Chapter 5:

A Forgotten Memory

Galaktika Gamble: Stolen Light

Each year that passed felt like we were one step further away from our goals. Finding Neil's mother started to seem like a hopeless dream and Neil started giving up on it before anyone else. By the time we were 10 years old, he seemed to rule out the idea of her being alive. The kids at school started to avoid him, claiming that he was a cursed boy and that anyone close to him would be cursed or dead as well. A few brave kids would try to bully him, but that usually didn't last long since they would get caught in some dangerous scenario after following him around awhile. Like in any school, rumors started to spread around. The worst I heard someone say was "Neil probably killed his family himself". The rumors became especially bad after one of our classmates died at school in an accident with Neil nearby her, which caused everyone to fear Neil.

I did my best to make sure these rumors fizzled out before they could get extreme, but my efforts weren't always successful. Though my classmates seemed to like me, as soon as I tried to tell them what Neil was really like they wouldn't listen. It didn't help that Neil started pushing everyone away either. Though it was extremely rare for anyone to show interest in talking to him, every time someone at school would try to become his friend he would start acting like an asshole to get them to leave him alone, because the death of our former classmate really scared him. At home though..he was a lot different. Since we were used to these situations and often stayed alert and ready for them, Neil was a lot more relaxed at home. Sometimes he would try to push us away a little bit, but my mom wouldn't allow that behavior for long. Now that I'm stuck here and have the time to think back on it, I remember one time in specific that this happened. If I had remembered it sooner, maybe I would have been able to figure out some of the answers that we needed much faster. However, due to the amount of trauma we've experienced in our lives, this memory didn't stand out much compared to the others and I actually forgot about it for a while.

Jessica: Neil, why is the door locked? Ivan left his shoes in there. Please open the door.

Neil: You'd be better off buying new shoes for him. You guys have lots of money anyway.

Jessica: Just because Mikhail's family is wealthy doesn't mean we should waste the money on things we already have. Come on, open the door!

Neil: No.

Jessica: Don't make me count to three! One!

My mom stood there for a minute, waiting for Neil to reply.

Jessica: Two!

After a moment of silence, she pulled out a bobby pin from her hair and started to pick the lock. I stood next to her quietly, hoping that it would work.

Mikhail: You might as well leave him in there. He'll come out when he gets hungry or needs to use the bathroom.

My mom turned to look at my dad, currently watching us from the end of the hallway while drinking what I thought was water, but looking back on it...I don't think it was. Though my father tried to act more friendly toward Neil and stopped leaving the house for weeks at a time, it was obvious that his view of Neil didn't change much.

Jessica: And what if he doesn't? That's not okay.

Mikhail: If he refuses to accept our home and family there are other options available.

Jessica: I've already told you that I will never allow that.

Mikhail: What about his father then? Where the hell did he run off to?

That was the first time I ever heard either of my parents bring up Neil's father. It wouldn't take a genius to figure out he had one, since it's only logical. However, no one brought it up so it wasn't something I thought too much about. Suddenly hearing about him made me curious and I wanted to know more.

Jessica: Is that what you think? You think he ran off?

Mikhail: Of course! If he were a good father he would care for his fucking child instead of leaving him with us. But no, he left right after they were born! Does he even care? Wouldn't he notice this by now? It's probably his fault that his family has such shit luck to begin with, being what he is!

Something about the way that was worded seemed odd to me. Their argument was making me very anxious. I slowly backed up and snuck into the bathroom, closing the door quietly behind me. I sat on the floor and covered my ears, but it wasn't enough to block out the yelling.

Jessica: Don't you dare say he doesn't care! You only met him once. You don't know him! I knew him for years, I knew him before I even met you! He's very caring, much more than you've been the past few years! What about you? You're no better, running off any time you got scared of being around Neil! What kind of man are you?

Mikhail: At least when I would run off I still stayed faithful. Have you been completely faithful to me? You used to sleep around quite a bit before we were together. I wouldn't be surprised if you've cheated on me at some point because habits are hard to break. By the way you always defend him and talk good about him, I wouldn't even be surprised if you fucked him too at some point.

