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Short Story: Overlap; Or The Many Deaths Of

  • Feb. 20th, 2013 at 2:54 PM
kelzadiddle: (Write Like a Mofo)
Title: Overlap; Or The Many Deaths Of
Words: 3461
Status: Slightly proofread, unedited
Author's Notes: I stumbled across this story in my writing folder about half an hour ago. It's a little something I started in late 2009, left for ages and finished in 2010. So it's 3/4 years old, and probably very crap. But I'm quite proud of it simply because it's one of the few short stories I've actually brought to some sort of conclusion! I'm thinking of changing it to present tense (the immediacy would suit the concept much better), but other than that I'm open to critique. Also, this is my 101st writing post! Yay!

-----------------


OVERLAP
Or; The Many Deaths Of




September 15th, 2009


It started with a weird feeling. I don't know how I'd describe it, really – like I was there in my own body, but at the same time I wasn't. Have you ever felt like that? My condolences if you have.

I can't even say where it came from. One morning my phone alarm jolted me awake, and where I'd normally lash out to silence the appalling default Nokia tone, I lay there. Hardly existent. Drifting into waking but failing to make it all the way.

Are you getting it now? I'm trying my best, honestly. I could even liken it to being only half a person, all of a sudden.

It was a bit of an inconvenience.

The usual routine didn't help to fill the strange vacancy in my brain. Fifteen-minute shower at seven on the dot; half an hour drifting about, alternating between getting dressed and immersing myself in the Internet amidst my mother's protests – 'you're going to be late again!' - perhaps not the best remedy, given how unreal I was already feeling. Even my typical 'wake-up' drink – four spoons of coffee, six sugars, no milk – didn't revive me.

So I trudged to college, oblivious to nearly everything around me. People on the streets were spectres on the periphery of my awareness. Cars were faraway, metallic entities, all whispering through the aether. Lurid sunlight failed to cross my vision. Heat of infant autumn fell from my skin unnoticed.

A day of mostly free periods was a godsend. I sat there through that quiet first double with my best friend. All our acquaintances had since drifted off to lessons – or to me, in my current state of god knows what, they'd been there one minute, gone the next. Bat of an eyelid. Nothing. Now it was just my friend and I.

“I can't even describe it,” I muttered, gesturing hopelessly. “It's like part of my mind is on another planet, you know? It's drifting, far out in space somewhere. Or I'm underground while it walks on the surface. Are you getting me? It's like I'm here – but elsewhere. I feel really detached all of a sudden; really vague.”

Brief silence, punctuated by the quiet squelch, squelch of my friend chewing their turkey barm. They stared across our corner, grey in the weak light that crept through half-lidded windows, and swallowed.

“I get you.”

They spoke this in a monotone. Not an ounce of meaning; where was the usual vibrancy? The usual enthusiasm? We'd known each-other so long, I could tell immediately there was a problem.

“What's up with you?” I asked.

“Oh – you know – feeling a little braindead, really,” was their answer. “Not the way you are, I mean. In my own way.”

“The novel?”

They gave a long, slow nod. “Precisely that.” All the while, they didn't look at me. They never looked directly at me. Like I was a blind spot in their world.

Ever since we'd met, my friend had been working on this novel. In all our years I knew nothing about it – no title, no character names, no plot, not even how it was progressing. I knew nothing beyond the fact of its existence. Sometimes I wondered if they'd ever finish the damn thing. I hoped they would.

Still, I'd never seen them in a mood like this. I'd seen them puzzled, possessed, overcome with joy. Our relationship was special in that our moods had an uncanny way of coinciding. I could share the triumphs and defeats like nobody else. That's just how we were.

“Maybe you're only feeling naff because I am,” said my friend, and I got the feeling that they were half saying it to themselves. “You know how in tune our moods can be.”

“I was thinking the same myself, actually,” I confessed.

We were quiet a while; one of those fragile, yet comfortable silences. It was a silence like the air outside – thin and grey, with every chance that the sun would break through.

