to? ‘Less human than she was before.’ Looks like we finally agree on something, doctor.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡsyRCYYRGQJ
“Honey, that’s e—enough.” Cory’s mother half-whispered, speaking softly but just loud enough for the room to hear her. “Emile is a good man. He has done all he can to help Grace and us. Forget about all that other stuff now.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡg6vQaOH5Tm
The father quickly calmed himself down for just long enough to let the doctor speak. Doctor Raffia continued, “I was going to say that I personally think and would like to hope that your daughter will be able to go home with you all one day, but that is not from a medical standpoint. As a doctor, I cannot be so certain of her fate… There is always a choice that lies before you all.” Everyone in the room focused on Dr. Raffia who had a serious, somber look in his lowered eyes.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡlDWNWP9bcY
“I do not enjoy suggesting this and as your doctor and very close friend to you, Aniel,” he said when looking to Cory’s mother before facing all of them again. “But, if you all feel confident that if Grace were to survive this and have no doubt that she wouldn’t want to live her new life with such dramatic changes. Then there is the option take her off life support, and end it for her before she faces what would be suffering for her.” The eyes in the room all went wide and Cory’s mother inhaled deeply and loud enough to show for the whole family how shocked and horrified the family all were. “If you choose to do so, then I assure you all it will all be painless. However, if she does make it then there is the matter of the expenses and the drastic change in lifestyles for all of you. This is no easy choice, and a hard time for you all, but I would request of you all to consider it.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡtsWfHSFUZl
“Whatever it takes,” is what Aniel said to the doctor, finally wiping away the tears from her eyes. She spoke firmly and louder than she usually does. “Just do whatever it takes to save my daughter’s life, Emile. We will not kill our own daughter.” He placed a gentle hand on Dr. Raffia’s face, letting an awkward air settle in as if it always belonged here.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ11B0W2OuDJ
Cory’s father tried to look past the elephant in the room for just a moment. “Aniel,” he addressed his wife gently. “I ain’t trying to say anything to upset you, but are we really certain that is the best choice? Not even a second mortgage on the house could cover all of the expenses. How many loans would we need? We would both need second or even third jobs and Cory cannot work just yet. This would change everything for us. Not just for Grace, but for all of us.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡSsS9QsW5ql
“I don’t care!” she screamed. “You cannot put a price tag on anyone’s life. How can you even measure that all up? I will not let Grace just die, and there is nothing else to talk about!” She gave him a powerful look with her steel, cold eyes. “You only get one chance at life, Michael. We cannot just let Grace’s end like this! She is still a human being who deserves to live her life the way she would want to!” She paraded around swiftly in a half circle, unsure of where she was going. “Jesus, this is just like you! Always talking about money and the bills. Is there anything else that you care about?” She took a step away from the doctor and closer to Cory’s father, who stood there towering over his mother, yet looked dwarfed in comparison to her at that moment.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡB578E7NtZp
The father gave Cory a nervous yet endearing look that spoke for all the demons and ghosts he had witnessed within his father’s expression at that moment. His father turned to face his wife who spoke firmly. “Well, I know I care about my children. I am not going to let her die,” she growled. “She’s still my baby girl, our daughter! And I will always be her mother and I will do whatever it takes to make sure she is safe and happy, dammit! She will make it out here, I believe in her, and so does God.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ259UKA5DU7
Cory’s father swallowed whatever feeling was stuck in his throat at that moment. “But she may not be the daughter you knew if she does makes it out of here. Do you honestly think she would want to live like that? Unable to do all the things that she loved ever again? And how in the Hell do you expect us to take care of her and work at the same time? We would have to hire a caretaker which would cost more and, shit, Aniel. Can you really call someone who lives like that human anymore?” Cory saw his father take a deep breath, his lips shut so tight as if he was trying to stop himself from saying anything like that again, but they parted once more. “This ain’t going to be easy to hear, but I think that if we must, we shouldn’t let her suffer anymore.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡbTpw3FP2hD
“Are you serious, Michael? How could you?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡIfCw2iTUVY
“I am thinking of what is best for our family, Aniel!”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡdeHgqggjVN
“No, you’re only thinking about what’s best for you!”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡqZ5oMW1TWc
“Oh, right, I’m the selfish person one here. I am being called selfish by the guiltiest person in the room.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡgTTsKcydJl
“You’re saying I am the one to blame for all of this?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9Ms4EeJkmB
He hesitated, but he said, “I ain’t got anyone else to blame but myself. So, it’s easier this way.”
