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 Ouroboros [closed/solo]

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PostSubject: Ouroboros [closed/solo]   Wed Sep 14, 2016 8:41 am

P͏a̴ín̷.
She was tumbling through the blackness.
2026
"Pay your respects, sweetie."

A body in a casket, a procession of black suits, a sea of solemn faces. Even the baby was quiet for once. Jane brushed her hands over leathery skin, cold as a stone. That was her grandfather, but she couldn't squeeze out an ounce of grief out of her heart no matter how hard she tried. She couldn't remember his voice, his smile, anything that resembled the man he must've been when he was alive. He wasn't anything more than a body in a casket. He looks like he's made of wax.

Jane turned away and made her way down the aisle without saying goodbye.
P͡ai͞n̨.
They said your life flashing in front of your eyes was a myth. So how many times did she have to relive this?
2030
"Catch me! Catch me!"

Peter's giggles rang out across the yard as the three of them burst out the door and out onto the grass, barefoot and breathless, a pale winter sun peeking out over the treetops. Frost crusted the roof, the black car in the driveway, the early noon glow stretching over the yard and turning the ice to dewdrops that glittered like diamonds where the light kissed. Gwyn stumbled with a high 'eek!', almost slipping on the slick grass, and Jane took a flying leap off the porch, her grin frozen on her face. "H-hey...!" she chirped between pants, her breath billowing out in gray clouds with every gulp of air. "Don't leave me behind!"

"Now you've done it..." William said with a good-natured groan, cracking his knuckles in the doorway. He was fifteen, and twice the size of any of them, and right now, he had a wisp of a thin mustachio drawn on his face with permanent marker. One look at him, and they all burst into giggles again, making their way toward the far side of the lawn.

Their mother's voice filtered out through the open door frame, a distant shout from the kitchen. "Hey, tell Peter to put his shoes on! Throw on jackets, it's freezing out there!"

"Yeah, yeah..." William jumped out into the yard, eyebrows knit together, a dangerous grin flashing across his face. "I'll drag them back in!" Gwyn ducked under his arm with a high-pitched squeal, something between a laugh and a scream, and dodged away when he swiped at her again, stumbling through the grass. He whirled around, hazel eyes boring into hers.

"It wasn't me!"

"I know it was you, you little rapsca—...!" Jane popped open the marker with a grunt and flung it at him like a javelin, darting the moment he flinched away to avoid the improv weapon. "Hey, watch it!"

"You have to try harder than that, Will!"

"You can't catch me! You can't catch me!" Peter taunted from the corner of the yard.

"Yeah, catch him!" Jane was out of breath by the time she caught up to Gwyn, staggering to a stop and doubling over with her hands on her knees. How are they still fine...? I don't get it! She was older than Gwyn by a year, and Peter was just a Kindergartner, but she was the one who always got teased for being the weakest in the house. Almost the slowest in her class, she couldn't open any jars, and apparently, she couldn't even outrun her brother. Sheesh...

"Now you're gonna get it...!"

Too loud. The rumble of an engine. An apple red pickup flashed down the street, rounding the corner, tires screeching. Too fast. Faster than she could blink, faster than she could think, the truck smashed over the curb with a beast-like roar, flying over the yard. Gwyn dashed off to the side, screaming, and Jane toppled over into the grass, her heart thumping in her chest.

"Peter!"

A hoarse scream.

She watched Peter's spine snap like a popsicle stick.
Pa̴in.͟
When you died, it was supposed to be the most blissful feeling in the world, your brain releasing a flood of endorphins and adrenaline into your bloodstream. Just a little taste of heaven before you passed on.

So why was it so hard? Why did it hurt so much?
2031
They didn't eat dinner together anymore. She wasn't sure how she didn't notice at first, how something so normal and routine had just faded out of their daily lives, but it happened. Jane picked at the corner of the book, folding the yellowed dogeared pages over in her hand. One of her mom's old favorites, an anthology for old fairy tales and folklore that she'd passed on as a birthday present...

There was a crash of plates from somewhere downstairs.

Sobbing, screams, and broken drywall. How had this become her new normal, and how come she hadn't realized the change until now?

