Celestial Crossing: Written by Nichole Parrish and Talia Scianna
Chapter Zero: 7:15 pm
6:30pm - Annual Educator's Award Ceremony
Location - Civic Hall
The sun hid behind the looming buildings of the city, casting dark shadows over the people below as though the sun had already made its descent over the horizon as the wind blew softly. The chattering of voices carried on the wind as a woman walked slowly down the street toward the source. Her name was Melody Le'Meir, standing five feet five inches she was thin to an extreme; almost to the point where her rib cage could easily be seen through the gown she wore. Melody's skin was light in pallor and her long orange colored hair was pulled up into a bun though if freed, would fall down to her knees.
Peculiarly, the woman walked a foot exactly to the right and behind the man in front of her; her fiancé Johnathan Williams. He stood tall and proud, which was the opposite of the way Melody walked; her eyes cast down to the ground, shoulders slumped subserviently. The newly purchased black suit he'd bought was tailored, and pressed and he marched forward proudly as if he had already won the award this evening's dinner was offering to them. John wasn't going to receive an award at the dinner.
In fact, Melody was the one who was receiving the Teacher of the Year award. When she first received the letter in the mail announcing the news she was excited and proud, but then the rumor mill started up amongst the other teachers about how she'd won the award and why. No one seemed to understand or believe that she won because she was actually a good teacher, not any of the unsavory reasons that had been tossed about. Due to her young age, the other, older women in the District seemed to think she was incapable of winning such a prestigious honor. However, Melody hadn't jumped to defend herself in spite of all the accusations. She preferred to let the other teachers think what they wanted of her and decided she owed them no explanation. She loved teaching with all of her heart, and that's what she was going to keep on doing with or without an award and whether or not rumors were spread about her.
"Excuse me." Melody stopped walking and glanced behind her to see who had called to her. John stopped as well when he heard the clicking of Melody's heels ceasing to be and turned around as well. Melody looked down at the small six year old girl who wore a giant smile across her face. "Miss Melody! It's me! Tina!" The tiny excited voice cried out to her.
"Oh come on, Tina! I know who you are! How could I possibly forget you?" Offering a friendly smile, Melody crouched to meet Tina's height. "What are you doing here, little lady?"
"Melody, let's go. We don't have time for this." Impatiently tapping his foot, Johnathan snapped. When he had somewhere important to be he didn't appreciate his fiancée's trivial conversations getting in his way. Not often did Melody disobey her lover, but when it came to her students she refused to back down. Reassuringly resting her hand on Tina's shoulder Melody inhaled deeply before turning her head so she could look back at Johnathan.
"Go to the hall without me, John. I'm not going to leave her out here by herself." Speaking as nicely and softly as she could, Melody offered a smile in hopes of abating her fiancé's anger. Johnathan shot her a cold glare before he turned and stormed off in the direction of the Hall. His anger was showing in his heavy footsteps but nowhere else. Melody knew she'd be in for hell later. But for now, the small girl was more important, so Melody returned her attention to her. When she did, she was surprised to see Tina holding something toward her, arms extended. Sitting in her tiny hands was a golden necklace with a small star-shaped pendant hanging off the end of the chain, dangling off the side of her palm.
"This is for you Miss Melody! I asked my brother to bring me all the way here just so that I could give it to you as a present!" Tina's giggles carried on the wind as she fumbled to unlock the clasp of the necklace. Finally achieving her goal, the small girl raised her arms up in an attempt to reach Melody's neck. Unsure of the entire situation, Melody couldn't tell the girl no, so she leaned further forward so that Tina could reach her properly. Melody shut her eyes and thought about Tina's brother as the chain met her skin. Melody thought about the restraining order she got against the young boy because he had been stalking her for months. She wasn't even sure how his obsession with her had begun, but terrified for her life, she'd let the law take care of it. Despite the order, she'd still see him after school some days when he'd come to pick up Tina, obeying the rules to stay five hundred feet away from her at all times.
Placing her hand over the necklace now dangling over her chest, Melody wondered if Tina's brother had talked her into giving her this gift. Contemplating returning it, Melody opened her eyes and could see the excitement in the young girl's eyes and immediately rejected the idea. She would wear it tonight during the ceremony and over the weekend then kindly give it back to the sweet girl Monday after class. Of course, she would also report the incident to the police, and have a sit down with the guidance counselor and Tina to explain the inappropriate nature of the gift, without hurting the fragile child's feelings.
