Fiction Romance Thriller

I am watching through the grimy panes of glass as he stands with his arms crossed before him on the counter. The sun is bright and hot on my back as it sinks toward the horizon, but it sheds light on the churning sea of filth upon these dark windows and my attention is lost in this sea that is incongruent with the rest of the world and does, in fact, appear to churn before my very eyes. 

There is a young girl delivering a slim white box to the counter, and then Sebastian is beaming as he carries our pepperoni pizza to the door, which is also made of glass and churning.

“A hundred and nine,” he says to me as the door swings shut behind him. 

“Wow,” I say. “A hundred and nine? That’s a new record.”

He hands me the box and I open it for him, allowing him to choose the largest slice, and we take one last look at the hundred and nine pizza boxes stacked neatly on the shelves beside the silver ovens before embarking across the empty plaza towards the marina, where the lake is shimmering like diamonds. 

“Well, hundred and eight now,” Sebastian says, and then he is telling me about the craft he made with his reading group at the library today, speaking wetly through mouthfuls of pizza, and I feel grateful that he doesn’t remember the way he cried earlier today, although some other part of me wishes he did. The other boys, Todd and Eli… they aren't Sebastian’s friends, but how am I supposed to make him understand that? It is the duty of a mother and father to pull on the curtains that shroud reality and, by doing so, break their children’s hearts. 

I am not ready to hurt my brother and this, I know, is a problem. 

There are a few men with fishing poles by the steel railing way off to our left. Their voices are weightless to us, meaningless among the kisses of the breeze. Sebastian is already shedding his clothes and preparing to dive into the cold, golden water, and I see now that his teeth are stained with chocolate. Between his bites of pizza, he has been sneaking bites of the KitKat in his pocket. 

Sebastian has always had a love for chocolate. Mom kept him faithfully stocked with his favorite treats and never showed any intent of improving her youngest son’s diet, and this is why the boys at the library call him Shitface, why he hides himself across the room at the circular pink table while the rest of them commune at their blue one.

Of course, you must realize that the perpetual having of chocolate on his teeth isn’t the single reason behind the abnormality and utter separateness of the boy we call Sebastian; there are other contributing factors, but the chocolate doesn’t help. 

I came into the library a few days ago and found him at the pink table, far away from the other boys. He was savoring the last few bites of a Coffee Crisp bar, crunching slowly, admiring all the ripples in the chocolate as the crumbs fell on his lap. 

Mr. Dali pulled me aside before I could speak to my brother. He wanted to discuss Sebastian’s future attendance of the reading group, and whether continuing to send him there would be in his best interest. 

“I can’t afford to send him anywhere else,” I said. “I have to work until five every night; I barely have time to drive him to school in the mornings.”

Mr. Dali motioned for me to sit in the extra swivel chair, and I did.

“Your brother… doesn’t quite fit here.”

“He doesn’t fit anywhere,” I said as Mr. Dali smoothed the wrinkles in his pink and blue button-down. “Look, Mr. Dali, can’t you, like… I don’t know. Can’t you be more present with them? I mean—”

“More present? Do you have any idea how much business this library does?”

I shrugged. “Not a lot.”

“No. Not a lot. I am the owner and the only employee here, and those titles make me a very busy man. I—”

And then I was standing from my chair, letting it turn and roll itself back under the desk. “I don’t have time for this, Mr. Dali.” I started for Sebastian’s table, but then I stopped. “How many responsibilities could you possibly have as a librarian? Are you seriously too busy to offer these kids a half-hour of your time? These boys need… they need structure, they need guidance and instruction, but you’re refusing to give it to them.”

And with that, Sebastian followed me out of the library. 

“Do a penguin dive,” Sebastian says, flashing those chocolatey teeth at me.

I smirk. “You gotta lick the chocolate off your mouth, buddy.”

I ensure his teeth are brushed twice a day—once when we wake up at 6:03 AM for his karate class and once at 9:37 PM when the other alarm goes off, signaling that it is time to begin his nightly routine—so behind this current mask of milky brown filth, they are quite white. Sometimes, when Sebastian forgets to bring a chocolate bar to the library, Mr. Dali says they sparkle. 

But today, right now at 8:38 PM, Sebastian’s teeth are slimy and sweet and brown, and Mr. Dali is across the city, probably locking the library’s front doors and heading home to his wife. 

“I wish every day was the same,” Sebastian says after his teeth have been licked. “Can’t summer last forever?”

I smile and place my hands on my hips as the sinking sun paints me in lurid robes of fire. “You’re not too excited about school, huh?”

