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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8. Chapter Seven

 

inculcate

verb

to instil an idea, attitude or habit through persistent instruction

 

 

Everything was louder than it should have sounded. 

He could hear the vehicles outside, the patient hum of the microwave in Cat's kitchen, the sound of her thumb brushing the phone keypad hesitantly, planning out her latest text message. He could hear the spine of the book creak as he turned to the next page, the thrum of his own heart as it fluttered like a caged bird inside his ribs.

The city was singing. 

If he listened carefully, he could hear the faint sound of children crying and adults yelling, vehicles roaring like predators as they hauled themselves home, carrying nameless faces and faceless names like another burden. The city's song was the tympanic thrum of petrol and diesel engines, Friday night bustle winding down streets like snakes.

Sam exhaled again and smiled, nestling further into the old sofa as the city's song lifted and veered, over dreary buildings and civic splendour.

On the armrest was his mobile, music drawling out of the speakers and trickling into the cool air, mixing with the grey rain plummeting from grey clouds like razor-sharp sheets of metal. Cat was humming along as she lay with her head resting over the arm rest, long golden hair trickling onto the carpet spider silk. He had his feet up on the coffee table, head slumped over the backrest of the sofa, rainwater dribbling from his hair and down his neck with dead, lazy fingers. Laptop was balanced precariously on his knees, police reports open in front of him. There were missing persons lists, death notes and as much of Michael Brewster's history he could gouge out of newspaper reports and websites.

It was the same every night. Every. Single. Night.

Get home from work at the hospital, where he spent his days hounding doctors and surgeons through white-washed corridors and sterile operation rooms, carving each word and action to memory, and then think. And research. And think some more.  

Brandon Hope was dead. That was what everyone thought, anyway. Considering someone had to be missing for seven years in order to be pronounced dead, his parents had held a 'remembrance celebration' after they had stumbled past one month milestone with only the obligatory tear shed during the appropriate interviews and news report. Brandon Hope was rapidly becoming another forgotten face, another name crossed of a list, another smiling face forever immortalised and imprisoned inside collections of photo frames. 

Even Cat said so, when the despair and sadness clung to her heart like the alcohol swimming on her breath. She screamed and sobbed and clawed at his shirt sleeves, begging Sam to either find him or admit that it was over. There were no leads, no bloody biscuit-crumb trail or nest of clothing fibres strewn in the dead-end alley, where shadows collect like the witches from Macbeth, plotting despise and destruction amid the rancid air and poisonous fumes.

And okay, maybe there was part of him that could agree with her.

But that wasn't important. It didn't matter how much of him insisted Brandon was gone, because there was a larger, louder part of him that screamed. No. He couldn't be gone. He might have been lost, but Sam just needed to find him. Sam was going to find Brandon. He knew it. He had to. If anything, Brandon was his one real thing that kept him alive; he was breathing, his heart was pumping and his cells were osmosis-ing life into his body, but Brandon had always been there, even when he hadn't been. Always picked up the phone at three in the morning to listen to Sam whisper that he couldn't sleep again, his words shaking and nervous, sometimes afraid that even at that time in the morning that someone would be listening to him. Brandon would listen to Sam's nightmares and fears- his voice had always been his own drug: something that would smother him back into sleep and drive away the shadowed, masked faces and bloodied knives, the monsters of men that lurked like vipers in the crevices of his nightmares.

After everything, Sam owed it to Brandon to find him.

Long, slender fingers tapped in hot-pink nail varnish tapped in a steady, hungry beat onto the phone screen as Sam frowned and re-read the last paragraph on his laptop. His laptop screen was freckled with rainwater, the keys damp and sticky from his sprint from the bus station back to his apartment with Cat in tow, ducking underneath doorways and diving over puddles like children. It had been amazing- the first time he'd really felt weightless since Brandon had left. Clouds grumbling like angry gods above them, hurling down water and lightning like they were spoiled children who had lost interest in their toys as Cat laughed as they ran.   

He flinched every time a raindrop struck the window. He jumped over a over every time the thunder reverberated against its cage of clouds, roaring like a lion imprisoned in a zoo, penned in by metal bars and walls and waves of curious face. He'd read a story once, about how little sounds like coughs and sniffs drove someone to ripping their own ears apart in a blinding fit of desperate insanity. It'd been a good story, that one. He hadn't slept for hours after reading it, but still.

The world was probably meant to be quiet- it was already night time, after all, and the rain was whispering sweet nothings, as soft and succulent as lovers' kisses, the wind drawling and wiping lazy fingers against the window panes. He usually loved the night time- people could hide their tears and fears and anger beneath an ink shroud, push them into the deepest darkest fissures of their souls and let it temper and spoil. People could let a smile worm its way through the cracks in their blank masks and fill their existence with light and maybe even the slightest tint of hope. The dark was always a wonderful thing, but tonight... something was going to happen. He could feel it, just as you would know that it would rain just from the sting of humidity in the air. 

Something was going to happen. Something bad. And he couldn't focus on anything else until he knew what this something would be. 

Michael Brewster was clean, polished and perfect- he'd studied Business Management at Bath University before inheriting ownership of his father's jewellery firm and millions of pounds. The only smudge of ink on the otherwise unblemished history was the car crash he'd been involved in, suffering minor head trauma and a supposedly scarred conscience. He'd been the one driving his parents after all, left with only minor injuries whilst both of them were killed instantly. It was strange, but Sam figured that he seemed to be the only one to think that, considering the only papers he could find described Michael Brewster as a 'hero', or 'a man tormented with hardship'.   

