Imprint
Author: AnnmarieM

Chapter 3
Two plus two equals five

Dark. Everything was dark, black like the night. He growled, fumbling around blearily with half-closed eyes and limbs that were not being particularly cooperative. Where was that blasted light switch? Finally, after what felt like hours, he found it and quickly flicked it on impatiently. However, he regretted this a moment later when even the dim light of the lamp on his bed-side table managed to temporarily blind him. Smart, real smart. He let out a quiet, long-suffering groan of irritation.

He had to wait for a while, much too long in his opinion, before his eyes finally adjusted and he could see his dim, cluttered bedroom properly again in all of its non-existent glory. There was some maths homework hidden under various comics and magazines on the desk in the corner, probably rotting away into shrivelled, yellow paper and illegible words. The small laptop that sat on another desk was presently drowning in a puddle of crumpled note paper that had been his many attempts at accurately sketching the little dragon statue that now resided in the bin. And finally, clothes were strewn all over the floor. He figured his school uniform was also somewhere among that pile. It was no wonder he could never find it in the mornings.

There was a clock, very small and dusty and chipped, hung up on the wall with wallpaper peeling on all sides. 4.09 am. He attempted to glare through hazy eyes. What was he supposed to do at this time in the morning? He threw himself back down onto the bed and sighed. It was those stupid, stupid nightmares he concluded. They seemed to be keeping him up a lot lately, more than usual. This hadn’t been the first night that he had woken up to the streetlamps outside still illuminating a pitch-black street. Honestly, it was starting to scare him a little. What did it mean? Was his subconscious trying to tell him something? If it was, then it wasn’t doing a very good job.

Tonight, the dream had been strange. He could still remember it vividly. There had been a door, old and worn and made of oak. Nothing else, just the oak door that didn’t fit in at all in the perfectly grey corridor. And then knocking had started, quiet at first but growing louder and louder until it echoed in his ears and rebounded throughout his head. Yet when he had finally opened that door, all he saw was a hazy figure with an indiscernible shape before waking up abruptly. It made no sense.

He rubbed his eyes and got up again, unable to stay still. He felt restless, almost agitated about something he couldn’t pinpoint. Maybe it was stress; playing with his mind and making him imagine things that weren’t there. The dreams, the almost constant feeling that someone was watching him; it was all just in his head. So with that thought he let some of his anxiety simper away and paced the room a few more times, trampling already wrinkled clothes in the process before finally settling by the small window. He drew the curtains back. Outside, all was silent and calm. The orange street lights splayed soft ginger glows across the pavement, dormant cars sitting in the driveways of the houses on the other side.

But then, he thought he saw something: a man, walking down the street. He couldn’t see any details, but he was sure of what he saw. It seemed normal enough. Yet when he blinked, the street was silent and empty once again. He did a double-take, not trusting either his sight or his head. Now he was hallucinating as well? He was messed up, seriously messed up. Maybe he needed a counsellor, or a therapist. Shaking his head slowly from side to side in denial, he took a step back and blinked again, as if expecting his hallucination to return. It did not.

That was it. He couldn’t just ignore it any longer. Shakily, he threw on an old sweater and stumbled out of the room as quickly as he could without waking the whole household. Mother needed her beauty sleep after all; otherwise she would be in an even worse mood than usual tomorrow which did not bode well for his social plans. So instead, he chose to knock on the door two rooms down from his.

He had to wait for a long time in the darkened landing, casting cautious glances about him every few seconds, but after the sixth knock the door finally creaked open with a weary sigh that seemed in perfect harmony with the person behind it.

“What the hell do you want, brat?” came the ever-so-polite snarled query. The door opened a little further and in its place stood the tall, slightly bent figure of a boy. He had a pale complexion, with a gangly frame and sharp features. It was the sort of face that exuded both intelligence and pride. Two sunken, pale blue eyes encircled by dark bruises stood out in the near-dark and the boy ran a hand through his tousled hair in annoyance. He looked no older than sixteen.

But he wasn’t sixteen, he was nearly nineteen. And unfortunately, he was Sean’s older brother.

“Can I come in?” he opted to ask instead, a little hesitantly.

“It’s nearly two in the morning,” the other pointed out blandly, scowling.

“You never sleep anyway, Hayden. Now just get out of the way and let me through the damn door will you?”