That is how Cory’s parents started arguing and how the doctor tried to intervene to stop them. It was when Cory first noticed how quickly the clock can tick, and how easily the time can go by. This all happened in minutes, emotional turmoil taking over, and nothing was getting done. Eventually, Cory sat up and saw all that chaos in front of him, and his body was aching for a smoke. Cory had lit a cigarette and only got one good puff out of it before his mother got angry and stopped him by yanking it out his mouth. She demanded Cory to speak so that he could take her side.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡEzB0lkUIjH
He would never forget the look on her face when he told her, “Honestly, my opinion doesn’t matter since ultimately it’s up to you and dad to make the decision. You’re the parents, not me. And I don’t really give a shit. But if I had to say something then… I don’t feel like spending my whole life taking care of a vegetable. I believe Grace wouldn’t want that. Neither would any of us, we’re not that caring or selfless. Just let her go, Mom. You’re being unreasonable and selfish. You only want her to live because you feel guilty about her.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡf5gGeqtTon
She was so struck with grief and anger that all she said to Cory was, “You monster! How could you even say something like that?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡY3V7pWV9SX
His father yelled at him. “Cory!” Don’t start this shit again! We need you be serious for just once in your life and grow up already. Don’t you care at all about Grace? She is hurt and could be dying for Pete’s sake. It may even damn well be all your fault in the first place!”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡdQUqFtOKAZ
Cory just slowly gave a small smile. “I was wondering when you two would star blaming me, now you don’t have to blame each other or yourselves. It’s easier to not feel guilty or hurt now is it?”
Once that was said Dr. Raffia had no choice but to move them out of the room so that they would not bother Grace anymore. The person they almost entirely forgot about over the course of their whole argument. Cory opted to stay in the room to be by her side, but for what purpose he had no idea why. He sat there silently without saying a word to Grace, and all he could think of right then and there was how badly it hurt. It hurt so badly that he wanted to just lie down and cry.
Another puff of smoke clouded Cory’s vision and this time he saw himself in that cloud, looking back at him quietly. The look he gave himself was that of disappointment. He could not figure out why he was disappointed with himself or why he was hurting so much. He wanted to run away from the gray cloud, so he looked away from it before he saw a very strange girl sitting on a bench underneath a window where the light and shadow fell so gently upon her. His first thought was that this girl looked pretty damn hot, although, with looks as brandish as hers, it is a wonder how some people could completely ignore her and walk past her while others could not help but stare with awe.
She looked dressed for Halloween early, but he had no idea who or what she was supposed to be. Her hair was a voluminous double-shaded black and white that shined with a luminescent luster in the array of gentle light. Her costume looked like some unusual take on Cruella De Vil or a struggling survivor of the dying race of scene kids with a strange love for the morbid.
The girl wore a cotton necklace with a black, miniature coffin attached upon her neck with a skull and crossbones on her black top, and a skull ring stuck around the knuckle of her left index finger. In contrast, she wore a white frilly skirt with white heels, crosses for earrings, and lastly there was an out of place blue butterfly hairclip placed just above her left ear. Her skin looked ghastly transparent, yet was covered in freckles from her arms up to the narrow bridge of her nose and below her eyes. In the end, Cory could not stop admiring her and thinking how easily her beauty drew his eyes to her. He could not quite place it, but he found both sides of her appearance beautiful. He mulled it over in his head if he should invite her somewhere private and ask politely to have his way with her body, but he had a feeling she would not go for it.
