Drowning Lessons

[This is a re-written, edited version of Drowning Lessons. Yup. Literally just that.] There's a trick to building yourself back together. Sam mastered it long ago, and now he's got to try and teach his best friend the same thing. Brandon is sinking fast, and all Sam can do is try to teach him to swim.

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9. Chapter Eight

drapetomania

noun

the overwhelming urge to run away

 

 

It was a clear morning. Clear and warm and dry.

It should have been raining. Thick, icy black pellets plummeting from the obsidian clouds like shrapnel in a warzone. Thunder should have been setting the world alight, splitting the darkness open like a new wound. What was it… pathetic fallacy, right? When the weather reflects the mood?

Well, the weather should have mirrored the squirming, monstrous darkness that had consumed his soul.

But he could still see the stars if he looked up, smiling down at him, mocking him. They leered down like high-school bullies, hundreds, thousands of them, crowding around him like swarms of bees, but still dissolving into the morning sky. It looked like it would be good weather today. The sun had clambered into the sky, crawling above the high-rise apartments and stood above them, victorious, like an undefeatable, silent version of King Kong. It was dizzyingly bright so he didn’t even bother looking up anymore. He just ran.

His lungs were burning: each breath tearing away another strip of flesh or skin or muscle from his windpipe as his internal organs writhed in agony. This wasn’t normal. His stomach was churning, each gasp of air seemed to turn solid inside his throat and choke him. Maybe he was dying. Maybe he was already dead. Unsurprisingly, neither of those ideas sounded particularly uninviting. The world was rotten, dead, and Brandon was trapped in it; buried up to his neck in it as hungry, dead creatures burrowed their way through his skin and were munching away at him with their cold, pinching teeth. Brandon's throat was raw, burning: the air felt like acid, clawing its way through his windpipe like an animal, talons and fangs tearing, gouging. He could taste blood.

He felt like he'd been thrown into an inky-black ocean in the centre of a hurricane. The world was spinning, his balancing spinning and hurling him to his knees and then to his feet before back to his knees again like a rag doll. He wasn't sure how long he'd been running for- it might have been minutes or hours or even days; the seconds were splintered, held together with his own shaking, bloody fingers as he fumbled forward, always forward. The world was dark and wet and cold- as inhabitable as any other place he could drag from any nature documentary.

He was encased in a kaleidoscope: shards of colours spinning on a mocking, sadistic carousel around him as he ran, almost as if he trapped within a whirling tornado of tropical birds- feathers swirling around him in a cacophony of blinding noise and shrieking movement.

He was running on adrenaline: letting it muffle his screaming muscles and blocking out everything else- the sounds, the smells, the sights, the memories and the thoughts- because if he continued to run like this then he'd never need to stop. He could run forever.

And that was exactly what he was planning on doing.

Everything around him was dulled, almost as if he'd been wrapped in a layer of cling-film; the world had diminished to a whisper, almost as if it feared him, and he could barely feel the constant bombardment of rain striking his exposed skin.

He had his collar pulled up tight to protect as much of his face from the sun as possible, but also to ensure that anyone as dark and dangerous as he was wouldn't recognise him. He had already earned plenty of odd looks from the heaving, crushing crowds of people he was pushing himself through. There was an occasional yell as a business man or a young woman toppled, papers throwing themselves into the air like a flock of paper doves.

Fly away, little birds, fly awaaaaaaaay…

Christ, was there anything right with him?

He should probably walk if he didn’t want to arouse so much burning, glaring suspicion, but that was the last thing he needed. People might try and stop him. People might talk to him, and then it was entirely possible that he’d lose whatever iron dog-collar he’d managed to restrain himself with.

The last thing he wanted... yet, at the same thing, the very thing he craved more than anything. It was like nicotine, this starving, animalistic hunger for... what even was it? Violence? Death? The smell of blood as it swept over him in a delicious tidal wave, dragging away any and all remainder of humanity from his veins, leaving his choking on a bloody desire to maim, to hurt, to kill and burn the world to ash?

He didn't know anymore. He didn't care.

He just needed to continue running.

What was he now? Was he an animal? A toy used for another person's evil uses? He didn't know. He couldn't remember- not that there was much that he could. There'd been a person- a face- but it was dark, blurred, the features melding into one another until they were a mass of jumbled words and voices and shadows. There was a voice, soft and smooth, a concoction of liquor and salt and gravel and honey. It was delicious and dangerous and it was like a tsunami wave- picking him up and sweeping him away, dragging him beneath the blood and the smothering, burning paroxysm and washed him away, knocking down everything else in its path, leaving nothing but desolation and broken bodies.

But where was he going to go? He needed to go somewhere, to get out of the streets before he cracked again, before he let the red seep through the fractures that lined his skin like peeling scabs of paint on old walls. His blood felt painfully hot- surging, bubbling red-hot inside his veins inside his body. The angel's body.

That was it. They'd been an angel, hadn't they? Why had he ran from an angel? What would he do without him to feed the monster he'd made?

