"Dumb Fate whispers in no man's ear his coming doom; Each thinks— ‘not I— not I.’”
The 29th of July, 2017. 922 Kentucky St., Lawrence, KS 66044
Everything is blurry, blurry, blurry, and all she can hear are the sirens. They blare incessantly, ringing in her ears and demanding her attention like a fussy infant. She’s dizzy, and cold. It seems as though every shiver is heavier; every breath is harder.
The pain is dull, just below the surface. If only she could fall asleep, then the taste and metallic scent of blood would fall away, left on the ground as she floats up and up…
“Aya, can you hear me?” A strong voice breaks through the clouds and drags her down into her broken skin. “Aya, I need you to stay with me. Just focus on my voice; I can’t let you fall asleep. We’re almost to the hospital, honey, just stay awake.”
“Hos… pital?” the bloodied form of the girl shudders, trying to cough out the right words. She tries to sit up, but her body won’t cooperate with her mind properly.
“That’s right, hon, we’ll be there soon. Aya, can you tell me what you remember?”
“I was walking down Mass’ street and—” suddenly, she can’t breathe. Everything comes back to her in a rush. No, no, no, she can’t be here, not back in this nightmare; she’s asleep, at home, in bed, not in an ambulance. She can choose to sit up and choose to move her limbs; she’s not here. But there’s no choice in these events for Aya, no choose-your-own-adventure. She has to choke out her lines word by word; she must gasp, “?and there was— there was a car, but it was too close and I couldn’t move out of the way—”
“And do you remember the road? Tearing your flesh like tissue paper? Can you recall your broken bones snapping like twigs, your anguished screams?” The voice has a sinister edge, cold where it had been warm, unfeeling where it should be sensitive and caring. “Can you feel the blood filling your lungs now? Can you feel your ribs struggling to expand? Tell me, Aya, can you breathe?”
Aya panics, choking on her words. No, she’s just choking; she’s just dying; she needs to wake up. I need to wake up.
“Oh, honey,” the foul voice simpers. It delights in every syllable of torture and clearly tries to hold back a laugh, “you’re never waking up.”
Hot blood flows over her lips as Aya tries to scream, tries to wake up. Her blurry vision darkens and spots of black creep in; they’re beetles over her rotting corpse. She convulses; searing pain rushes in again and tears at her body like hot knives wielded by demons.
And then she’s awake. She’s safe, on her own sweet, sweet couch. Sweat drips down her face, following the same path as the tears that rage traitorously from her eyes, which are squeezed tightly shut against the world. Aya frantically checks her body for the wounds that haunt her sleep, sobbing with relief as she finds none like her terrors.
Standing up shakily from her makeshift bed of a couch, Aya picks up the pillows and blankets off of the floor. In her sleep she must have kicked them off, fighting her bedclothes rather than the vile presence in her nightmares. She looks out of the bay window on the east wall, smiling at the birds outside. Today is Saturday, which means no classes at university, and she has the flat to herself.
Teddy, her flatmate, had left early this morning, having a 7.30 shift at work. He left a note on the refrigerator door, as always, and promised to bring home dinner for the two of them if she bought groceries for the week. But Aya has no time for shopping today. Today is the day, the day she finally gets to die.
As she ties up her tangled hair into a messy ponytail and straightens her pajamas, Aya checks the clock on the microwave eagerly. 11.29. The café where her savior works will be open. She must get going; today is a momentous one.
As she puts her worn tennis shoes on, Aya reviews her plan.
First, I order a drink. Something simple, maybe a latte with an extra shot. Next I say hello to her, see if she remembers what she did to me. If she does, and she should— I certainly do— I ask to talk. Act casual, stay calm. Don’t let her see that anything’s wrong. Then I tell her what I remember, step by step, but let her know that I don’t plan on telling. I could never tell. It’s too dangerous to tell.
When she admits what she did, I ask. If she says no, explain the benefits. If she still refuses, threaten her. Make a scene. Be prepared to do something drastic. Anything is worth it. But do not let her tell your secret, and never tell hers.
There, it’s that simple. Every precaution has been taken. You’ve reviewed and made note of every regular Saturday customer, and none of them are personal friends of hers. Her shift lead will be too high to notice anything. It’s perfect.
Aya smiles. She wonders if she spoke out loud. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. With a grin of anticipation, she glides out the door. She’s confident, sure of her plan. Today is the day.