Jane slapped the book close and sat up, threw off the covers, and slipped out of bed. Screaming, screaming, screaming... She could hear them both from all the way up here. That's all this house was anymore. Long stony silences, long enough to think that everyone was just tired of all the noise, and then they started again. Not even just her parents, but Gwyn, and sometimes Will too, and all the other blur of faces that cycled through their house from day to day.

I'm sick of this.

She padded across the room and flung the window open. The screen door fell open with just a bit of pushing, sliding down the shingles before crashing into the overgrown yard below. That was fine. Would they even notice? Jane crawled out onto the roof, shivering from the sudden blast of cold. That was fine too. If she spent one more second inside that house, she'd suffocate.

Jane slammed the window behind her and curled up under the stars.
Pa̴in.͟
How was this fair?

What did she do to deserve all this?
2032
Keep up.

Don't think. Don't worry about it. Just keep up.

Keep up.

She pushed herself down the field, head spinning, wisps of fog blurring the goal at the far side of the field. The checkered ball shot out in front of her, bouncing along the grass. Her feet felt as numb and cold as rocks in her cleats, but sweat was pouring down her face as she chased after the ball. A boy in a blue jersey cut in front of her, winding back for the kick. Jane could only stare at the haze of faces on the sidelines.

Keep up.

Jane tore her gaze away, kicking out her foot, biting her lip. Thump. The ball shot out from under her, slicked in mud, bouncing away.

Keep up.

Her ears were ringing. She couldn't hear the cheers, the cries, but all she could hear was her heart drumming in her chest.

"Keep up..." she muttered under her breath, forcing the words from her throat. It felt like an iron glove wrapped around her neck. Jane pushed herself down the field, panting, a horde of blue and yellow jerseys thundering past her. "Keep up..."

Come on. Why couldn't she keep up with the rest of them, just this once? Her legs folded under her and she went spilling to the ground, barely catching herself. Keep up. It was hard to breathe. Ice spread through her veins, squeezing her heart. Keep up. Jane clutched at her chest, fighting the building tension fanning up her body like a coil ready to spring. Her face was burning. Her face was freezing. Something swelled up in the back of her throat, and a violent storm racked her whole body, coughing, blood flecking the grass in front of her. Keep up.

She couldn't breathe.

Keep up.

She couldn't breathe.

Keep up.

Black spots danced in her vision, every cough tearing her throat, shooting through her like bullets. A circled of people had gathered around her like vultures, leaning over her, reaching over to touch her or kneeling in the grass to grab her. All she could hear was the ringing.

She couldn't breathe.

Keep up. Keep up. Keep up. Keep up. Keep up.

Her vision narrowed in front of her, tunneled, and it all faded as she hit the grass.

. . .

Beep. Beep.

Something about it reminded her of an alarm clock. It chirped in time with her pulse, a rhythm she'd gotten all too self-conscious of since her collapse during the soccer game. Twilight had settled over the complex, moonlight beaming through the window of her hospital room. White, sterile. She'd gotten a hundred too many piteous looks from the swarm of nurses and doctors throughout the day, but it was better than the looks her parents had given her, her siblings, her cousins and aunts and uncles and all the rest of them.

Like an idiot, she'd tried to crack a joke. Maybe to ease their nerves, or maybe to ease hers, just something to lift the tension off the field. Or maybe she'd thought, just for a second, if she pretended it was okay, if she acted like it was okay, then it'd all be okay.

"What? Is there something on my face?"

They'd all screamed that they were taking her to a doctor, and she'd almost gotten up to go to the car, but they'd made her sit back down and wait for the ambulance instead. She just didn't want to see those kinds of faces again, or hear those kinds of screams again.

Just smile.

She'd smiled the entire ride there, smiled through all the examinations, through all the needles and gloved hands, smiled through the oxygen mask, smiled until her cheeks were sore and the stream of visitors and doctors had stopped.

