“My name is Argent Cross. Nice to meet you all.”
So I say, for formality. Just in case someone doesn’t know who I am already.
“On behalf of my family, I thank you all for coming here despite the bad weather.”
It’s cloudy, cold, and windy—the perfect weather to stay at home under warm blankets. The only way for it to get worse is for the rain to start falling, and fall it does. I feel small drops of cold water pattering on my scalp and face as I continue:
“Before I start talking about my beloved sister, Vert, I have a confession to make.”
I feel people’s attention started to focus on me. Those who had their eyes casted down was now looking up at me, standing on a small platform, behind a slim podium. The subtle sounds of sobbing and snorts gradually stopped, allowing silence to reign. Even movements ceased to be. For a moment there, I feel like time has stopped altogether.
I took a deep breath, and said the words that would shatter this stillness.
“I am the reason of my sister’s death.”
The last thing I register are the shocked gasps and disbelieving stares I got from everyone. Everything is a blur after that. I know I talked about the hour of her death. How I didn’t hear her pleas for help because I was wearing a noise-canceling headphones to play my favorite game. I know I ended the speech with an apology and retreated before anyone could question me. I know that after that, I just stand beside her coffin until the end, not answering any questions thrown to me. I know what happened, but I have no memory of it. It’s as if I am hearing all the things happened to me from someone else instead of experiencing it myself.
When my family and I finally get home, I go straight to my sister’s room. The room is still the same as it is three days ago: messy. Vert is—wasn’t the most girly girl in the pod. She always left her things like it was after using it. It was evident when I look at her room. Her books are stacked on her chair and desk, and her sewing machine—her latest and last attempt for anything girly—is placed close to her bed with an unfinished arm of a dress still stuck on it. On the bed itself was an opened book and a bag of unfinished rice crackers, which mom hadn’t thrown away since the accident. I look at the bed, hating and liking it at the same time. It gives a false impression that the owner was still alive. I can pretend that Vert is still alive, reading her favorite fantasy book for the hundredth time, and is now in the kitchen getting her drink.
I spend a long time in my sister’s room, but eventually I go back to my room. I plop myself onto my bed, without changing my clothes, and I hear a voice calling out:
“Mom! Brother is sleeping on the bed without changing again!”
I groan in annoyance and talk back.
“Shut up, Ver. Close the door if you want to talk. You’re noisy.”
I expect Vert to argue back, but no reply came from her.
I look up from my pillow and see the empty bedroom across my door. Oh, right. Of course she won’t answer. She’s already gone.
My hand strokes the familiar curve of the cursed headphone I wore at the day of my sister’s death. If only I didn’t wear it, maybe I could hear the sound of my sister falling, tumbling down the wooden stairs and breaking her neck. If only I stopped playing when I feel a shake on the floor, maybe she could still be saved.
That’s the only thing filling my head these days. The list is infinite, and it torments me. At first I tried to stop thinking about it by justifying myself. On that day I was finally able to play games after one grueling month of studying and doing the final exam. I was rightfully reaping the reward for my hard work, so it shouldn’t be my fault. After all, how could I expect that it’d be the cause of my sister’s death?
But no matter how much I use my logic to shift the blame, the regret never goes away. I heard that confessing would lift most of the burden, so I did it at the funeral but it didn’t work. I felt the same, if not worse, after my confession at the eulogy.
Will this feeling go away in time? Will I live the rest of my life with this regret? Will Ver ever forgive me?
“Ver… what should I do?”
Three months passed, and my regret is not going away. It’s bothering me so much that I stop caring about anything anymore. I stop playing games, I give up going to school, and opt to stay at home, staring at Ver’s room from my own room, waiting for her to suddenly pop out and bother me like she always did.
I don’t care about the consequences, until today.
Mom asked me to accompany her shopping this morning, like she always did before Vert’s death. I was going to refuse like always, but her pleading eyes made me change my mind.
So there I was, at a fast food restaurant close to home, eating a hamburger together with her. I admit it was a pretty nice change after being a complete crab under the rock for three months. I almost felt like I was my usual self, before Vert’s death.
We spent the whole day walking around the town before going back. We talked all the way home. Or rather, she fussed over me, and I was being averse about it like any other fourteen years old boy. Everything was perfect, until we enter the house.
I felt it right away, there was something missing. A dreadful feeling rose as I looked around, trying to find out what is it.
I ignored mom’s words and continued looking around.
“If you’re looking for the slippers, they’re here.”
I looked down to check.
“It’s not there.”
“It’s right there, sweetie. On the rack”
“No, mom. Ver’s slippers, they’re not here.”
Mom’s face immediately lost its radiance.
“Well, Argent. She’s not going to use it, so mom put it away.”
That was a perfectly logical explanation, so why did this feeling grow stronger? Expecting the worst, I dashed towards Vert’s room, skipping the steps and ignoring mom’s calls at the same time.
The door of Vert’s room was closed. I tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. That was strange. Vert’s room didn’t have a key.
“Mom, Ver’s room is locked. Do you have the key?” I asked when mom finally caught up.
“No, dear. Perhaps it’s stuck?” mom asked back. Now that I think about it, I realize that she was just pretending she didn’t know.
“Maybe,” I agreed with her. “Do you know where the crowbar is?”
“Crowbar? What are you going to do with it?” mom asked with a hint of fear in her voice.
“I’m going to use it to open the door. Ver won’t be able to get out of the room if we don’t open it,” I said matter-of-factly, feeling upset at mom for not understanding something so obvious.
“Argent, Ver is—“ mom was going to say something about Vert, but she stopped in the middle and said something else instead. “We shouldn’t try it on our own. Let’s wait for dad, okay?”
“But she’ll be hungry.”
