Alysa Killjoy was tired today. Not unusual, given she hadn’t slept in years. She didn’t need it, just like she didn’t need food, or blood. But sometimes the terror or pain woke her up a bit, more adrenaline than a real little girl could survive pumping through her heart.
But today the voices murmured and prodded rather than shouted and burned. Barbed wire wound itself under the flesh of her arm instead of strangling her throat or tearing at her eyes. What do you want today, Theodore? she asked. She didn’t even know if she used her real mouth. The physical world ceased to be a concern to her a long time ago. Whether the blood or flame surrounding her was real or imagined made little difference since she couldn’t be killed. Or at least, she couldn’t kill herself, not even with her powers.
It wasn’t Theodore’s fault she couldn’t die though. He’d certainly tried his best, the giant teddy bear regularly chewing on her with his daggered length teeth and scraping her with his knife like claws. But today he just sat there, jaws grinning silently at her, not deigning to answer her question. Theodore’s a bad bear.
“No, you’re a bad girl,” said a voice from behind her. “Yesterday you ripped his head off, and now his feelings are hurt.”
I’m sorry, she thought. The voice was one of the familiar ones, resembling her father’s. But she knew this was Gabe’s. Gabriel the Guardian, he’d once been. But now all he guarded was her escape, always there to block the door every time she thought she might finally be dead. Always there to drag her back to this room from the place the door was, and when she came back she was always in one piece, no matter how many pieces she’d gone to the door in. Always there to force her mind back to sanity every time she tried release her hold on the hellishness of cognitive thought, to forget the guilt and just embrace the pain as a state of being.
She really was sorry though. She knew she deserved her punishment, after what she did to her mother and brother. But some days she couldn’t take it anymore, and she fought back with every bit of power she had. Yesterday was such a day.
It was always a gamble though, since sometimes her former friends punished her more than ever after she fought them. Clawing, crawling, prodding mercilessly. But sometimes when she gained the strength to tear her attackers apart they settled down for a little while. Now the ghost of her dead brother poking her was the worst of it.
“Why’d you do it?” he asked her. “Why’d you kill us?” Alysa rarely answered him anymore. There were only so many times she could tearfully tell him it was an accident. They’d passed by a wreck and she’d asked her mother what had happened. Her mother told her, not realizing how powerful Alysa had become. Alysa didn’t mean to imagine them crashing, but after learning what a crash was it was all she could think about.
Ten minutes later their car crashed, killing her mother and brother. But Alysa couldn’t die. At first, her friends tried to comfort her. Theodore cuddled with her, Gabriel told her it wasn’t her fault. Her father would cradle her when she woke up screaming from nightmares. The nightmares soon got worse and her friends turned against her. Now anytime she saw her father he told her he blamed her for what she did, cutting her soul to ribbons with every word out of his mouth. In some ways it hurt worse than when Gabe nailed her up on a cross and didn’t let her come down until her lungs had filled up with blood.
The worst part was, she didn’t know if that image of him was real or just another one of the figments tormenting her. Maybe it was even Gabe in disguise, his voice so alike to her dad’s. Either way, the bite of his words no longer cut as deeply as it once did. She’d accepted what she’d done and that this punishment came with it. Sometimes she still begged for forgiveness because she knew there was a small chance they would give her a reprieve if she did so. A few minutes of quiet.
It didn’t happen often, just enough to be worth the occasional effort of begging. But they never forgave her, and so rarely took pity for even a while. I don’t understand, Gabe, why don’t you let me die? Hell can’t be worse than this. I’m not afraid of going there anymore. Are you trying to protect me from it? Isn’t that where I belong? Please, I’m so tired of this.
“No,” Gabe said. The one syllable word he always gave these days when she asked him something. A tear of blood poured from Gabe’s eyes and dropped onto his dark clothing, a regular expression that always made Alysa hope part of him might still be on her side.
She often imagined hellfire, crawling up her arms and legs, burning off her hair, pouring down her throat. It was one of the more agonizing experiences she endured, but in some ways it was a freeing one. The guilt wasn’t crushing then.
“Something’s happening,” her brother said, finally ceasing his incessant poking and looking up sharply. A troubled look crossed her face and then he faded away. Theodore cocked his head and then his teeth were retracting for the first time in years. He blinked, now no more than a harmless teddy bear. What’s happening? thought Alysa.
The look of surprise on Gabe’s face was what gave Alysa a small measure of real hope. His clothes were turning into the bright white that he once wore, the dried blood was absorbed into his face and regular tears flowed freely.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. Then he vanished, fading from her mind. The barbed wire under her skin was gone. The acid puddle she’d been sitting in was gone. The glass flecks in her eyes were gone. The pain, all of it, was gone. She found herself sitting on the ground in a white room. A mirror that took up half of the wall, but Alysa could feel people behind it. A one way mirror?
But then she saw her father smiling in the doorway and every other thought left her head as she realized beyond any doubt that it was her real one. Dad! she thought as she got up and ran to him.