777 Writer’s Challenge

The 777 Writer’s Challenge

I was recently challenged by blogger Randstein at Hyperion Sturm. His blog is subtitled “The Titan’s Lament”.

Thank you very much for this nomination, Randstein! :)

He is a fellow dreamer who writes intoxicating stories with vivid language and cool plot. You really need to read his blog story named Return of the Dragons. His writing style and his characters in Return of the Dragons will captivate you within a few sentences. I am looking forward to reading his other works on the blog as well.

Do check out his blog!

And now, the challenge.

The Rules:

Go to Page 7 of your work‑in‑progress, scroll down to line 7, and share the next 7 sentences in a blog post. Once you have done that, tag 7 other bloggers to do the same with their WIP.

I will be using my current work in progress, Eve & Adam. It is a short story about two twenty-something misfits who both struggle with different forms of depression. The story opens when Eve interrupts Adam’s attempted suicide.

****

Adam shook his head. “If she knows, then my dad knows. We both know why that can’t happen. You don’t want them to bring you into this either.”

“Sorry, man. You’re right. I’ll keep my mouth shut, okay? I promise.”

****

My Nominations:

No pressure, and any one of you are welcome to take part in the challenge. Let me know if you do! :)

1) Lauren Waters   (My longest standing blogger pal!) <3

2) Trent Lewin

3) Sean Sam

4) The Vikki Outside

5) Dennis Langley

6) J.D. Gallagher (Please, please bring your blog back soon!) :P

7) Chrissy

The Suicides, Part Twelve

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New York City, August 1892

White hot awareness chased away the comforting darkness. Shadowy human figures floated around me, some whispered, some cried, and others grunted terrible words.

A subtle, female voice fought her way past the ghastly voices. “Alfred?”

“Go away,” I groaned. “Kill me if I’m not dead.”

“Alfred!”

Nostalgia mixed with my suffocating sadness. My stomach churned at the overwhelming blend of conflicting emotions. Then, light burned away the darkness and stung my tender eyes.

Hands gripped my shoulders. I started, but my limbs were fixed at my sides.

“Let go of me! I can’t move!”

“Calm down.”

A faceless, fair-haired woman blotted out the intense illumination for a moment.

“Am I dead?” I asked, blinking.

“No, dear. You are very much alive.”

“Your voice. I feel as though we have met before.”

“Many times,” said the woman softly. “You are my son, Alfred. Do you remember me?”

I fought to see her through the sea that covered my eyes. Of course she was my mother.

“How was I so lost?”

“Just rest. You need to build up your strength.”

“Why can’t I move?”

“The doctor, well, he wrapped you up for your own safety.”

I closed my eyes. “How long have I been out of my mind?”

Her breath caught in her throat. Wind blew rain drops against the window and it reminded me of tears; it also reminded me of death. I shook my head to fight off the memories that tried to trickle in. I studied the flickering shadows that brought the walls of my bedroom to life.

“There are so many candles in here,” I said.

“Yes.”

“I am not sure if I will survive this time, Mother.”

Her small hand caressed my shoulder.

“I am not giving up on you,” she whispered.

I tried in vain to swallow. A stone of grief was lodged in my throat. I longed for it to choke me to death.

I flinched when cold, curved metal lodged itself between my lips.

“You are drugging me?” I asked.

“This will calm you down, sweetheart.”

I allowed her to slip the teaspoon fully into my mouth. I relaxed as the familiar, bitter taste of laudanum rushed over my tongue and slid down my throat.

“One more spoonful,” she cooed.

I did not fight her. I choked down the second injection of medicine, knowing that my mood would change very soon.

“Do you intend to sedate me for the rest of my life?”

“Of course not! I am trying to help you.”

“I feel wonderful,” I said with a smile. “Oh my God, this is wonderful.”

“Lydia, I asked you not to give him too much,” said a deep voice.

“Father?” I laughed.

“Hello, Alfred.”

My father’s hand was hot on my forehead as I chuckled. His voice reached out to me, but his solemn words were too boring to listen to. Instead, I rose above us, out the window and over our estate like a hot air balloon. I savoured the ride up into the euphoric atmosphere. It healed my chest and numbed my thoughts.

“It is wonderful up here,” I breathed.

I was certain that my eyes were closed, but rather than seeing darkness, the most wonderful frothy, pink patterns floated around me. I was surrounded by either cotton candy or clouds.

What must have been hours later, a slamming door startled me out of my deep sleep. I groaned, wishing that I could roll over on my side.

“Why am I still restrained like a madman?” I mumbled.

My lips were too heavy to form articulate words. My eyelids refused to open.

“Al, this is Matthew.”

His voice sent my heart into a frenzy.

“Go away! I don’t want to see you.”

“Go away?”

“I can’t see you right now. I can’t.”

“Are-are you sure?”

“If you help me out of this sick little trap that my parents have put me in, then I will allow you to stay.”

“You’re in there for a reason, old boy.”

The humour that coated his words struck a nerve.

“Go away, you bastard! How dare you laugh at me?”

I yelled as I fought against my restraints. I was as pathetic as some zoo animal. I had been cooped up for days for the entertainment of others. I was useless.

I forced my eyes to open and realized then how exhausted I was. The mere act of looking at my friend’s face sent chills over my flesh. Even his posture made me uncomfortable. I hated him for bringing my sadness back. He reminded me of a disease.

“Why are you still here? What kind of doctor loafs around as you do? You are making me sick.”

“You are unwell. I am here to help you.”

“I will demand that my parents send you away. I don’t want to see you.”

He shook his head before he walked out of the open doorway. His slumping head and shoulders caused a terrible reaction in the pit of my stomach.

I was truly home. The thing that plagued my nightmares while staying at my aunt’s home had become very real. Though I never would have imagined that going home would mean that I would be strapped to my bed and spoon-fed whole opium. I was in a trap. Through my life, the only thing that I feared more than losing those that I cared for was being trapped.

Laudanum was my only escape until they decided to release me, but what would I do once I was free? I only wanted to sleep. Life hurt me in ways that no one else could try to perceive. I did not want to be aware anymore.

Perhaps it was not a prison, after all.

“Laudanum!” I called. “More laudanum!”

-Sara Kjeldsen

(Image Source: http://www.everystockphoto.com)

The Suicides, Part Eleven

maryland_columbia_tree_782855_l (Source: http://www.everystockphoto.com; Photo By: furryscaly)

Time stilled as Sarah stared down the barrel of her shotgun at Caleb. Even her dark hair seemed disturbed as it blew wildly behind her against the peaceful sunset.

My hand felt weightless as the pistol was pulled from it. Matthew rushed ahead of me, now with the pistol in his hand. Before I could blink, a loud boom and a plume of smoke sent time into a rapid progression.

