Issue #28, Honorable Mention #2

Katelyn, 17, Ireland. Cancer. First time everything. A pessimist who remains hopeful. An optimist who remains doubtful. Interested in film, music, literature, memes and stupid inside jokes. Loves the ocean. Strives to be many things that do not come naturally to her. Happiness is the only worthwhile cause.

 

All the Types of Dark

by Katelyn O’Neill

 

“So this is finally it, huh?” Oscar muses quietly, holding a steaming mug of tea tentatively in front of Isaac’s face. “Come on, mint tea, it’s your favorite…”

Isaac blinks once, twice. Oscar sighs and places the mug on the bedside table, hissing minutely as he holds onto it a second too long and it burns him through ceramic clay, through molded earth. It would be nice to be that mug, Isaac thinks. Whether Isaac envies the mug for Oscar holding it, or for its ability to hurt Oscar, he doesn’t know.

Not anymore.

Isaac doesn’t jump when the bed dips beside him. He is expected to lean towards Oscar, as he used to, and so this is what he does. Isaac does not feel repulsed, as he should. Oscar’s shoulder is warm, and solid, and it does not allow Isaac to sink in the ever-melting mess of all that he can see. It is almost… pleasant.

Isaac throws his free arm around Oscar’s waist, and snuggles his nose further and further into Oscar’s chest, searching for warmth which he knows he will violently curse if he finds. It is almost a relief to think that to find genuine warmth in Oscar would be to find clarity in himself; possible no more.

Isaac releases a breath he did not realize he had been holding—it rattles his lungs, leaves him feeling even more breathless than before. It is one of those days. Every day now is one of those days.

A gentle hand smoothes his hair, once, then twice, and then again and again. His eyes flutter shut as breathing becomes not easy, but manageable. He attempts to match his breaths to Oscar’s—they are almost in sync, but not quite. Oscar is a butterfly’s wingspan ahead of Isaac, as always. This has not changed. Isaac allows himself to forget that the heavy badump-badump he hears through Oscar’s ribs is not a real heart—simply a hive of wasps masquerading as one. Oscar starts crooning quiet strains of Hey Jude and from both the familiarity and the relaxing thrumming of what must be voice fighting through layers of blood and bone (what a miracle our voices are, Isaac thinks), he allows himself to forget why he shouldn’t forget.

Isaac is so tired all the time, now. He sleeps all day and yet the mini-death will not release its grip on him. It tempts him even now, when he should be at his most alert, in the presence of the only other being that he ever sees out of his dreams. Isaac will sleep again soon. He knows it.

He is not the only one that knows it. Oscar shifts his shoulder to rouse him gently, and murmurs, “Hey, drink your tea before you fall asleep, wont you Isaac?”

Isaac grumbles, and goes to reach for the tea with the hand not twined with Oscar’s. His fingertips come short.

His chains rattle.

And he remembers.

(Everything has changed)

*

Bizarrely, in this twisted parallel life, there is routine. Oscar brings him breakfast, with ‘mint’ tea. He refuses the tea, and wants to refuse the breakfast, on the suspicion that both are laced with drugs. But what does he have to stay awake for, anyway. He eats.

Oscar, for his part, is kinder to Isaac than Isaac deserves. After everything he had done, Oscar should have killed him. Isaac would have, if he was in Oscar’s shoes. Isaac had tried to. That was what had brought this around.

It was important to remember that this Oscar was a ruse—the boy Isaac had known no longer existed, broken and shattered along with his knee, along with his hopes of a scholarship, his hopes of leaving their small town and along with it—Isaac. That wasn’t how it was supposed to be. They weren’t supposed to leave each other.

They had been two halves of a whole, once. You did not see one without the other—you did not hear one without the other. But Oscar had tried to leave. Oscar had forgotten that they were equals, both venomous, both ferocious, both like starved animals.

Oscar had tried to leave, and so Isaac had broken him. But by doing so he had also broken himself.

*

It’s hard to keep track of the days now. It seems to always be dark. Isaac doesn’t much care, either. The only person he can think of that would miss him is right with him, as always.

