Daniel Brookson's heavy eyelids rose, revealing two pale green, weary eyes below them. He took a labored glance at the alarm clock, ringing its familiar tune as it did every morning. It was 9:01 am; he could hear a lawn mower whining outside his window, and the sun cast rays of golden light onto his face.
Daniel was an average boy, he was tall for his age being only seventeen. He was very thin, having silky black hair with a pale complexion.
Daniel rose up slowly, resisting the urge to fall back into his warm mattress. He peeled his bed sheets off his legs and swung them over the side of his bed. Daniel felt the tight muscles in his legs stretch as he stood up slowly. He put on a shirt and walked into the kitchen where his mother was making a cup of coffee.
"Morning, sweetie," his mother said in a croaky, yet sweetly sincere voice.
"Morning, Mom," said Daniel back apathetically. Talking to his mother really didn't happen anymore, unless it interested him. Talking with her was more of a mechanical response rather than genuine conversation. He never really thought about her when he talked to her. The only time he showed any interest in his mother was when he needed or wanted to know something.
Daniel glanced at his mother quickly and walked to the kitchen counter. His mother's name was Katherine. She was short and had dull brown hair, which was glistening as it grew silver with age. Her face was obviously no longer youthful, yet she had a naturally compassionate look.
"You want to play a board game, sweetie? Maybe we could watch something on television," she said to him after taking a short sip of coffee and sitting down at the kitchen table.
"Maybe later. I don't know," Daniel said as he poured cereal into a small bowl without looking at her.
"We should go out today, what do you think? It'd do you some good to get out of this cooped up house. What do you say?" she asked, slowly sliding her cup of coffee on the surface of the kitchen table.
"I'm going out today to see my girlfriend, Mom. Maybe we can go out as a family another day," Daniel stated as he grasped the jug of milk from the refrigerator and faced away from his mother to pour it into a glass. "It's been awhile since I've seen her."
"Oh come on, Danny," his mother said in an irritated voice. "You spend more time with your girlfriend than you do with your little brother. Can't you just take one day to do something with me, your dad, and your brother? As a family? Is that so much to ask, Danny?"
"Come on, Mom. I don't need your whining now, it's like nine in the morning," said Daniel, looking at her with fatigued, apathetic eyes. He slowly turned back around and continued to pour himself a glass of milk.
"Daniel, you can be so inconsiderate," his mother said in a quivering voice as she got up from the table.
"Whatever, Mom," said Daniel as he sat down at the kitchen table with a bowl of cereal and his cup of milk. His mother shook her head and strode up the stairs to her bedroom. Daniel poured a small quantity of his milk into the bowl of cereal, pushing the floating pieces around with his spoon.
Finally, he didn't have to hear his mother talk anymore. Daniel felt annoyed by her most of the time, smothered even. He just wished he could be more independent. Daniel hated being a juvenile sometimes; he hated following rules and depending on anyone for anything. Daniel stared blankly at the cereal as it swirled around gently in the milk. No particular thought or feeling crossed his mind, he just stared into the bowl of cereal. He felt so very tired but not sleepy.
Daniel ate his cereal and went to the restroom; he took a swift shower, brushed his teeth very thoroughly, and rubbed deodorant under his arms. He slid on a white long sleeved shirt and a pair of worn out blue jeans and took a look at himself in the mirror. Daniel had always felt a bit self conscious about his appearance, it was very important to him. Nothing about himself really seemed perfect enough in his eyes. Daniel always wanted to be a bit more muscular. He looked closely at his chest and arms, flexing them hard in order to observe his physique. After a while of self observance, Daniel separated himself from the mirror.
He walked by the staircase and yelled up at his parents, "I'll be back in a bit!" Daniel walked to the front door and shut it quietly as he stepped outside.
Daniel walked across the front lawn slowly, he took in a breath of the outdoor air. It smelled fresher and more natural than it did in his home. Looking up to the sky, Daniel saw that there was no sunshine. The sun was concealed behind a screen of clouds, which looked gray and pale as if it were about to storm. He walked to the sidewalk, slipping his hands in his pockets to avoid the crisp, gentle breeze from chilling his fingers.
He walked seven houses down from his own, a route he had taken many times before. His girlfriend's house was the eighth down the street from his own. It stood out because of its peculiar color of pale yellow. Most thought it was ugly but Daniel liked the house. It was eccentric, unordinary, different; which he liked because it was something new to look at rather than the common appearance of other homes. Daniel glanced at his watch: 11:46 in the morning, he supposed girlfriend should be awake by now.
He walked up to her door and knocked in an odd rhythm, one that he and his girlfriend recognized and used to let each other know that the other was at the door. Daniel waited, listening closely for any sound of movement in her home. He heard her soft footsteps as she went to open the door and his lips flexed into a soft smile.
The white door of the pale house opened slowly and Daniel embraced her. His lover's name was Brittany. She was short and thin, she had long blonde hair, brown eyes, and a sun kissed complexion. She smiled brightly and kissed Daniel's lips quickly. Brittany had an innocent, shy look to her. Her laughter was always beaming joy, yet it seemed like every smile had a question behind it, waiting for her to ask.
"Walk with me," Daniel said to her, looking into her chocolate-colored eyes.
Brittany took his hand and they walked down the street and onto a long bike trail. Daniel held Brittany's small, slender hand in his own, stroking smoothly it with his thumb. They walked together silently for a long while without speaking.
Behind the street that their homes were on, there was a large forest, with the long bike trail slicing through the middle of it. Their eyes darted around the wall of trees that surrounded them, cut in half by the long trail. The leaves were still green despite the fact that it was early fall and the sky was overcast. It was cool outside; a faint breeze whipped their faces gently. Daniel loved moments like this and so did Brittany, nothing to fill their senses other than quietness and nature. Not a single bird or insect seemed to chirp, no animal cried or howled. There was just wind whistling as it twisted through the trees, making their leaves quiver together and hum their own special song. The air smelled like crisp plant life, the forest, the water that the clouds carried, and the fresh, porous soil all around them.
Brittany turned to Daniel and broke the sweet silence, "You nervous about our first day back to school tomorrow, Daniel? I am a little bit, mostly because we're going to a new school."
"Honestly, I couldn't care. It's just another day, you know? The first day back is always pretty simple," he replied impassively. "Why would you be nervous? You make friends easy."
"I don't know, Danny, I just am," she said, giving him a coy smile.
"It's not a big deal. Just another day," he said staring down the long trail with an impartial smile on his face. He almost seemed amused by her questing.
Brittany squeezed his hand gently and her smile grew. "It's so nice out for a cloudy day."
Daniel smiled and looked back at her. "You can say that again."
"I love you," said Brittany, stopping them both and looking into Daniel's sharp, green eyes.
Daniel took both her hands and leaned down to give her a kiss. Her lips were a bit dry. She smelled like sweet perfume and fruity shampoo. He loved Brittany. Her lips, the way she smiled, smelled, laughed. He loved everything about her. It was perfect, youthful love.
"I love you too," he said as their lips separated.
"Let's go see a movie, Danny, what do you say?" said Brittany, holding his hands and bobbing up and down playfully.
"Well... sure why not. But let's spend some time together first," Daniel said.
They walked the bike trail a bit more, taking in the beauty of the day. Despite the dark clouds, not a drop of rain fell, there was only a slight breeze. After their long walk they went back to the neighborhood and to Brittany's home. They did nothing extraordinary together. They played games, watched television, and shared casual conversation.
Daniel noticed the time on his phone, it was 6:34 in the afternoon. Daniel knew the movies usually played at seven, they almost always did. "Let's go, we don't want to miss it," he said to Brittany.
"We don't know what we're seeing yet, Danny," she laughed.
"I guess we'll have to figure it out when we get there."
Daniel took the family car without asking at all. He didn't want to go into his home and be rejected, he didn't want to argue. He opened the car door for his girlfriend and they drove three miles down to the mall, which the cinema was close to. The theater wasn't the largest or the nicest, but it was an enjoyable place nonetheless. Many people in the community visited it regularly because it was one of the few fun things to do in the city. All the parks and attractions were out of town.
They parked, paid for their tickets, got drinks, and watched the movie. They had both decided on a horror film. Daniel couldn't really recall much of it because he wasn't paying very much attention. The movie was about a mutated swamp animal feeding on a group of children lost in the woods, it wasn't a great movie. Just cheap scares that could only startle his girlfriend and horrify only those with weak stomachs. Everyone died in the end, that's all he could honestly remember very well.
"Well, that wasn't the greatest movie I've ever seen," Daniel laughed as he walked out of the theater with his girlfriend.
"It was not that bad!"
"Come on, that movie was so bad it was funny," he chuckled, looking at the ground.
Brittany playfully punched him in the shoulder. "You shush," she giggled.
They walked out to the parking lot and got in the car. "I had fun," Daniel said before he started the car. Brittany leaned over and kissed his cheek, he reacted with an amused smile and drove out of the parking lot.
"What is today?" Brittany questioned Daniel as he drove.
"Uh... I believe it's Sunday. Weekend got the best of you, huh?"
"Don't make fun of me, I just forgot is all," she retorted, sliding her hand into his. This annoyed Daniel, having to drive with one arm, but he didn't say anything. "Our anniversary is on Thursday. We've got to do something special."
"Oh yeah... September thirteenth, it'll be two years... two whole years. Can you believe that?" said Daniel.
"Well, when two people really, really love each other," she said and giggled at her little joke. Daniel chuckled too.
They pulled up in front of Brittany's house and they both sat together in the car, Daniel expected a kiss goodbye, but Brittany stayed in the car. She looked at her feet, and a solemn look swept across her soft complexion.
Daniel eyed her intently. "Something wrong, Brittany?"
"Daniel, why do you love me?" said Brittany, looking up at him.
Daniel broke eye contact with her and stared at his wrist, thinking of the right thing to say. He truly wanted to please her, but he didn't know what to say. "I love you because, uh-"
Brittany cut him off sharply. "Why? The reason is the most important part about love."
"Why are you asking me this?" said Daniel, looking back into her eyes, which were now a bit teary. "I love you because you're... beautiful and honest. And because you're so good to me."
"Thanks," she said, looking away from him.
"What did I do wrong?"
"Nothing, why would you presume that?"
Brittany got out of the car and shut the door before Daniel could say anything else. She walked up to her front door, cupping her nose and mouth in her hands, crying. She looked back at Daniel with an irrefutable look of regret in her pink, teary eyes and went inside her home.
Daniel looked blankly at the wheel and thought to himself.
What is wrong with her? Why would she just ruin a perfectly good time for us like that over some stupid, dramatic feeling she must have been having?
Daniel sat there staring at the car wheel for a while, no particular thought crossing his mind. He was weary, a part of him didn't want to move forward, just to stay in that silent moment in the car where he had no problems. He knew he had to go home though. It was about ten o' clock in the evening. His parents must have been worried sick and angry that they had no car the entire day.
