The road was dark and seemed to stretch forever in front of his feet. He knew the way home, but just barely. His mother had taken him to see Power Rangers in the movie theatre. So, enthralled by the movie, he never noticed her get up to leave. The credits rolled, and he made his way to the exit, scanning the adult faces, panic forced his eyes to spin frantically. He was alone. It was late, and it was also a school night. With little options, he pushed through the exit doors of the theatre and began the walk home. Every car passing sent shivers through his small legs. He felt as though someone would realize his mother abandoned him.
Keeping his face down, he hoped the darkness of the night would conceal how few years his age was. Not even double-digit birthday yet, and he was already profoundly embarrassed by his mother’s behaviour. How could she leave him like this? It hadn’t surprised him really, and she had walked out of restaurants before only to be found sitting in her car crying. Tears welled in his eyes, wiping them away, he cursed the wind for causing them. The street lights crawled out of the dark, like the boogeyman, and put light on his imperfections and lack of bravery as he walked. Quickening his pace, he hoped the light of the monsters standing along the street would fade.
Bram woke from his dream. Slitting his eyes only a fraction open, he recalled he was safe in the small cramped vehicle his father had rented. At least he was not walking home alone like his reoccurring nightmare liked to remind him he had. It took him weeks afterward to sleep properly again. His mother hardly acknowledged him when he had walked in the door after the walk. It’d taken him over an hour to walk home, and the whole time he felt fearful of the unknown hiding in the darkness but also the dread of the bright lights showing his vulnerability to the cars passing by.
At least he could sleep well in the car, and the slow turning movements didn’t bother him. Even his father flicking through the radio stations never piqued his interest. The window was rolling down, cold from outside, then sudden heat from the vents. The blast was an apparent attempt by his father to keep himself awake while he drives. It was these recurring nightmares he was having, which were affecting Bram’s sleep. It wasn’t just the abandoned walk he was forced to have. It was to the man’s face as Obscura had reeled up and slammed against his body. It was sucking all the oxygen out of the man’s body, causing a trickle of blood and twisting his arm into an unnatural direction. The draining of his energy into the dark matter created the wave carrying Bram. It had flowed into Bram as a cyclone would flow the power back to create a more vital gale force.
The craze of the man’s eyes and the wild look of his hair burnt in Bram’s mind from when he was struck. His eyes were full of fear and desperation. The face just before you were to die, as death reared its ugly head and stated, ‘Yes. I am here for you.’ Had he killed the man? That’s what Bram felt in Obscura this last time, and he had felt death’s breath on his neck. Nought screeching through space as Bram seemingly took on the role of death. Putting the hammer of justice down, it was never his to hold and Nought warned him.
Bram sat straight up in his chair, and he was done trying to sleep. The nightmares rolled in, intertwining with the annoyance of his father adjusting the seat and flicking the stations through country and rap—grumbling and clicking it back to easy listening.
“Let me help,” Bram flicked the Sirius satellite radio to Lithium. Nirvana came through the speakers instantly, and his father nodded his agreeance.
“You have good taste in music,” his father grinned at him, it was pained, but it was a grin. This irritated Bram even more. The oncoming headlights from passing vehicles were burning into Bram’s eyes. With the sun down now and the road wet, everything seemed to reflect the overly bright lights. Flashing pictures of the street lights giving him away once more. He wanted to lash out at his father, call him an idiot and tell him how many times he, as a child, had to care for his mother. He gritted his teeth and swallowed the outburst.
“I learnt from the best.”
“That a boy,” Thomas’ grin grew proud, loud and clear he was taking credit for this.
“Grandma,” Bram spat the word, his anger threatening to boil over. His jaw was hurting from gripping his teeth so tight.
“Oh.” The upset was apparent in his father’s voice, and it eased Bram’s anger slightly. He felt a small victory won for hurting his father. The guitar riff playing in the car did nothing to ease the tension. Twanging metallic heaven, he could nearly picture the notes written on the scraps of paper. The ones his grandmother would bring home from the music store where she volunteered. Exchanging her free working time for guitar lessons for Bram. It didn’t last long, and his mother forced it to end when she realized she was left at home alone while he was playing guitar. His grandmother had tried to sneak him out a few more times after but received a stern warning when the police showed up one night. Mother had called the cops saying his grandmother had kidnapped Bram.
