Where Do You Want To Be At The End Of The World?
The girl from yesterday was nothing but questions and pensive expressions. She told me not to look at her. She told me not to speak to her with my eyes open. She hid her right hand from me as if it were something dangerous.
I’m no stranger to strange women, I’ve know for a long time that this small town I come from attracts something out of the ordinary in people. They come here not of their own volition but at the whims of something deeper within them. Their subconscious comes here looking to escape.
As one of the few people born and raised here, I can’t tell if I’m abnormal. Would I ever come back here if I left? Do I even have a subconscious to be caught in this towns spiralling winds?
I’m asking myself questions again. I know I shouldn’t do that but I haven’t been able to help myself since yesterday’s encounter.
People don’t come here to ask questions, they come here when they’ve run out of answers to find. If they are asking questions, they aren’t asking them of other people, they’re asking those shameful inward questions we don’t like to think about. So what is there to think when there’s a new girl in your silent school of twelve and all she can do is ask questions.
‘Do you believe me?’
Her first question. Her first words to me even though they can’t have been. Who starts a conversation with a dependent question? What is there for me to believe?
‘Why are you talking to me?’
A question more fit for the girl that asked the first. What could I say other than I was intrigued. I had never been asked a question before. Of course, I had answered questions in the past but they were the types addressed to the collective, open questions that will be answered by their asker if left alone for a long enough time. I had gotten questions that might as well have been commands. I’ve been asked for my name, for the time, for a way out but those are just requests for information phrased to make me think I have a choice in answering them.
She asked me questions, ones that made me stop and consider, for even the smallest moment and now I can’t stop considering.
The entire day yesterday, her first in the school, we talked. She asked me questions and I’d try to answer them the best I could.
‘What is this town?’
I told her that this town is what it has been. Zero-Eight-Six is a place where nothing happens. Just because it’s name is a number doesn’t mean it’s not there.
‘Why are you staring at me?’
At some stage I had realized she could be beautiful but her face never seemed at rest, I wanted to answer the question that would put her at expression at ease. I didn’t even need to see her smile just to.... not look like that. I lost myself in a daze considering that question, I withheld my answer long enough that she looked over her shoulder, seemingly scared that I wasn’t staring at her but instead through her, to something behind.
I couldn’t tell her why I was staring of course, so for the first time, I lied.
‘I wasn’t staring at you, I just spaced out for a second, I didn’t sleep well last night so I’m really tired.’
Is lying really that hard? How do people make it sound so natural? I’m not supposed to know that they lie but they do it so often I just assumed that it would be easy.
When she heard what I said her mouth twitched for a second before she caught herself. I couldn’t tell what it was going to turn into but it doesn’t matter, I knew then that it could change.
We talked well past the bell, well into the red sky, right up until curfew and even past it. I decided that I couldn’t stay any longer but she showed no signs that she was going anywhere else.
I told her that I was going to leave. She didn’t respond, she just stared out the window at something that might’ve been in the distance. On my way out the door, without even turning to face me, she left me with one final question.
That’s where my mind is now. I’m lying in bed trying to sleep. I can’t, I can only ponder her question. The only one she asked that I couldn’t answer.
I don’t like this feeling of unease. I’m restless and like this I fall asleep into my first ever dream.
When I wake up my room is a mess. The windows are broken and the morning light makes the dust flowing inside sparkle. My throat is dry and I’m convinced my eyes are bloodshot. None of this stops me from getting dressed for school though. Even with the state of things my mind is still occupied.
When I leave my room and go downstairs I find that everyone is gone. This is usually the time when my living mates would be finishing off their breakfast and the carers would be coercing them out the door. I checked the clocks, I woke up late but not that late.
I have no interest in making food for myself, so I just leave the house. The second I get outside something tells me not to turn around. For late summer morning, the sky in front of me is worryingly dull and the silence around me eerie. It’s not even the kind of silence that you get when no one’s around, this is a silence without ambience, the air is still, the birds are voiceless. It’s as if time has frozen and stolen all of the present’s colour.
I kick a stray can on the road just to confirm sound still exists. It answers me as it skids away with a pathetic scrape against the concrete.
I move forwards in the direction of the school with my head down, I’m determined to make it there.
