The lead up to actually dying is hard to say
The day of my birthday fell on a strange day. You see I was born on exactly the dot of the next day, otherwise known as midnight. So as an excited child I would stay up until that hour and wake up my parents as soon as the numbers changed from .59 to .00 on the clock. This year was different, I was finally 18.
Being 18 meant that I wasn't constrained by the normal perceptions of being a child, I could finally legally drink, I could get a car, I could move out or go to university. But it didn't feel different. It felt like an ordinary day. Except this day I was surrounded by family and constant congratulations and 'Happy Birthdays!'.
Cake, cards, people and noise. That is what every birthday can be summed up.
But I got a choice this birthday. Yay. I had finally escaped the madness at 1 ‘o’clock and I had decided to ride my bike to my favourite book shop ‘The Bookworm’s Hole’ it was a small comfy shop nestled in between a coffee shop and an arts and craft store. There was traffic heading up to it and I decided that I didn’t want to weave in between cars and risk becoming road kill, so I took a shortcut down a side street.
Not many people went down this street, after all it was nicknamed “The dwelling of the homeless,” so many homeless people lived there, living in corners and decrepit, abandoned homes (that didn’t really class as homes) and under doorways and in every nook and cranny. I took a chance that day. How unlucky I was.
It went alright at first, I avoided the beady stares, it was quiet, and everything was fine. Then I heard voices. “Where’s the money Oswald?” a gruff voice echoed, I decided to hide in the shadows (thankfully it wasn’t occupied)
“I – I – I don’t have it but I swear I will,” this voice was pleading and high pitched. They were scared.
“You promised that I would be paid today,” the gruff voice got louder, I didn’t dare move out of my hiding space. “The Black Widow doesn’t like to be kept waiting,”
“I – I swear that I’ll have it next week,” the higher voice wheedled off and then came back sounding more choked “I promise, I promise that, I swear.”
“That’s not good enough,” and a gun went off. Ringing captured my ears. I must have stood there, frozen for moments but then I was sprinting out of the shadow, leaving my bike behind, my phone in hand as it dialled the police. Luckily, the shooter was long gone, but the homeless man was gasping, choking on his own life blood. He had been shot in the chest. I rattled off the details of the scene and I could hear the woman in my ear trying to calm me down. Being calm was a so out of reach prospect at that very moment. I had dropped the phone, not hearing the thud of it against the pavement, and I was kneeling beside him. Strangely enough, I wasn't crying. Did that make me heartless? My hands was on his thread bare coat, trying to stop the bleeding, trying to put it back it into his body. That was hopeless. You can't put blood back into someone just with your hands. What was I thinking? I wasn't thinking.
I could hear the sirens coming closer but nothing else, I could see only the man dying in front of me but he was held up by red strings. It was almost like he was a puppet. They connected in circles around his wrists and ankles and they disappeared into the sky. I went to touch one; my hand only came in contact with the skin of his wrist. There was a gurgle. I looked back into the man’s eyes, he was scared, so scared. The lines of his face smoothed out, his grip loosened. And as his eyes went unseeing, the strings were cut. Bits of red string lay on the ground, like they had been cut with a pair of scissors.
You would have thought that I screamed, cried, got placed into so much of a shock that I didn't do anything. But I stared at the mangled strings around him and I could feel them when I bent down, woollen fibres tickling skin. I could feel them now.
A body surrounded by cut strings and a perplexed girl. Swarmed by the police in seconds. Questions and statements. They couldn't see the string. I asked one of them.
They were still there, seen by my eyes but no one else's. What were they?
The ringing was back, it was just never ending ringing. Then it popped and it was sirens and pain and screaming and... I must have blacked out for a moment. It was more than a moment. When I came back around I was no longer in that side street. I was in the hospital. I was staring at the blood on my hands. I could briefly remember telling the police what happened, I could hardly remember my parents arriving. At the moment they were hugging me so fiercely that I couldn't feel my own bones. “Mom, I – I – I saw –“ I spluttered.
What did I see?
