You attempt to run away from the figures…
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Instinctively, you break into a run. The invitation crunches in your fist as your legs slam the pavement and your lungs devour the cool night air in desperate gulps.
But it’s no good, you soon realise – you can’t outrun something moving at superhuman speed. “Think,” you tell yourself, “and fast.” You’re a paranormal, after all. You should be able to manage something extraordinary.
Unless that’s what they’re expecting you to do…
On a whim, you dive sideways into a bush beside the path and lie, face-down, in the dirt, eyes closed, willing yourself not to breathe.
The three figures approach. They’re laughing and talking. You strain to listen to what they’re saying.
“He just dived off into the bushes!” the one in the middle snorts.
“What a freak!”
“Yeah, what’s his problem?”
“Ooh, that’s the broken kerb I was telling you about, where I crashed my bike trying to do that one eighty and nearly got run over by a car because I fell into the traffic.”
“Here, let me try it.”
“Put your hood back. You need to be able to see.”
“Yeah, but I don’t need to get identified and arrested.”
“Forget it, guys. There’s a better spot just up here round the corner.”
The three figures swoosh past – on their bikes, you now realise – and soon all you can see are their flapping hoodies as they retreat into the distance along the footpath.
Ok, that is it. You have got to give all this up before it sends you insane. You lift yourself out of the dirt and approach the bin steadily.
In goes the invitation – bam. But before you throw the box in after it you stop, and look thoughtfully at the lid.
Slowly, you open it. A picture stares up at you. You see a boy with brown hair, a yellow jacket, and a skateboard tucked under one arm. As you look at him and his frozen smile, a splot of water hits his shoulder- no, not water, you realise suddenly. A tear. Your tear.
But that can’t be right – you don’t cry.
You lift your chin in confusion and try to stem the grief, but it’s too late. You can already hear an anguished wail, like that of an animal, and with a shock you realise it’s coming from somewhere deep within your own chest. Before you know it your knees have given way and you feel the box drop from your hands as you sink to the concrete – the same concrete upon which Terry died – and now you’re crying; there’s no denying it. You’re crying savagely, and alone.
A hand touches your shoulder. “Hey, it’s me,” says Carly.
“You followed me?” you choke out, trying to wipe your vision clear.
“What do you want me to do?” she says with exasperation. “You walk around in a daze, you can barely make it to the playground, you speak gibberish, sometimes you talk to people who aren’t even there. Whatever happened to perfecting your grind? Becoming a stunt man? You can’t even keep track of the days! In your world it’s just Saturday after Saturday after Saturday! In everyone else’s world it’s Wednesday, JK!
“And heaven forbid you find a discarded piece of junk mail by the footpath. Suddenly you’re spouting nonsense about mysterious drivers and – what was it? Ping pong balls?”
Carly fishes the invitation from the bin. “I mean seriously, J, read it: ‘All furniture 20% off! This weekend only!’ I play along, I don’t play along – nothing seems to help! JK please – I know it was a shock when Terry died, but… this is beyond that. We just want you to be well again. Everyone wants you to be well again. Please.”
You feel your skin against the concrete, warm and soft, and alive. “We want you back, JK,” says Carly. And suddenly, for the first time since last year, you want that, too.
Your voice is raspy as you ask Carly if she brought your pills. She lets out a strange noise – half laugh, half sob, and you see tears well in her eyes at the same time as a smile forms on her lips. She helps you up. “Why would I be traipsing around the neighbourhood in the middle of the night with your pills? They’re at home, of course, where they’ve always been.”
“I’m going to keep taking them this time, Carly.”
But Carly doesn’t reply. She just hugs you very tightly for a long, long time.