To find a parking stall at True Northern Mall, or True North as most locals called the massive beast of a mall, was nothing but a small feat. Bram had gone several times now with his Grandmother or Father. His mother was never in high enough spirits to walk around the mall for hours, let alone the fact it was over an hour’s drive just from their house. His father would go, but would immediately be irritated at the thousands of tourists which pile in daily. He would be smacking the steering wheel cursing about Chinese drivers when the person behind the other steering wheel was so obviously an angry white guy too. His grandmother was the one who would make the trip enjoyable, and she never raised her voice at other drivers; understanding everybody gets equally irritated in traffic. Everyone wants to arrive at their destination sooner, and everyone wants to enter still breathing.
They drove around the mall for nearly half an hour trying to park. Considering it was a Thursday afternoon, you would think not so many people would be here. Most kids should be in school and most Mothers at home waiting for the children to return, but Bram had his ideas a little skewed by his mother. The moms would dash out the door the moment their kids were gone to school and congregate at wonderous buildings such as these. That would offer entertainment, food, coffee, shopping, and like-minded mothers would enjoy the seven hours of child-free time in harmony. Or so he pictured, his mother would just sit and smile at the wall until he returned.
Giving up on parking in the sun, the car turned into the underground parking lot. Bram felt it was nothing short of magic how a million tonnes of concrete overtop his head would stand no matter the weight of thousands of cars. Never crumbling under the sands of time, yet his mother bends easily to a speck of dust. Maybe she should be made of concrete, and then she could hold her shoulders up higher. Perhaps then she could be sturdier.
“Okay, good, we’ve arrived,” Bram’s Grandmother turned off the car and smiled widely at him, “Are you ready for some wild, crazy water slide fun?” Bram nodded. Happily, he recalled watching through the glass windows, all the children having fun. His father would never take him swimming, too high on his ego radar to remove his clothing in front of other people.
Bram followed his grandmother into the mall, taking in all the sights. Like a fresh breath of air, he inhaled the atmosphere, the excitement, the food smells, and people’s smiles all around him. The anticipation of the pending water slides was renewing his apathy for joy. To feel the overwhelming rush of a joyous adrenaline course through his preadolescent body was a feeling alien to him. His life built with parent’s fights, Mother breakdowns, and too many scratchy television cartoons. It had been too long since he had felt excited to do something. The mall was godly large, poured concrete pillars bordered the full glass door entrance. Just through the doors stood tall gray steel welded figures. One a man, with a shoe more high-heeled than his grandmother, half hanging off his foot, appearing to be ready to kick the thousand-pound morsel off in Bram’s direction. The body is standing fully erect, his hand touching the ceiling after the third floor of the mall. No head. Bram related to this statue, a mindless shell wandering with no purpose. That was the definition of his life. Today, however, he allowed the smile to grow on his face. Today, he was in another galaxy with his grandmother.
“Do you know where the slides are, Sweet Pea?” The mall boasted over 800 stores and had to be nearing 3 million square feet, and you could get lost in this mall for days.
“No, but I do know who to ask!” Bram dashed into the meat of it all, the ceiling above him suddenly opened, and he could see the thousands of skylights above him and the opening of the above floors. The steel man’s foot held a blank square was an off-milk white. It was the PIMM, Personable Interactive Mall Map. He had used it before, mostly with his father when they went shopping. Bram’s father had a habit of wanting to get in and get straight back out, no cherry-picking or daydreaming; he always meant business. He reached the sizeable electronic glass screen, it was see-through enough people walking behind it were visible, but the edge had a blue scroll hanging down. A list of commands sketched down the right side of the screen. It, too, was taller than him; he made a mental note to grow soon. He was beginning to feel small.
“Pimm,” Bram began the basic command as he heard his grandmother huff and puff behind him. He had run off too fast and knew there would be a scolding coming. “Where are the waterslides?”
“Customer, greetings. Do you mean the World Water Park or Water Beats for Skids or Water world Wonderbra…?” The electronic voice was of a young male, soft-toned as if he had no testosterone in his body. Bram interrupted, seeing this would go on as a full list of any store had the word ‘water’ in it.
“World Water Park,” he jumped and shouted as if the inanimate screen would understand his urgency.
