Make It Stop

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⑥ Born Bad

They didn’t believe me. But why?

I do know why, in a way. But apparently, I’m just young and full of imagination, and run away with it. I’m dramatic and fanciful, and don’t know what I’m talking about. Or maybe I’m ill? And I’ve heard them say worse. ”That child... they scare the bejesus out of me sometimes.”

I’ve been called an attention seeker at times too, but I don’t get why they say that like it’s a bad thing. And a teacher that really hated my quotes and questions told me I was just a bad child. Born bad, I think they added. I told them I’d get back to them, and now I think I can.

There’s not enough excitement in a normal day and life. I’m just adding some in. Mostly verbally. Occasionally physically, but I’ve found that isn’t as effective. There’s not much to think about when all you do is act instead of say. And the things I say - they’re relevant, really.

Like that one time I woke up early in the morning, so early that it was still dark out, the sky’s colours a slushy navy. I didn’t bother to rub my eyes, so they were still a little blurry as I slipped out of bed and got a glass of water. I came back, stood in front of the long wall mirror in the hall, and played rock-paper-scissors randomly against my reflection. When my dad heard me exclaiming and sighing, he asked what I was doing. And so I told him.

“I was playing rock-paper-scissors against my reflection, dad. And I lost.”

He didn’t look me in the eye for ages after that. Kind of funny.

Mum makes me promise not to repeat such things to my baby brother, but I crossed my fingers behind my back. He’s innocent and doe-eyed and chubby. But he laughs when I do, so that’s not a bad thing, is it?

The part of town we live in is fairly rural - houses stretched far out on streets with plenty of outdoor and garden space around them, before the streets lead to town and then to schools. We live at the very end of one of those streets. Well, second to the end. There’s another house, the last house, to our far right. But it’s practically the ruins of a house.

It burnt down years ago, apparently, and there were several mixed reasons for its state. Some say the owners of the house went beserk, playing with fire and screeching their heads off. One dropped their lighter, and they didn’t get out in time. People like me say it was an unexplained occurrence that took place due to their dark morals and practices, and if you get close enough, you might catch a glimpse of their transparent figures. But others say the owners did it all purposely because they were crazy people with a death wish. I laughed and told one of those people that they wasted their wish, and they’ve avoided me since. Oh well.

But I liked the second theory. And so one day in the late afternoon, I went out to inspect the collapsed building, the wood stained with black smears and the faded but sharp smell of the burnt material. But before I could go any further, I was stopped abruptly.

Because I saw what could happen.

I saw the smoke from the fire, curdling and coiling like wisps of faint, silver-grey streamers, hidden underneath the fallen beams and limp fragments of the plastic which framed the windows, half-melted, the remaining glass peppered across the floor and crunching in alert when any pressure was added. That smoke, taking the form of those owners, mouths being a streak underneath the eyes which curled up slightly at the ends, and the eyes themselves hollow and morbid, great gaps in the figure.

When the teachers back at school said that you learn new things every day, I never expected that day’s learning was that smoke could somehow wear blood. Intriguing.

And I saw those smokey shadows darken, and seep into my possible future self. And how much I liked it. I never knew I could smile like that before either.

Mum and dad didn’t believe me again, of course. They warned me to stay away from the site, explaining that it’s dangerous to play around there. I asked them what their point was, and they repeated that it was dangerous. Didn’t answer my question, but when do they?

So yes, maybe I am ill. But if I am, I’ve been ill all my life. I think that’s what born bad means. Yes.

But by this point, I was getting tired of my parents not taking any notice of my statements, so I decided that maybe, maybe this time, acting physically instead of verbally might just do the trick. Only one way to find out. I needed the excitement anyway.

It was late at night when I went out, my parents too distracted with my little brother to notice me slipping out the back door and advancing in the direction of the burnt house. It was fairly humid outside, but the breeze brushed my skin with the coolness of the blade of a knife, and tangled itself in my hair every so often. The breeze seemed to get warmer the closer I came to the ruined home, and I ignored the warnings which flashed on and off in my mind and vision as I neared it. All at once, they ceased, and I stalled in caution for a moment before continuing on.

I got down on my knees once I reached the collapsed house, carefully shifting wooden slats and boards and scanning the empty piles. Dried black candle wax had leaked on one part of a beam, and I found a piece of paper, burnt at the edges and most of the writing unreadable. But there was a name, a signature or two, written in a gloopy, crimson substance which I almost immediately ascertained in my mind.

Then everything was clouded, and my throat burned and throbbed.

I gasped and choked, taken aback by the sudden attack, my skin crawling and feeling as if it were being scorched. A small price to pay, in my opinion. The smoke twisted and wound itself around me, and I couldn’t help but breathe it in after a while of holding my breath. I coughed and spluttered, feeling the warm candle wax melt and pool around my legs. I heard whispers, whispers that were whispers but loud at the same time, infecting my thoughts and my senses like a virus before easing off. My sight blurred, reminding me of the mirror back at home and the look on my dad’s face, before all of the fated horrors stopped, leaving me spellbound and wide-eyed.

Hands suddenly pulled me up off the floor, and I slowly looked up to meet my parents’ shocked, appealed expressions as they questioned me and shook me a little. But their voices were muffled, weak and unclear. I wasn’t focusing on them. I was focusing on the feeling, the new feeling I was gifted by the morbid mist, and how my smile widened when I knew how I looked without needing a mirror.

I blinked, meeting my parents’ exasperated faces. I looked back down at the piles of burnt wood, and the glass shards, one large piece in particular with a very sharp end and blunt sides. My gaze flicked back to them, and the whispers came back, and the burning feeling that didn’t hurt anymore. The smile reappeared, and I reached for it before they could ask anything else.

The signatures on the paper were drenched with a similar colour when I walked off to return to my house, glass shard in my pocket, the point coated and dripping red. I pushed open the back door and slowly opened the door to the living room, my little brother half-asleep, his pacifier bobbing lightly as he sucked at it, kicking absentmindedly in his baby rocker. His round eyes looked up to meet mine, and he giggled, kicking a bit harder as he outstretched his arms. I picked him up, propping him up on my hip as I left the house again, still smiling.

“Were you born bad too? You wanna find out? Yeah? Because I think it’s hereditary...”

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