He drummed his fingers against the steering wheel, waiting impatiently for his sister Sydney to come out. His leg bounced incessantly as his eyes searched the crowded parking lot.
The car door opened and his head shot to the right. “Hey,” Sydney said as she climbed in.
His lips twitched. “Sup.” He turned the key in the ignition, the car sputtering to life. Its rumbling sparked a fire in his spine, a challenge. He blinked and cocked his head. Would he answer it? He pulled out of the parking lot and turned onto the road, trying to ignore the gnawing at the back of his mind. His left leg bounced, his right leg told him to push harder.
“Jack, are you okay?” Sydney asked.
He ignored her, his brain pounding feverishly. His fingers itched as he curled them tighter around the wheel. He blinked rapidly, trying to ignore the call, but it was loud. Overwhelming. He wanted to answer it. He pushed down. 35, 40, 45. The engine roared with life. 50, 55, 60. The speed was thrilling, the uncertainty behind it all even more so. It was just him and a road that promised nothing; not his safety, not his life. Nothing had ever felt so freeing.
“Jack!” she screamed. “What are you doing?! You’re going to get us killed!”
He laughed maniacally, foot pressing harder against the gas pedal as he sped down the road. He felt so alive, so real. Like nothing could touch him. Not his monsters, not The Haze. The world was his.
And just like that it all vanished. He slammed his foot on the brake and they came to a screeching, agonizing halt in front of their house. His veins were still pumping with adrenaline, but everything was beginning to dampen.
He looked over to Sydney, fury and fear enveloping her eyes. “Never do that again,” she said hoarsely before unbuckling her seat and exiting the car.
He sat and watched her leave, hands still clasped around the steering wheel. Something inside of him was still bubbling and feverish, like an itch he couldn’t scratch, but he didn’t really care anymore. He couldn’t remember why he ever cared.
He sat for what felt like forever, strapped to his leather seat like it was a prison cell, before finding the energy to get out and walk inside.
When he did, he found his mother and father by the counter, Sydney standing behind them.
“Hey,” he said.
“Jack,” his mother began. “You know we love you, right?” His father nodded in agreement. “And that we’re on your side, always?”
“We want to get you help, Jack. Real help,” his father interjected, cutting straight to the point. “We’ve been consulting with some doctors for awhile now, and we want you to meet one.”
Jack clenched his jaw. Something about the way he said that annoyed him. “Whatever.” He’d heard it all before; the doctors, the help. Yet nothing ever happened. He didn’t need it anyways, he was still alive, wasn’t he? He began to walk away when his mother reached out.
He shrugged out of her grasp. “I’m tired.” He trudged to his room and fell on his bed. They were back, his monsters, dragging their vile claws across his skull. And if they were back, then he knew The Haze wasn’t far. He thought today would be different; that the jittery, burning energy would last. But it didn’t. It never did.
The Haze spread from his skull to his spine, creeping along until his bones felt like lead. He didn’t want to move, didn’t want to think. He just wanted to sleep. Things were better when he was asleep.
He heard soft footsteps that stopped at the front of his door. Sydney. “Jack,” she said, voice small. “You need help.”
“Go away Syd,” he muttered into his pillow, eyes squeezed shut.
“Jack, please. You can’t run away from...this forever. What you did today...that’s not okay.” She took a breath. “We want to help you. You just have to--”
Anger coursed through his veins like how whiskey slides down throats; fast and bitter. This was who he was. They didn’t have to like it, but he was all he had; a flawed combination of sharp bones and pulsing flesh with a messed up mind to top it all off. And now they wanted to take it from him? ‘Fix’ him? What, with hours spent alone in a suffocating room while people told him just how screwed up he was? With a measly bottle of pills that had a name he couldn’t spell, let alone pronounce? Why couldn’t they just accept him for who he was? He wasn’t perfect, god he knew that, but he was real.
“Shut up! Just shut up! Stop talking about things you don't understand, things you'll never understand! You all walk around thinking, poor Jack, poor sad, depressed Jack. And then you get angry when I show any sign of life. You get scared, you call me crazy. Maybe I am crazy, but that's just who I am, and you can’t change me!” he screamed, and he watched as she visibly shrunk back. “I’m so sick of it all! Of your whining, of hearing ‘you need help, Jack.’ I wasn’t going to kill you Syd. You really think that low of me?”
Her lips quivered and she tightly pressed them together.
“Answer me!” He was tired. Tired of being told he wasn’t good enough, wasn’t ‘right’ enough. Wasn’t human enough. He knew it, deep down, but they didn’t have to keep telling him. He just wanted it stop; their words of ‘advice,’ their sympathetic eyes. His increasing inability to function. But he didn’t know how to make it go away, he couldn’t just remove his brain.
“Jack, you’re scaring me. You’ve been scaring me for awhile. I just want you to be okay,” she sobbed.
Somehow, those last few words hurt the most. They sent a jolt through him, an awakening, and suddenly he didn’t want to be here anymore, didn’t want to be him anymore. He jumped out of bed and shoved past her, running past his shocked parents and their outstretched hands, past his quiet car with its taunting smile.
He ran until his chest hurt, till he couldn’t hear the thoughts that sunk into his brain like poison. Till he couldn’t feel the cold pulling of The Haze. But running from them didn’t mean they weren’t still there. He would always be like this, and there wasn’t a single thing he could do to change it. The realization sent a blinding pain through his head and he tripped, hands splayed awkwardly in front of him as he fell gracelessly to the ground.
It felt like his lungs were being strangled by his throat, by his heart. He gasped for air, for oxygen, for anything that would make him feel normal. He wasn’t okay, and god--how that scared him to say. He thought maybe it’d go away--maybe he’d get used to it. To the euphoric highs and the soul-crushing lows. He thought that this was who he was, and he was just going to have to accept it.
But he couldn’t find a way, not by himself. He was composed of tunnels that winded and curled in on themselves. They whispered promises of sweet beaches and swaying palm trees, of laughing until your ribs hurt and crying because you wanted to. Sometimes they even promised him the world. But they all eventually led to the same place; the same dark, cold place where his monsters roamed freely, ready to sink their fangs into his flesh and drag him into comatose. And he just couldn’t take it anymore.
His brain pounded violently against his skull as jagged tears streamed down his face. He needed help. And his family, they wanted to help him. He could bear the monotony of doctors rooms and endless pills if it meant his sister could love him again, if his parents could be proud of him again. If he could just feel like him again.
He heard the low rumbling of a car and turned to see his family pull up beside him, worry etched across their faces.
“Jack!” Sydney leapt out and ran to him, wrapping him in her arms.
“Syd,” he choked. “Syd I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay, Jack. It’s all gonna be okay.” She said it with such certainty he believed her. He pulled her closer.