It was a quiet afternoon. The sun was glimpsing behind the gray curtain of autumn clouds. Birches were green, yellow and orange and rowans were heavy with bright red berries. It should have been a moment of joy, of new beginnings and fresh starts. But for Katie it was something completely else.
For Katie the world seemed dark and distorted despite the rare moment of sunshine. The black wet asphalt grabbed her ankles making her every step a heavy one. The wind was stealing the breath from her lungs. An aspen shed a rain of yellow leaves on her. Once she would have danced with the twirling leaves, but this time they were weapons of her enemy, trying to slash her face with their sharp edges.
The more Katie tried to hurry up the slower she moved. Her back was wet with sweat and yet she felt cold. Her breath started to come in hasty sobs. There was a heavy hole in her stomach, hollow but still pulling her down towards the ground. Finally a tear squeezed out of her eye, eager to pull its friends along.
At that moment Katie stopped. Right there, in the middle of a walkway, she crumbled down. She simply couldn't go any further, not one step. There was a tiny building right next to her that was painted with dozens of graffiti. She leaned against it to keep herself from falling to the wet, cold ground. There she gave up the fight and let the tears stream out.
A few busy people on bikes rushed past her. Someone turned around to look at her miserable figure but moved on. The wind picked up a little, making Katie shiver. To her it seemed like a hurricane that was trying to pry her off the ground to whisk her into some unknown depths in that gray sky. Part of her wanted to let go and let the wind take her, but still her hands clawed tighter to the rough brick wall next to her.
Time passed. Maybe a minute, maybe half an hour. Katie’s damp clothes cooled down and the muscles in her upper back started to ache from cold. She wanted to move, to get away from this spot that reeked of pee, but she couldn’t get the message through to her limbs. She stared at the wads of long grass. There were brown leaves stuck in the grass. Some of them had slipped between the sharp strands of grass. She felt like she was trapped there with them, in a prison of benign looking but deceptively sharp blades of grass.
Suddenly the grass stopped glimmering in the sunlight. It took a moment before Katie realised that it was because a shadow had appeared. The wind couldn't reach her either. A human shaped barrier had appeared next to Katie. It had tight jeans and worn sneakers and it smelled of fried chicken. The smell of food made Katie nauseous. She knew it was probably too late to try to appear like she hadn't lost her mind but still from somewhere came the need to act somehow normal. So she straightened her back, wiped her face with the back of her hand, and tried to breath normally.
Katie hoped that the person would just go away, but the shadow lingered there. She didn't dare to turn her eyes towards the stranger. That would have meant that she acknowledged their presence and would need to communicate somehow. Communicating with anyone was the last thing she wanted right now.
The stranger spoke. It was a soft and melodic voice, a tenor rather than a bass but definitely a male voice.
“This is not the best place to cry”, it stated. Katie said nothing and kept her eyes fixated to the ground.
“I know that because I've cried here too. See that graffiti that is right where your hand was touching a moment ago?” The man leaned a little closer to Katie. She could feel the warmth of his breath on her cheek.
“Don't tell anyone but I made it” he whispered with a conspiratorial tone. “It’s the one that says 'Ele’. That's the name of the woman I loved more than the life itself. When she left me, I came here, sprayed my grief to that graffiti, and stood the rest of the night looking at her name and crying right there where you are. I got a nasty cold and spent the next week cursing my life with the added annoyance of a sore throat and clogged sinuses. So believe me when I say that you really should continue that inside.”
He spoke in a light and colourful manner. Katie felt a small spark of something flickering inside her. Calling it joy or happiness or laughter would be exaggerating, but it wasn't sorrow or blackness either. It twirled for a moment like a bright yellow leaf falling to the ground.
“Come on, let's go somewhere warmer. Your lips look a little blue already,” the stranger said after another silent moment. A big hand touched Katie’s shoulder firmly but briefly. It left a warm spot behind.
Still Katie didn’t move. She opened her mouth to say something, like that she’s alright and he shouldn’t worry, but words got lost somewhere between her good intentions and her tongue. The warm spot on her shoulder spread shivers up her neck and when they reached her eyes, tears flooded behind her eyelids again.
The stranger placed both of his hands on her arms and turned her gently towards him. Katie instinctively lifted her eyes and her gaze was met by a pair of brown eyes above high cheekbones and a sharp nose, and under an untidy mane of dark, curly hair. The young man looked at her with a serious expression. Katie wondered shortly why she didn’t mind the stranger’s hands on her.
