Life is a pile of good things and a pile of bad things. Although the good doesn't necessarily outweigh the bad, we shouldn't let the bad smother the good. That was a quote from Doctor Who season five, and it is a quote that I have tried to hold in every aspect of my life. Sometimes it was hard, the hardest thing I could have ever done. But I stuck to it, and it stuck to me. It saw me through dark times and made me cherish the light ones even more. I write this story for the dreamers of lost dreams, the hopers of forgotten hopes and the thinkers of forbidden thoughts. Because I am all those things and more. This story helped me come to terms with some of the darkest points of my life, and I live in the hope that it can do something of the same for you.
When you're a kid, they tell you it's all... Grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid, and that's it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It's so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better - Elton Pope, Doctor Who, Season 2 Episode 8
I have always felt isolated. Even when I haven’t been alone, for some reason I still felt it which was all things considered probably not the healthiest feeling in the world, but then what was true health anyway? I couldn't explain this loneliness, no one could, it was just a complete absence of connection to anyone or thing. It drove me to bad places, very bad places that lacked motivation, conviction or contact to any other human being unless it was forced.
The places that loneliness had sent me were the sort of places that I didn’t want to visit again. Eventually my Dad sent me to a doctor; they called me a ‘Chronic Depressive’ and tried to give me pills for it. I refused their offer; I knew what antidepressants could do. The side effects were just as bad as the disorder itself. They make you drowsy, take away your motivation just like the depression did anyway, they stopped you from working the way you should have done just the same. So instead I lived my life in sad loneliness, wandering through each day without much of a purpose, without drive. Just existing.
I suppose you could say that it started eleven years ago, when my Mum was killed in a car accident. She was taking me to school when some idiot on a phone in a lorry ran a red light and rammed straight into her car, even though she was wearing a seat belt there was nothing the Doctors could do to save her. The door of the little red mini on her side had been completely caved in, the metal splitting and forcing a panel straight through her neck. At the funeral it looked as if her neck had been near severed, like some twisted and botched execution. I didn't cry until we had gotten home after the funeral. I don't think I knew what it meant straight away, but after I asked my Dad when Mummy was coming home and he burst into tears, so did I. I never really recovered from that, as a child I had always been closer to her, so being left with only my Dad around was quite the blow. He didn’t really recover from it either, becoming detached and distant since the accident. I had needed someone and at that time he couldn’t be there because he was grieving too, and my Dad grieved with alcohol. It wasn't easy for a seven year old to see their Dad like that after losing their other parent. Throwing fists and swears around at anything that moved and some things that didn’t, it wasn’t right and it would never be right.
“Drake? I asked you a question,” came a hard and stern feminine voice, pulling me out of my remembrance unwillingly.
I let my head drift upward slowly, focusing on the woman stood at the front of the classroom. She was tall and imposing, a below the knee black pencil skirt and a white blouse combined with the stern expression on her face leading to her coming across as the typical no nonsense teacher. However it was the last week of the first term of school and I couldn't be bothered with school, my Ethics class, or even the teacher in front of me. Nevertheless the woman was looking at me expectantly, one eyebrow raised with hands on her hips.
“Sorry,” I sighed eventually, “what was the question?”
The teacher shook her head, dragging a hand through her dark hair. The teachers knew of my condition. They tried their best to integrate me into the lessons as much as they could but with near fails in most of my classes and being in the second year of sixth form, they had started to give up on me. I didn't blame them. People could only expend so much effort on someone before they just stopped caring. It wasn't as if I was giving them much back in any form so they really couldn't be blamed for their lack of belief in me anymore.
“It doesn't matter Drake,” she stated with a sad smile before turning away from me, “Danielle, can you answer?”
I allowed myself to settle back into my musings and tuned the lesson out again. Most days passed like this, slowly and with teachers calling me out of my thoughts. Soon enough I would get a week to myself, a week of thought and recollection. Another fruitless attempt to ‘heal’ myself. Healing wasn't easy like they made out in books and movies, people don’t just grieve. Some people need to destroy themselves before they can rebuild themselves and I was still in that process of self destruction. Most of the time I thought I'd never get out of it.
