For the longest time, the couch and her ghostly self had been waiting. A video on pause, waiting for the brainpower, emotional energy, or whatever to be activated.
And for whatever stars were aligned, she finally felt ready.
Stef slowly slid along the couch until she sat just above the paused memory. Then with a deep breath in, she shuffled off the couch, falling directly into her own translucent shadow.
And as soon her bum hit the smooth surface of her world-
Not her eyes.
The past-the present-the-
In a way, she wished it had been dramatic. That she’d cried and wailed and thrown herself onto a fainting couch.
She wished that somewhere, off-screen, someone was racing across the world, across the stars, across time, to stop her.
She wished that someone would miss her.
There was a simple will to be executed, a funeral plan already paid for, and enough tucked away in an envelope that her landlord would get over having to replace the carpet under her corpse.
It was somehow sudden and such a very long time coming.
Her sensible voice had been shouting since the decision had been locked into place-
But- Somehow, for once, it was so easy to ignore her.
It had been like this sometimes. When a particularly bad patch of dissociation had hit, and she hadn’t felt connected to her own limbs, let alone the craziness in her head.
But those times, she’d sought for the voice. The voice that was her, but one step removed. The bit of her that had been able to rope itself off and grow up.
She’d lain around, unable to bring herself back together. The usual games of invoking senses – of looking for two smells, three sounds and four textures – hadn’t worked, and she’d floated, an inch away from her own life.
And like a voice from the top of the well, her sensible had called her back, had put her together. Not into one perfect piece, but to whatever was her baseline normal.
But those were times where she wanted normal. Wanted to continue. Wanted to keep trying.
And all desire to try was gone.
And contrary to the easy narrative, it hadn’t really one thing that had spurned it on. It hadn’t been one sad, sappy picture on the internet; hadn’t been some coincidental timing of an important anniversary. Hadn’t been some dream that had woken her with unending tears.
It had been the inability – the lack of desire – to scroll any further on a thread she was reading. The grey miasma where interests and distractions usually were.
The lack of energy to even try to find something to grab her interest. Days and days of napping on the couch in front of a television she was barely paying attention. Of auto-play and next episodes having more agency than she did.
And this had happened before. Of course it had. A hundred times.
It would go on and on, but then it would break. Some tiny thing would finally spark an emotion, and she’d put herself back together.
And it’ll happen this time. It will. It will!
But the nothing had continued.
Food had been in there somewhere. Snacks pulled from shelves with the least amount of effort. Cans of warm soft drink. Incomplete orders from meal delivery apps waited for sufficient fucks to be given.
The thought of an extravagant last meal had floated in her mind but had disappeared like a puff of dragon breath on a cold morning.
She just… couldn’t care.
It wasn’t as though these thoughts were anything new or novel. Still, there’d always been something to distract, something to look forward to, the want to stay alive, because she knew it would spite her father.
The closest she’d come was in a Mayfair apartment, drunk off her ass, asleep in a bathtub.
For hours she’d lain cold water. If there’d been a merciful god, she would have caught one of those colds Victorian novel heroines so easily died of and been able to shuffle off her mortal coil.
That unintentional close call aside, she’d likely mused on every method – sick, sad research for what she’d subconsciously known was probably inevitable.
You don’t have to do this, Spyder.
There was no painless way to do what she wanted, so after a day of gathering energy, she’d gone for one last trip into the awful, hostile, outside world.
Body spray had done nothing to cover the smell of not showering for weeks on end, but it was as much effort as she could muster.
One small purchase at the chemist, one box of fried chicken for her growling stomach, and one short walk later, she was home and safe again.
And now, she sat in front of her couch, passing a small box of sleeping pills from one hand to another.
There hadn’t been much in the way of preparation to be done. This wasn’t theatre, this wasn’t a cry for help, this was just…inevitable.
A sad end to a sad life.
She’d done two things. One – to chill a bottle of water, as she didn’t want her last taste to be a shitty glass of lukewarm tap water.
And the next had been to fetch Alexandria from her shelf.
She should have hated Alexandria – a gift from parents who didn’t love her, a porcelain doll for a little rich girl.
It should have been something she could have left behind a long time ago.
But the doll with the soft red curls was the closest thing she’d ever had to a friend, to family, to a person who cared for her.
But Alexandria wasn’t her parents. Wasn’t her family. Wasn’t anything that had nothing but negative connotations. Alexandria had always been so much more, so much better than anything blood had ever given her.
And you’ll never see her again.
