Chapter 15:

Nothing Lasts Forever

Galaktika Gamble: Stolen Light

I never like talking or thinking about this, but I knew I would get here eventually. Telling you about my life includes everything, even the things that still haunt my dreams at night. I'll try to ease my way into this part, since it's never easy to get straight into it.

It was early September. Ela and I had been researching Cuneiform for a few weeks, and Neil's suspension from school finally ended. However..he didn't want to go to school. Often times, he would skip. Sometimes multiple days in a row. I knew if he didn't show up enough though, he would end up having to repeat a year. Seeing how we only had one school year left, I knew that if he had to repeat a year it would only complicate things further. I tried my best to encourage him to go to school.

Ivan: Come on, Neil. You need to go to school.

He yelled from inside his bedroom. The door was locked.

Neil: I'm not leaving this room.

Ivan: What made you so against going to school now? Is it because Jill is in our first hour class?

Neil opened his door and looked at me with an exhausted expression. It looked as if he didn't get any sleep the night before.

Neil: It's because Jill is here in general. She knows where we live, she has my cellphone number somehow, she follows me everywhere, I am too tired to put up with it. Even if she's a bit messed up in what she thinks is right or wrong, she needs to stay safe. Being around me isn't safe, and the more she's doing this...the more I have to try to make sure she isn't going to end up dead. If I fail and she graduates, I'll be able to focus more on actually finishing school next year instead of having to avoid her. It's better for both of us.

I sighed as I thought about how much stress it was putting on Neil. However, we had come so close to finishing school and it would be such a waste of an entire year if he waited for Jill to be gone after graduating.

Ivan: What will you do if she purposefully fails? Knowing Jill, I wouldn't be surprised if she did. If she knew you were going to repeat a year, she would probably repeat the year herself.

Neil cringed as he thought about that possibility. After a moment, he sighed with defeat.

Neil: Fine. I'll try going to school today, but if she tries anything else I refuse to go back to school.

Ivan: Thank you.

Looking back on it, I feel bad about it. I should've just let him stay home. However, I really did have the best intentions when I talked him into going. On our way to school, we ended up running into Jill. She appeared to be waiting for us so she could walk to school with Neil.

Jill: Neil! You're coming back!

Instead of running like the last time, he continued to walk quietly.

Jill: You were gone longer than your suspension! Why were you gone for so long? I missed you so much! Are we going to hang out during lunch break like you promised? I packed a lunch if you want to share it!

Neil continued to walk to school without saying anything in reply. He refused to even look at her. She pouted as she realized she was being ignored.

Jill: Are you still mad about me finding you breaking into your old house? Come on, that was a few weeks ago!

Neil glanced at her, but remained quiet. As he continued to walk to school, she started yelling.

Jill: Come on! Really?! You're being such an asshole!

Realizing Neil wasn't going to answer her, she angrily started to walk ahead of us. I could tell by her behavior that she was hoping Neil might chase after her and apologize, but that didn't happen. Once she made it to the corner by the crosswalk, she turned around to wait for us to catch up. As she waited, a nearby stranger crossed the street, not paying attention to the street lights.

Jill: You guys are so slow! Hurry up!!

Suddenly a school bus swerved off the road, trying to avoid hitting the person that crossed the street at the wrong time. However, during the driver's attempt to miss them, the bus accidentally hit a couple of cars and flipped on its side as it skidded quickly across the road and the sidewalk where Jill was standing. Within a second, she seemed to be nowhere to be found. Remembering my own near-death experience with the car, I started to shake in place. I felt completely frozen in fear. The only thing that brought me back from my flashback was the sound of a few kids screaming in the bus. One of them opened a window and crawled out. Though he was bleeding, he appeared to be okay. He then started to try to help the fellow students get out of the bus. When I got a closer look, I noticed that it was Zack. I ran towards them to help. Neil appeared to be calling for help on his phone.

As I climbed the side of the bus to help Zack, I noticed the damage done inside. Glass was broken, blood was splattered along the inside, some of the kids were crying, and others appeared to be unconscious. Even the bus driver appeared to be unresponsive. Seeing that sight, I felt like my soul died. I had to do something to help them. I climbed inside the bus, helping lift some of the smaller children up to make it easier for Zack to reach them. I'm not sure how much time had passed, but help seemed to arrive very fast. As they took over the job, the police started asking me questions. Though Officer Langston was there, he appeared to be busy talking to Zack as he was being examined by paramedics. Another officer spoke with me instead, asking about what I witnessed and what happened.