He shakes his head and scratches that skull of his, which is decorated with the coarse brown strands of a mop, thick with grease and utterly lacking any form of shampoo or soap.

“If I was fast enough,” he says, turning to admire the sunset with me, “I would swim and catch it before it got away.”

“The sun?”

Sebastian nods fervently. “I would love to hold it.”

I lean with him against the silver railing, my arms on the top as his hands grasp the lower bars. “It’s beautiful, huh?”

“Yeah. It might burn me, though. If I tried to hold it.”

“Hmm,” I muse. “I guess so.”

I am distracted and I hardly notice the recession of the shadows on the wooden planks beneath our feet. I am remembering my encounter with Mr. Dali and his reluctance to establish a proper, friendly environment for his reading group.

And do the words “reading group” even offer an accurate depiction of that strange assembly? Perhaps not, though it certainly cannot be labeled a book club. Members of a book club all read the same book at the same time, but these boys… well, there is no structure to what they do, for most of what they do is wait. They are always waiting to be released, and so they are absent, and so they are bored, and so they are bitter, and so Sebastian has been labeled Shitface and, undoubtedly afraid of all the animosity around the blue table, has stranded himself on a pink island, twelve feet away. 

“Look,” Sebastian says, tugging on my arm. 

I lift my eyes from the rocks that guard the marina against the lake’s turmoil and there, in the sky before us, is a miracle. The shadows are shrinking as the sun reverses its course, and now the heavens have become a stage, so that all the boats are standing still and the fishermen are standing with empty hands, their rods having slipped and fallen at their feet. 

Witness us here, crowding the shore in astonishment, waiting for trumpets to sound, waiting—

And now voices are rising as we fall from our senses because something—everything—is changing. I am breathless, my knuckles white as I hold the railing; none of us can tell what is happening, but we are sure of one thing: it is happening very fast. We have light in our eyes and desire burns as brightly in our hearts, as brightly as the full body of the sun at 8:42 PM, and soon, I sense, we will be like animals. 

I didn’t notice Sebastian leaving my side; all I know is he isn’t here, and whoever’s authority it is that has overruled the passage of time and made the sun as red as roses is guiding me away, along the docks and towards the plaza. There is a hunger in me that has been made desperate and sharp, like the hunger of a shark tracing the scent of blood. 

There are people sprinting past me in both directions and there is a great urgency to all that they do; their voices are like sirens and their limbs are noodles dangling from a fork, flailing as they run and scream and surrender themselves to the force of the miracle in the sky. 

There is blood leaking from the lips of an elderly man who seizes both of my shoulders and shakes me until I shove him away. He stumbles and falls, and not a single soul intervenes as I collapse upon him, punching and biting and spitting. 

“The true king of heaven and earth is come!” he shrieks, blood spraying as he gurgles and chokes. “Gladness and sadness shall he bring from the skies; from fire and smoke shall his children—”

The rest of his words are lost in the collapsing tunnel of his throat as I tighten both of my hands, making him gasp and retch and—

My vision is swimming, for a boy has crashed into us at perhaps forty kilometers per hour on his silver bicycle. He recovers faster than we do, bolting for the slanted steel roof that, just a couple of minutes ago, had provided some shade as Sebastian and I beheld the sunset. 

The roar of a boat speeding from the launch ramp steals my attention, and I look just in time to see the old, bloody man leap headfirst, arms straining as his lips spread wide with insanity. The husband and wife on the boat do not flinch when the old man’s face strikes the motor, the tips of his fingers grazing the rim of the craft as the rest of him lands in the water. Blood distincts itself from the rest of the lake, so grave is the injury to his face, and he is motionless as the boat sails away.

I found her in the convenience store next to the pizza shop, and we have been here ever since. Her hair is messier than it is when we’re at work together, and her eyes have been made beautifully hungry in the fire of the undying sun. 

I am clean now, for the first thing we did was wash each other in the bathroom. Most of our clothes are still there, and we have piled all of the shelves against the door and windows, so we are painted by slivers of burning wine. Outside, the havoc goes on, and perhaps the strangest part of this is the serenity I—we—feel. All of us. We are manic, but we are calm. Our hearts are slow, even as our lungs pulse and our throats tighten, and… 

“And it’s lovely, isn’t it?” she asks. 

I remember the way she looked at me four days ago, sitting across the table from me with her iced coffee and her work uniform, glancing at the clock on the wall every so often to make sure our lunch break hadn’t ended. She wouldn’t look at me, just a brief moment of eye contact, our lenses of different shades; blues, greens, colors of mystery. Was any of it flirtatious? Or just… personal, happy, comfortably in love that is as real as it is unspoken? 

