by Kaylia Mai
Art by Amanda Zhu
Issue: Scintilla (Spring 2019)
Akakios was graduating from the nearby college the next day and was hosting a party. I was not quite sure why I was invited, as I do not know him beyond the occasional “good morning” exchanged on chance encounters and we shared little relation beyond being neighbors, so it was to no surprise that Hera, my best friend, mentioned an invitation as well.
As it was given that we must go, there would be free food after all, we conferred with each other and decided on simple congratulatory presents: a phone and a wristwatch. Hera chose the wristwatch and I picked out a phone from a nearby mall, batteries were entered and the devices were set. We tried to leave as soon as possible yet left at sundown a full five hours late, the gifts in my lap.
In another world, here is how it ended:
Rain blessed us with tiny crystals of water as we drove. We reached the celebrations at twenty two o’clock plus thirty seven minutes, and were promptly greeted by the laughter and carousing of a hundred people out for fun. The moon smiled its lopsided grin and the night swirled in silent dance. We never met Akakios personally, but there were plenty other friendly people just searching for a break from the endless monotony of life. The gifts were handed off, and exchanged for the access to pans of small treats with small frosting decorations and crispy crusts. And come the ringing of two, we would drive home and collapse in our beds and sleep.
In another world that is how it ended, and that is how it should have ended, but that is not this world.
Rain pelted us as we drove, obscuring our sight no matter the speed of the windshield wipers. As such, I did not see it until it was right before us.
A black mass sat on the road.
It could have been a trash bag, or someone’s lost jacket, or a thousand other things lying about a city street at night, yet it came to me as a demon. That evil, whispering demon, that turned its slitted eyes to us and screeched in the most horrifying manner, stood before us at the street intersection. A contract. A decision. There was no time. The scenarios sped through my mind with alarming clarity and all pathways reached the same conclusion. It was a bad conclusion.
So, naturally, I reached over and yanked the steering wheel right out of Hera’s grip and tried to turn us around to retreat as fast and as far away as possible.
Screeching brakes pierced the air. Someone might have screamed, it could have been either of us. I spared a thought for the shape leaping away with a yowl, its starved, matted body whipping away into the alleys and disappearing.
The impact reached me as an explosion. Colorado in the city. A hurricane in my mind. The car swerved violently, my body jerking as an unwilling hostage to the chaos. The lanyard that was hanging on the rear-view mirror flew past my seat and disappeared. A black dart flitted across the edge of vision, vanishing into the many alleyways of the city. Then there was a brick wall, solid and approaching, rushing forward to us, and before a thought could be summoned, before a sound could press pass the gates of my lips, the front end of the car sank into it and the backlash of force threw loose items and glass-crystals into a whirlwind of rain.
And just as suddenly as it had begun, it stopped.
A dim reflection shone back at me from a fractured shard of glass. Blood and rain clouded my sense of smell. Small, stinging pains cried out to me as I lay slumped in my seat, and I found myself unable to summon the will to rise. Perhaps it was easier to simply be, to let the weight of decisions escape my grasp and slither into those pools of endlessly flowing water. A fumbling hand reached down to my feet, and produced a surprisingly intact phone. A moment later found the emergency call line.
Idly, my eyes flickered down to the watch. It was less fortunate. The crash had ripped apart the packaging. The face was cracked. It was barely ticking. Hera must have chosen a durable one.
My eyes shot open in an instant. Hera was with me and we were… going somewhere. I grimaced and pressed my hands against my eyes, instantly regretting it when glass pressed back at me.
It was with some effort that I dragged my uncooperating head to the side. Hera was a black shadow in the driver’s seat. The dark concealed her, and never had I wished more than in that moment that I had a flashlight. She was not moving.
Two minutes passed, said the watch accusingly.
Those two minutes would be trivial if not for you, Hera’s form hissed.
Fear was a hungry rat. It scampered around with all the gracefulness of a drunk in a hurry, seeking the outskirts of the mind with no understandable purpose. Where it stood its shadow stayed and where it ran it left a slime and stench. Its greed snatched rationality with billions of tiny bites and with a psychotic kind of enthusiasm, before shredding it and scattering the remains in an infinite abyss. When it leapt, so too did my heart leap with it, and the all-consuming tidal wave of grey that warped my sight and flipped the earth breached the threshold of what the human mind can withstand. The demon, wherever had the demon gone? I saw none and that frightened me above all else…
The screeching, blaring cries of white vultures pierced the night’s veil. They swooped down upon us, the stench of encroaching death punctuating my lungs and suffocating the life of my best friend. I screeched back at them, a weak, wounded cry, but they grabbed me with many claws and dragged me away. Their wings opened, bright and blinding from the darkness, to reveal a gaping maw, shapes moved around me in a jumbled cacophony, the rain crashed down to the pumping in my veins, a distinct ringing was determined to drag my brains through my ears… And that’s when Fear decided that the tastiest morsels are those made still.
Three days later a patient would escape their room and be found a floor away at another patient’s bed. An argument would begin, some yelling would be heard, and within a few hours an assigned room will move…
There’s still food if you’re running late. -Akakios
You have 12 unread messages.
The phone was closed with only the barest glance. I never had gone to that party, but the regret weighed far lighter than if I had signed that contract after all. Recovery would be riddled with late nights and stressful days, but being here, with my friend safe in a hospital bed, I knew it would end alright. Now, perhaps I should search for that cat.