“Moping won’t change it you know,” came the voice of Marshall, my closest friend out of the two I had. I looked up from the sandwich I was taking a bite out of, trying to come back with a retort that would stop this line of conversation before he could get it started once more. He was much more manageable when he was babbling about video games than my current situation. As I trained my eyes on his face he took another bite of his sausage roll and I momentarily pondered how he could eat so much and still stay as thin as a stick. The thought passed though and I resorted to trying to wriggle out of the situation. Marshall didn't really understand what I was going through. By comparison his life seemed to be the picture of perfection. A loving family with Mum and Dad by his side.
“You’re right,” I eventually settled on. “It won’t change the past, that’s impossible. But I don’t know how to stop, as you so eloquently put it, ‘moping about’.”
“You can’t waste your life like this man,” Marshall stated, brushing his black hair away from his hazel eyes.
“Well you’re wrong; I can waste my life like this. Granted it wouldn't be the best option for my future considering the supposed ‘intellectual potential’ the school says I’m squandering and I would only end up being a slight drag on society; absorbing the benefits that it throws at me.”
Marshall sighed, shaking his head once before going back to his large lunch. Giving up on me once again, if only for the remainder of the lunch break. Most days went like this, it was as if they were stuck on some kind of bizarre replay making me want something different, to almost strive for something new. I thought that might have been part of my inability to move on, the fact that in essence I was still doing the same thing. My Dad and I still lived in the same house as we always had. When you had to see the things that your mother cherished and used every day, even hours before her death; that made it particularly hard to think about moving on. When even the door to your own bedroom was your enemy where were you safe?
The path I had chosen for myself was inevitably self destructive, even I could see that. I didn't care about myself really, that's not what stopped me from doing something stupid. I cared more about the people I surrounded myself with than my own well being. I knew what it was like to lose someone; I wouldn't force the same feelings on them. There were times though, the dark times, where I wondered what it would be like if I had died instead of my Mum or if I wasn't around. How would the people around me now be? Would they even care if I was gone? Would they notice the difference? The conclusion that I usually came to was not a healthy one to entertain.
“God you always look so far away when you’re on the bus,” came the voice of my second friend, Karolina, as she let herself fall into the seat next to me. Karolina was always more than a friend, though. She was something both closer and further away than that simultaneously. Karolina was the girl, now woman, that I had felt myself falling for. It was a long fall, one that I had been traveling through for longer than I cared to remember. I knew she didn't feel the same, it would be impossible for her to. Everyone had their demons, and for Karolina it was commitment and emotional attachment. She had been hurt in the past; someone she thought she had loved had torn her heart apart. I longed to find James again. Thoughts of what I would do to him if I were given the chance were always sordid. I gave her a small glance, letting my eyes scan her face quickly. She had mousy features, a small button nose and sea green eyes. Her hair was fashioned into a stylish pixie cut with the tips of her fringe dipped pink, she changed the colours often. She looked worried, everyone always looked so worried.
“Just thinking about things Kar,” I murmured, leaning my head against the window of the bus.
“You’re always ‘Just thinking about things’ Drake. You need to start living your life.”
I didn't respond and after a few moments felt Karolina's presence leave my side. Outside the bus bushes and trees blurred together with the concrete of the ground to form a rippling lake of tarmac and organic matter, the road itself becoming more cracked as time passed. Even the fabric of the seat in front of me seemed to wilt as the heat of the sun above increased steadily. A dribble of sweat dripped into my eye, the salt stung fiercely. Tumbleweed drifted alongside the bus as it gathered speed, the driver honking the horn periodically. The world exploded into a flurry of violent sound, colour and movement as we crashed and the Bus started to roll.
I rose from my prone position with a cough and a groan, my head felt heavy and my ears felt as if they were being weighted down by something. I didn't appear to be injured though, just covered in a rather large amount of desert sand. The bus was on a tilt, the front half buried deep within a sand dune whilst the rear end of the vehicle stuck out into the air. I coughed again, the sand tickling my nose and scratching my throat as it went down. It wouldn't be wise to stay within the bus, not at all. But I also didn't quite yet know the status of the outside world. Deserts were a harsh place and I didn't think that this one would be an exception. I looked to my right, Karolina was no longer there. I swallowed hard, that was my choice made up for me then. If Karolina was braving the outside world I couldn't let her do it alone, I couldn't be left alone. I needed to find her. For the briefest of seconds my mind tried to remind me of how impossible the situation I found myself in actually was. I dismissed the thought as quickly as it had come to me, however. As Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes would say, 'when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.' It was rather impossible to deny my current location, so however improbable it must have been it must also have been the stone cold truth.
