Three years ago
I run, desperate to get away, to escape the lingering voices. Their terrible words wrench deeper within me each time, and the tears come faster. “Deformed freak” hits me hardest. I want to fall to my knees and cry alone, but I’d be giving in to them, showing my pain and weakness. They’ll only hurt me more. It isn’t until I approach a tidy, green garden that their pounding footsteps stop. I know better than to assume, to hope they’ve gone. They could be anywhere.
The door at the end of the garden clicks open—causing me to jump—and a petite girl skips out the house. She wears her long, blonde hair in two plaits that swing by her side. At the sight of me standing there, wary eyes swimming in tears, she smiles and wanders closer. Her movement is confident, fearless.
“Why are you crying?” she asks.
I can’t help but smile down at her through my tears, touched by the innocence in those big green eyes. “Oh, it’s nothing...really.” I’m not much of a liar, but she doesn’t pick up on my wavering tone and anxious glances all around. Her grin fades to a frown, brow furrowing, as she looks to her side, gesturing to thin air.
“Elizabeth says that’s not true. You can’t cry for no reason. She thinks you’re either very sad or very happy.” The little girl nods to back up her fact, glinting eyes serious and sure. “Well, what is it?”
She seems startled by my question, and immediately shoots a worried glance at the empty space beside her. She gestures there again. “My friend here, of course.” There’s nobody there, but I understand. Imaginary. Her imaginary friend. The little girl sends a comforting smile to Elizabeth, whispering, “It’s your own fault for being invisible, silly.”
I gulp. “Oh, well, you’re right,” I say, gaze directed at this imaginary person. “I’m crying because I’m sad. My friend isn’t being very kind to me.” It surprises me, but speaking to Elizabeth, this figment of imagination, washes me with reassurance. She isn’t going to judge me or hurt me while being controlled by a sweet young girl. I continue talking, overjoyed to get this off my chest even if the story is twisted, “But it’ll be okay. Perhaps one day—”
“What happened to your hand?”
When I look back, the girl’s staring, blinking, rubbing her eyes in shock. My stomach clenches and my palms begin to sweat. I swing my left hand back, out of sight. “It’s...um, I was born with it.” She’s gazing up at me now, and I’m surprised to see no hatred, no judgement, no disgust. Just a huge, cheerful smile on her small, pretty features.
“It’s like mine!” she cries, holding up her bare foot and wiggling her toes. Four toes, I see, and then I understand. She’s just like me. Except the excited look in eyes tells me she’s proud and confident of her missing toe, no matter how different, no matter how many times they aggravate her. That’s what I should be like, but the bullying gets worse at my age—they take it much further. Too far. “I used to hate myself for this foot,” she continues, “because everybody else has five toes! But Elizabeth says being different is pretty, like butterflies. They’re all sorts of colours, and I think that’s pretty.”
My eyes water again, but this time, it’s not from sad emotions. I’m touched right to the core. This girl has projected her hopes and wishes into her imaginary friend, and finds confidence through that. It is pretty, she’s right. I can see from the way she glances to her side, rolling her eyes or flicking out her foot, that Elizabeth is real to her—she’s lived and built this person up for so long that every detail is there. She has a perfect friend, someone who’ll never hurt her, someone to love her just as she is.
That’s exactly what I need.
The rain slides down the window, almost obscuring my view of the damp street below. I think back to before—before I had Lufian—when my mood was brought down further by the cold weather in winter. That’s all changed now. With his hand in mine, I have no hatred to the grey sky and puddles. Everything is pretty now.
“We should be heading off to school now, Jenna,” he tells me, strong arms around my waist, entwining his fingers in mine. He loves my hands, my left especially. Unique is beautiful, he claims. “Come on.” Lufian takes me away from our window, our quiet place to admire the peace, and towards the door.
Outside, walking, I quickly transform into a drowned rat, but my smile doesn’t falter. How can it when he’ll love me all the same, will accept me no matter what? Besides, his dark curly hair is flat against his face too, stopping just short of those bright amber eyes. My stomach does a familiar somersault as he wraps his arm around me, pressing his warm lips to my cheek. I laugh softly and close my eyes.
“What are you giggling about, freak?”
I freeze, looking up and squeezing tighter on Lufian’s hand. So tight it’s probably cutting off his blood circulation. At that thought, I loosen my grip just a little. “Uh, I....” My voice trails off, knowing it’d be useless to explain. She can’t see him, my perfect boyfriend, like me—nobody can.
He leans closer to me, protective, and whispers, “Ignore them, Jen,” in my ear. His breath is warm against my skin, comforting. I don’t resist when he moves me forwards.
