You took a chance, gave me a proof, without a goodbye (Illenium – Only One)
It’s Friday morning, the sun was shining bat crazy for the first time in the season. Gilbert blinked as the flare blinded his sight when he looked up to the sign of ‘Police Department’ being held high on the building in front of him. He took off his coat for the accumulating heat beneath and even rolled up his sleeves upon entering the heater-on room, cursing under his breath for such inconvenience.
“Excuse me.” He stopped at the front lobby, leaning toward the counter to a middle-aged man yawning behind his computer. “Is Mr. Campbell here already? I’d like to request for a quick meeting.”
The man, wearing the blue police uniform, scanned Gilbert up and down reluctantly before returning his eyes back to the monitor. “He is a bit busy for the moment. Is it possible to just relay the message?”
“Ah, is that so?” Gilbert bit his lower lips, wringing his hands under the blanket of his rolled jacket. “Can I get his contact, then? I’m Gilbert Bernhagen, one of his witnesses for the District 8 murder case. I want to ask him several things.”
“He’s busy solving that particular case.” The man yawned again, this time stretching his upper body as he turned back to Gilbert. “Gilbert Bernhagen, as in the first suspect?”
The laugh was just a disguise to Gilbert choking on his own saliva. Surely the first founder of a dead body might as well be the first suspect, but this went beyond too far. He should have known better when he made the call that night. Then again, no better call was an available option when he got the most inevitable factor chasing after him, or the fact that ‘time’ wasn’t for a bit on his side at all.
“Y-Yeah, it was me.”
Fingers tapping on the counter, the man once again ran his eyes on Gilbert, this time more intense and gripping, and Gilbert felt a shiver upon the scrutiny. He licked his lips, typing something on the keyboard at a rapid speed, and settled to one page. “Sure enough, I hope you can help him through the case.”
The man wrote down a serial of numbers in his neat handwriting and handed it to Gilbert, the name Rossy Campbell was written with underline.
“Thank you.” Gilbert smiled, immediately pulling out his phone to save the number. “I hope so, too.”
“We don’t just find the culprit in a day, lad. We understand that it’s a concerning matter to the neighborhood, and that everyone wants to solve it quickly. But it has been months since the first case regarding this person’s killing spree habit and we still have a hard time finding the link between all the victims.”
He’s a psycho, he doesn’t need motives, Gilbert almost blurted what the soul of the young woman he sent off a few days ago said, and other few things about the culprit’s overall physical description in which there’s no way a normal guy knew such information. Gilbert really wanted to help, to spill out all the crucial information he locked in his head until he felt like his brain just bloated and if he didn’t say anything, he’d combust. At the same time, he didn’t want to be questioned about his ‘method’ of getting those information. Calling the police on what he found wasn’t a violation to the divine rule. But to take advantage of his situation for his personal benefit was no other than a ticket to hell.
His fingers stiffened on his phone screen, suddenly the submerging doubts shook him to his senses. What did he really want… with Campbell’s numbers?
On lunch he sat down at one of the Wendy’s chains in the outskirts, coffee’s gone lukewarm and cheeseburger untouched as he just sighed there, eyes glued to the name ‘Elizabeth Almássy’ printed bold in the folded letter he slipped to his map. He wondered if Yuriko knew about this. He wondered if he’s playing exactly to Azrael’s scheme by doing this. He wondered how Elizabeth would feel about his plans.
It’s no use to be thinking about it. Gilbert’s running out of time and none of them seemed to help him. If only there’s a way for him to catalyst things, no matter how wrongful that could be, anything that Gilbert could throw under the bus including himself if he had to—he’d do it.
He folded the letter back to the map and stared at his meals, seeing dotted stars everywhere as far as his sight went. He wiped it off, breaths fuming into a rough release, heart’s beating in double timing that it started to hurt his rib bones. When he walked to the toilet to splash tap water to his face, the face staring back at him in the mirror—he didn’t recognize him anymore.
His phone vibrated in his pocket when Gilbert finished drying his hands. The name Rossy Campbell never looked so alarming before; Gilbert hurried to one of the bathroom stalls and locked the door, back leaned against it. Taking one last deep breath, he picked up the call.
A hoarse voice buzzed through his ear drums, the same voice of the first police officer to ever question him after they dragged him to the office that night of his call.
“Gilbert! Nice to hear from you again. The front desk guy told me you came this morning to meet me?”
