n3m3sis43: (Default)
My palms sweat and my thoughts race as I walk down the hall. While I've run numerous groups in my two years working at the Rainey Institute, this one is going to be something else entirely.

They're going to eat me alive, I think. This isn't like running Grief Group or Anger Management. Any group leader can identify with those issues. How am I supposed to find common ground with these patients, though?

I enter the room to find my participants already there, awaiting my arrival. There are eleven of them - ten people and one robot - spread across four rows of mostly-empty seats. Here goes nothing, I think, taking a deep breath.

"Hi, everyone. My name is Sarah and I'll be facilitating this group today. It's my first time leading this particular group, so please bear with me and hopefully we can all learn together."

A dark-haired woman in the back row snorts. "What could I possibly learn from you? You're scared to death right now."

"This group will give you the opportunity to talk with others who have been in the same situation as you." I do my best to appear confident in the face of her scrutiny.

"Somehow, I doubt that." The woman shoots me a haughty glare, crossing her arms.

"Okay, then," I continue. "This is a support group for people suffering from Uncooperative Fictional Character Disorder. As I've never been a fictional character myself, I can't say I identify with what you all go through. But that's why we're here. In this session, you'll have the chance to talk about your feelings with other people who've experienced the same things you have."

Nine pairs of human eyes and one pair of electronic ones stare at me in stony silence. In one corner of the room, a man with shaggy white hair sits on the floor and picks at the torn knee of his jeans.

This is going swimmingly so far, I think.

"Um, let's all introduce ourselves. First names will suffice. Please also tell the group how you're feeling today and a little bit about why you're here."

More blank stares.

"Okay, I'll go first," I say, trying not to sound intimidated. "My name is Sarah and I'm feeling nervous right now. I'm not a fictional character, but we don't have any of those working here at the Rainey Institute. They picked me to run this group because sometimes I'm a writer."

With what I hope is an encouraging nod, I address the petite blonde girl sitting in the front row.

"Hi, my name is Sam?" It sounds like a question rather than a statement. She fidgets in her chair and falls silent. A young man of Asian descent with a long ponytail is seated beside her. He grabs her hand and gives it a supportive squeeze, and she speaks again. "Um, I'm feeling depressed and I'm here because I stared at my best friend's butt during an important plot point."

Sam's friend twitches and almost falls out of his chair.

"You what?"

"It... it was an accident," Sam mumbles. "I didn't know it was you." Her friend looks disappointed.

"Um, I'm Daisuke," Sam's friend jumps in before I can ask any more questions. "Right now, I'm feeling, well... kind of shocked. I'm here because I lived in a fantastical world for a year and a half and refuse to talk to anyone about what happened while I was there."

Sam keeps shooting Daisuke nervous looks when she thinks he isn't looking. Daisuke examines his fingernails.

Thanking him, I glance at the two young men seated in the second row. Both are well-dressed, one young and blonde and the other slightly older with dark hair and glasses. They are engaged in a furious make-out session and oblivious to anyone else in the room. I clear my throat, but they don't appear to notice. I'm about to move on to the next participant when a condescending female voice speaks up from the back of the room.

"The pretty yellow-haired one is Jazz and the perverted one is Savin. They're a couple of idiots." It's the dark-haired woman who called me out at the beginning of the session.

Jerking away from his partner, Jazz looks at the woman with alarm. Savin gives her a cursory glance, then resumes kissing Jazz with impressive fervor. Jazz continues to eye the woman for a moment, then shrugs and returns his attention to Savin.

Sighing, I move on. In the third row of seats, a group of four men in their teens or early twenties sit with a feminine-looking robot. I catch the eye of an olive-skinned boy with shocking blue eyes and blonde hair. He offers me a shy smile.

"I'm Kalen, and I am feeling... overwhelmed? I'm here because I committed an act of terrorism by sneezing, thereby turning what was supposed to be a serious story into a new genre called 'goofy dystopia'." Kalen nudges the robot, who is sitting to his left.

"I'm CallaBot. I have no idea why I'm here. Robots don't need therapy." She glares at me, eyes glowing as if lasers are about to emanate from them. Feeling a trickle of sweat roll down the small of my back, I do my best not to flinch. CallaBot turns to the large muscular young man to her left, who appears to be sleeping, and punches him hard in the arm.

"Wake up, numbnuts!"

"OW!" The brawny young man jerks awake with a shout. "Why'd you do that?"

"It's your turn, Shit-For-Brains." At least the fembot is glaring at him instead of me now.

"Um... hi? I'm Brendan."

"Name. How you're feeling. Why you're here. It's not rocket science, seriously." A young man with Mediterranean features and long dark hair stares at Brendan with a disdainful expression that rivals CallaBot's laser eyes.

"Shut up, Devin!"

"Whatever, you troglodyte."

"What?" Brendan looks puzzled.

"Exactly." Devin smirks.

"Can we get to the point already? This is getting boring." The dark-haired woman in the back row stands up. "I'm Jordine. I do what I want. Period."

Jordine points at Brendan. "This one doesn't follow orders."

Gesturing at Devin, she continues.

"This one cracks jokes at inappropriate times and loses his sense of humor at crucial moments. And the one next to him, Wes, thinks that real life is exactly like an episode of NebulaQuest, a fictional 'neurovision' show." She punctuates the word "neurovision" with sarcastic air quotes.

"How did you know all that? Are you some kind of mind-reader?" Wes is staring at Jordine with rapt adoration.

"Yes." Jordine doesn't even spare Wes a glance. She directs her piercing gaze to the white-haired man in the corner, who is still paying no attention to anyone else in the room.

"And this one." Her words drip with disgust. "I don't even know where to begin. He has a perfectly good proper name, but insists on being called The Straw Man instead, making all references to him awkward and ungainly. When his Author wants to write him, he's nowhere to be found. At times when the Author has a million other projects, he begs to be written, promising to behave, only to run away at inopportune moments. Besides all of that, he has no concept of time and his thought processes look like something Salvador Dali vomited up once."

Jordine glares at the Straw Man, who looks up, startled. He stares at her for a moment, whimpers like a kicked dog, and shrinks away. Sam jumps out of her seat and runs over to comfort him as Daisuke eyes him with open hatred.

"This is ridiculous." Jordine snorts, rising and making for the door. "I'm leaving. Have fun exploring your feeeeeeeeeelings."

Sighing, I look at the clock. Only twenty minutes have passed. What am I supposed to do with the rest of the hour?




Author's Note: Thank you so much to [livejournal.com profile] theun4givables, who allowed me to borrow her characters (Jordine, Jazz and Savin) for this story.
n3m3sis43: (Default)
My palms sweat and my thoughts race as I walk down the hall. While I've run numerous groups in my two years working at the Rainey Institute, this one is going to be something else entirely.

They're going to eat me alive, I think. This isn't like running Grief Group or Anger Management. Any group leader can identify with those issues. How am I supposed to find common ground with these patients, though?

I enter the room to find my participants already there, awaiting my arrival. There are eleven of them - ten people and one robot - spread across four rows of mostly-empty seats. Here goes nothing, I think, taking a deep breath.

"Hi, everyone. My name is Sarah and I'll be facilitating this group today. It's my first time leading this particular group, so please bear with me and hopefully we can all learn together."

A dark-haired woman in the back row snorts. "What could I possibly learn from you? You're scared to death right now."

"This group will give you the opportunity to talk with others who have been in the same situation as you." I do my best to appear confident in the face of her scrutiny.

"Somehow, I doubt that." The woman shoots me a haughty glare, crossing her arms.

"Okay, then," I continue. "This is a support group for people suffering from Uncooperative Fictional Character Disorder. As I've never been a fictional character myself, I can't say I identify with what you all go through. But that's why we're here. In this session, you'll have the chance to talk about your feelings with other people who've experienced the same things you have."

Nine pairs of human eyes and one pair of electronic ones stare at me in stony silence. In one corner of the room, a man with shaggy white hair sits on the floor and picks at the torn knee of his jeans.

This is going swimmingly so far, I think.

"Um, let's all introduce ourselves. First names will suffice. Please also tell the group how you're feeling today and a little bit about why you're here."

More blank stares.

"Okay, I'll go first," I say, trying not to sound intimidated. "My name is Sarah and I'm feeling nervous right now. I'm not a fictional character, but we don't have any of those working here at the Rainey Institute. They picked me to run this group because sometimes I'm a writer."

With what I hope is an encouraging nod, I address the petite blonde girl sitting in the front row.

"Hi, my name is Sam?" It sounds like a question rather than a statement. She fidgets in her chair and falls silent. A young man of Asian descent with a long ponytail is seated beside her. He grabs her hand and gives it a supportive squeeze, and she speaks again. "Um, I'm feeling depressed and I'm here because I stared at my best friend's butt during an important plot point."