At first, he was unsure if he should approach her or not. Deep within his hands was an unshakable feeling, a strong yearning to touch the softness of her skin, but also a feeling that repulsed him and made him want to run for the hills. It was this compacted feeling of craving and abhorrence that created a convoluted feeling within him that he could not quite identify. Then there was the thick air about her that he could feel from where he stood, choking the air out of him as if she was in her own world separate from his. Her entire aura seemed to whisper featherlike words in his ears for Cory to come towards her, yet be wary of her at the same time. He approached her without even thinking about it and smoked silently in front of her.
She looked up to him in a dreamy state and said, “You’re not allowed to smoke that in here.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5VNM9tSiNd
He inhaled his lung’s full of smoke before Cory responded, “You work here or something?” Cory puffed smoke right down in the girl’s face, but she was not bothered by him in the slightest. Her face remained distinctly cold and unchanged with the smoke providing a thin veil for her rounded face. Her eyelids drooped low over her still gray eyes, and her parted lips made her look like she was lost and had no idea where she was or where to go.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡQefHT0v9dO
“No,” she said. “I don’t work here, I’m just a patient like you from the looks of things. I didn't mean anything by what I said. I just thought I would let you know that you can’t smoke in here. Lame, I know. But you never know if someone may have an issue with it, you know? Like, they’re trying to quit doing something that’s bad for them.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡZ9iCpsrdW5
Cory exhaled another cloud of smoke up into the air this time before it settled just in between the both of them. “That’s not my problem. If someone is trying to quit a bad habit like smoking and they get the urge to do so from just seeing me, then maybe they shouldn’t have ever bothered with trying to give it up in the first place.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡdcUPrfva7Y
“Hmm. You’re probably right,” she said. “I wonder why it’s like that. It seems like it is a lot easier to break away from things that are good for you, but it’s not easy at all to break away from the things that are bad for you.” Cory nodded his head in agreeance with her, not ignoring the rubber bands on her wrists that read Suicide Prevention and I am not alone that barely covered up the scars on her wrists. She even had a wristband that had a phone number and her personal information on it.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡfRvLG3bYDX
“Do you mind if I sit next to you?” he asked. She eyed the spot next to her before looking away from it.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡn8HP2jwbfD
“Go ahead. No one else is using it for anything.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡDTL6G1fflN
“Thanks. Want a smoke?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡavflljMsNV
“No thank you,” she quickly answered, waving her hand. “But I appreciate the offer anyway. My Doctor would get mad at me if I was seen with a cigarette again. I have been trying to quit for a few years now.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡu2p4lMQXxQ
He saw a quivering in her lips, a familiar shaking in her slightly parted lips. Even though he did not feel even an ounce of guilt Cory offered up a simple, “Sorry. I didn’t intend on dragging you back down to this.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡe61aGtnwS7
“Not at all,” she smiled, taking in the aroma of the lip smoke from Cory’s mouth. “I miss the smell honestly and the little buzz and hysteria I got from it. It sucks that I cannot, or at least should not smoke anymore. It was extremely useful to keep people away, you know? There are people out there who tend to only see the cigarette and not the person because as far as they are concerned they’re both poisonous all the same. It was very useful to be alone.”
During that surreal moment in time, she kept her gaze fixated on Cory for each passing second, taking in the smoke that separated from his chops with a sense of ecstasy and tranquility. She really seemed to enjoy the smell, even though Cory did not particularly enjoy the smell of tobacco himself. He never once thought that smoking would benefit him in any way, he only got into it because his mom did. His mom always said that even though her smoking always bothered the people around her, she just kept telling herself it was killing her, and that should be good enough for people to leave her alone about it. Cory took that to heart and used this smoke to let the world know to leave him alone.
With a Mona Lisa smile sported on her face she asked, “So, what made you want to speak to me?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡQRQp3BZlWv
“Nothing much,” he muttered.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡYDhTxiPAfm
“I don’t believe that. There has to be some reason you want to speak to me. People do not usually talk to me unless they have something to gain from it, or something they wish to hide.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5kC8AR5Q30
“I ain’t got nothing to hide nor gain from speaking to you. I just… I just felt like coming over here so I did. That’s all.”
She looked as if she wanted to say something to that, but she decided against it at the last moment. Even now Cory could still hear a clock close by sounding off every second with each tick and tock.