As if on cue, Melody felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up to let her know she was being watched. Glancing over Tina's shoulder, Melody caught sight of the shady figure. The figure of the little girl's brother. She had a feeling that if Tina was here, he wasn't far behind. The figure was peeking out from the side of a nearby building, and though she couldn't make out the features on his face, Melody knew he was observing their interaction. A chill ran down Melody's spine and she stood up to her full height. Taking Tina's hand, Melody started walking a few steps toward the figure, but stopped shortly after.
"You better get back to your brother before he gets worried about you. I'll see you on Monday morning alright? Thank you very much for the beautiful necklace, Tina. You're such a good girl." With a smile, Melody gave her a small push in the direction of where her brother was standing. Tina smiled widely at the approval of her teacher and started skipping down the sidewalk, waving back at Melody as she went. Returning her hand to the star pendant now sitting in the middle of her chest, Melody contemplated taking it off knowing that Johnathan would tell her it would only feed into the rumors about how she'd gotten the award. Instead, she returned her hand to her side defiantly. She didn't have to think about Johnathan, not today, not now. For just this one day, she would stand proudly on her own and make her own decisions.
Continuing toward the hall for her award ceremony, Melody was lost in thought. A thousand things ran through her mind, all of them about the events that had just transpired with Tina. Something about this gift had made her feel better about herself. Of course, it could have just been the realization that she'd won such a prestigious award at such a young age, but for some reason Melody was convinced it was the gift. It was like a river washing away all the negativity in her thoughts and she was certainly no stranger to negativity.
She walked up the stairs of the Civic Hall with her head held high. The more she walked, the prouder she felt, and the doubts and fears melted away. She suddenly felt silly for having felt so small and mousy for so long. Figuring that if all the other teachers wanted to do was whine and complain about how such a young teacher had won the award, then they were not worthy of receiving the award in the first place. Actions spoke far louder than words.
Handing the security guard at the front door her invitation to the event, Melody nodded politely in greeting as she was accepted then walked into the crowded room. Finally she could see the source of the chattering she'd heard outside. Teachers from her District and all of the others in the county were seated around the many tables placed strategically throughout the hall, awaiting the beginning of the event. This was the biggest award ceremony for teachers in the state, and Melody's nerves were hit very suddenly with the weight of what was about to happen.
Walking toward her seat, Melody's confidence and newfound spirit began to falter as she found her seat and noticed the expression painted across Johnathan's face. Grabbing her arm roughly when she was within arm's reach, Johnathan pulled Melody into her seat. Turning toward her he leaned close and pointed his index finger in her face threateningly. Melody kept her eyes locked on the finger so close to her, afraid of what it could do if provoked.
"Don't you ever talk to me like that again, you hear me? We're here for this damn award not for you to play teacher outside of school. When you get home at four o'clock every day, the mentoring ends and that's it. Do you understand me, Melody?!" He asked sharply.Melody kept her eyes locked on his finger, afraid to speak. Squeezing her arm tighter, Johnathan clearly thought he hadn't gotten his point across so he repeated himself a bit louder. "Do you understand me, Melody?" Melody felt the pride and confidence completely dripping away and wondered how she had felt so strong only moments ago and now had become so weak.
"I'm sorry Johnathan. It won't happen again. I promise." After struggling to find her words through the fear her fiancé instilled in her, she feebly responded. He released her arm, his hand having left an indentation in her pale skin, he then smiled brightly as another young couple came to join their table. Johnathan greeted the couple politely and made pleasant conversation with the newcomers before turning toward his fiancée again. Clearing his throat, he placed a pile of note cards in front of her, each one of them filled with his tiny but immaculate handwriting. Melody gave him a puzzled look, seemingly not understanding what the cards were for and was met with an overly confident smirk.
"This is your acceptance speech, Melody. You're going up there representing both of us, so hell if I'm going to let you screw this up like you've screwed everything else up. Remember, when you go up there, you're showing off all the hard work that we have done." Closing her eyes and wishing she could disappear, Melody felt a cold shame pouring over her entirety. The back of her eyelids and dreams of freedom were the only escape she had from the harsh words he always had for her.
Where was the strength she'd felt only moments ago? Where was the magic of the tiny star that hung around her neck? No matter how Melody searched herself, she couldn't find an ounce of the confidence she'd had while walking to then hall. "You're nothing without me, don't forget that. I want to make that clear to every person in this room and this speech will do that." Pleased with how she'd crumbled at his words, Johnathan gave her the once over and with a smirk continued. "You look like you've gained a little weight, Melody. Perhaps you should skip dinner tonight. I don't want people to think I'm going to marry a cow with no respect for her husband-to-be." His suggestion about her meal wasn't a suggestion and she knew that despite her hunger, she wouldn't be eating a thing that night.