Jane sat alone in the hospital bed, picking at the band around her wrist, staring into her palm. Pulmonary fibrosis. She wasn't even sure how you were supposed to pronounce it. They'd broken the news to her here, surrounded by flowers and familiar faces, dragging out the point with a hundred different sensitive medical terms that she'd forgotten the moment they'd entered her head. It was all code for those two words. Pulmonary fibrosis.

It was a flowery term for something pretty simple. All it meant was 'scarring of the lungs.' To make it simple, it was a respiratory disease and she was going to die in just a few years. That was all. Just smile. She'd just stared into her lap. Her mother screamed. Did that mean she'd taken it well? Did she get some points for that? Just smile.

Len had left her cookies on the nightstand, but she hadn't taken a bite.

Her first car, her first kiss, high school and college, growing up and moving out. A hundred million things flashed through her mind, a hundred million things she'd never get to try, a hundred million things she'd never get to taste, a hundred million things she'd never get the chance to do. She'd always told herself that she could when she was older, but now there wasn't anything in front of her. Yeah, she'd always been weak and sick... There was a time when she almost had to be held back a grade because of so many absences. But she'd never thought...

What was the point?

Just smile.

It was like walking toward a dark pit with no turning back. They'd assured her over and over again there were treatments, a daily dose of esbriet, an inhaler, but they'd been careful not to dangle any false hope in front of her. The tissue would build in her lungs and she would die.

A part of her had never expected to die. Death was for faceless names in the news, old people she didn't know, a distant, alien concept removed from her life. But she knew better than that, didn't she?

I don't want to die.
P̴a̵ín.
Being born with a gift was a one in fifty million chance, and dying young was a bit of a lottery within itself.

So how lucky was she?
2033
What was the point of school if you weren't going to graduate?

No one could do anything about it. She was just left to drift off on her own, chasing one whim to the next. There was a special kind of freedom that came with it. For the next few years, she could do anything she wanted. It'd always sounded exciting, but she'd never had the guts to go through with it until that morning. Halfway through second period, she'd just walked out the door and down the road. If she'd stayed another second, she was going to be nauseous.

What were they going to do? Suspend her?

They all tried to keep up this thin illusion of normalcy, but every day it'd started to unravel from every thread. Dad had finally skipped town for a few weeks to stay at great uncle David's ranch with all her cousins. Jane kept her head down and her hands in her pockets, cold needles filling her lungs with every breath, the slush crunching under her boots. Len fucked my mom. She'd heard it screamed over and over, the whole story, no matter how much she'd wanted to shut it out. Len, best friends with her dad since Kindergarten. Len, who'd picked her up from school in fourth grade in his police cruiser. He'd been like an uncle, just another face she'd known all her life. She'd heard the story how her parents had met a hundred thousand times, how Len had set them up together in the auditorium. It all fit together now.

Her chest was burning by the time she'd reached the skate park. She hopped the fence, as best as she could without falling on her face, and plopped down over the half-pipe, letting her legs dangle over the ramp.

Ever since she'd been diagnosed, something had broken in the woman she'd called her mother. Would she be the same after losing a second child? Was it her fault things were all falling apart like this, or was it Peter's?

What was the point of anything once you ran out of road?

Footsteps rang out across the asphalt. She didn't bother to look up until they stopped, just a foot away from her, and someone moved to sit beside her.

"You're skipping too, huh?"

"How could you tell?" she said, looking up at him from the corner of her eyes. What a lowlife. A year or two older, ear gauges and a nose piercing, a sky blue t-shirt with a faded band logo, jeans torn at the knees, a Patriots cap with the fucking sticker still on the bill. She caught herself staring into his eyes. Not blue. Gray, like the sea, the sky.

"I guess you can say great minds think alike?" A smile spread across his face. "It looks like we both had the same idea."

"Ah," she breathed, nestling deeper inside her jacket. "Well, sorry to rip you off, but I guess I do have a pretty great mind. I'm always telling myself that, at least."

He let out a stupid laugh and rubbed the back of his neck. "No need to be sorry. It's nice to have a bit of company. I'm usually out here alone."

She raised an eyebrow. "You do this a lot, then?"

"You could say that."

"If I have a great mind, then that makes you a real genius, doesn't it?" she murmured with a small laugh. "One in a million."

