It rained on the day we went up to the mountains. It rained and we stayed in our car for the most part, eating takeout from a nearby restaurant. We planned to eat it by the waterfall, but our sandwiches would’ve been soggy. We sat parked on a cliff-side, overlooking the mountains, the greens and reds and oranges and yellows of the treetops swaying gently with the breeze. We sat silent for a while as we took in the overwhelming feeling, the largeness of it all. We ate our takeout, but we didn’t feel worthy to be there in all the beauty. This moment was bigger than us. And I remember you said quietly and defiantly, “Someday, this will be home.”
The rain out my window holding me captive in my bed until it lets up. I toss and turn, but can’t bring myself to pull down the covers, afraid to introduce myself to the cold that is Not My Blankets. So, I pull them up to my shoulders, curl up into a ball, and fall back asleep once again. Time passes and suddenly it’s afternoon. Did I really spend all morning in bed? The rain has let up, but now I’m just groggy. A wave of uselessness takes over me and I force myself up.
I brew a cup of coffee and figure out ways to salvage this day. The grogginess never seems to disappear as I scroll through social medias and notifications from my lengthy sleep. I spend the rest of the day yawning, cursing myself for sleeping in, and not doing much of anything. But it’s good to have days like today, I reassure myself as I drift off to sleep again that night.
The wind was harsh, cutting into our faces like daggers, leaving us red in the face and nearly frostbitten. The dead of winter never felt so dead as we trudged down the road to the gas station to pick up hot chocolate mix. It was ironic, the heat wasn’t kicking on at our apartment, so we nearly got frostbite trying to buy something that’ll warm us up. If we make it, it’ll be a story to tell, but for now I just want to get out of the snow. The snowshoes we dug out of the closet were sinking into the snow more than usual.
“I think it’s time to get new snowshoes.” I yelled through the tunnel of wind.
“What?” Eva yelled back, squinting to see me through the snow still falling.
“Need new snowshoes!” I said simply.
“Yap!” Eva said, or that’s what it sounded like. She said something else, but it was muffled behind the snow.
I paused, turned around, and squinting said, “Huh?”
“Never mind, go.” She put her hands on my shoulders and turned me around, patting my shoulders before letting me go.
Though the cold tried to break through my spirit and render me useless, having Eva with me to make this two-mile trek kept me warm.
The brisk wintry air filled her with hope, something she hadn’t felt in a while. The trail was long, but she felt a warm comfort from her companion sharing stories. She didn’t say much, just listened and watched the trail in front of them. The greens and browns calmed her completely, and the smell of trees and the trickling of the stream nearby soothed her aching soul. She needed this hike. She felt her worries drift away as they climbed the mountain trail. Before long they reached the top. A cool wind blew through them as they admired the scenery. Treetops still shimmering from the rainfall overnight, the curved dirt path they followed now looking back at them. They made it to the top and what was that? Was that snowfall? She didn’t realize how cold it was, but now it’s snowing. She chuckled softly. The snow fell around them, soon covering the treetops and the rocks and path. They couldn’t move, mesmerized by the beauty of it all. Tomorrow they had to pack up and go back to the real world, but for now, they remained in the most beautiful place they could ever imagine.
“Let’s stay here forever.” She said.
“Okay.” He said.
She drove until she reached the forest, camped there for the night, and drove on to the next. It had been a week-long journey with no defined end. Teary-eyed and broken-hearted, she made the spontaneous decision to travel by car until she couldn’t remember his name. Or at least until it didn’t hurt to think about his bright blue eyes and his contagious smile.
She inhaled sharply as she merged into the right lane on the vast and ever lonely stretch of highway. She had just passed the only car she’d seen in the last five hours and the weight of her reality had been pulling her deeper and deeper into a pit of sadness, like a ton of bricks on her barely beating heart.
When she decided on this trip, she didn’t realize how depressing it would be. Traveling alone is clearly lonely, but she realized this just too late. It should have been obvious beforehand. Any sane person would’ve known traveling alone is as lonely as it gets. But she wasn’t sane. She was a grand mess- hair askew, nail polish chipping, the same shirt she’d been wearing since he told her he found someone new. She couldn’t bring herself to buy new clothes.
