Zack let the light fray the edge of his semi-conscious state for half an hour before he blinked his eyes open reluctantly.
Sitting up, he stretched his arms out behind him and locked his fingers together. This motion was accompanied by a series of clicking and cracking noises which never failed to satisfy him. The edge of his mouth curled in humour as he thought about the numerous times his mother had chastised him over his bad habit.
“It’s a one way ticket to arthritis Zacky, you’ll see,” she would say, with the same look of deep motherly concern on her face every time.
Zack shook his head and smiled at this thought. The good old days.
This scene might seem innocent enough, but sadly there was much more than meets the eye taking place in this small student room in Central London.
Zack McArthur was a physics student at UCL, fresh out of college with grades that all rested comfortably at the front of the alphabet. He was your stereotypical nerd. 5′5", stick thin, brown curly hair, glasses, the full package. He even had the trademark stutter and crippling anxiety.
True to form, Zack was no social wonder either. Quite frankly, socialising was near impossible for him. But as the doctor said, “Not autistic, just quiet”. Thanks so much for your infectious positivity doc!, thought Zack ruefully.
He reached through the fog to the bedside table, where he found his glasses. Sliding them up his nose cleared his vision instantly and he surveyed the state of his humble abode with his green eyes in disapproval.
The ugly mustard colour curtains were no match for the 4pm October sunshine and he could see the dust spores in the air where streams of light seeped in along the edges. The duvet, lacking a cover, was strewn about the bed due to his unconscious writhing during the night.
The vomit-stained cover itself could be found piled in a stinking heap in his shower. The limited floor space was mainly taken up by empty vodka, rum, gin and whisky bottles alongside polystyrene take-away food boxes.
The wardrobe was partially open and his scrunched-up clothes spilled out of the bottom, while his desk was home to several small bags of white powder and a closed laptop. Also on the desk was a bread knife.
Zack got up to use the toilet. En route, he checked his texts.
Nothing from her. Zack noted, with a mild sense of despair. His sister usually texted him every day, asking how he was doing, when he would come back home to visit or maybe some trivial gossip that meant nothing to him. But her take on things still made him laugh.
Today however, she hadn’t sent him anything. Emerging from the bathroom, he sat at his desk chair which creaked audibly from under him. He reached for the picture of her.
Talia McArthur was everything he admired. She was the same height as him, straight jet black hair and the most disarming smile you could hope to see. It was this smile that she displayed in the picture on his desk. Christmas last year and her cheeks were rosy with the chill, but her eyes glittered with excitement. At 15, she already had five times the personality Zack could ever hope to have, and she had the brains. His heart soared with pride just looking at her, that was why he kept the picture on his desk.
He didn’t know if she knew or not, but she was Zack’s best friend. Although as Zack mused, he realised she didn’t have much competition. He lied to both her and his ever-functional mother about how much he socialised at uni and how many friends he’d made. The only real friend he had made was the guy next door who sold him the powder, and ‘dealer’ might’ve been a better word than ‘friend’.
Alex is it? Zack couldn’t even remember his name. To be honest, Zack couldn’t even remember what the drug was, he just knew it was some white powder that masked the voices in his head to some extent.
Zack had struggled with what he assumed is depression for a few years now, but it had only left him feeling numb and tired when he was back home.
Here it felt far worse, like a hurricane of knives in his skull that made him sick to his stomach and brought out cold sweats over every inch of his skin. In short, it was unbearable.
Right on cue, his hands began to tremble. This was how it tended to start, so he put the picture of Talia face down on his desk. She didn’t need to see this.
Zack had found over time that if he was quick with the knife, he could sometimes stop his depressive state from worsening. So that was what he reached for first. It was a bread knife he had taken from the communal kitchen one night when he was drunk. He looked for a clear patch of skin on the inside of his left wrist, which now had gathered a growing amount of scabs and scars. Placing the final three teeth of the cumbersome knife against his flesh, he sank it into his arm and sliced.
Zack winced in pain and blood immediately dribbled towards his palm. To his despair, the trembling only increased. It hadn’t worked and soon the voices would come.
He began to sob, which hurt his chest. It had been racked by the same thing for consecutive nights for a long time now.
He hated it. Zack reached for the nearest bottle and took several stinging gulps which were followed by a series of coughs as his chest burned fiercely. He hadn’t touched alcohol before uni but had become quite used to drinking spirits straight recently.
Simultaneously, he turned on his speaker to blare out the same Architects album he listened to on repeat every night. While he did have a genuine affinity for heavy metal, he also didn’t want anyone to hear him crying and this album made sure of that. No doubt at all.
4 hours later, Zack found himself well and truly fucked up and bleeding quite extensively. He was slumped on his bed with his head against the wall, which was uncomfortable on his neck, but he didn’t mind. The vile screeching in his head had quietened a bit, but he now reflected that he might have traded that for physical pain instead. His Spongebob pyjamas were bloodstained before, but now they were damp and sticky with it.
Zack pawed at his mattress weakly, he was very pale. His head lolled around on his chest as he sat in a stupor. This was the worst he had ever been- and the best, all at the same time.
“Pale as a sheet,“Zack slurred to himself. That was one of his mother’s common expressions. The thought of his mother brought forward feelings of distaste in him. He didn’t hate her. it was comprised of much less emotion than that. He merely felt disconnected from her in a way. His father had walked out when he was too young to remember him.
Zack sighed heavily and patted his concave stomach with a skeletal hand, smiling contrary to his current condition.
Oh, peace...I feel peaceful and nice. I wonder what happens if I do a bit more? It could feel better! Directly proportional, a physics acolyte might say.
Acting on his thoughts, he recklessly swiped up the whisky bottle that was within arms reach. It was half-full when he started and he managed to drain it in one go, spilling some down his chin in the process.
His vision was starting to go as he grabbed the knife which was on his bedside table, patches of dried blood along the blade. Zack levelled it on his wrist, but before he made his cut he felt a fresh wave of anxiety and grief begin to rise from his chest toward his throat. It felt like a balloon was inflating in his throat and he found it unbearable.
I HATE THIS! Zack screamed within his own head.
Acting on a fatal impulse, he raised the knife to his neck and slashed across it. The incision was deep and a wash of warm blood sprayed out onto his waist and legs. Zack gagged heavily and rocked forward onto the floor as blood pulsed down his front.
He grabbed at his ruined throat and tried to suck in air, which was impossible.
He tried to stand but his legs betrayed him and he tasted the metallic tang of his own blood.
All consciousness was slipping away as he suddenly remembered her.
“Talia!” He tried to say, but a wet croak was all that emerged from his mouth alongside copious amounts of blood.
He crawled across his bedroom floor to his desk, nails of one hand digging into the carpet while the other clutched at his neck.
Zack felt the deepest shame and regret he would ever feel, right there in that moment. He reached up onto the surface of his desk blindly with his hand finally finding the photo frame in the burgundy evening gloom. He knocked it onto the floor, where it landed face up.
Slumped next to it, his heart rate was plummeting as he mouthed the words ‘I’m sorry’ over and over at her picture. Losing more of his posture with every second, the muscles in his face began to relax. His neck lost the strength needed to support the weight of his head and the world began to fade.
A deafening buzz entered Zack’s head as he bled out, eyes eventually rolling out of focus as his cheek softly settled on his bedroom floor like an autumn leaf shed from a tree.
Shortly afterwards his heart stopped beating, marking his death.
But that wasn’t the end of Zack McArthur. In many ways, it was his beginning.