Daniel parked the car in the driveway and slowly walked into his house, apprehensive of the argument to come. He opened the door, the kitchen light was on, he continued inside and kicked off his shoes. He tried to sneak into his bedroom, but stopped as he made eye contact with his mother at the kitchen table. His father and little brother sat with her, in front of them were plates full of meatloaf, macaroni, and sweet peas.
"You were gone all day, Daniel," said his father in a calm, yet subtly exasperated tone.
"Where have you been?" his mother said loudly at him.
"Relax, Kathy, no use in yelling at him," Father said calmly, holding her shoulder reassuringly.
Daniel's father was 50 years old. He was tall like his son, he had silver hair and deep green eyes. His skin was tanned and wrinkled, his arms coated in silver hair that was barely visible. His face was bony, hard, and always shaven. The flesh around his eyes was dark and sunken in, he had a naturally stern look to him. Daniel's father was named Richard, but Daniel always called him Dad.
"Come on, Dan, sit down and eat supper with your family," his father said calmly, reaching out and batting his hand towards himself.
Daniel had no words to say, no response was truly appropriate for this situation. He was defenseless. He walked over to the table slowly, not looking anyone in the eyes and took his seat. His mother gave him a plate and put an excessive amount of each entrée onto his dish. She looked down at the table and slid the plate towards him. Daniel eyed the meatloaf and took a bite of it. It tasted dull to him, but it wasn't bad, Mother wasn't the best cook. She definitely was not the worst though.
"I missed you today," his little brother said loudly, smiling at him. Daniel's brother had dark blue eyes, ruffled blonde hair, and soft pale skin. His smile was ugly, his red lips having meatloaf dashed on them and his crooked teeth that all young boys seemed to have. Although his naive grin had a sincerity to it that made it so delightful to see. The little boy's name was Caleb, he was seven years old.
"Good to see you too, Caleb," said Daniel, unable to hold back a smile for the adorable child.
"So, where'd you go?" Father asked, chewing on his food.
"I was with Brittany."
"All day? What did you two do all day?"
"We hung out a little, and we saw a movie."
"All day?" Richard repeated, eyeing him with a look of slight surprise.
"Yes, all day."
"That's ridiculous," his father said, staring back down to his food. "You left us here with no car and no idea where you were. Did you enjoy yourself?" Richard looked to the table and back up at him again. "I really hope you did, we all had a grand time here worrying about you!" His father shook his head and sighed sharply. "Damn it Daniel, do you ever think of anyone other than yourself?"
"Go to hell!" Daniel shouted, standing up. "I hate you and I hate how you all treat me!"
"Daniel Brookson!" his mother said spitefully.
His father was wide eyed and his mouth slightly hung open. The look on his face made it seem as if he would scream in rage and burst into tears at the same instant. Daniel shoved his chair aside and stormed upstairs to his room, slamming the door behind him.
Daniel lay in his bed for the longest time, staring at the ceiling. In this time he wished he had a better life, a better home. He wished he had a better family; a family that was interesting and fun. Daniel wished they treated him right. He stared at the ceiling, studying the countless swirls of blue paint. He jumped when he heard the door creak open. It was Caleb.
"Danny, do you hate me?" Caleb said, playing with his shirt innocently.
"I'm sorry if I ever was bad to you."
"Caleb, you didn't do anything wrong and I'm not mad at you," said Daniel laying back down in his bed.
Caleb stood in the doorway of his room saying nothing, playing with his shirt still, then he spoke after a long silence. "Hey Danny want to play a game? We could find a fun board game or something to do."
"Caleb, I'm busy."
"You don't look busy.".
"Well, I'm thinking, so I can't do anything right now."
"What are you thinking about, Danny?"
Daniel groaned, annoyed by the pestering of the child. "I'm thinking about private stuff."
"You can trust me, Danny."
"Caleb, I trust you."
"Danny, please can you play a game?" said Caleb, clasping his hands together.
"No, Caleb! Get out of my room!" Daniel screamed at him.
"Get out!" Daniel said louder, cutting the boy's words off.
Caleb shuffled sadly out of the room and closed Daniel's door. Daniel took a deep breath and cherished the quietness that came after Caleb's departure, the same sort of quietness he felt in the car earlier. The peaceful quietness, that one fleeting moment where he didn't have to worry about anything. Daniel closed his eyes, his body went limp and he relaxed. He drifted quickly into a deep slumber, this long day was finally over.
"Daniel, wake up. Get up Dan, come on you got school today," a voice said. Daniel opened his eyes and knew it was his mother. He groaned, still tired, still wanting sleep. His mother paced silently out of his room. Daniel peeled back the sheets and swung his legs over the bed, just as he did every morning. He stood slowly, stretched, rubbed the crust from the corners of his eyes. He went to the bathroom, brushed his teeth, showered, rubbed on deodorant, and sprayed on a bit of cologne. It was his daily ritual, it was always so much more tiring to him, but when he was finished, he felt attractive and more energized.
The cereal swirled around in the bowl as Daniel pushed it along with his spoon, the milk took on the color of the chocolate crisps. Daniel noticed his breathing felt heavy and unusual.
I'm just tired, he thought, resting his head in his spare hand as he took a bite of the cereal. Then he noticed the time. Seven o' clock in the morning, school started at seven-thirty. Daniel got up, pulled his book bag over his shoulder and left his home without saying a word to anyone in his family. Not even Caleb.
The school was two blocks down the street, in the opposite direction of Brittany's house. Daniel walked to school almost every day, he rarely drove.
Daniel turned around when he got to the sidewalk to see if Brittany was outside, they both usually walked to school together and their first class this year was the same. They had eleventh grade English for their first period. He waited for Brittany, feeling exposed and awkward standing on the sidewalk all by himself. Daniel waited a long time, but Brittany never came and he wasn't planning on being late to his first class on his first day at his new school. Daniel walked on without her, thinking she was just sick or too nervous to show up for the first day of school.
Daniel walked into the classroom, and took a seat at the back of the room, where he had usually preferred to be. The room was a pale green color, rows of gray desks lined the center of the room, a whiteboard at the front, the teacher's desk in the back. Daniel looked back to the teacher. The teacher was a woman, young and fit. She had long brown hair, unnaturally tanned skin, and tired brown eyes. Her face was smooth, and her nose pointed sharply; she wore small brown glasses. She looked very intelligent. The teacher watched as the students filed into the classroom sluggishly, Daniel watched as well.
A short blonde haired girl walked in, he knew her from his old school but he wasn't familiar with her. Her name was Samantha. She seemed very shy, only looking at the floor. After her a heavy set boy with thick brown hair came in, two skinny blonde girls followed him. They couldn't stop talking to save their lives. Following the two girls was a tall, athletic looking young man. He had short brown hair, firm muscles and a hard face, which reminded Daniel of his father's face. Four more students filed into the room, none were very notable or outstanding, just kids. The whole class was seated, Daniel looked around and found that he knew no one in this class other than the shy girl. It was a small class, there were only nine students.
"Good morning, everyone," the teacher said, standing in front of the class. "I'm Mrs. Beaver." Some of the kids in the classroom laughed and smiled, Mrs. Beaver smiled back as if taking part in the humor of her own last name. "I'm new to this school so I'm not familiar with any of you, but I hope I can get your names memorized and we can do well and learn some cool stuff this year. I'd like to get everyone introduced so I'll start with myself. I've been an English teacher for three years. I served in the military before I started teaching. Uh, I love books and movies, so we'll be watching quite a few films in here." She stopped and pointed to the shy blonde haired girl that was seated in the front row in the right corner of the room. "You start. Tell us your name, your age, and what you'd like to do when you graduate."
Daniel stared at the girl, interested in what such a quiet person would say when they had to say something. She spoke quietly.
Mrs. Beaver glanced at the floor and licked her lips awkwardly. "Okay, we'll move around the room counter-clockwise."
The rest of the students introduced themselves slowly in the order specified, the athletic boy wanted to be a professional golfer, the two talkative girls wanted to work in cosmetics. The large boy wanted to direct movies, one kid wanted to be a writer, another wanted to be a video game designer. Nothing interesting really.
Daniel's mind was elsewhere, he was thinking of Brittany, and why she had acted so strangely yesterday. Maybe he had done something wrong, maybe he said something offensive. Perhaps he didn't show enough enthusiasm or something of that sort.
"You in the back," the teacher said to Daniel, catching him by surprise. "Introduce yourself."
Daniel realized he had zoned out and jumped when she called his name, a few of the kids smiled, but nothing was said. "I'm Daniel... I'm seventeen years old." The classroom stared expectantly at him. "I don't really know what I want to be honestly."
"Well surely there's something that interests you," Mrs. Beaver said, laughing a bit.
"Not really, I don't care what happens to me in the future," Daniel said.
"Well that's fine, not all of us have found our passion yet."
Then the door to the classroom opened, a tall boy with brown hair and dark, nervous eyes walked in. "Sorry I'm late," he said. The classroom eyed the new boy and the teacher curiously, anticipating what Mrs. Beaver would do about his conspicuous tardiness.
"Sit down, I'm guessing you don't have a reason for being late," Mrs. Beaver said with her arms crossed.
The boy ignored her and took a seat next to Daniel. Daniel felt uneasy about the new kid sitting next to him when there were so many other seats open, but he made no mention of it.
"Now that you're here, introduce yourself to the class," said Mrs. Beaver to the boy, raising her eyebrows expectantly.
The young man gave a careless, annoyed sigh. "I'm Troy."
"Tell us what you'd like to do when you graduate, Troy."
"Graduate? I want to sell crack!" Troy said, laughing with an amused look on his face, a few of the kids chuckled at his joke. Daniel found his sense of humor to be lacking and shallow. Mrs. Beaver didn't appreciate the joke either, gazing at him disappointedly with her arms still crossed.
"I see a bright future for you. You're going places, son," she said and grinned facetiously. The class hummed with hushed laughter a bit more.
She began telling the class the rules, what to do and not to do in the classroom. She rambled on about her expectations. Daniel didn't listen, he had heard it so many times before. He was never a trouble maker. The thought of yesterday's events couldn't seem to escape his consciousness. Daniel then noticed that Troy was staring at him, Daniel looked back towards the boy.
"What's up, dude?" Troy said, staring at Daniel, as if sizing him up. Looking for weakness.
"Nothing," Daniel said, wrinkling his eyebrows in slight confusion at the peculiar young man. After a long silence, he slowly turned his head forward.
The rest of his school day was quite uneventful, it all played out just like his first class did: new students, new teachers, introductions, rules. It was all the same thing. Daniel didn't think of much school on his first day, just of Brittany.
During his final class, Algebra II, he thought for once of his family. That maybe he overreacted towards his father's comment.
No, Daniel thought. I was right, he thought, I deserve freedom! They have no right to tell me what I can and can't do; I'm an adult, pretty much. I should have more power.
The final bell rang and Daniel managed to get through the halls without getting his shoulder bumped into very much. Two kids almost got in a fight on his way out; the school staff had to break it up.