“Where are you going?” The tallest one, the bitchiest, charges forward, scowl intact. “We asked you a question!” She flips her long black hair over her shoulder and stops in front of me. “Well? What’s so funny?” When I don’t answer, she raises her hand, balling it into a fist. The others join her, their expressions just as threatening. I swallow hard.
“Wrong,” she snaps. “You had your eyes closed. Don’t lie to us, freak. We’re not stupid. Unlike you, we can actually count to five on our fingers.”
My stomach twists, their words cut me.
I’m filled with anger; raw, seething rage. Unlike you, we can actually count to five on our fingers. The bitch’s words slice through me, repeating themselves. How can she? How can someone sink that low? For the first time in these past three years, I despise the fact I’m invisible, just a figment of imagination, to anyone but Jenna. I want to make this girl know what she’s done, somehow make her feel the pain my girlfriend is experiencing.
Right now, the terrible trio are simply laughing, eyebrows raised, mocking. They haven’t noticed the resigned look on Jenna’s face, the confidence floating away from her, the light in her eyes dimming. My heart aches. I don’t want to see her cry, hurt, pained. But there’s nothing I can do right now except speak.
With my arms firmly around her, I say, “Just ignore their pathetic comments. Please. You’re too strong to slip away now. Remember, you’re beautiful. My beautiful girlfriend.” I lift her chin, forcing her to meet my gaze. Her crystal blue eyes aren’t sparkling as much, and that gorgeous smile I’ve always loved closer resembles a frown. Her lips quiver. She’s working herself up. She’s going to cry. “No, no, Jen. It’ll be okay. You’re not alone. I’ll always be here for you.”
Her head shakes, just the slightest movement. “No, you won’t. They can’t see you, Lufian. They can’t hear you. And being with you makes me look stupid, childish even. We can’t....” It isn’t until she cuts off that I realise I’m holding my breath. Those are the words—the dreaded words. The bitches are still watching, dumbstruck by the sight. Their thoughts are easy to guess: Is this freak for real?
“It doesn’t matter. Nobody else matters. You should always put your happiness first if it isn’t affecting others, Jen. You know that.” My tone is pleading, and I can’t help it. After three years, she can’t just give up on me. I remember when I was just a sparkle of hope, slowly forming appearances, characteristics, feelings. It was incredible. Jenna is incredible. “Please. Think back to before. How sad you were, unconfident and frightened. I haven’t seen that girl for so long. It doesn’t need to cha—”
The tallest bitch steps forwards, still looking a little shocked. She freezes for a second, and before I can guess what’s happening, she swings her hand around to meet my girlfriend’s cheek.
A loud slap sounds.
I can almost feel Jenna’s pain, the slicing agony beneath her raw, red skin. I try to pull her away again to safety, but she resists, shaking her head once more.
“No, Lufian, no. I’m too old. I can’t keep pretending. This is my fight in life, and trying to escape it won’t get me anyway. Please understand.” She steps away from me, away from the bullies. “You will always be a big part of me. The friend who got me through the last three years. But I need to learn to stand alone, to believe in myself rather than use your acceptance. I love you. I always will, but I can’t rely on my imagination forever.”
And with those last words, my beautiful creator runs. Not only from the bitches, but from me, her confidence and love. I do understand, but that doesn’t stop my heart—the heart she gave me—from breaking, and the tears from falling. I watch her figure become smaller as she gets further away. Just as she disappears, I feel a jolt from within.
My arms flail suddenly, without my control. I stare at them, eyes wide. They’re fading to nothing, vanishing out of sight. The same thing happens to my legs, and soon my body is being swallowed too. I realise what’s happening just as it takes the last lock of hair from my head.
Jenna’s wished me away.
I’m not the only one.
There are more of us, living amongst the normal, repulsed and disturbed on frequent occasions. It’s not a pleasant way to live, but I’ve never had it any other way, never seen what the others see, and never understood it either. You could call me a pessimist. Why?
Because that’s what I am.
She steps into the room, pout intact.
The other guys start fawning, scrambling...and that loser’s even dribbling. I stay behind my desk, content with studying her, intrigued by their affections. The woman’s dark blue eyes are perhaps the only decent feature; aside from that, her lips are thin and pale, and that nose is like a rollercoaster. What do they see, because I’m definitely missing it? Is it the skirt that better resembles a tight belt, or do they like that transparent blouse?
“Who are you?” The strings of compliments from the grovelling men stop as the female speaks, her gaze on me. My overseeing eyes pick up on the way she leans forwards and bats her lashes—attempting to look seductive—and immediately class it as a flaw. “Well?”
I clear my throat and answer, “Jeremy.” My tone is dry and that’s because I’m bored, uninterested in this lady. Why does she require my attention when several other men are after it? The constant hair-flipping is quickly getting on my nerves anyway. It’s clear she thinks herself beautiful, when actually she’s far from that.