As I said that, I questioned myself.
Why am I saying this?
Vert is already—
“You know her, Argent. She’s probably taking her nap now. Let’s not wake her up or she’d be panicked.”
Yes, Vert is just taking a nap. Vert is not…she’s not…
Mom’s hand caressed my cheek. I didn’t realize it was wet and wondered why it was wet.
“Come now, change your clothes and rest a little. You must be tired from all that walking.”
Ah, yes. It was just sweat. I relaxed under mother’s gentle touch, and let her lead me to my own room. What happened next was a blur. I remember changing clothes, but I don’t remember how I fell asleep. When I woke up, it was already dark. Dad should be home by now.
I got off my bed and checked Vert’s door. It was still stuck. I could hear dad’s voice downstairs though. He probably just got home.
“…getting out of hand. Do we really need to do that? What if he finds out about it?”
“I don’t like to do this anymore than you, but Argent needs to move on. Of course he’d be heartbroken when he finds out, but he’ll heal.”
“Dear, you don’t understand. You should’ve seen how he behaves today. He thinks Vert is still alive!”
“Then that’s the more reason we need to do this. He won’t improve if we don’t do anything!”
“But dear, I’m scared. What if this makes things worse?”
“Then we just keep silent about it as long as we need to. Just play along with him and wait until he stabilizes.”
“I know it’s hard for you. It’s hard for me too. But we need this. We all need this. We need to move on.”
I headed back to upstairs silently after that. Judging from the conversation, it seemed that mom and dad had done something to Vert’s room. I pretended to sleep until they believed that my nap was going to last until the next day.
When the clock struck twelve, I got up and searched for a crowbar around the house. I found one on the garage and silently tiptoed back to upstairs.
I pried the door open as silent as I can, going on intervals to make sure nothing broke noisily under the pressure. After a while, it finally opened. It was dark, so I searched for the light switch and turned the light on when I found it.
Surprise is not enough to describe the feeling I felt when I saw the state Vert’s room. It was completely empty and devoid of life. Even the fairy wallpaper she adored was gone. It was as if someone pressed a reset button and turned the room to the way it was before it had an occupant.
Who did this?
“Dad… and mom…” my own voice supplied the answer.
Silence. My voice didn’t seem to know it. I knew there was a good reason, but I couldn’t figure it out.
So here I am, standing still on Vert’s room door, trying to figure out what’s happening on me.
What’s this feeling? It feels like I just got smacked by a giant hammer in the chest. No, it’s even more painful than that. It’s as if someone took a giant eraser and forcefully wiped a part of myself. I feel hollow, and that hollowness is somehow more painful than the sadness I’ve been feeling this past three months.
Is this… true loss?
The realization comes, slapping me in the face. Before I know it, I’m already out of the house, running like something really bad will happen if I don’t get away from there fast. I don’t understand why I do that. I don’t even know what I’m running away from, but I just have this sudden urge to run, to get away. From what, I don’t know too.
I don’t know how long I run or to where I’m running. Eventually I slow down and stop, and I find myself in a distant but familiar place.
If I was my normal self, I’d smack myself. Out of all places I can run away to, why a cemetery? It’s a place to run away from!
Something trips my feet as I walk back. I fall on something hard—probably someone’s grave. I quickly get to my own foot and freeze when I see the name on the square stone laid flat on the ground.
HERE LIES OUR BELOVED DAUGHTER,
SISTER, AND FRIEND
Just by glancing at that simple writing, everything comes crashing down on me all at once. The feeling of regret, the memories that I suppressed, all resurface and overflowing like a shaken carbonated drink freed of its cap. I sink back to the earth, sobbing like I’m five years old again.
I don’t know how many times I call her name. If the grave keeper hears me, he’d probably think I’m a ghost and call a priest, but I don’t care. There’s only loss and regret in my head, and the only way to make me feel better is to say her name as much as I can.
At some point, I get tired of crying. It’s only then that I notice that the cemetery has become quiet. Too quiet.
“Hello?” I say loudly, and hear my voice ring through the large cemetery. I was eager to break the silence and I didn’t expect to get an answer, but to my surprise, I get one.
The voice, ten times louder than mine, came from my right side. I turn my head towards the source and see a middle aged man running towards my direction. I don’t recognize him, but he’s here at this place in this time so he must be the grave keeper. But what is he running away from?
I blink and he’s gone. All noise the man made while running is also gone. Gone like a pause on a video. And the cemetery returns to its unnatural silence.
I rub my puffy eyes. What was that? Is it just a hallucination? Am I going mad?
My answer comes immediately. I suddenly feel a violent tug on my waist, and before I know it, I’m already high on the air, looking down at the rapidly distancing ground like a bungee jumper going reverse.
Before my survival instinct can kick in, I feel something sharp and thick pierced my torso on the right and the left side. I scream and struggle against whatever is stabbing me. I dare not to look down on my stomach, but I eventually realized that the things that are stabbing me are some kind of a pincer. I continue struggling despite the pain, but it’s futile. I can’t even budge it.
After a while, I feel bile rising from my stomach to my throat and cough it out. The sour and coppery smelling vomit drips down my mouth and I reflexively wipe it off with the back of my hand. I pull back my hand and there’s a red smear on it. It is only then I notice that I have blood mixed in my stomach contents.
I stare at the red liquid on my hand for a few moment. My chest feels like it’s on fire, but despite all that, I feel calm. Maybe because I’ve accepted it all. Vert’s death. Mom and dad’s actions. My own demise. I have stop struggling and denying everything and it makes me feel…calm. Not peaceful. Just calm.
At some point I close my eyes and found myself drifting in the darkness. I have one last thought before I lose consciousness completely.
Hold on, Ver.
Brother is coming to your place.
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