Hayley Davis 2016 +18

The Barking Owl

The cool breeze drifts through the treetops as the majestic owl soars across the sky. He is looking for something. His keen eyes scour the underbrush like fingers, leaving no corner un-explored. He must find it. His whole life depends on it. His wings are strong and steady. The soft wind pushing him along, making the journey as easy as thinking. Soon the sun will go to bed and the moon will shine upon his feathers, making his task far easier. He shouldn't be out yet, but he has to find it before anyone else.

 

The stars and moon are the owl's salvation. They scatter the world with just enough light for the lesser animals to see by, and the right sort of light for the owl to strive by. He sees a small rodent scurry far below and makes the quick decision to attack. He silently glides towards the ground, pursuing his prey with practiced stealth. He gently swings his talons forward pushing his wings back to stop from crashing against the ground. The small mouse is aware of his presence, but it’s too late now. His talons grasp the little body, and with a firm grip, he kills it.

 

The breeze has lead the owl to his prize. A tree hollow with just enough room to live, but not too much to feel unsafe. He lets out a loud, piercing screech over his new home, and the satisfaction floods over his body. This sort of home is few and far between, and he will protect it with his life.

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Logging of natural forests is causing mass habitat loss. Please, look after Australia's forests to protect the amazing species like the Barking Owl featured in this story.

 

Time and Time Again

PART ONE

get well soon

3/8/2016 – 9:27pm

Sometimes, when the night is too dark, and sleep is too far, I picture her smile, the way her eyes crinkle up in the corners and her dimpled cheeks blush with a soft pink. I picture the crystalline sound of her laughter, happy and free, a weightless noise that brings joy to everyone around her. I picture her lips, rose coloured and fragile, soft against mine. And I sleep, peaceful and free from the terrors that lurk in the shadows just beyond the corner of my eye. If only I could sleep now. If only the terrors stayed in that unseen world of darkness, if only the sound of her laughter was here to brighten my mind. But the only sounds touching my ears now are the mindless electronic hums and the threatening beeps of a machine giving us the only sign of life. The stench of death, and a lame attempt to cover it up by the reek of toxic chemicals and the fumes of disinfectants. A harsh white light reminding us, ever present, of how sleep will now be a stranger to us, faceless waiters in a room flooded by tears.

I sprint, my feet moving on their own at a sort of possessed speed, thoughts rushing through my mind like a flooded river, feelings of fear and guilt the new norm. The hospital staff look at me with a strange mix of sorrow and mild judgement as I whirl around corners and down identical hallways, glancing at signs and maps as I speed past them. All I can hear inside my head is the sound of her mother’s voice, uneven and rippled with fear as she gasped out broken words between rivers of hot tears.

“Y-you need to come to the hospital, now…”

It’s strange how one sentence can make you feel so lost, so destroyed, so empty inside. Words, something we’ve invented all on our own, sounds structured and formed to create meaning, noises that hold more truths, and more lies than anything else. It seems so strange, that a race of creatures such as ourselves can create the world’s most powerful weapon from nothing at all, and be completely unaware of doing so. Words shouldn’t mean anything, yet they mean everything. Some words mean nothing to some people – foreign languages that fall on deaf ears – but the world to another. Eight words crushed me. Three words brought me back to life.

“Y-you need to come to the hospital, now…”

“I love you…”

I love her smile, her eyes, her hair. The way her perfect teeth look behind lips holding words spoken only for me. The way her eyes tell stories of tales unheard. The way her hair falls about her eyes and cascades over her shoulders like molten gold.

“I love you, too.”

I throw myself into the emergency ward and fly down the last hallway. The air seems heavier here, the stench of chemicals and plastic stronger. My eyes catch Joshua’s and I only just recognise the man. His hair is dishevelled and his eyes are red from weeping. He does not stand when he sees me. He does not smile when I come to stand beside him. He does not reach out a hand to shake mine. He simply stares at his feet.

“You did this.” He whispers, and once again, it strikes me, the overwhelmingly destructive power of words.

“Y-you need to come to the hospital, now…”

“I love you.”

“You did this.”

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o n e h o u r e a r l i e r

3/8/2016 – 8:27pm

I grabbed my phone and checked it once more as I walked briskly towards the front door. Scooping up my keys, I opened the door to the wild weather outside. Rain was sleeting down from the dark sky and the wind howled through the chilly night air. Breaking out into a light jog, I ran across the front lawn, through the torrential rain, to my car. I texted Josie, telling her that Maddie wasn’t replying to any of my calls or texts and jumped in the car.

Shakily gripping the wheel, I slowly drove down my street along the same route she would have taken to get home. I was about to turn onto main road when my ringtone echoed through the air, startling me. A fire instantly lit inside me, fuelled by hope. She was fine, she was safe, she was home, she was sorry. Blindly, I accepted the call, words rushing out of my mouth faster than I could think of them.

“Baby I’m so sorry, I was being so selfish. Where are you, I love y-” my voice was high and wavering, fragile, like a child.

“Ethan?” Josie’s voice rang through the speakers, thin and unstable, cutting me off. The fire that had built up inside me instantly died and I slumped back in my seat.

“J-Josie,” I spluttered pathetically. “Where’s Madelyn?” I readjusted myself and swung around the corner onto main road, tyres screeching on the bitumen. Where is she?

“Oh Ethan, honey-” She couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence and I shuddered as her sobs rang through the speakers and filled my car with a chilling cold not caused by any gust of wind nor shower of rain. “Y-you need to come to the hospital, now…” She whispered into the phone, washing away the embers of hope that were slowly dying inside my heart.

I drove with an empty mind. If I thought too hard about anything at all my mind would spiral out of control and rage, guilt and fear would sour my tongue and poison my gut. Instead, I just concentrated on driving. Red light, stop. Green light, go. Rain, drive carefully. Pedestrians, watch out. The night sky seemed darker than usual. My car seemed smaller than yesterday.

