Me, You, and the Breeze
This is not a funny story. It crawled from my mind just as World Ember began, and I had to write it now— despite not having an appropriate world for it. This is the closest I had, and it will only be here until after World Ember and its closing ceremony have passed— its forever home will be in my misc story manuscript.Everyone could feel it, even the sky had taken on a solemn grey hue in recognition of their loss. The man who had been such a great force in their life was dying, and there was nothing they could do to stop it. They could only offer what little comfort their presence would grant him, as the family stood closely around his hospice bed. The closest, holding the man's hand and rubbing it gently with her thumb in slow, rhythmic movements, was his sister— Emily. Emily was a mere year younger than her brother Samuel, making her his oldest friend. She saw her own death in his wrinkled face, and this terrified her, though she wouldn't show it. A tight, sympathetic smile struggled to remain on her face as she tried to reassure her brother that she was there— he wouldn't be dying alone. Sitting on the edge of the bed beside Emily was Samuel's eldest son— Frederick. Frederick hadn't been the best son, this he knew, but his father had never expressed disappointment in him— and was always there to listen, and help, no questions asked. Yet he felt guilty for all the time he could have spent with his father, but didn't. He found it nigh impossible to lift his head, or even move his eyes, to meet his father's gaze. His husband, Nathan, held him tightly— whispering reassurances into his ear, trying to get him to face his father. Nathan hadn't met the man more than a handful of times— but Samuel had trusted him to care for his son, and he knew that Frederick would regret it if he couldn't look his father in the face one last time. At the foot of the bed was Evelyn, Samuel's only daughter. He had been a little overprotective of her when she was younger— to the point of once scaring away a boyfriend with a broom— but had long since learned to respect her boundaries. Eveyln would visit often, and the two would play a board game they'd come up with in her childhood— a mix between chess and mancala they'd called "Eveyln's Game" (She had come up with the name herself, at the age of five.). She appeared the least shaken, though her face was still darkened— she had accepted her father's death in the months prior and was, in fact, the one to urge him to seek out hospice care in the first place. Then there was Abraham, Samuel's youngest son. He had revered his father, and even followed his example by becoming a carpenter. The pair had founded a short lived carpentry shop when they had saved up enough, and mourned its loss a mere three years later, after an accidental fire had reduced it to ashes. They had always planned to build it back one day, better, and bigger— but they both knew that the day would never come, now. Abraham knelt on the floor, across the bed from Emily, weeping into the colorless sheets. Samuel looked across the room, at the loved ones gathered around him, and smiled weakly. "I know..." he said, pausing for a moment to allow for everyone to raise their heads. Frederick hesitated still, though Samuel remained quiet, allowing him to take his time. With a few shaky breaths, and some more encouragement from Nathan, he managed to twist his head just enough to look his father in the eye. "I know this will..." he sighed softly "is hard for all of you, but I hope that you know that I always have..." he turned to meet each and every pair of eyes gathered around him "and always will, love you all." Frederick dropped his head again, as tears began to stream down his face. "But how can we..." "Go on?" Samuel interrupted. "You'll figure it out, I know you can." He took a deep breath, closing his eyes as he did so. "I want you all to take a deep breath..." he said, taking a labored breath "with me..." Emily was the first to follow, with the rest shortly taking after her example. "Close your...eyes..." Samuel continued. Everyone but Emily closed their eyes. "Breathe...in..." Abraham breathed in shakily. "and...out..." Everything was quiet for a moment, not a soul moved, or breathed back in— not wanting to ruin the sanctity of this silence. "Thank...you...all..." Samuel finished, weakly. Were it not for the silence, no one may have heard these final words. With a final exhalation, Samuel finally passed. No one dared speak, not that any of them could find the appropriate words if they wished to. All that could be heard for the next while was weeping, and the gentle breeze climbing