Daniel was feeling tired: tired of life at the moment, tired of people, tired of the way they are. Daniel thought about summer. It was a great summer, the best he'd had in a while. He wished it weren't over. Daniel walked slowly through the school parking lot and onto the sidewalk that would lead him to his home, it had been a long and boring day. He wanted it to be over, then Daniel saw something out of the corner of his eye.
It was Brittany. She was across the street waiting outside a small diner, Daniel took a step into the street. A car whizzed past and Daniel jumped back in surprise. That car could have hit him.
"Idiot!" Daniel shouted. He looked back to Brittany, she was smiling now, but not at him... she smiled at a strange boy approaching her. Daniel winced to see better. It was Troy.
Daniel stopped and backed up onto the sidewalk. His mouth opened a bit and he stared, wondering what was going on. He froze. Brittany smiled at Troy, he came up to her and smiled back. They talked to each other for a few moments, Daniel could not hear their words. Then they kissed.
Daniel's world froze that very instant. There was nothing but himself and the kiss. It felt as if his heart had sunken into a deep, bottomless pit. A dark painful place where he'd never get it back again. The pain he felt deep in his chest was indescribable, it was petrifying. Tears seeped from his warm eyes and run down his cheeks, the back of his throat burned because he wanted to cry out so badly. He stood there for the longest time, aware of nothing other than the pain, but then he felt something else surge upwards through his bones and veins, right into his heart. It was anger. It was hate.
He walked swiftly across the street, still aware of nothing other than all the rage, sorrow, and anguish welling up inside him. It was all growing larger, begging for release. He opened the diner door very slowly and stepped inside. Daniel looked at Brittany and Troy with teary, red eyes. Troy and Brittany were seated in a booth, Brittany's back to Daniel. Troy stared at him, confused as to why the young man was glaring towards him with tears in his eyes. Brittany noticed that Troy was looking behind her, she turned around and saw him.
There was absolute silence in the diner, everyone's eyes were on Daniel. No one knew what was going on except for Brittany and Daniel.
"Daniel," she stuttered.
"You know this guy?" Troy asked, looking at her in disbelief.
"I... I don't, I mean," Brittany stuttered.
"She's my girlfriend," Daniel said.
Troy stood up and stared at Daniel silently, a look of shock on his own face now. Then they both stared back to Brittany. "You cheated on me?" Troy said.
Brittany's own eyes began to be filled with a slight film of tears,
"I'm sorry," she said in a quiet voice.
Daniel walked out of the diner, dazed and confused. He didn't know what to say and it was impossible to bear her presence anymore. He heard the door open behind him as Troy left her as well and walked the opposite way. Everyone in the diner went back to their business, eyeing Brittany as she sat alone crying.
Daniel stood in front of his bathroom mirror. He had locked the door and turned on the bathtub water; it slowly filled with warm fluid. Daniel stared at himself in the mirror, gazing into the eyes of the false replication of himself that the mirror created. Daniel felt hideous, stupid, betrayed, and most of all cheated. Cheated out of a life of happiness and out of love. He thought that maybe it was all his fault, that he was guilty of doing something wrong or hurting her in some irreparable way. His life felt like it was over. There was no depth or romance. Nothing to look forward to now.
Daniel undressed and slid into the warm bathwater slowly, it eased his muscles and relaxed him. Although the sorrow was still inside him, renewing its strength with every beat of his heart. Daniel closed his eyes, hoping it would go away but he knew it never would. It felt like an everlasting burden.
The next two weeks were hell for Daniel; his life felt shallow. As if all the color had faded away, he lost interest in everything. His family, his grades, his social life, himself. Everything was slipping between his fingers. Daniel was losing it all. He lost faith in everything. Every moment that passed by was dreadful for Daniel, he wished everything would just end. He felt like everything was falling apart in his life, that all the good things were over. Daniel was disgusted by people at his school, how they treated one another and talked to one another.
There were fights and arguments on a daily basis. No one cared about anyone other than themselves. Daniel never saw the good in anything, he couldn't see it because goodness was beyond his understanding now. He felt the good was gone in his life. No one talked to him, not a single person cared about his tired eyes, his silence in every class. People didn't worry about how he was doing and Daniel knew that, he knew it very well. His few closest friends had stopped talking to him; Daniel felt cut off from everything, his only company in life was the sorrow that consumed his spirit every single day. All this pain was starting to get the best of him.
The date is October third. Daniel walked slowly to school this morning as he did every morning. A walk that he wished he didn't have to make every day. Brittany still had not talked to him or even apologized, despite the fact that she lived seven houses down from his own. She never even said she was sorry for all the pain she had caused, never showed any remorse for all the time Daniel had wasted on her, all the money, all the tears, everything wasted.
"Good morning," Mrs. Beaver said to the class, now assembled in front of her, everyone but Troy. "We'll be watching the movie about the short story we finished today."
Daniel stared off into space, not listening to her, exactly as he had done for the past weeks. His mind was numb, no longer thinking, only staring into the empty beyond and letting his blank conscious control his vision. The classroom lights flicked off and the movie started, Daniel rested his head in his crossed arms on the table and tried to sleep. Suddenly, just as he felt sleep come to him, he felt a tap on the shoulder. He looked up to see Mrs. Beaver.
"Come here," she said.
He and Mrs. Beaver both walked outside the classroom door and Mrs. Beaver stood next to it. She closed the door as he stepped out behind her quietly and faced her. Mrs. Beaver took in a deep breath and exhaled sharply.
"You need to start paying attention in my class, Brookson," she said.
"Call me Daniel."
"You need to start doing something other than sleeping and ignoring me, Daniel. Otherwise, you're going to fail."
"I'm tired," said Daniel, looking at the floor.
"Tired as in?"
Daniel stared through her and into space once again. "I'm tired of everything."
Mrs. Beaver looked at him thoughtfully, but she said nothing. She thought of what he said and truly worried about what was going on with Daniel. He stood there silently staring at the ground. Daniel thought she didn't care, and he didn't care either. No one cared.
"Maybe you should talk to someone," Mrs. Beaver said.
"Medicine never helped anyone," Daniel retorted.
"You should talk to someone Dan."
"No one cares."
Mrs. Beaver didn't know what to say, she opened the classroom door again quietly and Daniel slowly walked back to his desk, where he slept the rest of the class.
"Daniel, supper's ready!" Katherine yelled up the stairs to Daniel, who was napping. Sleep had become a bad habit with Daniel, it was his way to cope with life. To forget it.
Daniel slowly got up and came downstairs to the kitchen to find his family all assembled around the kitchen table. He found on the table a homemade pizza, Caleb was happy to see it. Mother's homemade pizza was such a treat to the little boy. Nobody else's pizza was as good as hers in Caleb's eyes. Daniel walked over and took a piece, then he turned to leave.
"Daniel," his father said. "You sit down and eat with us."
"I don't feel like it, Dad."
"It's been so long since you've eaten with us or have even spoken to us, it's time to stop being so ignorant, Daniel. I know she left you but you can't just give up on us! We're your family, you will always have your family, Dan."
"Please just leave me alone, Dad."
His father stared at him for the longest time with a look of genuine heartbreak in his eyes and then Daniel went upstairs.
"Honey," said Richard. "I have to go for a little bit. Just for now." Richard got up from the table and put on his old, worn out camouflage jacket and got the car keys. "Don't worry about me, okay?"
"Okay babe... just be careful," his wife said uneasily, knowing she couldn't argue with this particular decision.
Daniel threw his pizza away, he had no appetite for such rich food. He only wanted a glass of water. He wrapped himself in his sheets and closed his eyes, letting the worries of the world drift away in the back of his troubled consciousness; letting fatigue take over.
He was woken up as quickly as he had fallen asleep. It was his mother shaking him, tears in her eyes. He glanced at his clock, it was a few minutes after midnight. "Sweetie get up. Get up, Daniel, we have to go. We have to go now." His mom shook him harder.
Daniel was so tired. "Oh what is it, Mom?"
"Something's happened Danny, we have to go now!"
Daniel obediently got up from his bed and got dressed. His mother ran downstairs crying. Daniel followed her, wondering what was going on. Nothing made sense at the moment and no one told him what was happening. His mother took his arm and Caleb's and led them both outside, still sobbing. Outside was Grandmother in her car with a worried expression on her face; they all got inside and took of quickly.
"Mom, what's going on?" asked Daniel as the car sped down the road.
His mother sobbed more intensely. "Your father's been in a car accident, Danny, the doctors said it's bad and they don't know if he'll make it."
Daniel didn't know what to say. He felt numb, there was nothing. This had to be a joke. This couldn't be happening. Things like this only happened to others, not to him. It was impossible.
They stopped the car in the hospital's parking lot and walked hastily inside, where a nurse led them to the emergency room which held Richard. The nurse walked quickly down the long, white hallway. Pictures hung on the pure white walls which sprouted from the long, green-tinted floors. The looming ceiling lights flashed by as Daniel and his family practically ran down the hallway towards the sign that read Emergency Room. The nurse pushed the large emergency room doors open. Daniel and his family walked in... and he saw his father.
Richard was hooked up to all different kinds of medical equipment, needles, and tanks. Almost his entire body was bloody. There were nurses and doctors all around him, trying to keep his vital signs at normal levels. Daniel had no idea what the numbers on the screen meant. His world froze again. It was so different, so horrifying to see his father like that. To see someone he had known his entire life so close to death, and he knew beyond a doubt that his father was indeed very close to death.
His mother's emotions exploded, she cried out in terrible anguish. In pain greater than anyone could ever inflict on another human being. Daniel felt it too. It was shock, sadness, horror, and disbelief all in one single emotion that was like no other. Worse than the most awful injury he had ever had. Worse than being cheated on. It was the fear of death, the death of one who was so dear. So close.
"We're losing him!" one of the uniformed nurses cried.
Daniel still stared in astonishment and shock at what took place in front of him. What the doctors were doing was all a blur, all he could see was his father's unconscious face, bloody and gasping for air.
Then he heard it, that awful sound. There was a clear light at the top of the monitor, it flashed a solid red color and whined a constant alarm. The doctors put a defibrillator to Richards chest.
His body jumped. No response.
The whine continued. The doctors tried so hard to keep his body alive... but light still glared red. The ringing still sounded and despite all the efforts made, Richard's breathing did not continue again. His body did not move. Richard's heart stopped. Everything ground to a halt, like a machine slowly shutting down. Daniel lost his father.
Daniel stared at his father's corpse. His mother ran forward, pushing the doctors aside. Caleb cried loudly and screamed for his father. His frail grandmother followed slowly behind her, crying out with his mother. Katherine sobbed and stroked Richard's hair, begging for her lover not to leave. Daniel just stood there... all the sounds in the room, all the crying, skidding of shoes on the floor, all the talk... it all faded. All he could hear was the constant whine of the machine. His father was dead, it was real. He really died and Daniel could hardly believe it. The pain was excruciating, no longer could he bear to stay still.
