This story is by J R Knox and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Damian shifts the gravel beneath his feet. The lone sign of vegetation lays seared by his side. While the result of an abandoned plan clings to life, the tingling in his legs tells him it is time to move. A brief look at the indentations left on his hands causes a glimmer of hope that another imperfection was temporary. The city’s second highest building’s rooftop beckons sixty-five feet away. As he approaches the parapet, he looks down at his hands. The indentations in his palms are no more. I wonder if I can make the jump—a reoccurring thought that has yet to be explored makes a predictable appearance.
Today marks three years since his mom has passed and Damian built up the nerve to try and visit his mother’s gravesite this morning. Just like the other attempts, he couldn’t go through with it.
She would still be here if it wasn’t for me.
He closes the rooftop door behind him and checks the stairwell. Empty. Within seconds he was on the first floor.
“Where you been? You look stressed.” Damian’s neighbor makes an untimely appearance.
“And Hi to you too, Michelle.” Michelle’s eyebrow raise and curled lips indicate the question still needs to be answered, “I was just up on the roof, collecting my thoughts.”
“So, you didn’t go again.” Damian incredulously raises his arms and they quickly crash by his side.
“No, I didn’t and how do you know?”
“We’ve both been in this apartment building for three years and I’ve been working with you for one. I see way more of you than I wish to and you’re just so predictable.” Michelle adjusts the laundry basket underneath her left arm and walks away.
“Tell me how you really feel.” Michelle continues walking not acknowledging the comment. Damian looks at the front door of the apartment building and closes his eyes for a moment.
Three miles into his five mile trek his legs become psychologically heavy. A quick peak toward the sky confirms the sun is showing signs of giving way to the night.
Damian’s thoughts trace back to that unfortunate day when his mother passed. She was trapped in their burning home. Damian did not know his mom was still in the house. She told Damian she was going to the store, but she never went.
She would still be here if it wasn’t for me.
His steps begin to slow until they halt altogether. He puts his path in reverse.
He dejectedly opens the apartment building door and suddenly jumps back and trips on the stairs.
“Damn it, Michelle! Why the hell you standing in the door like that?”
Michelle makes a futile attempt to compose herself while wiping away happy tears.
“That’s the best ab workout I’ve had in a while.” Damian is not amused as he brushes himself off.
“Stop being dramatic Damian, c’mon, let’s take a quick walk.” Michelle reaches out with one arm and pulls Damian up with ease to his surprise.
“I’ve been walking all afternoon; it’s about to rain, almost dark—I’ll pass.” Michelle shakes off Damian’s response quickly.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself! This is not what she would want.” Damian’s eyes begin to change color as Michelle’s comments seep deeper into his conscious. A feeling that Damian has eerily experienced before presents itself. It scares him. His pursed lips and partially squinted eyes transition to a softer posture. Damian forms his fingers like a gun and points to Michelle.
“Get out of my face.” Damian attempts to bump Michelle but is faced with a shoulder unwilling to budge. They share cold looks as Damian enters the building and heads to his apartment.
Another failed attempt. Why am I doing this? She’s not there anyway. She’s gone. Damian succumbs to the moment.
After a few hours pass, he receives a knock on the door. He doesn’t bother to look at the peep hole. He can handle whatever and whomever is on the other side.
“What do you want, Michelle?”
“I want to apologize…I’m sorry for what I said.”
“It’s fine—bye.” Damian attempts to close the door forcefully but is stopped abruptly by Michelle. He confusedly tilts his head back observing the door for obstructions but sees none.
“Come with me, Damian. It’s important.” Damian’s look on his face says he is not interested, “Please…please.”
Just do it and get it over with. How much worse can this day get anyway.
His shoulders slump as he acquiesces to her request.
Michelle guides Damian up the apartment stairs, out the maintenance door, and on to the roof.
She looks around using the night’s lamp and notices the torched flowers.
“You brought those up here?” Damian begins to scramble at Michelle’s question.
“Yeah, I just wanted to get rid of them. This was a quiet place. Personal issues, ya know.” A generic response is generated, but it will hopefully suffice.
Michelle looks at him not with pity, but empathy, “Your mom.”
“What? Don’t go there Michelle, you’re not going to like it.” Michelle does not even blink at the threat.
“Listen, I know that you are hurting and I want to help you…”
“Just cuz we have a casual conversation every now and then don’t mean jack. You don’t know me or what I’m going through.”
“Damian, I do know. You feel…hurt about your mom’s death. You wish you could have done more.” Michelle was cryptic about what she really knew, “We are not so different. There’s a reason I moved to THIS apartment and got a job at the SAME place you did.”
This was a mistake.
“Michelle, you should go.” Damian’s patience wears thin as he begins to step away from Michelle. He feels control slipping away, but control has always been a problem.
“Wait…DAMIAN—you may think I don’t have a clue and I don’t know what is going on, but I do. There is a place for us.” Michelle senses the situation escalating.
“Us? What do you think this is about? I’m serious Michelle, GO!” Damian’s temperature rises as his eyes begin to light up.
Michelle, feeling the need to act, begins to remove her shirt.
“Whoa, whoa…what are you doing? I’m not into you like that.” Damian turns away from Michelle. His anger quickly takes a backseat to his shock.
“Boy, ain’t nobody thinking ‘bout you like that—I want to show you something.” Michelle reaches out to Damian, “I want to show you—you’re not alone.”
Damian begins a mentally torturous turn of his body. His eyes remain closed as he faces Michelle. His jittery frame finally gives in as his prepared mind raises the curtains. His mouth creeps open and his eyes perform an involuntary sizing of Michelle.
“I never knew.” The results of his words did not matter at this point. Her contoured feathers spring out like a jack-in-the box. Her wingspan now stretches roughly fourteen feet. The revelation that Michelle was right when she stated he was not alone shines in this moment.
“There’s somewhere I want to take you,” Michelle approaches a static Damian. “It is important that you address your demons before they consume you, because that is a path people like me can’t afford someone like you to go down.”
Michelle grabs on to Damian and he reciprocates as they fly off of the rooftop. An overcast night helps their cover and a light rain begins to fall. They land at the cemetery. A headstone he has not seen since it was selected was in front of him. Damian falls—his knees begin to give way, as he walks toward the headstone. He hits the ground in front of it. His tears are wetting the ground as much as the raindrops. He peers at the headstone through tear-soaked vision.
I’m sorry mom. I lost control. I didn’t know how to deal with what this was!
Damian pounds the ground causing Michelle to briefly steady herself.
I didn’t know you were still in there. I should have checked.
“I miss you mom,” He touches the stone and for a few moments he begins to feel her. “I miss you so much.”
As the time passes, Michelle notices the rain has ceased pelting her skin, but she still sees it. “Did you do that?”
“There’s a lot I can do,” Damian’s voice breaks with each word. He wipes the tears and turns toward Michelle, “Thank you.”
“No, thank you. You have a tremendous gift and a loving but broken heart. You’re not alone Damian and if you are willing, I want to introduce you to others.” Damian feels his base returns as he stands.
“Okay…I’ll give it a shot.” Damian and Michelle prepare to leave the cemetery. With no one in sight and wings wide, Michelle quickly ascends into the dark sky. Damian turns his head with eyes honed in on his mother’s headstone and smiles.
I love you mom. I’ll be back.