After suffering the loss of someone dear, Jaden sinks darkly within himself. Sadness and guilt tempt him towards despair and “other things,” with pain transforming to violence in his thoughts.
During the daytime, Jaden yearns for reprieve, a return to the days of innocence, but he’s left wanting. In sleep, dreams confront him with who he is, as deeper fears are laid before him.
With dwindling hope, Jaden comes to despise the lack of care found in those around him, because he knows the judgment is there for them all. None seems willing to see. A sword is at his neck, haunting him, but what can he give to satisfy it, what will he do in the end?
e x c e r p t
Excerpt from Chapter 1
At the end of the hallway, the bathroom door creaks open with his pushing hand. Jaden enters. His feet step from the aged and worn away carpet and onto the linoleum floor, which is cold on his heels and dusted dirty. He shuts the door behind him softly and flicks the light switch, but it doesn’t work, so he flicks it a few more times with nothing changed; he’s forced to rely upon hints of dawn for vague light.
Turning around, his image greets him, causing a startle in Jaden’s chest as if eyeing a stranger, but he relaxes with his own dark hair and eyes and slender frame there in the reflection. The tall mirror is propped up along the opposite wall, something dad must have put up. Smudges run up and down the reflection, as though smeared by small dirty hands, and it makes his reflection eerie, as if peering at him from below murky waters and waiting there with hands at it’s sides. Jaden turns from it.
The faucet runs with water. He holds his hands in the stream. The water is cool along his fingers, dripping through. Cupping his hands as if to drink, Jaden brings them to his face and splashes there and does so again, waking further. Water drips from his nose and chin. He stands and dries his hands and face with the towel strewn along the counter, probably tossed there carelessly by Langdon. Jaden turns his shoulder to the mirror again, and the eyes of his reflection meet him, watching him. With an extended hand, Jaden drops the towel back down to where it was. He peeks in glances at the mirror still, like something in a dream not right, like something he should have considered.
Shaking off the childish fears, Jaden turns for the door to leave. He hopes his brothers wake soon, wonders if maybe they’ll go see a movie later in the day. He hopes mom cooks something big and greasy for breakfast, sausage and eggs and pancakes and toast covered in butter, with a glass or two of orange juice to wash it all down. He hopes dad is in a good mood. The door of the bathroom won’t open. He doesn’t remember locking it; he must have done so in unthinking fashion. He pauses a moment, and then turns around with whispers on his spine and the mirror is there, like some prominent thing that captures his attention, as though it were growing in the room, expanding each second. The eyes of his reflection stare back. They watch Jaden. They blink. They blink again, but Jaden hasn’t blinked since turning, and it blinks again, and Jaden backs up with fear tossing in his chest, and the reflection blinks with delight dancing in those dark eyes. The doorknob digs into Jaden’s back, and his hand reaches for it as he works to undo the lock, but his movements are uncoordinated, shaken with fright.
The fingers of his reflection stretch out from the mirror, grasping the thin edges of the frame. A foot touches the linoleum as it pulls its way out. As the head reaches through, it laughs, laughs like something without lungs or voice, scraping and clawing in the air. The dark hair tousles across eager eyes as it stands along the floor, the mirror at its back. Turning to the door, Jaden continues at the knob with slippery hands sliding and skimming along the slick curved edge, and he can feel the monstrosity that wears his skin stalking closer with another step and another. Jaden jumps at the touch of hands at his neck and he turns again, meeting long pale fingers that latch around his throat, the thumbs digging below his jaw and tilting his head up and back. The hands are powerful, unyielding. The likeness of flesh and bone drives Jaden to the ground, the shoulders bearing over him while forcing Jaden’s resistant body down to the linoleum floor. Crushing hands suffocate possible screams for help and family, even as Jaden almost cries out for “Langdon!” his brother, but the first syllable is choked off as he flails along the floor. Jaden squirms, legs sliding. The sounds of his fretful writhing echo out as his feet slam against cabinet and shower, and his neck lets out popping sounds as his dark twin squeezes tighter and tighter. The smirking mouth above opens in guttural laughter, releasing saliva that dribbles down in slender strands along Jaden’s face, and he gags soundlessly as it drips into his throat and fills his mouth. Jaden kicks out in hysteria, hitting the wall, and his eyes open from the dream.
Jaden is in the darkness of his own apartment bedroom, still in college. The oscillating hum of the nearby fan turns in white noise from the corner of wood paneled walls, not the silver blue of home. He breathes a moment while staring at the ceiling, blankets sprung out around him from the panicked sleep. While he looks over the night-covered room for any hint of a mirror, Jaden rubs his neck, as though to find some trace of the fingers that strangled him. Soon, his lungs ease with the passing moments in the dark. The fear fades into the cool air.
His clock blinks at him in a green glow: 2:14 a.m. Jaden drops back, repositioning the blankets and sheets over his body as he rolls to his side with knees tucked to his chest. He smiles as he remembers the quiet moments of the dream, the short time he was home with his family. He wishes he were there. Jaden slips yet again to sleep.
