Whisper

//He had a smile on his face like the climax of a novel, and his kisses were the chorus to a treasured favourite song.\\

Benedict has lived six months in a ragged half existence, torn apart after his twin brother's accident. Still, when he meets Whisper, the happy-go-lucky boy in the wheelchair who volunteers at his support group, Benedict starts to realise that maybe it isn't totally impossible for him to begin enjoying life again. It's only after the two uncover some incriminating evidence that Ben understands that his brother's car crash wasn't quite so accidental as he originally thought.

\\The amazing, beautiful, wonderful cover is by @violets//

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16. CHAPTER FOURTEEN| Dreams and Promises

 

Once upon a time, there was a boy and his brother, and the whole wide world for them to explore. They were nine years old, or thereabouts, and their hair had not been cut in much too long. It hung in long strands in front of their faces like mysteries they couldn’t be bothered to solve- because there were far more pressing matters for little nine year old boys to attend to than cutting their hair, those days.

It was November; that lazy time of the year when old things die, and tears of glittery ice begin to steeple along the river bank. The boys were called Benedict and Sebastian, and although they knew that it was November, they hadn’t yet learnt that this was nature’s month for dying things.

They were going to go swimming in the lake.

Both were competent in the water- they were twins, see, and always attempting to outdo one another. They’d been having swimming lessons since they were four. That morning, they were supposed to be going to school- except they didn’t.

At the door, they kissed their mother goodbye (shouting a farewell up the stairs to their father, who was in bed). Then, they trotted along the road to school- but as they twisted out of view from their watching mother, instead of turning right, they turned left.

This was the way to the lake.

Ditching school to go swimming was Sebastian’s idea. He had watched a movie in class recently where three boys did the very same thing, and Benedict had read the book a while back. It was going to be the kind of delectably rebellious behaviour that put a sweet taste into both the boys’ mouths.

They walked for a couple of minutes, until eventually they came to a spot where the murky brown water looked slightly clearer. The grass was wet and dewy at their feet, licking at their ankles.

“Here,” said Sebastian, firmly. “This is a good spot. Let’s swim here.”

Underneath their school uniform they’d put on their school regulation swimming trunks, and both stripped down to this now. Benedict smiled.

“Look, Seb. This is… Is my very favourite thing about this lake. We can see ourselves in the water, ‘cept we look funny.”

Sebastian stuck out his tongue at Benedict. “You always look funny, stupid.”

This was a pretty bog-standard nine-year-old-boy insult, and had the desired effect of Benedict stamping his foot in protest. (Unfortunately, the boys were twins, so Sebastian was also inadvertently insulting himself. Benedict didn’t understand this logic until much later on, though.)

“Sorry,” said Sebastian, even though he wasn’t. He just didn’t like the idea of his brother being mad at him. He paused, wondering how to cheer Benedict up. “I’ll race you to the other side of the lake!”

Benedict grinned, pushing his hair out of his eyes. The boys in the novel had raced across their lake, too. “Fine.”

And so, the two boys jumped into the water, and still had no idea that November was not the month to be swimming in a lake. November was the month of dying things.

“Stop,” said a loud voice, ricocheting off invisible walls. Benedict looked up, but Sebastian didn’t seem to hear it. It was funny, actually, Benedict thought. This voice sounded a little like his own, only older.

“Stop!” said the voice again, more desperate this time. Benedict ignored it, with the ease that little kids are able to ignore things, and instead focused on how cold the water was. It felt like he was being set on fire inside all the weaving corridors of his veins, chattering his teeth and glazing his eyeballs as if with frosted layers of icing.

He turned to Sebastian, smiling through the pain. “God!”

Sebastian nodded in agreement, eyes reflecting the spotted light of the water. He wriggled in excitement, treading water. “We… We should have b-b-brought wet suits, right?”

“The boys in the book didn’t.”

“They didn’t in the movie, either.”

“Maybe we’re just-” started Benedict, but was cut off by a splash of the murky water flying up in his face. He coughed and spluttered, rubbing at his eyes. “Hey!”

“What?” asked Sebastian, although he knew exactly why Benedict had shouted. Being splashed with water unexpectedly is always a shock, especially when the water is the sort that tinges whatever it touches blue. Sebastian was on his back, powerfully kicking away from his brother. “I said I’d race you to the other side, didn’t I? Come on!” he shouted, giggling.

The voice from before sounded again, spreading over the vast dark lake like a blanket over the water. “Stop! Stop!”

If Benedict or Sebastian heard it, neither showed any reaction.

