Wynn finds me sitting on my bed when she gets home. I’m staring at my book collection, a large particle board shelf stacked haphazardly with comics and fantasy novels. I’m wondering how many times I’ve wished my life was more exciting, more magical. I’m wondering why I never really thought about the battles before. Even the children’s titles – Narnia, Harry Potter, Prydain – are filled with bloodshed and war. Why was I able to focus on the beauty and the triumph of those stories when I’ve always struggled to do the same in real life?
“You okay?” Wynn asks, leaning against my door frame.
“Yeah,” I lie, “It’s just been a long day.”
“Come get something to eat and we can talk,” she says. I follow her into the kitchen where she opens a paper bag labelled Lotus and Moon. My favourite Thai joint.
My shoulders droop under the weight of the silence as we eat. Wynn’s dark eyes drift occasionally to my own; she doesn’t bother to hide her concern. “I heard about last night,” she finally ventures.
“Yeah, it was insane. I’m okay though, really,” I’m mentally cataloguing everything I’m not supposed to talk about. All of the things I can’t tell my best friend.
“Are you sure? I mean, anyone would be shaken up by that. And you don’t seem yourself.”
“I sang today,” I say, because it seems like the only topic that won’t tempt me into the supernatural. And because it’s something I’ve hardly even acknowledged yet.
“What?! For real? That’s amazing Selene!” Her smile is wide but shrinks quickly when she sees that she’s the only one celebrating. “What’s wrong?”
“It was just a few lines. It’s gone again.”
“Have you called your doctor yet? He’ll probably want to know. About the singing and what happened last night. I mean, that’s a lot of stress…”
“Yeah I know, Wynn!” My words are thoughtless – loud and sharp. The worst part is that she doesn’t even look upset, just worried. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’ll call him in the morning before work.”
She nods gently, and smiles at me again. “Maybe it’s a good sign. Maybe it will help him figure out how to help you.”
“Yeah,” I say, unconvinced. Dr. Maharta is a wonderful doctor, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about psychiatry, it’s that there’s a lot of trial and error involved.
“I’m always here if you need to talk, okay. If you feel… no matter what you feel, what you need… just come get me,” she looks at me very seriously. I don’t know what I’d do without Wynn.
“Thanks,” I say, just as sincerely. Then, “What if I need dessert?”
“We just started dinner, you glutton,” she chides, though her relief is obvious. She gives me a sly look before getting up and walking into the other room. She comes back and tosses me a small white box. Inside are a variety of cookies and squares from our favourite bakery.
“You’re the fucking best, Wynn.” I really don’t know what I’d do without her.
My shift at the book store next morning is painfully boring. While I appreciate the return to everyday life, it feels like I’ve come to expect the extraordinary. Between customers, my mind wanders to the third floor apartment. To the impossible events of the past few days. I keep expecting to discover previously unnoticed doorways or mythical creatures roaming unseen by the general population, but my life remains typically mundane. It seems that I’ve changed more than the world around me.
On my break I scan the folklore and mythology section. I pick up a book of fairytales and an encyclopaedia of world mythologies. According to Yagher, some of these stories are rooted in truth, so I figure it doesn’t hurt to read up a little.
I call Dr. Maharta’s office on the way home. Because of the traumatic nature of my experience, the receptionist schedules me for an appointment the next day, before my shift at the pub. I’m nervously trying to fabricate a version of events that I can tell him, without giving anything away. I am definitely not a skilled prevaricator, and if anyone is going to catch me in a lie it’s going to be my psychiatrist.
As I walk through the sliding gIass doors of my building, I consider taking the elevator and stopping at the third floor. I want to see it again – the beautiful green field and the blue sky that stretches on impossibly far despite four concrete walls. Instead, I turn right and take the stairs up to my own floor. It would be rude – and probably dangerous – to continue stopping in uninvited. I save exploration for another day.
I’m greeted by an empty apartment; Wynn is still in class – dissecting frogs or feeding lab rats or some other biology-related task. For a brief moment, I wonder if I would be there with her if I hadn’t dropped out at the end of first year. If I’d still be able to sing. Guilt rises from the depths of my gut, burning like bile, as I recall the disappointed faces and words of my friends and family. This shame – for sacrificing education for music, their wants for mine – could it be the barrier that’s stubbornly barred my singing all this time? Years of therapy and I haven’t made an iota of progress towards regaining my ability.
Until yesterday, I think.