Climbing up through the bus was hard work. With each chair mounted and overcome the angle seemed to get steeper and steeper. The pinpricks of light filtering through the back door and upper windows seemed to get smaller. I wasn't sure if the bus was sinking or something was burying it and if the rumblings that occasionally shook the bus from behind me were anything to go by I also did not want to find out. I hurried my efforts; my scrambling became more confident strides. I was like a professional mountain climber without the gear, my usually weak arms seeming to have gained strength beyond their normal bounds to allow me passage to the top of my bus shaped prison. I erupted out of the red tomb just as the first trickles of sand began to seep through the big window at the back of the bus, I was out.
Being out wasn't the end of my problems, however. The air was hotter out of the bus. I let out a hiss of pain as my bare hands pushed against the hot grains of sand. I quickly rose from hands and knees to a standing position, glanced at the red welts that were already forming on the palms of my hands, and then took stock of my surroundings. The desert was expansive with no sign of the city that I had been inhabiting merely five minutes earlier. The bus, too, had disappeared; whatever had been previously tugging it into the depths of the Earth eventually succeeding and pulled it deep under the sand. I had only just escaped. I shivered despite the warmth and momentarily mourned those who had been lost in the crash and subsequent destruction of the bus, briefly wondering why it had been their lives that had ended and what right I had to continue in their place. I let out a sigh and gave another quick look around. There were no signs of vegetation or life, just a large expanse of sand to my left, right and rear. In front of me stood the large sand dune that had swallowed up the bus and those that were still on it. I began to climb.
Climbing the sand dune was a simple enough endeavour and it briefly reminded me of a time where my Mum had taken me to the beach as a kid, scrambling up sandy hills to come tumbling down the other side and onto the waterfront. I banished the thought quickly. It wouldn't do to start crying in a desert, I needed as much moisture as I could retain and tear drops were a luxury I could not afford to expend. My breath froze in my throat as I reached the top and I let out a little, choked laugh. Beautiful was the only way to describe what lay before me. An oasis, complete with palm trees, shrubbery and a clear pool of water lay on the other side of the dune. But not only an oasis, a town too.
The town was made up of buildings that seemed to be built of a yellow stone. Most of them were only a single story high, but in the centre of the village stood a tall tower. Standing at least five storeys tall the tower was at the centre of the village and was covered in ornate, spiralling wooden designs on the outside. Surrounding the tower seemed to be a small marketplace, in which people were trading, selling and buying a wide variety of items. On the edge of the village were a line of sand skimmers, little wooden rafts with sails and a sizeable fan on the top that the village people obviously used to traverse the desert with ease. One of these little skiffs was just coming into the sand harbour that the townsfolk had erected. On it stood two tall men, dressed in clothes that matched the colour of the sand that surrounded them and bandanas. Slumped on the floor of their transport lay Karolina as well as one other girl with brown hair. She was tied to the mast and was not struggling. My heart started to beat faster and I felt a slight bit of rage start to boil in my belly. Who were they to kidnap people from the middle of the desert? Who were they to hurt my friends?
I made my way down to the village, the two men had taken Karolina toward the market in the centre of the town and I figured that it wouldn't be too hard to find them considering how differently she and I were dressed in comparison to the loose fitting shorts and shirts of the desert town people. Our tight fitting winter clothes were not exactly fitting for this kind of hot weather and I silently thanked myself for not putting on thermal socks and underwear that morning. The village was even more beautiful close up and I found myself wanting to stop and admire the simple but astounding architecture, the only thing stopping me from doing so being my duty to help my friend. Eventually I made it to the market, and I spotted the two traders that had stolen Karolina almost instantly.
They were standing on a stage of sorts speaking a language that I couldn't understand. They were holding a pretty young girl that couldn't have been older than fourteen and had drawn quite a crowd. The man that was not holding the girl was speaking fast, each time he finished saying something those that were in the crowd raised their hands and yelled. I realized what was going on with a deep sense of dread, these men were quite obviously some form of slave trader and Karolina was the next thing to be auctioned off. I spied a guard to my right. He was wearing light armour, made of a material that looked suspiciously of aluminium. On his belt was a scabbard that contained a long rapier, if I could snag the sword it would probably be a case of a short sprint to the staging and some threatening gestures to get Karolina back.
