“Watch it, buddy.” There was no friendliness in the stranger’s voice as I accidentally bumped into him. I didn’t care. I stared at the ground and kept walking, stuffing my hands further into my jacket pockets.
Cars whizzed by, and people walked around me, all in a hurry to get to their destination. Not me, though. The sound of a police siren grew and faded in the distance. A dog barked. People on the sidewalk talked loudly on their phones over the traffic. Cars honked. A couple was whispering on a bench, the yellow light from the street lamp spotlighting them for all to see. The moon reflected its light off the skyscrapers, a brilliant white in contrast to the lights in the windows where people worked and lived.
Without thinking about my destination, I stopped at an intersection. I looked over at the crosswalk button, the cold metal staring menacingly at me, daring me to touch it. The street lamp reflected light off the scratched, silver button. The sight of it sent guilt flying through every cell of my body, though I didn’t know why.
Movement in my peripheral vision dragged me back to reality, as a few other people were crossing the street. I joined them, watching the painted lines under my feet. Black, white, black, white, black, white, black--
“Hey, Daniel,” a voice echoed. I stopped, frozen in my tracks. I knew that voice so well. Slowly, I lifted my eyes, settling them on a man who stood about ten feet in front of me. His red, curly hair seemed darker in the night. His green eyes sparkled mischievously as he gave me his signature half smile. He was wearing his favorite green vest over his grey sweater, his hands tucked casually in his jean pockets.
The sounds of the world around me became muffled. “Hey, Daniel,” still echoed all around. I vaguely heard honking in the distance. All I could see was Collin, standing in front of me, with nothing but blurs of light and movement surrounding us.
The honking grew louder and louder until the mute was gone completely. I suddenly became aware that the honking was from a car right next to me. I closed my eyes, shielding them with my hand from the car’s headlights. There were other cars around me, too, honking and drivers cussing at me. I blinked again and shook my head.
“What’s wrong with you? Get out of the road!” I raised my hand to no one in particular as a quick apology, and walked to the sidewalk, as fast as my shaking legs could allow.
As traffic tried to resume its normal activity, I thought about what just happened. I saw Collin. That shouldn’t have been possible.
I had heard Collin. I shook my head again, trying to get the image of his smiling face out of my head. I saw him lying next to a dumpster. I could almost hear his cheerful laugh.
“DANIEL!” I jumped out of my skin at my name. My father’s fiery green eyes stared holes into my head. I stepped back, running into the arm of my couch. “We have been trying to get in touch with you for a week!”
I looked at him, puzzled. “A week? The funeral was two days ago.”
My dad laughed, the empty humor filling the apartment room. “The funeral was over a week ago.” I jumped again, this time in shock. “So, I guess you have been using again, huh?”
“No, no,” I tried to deny, but before I could think of a believable explanation, I saw my father’s strong, grimy hands fishing through my kitchen drawers. He pulled out my stash of empty needles.
My mother stifled a sob and straightened her long, black hair. That was the first time I realized she was there. Even from a distance, I could see my father’s body tense with rage. The large vein in his neck popped as his face turned as red as his hair. I wondered if he would make his favorite suit jacket explode, and I had to stop a hysterical laugh from bursting through my lips.
“Daniel,” my mother looked up at me with her pleading brown eyes, taking my hands in hers. “We love you, no matter what. But . . . we can’t lose--” a lump in her throat stopped her from finishing that sentence.
“Another son,” I whispered, hanging my head as a wave of guilt washed over me. My father relaxed as he slowly walked over to us, pulling all three of us together in a tight hug.
I leaned in to squeeze them tighter, but I stumbled forward. My arms grasped at air, finding no one but myself.
Bright light shone in my eyes, the inside of my eyelids glowing orange. I squeezed my eyes tighter and blocked the light with my hand. I rolled over, opening my eyes a crack. My eyelashes fluttered over my vision as a needle on the side table slowly came into focus. I sighed, pushing myself up. I was on my bed, still fully clothed and sitting on top of my stained, patched quilt. The sunlight mocked my room, putting my dirty clothes, garbage, and dusty surfaces on display.
My parents’ words still echoed in my mind. After they left . . . I don’t know what happened after they left. My memory was foggy, unable to discern between dreams and reality.
A creak from my door startled me. I saw a flash of red hair before I registered the shape of Collin striding in my bedroom door. He looked around and chuckled.
I could only stare at him, frozen. Collin, alive and well, in my apartment, talking to me? I closed my eyes hard, and opened them again. He stared back, with an innocent, almost curious expression in his green eyes.
“How are you here?” I managed to croak.
“Well, that’s not a very nice welcome. You really need to stop, dude.” He nodded towards the needle laying near me.
Something was different about him this time. My eyes drifted down to his torso, where a great red splotch sat on his grey sweater, in between the two sides of his green vest. I tilted my head, trying to understand what it was. He noticed me staring and looked down at himself. “Oh, this old thing?”
