Feeling for the First Time

Submitted into Contest #163 in response to: Write a story about someone facing death for the first time in their life.... view prompt

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Fantasy Thriller Suspense

This story contains sensitive content

[CW: attempted suicide and violence]

My journey wasn’t always honorable. Long ago, I used my abilities for personal gain and caused pain instead of hope. After spreading suffering for decades, I finally realized helping others produced extended happiness rather than the short-term pleasure of instant gratification.

I peered at the small glass vial. The bright blue liquid glistened in the afternoon sun, reflecting its light into the face of the man across from me as I spun it. His sunken features, scab-covered skin, and pulsing black veins made me want to avert my gaze, but like a car wreck, I couldn’t look away. He didn’t blink as the intense ray beamed into his bloodshot eyes. Finally, I asked, “how much do I drink?”

He grinned wide, exposing a mouth full of blackened, crooked teeth. Even seated four feet apart, I smelled the odor of old garlic and fermented cheese as he said, “every single drop.” Then he drummed his fingers on the table repeatedly as I considered his offer.

Part of me wanted to destroy him. This wretched shell of a man was the only being on earth I couldn’t rip to shreds without consequence. Like me, he was immortal. But even if I found a way, killing him would end me, and he realized it. I grabbed the vial and held it up, looking at the sun through the glass, pretending I recognized the mystery contents.

My gifts weren’t gained from a mutated insect or some type of radioactive particles. I wasn’t born with a strange mutation and didn’t travel from an alien planet. The blood of a god doesn’t run through my veins. Instead, my mother and father understood the dark arts better than anyone before them. Together, they forged my power. But nothing is free.

“And if I do?” I asked while twirling the small tube between my fingers.

“We’ve gone over this.” He hissed as he turned his hands to fists.

I placed the vial on the table. “Humor me.” Then I crossed my arms and sat back. “Are you in a rush to die?”

He leaned forward and pounded his hand hard on the surface. “I’ve been waiting for centuries.” A green string of spittle flew from his mouth as he yelled.

“Then what’s a couple more hours?”

His forehead wrinkled, sending flakes of dried skin floating towards the table like tiny hang-gliders. “You would tap out after experiencing my pain for a fraction of a second.”

I took a deep breath before standing up and facing the ocean. My parents weren’t born into money, and they never achieved the level of success they desired. In their time, you lived and died as poor as you started. Stories of becoming something from nothing didn’t exist. But they were both intelligent and gained access to enough ancient texts to piece together a unique spell.  

Unable to make themselves important, they gave me the ability to be great. Their death occurred while I still walked a dark path. If only they lived a hundred years, they’d have been proud. The lives I’ve saved outnumbered the innocents I killed. The first rescue was by accident, but the euphoria caused by the gratefulness stuck with me.       

“What’s wrong?” The crackling voice whispered from behind me. “Is Earth’s biggest hero afraid?”

I spun around and faced him. “Let me think.” I slipped off my shoes and burrowed my toes into the sand. “Tell me again how the other spell works.” I paced on the sunbaked surface, listening to the sound of shells cracking under the soles of my feet. For a moment, noises resembling metal sliding on concrete echo around me. “Did you hear…”  

“If only you developed super memory.” He clicked his tongue, then said, “you witnessed my demonstration yesterday.”

I stopped and turned towards him while attempting to push the images of carnage from my mind. So much blood. Hundreds cried out for help.

While he held out his hand and inspected his nails, he said. “An entire town turning on themselves, tearing into each other. I don’t wanna say the ‘Z’ word, but…” He bit the air. “If you didn’t arrive, the infection would have spread across the world.” He lifted his feet and rubbed the bottoms. “Please sit? Those shells are sharp, and my heels feel like they’re on fire.”

While walking back to the table, I kicked a large rock jutting from the beach as hard as possible, smashing my big toe against the unforgiving object.

He collapsed to the ground, grabbing his foot. “You asshole.”

My parents didn’t give me strength or super speed. There’s no such thing as x-ray vision or human flight. My power was simple. Nothing hurt me. I’ve been shot, stabbed, hit by a train, pushed out of a plane, burned, frozen, and covered in chemicals I can’t pronounce. I was never wounded or felt anything.

