Chapter 12:

Everyone Has A Death Date

Galaktika Gamble: Stolen Light

Have you ever had one of those moments that happened so fast, it seemed fake and surreal? Though I was often around Neil and witnessed many people die or have near-death situations around him, I never actually understood what it felt like. I watched my own parents die, so of course I understood how serious those situations were. What I didn't understand was the second of sheer terror they must have felt in the moments before they died.

I woke up that morning and got ready for school like usual. Ate some cereal, brushed my teeth, combed my hair, packed my bag, and started walking to school with Neil like I did every single morning. The school wasn't too far away from where we lived, but it was a little bit of a walk. We didn't mind the walk, it was safer than riding a bus. If Neil rode a bus it would've endangered a lot of people, so we always avoided that.

Neil: I'm glad we only have one year left of this bullshit once this school year is over.

Ivan: I'm actually kinda sad. Once this school year ends, I'll only have one more year left of Astronomy Club. Ela and Brian graduate this year too..

Neil: You can still talk with them outside of school. We live in the same town.

Ivan: I guess that's true haha..

Neil and I stopped at the crosswalk, waiting for the cars to pass by so we could cross the street. The school was on the other side.

Neil: It would probably be difficult, but if I could find a way to work from home after we finish school, that would be great.

Neil started to cross the street as the light signaled us to cross. I followed behind.

Ivan: I'm sure we'll figure it out when we get there. For now, we should just focus on finishing school and-

Suddenly a car sped through a red light. I barely even registered what was happening until I felt the rush of air as the car passed in front of me, almost hitting me. I froze and my knees started to shake uncontrollably as I realized I was just inches away from death. I fell to my knees in shock, still unable to move. Seeing what happened after he made it to the other side, Neil frantically ran back in the middle of the road to help me get up and cross the street. As we made it to the sidewalk, I could hear him trying to talk to me, but nothing seemed to register. It just sounded like a bunch of muffled noise. All I could hear in my ears was the sound of tires screeching, replaying over and over in my head like a broken record. Neil shook my shoulder for a moment.

Neil: Hey, Ivan! Are you okay? Say something!

I blinked and nodded. I felt unable to say much, but I managed to mumble a few words.

Ivan: Yeah..I'm okay.

Neil looked away. Though he seemed relieved I answered, he also looked very angry at himself.

Neil: Come on, we are almost there.

I followed Neil as we walked into the school campus. Once we made it to the building, he said something to me and walked off. I was too much in a daze to hear what he said though. I don't actually remember walking to any of my classes that morning. I must've gotten there by muscle memory. The next thing I knew, I was standing in an empty hallway during lunch break as everyone else had gone to the cafeteria. I blinked and panicked a little as I realized that I somehow seemed to completely check out of life for a few hours. Just as I went to check the time on my phone, I felt a hand tap my shoulder. Already feeling anxiety from before, I jumped away quickly and turned to look at the person behind me.

Zack: I'm sorry if I scared you. Are you alright? You've been quiet all morning.

Ivan: I... Uh...

I got lost in thought as my mind replayed what happened that morning.

Zack: Ivan?

Realizing I zoned out, I let out a nervous chuckle and tried to seem like my usual self.

Ivan: Yeah, I'm fine!

Zack didn't seem convinced.

Zack: What happened?

I remained quiet, unable to answer as I thought about it again. After a moment of silence, Zack gave me a pat on the back.

Zack: Let's go to the cafeteria. There's still 20 minutes left for lunch break.

I followed Zack quietly without protest. I knew he just wanted to make sure I was alright. As we entered the cafeteria, John got up from his seat and ran over to me.

John: Dude, are you okay?! I heard you almost got hit by a car this morning!

Zack looked at me with a shocked expression. Hearing those words come from John's mouth sounded so...odd. For some reason, I imagined what it would have sounded like if he said "My friend got hit by a car" instead. If I had died, would he be devastated? Or would he move on quickly like he seemed to with Sally?

Ivan: How did you know?

John: Aaron said he saw you guys crossing the street when he was being dropped off.

Aaron: Yeah, that car was so fast. I thought I was about to watch someone die! I don't know why you hang out with that guy, there's nothing but bad luck and death around him.

Ivan: He can't help just happens. He's actually a lot nicer than he acts too-

Kyle: Give it up, Pure Boy! You sound like you have Stockholm Syndrome or something with the way you defend him all the time.

Ivan: Believe what you want. He's my friend..

Kyle: Your friendship won't matter when you're dead. You're lucky you're alive. But just as I'll believe what I want, I suspect you'll do whatever you want. Which means you'll probably stick around him until you do end up dying. Is it worth it? Would Neil die for you if the roles were reversed?