Hayden Lane was surprised. His brother was never usually so forceful, and was quite open-minded when it came to compromises. He rarely saw this side of him. So it was for this reason – and solely this reason – that the older boy let out an exhausted sigh and obliged, moving away and for once making no comment.

He closed the door and the two boys collapsed onto the lumpy bed pushed up against one corner of the cluttered, dim room where an abandoned iPod that Hayden had obviously been listening to was still playing. He was an insomniac, after all. He didn’t sleep – at least not for more than five hours a night – and music made a good distraction.

“So then,” Hayden started once they were settled comfortably. “What brings you here at this hour, brat?”

Sean scowled at the name, but forced down his protests. It wouldn’t make any difference anyway. He would always be ‘brat’ to Hayden, no matter what he said. So instead, he went for a more forward approach. Gathering some of his courage, he asked: “what do you know about…schizophrenia?”

The older boy raised an eyebrow at the odd question. “What makes you ask that?”

“I asked first.”

Hayden sighed, irritated, but answered nonetheless knowing that he would get no answers of his own if he did not. “Well what do you want to know? It’s a mental disorder that effects your perception of reality. It makes you hallucinate; see and hear things that aren’t there.”

“And…that’s it?”

“There are hundreds of odd little facts I could tell you about it, but I doubt you want to stay here for the rest of the night.” There was silence for a moment, and then he continued. “Anyway, what’s happened? Explain yourself.”

Sean sighed. He knew he would have to do it eventually, but the idea was still not pleasant and he would preferably avoid it. But he had to do this, he had to tell him. Hayden had taken an A level in psychology. If anyone could help him, it was him.

“The truth is, I think I’m sick.”

He watched with interest the various emotions that flickered through his brother’s normally impassive eyes. They were hard to discern in the limited light, but he caught the three most prominent ones; shock, confusion and concern. A tense, deafening silence drowned the room. Sean hated silence. He had too many connections with it already, too many encounters with silences just like these. They never ended well.

“So?” he prompted finally, unable to bear it any longer. Finally a small, wry grin made its way onto Hayden’s face.

“Well, little brother, we’ve always known you were sick. Why bring it up now?”

Sean had to force back a fierce glare at that little jab, but pushed it aside due to more pressing matters. “I’ve been…having dreams,” he started awkwardly, unsure how to phrase it.

“Like most other human beings, apparently.”

This time Sean did not hold back the glower that bubbled to the surface. “Just shut up and let me explain first, would you?” He carried on without consent anyway. “I’ve been…having the same dream for months now. It’s always about a door, and there’s someone knocking on it. But whenever I manage to open it all I see is a brief flash of a hazy figure before I wake up.”

There was another, unbearable silence. For once, Hayden looked thoughtful. There was a small frown on his face and his brow was creased with thoughts that Sean would never be able to fathom. They were so alike and yet so far apart, he mused absently. Their rooms were almost identical, clutter and crumpled paper smothering nearly every visible surface and curtains that were hardly ever closed that let the moonlight stream in. They were both creative. However while Sean preferred rough sketches, Hayden preferred to dabble in the art of poetry. And this…this was the perfect gothic setting for a writer.

“It’s probably nothing.” After all of that thought, Hayden’s dismissive reply cut through Sean’s musings abruptly. He scowled. He came for advice and answers, not to be told that it was all in his head. He was already past the phase of being surprised by that fact anyway.

“You think I would have come knocking on your door at two in the morning if it was ‘just nothing’?” he growled, indignant. “It’s not ‘nothing’ Hayden, it’s…it’s…” he rubbed at his weary eyes and roughly ran his hands through his hair in frustration as the fatigue began to wear on his frayed nerves.

“What, then? What is it?”

“It’s scaring me, Hayden.”

It was a long while before the other boy spoke again. There was a more urgent, concerned expression on his face now and Sean was glad that the gravity of the situation had finally gotten through to him. “You say you’ve had the exact same dream, right?” Sean nodded. “And when did they start?”

“A few months ago, but they’ve been getting a lot worse in the past few days.”