Another stupid laugh, and she laughed with him, two idiots laughing over nothing. There was a stretch of silence before he spoke again. "Í'͏̷́͟͝m̨̀͘ ́͏̸B͏҉̢͘҉r̵̴͠͞a̸͡d̸́͏͝҉y̸̶.̢̛̀͘ ͡͏B̨́r̶͝á̴̀͝d͠͝y̴̨̛ ̵̵̸̧͘K̴̛i͟͝n̸͏g͞҉.҉͘"

"My name's Jane Grey," she said, just smiling, "like the queen."
Pa̶in
Why did she have to be born at all?
2034
Her dying days were the best days of her life.

In a weird way, she was untouchable. There were no consequences, no repercussions, no fears, nothing holding her back anymore. Anything she wanted to do, she could do. Anything she wanted to try, she could try. Even while her family fell apart around her, mom married to another guy, William gone to join the Marines, another sister on the way, it didn't matter anymore. All she had to worry about was her, because in a year or two, it wouldn't be her problem anymore.

Wasn't that simple, to be at the end of your rope?

She waltzed through the house, laughing, twirling, taking in all the carnage. Wrecked, from top to bottom. The house she'd grown up in, the house with all these memories, and she'd never felt more satisfied trashing the place. Toilet paper and knocked over plastic cups, at least a hundred people from her school and she didn't even recognize half of them. That was the best part. It'd been an ordeal throwing it all together, but it'd worked out in the end.

"You look like you've gone crazy."

"Maybe I have!~" she sang, spinning on socked feet to look at him. Was that so bad?

The radio was blaring some generic emo pop-punk shit, and some kid she didn't recognize bumped past her, streaking down the hallway toward the door. A gaggle of hooting idiots followed after him, waving their hands in the air. For the life of her, she couldn't figure out what they were doing or what was so funny about any of it.

He just smiled and rolled his eyes. "You're drunk."

"Cut me some slack, it's my birthday." One of her last. Neither of her parents had any sort of celebration planned out, so her family had put their heads together to plan one instead while they were out. She'd wanted something big, like you only saw in the movies. Were they regretting it yet?

"Whatever," he teased, following her up the stairs. "Just this once."

The scent hit her as soon as she summited the steps, a strong musk that filtered out from her brother's old room. She skated along the wooden floors and flung the door open with a loud 'ta-da!' Of course, just what she expected. A wall of smoke.

"Whoaaa..." Dylan leaned leaned back on the bed, brushing a mop of sandy brown hair from his face. "How's it hangin', birthday girl?"

"Jane!" a voice squeaked from the veil of smoke, an unnatural cracked pitch. "You surprised me..."

Jane clasped her hands together, leaning forward. He closed the door behind them as they walked in. "Well..." As soon as she opened her mouth, it invaded her senses, and she threw an arm over her mouth, coughing. Of course, everybody started to groan at once.

"Oh, are you shitting me..." Jaime shot up from her seat, waving smoke out from in front of her face. "Jen, crack open the window."

He rubbed her back, gritting his teeth. "Alright, c'mon, let's get out of here..."

"No," she mustered out between coughs, leaning against a long empty dresser. "No, I'm fine..."

Jennifer cracked open the window anyways, letting the worst of the smoke drift out. "Seriously, you shouldn't be in here—..."

"Hey, I said I'm fine." She forced herself to stand up straight. Just relax your chest. In. Out. Jane blew out a breath, but the smoke stung at her eyes. "I'm a big girl, alright? You don't need to babysit me."

"Oh, come on Jane..."

Jane crossed her arms with a grin, raising an eyebrow. "You're a traitor, Gwyn. You're going to make me cry on my birthday."

"W-wha—?"

"You heard me," she cut in. "You too, Jenny."

"H-hey, what did I do...?"

"And the rest of you too."

Dylan just laughed, lounging back with the pipe in his hands.

"You're both smoking for the first time without me. I wasn't even invited." A mock gesture, an exaggerated scoff, the grin still plastered to her face. Gwyn reeled back, covering her eyes, and Jen just gave a sigh and sat back down. "I'm hurt. You've shaken my trust in family. Alas...!"