I became quiet as I thought about that. A part of me could see his point, but all I could think about was how hard my mother worked to help Neil. If I decided to abandon him, all her work and her death would've been for nothing.

Kyle: If I were you, I'd just say "fuck it" and forget about all of it. You're such a mess of anxiety, you can't even do what's best for you because you're so worried about your "best friend" that gives you nothing good in your life. Fucking take a chill pill and get over it, Pure Boy. Seriously. Aaron could hook you up with some Xanax. Hell, I would even pay for it so you wouldn't have to if it would get you to stop running around acting like you're some "greater than thou" holy saint for sticking with Neil all these fucking years.

John: Shut up Kyle.

Kyle: Excuse me?

John: I said shut up. I get you're trying to help in your own way, but you don't understand this situation fully.

Kyle got up from his seat and grabbed the collar of John's shirt.

Kyle: What makes you think I even give a shit, John?

The two looked as if they were about to fight, but Abby got up from her seat and grabbed Kyle's arm.

Abby: Come on guys, let's not fight! Are you really going to let this cause a problem? This isn't worth getting detention over.

Kyle let go of John's shirt and smirked at me as he replied to his girlfriend.

Kyle: You're right. Pure Boy isn't worth fighting over. If he wants to throw his life away, let him. One less idiot I have to deal with if he dies.

Kyle walked back to his seat and sat down. Abby mouthed the words "I'm sorry" before following him.

John: Sorry about that. Are you okay?

Ivan: I'm not hungry. You guys can eat.

I left the cafeteria as I thought about how bad my day had seemed so far. Thinking about the car almost running me over that morning, I wondered if Kyle was right. A part of me wanted to do just as he said and run far away from Neil as possible, but it just felt so wrong. After everything we had been through together, abandoning Neil would've felt like abandoning a brother.

Instead of going to the tree by the Gym where the Astronomy Club usually hanged out during lunch, I decided to leave school early. Though I knew I could get in trouble without officially checking myself out of school for a good reason, I didn't care. It's not like I was able to focus anyway, after what happened. When I made it to the crosswalk, I felt my knees begin to shake again. As soon as the light turned on to cross the street, I ran as fast as I could. I ran the rest of the way home.

Feeling mentally exhausted from everything that happened, I took a nap. I was able to sleep the whole afternoon, only waking up by the sound of the front door opening when Neil got home. I could hear him walk down the hall, eventually throwing his bag on his bed and locking himself in his room. I wondered if I should check on him to make sure he was okay, but I figured after what happened that morning, he would probably just argue with me irrationally about how I need to stay away from him. I figured I would give him a moment of space.


I glanced at my phone as I heard the text tone. Looking at the preview from the lock screen, I could see it came from Ela. I unlocked the phone to read the whole message.

"I ʜᴇᴀʀᴅ ᴀʙᴏᴜᴛ ᴡʜᴀᴛ ʜᴀᴘᴘᴇɴᴇᴅ ᴛʜɪs ᴍᴏʀɴɪɴɢ. Aʀᴇ ʏᴏᴜ ᴏᴋᴀʏ?

I'ᴍ ʜᴇʀᴇ ғᴏʀ ʏᴏᴜ ɪғ ʏᴏᴜ ᴡᴏᴜʟᴅ ʟɪᴋᴇ ᴛᴏ ᴛᴀʟᴋ ᴏʀ ʜᴀɴɢ ᴏᴜᴛ. Yᴏᴜ'ʀᴇ ᴀʟᴡᴀʏs ᴡᴇʟᴄᴏᴍᴇ ᴛᴏ ᴄᴏᴍᴇ ᴏᴠᴇʀ ɪғ ʏᴏᴜ ɴᴇᴇᴅ ᴛᴏ ɢᴇᴛ ᴀᴡᴀʏ ғᴏʀ ᴀ ʙɪᴛ."

Thinking about her offer, I decided it might be best if I spend a bit of time away where I could relax. I got up from my bed and walked to Neil's room, gently knocking on the door.

Ivan: I'll be back in a bit. Just going to visit Ela for awhile.

After a moment of silence, I heard Neil's muffled voice through the door.

Neil: Okay.

I walked all the way to Ela's house, being extremely careful every time I had to cross a street. Even though Neil wasn't with me this time, all I could think about was how much it would suck if it happened again. Once I got to Ela's house, I called her. She sounded surprised when she picked up the phone.

Ivan: I'm outside.

Through the phone I could hear the sound of her running to the door. Just as she ended the call, the door swung open. Ela pulled me into a hug before I could process everything happening.

Ela: I've been worried about you! I'm glad you're not hurt! I don't know what I would've done if you had been hit by that car!

Unsure of what to say, I hugged her back. It had been years since the last time I had been given a real hug. Something about it made me feel calm and safe.