Benedict plunged properly into the water (making sure to streamline his body just like Maggie, his swimming teacher, had taught him). Sebastian was a stronger swimmer, and faster, but he got tired much more easily than Benedict.

Determined, both brothers streaked through the water, hazy sunlight dappling over their bodies like spot lights. The land on the other side of the lake was close enough to see- but still, at least 1000 metres across. It was longer than either had ever swum in a pool.

That didn’t matte, of course. The boys were nine years old, and when you are nine years old it seems possible to do anything if you put your mind to it.

Swimming was easy enough, even in the heart of November.

In front of Benedict, Sebastian’s strength was already waning. They hadn’t even passed the 200 metre mark, either. Benedict smiled to himself through gritty concentration, making his strokes as clean and precise as he could, cutting through the water with the side of his hands. Sebastian beat him in school work, in popularity, in winning the teachers’ or their parents’ favour.

Let Benedict beat him, for a change.

“Stop!” cried the disembodied voice once more, as Benedict pushed himself in front of Sebastian at last. Benedict didn’t hear it, laughing at Sebastian’s cry of anguish from behind him. He was going to win, Benedict told himself, the words like precious jewels inside his mind. He never won at anything, never, ever, ever, but now, this was different. He was going to win this race. He was going to win!

Sebastian’s shouted again from behind Benedict, which struck him as a little odd. Sure, one cry of rage would be plausible, but two? And the cry seemed further away than before, as well- as if Sebastian had stopped in the water where he’d been overtaken.

Slowing his pace a little, Benedict mulled it over. Could Sebastian be tricking him? He might swim back to see what the matter was, only for Sebastian to stick out his tongue and plough ahead through the water. Or… Or could something really be wrong?

Sebastian shouted again, this one languishing into an indistinct screech.

With resolve, Benedict made up his mind. Maybe his brother was fooling him, yeah… But then again, maybe Sebastian needed him. Turning back in the water, he kicked back to where Sebastian had stopped swimming.

“Ben,” said Sebastian, as his brother drew nearer. His eyes were wide like gaping wounds; his dark, wet eyelashes burst stitches. “B-B-B-B-Ben.” His voice was trembling as it never normally did. Without the strength to raise an arm above the water and point, Sebastian nodded his head in front of him.

There was a dead rat floating inches away from Benedict’s shoulder.

Its whiskers had all either fallen off or iced over like popsicle sticks. Both its eyes were non-existent- just sockets in the hollow of its head. Benedict leaned over it curiously, his breath painting misty patterns in the air in front of him. One breath looked just like a dead rat. The next looked strangely more like a boy. A dead one, too.

“It’s kind of cool,” muttered Benedict to himself. He’d never seen a dead anything before.

Sebastian stared at him as if he’d gone crazy. “It’s- It’s a dead rat, Ben! It’s f-f-f-frozen to death, can’t you see? I- Aren’t you cold, t-t-too?”

November, you see, is the month of dying things.

Benedict blinked as the weight of Sebastian’s words settled onto his shoulders. As a nine year old boy, he wasn’t particularly used to words with weight- and now he felt like he was hearing them in such numbers that he’d be crushed beneath them in a matter of seconds.

“Too late,” said the voice that neither Benedict nor Sebastian could hear. “Too late, too late, too late!”

“I’m fine,” said Benedict with steely resolve, as he told himself not to panic. In truth, he was cold- tendrils of ice and fear had crept up on him slowly, wrapping around his body like a shroud. “Come on, Seb. We’re… We’re almost at the other side now.”

The two boys looked across to the other side of the lake. It was still about 700 metres away.

Sebastian shook his head. “I- Ben, I can’t. I can barely t-t-tread water. I-” He broke off, biting his lip. The dead rat floated closer to him on a gust of wind, and he jerked away feebly.

Benedict looked back the way they had come. “Then forget about getting to the other side, Seb,” he told his brother, beating his legs harder and harder under the water as it lapped up to his neck. Struggling to keep his head up, Benedict turned to Sebastian, pleading. “Let’s just go back the way we came. It’ll be okay, it’s not that far. Come on, Seb. Seb!”

Gasping, Sebastian was trying to answer his brother, but didn’t have the breath left in his body. His eyes widened, his hair sticking to his face like some sort of grim reminder.

“Fine,” wheezed Benedict, trying not to panic. “if you can’t swim back yourself, I’m going to carry you.”

When Sebastian didn’t reply, Benedict knew how quickly hope was evaporating into the grey November air. Usually, Benedict’s brother would have put up some sort of fuss about his pride being insulted, if Benedict had offered to carry him. Now, Sebastian nodded limply, struggling to keep his eyes open.

