I Try Stalking (For The First Time)
You may already know this, but running away rarely solves many problems. It might help you get away for a while, delay the inevitable, but it's not very often that it actually solves a problem. (Unless, of course, you're running in a track competition or some kind of race. Then, obviously, it does.)
So I guess it was kind of obvious that after I ran away from my friends and family, where my house was, I would have to return. After all, I need a place to call home, even in my half-alive, half-dead form. Do you honestly expect me to be a homeless ghost? That's just pathetic, so no thank you.
After running to the corner where a certain grocery store was, I slowed to a stop and reluctantly trudged back to the apartment building. I can be really slow when I want to be (or even without trying, so I'm told), so it's no surprise that it took me about a half hour to breach a distance that had taken me only five to ten minutes to run.
When I was approaching the faded facade of the old brick building, I had the strangest emotion pent up inside of me. It made my gut churn, and my stomach feel kinda queasy. I'm pretty sure the feeling was guilt. Inexplicable guilt. I think, somewhere in this messed-up head of mine, I felt guilty for being late getting home. Like it was just a normal weekday of me coming home after school, and my mom would scold me for taking longer than I should have, but then she would just bake me a plate of chocolate chip cookies and we would all be good again.
But in this case, there was none of that. There was no strict yet loving admonishing awaiting my arrival. There was no pair of open arms to rub my back and hug me. There was no batch of cookies to welcome me home. Most importantly, there was no cheerful, strong mom to kiss me on the forehead and ask me how my day was.
Instead, what I found when I got home, was a ruined state. All of the guests from the party were gone. The apartment had been cleared of all party decorations, presents, and desserts. There was not a single blue crumb as evidence of the cookies that had been set out for me only an hour or so ago.
My mother sat on the edge of a wooden chair in the middle of our small, yet usually sunny, kitchen, with my stepfather standing behind her, rubbing her back and smoothing out her curly dark hair gently. My mom was crying. Actually crying this time. And the sound was so sad, so pitiful and pathetic, that my heart physically clinched at the audible noise made by so much despair. Standing there, watching my mom cry like that, with her broken sobs echoing in the abandoned kitchen, I once again felt like I was invading someone's privacy during a very personal moment.
Paul stood behind her, always supporting her like the good husband and father figure that he was...I mean is. He was crying too. But his tears were silent, like mom's had been half an hour ago when I'd left her. He let no sob escape from him, but he was clearly holding back tears that my mom wouldn't have been able to see from in front of him anyway. The way he rubbed her back and ran his fingers through her hair, smoothing out whatever bumps or tangles he found, it was like he was proving to himself and to her that he was alright. But I knew that right now, neither of them were.
"WHY?!" screamed my mom, so loudly and so suddenly that I stumbled against the counter I'd been leaning on and nearly fell down from surprise. "Why? Why did it have to be Percy? Not Percy... anyone but him! He was so young! So brave. He was only beginning his life! Why should it be snatched away from him like this?" My mom paused for a moment, trying to inhale and exhale a deep breath that came out shaky. She started up again, but still choked on her words. "He had his entire life ahead of him. He was going to go to college with Annabeth. They could have gotten engaged, then married. Moved to New Rome. Had kids and raised a family. Settled down, gotten normal jobs, then retired. Grown old together. Die a peaceful, normal death that doesn't involve the normal demigod stuff. Like..." She swallowed. "Like this."
She stopped talking, and began to cry again, her mumbled words nearly incomprehensible, except for a few phrases that may have been "Percy" and "no". Paul continued to stand behind her, still silent and still as a statue frozen by Medusa. But the tears leaking from the corners of his eyes, which he now let fall freely, were the obvious signs that he was not one of the statues that belonged in Aunty Em's Garden Gnome Emporium. (And trust me, I'm a very good judge of this. Take it from me, personally.)
Despite the broken forms of my parents, I knew that he had to leave them alone for now. This still felt like an invasion of their privacy, and I didn't want to betray their trust, even while I was dead. Besides, I had seen enough of this sad site for now, and there was another person that I definitely wanted to check on.
So without a further sound (not that either of my parents would have been able to hear me), I managed to slip from the room without additionally tripping over my own two feet or anything else in the room. Trust me, this was a big accomplishment.
