There’s this neat trick they do in television, especially in hour long TV dramas. It’s called a teaser and its sole purpose is to make you want more. It usually ends with a cliffhanger just so you don’t change the channel when that lengthy commercial break starts.
Sometimes the teaser is a glimpse of a scene close to the end of that episode. This is how I’m going to begin my story – with a short scene close to the end.
I guess the first thing you should know is where this scene is taking place.
Imagine a centuries old oak forest, one that would creep most people out. Huge trees, rotten carcasses, contorted ghosts. Boughs, now useless limbs, lying on the ground.
The second thing you should know is “when.”
Henry James thought “summer afternoon” to be the two most beautiful words in the English language. So let’s say that’s our “when.”
Summer afternoon. I bet you’re thinking about sunlight slipping through thousands of leaves, twigs greedily stretching skyward. But maybe it’s cloudy, maybe fog curls around leaves and branches, a trembling embrace. The forest has its own sounds that appear to be most sinister.
Your lungs gasping for air, you’re drowning in that sea of ash-colored fog. You can’t tell what is what, you fill every shadow with doubt.
After all, you can only see what you’ve been taught to see. In this case, a labyrinth with no way out. It doesn’t take much for your reason to become a mere echo inside your head.
But just for the sake of that paradise I painted inside your mind with only two words, just for that sake, let’s say that it is indeed a sunny summer afternoon. Green leaves flutter in the warm breeze. The forest is filled with the rich odor of flowers.
Well, last but not least, you should know who the characters are and what they are doing. The only character worth mentioning is a guy named Oscar. And he’s lying on the grass, with his hands folded over his stomach. Blood is dripping on the ground, his white shirt is slowly turning red, the spot around his hands expanding every second. His face is a web of contracted muscles.
Me, I’m on my knees, digging a hole with my bare hands. What’d you expect me to do? I only met the guy three days earlier. My body is there, I can feel the mud underneath my fingernails, the warm sun caressing my face, death poisoning the air around me. But my mind, well, my mind is someplace else. The half that’s supposed to care, the half that’s supposed to wave hands like a maniac, you know, that half that’s supposed to try to stop the bleeding or offer some comfort. Well, that half’s just missing.
“I’m dying!” he says, his left arm tearing tiny blades of grass around his inert body, his voice a mere murmuring shadow of life.
“No, you’re not.” I stop digging and look at him with as much compassion as a soulless person is capable of mustering.
The funny thing is that he’s a doctor, so he must know these sorts of things. And, well, I guess most people are capable of understanding that they’re going to die, but they just can’t accept it. Fate is always too cruel. We’re always so stubborn.
I put my hand on his burning forehead. He rolls over and crouches, his knees touching his chest. His bloody fingers balled into fists, his entire body arched and shaking. Blood still gushing through the hole in his shirt.
It’s such a beautiful day. The perfect day to die.
I turn him over on his back and take a look into his eyes. They feel empty, cold. His soul should be exiting his body just about now. His mind is telling his soul, “Please, vacate the premises.” When blood starts dripping from his mouth, making its way down his cheeks, that’s when I freak out. I take a few steps back.
“Goddamit!” A long shriek reverberates around his soon to be dead body.
It’s the sunniest, hottest day ever and I can swear I see his cold, smoky breath hovering over his head, lingering in the blinding light like an aura. Then, suddenly, it disappears.
After all, you can only see what you expect to see.
All I can think about is that this is not how this story is supposed to end.
When he stops blinking, when his chest stops moving, and his purple lips stop quivering, that’s when I realize he’s dead. This time he’s really, really dead.
Do you want to know how this feels? How I feel?
Have you ever shoved your hand inside a burrow? Inside one of those holes in the ground, covered by darkness even during the day? Just stretch your arm inside the void and close your eyes. Squeeze nothing in your hand as you make your way deeper and deeper. You don’t know what to expect.
We never know what’s going to happen.
But what could happen? What’s making the hair on your back stand up, what’s making your heart beat as fast as the wings of a hummingbird? After all, there are only about six hundred species of venomous snakes on the planet. And a lot more things with claws and fangs. But what’s really that terrifying that you can’t even breathe? Is it that disgusting not knowing what’s going to happen?
