Our Old Friend, Death
The web novel, Golden Guardian, has what one would call a satisfying ending, or at least, Cayden Wells thought so. With his pallid face dipped low in the little light of the apartment, he peers into his small phone, a grin plastered on his thin cheeks as he scrolls down for the final time, reading those two famed words, The End.
Golden Guardian gave Cayden everything he could have wanted out of that story, the villain, Virgil Argento, was sentenced to beheading for his crimes against the hero and his harem. The hero, Samson Evans, brought justice to his slain comrades and married the love interest, Lady Emilia La Mer. The pair had 20 children and the novel ended with them visiting Samson’s best friend and rival’s grave, just as Virgil was beheaded. There was no better ending to this masterpiece, Cayden was sure of it.
A smirk, still present on his pasty cheeks began to drop as a notification pinged on his phone.
“Payment to ST. JONES HOSPITAL – 600$,” it read.
The expression of mirth that had brightened Cayden’s face vanished entirely, turning off his phone, he sat in the dark, small apartment room. The dank stench of musty mold swam around him as he took a deep breath, falling into his usual coughing fit before dropping his head to rest in his shaky, thin hands. Every month since the incident, he lost three-fourths of his paycheck for that week. Every month he had to pull himself off his mattress and walk to St. Jones, walk to that room. Every month he had to approach that gravesite, and every year, on the day of the incident, he would crash to his knees by her grave and apologize.
People had told him, at first, it was not his fault. He had no control over Brandon getting in that car, of Brandon drinking those bottles of alcohol before dizzyingly flying down the residential highway of Scarborough, CA. He wasn’t to blame for Brandon hitting that 10-year-old girl, he couldn’t have done anything. But that wasn’t true, Cayden sat in the passenger’s seat, he could have forced Brandon off the wheel, and he could have stopped the car, but he was too weak.
That’s who Cayden Wells was the weaker, meeker, elder brother of Brandon Wells. He claimed he was just as much to blame as Brandon, and eventually, people began to think the same. How could Cayden Wells continue to pay for Brandon’s hospital bills as he lay comatose from his own actions? What pity did Cayden Wells want in visiting her grave, year in and out? What could Cayden Wells have done differently?
Rubbing his temples, Cayden found himself yawning-being struck by that telltale wave of fatigue he’d developed over the week. Glancing outside, the sun was just disappearing over the pine trees and a light rain had begun to fall. Cayden reached behind him, grabbing his tossed phone, before clicking to his contacts. Hitting the contact, Boss#5, he waited as it rang.
“Hello?” A deep, gruff voice, strained after years of cigarette use, questioned.
“Hi, it’s Cayden Wells. I’m not going to be able to make it to my shift tonight,” Cayden stated emotionless, his voice still strained from his previous coughing.
“Oh, the Well’s kid,” Boss murmured to someone in the background before returning to the call, “don’t bother coming in, I can hear the sick in your voice. Use your sick days and call me when you can speak clearly,” He ordered.
“All right, thank you, sir-”
“Bye.” The call ended with a click, and Cayden let the phone fall from his fingers and onto the carpet floor beneath him. Groaning, he pulled his body off the floor, stumbling heavily into the wall, before steadying himself and dragging his body to the worn mattress. Dropping into the bed like a sack of potatoes, he let himself sink into the blankets, pulling a pillow under his head and letting hot tears drip onto it.
Gradually, he let sleep claim him as he drifted off into the inevitable, black abyss of unconsciousness, slipping into a silent world, without guilt, without shame, without anger, and contempt, for the last time.
Cayden Wells, 29, the breadwinner of the surviving Wells family was found comatose in his apartment the next morning. Upon inspection of the lodging, other residents of the apartments were evacuated over incomparable amounts of black mold found throughout the entire building. Wells was found only because a concerned citizen called for a wellness check on his residence, and upon not answering the door for officers, was located in a forced entry.
When Cayden opened his eyes, he immediately shut them, as the overbearing brightness of his surroundings nearly blinded him. He was no longer laying on his dingy mattress, rather, he lay on granite white floors, spread out like a star and staring upwards. A feeling of being in a room that’s too spacious, making you feel uncharacteristically claustrophobic enshrouded him.
Where am I?
His thoughts reverberated in his skull, bringing back that pounding headache that ailed him a few moments ago.
“You are dead,” a disembodied voice announced in a matter-of-fact way.
“What- “Cayden started, shooting his eyes open only to be greeted by that blinding environment.
“You’re dead, I just said this- “The voice said again, “did I grab a dumb one, shit-“
“How…I can’t possibly be,” Cayden began, “this must be a joke, that’s a sick joke- “
Suddenly, Cayden felt wrenched foreword, pulled into the air by an unstoppable force that gripped his collar,
“You think I’d joke about that? You, humans, have a terrible sense of humor,” the voice laughed before him. “I’ll say it again for your puny brains to process, you have died and now you belong to me,” the voice announced.
There were two things keeping Cayden from rebuking against this bodiless bully, his current blinded state, and the unending, animalistic fear that rolled through his body, causing him to tremor in the clenched grip of the voice.
I’m going to die, I’m going to die, oh god, oh my god-
Fresh sweat rolled off his sallow skin in gallons as he pulled his arms to cover his face in terror, curling in on himself.
“You humans are so weak-minded, shitting yourself just because you’re a few feet off the ground,” The voice groaned, suddenly, the air was rushing through Cayden’s untamed hair and the comfortable pressure of ground beneath his feet caused his legs to jelly.
Sitting on the floor, Cayden curled himself into a ball, barely peeling his eyes open against the bright surroundings.
“If you want everything to work out, just play the role, okay, little mortals?” The voice ordered beside Cayden’s left ear. Turning his head, Cayden was again greeted by a white landscape, burning itself into his mind and his eyes. Just as quickly as the voice appeared with its random acts of psychological torture, it vanished, leaving Cayden alone in his blinded solitude once again.
Pulling himself up to his feet, Cayden stumbled blindly forward,
There’s got to be a door, or a corner; no room is endless or this bright, he thought, dragging himself forward as the headache returned with a vengeance.
He must have been walking for hours. Hands outstretched before him, his fingers hadn’t felt a solid wall beyond the floor for hours, and with each step, the headache was becoming more insufferable.
“Hello!” Cayden called out, “Is anyone there? I need help!”
Silence replied to his plea, just as it had for the past one hundred times he called out in the past hours. Stopping his trudge forward, Cayden reached forward to steady himself as the headache flared up, throwing him into a wave of vertigo and nausea, only to crash into the ground beneath him with a cry. With shaking limbs, Cayden tried desperately to push himself up again, and failed, again and again, and again until he unceremoniously collapsed to the ground, unable to muster a final effort.
Is this what death feels like? If I humor that voice, that I’m dead, am I dying twice? Is this hell? If so, I deserve to be here, but does it have to be this painful?
Suddenly, Cayden felt himself sinking into the ground. Falling into the white granite as easily as pushing a finger through play-doh, sticky, slow, and compact. He had no energy to fight against this sudden change, instead, he unwilfully accepted and let the floor mold around his form, sucking him into the ground and away from the blinding white lights.