“Just on my way out,” I interrupt, hating how her high voice is dripping with desperation. I know what her problem is: she’s after the one that doesn’t want her. That’d be me. But the pleading look in her eyes doesn’t change my mind...it simply repulses me. She’s not perfect, and therefore not worth my time. Perhaps it’s harsh, but that’s what my kind are like—pessimistic.
She watches me as I walk out the office, and a few seconds later, I hear the rambles of compliments start up again. She’s no doubt falling into their arms and teasing them in the worst way. The thought brings a lonely vibe upon me, the same thing I feel each time after a rejection. I’ll take nothing but the best, though I sometimes wish my eyes didn’t see what they did, that they could settle for the facade people put on, rather than peering deeper. It’d make life easier, right?
I wander out of the building, caressed by the light breeze. The day looks beautiful with a clear blue sky and a sparkling sun, but in the far distance, further than average humans can see, I spot the dark clouds and purple-grey skies. They’re approaching. The sight causes me to sigh—nothing is ever as beautiful as it seems at first. Which is why I’m a lonely loser that spends his time pointing out flaws on myself and others.
A bell rings in the church as I pass by, and a mass of people rush outside. They’re cheering and laughing, a few of them with tears running down their cheeks. My eyes graze over them and a scowl appears on my face. So much ugly. I pause to take a deep breath, and that’s when I see her.
That face. That beautiful, smiling face.
Her teeth are all straight and her nose is cute and button-like. Her hair cascades in waves of black, causing her pale complexion to stand out. I study her, desperate for a flaw, unable to believe such perfection can exist. She looks completely at ease with herself and others around her. So natural, gentle, flawless.
She looks away from the people for just one second, her glinting green eyes flitting past me, smile intact. And that’s when I notice. The flaw. That one single stupid flaw that sends my heart into an angry frenzy and I know I’ll beat myself up for caring. That perfection right there, well—
—she’s the bride.
Fly Away, Boy
For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt awkward. Not my clothing, or my hairstyle, or anything like that. Just me. The way I think, move, talk—the way I capture the world. It’s like everyone else is a complete clock, ticking through every hour of their life, and I’m missing a piece. I’ve lost one of my hands, or a number, or perhaps the entire clock face.
That sort of awkward.
My parents have tried to change me, tried to make me like the other boys. I’ve taken too many trips to the doctors, the hospital, the psychiatrist, only to be told there’s nothing out of place or different about me. It’s difficult to explain, really. I’m just not comfortable, not grateful for the ways of life. Though there’s no escape. At least, no obstacle-free escape.
“You’re going,” my mother told me, placing her hands on my shoulders. She shook me once, her voice begging, eyes pleading. “It’s not up for discussion, Roch. Everyone else will be there.”
I sighed. “Exactly.”
As if trying to prove a point, my mother sighed louder and charged out of the room. I knew she was tired of me. I was the definition of a “never ending battle” in her eyes—she’d told my father that before, without knowledge of my presence. It wasn’t anything personal, but she wouldn’t understand that. Nobody did.
And now, under demand from her, I was going on my first school trip. With other students. Who I didn’t know, much less like. Storming (tripping) outside, I slammed the door behind me, and made my way to school. The coaches were already there, students filing inside. My teacher nodded in my direction and ticked something on her clipboard.
“Hop inside, Roch,” she called.
I clambered in and took a place right at the front, almost next to the bus driver. It was a single seat, of course. No one was going to sit next to me anyway. I glanced to my side, catching sight of the driver. He had long dreadlocks tied back with an elastic band; a quirky smile on his thin lips; white, almost translucent-coloured skin; and fascinating green eyes creased with...well, the only word that sprung to mind was wisdom. He was also staring right back at me.
“What’s the name, boy?” he asked. The question was thickly accented, but I couldn’t place the origin. There was something comforting about the lilt, however.
Crinkling my nose, I answered, “Uh, Roch. It’s short for Nisroch.” The last part was something I added without thinking now. The result of too many frowns and raised eyebrows when I stated my name. But this man didn’t do either of those things. He just smiled.
“Nisroch. You know what the definition of that is, don’t you?” Even when I shook my head no, he continued grinning to himself, starting the engine when my teacher sat down behind me. We were moving for about ten minutes before he glanced my way again, this time through the back-of-the-bus-view mirror. “Nisroch,” he repeated, and I began to think he was a little cuckoo. “It means flight. The son of flight and deliverance.”
For some reason, his words got to me. I never liked being told to do things, or have people assume stuff about me. But that was because they never had the right to do so. They didn’t know me, understand me. This man, however, this strange man with a colourful rope necklace on and a lively glint in his eye, seemed to hold some sort of connection. It didn’t make sense, but it was there.
