*** Want to start at the beginning? Here’s the link to the prologue:
(Cover Photo Credit – Myself)
It was the oddest sensation, the man thought, to be entirely unable to move his own body. In fact, he could not even feel it. The sensation, or lack thereof, became so intense at times that he began to question if he had a body at all. At other times, rational thought intervened and told him he must have a body, of one sort or other. He either had, or was, a stream of thoughts and ideas. He must be some kind of consciousness, and for that he needed a body. Surely no living thing could exist without a body, could it?
For the most part, long periods of time would pass, which he spent pondering the question of his own existence, after which he fell into complete darkness and became unaware of anything at all. These were periods of absolute nothingness. No thought, no feeling. Not even the sensation of breathing that occasionally manifested itself during the more rational periods in which he was somewhat sure he had a body. He never knew how much time had passed when he came out of the emptiness.
But not all of his time was spent swimming through the mental void in which he felt somewhat trapped. On occasion he would feel a shift throughout his entire being. He could never discern what the shift was exactly. Sometimes he thought his body, if he had one, were taking a deep breath or turning its head. But there was no way for him to know for sure.
During these times, strange reels of images and garbled sounds floated within his mind’s reach. He had no idea what they were. Simple dreams, perhaps? Or maybe old memories? He could never be sure. Sometimes they passed by too quickly for him to see clearly. But some of them would take hold of him entirely, allowing him to view the events through the eyes of whoever had first lived through them, and he would lose himself to them until shaken free again by the darkness.
It was only during these strange visions that he ever felt even the ghost of sensation or the ability to move. A great many were bitter and sad, and even those that were not left him feeling exhausted and heartsick. But still he wanted more. He wanted to remember, to understand, fail as he might to recall the contents of each vision after it had passed.
He did not know why they left him feeling so miserable. As far as he was aware, these visions had no meaning for him. Each one burdened him with a great sense of loss. Of what exactly, he could not fathom. He tried to chalk it up to the sudden and unpleasant lack of sensation that returned at each vision’s end.
While he drifted and pondered the conundrum in which he existed, his consciousness suddenly stirred as another vision began. The clear, innocent sound of laughter sounded all around him. The laugh of a tiny baby. The answering laugh of a delighted woman. Her voice squealed excitedly.
“Did you hear that? Her first laugh!”
The man’s heart ached. He felt the shift begin.
Slowly, a light began to grow around him, until he could clearly see. He blinked his eyes several times. He stood inside the entryway to an enormous dining hall, so long and tall and full of long tables, people, and echoing space that he could not begin to guess at its size. His heart began to pound. The noise and the sheer number of people were overwhelming. His stomach clenched itself into uncomfortable knots and he looked down at his hands. They were smaller and more youthful looking than he had expected them to be. They were unblemished, unscarred. He had the uncomfortable feeling that something was missing. It was unfamiliar. Who was he? He took a deep, refreshing breath to steady his nerves, and felt a sudden, rather arrogant confidence flow into him, dispelling his unease as he temporarily forgot the emptiness and darkness.
He caught a glimpse of his reflection as he entered the dining hall, passing by one of the buffet tables and spying himself in the shiny glass covering. Brown hair so dark it was nearly black, nicely slicked back from his forehead and ears, just a little outside of Academy regulations. Dark blue eyes, nice face. Tall, fit build. Everything a fifteen-year-old could want in his physique.
He paused briefly to slick back his hair and glanced at the table he had been eyeing since entering the room. He heard a sound of mixed exasperation and disgust and looked to his left, just in time to see his twin brother roll his eyes. He reddened a little and ceased his preening. Clearing his throat loudly, he began to speak as he followed his brother through the nearest serving line.
“I was just—”
“Don’t start, Aaron,” his brother interrupted. “Your looks haven’t changed since you checked them in the bathroom before coming here, less than five minutes ago.”
Aaron blew out a breath. “I know,” he said in a slightly deflated tone. “I’m just nervous. I can’t help it.”
His brother snorted. “Help what? Looking like a dork?”