A disturbance came in the form of some kids bursting into the common room. They sat in the corner next to us, talking in hushed voices. I caught them looking once or twice, not friendly or threatening – theirs was a look that suggested that they didn't quite know what they were looking at. A mix of bafflement and trepidation.

“The staring kids again,” my friend murmured. “God knows what they find so fascinating.”

I couldn't understand it, myself. But then I was a million miles away. My friend was a pretty unremarkable person outwardly. Sharp of mind, yes, but to know that you really had to know them. Why these kids stared at two perfectly normal people having a quiet conversation was beyond me. They looked away eventually, but even then we weren't free from the odd glance.

“Double's nearly over,” my friend remarked. “It'll be break soon.”

As they said that, the bell went. The staring kids gave us one last look, stood up and shuffled on, guilty – a chain gang. But there was no silence. In their stead was a dull rumble on the floors above. Feet treading. Chairs scraping. The school was coming to life.

Break time had begun.

-----------------


We had a strange social circle, my friend and I. I had three other friends that we'll refer to as the invisible ones, since nobody seemed to notice them. They were friendly enough, dressed and behaved typically for people their age, yet seemed to speak to nobody but each-other and myself. They were in all of my classes, not blissfully ignorant of other people as such, more regarding them as the background of our lives. Extras. They were just there to make the world around us seem more real.

As for my friend, they had their own circle – small like mine. Both groups would sit together at social times, but it was like a Venn diagram in nature; the only overlap was in my friend and I. Yet there was a strange peace to the ignorance. Each group failed to acknowledge each-other not out of spite, but out of a failed understanding.

The rest of the day flew past as it normally did, but I couldn't leave my daze. I began to worry as I packed up at the end of my last lesson. What if I'd lost some crucial part of me that would never come back?

Despite all that, everything remained weirdly normal. I left college through crowds of ignorant school-kids who merely looked through me and sailed through a heady tang of vegetation, drifting beneath an overcast sky. I seemed to cut through the humidity.

Sure enough, it rained. I listened to the rain bringing the trees to life; the hiss of droplets raging. A whisper. But even this wouldn't register. I tried to fathom it – all of it – the normal world as I saw it every day – but something sat in front of my mind and stopped it taking anything in.

More correctly, there was a void in which everything shrunk into nonexistence. That's why nothing could pass.

Not even the scarlet car that smashed me against its bonnet.

-----------------


September 17th, 2009


That ridiculous fake piano tone woke me up. I blinked, gazing up at a ceiling that seemed neither near nor far. It felt like it took me a year to recognise who I was and where. That bloody daze still held fast.

But hold on! I was in bed! I sat up so fast that my mind nearly hit the wall. My arms – my legs – I'd felt them flail, lurched out of place – my head, torn to ribbons by the windscreen. Now there was no pain. I was in my pyjamas. Calendar reading September 17th. Two days later.

By all rights, that impact should have killed me.

-----------------


“That book of yours again?” said the other.

My friend nodded. “I'm trying to think of a way to end it. It feels like it's going nowhere so it needs a conclusion.”

Frees again. My friend, myself and one of their friends. The two of them were chatting. I waited patiently, as I usually did, for a lull in the conversation I could use as a cue to jump in. It's strange to think how difficult it is to find the right moment.

Then, it came. The two of them had agreed on some point regarding their English coursework and they paused for a while. The other was scribbling down a note in a tatty book and my friend looked totally vacant, gazing at the wall.

“I had the weirdest dream,” I announced.

“Hmm?” said my friend, inclining their head my way a little.

“What?” The other looked up, puzzled. “I didn't say anything.”

“I know you didn't,” my friend said to them. “I was humming to myself. Continue.”

The other continued writing, thinking this was meant for them, but I could read my friend's subtle signs. They continued to stare at the wall – or something beyond the wall – though I knew their attention was on me.

“I was walking home two days ago – at least, I think it was two days ago – and I just wasn't paying attention to anything,” I explained. “I was feeling fuzzy enough as it was, but I was trying to figure out exactly what was going on with me. I stepped into the road. This car came out of nowhere – and it hit me.”

“Hard?”

The other looked up again. “Pardon?”

