This is a Boomerang Post–a short story that’s not connected to any type of longer story or series. They’re called Boomerangs because after I write them, I forget about them in my maze of documents. But they always come hurtling back at the opportune moment, and I find them quite entertaining. I hope you do too 🙂
My name is Patrick Harris, and I have a secret. It wasn’t like bleeding or burning or drowning. It was all three at once. My left hand was so badly burned where the electrical current went in that it ripped my skin open in red streams all the way up to my elbow. I couldn’t scream or even close my eyes or breathe. I was frozen in excruciating pain as if a thousand knives were piercing my skin. At 200 milliamperes my young body was wracked with contractions so severe that my muscles clamped down on my heart to keep the walls from collapsing. At six years old I was pronounced dead. Three minutes later they brought me back to life. The accident left its mark with a long, ugly scar, and every day I’m reminded of the miracle of my survival. It’s the curse of my life.
But this story isn’t about me. It’s about a girl, Lela Hues. She doesn’t know that I’m in love with her. She doesn’t know that I can feel her heartbeat, that ever since that damned day I’ve somehow been able to sense the emotions of people around me. She doesn’t know that life is a gift, that each moment holds an incredible opportunity. Because Lela wants to die.
* * *
The car tires screech against the damp ground, and puddles slosh over the curb. The sky is dark and murky as I pull up in front of an old-fashioned two story house. Lights gleam from the windows and bass pumps through the walls. Cars are parked everywhere, and red plastic beer cups are scattered on the lawn. I wasn’t invited to this party; I’m a nobody. Lela’s hot, smart, and popular, but she hates it. I can feel it pulsing from her skin like a warning signal. It’s a desperate cry for help, but no one can hear her, except me.
The highway buzzes in the background, cars whipping across the bridge that overlooks Snooker’s Ravine. The neighbours will probably call the police soon; I can feel them from the surrounding houses, their annoyance bulging over the rotting fence that marks the property line. It’s almost midnight, and as I open the screen door, a moshpit of impressions hits me: ecstasy, senselessness, pain, drowned with each drink. Hooks of cigarette smoke curl towards the ceiling, and darkness snakes around the partying teens, masking the loneliness in their eyes.
That used to be me, long nights at parties I don’t remember, somehow trying to numb the ache, to feel alive, to feel something. And when that didn’t work I almost quit, permanently.
I feel other things as I shoulder my way through the crowd: jealousy, resentment, glee. Sometimes when I’m with so many people like this I get headache from all the different sensations battering my mind at once. I used to try to ignore it, but that was impossible. I can’t help but think that maybe this happened to me for a reason. Maybe it wasn’t fluke chance that I survived both the accident and my own death wish.
The lights are dim, and the beat of the music shakes the floor. Some people dance and grind while others slump against the wall, nodding their heads or just staring blankly in front of them. I see a blur of faces; some I recognize, and others are new, but I don’t care. Only one face matters, and she isn’t here.
I skim each room unsuccessfully, quickening my pace as I go. “Have you seen Lela?” I ask a girl who seems sensibly sober. She shakes her head.
“You know where Lela is?” a deep voice slurs. It’s Emery, Lela’s pothead, hulkish boyfriend. He doesn’t care about Lela. He just wants the popularity high.
“No,” I say darkly, stepping around him, fear rising in the pit of my stomach. Lela must have left.
“What did you do with her?” Emery roars, staggering towards me, bear-like hands outstretched to tackle me. I step out of the way and Emery goes barreling into the wall, collapsing to the ground with a crash. More onlookers gather, snickering. Emery gets to his feet, fuming. “You wanna go?” he asks, motioning me forward.
“I don’t want to fight you. I need to find Lela,” I say, turning around towards the exit. But the room has filled up, blocking my path.
“You’re a little coward,” Emery taunts. He balls his hands into fists and lunges at me. I’m not fast enough and he pummels my shoulder, knocking me backwards. Everyone laughs. “That was for Lela,” Emery says. “She’s mine. And we’re gonna do it tonight when I find her. So tell me where she is!”
Fire shoots through me. Emery reeks of alcohol and lust, craving for acceptance, an ego boost, a bragging right. And whether he gets it by beating up a guy like me or sleeping with a girl like Lela, he won’t stop until he gets what he wants. Except he never will, as long as I’m around.
“You’re drunk,” I say. “Go home.”
Emery leers. “Make me.”
I take a breath, pull down into fighting stance then lunge out with a quick blow, striking Emery on the side of the head. It takes him by surprise and he blinks, confused. Someone calls from the crowd cheering me on. “You don’t love Lela,” I say, “you never did. You’re just using her.” Fury blazes through me, and I jerk to the side, avoiding Emery’s attack.
“You’re right,” Emery slurs. “Lela’s a pathetic little bitch, and I can’t stand her.” His bloodshot eyes gleam. “But she’ll give me what I want.”
I grab Emery by the collar of his shirt and shake him. “You sick animal,” I growl. “You’ll never lay a hand on her.” I punch him full in the gut, and he gives a little shriek. One more punch to the head and he’s on the ground. He tries to get up but he falls back, puking all over the carpet. And then I hear the clapping. Cheers and hoots echo from the room, a room pumping with shock and admiration.
“Good job, man!” someone yells, slapping me on the back. But I don’t see his face or even register the emotions flooding me like a hurricane. I push my way roughly out of the room. I need to find Lela.
* * *
The drone of the cars is louder outside as I pull out onto the street and speed away from the house. Rain plummets down, and I drive over a pothole, spurting water with the lurch of the vehicle.