​He picked up another page, flicked through the information he's scrawled out onto it. Scotland. What connections could Michael Brewster have to Glasgow? What could there be? It couldn't be a coincidence that the day after Brandon told him that he'd be invited on a work trip to Scotland, he disappeared completely. It was too coincidental, but the police barely listen when he explained- said they'd checked through the CCTV from the event Brandon was meant to have been at and there wasn't any record of him being there at all.

But Sam didn't understand where else he could've gone. It had been almost two months now with no news. Some people suggested that Brandon had turned tail and ran- after all, there were clothes missing from his cupboards, toothbrush gone, but that was complete crap. Sam knew that. Brandon wouldn't do something like that, not without telling him first.

Of course, the needling voice in the back of his head whispered in a venomous voice, he probably wouldn't have wanted to do that when you kicked him out of your apartment, would he?

Sam shook his head. No. It'd been a dumb argument, but nothing life-ruining. Nothing that would have stopped Brandon from ever talking to him again. Of course not. Definitely not.

"Saaammmmmm?" Cat's voice ripped him out of his thoughts, his name tinged with the impatience that suggested that she'd probably been calling him for a while now. She was stretched over the sofa while he sat on the floor, looing down at him with a smile. "You okay down there? Want me to get you a pizza or something?"

"Pizza?"

Cat rolled her eyes. "Yeah, Sam, pizza. Food. I'm pretty sure you haven't eaten any lunch. And you've still got-" she raised an eyebrow- "proper work to do by tomorrow. I figure you should probably eat something before you crash."

They'd got closer since Brandon had- left? Disappeared?- as if this kind of almost-mystery managed to unite them. They'd never managed to get on before, but now they're round each other's place practically every night. Either her visiting his apartment or him squashing himself into the small university dorm, drunk students staggering past the window.

He shrugged. "I'm good.  Not hungry. But go and get yourself something if you want."

"Catered dorm, remember?" Cat pointed to herself with a small grin. "I ate ages ago."

He was about to reply when his mobile rang, the sharp sound shattering the dulled quiet of the room. He barely registered the unknown number before he answered, the burst of static from the other end making him freeze. "Hello?"

Nothing but crackling. Cat raised her eyebrows at him from the other end of the room. And then, just faintly, the muffled rasp of breathing. It was almost something out of a horror film. Sam's throat tightened. "Hello?" he asked again, and it was terrifying how much his voice was starting to shake. "Who is it?"

"...Hello?" The voice was like sandpaper, rough, grating out of the speaker, and hoarse, like it was painful for the person talking to even make a sound. It took Sam a moment, but then he realised. He knew who it was.

"Brandon?"

​Cat almost crashed into him when he spoke, leaning over to try and rip the phone from his hands, her face suddenly pale, white as death. ​"It's Brandon?" ​she mouthed, flapping her hands to grab his attention. "​Put him on speaker or something!"

​"Brandon? Where are you? Are you okay?" He was fighting to keep his voice as steady as he could manage but his hands were trembling. "Dude, are you okay, c'mon, answer me. What happened?"

​Another rasp of breath. "Sam? It's... it's dark. It hurts. Everything just hurts. I don't... w-what happened, Sam?"

​His fingers were shaking as he pulled the phone from his ear, trembling as he pressed the speaker icon. The dry breathing seemed to seep into the room, contaminating the air like venom. "Call the police," he hissed to Cat and she nodded tentatively, unsure, but went to do as he said, pulling her phone from her pocket and beginning to dial.

​"Wait... is someone there?" Sam could hear the hum of traffic tinging the end of the line, so Brandon must be... a town, or city. Somewhere with people. Why hadn't Brandon sought help? Why had he called Sam instead?

​"It's Cat," Sam said. "It's only Cat, Brandon, but where are you? You need to get the police, okay? Find someone."

​There was a long pause. "N-no... Can't do that. I... I keep hurting people, I can't do that. Can't. People'll get hurt. They're after me. There's an... it's an angel, Sam. It's an- they're..."

​"Wait," Sam bit his lip. "An angel? What do you mean? Who's after you? Brandon? What's happened? You've got to get somewhere, okay?" But Brandon didn't sound like he was listening to him anymore. His breathing had sped up, a rasp that was panicked, harsh. "Brandon? You still there?"

​Silence. Nothing but breathing for a long moment.

​"Brandon? What's going on?"

​"They're still after me," Brandon whispered, voice suddenly so much quieter. "They're here, they're coming. Oh God, they're coming after me. I can't go back. I can't I can't I can't-"

​He sounded so scared, choking over his words like they were tripwires. "Listen, Brandon," Sam hissed. "I'm going to help you, okay? Just get yourself to safety. We can stop whoever's after you, I promise. But-"

​"I gotta go," Brandon interrupted and there was a clatter from what Sam guessed was the phone receiver being dropped, the faint sound of a door being slammed. Cat had her phone pressed into her ear, muttering rapid-fire to the person on the other end. Sam could hear yelling from Brandon's end of the line, a terrifyingly heavy thud, more noise.

Goosebumps riddled their way up his arms as the noise began to fade into static again, and then someone- someone silent, someone who didn't make any sound at all until that moment- hung up the phone.

Sam was left in a heavy silence. Everything was still louder than it should have been.    

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