through the window, as if it had come to carry Samuel's soul away. The sky, however, remained grey. It was Evelyn who finally broke the silence, as she rose to her feet, wiped her tears with her sleeve, and gently nudged Emily. "Let me closer to him, please." Emily didn't look up as she spoke. "But he's dead..." The words came out breathlessly, wispy, weightless things that could barely be heard. "Not for long, he won't be." Evelyn kept a hand on Emily's shoulder as she raised a thick briefcase with her other hand. Emily turned, confused, glancing at the briefcase and then Evelyn. "What?" Having heard Evelyn's strange comment, everyone else was now looking at her, questioningly. Evelyn gave them a reassuring smile. "You know that resurrection treatment that's been all over the news lately?" Abraham rose to his feet. "You didn't..." Emily shakily moved back, allowing Evelyn to take her place beside Samuel's body. "I...spent all of my savings." She explained, as she placed the briefcase flat on the bed. "Sold a few things...and...then took out a loan." Her thumbs tremored as they found their way to the latches on each side of the case, which opened with a soft clack. Nathan held Frederick reassuringly as he, too, rose to see just what Evelyn was doing. Evelyn slowly opened the case, revealing a neatly arranged set of wires, set beside a sleek touchscreen panel. She looked at her siblings, then Emily, for approval. Emily nodded, as did Abraham. Frederick, however, was hesitant. "Will...will this work?" "As long as he hasn't killed anyone— yes." Evelyn was already unwinding the ties that kept the wires bundled. Frederick nodded. Eveyone watched in silence as Evelyn worked. There were four wires in total; three red, one blue, they were each as thick as her thumb, and connected to a black adhesive pad. The back of each pad indicated where it needed to go in easily read white letters. Evelyn gestured towards Samuel's shirt, which Abraham quickly unbuttoned. A pad was placed over the dead man's heart. The remaining three were placed on each of his temples, and the center of his forehead. "There..." Evelyn pressed the power switch on the touchscreen, which lit up eagerly, and immediately began asking a series of questions— the first of which asked that she be positive that Samuel was dead. She held a hand over his mouth for a moment, and, feeling no breath, hit "continue." "Has the patient ever taken another human life?" The panel asked. Evelyn pressed "no." The panel then asked for her to confirm that each pad was properly placed. Evelyn didn't need to check, they were. She pressed "Continue" once more. A loading symbol spun for an agonizing thirty seconds, before giving way to a new screen— now showing the words "BEGIN RESURRECTION?" in bold golden letters, with two buttons below it reading "YES" and "NO." It was too sterile of a presentation, Evelyn thought, for the miracle it provided. She looked up at her family. "Are you ready?" Everyone nodded. Evelyn pressed "yes," and the screen displayed a progress bar. "Resurrection in progress..." It said as it whirred to life. The machine was quieter than any of them had expected, only a soft murmur seemed to emanate from inside the briefcase. A warmth began to radiate from it shortly after, and this warmth would steadily be felt throughout the entire room. It was a reassuring warmth, they would all find, though they couldn't explain why. This reassurance was quickly shattered, however, by an unpleasant beep from the machine. "Resurrection failed: patient has taken another human life." "What does it say?" Asked Abraham, who was still on the opposite side of the bed. "It...thinks dad's...a murderer." Evelyn responded quietly. Frederick quickly pulled the briefcase closer to him, and hit "cancel." "BEGIN RESURRECTION?" the screen asked again. Frederick hit "yes." Everyone held their breath as they waited, again feeling the reassuring warmth. This time, it'll work. They hoped. Beep. "Resurrection failed: patient has taken another human life." The screen read again. Frederick stepped back. "How...how accurate is this thing?! How..." He looked around the room. "How can it know?!" No one returned his incredulous stare. "Maybe...maybe it's a fake?" He placed his hands on Evelyn's shoulders, pulling her to face him. "Where did you get it?" Evelyn gently placed her hands on his left, pulling it off of her. "Frederick— I got it directly from their store." She looked him in the eye, her face now sunken with the despair that it had lacked earlier. "It's real." Frederick pulled back, swore under his breath, and leaned against the windowsill at the far end of the