“I know honey,” she replied sadly and I knew what that meant she thought that I meant that I had saw that man being murdered in cold blood, which I had, but what I was going to say was that I had saw the strings.
The case was closed in less than a week.
It seemed that the homeless man was addicted to drugs and had gotten some from a drug-dealer who had gotten angry and shot him when he didn’t receive his money. Joey Cartel, the drug dealer, had been caught and had pleaded guilty to murder, although he hadn’t said a word on anything else; he was going to spend a hell of a long time in prison. But I still didn’t know what I had saw, red string?
Now let me tell you something about curiosity. Curiosity is a normal occurrence in humans; we want to know everything we can. It's an itch to satisfy. But also like an itch, the more you scratch it the more itchy it becomes.
I had to figure it out. It was human nature.
I had to sneak out; one of the downsides of seeing what I had seen was my parents were like guard dogs. I walked this time; my hands stuffed into my pockets and tried to keep my head down. Everywhere I could see people were attached to those damn red strings. I couldn’t stare for too long because it gained too many strange stares but I was curious. Do you see what I mean? Curiosity makes knowing things addictive. It makes us more susceptible to risk and reward.
I didn't know if the strings would bring about any of those things.
What were they? How did they get there? They weren’t there the day before my birthday or any day before. Would I blink and they go away? Maybe they were like stars, when under the right conditions they were seen but they were always there.
And there was the side street. I gulped. Okay, breathe in and out, this is not like your nightmares, it’s over. I stood and stared at the exact spot where that man, you called him Nathan, died. “What ya doing?” I jumped and turned to see a boy, all dressed in leather, with curly black hair, sitting on a fire escape.
Classic bad boy sitting in a shadow and scaring innocent girls.
“Why would you care?” I mutter, turning back to that spot. Okay what was I to do? This wouldn’t help me find out about the mysterious strings.
“I care because ya are the only piece that doesn’t fit in this street,” he scoffed “Ya that girl, who witnessed Nathan’s death, aren’t ya?”
“Why never,” I whisper, he still caught it.
“Don’t take it out on me princess,” I turned to look at him, faint anger twisting my expression “Calm down princess, what ya doing here?”
“Don’t call me princess, but I’m here to get answers to what I saw,”
“It’s all in the police report princess; Nathan was shot because he didn’t have the money to pay his drug money to legendary, drug dealer side kick Joey Cartel,”
“Legendary?” I only heard the minor details but I had no clue how this boy knew that, who was he anyway?
“Cartel was a part of the drug circle which is run by the Black Widow, no one’s ever saw her face or confirmed that it’s an actual person but there ya go now ya got what you came for ya can go on ya pretty little way,”
Who did he think he was? “That’s not what I came for, but who even are you?”
“Questions, questions princess, this street is full of them.”
He was right about that one. Bad boys always seemed to know more than other people, it's what nearly always adds to their mysterious persona. YA novels do them just enough justice.
“Answer it then,” I was getting sick of this, I turned away and headed out of the street, I’d come back later when he wasn’t around. He was only a hindrance to me.
“Caleb,” he said and I stopped walking, he answered mine so it was only fair that I answered his.
“That day I saw strings attached to his wrists, that is what I’m looking for,” I didn’t want to see his expressions, I knew that what I had said was crazy, it was just impossible but I had to know.
“No one else did, ya sure ya aren’t taking drugs?”
“I’m not on drugs, ever since then I’ve saw then attached to people, red strings that disappear into the sky and can’t be touched until snapped and can only been seen by me,” I looked at him, he runs his hands through his hair and looks at me intently, “You don’t have any,” I gasp, he is the first person I have seen that doesn’t have the red strings.
“I’ve always been an exception,” he shrugs his shoulders but there's substance behind that. There's always substance behind something.
“How do you know so much about Nathan’s murder?”
“I was there duh, but word gets round too,” he shoved his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket.
“You don’t look like you live here,” I enquired and looked around the dirty street. I was just making sure I was right.