Caleb snarled curses and turned to face Matthew with flaming eyes. “Rule breakers die, Matty boy!”

A growing red circle of blood stained Caleb’s white shirt. He aimed his gun at Matthew, who reloaded with shaking hands.

“Caleb, stop!” Sarah cried.

“Shoot him, Sarah!” Matthew yelled.

I wanted to move, but my body was set as though I were a useless tin soldier.

Caleb fired his shot. A bullet whistled past Matthew’s head.

Mr. Thompson made his way into my peripheral vision. Holding his own gun, he stalked toward Matthew.

Rage boiled from the pit of my stomach and exploded with a scream that burned my vocal chords. My legs broke from their hold and I ran for the attacker. Startled to see me coming at him, Mr. Thompson dropped his gun-bearing hand for a moment. A following gunshot beat into my ears as I threw myself into him. We tumbled to the ground together.

Caleb’s defeated shout told me that he had been shot by Matthew again. Mr. Thompson’s fist crashed into my forehead. I kicked him in the guts as throbbing pain invaded my head. Cold, hard metal intensified it as he brought the point of his gun into my temple. He snickered like a demon before his jeering face froze. Warm, sticky blood splattered from his body into my eyes.

Grunting, I rolled over and wiped my face.

“Al, are you all right?” sounded Sarah’s voice from above.

Through my swimming sight, I made out her statuesque form standing above me.

“You shot Mr. Thompson?” I asked.

“Yes.”

I glanced over at the bad shape of the man’s chest.

“Come on, we have to run!” called Matthew.

I stood and allowed my gaze to wander over the wounded forms of Caleb and Mr. Thompson. There had to be more men waiting for us close by.

“Mrs. Thomas has horses waiting for us,” said Sarah. “Follow me.”

We ran after her. Her brawn as she bounded along with her long gun in hand amazed me. I glanced over my shoulder to ensure that no one else was chasing us. We jogged through the long grass away from the direction of the town. We reached a meadow of wild flowers. At the edge of it, a light signaled hope to us in the waning light.

“Mrs. Thomas,” Sarah breathed. “Now, my shotgun is loaded. I will stand watch for a few minutes while you two run.”

“There is no way I am running ahead while you wait back here,” I said.

“I am a decent shot,” said Matthew. “Let me stay behind with both guns while you two run.”

“I am the better shot,” said Sarah, shaking her head. “This is my decision. I want to stand watch.”

Matthew gave me a weary shrug.

“I am not leaving you,” I said.

Her heather hued eyes flashed at me. “There are at least two other men over there about to shoot at us. You are unarmed. Please, run.”

I shook my head. “Not a chance.”

A haunting rumble rolled over the field. A bullet raced between Sarah and I.

Three men appeared from the protection of the brush and ran toward us.

“Get down,” said Sarah.

She and Matthew fired their guns simultaneously. One man fell, while another doubled over, leaving one uninjured shooter coming for us. I lowered myself into the grass. I deserved death because of my cowardice. I could have grabbed Mr. Thompson’s gun after he had been shot.

“I am the world’s worst fool,” I groaned.

Two more gunshots cracked the silence.

“Argh!” Matthew barked.

Panicked, I looked at his wound.

“Just my shoulder.”

He reloaded while he shook the air with his curses. After loading another bullet, Sarah fired another shot into the chest of the closest approaching gunman.

“Get down, Sarah,” Matthew barked. “I am going to take down the final bastard.”

Matthew and our last standing enemy shot at one another. Matthew missed another injury, but the other man dropped to his knees in shock after being hit; his gaping wound seemed to glow red.

“Do you not find all of this too simple?” Matthew asked.

“You did not just try to make a joke out of this, did you?” gasped Sarah.

Only Matthew would make light of nearly being killed.

“It would have been simpler if I had a gun as well,” I muttered.

“We need to run!” demanded Sarah.

I ran over to the closest fallen man to retrieve his gun.

“Al, what the hell are you doing?” Matthew called.

Caleb’s wounded friend did not even bother to move as I picked up his dropped weapon. He rested there, suffering at my feet, and a part of me longed to send for a doctor, but there was no time.

“Al!” Sarah and Matthew called.

I caught up with them. After some time of jogging, we could all see the lantern that Mrs. Thomas was holding for us. In minutes, we would be riding out of there. Sarah would be safe from Caleb. She could write again in peace.

Two thunderous bangs sent me to a halt. I spiraled around to see Sarah standing well behind us. She had stayed behind, after all. A chill rushed over me when she suddenly fell to her side into the long grass.

“Sarah!”

I ran for her, not ready to believe what I had just seen. Once I reached her, I could feel my heart tearing apart. Below, she lay curled in a fetal position. Blood soaked the front of her dress.

I dropped next to her and removed my shirt. I placed the fabric onto her wound and pressed down while a loud orchestra of somber music played in my head.

Her mouth curved into a slight smile; even then, her gothic aura teased me.

“You are going to be all right, Sarah,” I said.

I stroked her hair, drinking in her beautiful, brave face.

“He fell after he shot me. I got him in the heart, I think. You are both safe.”

She spoke without opening her eyes. I needed to see their light.

“You’re proud of me?” she whispered.

“Yes. Very proud,” I said quietly.

Matthew joined us by collapsing into the sweeping grass with us. He helped me to apply pressure on her wound. With his jaw firmly set, he wouldn’t look at me.

“Stay with us, Sarah,” Matthew murmured.

I tapped him and, at last, Matthew’s look of resignation told me what I could not believe.

“Forgive me for not protecting you,” I said.

I squeezed her shoulder as though the motion would somehow inject more life into her.

“Forgive you? There was never anything to forgive. You see, all I longed for was an adventure.”

“Please, fight!” I begged her.

“Tell me a story, Al.”

“A story?”

“Please. A sad one.”

“I do not want you to be sad,” I said, caressing her cooling cheek.

I swallowed past the pain that coated my throat. I took a deep breath as I searched my tormented mind for even a morsel of creativity. Matthew watched us with silent tears.

“There was once a little girl who was born to be queen, but the peasants and the commoners of the city burned her castle to the ground. They had gathered all of the royals into a room to perish along with the old palace…”

“I wrote a sad story once,” Sarah whispered, still smiling.

I held her hand and her weak, slender fingers held onto mine. I sucked in a fearful breath when her hand went limp.

“Sarah?”

I laid next to her, watching for any sign of life. Her mouth and eyes opened for a whisper of time. Her stormy gaze sliced into the deepest part of my being before they fluttered shut forever.

I shook my head, unbelieving.

“She only fell asleep,” I said.

“She is gone,” Matthew said faintly. “I am very sorry.”

“No. No, she can’t be gone!”

