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It was horrendous to watch. Yet somehow you couldn’t bring yourself to look away. I had witnessed it. Just a week earlier my father passed, and I have to admit, I didn’t cry, because I knew it would happen; I was prepared. I remember it with such clarity, the eyes glazed over, the frail bones, the purple skin, and the vomit; an endless river of regurgitation. Yet the one thing that seemed to puzzle me the most, was the words. Just before you died, a jumble of nonsense began to flow from your lips, but I knew it had a bigger purpose. It must have been a clue. I am not sure of what kind, whether to stop the sickness, or change the future, but I knew it couldn’t be nonsense.
The sickness started about two months ago. Scientists soon realized it was toxins slithering into earth’s atmosphere. The higher up you were, the more likely you were to catch it. I was surprised my father had not died sooner; he was a window cleaner, and spent most of his days in high places. Most people were living in their basements; some had even dug tunnels into the ground. I was living in my basement with my two best friends, Isabelle and Bear. My mother was happily living in Paris or somewhere in Europe, sipping champagne and exploring museums. It puzzled me that she didn’t come for me, her own son. We had no electricity, or plumbing, or a water system. Workers refused to do their job for risk of getting sick; or being attacked by some wild beast. The toxin didn’t always kill people, but mutated them into “zombie” like creatures. I had just earlier seen a two headed pigeon land on the windowsill. The streets were empty. You barely saw anyone go outside except for a few people in gas-masks running to collect food from the nearest grocery store.
Bear and Isabelle were fighting that day when I came in. Something about who got the “Spaghetti O’s”, and who got the “Chicken Noodle”.
“Would you two give it a rest?” I yelled as I set down the cans I had recently brought home. They looked at me, and then looked at the cans I was holding, and sighed.
“Really? Cream of mushroom again?” Bear moaned, as he kicked away a small paper that lay by his feet. “I mean come on Todd?”
“Look Bear, it’s the only thing left that hasn’t already been stolen. I’m sorry you can’t always get what you want,” I said, the sarcastic twang in my voice causing Isabelle to giggle. I pushed the can over to Bear, and he sniffed it and gagged. I pulled him to his feet.
“We have to leave anyway; there was no more water bottles left at the market, and we are running low. You are coming with me,” I declared as I pulled our masks out from under some old cardboard boxes. I handed Bear his, and he took it reluctantly.
“Am I coming?” Isabelle’s voice quivered from the chilly air.
“Not this time,” I said adjusting the mask to my face. “It’s going to be a long trip, and you are already catching a cold.”
The blood was gut-wrenching. An enormous pool of scarlet red blanketed her body. The expression on her face: a twisted smile, eyes fixed open staring into nothingness. A glimmering silver blade was still hovering on her forehead, revealing spots of bone at the surface. The body revealed multiple stab marks all over her torso. And I cried, because it was unexpected, a complete surprise, out of the ordinary. And Bear cried. I am assuming he felt worse than me for he had yelled at her, just an hour before. And for awhile we just sat there, because we just didn’t know what to do.
Bear stood up and reached for my hand. I turned away and wiped my tears before looking him in the eye. We buried her outside, and placed a stone above her head. And then we ate our cream of mushroom in silence. I don’t think we spoke one word that night, and we were dreading mopping up the blood in the morning.
I figured it out that day, what the words meant. I figured out while passing a man in the street at the brink of death. I recognized him. He had stolen my father’s laptop around a year ago, yet never spoke up, and refused to believe he had done it. I stood by him watching, and soon, as usual, a swarm of people gathered around to watch the show. Some gasped in horror at the image before them. Others commented on the pool of vomit he was collapsed in, and some just stood there, unable to comprehend the torturous scene. It was almost addicting to watch. Maybe it was because it was such a curious thing, the words, and it wasn’t long before they came; a mass of strange phrases. I listened closely this time, hoping to hear something, and it wasn’t long before Idid.
“I took the laptop.”
At first I didn’t believe it, but then after another few phrases, I heard it again.
“I took the laptop”
“Does anyone know this man?” I shouted amongst the pack of humans. A few people raised their hands. “Did he ever lie to any of you?” Complete silence. Many glared, as if I was insulting this man’s dying soul. I repeated myself, more demanding this time “Did he ever lie to any of you?” Several seconds passed before a woman carrying a briefcase raised her hand.
“He killed my cat. Said it ran away. But I know he killed it,” Her voice was soft, and shaky. She seemed very paranoid, but who would blame her? I nodded in approval, then motioned for her to listen. It wasn’t long before we heard it.
“I killed the cat”
“Said it ran away, but I killed it.”
Whispers quickly spread through the group, but I smiled. Not at the sight of this man, that now lay dead before us, but because I figured it out. The words were confessions. All the lies they ever told, escaping their mouth in their final seconds, cleansing themselves of sins. I questioned this. How could toxic waste cause the brain to act in this way? But I tested my theory, and it was never wrong.
I knew what I had to do. It was obvious. I had to find this sick minded, cruel and brutal being, that had somehow had a mind twisted enough to kill an innocent girl. I entered the dark tunnels of my mind, and thought. I had a few suspects, but nothing I could truly count on. It was torture. To look at the dried, molding blood stains on the floor, and to be completely clue-less. Yet slowly a little peak of interest, a small speck of hope, crawled into my brain, and itched at my nerves. Ronnie. Ronnie V. Lyre. We used to be best friends; inseparable. But then Isabelle came along. He hated her; couldn’t stand her mere presence. He had developed an unhealthy addiction to my attention, and Isabelle was getting in his way, but to go so far as to murder her? The sad thing was I could easily believe it. I hadn’t talked to him in years, and word was that he was getting madder and madder by the second.
