“You’ll never know unless you try.”
She tried to convince herself as she stared into the pills in the container. All of them reflecting ghastly white light in the washroom.
Her legs felt numb as she tangled them together to fit into the small space next to the shower. She didn't want to stand up and look into the mirror and see her own face.
The motions wouldn't be that hard. All she needed to do was to crack open the lid and swallow those little white tablets, like how she swallows the brown marbles in a bubble tea. Except for the difference of being chewy and sweet, the pills would taste bitter and solid.
They might all stuck in the middle of her throat, forming a conglomerate of white goo that is solid in the middle and choke her while screaming the accusation:
"Why did you choose to kill yourself? How dare you? Why? Why? Why?"
She wrestled away the urge to give an answer to that question. All the ones she used to give never came to fruition: parents are cruel or absent, peers bullying, teachers ignored her, racial slurs, mental illness, therapist not working, this medication not working. Nothing worked.
All those answers used to seem so big as they crushed onto her head one by one, but now they barely seemed heavier than a droplet of rain. The only thing that was left was that black hole inside that pumped out despair.
That hole ate away at everything she was - and nothing sufficed its hunger. In the beginning, it only made prey out of the good things she had in life. Like friends, or her enjoyment of reading a book, or drawing, or imagining a fantasy world inside her head. Sooner than later, the scale tipped until all the happiness was digested by the black hole's stomach.
Then, every single little thing in life turned sour. Being rejected from her dream university, having a fight with the only friend she left back home in a foreign land, her visa running out as she reaches adulthood. Nowhere on the map provided an answer on where to go next.
With all that in mind, the black hole took over. It ate away the pain and anxiety and only left the only possibility left. She was destined to be eaten by the hole, too. Because nothing else was left of her, so at least she needed a way to find peace.
"You’ll never know unless you try.” She repeated to herself as she tried to stop her trembling lips. Her hand holding the bottle got closer and closer to her mouth. It might not hurt. It might just be like falling asleep. It might finally be the solution to all of her problems.
"Yes, but have you tried?"
That voice startled her enough that she let out a little yelp. She cracked open the lid and one or two tablets fell through the cracks and hit the floor with little bouncy noises, like the chuckles of a child.
"What the fuck?" The last shambles of her that weren't gobbled down by the black hole exclaimed in shock.
Who could be here at this time? She made sure the timing was correct that no one would be at home except for herself. Plus the washroom lock was locked for a reason. She didn't even hear the turning of a door handle.
"Oh, sorry." The intruder who was now taking up half of the limited space of the washroom apologised quickly. The intruder was a short woman with hair just long enough to be tied into a ponytail, black as the night and soft as silk. She was wearing a white blouse and a brown long skirt, coupled with a beige long jacket.
"Didn't mean to scare you. Was just nervous. Thought I was a few seconds too late and broke the time loop. And, you know, erase my own existence because you really went through with it."
A fashionable burglar, that was the first impression her boggled mind had come up with. Until the intruder tilted her head and looked at her straight in the eyes.
The intruder had the same face as her, only less scratch marks and chapped lips left behind by habits she developed as anxiety grew in her like a paradisical flower.
She'd yell who the fuck are you, but even that required energy. Left with none, she only stared and blinked at the individual that claimed her face.
"Who...what are you?"
The intruder's face glowed under the pale light that was supposed to be her doom. The shape of her face devoid of the last of baby fat and bags grew under her eyes. Her, but a decade older. How is this possible?
"Ah," herself from the future blinked and said. "This is awkward, but judging by the expression on our face, you're already coming to the realisation of who I am."
"My face," she replied instinctually.
"Fair enough," the woman said with a wave of her hand. "It is yours for now. It was mine in the past. So I guess you can claim ownership of it by the definition of the human self being in who one is at the present moment."
She was still startled, but this situation was bizarre enough, even the black hole had stopped its gluttonous consumption and set down listening.
A million questions flew through her mind, only one tumbled out of her mouth in audible words.
"Why do you talk like a mad philosophy professor?"
"Wow, rude." the woman, her future self, whatever she was, exclaimed in indignation.
"Was I such an asshole at this age?" The woman stared at her up and down in a way like a scientist inspecting a dinosaur specimen. "I mean I remember by the end I felt like I won't last much longer, so I might as well push everyone in my life away so it hurt less when the suicide plan sails through...that would explain this."
In spite of everything, she still felt offended by this clear display of judgement.
"What do you mean by this?" She gestured at herself, up and down. Wrinkled clothes, unbrushed hair, tear stained sleeves. Okay, she might be a big sad sack of potatoes that was ready to die, but who the heck did this woman think she was to stand there and judge her. "I can hear you."
"Sorry," the woman bowed with no ounce of regret in her voice. "I forgot that at your age I was sensitive and was still in a mental health shithole. It's funny how our memories select which part of our lives to remember, isn't it? This part was sad, so I just kind of forgot about what you were like."
"Erh, I'm literally standing right here listening to you insult me." She said in a monotone as the black hole ate away the colourful notes of her voice, too. "Apologies not accepted. Also, are you supposed to be like...the future me?"
The woman finally looked up at her as if seeing a person instead of an interesting scientific discovery. "Oh no, I'm just one of the infinite amount of future us. Uses, or is it Us'ses. Fuck the grammar is weird when it comes to different timelines and pluralizing yourself, especially because I study Horology. English is just wrong as a language, I think that's the only thing you and I might agree on. That part hasn't changed, this language is wack when it comes to grammar."
"Horology?" She thought she probably had just lost her mind.