Matthew placed a hand on my shoulder and I swatted it away. Coldness reached at me from her still, lifeless face. Raw, fiery hell encircled me before oozing into every possible orifice. I wrapped my arms around her and buried my face into her soft hair, but the fire that ate away at my chest only intensified as I held her limp little body.

I crawled away from her. I screamed until my reality faded away and all that I could see was darkness.

The Dreamer’s Dreamworld

Most very young children are quite imaginative, but dreamers never give up their strong desire to imagine. When I was around three years old, I would swing on the swings and imagine that I was somewhere else, talking with people who did not exist. To this day, I still gravitate to a swing set so that I can pass half an hour or so immersed in my dreamworld while my body soars.

A dreamer’s inner world is very intense; it is such a key part of who we are. In the same way that many people crave conversation with their friends, family, and coworkers, a dreamer craves the freedom and the solitude to escape into the most creative depths of their mind.

In elementary school, I found it very difficult to pay attention in class, not because I had a bad attitude or because I was bored, but because of my highly imaginative mind that was difficult to control. I was often caught by my teachers daydreaming; my grades suffered due to my inability to focus and pay attention. They all assumed that it was an auditory problem and then they actually took measures to help “correct” it.

Traditional education can be a nightmare for dreamers, but somehow, most of us survive it and can end up doing well in the later years of school. In high school, we can begin to have some control over the courses that we learn about. We can improve our grades with a little bit more maturity and then focus on subjects that we actually care about.

I do not tell very many people about the fact that I have worlds that I escape to, even now. Especially now. I could never think of my fantasy prone personality as a curse or as some sort of defect. Sure, I may have a short attention span and I may not be aware of everything that goes on around me, but who would ever trade in their gift of an extraordinary imagination for the sake of being closer to normal?

Some say that there is no such thing as normal, but dreamers make the general population seem normal in comparison. I can call customers repeatedly at my day job while being somewhere else entirely. I can go for a walk, listen to music, and swing on the sings to escape from the physical world. I can think up an entire story in my head before I even have to write it down, and I can keep it stored there.

Perhaps our brain chemistry is stormy, and maybe our introverted nature gives others the impression that we have less “personality”, but if someone gets to know us, they will discover a true character hiding beneath those layers. And so this is why those who are our friends are so very special to us, because they are the ones who patiently took the time to get to know us, who could see something special there beyond our aloof, quiet exterior.

And then there are the dreamer’s imaginary friends. I have friends in other worlds. I am not going to lie and say this is solely for the purpose of my books. These friends are not characters in my stories; they are people who exist for the purpose of being with me in these alternate worlds. I realize that there is probably a type of therapy to “heal” this sort of behaviour, but I see no harm in this.

How is escaping to another reality created by your mind any worse than someone who sits in front of their TV while eating popcorn for three hours out of every evening? At least I am exercising while I live out some of my dreams in my dream world.

A dreamer living in this world can sometimes feel broken and alien when speaking with those who think on completely different paths. Even other creative writers sometimes fail to relate to a dreamer-writer. A dreamer’s writing style strives to dig into the darkest and most beautiful depths of the human condition; they hope to tell tales of redemption and healing after exposing brutal reality in their writing. We write for the people, not for the plot or for the shock value.

To dream is to live. Dream on, day dreamer.

The Suicides, Part Eight

Keeping my eyes fixed on the gunman, who was too short and stocky to be Caleb, I called, “Who is there?”

The shadowy man raised his rifle while the ominous sound of someone else rustling the ground behind him caused my muscles to stiffen. A second man stood next to his comrade with the stock of his rifle resting against his chest. The handgun that Matthew had lent me sat uselessly in my pocket. I was the worst fool to have ever breathed in Sunny Harbour. Of course Caleb would ask his friends to watch over Sarah while he self-medicated for the next few days. I had taken a terrible risk.

“Run after they shoot me,” I hissed at Sarah. “Hide yourself in the brush until you are sure they’re gone.”

“Where would I go after that?” she murmured. “I will stay with you.”

There was no sentiment in her tone, of that I was certain. Only fear.

My temples throbbed as I waited for bullets to tear into my flesh. Fire flickered just to my right for only a moment before a second monstrous boom shattered the silence.  One of the men roared and fell. The third, unknown shooter fired another shot from somewhere in the shadows. The second gunman doubled over.

“What the devil?” I called, unsure if I should stay put or run over to take the men’s weapons away from them.

Sharp breathing intensified the horror of the moment and sent goosebumps over my entire body.

“We mean no harm by being here,” I called out.

For all I knew, we could be next.

“She already knows who we are,” said Sarah in voice too calm to possibly be real at the moment.

I stared into her eyes, which appeared to be gaping holes in the inky darkness.

“There is nothing I hate more than Caleb and his cronies,” sounded a familiarly scratchy female voice.

“Mrs. Thomas,” I breathed. “Forgive me. I have caused you so much-”

“Hush. I did this for Sarah, not for you, y’hear?”

“You are as mesmerizing as you are formidable, Mrs. Thomas.” I stared at her in the gloom, still afraid to move. She reloaded, looking from me to Sarah, who now stood next to me.

“We need to go, Alfred,” said Sarah. She pulled my by the hand and I followed her.

We jogged for the better part of an hour until we left the nightmarish forest behind.

“I am so tired,” Sarah muttered, leaning over to catch her breath.

“I know, but we cannot stop just yet. We don’t know who else might be following us.”

“If there were anyone else out there, Mrs. Thomas would find them.”

“Is she going to kill those men?”

“She might. I am not involved in her affairs, but she protects me when I go exploring.”

I cleared my throat. “Forgive me, but that seems strange. Why?”

“You already know too much about me. Come on, let us continue our walk.”

We traveled the rest of the way in excruciating silence. The eerie heaviness surrounding me seemed to worsen as we neared the town. Our small, dire little adventure had been concluded.

“I think that you should stay with my aunt and I,” I blurted.

“Now you are sounding ridiculous.”

If she had stabbed me deep into my chest, it would have felt no different than the effect that her voice’s inflection had on me.

“How could you go back to him now?After he sent two armed men to follow you and presumably kill both of us?”

Sarah stood stiff as a statue, staring stone-faced at the street that led to her homely prison. “I warned you, Alfred. We need to pretend that this night never happened. You should leave Sunny Harbour and go back where you belong.”

“Belong? What a cruel reminder that I have never fit in anywhere. Why do you think I came to be here for the entire summer?”

I was unsure if I was imagining that she had placed her hand on my shoulder.

“If you stay here, they will probably kill you. Let tonight be a sign from God that you must leave.”

She stepped away from me without looking back.

“Sarah, please allow me to walk you home.”

She shook her head. “No. He will have friends waiting for me on the way.”