“Nothing,” said my friend.

“Are you kidding? Don't you care? I should be dead. This is no childish exaggeration. I swear I felt my skull get crushed by the impact. My arms and legs must have broken in a million different places. I should not be here.”

“Hmm,” said my friend. “Strange.”

“What's strange?” The other snapped upright again. Now they looked slightly annoyed.

“Nothing – just the weather we're having,” remarked my friend. “Overcast and dull all the time, but warm. It's a total contradiction.”

The other didn't answer. They simply looked out of the window. I followed their gaze. The sky was churning – it looked like a day for nightmares.

-----------------


“We're moving house, of course.”

My Mother glanced at me as if I was mad; perhaps there was a trace of pity in her expression, mostly she couldn't understand how I'd forgotten such a crucial detail. I stood there dumbly, watching unmarked boxes being loaded into the back of a van. I didn't want to go.

“I didn't know,” I stammered. “I can't leave – I was born here – I – my friends –”

Maybe I was mad. First the 'car accident', now this; I genuinely couldn't remember any announcement of the sort being made. Maybe we weren't moving far... possibly to an estate across town...

“Where are we going?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know.

“Somewhere far away,” Mother answered, crossing her arms. “To be closer to your grandparents. They won't be around forever, you know, and since your grandad's epilepsy stopped him from driving...”

My grandparents...? Damn right they weren't going to be around forever! Their days were so numbered they'd passed away five years ago, within two months of each other. I'd sobbed about it for a month.

“Mum – Nan and Grandad aren't here any more,” I said quietly, baffled.

Then started the tense silence. I wished I hadn't said anything. My Mum stared at me – not furious – horrified, hurt, even.

“What are you on about?” she breathed.

“I don't know. I just don't know.” I didn't even know what was going on. It was like my mind was an ice shelf, crumbling piece by piece. How could I express this?

My mother didn't seem to have much trouble expressing her own desires. “Get in the car,” she said, an undertone of threat in her voice.

My feet, which had been rooted to the ground, finally lifted and it was like being born again – being ripped out of the womb. That house – safety, the place I knew – and the umbilical cord was stretching, stretching...

The car door slammed behind me and it was cut. Only there was nothing from here on, only bleeding out.

-----------------


September 21st, 2009


'Don't you know there's a world out there?' my alarm seemed to shriek. 'Get up! Get up! Get up and see the truth!'

My room was intact. Everything I knew so well and cherished was there, in its place. I barely noticed, of course – the physical world was growing increasingly beyond my grasp now. I only knew the warmth of my bed; my self-awareness was a mere inkling.

And then I realised I was home. After all that panic – home. Home. Not moved. Not in some far away place. My grandparents were – well, they weren't with us, any more. I was starting to feel how they probably did, wherever they were.

-----------------


My friend and I were alone this time. It was another quiet set of double frees. The common room was almost half-full, but we were alone in the corner, and most people were too tired for the usual sixth form tomfoolery.

“I had another dream last night,” I admitted. “Plus – I seem to have skipped four days. I don't know what's going on.”

My friend didn't answer me today. Normally they'd give me even the tiniest sign – I'd grown to be able to read them so well over the years – but this time, nothing. No acknowledgement. It threw me off. I was silent a moment, waiting for a response. They continued to stare out of the window, lost in whatever thoughts they were having.

“Anyway – my dream. I'm not sure what was more horrible, this one or the car one. I got home and there was a moving van outside – in my dream, anyway. All our stuff was being loaded in these big, featureless boxes. All those memories – the spirit of that house – thrown away. I didn't want to leave. The thought of moving scared the hell out of me.”

Still nothing from my friend. Emboldened by my confession, I carried on.

“My mother told me we were moving to be closer to my grandparents. Except – well, you remember when they died, don't you? It was awful, I...”

Except I couldn't remember what had happened when my grandparents passed away. I knew it was two months apart, my grandmother first, and both times I'd cried about a week – but it was like my friend's book – it was just a fact in my head, now. No personal memory to go with it, just a fact. A little milestone in my life.

