Suppose you see shards of glass lying in an unusual place or food spilled in the middle of a walkway. In that case, chances are you witnessed the aftermath of a minor tragedy. The sixty-centimeter-long scratches in the asphalt lining the back alley behind Lynch's Irish Pub, the small Pub most people in my small hometown frequent, are part of one of these sites. What happened that day saved my life, and there is no way I would call what happened there a small tragedy, and I think Leonie would agree. But I don't want to get ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.
"Charlie, come over here to greet the guests!" My mother had shouted when the bell rang for the first time.
I looked into the mirror and fixed my bow tie. It was a warm summer's day, and wearing a full suit would have given me a heatstroke. I was really sad because twelve-year-old me knew that my parent's friends would come over and bring their daughters with them, and I thought a full suit would have impressed them. Now I know that fourteen-year-old girls wouldn't fancy an overweight acne-stricken twelve-year-old anyways, but let a boy have his dreams.
I was wearing brown shorts and a t-shirt, at least two sizes too small for my bulging belly. I know that my mother was nothing short of a feeder, but back then, I took the small pieces of cake she would give my father and me as a sign of love.
I was clocking in at sixty-five kilos, twenty kilos above the usual weight of a twelve-year-old. My father weighed one hundred and thirty-four kilos at one meter and seventy centimeters, making him severely obese. Being a professional cook, who ran our family restaurant, didn't help his weight, either.
Only Melissa, my sister, was thin as a stick. So as my mother was feeding my dad and me, she was starving herself and Melissa. My mother would do one diet after another, making Melissa join her.
One day, when she was twelve and I was ten, after three consecutive days of only eating cucumbers while dad and I ate junk food, my sister had had enough. She yelled at my mother because I was allowed to eat until I burst while she had to do these stupid diets. My mother slapped her, and we were sent to our rooms. We sat together at the door of the room we shared until the year before and heard our parents shouting and arguing downstairs.
After that day, Melissa was allowed not to join our mother in her weird diet. Mother had still tried to control her by regulating her portion sizes, which had worked out because Melissa remained thin as a stick.
You might ask yourself why I am telling you all of this. Well, I don't know. The main point is that I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt too small for my overweight body when my parents celebrated their tenth anniversary. Also, to show you the roots of my sister's hate for me back then. If she hadn't hated me so much, and if I had worn the entire suit, those scratches wouldn't be behind Lynch's today, that I am sure of.
I ran down the stairs to greet the guests. We were living above the small restaurant for which my father was the cook, and my mother did the rest. My father had inherited the small restaurant and the house it was in when his uncle died. Behind the restaurant, my mother had decorated our garden with colorful lanterns and beautiful flowers.
My job was to welcome guests at the restaurant's door and lead them through the kitchen into the garden. Over time, more and more guests came, and I started to hear music from the garden.
When Melissa's girlfriends arrived with their parents, my face flushed, and I could look neither of them nor their parents straight in the eyes. So much for impressing them. Staring at the floor, I led them into the garden.
At six o'clock, the stream of visitors had died down. All guests except for my aunt had arrived. I eagerly waited for her to arrive so I could go and join the party. Honestly, I was pretty peckish for the cake I had seen my mother bake the day before.
"Hey, fatass," Melissa shouted from across the restaurant. I was ripped out of my dreams about cake and turned my head towards her. Three out of her four friends were giggling.
This shattered the idea that Mellissa's girlfriends could like me or even be impressed if I had worn a Suit.
"Don't call me that," I yelled back.
"OK, sorry, Fat Charly. Mom said you need to help me get the cake out of the cooler." Melissa said.
"But I still have to wait for Aunt Heidi." I tried to reason, ignoring the even worse insult.
"Aunt Heidi isn't coming. Her cat sitter has called in sick today. Come on now, you don't want to ruin Mom and Dad's special day, do you?" Melissa said in the demeaning voice she usually used when talking to me.
I closed the front door and went to my sister and her friends. Still unable to look any of her friends in the eyes, we walked over to the oversized walk-in cooler my father had bought when he inherited the restaurant. I unlocked the latch and opened the door. I expected the cake to be propped up on a crate or something similar, but I couldn't see it inside the dark cooler. I turned on the lights and still couldn't see it.
"Where is the …" was everything I got out before two hands seized the back of my shirt and pushed me into the fridge. I stumbled forwards, falling over a box of carrots. I landed on the rim of a small crate filled with watermelons. My chest struck the edge, which pushed all the air out of my lungs. I heard laughing, and when I turned around, I saw my sister closing the metal fridge door.