“Is it okay if I take you to my place? I live right over there. I have a roommate who should be at home. I'll make you something warm to drink. Okay?”
Katie felt herself nodding. The young man smiled a little, took his hands away from her arms, and extended one of them back towards her.
“Tony”, he said.
Katie wiped her hand quickly to her pants, hoping that there wasn't very much snot and tears in it, and grabbed the hand feebly. “Katie.”
Tony smiled again that small, reassuring smile. He took a couple of steps down the road, all the time looking at Katie like he was saying “come on now”. Katie felt surreal when she stepped after him. Her head seemed to be far away from her feet, but at least she wasn't getting stuck in the asphalt anymore.
They walked in silence to a large apartment building close by. They walked up two flights of stairs in a hallway that smelled like plastic mats. Every squeak of their shoes or a tap of their hands on a railing echoed all through the building. Finally Tony stopped in front of an anonymous looking door, dug out some jingling keys from the pocket of his tight jeans, and opened the door.
When he disappeared inside, Katie was suddenly filled with dread. What am I doing here? she wondered. She was going voluntarily into some complete stranger's home. Would it be safe? She could hear her mother's voice in the back of her mind scolding her.
Tony's head appeared from the crack of the door. “Are you coming?” he asked. Katie looked at his kind face and started to stutter. “I-- I'm n-n-not sure.” Tony looked at her for a moment and then nodded. “Wait right there. I'll be right back”, he said and disappeared back inside. Katie stood in the hallway changing the weight from one foot to the other. An uneasy feeling squeezed her chest.
Finally Tony came back with two foldable chairs and a blanket. “I grabbed these from the balcony. They're not the most comfortable seats ever but at least you don't need to sit on the floor,” he explained while he set up the chairs next to the hallway wall close to the door. He seemed almost proud when he offered one of the seats to Katie. She sat carefully down, and Tony wrapped the blanket over her shoulders.
“Now wait a short moment longer. Is hot chocolate okay? We don't drink coffee and the tea we have needs to be brewed slowly so hot chocolate comes faster.”
Katie couldn't help but smile a little at this stranger's eagerness to help. That little yellow leaf fluttered inside her again. Tony scurried back inside and Katie leaned her head against the cool concrete wall. She still felt hollow and the tears had clogged into a sticky ball in her throat, but she also felt somehow more safe. The whole world wasn’t falling on her anymore.
Tony came back with two big mugs filled to the brim with sweet-smelling light brown liquid. He offered one to Katie, sat to the other chair and cradled his own mug carefully between his hands. Katie blew into her mug as she watched him take a careful sip. They sat there quietly until their drinks had cooled down to drinkable level. Katie took a gulp. It slid down her throat with some difficulty, spreading warmth as it went. It melted down the sticky ball of tears and suddenly her eyes were aching with the need to cry again. Tony noticed that.
“Would you like to talk about it? I’m in no hurry.”
Katie took another gulp of the hot chocolate and thought for a moment. What could she say? How could she explain what she was feeling to a total stranger?
“The weirdest thing is that there’s no one thing I could talk about. I didn’t lose a boyfriend, no one I know has died, my life should in general be just about perfect. I’m studying to my dream job, I’m getting good grades, I have friends and several hobbies that I love. But for some reason sometimes the world goes dark and I just can’t breathe.”
Tony furrowed his brow ever so slightly. Katie bit her lip. She felt guilty. This kind stranger had done all this to make her feel better, and now he found out that she didn’t actually have any reason to feel bad in the first place.
“Sorry, I guess this isn’t what you expected to hear,” Katie muttered and lowered her eyes towards her drink.
From the corner of her eye she saw Tony shaking his head ever so slightly.
“No, don’t say you’re sorry. It must be hard when you don’t see the reason. I mean, when it’s a girlfriend who dumped you you know that the sadness will pass and there’s more fish in the sea and all that. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to feel all that pain but not know how to make it stop.”
Katie just nodded. The little yellow leaf inside her was joined by a few more, all tumbling and twirling down to fill that hollow part one tiny leaf at a time.
Once upon a time they imprisoned her deep into the Earth. They thought she'd stay there forever, that humanity was saved from her horrors. Little did they understand. As she became one with the Earth she became everything: she's the ground we tread, the air we breathe, the water we drink.
In time people forgot what she used to be. Only distorted legends of Mother Earth remained. She chose me to be the instrument for her return. Tonight I brought her back in all her glory. The screams of men and the cry of children is my ode to her.