12.03 P.M. Encore Café, 1007 Massachusetts St, Lawrence, KS 66044
“What are you doing here?” The startled young woman nearly drops the coffee she had been preparing, and her steel blue eyes widen in shock. The café’s ambient buzz softens for a moment; customers soften their conversations to better eavesdrop. “I told you not to talk to me anymore.”
As she steps up to the counter, Aya scopes out the situation. This girl looks fatigued; stress coats her features in the form of a cold sweat and last night’s makeup. This person is not who haunts her nighttime hours. This one is weaker, smaller, more human. Rather than being aggressively present, she seems… absent, lost.
Even her eyes look as though they are somewhere else, or wish they could be.
The only thing that remains the same as when they first met is her voice. Although it’s been twisted in her mind and her nightmares, Aya knows that voice nearly better than her own. She can never forget.
Aya’s entrance seems to have drawn the busy girl back to Earth. How can she allow herself to come back when she is so lucky to escape, even for a moment?
“But, Nora, I need your help. You should know that I respect you too much to come otherwise.” Aya paints a picture of reason on her face. This mask slides on as easily as the others she keeps tucked away. Reason, happiness, sadness, calm, and any other non-threatening, positive emotions she might need are stored where her human honesty used to be. “Please, just listen to what I have to say.”
“Fine, but the moment I feel uncomfortable, you leave.”
“Agreed.” Aya can scarcely believe it. Hope flushes her gray cheeks and lights up her dull eyes with malapropos joy.
“I… think I know what you’re here about,” Nora speaks slowly, in quiet tones as one would a scared animal. “Aya, whatever you think you saw that night, it wasn’t what you thought.”
“So, you didn’t save my life? From a car accident?” Aya raises an unkempt brow, and decides to move to collect her belongings and leave. “I guess you aren’t as good of a person as I’d hoped.”
“Aya, wait!” The girl’s carefully chosen words had struck a chord. “I did. I saved you, but you cannot tell anyone.”
“I would never tell. It’s too dangerous for either of us to tell. If anyone found out about my nightmares, or your secret—”
“What do you mean? I don’t have anything to hide, I just don’t want to be a hero.” Nora ducks her head, and her olive cheeks flush as she tries to cover her treacherous secrets.
“Oh, cut the crap. You’re a vigilante freak with a Messiah complex who goes around ruining lives, thinking she’s doing good.” Aya nearly shouts as her sedulously hidden rage spews from her lips. She takes a deep breath to collect herself. In a hushed whisper, she mutters, “You have no idea what you’ve put me through, do you?”
'No, I suppose I don’t,” Nora hisses, angered and self-righteous. “Enlighten me.”
“I remember. I can see all of it, every moment, whenever I close my eyes. The blood, the pain, the panic.”
Nora’s skin turns pallid; her piqued features fall flat. “That’s impossible.”
“Oh, is it?” Aya spits, incensed at this clear injustice. Anyone could see that she tells the truth. Even a stranger. “Don’t you remember?”
“Of course I do, but that’s different. Look, you were hit by a Ford Fusion at 3.29 AM on July 29th of last year. You died in the ambulance on your way to the hospital. A horrible death. I saved you, I kept you from dying that way! How can you be upset about this?”
“Since the day that I died and then didn’t die, I have had the same nightmare every night. I’m hit by the car, in exquisitely accurate detail, and am ushered into the ambulance before being tortured to death by the demonic paramedic. Can you even fathom what that’s done to me?”
Aya rips open her jacket and lifts her shirt to reveal the scratches and scars that she’s given herself in her sleep. Letting this well-rehearsed action come to a close, she continues, “Nora, things would be better if you had let me die. You still can.”
“What? No! You, you would be dead.” Nora’s eyes fill with tears. She is so deeply passionate about her choices. “Gone. No chance of having a life or getting treatment or—”
“I do not want treatment.” Aya’s tone is dangerously sure as she interrupts, “I want relief.”
“I’m sorry, I just— Luca? Is that Luca?”
“Who is Luca? What are you talking about?” Aya, irked, follows Nora’s gaze to the sidewalk outside, where a young man, nearly the same age as Nora, 26 or so, locks eyes with the barista.
Nora, clearly unsettled by this boy’s presence, quickly runs outside and stands before him. Aya follows, suspicious. She places herself slightly behind Nora. As she is Nora’s protection, she makes pointed and threatening eye contact with the intruding person before her.