Daniel shoved the huge doors open and ran out of the room. He sprinted down the halls of the hospital, shoving people aside, tears running down his face. He ran outside of the hospital and through the parking lot as fast as his legs would carry him. He dashed blindly through the street and into a large meadow. Running and running until his legs could no longer support his frail body. Daniel's knees gave way and he collapsed in the meadow all alone. He laid there in the grass and cried, letting his emotions pour over his reasoning. Daniel had no idea what to do, he just wanted to take it all back. All the cruel, heartless, selfish things he had ever said to his father.
"God," he cried, looking up to the sky. "God! Help me! Help me please God! I need you!"
Then he was silent, staring into the dark sky, the stars shining down at him. Daniel was down on his knees in the large field, surrounded by unkempt grass that flowered and grew wildly. The full moon doused his face in all it's pale light. There was no answer. No sign.
"God! Why would you do this to me?" Daniel screamed to the sky as loudly as he could. "Don't you care? Don't you love me, God?"
There was still no reply, the heavens never poured open, there was no answer for Daniel's torment, no love. There was just Daniel in the field all alone screaming at the sky.
"Give him back you bastard!" he yelled angrily and as loudly as he could. "Give him back you life-ruining asshole! You can have anything you want! Take me, just give him back! Let me see him! You can't do this to me, not now!"
Daniel screamed as loudly as he could at the sparkling stars above him until his throat felt like acid had run through it and he lost his voice.
Then he stayed there quietly, laying down in the grass. His sad world was once again completely silent and devoid of feeling.
Daniel closed his eyes, thinking to himself, I want to die. I truly want nothing more than death now. It was the clearest, most truthful though he'd had in a long, long time.
In the silence that encircled him, Daniel suddenly heard something. It was quiet but he recognized it. It was the low hum of a moving train. He knew where he was. There were train tracks in his city, they ran through the large meadow in which he was laying. He played near them so often as a child, he knew the way to the tracks like the back of his hand. Daniel slowly rose up on his weak, exhausted legs and began to limp slowly towards the tracks.
He stumbled as his right foot hit the edge of the train tracks, he stepped over the metal strip and stood on the train tracks themselves. He could see it now. It was very, very close. This is what he wanted, Daniel wanted to die. This was his answer; this was the only thing that felt he could do with his life now. It was the only thing that felt right.
The dark silhouette of the train roared as it came closer to him. He lifted his arms at his sides and looked to the gleaming stars in the sky through his misty eyes and in that loud instant, Daniel died.
There was white everywhere; it was a powerful, lucid light. It seemed as if it stretched forever. Then the whiteness began to drift upward, and seep through the ground. It was dissipating quickly and the world was being revealed.
Daniel's eyes focused hard on his surroundings as the white haze dispersed. He was standing on the train tracks in the meadow. In the same spot he stood when the train came. He looked around, the trees were dark, their silhouettes dividing themselves from the sky. The stars were still so far above, twinkling down brightly.
It was as if nothing had happened, nothing at all. Why am I not dead? Daniel questioned, why am I still here? He walked slowly through the meadow, cloaked in the dark veil of the night, he walked back towards his home. He knew of no other place to go, nothing to do.
Daniel walked through the meadow and into the forest behind his home. It was a path he had taken many times before when he was young. Daniel raised his hands and pushed aside branches and plants, following the clear trail that went through the woods. It was cleared by himself, by all the different occasions when he'd trampled it down as a child, going to and from the meadow. Leaves slid across his face and dark trees towered over him as he weaved through the trail farther and farther, he saw the lights of his home in the distance.
Daniel stepped over a fallen log and into his back yard, his home was quiet. Daniel paced silently to his back door, opened it slowly and stepped inside, making sure the door closed silently behind him.
He walked through the laundry room and into the kitchen, where he saw his little brother and his mother holding each other, crying. Daniel felt like he was going to cry, but no tears came, just a sore feeling in the back of his throat and a soul-crushing sorrow.
"Mom, Caleb, are you guys okay?" Daniel asked solemnly. They both cried together, ignoring his question. "Mom? Can you hear me?"
His mother and little Caleb just cried, as if he had never said anything. Daniel knew they must have been hurting so badly, perhaps it was best that he didn't say anything. Daniel turned away, ready to retire to his room where he would spend the evening taking in what had just happened. Then he heard a knock at the front door.
Daniel turned his head, and his mother got up from hugging Caleb to go answer the door. She walked past Daniel towards the front door without speaking to him or even looking at him. She opened the door slowly, and she began talking to a man. Daniel walked closer to see and he saw that his mother was talking to a police officer. He listened closely, intrigued at the reason for the officer's presence there.
"Yes, sir, is it Daniel?" Katherine asked in a quivering voice.
"Um, yes it's about Daniel," the uniformed man said.
Daniel was puzzled. What did I do? Did they see me?
"Did you find him, officer?"
Daniel was confused, "Mom I'm right here!"
"Yes we found him Mrs. Brookson," the officer said looking at Katherine with sympathetic eyes.
"He's been gone for days! Where is he? Show him to me," she cried.
"Ma'am he's... not here anymore," the man continued sadly, looking at Daniel's mother with pity in his eyes. "We found remains on the railroad tracks near the hospital. They were Daniel's."
Katherine fell to her knees and cried. Daniel watched in disbelief as Caleb began crying on the floor next to him. He touched Caleb on the shoulder, he felt Caleb shiver and sob, but Caleb didn't respond to his touch. It was as if Caleb was unaware that anyone was touching him at all. Daniel was shocked; he raised his hands and studied them thoroughly. They were different, the veins that were always in his hands were gone. He felt his skin and it was softer. Daniel was so confused, so caught up in the chaos of the news of his death, the crying, the disbelief. Suddenly, Daniel felt something behind him, he felt a presence.
Daniel turned around to see the eyes that he felt gazing at him, he saw the monster behind him and fell backwards. The beast was enormous, it was eight feet tall. The thing's head looked like the skull of a wolf, the bone a tinted white. It was attached to a robotic body by a thick mechanical neck. He could not see much of the thing's machine body because it was dressed in a brown cloak with loose, flowing sleeves and a large hood. Daniel felt the creature staring at him, though it had no eyes. He felt it look at him and study him thoroughly.
Daniel fell onto his back, fear and shock racing through his mind. The thing continued to study him silently. Daniel didn't know what to do, he just lay there wondering what would the thing intended to do to him, wondering what was going on. The creature opened its mechanical hand and moved slowly towards Daniel, as if trying to shake his hand. Then the beast spoke in a very strange, ominous tone without opening its skeletal mouth. It's voice sounded like two voices speaking the same thing at the same time. It sounded like a drawn out whisper and a deep growl that occurred simultaneously in perfect, eerie unison.
"Walk with me," it spoke very slowly.
Daniel was shocked, this monstrosity actually spoke to him. It was intelligent, it could think, and it wanted to take Daniel's hand. He couldn't speak, only stare at the thing silently. It stood absolutely still, continuing to hold out it's hand. Then Daniel felt a strange urge to just do it. To take the thing's hand.
Daniel rose to his feet slowly, the beast still studied him carefully with its metallic hand outstretched. Daniel gradually found the courage and slipped his hand into the beast's hand. It's hand was very cold, but it was as gentle as that of a woman. Daniel felt that the thing possessed a strong power of some kind, it didn't feel like physical power, but something else. He dared not resist its tender grasp on his hand.
"What are you?" Daniel spoke in a shaky, fearful voice.
The thing just stared at him. Daniel suddenly remembered where he was. He looked around for his mother and Caleb, but he found himself in a strange place. Daniel wasn't in his house anymore, Caleb and his mother were gone.
He was now in a meadow. There were bright yellow and purple flowers speckled across the grass covered earth as far as his eyes could see. In the far distance, farther than Daniel could ever imagine, were enormous mountains with clean, pure snow spread across their peaks and with thousands of luscious, rich trees at their bases. The sky was white and misty and a comfortable breeze spread across the beautiful, open landscape. Daniel could feel it move across the contours of his face.
Daniel looked back to the thing that still held his hand. He asked the only question that he could at the moment. "Am I dead?"
The thing looked at him pitifully, Daniel felt that it was in a great deal of pain. Not physical pain, but a greater pain than Daniel could ever conceive. He felt the thing was burdened heavily with something.
It spoke again in a gentle, yet ominous voice. "Yes, Daniel, you are dead."
Daniel was shocked, he looked around. "Is this heaven?" The creature shook its head in response. "Then where am I?"
"We are in The Beyond, Daniel," the monster said to him. "I control this place. Everything you see is created by me, everything you see is controlled by me. This is your beyond, Daniel. This place is meant for you and I am meant for you. Everything you see and will see is for you."
Daniel looked around, taking in the beauty of the world that this monster had made. "This place is meant for me, everything is for me? Why?" Daniel questioned.
"It's purpose is to show you things Daniel, my purpose is to help you understand these things and accompany you on your journey."
"What things? What journey?"
"Anything pertaining to the world that you left behind, my child. And you will learn of our journey was we complete it. We have many things to see."
"What are you?"
The thing tilted its head slightly. "I am the Cartographer. I forge the map that we'll travel." The Cartographer began to walk forward, holding Daniel's hand. "We can talk more as we go along, Daniel, but now we must travel."
"Why are we traveling?" Daniel asked.
The Cartographer did not reply, he simply continued to walk onward, leading Daniel. They walked through the meadow slowly towards a distant forest, Daniel had nothing but questions going through his mind, but he refrained from asking. He didn't want to upset the entity or delay their traveling.
There seemed to be no obvious destination, which made Daniel wonder where they were traveling. Why were they going there? What was he gong to be shown? Daniel had nothing but questions on his mind, he worried about his family, friends, his life. Everything seemed to cross his mind at one point or another along this long walk.
The Cartographer led him into the woods and they stopped by a lake. They had walked a long way, but Daniel felt no fatigue, no shortness of breath. "What time is it?" Daniel asked the Cartographer.
"There is no time here, Daniel."
Daniel wondered about that statement for a while, trying to comprehend it, as the Cartographer released his hand and walked over to the shore of a large lake where he gazed into its waters. Daniel walked next to the Cartographer and stared into the gentle waters lapping at their feet as well. Only in this moment did Daniel realize that he was completely barefoot, he looked down to realize he was wearing nothing more than a white shirt with long sleeves and plain gray pants. Daniel had no idea how he was in these clothes, but the question as to why seemed so trivial to him at this point that he didn't pay much attention to it. Instead, he looked into the water with the Cartographer.
"What are you looking at, Cartographer?" asked Daniel.
The Cartographer looked at him. Strangely, the Cartographer seemed to be able to convey emotion even though it could only turn its head, the skull that was its face couldn't move. Daniel felt that it stared at him expectantly, he looked back into the water and saw his reflection and it moved without his own movement to catalyze it. His reflection in the water opened its arms and motioned towards Daniel, beckoning him to come. Without warning, the Cartographer pushed Daniel forcefully forward and he fell into the water.