When she looked at Alexandria, she felt safe – the same effect as looking at certain navy blue shades did. It was a safety and peace she’d never known with her family, but one that was there when she reached for it.
Just like her dream of drowning – the blue was there too, taking the form of part of a man’s suit she couldn’t really see. In all reality, it was probably some scrap of memory from before she’d known to be afraid of her father. Still, it felt more like a guardian angel that was sometimes there to protect her from a nightmare.
The colour blue, a dream that sometimes avoided being a nightmare, and a doll – here began and ended the list of good things in her life.
‘Christ, that’s sad.’
It won’t always be-
‘Proven you wrong already.’
And tomorrow? The next day?
‘I’ve stopped caring about tomorrow.’
She wrapped Alexandria tightly in her arms, one last cuddle before the end.
If she’d been braver at any point in her life, she would have rocked up to a psychologist and gotten a name or three to put to whatever was wrong with her head.
She suspected something beginning with schiz-, but it wasn’t the only option.
And whilst the her-not-her voice in her probably counted as an alter, in the language of the field, it wasn’t as though they switched in and out. She was, to her soon-to-be-ended pain, always in charge.
Maybe, if she could have disappeared, let someone else take over, and cease being in any meaningful way, then the little box in her hands wouldn’t be the only solution.
But the times her sensible had manifested in any physical way could be counted on a couple of fingers. A few words she’d been unable to force out. Freezing her foot when she’d been about to cross on red.
This was, unfortunately, her body and her life.
She tore the packet open, set the cardboard on the table and looked at the two silver strips of tablets.
With Alexandria tucked into the crook of her arm, she took the first tablet.
There was no desire to stop. No desire to hurriedly puke and empty her stomach. No desire whatsoever.
Just emptiness. Just. Just the inertia gone on a pointless life.
Soon, the first strip was gone.
Everything started to get the fuzzy edge she expected. After a couple more, her hands didn’t want to work anymore.
She slipped sideways onto the carpet, Alexandria falling beside her, red curls the last thing she saw as she-
And she was drowning again.
The dream had always been there. For as long as she could remember. A dream of sinking through darkness so black as to be unreal, and no matter what she did, all she could do was sink.
Somewhere below, there was a bottom, a floor, an end – but the dream rarely let her reach that point. Most of the time, it was just the fall, the sink, getting further and further from light, from safety, from…anything.
It didn’t hurt. Her lungs didn’t burn. This place was beyond pain but not beyond fear. The nothing could swallow her without a thought, could snuff out everything she was without effort.
There were ponds on her family’s estate, ones that froze over in winter. Maybe she had fallen through thin ice as a child. It would explain the imagery. Would explain everything except-
Except it wasn’t that. As many times as she’d tried to convince herself that it was, it wasn’t.
But questions were for someone who cared, and she’d stepped past the point of caring.
Somewhere, she knew she was dying.
And this was the dream before dying.
Maybe real people had their life flash before their eyes. People with things worth remembering.
She was drowning in the nothing that she was.
Her foot touched cold glass, smooth and black as obsidian, and her body collapsed to the floor, a clumsy stumble in ballet class.
And this was where it always ended. Where a half-dreamed imagining of blue would pull her away, or where the darkness would subsume her, and she’d wake up, hollow, heart racing.
She couldn’t fight anymore. Wouldn’t resist fading into shadow.
Kneeling on the glass floor, she watched as her lower half slowly faded, becoming ghostly, liquid darkness working its way inevitably up her body.
This seemed like time for last words, last thoughts, last regrets, but nothing came.
Even – especially – in this place, she was alone.
A twinge of sadness invaded her numbness, the first thing she’d felt in weeks, but it wasn’t enough to fight away the world swallowing her whole.
Footsteps on nothing and a voice without words. Sound without meaning.
She forced herself to look up and- And the perspective was wrong. Like there was a giant above her, or she was tiny.
A hand proffered her doll. A hand connected to a figure she couldn’t see. An arm in a black jacket led to a blue blob – a tie, a waistcoat, but the rest of the figure was nothing but…stardust. The figure of a man, made of shifting pieces of the shadow world around her, illuminated by nothing but tiny reflections of Alexandria and her own face.
And the figure spoke again, sound without words. Words that didn’t hurt, words that didn’t-
Spears and fractals of darkness worked their way up her shirt and crawled onto her neck.
And she was standing.
She could move – even those pieces of her that were darkness existed, but she had to push to feel anything.
Coldness on her cheeks.
She tried to look at the figure once more – one last time.
