You’re Not Dead ch.3 : Home {ANEWSIN VOL. 5 — Jason Garden}

Cambridge.

The Hero spent the majority of his life loafing around the centres of that city, and he loathed that place very much.

It was horribly arrogant, and had little reason to be.

Oh: it was pretty. It was at the intersection of two rivers, and forests lined the banks of the water. That was, however, being destroyed in attempts to make everything more commercial. More “convenient” for residents and tourists alike.

Forrest were destroyed at a rapid pace. Rivers were exploited for their eye-candy, and ironically treated horribly during their exploitation.

He was brought into Cambridge Memorial Hospital. It was explained to him that this was his second time inside that building since his journey started. He cannot remember the first time.

He finds that haunting – wrong almost. He feels like the month before he fell into a coma was narrated by someone else, but he still acted out the conclusions of his actions. He was left to wonder: did he really mean everything his husk did?

The first room he was placed into was a grand size (or at least he thought it was). He had two other roommates, which was something he was very not accustomed to.He had been kept in solitary rooms until this point in his journey. They kept to themselves. He never did hear much regarding their stories.

The one guy was about ten years the Hero’s senior. He seemed very sick and was quarantined several times in the week they shared that room. The other gentleman was much older: probably in his 60s. The younger gentleman had a few visitors, mostly friends and family, that seemed to come on an almost daily schedule. The older patron had, what the Hero assumed, a wife that came when she could. She came out to be a healthy amount, but the man was left alone more often than not.

There was a sense that whatever the older man was in the hospital for was acute and he would be out in time. The Hero had the feeling it would not be to his house, but at least back into society.

Not so much with the other gentleman. The Hero wished he knew what was wrong. He was under quarantine most of the time.

This was all just speculation made by the Hero, however.

The nursing staff was horrible. They were clearly overworked.

Or they were just incredibly apathetic.
Or they were just horribly stupid.

One such nurse seemed to mean well, but would just say and do all the wrong things.

The Hero was reminded of that person who would be in your high school class that, no matter how right or wrong she was, you would just cringe with every noise she made. She would always speak to everyone else in the room, and talk to the Hero as if he was a child.

He wanted to tell her off. He wanted to remind her that he was human.

He still could not speak.

The Hero was visited several times by his friends Shannon and Ryan. He loved them both very much, and was glad every time he saw their faces. They would crack jokes at everything they could, and kept everyone in good spirits. Shannon, in particular, has been a friend of the family for many years. Her presence was greatly appreciated by the present company.

During one visit from the pair, the Nasal Gastric tube that was in the Hero was bothering him.

A Nasal Gastric tube is a tube that travels through a nose, down a throat, and creates a clear path between a face and a stomach. It is used to administer medications and some paste that is meant to pass for food.

It was annoying and obstructive. there was a chance that, if he got food into his mouth somehow, he would choke and die.

The Hero still did not have movement in any part of his arms. So, in pathetic attempts and whimpers, he gestured towards removing it. The nurse he did not like refused on multiple occasions.

“It’s necessary.” She would harp without further explanation. This statement was usually followed by a sharp turn to anyone else and disregard for any further attempt at communication made by the Hero.

The Hero hated her so much.

Shannon noticed how uncomfortable the tube made the Hero immediately. Carefully, she removed it. The Hero could feel the plastic rubbing against the inside of his throat, which was mildly uncomfortable. The hated nurse stood and watched as the tube came out.

She waited for the tube to be fully removed before making her presence known.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” The nurse shrieked as loud as she could. It was piercing. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE DONE?!”

She ripped the tube from Shannon’s hand and grumbled as she left the room. Funny enough, the Hero never saw her after that. He hoped that event caused some sort of hammer to be brought from on high to get her in trouble. He kept wishing she would just stick her head in and apologize so he could refuse her existence entirely, but he never wanted to see her again.

The Hero was moved around the hospital often. He had a constant worry that something would vanish, and stuff did, but nothing important ever got left behind.