The cool water swept across Daniel's body and he felt the water become very cold. He was aware of the feeling that he was sinking deeper into the water, but Daniel did not feel any fear. The water was not violent or painful, it was smooth and cool. It calmed him deeply, Daniel enjoyed the freezing water over him and the sinking.
Then a dark, black cloud surrounded him and the cold went away. He was miraculously dry as if he'd never had a drop of water touch him, it was the strangest sensation he'd ever experienced.
The black shroud disappeared and Daniel found himself in his girlfriend's bedroom. He knew it instantly; Daniel recognized the pink walls. The bed with the golden flowers woven into it. Her large, white dresser and her small television that sat on the floor. Daniel knew it very well. Brittany was lying on her bed with the phone to her ear.
"Brittany?" Daniel asked.
"She cannot hear you," the Cartographer said.
Daniel jumped, surprised that the Cartographer was next to him the whole time. Daniel looked to Brittany laying on her bed and laughing on the phone. "Cartographer," he asked softly. "Is this real?"
"Yes. This is the past, my child. This is a vision of something that has already taken place. Some of the things you will see are in the past and they are very real, but they are only visions. I've chosen to show this particular moment of the past for you first; the people you speak to can't hear you. No one can now."
Daniel looked back to Brittany, she laughed on the phone. "Yeah," she laughed. "He's so dull sometimes. Like, I wish he were more fun to be around you know? He's too sweet, I want a bad boy sometimes. I know that sounds wrong, but I mean it's just how I am." Brittany laughed with her friend on the phone. "I mean he's not the greatest in bed either! I just don't want to dump him is all."
"She speaks of you, Daniel," the Cartographer said to him quietly.
"What? That's ridiculous! She can't say those things about me, it's completely wrong! I'm not always nice!" screamed Daniel. "What's her problem? Why is she doing this?"
"She was not disappointed with you at all, Daniel, she has been lying to her friend this whole time. She is simply bored of you. She's foolish and young, she has no idea what she wants yet."
"How do you know that?" Daniel asked the Cartographer angrily.
The Cartographer replied calmly. "I know everything there is to know of your life, Daniel."
The door to Brittany's bedroom opened suddenly. Brittany smiled, hung up her phone and looked to her bedroom door as it opened. Daniel and the Cartographer looked as well. The door opened slowly and Troy walked in the room with a joyful smile on his face. Daniel stared in anger as Troy stood in front of Brittany.
"Hey, babe," Brittany said, getting up and kissing Troy.
Daniel felt his heart sink. It hurt him so much to see Brittany kiss Troy again. Daniel couldn't bear to watch his love kiss another man anymore, he looked at the ground as a tear trickled down his nose. The Cartographer rested his gentle, bionic hand on Daniel's shoulder.
"I can't," Daniel replied.
"Look," the Cartographer repeated in a gentle tone, as if speaking to a young child. "You must see everything I show you, child."
Daniel raised his head, the tears now falling down his blushed cheeks. Brittany held onto Troy and they gazed into each others eyes. The love they had was so genuine, so real. Daniel could feel it, it was the same way Brittany looked at him. It was wrong, he felt it was so very wrong that she had done that.
"Could you forgive her, Daniel?" the Cartographer asked him as they watched the two hold each other. "Could you ever find it within your soul to forgive her for the awful things she has done? For the mistakes she had made? Could you give her a chance to live without guilt and sadness at the expense of your own thirst for revenge?"
"I could never forgive her," said Daniel in a quivering voice.
"If you cannot forgive, then I must teach you." the Cartographer said, taking his hand off Daniel's shoulder.
The room began to spin wildly, Daniel did not feel dizzy though and the Cartographer stood quietly next to him. The room whirled around faster and faster, the whole world spun and then it began to slow down. When the spinning stopped, Daniel and the Cartographer were standing outside the diner where Daniel had seen Brittany kiss Troy for the first time.
Daniel watched as Brittany kissed Troy right next to himself and the Cartographer in front of the diner all over again, he still felt the heart-crushing pain that he did when he first saw it. He looked across the street to see himself standing there watching it, just as before.
"Is that me?" Daniel asked in amazement.
"Yes," the Cartographer said. "Remember that this is the past, Daniel, and you were here."
Daniel nodded and watched his past self storm into the diner, tears running down his face. The Cartographer and Daniel walked through the door and into the diner. They stood quietly next to Daniel's past self, watching.
Everything happened just as it had before. Daniel and the Cartographer watched as Daniel's past self and Troy's past self left the diner and they then turned their attention to Brittany, now sobbing all by herself. She cried there for the longest time. People dining in the place watched her with hateful, disappointed expressions on their faces. Daniel actually felt sorry for her, even though she had done him wrong.
The Cartographer could sense Daniel's feelings, it caused the Cartographer to feel something he had not felt for longer than he could remember: emotion. The Cartographer felt great pity for the young boy. His life was truly over, and the Cartographer had to cause him this sort of pain. This is necessary, the Cartographer thought, shaking away the odd sensation.
Brittany then got up from the diner quietly and walked home. Daniel and the Cartographer followed her past figure, not speaking a word. Daniel was curious as to where Brittany went after the event that had just occurred. Brittany walked down the familiar path to her home and went up to her bedroom and fell on the floor, where she burst into tears.
"I'm a slut," she sobbed. "What was I thinking? Lying to Danny like that."
The Cartographer looked at Daniel sadly and spoke. "Go to her, Daniel, and pluck a single hair from the top of her head."
Daniel stood idly, confused for a moment, but reluctantly did as he was told. He walked over to Brittany's shaking body and pulled a single hair from her head, Brittany's past self was completely unaware this had happened and did not acknowledge it whatsoever.
"Now bring the hair to me," the Cartographer said.
Daniel walked over to the Cartographer and held the hair in front of him quietly, curious as to what the Cartographer's intentions were. Then the Cartographer took the hair and dropped it into a vial which he had taken from a pocket in his cloak. He swirled the hair around in the small vial and Daniel watched it dissolve slowly.
"Tilt your head back," the Cartographer instructed.
Daniel did so and observed the Cartographer pour the cool, numbing fluid in the vial over his forehead. Daniel looked back to the Cartographer. Then, very quickly, he saw everything from Brittany's eyes. He saw the first time she met Troy, the kiss, he saw Troy and himself leave her alone in the diner. He felt a very strong sense of regret and sadness. It was all the regret and pain Brittany had carried throughout the ordeal. And then, every emotion of sadness and pain Brittany had ever felt flowed through his own perception and he felt it so clearly, as if they were his own emotions. It was so awful to bear.
"Make this stop, Cartographer!" he cried.
The Cartographer rested his hand tenderly on Daniel's shoulder and Brittany's feelings stopped coursing through him.
"I had to make you see, Daniel. You're not the only person who felt pain in that cold world." Daniel stared in awe at the Cartographer, he could feel that the Cartographer was in a great deal of pain himself.
"Cartographer, are you hurting?" Daniel asked him sincerely.
The Cartographer was surprised, no one had ever been aware of the incredible burden he carried. "Yes," the Cartographer said in a quiet whisper. "I am in much pain."
The Cartographer suddenly felt that he should not have spoken of it in the first place. "We must move on."
Daniel noticed that a tiny piece of the floor had come loose and it began to float miraculously upwards... then it burst into a tiny flame and was gone. Slowly, small pieces of the room began to rise up and disappear in the same way. Then the whole world around Daniel rose up in tiny pieces and burst into flame. There was only white around them, nothing but pure white.
Then Daniel blinked and he was once again in Brittany's bedroom. Brittany was sitting at the foot of her bed crying, she held a picture in her hands. Daniel knew what it was immediately from the way it was colored and worn. It was a small photo he had given to her before they had started dating. It was so long ago. Daniel felt a tear run down his cheek and he listened closely to her sobbing.
"This took place after you died," the Cartographer whispered to Daniel.
"I'm sorry," Brittany cried to the picture. "I'm so sorry I hurt you, I'm so sorry I did this to you. I wish you were here so I could say sorry." Brittany began to cry harder. "I just wish I could see you one more time, Danny. I'm so, so sorry."
Daniel sat next to her, even though he knew that this was a past projection and Brittany was not aware of him at all. Daniel looked to her with tears in his own eyes.
"I forgive you. Please don't worry about me anymore."
The Cartographer watched silently, but inside the Cartographer felt like crying as well. He had been leading people through visions of the lives they once had for so long, but the Cartographer had never felt the way he felt now about Daniel. The Cartographer genuinely felt empathy for the young boy.
The Cartographer held his hand out to Daniel. "Walk with me."
Daniel took the Cartographer's hand, still gazing at the projection of Brittany through teary eyes. Daniel didn't want to see her in so much pain, despite all the lies she had told to him. Despite everything she did to break his spirits, he couldn't stand to see her so filled with guilt and regret. Just because she had given into her feelings, just because she had made a mistake. No matter how much it hurt him.
"We can't leave her," Daniel said.
"You've already abandoned her, Daniel. We must go."
"I wouldn't do that."
"You died. You did do that," the Cartographer said sternly.
Daniel lowered his head. "Take me where you must. Cartographer."
The Cartographer looked at Daniel closely. Daniel stared back and noticed that a great light was shining behind the Cartographer. The light was inconceivably bright, it encompassed everything in it's wake so that the light was all that could be seen.
"This journey is going to be hard, Daniel. You will experience pain like you never have before; the pain of knowledge and truth," the Cartographer said in the great light.
The light gleamed so brightly that Daniel could not see anything, but the brilliant light did not hurt or burn his eyes. There was no pain in this world. Daniel gazed into it in awe, wondering what it was and where it was coming from.
"Walk into the light, Daniel," the Cartographer's voice whispered all around him. "Believe in me."
Daniel walked forward slowly, he stumbled, having no sense of balance or direction. He walked into the brightest point of the vivid light, giving his faith entirely to the Cartographer, believing that he would be led where it was best for him to be.
Then the light faded away, it floated off like a great mist. Daniel was standing on the old bike path behind his home again. "Why have you taken me here?"
The Cartographer stood in front of him. "To show you more, child." The Cartographer began to walk with Daniel down the path. Everything was just the same as Daniel remembered it. The path cut the woods in half, the trees stood tall and watched over them both, the air smelled of crisp morning grass and moist soil. White clouds streaked across the pale blue sky, moving slowly. Daniel smiled at the sky, which seemed to smile back in it's own special way. The Cartographer watched and envied the feeling of amazement and beauty. The Cartographer had seen so many beautiful things that nothing was truly able to impress or bewilder him anymore, nothing moved his cold consciousness or spoke to his restless spirit. Yet there was something about Daniel that had felt so different from all the other souls he had traveled with, something so genuine and good; but the Cartographer could not comprehend what it was.
Daniel heard something down the bike path as they walked, it sounded like children playing. Daniel winced to see ahead and saw what looked like four children standing ahead of them.
"Who are they, Cartographer?'