My mind was disturbed, a pond assaulted by rocks. I try to hold onto her face, the shape of her cheeks, the smooth angle of her jaw, her brilliant eyes stained red with tears. She taught me more about myself than anyone else ever could. But now that picture, of her beautiful face swimming behind a pool of tears, is fading, growing more and more disturbed, just like my mind. Did she run away? I don’t know.

I turned the corner and saw the towering white, plastic-looking hospital looming at the end of the street, and suddenly I felt sick. Absolutely sick to my stomach. Pulling the car over to the curb, around 800 meters away from the hospital I crawled out of the door and hurled up the

past 24 hours in a striking splatter on the pavement. My throat burned and I felt my stomach try to hurl up the last of whatever I had eaten, but to no avail. I looked at the disgusting greenish gunk steaming on the concrete and shamefully retreated to my car, wiping my mouth clean with my sleeve and gunning it down the street to the hospital carpark.

The hospital…

It seemed so surreal. This building was a place only talked about. A place that happened to other people, not to me. A darkness gripped my chest, a saddens I’d never felt before. A feeling of foreboding and of loss and of death. I slowly parked the car and before I knew it, I was sprinting through the halls and gasping for breath.

Everything went past me at hyper-speed. I left the car parked in long term and shakily paid for a ticket at the kiosk. The hospital doors seemed alien and foreign. I took in a shuddering breath and stepped inside, looking around for some sort of desk or information board. Walking up to the first staff member I saw, I asked the nurse at the front desk where the emergency ward was, and thanking her, sprinted half way across the hospital, ducking around corners and weaving between trollies and desks. Eventually, out of breath and flustered, I spotted her dad, Joshua, looking like hell at the end of the hallway.

“You did this.” A husky, cruel voice I didn’t recognise.

“Where is she?” Another voice I didn’t recognise, small and scared, a boy speaking from my mouth.

“Ethan?” A mother. Terrified and more alone than she’d ever been. At least that’s what Josie sounded like to me.

p r e s e n t

3/8/2016 – 9:42pm

Sometimes a moment can seem so surreal that it’s like an out of body experience. Like you’re watching your own life pass by like someone watches a show on television or a play at the theatre. I pushed the swinging doors open to room 37 and instantly my mind went blank and I was simply watching. Watching as I scuffled towards the side of her bed. Watching as my own stomach once again threatened to hurl up whatever was left behind. Watching when I noticed the long tube shoved down her throat, her soft lips gently gripping it. Watching when I embraced Josie in a half-hearted hug and felt her wracking sobs vibrate through my chest. Just watching. I collapsed in a chair beside her bed and stared at the empty space above her face, the gentle yet still somehow threatening tones of the heart rate monitor both lulling me to sleep and startling me back to consciousness. Eventually I drifted into an uneasy sleep, cramped in the uncomfortable plastic armchair, dreams filled with memories of her.

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e i g h t m o n t h s e a r l i e r

5/1/2016 – 11:23am

“You’re so slow!” Her laughter drifted down the path from around the bend and I smiled.

“Maybe you’re too fast!” I called back, maintaining my slow, leisurely pace. The zoo’s gardens were always a highlight of my visits as a child. I remember running through the towering bamboo forests and lush tropical groves, imagining I was an explorer discovering faraway lands. Madelyn’s face appeared in front of me, smiling and blushing pink.

“Hey.” she whispered, the corners of her mouth twitching up into an amused grin.

“Hey.” I replied, grinning at her and planting a soft kiss on the tip of her nose.

“Teaser!” She muttered and twirled away from me, disappearing down the lush tropical-inspired path. And she says I’m the teaser… I thought to myself as I watched her long blond hair swish around the bend in the path after her.

12:06 pm

“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” Madelyn laughed as she jumped at my back, arms stretching around my waist and face buried between my shoulder blades. I laughed at her, an angel in her playground, and twisted out of her arms, looking at the three lions dozing in the sun. Their golden manes seemed to melt into the shimmering rays of the sun. They seemed so peaceful, lying happily on the grassy hill, mouths laying droopily open. It still seemed sad and rather odd, to keep such a beast trapped behind metal and glass. I glanced at Maddie, who was staring at me with a sad expression that curved her lips down and made her eyes seem shallow and empty.

“Hey,” I said to her, running my hand through her hair. “I’m fine. Promise.” I whisper in her ear, planting a soft kiss on the space where her jawbone meets her ear.

“You sure?” She asked, placing her hand gently on my chest. I nodded in reply and pulled out the crumpled map. “You can’t blame your parents. Sometimes people just fall out of love.” She placed a finger atop the map and gently pushed it down, forcing me to look at her.

“I know,” I whispered and pulled her into a tight hug. “I love you.”

1:03pm

The butterflies swirled around her, landing on her soft golden hair and her slender shoulders. They perched upon her head as if she was some sort of fairy princess, the creature’s wings almost as beautiful as her smile as they fluttered in a halo of stunning colours. Her eyes glinted

with that mischievous happiness I had grown to know and love. She seemed so happy, so content with simply being here. Just another beautiful creature in a house made of glass.

1:30pm

We made our way around the zoo, following the crowds of tourists twisting around exhibits along the long winding paths. We, of course, had to see every animal possible, which ultimately meant Madelyn was tasked with dragging me around the whole park, complaining about my pace in-between getting distracted by some cute animal or interesting display. It was nice to just watch her as she spun around herself, so happy in her own little world. You notice more about people when you take a step back. Her hair looked so golden in the bright rays of the sun, a halo shimmering about her head.

We stopped outside the snow leopard enclosure. I couldn’t see the elusive big cat at first and simply spent my time looking at her as she warbled on about how you “never see it”, how “we’re so lucky” and that it’s “such an amazing animal”. She glanced at me for a moment and grinned.

