In which Katy thinks about missing laptop chargers, speaks to a bored hotline rep, and finds herself at the beginning.
The Beginning of the End: A Grocery Store Horror Story
Content warning: suicidal ideation/thoughts
“You know you were one of my first friends, right?” My voice rises so much that I want to apologize to the absent librarian. Regina and Guy slowly back away from Tom’s body on the floor, and Rain runs into Regina’s open arms. Each of them stare at me with wariness; I suppose they have a reason to be afraid of what I can do. Huh. I wonder if this is what God feels like. Lonely.
“That’s just,” Tom lifts himself off the floor with a chuckle, “so sad.” Blood trickles down his chin, and he raises his hands, palms up, in the air, as if in prayer at a Catholic church. “Do it. You know you want to.” Do I? Do I want him to die? I could come up with a million ways to torture him. To make him feel the pain he deals out to the people he is supposed to give a damn about. Or do I want to be merciful? Make the good choice and make my dad proud?
“What do you want?” I ask with sincerity.
“Unbelievable.” Tom combs his hands through his hair and grips it as if to rip it out from the root. “You really want to know what I want? I want everything to go back to the way it was. You needed me and now-“
“I don’t.” The words taste strange in my mouth, but it’s the truth. “All you ever did was bully me. You hurt me. But telling you this won’t change anything because you’ll just gaslight me into thinking I’m wrong.” My voice wobbles pathetically, and Regina takes a step forward, probably to comfort me, but I shake my head at her. I need to do this on my own.
“Katy-” Tom interjects.
“Or that I’m emotional or crazy or stupid or weird. And maybe I am, but I know how I feel and how I think. You don’t get to take that away from me.” Walking up to Tom, I poke a brave finger into his chest. “I don’t need approval from people I care about, your’s or anyone else’s.”
“You don’t care about me-” I place my hands on Tom’s face gently, and he lets out a shocked breath.
“I do.” A small smug smile graces his face. Out of the corner of my eye, Regina and Rain hold back Guy’s arms when he moves to tackle his brother. “But I also cared about Arnold.” Realization makes Tom’s eyes widen comically.
“Wait!” I back away and watch as his arms, legs, and then torso turn into smoke. Soon, he is an alien figure once more. I want to enjoy this, savor years of karma at work, but I’ve already seen enough people I care about die. The flavor is, to put it frankly, nauseating.
“Goodbye, Tom.” The smoke is rippling one moment, and then in the next, it vanishes like it was never there at all.
I sit on my bed and stare out the window. With multiple street lamps out, the stars shine brighter than they should in this part of town, and it’s so beautiful it makes me want to cry. The Voices are gone, so there’s no one to share this thought with. I know I should be glad, after all; that must mean I’m not crazy anymore. No, it’s much worse now; I’m alone. My throat tightens up, and my head pulses. I squeeze my eyes shut, and my shoulders scrunch up to my ears.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid…” I slam my palm against my forehead, harder and harder, until my brain vibrates. I run my hands through the hair at my temples and pull until I feel a small sense of release. It’s not enough. I drop off the bed and make my way to the kitchen. I spy the set of fancy knives I bought from Luna’s – super cheap, my father would be proud – on the counter. I wonder how they would feel across my skin. Oh, I’m not a cutter, but I’ve read enough about knifeplay to know that it can feel good. I lift a knife and place one side flat against my palm. It’s cool and so soft. Next, I run the edge above the top of my wrist, not enough to bleed, but it leaves an impression. “Coward,” I mutter to myself as I slide it back into its proper place.
I turn away and sit at the dining table. I don’t know what to do with myself. Squabbling with Tom, reading with Rain, cards with Regina, baking (badly) with Arnold, and arguing over television tropes with Guy are no longer options. Every sound in the apartment adds to the static of my mind. I need to think of something else. My mind wanders like it did when I was a kid as my parents drove us to the beach. I would pretend that I was skating on the clouds, jumping to and from each one like a pro or like an angel. This time, though, I’m wondering what it feels like to cut too deep. Logically, I know if I cut it just right, I’ll bleed out and die. But what does that feel like, really, dying? Once again, I know the organs shut down, you stop breathing, and you turn off like a laptop missing its charger for too long.
But what does it feel like? I’m scared of dying in general, not knowing what comes after, but another part of me is curious. Will it hurt horribly, or will I pass quickly? When death finally comes for me, the anticipation will be over, and for that, I’m thankful. Weirdly enough, I feel bravery swell up in my chest. Wearing this feeling like armor, I turn as if to speak to someone. I flinch when I remember.
The emptiness of the room begins to suffocate me. I stand up from the table and pace across the carpet. “What should I do now?” I say to no one. With a jolt, I realize, with the Voices gone, I truly have no one. Sure, there’s James and some of the coworkers I speak with on occasion, but I don’t want to subject them to my ramblings. The Voices are gone, but that doesn’t make me any less weird. I should stay here.
Realizing just how utterly alone I am, tears begin to build up in my eyes. Everything tightens up again. I vaguely remember a hotline from some commercial, which I quickly google on my phone. Taking a deep breath, I call the suicide hotline before I lose my nerve. A faceless man on the other end answers with a practiced greeting. I swallow a sob.
“Hell-hi.” A long pause follows, and I continue. “I need help.”
“Ok.” He sounds bored. I try again.
“I feel really bad right now. I’m alone, and I don’t know who to talk to…” I trail off. Nothing. At some point, the rep probably says something, but I either don’t hear him, or it isn’t helping, so I hang up. I grab the keys from the counter and leave the apartment quickly. My car hits a few potholes on the road and disrupts the sobs that heave from my chest. A good cry should get me out of whatever this is. I drive over a long bridge and stare at the water below. If I go over the side with my car, I wonder if it would feel like a roller coaster: a sharp drop in the belly, a scream, and relief.
I want to know, and my hands itch. One sharp turn of the wheel, and I’d know. The burn of curiosity flows through my veins, the same feeling I get when I’m reading a great book and want to know what comes next and how the author could possibly tie everything together. Except in this circumstance, I don’t know who the author is: me, death, or some cosmic being. Doesn’t matter, though. Nothing does, in the end, I suppose. I grip the wheel, and before I can make my decision, a hand ghosts over my shoulder as it did a long time ago. Was it that long ago?
With a rush, I remember Guy. Not anything he ever really said, but his presence. Constant, even when I didn’t want him around me. The way he handled my insecurities. Despite my every effort, I know I’m not a good person; in fact, I’m incredibly selfish. And yet, he and the others stuck to me like glue. I’m the one who forced them to leave, and that thought takes me across the bridge. My car putters and the headlights flicker, so I pull over. I laugh at my luck and rub my eyes, red from crying. I step out of the car and take a deep breath through my nose and mouth. The almost overwhelming smell of grass and incoming rain hits me, and I shakily lean back against the hood. Thunder rumbles in the distance, and I feel peace for the first time in a long time, if ever.
“You can do this-” Thoughts of finding the nearest gas station then my friends shatter as I’m thrown into the grass by an unknown force. I groan and look at a long shadow, darker than the night sky and silent, standing next to my car. I blink, and it’s still there, making its way toward my sprawled body.
“I’m going to live, goddammit.” I lift myself off the ground, fake a movement to the left, and then dart off to the right. Exhilaration pumps through my veins as I haul ass down the road.
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