Sam's friend twitches and almost falls out of his chair.

"You what?"

"It... it was an accident," Sam mumbles. "I didn't know it was you." Her friend looks disappointed.

"Um, I'm Daisuke," Sam's friend jumps in before I can ask any more questions. "Right now, I'm feeling, well... kind of shocked. I'm here because I lived in a fantastical world for a year and a half and refuse to talk to anyone about what happened while I was there."

Sam keeps shooting Daisuke nervous looks when she thinks he isn't looking. Daisuke examines his fingernails.

Thanking him, I glance at the two young men seated in the second row. Both are well-dressed, one young and blonde and the other slightly older with dark hair and glasses. They are engaged in a furious make-out session and oblivious to anyone else in the room. I clear my throat, but they don't appear to notice. I'm about to move on to the next participant when a condescending female voice speaks up from the back of the room.

"The pretty yellow-haired one is Jazz and the perverted one is Savin. They're a couple of idiots." It's the dark-haired woman who called me out at the beginning of the session.

Jerking away from his partner, Jazz looks at the woman with alarm. Savin gives her a cursory glance, then resumes kissing Jazz with impressive fervor. Jazz continues to eye the woman for a moment, then shrugs and returns his attention to Savin.

Sighing, I move on. In the third row of seats, a group of four men in their teens or early twenties sit with a feminine-looking robot. I catch the eye of an olive-skinned boy with shocking blue eyes and blonde hair. He offers me a shy smile.

"I'm Kalen, and I am feeling... overwhelmed? I'm here because I committed an act of terrorism by sneezing, thereby turning what was supposed to be a serious story into a new genre called 'goofy dystopia'." Kalen nudges the robot, who is sitting to his left.

"I'm CallaBot. I have no idea why I'm here. Robots don't need therapy." She glares at me, eyes glowing as if lasers are about to emanate from them. Feeling a trickle of sweat roll down the small of my back, I do my best not to flinch. CallaBot turns to the large muscular young man to her left, who appears to be sleeping, and punches him hard in the arm.

"Wake up, numbnuts!"

"OW!" The brawny young man jerks awake with a shout. "Why'd you do that?"

"It's your turn, Shit-For-Brains." At least the fembot is glaring at him instead of me now.

"Um... hi? I'm Brendan."

"Name. How you're feeling. Why you're here. It's not rocket science, seriously." A young man with Mediterranean features and long dark hair stares at Brendan with a disdainful expression that rivals CallaBot's laser eyes.

"Shut up, Devin!"

"Whatever, you troglodyte."

"What?" Brendan looks puzzled.

"Exactly." Devin smirks.

"Can we get to the point already? This is getting boring." The dark-haired woman in the back row stands up. "I'm Jordine. I do what I want. Period."

Jordine points at Brendan. "This one doesn't follow orders."

Gesturing at Devin, she continues.

"This one cracks jokes at inappropriate times and loses his sense of humor at crucial moments. And the one next to him, Wes, thinks that real life is exactly like an episode of NebulaQuest, a fictional 'neurovision' show." She punctuates the word "neurovision" with sarcastic air quotes.

"How did you know all that? Are you some kind of mind-reader?" Wes is staring at Jordine with rapt adoration.

"Yes." Jordine doesn't even spare Wes a glance. She directs her piercing gaze to the white-haired man in the corner, who is still paying no attention to anyone else in the room.

"And this one." Her words drip with disgust. "I don't even know where to begin. He has a perfectly good proper name, but insists on being called The Straw Man instead, making all references to him awkward and ungainly. When his Author wants to write him, he's nowhere to be found. At times when the Author has a million other projects, he begs to be written, promising to behave, only to run away at inopportune moments. Besides all of that, he has no concept of time and his thought processes look like something Salvador Dali vomited up once."

Jordine glares at the Straw Man, who looks up, startled. He stares at her for a moment, whimpers like a kicked dog, and shrinks away. Sam jumps out of her seat and runs over to comfort him as Daisuke eyes him with open hatred.

"This is ridiculous." Jordine snorts, rising and making for the door. "I'm leaving. Have fun exploring your feeeeeeeeeelings."

Sighing, I look at the clock. Only twenty minutes have passed. What am I supposed to do with the rest of the hour?




Author's Note: Thank you so much to [livejournal.com profile] theun4givables, who allowed me to borrow her characters (Jordine, Jazz and Savin) for this story.
n3m3sis43: (Default)
Sitting on his front steps, the Straw Man rests his head in his hands. He hoped today would be a better day, but now he's not so sure. After the storm last night, he felt cleansed; now he's just exhausted. Already the fear is creeping back in. The darkness lies in waiting, never truly gone. More than anything he craves sleep, but he's afraid to close his eyes.

So tired. His eyelids droop. Maybe just for a minute.

A gentle pressure on his shoulder jerks him awake; he jumps. He doesn't remember the last time someone touched him. A face shimmers at the edge of his memory - brown eyes, black-framed glasses, wavy brown hair. It ripples and floats away as quickly as it came. In the periphery of his vision, the blackness inches ever closer.

Skin prickling with the feel of eyes upon him, he snaps to attention. Another face; this one doesn't disappear when he blinks. All sad green eyes and framed by pale hair, it persists in hovering near his own. She must a hallucination; no one comes here. Real or no, she looks at him in a way no one has in years, as if he still exists.

"You're... like me?" The words are out of his mouth before he's even sure what they mean.

"Not exactly." The blonde girl looks unfazed by the question. "But I'm sure as hell not normal."

He doesn't intend to touch her mind, but the surge of thoughts comes anyway. This time it's different. A screech like feedback through a bullhorn fills his head; he winces in pain. Through the noise, her name is all he hears.

Sam.

"It doesn't work on you," he says. He expects a look of confusion, but Sam just smiles.

"It doesn't have to," she says. "I'm just here to talk. You look like you need a friend."

Friend. He barely remembers what the word means. Before the broken man, he had no need of one.

"I just..."

The Straw Man trails off, unsure where to begin. It feels like a lifetime since he's just talked. The only time he speaks to anyone is when they need his help. These days, even those conversations are few and far between.

"I don't feel right anymore, ever since I met the broken man," he finally says. It's a start.

Scooting over, he makes room on the bricks, and Sam sits down beside him.

"I haven't felt right in ages," she says. "You get used to it after a while."

* * * * *

Sunlight slants in through the Straw Man's window. Basking in its yellow warmth, he curls up in his chair and smiles. Night will come soon, but for now he feels safe. Today he is him - mind clear and unburdened. The darkness from his dreams still lurks somewhere, but for the moment it isn't here.

There's a chair for her here now, right next to his. On the hard nights, it's a place to hide. Though it doesn't always stop the nightmares when they come to claim him, at least it's a place to go. Sitting in her chair, wrapped in the afghan she likes to use, it's easier to remember. Day will come. He's not alone.

A knock comes at the door. It's Sam; she's the only one who ever comes here unannounced.

"It's open," he calls out.

The door is always open for her.

Squealing on its hinges, it swings ajar. The Straw Man turns toward it, hand raised in greeting. Then his eyes widen in shock; it isn't Sam. In the entrance stands a haunted man, hair awry and eyes wild.

Hair rises on the back of the Straw Man's neck just before he's pummeled by a wave of thoughts.

I've tried everything to get Rachel back.

                            The writer is my last hope.

                                                 If I take her friend, she has to help me.

Then a hand is clutching his shoulder while another presses a cloth to his face. There's a sick-sweet smell like sugared gasoline. The Straw Man tries to fight, but the haunted man's grasp is firm. Air rushes in his ears and his vision is all wrong. Everything is both hazy and strikingly detailed. As his knees give way and the world goes dark, one last thought fills his mind.

I have to warn Sam.
n3m3sis43: (Default)
Sitting on his front steps, the Straw Man rests his head in his hands. He hoped today would be a better day, but now he's not so sure. After the storm last night, he felt cleansed; now he's just exhausted. Already the fear is creeping back in. The darkness lies in waiting, never truly gone. More than anything he craves sleep, but he's afraid to close his eyes.

So tired. His eyelids droop. Maybe just for a minute.

A gentle pressure on his shoulder jerks him awake; he jumps. He doesn't remember the last time someone touched him. A face shimmers at the edge of his memory - brown eyes, black-framed glasses, wavy brown hair. It ripples and floats away as quickly as it came. In the periphery of his vision, the blackness inches ever closer.

Skin prickling with the feel of eyes upon him, he snaps to attention. Another face; this one doesn't disappear when he blinks. All sad green eyes and framed by pale hair, it persists in hovering near his own. She must a hallucination; no one comes here. Real or no, she looks at him in a way no one has in years, as if he still exists.

