This story is by Kathi Jenkins and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Rory and The Aura — Content warning: Suicide
Another one was dead. Jefferson High School had a chain of suicides raging through it, this last one made five in just four months. Ever since the mass shooting a few towns over, things have been tense. This time it was close to home, Rory’s sister’s best friend, Addy.
Principal Marino sent another email, held another school assembly, changed the reader board to flash the suicide help line phone number. She repeated that the entire school is sending their thoughts and prayers to the victim’s family and loved ones.
What futility, Rory thought. He knew better than anyone how unavoidable suicides were.
In the back of the classroom with a hood over his head and eyes down, Rory sulked. It was only second period, and he was already hungry. He was so over high school. It was a prison, and he was set to be released in three months. Then he’d be out of this small town with its incestuous politics and onto a place where no one knew him or his sister. He longed for someplace where no one compared her academic success to his lackluster performance. A town where they didn’t hear his last name and say, “Oh! Are you Ellie’s brother? She’s such a great kid, good at everything she does. You must be so proud of her!” Ellie was amazing, and he was glad to be her brother, but it was exhausting at the same time.
A bubbly cheerleader plopped into the desk next to him. She was wearing the shortest skirt Rory had ever seen, so he didn’t get up and move. She didn’t bother to take out paper or a pencil and turned directly to Rory.
“Did you hear? About Addy?”
“Hung herself from the rafters in the girls’ locker room last night. The janitor found her and everything. I can’t believe- “
“Oh God. I wonder if Ellie knows that,” he whispered.
“Yeah, I told her earlier. She ran to the bathroom crying. I didn’t mean to upset her, just thought she deserved to know the details, ya know?”
Rory willed her to shut up. She looked proud to be breaking the news. Gross. To make matters worse, she wasn’t telling him anything new he already knew Addy’s plans.
He had the ability to tell when people were going to take their own lives. It was a special aura that only he could see. It should be a wonderful gift, a lifesaving ability, but it was the opposite because couldn’t do anything to stop the suicidal person. The past few months had been agony for him.
The first time it happened, Rory hoped it was a one-off. His science lab partner, James, had a weird green aura. It wasn’t the typical green that means growth and change, this one was more like ectoplasmic green. Toxic waste green. Rory asked James if he was ok, and James grunted a response. Rory knew that mumble, it his own go-to move when he didn’t want to lie but didn’t want to talk about it. It was none of Rory’s business, so he left James alone. Rory couldn’t ignore that the aura was brighter by the end of class. As the bell rang, he muttered, “Hey dude I’m here if you need me. Seems like you’re going through it.” James ignored him, as if he hadn’t heard Rory. It was as vulnerable as Rory had ever been, but it didn’t work.
James was dead the next morning.
Rory found out over the morning announcements with the rest of the school. When he heard the news, he immediately knew it was all his fault. He watched as his classmates processed the information; certain they were staring at him like the killer he was. He gave into his urge to run and hide, leaving the classroom in a panic. Each time he replayed the last interaction with James he felt more responsibility. By the time he got to his house, he threw up in the shrubs by the front door. Whatever that aura was, he knew he could never tell another soul about it. About his complicit behavior. About his guilt.
The next time, Rory was ready to intervene. He couldn’t be burdened with the knowledge like he was last time. Max was a stud hockey player that everyone liked. It was almost sickening how good he was. He was always nice to Rory, way nicer than any other jock in their AP History class was anyway. When Rory caught a glimpse of Max’s aura, he passed Max a note. “Hey. You seem off. Wanna talk?” Max’s fist crumpled the note with such violence, Rory felt his whole face flush with embarrassment. Max threw the wad into the trash can and glared at Rory. He avoided Rory in class the next day. The following day, police officers found Max and his car wrapped around a power pole.
Rory slept better after Max than he had with James. After all, he had reached out to a kid who was really popular, and he looked for him the whole next day to talk with him. What else could he be expected to do?
When Josephine, a notorious drama queen, made her public cry for help, it looked like she was just hungry for attention. Before the bell rang in homeroom, she yelled at her friend across the classroom.
“He dumped me. I told him I’d kill myself before I would live without him, but he still dumped me,” she blurted.
No one gave it a second thought. Breakups bring out over-the-top theatrics in even the most grounded people. Plus, they’d only been dating for a few months, she couldn’t be serious. Rory saw her pale aura and chose to ignore it. His track record proved to him that he was no help anyway. He hoped the faint aura meant it was less urgent. He was wrong, and Josephine was found a few days later. She’d put rocks in her pockets and walked to the deepest part of the neighborhood pond.
The thing was, Rory didn’t ask for this gift. He wasn’t going to become some anti-suicide spokesperson. Just get through the next few months, he repeated to himself.
Addy, the latest victim, was different. She was like a second sister to him. If there was anyone that he needed to stop, it was Addy. He asked her if she wanted to talk, and they skipped class together. They met under the oak tree in the front lawn. Rory tried to empathize with her when he saw how strong her aura was.
“Look, I mean, I can’t wait to leave this place. I hate my teachers. I hate this school. Being a teenager sucks, but you gotta just get through it. Right?” They laid on their backs, staring up at the spring buds beginning to form on the tree.
“No. I don’t,” she said it so matter-of-factly, he was stunned.
Addy flipped over on her belly as she chuckled a nervous teenage girl laugh, high-pitched and forced. She put her head in her hands, and stared at him before she continued, “This isn’t over some stupid boy. I’m not a drama queen like Josephine. This isn’t just a bad day. I’m broken. Like actually broken.”
“Aw, no you’re not. I know you–“
“No, you don’t. Not this.” She looked away.
Rory took the hint, figuring that pressuring her would only make it worse. He distracted her with stupid jokes, and they made plans to meet Ellie later that evening. When the bell rang, Rory went straight to their teacher. He reported what Addy said, expecting the teacher to thank him and call the school counselor immediately. Instead, the teacher focused on the punishment he would give them tomorrow for skipping class. Addy didn’t get a tomorrow.
He felt like no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop what appeared to be fate. He was aware but powerless, and most of all, devastated over the losses. What really bothered him was why did he have this gift if all he could do was watch. He was haunted with responsibility, guilt, and hopelessness.
Two weeks later, Rory was having the worst day. His usual breakfast cereal, Lucky Charms, tasted like paper shavings. The hot water ran out midway through his shower. His toe still throbbed from where he stubbed it racing around the hallway corner. All he wanted to do was go back to bed and start over, but just as he was crafting a way to bail on the day, his sister wandered into the kitchen. Carrying a heavy backpack, she was wearing her pretentious ‘MIT Bound’ sweatshirt with her hair in a tight bun on the top of her head.
Rory’s spoon dropped into the bowl and spilled everything onto the floor when he saw her. She had the deadly bright green toxic aura. Not Ellie.