“I guess you’re excited about today then,” he pressed. “Must’ve been jigging on your way out of bed this morning.” He chuckled, as if this was our private joke. Once realising I wasn’t laughing, he frowned, surprise fleeting across his sharp features. “What? I’m wrong?”
What was I supposed to say? I’d just met this man, and now he looked offended that he hadn’t guessed my first morning actions correctly. Weird. But I didn’t point out that he was, in fact, wrong. That the first thing I did when I woke up today was groan and flop back onto my bed, running through excuses to skip school and hoping, really hoping, that for some reason, the trip would be cancelled. Instead I shrugged and tried my best to smile. Hmph.
Another ten minutes passed. My teacher shouted “Five minutes, everyone!” to my classmates, and the chatter became louder. I just stared at the floor. In silence. “Okay, we’re here! Don’t stand up yet. We’ll get off in at least some form of order!” She tapped my back and pointed towards the opening doors. “You can jump off, Roch.”
I stumbled off the bus, throwing one last sideways glance at the man. He was still looking at me, brows furrowed. I didn’t know if he’d be our driver on the way back. I didn’t even know if I wanted him to be.
The scene outside was a surprise. Honestly, when we were given the letter about the trip, I couldn’t have binned it faster. It was the sly email from the school that tipped my parents off. I still had no idea of the activity—it wouldn’t have made a difference to the social or my enjoyment level, so why did I need to know? But now I wished I’d looked, paid the slightest bit of attention.
We were on a bridge, settled between two cliffs. There was equipment lined up along the edges, men standing guard. They all wore the same green jumpers with “Cliff Heights” over the left breast in white. I took in the setting, the expressions, and listened to the chatter of the students behind me. I also took in the deep, dark, looming nothingness below the bridge.
Now I understood the bus driver. Sort of. My name’s definition was flight, deliverance, so he assumed I’d enjoy this. Perhaps he believed very strongly in meanings and hidden notions. A little too strongly. The truth was, I’d never even been on a plane. Or in a swimming pool. Or on a trampoline.
Just then, a hand ruffled my thick black hair. “You’re up, Nisroch,” went the familiar, accented voice. Our gazes met for one second, and I could see his excitement. “Fly away, boy. I’ve got a good feeling about this.” Again, he made no sense. His words flew straight over my head.
One of the men came over to me and began placing a harness around my body. The reality began to sink in. I was going to jump over that edge. Me, jumping. Looming darkness. Nothingness. Closing my eyes, I took deep breaths. My thoughts were just fragments now, fear clenching in my stomach. I didn’t know if I could do this. In the back of my mind, other words were registering: Flight. Deliverance. Nisroch. Fly away, boy.
Someone pulled me closer to the edge. At first I resisted, but soon my trembling body was too consumed with fear to feel anything else. I stood on the ledge of the bridge, eyes still closed. This was it. With my luck—the luck that created an awkward, unsociable boy who’ll never fit in anywhere—this was the end for me. The Cliff Heights man who was working with me began to count down.
“Six,” he said.
I shivered, my entire being was turning numb.
He pushed me back just slightly, and I felt where the ledge ended beneath my heels. Now was my chance to push forwards, to get away from this horrific activity and wait in the bus to get home. Or better, to just escape. To run.
Just as the man spoke, I opened my eyes. I’d imagined my death several times and in many different ways. But in every scene, I had died putting up a fight. A fight against people, the world, life. I had fought to live, even though it was the harder path. My mother always called me a never ending battle behind my back, and she was right. She had no idea how right she was.
I was even battling myself.
The bus driver appeared before me, that same wide grin on his face. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost, boy.” He looked around, as if trying to spot the ghost. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d claimed to see one. “Don’t be scared. I’ve learnt a lot about people in my years. There are so many stories, histories, futures. Some complicated, others simple. You’re easy. I understood you straight away. Believe me when I say this, Nisroch: you, of all people, have no reason to fear flight.”
He put his hand on my shoulder and pushed.
The looming darkness, the endless nothingness—it swallowed me.
And I’ve never felt so free.
We all have secrets.
Whether it be that guy from the club you’re seeing behind your partner’s back, or your terrible fear of the dark. They come in all sizes and all shapes—so many variations that sometimes we think the whole world is a mystery—but they all leave us with the same feeling. Niggling inside, biting away, taking over. You want to tell someone, but whom? How? Where? When?
Why not just let it pass, hope it fades, and suffer alone? Why bring another person down in the process? Megan is very experienced when it comes to secrets. She knows all of these answers. She discovered them on the fourth of May. It didn’t come to her like it does for some people. Megan learnt the hard way.
The day is nearing too fast.