"Try not to eat everything while you are in there." She said and shut the door, locking the latch.
All of that happened in the days before safety was the biggest concern when designing such walk-in refrigerators. There was no way for me to open the door from the inside. When I stood up, rubbing my chest, I wanted to walk over to the door and try opening it. Halfway there, I heard a muffled voice saying, "Oh, I almost forgot," and then a click. I was plunged into total darkness and managed to trip over another box which's contents I couldn't see.
You see, not only was I scared to death, but I was also wearing shorts and a too-small T-shirt. Neither my pair of Vans nor my stupid bow tie would help keep me warm. I had also started sweating due to the multiple times I had to escort guests to the garden.
I started yelling and banging on the door, which made me sweat even more, despite the two degrees Celsius that was steadily maintained inside the cooler. Because of the loud music, none of the guests heard me screaming for help.
After ten minutes of screaming, my voice nearly disappeared, and my throat started to hurt. At the same time, hypothermia started setting in. The sweat I had produced by hammering on the door made me cool down even faster.
In the hour that followed, I screamed despite my hurting throat, cried, and begged God to save me. Back then, these two hours seemed to me like infinity. I was alone in the dark and the cold, and all I could think about was the certainty that I would die.
Five minutes before the ordeal ended, I felt a surge of heat washing over me. Back then, I thought God was sending me the strength to survive, but now I know that feeling warm is a symptom many people about to freeze to death exhibit. I stripped off my too-tight T-shirt and my brown shorts. Despite the heat, I felt my body start weakening. I stumbled towards the door and collapsed in front of it.
I could even see the bright light everyone talks about. The one that you are supposed to see right before dying. Doing so, I thought I saw the face of an angel. A minute later, I was dead.
One minute was enough for the "angel" I had seen to run into the garden and scream for help. That angel was Leonie Sengen, Melissa's friend who hadn't laughed when she called me fat.
My father and some friends rushed inside the restaurant and pulled me out of the cooler. They laid me down on the big carpet of the restaurant. One of my father's friends was a cool-headed surgeon who commanded his friends to bring blankets to rap me in while he started CPR. I don't know who called the ambulance.
The extensive warmth of the blankets on a hot summer's day, combined with the quickly admitted CPR, enabled the arriving emergency physician to shock me back to life. I was transported to the hospital, where it took me three days to wake up.
I, of course, only know all of this because my parents told me later. I wish I could say that I fell unconscious one moment and woke up in the hospital the next. That isn't what happened.
After I saw that angel, I closed my eyes, and everything went black. After an eternity of darkness, brilliant light flooded my vision, and I opened my eyes. The twelve eyes I opened did not belong to Charlie Löwen, the small boy that had been trapped inside the cooler. These were the eyes of a caterpillar, and when I opened them, I saw a brilliant world filled with flying creatures. Bees, Crows, and eagles were some of the things flying around in this world. Other flying "animals" I saw then, escape my possibility of describing them now. For that caterpillar mind I inhabited then, those creatures seemed normal, but thinking about them now gives me headaches.
I also saw other caterpillars crawling next to me. They were striped, had poke dots, or seemed to glow even in daylight. They- we, I guess - were on our way somewhere along the branch of the tree we were climbing. Where or for what purpose are questions I couldn't even answer then. We crawled for an eternity. A red sun and three golden moons were making their way across the horizon for what seemed like a million days. One day, the sun suddenly darkened, and every flying thing that usually filled the sky disappeared. When I looked left and right, every other caterpillar had vanished, too.
I could see a dark cloud coming from the middle of the darkened sun. After a few seconds, I realized that it was flying straight toward me. Despite the headaches it causes me to think about it now, I must attempt to describe what I saw. As it came closer and closer, I saw a black thing which's wings were made of tentacle-like structures. It had claws the size of a small car and was flying right at me. As it was coming closer and closer, I felt its aura enveloping me and dissolving any resistance I could have tried to muster. I was sure that this aura was used for opponents that could fight back. I, as a caterpillar, wouldn't be one of those.
Having a faint memory of my human life, I knew I had died before becoming the caterpillar. But at that moment, I knew that if that tentacle-winged blackness got hold of me, it would mean true death for me.
When it was only seconds away, a thing with shimmering wings collided with one of the tentacled wings and threw that monstrosity off course from my location on the branch. I wanted to turn my little head to the side to see what had saved me when my field of vision was suddenly filled with bright light.
