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Even Ghosts Can't Save Us from Over-Salivation
Author's note: What would it be like, to not be able to trust your own mind?
Gorgeous, the sun radiated warmth across the waves. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Rolling claws curled in onto the beach, frothing and churning. Light danced off the water. Alona sighed, leaning over the railing. Travis came out through the back door and leaned on the porch next to her. The buzz of excited tourists floated from the other side of the building, slowly quieting to a hum in the crystal twilight.
“Alona, Travis, it’s not closing time yet. Now get in here!” Cassandra’s heavy Scottish rumble rolled across the landing like the waves. “Your head will be gone if the boss sees you leaning like a couple of hoodlums out there, you know?” The college kids laughed and lazed inside. Hope, oblivious to the shenanigans of her employees, packed a box full of new children’s books. Ever since the bookstore went online, she had been busy shipping boxes of books all over the pacific coast.
“You would think the bums could walk down to Powell’s or something,” she would laugh, thrilled about the extra business. Her freckles popped in the summer, a fact that Evan pointed out every morning without fail. A blush would creep across her face, and she would tuck her red hair behind her ear. This morning, though, she had seen hide nor tail of her friend.
Hope was a worrier. She worried, sometimes for absolutely no reason, but when something was wrong, she knew it. It had always been a gift of hers. For example, when her family had run late coming home from Tillamook, she had been worried out of her mind. Charity had argued that maybe the traffic is bad or the factory ran out of Liam’s favorite ice cream and Derik just had to get him that ice cream and that they would definitely be home tomorrow. But after a day, Hope had left.
She searched everywhere, but the police had found her husband and son before she had, and once the autopsy man concluded that it was murder, there was nothing more to do. Hope sold her house in despair, and moved to the ocean. The ocean. The only place in the world where she had been completely at peace before, and Liam’s immature, mangled body still crawled painfully into her bloodstained dreams. Her secluded house, up high in the hills, was the perfect place for a short, out-of-shape, bookish woman who was hanging onto her sanity by a thread to live. Silently, as she fell asleep every night, Hope wished that the killer would find her. These wishes found her during the day once the police pronounced the killer’s case “cold”.
Around 9:00, the sun stopped trying to fight gravity and sank resignedly into the ocean. The hum of her engine filled Hope’s reddened ears. She slammed to a halt in front of her solitary house. Big enough for three, her old-as-the-tides wooden house titled against itself on top of the best hill in Oregon: the only hill that did not have a tsunami evacuation road running up its leg.
Dawn rubbed against Hope’s legs, purring deeply. The woman bent down and pet the black cat, nearly dropping her purse in the process.
“Is Dusk fetching mice, kitty?” she cooed, scratching behind her pet’s ears. Upon her arrival in Cannon Beach, Hope had obtained three sibling kittens from a friendly geezer at a 24-hour stop. All three of the cats were black, but their eyes had earned them their names. Dawn had beautiful yellow-orange eyes, Dusk had blue eyes so deep they almost seemed to blend into his coat. And Darkness was so blind that the widower couldn’t quite tell what color his eyes were. As a result, Darkness was an indoor cat. Theoretically, he could leave through his siblings’ kitty door, but he mostly sat curled up of some rug, because four steps on hardwoods in any direction would lead the cat into some wall or another. After a couple of weeks of face-smashing, the kitten had curled up in the living room and had scarcely moved since.
Hope turned the key in the mahogany door, and stepped into her large, empty house. After the police found her husband and child in an alleyway in Tillamook, she had packed up a few of her belongings and most of her furniture, and moved to the most secluded house she could find where she could still hear the ocean. It was too big, and the empty space produced a stifling silence, but she had built her life there.
What remained of the sunset shone through the windows that lined the side of the vaulted ceiling, casting a picturesque orange glow on the grand piano. Hope’s violin and bow sat atop the black beauty, begging to be played. Hope turned her back and marched into the kitchen. The shelves were bare and the cabinets empty; she had only brought enough glass-and tin-ware for herself and did not eat often. She took her breakfasts and lunches in town, and dreaded the night so much that dinner was almost never a problem. She closed the refrigerator with a sigh and kicked off her shoes on the way to the bathroom.
Darkness flopped down on the plush bathroom carpet and begged to be loved as Hope washed the remains of her day away in the curtain-less shower. Liam had had this habit of wrapping himself up in the shower curtain and clinging to it as though his life depended on it, when he needed comfort. Whether he had a nightmare and could not fall back to sleep, or it was bath time, he would curl up in the green shower curtain and would not let go. Hope sold the curtains. She had not bought more.
After her bath, one exhausted Hope struggled into her tangled pajamas and dropped onto the stacked mattresses that acted as her bed. In Washington, she had slept in a Queen-sized bed with her husband, and Liam was too young to have a full twin bed. Hope had sold them both and bought a pair of twin mattresses for herself. The room was furnished with all sorts of things Hope could not quite rid herself of, the belongings with the least sentimental value, and a large framed family photo that held its permanent throne on the wall above her bed. The wedding picture sat on the desk.
“Goodnight, Derik,” Hope sighed. She closed her eyes to the world and switched out her light. “Sweet dreams, Liam. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
The lights of the world snapped off, and Hope spiraled into the barren wasteland of her nightmares.