He did loose a stuffed toy that his friends Chrissy and Adam had given him. It was a Narwhale. He was fantastic, and the Hero was not above admitting that. Yes, it was juvenile, but he breathed through a machine. The Hero doubted that anyone would give him a hard time right now.

The exact time or place that went missing is unknown. The Hero assumed that is had been gone since he left Toronto.

The hospital in Cambridge, though close to friends and family, was lonelier than his solitary room in Toronto. The fanfare of his survival has subsided, and he was reduced to spending much of his time alone.

To be clear, he did have a few visitors, but not as many as he would have liked.

He felt selfish. He knew that it must have been far from entertaining to talk to a lifeless lump, but he still wanted someone to talk at him. Yet, day after day, he was left alone with nothing interrupting all of his thoughts.

***

The medical staff decided that he needed what they referred to as a “PLEX” about a week or two days or a few hours after he got there.

PLEX is the removal of the Plasma from his blood followed by its reintroduction within seconds. It is kind of like a blood transfusion mixed with a blood cleaning. The Hero did not quite understand, but he was in no position to object.

Another needle: after what the Hero had been through, he was far from afraid.

He should have been.

He still did not know his age and barely knew his name.

On a winter afternoon, or day, or night, or morning, the Hero was wheeled across the hospital. It was quiet, and the wing he was brought to was relatively empty. He was deposited into a room where he waited for the specialist.

The Hero was in and out of conscious during the whole ordeal. After all was said and done, he was assured that he missed little, but the following he remembered all too well.

The PLEX required a major artery. They went through the Hero’s jugular. For the uneducated, that is the major artery in the neck.

Surprise!
The Hero had feeling there.

He really wished he did not have feeling there.

After the piercing of flesh, the machine turned on. Out of view of the Hero, the machine made stereotypical machine sounds: a constant buzzing and whirling permeated the room with a great weight and volume.

The needle hurt. Even after all of his piercings and two tattoos, the needle was the worst pain the Hero had ever felt. That time he broke his ankle was preferable to this. It was probably not five inches long, but you could have fooled the him.

There was a sharp sting as they pierced the flesh in his neck. He stayed conscious, but just barely. Everyone involved looked incredibly bored, like it was just another day at the office.

The nurses, who were normally smiling, had faces of stone. His mother could do nothing but hold his hand and reassure him that everything would be over soon. His brother remained stoic in the corner of the room.

He was completely unaware of how long the procedure actually took, but it felt like an eon.

People swear the room was well lit. It was in a hospital, and they have very sterile lights that light the corners with uniform persuasion.

He remembered it as a dull grey room full of hate, despair, and pain.

The sounds from the machine coupled with the long shaft of metal in his neck probably altered his view on the situation slightly.

“Why me? Why now?” He thought to himself while trying to distract himself from the pain. The whole thing was horrible. He wanted to scream out. All he could manage was darting eyes from corner to corner of the ceiling while tears were streaming from his eyes.

This was horrible.

He already had a blood transfusion back in Toronto.Apparently, he has a very rare blood type for no good reason. His mother is A+. His father is A-. His brother is A+. The Hero, for some reason, is O-. Less than 7% of the world population is O-.

The first donation of blood came to him because that night a man died in a motor vehicle accident. Not ideal, but it came at the eleventh hour, apparently. He was in the coma at the time, and heard the story from a doctor who was having a particularly bad day. The blood donation involved with the “PLEX” came in a similar fashion: someones death.

Now: he could claim to be a new man, and mean it! He died twice, he had the blood of at least two other people in his veins. This came with new responsibilities, however. Now, he felt the burden, of not only being the best he can be for him, but of also the best for everyone involved in his life. He was given a second and third chance.

Finally, the machine wound down, the needle was removed and he was set free. The nurses moved the Hero from where they were doing the operation back to his room. Luckily for him, his bed had wheels. This meant that he never had to try to hobble down halls or be awkwardly placed into a wheelchair. He could not help but feel a twisted sense relief in this situation.

