Chapter 7:


Galaktika Gamble: Stolen Light

Have you ever wondered what your purpose is? I used to spend a lot of time obsessing over mine. Though I distracted myself from the stress of life through video games, I always felt this strange, empty feeling inside. When I would try to relax or sleep, I found myself staring at the wall in my room. Sometimes hours would unknowingly pass, and everything seemed so...blank. I often wondered why I was the one to survive out of everyone that died around Neil so often. It was as if his bad luck couldn't touch me...yet because of it, I suffered in living. I would suffer internally until my mind decided to go blank, staring at those off-white walls.

"Why am I here? Why? Why?!"

These obsessive thoughts seemed to form around the time my dad died. Though him and I didn't get along very well, he was still my dad. He took care of Neil and I, even if he was a bit difficult about it. I knew deep down that all he really wanted was for me to be safe, and Neil living in our home was a threat in his eyes. Once my mom died, I was sure he would kick Neil out...but he didn't. I often wondered if he kept Neil around out of guilt, since my mother would have given him hell for it if she were alive. I wondered if he ever felt similar feelings when mom died. If he ever thought "Why am I here? Why didn't I die instead?" With how much he would drink every day, I wouldn't be surprised. I can't remember one day where he was completely sober from the day my mother died to the day he died. I often wondered if he regretted his habit, or if he happily welcomed death with no regrets of how he lived his last years. I guess I'll never have the answers.

It happened on what seemed like a normal Saturday, just a few weeks after I stayed the night at John's house. Like usual my dad was sitting on the couch, watching TV and drinking his heart out. Neil was in his room doing who knows what, and I was in my room playing a video game. Just as I was about to reach a save point, however, the power suddenly went out.

Ivan: Wh-what?! Noooooo! I worked so hard to get there!!

I sighed in disappointment as I stood up and flipped the light switch. I'm not sure what I was expecting, because the light didn't turn on. I flipped the switch back down and walked to the living room as my dad called my name.

Mikhail: What happened to the power?

Ivan: I don't know.

Mikhail: Neil!

It was quiet for a moment. My father called out Neil's name again, getting impatient. After another short moment of silence, Neil walked into the living room with his eyes wide and his hands in his jacket pockets.

Mikhail: Do you know what happened to the power?

Neil: I plugged something into the outlet and it shocked me..then the power went out.

Mikhail: Guess I'll have to check the circuit breaker. Go unplug everything.

I looked at Neil, wondering if he were okay. His eyes were still wide and he appeared to be in a little bit of pain.

Ivan: You alright?

Neil: It hurts but I'll be okay.

He hid his hands deeper in his pockets and kept his gaze at the ground, refusing to make eye contact.

Ivan: I'll unplug everything okay? You do whatever you gotta do to help the pain go away.

Neil looked at me somewhat surprised, but the small smile on his face showed he was grateful. My father frowned and opened the door to the basement.

Mikhail: Don't keep me waiting.

Ivan: Alright!

I ran around the house quickly, unplugging every appliance I passed. Once I had reached my room, I heard a loud thump and a crash, followed by a short silence before Neil's shaky voice called my name.

Ivan: One moment, let me unplug this really quick.

Neil: Forget that and get in here!

I unplugged my TV and ran to the living room. Neil was staring through the doorway to the basement, looking even more scared than he looked before. I hurried over to him and glanced over his shoulder, immediately realizing what had happened. On the floor at the bottom of the stairs was my dad, laying in the most painful looking way possible. Noticing that he was still breathing, I ran over to the phone. After dialing the number, I placed the phone to my ear but was met with silence.

Ivan: Shit!!

My body started to shake as I slammed the phone back into its holder.

Neil: The phone isn't working? It usually still works when the power is out..

Ivan: You stay here and watch him! I'll go get help!

I ran across the street and knocked on the neighbor's door as loud as I could.

Ivan: Is anyone home?! We need help!