Hope sauntered through town, prancing lightly down the streets and running through people. They could not see her, and she just ran through them. She was fading again. Even to herself, her own hands were becoming invisible.
Night had settled on the Haystack, and even the gulls were silent. Hope rushed to her bookstore, running away from the dreams that always attacked her before she could get there. Every night the evil that had torn Derik and Liam away chased her through the streets. She tried to get to the bookstore, her safe haven, but never made it. It seemed fate had a different plan tonight, though.
She burst through the doors of her store, panting like a dog. The lights were on. Strange. Angelia was always very responsible about closing down. Maybe she hadn’t left yet….
“Angelia? Angie, it’s Hope. Haven’t you left yet?” there was no response. Hope searched under the tables, in all of her most bookish employee’s most popular hiding spaces, but she was nowhere to be found. She was about to round a corner into the children’s section, but a voice called her away.
“Nakine? Nakine Paisley?” she spun around.
“Who are you?” she demanded sharply. No one here knew her real name. Only Derik and her mother ever knew the name she had been given at birth; only Derik and her mother knew that Hope was an alias she had created when she was the only pre-schooler who couldn’t pronounce her own name. “How do you know my name?”
She took in the sight of the man. He was fading like she was, but there was something so stark about him, he stood apart from the walls.
“Are you really Nakine? I never dreamed I would actually find you!” the man stepped forward, and she could begin to see the glisten of shiny silver and red on his fading hands, on his invisible feet. His eyes lit up like a child’s on Christmas morning. He looked so unstable, and faint pounding was starting to reach Hope’s ears. Growing terrified, she stepped backwards.
“What do you want?” she whispered, still backing up. That sticky, shiny stuff on that fading man’s body, it was familiar.
“I’ve been searching for you.”
She had seen it before.
“I haven’t stopped searching,”
It had haunted her dreams, it had clawed its way into her waking thoughts.
“Ever since that day in October, I’ve been looking for you.”
The sticky, red glitter that coated his hands like evil paint. What was that phrase?
“I only want you; you can help me!”
Caught red-handed. That was it. But that’s not what this was. This was…
“I need you. Only you, Nakine Paisley,”
“I think you’re the only one who can help me. Who can free me…”
“Get away!” Hope shrieked, terror-stricken.
“No, I need your help, you – ”
“I said get away! I’ll have you arrested!”
“But, Nakine, you just have to listen!” he was so much like a child, but he had blood on his hands. And the beating. That evil beating in the back of Hope’s head, she just about couldn’t take it!
“I swear, you take one step closer…!”
“Pleeeease! Pretty, pretty pleeease just listen!”
She stopped dead. He sounded like Liam. So whiny, so helpless, so young. Stunned into silence, she could suddenly hear everything for the first time. And the steady, even beating coming from the children’s section prodded at her ears. What is that noise?
Full of dread, Hope turned into the children’s section. The air caught in her lungs and held itself there. Her mind recoiled at the sight, and her insides squirmed their rebuttal. Angelia’s blood stained the carpet. Her insides spilled out on the rug, coiled and twisted in themselves. All pink and stained with blood, and the skin of her belly so thick like rubber that he been split. Her eyes were vacating like tourists on a Sunday, but they still darted around the room, looking for something to accomplish at the last minute, also like tourists on a Sunday. She could barely breathe, but her heartbeat was so loud, it pounded in Hope’s ears like with a thousand hammers. Hope tried to scream, but all that came out was air. She stumbled backwards, tripping on the steps. Her flesh burned as it made friction with the bloody carpet.
“Y-y-you!” she stammered, pointing a shaky finger at the bloody man.
“I didn’t mean to!” he cried, sounding like a little boy that accidently knocked over the china cabinet. “That’s why I need your help, Nakine!” he sobbed. The man buried his face in his hands. “I need you to stop me from killing any more people. I need to you kill me!”
Her knees went weak and she collapsed. In her sleep, Hope kicked, and woke herself up. It was only 2:00 in the morning, but she yanked herself out of bed and into the hall. The bathroom, the living room, the kitchen, and even the master bedroom with the loft. She switched on the lights in every room in the house, and held Darkness in her shivering clutches.
For nine months she had been having earth-shaking nightmares. At night, when she fell asleep, Nakine Paisley became a ghost that got chased through town by images of her friends and family being gored to death. Once or twice, she had made it to her bookstore and had slept soundly, free of disturbing images. But this time, the man had waited. He had killed Angelia, and sought assisted suicide. He was a murderer. He wanted to die. He needed her to kill him.
She couldn’t take a life! After losing her family, Hope had sworn to never take life for granted again. As a result, death had a crippling effect on her. How could she evoke such a pain on another person? Anyone like that man, who kills poor little teenagers and cries like a four-year old into his palms, couldn’t possibly be sane.
Most people need coffee to keep them awake when they do not sleep at night. All Hope needed was Angelia’s bloody image running through her mind. It kept her from falling asleep through the lull of the ocean and the comfort of the plush rug on the landing floor. Her delicate fingers danced across the porcelain keys of the grand piano. Only two songs could keep away the images. She closed her eyes and let her fingers tiredly play both at once, creating the dreadful banging, crashing sound that kept her awake. A violin’s lull would only put her to sleep, and falling off a landing with a wooden instrument under your chin can only end badly.