“You’re not even looking.” She moaned and gave me a weak punch in the arm.

“I am.” I smirked and leaned in to plant a soft kiss on her lips. She blushed and flashed me a shy smile that made me weak in the knees. I embraced her tightly and smiled against her lips as our kiss depended. She gripped the back of my t-shirt in her fist and I returned the motion, entangling my hand in her soft, shimmering hair.

She made me so happy. The past few months had been dark, but she had been my beacon. She was like a lighthouse. Shinning the way to a better place to be.

« »

2:00pm

“Thanks for today.” I say to her as we walk behind a group of babbling mums juggling prams, handbags and rowdy kids. She looked up at me with big blue eyes and smirked.

“You’re welcome.” She replied, very bluntly and mildly sarcastic. I rolled my eyes and launched myself at the spot just above her hip that made her squirm and squeal like a like a little piglet. She was so ticklish, and this knowledge was like my secret weapon. She let out an amusing noise, a mixture of squeal, giggle and straight out laughter. She spun around in my arms and looked up at me with big blue eyes, dampened in the corners from tears of laughter. I stopped my attack and gently used my thumb to sweep away a tear from the corner of her eye, and suddenly I felt the strange tug of tears pulling at my heart. I glanced up at the sky in an attempt to quell the growing urge to cry.

“Hey,” She said, her voice laced with concern. “It’s going to be okay.” She whispered, and stood on her toes to gently kiss my quivering lips.

« »

p r e s e n t

24/8/2016 – 10:42am

The fact that room 37 of the intensive care ward is familiar to me now makes me sick. ICU has a strange vibe. It’s supposed to make you feel better, and forget about how shit your situation really is, by using the words “care” and “intensive” together. They try to convince you that this is the best place to be. That whoever it is that screwed up bad enough to get locked up in here, wouldn’t be in this toxic trash bin for much longer. That this is the fast lane to freedom. Try telling that to me now, after sitting in the same plastic chair for three weeks staring at my girlfriend’s unconscious face, the doctors telling me that there’s not much chance that her condition will improve, that I should think about saying my goodbyes.

When you sit, surrounded by the same group of strangers for three weeks, you get to know each and every one of them without ever exchanging a word. It’s like getting to know a flock of sheep. At first, they all look and act the exact same, and you never really care about what they’re thinking or whether they have individual hopes or dreams. They’re just faceless sheep in a field of dying flowers. But if you take the time, whether you want to or you’re forced, you start to create little ideas in your head about every individual.

Nurses and doctors are like sheep. They all look the exact same, at every hospital you go to or see on TV. Blond short ponytails and clean-shaven, short brown hair. Pale skin and an important demeanor that makes them look like spoiled children. The same pale scrubs and blue gloves.

Doctor Last. An irony if ever I saw one. A man who probably saw more lasts than any average person; last goodbyes, last breaths, last cries, last dreams, last hopes for a happier ending; yet a man whose job it is to ensure no family or person experiences a “last” in a long time.

Doctor Last was the first doctor I spoke to, some three weeks ago. He told me about Madelyn’s multiple injuries, the state she was found in when they got to her car, the front folded and buckled around a light post. He told me how it had been a “freak accident”, how her phone had been in her purse and that the crash couldn’t have been caused by any distraction from the device. He told me about how she was completely sober, drink driving ruled out. And he told me about the rain, the torrential storm that had soaked her to the bone, causing her to shiver and shake in her unconscious state.

Over the drab days of dozing in the uncomfortable plastic chairs of the ICU, I began to get to know Dr Last and all the other staff members buzzing around doing their duties to provide

“intensive care” to the numerous patients. Nurse Frances doesn’t think that the patient in room 46 would last the month and doesn’t like spinach in her rolls. Nurse Stone, a short woman with a feisty temper has a secret high school crush on Dr Last, but would never dare tell him. It amazed me, the network these people had going on below the surface. A world hidden behind scalpels and blue plastic gloves.

I glanced at Joshua as he walked in the room. I guess I shouldn’t judge, he probably looked as bad as me, but I couldn’t help but notice the bloodshot red ring around his eyes and the steadily growing beard flecked with silver hairs. He scowled at me, whether because I occupied the only seat in the room or because on some deep level he still blamed me for what happened. Maybe not such a deep level, now that I think about it. His scowl only intensified as he noticed the dying flowers littering the room and the deflated balloons lying on benches or sitting on floors. People stopped caring after a week or so.

“Go get me a coffee, would you?” He grumbled as he leaned against the wall next to my chair. I knew he was only trying to drive me out of my seat, but I couldn’t argue. It was easy to forget that Maddie belonged to other people as well, and other people belonged to her just the same.

“Sure, one sugar?” I sighed as I carefully peeled myself from the chair and stretched my aching bones.

“Two.” He spat and, with no intention of trying to be discreet, threw himself into my chair and shifted his gaze to stare at his daughter’s sunken face.

“No!”

“I’m sorry, Josie, but it’s just the reality of the situation.”

“How could you ask me to make that decision? How could you ask any mother to make that decision?”

“I’m afraid it comes with the job description.”

“Don’t you mock me! This is all your fault! If you had have done your job properly she would be with us now!”

“I’m afraid nothing could have been done differently to achieve a better outcome. Our first response and intensive care teams did the best they could.”

“She’s not dead!”

“No, ma’am, she’s not dead, but I don’t think you could really say she’s alive, either.”

“Of course she’s alive.”

“Isn’t to be alive to have a life?”

Josie started to sob, a wailing sound that broke my heart.

Dr Last audibly sighed and went to embrace the weeping mother.

“I’m sorry, Josie. I hope you know that not only as a doctor, but also as a human being, I never want to have to ask anyone to consider this. Her condition will not improve. Please, consider your options. Leave her on life support indefinitely, or put your daughter to rest.”

Her wails flooded the halls as I ran, desperately trying to escape.