It’s true what they say, and music can soothe the soul of the most savage beast. Unfortunately, his mother did not have a soul. She had a bucket of tears, and all too often, it spilled over into Bram’s life.
“You know I never wanted things to end up the way they did,” Bram’s father persisted on the topic. Bram pictured his mother toppled over in a sobbing stupor after a neglectful conversation with Thomas. Maybe he didn’t intend, but he certainly did nothing to fix the problem.
“What’s that supposed to be? We’ve been separated for 12 years! She needs to get over it at some point.”
“It ruined her, Thomas, leaving ruined her!”
“Well, that’s just stupid,” his father replied, such a juvenile response Bram couldn’t hold back anymore.
“Mom says you cheated on her, says you broke her and threw her away? Says she was never enough for you, never thin enough. How could you be so mean? She’s beautiful, and you broke her down, kicked her and never looked back.” The words flew from Bram, and it relieved something inside him. It felt good to say these things. If his mother couldn’t know them, he will.
“What kind of bullshit is this?” his father snapped, “She’s her own woman! I never cheated on her, and she needs to move on.”
“Well, she hasn’t.”
The silence fell hard in the car. Sirius radio lost signal somewhere amongst the looming forests, and they sat in the thick silence. The anger he felt a moment before towards his father’s indifference towards his mother melted into dread. With his grandmother gone, it would fall on Bram now to support his mother. He would have to learn how to pay bills quickly. Where did the money come from anyway? Was there even any money? The reality of holding up his mom on his own now when he returned was massive. He would have no help from his grandmother, and indeed his mother would drown in her sorrows now. Bram sighed heavily, not purposely out loud. But it came, nonetheless.
“I’m sorry, son.” His father placed a hand on his leg. Bram looked to his dad and saw the genuine concern in his face. “I never meant to leave her so distraught. She had some problems…” His voice trailed off as he became lost in thought.
“I know Thomas. It’s okay, and it’s just, she can’t seem to get past you.”
“Maybe one day she’ll meet a nice man.”
“Or end up institutionalized.”
“Nobody wants that. She’s not a stupid woman, and she’s- broken.” The song on the radio ended, and the next up was less depressing and thankfully lifted the mood: Blur, Song 2. After a good strum or two on the guitar, a definite ‘Woo Hooo’ would echo through the car. Bram’s father looked sidelong at him, slowly let a sad grin spread on his face and repeated the Woo Hoo. Bram chuckled, and they hit the verse together.
“When I feel Heavy Metal!” It felt useful to Bram to shout the lyrics, it lifted his mood, and soon the name for his father’s new town made it on the highway sign. From going from nowhere close to even 834 km away, was something. Bram smiled to himself. His father took over the song’s chorus and hit every word right.
Halfway through the song, at the point where your endorphins fire off from singing alone, Thomas turned the music down. Bram looked to him, wanting to continue with the music.
“Something happened back there.”
Bram didn’t answer, and he wasn’t sure what the question even was. Of course, something happened back there, and he had forced the dark spaces to push back against the woman abusing the fat man and had hurt him. The universe would not let this slide so easily.
“You need to talk to me.”
“No, I don’t.”
“It’s not healthy to keep emotions bottled. What’s going on?” Now he clicked the radio straight off, but Bram still did not answer.
“Bram!” his father’s voice was stern, annoyed he’d been left in the dark. At least he wasn’t thrown into the dark matter as Bram had been. He was chained there by some unknown force. Pressured into helping, and now he felt he was at real risk.
“That woman was frightened! What happened in the restaurant?” Thomas persisted. Bram kept his face forward, focusing on the passing headlights. Only blackness surrounded the car now, no more scenery to get lost in, no moon or mountains or trees.