Gilbert cleared his throat, lump residing deep and persistent. “Yeah, um, just to ask you a question.”
“What is it? You remember something? Got valuable information?”
Valuable my ass. He resisted clicking his tongue. “I know it’s only been a few days, but I want to know how close you are at finding the culprit. Will it take much longer?”
“Oh my god, you...” He sighed, blowing another solid buzz that was certainly unpleasant to whoever on the other side. “To be honest with you, we’re not finding any connection within the other cases even though everyone is pretty sure already the murderer is the same person, but give me another week, okay? I’ll let you know, for now let’s not get too worried about—”
“Worried?” He hated how heavy his tone had shifted, and for how idiotic he sounded over the course of his emotion welling up too early. “A goddamn serial murder killing people with no motives in the nearby neighborhood, dead bodies are falling every almost other day, and you make me wait for another week?! Are you serious or this is just a formal reassuring sentence?”
“We’re working right now on the case and though it seems going nowhere, it’s certainly there and we’re sure of it.”
“Then why does it have to be a week? Can’t it be tomorrow? Or the day after?” Gilbert choked, thinking of the countdown, of the numbers in her collarbone, of the vision he saw, his letter crumpled in his map. Thinking of how to bear seeing someone he loved so dearly getting shot until her blood drained while trying to protect him in the alley next to his house. “Do you know how many people can die within a week?”
“What we gather so far is that the interval between each murders is about ten days to two weeks and we promise to get it right before then.”
“You don’t even know what kind of murderers whoever they are and you jump into conclusion that the next murder will happen in ten days?!” The door creaked and someone walked in, flicking on the tap until the sound of water washing over the quiet bathroom. Gilbert exhaled and lowered his voice. “Help me, sir. Do your job. It doesn’t hurt that much.”
“Gilbert, I understand that you—” a cough from the end of the line “—everyone is terrified right now. But rest assured. We’ll have guards keeping eyes on your district while we’re working to find the culprit. We’ll do our best, have faith in your local police department.”
“You and your guards are not God.” Another cough from Campbell and Gilbert shook his head in regret. That wouldn’t bring them anywhere, of course. “I hope you’ll loosen up the tangled soon. I wonder if I can be much more helpful, please do show me a way if you have an idea.”
“You did your own part, we—” he paused, a strange hum filled in before he started speaking again, this time slower and hesitant “—I need more information, if you have been keeping some.”
“What do you mean?”
The water rushed louder, splashed and bristling into the quiet room. Gilbert felt half of his weight doubled as if the world tried to crush him to the ground by force. Campbell’s voice going almost to a whisper didn’t help unease the coiling anxiety in his gut.
“You are—I did some research of your background, you know. Because, well, you found the body and the whole department was suspicious of you.” Gilbert tried not to let out a whimpering laugh when he felt like a big amount of air was punched out of his lungs. “Especially a lot of information was missing from your citizenship data. Like your job, education, source of income… Don’t get me wrong, I don’t suspect you anymore of being the culprit, though it may take a while to convince the department, but—”
Another thing Gilbert was taught in the church about dealing with the gap created by society, was how to make sure what’s inside stayed inside, which included how to not mess with the cops. The reason was 1) you’d get easily suspected for all the blank holes in your data; 2) you’d have a hard time explaining yourself while still keeping your identity a secret; 3) they’d put you on watchlist and tried to follow you around during work hours. But the most important and fatal reason why people like him shouldn’t meddle with anyone’s business in general, was how easy for them to be used.
Gilbert might have forgotten that part when he made the decision nights ago.
“—I’m sure you know things that you can’t just spell, because of your job. It’s okay to remain silent, you know. But a part of me wants to promise you a safety if you— maybe—if you’re willing to cooperate on different levels with me.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Gilbert’s tone wavered distantly, like it came out from someone else’s cords. He swallowed, clenched and unclenched his fist, his eyes shut to the sound of tap water still running behind. “I have nothing to say other than the testament I offered you that night.”
“It’s fine, too. You see, we‘re suffering from lack of evidence and information. But at this point, I—” he laughed, and Gilbert swore the devil might have slightly altered his hearing senses because it sounded too far off from the person the officer was earlier “—I’ll take anything regardless of the method. You’re right about that. After all, I’m terrified I may not be able to solve this case on time in a fair manner. I need a lead, no matter how abstract or unbelievable it could be.”