Benedict looked up at the sky above him, and saw that it was snowing. The first snow of the season, and it had caught them exactly where they shouldn’t have been. The flakes landed on his eyelashes like tiny crystals falling from the sky. If snow were crystals, Benedict thought, he’d be the richest in his class in no time.

Shivering in his arms, Sebastian groaned in fear. “We’re going to die, Ben,” he whispered softly, flatly, “we’re going to die.”

Benedict looked at him and scowled, his tone fierce. “Shut up. We’re going to live, stupid. Only rats are stupid enough to drown like this, and we’re not rats.”

“B-B-B-“

“Don’t talk! You’ll waste energy!” said Benedict, his voice fluking up an octave. He flattened it out, trying to stay calm. He had to be keep a cool head- that’s what their mother always said to do in scary situations. Keep a cool head- that’s right. Breathe in, breathe out. Count to ten, and if that doesn’t work, then count to twenty five instead.

“We have to keep moving,” Benedict told his brother, pulling them both back the way they had come. Swimming with another person’s weight added to your own was a lot harder than they made it look in movies. “Help me kick, if you can. It might… h-help you keep warm or something.”

With stiff, disjointed movement, Sebastian’s feet started to move.

Benedict was just starting to truly believe that they might make it home when he saw a dark, human sized blob that might have been a body floating in the near-distance. He swallowed a scream, but Sebastian still noticed and prised open his eyes to see what had frightened Benedict.

“What is it?” asked Sebastian wearily, craning his neck as they swam. ”Is it a boat or s-s-s-s-something? Come on; tell me it’s a b-b-b-boat, Ben.”

“It’s… It’s…” Benedict trailed off, unable to voice his fears. If it really was a human body, it only made their survival chances even slimmer. He shook his head and swallowed, trying not to cry.

As they got closer, they saw the body move. Morbid images of the zombies he’d seen on the covers of X rated movies flashed across Benedict’s mind, staining it black in utter terror. The body was swimming towards them, getting closer and closer.

Benedict closed his eyes and kept kicking.

“Hey!” said Sebastian suddenly, his voice a croak. “It’s Leanne, Ben! L-L-L-Leanne from school.” Sebastian twisted frantically, trying to steer them in the direction of the girl. “H-h-help! Help us!” he yelled, although with the great expanse of the lake ahead of him, it sounded more like a mere murmur of sound.

Leanne-from-school was in the other side of the year, so wasn’t in Benedict or Sebastian’s class. They’d never really talked to her, and neither knew much about her. She was kind of fat, and cleverer than most of Benedict’s friends. He’d heard something about her being bullied at one point.

She was also what Benedict believed would be classed in this situation as a God-send.

Eyes snapping open, he screamed at her, his voice frantic and much louder than his brother’s. “Leanne!”

With surprising skill, she swam until she was level with them. She frowned a little when she saw who the brothers were.

Benedict gestured at Sebastian, whose feeling had left his body. He lay slackly, now, in Benedict’s arms and was no longer kicking. “It’s freezing,” Benedict told Leanne. “Aren’t you f-f-f-freezing?”

Leanne looked at him strangely. “I’m wearing a wetsuit, so not really.” Benedict looked at her, and saw that she was indeed wearing a wetsuit. She raised her eyebrows at Sebastian, biting her lip. “Is he okay?”

Clenching his jaw against the cold, Benedict shook his head frantically. “Help me,” he gasped, forcing the words from between his numbed lips. “Help me get Seb out the lake before he… he…”

“Dies from the cold?” asked Leanne, half joking. After she was met by a desperate look from Benedict, she clamped her mouth shut, eyes widening. She’d always been tactless. Without another word, Leanne took one of Sebastian’s arms and helped Benedict pull him back to the shore.

Wheezing, they pushed him onto the rocks and stones that comprised the lake side.

“Seb,” said Benedict softly, gently, “it’s okay. We’re out of the lake.”

Sebastian didn’t so much as open one eye in response. Benedict wondered if his brother had heard him, kneeling down at his side. “Seb! Did you hear me? It’s okay, now. We’re okay!”

Sebastian didn’t seem very okay, at all. He lay in the exact position that Leanne and Benedict had left him, his hair knotting across his neck like a noose. Benedict looked at Leanne in horror. “What do we do? What do we do?”

Pausing, Leanne licked her lips nervously. “Um… You don’t have a phone, do you? We should call an ambulance or something.”

Benedict shook his head. He was nine years old, and this was in a time when nine year olds didn’t own phones. Leanne looked behind her, at the lake houses that lined its banks. “I’ll go ask for help in one of those,” she said decisively. “There’ll be adults, and they’ll know what we’re supposed to do.”