She’s going to die.

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t h r e e w e e k s e a r l i e r

3/8/2016 – 6:27pm

I heard the knock on the door and sighed as I placed my dirty plate in the sink and slowly walked through the lounge, down the hallway and to the front door. I unlocked it and smiled as Madelyn greeted me with a swift hug.

“Hey.” I said into the top of her golden head.

“Hey.” She replied and twisted around me to get inside the empty house. My dog, Bernie came spinning down the stairs to greet her, a whirlwind of fur.

Maddie glanced at the boxes piled by the door, the same word scribbled on in black marker, Mike.

“Your dad’s stuff?” Madelyn asked as she ran her hand along the boxes.

“Yeah, mum keeps finding more of his stuff around the house; I guess dad’s just sick of picking it up.” I sighed and bent down to pat Bernie on the head.

“Where’s Jayden?” Her voice broke the strange empty fuzz my mind had gone into. My younger brother hadn’t been home since he ran out late last night. The sky was already beginning to darken and I suppose I should have been worried, but I wasn’t.

“Call me a bad brother, but I have no clue. Haven’t seen him in nearly 24 hours.” My voice was low and rough and my face was tense. Maddie looked at me in shock.

“You don’t know where he is? He’s only fifteen, Ethan!” She called, her eyes distressed.

“Hey, it’s okay. He’ll just be with his friends, probably doing something dodgy.” I shrugged and walked away from her down the hall.

“That does not make it okay. That makes it worse than okay.” She called after me. Jayden wasn’t dealing with our parent’s divorce very well. He was already kind of a “bad” kid. He

“Good.” My brother grabbed a ratty backpack from where it lay at his feet and stormed past me, walking upstairs and slamming his bedroom door behind him.

Madelyn sat slouched against me on the couch, Bernie’s head resting in her lap. We were watching some movie she’d picked, but neither of us seemed to be paying it much attention. She was absentmindedly tracing circles on the dog’s head and I was staring at the ceiling, mulling over everything that had happened over the last few months. When mum started drinking again it kind of pushed Jay over the edge. He blamed her, for a time. I think he still does blame her in a way. She’s not like your average mum, who talks to her kids, who wants to know what they’re dealing with in their daily lives. She saw Jay as just too much effort, and instead poured a glass of wine and listened to it’s troubles instead of her own son’s.

“I’m going up there.” Madelyn’s voice was a welcome distraction.

“No you’re not.” I replied, not moving. The ceiling seemed so far away.

“Yes I am. You saw his face, and his hands.” Something in her tone had changed. She wasn’t desperately trying to convince me like she was before Jay got home. She wasn’t asking, she was telling. I felt the last of my energy drain away as I thought about arguing with her.

“Fine, but don’t be surprised when you go to open his door and find it locked.” She sighed and pushed away from me. Bernie got up and looked at me with a sad face. I continued to stare at the ceiling until I heard Madelyn’s footsteps trudge up the stairs.

After a few minutes of contemplation, I rose from the couch and crept down the hall. I could hear muffled voices coming from Jay’s room and wanted to investigate. I padded up the stairs and reached his door, where I slumped down silently against the wall and listened in the dim light filtering through the crack in his door.

“Why do you hate me? What have I ever done to you?” Maddie sighed. I heard the door to my brother’s adjoining bathroom open. Someone was rustling around in some container, and I assumed it was the medicine drawer.

“I don’t hate you,” I was startled by how close my brothers voice sounded and I realised he was sitting in the same position as me, on the other side of the wall. “I don’t hate you, I just hate my family, and you happen to be dating one of them.” His voice was cold.

“How could you hate Ethan? He’s your brother,” Maddie called from the bathroom. I heard the door to the bathroom slide shut. “Let me see your cuts.” She sounded like she was talking to a terrified animal.

“I’m fine.” My brother growled. She really was talking to an animal.

“Please, Jay.” She almost whispered.

“Don’t call me that,” His voice sounded ice cold. Only Dad and I call him Jay. Madelyn sighed. “Why are you helping me?” He spat, and I heard the wall groan as he stood up. I could picture him towering over her, threatening and spiteful.

“Because, if no one else will, I guess it’ll have to be me.”

« »

“That’s a stupid reason.”

“I don’t think so. Here, let me at least clean your hands,” I heard the groan of floorboards and her soft footsteps. No one spoke for a while as she tended to his wounded hands. I didn’t know what to think. A strange ball of jealously began to gather in my throat. “I understand what you’re going through.” She murmured. Alarm bells instantly went off in my head. Jay is too self-absorbed to ever think other people can relate to his hardships.

“Are you serious? You don’t know the first thing about me, or any of the shit I have to deal with!” His voice was harsh and a jagged contrast to Madelyn’s soft tone.

“My parents are divorced too.” She sighed, maintaining her composure.

“Oh great, well that’s fantastic. You know what? We should be best friends. We can start a club; call it… ‘Pity the Poor Kids with Pitiful Parents’. Yeah, it’s got a nice ring to it, don’t you think?” His voice was dripping with sarcasm, and I could tell Maddie wasn’t going to last much longer if he kept this up, and knowing Jay, he would.

“Jayden, please…” She was starting to crack.

“No. I’m sick of people like you, who think they know everything about anything, coming in and trying to solve all my life problems. Stop trying to fix me!” I heard Maddie take a small step backwards.

“Please, just let me finish bandaging your hand.” She sounded defeated, and scared. I stood up silently, ready to intervene.

“Why? I’m just another little project to you, right? Just another poor broken soul for you to come along and fix. I mean, that’s the only reason you’re with my brother, right? You’re too scared to leave, because he’s too broken.” My heart cracked a little. Is that what she thinks? Am I just too blind to see it?

“How could you say that? I love your brother!” She called. I heard the scuffling of feet.