"You're... like me?" The words are out of his mouth before he's even sure what they mean.

"Not exactly." The blonde girl looks unfazed by the question. "But I'm sure as hell not normal."

He doesn't intend to touch her mind, but the surge of thoughts comes anyway. This time it's different. A screech like feedback through a bullhorn fills his head; he winces in pain. Through the noise, her name is all he hears.

Sam.

"It doesn't work on you," he says. He expects a look of confusion, but Sam just smiles.

"It doesn't have to," she says. "I'm just here to talk. You look like you need a friend."

Friend. He barely remembers what the word means. Before the broken man, he had no need of one.

"I just..."

The Straw Man trails off, unsure where to begin. It feels like a lifetime since he's just talked. The only time he speaks to anyone is when they need his help. These days, even those conversations are few and far between.

"I don't feel right anymore, ever since I met the broken man," he finally says. It's a start.

Scooting over, he makes room on the bricks, and Sam sits down beside him.

"I haven't felt right in ages," she says. "You get used to it after a while."

* * * * *

Sunlight slants in through the Straw Man's window. Basking in its yellow warmth, he curls up in his chair and smiles. Night will come soon, but for now he feels safe. Today he is him - mind clear and unburdened. The darkness from his dreams still lurks somewhere, but for the moment it isn't here.

There's a chair for her here now, right next to his. On the hard nights, it's a place to hide. Though it doesn't always stop the nightmares when they come to claim him, at least it's a place to go. Sitting in her chair, wrapped in the afghan she likes to use, it's easier to remember. Day will come. He's not alone.

A knock comes at the door. It's Sam; she's the only one who ever comes here unannounced.

"It's open," he calls out.

The door is always open for her.

Squealing on its hinges, it swings ajar. The Straw Man turns toward it, hand raised in greeting. Then his eyes widen in shock; it isn't Sam. In the entrance stands a haunted man, hair awry and eyes wild.

Hair rises on the back of the Straw Man's neck just before he's pummeled by a wave of thoughts.

I've tried everything to get Rachel back.

                            The writer is my last hope.

                                                 If I take her friend, she has to help me.

Then a hand is clutching his shoulder while another presses a cloth to his face. There's a sick-sweet smell like sugared gasoline. The Straw Man tries to fight, but the haunted man's grasp is firm. Air rushes in his ears and his vision is all wrong. Everything is both hazy and strikingly detailed. As his knees give way and the world goes dark, one last thought fills his mind.

I have to warn Sam.
n3m3sis43: (Default)
He doesn't usually come to the bridge at night. He couldn't stand the sound of the storm.

Before, he had a life, small but his. Sunrises, walks in the park, evening cups of tea. Sleep was soft and warm like the quilt on his bed. He didn't fear the rain against his roof. Nameless terror colors everything now. The morning sky, wind through the trees, nightfall most of all. It wraps him in darkness, pins his limbs and stifles his screams.

Lightning splits the sky above his head. The bridge disappears.

They're arguing - bitter words and drops beating on glass. Tires screech. Metal screams against metal. They're soaring, then falling. Water rushes in. He's frozen. Hands tug at him as he submits, inhales, relaxes.

There's a blinding white flash and nothing more.


Back on the bridge, he grips the slick rail so hard his shoulders hurt. Wet hair drips into his face; that must be why his eyes are streaming. Shivers wrack his body - it's only a chill from his sodden clothes. Breathing in ragged gasps, he sits down and hugs his knees. If the crying he's not doing makes any noise, it's lost in the wind.

It's dawn when the storm abates. Head pounding, he turns to go. He doesn't think about the accident, the geode on his desk, the girl who gave it to him. Better not to remember.

He's almost home before he realizes. It's stopped raining.

Why is my face still wet?
n3m3sis43: (Default)
He doesn't usually come to the bridge at night. He couldn't stand the sound of the storm.

Before, he had a life, small but his. Sunrises, walks in the park, evening cups of tea. Sleep was soft and warm like the quilt on his bed. He didn't fear the rain against his roof. Nameless terror colors everything now. The morning sky, wind through the trees, nightfall most of all. It wraps him in darkness, pins his limbs and stifles his screams.

Lightning splits the sky above his head. The bridge disappears.

They're arguing - bitter words and drops beating on glass. Tires screech. Metal screams against metal. They're soaring, then falling. Water rushes in. He's frozen. Hands tug at him as he submits, inhales, relaxes.

There's a blinding white flash and nothing more.


Back on the bridge, he grips the slick rail so hard his shoulders hurt. Wet hair drips into his face; that must be why his eyes are streaming. Shivers wrack his body - it's only a chill from his sodden clothes. Breathing in ragged gasps, he sits down and hugs his knees. If the crying he's not doing makes any noise, it's lost in the wind.

It's dawn when the storm abates. Head pounding, he turns to go. He doesn't think about the accident, the geode on his desk, the girl who gave it to him. Better not to remember.

He's almost home before he realizes. It's stopped raining.

Why is my face still wet?

Auguries

Sep. 10th, 2012 01:48 pm
n3m3sis43: ((FMAB) Huuuughes and Winryyyy)
This is an unofficial intersection with the almost disturbingly creative [livejournal.com profile] alien_infinity. For maximum enjoyment (and minimum confusion), please read her piece first. It can be found here.





Darkness surrounds me - a thick black cloak that's heavy against my skin. I shudder as it wraps me in its deadly embrace.

My hands grope for something solid but find no purchase. All the while, the blackness presses ever closer. Soon I can't move my arms and legs at all. Screams tear at my throat, but there's no sound. The air is viscous and every breath is agony. I'm wracked by painful spasms as my lungs try to rid themselves of the choking blackness. My muscles tense against my invisible bonds.

A memory breaks through the panic. Carla. What happened to her? Did she get out?

Then a glowing warmth flows through my veins and the tension melts away. My body goes limp as a broken doll's and my eyes close. Colors swirl behind my eyelids. I feel the blackness enfolding me once more, this time as tender as a lover.

* * * * *

At first there is nothing. Then there are sounds, floating in the blackness. My body feels like lead, but the crushing pressure is gone now. I try to move my arms, but nothing happens.

Beeping. Voices. I recognize these sounds.

He's coming around.

I open my eyes, but everything is too bright. Squeezing them shut, I groan, but the only sound that comes out is a strangled squeak. My throat is on fire; I swallow against the pain. Someone grasps my hand.

Blinking, I open my eyes again. Everything is white and the smell of antiseptic assaults my nose. My head is throbbing. I try to sit up, but my muscles don't seem to want to obey me. White fades to gray and I let my eyes slide closed.

Squeeze my hand if you can hear me.

It's a supreme effort, getting my fingers to work. For a moment, I'm not even sure they've moved at all.

He's responsive.

I try to speak, but no words come out.

Do you know your name?

Of course I know my name. What a stupid question. Wait a minute, what is it? It's hard to think with this pounding in my head. Okay, I've got this now. Taking a deep breath, I try my voice again. This time, I manage to force words from my aching throat.

"Matt Norman."

Do you know why you're here?

At first all I can remember is the suffocating darkness. Then it comes back in bits and pieces. A stormy night. An accident. The blinding flash of light. My body breaks out in a cold sweat and my vision turns to gray. I fight to keep my eyes open, to get the words out.

"Carla... Is she okay?"

Exhaustion claims me and everything goes black again.

* * * * *

I open my eyes. The lights are too bright. Squinting, I sit up slowly, waiting to see if my body is going to cooperate. My head feels wrong, like maybe part of me is still out there, suspended in the blackness. Still, I'm able to sit up. I'm getting stronger.

Carla. Where is she?

Sighing, I lie down again. I'm only nineteen but I feel a hundred years old. Everything aches and even the smallest tasks are taxing. Staring out the window, I wonder how long it will be until I feel like myself again.

"Hey, Matt."

It's Carla. My heart pounds as I turn to face her. Behind her black-framed glasses, her eyes are scrunched up with concern, and she's twisting a strand of her long brown hair between her fingers. Besides her obvious unease, though, she looks as well as she did before the accident.

"Hey, Carla."

My mouth feels like it's stuffed with cotton and it's hard to get the words out. I reach for the hideous pink plastic cup beside my bed, feeling the water sloshing in it as I take a sip. By the time I'm done, she's at my side.

"I got you something." Carla hands me a box wrapped in purple paper.

I thank her and tear at the paper with clumsy fingers. She looks expectant, then tense, as I work to free the gift from its wrapping. Finally, I open the box and examine its contents. I look at Carla in surprise. Inside is a geode, an almost perfect half-sphere of rough gray stone. Its center is a cluster of glittering purple crystals.

"It's beautiful," I say, the words catching in my throat. "You didn't have to get me anything."