Whoever the angel was, they'd hollowed him out, slithering inside with their choking, malevolent blackness, and now he felt disjointed, uncomfortable working the pieces, like he was a puppet hurled before a waiting crowd on the stage with no idea how to pull their own strings. He didn't know how to fix the gnawing ache that was gradually building inside of himself, the piercing stabs that reverberated inside his body like barbed wire.

He knew it was wrong- that it would take a psychopath to not figure that much out. He knew that everything he was, everything he had been, had been flipped around on itself. Brandon saw memories of his old life- people, events, faces- as if through a thick pane of glass stained with soot. Everything was there, but not there; he felt everything with a fuzzy detachment, as if it had happened to a complete stranger, someone he didn’t know or care about.

But where to go, but where to go?

The area looked familiar. The street, the signs, the buildings that loomed over him like gods of a new age. Brandon didn’t know why, but he knew he had to stop.

Of course, the very instant he did, the universe seemed to have caught up with him, smashing into him at the speed of a bullet-train. He fell into the man in front of him before throwing himself backwards again, oxygen crashing into his lungs and almost making him scream. There were people surrounding him. There were people everywhere. The panic was back, blinding-white and burning hot, washing over him in waves with a ferocious intensity and the noise followed it- crushing, roaring noise, of car horns and bus bells and talking and yelling and the persistent hum of traffic. He needed to get out of the street. Fast.

There was a phone box a few metres away. One of those old-fashioned ones, with a rusting scarlet door and inappropriate and unflattering adverts pasted to the windows. He hurled himself into it, dragging the door closed, and immediately the noise and the heat and the claustrophic rage tapped down a notch, or at least to the extent that he could actually breathe again.  It was slightly warmer inside, with the metal shell having hoarded much of the late summer heat.

He curled into a ball at the bottom of the box. He needed to calm down. He needed to breathe. The world- his entire vision- had been doused in red, and if anyone decided to peer into the box then they’d probably be calling the cops- ‘Sir, there’s a crazy man writhing around like a maniac in a defiled telephone box- come quick!’.

It took an hour to stand up, his heart thrashing against his ribcage before finally surrendering as the surges of people passed by, not even casting him the most derogatory of glance. Most likely they didn’t care. People rarely did until you’d begun to bleed.

He needed to do something though: he couldn’t stay trapped inside the phone box until he keeled over from thirst or something. Well, he could, but of course… it’d be boring, right, my pet?

Quite possibly.

 But he dragged himself to his feet instead, legs shaking and spasming. Stupid lactic acid. The number he dialled was practically second nature, and he reversed the call, meaning that the person on the other end of the line would have to pay instead. Of course, as the ringing dragged out into a torturous marathon of doubt and self-loathing, Brandon couldn’t help but acknowledge that there was a temptation to dial a different number and be dragged back from whence he’d came like a disobedient dog.

After all, what good was he without his creator? The person who had made him this way? They’d know what to do with him.

He could call them. He could.

But he didn’t.

The person who picked up the phone wasn’t the one who should have. This person was a girl, a woman, with a soft, lilting voice. She sounded Irish. She also sounded painfully familiar. Her name was there, like an itch he couldn’t reach, a jigsaw piece he couldn’t place. “Who is this?” he snarled, and the tenor of his voice surprised him, not to mention the girl on the end of the line.

“Oh God,” she said slowly, “oh God... Brandon, is that you?”

Who is this?” he repeated, tongue flicking out to wet his cracked lips. He hadn’t even realised his hands were shaking, but that they were. Two of his fingernails had been pulled off. Huh, he hadn’t noticed that either.

“What the… why are you calling? Why are you calling us?” The line crackled, there was a muffled words thrown before a new person picked up.

“Brandon? Is that you?”

“Sam,” he breathed, feeling relief wash over him. “Thank you, Sam, thank you so-“

“Why are you calling me?” The voice was cold, cutting through him like a shard of glass. “What do you want? Where are you?”

He could feel it spreading- the grin- curling over his face, leering as though the man on the other end could hear the thoughts that had thrown themselves into the for-front of the civil war that his mind had become. The things he wanted came in hundreds of different shapes and sounds. So many temptations, so many different desires. Oh so many, isn’t that right, Brandon?

He took a deep breath, and then another, as if such a simple exercise could drag the madness from his mind. “I need your help, Sam. Where are you? Can I see you?”

“You need my help? Brandon… No, Cat, I’ve got this. Just let me think a moment… Brandon, I can’t do that. You… you-”

The smile was still there and it was growing. He hadn’t smiled for days, not since he’d… what had he done? There’d been a news article, hadn’t there? About a murder? Or had it now been qualified as a terrorist attack? “Listen, Sam. I don’t know… I’m in-” take a quick look out of the paned windows, check for the street name- “the phone box on Whittacre Road. Can I just talk to you face to face? Please, Sam. I need you.”

