I admit, it took me too long. I thought I was stronger than this. I was. I had been.
Amelia has passed away.
I knew Salandra was at the hospital. They’d called me to come pick her up. But…I couldn’t.
I’m here now and I’ve met the parents of one of her friends along the way.
The boy had been kind enough to take care of her while I gathered up the courage I needed to come.
I mentally reprimanded myself again. I should’ve come sooner.
Though, maybe it’s better this way.
The two look so deeply asleep, it feels like a shame to have to wake them up.
I can’t imagine the pain she must be going through, if mine is anything to go on. Any comfort is welcomed.
One of the boy’s two fathers stepped closer. “It’s getting late.” He gently reminded. I reached over and lightly shook Salandra’s shoulders until I saw her eyes flutter open.
“We need to go home.” I said, taking her arm and guiding her away from the couch.
Still barely coming to, Salandra pushed me away as I got her to her feet. She rubbed her eyes.
“What…uncle Chase?” She frowned at him, trying to get a sense of her surroundings.
“It’s time to go home.” I repeated. I reached for her hand, in an effort to give her some reassurance. She refused it, instead her gaze traveling back to the couch.
The boy was still sound asleep. When his parents sat down beside him, called his name and shook his shoulders, it was clear he was out of it and wouldn’t be waking up anytime soon.
Salandra seemed to want to sit back on the couch or reach for the boy, but she hesitated. The parents had taken up the little space there was left around him.
“Come on,” I said, tugging gently on her arm. “You can see him tomorrow if you’d like.”
We reached home. The big huge empty house I call home. Salandra’s home was that hospital room.
I flicked the light switch on in the hall way, the place feeling deathly empty.
My niece looked at me and gave me a polite empty smile. “You were right.” She said. “It was too late.”
She disappeared into the darkness of the upper floor, to her room, whilst I stayed downstairs, glancing at the dark empty rooms.
With Salandra now also gone, the place somehow felt even lonelier.
When I bought this house – when we bought this house – I didn’t imagine it would be so lonely.
For a moment, it was exactly like I’d envisioned it. I was playing the piano. She was playing her guitar. Little Salandra was dancing around to the beat.
The music was filling up the house.
Her trinkets were hung up on the walls.
I couldn’t get a moment’s peace; she was always there with something new and exciting to share.
I could count those days on my fingers. I’d been so…pleased, when she asked if she could move in with Salandra. She was in trouble, and the only reason I’d gotten where I was, was thanks to her. It was the least I could do.
To learn that she had cancer just days later…
It doesn’t seem like that long ago, when she was still with my brother, living in that cheap apartment. The place was always filled with a horrible amount of plants, and they always changed each time I came to visit. She could never keep them alive. She’d say it was her fault, even though I knew my brother liked to put out his cigarettes in them, and that Salandra amused herself at pulling at the leaves.
He wasn’t good for her. My brother wasn’t good for anybody, but when I saw them together – she was happy – so I told myself not to worry.
I would go over there often, partly because home was uneventful and stressful, and partly because I just wanted to see her. I came so often, that I left a piano set there, and we’d play songs together. Most of the time we’d fail, but it was always fun and our audience never seemed to notice.
Last time – before my brother left them – was on Salandra’s birthday. We’d spent months concocting a special birthday song for her. I’d never had so much fun.
Even though my brother could be a real jerk, he behaved himself that day. He was good. He even dared to crack some passable jokes. Salandra couldn’t stop giggling.
And Amelia kept smiling.
Even though she was with him, for that one day, I’d give anything to bring it back.
But it happened too fast. I was too late. I didn’t see it coming. Next thing I knew they were on the street and my brother had gotten on a road trip with his buddies and hadn’t come back.
The plants were left to die. The trinkets to decay.
They went on the road, living off her guitar, and I wanted to join her. Her guitar, my piano and Salandra’s dancing, we could’ve made it. But I lacked the courage, and she didn’t want me quitting school for that.
I dropped down on one knee.
There was something weird on the carpet. I scratched at it, whatever it was – A distraction.
My legs didn’t have the strength to push me back up.
If she would’ve asked me to, if there was even that possibility, I would’ve sold everything I had to make sure she survived.
You need to accept it Chase. It’s too little too late.
