top of page

Short Story 57



There was knocking on the window that led out onto the old fire escape, frantic knocking. Gravity ran to it throwing back the curtains. Maxum looked back at her from the darkness directing her to let him in, something she did without hesitation.


“Why are you here? Is something wrong?”


“Yes, it is,” Without pause he climbed in casting off his coat, “Where is he?”


“In his room, he said he was tired. What’s happening?”


“I’m not sure yet.”


The room was dark when they entered. Gravity found the light while he ran to the bed. Arc didn’t respond to anything. His body was resiliently still against all their hopes.


“What’s wrong with him? Maxum…”


“Stupid old fool. I should have known he would do it. Did you see a bottle on him when he came in?”


“No, not that I saw. I can check the bathroom.”


“Go check.”


Gravity ran to the bathroom searching every corner in a frantic hurry, “There’s nothing here.”


“I should have found a way to get him to show me before I left.” He cursed under his breath fiddling through his bag.


“What can I do? How can I help?”


“Make coffee. As strong as you can.”

Running from the room she found herself in the kitchen at a loss for what to do first. This feeling, this sense of helplessness, she had never known before. Everything was difficult to manage, her fingers felt clumsy as they mashed the button on the coffee grinder. The rock in her throat barely keeping back the tears. She couldn’t cry, she couldn’t. Five minutes later she was back in the room.


“It will be ready in a minute. How is he?”


“Fine, I’ve done everything I can for him for the moment. We just have to wait and see.”


“What about the hospital?”


“You know better than I that is impossible.”


“I can’t let him die.”


“Going there is worse than death for him. We’ll just have to wait.”


When the coffee was finished, she brought Maxum a cup taking a chair near the bed and the graying sleeper. The soft purple to his lips drawing her eyes. The want was there, the desire to reach out and touch him, and yet she couldn’t get herself to, too afraid to find him cold.


“Why would he do this? I don’t understand. I thought we were happy.”


“How much do you know about him?”


“Not much. Dad doesn’t really like to reminisce. The past is the past, is kind of his mantra. Why, do you know something?”


“Bits, here and there.” Maxum looked into his mug before taking a mouthful hardly tasting the black liquid.


“How?”


“My master. Over the years those of us who were his physicians took careful notes about him and past them down. This is not the first time he’s tried to kill himself and I dare say, if he continues on, it probably won’t be the last.”


“Don’t say that.”


“I’m sorry.”


The room was silent. They sat watching him fueled by worry and caffeine. Maxum would check his patient every ten minutes or so. Gravity would restock their mugs and mop the perspiring forehead of the invalid, her eyes course and red with suffering.


“The first time was after his family died.” This fell decidedly out of Maxum’s mouth when midday had come and his mind was running on fumes.


“What?”


“The first time he tried to kill himself was after his wife and son died of some illness, a very long time ago. Back when people were so easily destroyed by flues and colds. He’s tried three or four times since then, at least one for every one of my kind. It seems rather a tradition to struggle to keep him alive.” Maxum stared at the bottom of his mug, the old taste of black coffee all that was left in his mouth. “I thought he was going to try after my master died. But, maybe it was because you were still only fourteen. You couldn’t really look after yourself yet. He had a habit of trying after one of us left, my master thought it was because we were his only friends in the world, and when we died he had nothing to make staying here worth bearing.”


“What about me though? Wasn’t I enough to hang around for?” The accusation fell from her mouth directed at the sleeper who didn’t acknowledge.


“People often attempt things like this because they’re in a selfish state of mind. They are not thinking about anyone else and if they are it is only to rationalize what they are about to do. Who knows, maybe he was thinking about having to watch you die as well. Maybe he thought he was holding you back.”


A resentful hand brushed across her cheeks, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Are you hungry? I’ll make something.”


She left the room without listening for his answer. It was more than planned, she needed a moment, so he left her on her own listening to her actions coming through the open door.


“You’re a very stupid old fool,” Maxum set his cup on the dresser next to him. “If you thought this would do anything good for anyone. I commend you on your ability to gaslight yourself.”


By the time three in the morning rolled around they had faded into heavy sleep. The clock on the nightstand kept ticking, Gravity’s cup of coffee had an island of separated cream at the top. The whole world seemed to have fallen asleep with them. Even the light above them, which had appeared bright and impossible now appeared dull.


A vague sound, eyes opened blinded by the light. A pulsing headache, every limb weak. Arc caught sight of Maxum sitting near the dresser, the weight of Gravity beside him stealing his attention. Her face was still red and puffy. She had been crying. What an idiot to imagine she wouldn’t have or to think there was some way he could prevent that from happening. Carefully he extruded his hand touching her hair, his arm a heavy burden.


There was movement, she rose causing his hand to fall to one of her hands. Her eyes pulled wide open and stared at him unaffected by the light.


“Hello there.”


Reflexively she fell on him producing a harsh exhale. Maxum woke quickly at the unexpected noise. Relaxing back in the chair he watched the two of them without moving to interrupt. The soft sounds of Gravity’s weeping filled Arc’s ear.


“Why did you do that to me? Why…?”


“Because I’m a stupid willful old man. Don’t cry anymore,” His arms came to rest against her back, “I’m sorry, really. I wasn’t thinking.”