“But he will hurt you, won’t he? Once he finds out. You need to go to someone. I can speak with Matthew and we can both take you to Mrs. Thomas. She would likely care for you.”

“They would find me there, my dear, silly boy,” she sighed. “You need to let me go.”

The fact that Caleb already knew Sarah would meet me was dangerous enough. There was nothing that my aunt or I could do to protect her at the moment if a gang of men came to collect her. I had to let her go.

“Sarah, please forgive me for this,” I called.

She halted at the sound of my voice and turned her face to me. My heart could have stopped when I met the sincerity of her wistful smile. “There is nothing to forgive. Keep writing, but do not write here.”

Her voice carried a bizarre mixture of morose and winsome tones. In one fluid motion, she turned back in the direction of her homely prison. As her graceful form melted into the distant black, a part of me wondered if she existed at all. Surely, such a woman in the real world would never risk her reputation and safety in order to assist one college boy’s curiosity. To her, I was most certainly a monster sent from the darkest parts of the realm. No true man would put any woman in the danger that I had put her in that night.

I reached my aunt’s house and punched the hard wood siding so hard that red coated my knuckles. My anger at myself intensified and I punched it again, gritting my teeth at the pain that I deserved. I jumped at the sound of a creaking door.

“Alfred,” said my aunt’s sad voice.

She stood with a thin blanket wrapped about her shoulders, staring at me in the way one might stare at an abandoned baby animal. I was so much more pathetic than that.

“I hate myself,” I said, shaking my head. “I have ruined Sarah’s life.”

“Sarah? What ever do you mean? Come inside, boy. What on earth are you doing out here at this hour?”

“She showed me where their bodies had been tossed. That is where we just came from.”

“So then you will you finally sit still during the day and work on this so-called story of yours?”

“Not a chance. Not yet.”

The Suicides, Part Seven

Damp air clung to my dewy skin in an uncomfortable blanket as I stepped alongside Sarah through the long grass. The full moon’s light provided us with a less than sinister ambience, but it did little to ease my nerves.

“No dew yet,” said Sarah. “It will likely storm by the morning.”

“Fitting,” I muttered.

A choir of crickets and toads chirped at us as we approached a bog. We swiped at the hungry mosquitos attacking the exposed skin on our faces. We stepped over to the edge of the tiny swamp. The lunar illumination highlighted one of the bodies. Sarah covered her mouth and looked away.

“God, they really did just toss them in there,” I breathed.

Hot tears streamed down my face as I walked the circumference of the body of water with my eyes fixed on what appeared to be a decaying man.

“I cannot believe they simply allowed him to lay there above water this way!” cried Sarah.

“I am going to find them all and bury them,” I said.

I stood there, staring at the dead man’s tweed jacket. And then, my eyes travelled to the bones of his hands. His flesh had been left there out in the open as meat for insects and crows. I struggled in vain to suppress a gag.

“You know this man, I presume. When did he die?” I asked.

“He hanged himself around four months ago after his wife passed away with a laudanum overdose. Both were barely over thirty years old. Mr. and Mrs. Woodson. They were once a very happy couple. I used to envy them, but life can sometimes take such a cruel turn.”

“Indeed. His wife is here, too?” I said, allowing my eyes to dart around the surface of the muggy pond.

“Somewhere in there, yes.”

“How did you know where they were taken after they were found?”

“Caleb is part of the group who does away with the suicides. I overheard him once when he was intoxicated and attempting to frighten me.”

I could only shake my head. Sarah made her way to my side. She wiped her eyes and raised her gaze to the starry sky.

“Alfred, if you take them out of here and bury them, you must know that many of the townspeople might resort to violence against you. They do not believe that these dear people have a right to be buried. If you take this task into your own hands, they will see it as a further abomination to their loved ones’ bodies. I do not want to see you get hurt anymore.”

“I don’t care. No one comes out this way.”

Sarah sighed impatiently. “It was not enough for you to see where they now rest?” Her rising annoyance surprised me.

“Does it bother you so much that I am searching for ways to bring these people some justice?”

“That is not what bothers me. How could you accuse me of being so callous?”

She turned sharply and walked away.

“Wait.”

“I want to go home,” she sighed. “You have seen the site and you can return whenever you please.”

There was no point in staying there any longer. I would return with the tools to begin a proper graveyard in the morning. The idea of the project sent a wave of energy through me. I would have the time to write about all of them later.

“Sarah, I very much appreciate your help.”

“I hope it will inspire you to write and that tomorrow after some rest, you will rethink your idea of burying them.”

“Not a chance.”

“I strongly suggest that you only write about the injustice.”

“What about your writing?”

“You speak as though I have a choice in the matter. I’m not a college man. I do not have control over my life.”

I hated the finality of her words. How they haunted me. Her tone was so much like another’s I had known not so long ago.

“You remind me much of a young lady who attended Brown last semester.”

“I remind you of another woman.”

Her dejection stung me.

“I did not mean to take away from your own character, but sometimes it amazes me how similar you are.”

“Women study the same courses as men at Brown?”

“For the most part, yes. They learn at the women’s college after our classes are over.”

“How interesting. I had no idea.”

“Perhaps, one day, you could…”

“No,” she said, shaking her head.

“Why are you giving up on yourself, Sarah? You are still young. You have reason to leave Caleb. ”

She stared at me for a long time before quickening her pace. I allowed her to walk ahead of me for a while.

“You just do not understand, do you?” she shouted out at last. “I do not have wealthy parents or a job where I can put myself through school somehow. This is my life.”

“Then at least allow me to help you write.”

She exhaled loudly. “We will have to be very careful.”

“Caleb is a drunk. I am sure that you can sneak away every so often to write in the comfort of my aunt’s home.”

I smiled at her childlike hope as her wide eyes turned to me. “Why… thank you. That would mean the world to me.”

“It pleases me that this agrees with you.”

We walked at a leisurely pace. Memories of the swamp’s musty, decomposing odour and the dead man’s remains plagued me despite Sarah’s good company. Strange faces started to form as we strode into the dark woods. I needed to change the subject.

“Do you know where Jeremy can be found, Sarah? It seems as though the two of you were friends. Please, tell me anything that you know.”

She shook her head. “If I knew, then I would have already told you. I doubt even Matthew would know even with his family’s good connections in the town.”

“Caleb knows.”

“Yes, he does, but even when he is drunk he will never mention it. Oh, dear Jeremy. This is all my fault. We need to find him and get him out of there.”

“You have helped me so much already. I will find him, Sarah. I promise.”

“It was more than the manuscript rejection, you know,” said Sarah. She stopped, staring ahead. “He loved me. I broke his heart. I am the reason why he is where he is now.”

She fell with an inhuman wail. I watched in near shock as she writhed on the forest floor, weeping.