“Hmm, what are you in here for then?” she asked as if she and Cory were both prisoners in the same cell. “Were you in a motorcycle accident? You look you hit your head really hard. Do you have a concussion?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡpIKbdP5kaH
“Car crash,” he explained. “I wasn’t paying attention enough to what the Doctor said to know all of the details for sure. All I caught from his spiel was that my head would be okay in a few weeks and I should be fine. It’ll leave a scar on my forehead, so there go my chances of getting into face modeling.” The girl chuckled bashfully, and this made Cory feel a little better. He had nearly forgotten that his sister could have passed away already. She could be dead as they speak and no one would know until someone goes to check on her. His mind was focused entirely on the girl beside him, and his mind was still searching for an answer as to what drew him closer to her, what made him want to touch her body so badly. He wanted to swirl her hair, touch her chest, and discover something about her body that even she was unaware of.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡe7ef2qkO2G
“You know. You’re really giving me an itching desire for a good old fashioned coffin nail. Pass me one?” Cory did not give it a second’s thought and passed her a cigarette and lit it for her before he watched her place it gently between her lips before raising her chin up and blowing out with a satisfied look on her face. He was beginning to feel a button popping attraction to her. She turned to Cory and said, “Not bad, still kind of a crap brand.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡeBVU2CtJXz
“You’re welcome,” Cory dryly muttered in response.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡarkSHMlvMd
“I believe you would like to say, you’re welcome, Arima.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡxeZMn3fkSE
Cory knitted his eyebrows as if he was agitated but was actually just confused by what the girl meant. “That your name?” he wondered.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡISLUbMMzJO
“Yeah,” she said, inhaling and exhaling white clouds. “I like to be called Ari though. So just call me that. How about you? Got a name?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4mzj152Hhb
“Don’t we all?” Cory said, raising then lowering his eyebrows to this. “It’s Corwin Page, but Cory is what my folks call me.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡp6Aty0kZhP
“I see,” she said, outstretching her black glove covered hand in a ladylike manner for Cory to take. “It is a pleasure to meet you.” He noticed that her other hand was bare naked with clear coated nails. He slowly reached his hand out and shook her bony and thin gloved hand that was surprisingly cold. He held her hand firmly, feeling a strong desire to let go, but he found himself struggling to just let go of her hand right away. Fortunately, Ari looked pleased about something she saw in Cory, and let go of her hand himself.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡVxRddg3YMB
With a wistful look in her eyes she then said, “Names are important aren’t they? They’re really weird too. It’s like we’re forcing a label on ourselves, you know? Like walking around with signs on our back that states exactly who we are, yet your eyes cannot see these signs, our names, right away until you get to know the person and if you remember their name then you can see them all the time. Even in your dreams. Could you imagine trying to go through life without a name? I would imagine it would be quite hard to try and get by without one because it would be like no one knows you exist. Picture being in school and turning in a test or homework without a name on it because you weren’t born with or given a name, and the teacher has no idea who to give it back to so it just ends up in the trash. Boom, all the work you did, thrown away just like that. You’re dead to the world even if you are right there for all to see. ”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡlwMHbW27A9
Ari turned her body and went back to puffing smoke. Cory just stopped smoking his cigarette altogether for a moment and stared at her. “I am pretty positive that tobacco was what was supposed to be in these cigs unless the store clerk gave me some green instead.”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡffJZ3l3aIm
Ari laughed. “Do I seem baked to you?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡDflBp5TcFH
“Depends on how you want me to answer that,” Cory responded, smirking. “What are you even supposed to be?” Cory asked, in reference to what he assumed was her costume.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ9PuKR4CtbE
Smoke covered her face and made it a little hard for Cory to see her facial features clearly, but she looked to be smiling. She said, “A line. A line between this and that. I am always somewhere in the present with the past behind me and the future always in front of me. A river that flows constantly through a valley. A clock that spins. A wheel that turns… I am you, and you are me.”