Dawn, Dusk, and Darkness huddled together on the carpet in front of the sofa. Every light in the house fought against Hope’s eyelids. Finally, as the sun rose, she dragged herself away from her piano and into the kitchen. For breakfast, the lonely woman prepared herself a meal of milk, cream of corn, and left-over French Fries from last week’s lunch with Evan at the Tavern downtown. She had to chose between finishing to world’s best chili, with a perfect balance of meat and vegetables, and the world’s best French Fries, salted and spiced to perfection. And well, she had dunked the hamburger in the chili, so they were both easier to finish off.
Past experiences kept Hope from smiling at the memory of Evan. Instead, she frowned. Hope loved no one. Not even the cats; they just sat there. She thought that loving less people would keep them from her nightmares, but instead her nightmares included everyone. A shudder wiggled down her spine.
“Enough of that.” Hope sputtered disgustedly. She dumped her cream of corn in the garbage can because she sympathized with the drain pipe. That disgusting, mealy liquid would be better served helping Styrofoam decompose in a landfill. “Do you know what day it is, Darkness?” she clucked happily, scratching the fat feline’s neck. “It’s the 4th! Boom boom day!” the cat hissed and reared up in his hind legs. If normal cats and dogs hate the day when loud, bright explosions constantly fill the air, blind cats and dogs go absolutely insane, crashing into everything.
“So, here you go. Now, don’t fuss. This room has nothing for you to crash into. I even bought one of those fancy kitty water fountains. I’m locking you in here today, but you have what you need.” The door clicked behind her. Hope hurried to get dressed and rushed out the door, nearly forgetting to feed the other cats.
Her car could not make it down the hill fast enough. A serpent of tourist traffic stretched down the main road. The source was, of course, the six or seven cars looking for a parking space at the head of the Stairs. For the love of all that is good, move on, people! Obviously, there are no parking spots! Why don’t you just drive back to your hotel and walk to the rock? Seriously. It’s good for your glutes! Ugh! Tourists!
The morning fog stifled to 4th-of-July excitement, but the hum of activity was amplified, and had begun several hours before normal. Hope’s stomach twisted and turned, but one glimpse of the line that protruded from the bakery reassured her that breakfast would not be happening. Sometimes, the only thing that could cheer her up was one of the world’s best cinnamon rolls. The Pig N’ Pancake would not open for a few hours, but on a day like today a few confused tourists would wander into her bookstore, wondering if they sold food there too? And Cassandra would grunt and shuffle to get Angelia before she completely lost her temper. Tourists. Mental eye-roll.
Alona and Travis chased each other through the store silently, occasionally whispering nerdy little put-downs that were allusions to at least three different novels, which they scattered as they played. Cassandra was alphabetizing the books again, since they were mixed around during the day. Angelia was in the children’s section, scrubbing the dirt off the mural on the wall. Chase and Camille were not there yet, but customers were not expected so early, and the siblings had to drive down from Seaside.
“Miss Paisley, there you are!” Cassandra waddled over to her boss. “We had a break-in last night!”
“What? What happened?”
“I assure you, I have no idea! The vandal did not break down any doors or windows or locks, but the mural was covered in ketchup when I got here, and it appears to be stuck on there pretty good.” Hope growled and paced into the children’s section, getting her first good look at the mural. Angelia was scrubbing away, but the writing on the mural was not budging. And the words themselves were almost as haunting as the break-in itself.
In big, red letters, scrawled across the face of a smiling child on a swing, were the words, “you can’t run from me, Nakine.”
The sun broke through the fog for the first time as Hope bit into her lunch. Her toes barely scraped the pavement below the bench labeled ‘democrats’ outside of the grocery store. Cassandra sat next to her, munching on a slice of pizza. The smell was intoxicating. Hope could feel herself being pulled by an outside force to the courtyard, but the meager quarter in her pocket held her down.
“Are you alright, love?” Cassandra rolled sweetly. “You’ve not been yourself today, did something happen?”
Hope shook her head. “My night was dead quiet,” she replied shakily. Cassandra clicked her tongue and set down her lunch.
“Are you still having the nightmares?”
“Actually my nights are calm as my days now.” Hope smiled falsely. “But thank you for being concerned,”
“Well, someone’s got to look after you.” Cassandra laughed. “Up there all alone in that big house, it’s no wonder you have nightmares!” Hope nodded fervently, wishing her friend would change the subject or leave. “By the way, are you staying in town for the fireworks? I meant to ask yesterday, but I suppose I forgot.”
“No, I’m staying here,” Hope smiled, relieved. “You?”
“I’m heading down to Lincoln City. You know how I hate those sparks,” Hope smiles as she says this; she remembers the last 4th of July, when Cassandra ran up a staircase for the first time. The fireworks had scared her so badly, she had broken into a sprint and made it up the beach stairs in a minute flat.
“Are you leaving after lunch?” Hope asked.
“Yes, I’ll be staying with a friend for the weekend.” Cassandra tossed her pizza crust to a pair of gulls on the pavement. They screeched at each other and fought over the scrap of food, like something so little would be life or death for them. “Are you sure you’ll be okay up here by yourself?”
“Of course,” Hope painted a smile on her face. Cassandra saw right through it.
A few hours before dusk, the war parties gathered their explosives and stocked their boats. Seabirds for Seaside came down to assist the ‘Beachers in their plight against the Bay Seals from Lincoln city. People went out on their boats with their friends just far enough offshore that they would not capsize because of the waves. Then, at dusk, the war would begin.
