Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
It’s already difficult to think…. But what is left to do? I am going to be erased; am being erased. I can feel my thoughts slipping away from me like sand between fingers. I can grasp at them, but the harder I try, the more difficult they are to keep. So, like this, I will try my best to think of everything I can think of – everything that led to this.
I was always…different.
Some of my earliest memories are of my maman comforting me from yet another nightmare. I remember always asking her why I had so many of the dreams in which I’d die in various, grotesque ways. The mes in my dreams didn’t always look like me; sometimes they were girls, sometimes boys, sometimes neither, or both; sometimes older, sometimes younger, sometimes taller, or shorter; some had different hair, or eyes, or lacked the freckles that my maman said make me unique…but they were always still distinctly me. Some died in car wrecks, some drowned, some starved to death, some were killed by thieves, and some died in wars. Some bled out slowly in an alleyway as the heavens mourned their loss, while yet others went quickly in their sleep.
My maman has always insisted I had the nightmares because I am special. Yeah, right, I’ve always thought. I’m just me. I’m not especially tall, or handsome, or smart, or strong. I’ve never had any real friends, even. In fact, I was never exactly well received by my peers.
I remember, still, when I began school, some of the other children with older siblings telling stories that only made me have more nightmares. It was then that I began to have a hint of just how ‘special’ I am. Or, was?
I learned that – those nightmares of mine? – everyone has them. Our reality, or dimension, or world, or whatever you want to call it, is a bridge between all other realities. It’s not uncommon knowledge; there’s a day once a year when we can see other versions of ourselves for six hours starting at sunset. I like the versions of myself where I’m taller, and have longer hair, although I’d never wear my own hair long. They walk around through our world like ghosts, interacting with ghost objects only present in their own worlds. It’s useless to try to talk to them. Well, most of them anyway. They can’t see or hear us, save the rare few who can.
…When I was very little, I experienced my first Viewing. Well…I suppose babies can see their other selves too, but it takes a certain amount of brain development to really understand what’s going on. Or maybe it’s just because I can’t remember that far back.
I remember – sort of – being very confused, at first. But…excited. I wandered away from my mother, following ghostly figures that wouldn’t answer to my demand for their attention. Eventually I saw a sad, or maybe tired, looking girl. She was skinny, but tall, and had long hair the same copper color and the same texture as mine. Her hair was pulled back into a loose pony tail, and she wore clothes that looked like they fit once, but that she had recently become malnourished. Overall – she looked nothing like me. But I knew, somehow, instinctually, that she was me. I walked toward her. She stared at the stars for a long time in silence before turning to me.
She looked me right in the eyes and started speaking in language I didn’t recognize. After noticing my confusion, she looked around and spoke to me in my native French. She smiled gently and said only one thing.
“I’m sorry it couldn’t be me.” I didn’t know what she meant, but it made me want to cry. She was crying too. …The rest is…a bit of a blur. My maman found me and brought me home. As loving as my maman was – is? – that was one thing she refused to ever talk about.
…I’m rambling. The nightmares, those are visions of our other selves dying. They say whenever you narrowly avoid death in this world, one of your doppelgängers die. Then, you dream about it. They say it’s a gift from God to our world to make us appreciate our lives more…but it’s only really ever made me hate mine. If there is a God, I’d bet it was an experiment, not a gift.
I was ‘cool,’ in elementary school. The girls liked my copper red hair and freckles, and the boys thought I was ‘edgy’ because of how many nightmares I had. I didn’t really understand it, but they thought it was cool, and I wore the bags under my eyes as medals of honor. Each sleepless night a testament to how many times I had nearly died but hadn’t.
In middle school, no one cared. Everyone was into something different, and I faded into obscurity. By then I had figured out the reason why it was – is – ‘cool’ to have so many nightmares. Other than some severe illness that I obviously didn’t have, the most obvious reason for someone to have so many of the nightmares is that someone’s trying to assassinate them. Which equates to importance.