I take off my shoes and head straight for my bedroom closet. I shove aside clothes, half-used notebooks, and boxes of Christmas decorations until I reach a beaten up acoustic guitar. I sit on the bed and carefully tune it. Experimentally, I strum a few chords and am surprised by the speed at which my skill returns. My skin has lost its calluses, but my muscles seem to have a longer memory. My fingers dance agilely across the strings.
I play a song – the one I started to sing in the shower only yesterday. I try to sing along but again the words flit just beyond my reach. I chew my lip in frustration, before setting the guitar on the bed to grab a pen and paper from my desk. I meditate for a moment, clearing my mind of everything – especially the intention to sing. Then I recall the words to the song and write them on the paper.
I pick up the guitar again and start playing. I take my time, focusing on the music before closing my eyes and starting to hum. I have no trouble humming the melody, so I open my eyes to look at the words.
I’m on the stage at Festival House, sitting on a wooden bar stool in front of the microphone. I’m singing that same song – Lost Ones. It’s the end of our last set and the band – my ex-boyfriend James, his best friends Yu and Lily – are packing up the rest of the equipment behind me. The lounge is almost empty at this point: only an older gentleman sitting at the bar and a couple holding hands at a back table. The staff are already cleaning up so they can close. I want to sing right to the end; so long as I have an audience I refuse to stop.
I remember James holding his guitar case, heading out the back door. His hair is a mess of brown curls, and his green eyes are furious. He says it’s not safe for me to go home alone no matter how close the bus stop is. Yu and Lily have already left in Yu’s jeep, which is packed with our gear. I’ve just ended my relationship with James a week ago, and I don’t want to be in the car with him. I don’t trust him to take me straight home. I keep telling him that I’ll be fine, that I don’t want a ride from him, until he finally storms off. “You better take a fucking cab!” he shouts without turning around.
Despite my share of money from the gig, I can’t afford a cab. I may have dropped out of university, but that didn’t stop them from charging me full tuition. I have rent to pay and I’m still looking for part time work.
The bus stop is only three blocks away on a well-lit street, but something catches my attention in an alley just past the first block. There are two men, one laying on the ground and the other kneeling over him, propping him up. The kneeling man looks at me and distant light from a street lamp reflects off of the tears streaming down his face.
“Please, please help!” he shouts. I glance around me, but it’s one in the morning and no one else is around. I know it’s dangerous, but the guy looks genuinely distraught. I pull out my cell phone and press “911”. I keep my thumb next to the dial button, just in case. I stop a metre or so away from the men and analyze the scene in the dim light.
The man who called to me is heavy set and looks to be in his fifties or sixties. His hair is short and grey and he has a bristly moustache that almost completely covers his upper lip. I recognize him as the old man from the bar. It’s impossible to make out much about his companion except that he’s a well-built man and, judging by his clothing, probably much younger. His body is plastered in blood, his clothes clinging in a wet mass. Except in the places where they’re torn. I cannot make out the details of his face in the darkness.
“I’ll call an ambulance,” I say as I press my thumb down on the phone’s screen.
“No! It’s too late. They can’t help him now. We can do something, but you have to hang up now,” he speaks confidently though his voice is choked with emotion. I can hear the voice of the dispatcher answering the call. The man asks again, “Please, help him.”
I hang up and kneel down beside the bleeding man. His breaths come quick and sharp; he’s clearly in a lot of pain. I see sores and burns all over his exposed skin, and his face is covered in tiny cuts underneath all of the blood. His friend looks at me and says, “We can help him. But you have to give up something you love. Something that brings you happiness. Something that would break your heart to lose.”
I stare at him like he’s crazy, but he ignores me and starts fishing through his pockets. He pulls out a large marker. He starts trying to write on the man’s shirt, but it’s so drenched in blood that the ink doesn’t show. He takes off his black dress jacket and lays it over the injured man’s body. He begins to draw strange symbols I’ve never seen before. The white ink is almost luminescent, it shimmers in the darkness.
“Well?” he asks. I keep staring, scared and confused. He begins pleading, “I’d do it myself but I have nothing left to give. He’s the only thing I have. Please, you can save his life.”
There’s no way this is happening, but the man’s urgency presses me to answer. If by some miracle what he’s saying is true, I have to help. What could I possibly put above this person’s life, stranger or not? So I give him the only answer I have.
“Singing. If it’ll save his life, I’ll never do it again,” when I say it, I realize that it’s true. I feel a part of myself slip away from me, and somehow I know things will never be the same.
The old man speaks a few words in an unfamiliar language and turns to me. He asks for my hand. When I give it, he draws a symbol on my palm. Everything goes black.