Back to his corner of the world, surrounded by a thin curtain. He laughed at its existence. It was supposed to somehow guard against infectious diseases and viruses. The Hero could make shapes of people out through the pale yellow veil it cast in the room. The curtains did nothing to inhibit light from outside gracing the corners of his bed.

It was around this time that he was fit with a (temporary) wheelchair. Hospital grade, it gave him some sort of mobility. He still could not move his arms, legs, or neck. He still could not speak. The Hero still did not know what was actually going on, even though he had heard the stories, and every time he has to remember they are about him.

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You’re Not Dead ch.1: The Rude Awakening {ANEWSIN VOL. 4 — Jason Garden}

The Hero awakes from a deep slumber. He is not in his bed. He actually has no clue where he is.

There is an intrusive beeping of monitors and hospital equipment all around him. The room was not black, but it was dark. Lights flashed on machines and noises echoed in the room. He notices a cup of water a few feet from where he lies, and thinks how his mouth feels rather dry. The cool liquid would feel fantastic at this time.

He tries to lift his arms: no luck, for some reason.

He then tries to call out for someone.
Anyone.
He has no voice.

He strives to run out of the room and down whatever hall is in front of him. He wants to flee from the threat of something he does not understand. However, his legs are as lame as his arms.

Confused. Alone. He cries silent tears for what feels like an eternity.

Finally, his mother and father come into frame. Their faces gleaming with joy, tears in the crevices of their faces. This made him cry harder. He tries to ask what happened. He tries to offer some form of condolence. He tries to do pretty much anything to gesture that he is okay.

He is unable. His arms are paralyzed and he is mute.

Defeated, he closes his eyes again and hopes that either everything changes when he awakes. That, or, he never comes to consciousness again.

The Hero awakes from the quick bout of overwhelming reality. He is still confused, but his parents are around him.

They explain how he died.
They explained that he is physically unable to do anything right now.
They show him the tube coming out of the front of his throat his throat and explain that is how is breathing now.
They try to keep their spirits up, but the Hero can see their confidence faltering in their expression.

They explain that something happened. He got sick. He was asleep for a long time. He died. Twice. Now he is back and they were happy. They explained how the medical personnel wanted to pull life support weeks prior but they refused to let them. Then, they explained that life support was pulled anyway, but he did not die after a few hours. They explained that hundreds of people have been through the room to either wish him condolences, or wish him back to life.

The Hero still just wanted a drink of water.

His parents finally try to explain the beginning. Apparently, he contracted some sort of flu and his body reacted by inducing encephalitis.

Encephalitis is where the fluid surrounding the brain collects and crushes the grey matter. In his particular case, it crushed the cerebellum and effected a good portion, if not all, the major motor and health functions. Primarily, those dealing with limb control, nerve reaction, heart rate, and heat regulation. In a way, the Hero was lucky. If it had been the frontal cortex or any of his memory functions, it would have destroyed who he was. Who he is. His memories, personality, and humour would all be lost.

Legally, he was a quadriplegic. He has no ability to move his legs or arms. Even the movement of his neck was very difficult, if not impossible. The Hero was unable to swallow. He dreamed of drinking water, but was then informed that he would most likely choke. Even the movements of his tongue could be fatal.

That is when the Hero noticed all of the metal. He counted four long bits of medical steel jutting from each of his forearms. They punctured on the perfect angles to avoid nerves, so they did not hurt.

Maybe he could not feel them, anyway.

The Hero was not new to the idea of metal piercing flesh. He had received over fifteen body piercings in his life: something he was quite proud of. It was a kind of identity for him. Everyone was the same, but he had shit in his face.

Enter the health care professional. They just came in to check the Hero’s vitals and breathing machine. They were surprised that he was as responsive as he was, and started immediately asking a million questions. That was when the Hero was unable to move his middle finger to gesture them on their way. They left, eventually, and immediately the Hero started silently crying again.