"Of course I did. It's my fault you're here in the first place."

"Are you kidding me?" My laugh is more like a croak. "You're the one who pulled me out of the car. If it weren't for you, I'd be dead."

"But," she bursts into tears. "I wouldn't have needed to pull you out if I hadn't been a dumbass and driven off into the river."

"Hey." I cup her chin in my hand and look straight into her eyes. "It's nobody's fault. And I'm going to be fine. It's all right."

"No it isn't," Carla says, her voice still shaky. She leans in and plants a kiss on my lips.

I reach out and hold her in my arms, so happy to have her with me at last. Pulling her to me, I feel alive again for the first time since I woke up here. She wraps her arms around me.

All of a sudden, the darkness is back. This time it's in my mind, pervading my thoughts and choking me from the inside. I try to scream, struggle to break away, but I'm paralyzed. The blackness snakes its way through my brain, seeps into every pore and perfuses everything that is me. It has a hold on me again; this time I know I'll never escape.

Click.

Something gives way inside my head, and everything fades to nothingness.

When my vision returns, the first thing I notice is a shrill, high-pitched whine. At first I think it's one of the machines they still have me hooked up to. Then I realize it's coming from me. Just then, Carla breaks our embrace. A thought fills my head - it doesn't feel like my own.

Did I really just do that to you, Matt?

Carla doesn't even look me in the eye as she dashes from the room. Yanking the tubes from my arm, I launch myself from the bed and across the room. I almost make it to the hallway before my knees buckle. Pain shoots through my head and I clutch at the nearest wall for support. Gritting my teeth, I force myself to keep moving forward.

Images fill my mind, slammming into me with an almost physical force. They stop me in my tracks.


Carla bending her knees and leaping.

                     Flying through the air in a perfect arc.

                                                        Slipping beneath the surface.

All the air has gone out of the room. I'm gasping for breath and my vision is graying in and out. As I cling to the wall for dear life, I wonder if I'm going to be sick. Closing my eyes, I rest my head against my hands.

I'm not sure how much time passes before I come back to myself. Though I'm terrified and confused, I'm able to catch my breath. I need to see if Carla's okay, but I feel too weak to go after her now. Thinking I can call a nurse to check on her instead, I decide to get back in bed. As I turn away from the hall, my eyes meet the gaze of a haggard, frightened man. For a moment, I wonder how he got here. Then I realize I'm looking at my own reflection.

I stare at the mirror on the bathroom door in disbelief. No wonder I didn't know it was me at first. My face is pale and covered in bruises and my eyes are sunken and shadowed. Enough stubble is sprouting on my chin to make me look unkempt and a little deranged. That's not the worst of it, though.

Before the accident, my hair was dark, almost black. Now it's so white it almost glows under the fluorescents.

* * * * *

I open my eyes and stare into the white. There's a dull ache behind my eyes and the bright lights only make it worse. I sit up anyway, my glance falling on the bedside table. A geode rests atop it, dull and gray on the outside, brilliant glittering purple on the inside. It makes me feel happy and sad at the same time, but I don't know why.

Matt, you're awake. The name sounds foreign but I know it means me.

A pretty blonde girl in purple scrubs is standing beside my bed. I don't recognize her, but she's smiling as if she knows me. Everyone here smiles at me.

How are you feeling today?

"My head hurts," I say. She hands me a paper cup with medicine. I smile. Everyone here wants to help me get better. Then I remember. Carla. Where is she?

When I ask where Carla is, the girl dressed in purple looks sad, then resigned.

She's not coming to visit today, Matt.

Opening my chart and making some notes, the girl in the purple gives me a look I can't read. Snatches of words fill my head as she goes back to her charting.


We tell him, but he never remembers.

                             Jumped off the same bridge and all.
                                                                   
                                                       So tragic, after surviving the first time.

When she's done, she offers a half smile and lays a hand on my shoulder.

Call me if you need anything, she says, and leaves the room.

A heavy feeling creeps over me and I don't know why. My chest tightens and my eyes sting. Then I look at the geode with its sparkling crystals and the weight is lifted. Whatever was burdening me, it's gone now.

Auguries

Sep. 10th, 2012 01:48 pm
n3m3sis43: (Default)
This is an unofficial intersection with the almost disturbingly creative [livejournal.com profile] alien_infinity. For maximum enjoyment (and minimum confusion), please read her piece first. It can be found here.





Darkness surrounds me - a thick black cloak that's heavy against my skin. I shudder as it wraps me in its deadly embrace.

My hands grope for something solid but find no purchase. All the while, the blackness presses ever closer. Soon I can't move my arms and legs at all. Screams tear at my throat, but there's no sound. The air is viscous and every breath is agony. I'm wracked by painful spasms as my lungs try to rid themselves of the choking blackness. My muscles tense against my invisible bonds.

A memory breaks through the panic. Carla. What happened to her? Did she get out?

Then a glowing warmth flows through my veins and the tension melts away. My body goes limp as a broken doll's and my eyes close. Colors swirl behind my eyelids. I feel the blackness enfolding me once more, this time as tender as a lover.

* * * * *

At first there is nothing. Then there are sounds, floating in the blackness. My body feels like lead, but the crushing pressure is gone now. I try to move my arms, but nothing happens.

Beeping. Voices. I recognize these sounds.

He's coming around.

I open my eyes, but everything is too bright. Squeezing them shut, I groan, but the only sound that comes out is a strangled squeak. My throat is on fire; I swallow against the pain. Someone grasps my hand.

Blinking, I open my eyes again. Everything is white and the smell of antiseptic assaults my nose. My head is throbbing. I try to sit up, but my muscles don't seem to want to obey me. White fades to gray and I let my eyes slide closed.

Squeeze my hand if you can hear me.

It's a supreme effort, getting my fingers to work. For a moment, I'm not even sure they've moved at all.

He's responsive.

I try to speak, but no words come out.

Do you know your name?

Of course I know my name. What a stupid question. Wait a minute, what is it? It's hard to think with this pounding in my head. Okay, I've got this now. Taking a deep breath, I try my voice again. This time, I manage to force words from my aching throat.

"Matt Norman."

Do you know why you're here?

At first all I can remember is the suffocating darkness. Then it comes back in bits and pieces. A stormy night. An accident. The blinding flash of light. My body breaks out in a cold sweat and my vision turns to gray. I fight to keep my eyes open, to get the words out.

"Carla... Is she okay?"

Exhaustion claims me and everything goes black again.

* * * * *

I open my eyes. The lights are too bright. Squinting, I sit up slowly, waiting to see if my body is going to cooperate. My head feels wrong, like maybe part of me is still out there, suspended in the blackness. Still, I'm able to sit up. I'm getting stronger.

Carla. Where is she?

Sighing, I lie down again. I'm only nineteen but I feel a hundred years old. Everything aches and even the smallest tasks are taxing. Staring out the window, I wonder how long it will be until I feel like myself again.

"Hey, Matt."

It's Carla. My heart pounds as I turn to face her. Behind her black-framed glasses, her eyes are scrunched up with concern, and she's twisting a strand of her long brown hair between her fingers. Besides her obvious unease, though, she looks as well as she did before the accident.

"Hey, Carla."

My mouth feels like it's stuffed with cotton and it's hard to get the words out. I reach for the hideous pink plastic cup beside my bed, feeling the water sloshing in it as I take a sip. By the time I'm done, she's at my side.

"I got you something." Carla hands me a box wrapped in purple paper.

I thank her and tear at the paper with clumsy fingers. She looks expectant, then tense, as I work to free the gift from its wrapping. Finally, I open the box and examine its contents. I look at Carla in surprise. Inside is a geode, an almost perfect half-sphere of rough gray stone. Its center is a cluster of glittering purple crystals.

"It's beautiful," I say, the words catching in my throat. "You didn't have to get me anything."

"Of course I did. It's my fault you're here in the first place."

"Are you kidding me?" My laugh is more like a croak. "You're the one who pulled me out of the car. If it weren't for you, I'd be dead."

"But," she bursts into tears. "I wouldn't have needed to pull you out if I hadn't been a dumbass and driven off into the river."

"Hey." I cup her chin in my hand and look straight into her eyes. "It's nobody's fault. And I'm going to be fine. It's all right."

"No it isn't," Carla says, her voice still shaky. She leans in and plants a kiss on my lips.

I reach out and hold her in my arms, so happy to have her with me at last. Pulling her to me, I feel alive again for the first time since I woke up here. She wraps her arms around me.

All of a sudden, the darkness is back. This time it's in my mind, pervading my thoughts and choking me from the inside. I try to scream, struggle to break away, but I'm paralyzed. The blackness snakes its way through my brain, seeps into every pore and perfuses everything that is me. It has a hold on me again; this time I know I'll never escape.