Hope ushered her last customers out of her shop, and told Angelia to stop trying with the paint already because clearly it isn’t coming off. The rest of her employees that had actually showed up had left. By the time she had eaten her dinner, most of the town was on the beach, setting up bonfires, roasting marshmallows, trying to keep their unruly children out of the darkening surf. At 8:17, she heard her first firework and pulled herself towards the beach.
The beach sand felt cool and silky underneath her feet. A seemingly endless line of bonfires stretched down the shore. Hope sat on a fleece blanket and watched the sun dip below the horizon. Then began the war of the fireworks.
A show so spectacular would have been hard to find anywhere else. Even perfectly coordinated and supervised firework displays could not compare. The colorful formations of sparks and glittering fuses lit up the night sky, painting the sky gray with smoke, threatening to light up anything that got in the way of the egotistical drunks on their doomed vessels. And Hope was so distracted by the lights that she didn’t see him walk up to her.
Her view was being blocked by the people all around her. Disgruntled, she stood on her tip toes to see; she was not very tall. That was when she noticed him. He stared at the sky with a look of childish wonder on his goofy face. She recognized him vaguely, but could not remember where from. That is, until he spoke.
“I finally found you,” he said breathlessly to the fireworks. “I have been searching for almost a year, but now I found you!” he was so elated, but his eyes looked far away, and he would not look at her. She found herself thinking of Darkness, who recognized her voice and walked towards her, focused on her, but his eyes darted around, not focused at all. This was different, though; he was not blind.
“Who are you?” she asked just like the night before.
“Noah,” he smiled and turned his face so he was actually looking into her green eyes. She shuddered. “I’m Noah. And you’re Nakine.” She froze. “I found you,” he said curiously, and pulled a cell phone out of his pocket. “I found you because of him. And that’s why you’ll help me.” That phone…it was so familiar! Charity’s phone. The one she used every second. It looked like that. That’s what it was.
“You kill people.” She accused bitterly. If it was not for the fireworks, heads would be turning.
“You did you know?”
“In my dream! You killed Angelia!” he shook his head confused.
“No… no… no,” he shook his head vigorously and covered his eyes with his hands. “I never killed anybody called Angelia.”
“You, did in my bookstore. And then you broke into my bookstore and wrote on the wall.”
“I did write on the wall,” he confessed sadly. “I broke in because I did not know where you live, so I couldn’t talk to you. I was gonna leave a phone number, but then I remembered… I don’t have a phone.” She almost laughed, and in a less serious situation, she would have. But he was creepy.
“How did you do it?”
“Find you, or break in?” he asked, but continued without waiting for a response. “I found you ‘cause you showed up on this phone and then I tracked it but you were gone so I found your friend, but she didn’t know what I was talking about, so I found your mother, and then she told me to go away ‘cause she thought I was someone called Aidan…? Anyway, and found out that you moved here and that you were called ‘Hope’ by other people, and that you own a bookstore, and then I broke in ‘cause your security system? Yeah, it sucks! It was real easy to disarm to system, and then I picked the lock in the back and then I locked it after I left and turned the system back on, so no bad guys would get in.”
Hope sat back down on her blanket and massaged her head. He sat down next to her. What he had said, how he had said it, suddenly her mind was on fire. His voice sounded like a child’s.
“Hey…” he looked into her eyes. “Hey, it’s okay. I’m not a bad guy. I just really, really need your help!” BOOM! A loud pixie-dust firework and a big, green spiral firework go off simultaneously. Noah ducked and covered his head. He was shaking. Suddenly, she felt sorry for him. He was like a little lost puppy.
“Hey…” she said quietly, tapping his shoulder. “Are you afraid of fireworks?” slowly, he nods.
“Too loud,” he winces as another goes off. She cannot help it, she is reminded of Liam.
“Then why did you come?”
“Because I knew you would be here.” He smiled faintly.
“Why didn’t you just come into my store? What do you even want?”
He shrugged, “I told you I just need your help. And I can’t go to your store, because I can’t go out daylight.” He crossed his arms, and looked at her as if this would be common knowledge.
“Oh. Sunburn real easy, huh?”
“No!” he shouted, frustrated. The couple at their campfire next to us shot us a pair of looks. “Don’t you get it? I can’t get rid of myself, and I can’t control myself. I need you to get rid of me.”
“Why did you even come, just to tell me to get rid of you?”
“No, no!” he covered his head again. His face was burning, and she could feel the negative energy radiating from him. “I kill people! I kill them all the time, and I can’t stop. And I’ve tried, I’ve tried so hard to… to fix the problem! But people always stop me, or it just doesn’t work. I don’t have anywhere to go, and no one to do it for me, that’s why I found you! So you can stop it all.”
Her eyes were wide, her pulse racing. What on earth was he talking about? What did he mean, about any of this? What does he want?
“You have to kill me, Nakine.” A tear slipped out, but he was smiling. Smiling like a killer.
“I can tell you how, you won’t get in trouble. We can make it look like an accident!”
“No!” she whispered urgently, and sunk into the position she had not assumed in years, the one that people took up, when they had nowhere else to go. When everything around them was pressing in, threatening to crush them. “I can’t.”
“It’ll be easy.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “I won’t fight.”