room— staring outwards at the sullen sky. "He couldn't..." The words trailed off, after all— there was so much time he'd spent away from his father, how could he truly claim to know what he was capable of? Emily leaned over Samuel's body, studying his face as if she were now seeing it for the first time. "He was so kind...gentle...why would he do something like that?" She looked up at Abraham, who looked down at his father's corpse in shock. "I...I don't know...maybe..." he shut his eyes as he took a deep breath "maybe he...had an enemy?" Evelyn gave him a quizzical look. "Dad didn't have any enemies, he never hated anyone." Abraham shook his head, sighing. "The fire..." he said, turning away from his father's motionless form "maybe it wasn't an accident..." Nathan looked up at him. "You think...someone started it? And he found them?" Abraham nodded. "He...we loved that shop. It took so long to save up for it, it took years even with both of us. After that...he put so much time into repairing the place, that I had to trick him into taking sleeping pills just so he'd get some rest!" He took a few steps towards the foot of the bed, eyes cast downwards— only glancing at his family for a brief moment to make sure they were listening, before dropping them again. "If...if someone started the fire...maybe he could have..." He choked on the words, though he knew he needn't finish them, the point could be understood. Emily responded, slowly at first, as if the words were frozen, and had to be slowly thawed out by being spoken. "But...he...wasn't angry, about the fire. He was tired, he wept every night for a week, Abraham— not once in the days following the fire did I see him angry." She removed herself from the bedside, and sat on one of the cheap, ugly red chairs a few feet away. She shakily placed an elbow on one of the plastic armrests, before resting her forehead in her open palm. She looked expectantly at Evelyn, waiting to hear her thoughts. Evelyn stammered in response. "I-I don't...don't know. I wouldn't have tried..." she gestured towards the briefcase "this, if I knew..." She was quiet for a moment, trying to think back on the memories she had of her father. These were sunny, happy times, which she now twisted and turned over to find whatever dark secret must lie within— if only she knew where to look. Yet, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't find anything. The breeze blew gently through the room again, though now its touch felt cold and sinister to Emily. "Frederick?" She asked, a hint of desperation creeping into her voice. "Could you...please close that window?" Part of her was afraid that, if the window remained open, the breeze would come to carry her soul away, too. Frederick didn't respond. He couldn't hear what the others had been saying for some time now, his mind was occupied with a frenzy of questions— none of which he could answer. "Frederick?" Emily ventured again, the worry rising in her voice. Still, no response. "Frederick!" Now Abraham was angrily approaching his brother, who turned just before he reached the window. "What?" "Close. The. Window." Abraham growled. Emily tried to calm him down. "Abraham, you really don't need—" "It's fine." Frederick began to close the window, which seemed almost too eager to follow his command. With this in mind, he moved it along slowly, careful not to let it slam against the frame. He felt that such a sudden, cacophonous noise would be disrespectful to his father. Abraham, clearly, didn't see it his way, and shoved him against the wall with the side of his left arm. "Dad is dead, Fred! Do you really think now is the time to play stupid games?!" "Abraham, I didn-" "Shut up, I've had it with you!" Abraham pushed his arm further into Frederick's back, making sure to put extra pressure on his elbow as it dug into the man's side. "You come in here, barely look dad in the eye, then just look out the window while we're all out here trying to figure out how and why he apparently murdered someone?!" "I'm...hurt...too..." Frederick replied between struggling breaths. "Abraham, let him go." Nathan spoke quietly, yet firmly. "Or what, Nathan? You think you know what's going on here? Huh?" Nathan took a cautious step towards him. "Look at him— he's hurt and confused, same as you!" "It's probably his fault! Dad always had to clean up his messes!" Abraham dug his elbow deeper. "Let...go..." Frederick pleaded. Abraham slammed his brother's face into the wall with a sickening thud. "Admit it!" Nathan ran towards Abraham, quickly grabbing him by the shoulder and pulling back. It wasn't enough to move him, however, and he received a blow