Ivan: Thank you. I'm sorry I made you worry.

Ela smiled as we let go.

Ela: I only worry because I care!

As we walked into the house, she asked me about the rest of my day.

Ela: Zack told me John almost got in a fight with Kyle at lunch?

Ivan: Yeah. I was a little surprised but nothing happened in the end.

Ela: I'm glad he stood up to Kyle. Honestly he's such a bad influence on John.

Ivan: Yeah, I think he's starting to realize that. At least I hope so haha. He'll completely ruin his chances with Zack if he isn't careful.

Ela: John told you about his crush on Zack?

Ivan: Yeah, he told me back when we were still in elementary school. I've never seen anyone hold a crush for so long haha. If it were a contest, he would probably win.

Ela: I don't know about that, I know quite a few people that have liked the same person for a while. They would come pretty close to being runner ups I bet.

Ivan: Yeah? Like who?

Ela: I'm not going to tell you! It's a secret!

Ivan: Secret because there is no one? John is definitely the winner hahaha..

I laughed as Ela stuck her tongue at me playfully. It was nice being able to to talk about stuff that wasn't serious. It was a great distraction. She continued to tell me about a few people she thought would make a cute couple. Then she told me about her own experiences of people trying to get her to date.

Ela: I remember during my freshman year of high school, the upperclassmen of the Astronomy Club kept trying to get me to date Brian, but that just wasn't going to happen. I let them know from the start that I definitely didn't feel that way and that he wasn't the kind of guy I would catch feelings for. That was completely okay though, because Brian didn't like me either! He was actually in a long-distance relationship and they didn't know about it. They were smart people, but definitely not good in their judgment of romantic chemistry.

Ivan: They sound like they needed to get the hint haha..

Ela: Yeah, but they definitely weren't as bad as Jill. That girl is head over heels for Neil and it's a little disturbing. I can understand having feelings for someone, but when someone clearly rejects you, you have to back off. Jill doesn't seem to understand that concept at all. A part of me hopes Neil is able to find someone he likes just so she won't be able to chase him anymore.

Ivan: I think it would be nice for him to have a partner but at the same time, I don't think he ever will, at least not with how things are right now. Even if he was romantically interested in someone, he would never tell them and would probably avoid them even more than the average person. He already tears himself up inside when strangers die around him. If he fell in love and then they died due to one of his deadly situations, I'm afraid he wouldn't be able to handle it.

Ela: That's really sad. He deserves some happiness of some sort.

Ivan: I want to try my best to be there for him. It's just hard sometimes.

Ela: I'll be there for him too then! I won't try to force friendship like Jill..but maybe if I visit your house sometimes to hang out with you, maybe he'll join us sometimes.

Ivan: Are you sure?

Ela: Of course I'm sure! If it's important to you, it's important to me too!

Ivan: That means a lot to me. Thank you.

Ela: No problem!

Suddenly my stomach growled.

Ela: I heard that! What would you like to eat? We can go out somewhere!

Ivan: I'll pay this time.

Ela: Are you sure? I thought your grandpa only sends enough money for groceries.

Ivan: I've been saving up what's leftover every time we get groceries. Consider this repayment for doing me a favor and letting me come over.

Ela: Alright then. Where do you want to go?

Ivan: That's your choice!

Ela hit my shoulder playfully as she realized I was copying the things she said to me the last time we went out to eat.

Ela: I guess it's only fair that I pick since you picked last time.

Ela ended up picking a Mexican restaurant not far from where she lived, since it was in a shorter walking distance. That afternoon was surprisingly nice, considering how bad that morning had been. Something about spending time with Ela always made me feel like my worries were far behind me, even if it was just for a short time. I wondered if I ever did the same for her.

After we finished eating, we decided to walk around the park by Woodland Lake for a bit before it got dark. There weren’t any kids when we got there, but I figured it was probably due to it being evening and a school night. Parents would probably want them to go to bed early for school the next day. Noticing the park was empty, Ela decided to sit down on one of the swings instead of walking around the lake. I smiled as I remembered the Father's Day Fishing Tournament. I checked the chains on the swing to make sure it was sturdy before sitting in the swing next to Ela.

Ivan: When I was four, we came here for the Father's Day Fishing Tournament. Neil's mom was pushing us on the swings and Neil's swing broke. I never sat on these swings again after least not until now haha. Neil never wanted to come back here after that incident, so we never came back to play. The only time I've been here after that was to talk to Officer Langston. Time flies pretty fast. What about you? Do you have any memories here?

Ela: When I was a kid I used to come to this park all the time to feed the ducks with my dad. He said it was my mom's favorite thing to do on Saturday mornings, so he kinda just continued that tradition with me. It's one of my favorite memories of this place.