Though I was hiding in the bathroom and didn't see it with my own eyes, I could hear my mother slap my father across the face. She never seemed physically aggressive to me, so what my dad said must have really pissed her off. She started crying and sniffling between her words.

Jessica: I would never do that to you. He would never do that to Kyna either. Never. He loved her.

Mikhail: Well apparently he didn't love her enough to stay after Neil and Sally were born.

I heard the bedroom door open. I uncovered my ears and cracked the bathroom door to peek through. I saw Neil standing there, staring at my parents with rage in his eyes. After a moment of silence, he spoke up.

Neil: Tell me more.

Jessica: What?

Neil: Tell me more about my father.

My mom looked at my dad with frustration, as if to silently say "Look what you started now." Unsatisfied with their lack of a reply Neil ran out of the house quickly while yelling behind him.

Neil: If you won't tell me anything about him I'll find him myself!

The front door slammed. I opened the bathroom door and hesitantly stepped into the hallway.

Jessica: You promised you wouldn't say anything about his father within hearing range! He already asks me about him all the time and now he'll probably never stop. This wouldn't have happened if you had saved this argument for a weekday when the kids are at school!

My mother turned to look at me.

Jessica: Come on Ivan, grab your shoes and let's go.

Mikhail: Where are you going?

Jessica: Are you serious? We are going to go find Neil! You just want me to let him run off?

I went to my room and put on my shoes quickly before running to the car. After getting in the back seat, I looked out the window and waited for my father to get in the car, but he stood at the door without a word. After a short moment, he went back in the house and shut the door.

Jessica: Ugh...He's useless in these situations. We'll go without him.

She started the car and drove through the neighborhood slowly as we kept an eye out for Neil.

Ivan: Hey mom?

Jessica: Yes?

Ivan: How come you haven't said anything about Neil's father before? Who is he?

She was quiet. By the look on her face, she didn't plan on replying to my question.

Ivan: Mom?

Jessica: This is a conversation that I'll have with you and Neil when you are older.

Ivan: How much older?

Jessica: Hmm...probably when you're in high school.

Ivan: Why?

Jessica: There's some things that you wouldn't be able to fully understand at your age right now. No more questions about this for now, okay?

Ivan: Okay...

I stayed quiet until we were able to find Neil. When we found him, he had just walked past the sign that read "Welcome to Show Low". How he made it so far in such a short time was a mystery, but my mother was relieved to find him. She pulled over and parked the car at the side of the road before getting out to talk to him.

Jessica: Neil! Come on, let's go home.

Neil: No. I don't belong there anyway.

Jessica: You do Neil, you belong with us. Don't listen to Mikhail, okay?

He stood there quietly as my mom slowly pulled him into a hug. He started crying into her shoulder.

Jessica: See? I'm here for you and I won't be going anywhere. Ivan loves your company too; he would be really sad if you were to run away. You're a part of our family and we would be upset if you left us.

After letting Neil cry for a while, she led him to the car and opened the door. He sat on the other side of the back seat and buckled his seat belt. Once we were back on the road, I noticed we weren't driving back home.

Ivan: Where are we going?

Jessica: It's Saturday so we don't have to worry about going home just yet.

Ivan: Oh..okay.

Jessica: Are you boys hungry? I could get us something from a drive-through for dinner if you want.

Ivan: Yeah! Can we go to the one that has the little monster toys in their kids meals?

Jessica: Of course we can.

This made me very happy, since I wanted to collect all of them. Neil didn't seem unhappy with our choice of fast food, but he thought I was strange for wanting a kid's meal.

Neil: Aren't we getting a little old for that?

Jessica: You're only 10. You won't be a kid forever so I say soak it up for as long as you can! You'll have plenty more years to be an adult than a kid, so enjoy these days while they are here.

Neil: If you say so..

Ivan: Why? Do you think being an adult would be better?

