Living (Part 2

The previous part to this story can be found here.
***
I take a breath. “You’ve got The Transporter, right?”
He nods, once. “Yeah.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a smooth, milky stone that faintly glimmers. There are very few in circulation; they’re given only to those who, for whatever reason, cannot fly. They lose their hours proportional to the distance traveled, and when they die, they can pass it on to whomever they wish. Adam is fortunate to have gotten one from our late professor, Kylar Jansen.
I get up, water running down my jeans in little rivulets. Adam extends his hand, and I place mine in his. He squeezes it, lightly. Then he closes his eyes, and everything around us shifts and jolts around, as if it’s about to collapse on us. In a moment, I can see clearly again, and we are more than three miles above sea level, staring out at rolling, verdant meadows that stretch out for miles in all directions. The air is delicious and balmy, a constant wind blowing against my face. No one else is here, not surprisingly. They are too busy in the vain attempt to get just another hour, another day, another month. They take it all for granted, squandering their precious time away, like I have been doing. Instead of cherishing what we have been given, we demand more, more, more.
I breathe in, sucking in as much clean mountain air as I can. Adam is still holding my hand, and I am suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of undeniable, grateful love. My only friend is here with me, sharing these final days—or hours, I do not know yet—with me, and while I may not know what will happen to me or Adam or the rest of the places below that I have come to call home, I know that I have always loved him and will continue to love him even after I leave this mortal plane, because yes, I may be young and inexperienced and even impetuous, but I know that I love him, I love him, I love him.
But I cannot articulate any of this, and so I squeeze his hand, and he squeezes back. And I am grateful.
“What do you want to do now?” he says, his voice so low it’s almost as if he’s whispering in my head.
“I want to let go. Fly. And forget.”
“Till the end?”
I take a deep breath. Swallow. Nod. “Yes. Till the end. I can’t think of a better way to go.”
So, without letting go of each other’s hand, we step off the mountain, defying gravity. We walk forward on invisible footsteps, hovering above the ground. It is like walking on a glass platform, but somehow even better. We are sequestered from society, away from its void and ceaseless demands that wear away at its people. And each step we take solidifies the decision.
It’s like this: actually living, or self-actualization, or whatever you want to call it, doesn’t work on some sort of hierarchy of motives. You don’t have to have certain needs fulfilled before you can stop existing and start living. And to live, you need to strip away all the supposed rigid societal norms and demands and breathe. Just breathe. And remember that you were made for so much more. That your intrinsic worth is more than you can imagine. And that because of what you were given, you can live. I can live. We can live.
And that is what we do.
With each minute that we spend flying, an hour is subtracted. But that no longer concerns me. All that matters is that I am here with Adam, and he is here with me, and we are together, and we are alive, and I am grateful, so very, very grateful, and all I can do is live and love and live some more.
We run through the clouds, the temperature not too cold, not too hot. We dance among them, sprint through them, skip over them. But we never go down. Never stop flying. Just keep going.
24 hours, 13 minutes.
Exhausted but laughing, we sit down on the air, Indian style. Clouds swirl by us, enveloping us and passing through. It’s so quiet it’s almost eerie. But it’s not. A few minutes pass that way. Just sitting.
“How much longer?”
“Twenty-one hours, ten minutes.”
“It’s really just 21 minutes, isn’t it?” he says.
“Yeah. But there are no regrets. Not anymore. What about you?”
He shakes his head. “Me neither.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t say anything, then.”
I take off my backpack. Anything on you during The Blink vanishes as well, and I don’t want that. “Here. Keep this. My journal’s in here. I want you to have it.”
“I’m going to miss you,” he says. He’s fighting to keep his voice steady, and he refuses to look me in the eye. It hurts so badly to see him hurting. He’s always been there for me. Soon I will have to leave him. I feel like a traitor.
“Promise me you won’t forget me.” His voice is so quiet and so fierce that I couldn’t have said no even if I’d wanted to.
“I never will. And I’ll be waiting for you. Up there.”
“I know.” He toys with my backpack, unzips the zipper. “I love you, you know.”
“I love you, too.” I lean over and put my head on his shoulder. He drapes his arm around me. “Be brave,” I say.
“And you,” is all he can manage. He buries his face in my hair, and I feel him cry. I wrap my arm around his waist, trying to impart whatever strength I have left in me, as he has done for me so many times.
But throughout this all, we do not stop flying. We do not stop living.
“It’s time,” I say. “Less than two minutes.”
He disentangles himself from me and turns to face me. “You’re ready?”
I am taking small, quick breaths. I force myself to calm down and nod. I try to smile. But I can’t. I should not be afraid, but I am. “I’m ready.”
“If I could, I would go with you. I swear I would.”
“I know. But you have to stay.” I am almost hyperventilating.
“There’s so much I want to say.”
“I know. I know.”
He is crying. So am I. I cannot hold it in.
“Be brave, Gemma.”
“Be brave, Adam.”
Forty-five seconds.
He takes my hand again. Squeezes. I can’t squeeze back.
“Let go,” he says.
“What?”
“The fear. Let it go.” He pulls me to my feet. I get up, stumbling. He stands behind me and puts his hands on my shoulder. “You can do this,” he says. “Strip it away. Now.”
“I don’t know how.”
“Let it go.” His voice is insistent, dangerously so. “Do it now.”
And somehow, inexplicably, I do. I cannot explain how, but I break free, or transcend, or just let go—but I do. I do. Because no matter how little control I have over the external, seemingly arbitrary events that are really part of this great, well-orchestrated master plan, this still is my life and it’s up to me to make of it what I want to. I’ve been given this gift, no matter how short, and these internal factors are left up to me. And in that moment, I banish the fear, and I am free, finally free, and I turn around to look at Adam one last time, and I say, “Now I understand.”
He nods, his face somehow broken and composed at the same time. “Now you see.”
“Thank you,” I say. “Remember.”
“I will,” he says. “Now you have to go.”
And so I do. I go into the light.