“I can’t kill you. I won’t kill you.” She shook her head. Why won’t he go away? Forcefully, she whispered, “I won’t.”
The fireworks ended around midnight. Still, Nakine and Noah didn’t get home until hours afterwards. The roads were jammed, and every time Noah brought up the subject of his death, she exploded into tears. He couldn’t understand this. She never knew him before. She didn’t even like him – she kept trying to get him to go away. So why was she being so sad? Why?
A headache throbbed back there somewhere. Somewhere he couldn’t reach. He gritted his teeth and faced forward through the windshield. Nakine wasn’t such a good driver. She went so fast, it scared him. And she drove sort of windy, so that scared him too. Not as much as fireworks, though. Those were awful. Why do people do that for fun? He was happy at first, because they were so pretty. He was so happy. But then they got loud, and he saw her, and she was happy. She was so pretty, like someone dead. He couldn’t explain it.
He’d killed women before. Pretty ones, too. And they were ugly before they died, and while they were dying, but once they were dead they were even more pretty than before. So peaceful, but still messed up. Nakine was messed up. That’s why he counted on her. He had thought that because she lost her family, she would be vengeful and kill anything that asked. But it was just the opposite. She appreciated his life. He didn’t even appreciate his own life.
Her home was beautiful. It was wooden, and the lights inside were dull and comfortable, not like the ones at stores and stuff. The grand piano in the living room was almost as beautiful as the violin, and the violin was almost as beautiful as the glass French doors that opened into the dining room. He was wondering before why she had invited him to stay the night, but then he remembered saying that he had nowhere to go. She was so compassionate… it would make his job so hard.
“I have a sofa here, or you can sleep on the carpet. It’s very soft,” she was hospitable, even as she tore her shaking blind cat off the rug of the unused master bedroom. On the way, he had passed by her room. It was meant for a kid, that was obvious. Why did she choose to live there, instead of in the nice room with a panoramic view of the forest and the ocean, and a loft above it?
“I’m sorry for the intrusion.” He said miserably. She shot him a sorry look.
“It’s not an intrusion. I invited you.”
“I’m sorry for putting you in this position,” he frowned. “I really thought you’d be the one.”
“To kill you? That’s not something people say about people killing them, Noah!”
“I thought, that after you lost your family, you’d want to kill someone, too.”
“I don’t want to- wait. How did you know about my family?”
“I must have just found out when I was looking for you,” he shrugged.
“Well, I don’t want to kill people. Losing them made me realize something. Life is important. We shouldn’t take it for granted, and we shouldn’t just throw it away. I wouldn’t even kill their killer, if presented with the opportunity.”
He sighed, less of relief and more of exasperation. “I’ll sleep on the sofa.” He said.
He lay down long-ways on the nice couch after kicking his old shoes off, and listened to her leave the room. The grand piano stared at him, as if begging him to play it. But he heard Nakine’s door shut, and he knew that she would want to sleep. He couldn’t keep her awake. He was imposing on her enough. Poor her. She just met him, and learned he wanted her to kill him, and now he was in her house, and after all that had happened…!
His usual nightmares eluded him, and he instead spent the night dreaming about fireworks that didn’t make a sound. In the end, he was woken up by an entirely different sound.
He was upright and walking before his eyes had even opened. Nakine was crashing around in her room, and he could hear faint screams. He burst through the door, and found her room to be a wreck. The nightstand had toppled over, spilling a pile of books, a lamp, now broken, and a glass of water, also broken. The covers had been kicked off the pile of mattresses she called a bed, and a wedding photo in the corner of the room was lying on the floor, frame shattered.
“Nakine!” he called. She was asleep. Sound asleep. Her arms felt at things in front of her, pushing something away. Her legs kicked, like she was running. She was sobbing, and screaming names.
“Wake up!” shouting wouldn’t work. He shook her shoulder, slapped her face. Dumped a glass of water on her face.
“Get away!” she screamed. Her eyes snapped open, but they were unfocused. She was sleep walking.
“Nakine, you’re sleeping! Wake up, before you hurt yourself!” the cats were yowling, somewhere. She fought the air, slashing at it breaking it up. Struggling. This was life or death.
“Run, Derik!” she stepped forward onto the broken glass from her wedding photo. “Liam!” her face contorted further. She reached down and grabbed the glass. “NO!” she slashed at the air. Her hair flew around wildly. He caught a fistful and yanked, but she stayed asleep. “I’m here!” she found her new target.
Instead of flailing around purposelessly, she carefully aimed every blow at him. She went for his head, his neck, his chest. But her eyes were still unfocused.
Blood surged from her hands where she held the glass. She brought it towards his head, but he caught her wrists and held her arms, immobilizing her.
“Wake up!” and she didn’t even blink. Why wouldn’t she wake up?
After a minute of struggling, she overpowered him and sliced at his shoulder. The glass ripped right through the tissue on his shoulder.
“Enough!” he howled. He pried the glass from her fingers and shoved her into the wall. She kept trying to fight. He punched her. Her nose bled, but he didn’t break anything. On the bright side, she was out. He had knocked Nakine to the next level of unconsciousness.
He dragged her onto the couch. The gauze, band-aids, and stuff were all in the bathroom. He fixed up her hand and put a wet cloth across her head. He didn’t really care about his shoulder. He half-hoped he would bleed out and be done with it, but he knew it would not be that easy. Besides, what he wanted to do next would require him to not be bleeding freely.