The next thing I saw was the inside of a hospital room. Trust me when I say that the concept of a hospital room equipped with all sorts of technology is confusing to someone who spent the last million days as a caterpillar. I had been a simple insect whose only interest had been to walk down a branch, eat leaves and look for the perfect place to build my cocoon so I could be one of the flying things I saw every day.
The transition only took ten seconds. Weird how fast one adjusts to a new situation, and I decided to press the button that would call for a nurse. While I intended to ask what happened and where my parents were, that button press set in motion many things. The head doctor was the first person the nurse contacted, then my parents, who rushed to the hospital, were called. My mother plastered my face with kisses, and my father started crying for the first time I had ever seen.
I had to stay two more days before my parents could take me home and care for me there. Despite being in a coma for three days, my motor and brain functions remained intact. One weird thing remained. I sometimes feel the urge to bite into leaves when I sit next to a bush or beneath a tree.
My mother and father visited me three times in those two extra days. Still, the first time I saw my sister was after my father carried me up the stairs leading to our flat above the restaurant.
She was looking out of her room. When my father saw her, he yelled at her to get into her room and close the door. I was carried to my room, even though I felt as if I could walk alone, and my father lowered me into the bed.
I woke up in the middle of the night because I had to go to the toilet. In the hospital, I had been connected to a catheter so having to pee wasn't a problem there. At home, this presented me with a problem. I staggered out of my room and down the hallway to the toilet. When I reached the bathroom, I entered and sat on the toilet. After I had done the deed, I stood up and turned around to flush. In my eagerness to get back to bed, I must have stood up too fast, overstraining my body. Tiny dots of silver danced before my eyes. I knew these dots. Those were the same dots that appeared when I rubbed my eyes with the towel after showering.
There were maybe forty of those dots. I blinked, and every single one of them vanished. Suddenly, the bathroom was filled with a buzzing noise I recognized from my existence as a caterpillar. I switched the lights on and saw a swarm of bees flying around the tight space of our small bathroom. I screamed, and seconds later, my father was standing in the bathroom doorway, holding his phone, ready to call an ambulance. When he saw the bees, he rushed to me and picked me up, carrying me back to my room. When he left, I heard screaming coming from my sister's room.
"How stupid can one child be? First, you nearly kill your brother. Now you collect bees and wait for your recovering brother to go to the bathroom at night and let them loose? What did we deserve to get a devil like you?" My mother shrieked at the top of her lungs.
"But I didn't…." Melissa started but was interrupted by my father, who was as mad as my mother was.
"That's it, Melissa. You are grounded not only for your birthday but also for the rest of the year." My father said and closed the door to Melissa's room, who had begun crying.
My parents spend the next hour trying to get the bees out of the house. When every bee was gone, my mother came to my room to ask if everything was alright. She also told me not to worry about Melissa. She would not play any more tricks on me.
I knew Melissa hated me, but I also knew that the idea that she had collected a swarm of bees to set them loose while I was on the toilet was ludicrous. But I didn't say anything about that to my mother. And I didn't tell her what I believed had happened.
I believed that I had blinked these bees into existence.
I know that sounds ridiculous, but I now know that to be true.
The rest of the year wasn't easy for Melissa or me. Melissa was forbidden to leave the house outside of school hours. She wasn't allowed to meet any of her friends or continue attending handball practice. In addition, my father forbade my mother or me from giving her any presents for her birthday. Any presents she would receive would be collected in the family safe and handed out to her in February of next year, one week after my birthday. The same rule would apply to the Christmas presents because of the bee accident.
Being very social and not spending time with her friends was the hardest pill for her to swallow. I often heard her begging my parents for one exception to attend (insert name here) 's birthday party. She liked saying she would be socially excluded from her friend's group because she didn't go.
"Maybe you think about that before you try to kill your brother," was my father's go-to response.
I didn't have it easy, either. For the first two months after what happened, my parents became overprotective as hell. One night, a month after the incident, my sister and I found ourselves in a similar position. She couldn't go to Geremy's birthday party because she was grounded. I couldn't go to Geremy's birthday party because my mother said it was too early for me to overexert myself. She demanded that I should stay home for at least another two weeks. That day, my father and mother closed the restaurant early and went out for dinner themselves. With Geremy, our former neighbor and Melissa's classmate, living ten kilometers away, my parents didn't need to fear Melissa or me sneaking out of the house and to the party. They had made it clear that they would be back in no less than three hours.