I continued knocking as loud as I could until the door swung open. An elderly woman kept her hand on the doorknob, glaring at me in irritation.

Old Woman: What on earth are you screaming about?! This better not be some sort of prank!

Ivan: I'm serious! We need help! Can I please use your phone? It's an emergency!

The door opened wider as an old man appeared behind the lady.

Old Man: Janice, let the young man in to use the phone!

She didn't seem too pleased with him, but she moved aside and let me in. He pointed to the phone next to their couch. I got that weird sense of everything happening in slow motion. It felt like it took forever for someone to pick up on the phone. It felt like it took forever for help to arrive at our house. I'll be honest, I have no idea how much time actually passed when we were waiting. It felt like hours, but logic tells me it was probably a few minutes. After I called for help I returned home and sat next to my dad on the floor, waiting for help to arrive while Neil stood outside to make sure they went to the right house. Everything after that seemed like a big blur. The next thing I knew, I was in a waiting room of a hospital being told that my dad broke his neck and received severe head injuries from falling down the stairs. They tried to keep me positive by saying there was a chance he would be okay, but said that if he survived he would be paralyzed. He didn't survive though, so the little hope that we had for him was thrown out the window. Shortly after his death, Neil was interrogated for what happened. Like usual, they couldn't connect him to what happened, with exception of the fact that he witnessed everything that happened. At that point, it felt like the police were just trying to find one slip up to lock him away if possible, but at least Langston seemed to be on our side. I couldn't be mad at the police though. In their eyes, Neil was a threat. Even I often wondered if my friendship with Neil was worth the trouble, but I usually talked myself out of feeling that way.

When my grandpa heard the news he immediately decided he would take care of us. It was nice to know he was there for us...but there were a few problems. First of all, thanks to my father and his ranting, my grandfather heard plenty about the death that followed Neil and he was not as accepting of him. Originally, he only offered to take care of me. However, I wouldn't allow that because I believed there was a good reason why my mother didn't want Neil in the foster care system. Even so, I didn't want to abandon Neil like that after everything we had been through together. Once my grandpa finally agreed to take Neil in too, there was one more problem. He wanted us to move to Phoenix.

Ivan: There's already too much death that happens here, Grandpa. You can't just throw Neil into the state capital and think everything will be alright. If he's living in the middle of a large population, more people will die.

Lev: I will not move.

Ivan: Please! I know it sounds selfish of us, but please consider staying here! You are already paying for this house anyway, you can move in and it will make everything easier for all of us..

Lev: I said I will not move.

Neil: Listen old man, if I move to Phoenix people won't know who I am. That's a risk, because people will try to talk to me at some point. Here in Pinetop-Lakeside and Show Low, everyone knows who I am and avoids me. They avoid me and it keeps them safe, you understand? People in Phoenix won't avoid me. You say you will not move, but I CAN'T move. I don't have a choice. If I go, even more people die. If you force me to go, the blood of the dead will be on your hands too.

My grandpa looked down at his hands. He looked very upset, but he didn't argue with him. He just stayed quiet for a moment, probably thinking about his options. I looked at Neil and mumbled to him.

Ivan: Don't you think that's a little harsh...?

Neil: I'm just speaking what I know as truth.

Suddenly there was a knock on the door. When I opened the door, I felt a pang of regret as I noticed it was Langston on the other side.

Langston: Did I come at a bad time?

Ivan: Uh...well...

Lev: Let him in.

I looked back at my grandpa before welcoming Langston in the house. Langston nodded and introduced himself to my grandpa before sitting down at the kitchen table with us, where we had been talking.

Lev: Do you believe this boy is dangerous?

Langston: Can you repeat that please? Sorry.

Realizing Langston probably had a hard time understanding my grandpa due to his mumbling and thick Russian accent, I spoke up.

Ivan: He was asking if you think Neil is dangerous. Grandpa, can you speak a little louder please?

Lev: Yes. Neil has been under investigation many times? Mikhail told me.