Work called her yesterday when she didn’t show up for her shift. She had a long talk with her boss about love and life and to make sure to keep them up to date on when she’s coming back. She was fortunate enough to have a job she could leave and come back to as she pleased. She was also fortunate enough to have the money saved up to go on an indefinite endeavor across the country.
None of that mattered, though, because the whole time she was miserable. She wanted to go home, but couldn’t bring herself to head that way. A part of her wanted to live out here. She was in the forests of Washington, thousands of miles from home. All she had were the clothes on her back and her water bottle, but the thought of stopping at home to collect her things- where her now-ex-boyfriend also lives- made her nauseous. She thought a lot about just how hard it would be to transfer to the Seattle brand, get an apartment, new clothes, furniture.
She found herself surveying houses in the suburbs. This one’s too small, that one’s got no driveway, this one would be nice. Oh, and an open house. It won’t hurt to go in. I can say I’m thinking of moving out here from Massachusetts. It’s true and doesn’t invite too many questions I can’t answer. Oh, and it’s cheap, too. I could afford this if I transferred to the Seattle branch. I should call my boss….
I found solace under a tree,
planted new life where you used to be.
There was nothing elegant about it,
it was beautiful in the way you find yourself
at your lowest point, alone with thoughts and grief.
But I can feel again,
and that has to mean something.
There’s new life in my veins.
I can feel it when it rains,
but I can’t say it’s the same.
A cool wind blew through Vin’s frizzy, auburn hair, sending chills down his back. Vin didn’t flinch though, the breeze instead filled him with a confidence he thought he had lost when they began their trek.
“I’d still have one,” Robin retorted bitterly, “if that monster didn’t swallow my fucking longsword whole like thanksgiving dinner.”
He chuckled sourly.
“You don’t have to tell me twice. That thing broke my shield.”
“Vin, we need to find new equipment.” Robin sighed, “All I’ve got are these throwing spears and I was hoping to save them for emergencies. Should we go back? Find new weapons?”
Vin turned to Robin, a look on his face she’d never seen before. It was as though he asked her to sacrifice himself for her- backtrack? Like he’d ever be caught dead backtracking.
Vin spat at the floor, wiped his face, and grunted. He began heading down the path they had been going, leaving Robin to watch him, flummoxed. She understood. All he was missing was a shield; anything could be used as a shield and with enough precision and skill, a shield is not necessary. And they made it clear at the beginning of the trip that neither would wait for the other. They are on this path together yet separate. When it ends, it will not be the two of them rejoicing in their victory, it will be them nodding to each other and departing their respective ways.
Yet it still remained true that Robin needed a weapon. Guards, monsters, enemies all roam these caves freely and with a purpose: to destroy anything which threatens their caves. So, naturally Robin searched her immediate surroundings while keeping an eye on Vin.
It was true that Robin and Vin were captured while attempting to defeat the emperor that ruled their land, but that doesn’t mean Robin and Vin are bad people. They live in a world where reason does not rule, satan-like criminals do and they’re ruthless, especially towards women or men who treat women like equals. The duo met in the prison they were captured in five months ago. They had been planning this escape ever since Vin saw Robin defeat another inmate in their illegal sword fights held under the bridge at midnight.
The swordfights were not allowed at the prison for obvious reasons, which was why they were held overnight and only few watched. It was a way for the prisoners to make a name for themselves. They occurred outside Vin’s cell, he studied adamantly through the barred windows. He watched Robin dominate everyone who attempted to fight her with an elegance he’d never seen before. He knew she would be the one to help him break out.
People are good. But people are selfish. They want to help others, they want to do the right thing, but only for their own selfish reasons. Whether they believe in karma or they just want someone to owe them one, people don’t genuinely care about each other. Now, a disclaimer: this is a broad generalization. I know that. And it’s my opinion. I know that, too. Feel free to disagree, I’m just saying how I’ve perceived people for the last 26 years.
I prefer to people watch. It’s easier on my heart. I know what love feels like and I know what heart break is, I’m fine living the rest of my life never feeling either. Now, I know what you’re thinking: but Shan, what’s the point of life if not to feel? If not to see someone you love’s car drive up your driveway and barely make out their smile from the front seat as they turn their car off, collect their things, and amble on into your house? Is the whole reason we exist as humans not to feel? To love? To hurt?