“Well then you’re just as much of an idiot as him.” Jay’s voice went ominously flat, and my stomach churned. I heard more movement coming from his room.

“Don’t grab me!” Jay growled. Confused, I peeked through the door. Madelyn was standing in front of Jay, holding his arm as she tried to bandage up his bleeding knuckles.

“Please, I don’t think you’re a project. I think you’re just a kid who’s scared and alone.” As soon as she was finished speaking the alarm bells in my head started screaming and I pushed the door open. Neither of them noticed me, however.

“What did you just call me...” Jay muttered his body tense. Maddie, oblivious to my brother’s obvious anger, continued to work on his hand. “Stop! Leave me alone. I don’t need your sympathy.”

“Just let me do this one thing for y-”

It felt like I was watching through a fish tank. My view was distorted and seemed to move in slow motion. I didn’t hear, yet I was aware of sound. I vaguely saw my little brother raise his free arm up to strike Madelyn, and unclearly heard her shout of horror and the sharp slap of skin against skin. Her eyes were wide in fear and Jayden’s face was contorted with anger. Suddenly, everything sped up and I snapped back to reality.

Madelyn was clutching her cheek, which was flayed red from the impact of Jay’s hand slapping her across the face. My head was filled with white noise tinted red with rage. He showed no remorse as he watched her eyes swell up with tears. I ran across the room, yelling profanity at him while protectively grasping Maddie around the shoulders and dragging her out of the room and down the stairs.

« »

“I told you, god dammit, Madelyn! Why don’t you ever listen to me?” I yelled, grasping her shoulders firmly.

“So this is my fault? You’re just as bad as your brother.” Anger bubbled up inside me.

“How could you compare me to him?” I hiss, glaring up the stairs.

“You’re both just so self-absorbed! I’m trying to help you, both of you! Can’t you see that?” Her voice was wavering and broken, tears running down her cheeks.

“Well maybe Jay’s right! Maybe you do need to stop trying to fix everyone!” I felt like what I was saying was wrong, but I was so angry, at her, at Jay…

“I need to get out of here.” She mumbled.

“What?”

“I need to leave, I’m sorry, Ethan. I can’t stay here.” Her voice was quiet but her face and body told a different story. Tears were flowing steadily from her red eyes and her shoulders were quivering with the threat of a full on break down.

“Maddie, wait.” I called as she grabbed her keys and bag from the side table in the hall. I reached out and grasped her shoulders, my eyes pleading.

“I’m sorry, I have to go.” She pushed past me and before I knew it she was out the door, disappearing into the pouring rain. I stared at the door, hanging open and listened to the rain pattering down on the concrete porch where she stood only moments ago. I love her. It dawned on me once again how much I rely on her, and now that she was gone, and it was only darkness outside my door, I was afraid.

I sat outside, slouched against the front door, watching the rain sleet down a few inches away from my feet. My phone was lying in my lap, the call history lighting up my face. The glowing icons only reminding me of how many times I had called her, with no reply. Grimly, I rose to my feet and shakily entered the house. Jayden had stormed out a few minutes after Madelyn left, and so the house was eerily quiet.

“Bernie!” I called into the dark hallway. I heard a rustling in the lounge and the pitter-patter of his feet on the floorboards as he trotted down the hall to greet me. I reached down to pat his head. “Good boy.” I murmured and walked back the way he’d come to the kitchen.

I felt so lost. I just didn’t know what to do with myself. She had run away from me. She had left me. It was all my fault. I had been so stupid, so naïve. I should have known never to trust Jayden. Rage bubbled up, hot and harsh in my stomach. I was adamant that Jayden was lost to me now, lost to this family. How could he? She was only trying to help.

After a few minutes of sitting in the empty house, and after five more phone calls with no answers and text with no replies I decided I had to go after her.

I grabbed my phone and checked it once more as I walked briskly towards the front door. Scooping up my keys, I opened the door to the wild weather outside. Rain was sleeting down from the dark sky and the wind howled through the chilly night air. Breaking out into a light jog, I ran across the front lawn, through the torrential rain, to my car. I texted Josie, telling her that Maddie wasn’t replying to any of my calls or texts and jumped in the car…

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p r e s e n t

24/8/2016 – 11:22am

She was going to die.

“You did this.”

A gripping feeling in my stomach.

A twisting feeling.

A twisting through the halls.

A wrenching.

A wrenching open the door.

A collapsing.

A collapsing on the floor.

A desperation.

A desperation as I cry.

A loneliness.

A realisation that I am going to be alone.

“You did this.”

I did this.

“She’s going to die.”

I killed her. Death. Black. Everything is black. I can’t do this. I can’t live with this. I have to cry. I’m crying. Alone. In the black.

I can’t live with this. I can’t. I’m alone.

She’s alone. She’s scared. I have to fix this, I have to do something. I can’t be alone.

I am alone.

In the black.

Darkness...

I loved her

PART TWO

he said he’d change

-/8/2016 – 3:27pm

I guess I fell asleep. Or passed out.

The storage room was spacious, as far as storage rooms go. There was a small window near the ceiling on the back wall. The rest of the space was lined with shelves and littered with boxes and different equipment too large to leave lying around anywhere else.

I rose to my feet and painfully stretched out my sore muscles. My head spun and my eyes throbbed.

My mind was numb. It was as if I’d somehow cut off the tethers that were connecting me to my emotions, and my memories. I grabbed the door handle and opened the storage room. I paused for a moment, and as I took in my surroundings, a spark of fear went off in my mind, and suddenly everting started to rush back.

“…Please, consider your options. Leave her on life support indefinitely, or put your daughter to rest.”

What if they already…

I sprinted down the hall, bumping into idling doctors and nurses, swinging round corners and flying down stairs. The door to the ICU greeted me with an unsettling familiar feeling. I pushed the swinging doors open and briskly walked down the white hall.

