I was high up, my sore arms forced to spread outwards, my legs dangling below me. My feet and hands felt like they were stapled on to the wooden boards I was stuck to. I felt like my hands would rip off and the rest of me would fall. But the cloth binds choked around my arms secured me to the horizontal board. My head hung down, I felt like a crown of needles was digging into my temples. I saw my body below me, my skin was darker than usual and my ribs were pounding beneath my skin. I felt a drip of something trickling to my lip so I licked it away. I realized I did have a crown of thorns around my head and it was making my forehead bleed, the red liquid drizzled down my face.
All around me clear sky, but the color of steel. As far as I could see, dark sand was all there was to the landscape. I looked down at my feet again, this time at the base were two people with their heads down. One was a man with light curly hair the other was a woman with a pale head wrap. It took me a second to realize they were both crying.
I tried to speak, to ask for help but when I opened my mouth…well I couldn’t. I was so weak I didn’t have the energy to make a single noise much less open my jaw.
My chest hurt, not as bad as my arms and legs, but still a lot. I realized my breath was slowing down; my heart wasn’t working. My vision blurred; suddenly the two people at my feet looked like blobs. I began to close my eyes, knowing they would never open again…
My eyes burst open and I sat upwards.
That nightmare kept coming back. It was like experiencing my own death over and over again. I always knew what came after that dream; it was no surprise what I saw when I pulled my sheets off my body.
My inner elbows and wrists were purple and red, where I was tied up. The palms of my hands were bleeding, a straight hole through the center. My ankles were swollen and my feet were suffering the same as my hands. I sighed, reaching for my bandages on my night table.
From then beginning, I would cry and scream when this happened. But now it was just getting old, like a daily routine. Though, there were those lucky days when I could wake up without holes in my body. As a matter of fact, this curse hasn’t happened for the past week. I knew better that it would stop though; I knew it was going to come back.
Once I bandaged myself, I looked at the clock. It was 5:30, half an hour before my alarm. I decided to get up anyway, it’s not like I could go back to sleep.
As I dragged myself to the kitchen, I remembered it was Friday. Thank God.
My name’s Roman Becker. I was glad it was Friday because— you guessed it— high school. I’m in tenth grade. My sixteenth birthday was in a day, but I didn’t really care much for it. It’s not like guys got sweet-sixteens… not that I was wanting one, I’m just saying for a guy it’s like: okay, cool, I’m older, now stop paying attention to me.
Anyway, you’re probably screaming about how I should go see a doctor about this little problem I have. Well I have, when I was five. That’s the first time I went anyway. I don’t really remember what they said to be honest, but in the words of my mom, they told her she was “just an abusive mother.”
I went again when I was about ten, and my mom made sure it was a different doctor this time. They told her that this wasn’t a disease of physicality, but mentally. In other words, they thought I was doing this to myself. By the time I was thirteen, I convinced her that I wasn’t self-destructive or ever going to a doctor again about this. So she asked me to do one thing: to pray every night.
Speak of the woman; I heard delicate footsteps come through the doorway to the kitchen. I rubbed my thumb around the rim of my glass of juice, hunching my shoulders. The footsteps came to a stop when they came behind me. I didn’t bother to turn back.
“Aye, my Ro, why are you up already?” she came and touched my shoulder. I flinched as her hand slid down to my bandaged wrist. They were getting swollen. “It came back,” she kissed my forehead. “Ro, are you doing as I said? Are you praying every night? Are you saying grace to every—”
“Mom, I’m doing every little thing you told me to do,” I tensed.
“You’re not praying hard enough,” she slid to the seat in front of me. Her black hair was messy, spilling off her shoulders. “Are you wearing your cross?” she took out her own gold chain from under her shirt.
I sighed and did the same with mine, “Yes mom. I never take it off, not even to shower. Though, I might start to, it gets all soapy,” I tucked it back under my shirt. I pretended to not feel my mom’s dark eyes on me and ate my burnt toast.
“Roman, this is serious.”
