could i have waited until tomorrow to post the second part? i mean probably.
again, trigger warning for suicidal imagery/self harm etc
He returns at night, more and more exhausted and battered each time.
“What are you fighting?” I ask him one night when he climbs the stairs, unlocks the door (and then locks it behind him), and drops into the bed, his blood running out from myriad lacerations.
“You are safe,” he says. “You are finally safe.”
“Why did you wait for me here?” I push myself up in the bed and look down upon him. He lies flat on his back and his blood soaks into the sheets.
“I watched you,” he says. “You were not strong enough to fight. I needed you here, so that I could fight for you.”
“What are you fighting?” I repeat.
He studies me with a burden of fatigue so great I wonder that he has not perished.
“Demons,” he says.
“You brought them here with you.”
“You wanted me to.”
“What happens if I return?”
Every muscle in his body tightens, but his inscrutable expression does not change.
“You won’t,” he says. His voice possesses a taut drama that I have not previously heard from him. A low groan, not entirely of his own volition I think, escapes him as he sits up.
I know that I may return. I have known it since what I glimpsed in the field. I simply do not know to what I would be returning. That more than anything frightens me. But I grow lonelier by the day, locked in my room in the tower. I remember things my mother used to make, songs she sang to me when I was a child, and they comfort me. But I yearn to feel her embrace, to hear her voice again. Since I returned to the field, what I remember most about her is how she screamed when she found me.
Again the sorrow floods me, every corner of me. I have grown accustomed to it. It feels familiar, almost welcome. I recognize that it stands as the last remaining bond to the life I lived before the tower. I close my eyes and I weep, because this nauseating sorrow is my most potent memory of my life before I died.
Day after day, I wake up alone in the tower. My protector fights a losing battle against the tide of darkness I have brought for him. One day, when the forest around the tower has completely sloughed away its color, I can almost hear my mother’s voice, singing the song I remember from my childhood.
Something within me knows that once the grey extends from the tower to the field, my doorway to return will close. The wind gusts through the trees and as the leaves blow I watch the color drain from them, my hands flat against the window. My mother’s voice reaches me again and I feel something else—a deep and abiding regret. I think of it, fix it steadfast in my mind—her scream when she found me.
I open the desk drawer and wrap bandages around my fist. I catch my breath in my throat and smack my fist into the window. Stupid. It hurts. I believe I have broken some knuckles. Next, I hoist the chair at the desk over my head. I shout as I swing it to bear and the window explodes outward. The dismal sunlight catches each individual shard for one heartstopping moment and then they are falling, falling.
Following them, I lift myself out the window and clamber down the tower, wedging my fingertips and toes into each space between the rocks. I squint my eyes closed and don’t look as I lower myself, inch by inch. Adrenaline fuels me at first, then desperation. By the time I reach the base of the tower, my muscles howl. I drop from about two feet and collapse onto the grass.
I allow myself to recover. My protector will not return until nightfall. But something growls from around the curve of the tower, and then the low sound turns into the sound of my mother singing.
My blood turns electric. I scramble to my feet and I flee. I hear a cacophony of them behind me now—I recognize conversations from family videos, voices reciting the voice of an ex telling me they didn’t love me anymore. The last whine of a dying dog. My own voice—
“Am I already dead? Is this hell?”
Screaming: “Do you know I can’t remember the last time I felt happiness?”
—and above and through it all, the sound of my mother singing. I run through the forest and they pursue me. Memories flood me—I didn’t want to be dead, I just hadn’t wanted to be alive. I’d wanted to sleep, to rest. The easiest way, after a bottle of sleeping pills, had been to cut myself open. I’d done one arm before passing out.
And then my mother’s scream. And then my mother holding me like a child and singing that song from my childhood while she waited for the ambulance. That part I hadn’t seen, but I know it all the same. I know it like I know the sorrow and the fear welling up inside me as I run.
I breach the edge of the forest and spill out into the field a heartbeat ahead of the voices and the grey.
“Tonight will show us,” a voice I don’t recognize says.
“Okay,” my mother says. She sounds tired.
My lungs burn but I hurl myself forward anyway. The grey sweeps toward the center of the field. A moment before my protector appears before me, I realize the voices have vanished. And then he stands before me, his clothes torn with great blood-stained rents. He stands hunched, breathing hard.
“You think you can handle it?” he says, his eyes dark and angry. “You think you can go back and be fine?”
The grey rushes beneath my feet and my mother’s voice goes silent.
“I love you,” she says.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“You belong here,” says my protector. “Where you are safe.”
I close my eyes. I allow him to lead me back to the tower. I no longer feel pain, or warmth. It feels comfortable.
My protector leaves our bed every morning and locks each door behind him. Where once I had windows, he has constructed new walls, citing my disobedience. My demons have left. Now, he returns each evening with baskets of apples and rabbits he’s caught in the grey forest. I feel his eyes upon me as I fall asleep.
I like the walls better than the windows. The sunlight feels too bright. I do not remember the pain or the fear. And I am fine.