“There, there, dear,” I cooed. I stooped down and held her slender torso close to me. “You had no idea that he would do anything so dangerous. This is not your fault.”

“It is!” she cried.

“I promise you that I will help you make peace with him. I will find him.”

“Yes, you must find him. He deserves to live even if I do not.”

“Please, do not speak in such a way, Sarah!”

I could not allow myself to cry with her. Not now, when she very much needed me to be the strong one. I choked back a sob and held her until her cries became only sniffling.

“That was embarrassing,” she said quietly.

“Think nothing of it. I am glad you were able to tell me. Perhaps you will find some peace in that.”

“I could never,” she said, shaking her head.

She strode just ahead of me. I followed behind her with a terrible smorgasbord of thoughts. At the forefront of my worries was the fact that I would always be an outsider to her. I would always be nothing more than a spectator to her tragic life.

Thunder cracked through the air. I met her panicked eyes as the moonlight hit them for a split second. Just behind her, the shadowy form of a man with a rifle stepped toward us.

The Suicides, Part Six

I often waited for the sun’s fall so I could experience the soothing darkness that followed. My toes rested on the edge of a bed of rock overlooking a steep ravine. Stars appeared in the darkening sky as I stood reveling in the beauty before me and thinking about what I needed to do next.

I had an idea that Matthew knew where Jeremy had been placed. Then, there was the matter of Sarah. She seemed to be a prisoner of more than just a depressing marriage. Goose flesh covered my body a split second before a very sharp snap sounded just behind me.

In the absence of my breath was another man’s rapid breathing.

“Hello?” I called.

“Alfred.”

“Caleb?”

I turned to face him on weakening legs. “You followed me.”

“So it seems.”

“What do you want to say to me?”

“Say? Not very much.”

Realizing my precarious position, I stepped away from the rocky edge.

“I am debating on what I should do to you first. Beat you and then throw you over the edge, or the reverse?”

“Throwing me over first would be too much work for you to try and find me again.”

I broke into a clumsy run before I finished my last word. The strangest form of terror filled my body as I darted between the towering trees. My legs carried me faster than they ever had, of that I was sure, but I dared not glance over my shoulder.

At the forest’s edge, I sprinted for the meadow for what must have been only a few seconds before heaviness crashed into my back and took me down with it. I struggled as a captured rabbit would in the grip of a wolf’s jaws. I struggled to breathe as Caleb’s snickering intensified my fear.

“Stop!” I begged like the prey that I was.

A blow thundered into my head. Stars lit up the night as I lay there gritting my teeth while my head throbbed.

Caleb’s muffled words chased me into the growing oblivion.

“Stop,” my mouth lazily blurted.

He leaned into me, whispering something unintelligible into my ear. Something sharp dug into my ribs, strengthening my awareness. What felt like a knife was sheathed in his belt.

“Crazy bastard,” I taunted.

He brought his mouth to my ear again.

“What did you say, fairy boy?”

My hand reached for the hilt of his dagger, clenched onto it, and jabbed the blade into his thigh. I quickly yanked it out and slashed it across his chest. I kicked him off and then I fought back the urge to vomit as my legs found their stability. My consciousness hid somewhere in the depths of my brain as my legs ran.

When my aunt’s home came into view, I forced myself to a sprint until I crashed into her front door. Collapsing, I panted and choked as the pain from Caleb’s blow intensified. I knocked on the door while my panic-widened eyes kept watch for Caleb. I would be done for if he caught me now.

Suddenly, the support on my side disappeared and I fell, hitting my shoulder with a thud.

“Alfred,” my aunt breathed.

“We… we have to lock the door before he comes for me again,” I huffed.

I crawled inside and she quickly closed the door behind me. I could have fainted at the sound of her locking it.

“Did Caleb do this to you?” she cried.

“Yes.”

Stickiness coated my hand when I reached to touch the pulsing on my head.

“I stabbed him and got away. I don’t think it was fatal.”

“Oh my God.”

“I am so, so sorry.”

“It was not your fault that the madman hunted you down. He threatened your life, I’ll wager.”

“Yes, he did.”

I stared up at her as she clenched her jaw. “He is never going to hurt you again. Can you get yourself to the couch? Lay there while I clean and dress that wound.”

The room spun as I returned to my less than balanced standing position; I made my way to the comfort of my uncle’s sofa. The sound of water trickling caused heaviness to fall on my eyelids.

Howling wind woke me the next morning. I stretched my sore limbs, grateful for the absence of the sun’s intensity. My head seemed more tender than the night before. I rolled over onto my other side and groaned.

“Getting yourself into trouble again, old boy?”

My eyes flew open.

“Matthew?” I sat up. He was sitting at the dining table writing something. “Should you not be on a train at the moment?”

“I should be, yes,” he said with a grin, “but news travels fast here and I heard all about your skirmish with our friend.”

“He would have killed me.”

“Everyone knows who the perpetrator is and so you have nothing to worry about. From what I hear, he has written a heart-felt apology to you and hopes that you will not go to the justice system.”

“As if I have time to do that.”

“You are too busy interrogating emotionally sensitive parents for your new story.”

I rolled my eyes, which intensified my pounding headache.

“Thank you for staying behind, but I do not want to be the cause of you missing out on your apprenticeship hours.”

Matthew shrugged. “Honestly, Dr. Scott had been bothering me to take a couple of weeks off for a while. I was working very long hours on a research project, you see. So he will be joyous that I will not be returning for another week or so.”

“As long as it does not affect your apprenticeship.”

Matthew shook his head before taking a very casual sip of tea. “I examined your head wound and your aunt tended to it just fine. Do you feel fit enough to go to town?”

“Town? Why?”

“Sarah approached me at the break of dawn when I was on my way to see you and she told me that she had something to ask of you.”

My stomach churned at the thought of Sarah. I wanted to see her as much as I did not want to see her.

“You are telling me it is safe to talk to Caleb’s wife after he tried to kill me last night?”

“Remember, he wrote you a completely sincere letter,” Matthew grinned.

“You are acting as though this is all some sort of joke.”

“You do not have to worry about Caleb coming after you anymore. Everyone knows what he did now, and he does not want to risk imprisonment. He would miss all of his pretty things too much if he were in jail.”

“If you say so.”

Within an hour, Matthew and I strode down the street toward the general store. To my relief, it was the time of day where most people were either working or having their afternoon tea.

“I look disgusting,” I muttered, touching the bandage that covered most of my head.

Sarah must have seen us coming for she all but ran out of the store toward us, grasping onto a parcel with both hands.

“Alfred, how are you feeling?” she breathed.

“I should be asking the same thing about your husband.”

She blushed, clearly distraught as she looked from me to Matthew.