Cory did not respond to this because he simply knew not how to do so. Ari could only broadly smile, not expecting Cory to answer her riddle which puzzled Cory. Even so, in a way he felt like he knew the answer or how to respond to her but his mind could not process how to formulate words when he needed it to. In some inexplicable way, he felt he understood her, and he felt as if she understood him as well. As if two birds flew up to each other and already knew they were both meant to fly together.
They talked some more and Cory ended up telling her everything that had happened today from the car crash to his parents arguing. She did not talk much about herself; she just listened patiently and quietly and let Cory spill his heart out to her as if it was natural for her to do so. Their time together was cut short when finally a Nurse came by and told them that they could not smoke in here and they would have to take it outside. Ari did not mind and told Cory to come along with her, she knew a good place to be without any annoying people coming by to bother them.
However, Cory thought about Grace and figured that maybe he should keep close by just in case. If she did die, which he told himself that for sure she would, then he knew his parents would take all their feelings out on him if he was not even around when she did. They would hate him like he hated them. The hatred in their family would just make things even worse for Grace. He wanted to face them belligerently, but a part of him only wanted peace.
Ari just walked up to him and revealed her devilish smile, sweeping her hand against his. Her face so close he could probably count her freckles, and he could smell the sweet scent of her hair mix with the lingering odor of smoke on her. “Don’t worry, Cory. It won’t hurt to go along with little ol’ me for a while. I promise I don’t bite. Your parents sound like they won’t stop fighting until they get kicked out anyway. Come on, you’re going to like going on a journey with me whether you think so right now or not.”
A lot of convincing was not needed for Ari to get Cory to follow him. Ari took Cory from one side of the hospital to the other, then out some backdoors to see to his surprise tombstones scattered about rolling hills of green grass and brown dirt. On the way out, planted in the pavement was the American flag at half-mast, fluttering and flapping proudly in the low wind that had nestled in. He continued to follow her to the East, walking past the columns of graves and the rows of Cypress trees. The wind carried leaves across the dirt, causing them to rattle and tap dance along their feet. Cory felt a drop of water touch his head from a leaf dripped it onto him, and he remembered it rained earlier today.
From behind her, Cory noticed that Ari’s top exposed her back and shoulders, revealing a large tattoo of wings on her back. On top of her tattoo were noticeable black markings on her back, the burn marks that decorated her back that looked intentional. She looked like she was burned by cigarettes before, and now those burns looked infected and poisoned. This too he wanted to ask her about, but her elated eyes were riveted straight ahead as if she was expecting something unexpected to happen.
“Where are we going?” he asked Ari, who walked with a merry skip in her step. She seemed eager to take him down the hill, going lower and deeper into the crevices of these hills.
At the very bottom where the shadows of the rising hills darkened the ground, there was a grave beside a large Cypress tree. It had an ominous and dark feeling to the grave, where a fractured skull was resting on top of it. Cory bent down low and peered into the darkness inside the barren eyes of the skull, and out comes a large black ant that spooked Cory backward. When he wondered who was buried here and looked to find the name he was frozen stiff by what he saw, feeling his shoulders harden. The air got abruptly colder. As cold as the hand that he touched from Ari. The grave had no name…
Cory took a step back away from the grave. “Why is this here? Just who is buried here?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡh1gzGhkxMN
Ari bore a deep grimace of wry amusement, with her left hand holding her right hand just behind her back and said, “I don’t know, Cory. Anyone can be buried here you know. Maybe no one is actually here at all. There isn’t a name or any indication here for us to tell if someone is actually here or not. Unless we decided to dig up the grave, but do you really feel brave enough to see who it could be in the ground?” Cory shook his head. “So, it’s basically just a blank piece of paper. Just patiently waiting idly by for someone to come along and die and fill out the page so it has some meaning to its existence. So it is no longer so empty.”