“I’m not laughing,” I risked a glance at her. You would think at her petite size and round face that she was the nicest, most understanding person in the world. It was until you met a gaze with her obsidian eyes. They were stones. I hunched back over and stared at the crusty bread. I knew she loved me and all, I just wish she would stop making me feel so uncomfortable and self-conscious. I shuffled my body; my sides hurt for some reason as well.
“Roman, have you heard of stigmata?”
I thought a moment, “Like that stupid horror film from the 90’s?” As soon as she pursed her lips I regretted my words.
“No, I am not talking about an aggressive film. Stigmata are the marks of Christ’s crucifixion wounds.” She gently touched my wrist, wrapping her thin fingers around it. I shuffled again, my sides were really bothering me. “Sores on His wrists and hands.” I felt her toe poke my calf, “Cuts on the feet.” She stroked my hair, revealing small red divots in my head, “Marks from the crown of thorns, and wounds on His sides.”
I hesitantly lifted one side of my shirt and sure enough, there was a big purple bruise developing on my tan skin pulling over my ribs. “Shit mom, I’m the Messiah!”
“Roman!” she smacked me over the head and I laughed. “Don’t joke about that. The second advent is no laughing matter.”
“I know, I know, it’s just,” I fixed my hair, “why are you bringing this up? I mean, what does this all mean?”
My mom heaved a sigh. She rubbed her nose sprinkled with dark freckles. “Honestly Ro, I don’t know. I just think it’s a matter of faith,” she sat back and straightened her posture.
I decided to leave it there; my mom thought faith was everything. You don’t have to see it, there doesn’t have to be proof, you just need to have faith. I knew she wouldn’t budge after that. “Why are you up so early?”
She shook her head, “Your father’s snoring keeps me up.” She slowly got to her feet and went to the coffee machine. “Do you want me to cook you some eggs?”
I licked my dry lips, looking down at the pathetic breakfast I’ve put together myself; charred wheat bread and sour orange juice. “Yes.”
I avoided all contact with other people, as usual, as I approached my locker. People weren’t really my thing. I just saw right through all of them, like I could see what was wrong with them and how they would most likely betray me. I guess you could say that I had serious trust issues.
I buried my face in my locker, organizing all my stuff.
“How’s it going Jesus?” I felt someone behind my shoulder.
I didn’t have to turn to see who it was. “Is that how you treat your newfound leader? You should be washing my feet.”
“I’m an atheistic, half-black Jew may I remind you,” Jazz leaned against the locker next to mine. “Your feet will burn in my hands.”
I may’ve not been a people person, but Jazz was one of my favorite people. Take one look at her, you would know she wasn’t from around here. Her look was somewhere in between punk and hippie. She wore a faded denim jacket with a bunch of buttons of bands no one has ever heard of. Under that she had a black “Legend of Zelda” shirt half tucked into gray pants. Nobody in this small Nevada town would ever think about dressing like that. The town was just outside Vegas, but still.
She came here to Nevada from New York ten years ago. We became friends we were around six. She moved back the city when she was ten, then came back here three years after. All this moving was because her parents were divorced, so it was never quite settled as to which parent she should live with.
She took her thick glasses off and started to rub the lenses with her
denim sleeve. She growled, realizing it just smudged them more.
“Here,” I laughed, taking her glasses from her and cleaning them with my cloth of my long sleeve shirt. I glanced over at Jazz; her greenish eyes looked so big without her glasses. Her face was round and her cheeks were still kind of big like from she was little. Despite that, she had a mature gaze.
Once I gave her glasses back to her, she looked up and down at me. She stared at my arm.
I was about to pull it back when she quickly snatched it and pulled my sleeve up. “I see your marks returned,” she rubbed two of her little fingers on my bandaged arm. “Or you’re starting a new fashion statement. I kinda dig it.”