Click.

Something gives way inside my head, and everything fades to nothingness.

When my vision returns, the first thing I notice is a shrill, high-pitched whine. At first I think it's one of the machines they still have me hooked up to. Then I realize it's coming from me. Just then, Carla breaks our embrace. A thought fills my head - it doesn't feel like my own.

Did I really just do that to you, Matt?

Carla doesn't even look me in the eye as she dashes from the room. Yanking the tubes from my arm, I launch myself from the bed and across the room. I almost make it to the hallway before my knees buckle. Pain shoots through my head and I clutch at the nearest wall for support. Gritting my teeth, I force myself to keep moving forward.

Images fill my mind, slammming into me with an almost physical force. They stop me in my tracks.


Carla bending her knees and leaping.

                     Flying through the air in a perfect arc.

                                                        Slipping beneath the surface.

All the air has gone out of the room. I'm gasping for breath and my vision is graying in and out. As I cling to the wall for dear life, I wonder if I'm going to be sick. Closing my eyes, I rest my head against my hands.

I'm not sure how much time passes before I come back to myself. Though I'm terrified and confused, I'm able to catch my breath. I need to see if Carla's okay, but I feel too weak to go after her now. Thinking I can call a nurse to check on her instead, I decide to get back in bed. As I turn away from the hall, my eyes meet the gaze of a haggard, frightened man. For a moment, I wonder how he got here. Then I realize I'm looking at my own reflection.

I stare at the mirror on the bathroom door in disbelief. No wonder I didn't know it was me at first. My face is pale and covered in bruises and my eyes are sunken and shadowed. Enough stubble is sprouting on my chin to make me look unkempt and a little deranged. That's not the worst of it, though.

Before the accident, my hair was dark, almost black. Now it's so white it almost glows under the fluorescents.

* * * * *

I open my eyes and stare into the white. There's a dull ache behind my eyes and the bright lights only make it worse. I sit up anyway, my glance falling on the bedside table. A geode rests atop it, dull and gray on the outside, brilliant glittering purple on the inside. It makes me feel happy and sad at the same time, but I don't know why.

Matt, you're awake. The name sounds foreign but I know it means me.

A pretty blonde girl in purple scrubs is standing beside my bed. I don't recognize her, but she's smiling as if she knows me. Everyone here smiles at me.

How are you feeling today?

"My head hurts," I say. She hands me a paper cup with medicine. I smile. Everyone here wants to help me get better. Then I remember. Carla. Where is she?

When I ask where Carla is, the girl dressed in purple looks sad, then resigned.

She's not coming to visit today, Matt.

Opening my chart and making some notes, the girl in the purple gives me a look I can't read. Snatches of words fill my head as she goes back to her charting.


We tell him, but he never remembers.

                             Jumped off the same bridge and all.
                                                                   
                                                       So tragic, after surviving the first time.

When she's done, she offers a half smile and lays a hand on my shoulder.

Call me if you need anything, she says, and leaves the room.

A heavy feeling creeps over me and I don't know why. My chest tightens and my eyes sting. Then I look at the geode with its sparkling crystals and the weight is lifted. Whatever was burdening me, it's gone now.
n3m3sis43: ((FMAB) Huuuughes and Winryyyy)
His life since the accident has been a series of staccato bursts. He's heard people talk about "living in the moment" as if that is hard to do. For him, it's like breathing.

The details of the crash are mostly lost to him now. It's not that he can't remember, exactly. It's just that he doesn't. It doesn't usually occur to him to think backward or forward. Most of the time, he just moves to the music.

What he does know is that the accident turned his hair a brilliant white and put him in the hospital. People call him the Straw Man, even though his hair is much paler than straw. He doesn't mind the nickname - the name he used before belongs to another man, another life.

He owns a little house outside a small town. Nearby are a small university, a park, and a river. Once he was a student at the university, but now he has no patience for long, snaking lines across a page. Now he goes there to sit on the quad, watching the people walk by or the squirrels scampering on the grass.

Inside his house sits an overstuffed chair with fading brown cushions. There is no television; he finds the plots tortuous and the lights and sounds jarring. Instead, he has a tea kettle, a porch with a swing, a bedroom with a soft quilt and a desk. On the desk sits a geode, half a gray rock cracked open to reveal a spill of gleaming jagged amethyst. It's a present from a girl he once knew, though he's all but forgotten her face.

He doesn't have a job. There is a bank account with money in it, money that somehow relates to the accident. The details of that aren't terribly important to him; he only knows it's enough to last him a long time if he doesn't spend a lot. He never spends a lot because he doesn't need much: a roof over his head, food to eat, jeans and sweatshirts and new sneakers when the old ones fall apart.

Since the crash, he is isolated but he never feels lonely. His family and friends don't come around often, but he takes a walk every morning and every evening. Sometimes he meets people along the way. Other times, he has no company but nature. Nature is company enough.

Besides, he's never been truly alone since the accident. He can touch people's minds.

* * * * *

He's watching a snail creeping across the university's quad when he notices the studious girl.

She's bent over a notebook at a wooden picnic table, angular and ambitious. A curtain of coppery hair obscures her face, but he doesn't need to see her features to know that she's upset. He can feel the frustration baking off of her.

A dam bursts and his head is filled with fragments of thoughts that do not belong to him.

All but dissertation.

                       Years of research, and still no results.

                                                                        Might as well give up.

Before he realizes what he's doing, he is standing beside her.

"A garden snail moves at a speed of only 0.03 miles per hour. Yet it is still capable of traveling over 1800 miles over the course of its lifetime."

The moment the words are out of his mouth, he regrets them. She'll probably scream for help, telling anyone who will listen about the crazy man who has approached her, spouting nonsense.

Click.

Her amber eyes meet his, and that's when he feels it. He's never picked a lock, but he imagines this is the sensation of the last pin falling into place.

"Oh!" the girl cries out as she jumps to her feet, "I have to get back to the lab!" She's gone a moment later, leaving him to ponder what has just happened.

* * * * *

He's feeding ducks in the park when he spies the awkward boy.

The boy is maybe sixteen, pale and gangly and trying to fold himself into invisibility on a nearby bench. His face is thin almost to the point of gauntness, marred by pimples and misery. He's tossing crumbs halfheartedly in the birds' general direction and looks like he could burst into tears at any moment.

The Straw Man moves to approach him, and the boy's thoughts invade his mind, unbidden as always.

I thought she liked me.

                          Everyone was laughing at me.

                                                      I can never show my face at school again.

Suddenly, the words begin to tumble from his lips.

"A duck looks clumsy when it waddles, but in the water it can glide like a swan," he says.

Click.

The boy looks at him, confused but hopeful.

"Two more years is a really long time," he says doubtfully.

The Straw Man motions toward the duck pond.

His forehead scrunching up in thought, the boy muses, "Are you saying that I have to find my own pond?"

The Straw Man just smiles. His own words aren't important anymore.

"Maybe I could do one of those magnet schools - you know, the ones for smart kids," the boy says, "Even if it's just for a year."

He smiles at the Straw Man, and it transforms his whole face. With the lines of anguish wiped away, it is a pleasing face. It's the face of the man he's going to be. Then he gathers his things, gives a little wave, and leaves without another word.

That's how it usually goes.

* * * * *

He's crossing the bridge when he sees the broken man.

The river is swollen well beyond its usual size and laps hungrily at its banks. A storm has been pummeling the town for the past two days, but all is calm now except for the water. Dawn is breaking, painting the sky and river with brilliant streaks of orange, pink and gold.

He watches the sun rise every morning, but it's especially lovely today. With a sharp intake of breath, he pauses at the edge of the bridge. When he resumes his walk, he's aware of nothing more than those scrawls of blazing color. He's almost at the other end of the bridge before he notices that he is not alone.

The man is standing about three feet away. He looks to be in his thirties and is dressed in a flannel shirt, blue jeans and scuffed work boots. He has the rumpled look of a man who's slept in his clothes. Staring raptly at the horizon, he appears to be admiring the scenery.

Without warning, the Straw Man's thoughts are no longer his. This time, there are no tangled fragments - only a single repeating refrain:

No one would really miss me if I just disappeared.

He waits for the rush of words that will set things right, but it doesn't come. This has never happened before, but he knows he has to do something.

"Breathtaking, isn't it?" he asks.

The other man turns slowly toward him. His eyes are hollow and hopeless, his mouth set with grim determination. He does not speak.

"The sunrise is always so lovely after a storm," the Straw Man says awkwardly. He's not used to having to come up with the words on his own.

The other man isn't helping. He's turned his back and is staring down into the swirling depths of the river.

The Straw Man feels his palms beginning to sweat. He doesn't know why the right words aren't coming. Maybe it's because the broken man doesn't want to be helped. If he can just find the right words, though, everything will change.