Melody sat with her eyes closed while Johnathan went on to make pleasant conversation with the couple that had joined them only moments ago. He was making excuses for her solitary behavior all the while talking himself up. If she could just drown his voice out of her head, maybe she would feel better. No matter what she did, his voice persisted, slithering like a snake into her ears. Along with the award for exceptional work amongst her peers, Melody was also receiving an award for perfect attendance over the last five years of teaching.
Johnathan was talking about how proud he was of her, and how surprised he was that she had such determination when she clearly lacked in other areas. He continued on to tell the neighboring couple how after they were married that would all change. Her dedication would have to be turned to their future children, and Johnathan planned on having many children. Stomach lurching at the reminder that her dreams of being a teacher were going to be shattered soon, Melody instinctively reached up for the pendant around her neck. Whatever magic it had possessed, it had faded completely.
Gasping as she opened her eyes, Melody felt Johnathan's hand returning to her arm, gripping it tightly out of anger. Turning toward the couple Johnathan excused the two of them from the table, apologizing for his wife's ill stomach caused by nerves. Gripping her arm, Johnathan dragged her away from the table. Melody tried frantically to think of what she could have done to cause such an outburst from her husband. The illness he'd claimed she had has become a reality as he gripped at her arm tighter and tighter, meandering through the tables of mingling guests. The moment they'd reached the hallway outside of the restrooms, and once Johnathan had been certain no one was looking, Melody was shoved roughly onto the floor.
Pain riddled Melody's arm as it crumpled weakly beneath her as she attempted to catch herself. Her head smacked against the ground immediately afterward, her vision faltered for just a second from the force of the blow. Everything felt as though it was in slow motion as Johnathan's hands tangled in her bun and yanked her head so it was leaning back, forcing her neck to crane. Johnathan stared at the golden star pendant that hung around her neck. Unsure of how to react and not wanting to get out of control in a public place, Johnathan shoved her back onto the ground before pacing back and forth as if to contemplate his next move.
Melody pushed herself to a sitting position, after the room stopped spinning. She had to quickly come up with a cover story in case anyone came into the hallway to find them like that. Quickly her hands wandered to her hair and undid the bun she'd spent so long making perfect. There was no chance of her fixing it now, so she'd leave her hair down. If anyone asked, she wasn't steady in the three inch heels she was wearing and tripped.
"Why are you wearing that necklace?!" Apparently having decided on his reaction, Johnathan stopped pacing. "You stupid little bitch! I spent hours picking out your dress and deciding how you'd do your hair for tonight! You will dress and wear what I say you will! You have no right to go wearing something so flashy like that! Where did you get it anyway? I swear if you're sleeping around on me you will regret it! You're mine! Don't you ever forget that! What is wrong with you?!" Johnathan snarled at Melody while she attempted to make her hair look less disheveled. Avoiding eye contact, she merely listened to what he had to say. "You have no respect for anyone or anything, do you? That little girl
That was the one whose brother is stalking you, isn't it? Are you screwing around with him Melody, you sick bitch? Did he give that to her to give to you?!"
"You can't accuse Tina of doing such a despicable thing simply because her brother isn't right! She's six years old Johnathan! She gave it to me for being a good teacher and for no other reason!" Melody snapped back at him, which was something she rarely did. For her bravery, she was met with a slap across her face. Her cheek stung with her reward. Where had that bravery come from? She never spoke out of turn to Johnathan, never. In the main room of the hall, she could hear the intercom coming to life and urging people to quiet down.
"Shut up you incompetent little slut!" Johnathan hissed threateningly at her. Melody's bravery faded quickly, she shrunk against the wall near the bathroom door and looked toward the ground. Nodding her head to let him know she was listening and planning on being obedient. About to continue on his tirade, Johnathan brought up his hand as if he was going to hit Melody once more. She winced, ready for her abuse, but Johnathan stopped short and stood upright as the door into the hallway creaked open, an usher craned his head around the door curiously. Johnathan lowered his outstretched hand toward Melody and helped her to her feet. "She tripped." He offered an explanation even though none was asked of him.
"The ceremony is about to start. We're asking everyone to take their seats so they can proceed with the festivities." The usher smiled pleasantly, thinking nothing of the scene he'd walked in upon. Thanking the usher politely for his message, Johnathan pulled Melody back into the hall and to their seats.
Melody sat down and continued to fix her hair. The women on the other side of the couple Johnathan had been chatting with were pointing at her and giggling under their breath, exchanging candid conversation. Melody's heart sunk in her chest; surely they were making up some other rumor about her already. Inadvertently, Johnathan had made her look like a slut in front of the entire District. Avoiding eye contact with her fiancé, she listened to the head of the school board yammer on about how important the impact of a good teacher can be on a young life.