“He is in pain, but the doctor says that he will heal up nicely. I-I am very sorry for this.”

I shrugged in mock nonchalance. She eyed me before she gave the parcel to me.

“These are my stories. If I continue writing, Caleb will send me to the asylum. He has threatened to do so many times, but now I believe him after what he tried to do to you.”

“You cannot simply give up your passion!” I cried.

The few people who were on the streets gawked at us.

Sarah sighed in exasperation. “We are all the talk of the town.”

“Even I?” asked Matthew.

She crossed her arms. “Yes. I heard a couple of gentlemen say that you are staying around to help Alfred here with his research.”

“How preposterous,” he laughed.

“Matthew seems to find humour in this situation,” I said, shaking my head.

“An amiable quality for a physician, I suppose,” said Sarah with a half smile.

“Do you not have family you could stay with?” I asked Sarah.

“No. None who would have me. It was my choice to marry him and I must accept the consequences.”

“It seems to me that living with him is a very brutal punishment for something you did as a twenty-year-old girl,” said Matthew tenderly.

She nodded, staring at her feet. “Nevertheless, I can help you with something, Alfred.”

Sarah stepped closer to us, peering over shoulder at the small group of men smoking cigars that were well out of earshot.

“I will show you where they were placed after they were found… dead.”

A strange cocktail of elation and dread filled me.

“When? When will you be able to escape for an evening to show me?”

“Tonight,” she said with stern finality. “Caleb has been drinking all day and will be sound asleep before nightfall. I will meet you just past your aunt’s house.”

“I have already caused you a great deal of trouble by being here.”

She blinked once. “I will see you just after dark by the well.”

The melancholia that radiated from her eyes made me feel strange when I peered into them. It was akin to looking into a mirror. Her skirt swayed like a billowing tree top as she turned back to the store.

“At nightfall then,” I called after her.

I held the package that protected her stories, bracing myself as a painful heaviness filled my chest.

The Suicides, Part Five

Water’s dark depths chilled my flesh as I swam through a mess of underwater plants. My head broke the pond’s surface and I took a deep breath of warm air. My body floated lazily in the water before I swam back to the water’s edge where Matthew sat.

“Have fun?” he asked.

“I needed this,” I said, stepping out of the water.

“I can imagine,” Matthew grinned.

I sat next to him and savoured the warmth of the sun kissing my wet skin.

“This has been an excellent reprieve for me, as well. I love apprenticing in the city, but visiting home always gives you a new perspective.”

“I wish you were able to stay longer,” I said.

“If only doctors in training were allotted peaceful summer breaks,” he winked.

“What happened to Jeremy Thomas?”

Matthew cleared his throat, staring straight ahead.

“You do know,” I pressed. “Please tell me, Matthew. You will be a doctor yourself in due time and I hope that you take this at least as seriously as a writer.”

“Of course I do,” he sighed, shaking his head.

“I was going to write a portion of my book about Jeremy. I want to write about all of the suicides. If you know even a small detail about what happened to him, it would help me.”

“This is a noble cause, Alfred, but you have to be much more cautious than you have been. Think about your aunt’s reputation, even if you do not care about your own.”

“I mean no harm. I only hope to…”

“Bring justice to those who died from a diseased mind,” Matthew finished. “Yes, I understand your passion. The mind is an unknown field of research which I may partake in one day.”

“What happened to Jeremy?”

“Good God,” Matthew muttered. “So much for an afternoon reliving our boyhood.”

“We are not boys anymore. This is important, Matt.”

My drive to know what had become of Jeremy far outweighed my sympathy for Matthew’s comfort. He picked at the sand and stones without uttering a word.

“I spoke to Mrs. Thomas about Jeremy a few nights ago and she admitted to me that he is not dead.”

At last, Matthew’s blue eyes stared hauntingly into mine. There it was; the chilling energy that would not cease in its pursuit of me.

“I know that he is alive, Al. Hell, if I tell you something then perhaps you will stop harassing the poor townsfolk about him.”

“Is he in an asylum? Is that why Mrs. Thomas appeared so willing to forget about him?”

Matthew nodded slowly, still staring at me. “Good deduction.”

“He attempted suicide?”

“Yes.”

“What asylum?”

“Now, I cannot tell you that, old boy.”

He flashed me an empathetic smile. “Perhaps you have something you could write about now.”

“Do you know what method he used to try to kill himself?”

The Adam’s apple on Matthew’s neck rose and fell as he swallowed hard. “From what I heard he… continually bashed his head into the side of a building.”

I stared at the water, not wanting to imagine it, but imagining it anyway.

“What was going on in your mind, Jeremy?” I whispered.

“There is someone who knows more about Jeremy than I do.”

“Who?” I asked. Irritation laced my words.

He frowned at me, clearly taken aback by my aggressive tone. I was grateful to him for telling me more than he should, but I disliked his cryptic statements.

“You are a good friend, Matthew. You do not need to tell me anything more.”

“Of course not,” he said as he stood and put his shoes back on.

I cringed as my stomach began to knot up. I had pushed him too much and now he had no patience left for me.

“I really should return to my family since I leave early tomorrow morning.”

“Of course. Thank you for…”

“Be careful. That is all that I have left to say to you, Al.”

He stepped away, haphazardly putting his white cotton shirt back on. I knew he would not be pleased with all of my questions, but I did not expect him to desert me. No longer wishing to sit there alone, I jumped to my feet and I pulled my shirt over my wet hair before reaching for my shoes.

In less than half an hour, I found myself standing in front of the general store with dread forming in the pit of my stomach. I stepped inside, feeling as though I were outside of my body, watching the scenario from just above.

“Mr. Allen,” said a deep voice from the direction of the front counter.

“Good day, Mr. Macfarlane.”

Mr. Caleb Macfarlane was only an inch or so taller than I, but it appeared as though he had kept up his love of boxing. His lofty, sneering expression had not softened in the least after five years.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

“I would like to buy some tea,” I stammered, feeling more than a little foolish.

“Really? Sarah mentioned that you had already stopped by and made a fuss about there not being enough selection.”

There was no point in explaining myself.

“Did she also mention to you that she agreed to exchange writing samples with me?” I lied.

He glared at me. “I doubt that, but I assume you are here to speak with her.”

“I did have a question to ask her that pertains to writing.”

“What a novel idea,” he said flatly.

His stone face was much worse than his insulting one. My eyes went to the open door and I longed to run back out to the safety of the street.

“Forgive me. I should go.”

“No, no. Wait here,” he said sharply.

Within seconds, he disappeared through the store’s back door. My heartbeat raced as I thought about the trouble I had caused Sarah. The last enemy that I needed was a hostile man like Caleb. I hovered in the empty shop for half an hour without a sign of either Caleb or Sarah. Ideas came to me about what could be happening and I tried to blot them out.