Instead, Isaac muses on the passage of time by judging the shadows around Oscar’s eyes. By these faint, make-up like smudges, Isaac judges the passage of hours, and days.

Isaac also studies the passage of weeks by noting how Oscar is growing paler and paler, gaunter and gaunter. He is not worried, just disappointed.

It will not be half as much fun to kill an Oscar who is already half dead.

*

Isaac knows Oscar will slip. He sees it happening, dreams of it when Oscar unlocks his manacles to bring him to the bathroom after his breakfast. Isaac’s feet are so unsteady now. He hobbles his way to the toilet, and he plots.

Isaac is right. A couple of days later (those shadows no longer faint, paleness no longer natural), Oscar coughs all through breakfast. He coughs when he unlocks Isaac’s chains with shaking hands. He wheezes as he tightens his grip on Isaac’s wrist as he leads him towards the bathroom, and he collapses when they reach the door. Isaac does not wait for another chance.

He runs.

Runs right out the door, bursting with a will to live he did not know he possessed, skids down the stairs, slips round corners and out through another door, reaching for light, light, finally light.

Darkness.

It is pitch black outside. Isaac is baffled, then assumes Oscar must have just been fucking with his mind, to mess with him, giving him breakfast at night. And yet…

There is something ominous about this place. In the middle of a suburb, yet not one car had passed nor was there any light to be seen. There were not even stars, which should be visible in their multitudes in darkness like this. And yet, not one.

Isaac hurriedly crossed the street, and ran down a couple of blocks, squinting to read the signs he knew would lead him home. Still, not one car, not even a hint of noise. Isaac’s flesh is crawling. The earth feels shuddersome.

It’s when Isaac rounds the corner that he sees them. All of the bodies, collapsed spontaneously around the street, hordes of them. Men, women, children. The very old to the very young. Newborns in prams, even. Not one of them escaped.

Isaac did not realize he was backing away until he bumped into something behind him. He whipped around frightfully fast; dread pooling in his very bones, only to curiously feel relief to see Oscar standing there.

“What’s happened to them, Ozzy?”

These are the first words he has spoken to Oscar in perennials. It is ironic he sounds like a small child again.

Oscar simply frowns and holds out a hand, eyes swept to some far off place. Isaac takes his hand, and Oscar begins to lead them back.

*

Oscar had left the door open in his haste to leave and find Isaac. Or possibly he just didn’t think there was anyone around to do any harm. He wouldn’t be wrong.

Isaac was tugged through the house and up the stairs into his room (cell), and flung onto the bed. He scrambled to sit upright in a corner as Oscar locked the door, only to leave the key in it as another coughing fit took him. His hand came away splattered in blood. Bright crimson blood.

Fresh. Good.

Instincts and years that grained memories into Isaac’s hands along with callouses make him reach towards Oscar, who stumbles to the bed and sits carefully apart from Isaac, propping himself against the wall once he is finished coughing.

“I don’t know what to tell you, Izzy,” he rasps. “It happened quick as Elmo’s fire. Bang, flash, boom. All of it over. Total annihilation.”

He paused for a moment to catch breath. “The reports started coming in about a week, maybe a week and a half ago. NASA in all its secret-keeping glory had to let this one slip: there was a huge asteroid about to collide with us, and take one whole side of the planet with it. It was mayhem. Massacres, riots, absolute bedlam. Those that did manage to get flights out of the target zone landed in America and various other countries on the other side of the world just to be told that it didn’t matter where you were—this asteroid was going to be the end of us all anyway. The impact would cause poisonous ash clouds to spread across the entire globe. No sun would be able to peek through. Not a one of us would ever see the light again. No one would be spared. Those that didn’t die choking would die from starvation, in the long run.”

Isaac simply cannot believe what he is hearing. There is no way for him to comprehend this without snapping, and he was already brittle. Oscar smiled viciously, all teeth.

“For all our inventions, our wars, our higher thinking and morals and roads and rules, all of it was just an illusion. In the end, we’re no better than those giant fucking lizards that used to wander the earth. What will come after us, I wonder? Hopefully something infinitely better.”