Langston: Well..yes, he has. But he is innocent until proven guilty, and there's no proof that he's caused any of this.

Lev: But death happens near him?

Langston: Yes, it seems to be that way.

Lev: I want to stay in Phoenix. Will that be a problem? The boys don't want to live in Phoenix.

Langston: Well...I would strongly advise that they don't move, but that's my opinion. A different police department would have to get involved, which might complicate things even further.

Lev: I see.

Langston: Moving isn't easy for most kids. It will be especially hard for them.

Lev: I will think about it.

Ivan: Thank you Grandpa, that's a relief.

Lev: You're welcome.

I gave him a big hug before turning to Langston.

Ivan: Why did you visit today? Surely that's not what you wanted to talk with us about.

Langston laughed nervously as he stood up from his seat.

Langston: It's true, I did have a reason for coming over...but I think I came at the wrong time.

Ivan: What was your reason?

Langston: I wanted to ask you a couple questions again, if it's alright.

I sighed and looked over at my grandpa and Neil.

Neil: I'm not talking to him. I've had enough of the questions.

Neil got up from his seat and retreated to his room before we could give a proper reply.

Ivan: Well..I guess if you're just asking me questions then that's fine..but haven't I told you enough? You're always bugging me every time something happens but nothing changes. What do I get out of it?

Langston: Well...I brought my dog with me if you'd like to meet her.

Remembering what he had said about his dog the last time we talked, I decided it couldn't be too bad if I had a happy dog to distract me.

Ivan: Alright then. I'll answer your questions. Is it okay if I go with Langston, Grandpa?

Lev: Go ahead.

With his approval, I followed Langston to his car. The windows were rolled down all the way, but the dog waited patiently inside.

Langston: We don't have to leave the house if you prefer to stay home.

Ivan: Grandpa doesn't understand anything going on. It's better this way.

Langston: If you say so.

He took us to the park to talk, just like the time before. He opened the door to the backseat, letting his dog out, who jumped up and attacked my face with lots of slobbery dog kisses.

Langston: Pickle! Down!

Ivan: It's alright! It's not like anyone else kisses this face anyway hahaha! Most girls don't seem interested in boys like me so I don't have a girlfriend to complain about it. I'll just wash my face later.

Langston sat on a bench while I sat on the ground, petting his dog and having her do basic tricks. Without a reply to my previous comment, Langston went straight into asking questions.

Langston: When your dad fell down the stairs, was he drunk?

Ivan: Yeah, when is he not? That's probably why he fell. Too stupid to even walk straight.

Langston: And where was Neil?

Ivan: He was in the living room. He saw what happened but he wasn't close enough to actually do anything to him, if that's what you're asking.

I continued to pet Pickle, who was laying on her back begging me for tummy rubs.

Langston: Why was your dad going down the stairs?

I continued to answer Langston, but didn't give my answers much thought. The dog distraction was great, as it kept me from getting too upset or emotional about the subject.

Ivan: The power to the whole house shut off because Neil tried to plug something in and it shocked him.

Langston paused for a moment, writing in his little notebook. He looked back to me with confusion on his face.

Langston: It shocked him and the power to the entire house went out..and he's okay?

Ivan: Yeah, he has a small burn on his hand but that's about it. The power never came back on either, we had to call someone else to come fix it. All our electronics refuse to work too, even after it was fixed. It's such a bummer, all I want to do is play video games to forget everything going on and I can't. I know my dad wasn't the best guy around...but this still hurts.

The officer looked down at his notepad, writing down my words with a disturbed look on his face.

Ivan: What?

Langston: Hm?

Ivan: You look upset. Did I say something wrong?

Langston: Nothing you say to me is "wrong". As long as you're honest, I appreciate everything you tell me.

I looked away and continued to pet the dog. Thinking about how my mom seemed hesitant to answer some things, I wondered what she might do in that situation.

Ivan: Last time we spoke, you asked me a question and I shot you down.