from the man's free elbow— directly to the face. He swore as he stumbled back, cupping a hand over his nose as blood began pouring out. A few drops managed to leak between his fingers, peppering the dull red tile beneath him. He wondered if they were colored red specifically to hide such messes. Evelyn snatched a box of tissues from one of the room's tables, and handed it to Nathan— making sure to place herself between him and Abraham, in case either tried to fight again. "Stop it! Abraham, what the hell has gotten into you?!" She cast a spiteful glare his way. "You're either with me, or in my way— either way, I'm going to make him talk!" Frederick could only let out a pained groan in response. Emily, horrified by the situation, finally rose from the ugly red chair. "Horrid, vile children! You can't even respect your father when he's dead!" She glared at each of them. "Let a dead man keep his secrets, will you?!" Everyone stood silent for a moment, the heat of shame washing over them— even if only a few of them had actually done anything wrong. Abraham sighed, and finally stepped back, releasing his brother— who quickly scrambled towards Nathan, embracing him. "Let's go, ok?" Frederick nodded, and Nathan supported him as they exited the room. Abraham glared after them, though his ire was soon turned towards Emily. "Do you know something we don't, Emily?" Emily scoffed. "I doubt any of us do, you fool." With a parting glare, she gathered her things, and left. Evelyn was already removing the adhesive pads from her father's body, trying to do so as quickly as she could. This goal was frustrated, however, by the strength of the adhesive— which refused to release its grip on the dead man's clammy skin. "God." She tugged harder at the wire on his chest, which only cooperated along a tiny portion of its topmost edge. Seeing this, Abraham approached Evelyn. "Let me help." She didn't look up as he spoke. "I'll be fine." The disappointment was palpable in her voice. Abraham took a deep breath as he felt his anger rising again— but he thought better of it, this time, and left the room with a flat, angry goodbye. "See you." The breeze blew through the room after his departure, as if even it wished to be rid of his presence. It would take Evelyn another half hour to finish removing the wires, pack up the briefcase, and leave.
Neither Emily, Frederick, Nathan, Evelyn, nor Abraham would attend Samuel's funeral two weeks after his death. Only the breeze would ever speak of what was discovered in that room as quiet as death. None of those present that day spoke to Abraham again, after his frightful display. Few spoke again with Emily, who seemed to know more than she let on. Save for Nathan and Frederick, trust was seldom found between the remaining family members— each of them beliving that someone among them had to know Samuel's secret, but who? None of them would discover the truth, though they would certainly be relieved to learn of it. True to his nature, Samuel had not killed out of hatred, anger, spite, for revenge, or for any other mean spirited reason— he had done so out of compassion. On a cold, troublesome day in his early twenties, he had been hiking in the mountains near his home. Lost in thought, he was suddenly pulled back into his icy reality by a desperate cry for help. "God...please...anyone!" The voice seemed to emanate from the mountain itself. Samuel cupped a hand alongside his mouth, hoping to amplify his voice. "Where are you, friend?" "Over here!" "Keep talking! I'll find you!" They went back and forth like this for several tense minutes, until Samuel finally found the source of the cries— a woman, trapped beneath a fallen pine. "Oh thank god...I never thought anyone would find me." She looked up at Samuel, attempting to smile, though her face was clearly contorted in pain. Samuel attempted to move the tree, placing his back against it, and feet against the ground. It didn't budge. "I can't get it off you by myself— how hurt are you? Can you last long enough for me to hike back down and get help?!" The woman shook her head, her face darkening. "I...didn't call for help getting free." Samuel's brow furrowed. "What...what are you saying?" "I need you to kill me." Samuel had never seen a more sincere look in a stranger's eyes, he couldn't find it in his compassionate heart to tell her "no"— especially when she seemed to be so clearly in pain. If he left her, she'd be left in agony for hours before perishing— he'd be cruel to leave her to this fate. "I...don't know if I can...what about your family? How do I tell them?" "You don't tell a soul. No one will know but me, you, and the breeze."