“Looks can be deceiving princess,” I was going to interrupt but he cut me off before I could, “Now I know ya aren’t going to leave me alone, so what if I told ya that I knew someone that deals in the spooky arts?"
“The weird and wacky stuff, like ya string thing,”
“Take me there,” he wastes no time, hopping down from his perch and walking at a fast pace further into the street and then down another side street. I found it hard to keep up with him. Now, I know I shouldn’t go places with strangers, but he was my only lead. I know what you're thinking, it's going to be just like a horror film where I go somewhere I think is going to be safe, but then I get killed.
Curiosity is what drives those people to their demise. I blame curiosity more than myself.
I texted my mom that I was going shopping around the high street, where ‘The Bookworm’s Hole’ was. There was only a limited amount of time before she came looking for me.
We walked a fair amount of distance, weaving in side streets and open spaces and clustered crowds. Our destination was a small house with a beaded curtain over the door. Caleb knocked three times before it was opened just a tiny bit and he held out money from a wallet that I was sure wasn’t his. “I’ve got a client ready to see ya,” he said and he was ushered in, I had no choice but to follow him. This was my only chance of finding out what they red strings were.
“How you doing honey?” a kid asked. The little boy must have only been five or six. Was this a joke? The room was barren except the boy who sat cross legged by the back wall.
“Princess here witnessed Nathan’s murder, in fact she called the police and stayed with him ‘til the end,” there was a sound of appreciation, “Ever since then she’s been seeing red strings hanging from people and strangely I’m the only one that doesn’t have ‘em,” he chuckled, “This here is Wilson, can ya see the strings on him?” he addressed to me and I nodded.
They were new. Woven tightly and a bright red, they stretched to the roof and disappeared. Just like the others.
"That's pretty standard." Wilson said, uncurling from his position and pacing, not even looking at Caleb as his eyes switched from the room to watching me.
"We are all controlled by different things, held up like puppets to face each day - "
He wasn't getting this. He was only a child, how could he get this?
"I am literally seeing strings hanging from people's wrists, once your life ends they get cut. That is what I'm seeing. If you can't help me then I will go elsewhere."
What do normal people do when they go through something like this? In stories they get told what to do, they get mentored on how to become stronger and beat whatever demon they're battling. In real life, those demons are invisible, they are the untold stories that everyone has, but no one dares to acknowledge. How do I deal with something that no one acknowledges?
The boy says something. I tune it out. Maybe his words are important, maybe they'll tell me exactly what I need to do. Caleb brought me here because Wilson was meant to be useful. He wasn't useful at all.
The strings above him jangle as he wanders up and down, up and down, from the back wall to the front wall. There's a sort of titering. Like a bird? No, like wind chimes.
But they're wool, they shouldn't make noise.
That's it. I'm crazy. I've finally went off the edge, maybe that's why I'm seeing them.
It's muffled, the word coming from behind the wind chimes. That's not possible. Caleb isn't behind Wilson he was right next to me. Nothing about this is possible.
I've hyper focussed again. It's something I've always done, focussing on one aspect and ignoring everything else. It's distracting and time consuming.
"We're done here." I say it quickly so I don't change me mind. Coming here was useless, do heroes feel like this when nothing they do works?
I'm not a hero. I can't ask those questions.
I walk out and I go home. Sleeping may be my way out of craziness.
I ignore them. I try to anyway. I go about my life like I normally would. I don't apply for any universities. The dates come and go. There's hugs and tears from friends as they depart and I stay. I can't go somewhere new and take myself away from this curiosity. It would be the right to do, I know it would be. But it's the easiest option.
I can't use the easiest option. It feels too much like a copout.
I'm back in the alleyway again, trying to figure it out. Again. It's not working.
"Ya like a ghost Princess, always haunting this place."
"Go away Caleb," he's different this time, looking more approachable out of the leather jacket and backlit with light. He's not the bad boy of novel legend, he's a person. I think I forgot that. "I don't think you can help me."
"You haven't done any reading have you?" He looked cocky, "From what you've said, I think you're dealing with the Moirai."
