Chapter 1 : d e a t h
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Her black hair was tangled and matted, stuck to her forehead with sweat and tears. Her skin was pale, paler than ever before. Her bones stood out against her paper-like skin the way they did with African famine victims. Her eyes were sunk into her sockets, big and surrounded with bruise-like shadows. Tears cut twin tracks down her face, dripping from her jaw to her collarbone and sliding off onto the starch white sheets on the bed in the room in St. Mungo’s. An IV was stuck in her arm, pumping fluid that we all knew her body wouldn’t accept into veins that were carrying polluted blood to every cell in her body. The white hospital gown she wore was twisted around her legs, revealing the scratches that ran up and down her calves.
Seeing her like this, so broken and sick and alone, was almost too much. But she wanted me here. She wanted me here with her biological brother. She wanted me her to help her. So I had to be strong. I walked stiff-legged to the side of her bed, where I knelt next to opposite her brother and took her fragile hand in my own. Her eyes inched open, revealing the bloodshot orbs that carried so much pain and suffering.
“James”, she whispered, her voice like a falling leaf.
“Skylar.” I whispered back, doing my best to keep my fear and grief from tainting my voice.
“It hurts, James. The voices…they’re so loud. It’s deafening.” I watched as her eyes drifted away to a spot a million miles away, some place that I would never see, never know about.
“I know, Sky. I know.”
She looked at me, her strange silver eyes holding my gaze with as much serenity as always. Then her eyelids slid down and she seemed to fall asleep. I glanced up at her brother, who was in the same position as me. He met my eyes, and we shared some of the pain we were both feeling.
Skylar was dying.
Her body was betraying her. Her organs were failing. She couldn’t hold food or water, not even anything the Healers gave her in the IV. Her temperature hovered around 101 degrees. She bled easily, losing enough blood to soak through gauze pads in seconds whenever something punctured her skin. She vomited constantly, even though now there was nothing to come up. Whatever the IV fed into her veins, her body just rejected. She had no energy. She hadn’t taken fluids in two, almost three days. She was wrecked.
Skylar was dying, and there was nothing I could do about it.
As the time ticked away, I felt as though I could visibly see her worsen. I would look at her face, and then glance away, and when I looked back, it seemed as if the shadows around her eyes were darker and her bones looked even sharper than before. Nothing but Skylar and her brother existed to me. People moved around us; Healers, nurses, patients, patient’s families and loved ones, but nothing was real to me except for the bed in front of me. Time began to slow down and everything seemed to happen as though underwater. I couldn’t hear anything, couldn’t focus on anything, couldn’t register anything except for Skylar. Skylar, who lay on her death bed surrounded by strangers who didn’t care, and didn’t know, and didn’t realize that Skylar was dying because of what she had done for the rest of us. And even as I watched her skin seemed to fade, her body seemed to cave in on itself.
And that was when her eyes flew open and she screamed, a long, undying, piercing shriek. The kind of sound that you associate with death. The Healers came running. Skylar’s brother and I jerked to our feet, standing aside automatically as the Healers began their customary treatments. They waved their wands and shouted their spells, but we all knew it was futile. Skylar knew, too.
She lay there, staring up at them, blood trickling from the corner of her mouth. The sight made me want to turn and ran, unable to accept what it meant. And then she turned to me and her mouth moved. No sound came out, but I knew what she said.
I pushed the Healers aside and resumed my position, clasping her hand tightly as her brother copied me.
“I tried. I tried, James. I tried so hard. But I can’t do it anymore. The voices are too loud. They won’t let me go. They won’t leave me alone.” I had to lean in as she talked, her voice was so quiet. Her sentences rasped against each other, muddling around the edges. Her eyes were unfocused, cloudy and uncertain.
She turned to her brother and whispered something to him. I couldn’t hear what she said, but I didn’t try to. I was too busy trying to convince myself that Skylar hadn’t just told me she was dying.
And then she screamed again, wrenching her hand out of mine to hold her stomach. Her voice faltered, and then she began coughing. She hacked up blood, blood that stained everything crimson. She screamed again, tears pouring down her face and mixing with blood. Her brother gave up his façade and let the tears come. He sobbed as he gripped her hand as tight as he could.
I was barely holding it together. I was barely keeping myself from crying and yelling and telling Skylar that she had to live, she had to, she couldn’t die.
“James. James!” she screamed, her face contorted in pain.
“I’m here, Skylar. I’m here.” I answered, not bothering to contain the emotion in my face, not bothering to try and stop it from cracking.
“James.” Her face turned to me, covered in blood and sweat and tears. “Don’t forget. Always…remember…their pain.”
“I won’t forget, Sky. I promise.”
She sighed and seemed to shrink back in on herself. “Thank you…James”, she whispered, her voice barely understandable.
I couldn’t respond. My own voice wasn’t working.
“Brother. I love…you. James…you are my…other brother. I love you…too.” Skylar murmured, her eyes star-crossed and faint as they watched the galaxies swirl.
I choked on something in my throat and a tear, hot and wet, ran down my cheek. “I love you too, Skylar.”
Her brother sobbed harder, but he managed to say it, too.
Skylar smiled faintly and looked up to the sky. Her mouth moved, but I hear no words. Somehow, though, I knew what she said.
I watched as her silver eyes faded, losing their star dust and magic. I watched as Skylar died.
And then the tears came.