“I don’t know.” The woman had come running out of the restaurant after Bram, bags of food in her arms. A wild look of fear mixed with relief and strange anticipation sprawled on her face. He tried to wave her away with the food, and he no longer wanted it. She was crying and pleading in Chinese. That’s when Bram wondered if something worse had happened. He had thought maybe he just broke the man’s arm. She had dropped the food then and panned her hands-on Bram. As if he were some twisted god, she needed to ask forgiveness. He tried to pull away from her, the other patrons of the restaurant began filling out around them and talking, whispering, gossiping.
He wasn’t sure why she even came to him, had she seen him? It was Obscura that had saved her from the beating. He was just an innocent bystander, a vessel for the black matter to spread through. It left something behind this time, rather than taking away. It left the knowledge of her language and a genuine sense of doom from Nought. Echoing his screeching through Bram’s mind, it was a sound that made grown men cry. One you would not soon forget.
As the crowd stood around, Bram’s father had reappeared and saved him from the hit of reality. He couldn’t stop convulsively vomiting, and the food now sat on the pavement next to him. The woman rambling in Chinese, Bram wanted to block them all out. The balloon and flowers his father was carrying disappeared from his hands. The balloon floating away above the crowd gathered, watching the teen boy lose his cool and watching him curl into the fetal position as his insides burn their way out. His red hair splayed on the concrete as if bleeding from his skull. He was crying relentlessly. The hostess was crying next to him, but her tears were something different, and her hands continued to explore his body. They were touching and praising his hands.
“Xièxiè, Xièxiè,” she had put her face to the pavement, thanking him through her tears.
“How did you know what she was saying?”
“I didn’t. I told you this, I ordered our food and felt sick, so I left. The lady brought it out to me.”
“She looked like she would have kissed you if given a chance.”
Bram laughed at the comment, but the look on his father’s face was deathly serious.
“What happened in the restaurant?” Thomas was exasperated. Bram could hear it in his voice. How would Bram tell him about Obscura, though? Indeed, it was not something everyone could see, understand or even enter? Otherwise, it would be common knowledge, and even his father would have seen what was happening to the lady. But he hadn’t. He was busy buying an apology gift for ditching out on his wife. All the patrons in the restaurant had looked at Bram as if he were alien as he left. No chance they had known what was happening either. No chance his father would ever know.
Bram sighed. He knew his father wouldn’t let this go.
“She had slipped in the kitchen, I was seated close by, so I heard the crash. I went in the back to help her but then felt ill” Bram allowed the lie to roll off his tongue, shrugged his arms as if it were no big thing and laid his head back for a second cat nap. Or was this the third one now? He lost count, the one thing he did now, they were only halfway through the drive. With the night closing in now and his father eyeing him closely, he chose a safer sleeping path, rather than speaking.
“You can be open with me, and you can tell me anything.” His father’s words forced their way through Bram’s attempt at napping. He didn’t respond. The truth spun in his mind as if he could just get it to slow down. Maybe he could explain it. He didn’t even understand it, though, so how would he explain it? His eyelids fluttered as he continued to force them shut. Feeling his father’s prying eyes on him, he thought he had no choice but to slip into Obscura to ensure 1) he wouldn’t get killed immediately and 2) his father wouldn’t continue pestering him to talk.
With his eyes closed, it wasn’t hard to find Obscura. There was no sunlight to distract him, no shapes or outlines for the matter to hide behind. The dark place was obscured from white light, creating a plane all on its own; stood empty and welcoming to him. Leaving himself in the vehicle behind, his father’s words finally faded, and he accepted the solace. It wrapped him, and there he slept.
The fluorescent petrol station lights glared through Obscura. They were calling him to come back to the vehicle, to be present and alert. The vehicles bounding movements had stopped, and the engine was already turned off. The air was stale, and he wondered how long his father had left him sitting alone. Suddenly a wave of panic hit him as memories of his mother’s mentally unstable abandonments resurfaced.
Shifting in his seat, he searched for his father. The cold air silhouetted the funnels of light into the sky like northern lights: whites, blues and greens shaped into large cylinders coming off the surrounding buildings. Even the smallest structures had small emitting city lights that were resoundingly large and pronounced in the cold. Snow blanketed everything. Even the one single vehicle parked at the gas station. An old red Chevy truck buried under a foot of snow.