Thinking about it, I realized Ela never mentioned anything about having a mom. She only talked about her dad or her family as a whole.

Ivan: Did something happen? I'm sorry if that question is too personal, you don't have to answer.

Ela: My mom died after giving birth to me. It was a complicated pregnancy from what everyone told me. I never knew her. I wish I did when I hear about how great she was. Sometimes I get a little sad about it, but at the same time I know I'm okay. I still have the rest of my family with me, my dad is hardworking and does his best for me, and I have so many great friends too. Life has been good to me so far.

Ivan: You're a strong girl, Ela. I had no idea. You're always trying to get me to open up about stuff and sending me supportive messages, but you have your own stuff to deal with. I should've been more supportive.

Ela: It's alright, you didn't know. I usually don't tell people, so don't feel bad about it!

Ivan: Well..Now that I know, if you ever need anything, you can count on me as well. I want to help you the way you help me, if it's possible.

Ela smiled.

Ela: Thank you. don't really tell me much, even when I do offer to listen to you.

Ivan: Well, that's because I would rather focus on making good memories instead of sulking about bad ones if I can.

Ela: Are you sure? Sometimes it seems more like you're bottling things up and avoiding it as if you're trying to forget it completely. In doing that though, it usually just tears people apart even more...just internally and silently. There's nothing wrong with talking about bad experiences if it helps get the pain off your chest.

A part of me knew her observation of me was correct, but the other part of me didn't want to accept it. It was never easy to talk about the things I had seen or experienced, especially when the only time I really had talked about them was with a police officer that seemed to value his evidence more than my mental health when talking about all the little details of my trauma.

Ela: You asked me a personal can I ask one in return?

Ivan: I guess it would make it fair. Alright, sure.

Ela: That stuffed rabbit you had when you spent the night at my said it was one of those objects left behind when someone died. Who did it belong to?

A moment of silence passed as I thought about how I should talk about it. Though Ela always offered me support, I never really talked with her in much detail about anything I went through, especially things that close to me. Eventually, I just decided it would be best to answer the question with the most direct answer.

Ivan: It belonged to Sally.

Ela: Sally?

Ivan: She was Neil's twin sister. I had a huge crush on her when we were kids. She was brave, strong, and very independent even at such a young age. She was everything I wished I could be, yet knew I never would be. I gave her that rabbit as a gift for her 8th birthday. I did so many chores around the house to get my parents to give me an allowance so I could buy it myself. Sally always took it around everywhere we went, and seeing her love my gift made me so happy. One day she asked me to keep it overnight, as a reward for winning a game we played. That was the last time I saw her. Later that night, we found out she had been murdered. As if pouring salt into the wound, Neil's mother also went missing that same night. That was the night everything went to hell. Nothing has been the same since then.

Ela: She was murdered? Did they ever find her killer?

Ivan: No. The police haven't been very helpful either. With how many years have passed, I doubt they are trying to figure it out anymore. I got frustrated at Officer Langston and told him to leave me alone. They stopped looking for Neil's mother too. I haven't given up hope though..not yet. I'll figure it all out by myself if I have to.

Ela: I'll always be here. I'll help you figure it out someday, if that's okay with you.

I looked at Ela, noticing she was crying.

Ela: I'm so sorry you've had to go through all of this. I wish I could find a way to reverse time and just make it all better. I'll do my best to help in whatever way I can. I am so worried though... What will happen when I graduate high school? I won't get to see you every day and I'm afraid maybe we'll just get distant, like many of my old friendships with friends that graduated before me.

Ivan: We can still see each other outside of school. We can hang out whenever and wherever we want, just like we are doing now. We won't grow distant. I'll be here for you, you'll be here for me, and nothing will change that.

Ela: I guess that's true...Maybe I'll see if I can still join some of the Astronomy Club events when I graduate.

Ivan: I don't see why you wouldn't be able to. No matter what though, I know we'll stay in touch. I promise.

Though everything seemed a little better as we spent the rest of the evening talking in the park, I still couldn't shake the odd feeling I had when I got home. Trying to sleep that night, I felt like all my mind could focus on was that car almost hitting me. Even when I did fall asleep, I kept waking up from having nightmares about it. The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. I could've died. That morning could have been my last. Was I happy with where my life was at? Would I have had any regrets if I did die that day? Would regrets even matter anymore if I was right and life didn't exist after death?

Something about that experience hit me hard. I always told Neil I would never die because I was too afraid to die. I realized that day that my fears didn't matter though. Death doesn't skip people just because they don't want to die. Death doesn't show pity on those that are afraid. Death is equal for everyone, no one could avoid it. I was so lucky I didn't die that day. I just hoped that whenever my eventual death date would be, it would be very far in the future.