Aaron’s face reddened again. “At least I don’t look like a horse’s rear end,” he retorted, eyeing his brother’s ponytail. “It’s a wonder our father lets you keep it like that.”
His brother shrugged, unfazed by his attempted insult. “It’s technically within regulations,” he said. “My hair isn’t in my face, it doesn’t cover my ears, and it’s tidy. A lot of people are doing it now. You should try it.”
Aaron resolutely shook his head, and his brother laughed as they moved along the service line. Aaron worked to rebuild his confidence as he mechanically grabbed various food items, casting another glance at the table he hoped to sit at. So far, the only occupants were two fifteen-year-old girls. He wanted to seize his chance before the other spots at the table filled up.
“Gareth,” he whispered, nudging his brother as they exited the service line at last, “look! There’s a good table. Almost empty.”
Gareth looked up from perusing the contents of his tray and looked at the table Aaron indicated. Aaron saw his ears go slightly pink.
“Mmm-mmm. I don’t think so,” he said through tight lips.
“Oh, come on, they can’t hurt us at lunch hour,” Aaron argued. “Let’s just go sit by them. It’ll at least break the ice. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Gareth looked at him in slight disbelief. “Did you really just ask what could happen? A lot more could end up broken than just the proverbial ice. Did you already forget what happened the last time you interacted with Lilleth Moore?”
Aaron shook his head. “No, I haven’t forgotten at all. It hurt. I couldn’t sit for over an hour. But I still want to try talking to her, and I know you’re secretly dying to get on speaking terms with Nya Shores.”
“I don’t know…” Gareth hesitated, looking nervously at the table in question.
Aaron tried another tactic. “Look at it this way. It’s the least crowded table in the entire mess hall. We’ll have more elbow room that way. Let’s at least sit at the same table. We don’t have to sit right next to them.”
Gareth thought for a moment, then finally sighed and relented.
When they reached the table, Gareth sat immediately at the end, as far away as possible from the two girls. Aaron, who had been trying to decide how close they could sit without being creepy, while also conveniently starting and maintaining a conversation, groaned in exasperation and gave up, sitting across from his brother. He eyed him irritably before leaning forward and speaking in a loud whisper.
“The whole point of this was to try and actually speak to them, you know,” he hissed, jerking his head towards the other end of the table at the two girls, who continued to converse casually in low tones, completely ignoring the newcomers at their table. “You’re kind of missing the point.”
Gareth scoffed. “What point? What would trying to talk to them do? And what were you planning to say, anyway? They’ve made it clear they don’t exactly like our company.”
Aaron shrugged. “I hadn’t yet got to the point of figuring out what to say. I was going to just wing it. But my point is, we’ve only ever interacted during the class sparring matches. You’re supposed to hate your opponents then. But between classes it might be different. We’ve never tried it.”
Gareth shrugged and began to eat. “Maybe there’s something in what you said, but it is a huge reach. We’ve been up against them for six or seven years already, and it will take a lot more than one conversation to change the way they feel about us. If you ask me—”
A sound of disgust reached their ears and Gareth froze, realizing he had been talking with his mouth full. He slowly swallowed and looked toward the other end of the table. His face turned a deep shade of red as he made eye contact with Nya Shores, who wrinkled her nose at Gareth’s untidy manners. She slowly resumed eating and talking with Lilleth Moore, who had not looked up from her own meal. Gareth took a hasty drink of water to hide his face.
Aaron’s own face reddened in sympathy, and he looked down at his plate, clearing his throat slightly.
“Yeah, I guess you were right,” he said slowly. “Maybe we should sit somewhere else.”
“Yes, please,” Gareth mumbled hastily, starting to gather up his tray and utensils.
Aaron made to do the same, but in his haste knocked over his still-full glass of water. He watched the cold water in horror as it spilled across the table and over the edge, right into Gareth’s lap. Gareth looked up at him in horror.
“Get me more napkins!” he hissed. “I can’t get up now. You just made it look like I wet my pants!”