The Beginning of Evil
"I know you all envy me but believe it or not, it's not easy to be the child of the Big Boss. There's all these expectations. I'm educated to know all these things and to act all benevolent and still be majestic and shit. But has anyone ever asked me what I want? No!"
Lucifer was emphasizing her speech with her hands, almost knocking a sandwich out of Gabriel's hand.
"Hey, watch it girl!" Gabriel said moving the sandwich further away from her dangerously flailing hands. "Besides, you're not the only one whose life has been dictated for them. I'm supposed to be some kind of head honcho of messengers, but I don't even know who I'm supposed to deliver the messages to. It's not like those stupid cockroaches in that world your Father created are going to listen much of advice."
Lucifer rolled her eyes. "I'm so bored with that world! I mean, it's been over three billion years since my Dad created life there, and every day I've had to go with him to see the fucking bacteria floating around. Couldn't he have invented something more interesting?"
"Haven't you heard?" Michael chimed in.
"Heard what?" Lucifer and Gabriel asked simultaneously.
"Of the latest plans. Humans! They're supposed to be these really smart beings, so smart that the Father is planning on giving them a free will!"
"What, animals that decide for themselves? Has the old geezer completely lost it?" Gabriel laughed. Lucifer wasn't laughing, but after a while a small smile started to creep to her lips.
Michael looked at her warily. "Lucifer, what are you thinking? You don't have a new idea, do you?"
"Ooh, I have the perfect idea", Lucifer answered. "We'll be making the world less boring. If this works, we'll have fun for eons to come."
Another voice joined the discussion. "What idea? Little sister, you're not going to get into trouble again, are you?"
Lucifer looked up to the young man who oozed charisma and leadership.
"Jesus, stay out of this," Lucifer said grumpily.
Michael nudged Gabriel and they sneaked away. They had seen enough of these fights and heard enough Lucifer's great ideas that they knew to stay away.
"Come on, sis, I don't want to clean up your messes again. There was enough work to do with what you did with the dinosaurs, and let's not forget who talked Dad into believing all those stories about a giant meteor. Next time I just might not be there to save your ass."
"Don't worry, I don't want you to save me or anyone else. You don't always have to play the hero."
Jesus threw his hands into air and sighed.
"I can't be your guardian all the time. Just don't do anything stupid, okay?"
"Oh, this isn't stupid. This is brilliant," Lucifer muttered under her breath as she watched her brother striding away.
Cut Flowers (longer version)
He brought me roses.
My father used to say that if a man brings a woman cut flowers without an apparent reason, he's cheating on her. How pessimistic I thought back then. How realistic I think now.
The roses were supposed to be an attempt to make amends. I had asked a couple of days earlier what was wrong, why he had distanced himself from me. Instead of an explanation he offered me flowers. I wasn't happy about it but I put them in a vase anyway and left to a festival with him. There was a dozen ways I would have rather spent my Midsummer than in a crowded festival with him, but he begged me to come. I thought maybe experiencing something together would bring us closer again and agreed to go, for our sake.
We set up a tent that was just big enough to fit us both. It was cold and wet outside and stuffy and hot inside the tent. He disappeared as soon as we had the tent ready and I was left plowing the mud among way too many strangers. After a couple of hours I found him standing in a line with a young woman. The woman was small and soft and she had a strikingly long hair. He introduced me to her only by my name, without a title. I stood a couple of steps away, looked at him beaming at her every word and I knew perfectly well what was going on.
I begged him that we would go home but of course he was having a wonderful time and didn't want to leave. We had come on his car so when he disappeared into the crowd again I was very much stuck in there, in the dampness that clung to my bones, among countless happily chattering people who carefully stepped around me.
For two miserable days I only waited for leaving. I saw him in the nights when he came to the tent, slipped into his sleeping bag, and turned his back on me. We met for lunch and for dinner, but I quickly lost my appetite when I looked at his stupid grin and eyes that carefully looked everywhere but at me. When he finally drove me back home I saw the flowers in the vase where I had left them already drooping. I spent the night wondering why would he do this to me. Why did he drag me there when he had clearly agreed to meet with another woman?
It still took him a couple more days before he wrote to me that maybe we should “take a break” because he “needed to think some things through”. Still he wouldn't just break up with me, he would rather drag it on forever. I tried to ask him if he had another woman and is there actually any chance that after this “little break” he’d want to try to make things right with me. He simply didn't answer.
I wished I could have just shaken the douchebag off my mind, but instead I sunk deep into a crippling anxiety and, at times, into the deep blackness of depression. For two weeks I waited to hear from him. I heard he had left the town, and it wasn't hard to guess who he was seeing. When he came back I demanded a clear answer: was he coming back to me or not. Finally he gave me the relief of knowing it was really, truly over. For a couple of days I fantasized about all the ways I could beat him up. The anger felt so much better than the waiting.