By this time, too, I had experienced many more Viewings and seen many more things. I never saw the one from my childhood again. …Although…I have a sort of vague idea, not quite a fully-formed memory, of what did happen to her. I remember, as though I was her, meeting my – her – fiancé and…talking…and then…I – she – walked outside to meet her fate. The rest was – is – a blur, but she was ripped apart by some kind of dog in the alley behind her home. I remember that she was an artist.
After my first year of high school, my maman and I moved far away. Far enough that everyone doted on my accent, and that I had to speak English instead of French, but not far enough that we crossed an ocean. I didn’t question why we had to move. My life had grown boring – monotonous. The same people and the same things, all the time. The only thing that changed was the frequency of the nightmares.
I began having them more frequently after I turned sixteen, and, as it was ‘cool’ again to have them, I ran my mouth. At first, I was ‘cool,’ and I had a lot of ‘friends.’ I heard the name ‘KK’ which I hadn’t heard used on me in years. Then, people stopped believing me. “There’s no way!” “Not every night!” “How important do you think you are?” “No one’s going to try that hard to kill a loser ginger like you!” So I stopped talking about it, and I lost my ‘friends.’ My maman worried about me, as good mothers do, but I kept my grades up, so she never worried too much.
When I was seventeen, on the Night of Viewing, I wandered outsides to walk through the streets and pretend I was a ghost like the other versions of me. By then the nightmares had consumed so much of my life. I had never experienced love – never been to a party – never done anything. I wanted, if only for a moment, to pretend none of it was real, none of it was a waste, including my own self.
As I wandered, I noticed how few of me were left. I wasn’t as surprised as I should have been, I think. That night, I saw some kind of creature. Thinking back, maybe I should have told someone. Told my maman. Maybe someone could have done something, maybe I could have done something. Spent more time with my maman. Just…something.
…No. No, no one could have done anything about it but me. In this state…I…I’m certain of that now. Some strange sense of certainty…almost like all-knowingness…seems to pervade me, like…almost like I’m cracked and the all-knowingness is flowing through those cracks.
…Where was I? …Ah. The creature came to me, spoke to me. It said it was going to kill me. It said it was going to kill every me out there, until it killed the right one. It apologized. It said it would rather not have to go through all the trouble, or cause all that trouble for me, but that it had to. It said that it had to, that it was for everyone’s sake, that it needed to kill the right me in time, whatever the cost. That it would all be over by the time I turned 18, one way or another.
I took no heed of the creature’s warning, although I think it was less of a warning and more of a…declaration of intent. Still, I didn’t care. I just went on about my life, not thinking anything of it.
Throughout the next several months or so, I had more and more nightmares, up of five a night. I stopped having dreams in which I’d have a lover on my arm and we’d be sitting close together on a porch swing with the sun setting behind us entirely.
I started to go mad. I started skipping school. I started writing poetry, then. I started shouting at people a lot and getting into various forms of ‘trouble,’ mostly fights. None of that really felt like me, though…. I started listening to punk music way too loud. Eventually, I stopped sleeping altogether. I found that, if I went for a few days without sleep first, I would be too tired to remember the nightmares when they came. I started going back to school.
My grades weren’t the best they’d been, since I never slept and had difficulty paying attention in class. I doodled on all my assignments and wrote short little poems in the margins.
One of my teachers noticed. She asked me to write a poem for an upcoming young writers contest. I submitted to her a poem entitled Running.
About a week later I got a notice saying I’d placed. Tortured souls really do write the best poetry, I suppose. It was only second place…but still. I don’t think my maman had ever been so proud of me. I don’t think it was that good, but hey. Who am I?
People are fickle things, and as soon as things started seemingly going my way again, everyone ‘forgot’ entirely to hate me, and started swarming me again. I had ‘friends’ again. People helped me along in the classes I slept through, although no one ever questioned me as to why I slept through all my classes and seemed so tired all the time. No one ever actually cared is all, but that was never really important to me. I didn’t want friends, I wanted the nightmares to stop.