By the end of the day, we learned that multiple lives were lost, and many were in critical condition. Of those lost, Jill was one of them. Neil was never quite the same since that day. Though he didn't like Jill and wanted her to leave him alone, her death, along with the many others involved in the accident, hit him very hard. He blamed himself. He blamed the accident on the deadly situations that always seemed to follow him. He cried for days after that accident, and never returned to school. Realizing just how many people could get hurt by one accident around him, he dropped out of school.

He thought that dropping out would keep everyone safe. I believed that as well, which is why I stopped trying to get him to go to school. However, we were foolish to assume that everything would be alright after he made that choice. About a week after he dropped out, one of the worst days of my life happened.

The day started out alright. It was raining outside, and it was pouring down quite hard. I wanted to go see Ela so we could read books about Cuneiform together, but she told me she would visit me instead. She had recently got a new car and said it would be easier for her to come to me, than for me to try to walk all the way to her house in the rain. When she showed up at our door, she had two boxes of pizza in her hands.

Ela: I hope you guys are hungry! I brought some pizza!

Ivan: Oh, thank you!

Ela: No problem!

She looked around the room as she walked to the kitchen and set the pizza on the table.

Ela: Has Neil been eating?

Ivan: He refuses to leave his room unless he has to go to the bathroom. He used to be like this with my mom sometimes too. She would set the food by his bedroom door and he would end up eating it eventually. So...that's what I've been doing. He doesn't want to come out.

Ela: That's awful. I'm glad neither of you got hurt, but I can only imagine how scary seeing that must have been. I saw a picture of the aftermath on the news and it made me cry.

Ivan: was awful. Have you heard anything about Zack?

Ela: John texted me and said that Zack has a concussion, but other than that he made it out of that accident pretty much okay. From the sound of it, John has been visiting Zack almost daily.

Ivan: That's a relief. I've tried texting Zack and didn't get any replies, so I've been a little worried.

Ela: Do you think we should go visit him? I could stay the night and we can visit him in the morning?

Ivan: That sounds like a good idea to me. It would be nice to see how he's feeling.

Ela: Alright! I'll stay the night then!

Ela grabbed a few plates and put two slices of pizza on each.

Ela: Here's a plate for you, and here's one for Neil.

She smiled as she handed me the plates. I set mine down on the table for a moment so I could give Neil his food. As I knocked on his door, I could hear a muffled groan.

Neil: What?

Ivan: Ela brought some pizza. You should eat.

Neil: I'm not hungry.

Ivan: Alright, I'll just leave it here then.

I set the plate on the floor next to his door carefully before returning to my own plate. We talked as we ate the pizza. Though we wanted to talk about what she may have learned from the Cuneiform books, I knew that Neil seemed to have abnormally good hearing for some reason, so we decided to save that conversation for later when the walls of my bedroom could make us harder to hear.

Though I'm not sure how long it took, eventually we heard the sound of Neil's door crack open. Trying to avoid making it awkward, we pretended as if we didn't hear or see him in hopes that he would take the plate in his room. Though he appeared to stare at Ela and I for a moment as we talked, eventually he grabbed the plate and shut the door. Ela whispered to me.

Ela: I'm really glad he took that. From what I could see out of the corner of my eye, he looks like he's feeling awful. He probably needs to eat a bit more. Has he been drinking enough water?

Ivan: I'm not really sure honestly. I've left water bottles there too but since they aren't in a glass there's no empty dish to set out when he's done.

Suddenly there was a loud boom of thunder. Ela looked out the window as we saw the storm outside. It appeared to be raining even harder, with quite a bit of wind as well.

Ela: I'm glad we decided I would stay the night, I would hate to drive home in that!

Ivan: I wouldn't want you driving during heavy storms. It can be dangerous.

I hugged Ela from behind, resting my head on her shoulder as we watched the storm outside. Though outside seemed to be a chaotic mess, I felt completely calm being with her. Just as I was about to tell her how much I appreciated her being such a positive force in my life, the power went out. Ela laughed as the room became dark.

Ela: Looks like we'll be reading in the dark tonight! Haha!

Ivan: We have a couple of flashlights if we need them.

Ela: I think we'll be fine with just our phones.