That night, Melissa and I sat on the living room couch and watched TV. After five minutes of watching TV, Melissa pressed the power button on the remote and looked at me.
"Charlie, I really didn't mean to kill you. I only wanted to scare you." She said through a flood of tears. "I … I …," she started stuttering, choking on her own tears.
"I know, Melissa," I said, confused because this was the first time Melissa didn't mean to hurt me with something she said.
"You... You... Believe me?" She stuttered through more tears.
"Yes," I said, and she hugged me. I embraced her and enjoyed the first time my sister showed me love.
Feeling it at that moment, I added, "I don't believe that you trapped those bees the night I got home from the hospital."
I wasn't quite ready to tell her why I didn't believe she did that, but that didn't matter because she didn't ask. We hugged for a long time, and I eventually started crying. Our relationship became better and better after that day. Today, I would even call her one of my best friends. I know that sounds weird to say about someone who did, in a way, kill you. But that's a sibling relationship in a nutshell for you.
I did not only think that she didn't trap the bees. I knew it by then. Two days before that evening, I had taken a shower and rubbed my eyes like I always did. Silver points started dancing in my field of vision. I blinked immediately and tore my eyes open as fast as I could. Two big flies were flying right where these two spots had danced. I was flabbergasted.
Back then, I thought I had been given a weird superpower and started experimenting with it. I know it now to be much darker than I thought back then, but I digress.
My experiments started off relatively small. I would rub my eyes, and if the dots appeared - they didn't always - I would blink to see what would emerge. Flies, Bees, fruit flies, and even fungus gnats appeared, which made my mother go crazy trying to eradicate them from our house plants.
After that, I decided to conduct my experiments outside of the house. I stopped rubbing my eyes after taking a shower. I made sure not to stretch too big while eating at the dinner table or doing my homework to prevent the little spots from appearing in my field of vision.
One time I forgot. I rubbed my eyes anyways after the shower. Seven dots appeared, and I forcefully stopped myself from blinking. I hoped they would disappear like before the cooler incident, just vanishing as fast as they had come. That didn't happen, and instead of vanishing, the dots started moving together and forming bigger dots. Seven became five, and five became two. Without wanting to do it, my reflexes kicked in, and I blinked. Two canary birds were flying through the bathroom when I opened my eyes again. I opened the small bathroom window, and both flew out the hole in the wall, chirping.
Another time, I stood too fast off my bed, and two dots appeared. I managed to hold my eyes open for long enough so that both disappeared. I blinked, and nothing was flying around my room when I opened my eyes again.
While the phenomenon itself was weird and a bit scary, it was rare that I would see the lights dancing across my vision. I even went an entire year without seeing them once at one point. That year came to an exciting end.
When I was fifteen and she was seventeen, Melissa had taken me and Michael, my best friend back then, to one of her friend's house parties. As I told you, Melissa and I had become friends. What also helped me get along with people was that my mother took eating healthy more seriously after the cooler incident. Both my father and I were subjected to something we usually didn't eat, salads. By fifteen, I had grown a bunch, and my bulging belly had shrunk. I was only moderately overweight by then.
That party was also the first time I got stupidly drunk. When I think about it, that party was a day of many firsts.
It was the first time I talked to Leonie, the girl who saved my life, alone. Once my sister had been released from the Guantanamo Bay-type house arrest that followed my short death, friends of hers would start coming over again. I chit-chatted with them when we met in the hallway or the living room, but I never had a meaningful conversation with them.
When I began to feel woozy from the alcohol my young body wasn't attuned to back then, I sat on the living room couch. A minute later, when I was ready to get up and get my next drink, Leonie sat down next to me.
"How are you doing, Charlie? Do you feel ill?" Leonie said and put a hand on my thigh. That right there was confusing me more than the alcohol had.
"Yes, sure. I just wanted to sit down for a second. I felt a bit woozy." I answered, giggling, looking right into her hazelnut eyes. This was the first time I managed to look at her properly. Before then, my face always flushed red, and I looked at the floor to hide it. I think the liquid courage gave me the strength to look her in the eyes that day.
"Good. Drink responsibly." She said while toasting her glass to me. The contents smelled like pure alcohol. So much for drinking responsibly.
When she got up from the couch, I grabbed her hand before she could walk off. Again, liquid courage might have been a part of that decision. All I knew was that I needed to thank her. After the cooler incident, all of Melissa's friends, who were involved, were forced by their parents to apologize. I didn't need that from them, but I accepted their apologies. One of the girls, Lara Düren, was so traumatized by what happened to me that she had to see a psychiatrist for multiple years to cope with it. Their guilt was eating them up and doing more to make them repent than I could ever want.