Cory expressed to her that she was creeping him out, and she only laughed and said she wanted to scare him a little. She then asked for his birthday, and this puzzled Cory as to why she wanted to know, to which she said it was just curiosity. He felt no harm from this so he said December 28th.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡseLFaC2FDP
“Good, so you know your birthday by heart. So, what day do you think you’re going to die?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ4mByWtyNzx
His eyes widened. “Excuse me?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡf0zO6HqClG
“I was just thinking how strange it is. Most of us know the day we are born on by heart, but no one has any idea when the day will come when we will eventually die on, and that day comes every year just like our birthdays.” She waved her hands out as if she was sweeping it across the whole plantation of graves. “There is no way in knowing when we will be born, but, we do have a way of knowing when we, or perhaps someone else may die.”
Cory took another step back away from the grave and Ari as she began to laugh malevolently to herself. His eyes went to the ground and he dropped his cigarette to the earth from his mouth when he saw a horde of black ants rove around the dirt. He tried to avoid getting bitten by them the best he could, making sure none of them were crawling up his pants legs. When he felt he was clear of the ants he looked up and as he did he watched in the far, faraway distance, just past Ari and the graveyard to what looked to be a very thin old man wearing a black duffer cap and coat, reaping away at his crops with a scythe in a field. He was just on the farthest ends of their views yet Ari waved to this man with a gleeful smile as if she already knew who he was even though he did not wave back immediately. He only pointed them out when he spotted them with his dark eyes, facing them with his white glove covered hand, his long finger seeming to single Cory out of the two.
“W—Why are we here?” Cory asked, shaking away his fear. “Why did you bring me here?” He demanded to know, stomping his foot on the ground. “I don’t want to be here anymore, Ari. I am trying not to think about unusual stuff like this. I don’t want to think about anyone dying!” he shouted with a billowing anger that he could not explain the origins of.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡqaOop4LezP
Ari was not intimidated at all and she braved her way effortlessly towards Cory. “It’s great that you’re beginning to ask yourself why. Like, why should your sister possibly live? Speaking logically, perhaps it is best that she does die. I mean what does she have to look forward to now? Pretty skies and pretty flowers?” She shook her head, appearing uncertain of what words should follow that. You could feel alive again and be a lot happier since you wouldn’t always be comparing your life to hers. That life where your parents and everyone admired and loved her, and then there was you, the transparent figure who happened to have an outline in the background.” She drew closer to Cory, laughing impishly in his face as if she was the one who wanted to bring Cory down. 612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡr8OZPHZWLI
Feeling worried about what other thoughts would be put in his head he tried to walk away from Ari and get out of there as quickly as possible, but Ari caught his hand with her bare hand that was surprisingly warm and pleasant to touch. Somehow she managed to smile angelically this time and said, “Come on, I’ll take you somewhere else. I know you want to see another side of this place.”
This time, she dragged Cory who did not refuse her as his fear vanished upon touching her. Back inside the hospital, they went to the closest staircase and headed the long way up. The sounds of each step they took echoed loudly in the closed space, reaching all the way to the top. Smoke from their cigarettes filled their nostrils and clawed its way upward as they ascended the staircase. The climb up was difficult for Cory, whose lungs have never actually been so good honestly, but the ascent up seemed effortless for Ari even in her heels. She led him up the stairs with a pure smile on her face, taking Cory by her bare hand and helped him make his way up.
Along the way they brushed past men and women, medical professionals alike all dressed in white from head to toe who made their way up and down the stairs. They looked like they all had a message to give to Cory when they saw him, but none of them actually spoke to him, they just kept descending lower and lower until Cory could not easily spot them again.
They reached a white door with a doorknob that looked to be once golden but was now bronze with a little luster left within it. If light could shine on the door it would probably have a gentle glow. Ari opened the door, somehow knowing it would not be locked, and before Cory’s eyes was the cloud filled sky that covered the earth that came into his sight after being blinded by the bright light of the golden sun rising in the east. From somewhere down the stairs Cory swore he could have heard a choir singing and the low humming of a piano being played. Out on the rooftop were statues with wings, holding vases that would be filled with water when it rained, then be spilled out when it got too full over the roof to the flowers far below that outlined the hospital’s walls.