Suddenly, I start running through the battered trees, my legs trying to keep up with my desire to get as far away from Oscar’s dead body as possible. But, as anyone who has ever tried it can tell you, you can’t run away from a nightmare. I stop and try to catch my breath. My chest feels so heavy. This burning pain is piercing my stomach. There’s so much adrenaline flooding my veins. I can hear police sirens and people shouting, “Oscar, Oscar.”
I’m too tired and too scared to run away from them, so I close my eyes. The forest sends whispers of joy to my ears. I accept the warm embrace of the sun, my feet sink in the black soil, my lungs inhale the fresh, clean air.
All so quiet. All so still.
And then I open my eyes and see Oscar standing in front of me, his right hand covering the gunshot wound, dried blood painting his knuckles, and a dead man’s smile cutting through his face. He doesn’t look so good. Wretched creature…
I guess that what doesn’t kill you only makes you wish it did.
The only thing that is worth remembering, and worth remembering over and over again, is that in this world, under all and any circumstance, nothing ever happens.
My name is Jonathan Fisher and I can stare at the sun longer than anyone else on this planet. Longer than you. And I am afraid you are not going to like me.
Most of the time I’m just a ghost, a shadow riding in the back seat of a bus, a whisper travelling across a Universe only ten miles wide. So it shouldn’t surprise you that the first event I can recall with an almost morbid precision took place on my twenty third birthday. That was the day we buried my father.
And still, as the hole in the ground swallowed his casket, I couldn’t feel anything. Because nothing had happened to me before, nothing had left a mark upon my soul. And in the moments of my first sorrow I understood that the worst fate is to be no one.
Shadows quivered around the cemetery as the sun hid behind a murky shroud of clouds. Only a timid web of light remained, engraved on the surface of that endless sea of darkness.
A hundred eyes hoped to catch a glimpse of agony and pain on my face. Time seemed to stretch like a rubber band, and all I could do was wait for the rubber to rip.
I felt numb, blind, and deaf while I was hopelessly trying to find the meaning of something so elusive, something that seemed to be hiding in the deepest crevasse of my mind. I was running after a thought that seemed to be so clear and simple…
And then, just as I was beginning to lose hope, I found what I so desperately needed. The realization that words couldn’t explain the death of someone I almost knew, someone I almost loved.
My victory was short lived because my vision still couldn’t prevail through the stillness that insulated my soul, which had built an unbreakable wall between me and the rest of the world.
They were all looking at me as if I were some kind of freak, but that provided me with a little bit of comfort.
All great men are misfits, yet I couldn’t help but wonder what was worse: to be like everyone else or to be entirely different. I could only think about the fact that I needed a tragedy in my life, just so I could feel alive, just so my heart wouldn’t stop beating.
Life goes on. No matter what, life goes on.
Did that make me a villain? I wasn’t sure. No matter how many books you read, you’ll never be prepared to face the villains that inhabit your own little story. Your life’s story.
The truth is that we’re all strong enough to endure someone else’s tragedy.
They thought I was a bastard because I couldn’t cry. My mother was sobbing beside me, and I just stood there, with my hands tucked deep inside my pockets, staring blindly at a slowly fading abyss, staring down at the blandest possible ending to a story.
We are born and then we die. And in between lies only this strange darkness that we can’t break. That’s, probably, the only certainty we have in life.
After the ceremony was over, everyone left me there. They all abandoned the son who couldn’t weep for his father. So I had to walk back home.
I think I should say something cheesy, like that was the longest, hardest walk in my life. But it wasn’t. It was just cold and dark outside. Street lamps were struggling to fight off the night, grasshoppers were singing their pathetic lullaby, and the smell of summer flowers echoed throughout the old town.
On my way home I stopped at a supermarket and bought a can of soda. I drank half of it and the other half I spilled on the pavement.
When I got home, I unlocked and opened the door trying to be as silent as possible. I didn’t want to wake up my mother. I didn’t even turn the lights on. I always tried to be such a good son.
As I staggered my way down the hallway, my feet tripped over something. I couldn’t see what it was, so I turned the lights on. My father’s black leather shoes. Size six. He had such small feet. I smiled at the thought that he had bought those shoes with me. Small tears, proof of their considerable age, ran across their lacquered surface. Dried mud stained the tip of the right shoe. My father used to walk in such a strange way.
I realized what had happened. And I cried.