Hayden sighed deeply, his skin looking sickly pale in the limited light and the owl-like circles around his eyes standing out even more. “Maybe they’re trying to tell you something,” he suggested. “In Victorian times…there was an Austrian psychologist who studied the interpretation of dreams. He wrote a book all about it. He claimed that our unconscious selves and therefore our dreams are the secret desires and thoughts that we normally suppress due to the influence of society. In other words it’s still our minds, just uncensored.”

Sean slowly quirked a single, fine eyebrow. “So,” he said. “According to you, my ‘unconscious self’ has a burning obsession with doors.”

His brother let out a low, almost forced chuckle. “In English literature and especially the classics,” he said. “There is not a single door that is opened without a particular meaning behind it.”

“And what does this have to do with me?”

“Doors can mean lots of things,” he continued. “Opening doors can mean opening one’s mind to a new way of thinking, or a new lifestyle. Closing one can mean the opposite – shutting oneself away, or the end of a story.”

“So then what about locked doors?”

“They generally symbolise withheld information,” Hayden murmured. “But in your case, it sounds more like someone trying to open your door, open the door into your mind.”

Sean paused for a moment, letting this new revelation sink in. He had no idea how his brother had come to this conclusion – open the door into his mind? There was no such thing. “That’s really creepy,” was all he said in the end, and a part of him was cold at the thought. “What do you mean, ‘open the door into my mind’?”

“Exactly what it sounds like,” his brother shrugged. “It could be a memory, some form of your true primitive nature, anything really.”There was still a deadly serious expression on his face which Sean did not like. In the strange, prancing shadows cast across the room by the flickers of moonlight it looked desolately grim.

“But that’s just assumption,” Sean stated, more to convince himself. “Stop comparing my life to ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’ okay? I don’t have a hidden ‘primitive nature’. I’m just…Sean. No evil alter-egos.”

Hayden only shrugged again in reply. “If you don’t want to believe me, then fine. You never know, it might be your memories coming back.”

“It’s not that,” he sighed again and shook his head. “It’s…more than that. In fact, it’s not just the dreams. I keep getting this feeling that someone’s watching me, but there’s never anyone there. And, just now, I think I had a hallucination.”

“Of what?”

“A man, walking down the street. But when I blinked, he was gone.”

Hayden managed to hide his surprise and worry well, but this was only due to years of experience. When it came to the paranormal, psychology and the solar system…he was undoubtedly a walking encyclopaedia. He had watched documentaries on haunting, read the accounts, even gone to some of the ‘haunted’ sights. He still found the idea of something beyond the realm of reality to be fascinating. He did not completely believe it, but he had always secretly hoped to experience a haunting first hand. And now…here was his chance. Whether his brother was simply delusional, schizophrenic or really being haunted was another matter, however.

“You don’t believe in the paranormal, do you, Sean?” he asked, even though he already knew the answer.

“Of course not,” he replied as expected, but his eyes were weary and slightly glassy. “Ghosts don’t exist. I’m just delusional, that’s all.”

“You know that may not be true…”

“I know what you want to believe Hayden, but I’m not like you. Ghosts don’t exist. I’m just delusional.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Hayden spoke up again. “Don’t do anything stupid, brat.”

Sean gave a dry smirk. “I won’t.”

Then, after a few more moments of thought, Hayden leaned over to a drawer beside his bed and pulled out a piece of blank note paper and a pen. He handed them to Sean. “Here,” he said. “Whether this is real or not, I want you to draw that figure that you see in your dreams. Draw the man walking down the street. Anything really, just whatever comes to your mind.”

Sean deliberated, before sighing in defeat and silently obliging. He took the paper and cradled the pen for a moment, eyes staring blankly out of the window into the dark night as a thin layer of cloud-like white mist veiled a new moon. And then he started to draw. His mind was blank as the pen scratched lightly and scribbled intricate cobwebbed lines across stark white paper.

Then, when he was finished, he looked down to admire his work. The picture was a simple yet clear sketch, each stroke standing out in the pale silvery light. It was of a figure of short stature that was distinctly that of a boy’s, dressed in a long trench coat with large buttons and high collars that hid a lot of his face. Stray strands of unruly hair cascaded to the chin while the rest was held back. And there were the eyes. Although Sean was a good artist, he was not fantastic. Yet even through a simple sketch, the eyes were piercing and intense.