She broke off in a sprint towards the lake houses, and Benedict wondered if his brother was dead.

“Too late,” said the voice that had no owner, the one that sounded like a much older version of the nine year old Benedict. “Too late!”

Time seemed to stop, moving so slowly it was as if it had been infused with treacle. Time Infused with Chef’s Speciality Treacle. Ha. It sounded kind of like a fancy dessert. Benedict stared at his brother, lying on the ground, and was struck in the chest by how hopelessly useless he felt.

Minutes passed, and Leanne ran from the lake house she’d disappeared into with a middle aged man with a great, ginger moustache in tow. “He’s called for medics or something,” she explained to Benedict with fever, “and he’s a doctor, anyway, and he’s going to do CP-something on Sebastian, and Sebastian’ll be okay, definitely.”

The man dropped to his knees beside Sebastian and started doing CPR, but Benedict couldn’t watch. He hated himself, because he should be watching, he knew he should be watching… But what if Sebastian was too far dead? What if these were his final moments?

Benedict didn’t want to think of his brother and see his body, washed up on a lake side.

Benedict didn’t want his brother to die, full stop.

Next to him, Leanne nudged him gently with her elbow. She was still wearing her wetsuit, and her hair was tucked neatly inside a bright pink swimming cap.

“You probably just saved my life,” he told her, almost grudgingly. He didn’t begrudge the fact that she’d saved him, of course- no, it was more the fact that he might still be the only one that was saved.

“I saved both your lives,” said Leanne, as if she could tell what Benedict was thinking. She paused, looking at him out of the corner of her eye. “Why were you and your brother swimming here, anyway?” She paused, and then added, “Without even a wetsuit or anything.”

Benedict shrugged. “That movie we saw at school, about those boys who went swimming in a lake? Seb was really into it, y’know? And I’d read the book. And…” He shrugged, a little haughtily. “The boys in the movie didn’t wear wetsuits, either.”

“Yeah, but that was a movie.” Leanne smiled a little cautiously. “That movie’s the reason I’m here as well, you know. I wanted to have an adventure, like those guys in the film did.” She stopped and ran over to a bag that sat a little way off from them. It was giant, almost bigger than both of them, and printed with a camouflage design like in the army.

Leanne pulled out two towels. She wrapped one around herself and offered the other to Benedict. “Here, do you want a towel? I brought a spare one just in case.”

Benedict took it gratefully. “Thanks.”

At the sound of footsteps, Benedict spun around on reflex. He and Leanne jumped simultaneously as a team of medics ran towards them. The medics were thanking the man from the lake house, and lifting Sebastian onto a stretcher.

Next to Benedict, Leanne linked her arm through Benedict’s. He was about to pull it away angrily, when he realised that actually, it was kind of comforting. And the girl had saved his life after all.

“Your brother will be alright,” said Leanne. “I promise.”

“Yeah,” replied Benedict, but his nine year old voice wobbled like it was trying out a bike without stabilisers for the very first time. His hands shook, and he stuffed them into the pockets of his swimming trunks so Leanne wouldn’t see them shaking. “Yeah,” he said again, his voice admirably steadfast, “Seb’s going to be alright. He always is. Always.

But the great, booming disembodied voice rang out the words, “Too late. Too late,” like one of those looped-back songs that never end. Benedict closed his eyes as the snow dusted the pink from his cheeks, and he tilted his head back to face the dreary November sky.

November, you see, was the month of dead things.

Please, Benedict prayed, squeezing his eyes and clenching his fists so hard that it hurt. Please God, or Allah, or whatever’s up there, please. Please- let Seb live and I’ll let him have all my pocket money for a year. Let him live, and I promise I’ll protect him forever and ever and you’ll never have to worry about him again. Please. Please. I’m begging you, whoever you are.

Minutes late, Sebastian opened his eye, spluttering for breath. Benedict vowed to make good on his promise to always protect his brother (but not the one about giving away all his pocket money). And that was the end, except, not really.

Years later, Sebastian fell into a coma. Someone was trying to kill him, and so far Benedict hadn’t been able to stop them. It was only through lucky coincidence that Sebastian still lived at all.

Serrating through the barrier between dreams and reality, the seventeen year old Benedict Akamatsu screamed.  His eyes fluttering open, he saw the morning breaking through the slatted waiting room blinds like sorrow seeping inside a dream. That wasn’t at all far from the truth, really.

He put a finger to his face, running it down his cheek, and found that it was wet with tears. 

 

-

WHISPER

A ROMANCE BY MIRLOTTA

//cover by @anna mv.\\

 

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