As the speech ended, Melody started paying attention once more to what was going on around her. She'd zoned out once the speech had gone past the five minute marker. The orator opened the envelope he'd picked up during his speech and smiled in her direction. Melody returned the smile. Not even Johnathan could ruin this moment. "Every year we pick one teacher and choose to acknowledge them on this night. That teacher has to be special, very special to get where they are. The kind of special that touches the lives of all the students around them, that makes an impact with every word and every lesson. This year's teacher isn't just a fantastic and dedicated first grade teacher, but the most dedicated and caring teacher I've ever met in my life. I'm honored to present this year's Teacher of the Year Award to
" Glancing up from his podium, the head of the school board held his breath as if to create suspense. "Miss Melody Le'Meir! Give her a round of applause everybody!"
With her cheeks burning red even though she knew she'd won the award prior to the announcement, Melody felt flushed with a mixture of embarrassment and excitement. The hall in its entirety burst into applause, and she felt a wave of relief flood through her. Having forgotten that not all of the teachers present were her coworkers, she realized that some of these people were actually proud of her. Realizing she had to get up and walk to the stage, Melody laughed at her own stupidity then hurried up to the stage.
She was about five feet away from the steps leading onto the platform when she remembered the note cards her fiancé had written for her. Turning back to look at Johnathan she saw them sitting next to him in a neat pile on the table. She stopped for a moment to contemplate going to get them, but rejected the idea of doing so and continued onto the stage instead. Knowing the abusive consequences of her actions would likely be horrifying, Melody forgot about all of the problems she had with her abusive fiancé as she walked up to the podium. The cheering continued as she shook the hand of head of the school board.
The head of the school board released her hand and then handed her the trophy shaped like a golden apple tree. He congratulated her in a voice so quiet she didn't hear it over the roar of applause but could read it on his lips. Stepping out of her way and politely folding his arms across his chest, he allowed Melody to stand behind the podium. She stared down at the microphone, it was finally Melody's moment. A smile curled over her lips as she remembered the note cards Johnathan had tried to get her to bring up with her. She could only imagine what falsified nonsense had been on them.
"Thank you." Melody's mousy quiet voice cut through the roar of applause and the crowd died down as it did. "It's truly an honor to receive such a prestigious award from my fellow teachers." Melody tried to look out at the crowd of people, as a good speaker should but couldn't see past the first row of tables in front of the stage. It didn't matter; she could fumble all she wanted. This was her moment and nothing could take it away from her.
"I'm afraid that I can't take all the credit for the work that I've done. I would not be here today if it were not for the wonderful kids who were placed in my class. Their passion for learning and their luster for life well, it makes it a joy to go to work every morning. While we hit our bumps in the road, share our germs every so often, we always get back on our feet and continue together. I know a lot of teachers forget this along the years but being a great teacher means nothing without a great class."
She wasn't worried about people not accepting her speech or telling her she was dumb. She'd said what she had wanted to say and the people were cheering in response to it. Melody held the award high above her head triumphantly. The applause only increased as she was turning to walk away from the podium. Something caught her eye and she stopped mid stride. A small girl was running towards the stage waving both of her hands above her head excitedly. She stopped to dance around when she reached the table's closest to the stage.
"Miss Melody! Miss Melody! It's me Tina!" The little girl cried out again, as if Melody had forgotten her name already. Melody took a step away from the podium and started hurriedly walking toward the end of the stage so she could make sure the little girl was alright. Tina was chanting her name in a sing-song voice and laughing loudly. Melody stopped suddenly and started looking for Tina's brother. She'd nearly forgotten about the boy entirely.
Melody took a step backwards as something very loud caused the clapping to cease entirely. Eyes growing wide, Melody looked around frantically for the source until she felt a warm, sudden pain within her chest. Losing her balance, the force of something unknown knocked her backward towards the ground. Once again, everything moved in slow motion in front of her, the pain ripping through her chest and exploding out of her back. She hit the ground with a loud thud that shook her entire being. This wasn't like any of the other times when she had hit the ground after having been tripped or thrown there by her fiancé, something inside of her was telling her she was not going to get up from this blow, or ever again for that matter. A warm sensation filled her lungs and it became hard to breathe. A cough sent blood spraying past her lips, dripping down her cheek.
At the realization of what had happened, the silence was broken by sudden screams and the clattering of chairs falling over as people tried to run from the hall. Sound seemed muffled to Melody, as though someone had shoved cotton in her ears. Someone was yelling to call an ambulance, but Melody wasn't sure who or why. She heard her name being yelled from across the hall, or at least she thought she did. Her vision was dimming, growing dark around the edges, only increasing as she coughed again. She felt her fingers go cold as the award she held in her right hand rolled out onto the floor. Before she knew it, everything went black.