She still needs time, time to plan her words, practise them, perfect them. She still needs to drop hints, ensure he’s not taken by complete surprise. It’ll be easier like that. For both of them. But despite her needs, the hours fly past. There is just two days left now, and as Megan sits in the park with Kyle, she knows he’s pondering. He always does.
“What are you thinking about?” she asks, the nerves clear in her tone. The question may lead to some sensitive ground, which she must avoid until the set date, until the right time. That’s not now. It’s as far as she can make it.
He shrugs. “Just family and birthdays.”
Megan tries to cover up her pounding heart and sweating palms by giving a confident laugh, followed by a sigh. Please don’t say it, she thinks, fists clenching. She leans over and flicks his cropped, platinum-blonde hair, taking away attention from the rising subject. “Well, stop acting depressed. Let’s get an ice cream or something.” When he nods and smiles, her mood raises through the roof. She loves it when he’s happy, when his ocean green eyes glitter, reflecting her own. It brings her hope. But then she remembers: two days. The positivity fades.
They pass the police station on their way to the corner shop. Both of their gazes flicker to the billboard, crammed with wanted posters and missing person or animal reports. One notice in particular stands out to Megan, bringing her that same biting feeling from within.
Joseph Mable, 33
Last seen at Brooklyn Avenue, 8:17pm, April 28th
It’s different from the others. More vague. But that’s only because everyone knows, everyone’s already on guard for this serial killer. After several years of haunting the surrounding towns, leaving only a body and a weapon at the scene, he’s at the top of many most-wanted lists. The picture of floppy blonde hair hanging just over his eyes, the thin lips curving into a lunatic’s smile—these are features graved into everyone’s mind. He keeps the town on edge, guarded, threatened. This, however, isn’t the reason it catches Megan’s eye.
She knows him.
She even knows where he lives.
And he’s part of the huge secret that niggles away at her; the secret that sends her to sleep in tears, scaring her more than anything else. If anyone remembered or discovered that she had connections to him, she’d be dead. But she would rather they knew than Kyle. Anyone, but Kyle. He could never ever find out. Why? It’d kill him, far more than it does for Megan. He’d be scarred, closed off, detached, for the rest of his life if he found out that part. If he found out anything more than the truth she would share in just two days.
They buy their ice creams and eat in silence. She knows what they look like to passing people, sitting on a bench outside the corner shop, happy in each other’s presence. They look like a family. With her being more than fifteen years older than him, people scratch off “friends”. Only Kyle is unaware of that. It’s his kind, accepting nature more than anything, but he is also lonely. Without parents, grandparents, or siblings, Megan’s his only company.
“Are you looking forward to your eighteenth?” she asks, planting a smile on her face. The mood is dull, and she wants to lighten it, to see him be cheerful and open to the world. “Just two days.”
Kyle shrugs, frowning. “It won’t be any different to previous birthdays. Just this time, you’ll be helping me find a flat because I’m legally old enough to leave the hellhole.” His voice raises, flares, at the last few words. Megan flinches, realising it must be a touchy topic to bring up. She sighs again.
No matter how many times she attempts to bring him joy during the following days, Kyle’s mood is set. She doesn’t blame him. He deals with so much more than your average boy, burdening so much more loneliness and pain. She hopes that, by revealing her secret, it’ll seal up some of those loose ends, answer some of those questions he always ponders over. She hopes.
The clock strikes twelve, midday, on May the fourth.
It’s Kyle’s eighteenth birthday. It’s time. Time to tell him the secret and give this boy—now a man—some resolve after all these years of worrying. He deserves it. Megan steps out of the house, running her words over in her head. This is really it. The moment. She’s about to tell him the truth and let him understand his true self for the first time. Her heart races.
“Meg!” he shouts, running at her with a smile. “You ready to go flat-shopping?” His mood is different to normal. It’s lighter, happier, and she realises why. Kyle is now free. He is finally his own person, eighteen years old, with no adult towering over him and gushing orders. It’s his world to make decisions and keep secrets.
Megan shakes her head at him, taking his hand. “I’d like you to come with me. We’re going to the park first. I have to tell you something.” Some would assume she’s only giving him a gift, but he knows otherwise. He isn’t stupid. They walk in silence, taking a seat on the swings when they arrive.
“What is it?” he asks, eyes dark and shielded.
She clears her throat. “Firstly, I’d like to say happy birthday. I have a present for you, which I’ll give to you in a second. Secondly, I have...well, there’s something you should know about me. About...us.”
Kyle leans slightly away, fists beginning to clench. It’s an action he got from her, when nerves are taking over. “What is it?” he repeats, this time a whisper. His tone is guarded.