Ela grabbed her bag as we walked to my bedroom. Once we locked the door behind us, she grabbed a few books out of her backpack and set them on my bed as I grabbed the old photo. She sat on the bed and turned the light on her phone, holding it over one of the books as she flipped the page.

Ela: It says here that the Sumerians used drawings to represent words around 8000 BC, but slowly those drawings changed into actual symbols that represented sounds around 2800 BC. This chart right here shows how some of the symbols changed over the years.

She pointed at a chart that showed multiple versions of the same symbol, each with a different year over it.

Ela: Can I see the photo?

I placed the photo next to the book, making it easier to compare the writing under the little bit of light coming from her phone.

Ela: Based on the appearance of the writing on the photo compared to this chart, it looks like the writing could be based on Cuneiform sometime after 2000 BC. That should be helpful. In this other book I checked out, it has what sound each symbol represents, like their version of the alphabet. Can you find if for me?

Ivan: Yeah.

I turned the light on my phone and searched the other book for its chart of symbols and meanings. As I flipped through each page, I couldn't help but wonder if Kyna knew how to read Cuneiform. Where would she learn it..and why? It didn't make sense. Trying to clear my mind and focus on the task instead, I shook my head and continued to search the book for the chart. Once I found it, I set the book next to Ela's other book.

Ela: Thank you! Let's see if any of these symbols match up. Maybe we can get a word or two at least.

Starting with the first symbol, we compared it one by one with each symbol on the chart. Much to our surprise, eventually I noticed an identical match. I pointed at it, unable to contain my excitement. It was unexpectedly easier than I thought it would be.

Ivan: Right there!

Ela: Oh! You're right!

Ela opened her Note app on her phone to type what the sound of the first symbol was, mumbling it to herself as she typed it. While she was doing that, I continued to compare other symbols with the chart. Though it took forever, we finally reached the last symbol. Ela read what she had written on her phone out loud.

Ivan: Now we just need to figure out what that means...

Though it was too dark to see all the details of her face, I could hear Ela's happiness in her voice.

Ela: We're halfway there! We'll have this figured out in no time! I promise! I got a book for spoken Sumerian as well, so hopefully that will be in there.

I smiled at Ela's enthusiasm. I hoped she was right. Soon we would have the answers and maybe it would solve one of the mysteries surrounding Neil and his family.

Ela: I'm going to take a quick bathroom break. Feel free to look through that other book without me if you want to!

Ivan: You might want to take your phone with you, with the power out you won't be able to see in there without a flashlight.

Ela: I still think it's weird that your bathroom doesn't have a window.

Ivan: How? It's more weird when a bathroom has a window because then someone could see what you're doing in there.

Ela: That's what blinds and curtains are for, love.

We laughed as Ela shoved me playfully. She gave me a quick kiss on the lips before standing up.

Ela: I'll be right back.

Ela left the room, using the flashlight from her phone to guide herself through the house to the bathroom. I started to look through the book on Sumerian to see if I could find anything while she was gone.

After a minute or so, I heard a loud crack, followed by a rumble so loud it shook the house. I could hear glass shattering and pictures falling of the wall. I quickly stood up, using the light from my phone to guide me out of the room. As I stepped into the living room I thought I smelled a faint trace of smoke in the air. The floor was covered in shattered glass from a few broken windows. Neil's door swung open. He looked completely terrified.

Ivan: What just happened?!

Neil: I don't know!

Neil ran outside. I assumed it was to see if it affected the outside. I could hear Ela yell before the smoke detector started to go off.

Ela: I can't get out! The doorknob is too hot!

I ran to the bathroom door as Ela appeared to be attempting to break through it. I tried to open the door myself but let go as it burned my hand. I could feel my heart race as panic started to set in. Smoke appeared to be flowing out from under the crack of the door. Suddenly Neil ran back into the house.

Neil: The roof caught on fire, it seems to be growing fast. I think it was lightning.

I started to hit the door with my shoulder over and over, hoping I could break the door. As Neil realized Ela was still in the bathroom, he looked around for something heavy to break the door. I looked up at the ceiling of the hallway as I noticed the flames were starting to spread to the rest of the house.

Ivan: Shit..

It was hard to hear Ela through the door and the sound of the alarm going off, but I could hear the fear in her muffled voice as she yelled something between coughs.

Ivan: I'm going to get you out! Don't worry!

