My Empathy Is Currently Unavailable, But Please Don’t Bother Calling Back.

I meet black, dead eyes with my own, my fingers stretching out to intertwine with theirs. Black blood intertwines with red. I can taste blood on my tongue.

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1. folie à deux

 

You ever just sit there, your head throbbing from the amount of alcohol you’ve drunk, and you suddenly think- “well, shit. I’m gonna drown.”

And I don’t so much mean ‘drown’ in a literal sense, with water forcing its way between your lips with a  greedy zeal, imprisoned within liquid like a fly in amber, your limbs simultaneously being crushed into your torso whilst dragging behind you as if you were flying.

I’m talking more about when you’ve thrown yourself headfirst into a situation without first thinking about the consequences. It’s like a dream- all this excitement, all this apprehension, the danger singing like sherbet on your tongue- and suddenly you’re thrown back into reality with the howl of police sirens in your ears and the stench of alcohol and sweat lurching haphazardly through the air.

And you’re sitting in the driver’s seat of a Fiat 500, with only one shoe on, and all you can think is ‘ohmygodohmygodohmygod’ with a few choice swear words thrown into the mix. And rather than water you’re choking on, it’s the adrenaline, the hiss of blood streaming through your veins and dragging oxygen along with it. Your body’s tightening, your muscles preparing for a fight, with someone, with something, and the Fight or Flight Impulse is swamping you, making it impossible to deny.

That’s exactly what it’s like for me right now.

The car’s seams are pushed to the bursting point, the car filled with the stain of sweat and loose words rolling from the radio, the rough noise sticking to my clothes, seeping through the denim and the leather and worming sickly fingers through my hair.

I choke out a breath, run a finger over the window, catching a bead of condensation on my fingernail. It balances on the tip for an instant, a fragile, porcelain instant, and I watch as it trembles and falls to the carpet. I lose sight of it amidst the beer cans and cigarette butts.

Then I turn back to the road.

I flash past cars and buildings, caught in the steady stream of red taillights with no choice but to follow along, trapped inside an endless sea of dull noise and mournful light. I flash my glance back to the hiss of police lights on the horizon, sighing with relief as they swerve into another road.

They’re not after me, then. Not they should be, of course; I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m just your average, upstanding citizen. I go to church. I look after my sick mother on her bad days. I’m not bad.

Despite everything that's going on, I can't afford to be distracted. The alcohol is messing with my head- reducing the skyline to a dull blur of black and brown, as if the sky was nothing more than a reflection of the pond in my garden: all black water and fallen autumn leaves, flashes of colour submerged within a choking monochrome.

The alcohol I've consumed is streaming through my body, dragging all rational thoughts along for the ride, rendering it practically impossible to ignore the shape next to me.

They're human, almost, with a smile like a slit throat and hair cropped to their shoulders. They smile, white teeth flashing a sharp contrast to the dark and the crude lights that flash by. They don't say a word, but I know what they're thinking.

'You're still going to do this, aren't you?'

And I am, of course I am, even though I don't want to.

They're going to make me do it anyway, whether I want to or not, so I may as well agree from the very instant they smile that smile at me- the one that says ‘hey, let’s play another game’. That's how it's always worked, after all, with them in charge and me following, with obedience to rival any slave.

So whatever happens, whatever’s already happened, it’s not my fault. It’s never been my fault.

Never.

So now, after drinking as much as I can physically stand, I’m driving. I don’t know where to, yet, but I’m not even sure if I’ll remember come morning. That’s usually the best bit, because whatever happens next, I won’t be crushed beneath the guilt that should accompany it.

Not that I should feel guilty, after all. Nothing that happens is my fault. Never my fault.

At their nod, I turn away from the main road, edging down into a side street. For some reason, this looks agonisingly familiar. This area, with the way the houses are packed together like school pupils during assembly, roofs missing strips of tiles and stained with soot and dirt.

The drowning noise retreats into dull lights leaking out from partially-closed curtains, shadows carving empty gouges into the bare pavements, the shadows clutching at the car as it crawls past. I’m not sure if the speed at which I’m travelling is due to me being unable to trust myself, my own reaction time in this inebriated state, or whether I’m simply clutching at time as it whispers past me, hoping, praying, that I am able postpone the inevitable.

I can’t though.