“What does this mean to you?” Megan strays away from the speech she had planned, too scared to tell him. She shows him instead—the birth certificate. His name, Kyle Shalen, one she chose, is scrawled across the top. Just below is a neat signature. Beside it, there’s a hole. It’s where another name was. “It’s...it’s yours. Your present.”
He takes it from her, staring, seeming to look right through the paper. His gaze moves to the gap, the jagged hole which she cut out herself. “Your name,” he croaks, “Megan Hansel. Why’s it there?” Kyle studies further, eyes widening, narrowing, blinking, closing. Finally, they open. With a blunt tone, he utters, “It says you’re my mother. What kind of joke is this?”
She moves closer, water brimming in her eyes. “Your birth certificate, dear. I—I am your mother.” Her voice is rough, raspy. “I had you when I was fifteen. They took you from me as your father was unknown. There was no way to find him. I wasn’t allowed to mother you without support, not until you were eighteen and were able to understand. That’s today, Kyle. My baby is eighteen.” She looks up from her fidgeting hands, expecting him to be tearing up too, a soft smile on his thin lips. But that’s not what she sees.
He stares at her with a glare so fierce that the daggers shatter her very core. With eyes swimming in tears, she reaches out for his hand, wanting only to comfort. He yanks away in disgust. “Stay away from me,” he whispers, the anger succumbing. It’s hit him. The reality and logic. It’s hit him. And how he’s left in pain; alone, miserable, broken. There’s nothing she can do but watch and talk.
“You mean you lied to me.” His voice cracks. “I can’t even...I can’t look at you, not anymore. Not after this. All this time, you let me believe and live a lie. But...but—
Megan splutters, shrinking back. She’s weighed down by the pressure; this isn’t going to plan. He’s not accepting the answer, the truth, and figuring himself out. “I told you, Kyle. I wasn’t allowed. Instead, I tried to get to you through signs. Your last name is an anagram of mine. I became your friend, mentioned our identical eye colours on several occasions. They were all hints to make this easier.”
He’s standing now, backing away. “It didn’t work,” he snaps. “You’re my friend. You can’t be my mother. We could never be related. I don’t believe a word you say anymore, Meg.” His voice wobbles because he knows it’s true. The pieces have clicked. “It’s all nonsense. You probably were allowed to contact me. You probably found this game fun. You probably do know my dad.” Kyle’s eyes flash, wicked and wild. “Go on. Who is he?”
“No,” is all she can manage. She clings on to the swing’s ropes, shaking, sobbing, stunned. This can’t be happening. “No.”
“Go on,” he says again. His words are even harsher, mocking and furious. “Tell me. Tell me who my father is, Mum.” The last word stings her.
There’s a rustle in the bushes. A figure appears behind Megan, moving closer to her. As soon as Kyle processes the person’s platinum-blonde hair and thin lips, he gasps. There before him is Joseph Mable, gun in hand, sneer intact. “Kyle Shalen, right?” He receives a nod in answer. She freezes, fists clenched, eyes squeezed shut. “Happy birthday, son. I’ve brought you a special family-exclusive present.”
Megan rushes to Kyle’s side, and he doesn’t jump away. He’s too shocked to think. Before him stands a serial killer. “You’re my...my father,” he whispers, only loud enough for his mother to hear. She utters a faint and pained apology.
“Do you want the present or not?” Joseph asks, his smile not reaching his eyes. It’s too dark and malicious to ignore, sending chills down both Megan and Kyle’s spines. “It’ll bring you peace, my son. It’ll bring the whole town peace, too. Ready for it? It’s in my pocket.”
Neither of them move.
Joseph goes into his pocket and pulls out one oval black shape. He puts it in the barrel of his gun, and before either of them comprehend the blurred actions, before either of them take another fast breath, the weapon is by the killer’s forehead. He’s still smiling a manic, devilish smile. It’s that same grin that lured Megan at the very start, and while she still feels its effects now, she’s too worried about her son. He’s frozen.
The silence is broken by a loud blast. They look away from Joseph, hearing only a metallic-thud as the gun hits the ground, followed by a softer one, flesh-to-concrete. Blood splatters around them. So many words are running through Megan’s head: deranged, stunned, broken, pain, secrets. But only one question:
We all have secrets.
Whether it be that guy from the club you’re seeing behind your partner’s back, or your terrible fear of the dark. They come in all sizes and all shapes—so many variations that sometimes we think the whole world is a mystery—but they all leave us with the same feeling. Niggling inside, biting away, taking over. You want to tell someone, but whom? How? Where? When?
Why not just let it pass, hope it fades, and suffer alone? Why bring another person down in the process? Megan is very experienced when it comes to secrets. She knows that it’s never the “no truth” or the “half-truth” option, because it’ll always come out in the end. It’s inevitable. And she knows that thinking before acting isn’t overrated. It’s important.
