What Follows

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8.0: Yellow Lights and Cigarette Tips

~hold me like my words do when i have no one else to~

Listen I’m scared.

I don’t understand what’s happening and I’m not sure I want to. Listen, Mother, I’m sorry for hurting you, but you have to listen, you have to know that I’m not quite sure if I’m breathing right. Listen, listen closely Jake, listen to me trying to understand, listen to me and forgive me, Jake. Jake listen to my heart sing I love you in the french you sucked at. Listen to me, tell me you hear me, tell me you can help me out because I can’t seem to understand what’s happening and wait, I can’t see. I can’t see I can’t

I open my eyes and ‘feel’ something heavy hugging me and suffocating me. I open my eyes to find darkness welcoming me back with open arms. I open my eyes and wish I hadn’t because now is the time to figure out what the hell is happening to me.

I look around with the name of a friendly, dead soul on my tongue’s tip, but I find no soul around me. There’s no hint of light penetrating this heavy blanket of blackness. There’s no hope, no Tobias, no Benji and that immediately triggers my anxiety.

I turn three-sixty degrees on the spot and take in gulps of something (air? nitrogen? vacuum?). I’m belatedly all alone with my thoughts. I scoff in disbelief and shake my head when I realize that Sierra’s phone isn’t on me but is with Tobias. Tobias who either ran away from me and my wild, complicated problems the instant we arrived here, or the one whom I left in another dimension.

I go with the former because he was obviously touching my shoulder when we were leaning against each other to stare at the phone and Benji was sniffing his ankles. So we were all touching each other.

I sigh heavily and wonder if my ‘heart’ has been pumping mercury instead of blood because it has been so heavy to carry around with all the shit that has been happening. And I suddenly don’t know what to do with my limp hands that are suddenly very interested in clawing my heart out of my chest, in hopes of eternal relief.

I force my hands off of my chest and up my throat where there must be some words hanging there with broken wings and spines, trapped there and waiting for a release that won’t happen any time soon. And I wonder if this is the bitter aftertaste of heartbreak; rust and dust.

I look around, again and again, refusing to believe that I’m utterly alone now. I curl the fingers I can’t see into fists and then flex them, hoping that it’ll somehow release the tension building up inside of me.

So not only did I fail at getting rid of my worldly anxiety, I seem to have carried it to my grave and given it access to my doomed eternity. And I wonder if my hands are shaking, if my ribcage is rattling with the effort of carrying my soul around, and if my knees are breaking- because I feel absolutely nothing. And maybe, I think, God didn’t want to distract my brain from its sickness by noticing all those physical repercussions. Maybe He wants my brain to solely focus on its own fucked-up-ness, not my body’s.

Which is, needless to say, much more difficult in the absence of these distractions.

My mind wanders to Sierra, our memories when we were younger, when we were besties, when we’d hold hands in fourth grade, in Math class because I hated it. When we’d help each other out and do all the cringey best friend things that you see in movies.

And no matter how much she seems to hate me, my mind insists on going back to all the good memories we had together. And it’s funny how my brain seems to be programmed like that, like it’s almost incapable of believing that game’s over, that it’s time to hate her and let her go.

And I don’t know what to do with all of that grief. Should I be curled up and crying myself to more death and dying? Because all I can ‘feel’, are sharp ice shards in the corner of my stony eyes. All I can feel is Sierra’s cold, cold betrayal- and I remember Tobias’ words, ‘warmth is for the living’. All I can feel is the touch of death. Maybe Sierra is as cold as I am, as dead as I am.

And all I can think about is I want more. More hidden truths, broken hearts and false facades. I want to understand more because maybe it’s better to be dead with the full, naked truth than with none of it.

And maybe God is listening for this one time.

Tobias’ absence shouldn’t matter to me much, considering how irritatingly intrusive he is, but it oddly does.

Getting transferred from one dimension to the other is like having a lucid dream you just woke up from. You’d be consciously very aware of the fuckery that’s happening, completely paralyzed, preparing yourself for the darkness that will elevate and the scene that will roll right in front of you.

And this time I’m standing in a silent, dark street under a streetlight that does very little to illuminate the area. I look heavenward to find a pathetic crescent hanging with invisible, holy strings in a black, boring sky, which, according to me, should feel quite ashamed of doing so little to help me assess my surroundings.