"You know about them?" He questions back at me. I haven't done any reading, I shouldn't know about them. I've been so focussed on ignoring them that I actually missed the most obvious option. Stupid.
But something strikes a match. The Fates of Greek mythology, allotting an amount of string for people.
"Anyway, I've read that they decide everything for you. From measuring and cutting your string, they plot every action you're going to make. There was also some tie up about the Japanese legend about soul mates and whatnot," Caleb smiles for a moment, "Hah, tie up, get it?"
He laughs at himself and his face is goofy enough to get me to laugh too.
Caleb walks me home that day. He discusses how some think that the Fates were witches, who were seen more clearly before the fabled witch hunts.
I can't turn back time so that theory goes untested and untried. Caleb has hope for another way though.
"I shouldn't trust you," I say it as we stand outside my front door.
"But I'm the only one willing to help you, it's a sad fact but it's true."
I like him. Not in the way that book novel characters fall in love with the person they've just met. But I like him because he's here. That's not so crazy. He's helping me and I want to know why, I want to know more about him.
I can see that he could be a great friend.
I just have to finish this curiosity before I start on a new one, and it's weird to think of Caleb as a curiosity. It sounds wrong but it's the truth.
"We will fix this, it'll just take a bit more time. You'll see," he walks back down the street with a smile and a half hearted wave, "See ya tomorrow Meg."
He must have gotten my name from the police reports.
That night I lie in bed and I research. The Fates came about for births, but I couldn't just go to a hospital to witness a baby being born. That would be wrong on so many levels and there was no way how I could get there without being caught for the creeper that I would be.
They were dangerous. I could tell that the Fates were something not to be reckoned with. There were even records of people sacrificing themselves due to the tempting ramblings of witches, or doing it in the name of 'fate'.
"I have an idea."
That is what woke me up that night. I don't know where the words came from, maybe from my dream or something. But I woke up and it was three in the morning.
Something wasn't right. I was quiet when I checked on my parents, my father was absent again which wasn't a surprise since he was nearly always absent but my mother was sleeping.
That was downstairs. I tried to keep my breathing calm as I descended the stairs, bypassing the last one due to the horrendous creak it would make. There was no one in the kitchen or the living room. There was no burglar from what I could see. I still grabbed a pan for protection though.
Now that was the front door. Someone was outside. Who would be knocking on my door at three in the morning? What burglar would even knock?
"Meg... Meg?" It was a whisper. It was Caleb.
"What are you doing here at this time of the -" The door was open and the air was cold. Caleb stood outside looking prim and proper, and a stark contrast to the eighteen year old blonde girl in fluffy sheep pyjamas.
"I have an idea."
"What kind of an idea could not wait until tomorrow?"
It was kind of tomorrow technically, but by that I meant proper hours, like the afternoon.
"A good one."
And that was how I was staring at the pool in my back garden at an outrageous hour. Caleb had claimed that the Fates could come around in the circumstance of death. He showed me a newspaper cutting of a graveyard, familiar red strings draped over headstones.
We had this conversation:
"There was a myth that if there was strings over a headstone the Fates would reconsider the death and reallot the deceased's strings. It was wrong of course but that's a lead."
"What does this have to do with anything?"
"Some NDE's, near death experiences, have reported to seeing women once they die. One even said that there was a voice saying that it wasn't time to die yet."
"How do you even know this?"
"Because I'm clever. Now we have a lead. Isn't that wonderful?"
He gathered me up in a hug that was tight and warm. It made me feel like I should trust him. Maybe that was the purpose of it.
It was a coverup before he pushed me into the pool.
It was cold. That's the obvious thing isn't it? I was enveloped in water and I was cold.
I came up for a second. It was a fortunate second. One brief second where I saw his face and I felt terrified.
"This is the only way Meg."
In that second he mouthed his apology and pushed down. He kept me there, under the water and he let me drown.
