The night had been foggy with shadows lurking in the corners; spirits among the mist. The streets lamps had all dimmed, extinguishing the only comfort for the night walkers who now had to place their trust in the moon to light the way home.
It was like the poster of those vintage horror movies. A cliché ghost town.
It was deep in the night when the police found the body of a young boy, sprawled along the bank of a stream, half submerged in the water. There was blood all over his face, and all over a rock beside him. He was naked, delicate skin left for the harsh winds to do whatever they pleased.
The police looked for sex offenders in the area. It was a logical explanation. Some pedophile had seen the boy and decided that they wanted him. But maybe he had been too much trouble for what he was worth. So they led him to the stream on a dark night where no one would be around, and silenced the young boy.
Perhaps, they had even enjoyed it.
But they never found the boy’s killer.
Then ten years later, to the exact hour of the discovery of the boy’s body. A woman leapt from the balcony of her three-storey house. Her husband found her when he got home from a business trip, laying on the ground with her eyes open, blood oozing from beneath her.
Her blood dyed the swimming pool red.
Just like the young boy’s had dyed the stream red.
The boy’s name had been Julian Hyacinthe.
And the woman’s name had been Lilianna Hyacinthe.
I will let you decide what you will with that information.
“Callum,” Oliver grumbled, pushing me off of him. I rolled my eyes and climbed off the bed, not caring about grabbing a blanket to cover my parts. Oliver was always so insistent for sex to be an emotional thing to strengthen our relationship. “Something’s wrong.”
He rolled onto his side to face me. The moonlight streamed in through the cracks in the blinds, making his tannish copper skin appear as smooth as velvet. Chocolate brown curls fell in front of eyes that glimmered like the dew on fresh moss. His lips were red and swollen from when I had pushed him against the wall, craving the taste of his mouth against mine.
Hence why we were in the bedroom, naked.
“What, my sex game not good enough for you?” I said.
A faint blush coloured Oliver’s freckled cheeks pink. “It’s not that,” he said.
“All right,” I said. “Maybe you can top next time.”
“Something is bothering you, Callum,” Oliver said.
“I don’t have time for you to be my shrink, Oliver,” I said. He was right though. Something was bothering me.
It had come up on the news again. Julian Hyacinthe. How the police were reopening the investigation because new evidence had surfaced. For some reason that made my heart jump around like a frightened rabbit. Most of the time, I could barely feel it beating.
So something was wrong. Very wrong.
“It’s okay, Cal,” Oliver said. “You can talk to me.”
I climbed back into bed, and felt Oliver wrap his strong arms around me. I could feel the defined lines of his muscles. I traced my fingers along the webwork of veins trailing down to his wrist.
“I’ve umm, I’ve been having nightmares,” I admitted.
It was always the same one. A dark night by the stream. Two figures wondered to the water from this small path. They were fighting about something. And it got as heated as ten-year-old arguments could get. Then the boy on the left pushed Julian with all his might.
Julian stumbled, trying to catch onto the other’s boy’s shirt to stop himself from falling. His head collided against a jagged rock, and killed him instantly.
When the boy left, I would walk over to Julian, cradle him in my arms and whisper, “I’m sorry,” over and over.
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” Oliver asked. He pulled me closer until our bodies were entwined beneath the white sheets. He placed a kiss at the base of my neck.
“Because it’s stupid,” I said.
“Nothing that bothers you is ever stupid,” Oliver said.
“Quit being sappy, Oliver,” I said, supressing a sigh. “We should probably go to sleep.” I turned, and gave him a kiss on the lips. He fell asleep within the next five minutes.
I didn’t fall asleep until the alarm beeped that it was three am.
The witching hour.
I drove to my dad’s house the next day because it was the anniversary of my mum’s death. I opened the door to the sound of the tv playing the news. Dad was in the kitchen, chopping an apple. But his eyes were glued to the screen and the knife was only inches from his finger.
I pried it out of his grip before he could cut his finger off. “Oh, Callum.” His shoulders gave a jerk and then a shudder. The uneasiness in his worry lines were hard to miss. He had more grey hairs now, streaked across his head and peppered in his stubble. He gave me the bowl of freshly chopped apples. “I chopped them how you like.”
“Thanks,” I said, dropping my keys on the counter. “I would rather you not be absent of a finger for me.” I bit my lip, as his eyes drifted back to the screen. “What is it, Dad?” I asked.
“Julian,” he replied. “They um, they’re reopening the investigation.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said, thinking about the Julian in my dreams, and the uncomfortable feeling in my chest. I swallowed, placing the apples on the table. “I just need to use the bathroom.”
Dad never moved, even after Mum died. It was a big house. Must be awfully cold and empty living here all by yourself. All three-storeys of it. I used the bathroom on the second floor where the master bedroom was.
I must have been really out of it because I drove my hip right into the corner of the bedside table. I backed away, doubled over, pain coursing through my body for a good few minutes before I could finally stand upright.
The bedside table drawer had been jarred open from my clumsiness. A piece of paper peeked out, marred with unintelligible scribbles. I knew what it was immediately, and my heart sank. Dad had kept it all these years, right beside him as he slept.
My mum’s suicide note.
I shouldn’t have done it. I should have known that ignorance was bliss.
I should never have taken it for granted.
I opened the drawer, brushing my fingers along the crumpled paper, where the ink had made its mark, there to stain it forever. The writing was frantic. Droplets of tears smudged the words and tore the paper in some places where her hand had gone skating past with no regard for the damage it would cause.