Noah wrapped his hand up. The dawn was just starting to come, and one of the black cats excused itself. The other one, the one that wasn’t blind, crawled up onto the sofa next to Nakine. It snuggled against its mommy and purred so loud Noah could hear it over the piano.
Hours passed. Whenever Nakine became restless, he wetted the cloth across her forehead with more water. All the time he played. He knew a few songs from before he had killed for the first time, when he had to leave and tried to get away from people. When he was around them, their horrible feelings, their cruelty, it poisoned him. He never realized it when he was killing, but afterwards he would always try it on himself. After years, he realized he need help. He found his hope. He found his Hope.
Her eyes fluttered. Then they opened. The green burned into him, but he didn’t stop playing. She smiled, then frowned. He stopped, and got up.
“Wait, don’t stop,” her voice was quiet. Tears dripped from her eyelashes. “I love that song.”
He sat back down, and struck the keys with a mighty force. The major chord caused his emotions to soar. He was rarely so happy. The intro played out, and then Nakine started to sing. Her eyes were closed, and tear streamed from underneath her lids, but her voice was strong.
“Now that she’s back…” she was happy. Happier that she seemed before. It was like her deadness was gone, like she had healed.
“…in the atmosphere, Drops of Jupiter in her hair, eh,” he sang along. He couldn’t close his eyes, ‘cause he needed those to see the keys, but his soul opened. It had done that before, when he was a music student. Before he started killing people.
“She acts like summer…” why did he kill people? Why didn’t he walk like rain, listen like Spring, talk like June? He looked to Nakine, far away, on her trip to the Milky Way. Why did these things happen to her? Why did Derik and Liam have to be hers? Why did she have to be theirs?
“Reminds me that there’s room to grow,” she sang beautifully. Is there room to grow? Is there time to change? Can we all change?
“I’m afraid that she might think of me as, plain old Jane told a story ‘bout a man who was too afraid to fly so he never did land.” But would that be so bad? Plain old Jane never had to worry about that man, fight him in that night with a piece of glass from the shattered frame of her wedding photo. The wedding photo she took with her husband, who was killed in Tillamook with her son on a trip that she didn’t go on because something had come up at work! Why?
“But tell me,”
But tell me why these things have to happen. Why does our world have to be filled with people who hate, and kill, and live life without realizing how amazing everything is! Why?
“Can you imagine no first dance, freeze-dried romance, 5-hour phone conversation, the best soy latte that you ever had, and me?” he could hear the strings. They soared, they danced. They lived in his head, but when he looked up, she was there, soaring with him on her violin. Her eyes were still closed, and he could hear the tears landing on the wood of her instrument. But there she was.
“But tell me, did the wind sweep you off your feet? Did you finally get the chance to dance…” dance. Dance. Dancing is what people do…. Everything is just a dance, really. They were dancing now, on their instruments. But people dance around each other every day in the real world. They dance, and they don’t even realize. Why does he have to kill? Why does he not love? If you love one, you leave yourself open for heartbreak. But if you love everything, and you always do, even when the going gets tough, you will never be sad again! Love is the answer!
“But tell me, did you sail across the sun? Did you make it to the Milky Way to see the lights all faded, and that heaven is over-rated? And tell me, did you fall for a shooting star? One without a permanent scar and then you missed me while you were looking for yourself?”
The piano stopped, then continued. He loved that part.
“And now you’re lonely looking for yourself out there?” a ritardando, and then, finished. Nakine. Set her instrument down, almost embarrassed.
“You were having a nightmare,” he explained. She nodded.
“Derik loved that song. He used to play…” she choked a sob, wiped a tear, “he used to play it on that piano, for me.” Her face contorted. He couldn’t tell if she was smiling or not. A hiccup popped from her. “In my dream, I was there. I watched while they got killed, and I tried to fight, but I was just a ghost. I couldn’t do anything!” she sank back to the floor.
“Do you always have nightmares?”
“Yes. Every night. I’m always a ghost, and the deaths of the people I love are always chasing me through town. No one can help me. I’m invisible. And I see what happens, I think. I saw you.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Me?”
“Yes. You were in my dream.”
“No, last night. It was before I met you.” She choked back another sob, hiccupped, and started to cry again. Her nightmares. He could tell why they happened. She was haunted by Derik and Laim’s deaths. She was afraid of losing other people. And she felt like no one could ever help her. She needed to trust, and she needed to know that there was good and love out there. She needed to learn what he had learned, minutes ago.
“I can make it all go away,” he said soothingly, and held her until she stopped crying. He decided, he would stop killing people, and he would get through it with her, because they both needed to do the same thing. But she needed to do it so she’d stop being afraid. He needed to do it so he’d stop making people like her afraid.
After she stopped crying, Hope opened her eyes, and realized Noah was cradling her in his arms. He had kept saying ‘I can make it all go away’, but she had not realized it until now. Also, she had not realized that her hands and feet were bandaged, and that the sun was up. Sunlight poured in through the windows. Most of the town would be late and hung-over today, anyway.
“I can make it all go away,” he whispered again.
“How?” she queried. He turned to get a better look at her. Hope’s face was splotchy and her eyes were puffy. “It will never go away.”