Langston: What about it?

Ivan: I found her on the floor in a pool of blood. The knife holder tipped over and the knives fell on her.

I hugged Pickle's neck and hid my face into her fur.

Ivan: It was a freak accident, just like everything that happens around Neil.

Remembering the day my mom died, I couldn't help but cry. She taught me so many things, but I still felt so lost without her. I had so many questions I wanted to ask her, but they would never be answered. I was just a kid and my childhood had been taken from me, starting from the day she died. Since my dad practically broke down and never straightened up, I had to grow up very fast. That's all I was, a kid trying to be an adult way too soon with no guidance.

Ivan: I'm trying really hard to be strong like give you all the answers you need. I just can't. I'm so weak, I can't even remember the last time I went a full day without crying. I don't know what to do..

I wiped my tears away with my sleeve and tried to focus on my breathing in hope that it would calm me down. After a brief moment of silence, Langston set his notebook down next to him and spoke quietly.

Langston: But you are strong. Do you know why?

Ivan: Don't say some sort of inspirational bullshit meant to make me feel good...the school counselor does that but she has no idea what this feels like.

Langston: Your mother would cry too. Maybe not in front of you or in hearing range, but there were many times she cried while trying to answer my questions. You say you want to be strong like her, but you're even stronger. You haven't run from my questions or lied to me. Anything you haven't answered, you've told me that you don't want to answer them.

I looked at my tear-stained sleeves, processing everything he said. Looking back on it now, I am sure he only meant well because he was completely right..but at that time I was an angsty young teen and it felt like an insult. I didn't understand his intention or what he meant.

Ivan: Are you suggesting that my mother is a liar?

I looked him in the eye, waiting to see what he would say back to me. However, he kept completely silent, giving me a look of confidence that made his silent answer obvious. I chuckled in disbelief before patting the dog gently and standing up.

Ivan: This is bullshit. I'm done.

I started walking away, leaving Langston behind on the bench.

Langston: Ivan! Where are you going?

Ivan: Home.

Langston: Let me drive you home at least!

Ivan: I can walk home just fine. It's not that far.

Langston got up from his seat and followed me. I held my arms closer to me as his dog tried to lick my hand.

Langston: Please, I would feel relieved if you let me drive you home. It's not safe-

Ivan: You'll just have to worry then!

I started to break out into a run. After running a short distance, I stopped a moment and turned to him, yelling back at him.

Ivan: Solve this shit by yourself! I won't answer anything else so don't ask! I mean it, I'm done!!

I started running again as fast as I could and didn't stop until I was home. I slammed the door as I closed it behind me, then fell to my knees while I tried to catch my breath. Neil walked into the room and saw me on the floor. I looked at him and mumbled between breaths.

Ivan: Where's Grandpa?

Neil: He's taking a nap. Are you alright?

Ivan: Good. Lock the door.

Neil stepped around me and locked the door. He looked down at me with a confused and concerned look on his face.

Ivan: If Langston tries to ask you to talk to me, tell him I'm done. Even if my mom were a liar, she would've had a good reason..besides, no one is perfect.

Neil: A liar..?

Ivan: Yeah, he accused her of being a liar. She was a strong, wonderful person...she was the best person I've ever had in my life..she did her best for us.

My eyes started to tear up again as I thought about what Langston said. It made me so mad. Neil held out his hand and helped me up off the floor.

Neil: You're right. She did her best. I wish I could thank her, but it's too late for me to do that now.

Neil sat on the couch and folded his hands in his lap. I sat on the other side of the couch, leaning back against the seat and covering my eyes with my arm to try to hide my tears.

Ivan: I'm doing my best to be supportive like her. I want to be able to make sure everything goes the way she would want it but I feel like such a fuck up. I just want her to be proud of me.

Neil: You're not a fuck up..being around me isn't easy. I can understand how you feel though. It's been so long since I've seen my mom, I've forgotten what her voice sounds like. If it weren't for the pictures, I'd probably forget her face too. I can't forget her words though.