He doesn't usually think of the past, but now he remembers a 3D poster that once hung on his wall. Some people can't see the hidden picture in them, but he has always been able to. The trick is to focus your eyes on something in the distance, as if you're looking through the picture.

In his mind's eye, he stares through the broken man. He has just enough time to think this is stupid - it isn't working, and then his consciousness dims. From far away, he hears a voice - he thinks it might be his, still babbling at the broken man.

Then he feels something give way and a river of thoughts that are not his rushes over him. Each one slams into him with punishing force and for a moment, he thinks he's going to black out.

Everything I had is gone.

                                I'm a failure.

                                           They'd all be better off without me.

The words rush from his mouth before he even knows what he's saying.

"...After a storm, you can see so much further, so much more clearly than you could otherwise. Very few people can appreciate that fact. Personally, I think they just don't want to acknowledge it because they don't like change. But change can be beautiful. Don't you agree?"

He knows he's found the right words, but they don't seem to have registered yet. The broken man turns toward him, looking like he's going to punch him in the mouth. He spits out an indignant, "Listen, fella--" and

Click.

It's as if a switch has been flipped. The broken man falls silent and turns to look at the river again. "You might be right," he murmurs, "You just might be right."

Knowing his work is done, the Straw Man turns to go home. He normally walks another mile or two after the bridge, but he's suddenly feeling very tired. No longer concerned with the river, the sunrise, or the world around him, all he wants now is his comfy chair and maybe a nice cup of hot tea.

The other man asks him if any diners nearby are open this early. He directs him to Frank's place in town and starts walking toward home. Though tired, he hits his stride quickly and feels better the more distance he puts between himself and the once-broken man.

All of a sudden, he is once again awash in the stream of the man's thoughts. This time, it comes in images, clear and unbroken.

Steaming eggs and bacon on a clean white plate.

                                A man in a mechanic's coverall shaking his hand.

                                           The open arms of a smiling red-haired girl.

And then, there is a single, reverberating word:

FUTURE.

For a moment, it is more than he can take. He reels as if he's been slapped, and his knees feel as though they are going to give way. The riotous hues of the dawn recede to gray.

Taking a deep breath of the fresh morning air, he exhales slowly. The color seeps back into the world. His limbs are heavy, as if he's narrowly escaped drowning in the river below. He leans against a tree and lets the cool breeze ruffle his hair. By the time his strength begins to return, the sun has climbed in the sky and it's almost fully light.

He doesn't usually think of the future, but now he remembers the geode that sits on his desk at home. A geode is just another rock until water hollows it out, leaving a space where glittering crystals can grow.

After considering this for a moment, he shrugs and begins walking home again. Watered by the storm, the world around him is green and blooming. The music rises within him once more and he marches to its beat.




This was originally written for intersection week in LJ Idol. The talented [livejournal.com profile] ellakite wrote a companion piece here.
n3m3sis43: (Default)
His life since the accident has been a series of staccato bursts. He's heard people talk about "living in the moment" as if that is hard to do. For him, it's like breathing.

The details of the crash are mostly lost to him now. It's not that he can't remember, exactly. It's just that he doesn't. It doesn't usually occur to him to think backward or forward. Most of the time, he just moves to the music.

What he does know is that the accident turned his hair a brilliant white and put him in the hospital. People call him the Straw Man, even though his hair is much paler than straw. He doesn't mind the nickname - the name he used before belongs to another man, another life.

He owns a little house outside a small town. Nearby are a small university, a park, and a river. Once he was a student at the university, but now he has no patience for long, snaking lines across a page. Now he goes there to sit on the quad, watching the people walk by or the squirrels scampering on the grass.

Inside his house sits an overstuffed chair with fading brown cushions. There is no television; he finds the plots tortuous and the lights and sounds jarring. Instead, he has a tea kettle, a porch with a swing, a bedroom with a soft quilt and a desk. On the desk sits a geode, half a gray rock cracked open to reveal a spill of gleaming jagged amethyst. It's a present from a girl he once knew, though he's all but forgotten her face.

He doesn't have a job. There is a bank account with money in it, money that somehow relates to the accident. The details of that aren't terribly important to him; he only knows it's enough to last him a long time if he doesn't spend a lot. He never spends a lot because he doesn't need much: a roof over his head, food to eat, jeans and sweatshirts and new sneakers when the old ones fall apart.

Since the crash, he is isolated but he never feels lonely. His family and friends don't come around often, but he takes a walk every morning and every evening. Sometimes he meets people along the way. Other times, he has no company but nature. Nature is company enough.

Besides, he's never been truly alone since the accident. He can touch people's minds.

* * * * *

He's watching a snail creeping across the university's quad when he notices the studious girl.

She's bent over a notebook at a wooden picnic table, angular and ambitious. A curtain of coppery hair obscures her face, but he doesn't need to see her features to know that she's upset. He can feel the frustration baking off of her.

A dam bursts and his head is filled with fragments of thoughts that do not belong to him.

All but dissertation.

                       Years of research, and still no results.

                                                                        Might as well give up.

Before he realizes what he's doing, he is standing beside her.

"A garden snail moves at a speed of only 0.03 miles per hour. Yet it is still capable of traveling over 1800 miles over the course of its lifetime."

The moment the words are out of his mouth, he regrets them. She'll probably scream for help, telling anyone who will listen about the crazy man who has approached her, spouting nonsense.

Click.

Her amber eyes meet his, and that's when he feels it. He's never picked a lock, but he imagines this is the sensation of the last pin falling into place.

"Oh!" the girl cries out as she jumps to her feet, "I have to get back to the lab!" She's gone a moment later, leaving him to ponder what has just happened.

* * * * *

He's feeding ducks in the park when he spies the awkward boy.

The boy is maybe sixteen, pale and gangly and trying to fold himself into invisibility on a nearby bench. His face is thin almost to the point of gauntness, marred by pimples and misery. He's tossing crumbs halfheartedly in the birds' general direction and looks like he could burst into tears at any moment.

The Straw Man moves to approach him, and the boy's thoughts invade his mind, unbidden as always.

I thought she liked me.

                          Everyone was laughing at me.

                                                      I can never show my face at school again.

Suddenly, the words begin to tumble from his lips.

"A duck looks clumsy when it waddles, but in the water it can glide like a swan," he says.

Click.

The boy looks at him, confused but hopeful.

"Two more years is a really long time," he says doubtfully.

The Straw Man motions toward the duck pond.

His forehead scrunching up in thought, the boy muses, "Are you saying that I have to find my own pond?"

The Straw Man just smiles. His own words aren't important anymore.

"Maybe I could do one of those magnet schools - you know, the ones for smart kids," the boy says, "Even if it's just for a year."

He smiles at the Straw Man, and it transforms his whole face. With the lines of anguish wiped away, it is a pleasing face. It's the face of the man he's going to be. Then he gathers his things, gives a little wave, and leaves without another word.

That's how it usually goes.

* * * * *

He's crossing the bridge when he sees the broken man.

The river is swollen well beyond its usual size and laps hungrily at its banks. A storm has been pummeling the town for the past two days, but all is calm now except for the water. Dawn is breaking, painting the sky and river with brilliant streaks of orange, pink and gold.

He watches the sun rise every morning, but it's especially lovely today. With a sharp intake of breath, he pauses at the edge of the bridge. When he resumes his walk, he's aware of nothing more than those scrawls of blazing color. He's almost at the other end of the bridge before he notices that he is not alone.

The man is standing about three feet away. He looks to be in his thirties and is dressed in a flannel shirt, blue jeans and scuffed work boots. He has the rumpled look of a man who's slept in his clothes. Staring raptly at the horizon, he appears to be admiring the scenery.

Without warning, the Straw Man's thoughts are no longer his. This time, there are no tangled fragments - only a single repeating refrain:

No one would really miss me if I just disappeared.

He waits for the rush of words that will set things right, but it doesn't come. This has never happened before, but he knows he has to do something.

"Breathtaking, isn't it?" he asks.

The other man turns slowly toward him. His eyes are hollow and hopeless, his mouth set with grim determination. He does not speak.

"The sunrise is always so lovely after a storm," the Straw Man says awkwardly. He's not used to having to come up with the words on his own.

The other man isn't helping. He's turned his back and is staring down into the swirling depths of the river.

The Straw Man feels his palms beginning to sweat. He doesn't know why the right words aren't coming. Maybe it's because the broken man doesn't want to be helped. If he can just find the right words, though, everything will change.

He doesn't usually think of the past, but now he remembers a 3D poster that once hung on his wall. Some people can't see the hidden picture in them, but he has always been able to. The trick is to focus your eyes on something in the distance, as if you're looking through the picture.