I walked through the still-open apartment door slowly, so slow that a snail would have beat me in a race with no trouble at all. Then, suddenly empowered by some strange feeling, I broke into a sprint, and ran down the hallway. I streaked down the slightly dirty and grimey staircase, whipping around the corner while holding onto the rail.
And almost ran into my girlfriend.
Well, ex-girlfriend, if you wanted to count the whole death factor. But no matter what our current status was, something wasn't right.
Annabeth, the girl who was always so bright and alert, looked like all the life had been sucked out of her. Her eyes, usually shimmering with intelligence, had lost their gleam. She seemed to slouch when she walked, and her steps were a weak shuffle on the nasty carpet that covered the stairs. In fact, her pace was so slow that she probably could've lost in a race against me when I'd been walking the same way, just a few moments ago.
"Annabeth," I said in surprise. My voice came out raspy and weird, and I suddenly realized that this was the first time I had spoken since right before I'd charged the hellhound. Gods, that felt like days, maybe even weeks ago, although when I thought about it, it had only been an hour and a half ago, two hours tops.
I cleared my throat and repeated, this time with more force. "Annabeth."
There was no reaction from her. No recognition in her dull, lifeless eyes. But it's not like I expected there to be, after all. I was dead. That pretty much sealed the whole deal right there, and seemingly cut the cord that tied me to the living world.
Still, there had been some small part of me hoping that maybe, just maybe, she would've looked up at me when I called her name. She would have stared at me for a moment, no change in the lifelessness in her eyes, but then those brilliant grey orbs would have lit up with recognition, like someone had turned on a switch. Then she probably woud have thrown herself at me, and we would hug and kiss each other, and we would just stand there, saying each other's names over and over again. Just staying there forever. Wrapped in our own little world.
Our own little forever.
And we would have lived happily ever after.
But of course that's not what happened at all. I kept standing there, invisible and broken because I didn't exist anymore. Annabeth kept shuffling forward, broken. My mom kept crying upstairs, broken. Paul kept rubbing my broken mother's back upstairs, and he was broken too. Somewhere, my other friends that had witnessed my death were probably crying too, broken, and telling everyone that they knew. Everything that had happened that afternoon.
Telling them what an idiot I'd been to charge that hellhound.
Telling them the dopey expression that had been on my face when it had killed me.
Telling them how they had all stayed there, frozen, for an hour, crying over my dead body.
Telling them that I was gone. I was dead.
"I am dead," I whispered out loud. Nobody heard, because nobody knew I was there, and if even they had, there was nobody around. Annabeth had already shuffled out the front door, leaving me in her tracks. It didn't matter though. What would be the point of following her? She was gone, and so was I. I was dead.
"I am dead," I repeated, slightly louder than before. The words sounded so strange to my own ears. I, Percy Jackson, was actually dead. It always seemed like something that would happen to other people, like all of the brave souls I knew had died during the two wars I'd been through. But I wasn't one of those people, I always reassured myself. I would live on past them, carry their legacy for them, and fix the world so that demigods would never have to live in a world like that again, where we were constantly worrying about staying alive from the very day we were born. That had been my mission after I'd won the second war, and I'd committed myself to it day after day.
But I had failed. Because I had died.
"I am dead," I said to myself again, my voice rising to the next level.
I had failed.
"I am dead." Louder.
I was a failure.
"I am DEAD!" I shouted at the top of my lungs, my voice raw. I was suddenly overcome with a scary fit of anger. My rage and despair reached an all-time high for the past year, and a blurry coat of red tinted my vision. I guess it would've been a bit like watching one of those old cartoons, where the person gets mad, and he starts to turn red, like a thermometer, and smoke blows out of his ears. I think it would've looked like that, but maybe even scarier. I'm sure what I did next though probably looked even scarier than that.
I punched the wall. Hard.
I regretted it instantly, even as I was doing it. I winced, expecting to feel a shock of blinding pain in my left fist.
But the scary part? It didn't hurt. Not one bit. Because my hand didn't touch the wall at all. I stared down at my hand in surprise, and almost fell over from overwhelming shock.
My hand was stuck in the wall.
It had passed through the surface entirely.