Some weeks later he wrote to me, asking if we could still be friends. I asked him if he would first talk with me about what happened. He said something about letting the past be in the past, and I told him that in that case I would prefer to keep him in the past. I never heard from him again. I did once stumble into his fiancée’s writing about how they had met online, agreed to meet at the festival, and how soon after he had travelled to meet her to have a romantic weekend with her.
I wonder if he ever told her who I was. I wonder if that woman with strikingly long hair often gets roses, if she carefully puts them on display and thinks what a romantic gesture it is. If she looks at the flowers when she's carrying a baby and trying to soothe a screaming toddler and wonders why her husband isn't coming home already, while the crippled flowers slowly but inevitably wither away.
He brought me roses.
My father used to say that if a man brings a woman cut flowers he's cheating on her. How pessimistic I thought back then. How realistic I think now.
I knew there was something wrong, but instead of an explanation he offered me flowers. I agreed to go to a festival with him, even though there were a dozen ways I would have rather spent my Midsummer. I thought maybe that would bring us closer again.
He disappeared as soon as we had the tent ready. I was left plowing the mud among way too many strangers. When I found him he was with a young woman. The woman was small and soft and she had a strikingly long hair. He introduced me to her without any title. I looked at him beaming at her every word and knew exactly what was going on.
For two miserable days I only waited for leaving. After the festival it didn't take long before he wrote to me that he “needed time to think”. I asked him if there was any chance that after this “little break” he’d want to make things right with me. He simply didn't answer.
For two weeks I waited to hear from him. I knew he had left the town, and it wasn't hard to guess why. Finally he gave me the relief of knowing it was over. For a couple of days I fantasized about all the ways I could beat him up. The anger felt so much better than the waiting.
Later he asked me if we could still be friends. I said maybe if he would give me some sort of explanation first. I never heard from him again. Once I stumbled into his then-fiancée’s writing about how they had met online, agreed to meet at the festival, and how soon after he had travelled to meet her to have oh-so-romantic weekend together.
I wonder if he ever told her who I was. And if he now brings her cut flowers.
Here it comes. I can hear it approaching deep inside my skull. It has long, thin fingers - no, not fingers, but tentacles, turning and twisting and squeezing through to the tiniest cavities.
It starts from my stomach. It always starts from there, stirring it up, heating it until I feel the burn. From there it climbs to my throat. It strangles me ever so slightly, like to remind me that it could tighten its hold any time to make sure not a single sound escapes through anymore. When it reaches my lungs, forcing me to breath more than I need, I know I've lost the struggle that I hardly even started yet. Soon it is hammering my every muscle, making me shake violently like the fragile leaf that I am.
The world around me grows small. I'm trapped inside a small hole with hazy edges. Outside everything is dark and misty. Inside, where I'm soundlessly screaming, everything is too much: it's too bright, too many confusing colours, and loud, so very loud even though no vibrating air is reaching my eardrums. It drowns me, threatens to drag me down and imprison me in the depths forever. I feel like I have already been forever in a hell where time means nothing.
I want to vomit it out. My mouth gets filled with saliva, my stomach cramps trying to force out the evil that is disrupting its calm existence. But the cord around my throat squeezes tighter and it screams straight into my brain “NO!” That's the one thing I cannot do. It tells me that vomiting would not make me feel better but instead it would make everything worse, it would be the most horrifying thing I've ever experienced. I might think, it tells me, that this hell where I'm in is bad, but actually I'm only at the door. If I'd let the reflex through, if I even tried to purge it away, I would open the doors to a real hell where all hope is lost.
I give in and let it have its way with me. It shakes me so bad that I would fall off a chair if I wasn't on the cold floor already. I get a few tears out from between my tightly squeezed eyelids. I struggle for air even though I'm gulping huge amounts of it by panting with shaky breaths. I'm locked here for all eternity unable to think of anything else but this hell and this moment.
Finally it has grown tired of playing with me. It withdraws its disgusting tentacles that have little thorns on them that scrape me as they slither over me. It takes a while for my body to come to halt. My throat has been burned, my muscles still twitch with aftershocks, and my teeth don't dare to make a gap between my jaws yet. Ever so slowly the noise quiets down, the lights reach the outside world again, and time resumes its stroll with shaky legs. It's gone and I'm still here, painfully aware that it's never far away. It will come again.