“It’s been a long time.” The gamin smiles, but something is off. “How have you been? How’s the family?”
“They’re fine; where have you been, Luca?” Nora looks him up and down, frowning at what she sees. Aya notes the important connection here. “I haven’t seen you since your dad, um, died.”
“Since he shot himself with a .45 at our family reunion, you mean?”
“Luca… look, I know you blame me for that, but you asked me to change it,” she desperately pleads with him; wills for forgiveness. “How could I have known what would happen?”
“Life is quite unfair, don’t you think? A faithful wife’s husband miraculously survives a near fatal car accident, and yet she and her son are subjected to two long and painful years of abuse before he finally kills himself.” Luca’s voice sounds detached, nonchalant, but his sorrow is plain to see in his face. He steps forward and places a crooked forefinger on Nora’s chest. “It’s almost as if the scales were unbalanced by some freak of nature.”
Aya bites her tongue and restrains herself as she tries to figure out what this creep is planning. He’s clearly a threat to Nora, which means he is also a threat to Aya. They are bound together.
“Luca, I’m so sorry for what happened to you and Julie, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m so, so sorry.” Her voice breaks, but Nora swallows her tears.
“I just need to hear it from you. Tell me what you did.”
Watching his every movement, Aya sees that he has a hand hidden in his jean pocket. What is he up to?
“Please, just explain to me how it really happened, Nora. I need to know why everything is wrong.”
“He had been at the bar that night. He had spent all of his money, so he drove home instead of calling a taxi.” The girl’s voice trembles. It no longer emits fervid or defiant utterances of will, nothing comparable to her words with Aya just minutes earlier. “He hit another car on his way and would have died, but I changed it so that he left the bar earlier. I had hoped that he wouldn’t meet the car. But he still hit it. The other driver died along with… along with—”
“Along with his two kids. You screwed up. Congratulations. God, we used to be so close before all of this crap. You remember, don’t you? All of those years we spent together, friends forever. You told me all of your secrets, and all of your family’s secrets. I told you mine, about my father, how I was worried about him. How he hurt Mom and I, and,” Luca’s mouth twists into a grimace. “I told you so much that you said you would help. It seemed to work. Each time, you ‘helped’ and things got better. Wash, rinse, repeat. Until that day. Until you messed with time and managed to cause more death. You screwed up. Didn’t you?”
“Yes.” Her voice is weak and small, and she stares at the pavement as if from the pores of the concrete she can divine what to do.
“You admit your crime?”
“Yes,” she croaks, barely louder.
But Aya knows that it’s just enough louder.
“What are you doing with that?” Aya demands, gesturing to Luca’s pocket. “Are you recording this?”
“I don’t know who you are, but you have to believe me. This girl is a criminal, a murderer. I’m going to prove it to the world!” Luca triumphantly pulls his phone out of his pocket, displaying the screen with the recording to the two. “How does betrayal feel, Nora?”
Determination over her usually morose face, Aya expertly slaps the corrupt device out of his hand.
“No one can find out about Nora,” she whispers in his ear, grasping his wrists tighter than shackles. “Do you understand?”
Luca struggles, first trying to escape her grasp, then trying to step backwards. They fall into the street. Aya vehemently shouts at him as he cries for help. Nora just stands there as she weeps like the helpless hero she is.
“Aya, look out!”
In many books and movies in pop culture, a common cliche is “time seems to slow down [as some sort of devastating, catastrophic moment occurs].” These stories crawl dramatically as the dashing and stunningly clever hero or heroine has a dreadful amount of time to make such important decisions as the situation requires.
But this is simply not the case. Not now.
As Aya looks up, time speeds up. She spots the speeding car headed straight for her and Luca, and has seemingly less time than logic would assert. Her heart races. She can feel it in her head and her hands. She feels herself scream as she throws her body away from Luca and towards the sidewalk.
This all happened in approximately five seconds, but to Aya it is less than one. Similarly, the next 30 minutes go by in closer to 6. Faces blur together, first concerned citizens, then the cops, then, most importantly, Nora’s devastated face.
The disturbed girl forces herself to forget what she witnessed. She forces herself to forget her failed plan. She forces herself to forget everything.
Only 4 syllables are actually processed in Aya’s stupor. They are her savior’s, whispered into her ears as faintly as the breeze.
“I’m going back.”
To Escape July
"Dumb Fate whispers in no man's ear his coming doom; Each thinks— ‘not I— not I.’”