The Hero was an hour from home, laying in Toronto Western Hospital. He remembered that he was somewhat close to people he knew. He wondered if they would know where he was or what state he was in. The door burst open at that point, and Luka ran in.

Luka was the Hero’s greatest and longest friend. She had lived in Toronto for a number of years at this point, and he had attempted to make it out to see her and her dog at least once a week before he wound up in hospital.

He was ecstatic to see her, and tried his best to put a smile and a brave face on. She took one look at him and immediately burst into tears of celebration.

It turns out that she was informed the Hero had died about a month before this day. Then, she discovered that he was alive not a week later: close to death, but also down the road. She had been there most days, talking to the unresponsive body. Wishing him back to reality. She told him over and over again how she couldn’t bare life without him. When he was informed of all of this, he cried again.

He felt pathetic: crying three times in (what he assumed was) one day. He was just so happy to see her.

He was just so happy to be able to see everyone again.

Luka hugged him. He tried as hard as he could to hug back. He tried to call her a fool for thinking he was gone. He tried many things.

Luka was no where near the only visitor that the Hero was happy to see. While in a coma, he had apparently shut down the main waiting room with all of the people clambering to see him for, what they believed to be, the last time.

That is when the Hero had discovered that the idea had gotten around that he died. Many people came to pay their respects, to both him, and his family. When it was reported that he, in fact, did not die: more people came around out of celebration. Benefit concerts that would be held in his memory were simply forgotten due to redundancy.

A great percentage of the people the Hero had interacted with came out to wish him well: to remind him just how much he meant to them.

It was January.

The month was even lonelier than usual. People popped in and out of existence all the time. The Hero would live, for what seemed like days, alone. In reality, it was just a few hours. Time drags on and on when you are in a hospital. Even the sweet embrace of sleep would not save the Hero feeling truly alone. He spent a lot of time imagining fantastical worlds.

In one such day dream; he was a hunter. He would venture out of his holdings to find rare and mystical beasts to kill them. He remembered vividly thanking them before he ate them. He was a decent chef, but he would cringe when biting into the meat he prepared. A cool breeze would float between the sea of green leaves and across his face.

Once, while he slept, he dreamt that he was flying through the skies. Observing the world around him, drifting between trees and hills. He saw valleys that were coated in green grass, clouds as large as he could picture, and mountains that were red and towering. His speed never held much concern, for the air around him was always warm. He never got lost, for there was no destination. On occasion, his arms were massive wings, twice the size probably needed to hold one human. He rarely landed, and simply got sustenance while soaring around in the clouds.

The dreams reminded him a lot of what life was. He felt like life was just a series of events not narrated by anyone or anything. Everything happened by accident. All you could do was learn from an experience and move on.

Then he would wake. It was still a jarring resurrection. It often involved tears and frustration. When the dreams ended, he would have to face a version of reality that he did not want. He wanted to escape into that world that he was just in and get lost in it forever. He knew it would be an end, but that did not bother him. He just did not want to find that end.

The nurses would come in. Check vitals. Talk at him (never to him). Leave the room. This was a fate worse than death, he would think. At least if he was dead.

Oh; at least if he was dead.

Bad days seemed to trivial before. He would forget something important, do something stupid, or say something regretful.

Now, bad days were because his body would not let him do what he wants to do. Now, bad days were because he felt trapped. Now, he could not even escape to his old stand-by of driving for a great distance to avoid life. Before, he could leave if he got upset by someones arrogance or crude depiction of the world. He never saw himself as super intelligent, but he regarded himself as extremely open-minded and he was always willing to do research to elaborate on topics he was uneducated about. He had to accept what was around him. He had to endure the oppressive hate and malice that the world contained.

People pretended to be understanding about his condition, and the Hero could sense this. They would put on a brave face, say things that they thought were politically correct, and carry on with their interpersonal relationships.