Monday, 5 am
It’s a really difficult thing, having to watch my own body get up and get ready. And there’s nothing I can do. If I concentrate to the point of practically making my astral form pass out, I can maybe move an arm. But he’s strong.
Jeesus! Why did I have to go and fall asleep!? I didn’t even realize it. One moment I was sitting on the couch, still holding Sal, and the next…well my fathers brought me home.
I unhappily floated alongside Oscar as he excitedly told me about his hopes and dreams as he rummaged in my closet. I can’t stay mad at him. It used to be easy, because I was fucking terrified that I would never get my body back, but he seems extremely pleased with a day to day switch.
I’m still very not okay with being forced out of my body like this, but it’s clear getting mad is useless. And on the plus side, my mind is a lot more focused than when I was practically dragging myself from fatigue.
I groaned as Oscar found some old forgotten clothes in the back of my drawer and started messing with my hair.
I should’ve just told my dad what happened, instead of getting so caught up in my tired emotions.
Oscar grinned and jumped happily at his reflection.
“I hope you don’t mind! But boy do I like this shirt! Oh and that I changed your hair. Though, is it okay if I call it my hair too?” He asked, patting MY hair.
“Yes I do mind.” I said, to someone who couldn’t hear a word I was saying. “I mind just about everything you’re doing.”
“I hope we can get along.” Oscar said, clasping his hands together. “I know this is a pretty weird situation. I’m very grateful to have this chance to…to live! I’ll do my best to give back to you.”
Yeah it’s become…painfully clear that he doesn’t know how this happened either. It feels like I’m dealing with a child.
I’ve had time to think about it. A little while after my body betrayed me and passed out, I ‘woke’ up in astral form. I thought I’d see Oscar, considering I was still technically sleeping, but he was nowhere to be seen in astral mode. Since I couldn’t seem to wake myself up, I decided to stay in astral mode and use the time to consider what had happened with a much clearer mindset.
I had only a single lead. That skeletal hand before the game started. It might be a long shot, but I keep remembering that biker lady and our last conversation. She’d babbled something about seeing the grim reaper in my shadow and at first I’d thought she was insane or just saying things for the sake of it.
But hey, I’m already weird enough as it is, let’s add the grim reaper following me around and somehow making games glitch to life entire new beings to control me.
Oscar fussed over the shirt I’d gotten as a gift from one of dad’s friends. I don’t remember who, I just tossed it in a drawer and forgot about it.
“I really like this shirt. The idea of a yin and yang is neat don’t you think? A necessary balance and stuff. Can’t have one without the other.”
I wonder if that biker lady would have any idea as to why it happened. Eh, I don’t like the idea of seeking her out though. Not that my choices are endless.
Well first, I should tell dad. I cringed at the thought. Who knows, he might have a spell for me.
No first, Oscar needs to let me have control back.
“What time is it?” He asked, glancing at my clock.
“If you’d kept my watch on, you’d know much faster.” I pouted.
“Five am? Can we start the day at five am?”
I rolled my eyes at my behavior. “Gee, stop being a baby Niko.”
I started to head for the door, convinced that was Oscar’s next step.
But instead he headed straight for my bed and started making it.
I’m serious. I was floored. I just stood, staring at this kid- I mean Oscar, making my bed. Of all the things he could be doing! He has no responsibilities, no restrictions, no obligations, and he’s willingly choosing to stop and make a bed??
I waited for him to finish, still stunned into silence, and watched as he skipped towards my bedroom door, ready to start the day.
Oscar, you have really bad timing.
I sighed, sorry man you’re not getting out today.
“…You’re up early.” Dad said, exiting the bathroom.
Oscar shrugged before fist pumping. “A good day starts early!”
If only his optimism was contagious. I watched for my dad’s reaction. I’d already tried getting his attention the other day when the neighbor brought Oscar home. I’d shouted, waved my arms, anything to try and get his sixth sense active, but it obviously didn’t do much.
“Well if you’re awake, we need to talk.”
Oscar shrugged again, in a much more exaggerated gesture. “Okay.”
Dad nodded slowly, like he was trying to aboard this carefully. “Let’s start with your tattoo. On the back of your neck.”
I’d noticed it. I hadn’t at first, I was too busy being angry to look at my own neck, but after a while it’s hard to miss. A side-effect of the game no doubt. They did say they’d injected ink, but they’d also mentioned it should fade away in our system on its own. I’d wondered if there was a link, but Sal had tattoos on her palms as well….
