Chapter 1 –
It was the same feeling every time. My legs wouldn’t move.
He stood at the end of the crowded middle school hallway, his lifeless eyes boring a hole into me. Eyes of the walking dead. Body of any other pre-teenager. Everyone around us hurried and bustled, completely unaware of him.
He staggered toward me, his head hung low and the hood of his sweatshirt now shrouding his face. Methodically, his feet dragged with every step, as if he forced them on, using perpetual motion to push him down the hall. He walked like a pallbearer carries the casket of his dead mother.
I wanted to run, to hide, to get as far away from the school as I could, but my feet had sunk down into the tiles of the hallway as if I wore cement shoes. They wouldn’t even budge. Not even a single crack.
He adjusted the strap of his backpack as we passed. I stood there, unable to move, as the boy’s exposed hand brushed against my bare shoulder. The touch only lasted a millisecond, but it hit me with the force of a collision that ripped through me and doubled me over.
My chest was imploding. Darkness filled my head and my limbs, the pit of my stomach, and choked down my throat.
“Sorry,” he mumbled as passed.
The hallway pushed in on me, squeezing me like a python suffocating its prey, but the world felt distant, like all its inhabitants had turned their back on me. The darkness consumed me, seeped through my skin like thick, cold tar. It filled me with uncontrollable grief and isolation that weighed down my whole frame and soul. I could feel my eyes drying, cracking, from the months of crying the boy had endured. My whole body wanted to escape itself.
I couldn’t live like this. There had to be a way out. I would do anything to make this feeling stop.
I clutched my chest, holding my insides in.
I sat up in bed, panting, my shirt soaked with sweat. I reminded myself that my twin brother had found me that evening six years ago, curled up in the corner of an abandoned classroom, still sobbing and wanting to die. But I was alive. He had found me in time.
Unlike the boy from the hallway, who they found the next morning, sprawled on his bathroom floor with his stomach full of pills from his mother’s medicine cabinet.
Me? I haven’t touched anyone since.