After another five minutes, I stepped out of the store feeling lower than when I had stepped in.

“I’m a damned fool.”

When I set foot back into my aunt’s home, she walked straight to me.

“I thought you were spending the day outside with Matthew,” she said without hiding her concern.

“We went for a swim, but then he had to leave.”

“I see.”

“What do you know about Sarah? You have known her for years, correct?”

“Why can’t you just sit respectably at your writing table instead of gallivanting around town?” she cried.

My jaw dropped. She had never once risen her voice at me. We stared at one another, speechless, for too long.

“I am sorry,” she sighed, shaking her head wearily. “I just wish you would stop asking me so many questions that I do not want to answer.”

“Matthew knew about Jeremy. How many other people know that he is still alive?”

She gaped at me for a second before stepping over to the window. Her gaze softened as she stared out at the blazing sun. “I wish your uncle were here now. You need him, not me.”

“I wish he were here, too,” I said gently. “But I am happy you are here.”

A soft smile lifted the corner of her lips. Just as quickly, she cowered away from the window.

“Oh, God,” she groaned.

“What?”

I joined her at the window. At the sight of Caleb storming toward the house, with Sarah trailing behind, I shuddered.

“I promise you that I will make this right,” I said quickly.

“How could you possibly do that?”

“Perhaps it is time that someone puts that idiot in his place.”

Her only response was a frown.

Three loud knocks rattled the dishes and china in my aunt’s cupboard. I opened the door and met the unblinking, psychotic glare that I had expected. My gaze fell on Sarah, whose eyes were red and watery. Her hair was unbound and messy as though she had been awakened from a nap and then dragged out of the house.

“Is everything all right?” I asked calmly.

“Sarah is here to help you with your research,” said Caleb.

Silence weighed the air for a good minute before Caleb’s hollow laughter disturbed my ear drums. Sarah stepped forward. Her eyes stared just past me.

“You were wondering about Jeremy,” she said. “I have something I need to say.”

“Tell me only if you want to,” I said.

“Tell him,” said Caleb.

My fists clenched at his arrogant, dismissive nod at Sarah. She stared at her feet.

“Take your time,” I said.

How often had Caleb publicly humiliated her?

“I wrote you the note,” Sarah blurted.

I exchanged glances with my aunt.

“Why, dear?” asked my aunt.

Sarah’s sad eyes reached me. “I wanted you to know that he is alive. I hoped that you might be able to help him.”

“I see,” was all that I could say.

She ran her hand through her tousled dark hair while her pupils darted all over the place.

“Tell him why Jeremy had to go to an asylum,” Caleb growled.

Sarah covered her mouth, shaking her head repeatedly.

“Your words will not leave this property,” I assured her.

“I was a fool for encouraging him so much,” Sarah stuttered. “I helped him submit one of his writing pieces to a magazine, but then they rejected him harshly. I… it was my fault.”

“My wife is an insane little wench,” said Caleb, smirking. “She was holding secret group meetings on Friday nights when she knew that I was predisposed. Heaven only knows what happened at those.”

“Enough of that!” I shouted. Caleb’s lack of reaction only sent me into a rage. “Get off of my aunt’s property, Caleb! It would do you some good to treat your wife with respect.”

“Respect is earned, you son of a bitch,” he sneered.

He reached over and yanked Sarah by the wrist and dragged her rapidly down the path with him.

“Wait,” I called.

“No, Alfred.” My aunt’s warm hand rested on my chest. “Let them go.”

“Can you believe that man?”

“I am sorry that you are only now discovering that life is not as fair as how you were brought up to believe.”

Her tired eyes glistened. A part of me wanted to embrace her, but the stronger part of me wanted anything other than to be touched. I felt helpless to help Sarah and I knew that no one in the town would care about a husband reprimanding his “disobedient” wife. I would help her as much as I could if only I would be able to speak with her alone.

“I already have realized that. I must go for a walk.”

“Alfred, please!”

My chest ached for her pained voice calling for me, but I had to be alone to think. I was going to find Jeremy no matter how long it took me to do so. I had heard about backwoods mad houses that the poorer people were sent to. They were institutions, if you could them that, which I hoped to help shut down in the near future.

As I walked further away from my aunt, my nerves calmed as my senses were able to take in the natural beauty surrounding me.

“Jeremy,” I whispered. “I will find you.”

The Suicides, Part Four

Flames rose and twirled through the air before dropping into the capable hands of a blue-skinned man dressed in a yellow suit. I watched the flame thrower for the better part of an hour, ignoring those who brushed past me with their friends, children, or lovers. Dancing black stars filled my vision when I looked away from his performance at last, distorting my view of the bustling carnival. I closed my eyes for a moment to allow my convoluted faculty to refresh. I turned my attention to a small stage where three women in trousers cartwheeled across the stage as they sang along with the excited crowd. A man on a very high unicycle pedaled past me and shoved a dagger into his mouth. Despite seeing such things before, I cringed. Mistakes had to happen sometimes.

The sword swallower slid the blade back out with a smile and a wave to the children gaping at him in wonder. Just behind the shocked boys and girls, I found Sarah’s face. Our eyes met for a trice before the crowd swallowed her. Light from the lanterns and thrown flames danced along their faces, making them appear as sinister as their hidden selves.

I placed my hands in my pockets and strode toward a gathering of relatively quiet people that stood at the edge of an open tent. I joined them and my eyes went to the large, floating geometric shapes on the wall. A tall, thin man in a top hat stood behind a lantern-like apparatus.

“He’s a true magician,” one woman breathed.

“This is Satanic,” muttered an older man in front me. He shook his head before turning to leave. He caught sight of me and glared before walking away.

“Hello there, Alfred.” I started at the sound of that familiar voice. Smiling eyes greeted me when I turned around.

“Matthew?” I exclaimed.

“How have you been?”

“Very well. My mother wrote to me about the travelling carnival passing through town this weekend and that you were in town. I could not refuse her request to visit.” ”

How long has it been? Five years?”

By now, people were hissing at us to be quiet. We stepped away from the magic lantern show. Matthew smiled about something as we reached the outskirts of the raucous.

“Have you been learning anything useful at that horrific medical school?” I asked.

Matthew’s expression became serious.

“Yes, as a matter of fact. This may sound naïve, but medicine is advancing at a phenomenal pace. Did you know that soon even poor, rural families will have access to anesthesia during surgeries?”

“I hope that this is not sensationalism,” I said skeptically. Matthew frowned.

“I will personally see to it that medicine continues to advance.”

“I knew you would make a good doctor and I hope you are right about the anesthesia.”

“Ah, do not call me doctor yet. One more year to go yet. And how are your studies going?”