The Hero could see through all of this. He knew that people were frightened, that they were curious how this would effect their life. Even his parents, who were nothing but supportive, were concerned about how their life would change. How he changed their life.

It was, after all, his fault.

I thought that I would share the rewrite of You’re Not Dead. Please support me on Patreon.

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Sophie {ANEWSIN VOL.3 — JASON GARDEN}

“It just happened.”

Sophie’s brown eyes were dry but she still looked like she could cry at any moment.

“I was twenty three. I didn’t want to have a child, but I wasn’t against the whole concept.” She took a long drink from the glass of water in front of her.

“My boyfriend and I lived in a decent studio apartment. Yeah: it was a rental. It was our place, though. We spent days- maybe even weeks- making space for the new arrival. We couldn’t afford it- we knew that- but we were going to try. We were excited to try. We were together. We were happy. I thought we were happy…”

Sophie trailed off. Her eyes started to drift around the corners of the rather empty room. It just contained the table she was sitting at, the detective, a mirror, and a door. She did not know what she was doing there or why they wanted to know what drove her to the breaking point.

Her breaking point.

That time when everyone died around her.

She just knew that she had much to say.

“The child contracted something. It was coughing all the time and seemed distant.”

It was at this point that Sophie started to look visibly upset.

“Again: I didn’t want- that thing- my child to grow up around there. My boyfriend and I found that apartment decent, but it was far from suitable for a child. It was up a story, above a store. Fuck sakes: the shop below was a Goddamned head-shop!” Sophie was becoming more frantic as she continued the story. Her eyes were no longer dry, but she also did not look as if she was going to cry. She was upset. Her fists had balled so tightly that her nails had started digging into her palms.

“I cried for a very long time. I was destroyed for days. The child died. My boyfriend left me for a whore. My mother died. It probably was not in that order but I will be damned if I can remember the order of things, let alone the time between events.” She released her fingers from her hands long enough to take a drink of water to sooth her throat. If she actually yelled instead of trying to keep herself reserved, her voice would not have given out quickly.

“So yeah: the child died only a few days after coming home. The doctors didn’t say shit when I spoke up. I cried. Not because of the death. I wasn’t too attached yet. I know they say that carrying a child for nine months bonds the unborn to the mother, or something like that. I was numb. I didn’t know who that thing was. I barely even realized that it was mine, it died so fast. So, no: the death didn’t fuck me up too much.” A smirk appeared on Sophies face for the first time since she entered the room. “I cried because that’s what everyone wanted. I cried because I was supposed to.”

The detective, who found himself entranced by Sophie’s story, finally spoke up.

“…do you feel like that lead to you killing four people with that knife, then?”

Sophie laughed harder than was appropriate for the situation.

“Fuck no!”

“Then why would you tell me about that?” The detective was astounded by how frank her response was. “We have footage of you stabbing four patrons of a bar who were out for a smoke. They were all in their late 30’s, of average health and status, so we cannot figure out the motive. We have looked at this from every angle!”

The detective wiped a beed of sweat from his brow. This interrogation was taking place in the hottest room in the precinct, and he was started to feel his everything give up and give in.

“Just tell me what I need so we can leave this forsaken place and you can go back to your cell.” The detective was done with this emotional rollercoaster and he was too warm to sit here much longer.

Sophie smiled keeping her lips sealed to hide her perfect teeth. “There was no motivation to do it. Well, I guess there was: I wanted to do it. I wanted to know what taking a life felt like instead of having life taken from me.” She followed up her statement with a hearty laugh. “Can I smoke in here? I need a cigarette.”

The detective felt played. He had a very hard time believing that someone just wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone.

“Go nuts.” the detective said. He gives her one of his last cigarettes from his pack. She put it in her mouth, and the detective lights a match and puts the flame next to the tobacco and lights it for her.

Sophie takes a deep drag and sighs. “Reliving all of that is better than sex. I haven’t talked about that kid dying since it happened five years ago. Don’t really need to.”