“Okay,” Pimm responded and lit up a blue line on the milk-white hue screen. Squares with store names appeared, showing the path. Stairs, elevators, and even restrooms lit up to show the way. A perfect map of where they need to go, unfortunately, it seemed to be nearly on the other side of the mall. He looked at his Grandma, who seemed too tired for this trek. Her face suddenly aging in his gaze, the skin seemed to sag off her bones. The breaths were usually silent and steady with the rise and fall of her chest, doubled in speed, and made sweat bead on her upper lip.
“Do you want me to text it to you?” PIMM continued. Bram felt torn between the directions on where to go and the look of his grandmother’s face-melting. He had no cell phone, and he was suddenly unsure if she had one. She leaned her arm to rest against PIMM, and he was suddenly fearful to step closer to her. Her usually strong statue seemed to falter and threaten to fail. He was frozen in place, about two steps away from her, with the automated computer still talking away. He thought maybe he needed to call his mother, although indeed she was torn leg deep into her ghost grief for the day. The pain swallowed her from nothing, or so Thomas said.
“Okay, printing,” Pimm answered his question after the pre-set amount of time. The paper roll screeched and spat out under the blue scroll. Bram ripped it off and glanced at his grandmother once more, unsure what to even say.
“I need to sit for a moment, sweet pea.”
“Grandmother, please don’t call me that in public,” with a lack of anything else to say, Bram regretted the words immediately out of his mouth. Her posture, already contorted in pain, twisted even further. Reluctantly he sat on the bench next to her, the one sprouting out from the side of the large metal shoe. He sat and watched shoppers pass by, it took a minute or more, but he realized he might as well be a part of the metal man. No one looked at them, and most of them were his mother’s age—busy shopping, free of prying children’s hands.
He looked to his grandmother and saw the color drain from her face, and even the peppery streaks of grey hair expended their energy and laid flat against her cheeks. She pulled her eyes up from the floor and met Bram’s confused gaze.
“What is it, Grandma?” He questioned, his eyes concerned as he snatched her purse before it fell. Her grip on it failed.
“I’m just tired,” she gasped for air, “Can we sit for a minute?”
“Yeah, sure,” Bram replied, knowing it was the correct reply to give but felt something was wrong in the pit of his stomach. The way her words came out, the meaning behind the words was hiding something else entirely. He knew better than to press the issue and had an idea. Maybe Obscura could tell him what the problem was? He had grown to almost master his movement through it, and then perhaps he could see what she was hiding.
Her breathing was filling the area, it sounded labored, and he could almost sense the thoughts behind the breaths. ‘Inhale’ and ‘exhale’ became more apparent as he focused on his grandmother’s chest, how it was moving outward with such force, and shuddered back with the collapsing effort of exhaling. Bram focused on matching his breathing to hers, and he allowed his eyes to become unfocused. Not looking at anything, just space they were sitting in, and the ‘inhale’ and ‘exhale’ of her breath.
The white snowflakes grew in his vision, highlighting the between black spaces. Florescenating the blur, outlining the darkness which held matter together. With no sound, solidity, or smell, it just became an existing plane, unrolling to welcome him in. An anomaly, abomination to this world. Indeed, it couldn’t be real; he had thought at one point he might have schizophrenia and hallucinating these happenings. But over the years, he had to accept the fact it was real, and he could control it. At nine years old, Abram Blaskhe; was able to bridle the black film, which encompassed his viewing space, altering his body and twisting the time he felt forced to follow. He focused on pushing through the vibrating white screen of dancing crystals as the matter around him seemed to dissipate into a snowlike fluttering in his vision he dismissed the static visual until only the blackness was left. Stepping, no, transmitting himself out of his body and finding himself back onto the shadow carpet. The curtain. Looking back only momentarily to see the sullen faced child left waiting for his grandmother to catch her breath, she has never lost before.
Obscura was the same as always, and he felt to be the only soul who could enter on this plane. Something cosmic in his being had brought him here. He could sense other people’s planes but not necessarily touch or interact with them. Most people had their eyes too focused on day to day trivial they could never expand their minds enough; the focus required to see past their daily vision was immense. Some days it would cause Bram’s head to throb for hours. Other instances he had vomited, lost sight, and the last time when he used it for a school exam answer key, he couldn’t seem to remember any basic Math for a month. Most planes undoubtedly remain empty until death came knocking.
