Author's note: I've been working on this novel for about 4 years now, and I've written it all out, but this here... Show full author's note »
Still Waking UpAriel
Fierce midnights and famishing morrows,
And the loves that complete and control
All the joys of the flesh, all the sorrows
That wear out the soul.
- Algernon Charles Swinburne, “Dolores”
I knew I was sleeping. I had been sleeping, I was sure of it. I was thirteen years old.
Waking up while still suffused in oblivion, the memories were like flashes of lightning. My fingers clawed at the purple darkness, inconsolable for something to hang on to. It was spacious, never ending. This had to be a nightmare.
Except, it wasn’t.
I was cold, and somewhere in between frostbitten and burning. The juxtaposing temperatures tore me apart until numbness like no other conquered my soul. My lungs ached due to absence of air, but it was more than that. It felt like they had been gouged out from the inside. These were those types of moments when you cringed with panic in anticipation of glass breaking. These were the moments when you were surprised to find that something that had been moving so slowly, suspended in air for two seconds, would come crashing down so fast. I didn’t want my life to end. The glass was around me now, askew in tiny, sparkling splinters that pierced my still heart. Death. The sound of it was loud in my ears, and then I heard myself scream when the memories came back like lightening -bright and jarring, and loud. It was the kind of light that hurt your eyes in the early morning, except this pain bore into the depths of me. Suddenly my mind garnered a coherent picture. Frozen, yet in motion. I struggled to tag a word to it. It spilled – transient - a dark blue, turbulent and angry. My insides twisted vehemently at the sight of its beauty, even though I couldn’t find a word for it. Smoke and mirrors frayed the edges of my vision, but it managed to scope and crop out a boy, and a million different smiles. And then I was submitting to blindness yet again, until another flash lit, incisive, hitting home. That boy was stumbling precariously, strangled by an arrogant drunken stupor. This pain flashed through me, and then, all I saw was red. Carmine, like liquid ink, bled all over concrete. And yet another boy, a new one; he was saving me from this tormenting anguish, fear, and hatred. I was cold, so very cold. I knew what this felt like. Drowning. If this were a song it would be lost in endless wistful melancholy screaming, its chorus a hush of quiet whispers. It took awhile to realize that it was water all around me, and the purple wasn’t really space - it was gritty, muddy liquid. I woke up. I clawed at the darkness with bloody hands, steadfast for release. I felt as if I was breaking open the heavens when the fierce light cut mercilessly through me, and yet, it was only truly a small thread, slipping through my fingers.
My eyes are open. I am sixteen years.
I’m not in my bed. That is the first thing I remember. I’m lost in the simple things, how my hair falls across my face, matted to my shoulders with sweat. There is a deep, coursing sensation erratically flowing throughout my being, so austere and slightly alarming that it renders itself so heavy and strident I deem it a parasite eating at my bones. Sheltering this dead entity of fatigue and perplexity, I close my eyes momentarily, and then open them again, diffidently. My breath is ragged as I fill my lungs with cold, caressing air. My skin is infused with water, and carefully my eyelashes are pasted into triangles as beads like tears collect at the tips. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch sight of a hand, and become aware of arms that are wrapped around me. Calmly, I run my hands along this forearm. It seems to be overwhelmingly masculine, strident muscle screaming underneath layers of clothes, and even further beneath, I’m intrigued to feel the pulse of a beating heart, warm and violent in it’s unexpected propensity. Darkness envelopes me lightly, but his hands are a straitjacket, and I’m forced to suddenly feel tethered to my body, instead of feeling the absence of my spirit, as if my soul has ripped away from this vessel to shed its skin. My fingers trace slowly up this arm, until they can no longer reach. He’s enigmatic, when I finally glance up, and I find that my eyes will not leave his face, so impeccably beautiful.
This was the other boy, the one that appeared gripped between adolescence and manhood. I remembered him. But I’m still waking up. His hair’s shockingly blond, inhuman. He was too familiar, and my eyes rip away. I feel like a paper boat waiting to be sunk in the ocean’s giant waves.
Wake up. I will myself, wake up. But the pain that comes with biting my lip is too real, and I stumble, out of the boy’s arms. The ground is intense underneath my feet, the gravel biting into my bare knees. We’re in a parking lot. I forget how to use my legs, and they buckle under the pressure. I look up to see a crashing wave on a sandy shore, and realize this is not sweat on my shoulders, it’s water, and my legs, they’re rubbery with exhaustion.
The name is a slap as his arms come around me, struggling to keep the charred pieces of me together.
That’s his name.
“Ari, God. You scared me shitless.” He breathes. “Are you still… you?”
I’m shaking, involuntary tremors riveting my body.
“You’re cold,” He says, without question. I stare at the gravel in contempt. He walks away, only to come back. “Here.”
I strangle a fistful of soft fabric, turning to notice that it’s a red, checkered blanket. Hm, it smells familiar. Good, even. I relax, unsure of what to do when the boy sits next to me. Is this really genuine?
“What happened? Are you ok?” Something about him is reluctant. He’s staring at his hand, soft and open against his knee, and I can imagine he feels that he’s holding the whole world in it.
My brows furrow, and I learn how to work my voice. I swallow, my tongue like a dry sponge in my mouth.
“The pictures… who were they…?”
After the ringing of silence is too much for my ears, he breaks it.
“I’m so… confused. Who are you?” I take fistfuls of my hair, not pulling, but with rumination.
“No. You’re not serious, are you?” The way he says it is as if he’d become a deflating balloon, pierced by my needle. It wasn’t a question; it was detestation for himself.
“Don’t.” I’m surprised to feel tears brimming in my eyes. “Don’t act like you hate yourself. I know you. You’re Austin. But where am I? Please. The pictures, they… Hurt. They were like déjà vu. I’ve lived it before.”
Austin sucks in his lower lip, and then lets it out slowly. It took awhile for me to realize that he’s crying too.
“So that’s it, huh? You just left me?” I’m quiet while discovering he’s talking to me.
“No. I did not. I’m still here, and I’m still cold.” I say, bitterly, feigning ignorance.
“I’m sorry.” He whispers, wholeheartedly. There’s something more to it than just apologizing because I’m cold. In actuality, it’s like he’s saying it for his own benefit. Or, like he’s talking to something buried inside me, out of reach.
“If you’re still you, I’m so, so sorry.”
The tears that fall from his eyes are diamonds that match how the stars sparkle like glitter against the black contrast of the night sky. My hand brushes his cheek to wipe them away, and a feeling burns into my gut, poisoning my bloodstream. Oh, how I hated grief.
“Don’t cry.” I murmur. “I don’t like it.”
He makes some sound that I think is supposed to be laughter, but just sounds like loss.
“Let’s get you warm.” He says, thoughtfully, not asking me if I can walk. He just picks me up as if I’m a feather, and the way he holds me in his arms is like I belong there, like I had seemed to so many other times. He carries me to the car, a jeep, which I hadn’t noticed before, blasting the heat on full. As my insides thaw out, we drive, and I listen to a frivolous piano sound through the vehicle’s speakers.
The cabin is lit like an airplanes’ runway with bright lights. Again, the gnawing feeling of familiarity fails to leave me.
“So,” he tells me. “I think it’s best for you to sleep, since you’re obviously exhausted.”
I breathe a sigh of relief.
“Yeah, kind of.” He cracks a smile as we enter a small bedroom, with pale walls, and a bed, and a desk shoved in one corner. “You can sleep here, ok?”
“Hm,” I said, ignoring the pain that stirs again in the depths of me. “It’s nice. I remember it – this is my room, right?”