In his mind's eye, he stares through the broken man. He has just enough time to think this is stupid - it isn't working, and then his consciousness dims. From far away, he hears a voice - he thinks it might be his, still babbling at the broken man.

Then he feels something give way and a river of thoughts that are not his rushes over him. Each one slams into him with punishing force and for a moment, he thinks he's going to black out.

Everything I had is gone.

                                I'm a failure.

                                           They'd all be better off without me.

The words rush from his mouth before he even knows what he's saying.

"...After a storm, you can see so much further, so much more clearly than you could otherwise. Very few people can appreciate that fact. Personally, I think they just don't want to acknowledge it because they don't like change. But change can be beautiful. Don't you agree?"

He knows he's found the right words, but they don't seem to have registered yet. The broken man turns toward him, looking like he's going to punch him in the mouth. He spits out an indignant, "Listen, fella--" and

Click.

It's as if a switch has been flipped. The broken man falls silent and turns to look at the river again. "You might be right," he murmurs, "You just might be right."

Knowing his work is done, the Straw Man turns to go home. He normally walks another mile or two after the bridge, but he's suddenly feeling very tired. No longer concerned with the river, the sunrise, or the world around him, all he wants now is his comfy chair and maybe a nice cup of hot tea.

The other man asks him if any diners nearby are open this early. He directs him to Frank's place in town and starts walking toward home. Though tired, he hits his stride quickly and feels better the more distance he puts between himself and the once-broken man.

All of a sudden, he is once again awash in the stream of the man's thoughts. This time, it comes in images, clear and unbroken.

Steaming eggs and bacon on a clean white plate.

                                A man in a mechanic's coverall shaking his hand.

                                           The open arms of a smiling red-haired girl.

And then, there is a single, reverberating word:

FUTURE.

For a moment, it is more than he can take. He reels as if he's been slapped, and his knees feel as though they are going to give way. The riotous hues of the dawn recede to gray.

Taking a deep breath of the fresh morning air, he exhales slowly. The color seeps back into the world. His limbs are heavy, as if he's narrowly escaped drowning in the river below. He leans against a tree and lets the cool breeze ruffle his hair. By the time his strength begins to return, the sun has climbed in the sky and it's almost fully light.

He doesn't usually think of the future, but now he remembers the geode that sits on his desk at home. A geode is just another rock until water hollows it out, leaving a space where glittering crystals can grow.

After considering this for a moment, he shrugs and begins walking home again. Watered by the storm, the world around him is green and blooming. The music rises within him once more and he marches to its beat.




This was originally written for intersection week in LJ Idol. The talented [livejournal.com profile] ellakite wrote a companion piece here.

Gobsmacked

Sep. 10th, 2012 01:43 pm
n3m3sis43: ((FMAB) Huuuughes and Winryyyy)
I've been walking for over an hour when I reach the village with the wooden sign labeled "Cliffton". My climb down the ravine and back up again has left me filthy and drenched in sweat. The people on the other side offered nothing but jeers and sneers - no news of Daisuke.

Passing the signpost, I enter the village. It's made up of small thatched huts and rutted dirt roads. One of these houses must belong to the traveler who helped me the last time I was here. My gut clenches with nervousness at the thought of knocking on random doors to look for him.

The people here can't be any meaner than the ones on the other side, I think. Besides, there's really no other choice.

Dust is whipping through the air. It settles for a moment and I notice two men standing not far from me. Only one is facing me, but I recognize him in an instant. It's the traveler! He's talking to another man, tall and well-built with long dark hair. His back is to me and I can't help staring at his rear.

"Really, Sam?" I mutter. I'm supposed to be finding Daisuke, not checking out strange men.

At the sound of my voice, the traveler's companion turns and looks my way. Our eyes meet and my stomach does an odd flip. And then I'm too busy screeching with joy and launching myself at him to be embarrassed, because it's Daisuke.

I throw my arms around his neck and he squeezes me so hard I can't breathe. It doesn't matter. Everything about him feels different, but I don't care about that either. He wasn't this muscly before, and he smells wrong, too - I guess they don't have his aftershave in Cliffton. Still, it's him and I don't want to let go.

He breaks the embrace and steps away. I feel self-conscious in his presence for the first time I can remember. No wonder I didn't recognize him at first. When I left him here, he was thin and his hair was short and spiky. Now it's past his shoulders, he's tanned, and he's put on at least 20 pounds of muscle. This place has apparently been good for him - he looks great.

"Um, Daisuke? How long has it been since I left?"

* * * * *

I'm crouching behind some trees in front of a small house. In the distance, I can hear the rush of a river. Apart from Cliffton, this is the first world I've visited more than once. Until today, I didn't know why.

The man with the bright white hair is sitting on the front step, head in his hands. He calls himself the Straw Man, and I've been watching him for weeks. Most days, his step is light and carefree. Today, he looks like the world is on his shoulders.

I'm at his side before he looks up. He's really off his game today. I lay a hand on his shoulder and he jumps. He isn't used to people coming here. Gray eyes wide, he looks at me.

"You're... like me?" he says.

"Not exactly. But I'm sure as hell not normal."

He winces as if he's got a headache. "It doesn't work on you."

"It doesn't have to. I'm just here to talk. You look like you need a friend."

"I just..." He trails off, then tries again. "I don't feel right anymore. Ever since I touched his mind. The broken man." There's no distrust in his gaze. Though he's got to be at least a few years older than I am, his eyes are clear and childlike.

"I haven't felt right in ages," I say, sitting down next to him on the bricks, "You get used to it after a while."

* * * * *

The sun is setting and a late spring breeze is blowing. Daisuke and I are sitting in his backyard the way we have so many times before. It's not the same, though - nothing is anymore. He's barely here even though he's sitting right beside me. I'm pretty sure I know what he's going through but I don't know how to help.

"I think I made a new friend today," I say.

"Really?" he says. He's staring off into space, a million miles away. I don't know why I bother.

"Yeah, in one of my stories. Isn't that weird?" That gets his attention. His dark eyes flash with anger I wasn't expecting.

"Great, another reason for you to be gone all the time."

"It's not like you notice when I am here anyway," I point out.

"I always notice, Sam. I'm just not ready to talk, okay? How long did I wait for you to tell me about your power?"

"That's completely different. You wouldn't have believed me." I look away, and my voice is barely a whisper. "You didn't believe me, Daisuke."

"Am I supposed to apologize for that again?"

"No!" I practically yell. This is not how I wanted this conversation to go at all. "I just... I just want my best friend back, okay?"

Daisuke looks at the ground and says nothing. He hasn't cut his hair since he came home. It falls in front of his face now, a black curtain hiding his eyes. Just one more thing between us.

* * * * *

He calls himself the Straw Man, and we've become friends. Sometimes we sit by the river, and other times we feed ducks at the park. He doesn't talk much, but I don't mind.

It's raining as I knock on his door. He steps back and waves me inside. Something's different - a second overstuffed chair in the living room. He's made a place for me. It's a thing I haven't had in what feels like forever. The simple gesture brings tears to my eyes.

"You didn't have to do that," I say.

"I wanted you to feel welcome. It's been so long since I've had a friend."

Just like that, I'm crying. Friends are a touchy subject for me these days.

"Daisuke?" he asks. I nod.

"He won't talk to me anymore. It's like he's mad and I don't know why."

The Straw Man says nothing for a long time. The silence stretches out before us but it doesn't hurt. He doesn't have to say a word.

"If I could touch your mind, I could help you find an answer," he finally says.

"It's okay," I tell him. "Just talking is enough."

* * * * *

It's almost fall, and the evening is cool and breezy. Daisuke and I are sitting on lawn chairs behind his house like always. The air is clean and crisp. It would be a lovely night, if we weren't having the same tired conversation for the millionth time.

"You haven't been around much lately," he says. I sigh, knowing this isn't going anywhere good.

"Yeah, I've been traveling a lot."

"Traveling?" he snorts. "Is that what you're calling it now? Like it's your job?"

I don't have anything to say to that. It seems he's always angry at me these days.

He breaks the silence. "You're going to see him, aren't you?"

"Why, are you jealous?" I shoot back.

"I just don't get why you're always visiting some guy who barely even talks."

"Like you ever talk to me anymore either," I mumble under my breath.

"What?"

"What's the point in sticking around here anyway? You never talk to me. I hate it here."

"I'm here, Sam."

"Yeah," I can feel the bitterness creeping into my voice. "Only you're not anymore. Not really."

Daisuke doesn't respond. He studies his fingernails intently.

"Come on, Daisuke. How long are you going to punish me for... for whatever I did wrong?"

"You never even considered what I wanted, Sam." He's glaring at me, eyes hard just like the rest of him now. "It's always about you and your power."