“Even when it’s invalid?”
Campbell hummed. “Even when it’s invalid.”
The water stopped, and the room went dead silent when Gilbert was about to say the next words. He waited and waited, for the person to leave the bathroom already, but the creak of the door never returned and the silence settled uncertainly between them. It made Gilbert even more sick than before.
“Sir, I have no idea what things I could possibly forget to mention.” And now his tone was wobbling. Gilbert stared down at his shoes; black under the purple hue of the room; the floor tiles gleamed mockingly at him. “I’ll let you know if I remember any details following my first statement.”
“Sure, sure. That’s good. The faster, the better.”
“Yeah.” Gilbert forced a cackle. “Sure. Sorry for bothering you, Mr. Campbell.”
“Hey, Gilbert. No need to tense up so much. I said it’s okay. You are so eager to solve this case quickly so I was thinking of giving you some options to help us. Just take your time, yeah?”
“Of course, I will. Thanks again, sir.”
“Would love to hear from you again.”
You were supposed to say your welcome, Gilbert locked his phone and slid it back to the pocket, not bothering to check all the heaping notifications. His hand reached up to where his heart was mauling wild from earlier and wondered why he felt suffocated for a dilemma with such obvious an answer.
He broke the rule once, and got the bluish ring around his neck as the reward. He couldn’t afford to do worse than that, but then he remembered his conversation with Mr. Roger about his friend and though it never got to be finished, Gilbert knew better what the answer was. It’s a textbook quiz; of course his friend went to hell for even proposing such ideas. What else would he get? As a servant of God, they should have understood that part already.
But as a human, Gilbert seemed to be unable to entertain the idea of obeying things he didn’t even trust. As a human, it might be normal to consider hell as a nonexistent place that was created to force people to behave in case the law itself failed to do so. And as a human, losing someone dear might feel like a worse punishment already than being plunged into the eternal flame. How could God create a creature that is so weak and fragile toward emotions and then expect them not to sin?
Just take your time, he said? How could Gilbert do that when there’s never enough time to begin with? What’s there to be taken?
At this point, he might as well drive to hell by himself instead of embarrassingly being dragged there. He’s already putting himself in danger with no way to turn back. If he’s going to do it, he’s going to do it right. It sounded stupid, but Gilbert was convinced for once, that he could be the first person to ever get away from it.
And Elizabeth too.
So he took out his phone again, typed a quick text to Campbell’s number that said let’s meet. you decide the time. Fingers hovering over the send button a few times before pressing it, firm and long, the next time Gilbert opened his eyes, the text was sent.
He sighed, releasing the fume he held back since the end of the call, feeling lighter all over again. The nausea vanished into something calming, and Gilbert made sure to hold on to that until his breathing was even and his limbs didn’t feel like being pinned by an earthly force. When Gilbert’s sure he was ready to return to the world, unlocking the door and pushing it forward, he was doomed to realize one thing.
The person from earlier had yet to leave. And he was already looking at Gilbert when he came out from the stall, golden eyes in a shade of purple leered him like a painting of an odd summer sunset, except they were shining with so much disappointment; a couple streaks of blonde hair fell right to frame the frowning behind.
He was leaning to the sink counter, wet hands clasped together only until he saw Gilbert out that he let them fall to his sides, next to the pocket of his white coat.
Gilbert recognized him.
And yet he was too struck to do something other than being judged shamelessly. All his clothes meant nothing to the sheer intensity of those eyes.
“Are you waiting for me?” Gilbert dared himself to ask, in which he earned a raise of an eyebrow. “Did you… overhear it?”
“No one can promise you safety for things you’ve done other than God himself, Gilbert.”
The husky, sweet-soured, soft in the edge voice that was once soothing to Gilbert whose only intention at that time was to visit his mother’s grave, now echoed in a dreadful tone that alarmed his body fight-or-flight response. It’s cold, and he’s feeling it to the bone.
Michael, the Archangel, tilted his head, his long wavy hair fell even deeper to the elbow. “What happened to you? Who corrupted you?”
“You can’t intervene with us. Heaven can’t. Not like Liz will be yours anytime soon.” Gilbert bit his lips and his tongue tasted iron. “I’m sorry for not living up to your expectation beforehand.”
“People die, whether strangers or not. You’re dealing with them everyday. Why, of all people, can’t you comprehend that when it comes to you?”