Bram imagined the store owner hadn’t gone home in a day or more, possibly he was in trouble with his wife just as his father now was. Maybe his father would have campouts at his shop, allowing the snow to pile on his truck before venturing home. Looking back toward the highway, Bram spotted his father. His back was to him, seemingly strolling toward the opening of the river next to the road. Through the thick snowflakes falling, was a skinny red fox. His tail twice the size of his body, and he took care, slow steps.
Thomas was holding out a piece of red Twizzler licorice. The fox had less than five feet to travel to retrieve the sweet. His nose twitched, his whiskers reverberated from the movement, and his tail made a slow wave of a wag. His thin red paw took another step, gauging whether this man was a threat. The gas station was a broad open concept, with only a small awning coming off the building covering the pumps. The rest was encased in thick forests overlooking the highway, cut off by the river. The fox had a beautiful face. Puffy red cheeks nearly smiled as it looked one way, then the next to ensure safety. Through the closed window, Bram could hear his father clicking and cooing to the wild animal. Another tiny paw stepped toward Thomas. He knelt on a knee as if proposing to the majestic animal. His queen, like the coat of fur, bristled softly under the thick snowflakes. Certainly not phasing him at all, he keeps his large black eyes on the waving licorice.
Bram’s father had no jacket on, leaving it in the back seat for a quick venture outside to pump gas. He now fell into this face-off, wanting to be close enough to the fox to smell his woodsy aroma. Holding together a reassuring demeanour, the fox took two more steps. Bram had never seen his father show such interest, such raw love for a wild animal. A flint of jealousy lit inside Bram, how his father could offer so much genuine affection towards this wild animal and not his son. How he crouched there, indeed forcing his knees to seize and his back to ache, but he stayed, frozen in his space to offer trust to this animal. Just for what? The reward of the animal taking the treat straight from his fingertips? The anger bubbled under jealousy, and Bram began seething in his chair. Angry, his father put a fake front towards him, asking silly questions about a girlfriend he doesn’t have or soccer he quit five years ago! His father knew more about these creatures than he did his son!
The fox reached his father’s vicinity. They were sharing the same breathing space now. The fox kept his head low as if trying to decipher the man’s prerogative. But Bram’s father owned the message clear. He was offering the treat and nothing more. Not a muscle twitched, his hand never wavered and quite possibly even held his breath now. Finally, the fox reached out with his long snout mouth and plucked the treat from his father’s hand. He didn’t move at first. The red licorice hung from his mouth, and indeed, they exchanged glances. Some unspoken thanks before the animal turned on his hind leg and bolted into the forest across the highway. Snow filled his small footprints within just a few seconds, and Bram’s father suddenly stood and turned.
Catching Bram’s gaze immediately, as if he somehow knew Bram had been watching this happen. Embarrassment was the first emotion in Bram’s mind, and it mixed with the anger and jealousy, turning into a mortifying retch and threatened to explode. A smile spread across his father’s face, one of pride that his son watched how graceful he could be and how trustworthy to mother nature’s friends. He was glowing, and his son had witnessed possibly his most significant moment. And it angered Bram more.
Throwing the car door open, he didn’t flinch when it wrenched his arm a little too far from the socket. He swallowed the instant pain and trudged through the freezing air. He was leaving his jacket again, in the back seat. To prove to his father, it was no feat of him standing in the snow. He quickened his pace as his father called, ‘How cool buddy,’ behind him. Grasping at compliments, but Bram was too angry to offer. Maybe if he gave more attention to his son than some stupid fox, then he would know why he quit soccer all those years ago. After his mother seemingly hallucinated in the middle of his game and ran into the field screaming. She was whisking Bram up into her arms after thinking the ball had smashed into the side of his face. The ball hadn’t been played. The coach put the whistle to his mouth and puckered for the blow to start the game, and Bram’s mother interrupted it all. Bram was too embarrassed to return. Now, he’s ashamed of his father pining for the attention like a fox. He bolted straight into the store.