“I don't remember my grandparents dying,” I murmured, looking up at my friend. “Why don't I remember? Why these dreams and the skipping days? I don't understand. And this stupid dizziness, it's like–”

My friend stood up and left, a passing breeze, leaving my tattered sentence to crumble in their wake. I watched them go, speechless. The bell screamed.

-----------------


It's like I'm not even real, I would have said, but as soon as my friend left I was staring at a calendar on a totally different wall. Their wall, to be precise, and it read September 29th, 2009. I recognised the bedroom, studenty, full of posters and little items dotted about they'd amassed over the years. Double bed for a single sleeper, but it was empty in defiance of the time. The desk lamp was on, casting long shadows across the room in yellowish light.

In here, I was alone. I listened for sounds but there were none; just the garbled murmur of a TV downstairs. The thought of leaving crossed my mind but I recalled the layout of my friend's house – the stairs were open to the living room. I would be seen if I dared go down.

I wandered the room instead, hoping my footfalls wouldn't be heard, and then my attention was drawn to the desk – to a heap of paper there, about a centimetre thick.

The top page was askew, with a pen left there as if whatever was being worked on had been abandoned mid sentence. My friend's novel – that's what it was.

Temptation overcame me. I had to take a peek.

In hindsight, I wish I hadn't.

“Novel Ending Plan”, the page was headed. And listed were a few ideas for this novel's demise.

“N_____ is hit by a car, and doesn't survive.”

“N_____ gets home from college to be told by her mother that the family is moving house.”

My heart leapt. I was seeing my name on the page. Events that had seemingly happened to me. I remembered the car, and I remembered moving house – but at the same time they hadn't happened. I'd always woken up immediately afterwards to find normality restored. Both of these ideas had been crossed out. And when I thought about it, the things I'd experienced could very well have been aborted book ending ideas.

“What are you doing here?”

They were at the door. Their eyes went from my face to the page in my hand. My mind scrambled for some excuse; something to say...

“You already know why I'm here, don't you?” I asked.

They said nothing. I remembered the page in my hand and held it up.

“Explain this,” I said. “Why do I share a name with this character in your novel? And why have these two things happened to me?”

Silence for a moment as they stared deep into my eyes. I hadn't even needed to ask. They knew I'd figured it out.

“I don't think anything needs to be said,” they murmured. When they took the unfinished manuscript I felt sick. My friend weighed it in their hands, flicked through the pages, seemingly deciding what to do.

“What are you thinking?” I demanded. “Are you going to finish it? What are you going to do?”

“Nothing,” they told me. “I've been working on this book for well over a year now and I'm starting to think it's a pointless venture.”

“So what, am I just going to stagnate for the rest of time?!”

“I'm just going to end it quick,” they said. “Chuck the manuscript on the fireplace or something -”

I barrelled towards them but went right through. Horrified, I stood there half inside them while they held my whole existence – my life – in their hands.

“I can't grab it,” I breathed, trembling. “I can't -”

“You're a character in a book,” they snapped. “Not of this world. And your world is failing – you're fading. I'm losing interest in this project.”

And it was then I felt everything slipping away. My family, my friends, my life. Everything I loved, spiralling away into nonexistence. It was like a helter-skelter I couldn't stop. I only realised I was crying when I felt the heat of it in my eyes; when I let out that first choking sob. Was this how disintegrated my awareness was?

“No – don't,” I begged. “Write an ending – a good one – just write a good ending and be done with it -”

“I've tried,” they said.

“You had me hit by a car! You tore me from my childhood home!” I screamed. “Just something quick – nice – painless – please!”

They studied my face. I hoped seeing me like this would change their mind. A character they'd created – essentially their child – and yes, I did see it in their face – pity. They felt sorry for me.

“I know what you're thinking,” they said. “But I can't carry on with this. I have other ideas – new, better ones. Maybe I can come back to this story in a few years, but now...”

“Please...” I sobbed, trying in vain to grab their hands. “Don't give up on me...”

“You want quick, nice and painless?” they asked. “Fine.”

They dropped the manuscript in the bin.

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