For me, the million days of being a caterpillar taught me to forgive people because nothing actually mattered in the long run. But let me stop becoming philosophical here.
My desire to be close to her was another reason to grab Leonie's hand. Ever since I saw her in the light of the hallway leading to the walk-in fridge right before I died, I had a crush on her. I think it's normal for a boy to crush on one of his sister's friends. Older girls who were in the bloom of puberty were more interesting than my flat classmates back then. That she saved my life might also have played a role in having a crush on her.
"Yes?" She asked, looking at me expectantly.
I let go of her hand, feeling stupid for grabbing it.
"Thank you for saving my life." I stammered in a small voice.
"No worries, kiddo. You would have done the same, wouldn't you?" She smiled, leaned forward, and kissed me on the cheek.
With that, she walked out of the living room. I blushed once again.
Another first thing that happened to me that night happened when Jimmy, the party host, called everyone to come to the living room to play spin the bottle. All of us were sitting down in a circle. I don't think I have to explain the rules to you but let me tell you what happened when a boy and a girl were selected. Once the two candidates were chosen by way of the bottle, they had to enter the closet next to the living room door and were supposed to make out.
We played several rounds, one of them led to my sister making out with her future husband, but that's a story for another day. The very next game, the bottle landed on me.
Now, let's get one thing straight. Just as my illusions that a full suit would make an 11-year-old seem attractive to a 13-year-old, the fantasy that I was an equal member of this party was shattered. I was hoping the bottle would land on Leonie, and I was dreaming about going into the closet with her.
What actually happened was that the bottle landed on Jennifer Schwarz, one of Melissa's classmates.
"Ew. What the fuck. I'm not going into the closet with that child." She said, sounding as if I had an infectious disease.
Many people laughed, and Jimmy said, "fair enough," and made to turn the bottle again when someone spoke up.
"I'll do it." Sandra, a slightly bigger goth girl with breasts that could smash watermelons, said. She stood up, picked me by the hand, and went into the closet with me. My sister later told me that Sandra was a slut that fucked everything that wasn't hiding when she had counted to 10. I didn't care. Slut or not, telling my friends that following Monday that I had made out with a girl two years older than me would surely impress them.
So, this was the first time I actually kissed a girl. It was also the first time my "ability," as I had started thinking of it by then, was triggered in public.
Once inside the closet, Sandra pressed her mouth, which smelled of Vodka and Cigarettes, onto mine. I kissed her back, slightly disgusted by the mixture of alcohol and tobacco. It was average kissing at best, but then she suddenly and forcefully stuck her tongue inside my mouth. I was shocked and pulled my head back. I pulled back so hard that I hit my head on the closet wall, making eight bright dots appear.
"Everything all right?" Sandra asked and looked at me concernedly.
"Yes, sorry, it's just my first time kissing a girl, and I didn't expect the tongue," I said foolishly.
"Do you want to stop?" She asked.
"No," I said, unwilling to miss that opportunity for practice.
The dots were a problem. When Sandra went in for the kiss again. When I started wrestling her tongue with mine - that's how I thought about it at that moment – I had to forcefully keep my eyes open to prevent flying creatures from appearing. Eight dots had turned into four when Sandra opened her eyes and saw me staring straight at her while kissing. Knowing what I know now, people who kiss with open eyes are weird. Since then, every girl I have kissed that kept her eyes open while making out turned out to be a different shade of crazy. Surely, Sandra was on that spectrum of craziness and seemed to enjoy staring back into my eyes while kissing. I think I even felt a hand on my crotch, but that might have been wishful thinking.
When four dots had become two, and I was sure they would disappear any second, the door to the closet burst open, and, to in surprise, I blinked.
I knew I had to act fast. As soon as I blinked, I grabbed the spots in the air, hoping to catch whatever the dots would turn into. If that would result in bee stings or canary bird bites, so be it.
The dots turned into white pigeons. Thank God for white pigeons.
When I looked out the closet door, the entire party was standing and staring at us, hoping to get a glance at Sandra making out with a fifteen-year-old. Instead, they got Sandra, who had spun around when the door opened and hit me in the arm with one of her enormous breasts, standing in front of me while I was holding out two white pigeons.
The group looked at us, and we looked back at the group. There was a moment of silence, and I let go of the birds.