Excerpt from Chapter 5:
Jaden drops through the open air, his boots slamming hard against the floor as he hits pavement. He stands fast, smashing a fist into the nearest plastic face. He turns and punches another, plastic banging off his fists and feet, sending mannequin bodies crashing away, arms above their heads while flying from him. Wailing at the closest ones, Jaden creates space, punching and kicking and hitting whatever he can. The blasting sound of crashing plastic echoes loudly all around like small explosions, and Jaden is swift, dashing around with jaw clenched and fists smashing and a smile growing on his face. Power bursts through Jaden’s arms and legs as he rushes around pummeling everything nearby. They keep coming.
Immersed in the fun of it all, Jaden freezes suddenly as a sharp point digs into his lower back and a human hand grips his shoulder strongly. Jaden raises his hands as if being robbed. The mannequins stop as well, looking at Jaden questioningly with their lolling heads swaying curiously. They want him to come back to them.
Fingers of flesh stretch over Jaden’s mouth, as if to quiet him, and the hand turns his head, pinning Jaden by the chin against his own shoulder. Jaden keeps his hands raised, unsure of what to do and wondering if he’s about to die. His head is tilted back and his neck is exposed with skin and veins taut. The point leaves his back. He’s going for my neck!
Desperately, Jaden scrambles and breaks loose from the reaching grasp of the man as he escapes, slipping beneath the seeking hands while stumbling to the ground. Jaden quickly gets behind the man while standing, snagging his arm around the man’s neck and wrenching around it like a noose that peels the man’s heels off the ground, and Jaden holds him tightly to his chest.
Jaden reaches down into his jumpsuit pocket to draw out an extended silver knitting needle. He presses the point against the side of the man’s torso in warning, and the man’s hands come up in surrender, his body rigid. Jaden digs the thin point through the man’s shirt, touching skin and going deeper as the needle bursts through skin. Droplets of blood trickle out, and then drip more steadily as the pin slides through ribs and flesh, and the man trembles and attempts to speak, but his voice and air are choked by Jaden’s arm.
The mannequins hop up and down happily.
A pained and feeble gasp of hot breath fills Jaden’s palm as the pin rips its way through innards and guts, and Jaden turns and twists it there.
The mannequins hop up and down, their heads flopping around uncontrollably in plastic glee. Their joy, their happiness, puts a smirk on Jaden’s face, and he presses the needle a little deeper just for them. The man convulses, the needle buried halfway into his side and a whimper squeaks through Jaden’s fingers. The man begs, but Jaden’s hand clasps his jaw shut.
The mannequins hop, and some prance, and their arms flail around loosely with their heads lolling around, and Jaden shares their free and happy laughter, sounding much like theirs.
The man goes limp, and Jaden lets him drop away to the floor.
Hands on his hips, looking around, Jaden smiles at the mannequins as they continue to dance stupidly.
You mannequins are my favorite! You’re the best!
Excerpt from Chapter 8:
Jaden rests his hand on her arm as a gentle guide while they squeeze through the crowd, sliding through with their shoulders turned as they work their way through the tight congestion. They don’t get far, as the living room is also packed with people. Brandy looks up and leans her face close to his, the nearness of her skin drawing blood to his lips as she says, “This isn’t much better.”
Reluctantly, Jaden leads her through the living room and to his bedroom and inside. He shuts the door. The sounds of the apartment are muted behind the closed walls. The room is muffled, quiet, thin light hinting through the two windows. Jaden plugs in the white Christmas lights lining the ceiling and the room glows softly as they stand a few feet from each other. The room is thick with awkwardness. Jaden scratches his cheek.
Brandy looks at him with an accusatory smile. “I thought you didn’t want me taking advantage of you.”
He laughs. “I know, right?”
Brandy steps close and tugs at his sleeves teasingly, drawing her hips close and Jaden backs up against the door and is trapped. She rests her body on his, and Jaden says with nervous smirking caution, “Stop it, or I’ll make you stop.”
“I might like that,” she grins.
He laughs while pushing her back gently. Brandy leaves him and goes to sit at his desk where she turns left and right in subtle motions with her ankles crossed and hands along the cushions.
She pouts, “You’re no fun.”
“I know,” he smiles. “You can leave if you want.”
“Not a chance. I like it here.”
Brandy stands again and unwraps the scarf from around her neck as she looks over the room. The untied scarf releases the alluring fragrance of her skin and body, which eases the air and draws Jaden close again. Her olive skin is smooth, soft at her cheeks. Her deep brown eyes look up at Jaden as she pulls strands of her hair back, readjusting her ponytail.
Brandy walks over towards Jaden’s makeshift bed and blankets and picks up a picture positioned near the pillow. She doesn’t ask about there not being a mattress, and he likes her even more for that. Brandy studies the picture a moment and asks with a warm smile, as if being allowed something true about Jaden, “Are these you and your brothers?”
“Yes.” He walks to her side.