For Friday Flash Fics this week, given the date in question—Friday the 13th—I found an image that was a bit darker than usual. And while I pondered it throughout the week, it struck me as another chance to visit André from “Negative Space” (a short story that’ll appear in the upcoming Of Echoes Born). There are mild spoilers here, but I don’t think they’d ruin the story before the reading. This takes place both after “Negative Space” and the previous visit with André in “Surviving, Thriving.”
André came to with a start, gasping in a deep breath like he hadn’t remembered to breathe in a few minutes.
It might have been true.
It was no different than a hundred other nights, a hundred other nightmares, a hundred other gasps, right up until a gentle voice said, “You’re okay.”
André turned, forcing his breathing back under control.
In the middle of the night, he could barely make out Jaylen in the bed beside him.
Of all the nights to dream that dream…
“Sorry,” André said.
“Hey,” Jaylen said, sitting up and resting his hand on the small of André’s back. “It’s me. I get it. Besides, it’ll probably be my turn soon enough.”
André leaned against Jaylen’s shoulder. “You still get nightmares?”
“Less and less, but they still happen.” Jaylen’s laugh was mirthless. “I swear they wait for good days. It’d almost make sense if they happened when I was having a bad day, but…” André felt him shrug. “Not how it works.”
“Me too,” André admitted.
“So…you’re saying this was a good day?”
André could imagine the cocky smile on Jaylen’s face. He turned, and kissed him. They sank back onto the pillows, and André found his favourite spot on Jaylen’s shoulder to rest for a few moments.
“Is it just a replay?” Jaylen asked.
“No,” André said, and had to stop and think for a moment. He needed the right words. “It’s not about me at all, actually, most of the time.”
A squeeze of Jaylen’s fingers on his arm let him know Jaylen was listening if he wanted to say more. It was one of the best parts of their…whatever this was. Relationship, he supposed. They’d definitely just crossed a line from a few coffee dates. They probably needed to talk that out, too.
“It’s other people. People who didn’t make it. They surround me, and beg me to help them.”
Jaylen took a second with that. “Survivor’s guilt?”
“In a way, I think so.” André felt a little stirring of guilt of another sort in his chest. He hadn’t told Jaylen yet. And every day he didn’t, it felt like doing so would be all the more difficult.
“I’m going to get some water,” he said, and slid out of the bed. He pulled on a t-shirt and pajama bottoms. “You stay put.”
He went to the kitchen, pouring a glass of water, and drinking two gulps. When he turned to head back to the bedroom, he paused.
It used to be André had to be somewhere someone had died, and he could sort of relive their last moments, in a detached, distant way. He’d sought out those places, watched as people suffered violent ends, and then sent drawings of the people responsible to the police.
He’d thought it was going to stop when he finally got up the courage to go to the place where he’d been killed—albeit for just a couple of minutes. And it had.
But it hadn’t.
It had changed.
There were two, outside. Their hands touched the inside of the sheer curtain, their faces indistinct behind the cloth and the glass.
André could feel the pull of them. He wasn’t sure if it would be the same—would he relive their last moments? He hadn’t tried yet. They never forced him. And if he ignored them long enough, he’d learned they’d go away.
But that was starting to make him feel guilty, too.
“Tomorrow,” he said, facing the two figures in the window. “Tomorrow night. Okay?”
Their hands lowered. Their faces faded.
André turned. Jaylen, lit only by the pale light of the window, stood in the doorway to the bedroom. He’d tugged on a pair of boxers, and the view was wonderful.
“If I asked you to hear me out about something, and told you it would sound…impossible…would you be willing?” André said. “It’s about how I met Bao.”
“Of course,” Jaylen said.
André smiled, and led him back to bed.
“So. You know I was technically dead for a couple of minutes, right?”