Aaron had hastily stood up in order to oblige his brother and grab extra napkins, trying to keep a straight face despite the humor he found in the scene. However, at the mental image Gareth’s last words had conjured in his mind, he dropped back into his seat in a fit of immature laughter.
Gareth’s face clouded, and he retaliated by splashing Aaron in the face with the remains of his own drink. It ran down the sides of his face and began dripping onto the shoulders of his uniform. Aaron stopped laughing and began to cough and sputter, trying to wipe his hands and face dry with his sleeve.
“Okay, I admit I deserved that,” he said when he could speak again. “But if you’d been in my position, you would have seen how funny it was.”
Gareth glowered, trying to wipe his pants try with the lone napkin he had brought with him. “I may be the one who looks like a horse’s rear end,” he muttered, “but you’re the one who acts like one.”
A sudden burst of laughter sounded from the other end of the table. Both boys looked up in surprise and promptly turned a brilliant shade of crimson. Lilleth Moore and Nya Shores sat looking at them, trying unsuccessfully to stifle their giggles. The poor boys tried in vain to mop themselves dry with their single napkins, looking anywhere but at the other end of the table.
“Here,” a slightly breathless voice suddenly said beside Aaron. He started and looked up, right into Lilleth’s face. She had finally managed to stop laughing, but her face still bore the traces of a smile. He realized in surprise that she had gone and fetched him some extra napkins from the nearest service line. She dropped them next to his tray. His face reddened further.
“Thanks, thanks a lot,” he mumbled awkwardly as she walked back towards her seat.
Nya had retrieved a large handful of napkins for Gareth. She handed them to him, and he laughed awkwardly as he thanked her, trying to dry his lap as discreetly as possible.
“People are staring,” he muttered to Aaron through gritted teeth as muted giggles spread across the tables nearest them.
“I know,” Aaron responded, “Just act normal.”
“We’ll get more napkins if you need them,” Nya said, the barest trace of an accent in her voice, leaving again with Lilleth.
“Our father will not be pleased if he sees our wet uniforms,” Gareth grumbled, his face still rather red.
Aaron shook his head. “No, he won’t be pleased at all,” he replied. ‘But I sure am,’ he thought to himself, smiling in slight giddiness. Gareth saw it and smiled as well.
“Okay, your idea sort of worked, a little bit,” he admitted, still working on drying his pants. “But what do we do now?”
Aaron shrugged. “I have no idea. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.”
The two girls approached again, each with a large stack of napkins, which they placed on the table. Gareth cleared his throat and spoke up before they got too far away to hear him.
“Thanks a lot, really,” he said, straightening up in his chair. “Thanks for your help. My brother and I want to make it up to you somehow. Could we buy you a dessert, or something?”
Aaron only just caught himself in time to keep from staring at his brother, impressed. He waited pensively, keeping his fingers crossed under the table.
The two girls looked at each other a moment. Lilleth shrugged. “I think I could say yes to that,” she said.
Her friend thought for a moment and nodded. “Yes, I think so too. It’s not often I can afford dessert,” she said. Then she looked at Gareth. “But only if you promise to work on your table manners.”
The man suddenly felt himself sinking into darkness again. The massive dining hall faded away, and the echoing din of its occupants disappeared with it. The black nothingness wrapped its arms around him and pulled him helplessly under.
When he felt himself becoming aware again, he could not remember the memory dream at all. And yet he knew he had seen something. What was it?
The disappointment in himself and the mysterious, persistent heartache returned. He felt no little amount of frustration at being unaware of the reason behind his emotions. Combined with the now suffocating feeling of being unable to move, he felt he would like nothing better than a good scream. But he could not even be sure if he had a mouth. His consciousness became foggy…
A mouth… no, he did not know. A body? He could not be sure. What had happened? Why did he feel angry? …Or did he feel angry? What did he feel? What was going on? …Was he real? A mere thought? Alive? Dead? Where was he? Who was he?
***Like what you’ve read so far? Here’s the link to the next chapter segment:
***Links to some of my other works:
(Short Stories)Recommended3 Simily SnapsPublished in