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Not in control
My story starts on a warm summer night in my small bedroom, which my family and friends call ‘The Cavern’. I was cracking up about some stupid joke that slipped out of my mouth as I was drifting off to sleep.
The sound of Valerie’s perfect giggle, Alex’s deep and uncontrollable chuckle, and Noa’s ringing laughing fit, filled up the room like the sweetest song of chiming bells.
Then, Nick walked in the door and told us to shut up, marking the end of another perfect night.
First of all, let me explain who all of us were. My name was Leo, short for Laliya, Alex and Val had been my best friends since 7th grade, Noa was my popular twin, who I loved more than anything, and Nick was my 14 year old brother. All of us were juniors in high school, except for Nick, of course, who was a freshman.
I was a loving, sweet and passionate high-school girl. My hair was a color like caramel, and curly, reaching down to my shoulder blades. I was sociable, but not popular, even though I was the captain of the varsity girls volleyball team.
Noa and Nick looked freakishly similar, both with short wavy blonde hair and hazel eyes, like they could be twins if Noa wasn’t taller and older. They were both also very liked and athletic in school.
Val had the perfect shine, beauty, intelligence and smile. Her face was like a ray of sun every time she laughed. Her hair always sprung happily around her face in perfect dark curls. Valerie's milk chocolate skin radiated sweetness and love. She was a writer. She wrote books and poems and plays and stories, though nobody was ever allowed to read them. “They’re not done yet” she would say, half-smiling and biting her lip. It breaks my heart that they won’t ever be. I hope someone finds her many journals one day. Maybe she’ll get the credit she deserves.
Alex had always been the funny one, his humor was just on-point every second, but he knew when he needed to tone it down, and when he did, he was the most caring and gentle person on the planet He was on the cross country and track teams, one of the fastest runners in our class. His Mom died when he was six. He has this sadness still lingering about him on certain days. It might be part of the reason he’s grown so close to my mom and our family. It certainly didn’t bother us though.
The next morning was where everything turned in the wrong direction, completely wrong, like a car on autopilot, taking a turn off a cliff. I woke up, and my whole body felt strange and numb. I tried to reach my hand up to touch my forehead, in an effort to check if I had a fever. My hand wouldn’t move. I tried to move any of my limbs, and no response. Then I heard a voice. “Hello, and welcome to a new life. Please, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride” That was the only thing it said to me directly, with a sharp, gritty voice.
My legs slid out from underneath my quilt, and Val shifted closer to Alex. I stumbled d into the bathroom, cold tile pressing up against my tingling feet. My body steadied as if it was getting used to me. I sensed my hand reach up to my face, without permission. I felt my fingernail dig into my skin and make a slit on my cheekbone. I tasted blood, salty like the sea, but some part of me, this new unwelcome, terrible part, enjoyed it.
The Mirror reflected my face. My face, but with some tweaks made to accommodate my new host. My eyes looked hollow and full of clouds, my skin without its usual shine. My face half smothered in crimson colored blood. My hand pressed against the wound and swiftly smeared blood over my reflection. I saw myself smile in the red-stained mirror.
“This is a nightmare, just a harmless bad dream. Everyone has bad dreams, this will all end soon.” I had thought to reassure myself, but I was wrong, so unbelievably wrong.
In the next thirty minutes, everyone had gotten up, and were all trying (and failing) to get clothes on. Giving up, they all walked upstairs to breakfast with unbrushed hair, backward shirts, and inside out sweats. This would have normally been hilarious to watch, as I was perfectly dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, but I was too scared to find it funny, terrified of what my body would make a future.
It was clear by then that this was not a dream, but a horrifying reality. I was not in control.
Breakfast was frightening. Fortunately, because I loved food, we were having a lovely breakfast of sausages, potatoes (which were pretty much my favorite food on the planet), eggs, and toast. Unfortunately, the table was set with knives. Sharp, clean, shining steak knives.
We were all enjoying our meal at the worn wood dining table. All of my friends loved eating at my house because my mom was a cook at our favorite Italian restaurant, even though she didn’t cook Italian a lot at our house. “Because It’s too repetitive to cook the same thing at the restaurant and at home,” she’d say when I’d complain.