The row of plastic chairs outside Madelyn’s room were, to my surprise, occupied by people I’d never seen before. Having sat in those very seats for hours at time, for days on end, I’d come to recognize most of the visitors that came for the surrounding wards, and the two women who sat in the plastic chairs now were completely unfamiliar to me. Smiling awkwardly at them I walked forward and pushed open the door to Maddie’s room. Before I could take a step forward, one of the women gasped and shot to her feet. She looked like she was in her late fifties. She had gaunt looking skin and a strange fashion sense. Basically every item of clothing that hung to her thin limbs was some shade of purple. Her hair even donned a shimmering lilac streak along the right side of her forehead. In her thin, boney hands she clutched a shriveled, soggy tissue, which she feverishly dabbed against her dribbling nose.

“W-what do you think you’re doing, young man?” Her eyes were very familiar to me. I’d never seen her before in my life, but those eyes, I knew. Because they were mine. Sure, hers were blue and mine were brown, but her eyes had the very same look of despair, the sense of defeat and the screaming cry for help.

“My girlfriend, she’s in there.” I pointed at Madelyn’s door and continued to push my way in.

“I think you’ve got the wrong r-room.” She mumbled, her hands beginning to shake more and more.

“No, that’s not possible; you see I’ve been visiting her in that there room for nearly a month now!” I called as the small, frail women scuffled forward and gripped my arm.

“Listen to me, boy,” she hissed, offended it seemed. “My daughter is in there. She has been in there for nearly three months. So either you’ve made a mistake, or you’re just delusional, because I can just about guarantee you that my 10 year old girl has never dated anyone in her life, let alone you!” Shocked, I gently twisted myself out of her arm. Unable to come to terms with what the woman just said I pushed the door open anyway, and to my utter horror, saw not Maddie, but a small, brown haired girl unconscious on the bed that seemed to want to swallow her whole.

“Get out! Someone, please, get this young man out of my daughter’s room!” the woman was squawking outside, flapping her purple clad arms around trying to signal down a member of staff.

“I-I’m so sorry ma’am.” I called and sprinted down the hallway and out of sight.

As I ran, I see a desk and come to a halt. Jogging up to it I realise I must look like a crazy person, but I don’t have time to care.

“Please, can you help me?” I wheeze, out of breath.

“I can try,” The young, African-American woman smiles at me. “What’s the matter?”

“Please, I’m looking for my girlfriend, she’s in a coma, in a room in the ICU. She was in room 37, but I just went there and there’s someone else in her bed.” My eyes were pleading with her.

“Okay, okay. Calm down, let me have a look,” She proceeded to tap away at her computer, her eyes flitting across the screen, making me nervous. “How old is she?” The woman almost whispered.

“Ah, 18.” I reply, rubbing my neck.

“Oh god, my poor boy. I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but our last female coma patient, aged 18, trauma to head from car accident, was taken off support systems half an hour ago.”

--------

I couldn’t hear properly. There was just blank------

I stumbled out of the door. It was midafternoon, raining. I sat on a bench and stared off at a tree growing out of a concrete planter box nearby. Mindlessly, I reached for my phone and dialed Josie. Every tone sounded deafening as the call rung through. Just as I was about to give up, the beeping cut off and static filled my ear.

“Ethan? Is that you? I can’t really talk, I’m driving to pick Maddie up right now. We’ll be a bit late, sorry honey. Ethan? Are you there?

Can you hear me...?

Ethan...?

Ethan?”

I snapped out of my daze.

“Oh my god, Josie, is she alright? Where is she? I’m at the hospital I can’t believe it they told me they took her off support but she’s fine and you sound great, how’s Joshua? And what about her, Maddie? Does she remember anything, how long has she been awake fo-”

“Ethan! Dear god boy slow down! What are you talking about? Why on earth are you at the hospital? Is your mother okay? What about that brother of yours, Jason, isn’t it?”

“Jayden.” I mumbled into the phone, shock flowing over me.

“Well are you still okay for Maddie to come over? It is the right day, isn’t it?” Josie sounded flushed and confused, but nowhere near as confused as I felt.

“I don’t know… Maybe it is. Maybe it’s more than the right day, maybe it’s the only day. The day!” I cried out, jumping from my seat.

“Ah, okay dear. Well I’ll see you in an hour, okay?” Josie sounded a little scared and worried all in one, but I couldn’t stop to think about that.

“Yes! Yes, see you in an hour!” I yelled and sprinted towards the cab rank, grabbing a copy of the free local paper on the way.

I sat in the back seat of the cab as we rolled up to my house, staring, completely awe struck at the date printed, clear as day, on the top of the paper. 3/8/2016. I could not believe it. I didn’t want to think too hard about how exactly it happened because I was too scared I would somehow go back to the way things were, back to the 24th.

“Alright, that’ll be $37 thanks.” The driver said as we pulled up outside my house. I payed him and stepped out into the unforgiving rain.

« »

3/8/2016 – 5:27pm

There was an hour. A whole hour. And I had no idea what to do. I put some music on to distract myself and got to work, cleaning the house and running through everything that had happened that night.

The boxes: our first little argument, about my parents and, of course, my brother.

The hallway: the body of our fight, arguing about Jayden, about where he was and had been.

The door: hearing Jayden finally returning home, seeing him all beat up and bruised.

The couch: ignoring her, and still being too naïve to see that all she wanted to do was help.

The staircase: hearing her talking to my brother, trying to heal a wounded animal.

The slap: my brother finally being pushed over the edge.

The fight: her tears staining her cheeks as I blamed her and refused to listen.

The door: watching her walking out into the storm, the last time I’d ever see her conscious.

“You did this.”

“I love you.”

I love you too.

3/8/2016 – 5:27pm

I smoothed the front of my cotton t-shirt as I heard the doorbell ring, loud and clear. My stomach threatened to hurl and my heart threatened to break a rib, but regardless I walked down the hallway and reached for the door handle. The metal was cool under my sweaty palms. The mechanical click of the lock startled me. I felt like a piece of ice, ready to be shattered. And oh how she did.