Neil: Maybe..I could make my own bedtime and no one could tell me no or force rules on me.

My mom laughed as she pulled into the drive-through. Once we were in line behind some other cars, she turned in her seat to look at us.

Jessica: Adults still have rules Neil, they are just very different. I'm sure you'll understand when you get there though. If you don't want a kid's meal, what would you like me to get for you?

Neil: Can I get a burger and fries with a large drink?

Jessica: Burger and fries, yes. Large I could get you a medium though.

Neil: Okay.

Once we got our food and left the drive-through, my mom got really quiet. I wondered what she was thinking, but I wasn't sure if I should say anything since she told me not to ask any more questions. As if to read my mind, she finally spoke up.

Jessica: Neil, there's something I want to tell you. It will seem confusing, but you need to listen to me. Okay?

Neil: Uh...okay. Is it about my father?

My mom remained silent for a moment. She never answered his question, but instead continued to talk about what was on her mind.

Jessica: Sometimes children know more than adults. Children are often open-minded, and many adults push their imagination, ideas, and dreams to the side saying they are childish. Adults can be very closed-minded. Try not to allow yourself to get that way as you get older.

Neil: What do you mean by that?

Jessica: There's not much I can really say right now, but I can try to show you. If you boys are okay with it, would you like to go for a small trip? We won't be going too far.

Ivan: Will it be a fun trip?

Jessica: Yeah, I believe so! Let me call your father really quick so I can let him know we'll be getting home late tonight.

She called my father on her cell phone. It sounded as if he tried to argue with her a bit, but she wouldn't allow it and eventually hung up. The car ride was long and quiet. I actually fell asleep after about an hour. By the time I woke up, the sun was setting and we were in a desert landscape.

Ivan: Where are we? I don't see any other cars on the road..

Jessica: We are here! Far away from light pollution so you can see what I want to show you guys. We just have to wait for it to get dark.

My mom pulled to the side of the road and parked the car. Turning around in her seat, she noticed that Neil was asleep with his cheek pressed up against the window. It was a little funny to see him look like that, but we didn't giggle at it for long before she started to shake his shoulder gently.

Jessica: Time to wake up! We are here!

Neil rubbed his eyes and sat silently for a moment. He never enjoyed waking up from sleep, so it was best to give him a moment to wake up. By the time he appeared to be fully awake, the sky had become darker. The stars shined brightly above.

Neil: What did you want to show us?

Jessica: Just give me one moment..I need to look at something to make sure I get it right.

She pulled out a folded piece of paper from her purse and unfolded it, looking at it closely under the light inside the car before stepping out of the car and looking at the sky. Once she felt confident with whatever she was looking for, she opened the back door of the car and told us to get out. We stood beside her in awe. Even though we weren't sure why she wanted to show us the sky, it was very pretty. My mom smiled.

Jessica: What do you think?

Ivan: I like it!

Neil: It looks cool!

Jessica: The night sky is much more than it appears to be. Remember how I told you to keep an open mind earlier, Neil?

Neil: Yes..?

Jessica: Never give up on your dreams. Make wishes on stars. Take chances sometimes. Don't let others control the way you feel.

Neil: Wishing on stars is childish though, that doesn't work.

Jessica: You think it doesn't work, but you'd be surprised. It worked for your mother.

Neil: That was probably a coincidence. Besides, her wish doesn't matter now if she's dead.

Jessica: Neil, she's not dead. I will never believe she is until I sense that she's gone, and she's not.

Neil: Pshh..yeah right. We don't know for sure if she's dead, but looking at everything it makes sense that she is. How else would she survive this long while missing?

My mom frowned and leaned back against the car. After a moment of staring up at the sky, she started speaking. Her voice sounded as if she was choking back tears.

Jessica: Kyna is alive out there somewhere and we need her to come home. Please bring her home!