Hayden took one look at the sketch. In that moment, Sean no longer needed the extra emphasis of the silvery moonlight to see that the boy’s face had gone from sickly pale to stark, deathly white.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

People compare life to lots of things. They compare it to blank canvases just waiting to be shaped and made into something beautiful, or merry-go-rounds and full circles. They say life ends exactly where it started. Except, no one knows where that is. So to fill that black, gaping hole they make up theories. ‘Somewhere up there’ they say, ‘that’s where we go when we die.’ But those are just assumptions and fanciful ideas. After all, we’ve never received a postcard from death. Who’s to say that it’s better than life? People like to believe in heaven and hell because it’s something to cling onto; they like to believe in another world so much better than our own above the clouds. But reality always come back to find them sooner or later.

Sean Lane was not one of these people. The thing is that reality happens to find some people sooner than others. Sean knew this well, unlike his brother who still had an odd fascination with the paranormal. Sean would never understand it, and he would never try. He was logical and down to earth. He did not believe in heaven, hell or souls. Nor did he believe in God. He believed in the evolution theory, he believed in Calculus, he believed that the ‘big bang’ was simply a coincidence involving reactive gas and substances meeting and exploding to form the sun. Maybe he was disillusioned or cynical, or just reliant on facts to give his life some order. He could never remember where his opinions on these issues had formed. However despite all of this, he was quite accepting of other’s beliefs. It was probably years of living with Hayden that had made him open-minded and accommodating. He did not agree with him and would not easily be swayed, but he would tolerate him.

However this thought did not cross Sean’s mind once the next morning, when he found himself still wide awake and Hayden’s words from a few hours ago refusing to leave him in peace. Did the idiot have to jump to conclusions so quickly? He almost regretted telling him now. He had not gotten any answers after all, just a few vague theories that were nothing more than his brother’s own personal fantasies. Sean knew well what his brother hoped for. He wanted to experience a real ‘haunting’ so that he could ‘study’ it and make some sort of scientific breakthrough and force his silly beliefs on others. Well, it wasn’t going to happen. It would never happen. The dreams, the hallucination, the feeling of being watched – it was all just sleep deprivation induced madness that he was slowly but surely sinking into.

He pulled the covers off of himself with that troublesome thought and let the cold air smother him instead, before leaping up and proceeding to scamper around the room trying to find a school uniform somewhere. He managed to rip back the curtains and let golden sunlight pool through the grubby windows and blind him as he stumbled backwards – splat – straight onto a rotting banana skin. With an almighty groan to herald the arrival of yet another dull morning, he looked down only to see squished, brown goo oozing out of the skin and onto the school uniform he had just scoured the room for. Perfect.

It was another half an hour before Sean was decently dressed in clothes that smelt of compost and the large porcupine-like spike in his hair had been wrestled down by what he hoped was hairspray. Usually he would never have bothered, but he knew Ali would nag otherwise. So, with another sigh, he made his way into the kitchen and dug around for cereal. Mother was still asleep and probably would be until afternoon.  Hayden still refused to leave his room. He had been like that ever since Sean had shown him the picture of the boy and had been promptly ushered out only to have the door slammed in his face. His brother was probably just over-reacting again.

The bus ride to school was the epitome of ordinary. He met Ali at the bus stop, got on with her and found a pair of grubby, chewing-gum smothered seats near the back. “Are you okay? You don’t look so good,” was her first remark as a group of loud, boisterous students clambered onto the bus and took the back row.

He sighed, not in the mood to deal with anyone or anything. “Just didn’t get much sleep,” he muttered. He paused, thought, and then added: “by the way, I think I’m going mad.”

She looked incredulous and raised an eyebrow, and Sean couldn’t help a wry smirk at her expression. “What do you mean?” she asked over the loud, background din of chatter as the bus lurched and then began to rumble along the road.

“I’m going mad,” he repeated. “I’m having weird dreams and hallucinations. You know, it’s probably best that you stay away from me.”

She looked a little hurt. “If you want me to stay away from you, you don’t have to make up crazy stories as an excuse.”

“It’s not a story,” he sighed. “I’m being serious.”

She still did not look convinced. “Whatever,” she replied frostily. “I’ll keep away from you, if that’s what you want.” There were tears welling up in her eyes now, but she refused to let them fall.