"I will take you to them," the Cartographer said.
They walked forward and Daniel found that it was little Caleb with three of his friends. Each of the children held long, thin sticks in their plump little hands. There was a little girl with gleaming blonde hair. Her complexion was pale and her smile innocent and blushed. There were also two other boys, they seemed to be brothers. The boys both had dark brown hair. They had dark eyes, crooked teeth, and bright red lips. The three children couldn't be any older than seven years.
Daniel sighed deeply. He knew Caleb couldn't hear him, but Daniel spoke to him anyway, just so that he felt Caleb was listening to him. "Caleb... can you hear me buddy?"
"These things are only visions of the past, Daniel, he is not aware of your presence. Caleb cannot hear you."
Daniel watched Caleb sadly, the little boy appeared to be upset about something as he talked to his three friends.
"I tried my bestest to get Danny to play with us today," Caleb said softly to his friends, staring at the ground in shame. Daniel could see that Caleb's eyes were red from crying. "I asked him and asked him and asked him until he got mad at me. But Danny said he was going outside to play with his friend today. So he can't play Viking Wars with us today."
"But Viking Wars ain't no fun without Daniel!" the girl said loudly.
Daniel frowned and felt a wave of guilt spread across his heart, he remembered this day. He had played a silly game of "Viking Wars" with the little children and Caleb the day before. They all loved his company so much and they made him promise that he would return the next day with foam swords from the store so they could all have a better imaginary battle with one another. Daniel had enjoyed that time with Caleb so much. He felt so awful when Caleb came to ask him about playing with the children the next day. Daniel had yelled at him and called the young boy a brat. Caleb wanted to play with him so badly and Daniel carelessly waved him off so that he could spend time with his girlfriend, who ended up lying to him anyway.
Daniel felt the Cartographer gazing at him disappointingly. "I didn't know it meant so much to him," Daniel whispered, staring at his brother sympathetically.
"That's because you never thought about how Caleb felt. You never thought for one moment that your little brother was hurt by your actions. You were careless, Daniel," the Cartographer said sternly to him.
Daniel felt his eyes water slightly as he watched Caleb stand in front of his friends, he began to understand how Caleb felt. "I'm sorry, Caleb," Daniel said, looking to the side. He was no longer able to bear seeing his little brother's heart so broken.
"Watch! You must see." the Cartographer said loudly and deeply.
Daniel reluctantly turned his head and found that he wasn't on the bike trail in the middle of the woods anymore. He was on a playground, he knew this playground. He'd been to the school so many times to pick Caleb up and bring him home. It was the playground at Caleb's school. He had shared many fond moments with Caleb here, but that was so long ago when they were both very young, since before Caleb even was in school.
He looked around carefully and saw that it was obviously recess time at Caleb's school. All sorts of young children ran around, playing on the swings and the monkey bars. Chasing one another, being young, enjoying themselves as all young people did in their lives. It was summertime, dandelions grew all over and it felt so warm with the sun shining brightly over the wide playground.
The Cartographer pointed towards a swing set nearby and Daniel followed his guidance to find Caleb. The little boy was sitting on the swing all alone. Caleb stared at the ground and steadied himself on the swing with one arm, swaying slowly back and forth.
"Why is he all alone? Why isn't he playing with the other children?" Daniel asked.
"This was a time when he was new to the school and he did not know the others," said the Cartographer.
Daniel watched the sad little boy swing gently. Something was wrong with Caleb, he had never acted like this around Daniel. "Why has he never been like this around me?"
"Because you were his hero, Daniel. The boy saw nothing but the best in you and you meant everything to him. You enriched his life, no matter how you treated him. That's because Caleb loved you despite your many flaws," the Cartographer said.
Daniel felt his heart sink. His little brother, who was barely six years old, knew more about how to treat others than Daniel had known his entire life.
His sad thought was interrupted as he heard a group of boys snicker behind the swing that Caleb was on. The Cartographer led Daniel next to the group of boys so that they could hear their quiet chatter.
"I double-dog dare you to go push that boy off the swings, Brandon," one of the boys said to his fat friend.
"I infinity dare you to do it!" the heavyset boy retorted with his arms crossed.
The other boy responded confidently with a smug, childlike look on his face. "Well, I ain't scared to do it, watch me!" Then the boy stomped up behind Caleb and pushed him hard out of his swing and ran away laughing.
Daniel instinctively ran to Caleb's side. Caleb began to cry, squinting his eyes as glittering tears streamed down his face. Daniel laid his hand on Caleb's back, although he knew that it was only a vision and this past projection of Caleb could not feel his touch or hear his words. Little Caleb lifted his hands from the mulch and cried harder as he watched his small hands bleed.
Daniel got up and stood. "What a cruel thing to do," he said with watery eyes.
"People in the world don't think of one another, my child," the Cartographer said to him softly. "They can be so thoughtless and cruel. No one ever thinks of how their actions can affect those around them; even small things like the cuts on a child's hands or the crushing loneliness that he feels every day. The teachers didn't care that Caleb had no one. The troublesome boys hurt him only to make themselves feel better and more accomplished in the eyes of their peers. Those down below on that distant world don't think of anyone but themselves... because it's inconvenient for them. Because they only think of their own wants and needs."
"I wish I could have been here to hold him," Daniel said looking at the ground.
"Yet you refuse to be there when your brother needed you the most? When he needed a playmate, or just someone to talk to? What difference would it make to be here for this one event, if you have neglected Caleb and rejected his pleas for companionship so often? You would do no good at all, my child." said the Cartographer.
Daniel thought very hard about what the Cartographer had just told him as the great light came once again. Daniel welcomed it. He wanted to leave this place, this journey was becoming a nightmare to him. Fear grew inside him, fear that these travels and visions would never cease. The light consumed Daniel and the Cartographer, it encircled everything in its glory and erased it from perception.
The light perished slowly once again, seeping away into the air and sinking into the ground. Daniel looked around slowly and found he was in a dark room. On closer observance, he saw a small television which gave a dim glow across the room. He was in a living room, in it there were two couches, a coffee table, and the television projecting a baseball game. In the chair in front of the television, there was a heavyset man sitting down.
"What is this place?" asked Daniel.
"You will see in time, child." the Cartographer said.
The heavyset man shifted slightly in his chair and dropped a bottle of beer on the floor. The pungent smell spread into the air as the fluid seeped into the carpet. Daniel and the Cartographer were both behind the chair, so they couldn't see the man's face clearly. Daniel took slow, timid steps forward in order to see the man better.
The man in the chair suddenly belched. "Richard! Come here, boy!" he said in drunken, slurred words.
"Richard?" said Daniel.
"You never met your grandfather, Daniel?" the Cartographer questioned.
"No. He passed away a year before I was born."
"You're meeting him for the first time, Daniel."
"This man is my grandfather?" asked Daniel.
"Yes. Now watch."
Daniel obediently turned his head back to the drunken man. He leaned to the left towards a staircase. "Richard Brookson! Get your ass down here now!" he demanded.
Daniel heard footsteps tap on the stairs and saw his father emerge into the room as the light of the television revealed his face. He was young, only thirteen or fourteen years old obviously.
"That is your father as a child, Daniel. This is a vision of the distant past; his past," the Cartographer said as he crossed his arms.
"Dad," Daniel said softly, reaching out to his young father.
The old man spoke to the youthful vision of Richard in a drunken, enraged voice. "When I call your name, you come! You don't sit up stairs and play with yourself, you come when I call you!"
Daniel watched in horror and pity as his drunken grandfather yelled in Richard's face. The old man degraded his father and called him awful names. Daniel would never have known that his father was raised like this.
"Dad, I was just a little bit busy," said Richard.
Daniel watched the drunken man throw a bottle of beer against the wall in absolute fury. "Are you trying to be smart with me, boy? Because I'm smarter than you, I know what's going on. You think you're funny? It's funny to mess with Dad and take your sweet time just to piss him off, isn't it?" he screamed. "I raised you all by myself since before you could wipe your own ass! You could at least come when I call! You disrespectful punk!"
Daniel felt tears trickle down his cheek as he watched his father cry while being berated. Richard had never told Daniel of these things. In fact, Daniel knew almost nothing of his father's childhood.
Richard suddenly yelled at the old man. "Shut up! You don't even know me!"
Richard's father stood in his face silently, his mouth agape in astonishment at what his son had just said. He looked as if he would explode in anger. Veins rose in his head and neck. Suddenly, the drunken man swung hard at Richard and knocked him back into the wall. Richard raised his arms to shield his face as his father continued to swing over and over at his head.
Daniel froze in horror as he watched this past moment of his father's life happening. Richard's father continued to swing his fist down on Richard until blood spattered against the stairs.
"Stop!" said Daniel in desperation. "I can't watch this!"
The Cartographer waved his metallic hand and everything paused. The past vision was frozen in place. Daniel watched his bloody-nosed father with teary eyes. "I had no idea," he said.
"I know," said the Cartographer. "People aren't aware of the suffering that others endure. It's impossible to know right?"
"I guess so."
"Wrong!" said the Cartographer harshly. "It is not impossible to know the suffering of another. It is hard, but not impossible. It's hard to reach out to them, Daniel. It's hard to care, sacrifice, and dedicate yourself to anther human being, because it is... inconvenient, isn't it?"
"You're right, Cartographer." said Daniel quietly.
The Cartographer reached to Daniel and grasped his chin gently. Daniel did not resist, knowing that there was a reason for this odd action. The Cartographer slowly lifted Daniel's chin so that Daniel looked to the ceiling. Then the Cartographer lowered his head and Daniel saw that he was in his home.
"This is your home a few weeks after you were born, child," said the Cartographer. "Come. Follow me."
The Cartographer took Daniel's hand and walked him into his own bedroom. The door opened on it's own to allow the Cartographer and Daniel to walk inside. Daniel looked around, observing his past room closely. The walls were pale blue and there were ponies and clouds painted on his wall. In the corner of the room there was a crib where a baby was sleeping. Next to the crib, sitting in a chair, was Daniel's father. Richard looked into the crib with tears in his eyes.
"What is this?" asked Daniel.
"Listen." said the Cartographer, resting his hand on Daniel's shoulder.
Daniel looked forward. His father was staring into the crib at an infant which squirmed around and cooed softly. Richard's eyes were filled with tears and a passionate smile was spread across his bony face.
"Hey, Daniel," said Richard. "You need to get to sleep." Richard sighed deeply and more tears came down his cheeks. "Daniel, you're one of the only good things that have happened in my life. I want you to know that. And I want you to know that I love you so very much. I'm going to take care of you the best I can and I'm going to always try to be there for you. I will never leave you."
Daniel watched and felt so much love. He felt the love that his father had for him, Daniel felt all the love that he had never been able to see or even imagine before. He felt warm tears grow in his eyes as his father continued to speak to the baby, which Daniel now knew was himself seventeen years ago.
