This story is by Abby Rose and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It feels familiar, this chill. I used to be afraid of heights but after such a long time—after so many attempts—I got over it. The distance from the jagged edge of the roof to the ground, two hundred feet below, doesn’t scare me like it used to.
From this position, I can see the city in its entirety. Its thousand bright lights. Luminescent and glistering, like stars. The city is stunning when you’re not a part of it.
A slight wind ruffles my shirt. It smells like Fall, and rain, and wet asphalt.
Carter sits on the edge next to me, ankles crossed. She seems untroubled, but she’s always like that; lost in her own thoughts. She sips on a Styrofoam cup filled with cocoa in silence. She won’t join me. She never does.
I think she knows it’s futile. I look away from her.
“In another life, Carter.” I say as I salute her. She says nothing back, watching as I take a step into the empty night air and plummet. Down, down, down. I don’t scream. I don’t panic. I let gravity free fall me towards a ground that shimmers gold with dew.
This could be the last thing I ever see.
As I fall I ruminate about my time as a test subject. It was only supposed to take a few months, tops. Those months turned into years. Years of callous experimentation and needles and screaming my throat raw. Years, wasted. Thinking about it brings a chill worse than the night air. They made me this way; incurable.
This is it. My hair streams above me like dark gossamer. I close my eyes. This has to be it.
I hit the ground feet first.
My legs crumble underneath me like origami paper. The rest of me hits the sidewalk with a sound that reminds me of oyster shells cracking. My head hits last, and I black out.
Then I wake.
The fall that should have broken every bone in my body, ruptured every organ and caused blood to splatter the sidewalk like a painting—it only gives me a severe migraine and a stitch like I’ve sprinted a thousand miles and back. My arms are shaking. I’m coughing. It takes several minutes for me to catch my breath, and several more for my ears to stop ringing. Rocks and used flash paper crowd my head. I feel like death. The only problem is I’m not fucking dead.
“Damn it,” I whisper, defeated. I hear Carter’s neat footsteps somewhere behind me. She must’ve taken the elevator down. “Damn it!” I slam my fist into the ground. The ground that should be covered in blood—my blood.
Instead, there is only a dull ache that fades after a moment.
Carter stands in front of me, one hand in the pocket of her long, caramel colored coat. She has a hoodie on underneath it. I don’t know why she wears so many coats. It’s not like she can get sick. In her other hand, she holds her cup of cocoa. She sits on her heels and offers it to me. My hands shake as I take it.
She helps me to my feet without a word, like she always does. How long can she keep this up, I wonder, before she grows tired of me? Even I’m tired. Every reckless attempt to kill myself only makes me more hopelessly exhausted. Yet after all this time, she’s still here to pick me up. I don’t deserve this girl.
“Aren’t you tired?” I ask.
She tilts her head. “Aren’t you?”
“Touché.” I take a sip of cocoa before handing it back to her. The sky seems different down here than it did on the roof, darker somehow. You’re a monster, I remind myself. Something ghastly. Yet a small, self-serving part of me begs to be saved. “Let’s go home,” I say.
She nods, and we fall into step beside each other. Her heels clicking, click, click. It’s almost relaxing.
When we get to the bike the engine drowns everything out. The music, the cars roaring in the distance, my own steady heart, beating. Everything except my thoughts. They continue to roil. They continue to rage.
I don’t know why she trusts me enough not to crash. How does she still believe I won’t drift us into oncoming traffic, or off this bridge and into the inky ocean like a reckless maniac? Because I am a reckless maniac, and Hell, I don’t even trust myself enough not to do that. But I wouldn’t hurt her. After everything, I don’t want her to die. She is worthy of living.
Even if I’m not.
We fly through the city, blurring the neon lights and the people, living. Carter’s jacket whips around her legs, her dark hair trailing after us like long exposure tail lights.
With her leaning all her weight against me, I hate myself a little less.
I park the bike in front of our little apartment complex. Carter straightens her jackets as I pocket the keys.
“Kael,” She says. I glance back at her. She’s pretty, drenched in dew. It catches the neon lights of the city and fills her long hair with stars.
“What would it take?” She asks. “To get you to stop.”
The question shocks me senseless. She waits patiently for me to compose myself, heels together, hands tucked into her jacket.
“Success,” I say. It’s a weak attempt at humor. She doesn’t smile.
The breeze sends dead oak leaves skittering across the pavement. They crackle as they spiral around her, pinkish grey in the light.
“An angel.” I’m still joking, but a small part of me is serious.
“Does it have to be a real angel?”
“No,” I say as I bite back a smile. “Just someone who can save me.”
She stops in front of me and stares at the empty trees with a look I’ve never quite been able to figure out.
“Does this Angel need to be beautiful?”
I tilt my head. “No.”
Even though her skin is dark, and the sky around us is dark, I can see blush the color of rose gold creep into her cheeks. Still, she doesn’t look at me. I wish she would.
“Does she need to be good?”
My laugh is bitter with irony. “No. Just patient. And she needs to love me a whole lot.”
She nods. I can almost feel her tension as she thinks.
“Knock it off,” I say, thumping her forehead with my hand. “You’re always thinking too hard. One of these days you’re gonna hurt yourself.”
“Me,” she breathes, and I wince. I drop my hands.
“Yeah, you. Out of the two of us, who do you think I care about more?” She doesn’t answer. I pull on one of her hoodie strings, making it uneven. “You, obviously. Do you really think I give a shit about myself?”
“I know you don’t.” She sounds bitter. I smirk at her.
“But you,” I pluck at her drawstring again. “Oh man, I care a lot about you. Of course I do, you’ve been with me since the beginning. The experiments, the escaping. My first suicide attempt, my thousandth. Every reckless step of the way. I would’ve let myself sink to the bottom of the red sea and rot if it wasn’t for you.”
She’s silent for a long time. Too long.
“I don’t want you to die.”
I flinch. It takes a moment to find my voice, and a moment more to make it light enough. “It seems you’re in luck because I sorta can’t.”
She doesn’t laugh. “I’m sorry. That I’m not enough.”
I look at her oddly. Then suddenly, I look at her as the angel that could save me.
“Do you want to be?” I ask.
“Of course.” She whispers.
I think about it; Death, her, me. The city and its thousand bright lights. The trees with their bare branches and the sky with its single, silver moon. And about living. Is it okay, after everything, to love her?
Carter watches me, chin slightly out like a soldier. I can’t help but laugh. If anyone could make me worthy of living, it would be this girl. As long as it’s her, the answer is yes.
It’ll always be yes.
“Okay,” I whisper. I grab the collar of her jacket and tug her towards me. Then I kiss her, like I should’ve kissed her all those years ago. The moment she followed me instead of running—I should’ve kissed her then.
A passing older couple pauses to chuckle at us. They say something about youths, and the pretty stars and the Fall rain always making the best beginnings. They don’t know that we are both older than them, aged by time that doesn’t show on our skin. They don’t see what’s actually happening.
Two incurable souls being saved.