They went out to the guard rails of the roof and laid their elbows down on it for support before they started smoking again. They were quiet and said nothing, choosing to instead take in the sight of the wide sky that spread and grew as far as their eyes could see. It was a sight to behold, one that Cory was glad he got to see. The light was thick and extended out across the world in a way that felt so inviting. Seeing this sky reminded him of Grace and the beauty she once had, the beauty that diminished his worth and made him feel insignificant. Despite that, he thought about how she was doing and wondered if perhaps he should go back now and see her.
Ari must have sensed his wanting to return because she said, “You ever wonder where it ends, Cory?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ2EfYtfVJwM
“Huh?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ48g031XVZq
“All of this,” she continued, not appearing to notice Cory’s confusion, “all of this big huge sky? Even though we can see the end of the horizon it does not mean the sky ends there. It just seems to go on and on forever doesn’t it? Of course, we know the Earth is a sphere, although not a perfect one either. Nothing really is so perfect. But without getting sidetracked here, we know the sky just covers the whole earth. It goes around and around, but we do know if it truly ends anywhere? Does the sky end with the stars in the darkness of space or with the clouds somewhere we can see?” She turned to Cory with a look that felt distant, even though she was so close to him. “You know what I think?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡZnb6Qpfngo
“What?” Cory asked, feeling as if he was floating on his feet, just waiting to hear Ari’s words.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡtiKeHRAmAK
“I don’t actually think anything ever truly ‘ends.’ Not the sky, not the earth, not the stars, not the clouds, not me, not you, not your family, and especially not your sister Grace. We will all never end. Why? Well, I myself have always wondered why I do think that. Why do all living things die? I do not mean how such as a car accident or being stabbed. I mean the why that deals with the purpose of anything. Why is it that always the good people have to go so soon, and it feels like we’re always stuck with the bad? Why do we lose our loved ones before we even have the chance to tell them that we love them? There are so many ‘whys’ in our life and I would like to think those ‘whys’ want to tell us that everything in life is a cycle with a beginning and an end.”
“The beginning starts out differently depending on who or what you are. However, the end changes for all of us as well, but what is supposed to be the special thing about the end is that it always spawns a new beginning. As the saying goes when one door closes, another opens. Then life would be like one big circle. But say life is not like a circle, but instead it was like a straight line instead. You might think it is like a long road with a starting line and a finish line, but I think that once you reach the finish line, your body may not be able to run anymore, but someone else can carry the torch for you and keep on going. Keep on running. Carrying your life and your memory forward for as long as possible. Or perhaps life is truly a spiral, where with every new circle it gets bigger and bigger, things happen more expectedly than we believe. The world being so big that the lost will eventually be found, and the found will be lost again. In the end, we will still all be connected.”
Cory was left in a stunned speechlessness from Ari’s words, unable to bring himself to say anything or think anything or even do anything. He was so stuck that his newly lit cigarette was just left to burn away in his hand while he immersed his eyes on her glowing, radiant face. At that moment, Ari felt more like a light than a girl, and more human and alive than he once thought anyone could ever be.
He somehow found a way to move his mouth and start talking again, just before the silence overwhelmed him. “Why did you tell me that? What exactly are you trying to do, Ari? Bringing me up here and talking to me like some damn preacher. What do you want?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡPiG9ZXcYM0
She looked directly in his eyes, smirking at him. “You wanted to speak to me, remember? What is it that you want, Corwin Page?” She took a step a closer to him and wrapped her arm around his shoulder, softly blowing smoke into his face. “You’re thinking about your sister. You wanted her to die, didn’t you?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡzUqXkCCIvb
Cory said nothing back.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡZmCN97uIpX
“Not sure anymore? Have you ever asked yourself why? Why do you want your sister to die, Cory? Are you that scared of having to look at her in the face? You said you think she is hideous now. Why is so repulsing to you?”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡPlGvd78gNb
“She reminds me too much of things I don’t like to think about,” he answered, shaking from his core. “She won’t have a life anymore. If she makes it out of here she won’t be Grace anymore. She will just be…”612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡHldT2gqeN8
“Just be a body?” Ari finished the sentence for him. “Or will she be just a body to you? Are you afraid to think that she will just be some rotting pile of flesh and organs, or are you terrified that she can no longer be something more than that? Because that is frightening, knowing the difference between not being able to ever reach your dreams, and not getting a fair chance to reach them.”