My mom started crying. I looked at Neil, wondering how he may have felt about this. Though he didn't seem too upset, he did look a little concerned for my mother. Even if he seemed absorbed in his own grief for his mother and sister, he still didn't like to see others cry. My mom started yelling at the sky between sobs. At that time I didn't know it, but I think she was looking at a specific star as she spoke, and I believe it was the star Alpha Aquarii.

Jessica: I don't know if you can hear me, but if you're listening..I wish you would bring Kyna home! Please...She needs you now more than ever.. Please!

Silence followed. My mom continued crying and hit the side of her car in frustration, mumbling something I was unable to hear. Neil and I exchanged confused glances as my mom took a deep breath and lifted her glasses off her face to wipe her tears. Once she had finally calmed down, she looked at us and pointed up to the sky.

Jessica: Never be afraid to make a wish, especially when times get hard. Look up and say it out loud, just like I did. Scream...cry..beg if you have to. Make the wish until you get what you want.

Neil: Nothing will happen though, just like nothing happened right now...Miracles aren't real.

Jessica: They can be...and if you ever find yourself at rock bottom, try to remember this night. Never give up. Okay?

Neil shrugged. Though he seemed to enjoy the view of the night sky, he seemed very skeptical about everything my mother was saying. After a few more minutes of looking at the stars, my mom opened the door to the backseat for us. I don't remember much of the drive home, since I had fallen asleep again in the car. A part of me wish I had never fallen asleep. It's understandable that I would fall asleep so late at night while in such a long car ride, but the following day did not go as I had expected, and I regret not spending more time talking to my mom.

Unlike the memory of the night before, the memories of this day I remember quite clearly. Sundays were usually like a second Saturday for my family, since they never seemed to be too religious or have a desire to go to church. The main thing that made Sunday different than Saturday for us was that my mom often liked to cook breakfast for us, such as pancakes or omelettes, instead of leaving us to get whatever cereal we wanted to eat. The morning seemed to start off fairly normal for Sunday, waking up to the smell of bacon. As usual on Sunday mornings, I would go straight to the kitchen table and sit down to wait patiently for breakfast after waking up. My father seemed to be upset though. He refused to look at my mother. Once breakfast was served, we gathered together at the table and ate our breakfast in awkward silence, which had become pretty common for us since Neil had been living with us. Anytime anyone tried to speak during a meal it seemed to turn into an argument, so I figured silence was better than that at least. Watching Neil push his food around on his plate without taking many bites, my mom spoke up in concern.

Jessica: Are you not hungry?

Neil: Not really..sorry.

Jessica: It's alright.

Seeing that my mom had broken the silence first, my father decided to speak up.

Mikhail: I'll be running errands today and I also have to stop by the store to grab a few things. Just letting you know so you don't think I'm running off again.

Jessica: I'd like you to take the boys with you.

Mikhail: What? Why?

My father did not seem happy with that idea, but my mom didn't seem to care. She continued to cut her pancakes into bite-sized pieces calmly.

Jessica: You judge another man for his lack of being able to care for his child at the moment, yet you spend as much time away from the kids as possible while still saying you're a better man. It's hypocritical. I'll believe you more when you prove you're actually the kind of man you like to say you are. So go ahead and take the kids with you.

My dad sighed and ate the rest of his breakfast quietly, glaring at my mom from time to time between his bites. After he had finished his meal he started to get ready to leave, but then sat at the couch as if he didn't want to go. At first we tried not to think much of it, but as morning turned to afternoon and afternoon turned to evening, my mom got frustrated.

Jessica: Are you going to run errands or not?

Mikhail: I will.

Jessica: You're waiting for the kids to get sleepy and go to bed, aren't you?

My dad didn't answer. My mom sighed and spoke in a calmer tone.

Jessica: Listen, I'm sorry for all the stress this puts on you, but could you please do what you said you would do? I can have dinner done by the time you get home. The kids have been ready to leave all day so they'll be ready to go when you are.

My father nodded and stood up from the couch. Though he still seemed a bit irritated, he reacted much better to my mom after she spoke to him less harshly. He gave her a quick kiss on the forehead and grabbed his jacket while heading for the door.