I made my way over to the guard as casually as I could, leaning on a wall behind him in the cool shade. I wiped my hand over my forehead to rid myself of the sheen of sweat that had accumulated there, following that by wiping my hands on my jeans to get rid of the sweat on them too. The guard was stood with his arms crossed over his chest; he was tapping one foot impatiently as if he were waiting for something to happen. I snuck forward, grasped the hilt of the sword, and pulled. It came free easily with the sound of metal gliding against metal. It was a pleasant sound. The guard turned toward me with an exclamation of shock and I brought the sword up, the point barely touching his throat. The sword felt good in my hand, the cool metal of the handle soothing the welts on my palms. The guard made a strange choking sound and I realized that I couldn't just leave him be, he would raise some sort of alarm or at the worst reveal some kind of hidden gun and shoot me as soon as my back were turned. Yet I didn't exactly feel comfortable with piercing his skin either. I was naturally not a violent person, the act of hurting another human being had never sat well with me. I nibbled on the bottom of my lip lightly as I thought, wondering how no one had yet noticed this altercation. I did the only thing I could think of and rapped him once on the side of his head with the hilt of my sword, hard. He went down with a little gasp.
"Sorry," I murmured before stepping over his body and making my way into the crowd. I went almost unnoticed amongst the rabble. Once or twice someone would look at me, notice the sword and then back away. I made my way to the leftward side of the stage where there were a small set of steps that led their way up to the two men and their disgusting human auction. Slavery was always a topic that got my back up, the act of one human owning another was a concept that made me feel sick to the depth of my stomach, and now that I was confronted with it my feelings of disgust had soared to levels that I previously thought unreachable.
As I made my way onto the stage, unbeknownst to the two men auctioning people off, the crowd became deathly silent. My sword was outstretched and pointed toward the oblivious men. They seemed angry that the interest in bidding had slowed to a halt, shouting words that I could not understand at the crowd. One member yelled something back and, as if someone had hit them with a shock of electricity, the men threw the girl away from them and whirled around to face me. They were not the easiest on the eyes of the people I had seen. Both of the men were rather heavy set, their arms bulky and well toned. Their faces, though, seemed as if they had seen better days. The man on the right had a clearly broken nose and I could tell that as he leered at me he had lost a few teeth in fights over the years. The man on the left had a scar cutting across his right eye, forcing it closed, as well as a large amount of chest hair on his bare torso. Neither of them looked particularly happy to see me.
One of them yelled at me, once again in that language that I didn't understand, and made a series of unclear hand gestures. When I did not react to whatever his demands were he snarled and pulled a pistol from his pocket. My mouth dried up instantly, the heat of the sun seemed to beat harder and both sound as well as my vision seemed to burn with more intensity. I was staring down the barrel of a pistol. I was staring down the barrel of death. His finger twitched on the trigger and my survival instincts kicked in. I dived to the side just before the gun fired; I heard the bang followed by a thud in the wood where I had been previously. The people in the crowd screamed and tried to scramble away from the conflict. I parried forward, the tip of my sword sinking deep into the man’s flesh. He let out a gasp and then coughed up blood before falling backwards, taking my sword with it. The man on the lefts eyes widened and he stumbled backwards, away from his friend that was rapidly losing blood on the ground. Writhing and hacking up more fluids. I felt sick to my stomach, tears immediately biting at the corners of my eyes. I stumbled backwards also, falling back onto my rear. My previous thoughts of saving Karolina from the slavers was lost, instead my thoughts were anchored to the fact that I had just dealt a fatal blow to someone with a sword held in my own hands. I fought the urge to throw up.
"Come on Drake," Karolina yawned, pushing my shoulder. "It's our stop and you were way too deep in lala land to notice."
I stood and stretched the kinks out of my back, bus seats were not the most comfortable of things to sit on and the hot traffic hadn't helped anything. I wiped the beads of sweat off of my forehead with the sleeve of my jacket and shouldered my rucksack to follow Karolina. She was right; of course, I had plunged far too deep into my day dreams to notice that we were in fact at the stop that we both needed to get off at. I stepped off of the bus into the cold winter air; at least the streets were cooler than the desert like back seat of the bus I had been on.