He woke up to silence. The two-story house remained mute upon entrance of the sun’s rays. The sound of his slow breath gave him pause, locking him down to the softness of the mattress. He felt glass shards trickle down his dry throat as he swallowed. His body, heavy with sleep, kept still as he stared at the ceiling. He desired nothing more than for the thick silence of the house to swallow him whole.
The bones of his hand creaked as he gently lifted it from his chest. Adrian felt the deep wrinkles of his face, trailing his fingers over them and then over his mouth. His thick beard, the color of deep salt and pepper, scratched his hand like barbed wire. He froze his hand for a moment until his senses relieved him of the false danger. No, the danger was not from himself, but the waking world that violently tore him from his dreams.
He slowly lifted himself from the bed. His rounded and aged body urged him with conscious deliberation. It creaked, painfully, ready to shatter into pieces if he dared hurry. He looked around and sat on the edge of the bed for an eternity’s time. Two nightstands decorated the sides of his bed, and beside the door to the bathroom was the clothes drawer and the tall vanity mirror. Upon the nightstand closest to him was a small folded piece of white paper with his name dressed in elegant cursive.
His breath stopped as he gazed at the paper. For a moment, the Grim Reaper loomed over his head. His once rounded shoulders sagged. His already weak strength decayed to the point that even lifting his arm was a difficult task. When he swallowed, it was no longer the pain of glass he felt going down his throat, but the incredible agony of an endless trail of barbed wire. He struggled to regain his numbed senses as his hand seemingly floated towards the cursed piece of paper blighting his nightstand.
“Taken care of the belongings,” it said. “Please rest for the day.” Signed, Annabelle.
The silence of the house grew louder. Adrian’s breathing kept him grounded to reality, however. It held at bay the agonizing quietness from tearing out his eardrums. His hands trembled as it refolded the paper. Its whole existence diseased his hands and blurred his vision with a great, painful sensation of reckless fire. He attempted to slide the note into his nightstand’s drawer but failed several times. After a sharp intake of uneasy breath he slipped it through.
His body was there but his mind was not. All the operations of his body became passive. When he showered, the warmth of the water failed to reach him. A thick glaze of absence overtook his eyes as more than 30 years of a constant schedule led his body. As he dressed in front of the vanity, he did not see the man who was proud of his Southern heritage; he did not see an accomplished professor, a husband, or a father. All he saw was a black void in the mirror, a pit into abysmal darkness that he unsteadily reached out for.
But when his hand touched the glass, it rebuked him with a bone-chilling coldness across his fingertips. His body wrenched his mind back from reverie and he gasped breathlessly. The stark whiteness of his suit jacket oriented him with his reality. He peered over the vanity and recognized his attire. He was dressed in complete white except for the black bolo tie that was secured with a yellow, stony pendant carved in the shape of the sun. He was wearing it during his marriage ceremony and the bombing that….
His eyes fell to the floor. He held himself up with a hand on the vanity mirror and rubbed his eyes. Uneasily, he turned and walked away from the mirror, refusing the urge to look back at it. Even as he left the room he kept his eyes away and shut the door without looking back. His next challenge came upon him in the form of the spiral stairs. An intrusive thought invaded his mind and set upon him the task of throwing himself down without a care.
He loomed over the first step and impulsively clutched the railing. He felt an eternity go by as he plodded down the stairs with slow, painful steps. The intrusive thought continued battering at his psyche and worsened as his eyes glimpsed at the pictures decorating the walls. He could easily invalidate decades of work and devotion through a single misstep down the stairs. He had graduated from Harvard when he was eighteen. His business operation cleaned off the streets so people wouldn’t have to see a child’s corpse every day. He considered himself blessed when he married at 23, and then doubly so at 25 when his son came into this world and he….
Near the base of the stairs, on the wall, were several missing frames highlighted by a difference of white on white. A dagger had plunged itself into his body and jerked upwards to his rib cage. Never had he experienced such a gruesome coldness within himself that the wind fled from his lungs. His feet refused to move down to the last step but his eyes saw why. Hugging the wall on the other side of the railing were the house’s three shoe cubbies.
His labored breathing echoed throughout his mind. The weak shaking of his head failed to muster any more energy and it simply dangled as it tried. His eyes never left the shoe cubbies even as the sound of his foot thumped against the wooden floor. The stair railing groaned as his grip tightened so dearly onto it that his muscles ached from the strain.
He snapped his grip from the railing to the closest shoe cubby. An accumulation of fog within his eyes blinded his peripheral vision. White noise flooded his ears and intensified with every heartbeat as he caught sight of the cubbies. In the left cubby were his shoes, the right one belonged to his wife, and the middle….
Tears ignited his eyes with seething fire. He squeezed his eyelids shut and every wrinkle of his aged face contorted to keep his head from shattering. Weakness decayed what small strength remained within his legs and he buckled against the shoe cubbies. He bellowed a sob that echoed throughout the house and dissipated into nothingness, mourning for a soul that departed too soon from the mortal plane.
Twenty years had filled the central cubby with a variety of shoes. A dark void replaced them and the coldness of the empty space was as great as the pain wracking Adrian’s heart. Tears flooded down his cheeks and ran along the wrinkles of his face like rivers, but no matter how much they tried such rivers would never flow again. Even though pain stabbed his heart, he clutched his sun pendant with furious animosity. To forget his pain was to forget the happiness that preceded it.
“My son,” he whimpered between sobs. “My son, my son, my son….”