We were laughing, chatting, and my numb mouth was playing along. Nobody knew, nobody except me, that that sharp gleaming steak knife was being hidden under the table, hovering above Alex’s bouncing knee, aimed for his torso.
No, no, no, no. I felt like crumpling to the floor and dissolving into nothing, just a blur of colors. Something that couldn’t hurt anyone. The only thing I wanted was to scream at them to get away, far, far away from me to somewhere safe. Somewhere where they weren’t in danger of me, their best friend, sister, daughter.
Then I lunged, knife soaring through the little space between Alex and I. And thank God, if there even is one, I missed, just barely nipping the side of Alex’s sweatshirt. The knife clattered to the floor. My head silenced.
I didn’t kill Alex, Alex was alive, and laughing, picking up my knife and handing it back to me, as it had come off that I was just being clumsy. Alex was O.K. He was smiling as he told me that I had almost killed him there. He didn’t even know. He didn’t know that in that moment, he loved a murderer, a monster, a myth in the scary story books we’d read in the 6th grade. Unassuming and happy, not aware of the dangers in those pages. That those stories inscribed in poisoned ink could happen to real people. People we cared about, people we loved.
After Val and Alex left I walked through that day like a zombie, saying the right things when needed, trying to steer as clear as I possibly could away from anyone, with the little control I had, just inside my head. I tried once again to move my body, my mouth, or at least command my breathing. And again, I was failing.
That night, lying under my cold unwelcoming blankets, I thought about what was inside of me. A sociopath? Some sort of long-lost enemy holding a grudge? It’s not like we have a ton of money… so that couldn’t have been the reason. And even if it was, how could they do this? How could someone transfer their consciousness to someone else's body? Or was that all they were, a bodiless consciousness, roaming around unseen, controlling other people, to take out their anger for them. Maybe it was a previously living soul, here to revive itself in the form of others.
The next day was the worst day of my short life. The day when all of my fears came true, where my love for the world abruptly came to an end. The day when it seemed as if all of the love in the whole world came burning down, and a new empire of hate and anger rose rapidly from its ashes. Uncontrollable hate. The ruler of the empire unknown and violent.
I (or rather, my body) got out of bed, got dressed in a pair of leggings, fresh cropped tee, and sweatshirt, and clomped through the tiny living room to the worst meal in history.
“ I’ll get the O.J.!” I find myself shouting.
In response, I hear a chorus of “love yoooooooooou!”s and “Thanks, Leo!”s, from my lovely family, who were all glad they weren’t getting up from their seats to get orange juice for everyone, our traditional breakfast drink.
Why I was getting the drinks, I didn’t know. I never really jumped to set the table or anything. I wondered why my shared body was being kind. But after all of the glasses were filled with the sweet and tangy Juice, I found out why.
There was a tiny, fragile glass bottle of a syrupy, cloudy-white concoction in my sweatshirt pocket.
I knew right away it was poison. I could feel the word rattling my bones, curdling my blood and pushing at the back of my eyes. This wasn’t a joke. Not some sort of cover-up-with-my-clumsiness accident. This was death. I was about to murder an innocent person who didn’t deserve to die. I was living inside of my greatest fear.
I watched, with a feeling of dread and sickness sinking in my stomach and sticking in my lungs, as the opaque liquid dripped into each cup, but one. Mine. this could not be happening. If they died, I died. I couldn’t watch them all go still and cold while I sit there, drinking my non-poisoned juice. NO. None of us deserved to die and if not none, all. We were perfect, untouchable, laughing, beautiful. Nothing could ever come between us, until now.
I was coming between us. Me. And death, death and I working as a team. I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t me but this other person, or whatever they were. But I was still drowning in a raging kind of guilt caused by 3 murders I hadn’t yet performed.
Nevertheless, my hands set the glass cups heavily on the table, the half-used and delicate poison bottle leaking and sticky in my pocket. The first thing everyone did was go for the drink, all at the same time, desperate in the early morning for energy.