"What are you talking about?" I'm genuinely shocked.

"When you came rushing in to 'save' me..." He looks away.

"What was I supposed to do - leave you there?"

"It's just..." His voice trails off and he won't look at me. "Maybe I was happy."

"You're not like me, Daisuke. You have a life here."

"I had a life here, but that was a year and a half ago. I had a best friend, but even before I left, I was losing her," he says quietly. "Why do you think I wanted to go with you so badly?"

"Daisuke, I'll always be your friend." I get up and wrap my arms around him. His body stiffens but I don't let go.

* * * * *

It's a stormy night, and I'm sitting in the Straw Man's living room. Raindrops beat against the roof; it's a soothing sound.

"Daisuke finally talked to me," I say. "But it only made things worse. I don't know what to do."

"Be his friend, Sam."

"I'm trying! He won't let me." For the millionth time, I dissolve into tears. I hate this.

He looks at me with a gentle smile. "Keep trying."

Suddenly, he flinches and goes pale. He looks like he's going to be sick.

"Are you okay?" I ask.

The Straw Man takes a deep breath, nods slowly and holds up one finger. Wait.

He watches me for a while, head cocked, listening to words I can't hear. Emotions flicker across his face, as if he's having an inner debate. It seems like hours before he finally speaks.

"He loves you too - he's just not ready to admit it. Give it time."

Gobsmacked

Sep. 10th, 2012 01:43 pm
n3m3sis43: (Default)
I've been walking for over an hour when I reach the village with the wooden sign labeled "Cliffton". My climb down the ravine and back up again has left me filthy and drenched in sweat. The people on the other side offered nothing but jeers and sneers - no news of Daisuke.

Passing the signpost, I enter the village. It's made up of small thatched huts and rutted dirt roads. One of these houses must belong to the traveler who helped me the last time I was here. My gut clenches with nervousness at the thought of knocking on random doors to look for him.

The people here can't be any meaner than the ones on the other side, I think. Besides, there's really no other choice.

Dust is whipping through the air. It settles for a moment and I notice two men standing not far from me. Only one is facing me, but I recognize him in an instant. It's the traveler! He's talking to another man, tall and well-built with long dark hair. His back is to me and I can't help staring at his rear.

"Really, Sam?" I mutter. I'm supposed to be finding Daisuke, not checking out strange men.

At the sound of my voice, the traveler's companion turns and looks my way. Our eyes meet and my stomach does an odd flip. And then I'm too busy screeching with joy and launching myself at him to be embarrassed, because it's Daisuke.

I throw my arms around his neck and he squeezes me so hard I can't breathe. It doesn't matter. Everything about him feels different, but I don't care about that either. He wasn't this muscly before, and he smells wrong, too - I guess they don't have his aftershave in Cliffton. Still, it's him and I don't want to let go.

He breaks the embrace and steps away. I feel self-conscious in his presence for the first time I can remember. No wonder I didn't recognize him at first. When I left him here, he was thin and his hair was short and spiky. Now it's past his shoulders, he's tanned, and he's put on at least 20 pounds of muscle. This place has apparently been good for him - he looks great.

"Um, Daisuke? How long has it been since I left?"

* * * * *

I'm crouching behind some trees in front of a small house. In the distance, I can hear the rush of a river. Apart from Cliffton, this is the first world I've visited more than once. Until today, I didn't know why.

The man with the bright white hair is sitting on the front step, head in his hands. He calls himself the Straw Man, and I've been watching him for weeks. Most days, his step is light and carefree. Today, he looks like the world is on his shoulders.

I'm at his side before he looks up. He's really off his game today. I lay a hand on his shoulder and he jumps. He isn't used to people coming here. Gray eyes wide, he looks at me.

"You're... like me?" he says.

"Not exactly. But I'm sure as hell not normal."

He winces as if he's got a headache. "It doesn't work on you."

"It doesn't have to. I'm just here to talk. You look like you need a friend."

"I just..." He trails off, then tries again. "I don't feel right anymore. Ever since I touched his mind. The broken man." There's no distrust in his gaze. Though he's got to be at least a few years older than I am, his eyes are clear and childlike.

"I haven't felt right in ages," I say, sitting down next to him on the bricks, "You get used to it after a while."

* * * * *

The sun is setting and a late spring breeze is blowing. Daisuke and I are sitting in his backyard the way we have so many times before. It's not the same, though - nothing is anymore. He's barely here even though he's sitting right beside me. I'm pretty sure I know what he's going through but I don't know how to help.

"I think I made a new friend today," I say.

"Really?" he says. He's staring off into space, a million miles away. I don't know why I bother.

"Yeah, in one of my stories. Isn't that weird?" That gets his attention. His dark eyes flash with anger I wasn't expecting.

"Great, another reason for you to be gone all the time."

"It's not like you notice when I am here anyway," I point out.

"I always notice, Sam. I'm just not ready to talk, okay? How long did I wait for you to tell me about your power?"

"That's completely different. You wouldn't have believed me." I look away, and my voice is barely a whisper. "You didn't believe me, Daisuke."

"Am I supposed to apologize for that again?"

"No!" I practically yell. This is not how I wanted this conversation to go at all. "I just... I just want my best friend back, okay?"

Daisuke looks at the ground and says nothing. He hasn't cut his hair since he came home. It falls in front of his face now, a black curtain hiding his eyes. Just one more thing between us.

* * * * *

He calls himself the Straw Man, and we've become friends. Sometimes we sit by the river, and other times we feed ducks at the park. He doesn't talk much, but I don't mind.

It's raining as I knock on his door. He steps back and waves me inside. Something's different - a second overstuffed chair in the living room. He's made a place for me. It's a thing I haven't had in what feels like forever. The simple gesture brings tears to my eyes.

"You didn't have to do that," I say.

"I wanted you to feel welcome. It's been so long since I've had a friend."

Just like that, I'm crying. Friends are a touchy subject for me these days.

"Daisuke?" he asks. I nod.

"He won't talk to me anymore. It's like he's mad and I don't know why."

The Straw Man says nothing for a long time. The silence stretches out before us but it doesn't hurt. He doesn't have to say a word.

"If I could touch your mind, I could help you find an answer," he finally says.

"It's okay," I tell him. "Just talking is enough."

* * * * *

It's almost fall, and the evening is cool and breezy. Daisuke and I are sitting on lawn chairs behind his house like always. The air is clean and crisp. It would be a lovely night, if we weren't having the same tired conversation for the millionth time.

"You haven't been around much lately," he says. I sigh, knowing this isn't going anywhere good.

"Yeah, I've been traveling a lot."

"Traveling?" he snorts. "Is that what you're calling it now? Like it's your job?"

I don't have anything to say to that. It seems he's always angry at me these days.

He breaks the silence. "You're going to see him, aren't you?"

"Why, are you jealous?" I shoot back.

"I just don't get why you're always visiting some guy who barely even talks."

"Like you ever talk to me anymore either," I mumble under my breath.

"What?"

"What's the point in sticking around here anyway? You never talk to me. I hate it here."

"I'm here, Sam."

"Yeah," I can feel the bitterness creeping into my voice. "Only you're not anymore. Not really."

Daisuke doesn't respond. He studies his fingernails intently.

"Come on, Daisuke. How long are you going to punish me for... for whatever I did wrong?"

"You never even considered what I wanted, Sam." He's glaring at me, eyes hard just like the rest of him now. "It's always about you and your power."

"What are you talking about?" I'm genuinely shocked.

"When you came rushing in to 'save' me..." He looks away.

"What was I supposed to do - leave you there?"

"It's just..." His voice trails off and he won't look at me. "Maybe I was happy."

"You're not like me, Daisuke. You have a life here."

"I had a life here, but that was a year and a half ago. I had a best friend, but even before I left, I was losing her," he says quietly. "Why do you think I wanted to go with you so badly?"

"Daisuke, I'll always be your friend." I get up and wrap my arms around him. His body stiffens but I don't let go.

* * * * *

It's a stormy night, and I'm sitting in the Straw Man's living room. Raindrops beat against the roof; it's a soothing sound.

"Daisuke finally talked to me," I say. "But it only made things worse. I don't know what to do."

"Be his friend, Sam."

"I'm trying! He won't let me." For the millionth time, I dissolve into tears. I hate this.

He looks at me with a gentle smile. "Keep trying."

Suddenly, he flinches and goes pale. He looks like he's going to be sick.

"Are you okay?" I ask.

The Straw Man takes a deep breath, nods slowly and holds up one finger. Wait.

He watches me for a while, head cocked, listening to words I can't hear. Emotions flicker across his face, as if he's having an inner debate. It seems like hours before he finally speaks.

"He loves you too - he's just not ready to admit it. Give it time."

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