The words were carrying him through space. Inhale. Exhale. They did not enter the plane with him, but he reproduced them to be here. A clue which he needed to understand what was happening with his grandmother. He searched for her plane, usually just in front of the person yet hundreds of miles away from reach. It was the easiest to stay on your plane, not always easy to enter another’s. He had lots of practice climbing into his mother’s as if it were a trap door just behind his vision. He had to merely bunch himself into a ball small enough to crawl through, entering a new mindscape and seeing through their eyes.
He could feel them, understand them, and see what they were about. A sense of them would linger with him. Inhale bounced past him and suddenly turned a sharp corner to disappear into utter obsidian. A force is pulling him along to follow Inhale. Gravity showing him the way where there were no ways. He tested his voice, and it failed him once more, as did touch, movement, or any change in substance. He was a ghost forced just to watch, and travel down unstructured hallways.
Exhale bumped the backside of his knee, made a spin around in front of his eyes, and followed in the path Inhale had taken. That was when Bram forced all his will to induce himself onto the word, grabbing just the ‘ale’ end a second before it was twisted up and into a new plane. His senses are banging, ripping, smashing apart, and then rebuilding back in sequence onto this different but same melanoid. It was different, he knew this, but it was also worse. Not like his own, which felt comfortable, familiar, even his mother’s had grown a familiarity with it. Something about it felt, marred. The white was swarming under his feet, threatening to force him out of this new black space. Another people’s Obscura apparently would not just succumb to a stranger entering, and yet there they were; Inhale and Exhale.
Although Exhale had taken a beating because of the intruder catching a free ride. ‘Exh’ was bouncing around dangerously, and ale was lying on the floor as if it were to be reabsorbed into the dark matter any moment. Bram was careful not to touch any of the white spaces were swaying and whirling. With no pattern, no shape, or size to them, they just felt ominous. Sudden and quick, they would appear, conjure and vanish. He was intrigued in where Inhale was heading because suddenly, he could hear the natural sound of the word, and it seemed to be his grandmother breathing the phrase once more. It sounded calmer, smoother. He hurried to catch with Inhale just before it disappeared into another opening, turned, and zoomed down some mysterious hallway of a dark matter black space.
Bram was at a loss now, and he didn’t know which direction to go, how to get out of the Obscura from here, or if any of his questions were even answered. What was the problem which brought him here? His mind swam with uncertainties. Feeling no need to pursue the truth he no longer wished for, he bowed his head and allowed the white fuzz to grow up and over him. How quickly they fought to get him out, unlike his Obscura, where they seemed to dance in the corners only. Just a subtle reminder they were watching.
To touch a sliver of white, which appeared beyond himself, sent an indescribable pain over him. No words could form from his mind, a sound might have escaped his lips, but a ghost of Obscura pushed it into oblivion. The shriek silently emitted from him for touching the snowflake remained as a stain in his mind. Etched for him never to forget, do not force it. You must allow what it has planned for you. Soon enough, the pain washed back into the wake, and he was once more sitting next to his grandmother on the bench. A shadow of the pain sat on the spasm of his neck, reminding him it was enough to kill even Obscura itself if tampered.
Blinking several times knocked the tears to free fall from his eyes. His mouth parched dry from the wall of torment had slammed him. It was as if every brain cell, hair follicle, and bone in his body was lightning hot with a memory of the electric pain. He was looking to the pinprick spot on his finger, where it seemed to funnel down and drain from his body. The tip of his finger was once pink and fleshy, turned to rot in an instant. Deep purple then browns before creasing into a deep burn and blistering itself down the flange to the first knuckle. A sound escaped his throat now as he looked at his finger.
“Oh dear,” his grandmother spoke suddenly, nearly knocking Bram off the bench onto the dirty mall floor. “What did you do to your finger? That’s some nasty looking burn!” She reached her hand to clasp his finger on her own and caught his gaze. His grandmother’s face had returned to the wrinkly full face it was before, the brown sparkle of her eyes returned, and the Inhale and Exhale of her exasperated breathing were a long distant memory now.
“Oh, um,” he couldn’t find the right words, just stared into her eyes so relieved for the strenuous chest impulses to have ceased.