Though my shoulder started to hurt so bad to the point of almost feeling numb, I tried to hit the door even harder, using the weight of my body. Unable to find anything that could break the door, Neil ran over to help me and hit the door as well. After about three hits, we finally broke it. As the door swung open smoke gushed out, making us cough as it filled our lungs. The bathroom was completely engulfed in flames, and with the lack of a window, the smoke had become very thick. As some of the smoke cleared from the doorway, I could see Ela was unconscious on the floor. Her hair and her clothes had caught on fire. I ran over to her and picked her up, quickly running out of the bathroom.

As I ran outside, the heavy rain put out the fire on Ela's clothes and hair. Once I ran a safe distance from the house, I gently set her on the ground and checked her breathing.

She wasn't.

I started to cry hysterically as I tried to perform CPR, but I was never trained or taught how to do it. I was helpless, trying anything I could to save my girlfriend.

Ivan: Ela, please don't do this..come on!

I continued the chest compressions as I begged for her to stay with me. It felt like time had stopped. I'm not sure how much time had passed, but I started to get exhausted, and my shoulders throbbed with pain. I refused to stop though. Even with the exhaustion, I tried my best to breathe life back into her. I couldn't lose her.

I failed.

Eventually firefighters and paramedics arrived to take over the job. They insisted I get checked as well, but I was so hysterical that I couldn't calm down. I refused to get up. I just sat there crying, rocking back and forth, hiding my face between my arms and the ground as I hyperventilated. I needed to make sure Ela was going to be okay. I needed to know that they were going to save her. I cried more as a firefighter gently helped me off the ground, attempting to pull me away from the scene. I begged them to let me go with Ela in the ambulance, but they told me it was best I didn't so they could focus on helping her. They said we were lucky that our neighbor noticed our house was on fire and called for help, because if we had called after escaping the house, Ela definitely wouldn't have had a chance. They told me to trust in them.

I can't remember a lot of specific details after that. Once Ela left in the ambulance, everything felt like it was crashing down. They took me to the hospital as well in a separate ambulance and gave me an IV, treated my hand for burns, checked my breathing, and appeared to give me some sort of medication to help reduce the pain and swelling in my bruised shoulders, but I don't actually remember much of the details. I don't even know where Neil was or what he was doing at that time either. All I could think about was Ela, worrying about whether or not they would be able to resuscitate her. Eventually, whatever medication they had given me for the pain started to kick in and made me drift off to sleep.

Apparently I had been out for a few hours. When I woke up, it was around 2AM. Remembering what happened the night before, I started to panic all over again. Just as I was trying to get out of the hospital bed, a nurse came in.

Nurse: Be careful, you dislocated your shoulder-

Ivan: Where is my girlfriend? Her name is Ela Tessay. Is she okay?!

The nurse looked at me with sad eyes. It felt like my heart literally shattered into pieces as she spoke.

Nurse: I'm sorry..she didn't make it.

I shaked as I started to cry uncontrollably. The nurse tried to comfort me, but nothing helped. I started to hyperventilate again, unable to contain my pain or anxiety. The nurse tried to talk me through steps on controlling my breathing, but I couldn't. All my mind focused on was Ela and my failure to save her. I rocked back and forth as the image of her unresponsive body invaded my thoughts. Seeing that I wasn't calming down anytime soon, the nurse left the room. When she returned, she put something in my IV.

Almost instantly I started to feel a little calmer. In my mind all I could think about was Ela, yet my body didn't react the same way anymore. I laid my head on the pillow as my head started to feel foggy.

Nurse: We had to calm you down so the Xanax should help. Please get some rest for now and try not to put any more strain on your shoulder. I think they plan to release you later today.

The nurse left the room in silence. I stared up at the white ceiling of the hospital as I thought about Ela. I would never get to see her smile again. I would never get to hear her voice or her laugh. The future I once looked forward to was gone. I lost everything that gave me hope. As the medicine started to take full effect, I closed my eyes and welcomed the calm, foggy feeling it gave me. After about 5 or 10 minutes, I heard someone walk into my room. As I opened my eyes, I saw John at the foot of my bed. He grabbed a chair by the wall and set it next to the bed before sitting down. His eyes were red and his voice was shaky, but he appeared to be keeping his composure fairly well.

John: I was here visiting Zack. The last thing I expected to see today was you and Ela brought in here.

My eyes started to tear up as I thought about how John must have felt about this entire situation. He lost his cousin, all because his best friend couldn't save her. It was all my fault. I didn't just fail Ela. I failed everyone.