My counterpoint: you don’t need other people to feel love. Or pain. Or any fleeting emotion you so desperately crave. All you need to feel is an open road, a full tank of gas, and a playlist of your favorite songs. The right song can make you fall in love ten times in those two and a half minutes. An empty road at dusk in the middle of the summer, windows down, the sun setting in front of you, hair blowing through the wind as your arm drapes down, out the window- that’s what I live for. If I could propose to the feeling that gives me, I would. Believe me.
I have friends, I know that’s hypocritical and makes what I said kind of shitty, but they’re the same way. We drift in and out of each other’s lives, it’s kind of funny. We drive. That’s what we do. We drive anywhere our hearts desire. And once in a while, we’ll be in the same place at the same time and we’ll reconnect. Have a few beers. Share a few new tunes. Give each other tattoos to commemorate the feeling.
That’s how we make money. That’s how I can manage travelling across the States, a new county every day. I wouldn’t call myself famous, but if you’re in the tattoo-scene, you follow me on Instagram. That sounds douche-y, but it’s hard not to say “hey, I have thousands of followers and dozens of them send me money for my services every day” without sounding incredibly douche-y.
I have a route that I follow. It’s not like I just go wherever. Well, route is a bad word for it. It’s more of a road-trip. A never-ending road-trip. Where I get paid at each stop. I’m an artist. I’ve been called pretentious by people who’ve asked the wrong questions at appointments, but I don’t care. I’m a nihilist. It’s not deep. I tattoo, and I drive. If you take anything away from this, it should be that.
My car isn’t anything special. I gave it a new stereo, that’s about it. It’s reliable and comfortable. It’s not too big and it’s not too small. It fits me and my equipment. A comfortable two-seater with a trunk just big enough for the essentials. I travel alone. No one else has been in my car since Julie.
I won’t lie to you. That’s a big part of my beliefs. Lying is pointless. People lie when they’re ashamed. I don’t feel shame.
So, on the topic of truth-telling, I’ll tell you who Julie is. Well, was.
Julie was my girlfriend. We were going to get married, she proposed back when gay marriage was legalized nationally. We were engaged for a year before it happened. She used to sit in the seat right next to me, queueing up songs on my phone for our long trips between tattoo parlors. She was larger than life. I’d never met someone who made everyone love them so easily like Julie. All she had to do was smile at them and they’d fall victim like I did so many years ago. She was a metaphoric light at the end of the tunnel. A happy ending. I’d been so depressed before I met her. Then one day she asked for a tattoo and I fell. It was as though any pain I felt disappeared. I laughed later on, after we had been dating for a month, about how as I was tattooing her that first day we met, I was causing her pain, and little did I know she’d soon take all mine away. Blue skies and open roads for four years.
But with every positive feeling comes an equal negative one. And it made so much fucking sense to me, how could I not see that if someone could make you feel so good, they can take that all away in the blink of an eye, the turn of a wheel?
I don’t blame her for what happened. It wasn’t her fault. I shouldn’t have let her drive. We should’ve called a Lyft and gotten the car in the morning. I never even got my things from that hotel room, either. I couldn’t bring myself to go back after the accident. I called the hotel. Told them I’d be checking out early. Didn’t even wait for an answer.
If you’re thinking her death was the reason I’m a nihilist, you’d be wrong. I was a nihilist before I met Julie, she just took that part of me away while we were together. She was like a cold ice pack resting on your forehead as you feel your pulse thumping at your temples. She soothed me in a way no one ever could. I didn’t think it was possible to feel that kind of relief, but she knew all the right words to make any bad feeling go away.
When the doctors told me she wasn’t going to make it, I laughed- of all things. What else would it be? I thought bitterly. Happy endings are just stories that haven’t ended yet. This story ended with an ambulance and flooded comments for weeks. Hardly any of my DM’s the weeks to follow were about appointments, they were all about Julie. She wasn’t a tattoo artist, but she was the fiancé of one that tagged along to all her appointments. And she lit up any room she was in. People knew her name. People knew her face. They knew her aura. Of course, they asked about her afterwards. They felt bad. Not for me or for our families. For themselves. People felt bad because they would never see Julie again. Someone they’d only met once or twice.