“You did that on purpose. Have I not suffered enough?”

My voice raised. “Hundreds of lives ended in such a gruesome manner to get my attention.”

“How many perished during your little dark ages?” He ran his calloused hand over his scarred skin. “Do you hear their screams when you snooze at night?” The corners of his chapped gray lips tilted towards his ears.

But I’ve never slept and didn’t get tired. Instead, I heard my victims every waking hour. Their pain contrasted with the joy of those saved. The smiles of survivors trumped the bloody faces of the fallen.

“What about thoughts of me, trapped away as the living consequence of your power?” His scarred eyebrow-lacking ridges raised.

“They never told me.”

Come again?” He tilted his head and pursed his lips.

“Now who needs their memory sharpened?” Centuries ago, he escaped the jail built by dad. Like me, he didn’t understand the source of his affliction. Pain appeared out of nowhere. During our first fight, he threw an explosive into a crowd. I jumped on it, but he suffered the blast. His anger wouldn’t subside, so I placed him in a prison I designed.

I’m not sure when he located the ancient books, but he read enough to learn the truth about us.

“Are you ready to drink, brother?”

“Tell me about your vial again?”

He snapped, and the red liquid-filled container appeared between his thumb and index finger. The demonstration must have been an illusion. I’ve never met anyone with such an ability. He had time to practice sleight of hand. That explains this little trick. He finally answers my question. “Mine is like yours. We drink when ready.” He smiled. “Then our parents’ spell ends.” He chuckled. “Imagine their faces upon discovering the potion requires two individuals from the same womb?” He shrugs. “Do you think deciding who gets the shitty end of the stick was a tough decision?” He shook his head.   

“They weren’t decent people, and it took me a mortal lifetime to become good.”

He falls to the ground laughing, pointing up at me while rolling back and forth. After a few moments, he stands, wiping the dirty sweat from his face, and says, “you aren’t a hero and never were. You helped others, hoping to reproduce a positive sensation.” A black vein on his forehead pulsed as his voice raised. “Then you continued to put yourself in harm’s way after realizing the toll on your only sibling.”

“I have blood on my hands. But you’ll release a plague if I don’t agree.” I shook my head. “Are you willing to wipe out humanity?”

“You have the gull to question my actions?” He ran his fingers through his patchy white hair. “How old were you when learning nothing could harm or kill you? Three? Four? Being aware must have been illuminating.” He pointed his thumbs at himself. “I woke up a baby, alone and cold in a cell created by our father.”

I could smell the musk and mildew as if I was there with him. Was his story so vivid that my senses played along?

“Nobody told me dying was almost impossible, so I tried thousands of times to end my existence, but I suffered the pain of my attempts without the possibility of alleviation. Am I destined to be a prisoner in this cursed body?” He slumped in his chair. “I’m tired, and I don’t want to play anymore.”

“How will you infect them from a prison cell?”

“You can’t squirm out of this predicament by locking me away again.” His eyes squinted. “We both know I’d be out in weeks. Escaping is like breathing at this point. But more importantly…” He cupped his hand against his ear. “Do you hear that?”

“What?” My head turned rapidly, scanning for danger.

He giggled and paced on the sand with his hands behind his back, walking a couple of feet before turning back and repeating. “The tick-tock sound of time counting down. I already fed them the ingredients and said the words. Soon they’ll feel the unbearable need to taste the flesh of their neighbors.” He spun, jerking towards me while extending one arm and his index finger. “But the spell requires the caster’s pulse to continue. So, be still my beating heart, and they shall live.”

“And drinking the potion makes us mortal?”

“See, you’re not as dense as I thought.” He clapped his palms together, and when he pulled them apart, he clutched a revolver in his right hand. After laying it on the table, he pushed it towards me. “As soon as the elixir strips our powers away, you can shoot me.” He closed his eyes and tilted his face towards the sky. “I’m ready to visit our parents. I have questions for them.”

After picking up the gun, I turned it and peered down the barrel. Then I rotated the cylinder, counting six bullets.

