It’s been a few days since we passed the Marked man under the tree. Not much has happened—shocker—and no matter how hard I try, I can’t get his figure out of my head.
He looked just like I did the day I died.
I look down at my hands, covered in shiny scars where rotting burn blisters used to be. They didn’t hurt, but I remember looking at them and thinking they should have. But I didn’t even feel them. All I felt was cold. And weak. So weak.
And scared. I was the last one in my family Marked, so I was alone. Trapped inside my house, a prison barricaded from the inside. I try to recall how Golem broke free, but all I see is a swirl of gray. Probably an effect of the final stages of Cainnes. Delirium set in not long after the fever passed one hundred and six. I’d imagine it had something to do with the baking of my brain, but I can’t be sure. I just know the thermometer cracked and it was really hard to do much of anything after that without feeling like the world was trying to tilt me upside down.
I trail after Golem, lost in thought, imagining how life might have been had Cain never come. The dead scenery surrounding me makes it difficult. Golem’s made it into a small town, filled with empty homes and abandoned memories. And now me. A real ghost town. A smile turns my lips at the bad joke, but someone has to appreciate my humor, right?
We’re walking down Main Street, clearly this town wasn’t very busy before Cainnes broke out. The few cars and shops left remained unlocked. The people who lived here didn’t stand a chance.
A rustle followed by a quick movement draws my attention to a small side street between two shops labelled the Ice Creamery and Angel’s Antiques. A dog resembling the mutt I saw in the bushes the other day peeks out from behind a pair of trash bins. Its ice blue eyes pierce through me, and I step towards it, drawn closer by the memory. It’s hackles raise as I approach, but his stays in place.
The closer I get, the clearer the markings on his coat become and I realize this is the same dog we passed before. His coat is white, but so speckled that it looks gray apart from the large black spots that cover his back and legs. His chest is tinged with beige, giving him a calico appearance. With only a few feet separating the two of us, I slow to a stop so I don’t scare him off.
“Hey boy,” I say, doing my best to look unimposing. I wonder how well that goes with the whole ‘ghostly apparition’ thing. The dog lets out a low rumble from deep within his chest. Not well, apparently.
I hold up my hand to show him I’m not a threat. “What are you doing out here? I’m probably not the best person to be following around. My friend isn’t really a dog person.” I smirk at the wasted humor attempt. The dog’s ear cocks to the side as if he’s trying to figure out what to do with me. Another growl sneaks out of his teeth, but his hackles smooth back into his coat. Progress. Before I can get too excited, a familiar tug on my back tells me Golem hasn’t noticed my absence.
A small pang of loneliness creeps through me, but I step back, obeying Golem’s summons. I give the dog a small smile. “Don’t follow me, ok?” I whisper, although it wasn’t necessary. “It’s not safe.”
There’s another impatient tug at my back, and I hurry to go before I end up dragged through the town.
Suddenly, the crash of metal rings through the alley. I turn to the sound, half-expecting to see the dog tailing after me, when my eyes fall on a girl around my age.
She’s very pretty, with tawny skin that nicely compliments her thick black hair. It tumbles over her shoulders as she hunches, frozen behind the steel can she knocked over. She stares out, her deep coal eyes fixed on me.
A thrill runs through me before I realize it isn’t me she’s looking at, but Main Street. She’s making sure nothing heard her, dummy. We stand like that for a moment. The girl watching warily for monsters to attack, and me staring at her, wishing she could see me.
I hear a soft yip followed by a low whine and realize the dog is circling the girl’s ankles, trying to herd her away from the fallen can. She glances down at him and runs her hand down his back. “OK Kee, let’s go.” Her eyes flit over to where I’m standing once more and then she’s gone, running down the alley with Kee on her heels.
I stand stunned, watching her go. I’m half-tempted to chase her when another pull on my tether reminds me it’s pointless anyway. She didn’t see you. I scold myself. You’re standing on the corner of Main Street. She was looking through you, like everyone else you’ve seen since you woke up. My eyebrows knot together as I frown, irritated I’ve allowed myself to hope. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that hope only opens the door to disappointment.
I allow myself one final look in the direction she ran. Although I only saw her a moment, the town seems emptier now than it had before. I sigh and trudge after Golem. The companion who doesn’t even know I exist.
Sullen, I push on, wondering if there will ever be a day that Golem stops randomly wandering the earth. It would probably only happen if he died. What would that mean for me? My life wasn’t much, but that didn’t mean I wanted to sprint into the void, either. I chase the thought away with the swish of long black hair and captivating almond eyes. Though she only spoke a few words, they hinted at a smooth voice with a lovely timbre. She probably sang alto. I wondered if she could pick out a harmony.
Stop that, I command. You’re being ridiculous. I didn’t even know her name, let alone if she could sing. And let’s not forget the part where she can’t even see you.
I sigh. The door to disappointment just kicked me in the ass. I’ve gotta get her off mind. I dive into the chorus of Undone, imagining how it would sound onstage, amplified and backed up by a fully loaded drum set. I close my eyes, allowing the lilting tune to wash over me.
I’m pulling apart, broken in pieces. Forgetting . . .
The song ends with a dead note and teeth-grinding feedback. My eyes fly open. What’s the next line? Carefully, I wind myself back to the beginning of the chorus, sure it was just a slip. It happens to everyone. I hum the first stanza, then lead my way in.
I’m pulling apart, broken in . . .
What came next? I rub the sides of my head to stimulate my sluggish memory.
I’m pulling apart, broken . . .
Nothing. This can’t be happening. My mind whirs, and I feel dizzy. If I had a stomach, I’m sure I would be sick. I snatch at my mantra, needing the familiar words to soothe my nerves.
My name is Callum McDonald. I live at … Windsor Drive, in … Utah. I had a mother, a father, and a little sister, Claire. I’m seventeen and I play bass in my band… I read music and advanced literature. I’m stronger than the fade …
I stop in my tracks, feeling like I’ve just been hit by a bus. I rack my brain, trying to uncover the hidden words. They’re in there somewhere, I just have to find them.
I scan through hundreds of images. Days without time, faces with forgotten names, laughter with missing jokes. Everything is gray and just out of reach. Tendrils of smoke that disappear when I try to grasp them.
My name is Callum McDonald …I’m stronger than the fade …
That’s not right. I try again.
My name is Callum McDonald…
It’s no use. They’re gone. Taking more of me with them.
With a sinking feeling, I know without a doubt it’s just a matter of time until the rest of me disappears. There’s a small pull on my chest, dragging me towards Golem as he continues forward in his unending shamble. My body, that doesn’t even realize I’ve gone and am slowly being erased.
I bury my hands in my hair, and bend over, yelling into the ground. I stay like that, screaming until my throat is raw, but no one cares.
Because nobody can hear me.
My name is Callum… the fade has won.