I hoped with all of my might that their souls would leave their motionless bodies, unharmed. Not knowing that I had killed them, but thinking I was a loving sister, daughter, and friend, as I should be.
I hoped that they would float upward together as a family of three, and forget I ever existed.
I hoped they wouldn't watch me from wherever they would go, to see that I was a monster. Their unknowing eyes would think I was a murderer. They would feel betrayed. But I hoped they could see the truth. I hoped that some god up there was all-knowing, and would tell them the truth.
And finally, I hoped this thing inside me would be punished forever when it returned to wherever it came from. I hoped a lot.
When I finally looked up, I stopped hoping, stopped everything, stopped feeling, stopped thinking, stopped living, when I looked.
I saw Nick, my sibling of only 14 with so much life left in him keel over and start shaking and screaming at the pain growing inside of him.
I saw Noa, my twin, my equal, my other half. I saw his eyes glaze over and blood dribble through his lips.
I saw my mother, Mama, I called her. She looked in horror at her two beautiful boys facing death in front of her eyes as her gut wrenched, filled with poison.
They saw me sit there. And smile. Not a tear on my cheek. They saw me sit there, and smile. Like everything was FINE. They must’ve thought I was the Devil. Maybe I was.
I watched silently as Nick’s terrified face fell onto the ground, a terror-lit fire burning in his eyes, while I rested my head on my fist and my eyes rolled impatiently. Noa’s head, springing with loose, blonde, curls, crashed to the table as my heart crashed to the floor. I watched Mama slip out of her chair as her body went limp.
The REAL me, fell to the ground and broke into pieces as the earth beneath my feet gave out. My still-beating heart broke through the cage of my ribs and rolled about the splintered bamboo floors.
As I slowly returned to my rented-out body, heartless and ripped apart, I was as heavy as the world itself, with the weight of guilt and grief on my fragile shoulders.
Then my arm was reaching toward the phone, calling Val, and calling Alex moments later. My empty body filled with anger. WHY? Why, why do my best friends, besides Noa, have to get dragged into this suffocating mess of evil?
I could feel Val making an illegal u-turn off of her route to school, a stricken look on her shaking face. Feel Alex tell his dad to stop the car, shout at him to stop the car, leave his backpack and start running in my direction. As if he could be fast enough to save them.
Within minutes, Val’s sweet, tear-stained face was at my door. She was asking me if I was O.K. She was hugging me. Asking what happened. Holding Noa's face in her hands and crying. So much crying. Valerie was crying like I wish I could.
That’s when she asked if there was anything, anything at all, that she could do. That’s when I noticed the biggest, sharpest, serrated kitchen knife we had was in my hand, tightly gripped. That’s when I told her that I needed her to die. That’s when I killed her.
I drove the knife into her chest. I felt soft, tender flesh and strong bone. Blood of a deep velvet red was everywhere, pouring out of her warm chest like love used to pour out of her heart. She had such a good heart.
But her heart was now visible, and vulnerable. Her originally crisp white shirt had been shredded and dyed a scarlet red that would have actually looked stunning on Val, laid against her cappuccino skin. Her hair, still a shining brown, in a loose and untameable array of ringlets that I would always wrap my pinkie in. Val was beautiful. Inside and out. There was no doubt about that. She was so trusting and loyal and loving to me. I was to her too, and Alex. I loved her.
Right then, I remembered the first time she told me she loved me. In 8th grade, when my mom didn’t have a job and couldn't pay the rent, nor could she pay the taxes. My family felt like it was falling apart, and that morning, mom had announced that we couldn't keep our small two-story house anymore, and we would have to get either a very small one story or apartment. Noa started crying. He was so worried about her, we both were. She always put us above her, feeding us and letting herself sleep with only a bit of supper, buying us books and gifts of extra sweaters when she was at a lack of warm clothes for the winter.
I was crying in the dark hall of the chorus and band building, and the first period had started about 30 minutes ago.
Val was by my side. She told me that money didn’t matter. She said all I needed was love. And she loved me, and Noa and Alex and my family did. And I loved them, they knew it. So we would all be OK, as long as we loved each other.