Location: Subway Platform between 7th and 33rd
Rush hour always came a little late in the city. The quiet hum of chattering caused by coworkers exchanging polite conversations or people calling their loved ones on their cell phones filled the cavernous subway station. Everyone looked tired. They kept to themselves or the people they knew at this hour, eager to get home after a long day's work.
Standing on the yellow line at the end of the subway platform, Joey Shepherd shrugged his shoulders so the collar of his jacket would obscure his face. Further disguising his face, he pulled the black hood of his sweater up, as low as he could over his face. His dirty pants looked too big for him and were torn in many places. His shoes were barely held together, pieced together in places with faded silver duct tape.
If one person, just one and I don't think that's asking a lot, smiles at me then I won't have to do this. Joey's thoughts tried to talk him out of a decision he'd long ago made as he slowly removed his hands from his jacket pockets. His fingers were sliced up, scarred like he'd gotten them caught in barbed wire over and over again. He grabbed the top of his hood and pulled it down and away from his face. Slowly he urged his hands back into his pockets and took a deep breath. Exhaling for a long moment, Joey turned around to face a group of three nearby girls who were chattering amongst themselves. One of the girls audibly gasped at the sight of him, hurriedly looked away from him and toward her friends. Upon seeing her reaction, the other two were quick to notice Joey as well, and they hesitated before taking a few steps away from him. Despite how they'd made an effort to get away from him, he could hear their voices echoing off the cavernous walls of the platform, remarking about the scars adorning his face.
The world had been cruel to Joey over the years, and was shown by the scars spread out over his body. Joey glanced back at the subway tracks, choosing to ignore the onslaught of horrible insults followed by pity that the women expressed nearby. His face would have been a mess even without the scars. There were huge dark circles under his eyes as if he hadn't slept in days, and his eyes themselves were bloodshot as the result of crying the night before. Hair matted from being under his hood for so many hours during the day as he skulked the streets. It was a dirty brown, with artificially red fading streaks scattered about.
Giving up on the women who had been nearby, Joey turned to the man standing next to him for hope. The businessman looked over the top of the newspaper he had unfolded in front of his face, then quickly averted his eyes and went back to reading without any other motion. Clearly he was pretending he hadn't made eye contact with the ill looking man standing near the yellow line. Joey's feet crept closer to the end of the line with every second that passed.
Another voice carried through the hollow subway platform and Joey turned for only a second to find the source. There were a few boys that were standing a few feet behind him near one of the support beams set up in the station. They were snickering and chatting with each other about how the local freak had returned to ride the subway. He recognized the boys from around town but had never made a point to correct them or explain why he looked the way he did. Joey quickly put his hood back over his head, deciding that none of the people in the platform had anything to offer him, and looked down at the yellow line that was suppose to keep him separated from the oncoming subway cars. It was just paint, after all, how could it possibly achieve such a thing?
Slipping his fingers within his jacket again, Joey pulled a necklace from his pocket and looked at the small golden pendant that dangled from it. He'd never worn it around his neck before, well, not since childhood. He'd been made fun of for wearing it, called a faggot, chased and beaten after school. But none of that mattered now. If anyone on the platform was going to give him a hard time about it, he'd take them down with him. The pendant meant more to him than anything else in the world, even his own life. With a sigh, he unclipped the latch of the necklace and closed it around his neck after slipping it in place. It only seemed right for him to wear the pendant now at this time. He closed his eyes, remembering the moment he received the pendant, and the scars that covered him from the waist up.
Sixteen Years Earlier
The road had been clear that evening other than the occasional passing truck on the turnpike. A thick fog was rolling off of the ocean and settling in. The woman in the front seat paid no mind as the road disappeared before her, merely turned on her fog lights and flipped on the windshield wipers. To the timing of the song on the radio, she clicked the button for the defrost setting of the car to turn on, flipping the knobs for the heater just in case.
Joey was only nine years old at the time, and was sitting in the back seat of his mother's old Chevy in his school uniform with his backpack open next to him. His mother started singing softy to the song on the radio, but the wrong words since she didn't know it very well. Joey eyed the pendant that hung on her neck through the rearview mirror. He was giggling loudly at her ridiculous lyrics, which that only enticed her further to make up even more absurd lyrics to the song.
Once the song had ended, Joey turned his gaze at the window at the increasingly ominous fog that had poured in around them. He noticed his mother was driving slower and looking less pleasant than she had only a moment ago. As he always did when she looked sad, he started making jokes. "It was nighttime in the daytime! Someone had some serious gas! God left the hot water running in his bathtub!" His mother smiled and laughed with him, and Joey felt relieved.