His head snapped down. “You don’t trust me, brother?”

I glared at him.

He smiled and said, “I tricked you in the past. I understand your hesitation.” He leaned forward. “Test it out.”

I pointed it behind me and pulled the trigger while looking down the sight. There was a loud crack followed by a hard clap. A small puff of dust appeared above the waterline. I spun towards my brother. “Did you see that?”

“You shot a fowl. Good for you.”

“No.” I turned back around. There is a white dove lying on the sand with a red hole through its breast. I rubbed my eyes. Did I finally lose my mind?

“Time is wasting. Soon more cannibals than even you can contain will run amuck. Are you ready?”

I shook away the thoughts of the dust and bird, focusing instead on the reality of his deal. “Magic has kept us alive. Will we both die when the spell ends?”

His eyes aligned with mine. “Very astute. I’m shocked. Look at you.” The smile on his face widened. “This isn’t a science. But that outcome is plausible.” He rolled his eyes. “Will you let the world perish so you may live?”

My life has been self-serving. Could one selfless act redeem me? I shake my head. “And you are ready for death?”

“If you ever felt it, you’d understand anything is better than constant excruciating pain.”

I stared at the glimmering blue liquid and imagined seeing my parents again. Will they greet me with hugs and tell me I finally made them proud? I glance at my burdened brother. He deserved to be released from his suffering. “On the count of three?”

He nodded. Then we both yanked the corks from our vials as he counted. On two, I pressed the glass to my lips and tilted it back on three. Even in the scorching sun, the bitter liquid felt ice cold as it trickled down my tongue and into my throat. I watched as he gulped his down. Then we both slammed our bottles on the table.

He let out a long exhale. “Thank you, brother.”

“Now they’re all safe?”

His flesh plumped, and the gray faded as scabs peeled off and fell to the ground. His head darted around while he scanned the refreshed exterior of his body. A glance down confirmed my appearance didn’t change, but I had already resembled a mortal.

He giggled, which turned into a chuckle. Soon his head tilted back as he roared out a deep gut laugh. He stood up, walked a few feet, and faced me. “Wait until the ladies see my pretty skin.” 

I picked up the revolver and pointed it at him. “I’m sorry, brother. Is there no other way? I need to save them.”

“You already have.”

The wind blew across my wet brow. For the first time, I felt the sensation of temperature change. Despite the blaring sun, my entire body shivered. Is this a sign of cold, not hot?

“Tell me, how did you rescue people?” He raised his eyebrows, “by killing others.” Shrugging, he added. “I know. They were the bad ones. But you can’t wash the blood off your hands with more blood.” He rubbed his chin. “I’ll do things differently.” His arm swung through the air, followed by an eruption of sound as if metal crashed into metal.

I flinched but kept my eyes focused on him.

He snapped, and an iron key appeared in his hand. He turned it as if locking the sky.

The grin on his face didn’t make sense. I had him in my sights. My hand shook as I squeezed the trigger, but my aim was true. After a loud crack and a flash, my palm slung back from the kick. An immense pressure pushes from inside my chest. Was this an intense sensation of pain? Or a manifestation of my regret for killing my brother?

But he still stood, with that damn smile plastered across his face.

“You have something on your clothes.” He pointed down.

Red liquid saturated my shirt from a central location in my ribs, making a growing circle. The skin around the affected area pulsed like nothing I’ve experienced. Was this suffering?

My eyes fixed on him as he clapped his hands together. The beach and sky faded away, becoming a gloomy, dank space. My table rested inside an iron cage, and he was on the outside.

His studies into the dark arts eclipsed my comprehension of magic.

“Don’t worry, my brother. Being locked down here by yourself isn’t the end. Yes, you will experience starvation, thirst, and loneliness. But your existence will drag on. While your skin scabs up and your body shrivels, realize the people you made this sacrifice for will be oblivious. Don’t expect parades or celebrations for your bravery. Instead, they’ll forget you and worship me. I won’t murder one to save the other like you. They will see my righteousness and love me as much as they feared you.” 

September 16, 2022 23:01

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