Both of us are shaking, Isaac realizes. It is so, so cold. All that wanted to escape Isaac has frozen within him: he is both the mirror and the breath that fogs it, both the moisture that condenses and the hand that wipes it away. Isaac is everything and nothing and so is Oscar—in the end, they share even this. They grew together—roots forever tangled, twisted and twisted and twisting so that even when they had grown apart they knew where the branches were leading back to. They always knew.

“I’m sorry, Izzy. I tried to hide it from you. None of this—none of this was ever supposed to happen. By the time I had you here, I panicked, I couldn’t let you go, and then the world just decided to end and—why? Why did you do that to me? How could you?”

Isaac does not know. He doesn’t have any answer to this, and never will. The same as how Oscar will never have an answer for why he locked Isaac up here. They are both poisonous, and all they had ever loved was each other. That is the reason. Fear leads to all kinds of darkness.

Oscar took from Isaac his chance at a normal life because Isaac had taken his. Isaac took Oscar’s chance because he could not imagine life without him. So much so that one night as they walked, Isaac tripped Oscar, took a branch, and beat his dominant leg over and over again. Oscar would never play again. He would never love Isaac again, Isaac also thought. But at least Oscar couldn’t leave.

Isaac reaches for Oscar’s hand, and squeezes it tightly, once, twice, hoping it conveys to him everything that Isaac cannot bring himself to say. Oscar squeezes back, and Isaac knows that he has been understood.

Just like that, they are all right again. The miracle of having loved someone all your life, with all your being. No mistake is too big, no wound unbearable, in the face of losing the other.

Isaac hears a noise, and thinks Oscar is crying. Fond memories of Oscar’s crybaby childhood reach Isaac through the eternal human condition of noise and uncharitable territory that is the mind. He opens his eyes—not realizing he had closed them—and sees what he should have expected:

Oscar gasping, gurgling, trying to cough, lips strained wide open and splitting, eyes fish-wide. He yanks his hand from Isaac’s and attempts to crawl to the bathroom. He does not make it. He is barely able to bend over the bed to empty whatever is crawling up him onto the floor. The retching is violent, the splatter a heavy wet sound, and the smell. The smell is rancid, fetid. Something is dying within him.

Oscar leans back up slowly, unable to lift himself fully. He slumps against the wall, panting. A line of blood runs down his chin. Through Isaac’s haze of disbelief and confusion, he is afraid.

“Oscar,” Isaac asks. “What’s happening, Oscar?”

Oscar grabs Isaac’s hand. “Listen to me. I don’t have much time. The asteroid was not the end. Not completely. Some researcher in some scientific lab decided to put a ‘humane’ end to us all. They released some kind of mutant flu, mean to make people pass in their sleep once the virus takes hold. Instead, it makes them cough their own lungs up. Fuckery upon fuckery, huh, Izzy?”

Realization dawns. “You’re dying,” Isaac whispers. He cannot comprehend. How can Oscar die? This is not possible. Oscar smiles grimly at him. Isaac’s lips are trembling. Oscar begins again. “It’s highly contagious. When we ran out of food, I had to leave to go find some. I couldn’t find much, barely enough to keep even one person alive… but it was my fault you were trapped here, I was responsible for you. It was a day or two later that the coughing started. I knew I was done for.”

Numbness spreads through Isaac. So the probability is he had already contracted it from Oscar, then. Oscar reads Isaac’s glance, looks away and that is all Isaac needs to know. Oddly, he is relieved. He will not have to live without Oscar. Not for long, anyway.

Isaac grabs Oscar round the waist and props him fully against the wall. His skin is clammy with sweat and yet he feels so, so cold. Isaac leans against him, Oscar’s shoulder still so solid to him, still holding him up. Oscar reaches for Isaac’s hand and grasps it as tightly as he is able.

It is impossible to tell how long they have been sitting like that when the spasms begin. Oscar contracts and convulses and jerks and Isaac knows the end has come. Oscar is sputtering, trying so desperately to tell Isaac something before he goes. He mouths to Isaac: I’m sorry.

Isaac simply squeezes his hand tight as he can, taking his position on Oscar’s shoulder once again, and lets the darkness take them.

 

Copyright 2016 by Katelyn O’Neill