The detective cannot decide what he finds more disturbing: the complete disregard for guilt over killing four people, or the detachment from her own child.

“I noticed that you never specify gender. Why is that?” the detective just craved answers. He had a small family back home: a husband, and a beautiful boy. He could not fathom why she refused to recognize anything about the child.

“Why?” Sophie asks, sounding very curious. “The baby wasn’t part of my life for long enough to even care.”

Astonished, the detective retreated back into the comfort of things he could understand. “Fine. Why the stabbing, though? They were from out of town, so it is unlikely personal. Why, then? We can’t figure it out. I cannot figure it out!”

“They asked me to.” Replied Sophie, her tone was hollow and cold. There was not even a hint of self-assurance in her voice. She was convinced they asked.

Just then, the door burst open, disrupting the peace and quiet.

“Okay, detective. I’m Sophie’s lawyer, Jenny Silvana. She doesn’t have to answer more of your questions, and we ask for a moment to get everything squared away.”

The detective looked defeated. “Fine. I’ll be just down the hall, please let me know when I can re-enter.”

He grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair as he got up. He stormed out, mildly frustrated. He was sure that he could have gotten the full story eventually, but the law is the law. The detective left the room and their eyes followed him to the door as he left.

In the hall, he shut the interrogation room door and knocked on another wood door right next to it. A large man swung it open, letting it hit the wall. He was clearly frustrated.

“Fred!” The detective’s voice was stern. “I know you’re frustrated, but you know that we can’t do anything. Calm down!”

“I know. Just… FUCK! It felt so close to getting a full confession!” Fred screamed, his face red and sweat pouring off his brow. “I just wanted to sleep tonight.”

“I know. Again, you know we can’t do anything in those situations. We might even get a decent deal at the end of everything. We can’t risk ruining the case, though.” The detective tried to sooth the large man with his tone. He remained calm and kept his volume low to direct the mood to a calmer place.

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Almighty Human {ANEWSIN VOL.2 — HANNAH JORDAN}

I look up to see something blocking out the sun.
That something grows larger until it falls on me.
My first reaction is to lift my arms to stop it.
After opening my eyes, I am surprised to find that I have actually caught the thing.
My legs tremble beneath me.
My arms shake.
I cannot guess what it is or how this giant thing is not crushing me.
I am not strong enough to hold it.
Based on its sheer weight I should be flattened right now.
So then why am I not?
This giant thing hangs by some force other than my own.
What is saving me right now?
I groan at the weight of my predicament.
Glancing skywards I catch a glimpse of a shiny thing glinting in the sunlight.
Am I holding this thing up, or is it holding me down?
Another grunt.
I look towards the safety of home a short distance away.
From here I can see members of my family.
I can see the rocks marking entry to the colony moved by some power to now block the hole instead.
My family is trapped.
I can see them.
Panicking.
Running.
Attacking.
Defending.
Something terrible is happening.
I wince and shake beneath the incredible burden pinning me.
I cannot get out from under this thing without being crushed.
I, too, am trapped.
Is there purpose behind all this?
I glance up at the shiny thing hovering over home and watch the sunlight focus through it.
It magnifies into a pure point that directs at the earth.
I keep my arms pressed under the giant crushing thing.
What else can I do?
I look back at home.
I can’t save them.
My family is lost.
They run in all directions.
Why is this happening?
I can hear their screams.
I watch that point follow my sister as she flees.
It lights her up.
Then she screams.
She starts to smoke from the inside out.
Then she blackens and chars.
Then she combusts.
Nothing is left of her.
What sort of being would allow this to happen?
Where is God?
The beam of light moves again.
Another sister is caught as she flees.
She burns up before she can cry out.
So I cry for her.
Is the thing that holds me down the same that is killing my family?
I watch the shiny thing methodically direct that light of burning terror and death at my family.
My whole family is panicking.
Does it know what it is doing?
This thing about to crush me into oblivion?
Was this misery inflicted by choice?
Some sick joke a giant plays on those it is bigger than?
I cannot think of a prayer that will save me.
Almighty, spare this poor ant from being crus—.