It was a warm day when I stepped outside, or at least warmer than usual. The sun smiled and kissed my frostbitten nose with its warmth. The white, cotton-candy like substance easily melted in its presence as the sun gently licked it, and it dissolved instantly, as if relieving it from a long night-shift. And then I saw him. He sat on the steps down to his wine cellar. Many gaped at the fact he was never found frozen in a block of ice, or worse. His curly dirty blonde hair refused to match his bright, wrinkled, Rudolph-like nose. And he saw me; A small boy with jet black hair and pale lips. The lines on my forehead pulsing, intensifying my sliver, gem-stone eyes. And he watched me pick up the stone. I tossed it in my fingers gently as our eyes battled in confusion. And he laughed, and I gasped; for it was deep laugh; one of arrogance, and foolishness. The trees shook as if trying to escape his venomous and inhuman presence. He had mutated. He had become a zombie. His green skin appeared infected and you could see bulges of torn surface about his face. His eyes were merely white spots; pupils missing. I don’t remember what happened next. But I know I did throw the rock, and I watched him slide down the steps, a trail of ooze leading to his unconscious body. And I remember the pain of dragging him up the forty-two flights, and I remember him waking up.
His eyes struggled to free themselves from the pile of crusty film that sealed his eyelids shut. We were in the abandoned bank. Forty-two flights of stairs up. It was quite awhile before he spoke.
"So? What now? You have got me where you want me. Now finish the deal." His voice was mangled, how I would imagine a dog to speak, tongue loosely flopping, unable to pronunciate words correctly. I didn’t speak. I looked out the window at the brown sky and the bone-chilling drop below us.
“You little wuss. I know you can’t do it,” He mumbled as I unlatched the window. “You never would go to the edge of the fence, or crawl in the drain pipe. How could you ever murder someone?”
I slowly attached my mask to my face. Not once speaking to him, or making eye-contact. I pulled at the window. It didn’t budge. I yanked and yanked until my muscles grew sore with agonizing pain, all the while Ronnie’s barbarous laugh pounding at my eardrums. Finally I had no other option. I squeezed my fingers under the window. The skin on the tops of my fingers began slowly ripping. It was tearing at my flesh, stretching and slowly extracting and I pushed my fingers farther and farther under the latch. Blood could be seen dripping down the ledge, and you could hear my skin being uprooted. Like the sound of fabric being pulled apart, and my bones crunching under the pressure. And Ronnie laughed. But the window was now open. And he pointed at the ribbon like flaps on my fingers that now began to flutter in the breeze. I pulled him up by his shirt collar. He spit in my face. It fogged my goggles, and left me with the vision of bat. I wiped the cold saliva with my bloody hand, leaving streaks of scarlet war-paint on the visible spots of my face. And I held him by the window. I knew it wouldn’t be long before the infection set in and the lie would come, “I killed Isabelle.” And for a second, I felt bad. I felt bad for killing this obviously disturbed and clueless boy. I felt bad for murdering my friend, but I thought back to what he had done and it soon passed. And it scared me. Was I the bad guy? What had I become? I killed Ronnie easily, without thinking twice, and it worried me immensely. But then the words began.
“I broke the lamp.”
“I locked up the baby.”
“I stole the diamonds.”
And it never came. He didn’t kill her. He probably never even laid a finger on her. But then who did? And then the words came that really disturbed me.
“I forgive you, Todd.”
It was sunset when I came home. Nothing magnificent or beautiful, just an array of browns filled the sky, as if the universe had chosen to upchuck on our planet. My hand had grown numb, and I had wrapped it in Ronnie’s foul smelling shirt. I was ready to rest for a little bit, and be embraced by Bear.
I don’t know if I was emotionally prepared for the image that lie before me; Bear, violet-skinned, trembling violently in the corner. He was sick, and I did all that I could do, which included collapsing in grief-stricken awe at Bear’s state. I crawled to his side and squeezed his limp body. A droopy grin appeared on his face when he spoke.
“Hey Todd, did you get him?” his voice trembled as my eyes slowly began to water.
“Yes, we got him Bear,” I said my voice cracking, lips swallowing salty tears.
“I’m fine Todd, really don’t worry. I’m so sorry. . . I went outside, I didn’t mean to but, I couldn’t help myself, I . . . ,” He stuttered and franticly tried to apologize for his state. I smiled at him. Who would have guessed, Bear, apologizing? I chuckled. He looked up at me with his frosted over eyes, and he chuckled too. “Please don’t leave me,” he said clutching my wrists in his clammy hands.
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
And so I sat with him. And we remembered. We remembered sneaking into Mr. Furgerson’s yard, and taunting his german shepard. We remembered getting stuck in the hospital’s elevator for five hours, and going insane from playing twenty-four games of hangman. We remembered what it was like before the epidemic; peaceful, carefree. And I scooted closer to Bear, and wrapped him in my arms, like a worn blanket; a childhood memory, dragged along until holes appeared and seams tore. Bear then froze. He robotically and mechanically turned his head and looked up at me; his eyes like a frightened child.
“No Bear don’t leave me, you can’t leave me now. Please. I need you. Bear please.”
I could tell he was trying to scream out for help, yet I could do nothing.
“No. Bear No! Stay with me! Please,” I began to choke on my words as I inhaled my own tears. “Please. Not now,” I sobbed historically and shook his near-lifeless body.
At that moment, I wanted to be the brave father to check under the bed for the monsters, tormenting this small child. And his hand slowly reached to touch my face, but his muscles caught him before he could, and his expression went blank. I wiped away my tears. I had almost forgotten about the words. . .
“I killed Isabelle.”
“I killed Isabelle.”
“I killed Isabelle.”
“I killed her.”
“I killed her.”
“I KILLED HER!”