And then I see a pale figure far up ahead approaching the bridge. She’s wearing a rain-soaked white dress, and her head hangs low as she walks. Even from this far away I can feel her like she’s right beside me. Familiarity strengthens my power, or gift, or whatever you want to call it, and I sense her brokenness. She’s going to end it, tonight.
I floor the gas, and the car shoots forwards. My eyes are focused on Lela, and I don’t see the car cutting in front of me or feel the driver’s drunken stupor. He crosses onto the wrong side of the road, and by the time I notice him it’s too late.
Air bags burst and metal grinds with a sickening crash. My neck jerks back with the impact, and for a second I can’t breathe. Lela doesn’t turn around. She’s almost gone.
My nose is bleeding, as I push the door open. Pain shoots through my foot as I set it on the ground and drag myself out of the driver’s seat. My whole front hood is crumpled in, and the other car’s bumper is ripped off, but the other driver seems to be all right. He’s mumbling something incomprehensible. I don’t even look at him as I begin to run.
“Lela!” I yell, but my voice doesn’t carry. She looks like an angel, pausing in front of the ledge as she gazes down towards the ravine, overcome with misery. I’m almost there, and she steps up onto the railing, steadying herself.
“Lela NO!” I yell, as she hesitates, dress fluttering in the wind. She stands deathly still and stretches out her arms, ready to jump.
Flashbacks burst in my mind: the cold metal of a gun, a dark, empty basement, loneliness so powerful it threatened to shatter me into a million piece before the bullet could do its job. Sweat streamed down my face, and I was shaking so badly I couldn’t even write a suicide note. I wanted to do it. I was so close. And then the phone rang.
My feet pound on the ground, and my heart roars in my chest. “Lela, stop!” I call, sprinting like a maniac, lunging forwards, a new kind of pain tearing me from the inside out. “LELA!”
I wasn’t going to pick up the phone–besides, the only person who ever called me was the principal trying to get in contact with my parents when I skipped class too many times. Not that my parents cared, no one did. But for some reason I walked across the room and before I knew it, the phone was at my ear.
And then Lela turns. Her blond hair blows in the wind, eyes wide. Confusion courses through her. I sense her emotions as if they were mine, and I have to fight the urge to pull her back and protect her. But I’m afraid she’ll jump, so I pause, heaving for air a few feet away.
“You’re all right,” I say, trying to slow my breath. “You can come down now.”
Her eyebrows crinkle in concentration. “You’re that guy from chemistry” she says, her voice eerily calm. “—the guy who kept talking to me.”
I nod. So she remembers. I tried to win her over, befriend her, but she always blew me off. I knew she wasn’t all right, the way she stopped looking people in the eyes, how her face got long and thin, and how she always bit her upper lip. I heard all the rumours, of course. Her dad left her when she was seven, and her mom’s in rehab. Lela’s fragile, but she’s tough. She stood up for herself, made a name among her peers. She didn’t let her circumstances rule her, but she was never happy. And now she can’t find a reason to go on.
“You’re not alone, you know,” I say. “I’ve always been here.”
That’s how I felt when the person on the phone started talking. It was just a girl in my class calling to confirm a date for our group presentation rehearsal. I didn’t know her, but she changed everything, the fact that she knew I existed, the normality of it all, and the thought that maybe one day maybe I could learn to care about something as trivial as economics 101.
Lela frowns as she glances back out towards the ravine. “Why should I trust you?” she asks bitterly. “Everyone who’s ever gotten close to me has hurt me. My life is a hell hole.”
“That’s why you can’t give up.”
“That’s why I am giving up,” she snaps. “I’m sick of this all.”
“But you’re a fighter. You’re strong, and you’re going to get through this. I can help you.”
“What do you know?” she snarls, and her anger knocks into me like a wave. She’s getting closer to the edge. “You don’t know me!” she exclaims. “You don’t know anything.”
What if I can’t save her? I force my voice to stay calm. “I know how you feel. I’ve been there–a year ago.”
“So why didn’t you do it?” she demands. “Got cold feet? Had an epiphany?”
“I took charge of my life.” I take a step closer. “I realized my problems don’t own me. There’s always an answer, but it’s not jumping off this bridge.”
The healing process was long and painful. But if you want to survive you have to accept yourself for who you are. No more long sleeves. No more hating the world. You have to face your demons–especially the one in your head. And then you’ll realize that life is more than just surviving, that you’re more than the sum of your flaws.
Lela looks at me long and hard, and then her gaze breaks as a gust of pain cuts through her. “Why are you here?” she whispers. “I’m a wreck; don’t get involved.”
“Lela, look at me.” She turns her head slowly. The moon glints in her grey eyes. “You’re not a wreck,” I say. “You’re an inspiring, talented, precious human being, and you deserve better than Emery, better than your parents. They don’t define you Lela, you do. Don’t ever forget that.”
Her face is tight, and I can tell she’s torn, fighting with herself. “It’s not that simple,” she whispers. “You don’t understand–”
“Yes I do. Please, just listen to me. You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to give up.”
And then she loses it, stifling a cry as her face crumples. She tries to get down from the ledge and nearly smacks her head on the pavement. I catch her in my arms, and she hides her face in my shoulder, sobbing.
The minutes fall away like the rain, and I feel her fear, her torment and self-hate lift like a cloud. One day she’ll know how much she means to me. One day I’ll tell her how much I love her. But for now I just hold her and listen to her breathe.