“No,” he agreed, weighing it all inside his head. “No, but I can make it hurt less. Not at all, even.”
“It will always hurt,” she laughed.
“Only if you let it.” He murmured wisely. “It’s like a cut. It you let it, it’ll get infected, and you could die, eventually, maybe. But if you take care of it, it’ll go away. It’ll leave a scar, but it won’t hurt anymore, and before too long it won’t be all you think about.”
“But they died, Noah.”
“The world does not have to be sad. If you find all the love, and hold onto it, and never forget about it, then the other stuff takes care of itself. Derik and Liam might be dead, but they will always be inside your heart. They’re safer there, anyway. It’s sad, but if they could see you, would they be happy?” she looked up at him with her big, sad puppy-dog eyes. She knew what he was saying. It made sense.
When you watch a movie, with sad parts at the end that make you cry harder than you might when watching the news, it always helps to find the happiness. For instance, when Jack dies at the end of Titanic, and Rose follows, it may seem sad, but they end up together. In the end, they all end up happier, and in a better place. In the end, Romeo and Juliet end up together in a world where an awful feud will not tear them apart. Hope could easily think about a million other examples, but she does not have to; this may seem easy to do when watching movies or reading stories, but moving on a looking at life with love instead of sadness takes effort.
“And what about you?” she demands. “What will you do?”
“Nakine, I can’t ask you to kill me.” His voice is soft, contemplative. “There are two ways for it to end: one, I die. Or two, I stop. And Nakine, I’m choosing two. I’ll look at the world with love with you, and I won’t kill anymore.”
“What about daylight? Will you go outside with me? Everything seems easier, happier at night.”
“Unless you’re having nightmares,” he pointed out.
“Yes, I will come outside with you. But if I get caught, they will make me plead insanity, and I can’t spend a lifetime in a criminal asylum, Nakine. I just can’t!”
“You won’t get caught,” she soothes. The tables kept turning, it was more like a turn-table than anything else, their situation. “And what is the world but one huge criminal asylum?” she laughed awkwardly, and pulled herself into a standing position.
“But I do have one question,” her face had become less blotchy. She could feel her breath evening.
“How did you learn about me? And how did you know that Derik is my husband and Liam is my son? Did I talk in my sleep?”
“Well,” he scratched the back of his head. She was suspicious. She could not help but wonder if anything personal had been said while she was sleep-talking. “Well, you did talk in your sleep, but you didn’t way that.”
“No. I learned that, because… because I saw them. Liam and Derik.”
He flashed back. She zoomed away. He was somewhere else entirely. The alley. And there they were. Liam walked in front of him. He licked the dripping vanilla ice cream from his cone. His father held his other hand, so that the four-year old wouldn’t get lost behind him. Noah watched them, and he felt the happiness in both of them. But there was suspicion in the father. He knew.
The two walked faster. Liam complained about daddy walking too fast, but daddy ignored him. Noah searched for a weapon. Then he found it. Then he threw it. It cut a line in Derik’s shoulder. Liam screamed and dropped his ice cream, and began to wail.
“Daddy!” he cried. Noah advanced. Derik pulled out his cell phone, and began to dial. The phone rang, and a picture flashed on the screen. He saw Noah coming up from behind, and shoved the phone into Liam’s sticky hands.
“Liam, run! Call the police!” but Liam didn’t know how to use daddy’s cell phone. And it was already ringing.
“Daddy?” Noah prowled. The caught up to the family, and finished to father. Liam screamed, ran. The phone still rang. Noah easily caught up to the kid, and knocked him out. He was a monster. And monster that knocked out the kid before killing him, so it would at least hurt less. The phone skidded on the pavement. It spun, and when it stopped, there was a click. Then, noise.
“Hello? Hello!” her voice rang on the other end of the line. “Derik! Where are you? Derik?” Noah curiously strolled towards the phone. He could see her picture. Her hair was blond, in the summertime. She was in a white dress, smiling next to the dead man at Noah’s feet.
The click resonated in the silent alley. Nakine’s picture flashed. Underneath the picture, the name ‘Nakine’ was written in all caps. He knew, then, how strong their love had been. The devastation hit him like a thousand tsunamis, but then he realized. She would free him. He had killed her future, so she would surely kill his! And wasn’t this all he wanted?
“Noah? Noah!” her voice, almost identical to the voice in the answering machine years ago, brought him back to reality. “Noah, what do you mean, you saw them?”
“I met them before, in Tillamook.”
“Oh. Well, was I there?” she asked curiously. She was still happy, still clueless.
“No,” he answered nervously. “You couldn’t come. You had business. They were coming from the factory, they had both gotten ice cream, and they were going back to the motel.”
“They were late. They should have been home by then, but something had held them back. Derik was in a hurry. Liam was tired. They wanted to call, but….”
“But they didn’t. They never called. Except once. But I didn’t hear anything. I thought it might have been a misdial, but then- ”
“-the police found them. And the phone. And they never found the killer.” Hope looked up at him. His eyes were full of tears. Suddenly terrified, she scrambled away.
“Tell me you didn’t,” she breathed. Her eyes were wild. He shook his head. “Tell me, Noah!” but tell me….
“I did it. But I want to stop!”
“Stop? Why did you start? You ruined my life! You destroyed my future! How many people have you killed? How many families have you ripped apart, Noah?”