Advertisements

Living (Part 1)

I have 241 hours and 58 minutes left to live. In a minute, I am left with 240 hours and 57 minutes.
The wind tears at my clothing and makes my eyes sting as I blister through the sky at almost a hundred miles an hour, trying to force myself to go faster, faster, faster. My body screams in protest, but I refuse to listen. Time is of essence. Speed is a priority.
Below me, the aquamarine sea stretches on, a seemingly infinite body of water that has existed before me and will continue to exist independent of my own paltry life.
If I could be the ocean, I would. But I am not.
I enter the triple digits and fly on, taking no sense of pride in this near-impossible achievement of mine. I am one of the few people who can cross over the barrier of single-digits and keep at it for more than a few moments, but I do not care. If I am an anomaly, then so be it. I reject publicity.
238 hours, 55 minutes.
The island comes into sight. It is perhaps fifty feet in diameter, nothing more than a small chunk of land that seems to have been dropped out of the sky one day, long ago. It is solitary and constant, and I am drawn to it.
I angle my body towards the ground and splay out my arms and legs in order to slow down. While the landing process is full of complicated and delicate maneuvers and adjustments, I am hardly of any of it. The process is almost autonomous for me, an innate ability that I have possessed since I came into this world. The ground rushes to meet me, and in a moment I have adjusted my body and land on my feet, hardly out of breath.
237 hours, 54 minutes.
As my body adjusts to solid ground, I lurch forward and grab a shrub for balance. The island is mostly barren, just some sparse vegetation and rocky terrain, but it feels like home. In my sixteen years of existence, this is the only place I have truly ever felt comfortable. There is nothing outwardly attractive about the place, but that is its charm.
I strip off my backpack and rummage through it to find my food. I pull out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some carrots, cookies, and water. Then I walk down to the ocean’s edge and sit down to eat. The water rushes in to meet me, swirls around me, then pulls back. I watch the sand swirl around me and run a finger through the water, uncaring that I’ll get sand in my food. It’s all tasteless, anyways. I pick up a carrot, chew, swallow. For all I know, I might be eating sawdust.
Eventually, I give up and store the rest of my food away. I’m just not in the mood to eat. Or talk. Or do anything. I just want everything to be over already. But not even that, because I want another hour, and then another, and another.
237 hours, 48 minutes.
Will I just sit here and wait for the end? I know I cannot starve myself, because I won’t die before my time is up, so it’s very conceivable that I might just stay here for the rest of my life.
I’m lost in a melancholy train of thoughts when Adam arrives. I know it’s him not only because there’s nobody else who knows about this place, but also because he has this habit of landing on his hands and then flipping over onto his feet. I cannot see him yet, but I hear him walking up behind me, his left foot falling harder than his right.