That’s the reason I’m a nihilist. Like I said, people are selfish. It makes me bitter. They only care so they can score points to redeem later on something they want They suck-up to me because they think it’ll get them a discount. It doesn’t. I have bills to pay just like everyone. I live in hotel rooms. It gets expensive.
Someday, I’ll settle down, get a house, a dog, maybe stick to one tattoo parlor. That day isn’t today. When things get tough, I turn to the road. I turn up my music. And I drown out the bad. As I drive down an unfamiliar road, 7 pm, mid-July, after a long shift, I ask myself: why? I’ve been on so many goddamn roads, why do they all remind me of her?
Missed part one? Check it out here!
Cold. A bitter, gruesome cold spread throughout Jakey’s body. He couldn’t feel his fingertips, but he was less concerned about that than where he was. He opened his eyes to find himself laying on his side on a damp and uncomfortable bed. He could just barely see a bedside table next to him, illuminated by a single dim and flickering lamp. The lamp looked to be something from an old movie. His mind jumped straight to pirates.
Where am I?Jakey thought to himself. The last thing he could remember was jumping into Boston Harbor after that terrible fight with his parents. Was he dead? Was this what the afterlife was? Why did he feel like he was rocking back and forth? Jakey thought he would be sick.
His eyes slightly adjusted to the darkness and noticed a window behind the table. He could barely make out a light far in the distance. Then the light was gone. It reminded him of a lighthouse, but he couldn’t think straight enough yet to wrap his head around that.
It’s freezing.Jakey thought to himself, sitting up in bed and placing his feet on the ground. Where are my shoes?His feet felt a cool breeze as he noticed he was no longer wearing his shoes and his socks were damp just like the rest of him. It was a terrible feeling, he couldn’t stand it any longer. Without thinking, he took his socks off and felt a sudden relief.
I’m not dead, but I wish I was. This is awful. Where the hell am I?Jakey attempted to stand, lost his balance, and fell back down onto the bed. Why can’t I stand up? Is the world rocking back and forth? Or am I losing it?He squinted and looked around. At the bottom of the bed was another light and one on the opposite side of the bed, too. He was in a small room with two doors on each side of the bed respectively. Everything was wooden.
Jakey felt delirious. He couldn’t wrap his head around what was happening until he heard a loud crash, a sound he was all too familiar with after spending years at the pier. He was on a ship. He understood that now. How he got here was unclear, but he was here now. He didn’t feel threatened, as if he was kidnapped. Hell, even if he was some prisoner on a pirate’s ship it’d be better than his old living situation. At least then he’d have something to live for.
His mind was finally coming to. Jakey had never been on a ship before besides the time he toured his father’s boat many years ago. He knew boats rocked back and forth, but he never knew the feeling until now. Seasickness was something his father always said was for the weakhearted, but he could feel something rising in his stomach. Oh, no, he was going to be sick right now. He couldn’t see well enough to find something to throw up in, but he stood up and searched anyway. As he stood up, much too fast might he add, he uncontrollably bent over and let it all out.
Groaning, Jakey laid back down on the bed, legs dangling off the edge and hands rubbing his temples. Voices came from behind the door behind him followed by footsteps and the creaking of an old door handle turning. Without sitting up, he watched a light illuminate from the other room. A figure appeared carrying a lamp identical to the ones in his room, but much brighter.
“Well, I’ll be. You’re awake!” Said a deep voice in an accent he couldn’t quite place.
“You alright, boy?” A second voice said. Two figures now stood at his bedside, upside down from his perspective.
“Mnm, got sick.” Jakey croaked.
“Where didja get sick, now, kid?” The second voice said. The two piled in and Jakey sat up.
“Over here, sorry, I couldn’t find a place to go. It happened so suddenly. Never been on a boat.” Jakey mumbled, gesturing to the mess on the floor next to him.
“Well, that’s alright, nothing a mop can’t clean, right?” The first voice said as they inspected Jakey’s mess.
“What’s your name now? And what were ya doin’ out at sea? We thought you were a dead man. Scared us, didn’t it?” The second voice asked, taking a mop and bucket out of the cabinet at the end of the room and began cleaning.
“Jakey. I don’t know, was trying to end it, honestly.” Jakey admitted sheepishly.
“Well, that’s not the way to go, now is it? How old are ya? 16? That’s a bit too young to be wanting to end it all, wouldn’t you say?” The second voice said.