Ivan: I tried...but it wasn't enough...

John: Listen, what happened isn't your fault. I heard about the lightning catching your house on fire and about the efforts you made to save her. This...was just another freak accident, like everything else around Neil. You've always been one of my best friends for most of my life. I care about you, and you'll always be like a brother, but....

The room became silent for a moment before John spoke again. His voice became shakier.

John: The things that happen around Neil...they are starting to affect the people I love. First Zack got hurt...and now my cousin is dead..and you're hurt...I just..

John tried his best to hold back the tears, but wasn't able to contain them. Standing up and turning away from me in an attempt to hide his tears, he continued.

John: I don't want to lose anyone else or see more of my family or friends get hurt. I can't handle it. I don't have the same strength as you. I care about you a lot, but I can't have this happen anymore. This is nothing against you...I hope you understand. I have to keep my distance. I'm sorry.

I heard John start to cry a little harder as he left my room. I sighed and looked up at the ceiling again. I felt completely torn up inside, yet at the same time, calm and relaxed due to the medication.

Uncomfortably numb.

My life was never quite the same after that. With the loss of my girlfriend and John's decision to end our friendship, I hit rock bottom. My grandfather stepped in and bought a new house for Neil and I to stay in so we wouldn't be homeless again, but none of it felt like it mattered. We had lost almost everything in the fire too. They were able to save a few boxes that were packed away in the closet on the other side of the house, and though it was damaged by the fire, surprisingly they were able to save Sally’s stuffed rabbit as well. Everything else in the house was lost, including the picture I found of Kyna. I wasn't able to remember the symbols or what it said in Sumerian, and therefore was unable to figure out what it meant in English. Ela and I wasted the last few weeks of her life on something that would end up pointless. I felt like a fool for thinking we could ever figure it out. I spent the next week sitting alone in the dark in my new room, allowing my mind to be flooded with thoughts of guilt. It was eating me alive and tearing me up from the inside.

If I had studied how to perform CPR better, maybe I could've saved her.

If I had been stronger, I could've broken down that door.

If she had never come over to help me with the photo, she probably would still be alive.

If she never became my girlfriend, she would probably still be alive.

If she never became my friend, she would probably still be alive.

If we never met, she would be alive and happy.

It was my fault.

These thoughts consumed me. Is this how Neil always felt when someone died around him? I could only imagine how much it must kill him inside. How did he handle it? I thought about what John told me at the hospital.

"I don't have the same strength as you."

Strength? What strength? I'm not strong. Even if I had any to begin with, I felt like it disintegrated as soon as I saw Ela's lifeless body in front of me.

"I wish that Ivan will have a life of happiness ahead of him. I wish he would continue to lean on me when he needs a listening ear, because I always want to support him and be here for him for the rest of my life, even when I'm old and grey."

"I'll always be here for you, as long as you let me. I'll experience any future darkness with you, and watch you as you snatch back the light."

I started crying as I remembered the things Ela said the night of the meteor shower a month before. I should've stopped her then. I should've rejected her before she got too deep into the dangerous territory of being too close. I was too hopeful. I can't snatch back the light. She was my light, and death stole her from me. Everything else...didn't matter anymore.

I cried harder, unable to control my breathing. This became common for me after she died. I would hyperventilate to the point of passing out. At least when I passed out it would give me temporary relief from my pain. A short moment of nothingness to let me rest until I would wake up and start the process all over again. The only thing that seemed better was how that Xanax made me feel when I was in the hospital.

That's when I remembered something Kyle told me after I almost got hit by a car the previous school year.

"Fucking take a chill pill and get over it, Pure Boy. Seriously. Aaron could hook you up with some Xanax."

I grabbed my phone and searched for Aaron's profile on social media. Once I found him, I sent him a short message with my number and told him I needed a favor. Surprisingly, he called fairly quickly. I asked him if there was a way to meet up and talk in person, and he gave me his address. When I showed up at his door, he seemed to already know exactly what I was there for.

Aaron: Everyone knows what happened. It was all over the news and everyone's still talking about it at school. I normally wouldn't give these out for free, but I can tell you seriously need them. Take them. Next time I'll expect payment though, so don't think I'll do this favor again for free.

Once he had given me what I came for, he shut the door in my face. I stuffed the bottle in the pocket of my jacket and walked back home with the small hope that I could get some sleep that night.

I never intended it to get bad. I just wanted relief from my suffering.