I can’t tell if it’s cold or warm. I can’t tell if someone is breathing behind, and I can’t tell if I should be here at all as I listen to the quiet but audible buzzing of the lamp above me and bathe in its flickering, yellow light.

The stench of cigarette smoke answers my queries and I turn to find a familiar feminine figure standing by the streetlight that’s a few feet away from me. I stare at her visible, streetlight-illuminated curves and know that this body belongs to no-one but Sierra.

She turns on the spot and faces me with a grimace. She’s a black painting with a white spot for a pale face in her jet black hair held back by a headband, black tank top, black leather jacket and pants and black combat boots. The only contrasting asset is the orange tip of the lit cigarette that she’s holding between her rings-clad right middle and index fingers.

Her eyes are narrowed, sharp and perfectly eye-lined. She looks like she might murder someone and that thought doesn’t really surprise me.

I am about to approach her when someone walks right through me- the person she’s apparently mad at. I absently touch my chest and head before I stare at the slouched back of a tall guy in a grey beanie, a brown leather jacket and denim pants. His hands are shoved in his pockets and his jays are undone.

It doesn’t take me much to realize it’s Joshua. My ex-boyfriend meeting my ex-best friend in the middle of the night, in an abandoned street, a day or so after my death. What could be cooking up?

I walk to the streetlamp Sierra’s leaning against as she drops her cigarette and crushes it a little too violently with her boot’s sole. She straightens up and glares at Joshua who’s looking at her in immense disbelief and...disgust?

But all I can think about is how Tobias is right, how that, yes, yes, Judas- sorry, my bad- Joshua is playing ‘DevilsPlay’ too. Because why else would they meet up?

“What the hell, Sierra?” He whispers furiously, blowing out a heavy breath and pulling off his beanie to ruffle his hair nest that looks too dark in this poor light.

"Me?" Sierra replies hotly. “What the hell is wrong with me?” She blinks at him and scoffs. “What the fuck is wrong with you?" She assumes a threatening stance but Joshua doesn’t as much as flinch.

“Yeah?” He breathes through his nose and quickly lifts his brows. “Don’t you think you took it way too far with this? Don’t you think it has turned fucking ugly?” He does little to mask his rage.

Sierra narrows her eyes at him before she lifts her arms. “Look who the fuck has shown up and has the fucking nerve to talk-” She tilts her head with an evil scowl. “You don’t fucking mistaken yourself as a saint, do you? You haven’t filled your head with such notions, have you?”

Joshua is breathing hard, his jaws and fists clenched, with waves of hatred coming off him. “I don’t-” He says, lowering his unwavering gaze to hers. “And I haven’t-” He subtly tilts his head, looks back at me, and I almost can’t find my throat cause why the hell am I not ‘breathing’. “But she’s dead, Sierra-” He leans closer to her with a sneer as she crosses her arms in front of her chest and presses her plump, pale lips into a thin line. ”Because you’ve taken it way too far.”

“You fucking used my first name!” She explodes. “You knew what the hell that could mean and you did it-”

“Well, I’m glad that grabbed your attention cause nothing seems to do anymore-” He says indifferently. “Even your best friend’s suicide-” He enunciates.

“You’re gonna blame it all on me, huh?” She says impossibly calmly. “Oh, honey, you have it coming-”

“You have no idea what I did. So I will not entertain you with your crap-” He snaps. “I will not have you call me in the middle of the night, threatening me-”

“You broke the fucking rules-!” Sierra yells at him, her anger reeling and reeling around us.

“Well, you fucking killed her!” Joshua shouts back at her. “You had to be stopped! It was the only way I could get you to listen!”

“Well, you’ve fucked me, Joshua-” She tells him. “I can’t delete your fucking comment-”

“Yeah, right-” Joshua rolls his eyes. He snaps, then grabs her arm. ”Cut the shit-" He hisses.

She doesn’t wince and her eyes remain wide and unblinking. She jerks away. “I lost my other phone-” She says defeatedly, lowering her eyes and I narrow my eyes at her. I think she means the BlackBerry. The phone Tobias now has.

“What do you mean?” Joshua whispers. “What do you mean you lost it? How did you upload the last picture then?” He scowls.