It was Friday and his mother had picked him up from daycare after she'd gotten off of work. They were going to visit his father's grave that night. His father had been dead since he was very little. Joey had no memory of him other than the stories his mother would tell at his grave when they sat there each week. Usually they would make the long trip every weekend, stay for an hour or so just to say hi and pay their respects.
While they were down there, they visited Joey's grandparents on his father's side. They were his least favorite part of weekend trips. His grandparents had been very persistent about having their son buried in the family lot an entire state away, from where Joey and his mother lived, but it was worth the drive. As much as his mother had fought for him to be buried in the city where they lived, she had lost the battle. Ever since then, Joey's grandparents had been very rude to his mother, and so in return, Joey made trouble for them during every visit.
Joey had hope that night, they would either drive to stay at a hotel and have a fun night with pizza and movies, or they would go home and skip visiting his grandparents. While Joey loved them since they were family, he would love to see his mother have a nice weekend for once. She always seemed sad when they would go to the grave, and that was his least favorite thing in the world, seeing his mother sad. Joey still really didn't understand the difference between life and death at his young age. All he knew was that his dad was gone and he wasn't coming back, and it made his mother very sad which made him sad.
"What's with the glum face, grumpy Gus?" Joey's mother said nicely with a pleasant smile as her eyes reflected in the rearview mirror. He was still sad despite her soothing tone. Suddenly, she screamed, slammed on the brakes and turned the wheel hard to the right. The car lurched to the side and the tires skid uselessly on the slippery wet road. Joey felt his body fly forward in his seat from the force of the turn. He felt a sharp pain in his chest and neck as the seatbelt he wore forced him to stay in his seat. Before he knew what was happening, the car started flipping over, making Joey sick to his stomach. Closing his, eyes he yelled. The sound of his mother's voice finally stopped either by her wilt or it was drowned out by the sound of the crash.
The sound of metal scraping against asphalt finally ceased and Joey found himself upside down, held in place by the seatbelt around him. Frantically he reached for the button that would let him go but found it stuck. He could smell smoke and see fire growing in front of him. He couldn't even tell his mom to stop drop and roll. He cried out to her to help him, but she didn't move. Something was missing from her body, from her head. In fact, it looked like part of her head was gone. She didn't respond to him so Joey cried louder.
His eyes burned from the blood and sweat that had dripped into them, he tried to smear it away but it only made the pain worse. Something told Joey that if he didn't get out of his seat and out of the car, then something very bad would happen. Joey continued to work at his seatbelt but when it refused to give, he decided to climb out of it instead. Slowly while constricted, he worked his way out of it. The burning smell he recognized from gas stations only getting worse.
Finally, he crept free and fell onto the roof of the car. This was all very confusing for a child his age, but he did his best to get free. The glass of his window had cracked and shattered, but not fallen out of the protective film it had been built in. Kicking it free, it shattered so Joey, bruised and scraped, could climb free of the four wheeled prison. Instead of running for help, Joey started at the driver's side window so he could help his mom. The glass was covered in blood.
Before he could do anything else, something had caused the car to blow up and he'd blacked out. When he'd woken up, he was in a hospital bed, covered in gauze. He'd heard the doctors talking about him outside of his room where the door had been opened. They were saying his mother was dead. They were saying that all that was left of her was a pendant they'd found around what was left of her neck. They were saying no one wanted him anymore. Then they were saying after he healed he would be placed in foster care.
One thing was for sure, after that day, Joey could definitely understand the difference between life and death.
Joey opened his eyes as a tear rolled down his cheek at the memory. He quickly brushed his face to the side so the tear would fall against the hood of his sweater. Both of his parents had died when he had been too young to really know them. His grandparents abandoned him, telling the state he was a menace, spending all the money his parents had left to him in their Last Will and Testament. Joey hadn't understood what all the bandages were for after the accident, but after his first week at the orphanage, he'd realized just what it had meant. It meant he was weird. It meant to him that no one would love him because they couldn't see past the scars on his face. Apparently it was too much to ask for someone to love a child whose face looked like it had been scraped with a cheese grater.
The first home he'd been sent to had sent him back after a month with an apology. They had told him it wasn't because of his appearance, but he knew that it was deep down. He'd heard them whispering about how their families disapproved of such an awful looking child. After that, it had always been the same story time and time again. Parents would come and take him away out of pity, then bring him back and make up some lame excuse as to why they couldn't keep him. None of them wanted to say that they just wanted an attractive child. Joey became bitter and stopped trying to make nice with the families that came for him.