My town is situated in a mountainous area, in a valley that makes it isolated from the outside world. My school was built at the edge of town, at the top of one of the taller slopes, so it’s a long walk on the best of days. Today especially though, when I can’t turn around, it’s more of a hike than a stroll. I have to walk backwards up roads where I’d usually turn to face east and some roads I have to avoid entirely because they’re blocked by abandoned cars, their windows broken and their tires blown out.
What exactly happened? I didn’t hear any of the warning sirens, no one woke me up, no one left a message. I haven’t seen a single soul since yesterday...... did I even see anyone yesterday? I got home late, I didn’t pay any attention to my surroundings. I thought everyone was asleep but did I ever check? Was anyone really there?
Someone was there though. She was there. I definitely saw her. Even if she told me not to look at her, I did. She was definitely real.
Near the top of the hill I stop and stare out at the town far below me in the west. There’s no smoke billowing up like I feared there might be. Whatever happened, it wasn’t violent. But then why were the windows blown out everywhere?
When I reach the school gates, it’s the same story at first glance. The windows are all broken, the teacher’s cars are all similarly vandalized by the elements. But I can’t move forwards. If the pressure from behind is gripping my shoulders and forcing me to look forwards, in front of me is a pair of invisible hands, grabbing me by the neck, dragging me in their direction.
I’m paralyzed by what I can only assume is fear. It’s like I’ve been pushed and pulled to arrive at this place. Why didn’t I run the second I realized something was amiss? How have my knees not buckled? I’ve never needed to be courageous before so I don’t know if this is courage or stupidity.
As my mind starts to thaw I start noticing the new abnormalities. In the dusty yard between the gates and the main school building are dozens of footprints. This wouldn’t usually be out of the ordinary but today the tracks all lead towards the main entrance and nowhere else. Enough tracks to suggest that almost everyone in town had converged here.
Out of the corner of my eye I see someone on the top floor of the school. They’re leaning out the broken window with their head in their hands. It’s her. It’s definitely her. If I listen closely enough I can heard her mumbling to herself. I can’t hear her clearly.
This finally gets my legs in motion, as I begin my walk towards the school entrance. I know now why I didn’t run, why I wasn’t worried. Nothing else could be more important now than questions. I want to know why she asked me the one she did.
I push open one of the heavy wooden doors at the entrance but it jams. I can’t force it open fully but there’s just enough space for me to squeeze through if I take my bag off, so I do.
Inside is a river of blood. Not a figurative one, the blood is streaming down the stairs and towards the back of the school. It refuses to spill out the open door and it changes the direction of its flow every time I turn around.
Underneath are the remains of things that were at one stage destined to become bodies. They have no skin, they have no eyes, they only vaguely retain the form of something human.
None of that matters, what they are is past. I’ll swim to the top floor if I have to.
As I wade my way up the stairs the blood gets darker, from the more vibrant red on the first floor to something that could hardly be called red on the third. Somehow it’s deeper here than it is below, even though it doesn’t seem to be rising.
When I reach the third floor the mumbles from earlier become audible.
They’re coming from the classroom she was in yesterday. She hasn’t moved at all.
The current goes against me if I’m facing in the direction of the sound so I have to make my way there going backwards.
‘How were you able......’
The words start echoing throughout the halls. I can’t see anything anymore so I stumble blindly backwards, my hand on the wall the steady myself, my ears to guide me as my eyes.
‘WHY WOULD YOU LOOK AT ME!’
The mumbles turn into anguished screams as I close in on them. They can sense an intrusion on their space.
“Don’t come near me....”
Now a whimper. I catch my hand on the edge of the classroom door and drag myself in front of it.
The girl from yesterday snaps her gaze around to me. She exists in an inferno of blood and glass. Behind her the sky is gone, replaced with a brilliant black canvas. Her hair won’t rest and she’s crying purple tears. She hides her face behind her right hand, while gripping onto the ledge of broken window with her left. All that she was hiding from me was a tattoo. A red diamond and something else.
It occurs to me now that I never learned her name. I never asked for it. There’s so many questions I should have asked if the roles were reversed, questions I should be asking now. But my throat has closed over. I can’t speak. The scene before me has confirmed the roles, mine and hers.
And so it was only natural that she should be the one asking the question. She turns her face away from me and clenches her fist.
‘Is this really where you wanted to be?’