When I return to reality, Valerie whispers one word before her gushing heart stopped completely. “Why?” the emptiness inside of me cried and screamed and sobbed. I was so sorry. So, so, so sorry. I still am.
As I stared at Val, my cheeks still free of tears, I sigh and shove her head to the side to make room for my body to stand up. Alex walks through the door. This time I don’t even wait. The sink fills at the pull of a handle. and Alex walks toward me, face drenched in hot tears, and embraces me in a hug. not knowing I did this, not knowing I murdered my family. Not knowing I murdered his family too. He and Val thought of Nick and Noa as brothers and Mama as their mother. They even called her Mom. They called Nick Nickie. They called Noa “The Social Butterfly,” because
After I had finished daydreaming, a sickening realization washed over me. I was going to drown Alex. I was going to drown him in a sink. Does that even count as drowning? I didn’t know. It didn’t matter. It counts as killing. Either way, he would end up dead. I wanted to buckle into his firm embrace. I wanted to let him hold me up because I felt like crumbling, because he always did. But I couldn't because my stupid body wouldn't let me. The same f***ing body that killed everyone I really, truly loved.
Then, I made a promise to myself. If this thing ever leaves me, I will join them, to tell them I love them, to see their faces smiling once more. And because I more than deserve to die.
I plunged Alex’s face into the overflowing kitchen sink. I could feel him struggle, I could sense him screaming under water. Adjusting my hands to the back of his neck, I could feel him stop trying. And I let him fall to the ground.
The edges of my vision started blurring, and I fell onto the wet floor.
When I woke up, no more than one minute later, I felt my limbs tingling. I lifted my arm. My leg. I breathed in, out, in, out. I was back in control. I was O.K.
My family was not. The sudden replay of my blood-drenched day slammed into me like a brick wall. A wall that slowly melted into a thick syrup of emotions that filled the air around me, seeping into my skin and infecting my lungs. My breath became shallow.
I sat up quickly and dragged myself over to Alex. Maybe he was still alive, maybe I could revive him. Maybe. I pushed on his chest, once, twice. liquid sprayed out of his mouth every time. His lungs were full of water.
There was no way he was alive. So I held his soaking body and cried. I cried for Alex, Noa, Val, Nick, and Mom.
I laid next to Val and put my hand over her sliced chest. I told her I was sorry. So sorry. I told her I loved her.
I kneeled next to Noa and stroked his cheek. I wiped the sticky blood off of his face. I was still sobbing. My breath was coming out in short bursts. Hot, salty tears soaked my face. My eyes were red. I screamed that I was sorry. I told Noa everything. I told all of them. I was preaching to a room full of my dead family.
I kissed Nick’s cold forehead, like I did when he was having a bad day or couldn't fall asleep. I told him goodnight. I loved him.
I held Mama’s limp hand and told her that it wasn’t fair.
I whispered to all of them that I’d see them soon.
I screamed into my hands and cried until I didn't have any tears left inside of me, until the water that made up 70% of my being was dried out, and was filled instead with sticky, constricting cement. It felt like my body was trying to kill me.
Frantically, I found the fragile little glass bottle. It had been leaking in my pocket for a while, but I dropped what was left of the sticky poison into my own mouth, my hands shaking violently. I told myself this was the right thing to do. I needed to tell them what happened. Tell them how sorry I was. Tell them how much I really loved them. I needed them now. The poison blanketed my tongue and dripped down the back of my throat.
I felt my lungs collapsing. I gasped for air, and tried to breathe out, Instead of air, blood spilled out of my mouth, over my trembling chin, and soaked into my shirt. It felt like all of my bones were shattering as my head smashed into the ground, and sticky blood seeped out of my skull.
And now here I am. A bodiless consciousness, roaming around unseen. Resisting the sudden urges to control others. To ruin their lives as someone had ruined mine. I am a previously living soul. Here to show that I will not revive myself in the form of others. I would rather stay dead, unseen, looked through, forgotten. I will never hurt another person. Ever.