The only ones that ever kept him for more than a month were homes filled with rotten old ladies or unsavory old men who would hit him or make him clean all day long. Joey consoled himself for years with the necklace he hid from his foster families. He knew that even if his mother had survived and he'd still had the scars on his body, his mother would've still loved him. She would've loved him more than life itself because she always had. His mother had been his only friend for years long after she was dead.
He didn't make many friends in school because of his appearance and partially because of how he had carried himself. He had tried to keep to himself, not trusting the rest of the world after he'd been torn from the only person who had cared about him. The other kids had made fun of him enough when he was alone, he didn't want them to let them get closer to him so they could really hurt him. He did eventually make a few friends when he was in high school, all of them being the school outcasts.
Each one of them seemed to have something wrong with them, whether it be some sort of mental instability or some kind of deformity. Luckily, Joey felt he had been the cool kid amongst the freaks. Eventually he grew to hate his scars less and learn to use them to his advantage so he could scare unwanted visitors away. Joey's best friend Mark had been born without a left arm and the two of them had got along well. Sadly though, when Joey had thought about it, that was the only thing they'd had in common. Mark had tried to convince Joey that he was over thinking things, but Joey was disillusioned by the fact that the only way they could become friends was because they were both malformed; so Joey continued to push him away. While the two remained friends and continued through high school together, Joey still felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness.
Joey had tried to go to college to major in art, but it hadn't been as easy as he had hoped. Although his life had improved overall, Joey still felt alone. Mark had gone to the same school and the two were roommates. People didn't seem to be as bothered by Joey's scars in art school, in fact he'd managed to acquaint himself with a few people he'd considered his peers. This had done wonders for Joey's self-esteem. He had even started to ask girls out, and had gone out on dates. Girls seemed to think he was dangerous with all of his scars and somewhere along the way, dangerous had become sexy to women instead of horrifying.
After a few dates, Joey started to regularly see a girl named Sara. Sara had been the first person, male or female, without any scars or birth defects that wanted to hang out with him. For the first time, Joey thought he had someone in his life who could care for him the way that his mother had. Suddenly life didn't seem nearly as bad as it had before; things had really turned around for him. Just as he was thinking about asking Sara to replace his roommate, things had taken a turn for the worse. To his dismay, he found out that Sara was not quite the woman he had built her up to be.
When he had finally gotten up the courage to ask Sara to find a place with him she confessed that she didn't think their relationship was there yet. A few days later, Joey caught Sara sleeping with Mark. When he got angry about it, Sara apologized for lying to him. She'd confessed that she'd only started dating him because she was interested in Mark. Of course, she had said she didn't intend on hurting him in the process, but couldn't get to Mark directly. Mark was dating another girl at the time, so by dating Joey, Sara hoped she could get close to Mark and make him fall for her.
Apparently her plan had worked, so she dumped Joey and started dating his best friend. "No hard feelings right?" Mark had commented when he'd asked Joey to move out at the end of their lease so that Sara could move in.
Joey had gladly left the two to their apartment. He couldn't stand the idea of being near either one of them again or seeing them around campus. So he dropped out of college and started working full time at a shoe store. Joey never saw Sara or his ex friend ever again, though he'd heard from one of the guys that he worked with the two of them had been engaged. Joey felt resentment ever since then and hadn't trusted anyone else to get close to him again. Any woman who had flirted with him or guy who had attempted to be friendly he had decided to assume they were using him for their own means. It was easier to assume that everyone was the bad guy and be pleasantly surprised when they weren't than it was to assume the best of everyone and end up let down over and over again. By age twenty three Joey had had enough.
Joey lived on the streets until his new job could help him afford an apartment of his own a shitty studio apartment. Joey didn't bother to decorate it with more than a mattress. He figured there was no point, he wasn't trying to impress anyone anymore. After a few months at his job, the boss had to sit him down and tell him that he could no longer work on the floor. Apparently his appearance and demeanor "put off" customers and was driving away sales. Of course, feeling pity for Joey since he was overall a good kid, the boss had told him he could work in the stock room if he promised not to come out the front entrance unless it was an emergency. Joey had agreed. He didn't have any other choice.
Joey stood at the yellow line and looked down at it again. It looked back up at him, daring him to cross over it. Placing his hand on his mother's star pendant that hung around his neck, Joey listened in on the chattering of the girls who had run away from him earlier, but not far enough to not be unheard. They were talking about their boyfriends and the dates that they had been on, and what they wanted for their upcoming birthdays and holidays. Joey didn't even know what his birthday was anymore, he hardly thought about it either. Nobody else actually cared if he had turned a year older, so why should he? The only person who would've cared was dead. Sixteen years ago today, her car had flipped over and at 7:15pm it had caught on fire and exploded, killing her. That was the only anniversary Joey felt any need to celebrate.