I didn’t kill Julian, I swear. But I fear I am losing my mind. He hides in the shadows, waiting to grab me when I am unaware. Take revenge for what happened to him. He was just a boy, his life shouldn’t have ended the way it did.
There was blood everywhere when I got there. He didn’t even look real, I thought he was just a mannequin or something because his skin was so white. Then I saw his dead, dead eyes. It had all been an accident, I refused to believe it was anything otherwise.
I removed his clothing and burnt it because I didn’t want the police to find the DNA, let them to think it was a sex offender. And they did. Looking back, it probably would have been better to have done nothing.
It was a freak accident. But I couldn’t stop the part of me that thought maybe it wasn’t. What if he had seen the rock behind Julian and pushed him intentionally? It made me think and think. I couldn’t stand by and do nothing, not when the police could come knocking on our door to take him away.
I hope you can forgive me. My son had just been killed, and I didn’t want to subject Callum to all of that. Who knows if he did it on purpose or not? Maybe I have been protecting a murderer all along. I can’t do this anymore, keeping all these secrets. I want Callum to lead a normal life, and remember none of it. But I feel myself breaking and I am so worried that I will tell him, and I will ruin him.
I do this for Callum. And perhaps, you will see my dedication to my children and let me reunite with Julian, where I may tell him that I love him.
I dropped the letter the moment I finished reading. I thought about my dream. I was the boy who pushed Julian. I was the one who had felt Julian’s heart beating against his chest for a millisecond before I stopped it altogether.
All those years wondering whether the police would ever find Julian’s killer, with the memory of that night pushed all the way down.
Julian was my brother.
And I killed him.
“Callum,” Dad burst into the room. The look of shock on his face when he saw the note was the only confirmation I needed.
I was dead still, wishing so desperately I could turn back time and make it so I never excused myself to go to the bathroom. That way I would have never bumped my hip against the bedside table and touched what did not belong to me.
“I know what it looks like,” Dad said. “But your mum, she wasn’t well. She had these crazy delusions that sent her into this downward spiral. I should have been there with her that night. It should never have happened.”
I still didn’t say anything. I had my own memory to back it up. Nothing Dad was saying to steer me away from the truth was going to deter me.
Julian was my brother.
And I killed him.
My heart was only faintly beating. I needed to get out of here. This large, empty house where Mum had leapt to her death.
“Callum, let me explain.” Dad tried to grasp onto my sleeve, but I was already halfway out the door.
I snatched my keys from the counter, leaving the bowl of apple slices on the table to rot. Just like Mum and I had left Julian by the stream to rot. I had gone running to her about what happened, and all she said to me was to stay quiet and not say anything to anyone.
So I did.
While she went to strip Julian, burn his clothes, and leave him bleeding and dead.
I drove all the way back to the apartment that Oliver and I shared. We lived on the tenth floor, but I ran all the way up the twenty flights of stairs. I didn’t register the breath being sucked out of my lungs, the sweat dripping down my temples or my heart pumping so, so hard.
But all that caught up with me when I stumbled into the apartment, realising that I couldn’t breathe, and my clothing was clinging onto me like a second layer of skin.
“Cal,” Oliver was curled up on the couch.
I couldn’t breathe, my mind was reeling. I could see Julian bleeding all over the pristine tiles that Oliver had mopped this morning. Oliver was in front of me, saying something that I couldn’t hear. His hands were on my shoulders, and I didn’t know if I was the one shaking or he was the one shaking me.
“Cal, Cal, you’re scaring me,” Oliver said. I finally heard that. I tried to say something, but my voice came out hoarse, not even an exhale of air. “All right, Cal, just breathe with me.” I inhaled, but it was like fire entering my lungs. I was going to spontaneously combust. And the more I thought about it, the more I panicked.
Killers were meant to be calm and methodical. They weren’t meant to have remorse. They were monsters. Was I a monster? I killed my own brother, how could I not have remorse?
I had to tell Oliver.
Mum kept what she had done a secret, and it had killed her.
“I did something bad, Oliver,” I finally managed after more than several moments of hyperventilating.
“It’s okay,” Oliver said. “You can tell me.”
“Can you keep a secret, Oliver?” I asked. “Promise me you won’t tell anyone.” I knew that wasn’t fair on Oliver, but I loved him more than anything in the world. If Oliver was dragged into the depths of hell, I would have begged him to drag me with him. So was it really that much of a wrong that I told him?
I told him everything.
“He was my brother, Oliver,” I said. “I pushed him, he hit his head on that rock, and he died. Then, my mum tried to cover it up. She thought she was protecting me.”
“She was protecting you,” Oliver said. “In a twisted way, I suppose. She had already lost a son, she didn’t want to lose you too.”
“I killed him,” I said.
“No, you didn’t,” Oliver said insistently. “It was an accident. A terrible, terrible accident.”
I fell into his arms, crying and sobbing like I never had before. I clung onto Oliver’s shirt that smelt of his sweet, sweet cologne. He whispered comforting words to me.
“I love you,” I mumbled.
“I love you too,” Oliver replied. “It’s going to be okay.”
That night, I had the same dream. I held Julian’s body in my arms, crying and screaming into the night that it should have been me.
Because if only I had known. I would have done anything to trade places with him. I would have made a deal with the devil.
Anything for Julian to not have dissolved to mere shadows in my mind.