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The Impetuous Rescue
They call it Scorpio. The disease that attacks your organs, always killing off its host around the age of nineteen. It lies dormant within you, all silent like, and then when you think you're free of it, it strikes, tearing everything apart.
No one knows why it exists or why only the young get it, but it's incurable, and everybody knows that. Everybody except for the few that tell themselves that it won't happen to them, that it'll never happen to them. But they're never right. I would know. Because it happened to me.
I was lying in bed when it struck me. At first it was just a small pinch on the side of my body, and then without notice, I could barely breathe. My lungs felt like they were filled with gas, a balloon just waiting to explode, the air rushing from them in one heap. And then the pain started. Like a tornado, it ripped everything apart. I cry out, my mom comes rushing in wondering what the hell is wrong with me, but then...we both know. It happened to my brother when he was seventeen and my dad before I was born.
My mom sits there whispering to herself, saying that it'll all be okay. That it's just her fears, that she's in dream. But then she looks in my eyes and she knows. She knows that it isn't a dream. That it's happening to her again, and she drops to the ground, cradling her arms. It couldn't possibly happen to her again, she says. I can't have caught it, she says, she's kept me locked up in the house since the Great Outbreak. But deep down, she knows. She knows that I'm dead. We both do. So she stands up, her face hardening, looks me in the eyes, and walks out. I'm paralyzed for a second, thinking about how the hell she could just do that to me. Leave me alone in a moment of pain. The first wave of attacks, but then I know. This is her way of coping. She can't lose another member to this disease. She can't stand to lose her only son. Her only family, and so she leaves. Leaves me alone to cry in silence.
They say I'm dead. That there's no cure they can give me, and Mom looks at them with fury in her eyes. She's telling them that they must. That she knows that they have the devices to do so. The doctor just looks in her eyes, sorrow filling his face before he realizes, she's been here before. Been through the same thing twice already. And he knows that I'm her last hope. He wishes he can tell her that he can save me, after all, that's why he became a doctor, but he knows that he can't. They've been trying for twenty three years to come up with a cure, but nothing's worked.
He tells her that he wishes he has something for me, that he's had to turn away fifteen other kids with the same disease, but Mom can't handle it. She pulls me away from the man, wrapping my arm around her neck because she knows I can't walk right now, and I let her. And we walk right out of the doctor's office, Mom's eyes flushed with tears and we go home.
At least that's how I wished it would've gone. The sad part to that story is that none of it is true. Hell, Mom hadn't even been there when they finally diagnosed me with Scorpio. She'd been off with her friends at a bar somewhere. Because she can't stand to look at me anymore. To her, I'm a ghost. A reminder of the past. She's already given up on finding the cure of the century, and so she leaves every morning at dawn and comes home around midnight. She loves the fantasy she's living in. A world where grief doesn't exist, where I don't exist.
I tried pulling her out of there once. Tried reminding her that she'd had two boys and a husband. But that didn't work out so well. Hell, if I'd known how she would've reacted I wouldn't have bothered doing so. Now, when I think of that night, all I remember is the rocking. The goddamn rocking. How she'd sat there for hours with guilt wracking up inside her pretty little brain. Trying to cope with the thought that she'd left her son alone in a world where he was dealing with his own death.
I tried to comfort her, to assure her that I'd been fine for the three months she'd left me to myself. I had Benny, and that was all I ever needed. But it was too much for her to handle.
In a few words, she said how she'd really felt. You're not here anymore. And then she'd locked herself in her room. I spent the rest of the night wallowing in my own self pity, wishing that I'd been born to a different family. To a world that was alive. Full of anger for the woman that birthed me.
That was the last time I'd ever actually had her speak to me. That day two years ago. And of course I eventually forgave Mom for what she'd made me go through by myself. I wouldn't have lived with myself if I hadn't.
“Ashton, look up at me, son.”
I look up, my eyes filling with tears as Locke snaps his fingers in front of me. I force a smile, trying to be strong because I know that he's just heard that his son Benny doesn't have much longer to live. That he doesn't need anyone else adding more pressure to him. But I can't help it. I let the tears pour out, streaking down my cheeks in fits of hopelessness and anger.