Ari once again silenced Cory who tried to avoid looking away from Ari directly, his sense being filled to the brim with smoke and the scent of her hair, making him feel drunk enough to nearly fall over. She held him closer, bringing him into a tight hug and telling him everything is going to be alright. Everything is going to be okay she whispered into his ears, tossing her cigarette away and placing her hands on his back. She told him it would be okay if he wished to cry, she could tell he hadn’t. He did not want to cry, he hadn’t cried when he found out what happened in the car crash, and he did not want to do so now. He could not allow himself to look so pathetic, so weak, so easily hurt. He knew that once he did he would open himself up like the wound on his head, except this time it would be his heart.
Once again his head began to hurt, and he winced from the pain. Ari did not fail to see this pain, but she did not bring her comforting hand to his head. She placed it on his chest, right where his heart was. She touched the scar that was not easy to see, like the roots lying in the dirt beneath a tree. Remember the roots, and you will remember the pain. But look above those roots, and you will see just how strong you have grown. This is what Arima was trying to convey to Cory through her gentle touch in those passing seconds. That message and so much more she wanted to convey to him.
Cory smiled, it hurt to do so, because he wanted to do what everyone eventually learns to do when you do not want to cry in front of someone. You do not want to be remembered for your sadness so you clench your teeth or bite your lip, you tell yourself that you cannot absolutely cry or the memory of you crying will tinge the person’s memory, so you swallow all that sadness deep into your gut for it to come back later when you’re alone, and put on the best smile you can muster. A smile so real that it could only be faked. It was through this method that Cory has learned and managed to survive. Ari would not allow this, for she placed a small kiss on his forehead and then took a few steps away from him, watching his face break into tears.
It was time Ari said, for her to go now. She said she enjoyed spending the day with Cory, but now he needed to return to his family. She said that Grace would surely be waiting for him, and his parents must be wondering where he has gone to.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡWLsXxSG9Tl
“Will I ever see you again?” Cory asked her, his final words to her.612Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡaqZCOSog2r
She looked to him and smiled. “You can see me again at any time and any place, Cory. It’s only a matter of why we must see each other again that will matter.”
After that, she practically disappeared when she headed into the staircase before Cory did who wanted to smoke some more by himself and think some things through. He wiped away something warm that fell down his face, and then he decided he did not want to smoke and put away his pack of smokes. Eventually, after spending quite some time on the roof, he headed back to Grace’s room where he walked back in the musky filled room and saw his father, his mother, and the doctor again. They all looked up at him and it seemed his parents had made up their minds on what they would do with Grace. Even so, they all still wanted to hear Cory’s thoughts after all, saying his thoughts did matter to them.
Any one of them could have asked him straightforwardly. “Should she live, or should she die?”
Silently, Cory walked over to the window that he had thrown up out of before and looked to that Cherry tree and this time he did not see any birds resting upon its branches. The sun was just in the middle of the sky between rising and setting, and the light still evenly split up the room to reveal the gentle dust. He thought back to before the car crash. He vividly remembered it all, as if he was watching a movie play in his head. His mother forgot to pick up Grace from school after her Band practice, and so he and his father went to pick her up instead. She said she wanted to try driving some more for practice as she had just gotten her driver’s license. The father let her take the wheel without worrying about a little drive. They had just gotten new spinning tires for the car, too. It was the best time to drive the car she said, and Cory could not agree more with her. During the ride, she was eager to move forward on that long stretch of road towards home, so energetic, so ready for life. That look on her face made Cory encourage Grace to go faster, to not waste any time getting ahead. But she was still inexperienced, her hands shaky on the wheel. Grace inevitably went too fast and could not turn when she no longer needed to go straight. She lost control of the wheel and they veered the car into another. The last time he saw her sister; she smiled at Cory and said she was sorry. Cory no longer heard the clock ticking. He walked back to Grace’s bed and touched her pretty face gently before he blew out the candles by her bed.ns 184.108.40.206da2