"Daniel, I'm going to do my very best to raise you into a respectful, kind, and good man. I'm going to work hard and lead by example," Richard said. Then he took in a deep breath and looked up. "God, if you can hear me, please understand what I say and answer my prayer. Just... let me do this right. Don't let me mess this up."
The Cartographer stared at Daniel as he cried in front of the emotional scene. "Do you see it, Daniel? Do you feel it?"
"I do," said Daniel in a quivering voice.
"It is love, Daniel. It is pure, undying love. Love that will never perish or fade, despite anything that will ever happen. It is the love and care that a Father feels for his child."
"I love you." said Daniel, touching his father's shoulder, although he knew that this was only a vision and it meant nothing.
"Richard loved you, Daniel, he loved you more than you could ever imagine. And in your life, you neglected to see that love. Even though it was all around you wherever you went, like a shadow. Despite all the suffering and abuse Richard had endured throughout his own childhood, he chose to do his best to make your life better than his could ever be. He chose to rise above the evil and the hatred in the world in order to give the gift of a better life. Richard chose to give this to you, my child. And you neglected to see it. You neglected to care while your father was doing all this for you. All you did was hurt him."
"I was blind! I was a fool, Cartographer! I didn't know!" Daniel said desperately.
"Was it so hard to think of those other than yourself?"
Daniel fell to his knees and cried next to his father who had fallen asleep next to the crib. "Dad, I'm so sorry! I'm so stupid! I should have been better to you, I should have listened to you, and I should have loved you just the way you loved me! Please believe me, please let me love you again."
"What's done is done," said the Cartographer. "There is no going back."
The blinding light descended upon them and once more enveloped everything within existence. Daniel screamed and cried as his father faded away.
"Come back, Dad! Come back!"
Daniel watched the blinding light vanish as it did before and it unveiled his new world. Daniel was on an enormous black mountain. The stone that the humongous black mountain was made of was like black glass, as if volcanic. He was on a great cliff that protruded from the side of the mountain, it overlooked a vast landscape covered in smaller mountains and gray mist. The sky was dark and it thundered as it began to rain down on Daniel. This place was dark and gloomy, Daniel felt it was a very significant place though. Daniel looked up, letting the rain tap all over his face softly.
"This is where I reside," the Cartographer said.
Daniel turned around quickly in surprise. He had become so caught up in the scenery of this new landscape that he had forgotten about his companion. "What is this place?" Daniel asked uneasily.
The Cartographer's empty eye sockets and the contours of his face were veiled in a dark shadow from his hood. He spoke slowly. "This is where I watch the world, Daniel." The Cartographer walked beside him and motioned to the vast, misty landscape that stretched below them, below the looming black mountain.
"How do you watch the whole world? I don't see anything out there, Cartographer," Daniel said peering into the horizon.
Daniel did as he was told and continued to study the landscape for any sign of change. Then he saw it, it happened slowly and steadily. The mist that shrouded the mountains below him changed. It's color changed and the fog below formed an enormous image. Daniel knew this picture, it was an image of his mother and Caleb at an amusement park they went to a year ago. Daniel smiled softly, remembering that very moment. Caleb was only five years old then. He was afraid of all the roller coasters, but he loved the little train ride. He went on it five times.
"This is amazing," Daniel said.
"It can show so much good, Daniel," the Cartographer said to him.
The clouds began to shift and show a moving image. It depicted Daniel's fifteenth birthday. It showed Daniel sitting at the kitchen table smiling brightly at his father who lit the candles on his cake. Daniel watched his past self blow out the candles and laugh with his family. Daniel felt his eyes water again. How he longed to be with his entire family just one more time.
The vast vapors shifted and changed color again, this time forming a rainbow. The mist continued to change, it rapidly flickered in color and shape from image to image. Each image that flashed by revealed a joyful moment in Daniel's life: his first kiss, playing with his friends as a young boy, Brittany, his mother, his father, Caleb, snow days, laughter, and so forth. All this flashed by so quickly, yet Daniel recognized each one and it warmed his spirit.
"Are you God?" Daniel asked the Cartographer as he watched the clouds with tears of joy in his eyes.
"No," the Cartographer replied in a low voice. "I am not a God, I am a spirit. My only purpose is to teach you, Daniel."
Daniel turned back to the pleasant memories that flickered in the mist below. The Cartographer felt such a wonderful joy inside as well, it felt good to bring such happiness to a lost soul. He could sense that Daniel's soul was very lost. The Cartographer thought very hard about the trait that Daniel's soul possessed that set him aside from every other spirit he had taken through The Beyond. The Cartographer watched tears of joy trickle down Daniel's cheek as the young boy gazed into the wonderful memories and the Cartographer suddenly knew one trait set him apart. It was honesty.
The Cartographer suddenly shook the thought away. This boy had taken his own life and caused so much suffering among those who existed around him. The Cartographer knew it was his role to teach him what his actions had caused.
The Cartographer waved his hand and the flickering pleasantry instantly stopped and he spoke to Daniel.
"Those were the fruits of your life. The things that made your life rich and beautiful."
"It was beautiful," Daniel said.
"You wasted it, Daniel," the Cartographer said in a menacing voice. "You ruined your whole life, it's all your fault. You carelessly hurt those around you. You're a thief, a thief of happiness."
The Cartographer waved his hand once more and the mist below began to project dark images. They showed Caleb crying in his mother's arms, Brittany holding the worn picture of Daniel, Mrs. Beaver crying with her classroom of students at the news of Daniel's death, the shocked faces of his beloved friends hearing the news of his passing, his father dying in front of him.
Daniel hung his head in shame as the words sunk in and cried as he watched the images in the landscape below. "Could I ever go back, Cartographer?"
"No! You can never go back, Daniel, your action was of the highest severity. You've ruined lives by doing what you've done and I will make you realize this," the Cartographer said harshly.
"Please," Daniel begged. "I've learned, Cartographer! I know what I've done wrong! Please don't show me anymore of these visions. I can't take all the pain, it's too much. It's too much, Cartographer!"
"I'm sorry, Daniel," the Cartographer said gently, leaning in close to him. "I cannot spare you from realizing the suffering you've caused. Go to the edge of the cliff, my child, and jump off."
"But, Cartographer, I'm only human and I will fall," Daniel said fearfully.
"No, Daniel, you won't fall. You will see further, now go and jump down."
Daniel stood at the edge of the great, black cliff and looked below. It seemed the ground was infinitely far away. Fear welled in Daniel's mind and he faltered, stepping back.
"Trust me," the Cartographer whispered.
Daniel closed his eyes and took a deep breath, he felt his fear ease away. This left only apprehension of what was to come in its place. Daniel stepped forward and fell down. Everything went dark.
Daniel slowly opened his eyes. He was alive. He looked down at his spiritual body in amazement, he had not perished by the fall. His spirit was still intact. He looked around and found he was in his front yard. He looked up and observed his house. It was gloomy in appearance, but Daniel did not know why. The sky was dark and gray, thunder sounded in the far distance and rain once again fell in a light drizzle.
The Cartographer stood next to him without making the slightest sound as usual. "This is the present, Daniel. The things you see are happening right now on Earth, in the world you left behind. Those who are on Earth cannot see us or feel us, they are completely unaware of our presence here in their world. This is not a vision, Daniel, the things you will see are actually happening."
Daniel jumped to his feet at hearing this news and ran to his front door. He tried to open it, but instead his hand went through the door as if he wasn't solid or physical at all. Daniel cautiously walked right through the door and into his beloved home. The place where he'd grown up his entire life. He breathed in deeply and felt the warm sensation of being back home, but he felt the Cartographer eyeing him. Daniel looked beside him and of course his companion was there.
"Follow me," the Cartographer whispered.
The Cartographer walked slowly with Daniel at his side through the empty living room and to Caleb's bedroom. The Cartographer stopped outside Caleb's bedroom door and looked at Daniel expectantly, nodding his skeletal head towards the door. Daniel apprehensively walked forward and passed through the door. Caleb's room was dim, only his little lamp gave light to his small room. Daniel looked around and saw that the place was quite messy, old toys were scattered all across the floor.
Daniel sighed deeply, seeing little Caleb sitting at his desk. The lamp on his desk shown down on him, revealing that Caleb was scribbling something on paper.
"Go, Daniel, see what the boy writes," the Cartographer said, standing next to the door.
Daniel steadily stepped forward toward Caleb. As he came closer, he could hear Caleb sniffing. Daniel knew that his lovely, innocent little brother was crying softly as he scratched his pencil on the paper. Daniel stood behind his little brother and peered dreadfully over Caleb's shoulder. He saw that Caleb's tiny tears dripped on a piece of cheap lined paper. On this paper, Daniel saw that his little Caleb was writing a letter.
- Dear Danny,
- I hope your feeling happy today in heven danny. I am feeling very sad since you left me and mommy. Mom says you went far far far away from us to go see jesus and the angles and that you are in a better place now were you are happy! mom is always rite so i beleved that she told me the truth.
- Mommy makes me go to a man too times every week. She said the man is a sykolojist and he is gona help me because you arnt here any more danny. The sykolojist tells me to write letters to you whenever i feel sad about you not liveng with me no more. the sykolojist is a very smart man. that's what momma told me. Sometimes I feel better when I write the letters to you danny. Mom told that you can read them in heven and that yur always with me wen I feel sad or scard. Momma said that you will never ever leev me danny and I know you wont because you love me right? i know that you can read my letters danny because mom says that you are in heven and so do the peple at church and they sed that you see me all the time. They say your watching over me evry day and making sure that nobody will ever hurt me. They are very smart so I beleve them. Danny I realy really really miss you. I am very sad heer without you. I wish I could have you back because I feel so lonely all the time. I miss playing games and going outside with you danny.
- I hope you can rite me a lettr back sumtime and I can have it to reed and save for when im lonely later. I love you so so much danny and I know you love me too just like jesus loves all the peple In the whole wide world. I miss you danny and mom says im gonna see you agan. I cant wait danny, I sure cant becus I hate being here without you. I love you dany
Daniel fell to his knees and cried with his face cupped in his palms. He had taken so much away from Caleb, the innocent little boy whose life hadn't even truly begun yet. The child who could only see the best in those who were so flawed. Daniel had stolen Caleb's big brother from him and he knew it. Daniel cried for the longest time, wanting nothing more than to hold his little brother one last time. Nothing more than to ease Caleb of his suffering. Daniel screamed and reached out to his brother. His arms went straight through Caleb's body as he tried to take the boy in his arms. Caleb was completely unaware, the young boy crossed his arms on the table and rested his head on them. Daniel's heart broke further as he heard poor Caleb sob softly.
"Cartographer!" Daniel cried out. "I can't do this anymore! I can go no farther! This suffering is killing me!"
The Cartographer stood by the door and spoke to Daniel in his ominous voice. "You are already dead, Daniel! You're dead and you must see this!"
Daniel stood on his weak legs and walked away from his crying little brother. "I'm so sorry, Caleb. I'm sorry I did this to you." The Cartographer and Daniel walked out of the room, leaving Caleb alone to sob. The child never even knew they were there.