He pats me on the back because he's known me since Benny and I were thirteen and that Mom wouldn't do such a thing. He sits down next to me, and assures me that Benny will be fine, that he's known for a while that he's dying, but I can't take it.
“H—he doesn't deserve to die like this! Not in a hellhole like this! He can't!” I exclaim, my eyes scrutinizing every speck of blood on the floor.
“He's just a boy! A boy full of joy and life!” I continue, my chest pumping with fury.
He rests a strong hand on my shoulder, his eyes tearing up because I know he feels the same, but he doesn't say what I want him to say. Mostly because he knows that even if he does, it won't happen.
I look away and clench my fists, knowing good and well that Locke knows. Really knows that it's Benny's time to go.
I just wish that he could have died in his sleep like some kids do. And deep down, I wish the same for me because I know that it's happening. That I only have about a year left in me and Benny's fate will be mine as well.
“Look me in the eyes, Ashton. Now.” Locke commands, his voice stern. And I do, because I know that Locke means it. That the only way he can cope with Benny's death is to talk me through it. Because he thinks that if somehow he can talk to me about Benny's death, that it'll help him too. And by God, I hope it does. Locke can't handle another death. Just like my own family, Locke's lost a lot. More than I have.
His eyes are cloudy with the tears gathered in his eyes, but he does his best to push them away by talking to me. He needs to stay strong. Or at least, that's what he believes. I've known Locke long enough to know so.
“Look, we both know what's in store for Benny. You've watched it happen to your older brother and I've watched it happen to my other three boys. But we've got to stay strong. Alright, son? We've got to stay strong for him because Benny's not going to want us looking at him like we're just waiting for him to die. Do ya hear me?” He says, watching my gaze return to the floor.
I nod slowly, his words soaking into my bones. They'll stick with me. They'll always stick with me. Because that's what his words always do. Because he's the only that has ever tried saving me. Both myself and this godawful disease.
He pats me on the back again before pulling me up from my seat and wrapping his arms around me. I stand there a moment before a sob slowly escapes deep inside my throat. My heart cracking in several different places.
Benny's image stains the inside of my eyelids. The blood gushing from his pores. From his eyes and mouth. Because that's what Scorpio does to you. It damages you in ways that not even the Devil can dream up.
A beeping screeches somewhere behind us, a signal for the tears to come. Doctors rush back and forth, shoving Locke and I backwards as we fight to get into the small room, but it's too late. And everyone knows it. A moment of horror passes between us as silence fills the room. And before I know it, Locke's left my side, shoving his way through the open door to get to his son. His only family.
I stand there in stunned silence because I know what comes next. I've been through it enough times to know what's just happened. And so I fade into the background. Becoming the ghost again. Because that's what I'm best at.
Doctors rush back and forth, hoping by some miracle that they can save the poor kid, but they all know it'll never work. It never has.
And I remain in my own decrepit bubble, mere shadows surrounding me with concern. They're afraid that I've lost it. That the last straw is Benny's death. But I've shut that down a long time ago. In a world like this, you've got to get used to death.
“No! NO! Benny! My son!”
Locke's cries fills my mind, on repeat. Constantly replaying them like a skipping track. And I cry, the bubble I've put up around me, popping. Because I know that Locke will never make it through this. He can't because Benny was his whole life. And mine too.
I meet the doctor's eyes. The doctor standing before me, trying to stop a panic attack because he knows that it'll kill me. But I just stare at him, finally allowing the sound to surround me again.
“...okay? Ashton, are you okay?” The doctor asks, his voice taut with concern.
I nod slowly, but we both know that I'm not. Not with losing a friend like that. Benny was my life. My rock when I needed it. And now he was gone.
“Let me drive you home, son. Okay? You shouldn't be walking around by yourself after a thing like this.” He says, taking my hand in his own.
I nod again, but his words aren't registering. The only words that sink in are the words of a grief stricken parent.