“Collin,” my voice shook. “Is that blood?”
“Well, yeah.” He took a hand out of his jean pocket to scratch his freckled nose.
“Why do you have a blood stain on you?”
“You tell me. This is your head after all.”
I groaned, throwing my head into my hands. An image flashed before my eyes, of Collin, lying next to a dumpster. And on his grey sweater . . . something red. But the image was fuzzy. I couldn’t tell where it came from.
My phone rang as the image sprang away as quickly as it came. I picked it up to see my boss was calling me. 7% battery. Notifications of multiple texts, missed calls, and unread emails swam before my eyes. How much time had passed since I’d shown up for work?
I concentrated hard, my head protesting. Collin’s funeral was on the 6th. A memory of him in the casket, his face pale and peaceful, floated in my vision and lingered. He was just resting, I had tried to convince myself. He’ll open his eyes and give me his half smile, like he always did. But his eyes never opened.
Forcing the memory out, I looked at the date on my badly cracked phone. The 15th. I gawked at the screen, trying to turn back time with sheer will.
“I told you,” Collin’s voice became sad. “You have a problem. You need to stop.” I looked up at the voice, but he was gone, my bedroom door closed.
Dragging myself out of bed and into the filthy bathroom, I flipped on the light. Looking into the mirror, I jumped, thinking there was someone else in the bathroom for a millisecond. Beyond the smears and splashes turning the mirror into modern art, there was a face I didn’t recognize. My curly red hair was greasy and mangled, obviously having many bad hair days in a row thanks to my neglect. My green eyes sunk into their sockets, dark with dark circles curved below them. Underneath the dirt, my skin was pale and sickly. My jacket was wrinkled, covered in dried mud and stains. A veil covered my eyes that could only be described as darkness.
“Not going to attract many ladies anytime soon, are you?” His voice didn’t startle me this time. I watched his reflection move next to mine, his cheerful, carefree face as different than mine as night and day.
I clutched the sides of the counter, my knuckles turning white. I forced myself to breathe slowly, closing my eyes, wishing I could unsee my own reflection.
My senses became aware of something cold and hard against my cheek. I lifted my head, cracking my eyes to see the last rays of sunlight streaming through my front window. I pushed myself up until I was sitting on my kitchen tile, shaking the pins and needles from my arms. I wondered how much time had passed, but my body didn’t register time anymore.
I leaned against the closest kitchen cabinet, resting my head against the wood with a small thud. After a while--I don’t know how long--I stood up, despite my legs’ protest. My body wobbled for a moment, and I grabbed the counter top for support. Feeling my hand bump several needles, I opened my usual drawer to throw them in.
A kitchen knife, caked in dried blood, stared back at me amidst the sea of needles. A blurry memory was revived, of me next to a dumpster, holding a bloody knife. The streetlamps reflected yellow light against the cold metal.
My breathing became faster and more panicked. I stepped back from the drawer, bumping into the wall close behind me. I saw Collin’s concerned eyes staring at me, his forehead scrunching together as he studied me. The streetlamps cast sharp shadows across his face and hair.
“Excuse me, sir?” I ignored the woman’s voice, clutching the sides of the railing.
I heard yelling, but couldn’t understand the words. I was angry. Collin was worried. Collin reached for my jacket, trying to remove something from the pocket. My left hand tried to stop him, while my right gripped the handle tightly behind my back.
“Sir, what are you doing?” The voice was more panicked now, but I continued to ignore it.
A flash of silver, and Collin’s sucked in a quick gasp of air. His face froze in a look of shock, fear, pain. Red quickly spread on his grey sweater from his chest.
“Yes, hello, there’s a man on a bridge, it looks like he’s about to jump,” the woman’s voice spoke to someone. Lights randomly flashed before my vision, but I pushed them out, concentrating on Collin.
I looked down, seeing Collin sprawled out next to the alleyway dumpster, red continuing to soak his sweater, making its way to his green vest.
“I-I need to stop seeing him!” I managed to scream, pointing to Collin who put his elbows on the railing to the right of me. I had felt him slowly walk up to me ever since I was on the bridge. Blood dripped from the corners of his lips.
Grateful that I’d finally spoken, the woman calmly asked, “Who do you see?”
The yellow light from the streetlamp reflected off the knife in my hand, now coated with blood. I looked from the knife to Collin, his green eyes empty, staring blankly into the night.
“My brother, Collin,” I panted, his half smile tugging at his bloody lips as we looked over the inky black river together.
“Why do you see your brother?” The woman was undoubtedly confused.
“Yeah, Daniel, why do you see me?” Collin cocked his head, but we both knew the answer already.
My eyes slowly found his. But he wasn’t there. He never was there. “Because,” the words choked in my throat. Collin raised his eyebrows, encouraging me to keep going. “Because, I-I killed him.”