"Urggh..."

"Ha, sorry, coz," Dylan said. "Just didn't think you were interested is all. C'mon, the seat of honor for the birthday girl." He stood up and nudged a sleeping Morgan off a beanbag chair, dragging it out closer to the bed. Huh. She'd never taken him for a lightweight.

"Dylan, are you serious?" Jaime snapped.

"It is her party."

Gwyn just frowned, then sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose.

He gave a cursory glance down to her limp cousin on the floor. "Is he alright?"

"He'll be fine," Jaime said with a defeated wave, glancing away. "Jen found a marker in the dresser and wrote on his face."

Jane knelt down and grabbed him by the chin, turning his head over. Sure enough... "'Happy b-day to our fave cousin,'" she read, her smile widening. "Aww, you even added a little doodle. It's like a family portrait. Why's Gwyn not in it?"

"She said not to add her," Jen murmured, rubbing her hands together.

"What if he gets mad when he wakes up?"

"Hey, you should know that absence makes you look more suspicious..."

Gwyn squeaked, glancing at each person in the room, and then into her lap. "I'm not your cousin anyways!"

"Yeah, yeah." Jane plopped down on the beanbag and he sat down on the floor beside her.

Jaime sighed, scratching her nose. "Your new sister said she was calling the cops. Or her dad. I can't remember."

"New sister?" Jane murmured, a laugh escaping her lips. "Lexus? Fuck her."

"Said her daddy's gonna kill you."

Jane just gave a sardonic grin, resting her hand in her cheek, her elbow on her knee. "Wouldn't that be something?" Gwyn's frown deepened, huddling deeper in her little corner.

"Nasty little girl," Dylan said with a laugh, settling back down on the bed. "Bitchy like her dad."

It didn't matter. If she hadn't been prepared for what came the morning after, then she wouldn't have let her house fall apart like this. Empty threats. Everything Lexus ever said was hollow, even her worst smack talk. She was a chihuahua with no bite. "Talking about Lexus is gonna give me a headache," she complained. "Thinking about Lexus is gonna give me a headache. When are you going to pass that thing over, anyways?"

For a moment, maybe, it just didn't register. They all stared at her like her head had fallen off. Finally, Dylan glanced down to the glass piece in his hand.

Smoke. How much worse could smoke do to her anyways? Dragging her life out another year, or two years, or three years, it didn't mean anything. There was nothing left out of a life like that, no meaning, no purpose. She was already a dead man walking. So, while she still could... she wanted to live without any boundaries, without any worries, without any doubts. Live like you were dying. That was a saying for a reason.

Forget about trying to coddle her like a glass figurine that'd shatter at any moment. Out of anyone, she deserved it the most.

"It is my party."

. . .

How long had they been sitting there? Her head was full of smoke, a haze of far flung thoughts drifting through her skull, the chaos upstairs just a muffled rhythm from down here. Gwyn and her cousins had left hours ago, slipping away before trouble came back. What time was it now? Four in the morning? Five? Six? She couldn't tell. Jane leaned her shoulder against his, cuddled up on a couch in their basement, for a moment, it blissful silence.

Her face was tingling.

A giggle slipped out from her lips, and he started to laugh to, just two idiots laughing over nothing.

"I want things to be like this forever," he murmured, pulling her close.

Forever. That sounded nice to her too. She locked her fingers with his, clasping him tight, her anchor, her lifeline, the only thing keeping her from drifting off into space.

Jane tilted her head and drew him close for a deep kiss. Just the two of them, forever. She pulled away after a heartbeat that felt like an eternity, her eyes brimming with tears, and leaned in toward his ear.

"I don't want to die a virgin," she whispered.
P̀ai͢ǹ
To die. To sleep. Perchance to dream.
2035
She could clear her head up here.