I wiped my face with my sleeve and looked at him, listening to what he had to say. Neil almost never talked about his family anymore, so hearing him bring up his mother was a bit surprising.

Neil: Sally was usually better than me at most things and it left me feeling not good enough. I often felt like a fuck up too. When I would voice my feelings, my mom always said I reminded her of someone she knew and she wouldn't change anything about me. "Someday you'll see how great you are," she'd tell me. But I have serious doubts.

Neil sighed and shook his head.

Neil: She never told me who it was, but I often wonder if I would still remind her of them. I can't help but wonder if she would even recognize me if she came home tomorrow. If she did....I wonder if her opinion of me would still be the same. I don't believe she would like what I am or what I'm growing up to be. She's never coming home I feel so stupid for even thinking about it, you know? There's no way she would be alive after all this time..its been almost 5 years.

Ivan: My mom always said we would find her. She said she could sense that she was out there somewhere. I'm not sure how she could..but I'd like to trust in her. Some day we will find your mom and everything will get better.

Neil looked at me and gave a sad smile. I could tell by his eyes that deep down in his heart, he wanted my words to be true and he hoped that somehow I was right, but his reply didn't match. All I heard was a broken voice.

Neil: I appreciate that..but I'm pretty sure she's gone.

The room became silent. I wondered what he was thinking. We had lived through this trauma together. Our experiences were almost identical, yet for some reason I had always felt like we were so different. Hearing him talk about his thoughts though, I realized we were more alike than I thought. The past 5 years had been hell. Where would we be in another 5 years? Who would we have left by then? Would I even survive another 5 years with him, or would he watch me meet the same fate as my parents? My heart raced with anxiety at the thought of it. My hands started to shake as I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to keep myself from tearing up again. I was so scared of what the future could hold for us. What was our purpose? Why did we have to live this way? If I died, my life would be pointless. As if reading my mind, Neil broke the silence.

Neil: If you died, I wouldn't forgive myself.

I anxiously laughed and looked at him, noticing that he was trying to hold back tears himself. I found it a bit surprising, because for some reason I never really thought he would be too upset if something happened to me.

Ivan: I won't die that way. It won't happen.

Neil: How can you be so sure? Look at you, you're shaking just from me bringing it up.

Ivan: I..

I paused a moment, thinking about what I wanted to say. It was true that I was very scared.

Ivan: I refuse to die like that..Even if something were to happen to me, I would fight with every bit of strength I have to stay alive. Yes, I am shaking because I'm afraid to die...but that's just it. I'm TOO afraid to die. I wouldn't allow myself to give into death easily.

Neil looked a bit surprised, but he stayed quiet and let me finish speaking.

Ivan: Besides, I can't just leave you here. You're my best friend. You're like my brother. There's no one else here except us. Grandpa might be here for us, but he doesn't know anything. He hasn't been in the middle of this trauma like my parents and I have. If I'm gone, there's no one left...and I won't let that happen to you. I'm terrified of dying..and that's why I won't allow myself to die.

Neil: I'm not really sure what to say. It means a lot that you don't want to leave me behind...but I don't think you can easily decide your fate like that. You'd be crazy to think death works that way..especially after all the death we've already seen.

Ivan: Then I guess I'm crazy..but they say it takes one to know one, right?

I let out a small laugh as Neil tried to hold back a smile.

Neil: I guess you're right...after all the shit we've seen, I guess it would make sense if we were both a little crazy.

Ivan: So there you have it. It may be crazy...but we'll find some way through. We have to. We don't have any other choice or way to go. We'll push through the bullshit and eventually figure out what the hell is causing this mess.

Though I never stopped obsessing over what my main purpose could be, it was that day that I decided I would make a purpose for myself if I could never figure it out. If I had to die someday, I would refuse to die a pointless death. I would do my best for Neil, just like my mom had done. My purpose would be in my hands.

Polaris Archon