She has so many regrets because of her bad choices, but that’s how life is. We aren’t lost souls in a huge, mysterious world. That’s only a surface-view. Deep down, beneath every soul and atom of a person, we’re here to make mistakes. We’re supposed to make them again and again, and perhaps one day we’ll get it right. Or maybe we won’t.
Take that secret of yours and ask yourself, “How did this start? Who will I hurt? When will this stop? Where should I go?” Ask yourself a million other questions too, but always remember that nothing will ever be as effective as:
The Human Hunt
I’m on a hunt.
Not just any hunt.
A human hunt.
Brett takes my hand and shakes his head. The desperation in his eyes glints brightly, but it doesn’t sway my decision. “Miranda, don’t do this. Please. He wouldn’t want you to go, it’s dangerous.” I release myself from his grip, ignoring his words, and continue to pack my bag. In goes the toothbrush, the hairbrush, the pyjamas. All things I’ll be needing while tracking down the human.
“I need to do this. You don’t understand. It’s not to avenge the murder; it’s for me, for my forgiveness.” My gaze falls on a dagger. My father’s dagger. I smile, slipping it in when my friend isn’t looking. My eyes sweep the rest of the cave for weapons or useful equipment.
Brett breathes out, bubbles swirling around him. “That—that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard. Forgiveness? Killing someone is not a form of forgiveness!” He sounds exasperated, but still, I don’t pause. Unless he goes through the murder of a loved one, he just won’t get it; nobody will. This is between me and the killer.
“Look, this isn’t up for discussion.” I look at him, sighing. He means well, he just wants to keep me safe, but the decision is made. The hunt is final. “It will be dangerous and risky, but I’m willing to do that for Thomas. I won’t let his ashes disintegrate while his murderer leads a happy life. He was too good for that.” When the death scene starts to flash before my eyes again, I glance away, my sight becoming tear-blurred. “Just trust me here. Please.”
My friend stares at me for a long while, brushing back my hair when it swishes in front of my face. Gazing at him, I’m reminded that everything looks better underwater. Every detail is magnified, glistening and beautiful. My life is perfect here, and leaving would be such a waste. But it’s the right thing to do—it’d bite away at me forever otherwise. Plus, a little voice whispers, your life was even more perfect with Thomas. “Too true,” I murmur. “Too true.”
“What?” Brett shakes his head. “Okay, you can go.” He holds up a finger, preventing my yip of gratefulness. “However, if you’re not back in two days, I’m coming. I’m bringing an army to track you down and bring you back here to safety. This isn’t a joke, Miranda, so stop smiling. I know you think that, if worse comes to worst, at least you’ll be buried with Thomas, but think about the rest of us. We were scarred by one person’s murder. Another life gone would be the death of us all.” He touches my face, whispering, “Remember that.”
It’s selfish, but I didn’t think of it that way. When Thomas was killed, us mermen and mermaids succumbed to our caves in silence, drowning ourselves in misery and pain. We dedicate our lives to saving lost or dying humans, and being murdered by one of them takes a lot from us. “I promise I’ll remember that, Brett. And thank you. Two days is more than enough.”
I smile, planting a kiss on his cheek before turning back to my bare, grey cave. There are only two splashes of colour. The first, my cherished photograph of Thomas and me on our last date. It holds awful memories, but I can’t bring myself to rid of it. It’s my only photo of his perfect, chiselled face. The second splash of colour is the red t-shirt. The human’s t-shirt. If I follow the scent, I’ll be able to track that son of a bitch down in seconds.
“If you need anything, let me know.” Brett says, wiping a hand over his face. I can’t imagine how pained they’ll all be to see another of us go. It’s the most action for a while, since underwater life is always smooth and cheerful. “Come see us before you leave, okay?”
“Of course.” Swiping the red t-shirt from the handle, I shove it into my bag, the sense of adrenaline building within me. It’s time. This is real and I refuse to fail. I’d rather die along with that human murderer than not at all. “Actually, Brett, I’m going now. I’m packed.” Not a second can be wasted.
He raises his eyebrows in surprise. “Now? But...but you need more gear to protect yourself with. How do you plan to kill this human?” Pain flickers across his face as he says “kills”. We’re trained to prevent that, to do the opposite. But this human doesn’t deserve to be saved.
“The element of surprise is one of the best,” I say, repeating my father’s words. “Without mistake, you’ll always succeed that way.” Stepping out of the cave, I plant one final kiss on Brett’s cheek. “Give the others this letter. I’ll be back in two days—or less, hopefully. Keep safe, my friend.” He tries to grab my arm, but I’m already swimming. Swimming off into the deep sea, raring to go.
Ready to kill.