Her hands are on my chest and my back is bare against the cold tile floor. She is in her underwear and a pink bra, her legs around me, sitting still with my hands on the insides of her upper thighs, gazing steadily into my eyes, and I am thinking to myself how much lovelier she is now in the glowing shadows. 

All of the questions I had about her are being answered through the silence of our reunion. We have silent history, see, and until now, I wasn’t sure if she was aware of this or not. I used to wonder if she thought of me like I thought of her, if our shared lunch breaks ever meant anything to her. I wondered if I was interesting, if she had any questions about the nineteen-year-old blond kid who came in every day and left covered in sweat and grime. I wanted her to notice me like I noticed her, and now I know she has.

“I hope we can stay like this,” comes her voice from those soft lips, and for a moment I can see beyond the smoothness of her skin. For a moment, the rest of her is revealed to me; her heart, thumping slowly; her blood, coursing through veins of ice; her lungs, pulsing and wet. I can see her bleed without making her bleed, can see her breathe without hearing her breath, and I am thinking to myself now that I might like that internal side of her much better than this flesh that coats it all and, upon her face, contorts itself into expressions of sadness and longing. 

I move one of my hands to her cheek. “We can.”

But when we emerge from our passion two hours later, our bodies slick with sweat and intertwined, there is a new deepness in the shadows, and the slivers of fire have died away. I find her eyes in the dark and kiss her, our tongues together, my hands on her legs and breasts, we are fighting to keep the beauty of our sin alive just a little longer. The floor is wet with us and when we are finished, we lie together on the glistening tiles, our foreheads touching, lips inches apart. 

“Should we go?” she asks after some time. 

I nod my head gently against hers. We dress ourselves and remove the steel shelves from the door and step into a brand new world; a colder world than the one we left behind, for night has fallen—or is it morning? There is no way of telling, for we have witnessed miracles and have both lost our phones. 

“I need to find my brother,” I say, the murkiness in my mind slowly clearing. 

“Wait. Listen.”

Music drifts along the currents of a cool breeze, and what a strange taste it has upon my ears. There is a tongue whose words I do not understand, speaking through the eyes of the stars, and some part of me feels as if we are walking through the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. 

Down by the dock, beginning in the water and stretching toward the clouds, is a tower of people. The tower’s base is wide and constructed by the bare bodies of maybe ninety people, men and women, boys and girls, and its peak, hundreds of feet above, is hardly visible.

“It’s a castell.”


“A castell—a human tower. They make these in Spain—Catalonia, I think—during festivals and whatever.”

I notice a small silhouette at the far end of the dock, standing beneath the steel roof. I can’t be sure for the shadows of night and of the castell, but I think they are facing away from us, toward the open water. 

Her hand is on my arm as we crane our necks, taking in the hundreds of people that have assembled themselves on each other’s shoulders. “Where did they come from?”

I shake my head, and then the voice of a man rises above the music, which indeed appears to emanate from the stars. 

“Protect us, protect us, protect us.” He wears white robes and is kneeling by the edge of the water. “Protect us and save us. Preserve us and keep us. Let us not be swayed by your fallen ones, but rather—”

And then there is a tremendous splash, and a body floats slowly to the surface. The body is bent and broken and naked, and it is followed by others. Not a single scream interrupts the music as the castell collapses, and I have never run this fast in my life. Bodies are landing all around us, splattering themselves across the pavement, and I have her hand in mine as we run toward the roof. 

She shrieks when a form—that is all it is to us, a form, a body, genderless and skinless and hairless—lands five feet ahead of us, showering our faces with gore. We pass its annihilated remains and make it to the shelter, where Sebastian is leaning against the fence, gazing across the water. 

“Oh, my—” I hug him fiercely, kissing his filthy head, asking if he’s all right, kneeling and holding his face in both of my hands. “I thought I lost you.”

He shakes his head, and his eyes are looking past me. I turn and find the man in white.

“You, all you three,” he says and his voice is clear, for the stars have fallen silent. “You have been blessed beyond measure.” Behind him, the base of the castell is swaying to and fro like a flag in the wind. “Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’”

“Job one, verse seven,” Sebastian says, recalling the Sunday school lessons Mom used to teach us. 

“Yes. Very good.”

My eyes are on the castell, this spectacle of swaying bodies, fighting so hard for balance. Satan is present here, we know, we know, and we will never forget.

September 05, 2023 16:23

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