"Tadaaaaa," was everything I could say at that moment.
The entire party erupted in laughter, and when I returned to school on Monday, I wasn't only the fifteen-year-old who managed to make out with someone two years older. I became the guy who did that and pulled out two white pigeons to celebrate it.
When I walked across the school corridors, older students who heard of the "trick" would greet me by calling me "magician boy." One guy even pulled aside his girlfriend, asking me not to seduce her with my magic tricks. That good-spirited humor significantly boosted my social standing in school.
You could say that my brief death saved me from a life of being the overweight social reject I would have become if my sister had continued hating me.
These were better days, and I enjoy reminiscing about them.
All of what I have told you so far happened years ago. I am twenty-six now and have my master's degree in biology. I specialize in birds and insects. I don't think that I have to tell you why I do. During my studies, I have started working out and playing Rugby.
Also, another growth spurt hit me when I turned seventeen, making me one meter and eighty-six centimeters tall at a weight of hundred kilograms. Most of that is muscles, too.
Many things happened between that party and now involving my "gift." I have a scar on my arm from where a bald eagle attacked me. That was one of the reasons I quit drinking and smoking weed and decided to get in form by playing Rugby and working out.
I hadn't seen the lights for two years until what happened two months ago, the day before Christmas.
I had just submitted my master's thesis on December 22nd when I arrived home for Christmas. Christmas was special because I lived four hours away from my hometown by then. Due to the job I took to support myself, I hadn't been at home for two years.
At 26, everything in the house you grew up in seems smaller than when you were eleven or fifteen. The restaurant is still running below the flat, but my parents have decided to let my sister and her husband manage it. It is running great, and I even helped serve guests on the 22nd and the morning of the 23rd.
"Hey Charlie, want to come to the pub with us tonight? You'll meet loads of old friends." Melissa asked me as we closed the restaurant.
"I don't know. I think I'll help mom and dad to prepare everything for tomorrow." I answered, not feeling comfortable meeting people from a life I had left behind with the memory of the caterpillar world when I had left this town. Two years ago, when I came home for Christmas, all I did was spent time with Mom, Dad, Mellissa, her Husband, and their two kids. I enjoyed looking after Luke and Laura; it left me with sadness and the certainty that I would never be able to have kids.
Why I couldn't have kids, you ask yourself? Well, I could produce them, but I was scared that one day the silver lights would come, and an eagle or something would appear out of thin air and swoop to take my kids away. I decided not to have kids when the eagle bit me.
"They are out of town tonight and visiting the Dürens." Melissa's husband said.
"Fine," I said, throwing the towel I had used to wipe down a table into the washing basket.
"Leonie said she is looking forward to seeing you again, too," Melissa said with a weary smile.
"Oh, is she? What does she do nowadays?" I asked.
That evening, I saw for myself what Leonie was doing these days. Melissa had told me everything about her problem, or should I say problems? Her skinny appearance confirmed the drug habit Melissa told me about. Still, I would only find out about the other problem later in the alley behind the Pub.
Before going to the Pub, I took three shots with Ben, Melissa's husband. Melissa couldn't drink because she was pregnant for the third time. I don't want to imagine what goes on inside the house next door to the restaurant the two bought.
When we got to the Pub, I was greeted by people calling me wizard boy, and the same guy that had pulled his girlfriend to the side in the school hallway pulled his now wife to the side and said the same thing he had in the hallway. Small towns don't change. That's what simultaneously amazes and frightens me about coming back home.
I met a lot of Melissa's old friends, including Lara Düren, whose parents our parents were visiting tonight. She seemed to be doing better than before.
The people I would have called friends in high school were still scattered around the country, studying or following their dreams of becoming actors or writers. In Melissa's friends that night, I saw many people with similar ambitions which had been shattered.
That's also what scares me about going back to my hometown.
Broken people either brag about their third wife or drown themselves in cheap liquor in places like Lynch's.
Leonie was one of the broken ones. Melissa had told me that she had started studying fashion design in Berlin but had picked up a drug habit while partying nearly every night. Leonie moved back home when she had flunked out of university and couldn't pay her bills. She "fell in love" with the guy who sold her dope. If she fell in love with him or the free dope she would get for letting him use her is something I don't want to speculate about here, but I have my own opinion.
In the last year, their relationship had gotten bad. Leonie turned up to the restaurant several times with black eyes. Melissa allowed her to work there on the weekends when every helping hand was welcome. Leonie and her "boyfriend" Ricko, the same Ricko that had sold me weed when I was sixteen, had shifted from cocaine, their drug of choice, to crystal meth.