“Don’t you ever do that again. Look me in the eyes and promise me you’ll never do that again. Promise.”


“I promise.”


“I don’t believe you.”


“I think I’ve been rather true to my word thus far.”


She stood, “I’m going to go make breakfast.” She didn’t stop to look at the clock as she exited.


“She’s not going to forgive you easily.”


“And how do you think she will react when I tell her that you told me to get it over quickly?”


“I also told you I didn’t agree with it, and I came to stop you. You were just a little faster than I suspected you’d be.”


“So, you honestly thought I would do it then?”


“I had no reason to believe you wouldn’t.”


“And how did you propose to save me from myself?”


“It wasn’t really me, it was my master. He was so good as to spend the last five or so years predicting what poisons you might try to use to kill yourself. I took a guess. It is a wonder I chose correctly. I think you nearly succeeded this time.”


“I should have known Castile would have thought of something,” Arc glanced out the door then back at his companion, “But I’m afraid, though he managed to have foresight on the method he was wrong in the perpetrator. I was dying for real this time and not of my own volition.”


“You’re joking.”


“I’m afraid I’m not. That vial you saw was a ‘cure’ I had been waiting for, however much a dangerous one. Honestly, I’m not sure if yours worked or if mine did. Maybe it was a mix of both.”


“But why? How?”


“I’ve made a lot of enemies living as long as I have. It’s not that hard to think someone would have been desperate enough to try anything. You have noticed, I imagine, that though I heal I still scar. I may be ageless, but I am not invulnerable. Or rather my invincibility has diminished with time. Someone must have figured that out.”


“How long was this going on?”


“Since before Gravity, if you can believe it. I don’t take to death easily. I’ve been managing with a few improvised treatments, but it was really a matter of time.”


“You idiot, you should have told me. I might have been able to help you.”


“Yes well, I suppose I’ll have to remember that for next time. Uh, I’m tired.”


“I think you speak for all of us when you say that.”


“What a bitter victory.”


“What do you mean by that?”


“I had somewhat resigned myself to it. That’s what you saw today. I had determined to take the cure, which could, however strange it sounds, kill me just as easily as cured me. I regretted having taken that tincture as soon as I returned and saw her. It was possible I might have lived a bit longer if I had left well enough alone, but it was a gamble I had to take. And I took it prepared to die. I downed the bottle before I arrived so I wouldn’t change my mind when I saw her. I have become soft. I might have just opted for a few more days instead of risking it all. What’s funny is I have been trying to kill myself for such a long time and when I finally want to keep it, it almost slips from my hands just that fast.”


“You’re going to have a lot of convincing and explaining to do for your fair daughter to believe you.”


“Yes, I suppose you’re right.”


“Life is a very fragile thing for those of us who have it in short supply. We aren’t very forgiving when people put it into jeopardy without a second thought.”


“I never risk my own life without a good reason. On that point, I can assure you.”


“You could fool me,” Gravity returned to the room empty-handed and flicked off the light replacing it with a damper version set on the nightstand nearest the patient.


“I thought you had gone to make breakfast.” Arc tried a lighthearted tone, but he was too exhausted to play it off.


“I realized what time it was when I got to the kitchen. You look tired, Dad. You should close your eyes. Maxum, you can have my room. I’ll stay with him till morning.”


“Are you sure?”


“Yes, I’m sure.”


“Call me if you need anything.” He left the room without complaint, the door into the one large great room remaining wide behind him.


Gravity went to a chest at the end of the bed removing from it a blanket, going to the empty side of the bed lied down. She lay staring at him. Arc turned to her, his body weak and tired. Even now, though they looked nearly the same age, he saw her as the little girl she had been when he had first stumbled on her. As lost as he was, needing him as much as he had needed her.


“You should go back to sleep. You’ve made yourself very sick.”


“I’ll be better in a day or two without sleep. For now, I’ll look at you.”


“You know, you still scar. Which means even though you heal, your body doesn’t go back to the same as before.”


“It’s a punishment I well deserve for discounting things I should hold onto.”


“Dad?”


“Yes.”


“You won’t… do that again. We can find something if you don’t want to be like this. Something that can turn you normal again. But, you can’t hurt yourself like that… You can’t. I couldn’t bear it… if something happened to you.”


He extended his arm allowing her to shift closer, closing them around her when she was against him, “I promise I will remain with you, all your life.”


“You mean it?”


“I have never broken a promise, you can ask Maxum. I’m sure my old friends have left a veritable wealth of proof behind with him.”


“Dad?”


“Yes.”


“I love you.”


“I love you too.”


Arc didn’t try to correct her. He said nothing, just holding her, listening to the sound of her breathing and the suppressed tears she didn’t want him to witness. He meant what he said, he wouldn’t leave her, even if it meant risking his life to keep it. He would do so with no regrets. As long as it meant he could remain with her and protect her he could be happy. Nothing else mattered.




End



Thank you so much for reading everyone!!



Prompt Sentence: He needed thirteen stitches.


Word Count: 4979


©DecemberKnight 2023


Special thanks to Heather Zabriskie from Unsplash for the use of the image!


Please feel free to comment, subscribe, share, and/or donate. Every little bit helps :) All prompts are eligible for individual use. Please if using quote lead back to website.

2 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page