They peer at me from the passenger seat, one corner of their mouth twisted up in a wry snarl, as if they were a hunting animal, and couldn’t decide to kill me themselves of leave me for dead. I’d almost doubt that they could- they’re practically a skeleton, sallow skin hanging from thin bones, like clothes off a scarecrow- but they could. I don’t doubt that they could kill me the instant they wanted to.

Or they could get me to kill myself instead.

‘Keep driving, we’re nearly there’ they almost say, and I nod, lifting my gaze back those black, black eyes. They're entrancing; the colour of late nights and drunken nightmares, of all the temptations the world could hold in its hand, the colour of lust and distraction and broken hearts, loathing and revenge and the shroud of drugs that coat cities like smog.

​I can't help it, but every time I look into their eyes, I feel like I'm dying. Every time I look in their eyes, the air is gone from my lungs, the blood freezing in my veins. My head swims, my limbs heavy, but I still can't look away. But even then, I can't but look away. It's impossible to even consider doing so.

'Face back to the road' they almost hiss, and as I finally obey, the air twisting between my lips in a heavy sigh. I can't put my finger to it, but the place looks familiar: this road, this street, they're like words hovering at the edge of my tongue, just an instant too far away for me to grasp.

The hum of the car's engine fills the air, sickly and slow, muffling out the growling ramble of my own thoughts. Out of the corner of my eye, at the very border of my peripheral vision, I see them smiling, their face curling into a twisted mask, as if their face had been painted to resemble one of a porcelain doll, with the icy-pale skin and dark eyes and thin lips.

​Except a doll's face would be usually without blemish, whilst theirs is marred by every sleepless night and empty day, every nick and scar paints the story of every street fight and cruel slap, even the dog attack back when they were thirteen- the icy white slice writhing across the entirety of their bare throat.

'Here we are' they almost smile, and I ease the car towards the side of the road before stopping it entirely. The world is suddenly very quiet without it. 'Let's go' they say, and I clamber out, uncoordinated and gangly, the world spinning furiously in a flurry of dull Christmas lights. I shouldn't have drunk so much. I shouldn't. I shouldn't.

​This house is more familiar than everything combined so far. It's like a word I can't quite remember, a memory imprisoned in a jar and held just out my reach.

I walk down the drive, head bowed, as they follow behind me, a cruel smile plastered to their face, as sharp and cold as the knife in my pocket.

And then I knock on the door, my knuckles brushing the Christmas wreath and the holly leaves scratching at my fingers, and I know exactly where I am. The words they whisper in my ear confirms it.

But there's no reply, and for a brief, fleeting instant, I'm filled with sudden hope. Maybe no one's in. Maybe they've moved.

Please let that be true... Please... Please...  

But they don't make mistakes, and the woman answers the door, her hair tugged up into a bun and mascara casting long shadows beneath her eyes. She's older than I last remember, the auburn hair flecked with the ash grey of sleepless night and hollow days. The bags beneath her eyes seem to have lessened, though.

She doesn't seem to recognise me at first, but when she does, her sleepy eyes widen and her lips form around my name, like the embrace I know that she won't offer. Then she screams, a wordless howl that freezes my limbs.

​I hear a clatter, and that's when my father rushes to my mother's side, his expression flashing from fear to anger in an instant.

Behind me, they smile, and they step to my shoulder, their breath cold and stale against my neck. 'Go on, then' they almost hiss, 'let us begin'.

I take the knife from my jacket, throw my parents a narrow smile and point them back inside.

My eyes are darker, I can feel it.

They smile as my parents scramble back into the living room, fear shadowing their faces.

Ohhh, they hate my parents.  

Ohhh, I hate my parents, too.  

'Do you remember me?' they almost whisper, placing their silver words into my mouth like the gift of the Eucharist from a priest. I repeat them with an empty voice, a hollow expression on my face. This is it, this is when I lose control again, when I let them take control.

They know who I am, I can see it in their eyes.  

I can feel them pressing against my back, running cold lips against my neck. Their fingers are digging into my airway, almost cutting off the oxygen to my lungs. 

'Do you know why I'm here?' Their voice is so soft against my neck, like the memory of a memory, the whisper of sin against my soul. I repeat their words.  

They both shake their heads, but now they're lying. They can't take their eyes from the blade in my hand. It feels so perfect, when only moments before it felt awkward, unnatural.

​Oh, it feels so good to let go, finally.

​I take a step forward. 'Don't LIE TO ME!' This time, their words only fracture the air an instant before my own, the fury lashing out like a whip, the dull words breaking into a furious howl.