Just one week before Christmas, Melissa had to tell Leonie that she couldn't work at the restaurant anymore because of the open wounds on her arms.
I bumped into something that felt like a skeleton on my way back from the toilet. In doing so, I spilled the drink the malnourished person was holding in her hand. This person turned out to be Leonie. I told her how sorry I was and offered her the pullover I had brought alongside the dress shirt I was wearing.
"No way. Charlie? Is that you?" Leonie asked and gripped my broad shoulders. She was surprisingly strong for someone who was only skin and bones.
"Yes, it's me. Please take the pullover before you get sick. I'm sorry I bumped into you." I said, holding the pullover out to her.
"Thank you." She said, pulling the wet t-shirt over her head, revealing a bra barely filled with anything but ribs. She took the pullover and put it on.
"Do you want to go out to the alley to smoke a cigarette with me? I only remember you smoked weed back in high school. I don't know if you smoked regularly." Leonie said and held out her pack of cigarettes to me.
I took one, and we walked to the back of the Pub and out to the alley. I wasn't a smoker, but ever since I tasted Sandra's tongue in that closet, I started associating alcohol with cigarettes. Therefore, It became a habit of mine to turn into a chimney every time I drank, smoking one cigarette after the other. I was glad to drop that habit, along with alcohol in general. But since I had decided that that day would be a drinking day, it might as well be a smoking day.
When we walked out of the Pub, we were the only ones in the alley. That didn't surprise me because the usual spot to smoke cigarettes at Lynch's was in front of the Pub. The back alley had been the spot where kids that weren't eighteen yet could go and have a smoke without causing problems for the owner. That is one of the weird things about Germany. You can get shitfaced drunk at sixteen but can't have a cigarette while doing it.
I think Leonie had chosen the back alley for a smoke for a similar reason. She didn't want to be seen. When she changed her shirt to the hoodie, I saw the other people in the Pub stop talking and look at her. Even after she had changed and the mumbling started up again, I saw the judging stares of her former schoolmates. I am sure Melissa wasn't the only one who knew about her drug habit. Also, Melissa had told me that men who had been former friends had stopped talking to her because Ricko had threatened to cut them open if they touched his girl.
We lit our cigarettes and talked. I wasn't scared of Ricko, who had seemed friendly when he sold me weed back in the day. Also, I was tall and muscular and was sure I could defend myself against Ricko if he tried anything. I also reasoned that worrying was unnecessary because we were alone in the alley, anyway.
After a small talk about the town and my studies in Trier, I couldn't help myself anymore, and I said something I had hidden in my heart since the day I briefly died.
"I loved you back in the day. And I still love you for saving my life all these years ago." I said, face flushed and looking at the floor.
Leonie took her index finger and pulled my chin up so I looked into the hazel eyes I had first noticed on the couch at that party long ago.
"I loved you, too, Charlie. I loved you like a brother. I always wanted a brother like you. That's why I was so mad at Melissa for always being mean to you.
I think she misunderstood what I wanted to say, or maybe she deliberately misunderstood me to not make this moment awkward. Getting brother-zoned was way less hurtful now that she was a meth-addicted skeleton than it would have been earlier in life. Maybe it was because I had made love with and loved other women since high school, but the spell that had made Leonie special to me broke that night in the alley behind the Pub.
I hugged her and thanked her again for saving my life. Our cigarettes were finished by then. I was ready to go back into the Pub and order another round of shots for Ben and me when suddenly, the door to the alley burst open.
"What the fuck do you think you are doing with my girl?" Ricko, wearing a leather jacket and ripped jeans, said when he saw Leonie and me hugging. That man had looked so much taller to me when my little sixteen-year-old ass had bought weed from him. All he was to me now was an angry, one meter seventy tall drug dealer that beats his addicted girlfriend.
"Calm down, Ricko, that's Charlie, Melissa's brother." Leone said in an attempt to calm him down.
"And if he's the pope himself, I don't want this fucker to touch you," Charlie said as he closed the gap between the door and us.
Leonie and I had stopped hugging, and Ricko was standing right in front of me, looking up at my face.
"Yea, Ricko, remember when I bou..." was what I started saying when a fist connected with my nose. Ricko was fast as hell.
I heard a crunch and was sure that my nose was broken. Blood started flowing from my nostrils, and I stumbled backward, falling over a trash bag. Through a million little stars, I could see Ricko pulling out a knife and walking toward me.