Weeks passed. Nothing changed. Nothing ever changes! It came time to read the poem in front of the school and accept my prize. My maman dressed me in a nice black suit with a black tie with green and white stripes. I walked in for the ceremony and fell asleep immediately after arriving and sitting down. I placed second in my class. The called my name twice before the person sitting next to me managed to nudge me awake. I dreamt of black.
I walked up onto the stage, stumbling and stepping all over myself the whole way. I was handed the nice, two page long print out of the poem I had originally scribbled on a scrap of paper that was supposed to be for calculus notes.
The man from the contest read aloud one final time my name and submission title.
“Kylian K. Quick, with his entry, Running.”
I coughed once, then stood and looked out over the crowd, my tired eyes not really taking anything in. I started reading from the sheet without any further ado.
“Running away from your troubles is like matches and wood, `cause it burns like the sun when it sets in your eyes.
“And it falls through the cracks like water through a sieve, like tears through the lines in your skin.
“And it hurts like needles in all the wrong places, like cuts under salt burn in the light.
“And you just want to run more, like when you’re out of breath, but it hurts just right. Like when you’re addicted, you can’t stop now.
“And it sounds like bones in a fire crackling away, like birds singing songs in the dead of the night.
“`Cause it’s wrong like a right that just wants to be heard.
“`Cause running never saved anyone, but it makes the pain duller, like nasty medicine; yet…pain begeh…huh?”
I dropped the mic and let the paper flutter to the ground. I had lost the ground from under my feet and the next thing I knew I had managed to land on my ass and was leaned over forward hurling all over the stage. The next thing I remember – it happened right before that, but it was as though I didn’t finish processing what I had seen until my stomach was half empty – was another nightmare. Not of me dying, but of the creature. It had been in broad daylight, and I hadn’t been asleep. I wasn’t daydreaming, either. It had seemed so unimportant, and foggy, like out of a dream, when it apologized and said it was going to kill me. But this time it had seemed so…vivid, so…unsettling. I had seen it while I was reciting the poem. It had watched me momentarily before slipping out the back door of the auditorium.
It was huge, and moved in slow, long steps, with its shoulders hunched forward in way that made it look like it was trying to appear gentle despite its size. It looked like it was made of tar, black ooze sliding of its body and splatting onto the ground with a sick sound that was the only thing I could hear.
Lumbering was the only word I could think of to describe it as the vivid image of it burned into my mind while my stomach emptied itself of water and bile.
After that incident, things changed.
Yet again, no one would associate with me, and I only ever heard cruel remarks and quiet laughter. I didn’t care. I had gotten what I wanted. What I had always wanted! The nightmares stopped. I was finally free to sleep again. In fact, I felt freer than I ever had. I no longer dreamt of anything, just empty blackness.
It was heaven. At least, that was what I thought at the time. It was at that point that I stopped having the nightmares, yes, but I had not yet escaped them. It was at that point that I began to live the nightmares in the waking world.
It was not long at all before I began wandering through my life in a daze. I started seeing the ghosts – that’s what we call the other versions of people – at all times. There were none of me. Sometimes I thought I was talking to the right person, and sometimes they talked back, acting like they were the ones seeing a ghost. Which, I guess, they were.
People probably started to think I was going crazy. I never heard my maman mention it.
They stopped laughing. The closer it got to graduation, the less they laughed. At first, I thought it was because they were maturing, or perhaps the humor was wearing off. It never had before. I had no right to think it was then, either.
Teachers started forgetting to call my name during roll. I would gently remind them I was there, and upon a second, confused glance at the sheet, they would say, “Ah, yes. Mr. Quick. You’re so quiet I nearly forgot about you!” and they would laugh, nervously, before scribbling furiously on the attendance sheet.
Even people who had previously been civil with me began acting like I wasn’t there. The only one who showed no sign of this was my maman. I’m not sure if that made it better, or worse.
Eventually, I started forgetting myself. I would catch myself thinking things like, “wait, ismaman) in days, and I hadn’t been able to get them to hear me, either. The teachers began insisting someone was pulling a prank and had added my name to the roster. I guess computers don’t forget as quickly as human minds.