“Never mind then, let’s hit some slides!” She bounded up off the bench, rejuvenated, and rearing to go.
“Okay, sweet pea, I think this is the last one. For real this time,” his grandmother winked at Bram. The line in front of them stretched for miles it seemed, and the waits were becoming too much for his grandmother’s old legs to bear. He could see she was wavering on the steps. A few times, he had been concerned she would indeed topple.
“That’s what you said last time, too!” Bram poked fun at her, nudging his body into hers and causing the last of baby pudge to jiggle on his stomach, making him suddenly self-conscience. His grandmother told him he was too young for low self-image, ruffling his hair and saying how handsome he was. That didn’t change a thing; he still much preferred to be standing here with a t-shirt covering him. The teen in front of him had chiselled muscles, and the girls in front of muscles only could seem to see him. They would never venture their view further to see Bram. Grandmother had refused to leave the change room with him wearing a t-shirt, stating if she had to prance in a bathing suit, so did he.
“I’m old and wrinkly, and my tits hang to my belly button so much you cannot tell where one stops, and the other begins!” Grandmother had teased him. Her 60th birthday has just passed, he knew she was a little thick around the edges. Maybe too many potato chips in front of the television, but she was also his only entertainment. She could sit and watch movies until midnight with him, and his mother would have been long in bed before the chips ran out. “Besides, I will wane off any looker seekers, and their eyes will fall to you.”
“This one surely is my last one,” Grandmother stated, he could hear the seriousness in her voice this time. The shudder of a gasp between each word insisted she was tired. Bram turned back to face forward in the line, and his turn was nearing.
“I will get us a chair and table. Maybe order some French fries and gravy for lunch?”
“Sounds good” His stomach grumbled at the mention of food. The oversized clock on the wall at the front of the water slides was ginormous. It wouldn’t matter where you were in the water park, whether you were in the wave pool drowning under the massive 5-foot swells or hiding in the tiny sauna in the far back; you could still read the clock. Of course, they made it a bright red digital clock too, and kids ran around without their parents, who were sitting happily in the lounge area (consisting of a Tiki hut with food, drinks, and seating areas), could still read the time. There was no excuse to be heard of, “I don’t know how to read time!” Responded with, “when the clock has a three and a three and a zero, it’s time to go home.” They would sit on the fake green grass under the tiki roof with an adult drink.
Smiles painted on the parent’s faces, and the whole fresh smelling area sounded of happy families. Sound parents did run around with their children, and others sat happily watching them. All in all, Bram saw many smiling people. It lifted his spirits, and he felt whole even if he wasn’t running around with his Mother or Father. His grandmother was enough for him at this time. It seemed all he needed ever was her love; the love of parents was nearly a given. No parent could turn around and say they didn’t like their kid, but a grandparent, a grandparent, can easily say that grandchild is not very good. Or this grandchild is spoiled, but a grandparent’s love is chosen. Not like a parent, all these parents were sitting in the pool; they had to love their children. They had to show interest in them, and a Grandparent chose to do so.
The clock now read 1:58, far past lunchtime, and he was nearing his exhaustion level. His grandmother had withstood quite a lot so far, the walk from the car to the water park alone nearly did her in.
The water slides were huge, towering stories over the steel man he had seen at the entrance. The lower pools were swamped with young kids, looking up at the daunting slides. You could see in their faces how badly they wished to ascend the stairs, but parents kept the small ones on the lower floor. Heights alone could make any child’s stomach turn. Fifty or more metal slotted steps to a base plank for the more moderate slides, then an additional thirty levels to the mid-grade slides, and if you dared, the last fifteen stairs took you to the skyscrapers. Platforms intertwined with signs, arrows, and instructions. There was no backing down once you went up a flight. Teens pushed you against the metal grating if you moved backward. Young children following a sign saying ‘Drop Rocket’ happily until they saw ‘Drop Rocket’ was the type of slide was a straight drop. The kind where you climb into a capsule with a transparent door closed to the tip of your nose before the bottom dropped out and your bathing suit went straight up the nether regions.