Alexandria was gone, now the man of stardust-and-suit was simply offering his hand.
And taking his hand would-
Senses went away. The sight of the obsidian world. The faint echoes of the voice. The-
And it was finally-
With everything she was. With every neuron, wish, and quantum echo that had ever existed of her, she reached.
And she was-
Someone clutching her hand.
Nothing became a wisp of something, the hand holding hers the only thing that existed, the one tether that could pull her out of this.
But she didn’t want-
She didn’t want nothing. Whatever emptiness her life was, it wasn’t the nothing that was waiting if she didn’t escape.
Her heart pounded, each beat like a punch to the chest.
And the hand was still holding hers.
She focussed on the blue blob.
‘I don’t want to die.’
Fuzziness took over her body.
Carpet. It was carpet. And the blue was Alexandria’s eyes, lying on the floor beside her.
Half-formed puke crusted her lips and the carpet beneath her cheek.
And sleep was clawing at her back, trying to drag her down again.
I don’t want this.
Her body didn’t work. Even moving her eyes hurt.
I don’t want this.
If she didn’t move, she’d slip under again, and this time-
Help me. Help me, please.
She blinked, and it seemed to last a lifetime. When she forced her eyes open, tears flooded her vision.
She tried to move her arm, her leg, but could barely manage to wiggle her fingers.
Shock. You need a shock.
With the effort of Atlast holding the world, she dug her thumbnail into her index finger, and while the pain registered, it was far away.
Not enough. She needed something more.
But there was nothing sharp in reach. Nothing that-
Her eyes fell on Alexandria.
Move or die.
With feeble fingers, she cradled Alexandria’s face, then pushed her against the metal leg of the coffee table.
Old porcelain cracked.
One shard fell into her palm, and without stopping to mourn the loss of her only friend, she dragged the sharp point down her other arm, from the back of her palm to her elbow, as deep as she dared.
Blood, pain and screams came as her body woke up, the adrenaline enough to momentarily counteract the drugs in her system.
After a few false starts, she abandoned trying to get to her feet and instead settled for hand-and-knees to crawl into the kitchen.
An old bottle of vinegar in a lower cabinet was stashed there for the rare times she felt like vinegar on her chips.
She fumbled with the cap, then guzzled a deep mouthful – and immediately vomited it back up, bringing up some of what was in her stomach.
Another drink, another patch of puke over herself and the floor.
More and more, not stopping until she was retching nothing but bile.
Her whole body shook as tears and snot ran freely down her face.
I hate this. I hate this. I hate me. I hate this.
Standing, she stripped down her underpants, stomping her dirty clothes into the puke so that she didn’t slip on the kitchen tiles.
Arm still bleeding, she slammed the kettle on and lined up every clean cup, pouring coffee and sugar in without regard to measurements.
She retched more bile into the kitchen sink as the water boiled.
I’m a coward.
There’s no shame in that.
After three cups of coffee standing at the counter, she topped up the travel mug and retreated to her bathroom.
A shower so hot it burned. A lousy job of dressing the wound on her arm. A fluffy towel wrapped around her small, sad body.
A couple of minutes on the internet said that she’d probably be fine – that she should probably see someone with letters after their name, and-slash-or call a fucking ambulance, but-
But that would be so many questions she couldn’t answer. So many words she wouldn’t be able to find.
She drank deeply from the travel mug.
There was what she couldn’t do. What she couldn’t consciously handle.
And there was what she should probably do. What a sensible person would do, even if it was the worst thing they could imagine.
‘I can’t,’ she whispered, imagining a hundred disapproving looks. Imagined men with white coats locking her away.
But was that worse than-
Ten minutes of research, an app download and some set-up had a dead man’s switch enabled.
Alarms to check-in every half hour. And if she failed to address any of them – if the sleeping tablets had absorbed enough to yank her back under, her phone would call triple-o, and text-to-speech would request an ambulance.
I hate this. I hate me. I hate-
She hated the emptiness less than the nothingness.
There was a glint of indigo light on her travel mug, something being reflected from elsewhere in the apartment. She reached for it and-
Then. Now. Now. Then. Now-
The couch was gone, and another colour had joined the colours of her small world’s sky.
Old tears mixed with new.
And for a long time, all there was were tears.
With what will she had, she conjured a soft bed under herself, and lost herself in the soft quilts, burying herself down deep in the world’s laziest pillowfort.
A facsimile of Alexandria – whole, not broken like in the memory, came into her arms, and she slept, holding the only person who cared about her.