“Ali,” Sean ran a hand through his hair, feeling extremely awkward and a little guilty. “Stop over-reacting, would you? You’re getting like Hayden. Whether you believe it or not, I honestly think I’m going insane and its best if you stay away from me for the time being.”

“What?” she asked. “So I’m not allowed to talk to you in every single class we sit next to each other in?”

“I’m not going to school, today.”

What?” she turned to stare at him in surprise, eyes wide. “You’re skipping school? You can’t do that! What if they catch you?”

He rolled his eyes. “People skip school all the time, it’s no big deal.”

“And when are you going to come back?”

He frowned slightly, unsure of the answer himself. “I’m not sure, Al,” he sighed. “I guess when I’ve got my head around things. Cover for me until then, will you?”

She turned away from him, to stare out of the window at the passing scenery that flashed past – a shiny blue car, some decrepit houses and a man walking his dog. “Sure,” she finally said softly, in a pained voice. “Of course I will.”

Sean wanted to say something more, he almost wanted to confide everything to her, tell her exactly why he wanted her to stay away from him. But he didn’t. It wasn’t right and he himself was not even sure of anything anymore. Although he did not like it, it would be best for her. So in the end all he said was a simple “thanks,” and hoped it would be enough.

When the bus next rumbled to a stop with a large heave of annoyance, Sean stumbled up and adjusted his backpack. He did not look back to see Ali’s expression as he stumbled through the loud, rowdy crowds and finally made it off the bus. School was in exactly two more stops. However as soon as he was safely on the pavement, the doors slid closed behind him and roared into motion. Apparently reconsidering going to school was now impossible. Giving the empty bus stop one last glare, he turned and walked the other way.

The rest of the day was spent in idle boredom. It was quite cold, and the sun had taken refuge behind the clouds. At some point it had also started drizzling. Sean had managed to find his way to the town high street and had spent most of the morning reading newspapers for free until he had been chased out of the shop, and sitting in the deserted park on his own. He almost wished he had gone to school now – at least school would have been a little more interesting than this. It seemed bunking off school was overrated. For a few brief moments, he wondered what Ali was doing and almost wished he had asked her to come with him.

By lunchtime, the rain had gotten worse. Sean stared up at the clouds with a quiet sigh and let the raindrops splatter across his face, revelling in the feeling. The truth was that he would be bored whatever he did. Life in general was boring, or maybe it was just him. He was a pretty boring person. Sometimes he wondered if death was any more interesting. Sometimes, he wished that he could give his life to someone who would appreciate it more than he did.

And it was then that something interesting finally happened.

He had subconsciously walked out of the park and was just crossing a rather empty road when he felt it again. He felt someone watching him. It sent a chill throughout his body that he couldn’t explain. He paused, for a fraction of second, to glance behind him. Yet in that fraction of a second a car had come careening around the corner, completely disregarding any speed limits, and Sean knew that it was a mistake.

He was rooted to the spot, unable to do anything except stare in horror as the headlights blared and flashed, the car tried to slow down and the brakes squealed. They say you’re life is supposed to flash before your eyes before you die – some sort of built in reflex that is supposed to make you realise just how lucky you were so that you can finally appreciate your life before you’re killed anyway. But Sean felt none of that. He never had a chance too. Everything moved too fast and in the next second a burning, overwhelming pain had wiped all thought from his mind and he was vaguely aware of flying – rather spectacularly – through the air. For that one moment however, before the pain, he had felt strangely content. It was an odd feeling, a feeling of not being alone. It was a feeling that he had never quite felt before, but it was nice.

And then, he was falling: plummeting.

Down. Down. Down. Straight into perpetual darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A/N: Cliffie? Ooh yeah baby. I'm actually really starting to get into writing this. It's still definitely not my best work, but I'm slowly getting my old inspiration back, no matter how deformed and weird it has now become. I've decided that to do this story justice, I have to stop comparing it to 'Cold Water'.

This chapter has definitely been more like my usual writing style than the other two, and I quite like Hayden. We all need a cute, paranormal-obsessed insomniac in our lives, don't we?

Anyway, I would REALLY appreciate some comments. This sort of thing is so different from what I usually write that some feedback would be really lovely :)

Thanks!

Annmarie

xxx

 

Currently listening to: The strange buzzing sound the light is making. Weird.

 

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