A bell clanged over his head as the door swung open. It was late, hours past dinner time, his stomach told him. The Chinese food had been right, cold by the time he ate, but good. His stomach growled again, and the spike in emotions added to the fuel he required—the thought of hiding in Obscura until this week ended occurred to him. Hurry up and get back to school and normality, or whatever that would look like now. He sighed sadly as the door banged shut behind him, and he knew it would never be the same again.
The cramped store stunk like body odour. A single long shelf in the middle was all that held snacks for sale. Every other inch of the store seemed to hold trinkets, fishing gear, camping gear and hats. The ceiling, which was only an arms reach from Bram, was plastered from corner to corner with ball caps—stapled to the ceiling. Trucker hats, company hats, cowboy hats, women’s pink ball caps, every type you could imagine. He walked with his neck overstretched to examine the hats above his head. Perfectly lined, bent to show only the brim and top cap. The soft fabric folded in on itself to sit flat against the ceiling. The walls had metal gumball signs and photos and more hats.
Bram blindly snatched a bag of chips off the shelf and ripped them open. Stuffing mouthfuls as he pocketed several chocolate bars and two pops. But not a single treat for his father to share. He could just eat those Twizzlers he so lovingly fed to the fox.
He grabbed a pepperoni stick as well and stuffed half in his mouth before approaching the cash register. The camera screen caught his eye, blinking red light to him from behind the screen. It showed his dishevelled look. His face was drawn tight, and emotions thickly written on his face. His hair greasy and fell to the side of his cheek, not appearing neat and tidy at all. His clothes already ruffled, and it was all he had with him. His heart, he felt, had been left in his grandmother’s casket. He should be worried about his mother. But he wasn’t. Too many times, he had forced his way through Obscura to check on her, too many times he had found her sobbing on the other end. Looking at the bags under his own eyes, he realized he was slowly killing himself, trying to keep his mother afloat. It should be the other way around. She should be sacrificing herself for his feelings, but she wasn’t. She was too shellfish.
Shoving his hand into his jean pocket, he produced only a two-dollar bill. This wasn’t enough for everything he had grabbed. Not even enough to cover what he had already eaten. He dropped the pepperoni stick wrapper to the counter, suddenly ashamed of his poorness. His mother should have ensured a better life for him. He had nothing before, and he would have to sell that nothing to buy food now with his grandmother gone. Maybe it was time to look out for himself. No one else wanted to help him, and he should help himself.
Glancing around the store, there was no sight of the owner. The washroom door at the back was closed, and he could see even from where he stood the little lock was clicked to red instead of green. He was probably pinching a loaf out, thinking no one would arrive in this snowstorm. Looking out the windows, his father had now climbed back into the vehicle and was busy talking on the phone. Indeed, with his new wife, not caring was his son was doing in the store. He was not running in to offer to buy these snacks for Bram.
Bram allowed his eyes unfocused, to the point were the fuzz from the already scratchy camera screen blurred more. Forcing apart the white fibres, he pushed himself into the black spaces. Entering Obscura, he stood in the dark for a moment. Unsure what he expected to gain by bringing himself here once more. There was no preplanning it, and he used half the effort it took the first time. He pulled the dark matter up and forced it upon the cash register. The silver steel box exploded, and the money rained down on the counter.
Dropping his chips and pop, he stuffed all the cash he could into his pockets. The bathroom door behind him began yelling and giggling on the doorknob. He glanced up quickly at the camera screen once more, faintly wondering what it looked like on the camera when the weight of Obscura burst down on the register. Would it be seen at all? Was his body seen still as his soul was gliding through Obscura? Did his eyes blink when his mind was controlling another world altogether? Only the camera knew now.
The door swung open as Bram bolted from through the front. His father already had the car running, and the phone bolstered to where it had been originally. He was in the car and back driving down the highway before seeing the older man with the red ball cap and long grey beard running from the store. Waving his arms, Bram couldn’t help but chuckle. His father was so oblivious.
He rolled a fancy zippo around his fingertips. He had clipped it just as he turned to leave.
“Where’d you get that?”
“Meh,” Bram shrugged his shoulders and flicked open the shiny new trinket, “I bought it.”
“You don’t smoke, do you?”
“No, I just wanted it.”
“Must be nice to have your money,” his father winked.