That concludes the second anewsin Publication! I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you to Hannah Jordan for submitting this work a little while ago. Please, leave her some love at this link to help support her.

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Elaine {ANEWSIN VOL.1 — JASON GARDEN}

Joel drove up to the coffee shop despite the horrid conditions outside. He listened to the torrential downpour while he sent Elaine a text message. It simply read “I’m here.”

Her reply was even more simple: “here.”

He exited his car and ran as fast as he could to limit how drenched he would become. Any other evening would have been much preferred for this rendezvous, but duty calls.

Joel could not even observe the building through the rain. The drops fell in thick white sheets and he tried to limit his exposure to them by pulling his sweater over his head. The lights of other buildings and the street lamps made it clear just how hard it was raining, as the precipitation created a halo in their glow.

Elaine met him outside the building under an overhang. She was damp, but she had obviously been covered long enough to mostly dry off.

“It’s a mess out there: I almost crashed a million times.” Elaine confessed. She said this absent minded while she drained more water from her ponytail. She smiled at Joel. Joel thought her smile to be one of the most beautiful things ever. “How did you find driving over?” she asked earnestly.

Joel strained as much water from his clothing as he could.

“It doesn’t matter.” He said with a smile.

That smile quickly faded.

“What’s up?” he asked her with a serious tone. He was annoyed by her demand to come out, but he would do almost anything for her.

Correction: he would do anything for her. She is his best friend and most important person in his life.

“I just missed you. It’s been two years. I know things have changed, but I still care so much about you.” she responded and gestured that she would hold his sweater.

“I got it, thank you.” he responded. Joel wipes his hands over the sleeves to pretend to get the water off. The action was fruitless.

He chose to leave the time reference alone.

“Anyway, how do you take your coffee now?”

“Just black, thanks. You inspired that.” she replied while opening the door to the coffee shop. It was very busy in spite of the weather. Almost every table had a patron, most of patrons had a warm drink.

Joel walked up to the counter to order two black coffees while Elaine found a place to sit. This order made his life easy: no need to remember orders, or worry about giving someone who ordered black the cup of someone who ordered just sugar.

The clerk was an old woman who had obviously been doing this very job for far too long. Her hair was grey and disheveled. It was Joel’s assumption that she was at the end of a very long shift.

“What do you want?” she asked, as if Joel was disturbing her. He chose to ignore her brash tone to avoid an issue.

“Two black, no sugar.” He replied quickly in a matter of fact tone to avoid additional questions. He did not enjoy confrontation, and he rarely felt like dealing with brash expressions of self-righteousness. He, over the years, learned to keep distance from such situations. He knows he would just say the wrong thing if he “poked-the-bear.”

He stood at the counter while the old woman turned and started pouring the black-gold into paper cups. Joel had been to this provider of warm beverages a few times, and the coffee was decent. In fact, he would argue that it is the best the city has to offer. That, unfortunately, was not saying great things about the city.

Of course, that appraisal does not include the coffee he could make. It was the best ever. This was a fact that was never proven, but Joel knew it true. He assumed no one would argue him if he said that, seeing as he drank literally dozens of cups a day.

The woman placed the paper cups on the counter. Joel picked up the cups and marched over to the booth where Elaine was sitting. It was closer to the counter than he would have liked, but there was no reason to sit by the window.

“How have you been, really? The hospital stay freaked me out. I’m sorry I didn’t come to visit. You know: Mother Life.” Elaine launched into conversation right away, talking quickly while effortlessly avoiding stuttering and slurring. Joel was thoroughly impressed. He could barely say his name without screwing something up, and he thinks that he speaks well.

Joel waited for her to pause before he jumped in.