Mikhail: Come on kids, let's go.

Neil and I followed him out the door. It probably wouldn't be hard to guess that our time running errands with my father wasn't that eventful. Due to his fear of being around Neil and Neil's dislike of my dad in general, the next hour was pretty awkward and quiet. My dad tried to speak to Neil for a moment while driving to the store, but Neil quickly shut him down and told him that they didn't have to pretend to like each other when my mom wasn't around.

On the way home from running errands, I got this strange sense of loneliness. I thought about Sally and remembered how things used to be before she died. My dad used to get along with Neil and Sally fairly well. In the span of two years everything seemed to turn into a nightmare, and I felt like I couldn't recognize my family or myself anymore. Life almost seemed fake, as if everything around me was some kind of strange simulation or dream and I just hadn't caught on yet. I almost didn't realize we had made it home until Neil asked me if I was going to get out of the truck. My father had unlocked the front door while we grabbed the few grocery bags that needed to be carried in. As we were walking towards the door. He spoke up with a shaky voice.

Mikhail: Stay there! Don't come into the house!

Neil: What? Why?

My dad started to shake as he opened the door all the way and ran to the kitchen quickly. Curious as to what was going on, I walked closer to the doorway.

Ivan: Dad..? What's going on?

Mikhail: Stay there, Ivan!

Peeking in the open doorway I felt my heart drop as my eyes became glued to a puddle of blood spreading to the dining room floor. It was the same familiar feeling I had when I had opened door and saw Neil with blood on his face the day Sally died. Neil had been right behind me, and I could hear him stop breathing for a short moment as he noticed the same thing I did. Neil dropped to his knees at the door as I ran to the kitchen, finding my mom on the floor with knives in her stomach and chest. The floor appeared to be wet; a broken glass and a pan was on the floor as well. It appeared as if it was a freak accident of her slipping and trying to catch herself, only to accidentally make the situation worse by grabbing the wrong thing. Above her on the countertop was the knife holder, tipped over with one knife still left in it.

Mikhail: Ivan! I told you to stay outside!

Ivan: Mom...

I started crying as I bent down next to my mother. To my surprise, she was still alive but barely breathing. My father rushed to the phone while I sat next to her. For a slight moment it appeared as if she noticed I was there and wanted to say something to me, but then her eyes became unfixed again, as if staring off into nothing.

Ivan: Mom..Please stay with me, I need you!

I tried to get her to respond to me, but it was as if she couldn't hear me or see me. By the time help arrived, she was gone. We never understood how it happened when Neil wasn't directly around her, but all of us assumed that it still had a connection to his dangerous situations that followed him, since accidents could easily turn deadly if the wrong move was made. Seeing that another person, this time someone very close to him, died from an accident... Neil became even more closed off around others from fear of himself, realizing that the situations that followed him were becoming more dangerous, deadly, and more frequent.

My father became an alcoholic after that night. Though he never kicked Neil out like I thought he would, he never really acknowledged him there either. He would make sure there was always food in the fridge for Neil to eat and made sure that Neil had clothes anytime he started growing out of his old stuff, but that was about it. When Neil would ask him questions, he would refuse to answer or speak to him at all. Often times he wouldn't even look at Neil.

As for myself...I started to become afraid of Neil as well. I didn't want to be a bad friend though, so I tried my best to keep my fear to myself. My mother always told me that it was never Neil's fault, and I truly wanted to believe that. I trusted my mother's word very much and never wanted to break that trust over my own feelings of fear. With each year that passed the deadly situations seemed to increase and the death count of both friends and strangers went up. It wasn't easy to live with for either of us. I tried my best to make sure Neil wouldn't completely break down, yet I often felt like I would break down myself..and no one was there to comfort me in my grief. By the time we made it to middle school, Neil had lost all hope for his life improving and I had found myself questioning whether our friendship was really worth risking everything for.

Instead of hoping for the best, our attitudes slowly started to change to expecting the worst.

Polaris Archon