“Yeah, it’s kind of cool right?” Oscar replied with a stoner’s grin. “I like it.”
Here I thought it couldn’t get much worse.
“Cool? Cool!?” Dad angrily whispered. Niki and pa were still asleep.
“Well yeah.” Oscar said, confused. “It’s better than a duck.”
“Why do you even have a tattoo in the first place? That’s not a normal tattoo either, it’s got weird magic.” Dad said, wrinkling his nose as if the magic smelled.
I leaned in, glancing at the tattoo. Did those game developers or whatever they call themselves put magic in the ink? How do you even manipulate magic without being a supernatural?
“I don’t know about that, but it’s a good thing it’s there. I’m pretty sure it’s keeping me alive. I think.” Oscar said, nodding with half certainty. My eyes grew wide.
“Oscar,” I said, to no one. “You should’ve told me this before. This is pretty vital brainstorming information!”
Dad frowned looking at Oscar’s outfit. “You’re not making any sense. Talk to me.” He pleaded.
Being on the outside of this conversation is kind of awkward.
“But I am talking to you.” Oscar insisted, more confused than dad.
“Confide in me please, I can help you.” Dad insisted. “You just need to talk to me, we can fix this.”
“I thought this is what we were doing. Having a conversation. I don’t need any help though. You’re the one who wanted to talk to me remember?” Oscar gently reminded my father. I started to plan the engraving on my tombstone.
Dad rubbed his face tiredly. “Niko don’t push me away.”
Oscar went silent for a moment, as if just realizing that my dad still didn’t know about my situation. Yeah, I’m pretty sure he actually thought my dad knew he was Oscar and not Niko.
“He’s not pushing you away.” Oscar replied, his optimism suddenly washed away.
“You’re the one shoving at him.” Oscar stated. “Of course if you push him off a bridge, you’re going to feel like he left you.”
My dad was stunned into silence and I could finally see it on his face. I wasn’t just not acting like myself, I was literally not myself. Dad reached for Oscar’s arm, gently leading him to Edmund’s room. “Come on, let’s go talk about this with Edmund.”
“No,” Oscar declared. “I made a promise to him.”
Go ahead and judge me, I’m finding this amusing just looking at my dad’s face. “Yeah dad.” I said. “I wasn’t kidding when I said something bad happened.”
“I told him, I’d give back in thanks. This is me giving back.” Oscar said, and I started to get a little worried. “He’ll be much happier this way. This house isn’t healthy for him.”
“Hey…what are you going on about Oscar?” I stepped in between the two, but it did little to stop the thought process, since Oscar went for the stairs.
“What did I say Oscar? You’re not getting out of this house. You don’t know who you’re dealing with.” I said. Especially now that dad is realizing the gravity of the situation.
Dad lifted his hands up and cast a spell. I recognized it – a fact I’m kind of proud of. It’s a spell for a physical barrier. I haven’t managed to cast it yet, but dad often tried to teach it to me, since it can obviously be pretty useful.
Oscar stopped in front of it, touching the shimmering barrier.
“Let’s not make this difficult.” Dad warned, putting a foot on the first step.
Oscar then clapped his hands, the tattoo on the back of his neck lighting up and something shiny gathering up in his palms. In one swift movement, his right hand shot out to the side.
A trail of purple started rapidly climbing up the spell like a crack in a windshield. In a matter of seconds it had covered the entirety of the barrier and the spell lost its strength and broke.
“Why are you doing this?” Dad asked, getting over his initial surprise. If there was any more doubt… “Let’s discuss this.” He added, taking another step down the stairs.
“I’ve decided.” Oscar said, turning around and giving my dad a mean glare. “That I don’t like you. I’m going to take Nikolas to somewhere better.”
“Oscar think this through!” I said, my voice reaching an octave. “Please don’t make this already worse than it is.”
Dad’s hands sparkled with magic. “What did you do to my son?” He said, as Nikita’s bedroom door swung open.
Oscar clasped his hands together, releasing a purple fog as dad looked up at Niki. It’s in the cover of the fog that Oscar made his sweet escape.
How is this helping Oscar?
End of Volume 1 Arc 5