I rolled my eyes and slid my arm back. I made sure my sleeve covered it completely and closed my locker. I nearly jumped when I saw the kid was standing at the locker next to mine; it was like he came out of nowhere. The kid was familiar; I had seen him around in school before. He always looked exactly the same; faded out jeans, black Chucks, and a dark purple sweatshirt with his hood pulled over his head, like he just wanted to blend in. He slowly turned around to look at me. I just raised my eyebrows and turned away to Jazz. She nodded her head towards the kid and smirked.
Freshman, she mouthed.
I just shrugged and ignored him.
“So Ro, what do you want for your big day?” Jazz crossed her arms.
“You’re the birthday boy, silly,” she ruffled my hair. “What should I get you?”
I rolled my eyes, “You don’t have to get me anything.”
“Well, I know I don’t have to, but I should. Perhaps a new roll of fresh bandages? I could get them in your favorite color if you want.”
“You’re kind of an ass.”
“Only kind of? Half an ass, huh; I was hoping for a little more,” we began to walk.
“I’ll give you the other half for your birthday,” I promised.
“What every girl dreams of,” she battered her long eyelashes.
“Is this room 213; Ms. Shelter?” someone tapped my shoulder. I turned around to where I expected to see someone’s face, but instead I saw a shirt neck. I had to tilt my head back to find the head. Man, this guy was tall.
“Uh, yeah,” I said quickly then went inside, leaving him. It was last period, halfway through the school year, and he was certainly not a freshman since he’s coming to my tenth grade English and about six feet tall so, why was he asking me for directions?
I found my seat, the second to last chair from the back and dropped down. I saw the guy come up to Ms. Shelter to introduce himself. I already didn’t like him. He was too charming. Ms. Shelter laughed slightly when he said something and I found myself rolling my eyes. She put a hand on his shoulder then pointed in my direction. It took me a second to realize she was telling him the only empty seat was the one behind me. I sighed.
As the guy came walking up to his new seat, I tried to determine where he could be from. His skin was bronze; he wasn’t quite Indian, maybe Arabic or something. His black hair was flipped up, out of his face. He was good looking, I guess. His white teeth shone as he came closer to me.
“Guess we are classmates, huh?” he had a strange slight accent.
“Guess so,” I tried my hardest not to roll my eyes.
He stuck a long fingered hand at me, I just looked at it. “My name is Darius.”
I ignored his hand and muttered, “Roman.”
“Oh no, I’m from –”
“That’s my name,” you dick, “Roman Becker.”
Darius nodded, taking his hand back, “Very nice, I like that name.”
Well I care, “Okay.”
He took his seat behind me, not seeming offended at all.
As the bell rang, the rest of the class came pouring in. Samantha Greggs took her seat in front of me, as usual. She was cute, I guess, in a quiet nerdy girl kind of way. Not the high socks thick glass kind of nerd, but the polite, head always in a book kind. As soon as she sat down and Ms. Shelter began class, I saw her pull out thick novel from under her desk.
I was never much for reading. I mean, I had enough to worry about in real life, so why worry about some fictional character’s life, right?
“…sure we will all welcome our new student with open minds,” Ms. Shelter clapped her hands together, eyeing Darius behind me. The rest of my class followed her gaze, with the exception of Samantha. I ducked lower into my desk, making sure they were looking at the right guy. In the corner of my eye I saw Darius smile and give a little wave. Some of the guys glared while the girls giggled.
“Okay, back to class matters. Everyone, pull out your text books from under your desks. You’ll be analyzing two poems by two very different authors but with a similar motif. I want you to create a Venn diagram with a partner—”
The class let out a cheer. I silently did too; I usually just did things myself. By things I mean just scribble little comics on my paper and text Jazz.
“—which will be chosen for you,” Ms. Shelter looked from above her reading glasses as the class groaned. “The first person in each row will work with the person behind themselves. The third will as well, and so on. Go on!”
There were some mumbles of relief and others of disappointment as people twisted their desks around.
“Looks like we are partners, Roman,” Darius spun my desk around with one hand so I was facing him.
“Great,” I sighed.
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