“I’d do anything to get away from my parents.” Jakey said solemnly.
“Is that right? They’re abusive? Guess we can’t bring you back ashore then, can we?” The first voice said, nudging Jakey. Jakey chuckled.
“Sorry for rescuing me. I really don’t want to overstay my welcome. You can bring me back to shore, I don’t care where. I’ll get out of your hair.” Jakey mumbled.
“Nonsense. Jakey. We were just talking about how we need a new shipmate, weren’t we, Artie?” The second voice said, peering up at Jakey and Artie as he finished cleaning.
“Aye. We’ve got a crew, but we could use another person.” Artie said, “Tell me, Jakey, what do ya know about the ports ‘round Boston?”
“I know a little.” Jakey lied. He knew Boston Harbor better than he knew himself. He’d spent hours a day as a kid memorizing the paths of ships and tides from his father’s charts. He would draw them on spare pieces of paper from memory in class when he’d get bored. The margins of his math homework were riddled with maps and boat designs. He could tell you where the captain’s quarters were in every boat that belonged to the harbor.
“Don’t be modest, kid, we want to give you a safe place to live. All we ask is you help us take back what’s ours.” Artie said.
Jakey had enough. The relentless screaming matches followed by forced tears and attempted apologies from his parents had finally broken him. He took nothing but the clothes on his back as he marched determinedly towards Monument Pier.
It was late, Jakey was unsure the exact time, but the sun had already set. The only light source was the streetlamps intermittently illuminating the sidewalk. He was lucky, well, lucky was one way of putting it, to live only a mile from Monument Pier. Lucky because that was his escape, he felt free at the pier. He could sit with his legs dangling off the edge of the boardwalk and listen to the tide push and pull, the commotion of Boston Harbor echoing softly. The occasional horn of a boat leaving the harbor would carry down towards Monument Pier and Jakey would daydream about what the boat had planned. Were they a rescue boat out to save someone drowning? Or were they a transportation boat, just making their rounds?
Jakey liked to imagine it was pirates. He was always fascinated with pirates. He had his own spin, though. They were never bad pirates. They didn’t steal or loot or kill, they just lived at sea. He was always interested in pirates, ever since he was a child. Before his father turned to alcoholism and was forced to retire, he was a ship captain for the Monument Pier Security. He would tell Jakey about the criminals they caught and Jakey would imagine they were pirates because he was 10 and what other criminals are out at sea besides pirates? Jakey loved hearing his father’s stories and he wished nothing more than to be able to hear one again, but the most his father does now is complain about the TV not working or the alleged rude cashier at the liquor store.
His father was lucky enough to have the savings to retire, Jakey was too young to understand how hard that is for people nowadays. His father had been in the Marines for ten years before being ship captain, he was discharged when Jakey was 5 and struggled a lot. That was when the yelling started.
Jakey made it to the pier, fighting off tears along the way. His head swimming with angry thoughts and suicidal ideations as he sat down at the end of the dock. A few fishing boats lined the dock, Jakey wished he brought his phone so he would know when to expect the fishermen. The last thing he wanted was to be around anyone, never mind his nosy, upbeat fishermen neighbors.
The dock was wooden and uneven, various nails sticking up and loose boards throughout. Jakey knew sitting here for too long would get uncomfortable, but he didn’t have anywhere else to go. The coffeeshop he frequents closed at sunset and this was the only place he could ever truly be alone.
He sat and listened to the waves crashing, looking out at the city skyline. It was beautiful, he couldn’t deny that. The city at night was incredible. Almost enough to stop the recurring thought in his head that uttered those two words repetitively.
“Jump in, jump in, jump in,” his depression echoed.
“Stop,” He spoke, tears welling up.
“Jump in,” It didn’t even sound like his own thought, as though coming from a demon possessing his body with strictly bad intentions.
“I can’t.” His voice cracked, mouth going dry.
“You must. It is the only option.” The voice hissed. He couldn’t argue any more, his voice of reason gone, all he could think of was how cold would the water be? And his clothes would get all wet. Should he take his shoes off first?
It seemed to happen in slow motion. Effortlessly, like he was being dragged in by an invisible force. Before he knew it, he was completely immersed. He didn’t even take his shoes off.