The Cartographer led Daniel to the stairwell that led to his mother's bedroom. Daniel looked up the dark hallway, the wooden stairs seemed fierce and intimidating to him now. The vast darkness that emanated from the top of the staircase seemed to call Daniel to walk up into its depths.
"You must face this darkness," the Cartographer said softly to Daniel.
Daniel nodded and walked slowly up the stairs. Each step felt as if it took immense strength to complete, the journey up to the bedroom was a dreadful and horrifying to Daniel. He reached the top of the staircase and looked at the door to his mother's bedroom.
"I don't think I can do this, Cartographer," he said with fear in his voice, looking to the Cartographer.
"You can, Daniel, go now."
Daniel looked back to the door and stepped forward slowly passing right through the door. His mother's room was dark just as Caleb's was, only a few lamps lit the room with a dim luminescence. Across his mother's desk, where her television and drawers were, there were photos of himself and his father all over. Daniel looked on the floor and saw that more pictures of he and his father were scattered across the floor. His mother sat alone at the edge of her large mattress. She was looking down at a photograph of Daniel as a boy at the age of three. Daniel could hear his mother crying softly just the same as he had heard Caleb before.
Daniel felt the tears still dripping onto his cheeks slowly as he sat next to his mother on the bed. He tried to put his arm around her, but it was of no use, his arm just passed through her as if it weren't physically there. He wished so badly that his old, sad mother could feel his touch and be reassured by it. Daniel wished that he could fix her broken life and make everything better, that he could renew all the things he had destroyed for her.
If he had been more thoughtful of his father, then maybe Richard would still be there to hold Katherine when she cried like this. Maybe if Daniel wasn't so hurt, he would still be able to put his arm around his mother and his little brother would still have a hero to look up to. Daniel was very aware of these contingencies and the fact that he could do nothing now. He was helpless. It was one of the most terrible feelings he'd ever had. Complete hopelessness. There was no way he could change anything or do anything. What happened was permanent and Daniel had to accept it.
"I just want to say sorry to you so badly right now, Mom," Daniel wept to her, even though she could not hear. "I want to fix this and I want to be your boy again. I'm so sorry I took you for granted, Mom. I'm sorry for everything."
Daniel's mother sobbed with him, her tears falling on the floor under her face. His mother cried louder and reached under a white cloth. Daniel looked in interest through his teary eyes and watched his mother pull a pistol out from under the clean cloth.
"No, Mom, what are you doing?" Daniel cried to her. "Stop, Mom! Stop!"
His mother held the pistol in her left hand and studied it carefully, her tears falling onto the weapon silently. She could not hear Daniel crying out to her to stop what she was doing. To put the gun down.
"I just want to see my loved ones again," his mother said to herself as she cried. She aimed the pistol at the side of her head.
"No! No! Mom, stop it! Stop this, I'm here, Mom. I can hear you! I love you!" Daniel screamed at her with tears streaming down his face. "Don't do this, Mom, please!"
His mother did not hear a word he said, she just cried and held the gun to the left side of her head. Her arms shook in fear.
"Cartographer! Help me! Please!"
The Cartographer shook his head in response. Nothing could be done.
Daniel screamed and wept. He swung his hands wildly at the weapon, wanting so badly to smack it away from his mother's head. His mother exhaled sharply and dropped the pistol, panting wildly. Daniel curled into a fetal position and cried.
"Stop this, Cartographer! End this torment!"
The Cartographer was silent. Inside the Cartographer felt such a veritable pity for the young man. The Cartographer knew he had one last thing to do.
The white light returned and once again it swallowed everything in its path. Daniel screamed in pain, he didn't want to leave his mother. He wanted to go back to Earth. The blinding light dimmed and Daniel saw that he was once again on top of the great black mountain where he had seen the past memories in the mist.
"Our journey is over, Daniel," the Cartographer said to him in a pained voice. "I hope I have been able to make you see how much pain you caused in that single, selfish act on that night."
Daniel stared in horror as the Cartographer spoke to him in this honest, true way. It hurt to hear the truth so badly. Daniel continued to listen with wide, teary eyes.
"Throughout your life, you've neglected those who loved you most. You failed to see what was important to you the most in life. You ignored your lonely mother, you neglected your dependent sibling who needed you so badly. You hurt your father who was only trying to reach out to his lost child. You abandoned your family and your friends. Daniel, there was so much pain that lead to your decision to take your own life... and all that decision did was create so much more pain in the hearts of those closest to you. Your family, your friends, your lover, everyone. You've caused so much pain because you were selfish."
Daniel gazed in shock at the Cartographer standing before him and could only manage to say. "I'm so sorry, Cartographer."
"It's too late for apologies, Daniel. Now I must leave you to your eternal resting place," the Cartographer whispered.
The landscape rumbled and magma exploded into the air all around the dark mountain. Suddenly, two enormous chains rose from the mist that was infinitely far below and each locked around Daniel's arms. Daniel cried hopelessly to the Cartographer as he walked away. The chains slowly began to drag Daniel towards to edge of the cliff.
"Cartographer! You can't do this to me! Come back to me," Daniel cried as the chains slowly dragged him towards the edge of the cliff. "I made a mistake, Cartographer. It's cost me everything, you can't do this to me!"
The Cartographer continued to walk away and Daniel realized that he was doomed to eternity in these chains in the darkness. Daniel thought of everything the Cartographer had said to him during their journey together. He thought of all the people he had hurt in his life and in that one moment of dramatic realization, Daniel found a new purpose.
"Please," Daniel cried softly to the Cartographer. "I made a mistake, please forgive me spirit." The Cartographer stopped when Daniel asked forgiveness and listened to him. "Cartographer, I accept my punishment just, please let me know that you will watch over my family. Please, ease their suffering. This is all I ask."
The chains drug Daniel closer and closer to the edge of the cliff, closer to the black hole that awaited him.
The Cartographer felt something he had not felt in a long time, longer than he could remember. The Cartographer felt love. He felt the love that Daniel had for his family. The feelings inside Daniel rushed over the Cartographer's own soul like a great wave of water, all the feelings of love that Daniel had for his family. All the regret and sorrow the boy had experienced throughout his physical and spiritual life. The Cartographer felt the guilt and the longing for redemption that Daniel wanted so badly, and the second chance to make things right on that cold world Daniel had left. The Cartographer felt the genuine goodness that poured out of Daniel's spirit in that one desperate moment.
The Cartographer, for the first time in his existence, thought for himself. The spirit thought that Daniel was undeserving of such a fate, the Cartographer realized that he could not let such a pure, beautiful soul be consumed by the darkness. No matter how flawed it was or how many mistakes it had made.
Against the laws that controlled the Cartographer, it roared it's first free thought aloud in a voice that sounded different. A voice that sounded like the voices of thousands joined into one, a voice that thundered through time and space. Through the heart and mind.
"You will NOT have him!"
The Cartographer turned around quickly and ran as fast as he could to the boy who was so close to the edge. There was not much time until it was too late to save Daniel. The Cartographer grabbed Daniel's arm with a grip more powerful than any man could ever conceive and pulled against the chains. Daniel slipped off the edge of the cliff and was now suspended in the air between the pull of the chains and the grip of the Cartographer, each fighting for his soul.
The Cartographer was losing strength. The chains dragged down relentlessly, never faltering in their steady pull towards the black hole. The Cartographer strained to keep his grip on Daniel's arm. He couldn't let this happen, the Cartographer could not let Daniels' soul be lost.
With a final surge of passion and strength, the Cartographer drew a long, white sword from inside his robe. And he held it above his head, ready to strike. The Cartographer swung the sword with amazing force on one of the chains and broke it instantly with the force of his blade. The remaining chain broke and fell down into the abyss.
Daniel scrambled back onto the edge of the cliff, gasping in panic. He was so shocked at what had just happened. They both watched as the souls that the broken chains once held were released into the sky and they floated into the light above. Daniel then turned to the Cartographer, lying on the ground next to him.
"Cartographer?" Daniel said in disbelief.
The Cartographer slid onto his back and spoke in a pained voice. "My soul is fading, Daniel, I'm losing my strength. I can feel it slipping away." The Cartographer was in pain, his metallic body broken and worn from what it had just endured. "Thank you, child. Thank you for teaching me what it means to love."
The Cartographer's body twitched and his bony head looked to the sky. The magma that was spewing into the sky halted and crystallized, forming great spires of diamond. All around them, all across the dark mountain, plants and flowers began to bloom and grow. The mist below faded away, Daniel could see that a lush jungle grew across the vast expanse that the fog once shrouded. The skies above shifted from their awful gray tone to a vibrant mixture of pink and yellow clouds, bathed by the sweet light of three warm suns. The wonder of it all was breathtaking.
The Cartographer saw it all. All the beauty sprouting around his dying spirit. The Cartographer knew that the end was coming for him, the end of his own existence, and he accepted it, knowing he had done good.
The Cartographer watched all the love growing in his dark world and the Cartographer felt, for the first time in his existence, amazement. It had never seen anything more wonderful. Then the Cartographer felt a warm light and he felt the light calling his spirit upwards.
Only then did the Cartographer realize, his spirit was not going to fade away. The Cartographer knew that this great light that called him to come upwards was his second chance. This was his forgiveness for breaking the laws and saving one, single soul. The Cartographer felt beauty once more and was ready to be taken to his place of eternal peace; but the Cartographer looked to Daniel and knew he had one last thing to do for Daniel's poor soul. The Cartographer chose that Daniel would not come with him into the peaceful light above.
Daniel watched as the Cartographer lifted his arm and from his arm came the blinding light once more. It consumed everything as far as Daniel's eyes could see and it all faded away.
Daniel opened his eyes... and he found that he was home lying in his bed. His alarm clock was going off, ringing its familiar tune as it did every morning. He heard a lawn mower whining outside his window, which cast its familiar rays of golden morning light on his face. Daniel took in a deep breath. He was home.
He leaped out of his bed and ran to the kitchen where he saw his mother making her morning cup of coffee.
"Morning, sweetie," his mother said in her familiar croaky, yet sweetly sincere voice.
Daniel ran over to her and embraced her to see if she was real... and she was. Daniel's hands no longer faded through her. They could touch her. She was real!
The Cartographer had not only saved Daniel, but he had turned back time in his cruel world and had given Daniel a second chance.
His mother smiled, enjoying the unexpected embrace. "You give such good hugs, Danny," she said to him.
"I love you, Mom."
Daniel's mother went up to her room to get ready for the day after the long embrace from her son, Daniel was glad that he could hear her talking to his father once more and joyful that he could hear Caleb yawning in his bedroom. Daniel made himself a bowl of cereal. He poured a bit of milk into it and sat down at the kitchen table.
Daniel stared into the bowl of cereal thoughtfully. He stirred it around with his spoon very slowly. Daniel understood it now as more than just a bowl of cereal... now it appeared to Daniel as a second chance. A second chance to gain his essence back.