“I dread finishing my studies. I will likely become a book worm professor who lives at the university.”

Matthew’s easy smile brought a similar action to my face.

“It is good to see you, Al. I have to admit that I expected you to be somewhat melancholic and here you are, very much full of life as I remembered you to be.”

“You have heard of my writing project?”

“All that my mother told me is that you have been obsessed with a certain group of deceased young people,” Matthew said with a raised eyebrow.

“I suspect that this project of yours is not Brown University related?” I could not tell if he was judging me or if he was simply curious. If only he knew that two days earlier, my mood had sunk well below melancholia. This short-lived mental stability of mine was subject to change on a whim.

“This is a personal work of mine,” I said.

“I should hope you will allow me to read it once you have finished.”

The way that his dark eyes studied mine hinted that he was thinking much more than what he was willing to say.

“How long are you staying?”

“I leave early Sunday morning. I will be free all day tomorrow if you want to go relive our excursions.”

“Excellent,” I smiled.

A day spent with an old friend would be just the medicine that I needed.

“Now, let us see what madness is happening on the stage at the vaudeville show over there,” said Matthew, gesturing with his eyes.

We immersed ourselves into the crowd until we reached the colourful, lively show. Matthew became enamored with the dancing men and women on stage. He cheered and roared out in laughter along with the crowd. While impressive, my thoughts continued to wander away to the depths of my consciousness that I would not dare to consider while alone. Being surrounded by hundreds of people, music, and laughter led me to long for an escape to my own thoughts.

This was what I had often enjoyed most about operas, musical events, fairs, and carnivals. Such occurrences caused my imagination to stir. I was content to stand there next to Matthew being lost in my own secret reality until a jab in my side startled me.

“How long have you been standing there in your own world?” asked Matthew.

“I-I’m not sure,” I muttered. He laughed, shaking his head.

“You should allow your mind to rest sometimes, old boy.”

“I suppose you’re right, but I was enjoying myself.” We both laughed.

“What do you say we go try some overly sweet fare at the stand over there?” Matthew suggested.

I nodded and followed him there. When we reached the end of the long line, it was then that I found Sarah standing four places ahead of us. She looked back over her shoulder at us, smiling at Matthew and nodding at me.

“She is quite lovely,” Matthew said quietly.

I recalled how enamored he was with Sarah the last summer I had spent with him five years ago. Back then, she was engaged to be married to Caleb, the hot-headed young merchant, and she never looked our way once.

“She is strange,” I said.

“All right then,” Matthew laughed.

“I take it that you have said more than customary greetings to our friendly store owner’s wife.”

“I may tell you more about it later.”

Matthew’s shocked expression caused me to laugh.

“It did not seem at all like you to cause such a stir in this town,” began Matthew, looking cautiously around us to ensure that we did not have any eavesdroppers, “but I knew there was much more to it than what my parents told me. Perhaps tomorrow you can tell me more about your book and what has driven you to go digging into the past.”

“I hope that your education and morals swing somewhat to the liberal side,” I said.

The Suicides, Part Three

I could hardly breathe, yet my legs forced me to carry on through the darkness through the maze of trees. My aunt’s scolding words chased me, echoing in my mind. I always hated the dark, but my anger fueled me onward. My body was moving, but my mind felt as though it were floating above it, watching me acting like a madman. I was mad.

Breaking the suffocating darkness, a soft amber light marked the location of the shack. I reached its front door and knocked twice.

“Mrs. Thomas! It is Mr. Allen!” I called.

As I panted and stood there on my shaking legs, the door opened a crack. I met the muzzle of a rifle.

“You are trying my patience,” the woman growled.

“Wait,” I said.

She kicked the door open and stepped out toward me. As I fought to catch my breath and stay coherent through the mania, I somehow did not miss that her finger rested on the trigger that would put an end to my writing forever.

“Please, Ma’am,” I said, backing away and holding my hands over my head. “I received a note tonight about your son.”

“Where is it?” she shouted.

I pulled it out from my pocket. “Here. Right here. See?”

“You do not seem to be the sort to play tricks on poor, crazy women, but if indeed you are, I will not hesitate to blow your brains out.”

“Someone knocked on my door tonight and then left this letter in an envelope addressed to me. Do you have any idea who could have left a note like this?”

She lowered her gun, shaking her head. Her eyes would not meet mine.

“I already know he isn’t dead, Alfred. Dead to me, but still breathing.”

Her numbed voice sent shivers down my arms. I clenched my fists. I wanted to yell at her and ask her what was going on.

“Where?” I asked.

“Go away,” she said much too calmly. “If I see you here again, I will shoot you. Forget about them.”

Them. She was referring to the suicides. To forget the inconvenient mental illnesses that plagued more souls than anyone cared to admit.

I tripped over my own feet as I sprinted back for the daunting woods. I barely recalled the journey back to my aunt’s home, but I did recall waking up in the rocking chair surrounded by the black.

“Alfred.”

My aunt’s voice was so smooth and calming, but it felt as though the hair on my head were standing on end.

“How did I… I don’t remember how I got back.”

“You’re all right now, dear. Just rest.”

“I am not tired. Could we light a candle? The darkness is a little too much right now.”

I blinked as a flickering flame danced on the end of a match that she held at the wick of a candle.

“Please,” she began. “I am asking you to stop this madness now. Do you realize the position that you have put me in? After you leave for your own home, I may face being ostracized at best.”

“I am so sorry.”

Warm tears slipped down my cheeks before I realized that I was crying. Nothing changed that I wanted to get to the bottom of what had really happened to Jeremy, to the suicides.

“Do you know what could have happened to him?” I asked.

“Dear boy, you are very kind, but do you realize the damage that you are causing by wondering such a thing?”

“Are you sure it is I who is causing the damage? I was trying to help honour their memories.”

“I think that note was a terrible jest.”

Mrs. Thomas admitted that he was alive. I had some ideas about where I needed to look. I would have to pretend that I had given up on my investigating for the time being, but I would find out what happened to him.

“I know why the suicides are important to you.”

My stomach knotted. I searched my mind for a way to change the subject, but I could barely think through the haze.

“Your mother told me about what happened in your dormitory during your last week of classes.”

I swallowed hard. She couldn’t have the nerve to say it.

“Alfred, I am very worried about you. It is not good for you to focus on the illness that nearly killed you.”

I stood quickly, shaking my head. I felt ill remembering, but it was all that ran through my mind. I could nearly feel the sharpened knife slicing into my wrist.

“I was in a trance. I didn’t want to die,” I whispered.

“I will brew a pot of tea,” said my aunt quietly. “It will help you feel better.”

My writing project had given me such purpose and hope, but now, all I could do was stand in helpless observation as the hope drained from my veins.