The two of them had inadvertently climbed those said stairs. Once at the top, she shook her head vigorously, refusing to descend the plastic tube. There were two, side by side, and a group of antsy teenagers coming up strong behind them. Bram happily climbed into one capsule, the blue on the left. The woman controlling the slide closed the door and looked to his grandmother. Her head seemed to be shaking without her knowledge now, but she followed. The woman closed her door, and somehow her grin grew. Bram looked down and quickly shot his look back up to his grandmother’s face. Her eyes slammed shut, and her vibration of fear was nearly shaking the whole platform. Looking down, he had realized the bright plastic floor was about to open, and the drop was easily 50-foot. A red three appeared on the plastic covering, changing to a yellow two, and his brain hardly registered the green one before the wail emitting from his mouth screamed out into open space. He was falling, faster than he could realize, but the shriek got drowned by a long drawn out laugh, created by his grandmother’s voice.
The smile from her face faded quickly at the bottom of the slide, and Bram knew he wouldn’t get her back up the tall one. He pointed to a nearer one, knowing it was halfway to where the food sold. She looked tired, but she followed reluctantly for one last slide.
The slides were tall, fast, and with being mostly enclosed; they were scary as hell. Bram had wished he had come sooner, and he was excited to tell his friends. Maybe Christopher and Malhi would go with him next time. The first in as long as he could remember, looking forward to seeing his friends. Possibly since he finally had a fun tale to tell them. Something he could talk about was going on in his life. He had never told his friends about his Mom and certainly wouldn’t say a word about Obscura.
This next slide only had twelve steps up.
“Do you know how to swim?” The lifeguard controlling this slide was young, maybe only a few years older than Bram. His face pocked with acne scars, he hardly moved his mouth enough to articulate the words. The sign next to him stated the slides name, ‘The Toilet Bowl.’ The lifeguard’s face in his phone but his question for a small boy standing in front of Bram. There was no way this kid knew how to swim. A parent with a life jacket should down in the kiddy pool watch him.
“Yeah,” the little boy confirmed, and the uncaring guard waved him through. The boy had to sit down and crawl over the edge of the slide just to enter since his legs weren’t long enough just to step over. This slide was not a significant drop, it was short in stature but called the toilet bowl since it spat you into a large container which spun you around; disorientating you, and then spat you into a deep bat of chlorinated water where it would take a solid minute to figure out which way was up. Super fun! Bram felt anxious just imagining the boy drowning in front of him, but after a few short moments, the lifeguard glanced over the edge and flicked the green light for Bram’s turn.
“Can you swim?” Once more, the acne guard didn’t bother looking up.
“Let me go first, sweet pea, and then I can get the fries sooner.” Bram’s grandmother touched his shoulder, and he nodded, stepping aside. The guard waved her ahead, not bothering to ask her if she could swim. She knelt, wrinkly knuckles holding the sturdy plastic sides, and positioned herself sitting. Bram watched with curiosity, wondering when she had begun moving like an old lady. Her spirit and laughter boasted youthfulness, but breathing and the crinkling of her joints shouted age. Her grey bob disappeared down the slide without a peep this time—no laugh or scream of joy. The fluorescent blue tubing swallowed her whole, followed by a splash, and the green light lit once more.
Bram wasted no time, and this was his favourite slide. He went from sitting to lying in half a second, and the gush of spewing water behind him propelled him quickly down the short tube. He crisscrossed his feet and arms and dumped into darkness. His body spun on the sidewall once, then twice suddenly it was white light, and we were going in a circular motion around the large bowl. His legs came undone as the force of gravity spun him faster. Quicker toward the small circular opening would spew him into the deep pool below. He was laughing, and he was crying, he was blissfully unaware.
“Ahhhkkk!” A short shriek escaped his mouth from the fall of the slide into the pool. The water perfectly tempered, so the only shock you would receive was when you would get splat out of the Toilet Bowl and into the pool. Never would the temperature be a shock. Headfirst sinking into the blue water, he saw his oxygen bubbles rising to the top. For a few moments, he pretended he was a shark. Diving deep to catch his bait. The pool was see-through, and outside the plastic casing, he could see a commotion happening. People were running in a panic. Bram turned his body underwater to see in the direction, but the bubbles crowded his vision. Closing in together, smashing away anything else. The bubbles outlined in a black musk thrust him into Obscura.