'Bless,' they almost whisper, their fingers feeling like claws against the bare skin of my throat. They're almost beginning to sting. 'Look how scared they are of you now. Isn't this a welcome change to how it used to be? When you used to loathe returning home from school? When you'd lock yourself in your room for hours on end? Isn't it better now? Isn't it better like this?'

"What are you talking about?"

My parents' eyes are back to my own darkened ones. Or maybe my eyes haven't changed at all. Maybe it's just my thoughts and cares that have rotted away. But it's still not my fault- I'm not the one in charge here, I never was.

My father takes a step in front of his mother and opens his mouth. I'm taller than him now- not that it's much of a challenge, considering my father was always a small man, but it's strange, looking down at him for once. He bites his lip before repeating his question, this time only with added confusion, his cautiousness making his voice tremble, like the final autumn leaf in a winter gale. "What are you talking about? Who are you talking to?"

I turn to face them. They're still smiling; their black eyes hollow and dead, a gaping pit of insanity and murder. I'm falling into the chasm, I see that now. I'm tumbling just as Alice tumbled down the rabbit hole, clutching for something, anything, to slow my descent. But I can't. There's nothing left to hold onto.

​They run their slender fingers down my arms, their hands so thin they're almost skeletal, and their smile so dark it's almost nothing more than a wolfish snarl. The room suddenly feels so, so cold, as if I've been imprisoned in a morgue, surrounded by the icy dead and the empty eyes, just as I used to be, with the stench of antiseptic flooding my senses, the claustrophobia crawling back into my lungs. 

​My voice is even more monotonous than it was moments before, so heavy and controlled, my face feeling so heavy that I can't help but let it fall into nothing but an emotionless wall. 

'Why did you do it?' I hiss out their words as their perfect, practiced echo. It's still not my fault, though. I can't help that they're making me do this.   

I can't help that I want to do it, either.  

My parents look so worried. How pathetic.  

"What do you mean?" my mother asks. "Dear, we had to. We needed to help you, and how else could we have done that?"  

I cackle, the burst of sound bursting from my lips and writhing in the air like a den of vipers. 'Help?' they almost shriek. 'I needed HELP?' My head's spinning, a vile sound screaming through my thoughts, sending each and every one crashing into ash.

My mother's forehead collapses into a frown, and she takes a hesitant step forward, shaking her sleeve free of her husband's warning hand. "We're just trying to help you, dear. You're not well. You need help, and we're going to get you all better, okay?"

'Such patronisation,' they almost say. 'Can't you hear them mocking you? Laughing at you? Taunting you? They ignored me, disregarded you. Are you really going to listen to them now? After everything we've done together?'

​There are memories... somewhere. They're at the very horizon of my memory, like printed photos scattered in the wind. I can't reach them... not all of them... but I have to. They're important. I know they are.

I frown.  

No. I just need to keep listening to what they say and do what they tell me to.

​It's not my fault, whatever happens.

My mother takes another step forward, one trembling hand reaching out to mine. "J-just drop the knife, okay? We can sort this all out then. And we can speak to the police and-"

'Shut up!' they almost howl, their voice torn at the edges, like worn newspapers and paintings. My voice seems to startle sense back into my mother, and she takes a step back. 'Shut them up! SHUT THEIR LIES UP!'

The doctor. The policemen.

I'm clutching at the memories now. I'm starting to open them up and uncover the truths they hold.

The psychotherapist. The boy that always laughed at me at school.

They're all imprisoned in wooden boxes like Christmas presents, wrapped securely in the tight earth, not to be opened until the End Of Days.

And then I realise why I'm here now.

'Do it, then,' they almost whisper. 'You know you want to.'

And I want to. I really, really do.

My father's widen as I take another step towards them. The light dances from the kitchen blade, silver glow flickering over the walls like delicate kisses, like a lover's fingers trailing over skin. I smile, only slightly at first, but then it grows- spreading slowly across my face like a slit throat, wide and uncontrollable and malicious.

​"Please," my father whispers.

But whatever's going to happen, none of this is my fault.

I never chose to do this. I never suggested any of this.  

I was never the one who killed those doctors or those psychiatrists, nor that teacher or that school bully.  

None of this is my fault.  

It's theirs, if anyone's.   

But that still doesn't mean that I'm not going to enjoy this.   

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