Her beautiful, smiling face beamed at me as I opened the door. Distantly, I heard her call my name, and I couldn’t help it. I felt my knees give in and collapsed against the door, tears spilling from my eyes.

“Maddie, oh my god, you’re here.” I gasped, reaching out a hand to touch her arm. She grasped my hand and my head spun. She was alive.

“Ethan, of course I’m here, why wouldn’t I be?” She chuckled. “What’s wrong, you look so pale.”

“Oh baby, you have no idea.” I moaned, and dragged her into the house. As soon as she had taken a step over the threshold, I cupped her soft face in mine and pressed my lips against hers, pushing her against the door, closing it. She gave a small exclamation of shock but all the same greeted me eagerly. She tasted sweet and light, just how I remembered.

“I love you.” I whispered into her ear as I peppered soft kisses along her jaw. She let out a happy sigh, one of relief.

“I love you too.”

We sat on the couch. I’d tried everything possible to avoid any arguments and any conversations about Jayden or my family, and so far, I’d been successful. I cradled her in my arms as she told me a story about her little sister Kasey and her older brother Ruben. At first

when she mentioned them, all I could think of was the dirty looks they shot me as they visited once every few days at the hospital. I assumed Joshua had whispered sour things in their ears about me, and they listened. Ruben was older than me, and a mechanic’s apprentice. Little Kasey was only eleven, and much more easy to turn against me, as Joshua no doubt discovered. She would avoid me at all costs, and eventually I gave up on the sad smiles, shy hellos and simple gifts of balloons and teddy bears, and avoided her as well. It was easier that way.

“She’s such a trouble maker; always up to no good that one.” Maddie laughed, breaking my trance. I nodded in agreement and began to stroke her hair. I couldn’t believe it. As I stroked her hair, I was stunned, in utter awe. When I looked at her beautiful face images of her lying unconscious in the hospital bed with a tube down her throat haunted my mind. I shut down those thoughts and kissed the crown of her head as I heard it. The click of the lock and the ominous swing of the door.

Jayden was home.

« »

I got up immediately and padded briskly down the hall. He smelled like smoke and booze. I could smell him from three feet away. My instant reaction was to scold and yell at him, but I held back.

“Jesus Christ are you okay?” I asked, as softly and non-threateningly as I could. I heard Maddie running down the hall.

“Oh my god, Jayden!” She exclaimed. He scowled at her through his long black hair.

“What’s she doing here?” He spat. It dawned on me that I had the upper hand here. He said those exact words last time. I could, for once in my life, predict what my little brother was going to do.

“She’s just popping over for a visit, I’m sorry, I should have texted you.” Both of them gave me odd looks. I wasn’t speaking to him like I usually would. I was treading carefully.

“Come with me Jay. I’ll get you cleaned up and then I promise I won’t bother you. Maybe Maddie could make you soup or something?” I turned to her and she nodded, looking to my brother for approval. He let out a grunt, and taking that as a yes, Maddie turned and disappeared into the kitchen. Relived to get her out of the picture for a while I turned to my brother.

“You good?” I asked, as sincerely as I could. He only glared at me and turned to walk up the stairs. Cautiously, I followed him, and much to my relief he went straight to the bathroom and plonked himself on the toilet lid, looking expectantly up at me. Smiling gently, I turned and set to work. First, I dampened a wash cloth and set about dabbing the blood from the side of his face. The smell of booze and smoke was strong now that I was this close to him in the confined

space of our bathroom. Both of our rooms were connected by the same bathroom, which as you could predict, caused quite the argument from time to time.

“Remember when dad had to drill off the locks on the bathroom doors because we kept locking each other out.” I chuckled, remembering a happier time, when we were both boys.

“I don’t want to remember anything about him.” Jay spat, glaring at the floor. I sighed, long and heavy.

“Jay, listen. You have to understand that I’m here for you. I know what you’re going through.” He snapped his neck up to shoot me a gaze as sharp as knives.

“You know nothing,” he spat. “About me, about who I am, about what I have to deal with every day.”

“I do know some things,” I replied, wary. “I know that dad left me too. And I know that I didn’t just loose a father, I also lost a brother. I miss you, Jay.” I spoke softly, dabbing the washcloth against his face. His eyes were hard and unbreakable.

“Shut up with your flowery pity party full of sympathy. I don’t need it.” He swiped away my hand, and suddenly I felt an awful familiarity wash over me. This scenario was one I had watched over and over in my head since the moment Jayden struck her, only now, it’s me in her shoes. Remembering how he reacted to her persistence at tending to his wounds, I placed the washcloth in the sink and sat on the edge of the bath. He gave me an odd look as I stretched my legs out and simply looked at him.

“I’ve been through a lot the past month, little brother. I’ve been through things you will hopefully never know about, if I do this right. And I’ve learnt that I have to make the most of every second of every day. I want to help you. I want you to live life to the fullest, please, stop all this.” I almost whisper, my eyes fading off into the distance as I recall everything that had happened at the hospital and the events leading up to the crash.

“Stop?” It sounded like a question. I refocused on my brother.

“Yes, stop. What happened between mum and dad happened. We cannot change the past. Sometimes, people just fall out of love. It’s hard, for everyone. But in the end, it’s the best decision that could have been made. The alternative would have been toxic, for mum, for me, and for you. Just stop all this. Come home, properly. Stop fighting. Stop fighting me. Stop fighting mum. Stop fighting yourself.” I felt a little proud of myself, for a split second.