My memories become sparse around here…. But I remember walking on stage, clad in a dark purple, or maybe blue, silk dress shirt, and a black robe. I came across the stage to receive my diploma. They didn’t say my name, but I walked on stage anyway. I can’t remember why….
I was handed a blank sheet of paper. The words, “You aren’t a student here, and you never were, I checked the records,” were whispered into my ear as I walked past.
I went home. I remember going home.
My maman was acting out of character when I got home…. She got pale when she saw me, as if she, too, were seeing a ghost. She made some small conversation, I think, and the next thing I remember after that is waking up the next morning. Was it the next morning? …It had to have been. It was my birthday. It feels like that must have been a million years ago, but it was just this morning.
I woke up. I woke up, and I got out of bed. I woke up, and I got out of bed, and my maman couldn’t see me, and the fringes of my sight were gone. It seemed as though the only thing that existed for me was what I was looking directly at.
I ran, and ran, and kept running. The entire time, more and more of my world going black.
I know now, with this strange knowingness, that…things could have gone wrong. I know now, that I should not have ran; I should have waited for my fate.
Now, there’s nothing left. It’s just black, and there’s only me. I can see myself – I haven’t gone blind – but I can’t move! There’s no ground for me to walk on. I simply float in this black emptiness.
“What could have caused this…?” I voice to the darkness. It feels like I’ve never spoken before. I suddenly have a half-formed memory of dying as a baby – but at the same time, a half-formed memory of waking up in a tub.
There’s a voice all around me, as though I’m inside it. I vaguely remember the voice of the creature as being the same.
“T H A T I S C O R R E C T. T H A T W A S T H E ‘P I V O T’. I N T H E H U B
W O R L D, T H A T I S, T H E W O R L D T H A T Y O U H A V E M E M O R I E S O F,
Y O U W E R E M E A N T T O B E G R E A T. T H E F A T E S H A D A G R E A T
D E S T I N Y P L A N N E D F O R Y O U. Y O U W E R E T O B E A K I N G O F M E N.
C E R T A I N T H I N G S A R E F I X E D B Y T H E F A T E S, W H I L E Y E T O T H E R S
A R E ‘P I V O T S;’ P O I N T S W H E R E T H I N G S C A N G O O N E W A Y, O R
A N O T H E R. I N T H E H U B W O R L D, Y O U R M O T H E R, H A V I N G
P R O H E S I E D Y O U R K I N G D O M, D R O W N Y O U A S A B A B E, T O P R E V E N T
T H E T E R R I B L E O U T C O M E – Y O U R I N N E V I T A B L E A S S A S I N A T I O N.
F O R S O M E R E A S O N I C A N N O T F A T H O M, Y O U, T H I S Y O U, W A S
P U L L E D F R O M I T S W O R L D I N T O T H E H U B W O R L D. T H I S C R E A T E D
A R I F T B E T W E E N T H E W O R L D S. F R O M T H I S, I C A M E I N T O B E I N G –
T O R E P A I R T H E R I F T.”
I remember the creature saying that it had to kill me before. This must have been what it meant. …It said by the time I turned 18. …I guess it was too late. Is this the end of the world, then?
The voice echoes around me again.
“D O N O T W O R R Y C H I L D. D O W N T O T H E S E C O N D, Y O U A R E
N O T Y E T E I G H T E E N. D O N O T W O R R Y C H I L D. W E W I L L B O T H
D I S S A P E A R S O O N. T H I S H E L L I S N O T F O R E V E R. Y O U R S U F F E R I N G
W I L L S O O N B E O V E R, A N D T H E R I F T W I L L B E G O N E. Y O U W I L L
N O T L E A V E S A D N E S S B E H I N D. N O O N E W I L L R E M E M B E R.”
Its right, I think. I can’t remember anything else anymore, either…. Even that feeling of knowingness has faded…. Is this ultimate nothingness what becomes of us in death? Is this