Soon enough, he wouldn't have to remember anything at all. He could finally be free of all the pain, the hate, the judgment and anger he'd felt over the years. No one would miss him or know he was gone until his landlord came to collect back rent. Even then, it was likely he wouldn't be missed.
The subway platform was growing ever more crowded as people clamored down the steps to try and catch the 7:15pm train downtown. Everyone had their own worries and their own problems, paying no mind to Joey as he crept ever closer to the yellow line at the end of the platform. Not a single one of them wore a smile on their face. Everyone's eyes were hidden or looking elsewhere. Every glance he caught turn his way was filled with either distaste or disinterest.
Joey decided there really was no hope for him in that world. He'd given humanity one last chance to show him that life wasn't as bleak as it seemed over the years but it failed him.
Joey closed his eyes and leaned his head forward, listening to the sounds in the underground tunnel. He would wait for the sound of the whistle blowing from the train that would let everyone know it was on its way into the station. Someone suddenly bumped into Joey and he stumbled, almost falling off the platform entirely. Instinct forced him to stop himself from falling over the edge and he instantly regretted stopping himself from doing so.
He would've garnered some pity and caused some more guilt if he'd fallen over the edge, when someone else had been pretending he didn't exist. The person hadn't even bothered to help Joey regain his balance, nor had they stuck around long enough to apologize. That was the final straw. Humanity was giving him more and more of a reason to say goodbye as the seconds crept slowly by. Someone had taken notice of him, but not anyone Joey would have hoped for. The cop that was patrolling the platform every night at this time had seen him stumble and seemed irritated that he had.
"Hey kid! What do you think you're doing? Stop fucking around over there and get back behind the yellow line. I'm not going to ask you a second time." The guard snarled at him as if Joey had been playing chicken with the line all night long just to piss him off. Joey stepped back behind the yellow line, forcing a few people back as he did so. An old woman shouted at him to watch where he was going, so Joey turned and shot her a nasty glare. The woman gasped at the sight of his face and backed up in fear bumping into the man who was standing behind her. Joey turned his face forward and looked down at the line again. It was begging him to end it.
The ground started to tremble under their feet as it did when every subway car drew near. The train was on its way down the tracks and would be turning into the platform at any second. Joey rolled up the sleeves of his jacket and looked at the fiery tattoos on his arms. There were deep vertical scars on his arms from when he tried to kill himself. He couldn't even do that right the first time, even if it had been a pretty decent try. He pulled his sleeves down and thought it was funny that people fought so hard so many times to save his life and convince him he had more to live for but not a single person would even smile at him. Not a single person would take the time to be his friend or talk to him without averting their eyes from his scarred face.
It had been years since Joey had been upset with his scars. In fact, he'd liked them after awhile. It was easier to see the true nature of people when they were met with the ugliest thing about him right away. People
that was what he really hated. People were ugly, greedy, selfish creatures, and Joey had had enough of them.
The subway train sounded a horn and the soft robotic voice came over the loudspeaker announcing the arrival of the 7:15 train downtown, warning all people to stand behind the yellow line until the train had come to a complete stop and the doors had opened. Joey turned his head and looked in the tunnel where he knew the train would be approaching any second. Small yellow lights could be seen off in the distance, the headlights of the train that was approaching. Joey touched the star pendant around his neck once more and he remembered the bloody face of his mother in the front seat.
He would be with her again shortly. He didn't believe in heaven or hell. He believed in death and whatever lay afterward, and that was where his mother was. The lights in the tunnel grew bigger with each passing second. He'd sat there for weeks watching and planning, memorizing the pattern of the train and how long it would take for it to pull through the tunnel. People started taking a few steps away from the yellow line, doing as they were instructed. Joey had noticed that people, despite their eagerness to get onto the train while waiting for it, had always been afraid that if they did pass the yellow line they would meet their deaths.
Joey planned on instilling that fear within them with an image they'd never forget. Then maybe they'd all know how haunted he'd been over the years by the blood covered images of his mother.
As the train grew closer into the station, Joey closed his eyes and jumped over the yellow line onto the electrified rail below. Shrieks and screams of horror were coming from the platform as he leapt in front of the subway train. At first all he felt was electricity hitting him like a ton of bricks. His mind was clear of all thoughts as the cold metal from the subway collided with his skin. That was it, he didn't hear anything else or feel anything else. Blood splattered from his body and onto the people waiting for the train to stop. The girls stopped talking about their boyfriends and screamed, the man with the newspaper finally looked toward the boy who had been standing next to him, and the kids who had been making fun of him finally felt guilty.
The train screeched to a stop and none of the bystanders boarded it.