She collapsed into a pile of limbs and tears. Her words ripped at his heart. Hurt. He was so hurt.
“Don’t call me that!” her eyes burned. She screamed at him, threw a couch pillow at him.
“But I’m sorry. I’m changing, I promise!”
“It doesn’t matter! You killed them! What’s done is done, and you can’t fix it, so just leave me alone!” her words exploded out of her mouth like her tears exploded out of her eyes. Her pain shook him. It poisoned him. But this time, he didn’t hurt her. He overcame himself, and he ignored the poison. But the was relentless.
She threw everything she could find at him, that wasn’t expensive. He covered his face with his hands. She screamed. Cussed. Cried. Beat him with the household objects, while covering her mouth with her hand, and sobbing.
Noah kept backing up, trying to escape her wrath. But she just kept coming. He was driven into the wall, where he knocked a picture of a wave off the wall. The frame crashed on the ground. It shattered. Just like Nakine had just hours ago, he took a fat shard of glass off the hardwood floor. Nakine had worn herself out. She sat on the floor, rocking back and forth and weeping. She had broken. Her last happiness had been taken away. That sadness from her former life had found her here, in her paradise. And it was all his fault.
“Hope,” he squeezed his fist around the glass. She blubbered a moment more, then looked up. Her huge eyes bore into his. “I’m so, so sorry.” Her eyes widened, and she stopped crying. Her hands still covered most of her face, but he guessed that if he could see her mouth, it would be open in an ‘o’ shape. Slowly, as if to mesmerize her into stillness, he brought the glass to his neck.
Her pulse raced. It seemed to take hours for her brain to react to what it saw. Noah brought the glass up to his neck, in a position that she knew would mean death if it made contact. She hated him. The emotions that raced through her were mostly of hatred. But Noah had told her that hatred only happened because of fear, and fear was driven by love. After all, she only hated him because he had hurt the people she loved most. He had taken them away from her, and although it seemed rational to want revenge, she appreciated every life more. Life is precious, and she was not about to let Noah rob himself.
“No!” a growl escaped her as she leapt. Hope soared through the air. She reached Noah, and wrenched the glass from his hands. When it collided with the cold floor, it shattered into a million pieces, and with it she felt released of everything. Until a drop of warm life splashed against her cheek.
Confused, she stood. Noah stared at her, his big deer eyes soaking up everything. A steady stream of blood trickled down his neck.
Hope had saved him.
The beeping of the heart monitor grated on everyone’s nerves, even though there was only one person there.
The woman sat in a plastic blue chair near the patient’s bed. She was hunched over herself, with her palms pressed into her temples. Her hair went everywhere, and was stained scarlet from the wound on her left hand that she would not let anyone treat. She was still in her pajamas, and she wore no shoes. She was not crying, she was not sleeping. She was waiting.
The man lay in the flat bed. His heart monitor beeped consistently, as it had without fail since he had gotten stitched back together. He had been sleeping for countless hours as his body made more blood. He had not come close to bleeding out; the wound was not right for that. He had attempted suicide, but the woman had knocked his weapon of choice away, and the glass only graze his neck, instead of severing his jugular as it would have if she had not been there.
Hope had saved him.
“Why did you stop me?” his first question after waking up was unexpected. Hope shook her head.
“I believed what you said. About everything. I believed you could change, and I didn’t want to see you quit.” He had smiled and fallen back to sleep. Hours later, he woke up again. They talked about everything. He told her about his epiphany, and she offered him a job at her book store. In the fall, Alona and Travis were going back to college. That year, Camille would join them as a college student, though she went to a different school.
For years, he worked there. They helped each other, Hope and Noah. Death haunted Noah longer than it did Hope, but after a year or so, they were both nightmare-free. Noah stayed with Hope for longer than either of them cared to count. Suffice it to say that her hair had started to turn gray before Noah announced that he was moving into his own condo in Seaside. She was so proud of him, and she even helped him pay the first month’s rent, with some of the money she made off her self-help book, HOW TO FIGHT GRAVITY, on the easiest steps to freeing your consciousness from the black hole of the world.
Noah lasted almost a week in Seaside before they found him. They went through his apartment, tore him away from his home, and grilled him until he cracked. Well, he did not crack, really. At least, that’s what he told Hope in his letter after is persecution.
He had confessed immediately. Most of the arguing had occurred when they urged him to plead insane. Once, Noah had told her that he would never last in a criminal asylum. It was the only reason he did not turn himself in. With the knowledge of how to fight gravity, he had pled guilty, and even confessed in court to murders he had committed, but they had not accused him of. As he left the room after being sentenced, he had smiled and waved at Hope, who had been standing at the back of the room, her hands full of a new family.
He’s gone now.
The ocean breathes steadily. Like a baby’s breath as it sleeps, it lulls her to sleep. Her red hair has long since turned white. Her eyes are vague, and the planet-sized glasses she wear match her husband’s. Bailey sleeps at the foot of their bed. She is a golden retriever, but cannot do much retrieving anymore. Sunny had replaced her years ago as the family’s young dog. She stares out the window that spans the length of the entire wall of the master bedroom. Her ears are perked; she listens for any sign of distress from her mistress’s old bedroom. A baby sleeps there while its parents are away for the weekend. Hope’s house was used to visiting grandchildren. And their young minds had easily picked up on the most important rule in grandma’s house: always say ‘goodbye’.