I was aware of fatigue, of pain, of panic. I told myself to be calm amongst the dark, cold water but it doesn’t work. I fought to get to the surface, even though I can't. His grip on me is too strong. I was afraid of death, of the end, even though I willed myself not to. Please I screamed in my mind please I don’t think my pleads will work, they have to though and that is what I willed myself to believe.
The water is manic in my attempts. That doesn't help me, it just throws more water over my nose and eyes. I can't see, I can't breathe.
I go through the normal stages of drowning which I statically recall from an instance where I first learned how to swim. Your lungs burn as they wish for oxygen, you flail and panic, your hands reach up, your legs kick, your heart is the only sound loud enough to pierce above the panic. Your surroundings recede until you're in a shrinking bubble of light. Then there's just you and the coming darkness.
As I felt that darkness come up to me, I let myself sink and I hoped that I either lived or that this theory worked.
What an original last thought.
The moments passed in a confused and weighty blur. I was aware that I was standing in a line of miserable people, they moan and groan and it’s dark and warm. It was unbelievably warm. A hand touched my shoulder, I turned but there was no one there. The scene melted away.
Fog was everywhere. How could there be fog where I was? Where even was I?
The first punch glanced my chin.
Who was that? Why were we fighting? The punch was a feint and the second blow was way worse, catching me in the stomach.
"Fight." There was a gruff voice somewhere. I ignored it. The next punch was even worse.
It was one heck of a punch. Outside of having the wind knocked from me, which wasn't a comfortable experience let me tell you, I noticed that there was a level of pain with the gutshot, which was something I wasn't used to.
I had never fought before. I never had to.
I had to take a shot at whoever or whatever my opponent was. The blow felt too sluggish. I knew that from the second I launched it. But I had a chance.
We fought. Well, I flailed and attempted to fight. I stood again and again after each blow. Between the pain in between my ribs, in my gut and my overall confusion, the sight of nothing but fog and incoming attacks was not something I had expected in an afterlife.
Then everything stopped. I was picked up and slammed unceremoniously onto a pair of scales. I could feel the metal underneath me.
How embarrassing it was to be wherever I was and fighting someone in sheep pyjamas.
I couldn't see anything. That was the frustrating part. But then I could hear the chopping of scissors and I was surrounded by strings. They weren't my own, looking down mine was tied in a thick loop around my waist.
It was the first time I had saw my own strings. But the thought of knowing that my opponents strings were cut because of me was horrifying.
What happened? I know what happened. I've read this on Wikipedia. Zeus was a known associate of the Fates, making warriors fight and then weighing their strings on a pair of scales to determine the winner. The loser would die.
But wasn't I dead?
The fog cleared. That didn't help one bit.
It was still dark but there was a single circle of light in the middle where three women stood. They were beautiful. They were wrapped in trails of white silk, their lips as red as the string they are known to cut. “We have an intruder, an intruder interrupts our work sisters,” one said. All three of them turned and looked at me. They gasped and turned back around like they could not face me. They don't say why. I don't want to know.
I was bewildered. But they were already gone. In their place was a woman with three heads, I don’t know which one to look at but they all smiled. She holds a single pair of scissors. They were small and dainty, silver and barely fitting in her hands.
“You have passed. My daughter,” she says and I was so confused. “Walk with thee,” she says and I blindly followed. “Do you know who I am?” she asks,
I was about to shake my head but my lips were already opening “You are Hecate,” I said and I have no idea how I knew that. How did I know that? She chuckled at the frown that has settled on my face.
“I saw you when you were just a babe,” she laughed and stops walking, “I picked you."
"You see, the Gods up there don't particularly do anything now that belief in them has dwindled. They mess around and make mayhem out of mole hills." Hecate smiled once more, eager to get her words out, "If they are rebelling then why shouldn't mankind?"
"Because that would chaos." I said bluntly.
"It wouldn't. Mankind would have control again. You just have to do one thing."
"What's that? What's going - "
I blinked. I hear beeping machines and my heartbeat. Everything feels and smells sterile. But there's air around me, there's so much air.
I may have just died, but I have never been more alive.