"Yeah," the woman finally seemed to register her slowly crumbling distraught. Her future self's features softened. "Sorry, I forgot. You are in pain, aren't you? I remember us trying to end our life, but I don't remember how the pain actually felt like. A bitter dosage of Chinese medicine grandma used to boil in the pot? Or a crushing mountain of weight that buries you under?"
No one has ever asked her that. Not her parents, not her friends, not even the therapist she saw once a week for a way too expensive fee.
"A black hole," she murmured the answer in a quiet voice. "A black hole that eats everything away."
"Yes," the woman's face contorted, as if someone is stirring the peaceful surface of a lake and trying to reach a fallen coin underneath. "A black hole, that's right."
"So you remember?" She asked with a dulled surprise. Ever since the black hole came by, the whole world swimmed instead of focusing into solid ground. "Then how come you're still here?"
Did she not go through with it? Did this mean she never had the resolve even as she knew this is the only way out? Did this mean she survived somehow, found by one of her family members who pretended to care and panicked? Did this mean awkward hospital visits and questions about why she did it? Did this mean even as she finally finally had the courage to hop out of this life where she screwed up everything, there is still no end to the black hole inside of her?
"No, no, no." Your future self's voice dragged you back out. "No to all those questions that are overwhelming your little brain, past-me. You would have gone through with it, believe me. And you'd die like you wish. The only reason you didn't is because I interfered by creating a time paradox where I show you there is a reason to live on."
"That makes about zero sense," she replied. "No offence, but seeing you as my future is not really convincing enough for me to change my mind."
"Ooof, offence taken." Her future self shook her head in disbelief. "How about you hear me out, kid. I'm not the only possible future self of yours. There are a trillion different timelines that will diverge from here on out, we are all versions of you extending beyond this point of time. I'm just the one from the timeline where you choose to apprentice with a time travelling wizard and the one who stopped you from killing us all."
"Why?" She said, confused. "Also, time travelling wizard?"
"Yeah, I'm the coolest version of your future timelines," she could not believe the woman just winked at her. "But that's beside the point. You won't kill yourself, because that means you'll technically be killing me. And I know part of this whole downward spiral suicidal thought business of ours thought that it's the best way out without hurting anyone. It makes zero sense, back then though, it seemed the only way."
"I would...kill you?" She pointed her finger at the woman, a version of herself that looked polished as if being created by Goddess of Beauty, Venus herself. "If I kill myself?"
"Yes," the woman nodded seriously. She couldn't help but believe her. "All of us. The one where you went back home to Beijing and bought a two bedroom apartment with your girlfriend. The one where you got to do a creative writing degree and eventually publish your book. The one that you got possessed by a supernatural being and now consults ghosts for a living. Me, the one who learned the magic of time travel so that your story doesn't just end here, instead moves on to become something more."
"I can't," she said as the black hole flared up every time your future self spoke of a different future as if you had a future. "This pain is too much. There will only be more and more and more pain and problems. Every time I see hope, something else awful would crush through. I need to end it so I no longer suffer anymore. No more pain. No more black holes."
"I know," the time-travelling woman who was magic and a fashion icon smiled at her. She still could not believe this woman was her, that they were one and the same person. "It might seem impossible to have a future. I'm not going to lie to you. There is more pain that lies ahead, and more problems. We're a bisexual Chinese girl who has chronic mental illness and whose visa is constantly about to expire, in a foreign country where we got bullied growing up, but we grow up here for too long that we feel like our home country would not welcome us anymore. We are kind of right, even, some people weren't so welcoming. We are in-between. We are the anomaly. Nothing will come easy, not for us."
"Why, then?" She didn't realize as tears started streaming down her eyes. She snarled at the woman. She was trying to convince her to live on when promising that this pain would never go away? Unbelievable. "Why should I carry on when I know it's just Hell on the other side? Why should I keep fighting a war I know I'm doomed to lose?"
"Well," your future self let out a sad smile and said. "That you have to find out for yourself. Who knows which version of the timeline of your future self would you step into?"
"That could be nothing," she said. "My future could be the one where there is nothing."
"No, definitely not nothing." the woman shook her head and said. "Because I am still here, which means you didn't go through with killing yourself. Regardless of which timeline you end up on, it wouldn't be the one where there is nothing. If that's the case, then none of the other us would exist. You will live."
"I will live," she repeated those words robotically. She put the container of pills down on the counter. "That one about being possessed by a supernatural entity and consulting ghosts for a living sounds interesting. Will I end up there?"
The woman rolled her eyes as if she could not believe what she had just done. "Seriously? That version of us is seriously messed up. I mean literally, she kind of needs more therapy than you do now."
"You are not a particularly appealing version of where I want to end up in the future, either." She deadpanned. The light of the washroom felt warm, almost like a small sun was just born in this place that almost became her tomb.
"Ha!" The woman laughed loudly before bringing her into a huge bear hug. "Then don't choose to become me, or any of those versions I mentioned earlier. They are all just possible timelines in the future for you. Death is boring, we all know where that road will lead. Future is chaotic and unpredictable. You’ll never know unless you try."
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This is such a great concept. You make some really fun analogies (like a dinosaur specimen, like bubble tea, etc). The last paragraph is particularly strong and hard-hitting.
Really liked all the clever language you used ("Uses, or is it Us'ses") to convey such a complex topic. Good stuff.
Chenchen, This was such a fun (that seems morbid to say) take on the prompt. The witty banter back and forth with one of her future selves is really fun and defiant. As the reader we clearly see that she lives, otherwise why would she be talking to herself? But it's fun all the same to watch her argue it. ** Quick edit if it hasn't been approved yet:They might all stuck in the middle of her throat. Do you mean "They might all get stuck"?? Loved your story!
Disturbing take on this prompt...and I like it! Seems to work like some classic ghost story. Well done!