The doctor nearly drags me out of his Chevy Cruze because he's tired of me sitting there, staring at the floorboards of the car, and I'm having trouble with walking today. Just like every other day when I'm depressed about the state I'm in. But today's worse because Benny isn't there. And neither is Locke.
“I don't have to ask about your mother being home, do I?” He says because he knows the answer to that question. This isn't the first time he's had to drive me home. You see, I'm always at the hospital, getting my treatments with Benny. But when times are hard and Locke can't afford to drive another five miles away from his house, the doctor drives me. I try telling him that I can just walk home, but he never listens. He knows that I'd end up somewhere deep within the sea.
When I don't answer, the doctor sighs and rests his hands on his hips, “I'll send Penny here to look after you then. We can't have you home alone after...”
He can't bring himself to say Benny's name. He knows that it pains me to think about the death that occurred just twenty minutes ago. But I say it anyway because I can't stand to see Benny forgotten. He was a great kid. Someone that deserved to live more than the other little brats that run along with their fancy phones and new tennis shoes.
“I'm sorry, Ashton. It's just...I know that it's hard to get over...” The doctor can't continue and I don't blame him. He's lost people too, so it's understandable for him to not be able to utter the word death.
I pat him on the back and for a minute, the doctor can't bear to look at me. Because I remind him of his own child. He'd said so the day I met him. But his child is gone now. Dead a year.
“I'd better get back now. Stay safe and get some rest.” And then he turns and leaves the house. His brown hair fluttering in the wind.
I wake up at about midnight that same night, the sweat dripping down the side of my face after a terrible nightmare. A nightmare of Locke's death. And I can't handle another moment sitting in bed. Not when I have the feeling that if I don't do something now, it'll all be too late. And so I leave the room, slipping on my sweatshirt and shoes on the way out.
Mom has been home about an hour now, I realize, when I look up at the clock. One O'clock.
Her shoes are strewn across the floor and I find her fast asleep on the couch. Just like always.
I huff silently before I slam the door behind me. And for a split second, I feel jealous of Benny. He'd always had Locke, a full time parent in my mind, and I'd gotten duped with a mother that never seemed to want to be home. But then I remind myself, Locke had always been there for me too. Once he'd known me. And Mom loved me too, she just couldn't bear to see my face.
I walk down the empty streets, my mind trailing behind me. Only fear remains and I know it's because I'm afraid that Locke has done something he can't undo, so I speed up. As much as a person with Scorpio can, anyways.
His house isn't much further. Just a block, but I'm getting tired fast. But I can't stop, I know what Locke intends to do, and if I let him do it, then I wouldn't be able to live with my dying self. Benny never would've wanted that.
When I finally come to Benny's door, I can barely bring myself to walk in. I mean, this is Benny's house. The place where I hung out with him all the time. But Locke is in there and he needs my help.
I push the door open without a second thought and realize that it's a good thing I do when I find Locke on his knees, a gun pointed at his head. And the worst part is, his finger is on the trigger. He's about to commit suicide. I know that it's Benny's death that's doing it to him. I know that he can't bring himself to live in a world without his family, but I'm hoping that he'll stay here. Stay here for me. So I make my way to him and rest my hand on his shoulder like he did for me earlier. And his eyes meet mine. There's a sense of longing in his eyes and I know that it's the longing of death that lingers there, but I mustn't let him. Because in a way, he's my dad too.
There's silence in the house for a moment before I pull the gun away from him and tears pour out his eyes. I can tell he's trying to be strong for me, but there's no need. In times like this, everyone needs a shoulder to rest on.
I wrap my arms around his neck, and for a moment, I think he's just going to sit there awkwardly because he's been caught doing the unthinkable, but he doesn't. A few seconds later, he wraps his arms around me tightly and sobs erupt from his mouth in slow progression. Because he's just lost his only son. Only to find another one.
Silence fills the house again, for a long time, until Locke pulls back and stares deep into my soul.
“Thank you.” He says, and falls back into the shadows. The same shadows that haunt me.
And then I walk away feeling no remorse, because I know that I've just saved him.