The wind tugged at her clothes, pulling her, calling to her, cold and bracing against her skin. She closed her eyes and breathed it all in, filling her broken lungs. It hurt. It hurt just to breathe, to talk, to live. At some point, when was it just too much? Jane looked down over the edge of the rooftop, toward the dark parking lot who knew how many stories below, like a black sea stretching out in front of her. An emerald skyline, traced with ruby and sapphire, flashed with gold here and there where lights blinked on and off.

"Jane," a voice breathed.

So he'd found her. She didn't turn to look at him.

"Pretty, isn't it?"

"Get away from the ledge."

She stared out over the city, the low hum of traffic, like a distant river, the airplanes streaking across the sky like stars. "Why?" she asked, low, barely a whisper. "If I'm going to die, then just let me die."

"Jane, please, just step away..." He was inching closer and closer, his arms wide, fear etched into his face.

"I don't think you get it," she muttered. "There's nothing left. I'm not going to let them hook me up to any machines."

"Jane..."

"No. Listen. Do you know what'll happen to me?" Her heart contracted, the tightness growing in her chest. "They're going to pen me up in a hospital bed for the rest of my life, and they're going to make me lie there for months until I suffocate. What kind of life is that?"

"Jane!" The word burst out, an explosion of emotion. "I don't want to live without you." His voice cracked. "I couldn't live in a world without you. There's so much left to do, I... I want to stay with you forever. Please, just—..."

Tears rolled down her cheeks. She turned to look at him, barely holding her expression together. Just smile. "Then jump with me."

He stopped in his tracks.

"I'm scared," she said, her voice wavering. "I don't want to die. So jump with me."

"Jane..."

"Please..." She balled her hands into fists, digging her nails into her palms, her shoulder shaking, her knees were jelly. Spikes of pain shot up her arms. "We can be together forever."

He stepped forward, out onto the ledge, and grasped her hands. Just one touch and she got those sparks again. Just one touch and it was like it all melted away. "I don't want to die either..." he admitted. His voice trembled. Both their hands were shaking, the wind whirling around them. "It scares the hell out of me just thinking about it, but... but, if you were gone..." He swallowed and shook his head, meeting her eyes. "You're everything to me."

There wasn't anything left to say. They pulled each other into a kiss, intertwining their fingers, and pulled away. His lips were warm. "I love you."

"I love you too."

Her heart was thumping in her chest, one, two, three. She hitched her breath, closed her eyes, and plunged into the darkness below, her hand in his. The world fell away around him, just him and her, together, for one last heartbeat, forever. They hit the ground with a wet smack.

Pain.

She was tumbling through the blackness.

Iron invaded her senses.

Jane's eyes shot open, pain flooding through her whole body, an agonized scream ringing out across the empty parking lot. She moved to sit up, and then collapsed back onto the concrete, convulsing. Hot white fire coursed through her veins, burning away at her from the inside, blood spreading in a scarlet pool around her. Pain. Every inch of her body screamed out in pain, every part, every cell, every molecule. Pain. She thrashed her head from side to side, gasping for air, but every breath felt like razor blades down her throat.

Lights. She was staring up at the street lamps, the glowing windows, the stars and satellites blazing up in the sky, so far out of reach. Jane gulped and turned her head, her heart feeling like it'd burst in her chest. He was just a broken figure on the asphalt, a puppet with his strings cut, face down on the red concrete.

Another scream ripped through her body, swelling up from her core, hot tears streaming down her face with the blood. She fought through every broken bone and every ounce of pain and every inch of torn flesh just to drag herself over to his body. "No, no, no..." she sobbed, burying her face in his shirt. "Wake up, please wake up, no... Please..." They were supposed to be together forever. They were supposed to leave together. It wasn't supposed to turn out this way.

So why was she alive and he wasn't? What did she do wrong? "Please..."

She didn't know when the rest of them came, if it was minutes or hours, but it wasn't long before they were surrounded. Two ambulances parked just in front of them, men with stretchers, a throng of policemen and paramedics staring at her through glazed eyes. The red and blue lights danced over the parking lot, reflected in the red puddles.

Once they took him away, she just laid on the ground, staring up at the sky. A man in a white uniform leaned over her, his mouth parted.

"You're lucky to be alive."
P̡a͘i҉n̶
Let me die.
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