Spirited #5 [Noir Generation]
Story by Phoebe Wilson
His body was relaxed as it glided into the water, as if he were asleep. The water was dark and smooth in the night; his entry caused hardly a ripple. One of his friends would have pulled him out, they would have continued home. But he was very much alone and very much submerged. His lungs slowly filled with water–he had been unconscious for some time–and quietness closed in.
After a passage of time Ethan awoke. Cool air kissed his face. It was daytime. He found himself lying in warm mud. Cool water crawled his skin. The warmth of the sun felt nice and he wondered how long he had been there. Unperturbed, he stood up and began to walk home. Feeling the crunch of leaves underfoot, he noticed he had lost his shoes.
He found his house empty. These were the last lingering and autumn days. His sister must have been out exploring. It was a Saturday. His parents were busy people with lots of engagements he knew little about; their absence didn’t strike him as peculiar. His doze at the lake’s edge hadn’t done much to rest him, and he climbed the stairs to his room to sleep.
He was wandering down a long cold hallway. He saw people in rooms with doors that all seemed closed. The rooms were dimly lit and the people all were somber. No one noticed him walk by, and he preferred that. Not thinking to glance behind him for a way out, he continued down the hallway. Eventually reaching a door to a room that was warm and bright; through a small bright window he could see her face.
Even in his dreams he saw her. She was not intolerably vain or inexplicably cold, as the beautiful often are. She was not a stereotype from a dated romantic comedy, and you wouldn’t find a trail of shallow friends eagerly praising her in return for scant attention. She was Olivia, and deserving of reverence.
They had known each other for almost a decade. He watched her date other boys, some easy to hate, others his friends, all lucky to have her. But he kept her away with a stone exterior, heavy with sarcasm and feigned indifference. And he held to a hope that she would never abandon him, sensed sometimes that she needed him as he needed her.
When he awoke it was dark. He wondered what his friends were doing. It was a Saturday, not to be wasted. His phone was nowhere to be found. He did not worry. He drove to his friends’ houses, found only dark and empty driveways.
He caught sight of an old white BMW. It belonged to Brett, his best and oldest friend, and driving awfully fast though the liquor stores didn’t close for a few hours. Ethan followed. The car wound through suburban streets, farther and farther from where he expected it to go. It left the city roads, for a field with an unexpected glow.
He parked and followed Brett. He saw more cars, a gathering of people, mostly in silence, facing a row of candles. Not wanting to disturb, he walked to the side and sat behind. He assumed Brett would do the same, but watched him walk to the front of the crowd. Turning to face everyone, Brett looked pained, but determined.
What could have brought everyone here when there was plenty of beer to drink? It was their last few months of high school. They hardly had time for serious things.
“It’s hard to believe I’m standing up here. Even driving over I considered turning back several times. I brought you all here but I have great doubt that I can give this situation the respect or significance it deserves.”
Brett paused, exhausted. Ethan was alarmed. Why was everyone upset? He heard his name. He approached the front, and spotted Olivia in the front row. He softened a little, and tried not to show it. As he looked he saw her weeping. He had never seen her fragile. She was always charming and clever and effortlessly gorgeous. He suppressed an instinct to wrap her in his arms, got lost thinking about her brown eyes and how he felt when she laughed. But Brett had resumed his speech.
“Everyone tries to live life without regrets, including me. We make choices that take us down paths that lead to other decisions, and so the course of our life is determined. There is no destiny or fate and we cannot attribute our journey to any greater force or being. But I will regret the events of yesterday, every single day for the rest of my life. If I could go back and take his last few drinks away, I would. I would call someone to drive him home, and I would fall asleep knowing I did the right thing. But instead I will fall asleep knowing I can never go back and he will never return to us. He is gone forever. He will be so sorely missed that I cannot express it. But I know somehow he understands.”
It was all too morbid, too realistic. He looked around at the familiar, candlelit faces, for answers. He looked to Olivia, but her face was hidden beneath waves of dark hair, and she was shaking. He knew every single person in the crowd, and not one of them would look at him.
He was suddenly freezing. His hands felt the sting of cold and he stuffed them into his pockets. His fingers touched a piece of paper he had forgotten was there. He pulled it out, curiously. It was crumpled up and still damp, but he read what he could make out. He felt hot wet tears trailing down his face.
He used the little strength he had to settle himself onto the earth. He sat in silence and thought about the cruelty of eternity.