The human hunt has begun.
As I near the shore where the killer runs a boathouse, my insides begin to churn. The last time I came here was for the date, my final date, with Thomas. The setting is still so flawless—a shimmering blue sea with a stunning red sky above. It was beautiful back then, but now it’s tainted with death and evil. I pause, floating in near the mini-harbour, allowing my tears to fall freely before setting forwards. After swimming for a few hours, the reality of this had sunk in. It’s time to kill against the norm, time to push away the bad feelings that’d come from letting the killer get away.
This is really it.
I eye the shabby boathouse with the dusty rowing boats and the new, polished jet skis. They weren’t there before. Thomas would’ve been amazed by those. It’s sad to think of him in the past tense, so I don’t ponder on it long. Instead I eye the doors and windows of the house, unsure of the killer’s location. The scent that lingers on the red t-shirt is strong around me. The murderer’s home is above the boat house.
Around me, the comforting brush of gills swishes past my tail. There are fish everywhere. I can hear their small cries of encouragement. The news of my hunt spread fast.
“It’s going to be difficult,” I tell them, pulling my head back under the water. They wave their fins in my direction, and a few of them mutter, “You can do it!” While I’m happy to have their support here, they won’t be there for the action. Water is my element—while I’m in it, I’m capable of everything. It’s my home. In order to kill this human, I’ll be away from here, somewhat disabled.
Thomas, I think. It’s all for Thomas. I told Brett otherwise, but really, my boyfriend deserves to dissolve off the face of earth in peace, satisfied with his death. I will bring him that. Now.
Taking in a huge gulp of water, I ready myself. The red t-shirt is in hand, and the rucksack of weapons and overnight gear is on my back. I’m very aware that simply having the kit isn’t enough—I need to put my mind into it. Murdering a human is going against everything I’ve lived for. Really. My job as a mermaid is to save their lives in the ocean, and while this human didn’t know that, he still killed the love of my life. Just as I hoped, picturing that sends me into a buzz of rage.
I swim forwards, the smooth plates on my tail skimming the ocean floor. I’m in shallow ground now, closer. The lights in the boat house flicker, the scent from the t-shirt growing stronger. He’s there. Of course he is. I see the blue patches of Thomas’ blood where he was murdered. My stomach wrenches. A low growl escapes my lips.
It’s not easy to stand upright with tail. With the two fins at the end, I can just about walk, but it’s energy-consuming. I’ve only taken two steps before my tail starts aching, but I ignore it, remembering why I’m here. The boathouse nears. I hear a sound, a voice, though I don’t understand a word. Out of water communication doesn’t reach our ears. I’m not really sure of my next move. Do I knock on the door and kill him when he steps out, or rush in and take him by complete surprise? My head is rushing as the adrenaline builds within. After this moment, I’ll regard myself differently, as a hateful murderer, even though it’s for a good cause.
My hand pushes on the door as I contemplate my next move. Something rings, and then the voice of the killer grows louder. Closer. I step back, gasping when he appears in the doorway. There’s a woman by his side.
“Can I—?” His voice breaks off when he takes in my tail. I watch his eyes go wide and his nostrils flare in anger. “Another one?” I don’t understand what he said, but his expression is enough to make me hurry away. A few steps are all I can manage; my fins are weak and they collapse beneath me. “Janie, get the knife. I told you they’re real. This is the second time.”
He’s holding up two of his fingers, leaning over me, and I get the idea of what he’s saying. First Thomas and now me. I have no doubts that he’s about to kill me, but I scramble in my backpack for the dagger anyway. He hasn’t done it yet. There’s still time. Both my heart and my head are pounding, and with every beat, my brain whispers: Thomas, Thomas, Thomas. I heave the weapon out and whip it in front of me, gathering the last of my strength. His grow even wider in surprise, and then they droop. I swipe the dagger through his neck again—just for good measure. His body is limp against me, arms splayed out, frozen. Red blood is spewing from the gash, dripping over my tail.
I pull out from under him, turning to wipe the thick liquid off. A loud scream sounds behind me. The woman, she’s there, a knife in her hands. She stares between me and the killer, horrified and seething. I leap away, attempting to get into the sea before she can touch me, while she’s still frozen in shock.
“You murdered...you murdered my husband!” Her burbles come out in a roar, followed by several miserable whimpers. I’m near the water, near escape, when she uses her legs to run at me, throwing the knife into my tail just as my fingers dip into the sea. This time I roar, the excruciating pain bolting up through my body. I curl up, a shaky and crumpled mess, to see the woman collapse over the man, tears spilling from her cheeks.
It’s exactly what I did when Thomas died, and it makes me realise, my final thoughts before death steals me away, taking me to my one and only:
We’ll all kill for the ones we love.