I close my eyes. I don’t want to look at him yet, see the impossible patience on his face. I still can’t understand how he puts up with everything about me, how he’s saved me time and time again, all without ever complaining. He makes me feel so guilty. I’m not sure I can handle that now.
“Gemma,” he says.
“You shouldn’t be here,” I say shortly. “Wasting your hours on me.”
“Considering that I still have more than seventy years left, a couple of hours doesn’t mean anything.”
“Still,” I reply. Then I take a deep, shaky breath. Exhale. “I hate this.”
“What?” He knows, yet he still asks. Knows I need to get it out, one more time. I love him for it.
“Life. It’s so arbitrary.”
“I think that phenomenon has always been like that. It’s just manifested differently now. It’s more tangible.”
“I hate it.”
“How much longer?”
I sigh, close my eyes. The numbers appear in strong, bold lettering, mocking me. I try to keep my voice steady. “Two hundred and thirty seven hours, forty-four minutes.”
He sniffs. It’s the closest he’s ever come to crying.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“Don’t be. It’s beyond our control.”
“But that’s just it. I thought…I thought I could beat this. I just knew that if I played my cards right, said all the right words, did all the right things I’d get the full hundred-year package. And I had it.”
“Until last year.”
“I still remember the day.”
“So do I,” he says. “I was there.”
“It was horrible. From 85 years to one year, eight months. Overnight. And for no reason. Not even sickness. I just get to blink out.”
“Nobody gets sick, you know that. That doesn’t exist anymore.”
“And you’d think that the cessation of existence would have been eradicated.” I snort.
“Maybe, maybe not.” He’s maddeningly noncommittal, like he always is.
I open my eyes for the first time since he’s arrived and take him in once more. His delicate, wavy brown hair. His trademark hoodie and jeans. His folded, callused hands. Adam’s staring at me, not in a sexual way, but with an earnest, intense expression, so intense it feels like all these carefully constructed social layers are being systematically ripped apart. And maybe they are.
Maybe I need to stop trying to be someone I’m not, to do what I can’t do. And, as I die, live. Take all these action words—scream, skip, dance, fly, run, explore—and let them become a part of me. Right now, I am. That is all. Soon, I will not even be. But before I cease to be, I must live. Live, live, live.
“I want to go to the top,” I say.
He doesn’t question me, doesn’t doubt my sincerity. He only accepts. “Right now?”
“Right now.”

To be continued

Insanity: 100 Words

Ten paces. That is how wide his cell is. There’s a filthy cot and small bucket. A barred window provides the scenic view of a concrete gray wall with barbed wire.
He reaches the end of the cell, turns around, and repeats. It has been twelve long years. It is enough to drive a man insane. But he is stronger than that.
Stopping at the window, he looks out at the endless monotony. He clenches his fists and growls. Then he throws his head back and lets out a hysterical, chilling laugh.
After all, what else is there to do?

Sunrise

Blank canvas. Darkness.
Protracted silence; anticipation. Then:
A sudden lightening. Black becomes gray.
Splash of red. So faint, almost
Indiscernible. It spreads, turns pink.
Yellow. Orange. Blue. Colors
Bleed. Mixing, matching.

Silent explosion as
Sun-rays burst forth. Dazzling
Light spills out, blindingly white. Then
The artist steps back.
Sunrise.