« »

“Stop? How could you ask me that? While I’ve been here, looking after mum and dealing with my own problems, you’ve been off, doing I-don’t-care-what with that girl of yours. While you’ve been out, ignoring all the crap at home, I was stuck to deal with it. And guess what. I got sick of that real quick. So you can’t tell me to stop now. You don’t have the right. I can do whatever the hell I want to; because quite frankly, neither you, nor mum, could be bothered to take the time to even think about giving a shit about me!” His words were cruel and cut me deep. I gazed up at him in shock.

“Is that what you think?” I whisper, looking from him to my hands lying limply in my lap.

“No, it’s what I know.” His voice was snide and poisonous.

“Jay, please,” I begged, grabbing the washcloth and holding it, bloodstained, in my hand. “Don’t you see that I care about you, more than anyone? You’re my brother.” My voice was pleading.

“Shut up.” He spat, glaring at me with a sense of rage. I shook my head as if saying no.

“I love you.” I spoke, clearly and without fear. I watched, as for a split second, a fragment of a moment, his face changed, and I saw my little brother, alone and afraid. But then the walls came back up. His eyes hardened once again, and his mouth turned up into a sour sneer.

“You did this.” He grunted, and to my horror, threw his fist into my face, knocking me back into the bath tub where I felt my head smash against the opposite wall, a terrible warmth spreading over my scalp as my vision turned black.

« »

3/8/2016 – 7:27pm

“Ethan!”

“Ethan!”

“Ethan, wake up!”

I sucked in a wracked breath and shot up, a bad decision I realized, as my head spun with pain.

“Oh my god, Ethan! I was about to call an ambulance!” Maddie sobbed, kissing my forehead.

“Where’s Jay?” I groaned, taking in my surroundings. I was sitting in the bathtub, a patch of blood smeared on the tiles behind me. Maddie, not my brother, now occupied the toilet seat. “I need to find him.” I mumbled, standing up slowly and stepping carefully out of the tub.

“I don’t think you should be driving. I’ve got my car, I’ll go find him,” I don’t think I’d ever been filled with that much fear from a single sentence ever in my life, and she saw it. “What’s wrong?”

“You are not leaving this house, understand?” I said, my voice stern but my face scared. “I love you so much and I’m not losing you again.”

“Again?” she repeated. Sighing, I shook my head in dismissal.

“I feel fine now. Please, promise me you will not leave the house. I need to find my brother.” I was adamant in my statement and I think she knew not to argue. All I needed was a nod from

her and I was flying down the stairs. I grabbed my keys and opened the door, running through the torrential rain to my car.

It was incredibly dark outside my car. The headlights seemed to only reach a few meters ahead before they were swallowed by the darkness. I sped down my street, frantically scanning the footpaths, the side alleys, anything for any sign of Jayden. The rain wasn’t helping either. It made the road slippery and almost impossible to drive on at this speed, but I considered myself a reasonably good driver. I scanned from left to right along the empty streets when suddenly my phone started buzzing from the empty passenger street. I could see the distant lights of main road up ahead and made to grab my phone. Unlocking it there was at least six messages from my mother.

MUM: Come home now!

MUM: Where are you?

MUM: Why is your girlfriend here alone?

MUM: Ethan!

MUM: There’s blood in the tub!

MUM: What did you DO?

I scanned the messages and looked up ahead. The light was green. I pushed the gas, checked the footpaths again, and quickly typed a reply.

ETHAN: I’m going after Jayden

ETHAN: He ran out

ETHAN: I’ll text u when I find him

ETHAN: It’s my blood

I started typing a final goodbye.

UNSENT, ETHAN: I’ll find hi

Out of the corner of my eye I saw two things. First, the red blaring eye of the traffic light. Second, the hulking, thundering front of a truck.

Do you ever experience those moments when your mind is completely blank, and you scramble to try and fill it, but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t?

I knew, in that second, that there was no way I could do anything to avoid what was coming. And with that realization came a total freeze of time.

The sound of the horn was what eventually tore me from my trance. Of course, all of this happened in a matter of moments, of half moments even. But in my mind it felt like an eternity. I watched in awe as the passenger side of my car seemed to simply dissolve against the brute force of this beast. I marveled at the beauty of the flying fragments of glass and metal shrapnel as they shimmered in the light of the headlights and embedded themselves into my skin. The air was vibrating with electricity, a strange force of power that I’d never felt at this magnitude before. I was amazed. The upholstery of the passenger seat sent flying pieces of fabric shooting through the air and covering me in a fine layer of pulverized cotton and wool. The noises were deafening and ear splitting. I gaped as the roof began to cave in, crumpling like paper, and finally, I felt fear. True inexplicable, gut wrenching, heart throbbing throat strangling fear. Because this was

the end.

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EPILOGUE

24/8/2016 – 3:27pm

Beep

Beep

Beep

The sound was ever present. A beacon in the darkness. It reminded me of a lighthouse, the way the light flashes, on and off.

Beep

Beep

I had been surrounded by darkness, but I wasn’t alone. I heard voices. My mother, Josie, Madelyn, and Jayden. My little brother. He was here. I wasn’t alone. I knew that, because they would never stop telling me. They would come, day after day. They would sit, tell me stories about their day, how they missed me, but of course most importantly they would tell me that I was not alone. I guess that they’re the reason that I didn’t fear the light. At first I thought that this was death. That I was left only to listen to the sorrows and the joys of those I loved, but my lighthouse reminded me that there was more, a safer place to go, a better place to be. And when the light finally swung back around, I did not fear, because I could see.

Beep

Beep

“Ethan…”

Beep

Beep

“If you can hear me…”

Beep

Beep

“I want you to know,”

Beep

Beep

“That,”

Beep

Beep

“I love you.”

“I love you too, Jay.” I croaked, voice as harsh as sandpaper.

“Oh my god, Ethan!” My little brother threw himself at me, tears streaking down his face, lip quivering behind a veil of black hair.

“I’m here, I’m here.” I whispered as the tears filled my eyes and fell, with joy, to my pillow.

“I’m here.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too, little brother, I love you to