I blinked, hoping a swarm of bees would appear, making Ricko abandon his plan of cutting me open. When I blinked, nothing happened. As I opened my eyes, the million silver stars had become five hundred thousand. This was the first time blinking hadn't made the lights disappear. I was perplexed but didn't have time to think about it. Ricko was coming toward me with his switchblade in his right hand.
Leonie tried to stop him, but a hit of his left backhand made her tumble backward.
By then, the tiny dots had moved into a single shimmering area, taking up all but the peripheral of my vision. Ricko was only two steps away, and brilliant silver light clouded my view of him. Like I did in the cooler, I accepted death as inevitable and closed my eyes. The bright light disappeared as soon as I closed my eyes, and when I opened them a second later, surprised that I wasn't dead yet, my mouth fell open.
Back then, it didn't occur to me that Ricko might have just planned to scare me by holding his knife against my throat or cutting open my arm. Instead, I was confident that he would kill me.
When I opened my eyes, Ricko took two steps back and stood there frozen like a statue. Leonie also didn't move but was staring at something to my left. When I had been sure I would die, I had turned my head to my left before closing my eyes.
When I slowly turned my head to the left, all I could see were bright silvery feathers. When I looked up, I saw a set of giant eyes looking down at me. A giant owl, at least two meters tall, stood next to me in that alley, cloaked in brilliant silver feathers.
Our eyes remained fixed on each other's until a sharp metallic sound made the giant bird turn his head at an unnatural speed. Ricko had dropped his switchblade. The enormous bird locked his eyes on Ricko's, and when Ricko turned to run back to the Pub's door, the bird leaped forward, gripping Ricko's hip with one taloned leg. The bird's other leg remained on the ground.
When Ricko tried to struggle against the bird's grip, the bird pecked with its beak faster than anything I had ever seen. Ricko was struggling one moment, and the next, he was missing his head. Blood started spurting from the place where Ricko's head had been. His head got ripped off so fast that his heart was still trying to pump oxygen-rich blood into his brain while the giant bird was swallowing his head.
The giant bird turned his head, first to Leonie and then to me. After surveying us, it pushed itself off the ground, leaving deep scratches in the back alley's asphalt. It flew off with the remains of Ricko still clasped in its other taloned leg. Blood started gushing out of Ricko's neck as the bird was now holding him upside down, spraying the back alley and the Pub in blood. The last thing I could see of the bird were brilliantly silver-shimmering wings that disappeared behind one of the buildings that lined the "skyline" of my small town.
The rain took care of the blood, but the scratches remained in the alley behind Lynch's Irish Pub.
Leonie did not say a single word. She entered the Pub's door and was never seen again in the small town. I went in, too. I spent the remainder of the night getting wasted to the point of blacking out.
Why am I writing all of this down, you might ask. What is happening right now is concerning me.
After the Christmas holiday, I went back to Trier. Since then, I have thought a lot about the thing I called my "gift" before Christmas. Yes, the owl had saved my life. But at what cost?
After extensive thinking, I was sure this was the second time the owl had saved me. The first time was back when I lived my small caterpillar life. It was the thing that had collided with the tentacle-winged beast right before it could grasp me. It protected me, just as it protected me against Ricko.
Before Christmas, I had never thought about where the insects and birds I blinked into existence came from. But after many sleepless nights, I was sure that the dots that appeared before my eyes were portals into that caterpillar world. My dying and the following coma had made me some sort of conduit between the worlds.
Scary as this sounds, it gets even worse. Ever since Christmas, the dots have started appearing more frequently. Blinking them away doesn't work anymore, either.
It is now random when the dots disappear.
The creatures that appear also seem to become darker as time goes on. The first thing that came out after Christmas was in January.
While I was in the gym, around forty dots appeared. When they vanished at twenty dots, a swarm of hornets terrorized the gym's cardio section. Last week, what started off as ten dots, came out as three giant ravens wrecking my kitchen.
Two days ago, two dots became two vultures who attacked me, leaving me with talon scratches on my chest.
I am writing all of this down because this morning, one single small dot appeared while I was doing my laundry. It has steadily grown and is now as big as a walnut. It looks like it is starting to take the shape of a tentacle. By now, you surely know what I am deadly afraid of happening.
With the silver owl being lost somewhere in our world, I'm not sure anyone can prevent that thing from entering through the same gate as the owl.
If the world survives this, but I don't, please give this letter to Melissa.
In death or whatever,