“I’ve been good, all things considered. I have made a couple of friends out where I moved, and they took care of me when I needed them to. My house is ‘not-bad’, even though parts are rotting away where I stand. The TV is terrible, though. I still need to do something about that. How have you been? How’s the little one?”

“Good!” Elaine replied excitedly.

She ended that thought very quickly. The two of them sat in silence and filled the awkward tension by sipping at their coffee.

“So…” Joel broke the silence after a minute or two. He was starting to feel mildly used.

“I think I love you.” Elaine burst out the revelation. “I have for a long time. Known: that is. I know I have a child. I know things have changed. I also know you still have the same morbid sense of humour and the same bleak outlook.” Her eyes glazed over and she started to look almost behind Joel, as if looking at his face would make everything harder: make everything more real.

“I miss those things. My ex was very ‘PC’ in most ways. It was the next best thing to impossible to go a few days without him making me feel horrible for saying something I thought was hilarious when, in all actuality, I was just trying to find an excuse to laugh. I missed having you to call. I missed having you around the metaphorical corner. I missed our time together. Over time, it developed to just missing everything about you.”

Joel was not expecting the explosion of feelings. He was silent for a while after the confession and just stared at the not-wood table between them. Elaine was afraid she said too much. It was clear by the panic in her eyes that she was afraid that Joel did not feel the same.

Joel took a long sip of his coffee, cleared his throat, and tried his best remain calm. His response started in a very quiet, almost whisper. He never took his eyes away from the surface between them.

“Do you know how long I loved you? Did you know that when we were driving down country roads together, blasting music we enjoyed back in high school, I wanted to hold your hand?”

Joel struggled to stay calm and his voice became frantic and his volume increased slightly. He finally lifted his eyes and stared straight into Elaine’s.

“Did you know that I found you the most beautiful girl I had ever seen? You vanished. You ran away. I spent literal years going over and over conversations we had in my head to see if I could find what I said to make you no longer want to come around.”

“That’s really not fair!” Elaine shouted as a sullen look fell over her face. “I loved you then. I have done the same thing: tried to find out what went wrong. What was said. What I did.”

They both looked at each other with mortified expressions. Their eyes were both tearing up with a combination of relief and anger.

“You know I’m sick, right?” Joel’s voice dropped back to a whisper, yet his eyes never came off of hers. “You know that I will never be the person that you deserve?”

Elaine’s eyes dropped again, and Joel felt very awkward but thought he was keeping his composure very well.

Joel spoke after a moment of silence. His voice was calm, but he sounded as if he could start screaming at any moment. “I can never be sure of what is real and what is not. I am assuming this is all reality: I am assuming this is the way that I see it.”

“Joel: you’re passed out.” Elaine responded, suddenly very calm. “This has never and will never happen. You just want it so badly. In ten minutes, you won’t even remember this. Fuck, you know that you might never see me again.”

Just then, the room suddenly vanished and all the people went with it. Joel and Elaine were just suspended in black, illuminated by an unknown pale green source.

“Why?” Joel pleaded, half at Elaine and half to the world. “I just want my friend back. I just want to talk to someone from my past.”

It was no use. As soon as Joel realized that it was all in his head, Elaine froze in time. Her beautiful eyes went cold and lifeless, and Joel could feel tears rolling down his face as she slowly disappeared into obscurity. He was left alone with his thoughts again. He wanted out. He wanted something. He was confused, upset, and lonely.

“WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?”

Joel screamed into the abyss as the tears continued down his face. He had started to sob uncontrollably.

“Even in my dreams I am FUCKING PATHETIC!”

The black space around him seemed to absorb the echo of his confessions.

Elaine slowly dissolved into the background starting from her face.

Joel was alone.

He lay down onto the not-ground. There may not have been a floor, but something cushioned his body. His face was pillowed by his arms.

No one came to his aid.

There was no sound.

Only a deafening silence.

In a city, somewhere, a heart monitor lets out a piercing squeal.
In a city, not far from where you are now, a girl’s heart breaks.

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