“I’m not mad that she dies. I’m mad, because of how you guys see her—see us. Like we are your spare parts ready to be taken anytime with any means possible.”
“That’s what it means to serve God, isn’t it? No matter how absurd His plan seems to be.”
“Why does He sound like a bad person?” Gilbert was too tired for this. Tired of being opposed, antagonized, dehumanized. Perhaps if God were really mad at him, He would have slapped him from heaven rather than sending Michael to talk sweet with him. Maybe He didn’t care enough, or he found everything as entertaining and amusing as Gilbert felt during the whole exchange.
The gold darkened, Gilbert took his eyes away from them before he was pulled even deeper into Michael’s influence. Walking toward the exit, he found it just funny for the last time when Michael didn’t do anything to stop him. “Thank you for coming to talk to me, though. You are way nicer than Azrael at least,” he said, twisting the knob open.
“You’re blaming God for your lack of willingness to actually listen to Him.” Gilbert was midway in the door arch when his hand stiffened on the knob. “How can you expect anyone to help you when you block them with a wall?”
“Whose fault is that I have to put up my wall?” He sneered, the iron tasted sourer when they were swallowed. Letting go of the knob, Gilbert stepped out of the bathroom, the door behind shut itself as he returned to his seat to pack the remaining burger he couldn’t finish into his bag and brought himself away from the place.
Michael’s words stilled in his head even after he left, echoing to endless eternity.
Elizabeth came by on 9, draped in her lighter lilac sweatshirt, long hair tied into a lazy tail, immediately made herself at home in Gilbert’s apartment; legs stretched on his bed and a laptop on her lap. Flash of screen crossed her eyes a few times, fingers busy scrolling down the mouse until the next dead end where she’d switch tabs.
Setting two cans of coffee on the bed drawer next to her, Gilbert turned the lights off and joined her in bed, pushing her to the wall to make room for himself. Elizabeth gave him a soft scowl, eventually retreated and snuggled herself closer to Gilbert until they’re pressed from shoulders to toes—underneath the warm fresh laundry blanket—laptop’s now sharing laps with Gilbert’s as she tangled one leg on top of his.
Gilbert chuckled and let her rest her head on the crook of his shoulders, both of them leaning back to the wall and making themselves comfortable enough to be in the same position for the next two hours, at least. Their shadows lurked big on the wall, protecting them through the night.
“So what is it, the movie you want to marathon?” Gilbert whispered to the soft hair, his arm slid to rest on her shoulder, bringing her closer until he could smell her cherry blossom perfume. “This is a rare chance, you know. I’m never ever going to accompany someone on their movie high past midnight.”
He could feel Elizabeth giggling under him. “I’m flattered!” she said, her finger came to halt as the cursor hovered on a particular poster. “I make sure I’ll be the last one to do that on you, then.”
“Of all the things you could do on earth, you chose to do this.” Elizabeth hummed, clicking on the poster. The buffering icon spun as the screen switched to black, and Gilbert could see her smiling tenderly on the reflection. “With me.”
She sighed dreamily. “With you.”
Elizbeth was an avid romance fan, Gilbert should have known better when he let her choose. She spent the first half of their first movie fangirling over Leonardo DiCaprio, even though both of them had watched the movie once during one of their sneakouts back in the church dormitory. The second half of the movie, she’s more swooned to Carrey Mulligan, commenting on her blonde short hair framed neatly under her shining headband. Gilbert felt a light slap on his cheek the moment he almost drifted away into sleep, instead Elizabeth increased the volume until the voices broke out of the bubble, blaring through the dim room filled with nothing but the occasional shuffle of their legs.
“No matter how many times you watch this movie,” Gilbert said, as the violin played and the credit rolled. “It won’t change the fact that Daisy didn’t come to Jay’s funeral. And Nick was left suffering. End of story.”
“I know!” She squealed, wiping her wet cheeks. She didn’t let the credit end and rushed to different tabs, back to skimming the movie catalogues. “But they did have a good time, even for a second!”
“It’s not like anyone in real life dies or anything. Stop crying.” Gilbert sipped on his coffee like a drug and passed it on Elizabeth. She chugged it all down and crushed the can.