Sierra suddenly looks anxious, uncomfortable. “Well, I used the beta app-” She gulps. “On my other phone-”

“Well, where the fuck is it?” He asks, feigning concern. “It has to be on you. All the fucking time. You know the fucking rules-”

“I know-” Sierra snaps and breathes out. “I know-" Her eyes scan the place, fall on me for a fraction of a second. “That’s the thing, isn’t it-?” She says nervously. “I broke two rules at once-”

“Well-” Joshua taps his foot. “You seem to not have broken the ‘F-rule’-” He clears his throat once. Twice. “You’re still alive-”

My jaw drops and theories make and break in my head. An ‘F-rule’? A rule that if broken will result in death?

“Well, maybe I did-” Her lips quiver. “Maybe they’re coming to get me now. I wouldn’t know-”

She wouldn’t know?

“How can you lose it, Sierra?” Joshua asks her angrily, disturbingly. “How-?!”

“I don’t know, okay?!” She snaps, wringing her hands. “I just did-” Her eyes start watering and I have no clue what to think. “I don’t know what to do-”

“If you broke an F-rule, rest assured, you would’ve been dead by now-” Joshua says and sighs.

Sierra sniffs and I frown. “I remember dropping my bag when I was at Roseline’s funeral-” She shakes her head. “I went back to look for it-” Tears fill her onyx eyes to the brim. “There was nothing-” She gulps. “And I know I put it in my bag-”

“You dropped it somewhere?” Joshua deadpans and covers his face with both his hands, before rubbing his eyes and dropping his arms by his side. Sierra doesn’t reply. “So it isn’t my fucking fault, is it? Your recklessness.”

“Your comment makes everything much worse-” Sierra says. “And the fact that I don’t know what the ‘F-rule’ is-”

“No-one knows what the ‘F-rule’ is-” Joshua tells her irritably. “That’s why we never let our phones out of our fucking sights. Because we never know when we’re breaking it-”

“Really, Josh?” She snaps. “Really? Scolding me? Can we leave that bit for later? Can you fucking drop the bitterness right now and help me out?”

Joshua exhales heavily and gives her a sidelong glance. “Give me a cigarette.”

Sierra blinks and sighs before patting herself. She pulls out a cigarette that Joshua swiftly takes and places between his teeth. Sierra lights her lighter and the flame flickers, vaporizing a bit of the darkness surrounding it.

Joshua stares at her before he leans in with his hands gaurding the flame and lighting his cigarette up.

“For the record, I’m helping you because I’d like to know the ‘F-rule’-” He says. “I want to know what kills you-”

Sierra smirks brittly, trying to be nonchalant and my eyes drop disappointedly.

“Prepare to be disappointed-” She tells him as he draws in some smoke. He holds it for a while, leans in Sierra’s face and blows it out.

Sierra looks at him like she’d like to break his neck but decides to do nothing. “I will see the progress using my Samsung-” She says. “I hope no one gets their hands on it-”

Joshua smirks, exhales more smoke in the dark before he grimaces and drops the cigarette to kill it.

“I hate this brand of cigs-” He tells her coolly, and I’m suddenly afraid of him.

“So you’ll help me?” She asks him again, ignoring his irrelevant remark.

“On one condition-” He says, tightening his jacket around his torso.

Sierra seems desperate to oblige. “What?” She says. “What is it?”

“When we find your phone-” He tilts his head with a weird smile. “You’ll stop playing.”

I stand feeling very uncomfortable. I can’t fathom why anyone would play such a life-endangering game. And really it could be because I know no-one of them. Because the Joshua I knew only cared about getting his hands splotched with paint, and the Sierra I knew only cared about manicures and pedicures.

I don’t understand those characters who seem to be so cold-handed, cold-hearted, cold-spirited and cold-boned. I don’t know if they’re handling themselves right and I don’t know if that’s normal.

Because my brain isn’t processing this. My brain doesn’t know how to react to anything abnormal. It doesn’t remember how to cry or weep or yell. It only knows how to freeze and freeze and stare at them, stare at them and try looking for their older versions I was familiar with in their misty eyes.

I stare at them in the hope I’ll figure those loved ones out. And I fail as I watch them shake hands, seal a deal. I remember how to breathe. I remember how to hold onto something, hold onto the streetlight post and wonder if vertical is what we really think is. I wonder if their vertical is my horizontal because as I stand watching them all bold and dominant, talking about death and games, I feel like I’m lying dead on the floor.

And I’m not sure if I’m imagining all of this but I feel my pupils widen infinitely, expelling darkness and more darkness.

Or, I might just be returning to the ‘Darkoom’.

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