He could see the outline of his grandmother. He was standing at the straw roof tiki hut. Her one hand had a platter full of French fries and tiny cups of gravy. She had covered her polka dot black and white 50 style bathing suit up with a blanched looking grey towel. It did nothing to hide the curves of her body but did wonders repelling the gravy from messing her bathing suit as she dropped the food. Watching through the dark matter web in front of him as her knees buckled forward and her hands grasped at air. Propelling himself forward, he tried to stop her from falling but seemed to step inside her. He saw her heart thump dangerously hard against her rib cage. Sluggish and out of rhythm, it echoed in his ears and drowned out his screams. The blood slowed in her veins, and the oxygen drained from her lips. He fell to the ground, the impact of the concrete on his head as it hit hers. He felt the last breath waver from her lungs, and he slammed her heart before being thrown back into the choking water. Suddenly he thought he was drowning with realization that he could lose his grandmother. The thought of having no one whatsoever, he propelled himself up and out of the pool. The acne face is hanging over the edge, full of sudden concern. He couldn’t hear the words the lifeguard was yelling at him. All he could hear was the screaming focused around his Grandmothers’ failing body. All he could see was the deficient beat of her life.
A man caught Bram’s body before he could reach his grandmother. His life was dying in front of his eyes, and he couldn’t bear to let her go. The medical team was swarming on top of her, pulling out the electrode pads to place around her breast. Throwing himself back into Obscura, he was hurtled straight to her heart. He slammed it once more, and before the electric shock hit, her body filled with air. Her throat coughed and spat, and she grabbed at her chest.
“No, stop” One medical personal snapped, pulling off the stickers.
The man’s arms holding Bram back were unforgiving, pinching bruises instantly onto his arms. He struggled to get free, but his vision on his grandmother failed as the tears blurred his eyes.
“She’s coming to, okay. Let’s get her to the hospital” They packed her up and took her away. Leaving Bram to stand in the stranger’s arms, staring at the flickering sign on the Tiki Hut ‘Splashing Burgers’.
“Son,” the man turned Bram to look in his face, “was that your Mom?” Bram shook his head before allowing himself to slip back to Obscura to hide from everything.
“Ma’am, is it Mrs. Thand?” The doctor was pushing to get information from Bram’s Mother. They sat in the hospital now, in the family waiting room to hear what the outcome of his grandmother was. He already knew her heart was weak, still beating but soft. He had checked on her nonstop while waiting. Sometimes he could feel her pain; other times, he could taste the metallic blood as the doctors pushed drugs into her. He could hear her lungs shuddering to keep her breathing, and he felt the perseverance her soul wanted.
“No, it’s Ms.” Bram corrected the doctor, growing annoyed with his persistence.
“Can she speak?”
“Yeah, but she won’t.”
“Oh? Where’s your Father?”
“She’s always sad,” Bram ignored the doctor’s last question. “She doesn’t comprehend seriousness.”
“Those are big words for such a little guy.”
“I’m the man of the house.” The doctor laughed at his comment, but Bram was severe.
“Okay, I need to speak to your guardian.”
“She’s on the table in that room” Bram pointed down the hall.
“How….” The doctor looked to the room and back at Bram. His eyes grew with wonder, but he didn’t finish his question. He knelt in front of Bram and held out his hand. “I’m Dr. Read.” Bram took the hand reluctantly, and he wished the doctor would just go away now.
“Your Grandmother, Mary, she is going to be alright. I need you to call your Father or Grandfather now, though.” He looked to Bram’s Mother again, as if testing if she were indeed listening. She was rocking on the solid bench. There was no give to the chair, and yet she still shook. She was hitting her spine against the brick wall behind with a solid smack each rotation. Bram looked to the doctor’s eyes, and they were deep brown. Reassuring brown, a brown which sang ‘I know what I’m doing, and I will save your Grandma.’
“What happened to her?” Bram looked back to the doctor with his own deep brown eyes. The brown eyes said, ‘I’m smarter than you put me for.’ “Mary,” He paused, “Your Grandmother had a myocardial infarction or a heart attack. Possibly from a blood clot lodged in an artery but further testing will need to be done. She may need medication for the rest of her life now.” He put a hand on Bram’s shoulder and stood to turn to the nurse’s station. He spoke quietly to prevent Bram from hearing, and the three young women had been sitting there