Gilbert found himself dozing off a couple times during the next movie, only to be shaken awoke every time Elizabeth muffled her scream of excitement. He never saw this one before, but somehow got spoiled enough to not bother keeping his eyes open during both the comedy and romantic scenes. And he was surprised if Elizabeth had yet to be spoiled, if not for those pure anticipation gleaming bright in her eyes.
“If you wooed me like this—” she pointed at the scene where Mark flipped his big ass cards to in front of Juliet’s door while Silent Night’s playing in the background, the scene stilled for a moment in the sentence To me you are perfect “—I would never second guess you, not even a moment.”
“And my wasted heart will love you, huh?” Gilbert blinked to the screen, to a picture of a fucking mummy. “The Silent Night is too sappy.”
She shook her head, soft hair nuzzling on Gilbert’s cheek. “I want you to put on… Santa Claus is Coming to Town. I love that one.”
“What the hell? That won’t fit the mood at all!”
“Who cares about the mood when you’re guaranteed to get a yes?”
“I’m confessing my love for you—in the middle of a snowing night—and you only care about whether or not I’m putting on that goddamn white bearded man song?!”
“You better watch out! You better not cry—”
“Your carols’ taste sucks.”
“—better not pout, I’m telling you why—”
She nudged his arm, eyes glaring threateningly like a knife to his throat. Gilbert sighed in retreat. And so they sang in unison.
“Santa Claus is coming… to town.”
It was almost 2 in the morning when they reached the third movie. The caffeine had finally started kicking in and his eyes were glued tight to the screen, the brightness stung his corneas until they dried. When he took his eyes off the laptop for a second to look at the dark spot of his room, he saw glowing worms crawling all over the walls.
But this one was interesting and Gilbert had never seen it before.
“Hey.” Elizabeth’s head slumped down to his arm, nose brushing against his skin as she blew warm breaths to where his sleeves ended. He nudged her, and found her jolted awake, rubbing her eyes before she pulled her focus back to the movie. “You’re sleepy now?”
“Whaa?” Her voice croaked from the coffee, hoarse from the sleep. She blinked at the screen and frowned, commenting on the scene even though she missed a good portion of it. “No—what are they doing? I thought they’re strangers.”
“No, they’re lovers from past memories.” Gilbert pulled the blanket closer until it covered Elizabeth up to the chest. She moved closer, tangling her arm with his and clung into it like a pillow. “Ex-lovers, I mean.”
“Uh, woah.” She yawned, barely prompting her eyes to open. “Sad.”
“Yeah, this is the movie you’re supposed to cry.”
She was warm, and for a second Gilbert was able to convince himself that he could hold on to this forever. That tomorrow and the day after and so on, he would open his eyes to Elizabeth in his arms like this again, as he let her drag him for another movie marathon despite what he said earlier. And they’d go to a lot of dates after work, blabbering how persistent their clients were, talking about their shitty fast food lunch while they searched for a place to dine. Or perhaps Elizabeth would like to lecture him herself how to take care of these plants since she had so much time, instead of writing short notes on the pots like she’s not going to be there anymore to answer his questions.
He came to hate the warmth, hated how temporary it was, and how it dared to cast such hopes onto him when he knew he should just give up.
As Joel and Clementine lied on the snows, the quiet shuffling noise cloaked the brief hitch of breath of those two. Brown, wide eyes scanned him—owlish and shimmering—it sent chills through his veins.
“For what?” she asked.
“For everything,” he replied, and left out the part he wanted to say the most.
For what I’m going to do.
“Why… out of blue.” Elizabeth lowered her gaze, slowly and carefully, before they fluttered shut. Her face catching light from the screen, tiny dusts of freckles scattered across the bridge of her nose.
“Yeah,” he said, breathless. “Will you forgive me?”
“If you…” She buried her head back to his neck, mouth’s brushing to the exposed skin of Gilbert’s shoulder. “If you’re nice to me until the end, I’ll consider it.”
Gilbert swallowed, eyes flickering back to the movie. The skies were dark, two persons holding hand to hand in the contrast of the snow, both smiling to the promise that was laid bare before them.
“I could die right now, Clem. I’m just happy, ” Joel said, tightening his hold on Clementine. “I’ve never felt that before. I’m just exactly where I want to be.”
And he’s saying it like there were actual stars twinkling in the dark skies above them, like he’d be invincible toward all the curses that haunted his world—if Clementine were by his side.
Let’s run away together, Gilbert whispered to the night. A kiss to the head of the long gone dream.
Time remaining: 3 days.