Winner of the Waterloo Country High School English Award for Junior Short Story 2019

I jerk awake with a start. My throat burns and I decide to go to the kitchen for a glass of water. I might as well. I’m dehydrated and haven’t slept right for days. When I stand up, my vision swims and for a moment- just the briefest moment- I black out.

When I finally force my eyelids open, there’s a house in front of me. Not just any house, your house. Your old house. I feel sick. But you tell me this is a safe place. 

I believe you. 

A bird lands on my shoulder as I start walking. It nibbles on my ear, drawing blood that dribbles down onto my white sweater. It stains the fabric, but I smile anyways. It’s just being friendly. It’s not trying to hurt me. The bird wobbles on my shoulder. 

I never reach your front door.

Your house never felt like home. 

I got over it.

I stagger up the stairs and stumble just before the top. You catch me before I fall, but when I meet your eyes, I’m certain you’ll drop me. Your blue eyes were always so sharp. Cold, like shards of ice. You don’t drop me, you just help me to the bathroom. 

I never gave you enough credit.

My hands shake as I turn on the faucet. You take your heels off and I stare at myself in the mirror. You tease me for always being worried about how I look. I vomit in the sink. You murmur distractedly and don’t hold my hair back like you’re supposed to. You tell me to wash my face. As I do, my hand slips on the counter and my head cracks against the side of the sink. I watch blood swirl gracefully in the water and the sink begins to spill over. 

I feel like I’ll pass out.

You made fun of me after I told you that I loved you. 

I got over it. 

I hit my head on the closet shelf when I try to move. I can’t see it, but I know it’s there. The dark of the tight space is broken only by the sliver of light underneath the closet door. I push. It doesn’t open. You tell me I could never do anything right. 

I believe it? 

The crack of light grows dark and something sniffs the bottom of the door. It growls, then barks and begins its assault on the door. It barks louder and louder, until all I can hear is the hammering of my heart in my throat and the door rattling on its hinges with every swipe of the beast’s claws. The door groans and the monster howls. Then the wood starts to splinter.

For the briefest moment, I believe it will hold. 

All your friends hated me. 

But I got over it. 

I’m sitting at the foot of your bed and you’re sitting at the head, holding a pillow in your lap and scrolling through something on your phone. I tell you I’m going to the kitchen for a glass of water and I ask if you want anything. You ignore me. 

You always did. 

I stand up, but as I go to leave, your hand snaps out and grabs my arm. You squeeze and tighten your grip. I cry out, but you ignore me. I tug on my arm. Your gaze never leaves your phone. I snap my wrist trying to pull it from your grasp and pain shoots up my arm. I gape at the bone pressing through my skin and you look up, only to glance coldly at the blood underneath your nails. When I start to cry, you switch your gaze to me. Your lips curl into a smile. You laugh and it’s like music. I always loved the sound of your laugh. I used to wonder why you only ever laughed at me. 

I used to wonder why it hurt so badly. 

You broke my heart. 

I never got over that. 

I sit up slowly in a chair in an empty room. No windows, no doors, tall white walls. Everything is symmetrical, but it feels like something’s missing. It’s too perfect, too clean. Maybe it’s the air– just slightly too thin. I breathe uncomfortably. You tell me I’m overreacting. 

Am I?

The wall facing me cracks open and a man without a face, dressed in a nurse’s uniform, crawls inside. He’s carrying something, but I can’t see what it is. When he reaches the chair, he jerkily straightens to his full height and shows me what he’s holding. It takes me a moment to process, because his breath smells like a distant memory of anesthesia, but his thin fingers are clutching a broken mirror. 

He shows me my reflection. I can’t see what is looking back at me.

I didn’t know how to live without you.

I never got over that. 

I cough and splutter as I pull my head from the water. I suck in long breaths of air, staring at the sink. The water is mostly red now. You’re grumbling, wiping something off your white sweater. You tell me I splashed you when I fell. You’ll never get the stain out. My eyes fill with tears. I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry. You ignore me. Without thinking, I tell you that I miss you and when you glance at me, your cold eyes are like fire. 

What did I do wrong?

You throw something at me, and it breaks when it hits the wall beside my head. Glass explodes and falls down around me. I start to cry, but you don’t say anything. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Then you scream at me. You tell me that it doesn’t matter. You don’t understand why I never get it. 

If I really loved you, I should’ve been there. 

When you died, I wasn’t there. 

I can’t get over that. 

You’re crying now too, and screaming. You thought that I loved you. I swear that I did. You shriek. You tell me that if I loved you, I would’ve been there. You shouldn’t have died alone. I should’ve been there. I should have been there. You tell me that you hate me. You tell me that it’s all my fault. I should’ve been the one who died. 

I don’t… believe it?

You’re suddenly behind me and reach out to grab my wrist, but your hand passes right through. You flicker, like you’re about to disappear. About to leave me. Again. I swallow my panic. I walk away from you, guiding myself to the bedroom. I carefully close the door behind me. I bury myself in the blankets on my bed and stay completely still, waiting for you. But you never come. Relief and terror battle in my chest.

I don’t know which one will win. 

I want to live without you. 

… I believe that? 

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