There was a sharp inhalation of breath. “Listen, Brandon, I can’t. You’re- you’re dangerous. I just can’t, okay?”

“Please, Sam. Please.” He was begging now. He was raking his nails against his arms, needing something- anything- to distract him from the panic that was beginning to well up again. At least it was fear this time, compared to when he simply wanted to throw himself into a bustling shopping centre and rip every single person in there apart with his bare hands.

There was a resigned sigh. Brandon couldn’t remember if Sam always gave in this easily. “Just… just give me a moment, okay?” There was a beep as the phone went dead, and Brandon wondered if he was going to be sick. He might well be. But that would be the least of his worries in he broke now. He knew what he had to do. He knew what he had to ask Sam to do.

Because God help him, if Sam didn’t say yes, then Brandon wouldn’t be the one to die today.

There was a light tap on a pane of glass next to his head. He jumped back, the sharp sound bouncing around inside his head like a rebounding bullet. It was Sam, hands dug deep into his pockets, shadows dripping like ruined makeup from beneath his eyes and cheekbones. Brandon hadn’t realised that he slumped back into a ball until he stood up again, joints aching. His nerves were still sharpened to a razor’s edge, the adrenaline bubbling in his veins, the fight-or-flight response streaming through every muscle, artery and bone until he was effervescing.

He took a step out of the box, thankful that the street was practically bare, but as he did Sam took a cautionary step back. He brought his phone out of his trouser pocket. “I’ve got the emergency services ready to call. If you take another step towards me then I will not hesitate to dial the number immediately.” He paused, tasting his words. “And Cat is here too.”

It was funny, no; adorable. Brandon was grinning again, running a hand over his cropped hair. It was a sneer, his canines exposed, as he tried not to laugh. “Oh Sammy… Sammy… I’m not here to fight, you silly little boy.”

He needed to push this side down. He knew that. But it felt so good to let it free, to feel strong again, that he couldn’t. His smile spread wider, cracked lips splitting as Sam frowned, forehead creasing. “Brandon. What’s wrong with you?”

A delirious giggle bubbled up his throat and he took another step forwards. Sam took one back. But Brandon saw it, he saw it. Sam wasn’t as confident as he was pretending to be. He was scared. Oh poor little Sammy-boo.

No. It wasn’t meant to be like this. He couldn’t scare Sam away. He needed his help. “Come on, man.” He muttered to himself, wringing his fingers, glaring at his bitten fingernails. “Don’t do this… Don’t be this thing…. Don’t be this thing…”

There was a hand on his shoulder and Brandon lurched away from it as if it was burning. He needed to get away. No, he needed to stay. No, he needed to get away. No, he needed to hurt Sam; he needed to hurt him bad.

 “Brandon?” The fear was still there, but Brandon could see the concern too; flickering like a dying candle in a gale.

He choked, throwing himself away from the man who’d once been his best friend. This person was now just another plaything, something the angel would want to toy with and break, then rip apart and stitch back together. Sam was just another thing Brandon wanted to damage.

No. Oh, yes. No, please no.

“Listen,” he hissed. “I need you to help me, Sam. I need you to stop me. I need you to… kill me. You need to.” His voice rose as Sam reeled back, hands up as if to protect himself from Brandon, from his words, as if such a simple gesture could block out the task Brandon had thrown before him. But Brandon pressed forward. “I’m broken, Sammy. I’m broken and torn and cracked and I will hurt so many more people if you don’t stop me. Someone ripped out my insides and sewed me back together all wrong, and now I can’t be fixed. So you. Have. To. Kill. Me.”

Sam was shaking his head. Why? Didn’t he want to put a monster- a wild and dangerous animal- down? Why was he hesitating? “I can- I can help you. I don’t know what’s happened to you, but it can be fixed. We can fix it, together. And Cat will help, too. She still loves you, Brandon.”

“No.” he spat. Why didn’t he understand? “I hurt people. I hurt people… and I enjoyed it! I enjoy hurting people. You can’t just remove that part from a person.” Brandon pressed closer, grabbing Sam’s shirt collar and leaning up to glare into his eyes. He could kiss him, if he wanted to. Which he didn’t, of course- he was trying to fight back the urge to rip him to shreds. But if he wanted to, then he could.

Sam’s eyes were calm- dark, deep pools that Brandon could jump into and swim forever. “I can help you. Whatever this is. Whatever’s been done to you… I- we­- can reverse it. No one else knows what you’ve done. You can live, Brandon. Please.”

Brandon threw him away in disgust. The taller man stumbled before crashing into an ungainly pile on the pavement. Across the road, Brandon caught a glimpse of gold hair as a woman ran out of an apartment building across the street, phone pressed against her ear and her eyes dark with fear. Oh, Cat. He remembered her. He leered down at Sam. “Fine then,” he spat in disgust. It was mid-morning. The world would be bustling. “You want me to live? Oh, I’ll live.”

Brandon pulled up his hood, thrust his hands into his pockets and began to walk, the monster rising inside of him like bile. He smiled. 

              

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