[38] Sage

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I am in first place. After all, I had such a high score previously that even if I hadn't ranked top of the chart in this particular Trial, I would still be in first place overall.

Jake is ranked second, but he's much farther behind me points-wise than he previously was. I'm guessing that Deirdre finished before him, but her situation was hopeless. She was so far behind that catching up with Jake in one Trial was impossible.

"Do you want to sleep or go to the rec room?" Maggie asks quietly after we have stared at the board in silence for a few seconds.

"Rec room," I reply before my friends can say anything. I need to talk with them. Because if I don't survive, or if they die, then we have to part with them knowing the truth. All of the truth.

I can tell Jake and Deirdre are mildly surprised, since I have been an advocate for sleep, Trial, repeat so far, but they remain silent as they follow Maggie and me out of the room.

Instead of going to our individual stations, we huddle together on the floor before the stations. Deirdre leans into Jake, her right forearm propped casually on his leg, and I am sitting so close in front of him that my knees touch his.

"I just wanted to explain some things to you two before...before the next Trial," I whisper as quietly as I can, knowing that somehow, each and every one of my words are being received and analyzed by the Albinos. Likely, whispering does nothing, but it makes me feel safer.

"You have to promise not to act on my words. Not to try and help me. It's too late for that.Do you understand?"

Deirdre nods, eager to hear the secret but looking very confused. Jake is slower to nod, I presume because I am forcing him to promise not to help me. He is a good friend.

I think, as clearly and forcefully as is possible, I promise I will do everything in my power to win these last Trials. I promise I will not try to get rid of you. Just let me tell them. Please, I need to tell them. Then I take a deep, steadying breath and think carefully about what I am going to say, not only so that I can say it in the plainest words possible, but also so that the Voice and I are on the same page. It's the only way it will cooperate.

Ready?

It responds.

Yes.

I smile slightly, finally feeling like I am working with, not siding against, my parasite. Then, I force out quickly, "There is a creature living in my head that made me insane."

Deirdre's and Jake's eyes pop wide open with shock. They exchange incredulous glances and then turn their attention back to me.

Then their eyes drift to my forehead and their faces whiten.

"What?" I ask, raising a hand to feel the skin above my eyes. I can feel slightly heated lines, as if I've aggravated the skin.

"What is it?" I ask, eager to know what the Voice has done.

"It...it says 'true,'" Jake whispers wonderingly, reaching forward slowly and running a gentle thumb over my forehead, as if to wipe away the message. "Woah..."

"So you're normal, but the...the monster...isn't?" Deirdre asks, her brow furrowing as she attempts to process this.

"In a nutshell, yes," I reply, nodding. "I don't know how normal I actually am anymore, though. I don't know what would happen to me if someone took the Voice out. I don't know if I'm actually sane anymore."

"I remember reading news stories about you," Jake murmurs thoughtfully. "Every single one was quick to emphasize that you grew up in a good home and never showed any sort of murderous inclinations. It was why you had even experts stumped."

"The stories were right," I confirm, releasing a breath of air. It feels so strange, to finally be sharing this unwanted secret. It doesn't feel like the burden is being lifted, exactly, but it feels like others are helping me bear it, which is the next best thing.

"That's not all," I add slowly, and both of them perk up. Shaking my head in order to not get their hopes up, I explain, "This isn't a secret like the Voice. At least, not a huge one. I just wanted to tell you both how I feel about you before...something else...happens."

They nod; they both understand what "something else" means. Deirdre waits patiently, and I can see sadness in Jake's eyes. I wonder why.

"Deirdre, you're awesome," I start, deciding to begin with the easier of the two. The child grins. "I liked you right away, as soon as I saw you in the spaceship. I planned to kind of mentor you but instead, I think we became friends, and I like that a lot more. I have - had - have a brother, back on Earth, and you're the closest thing I've gotten to a sibling since I last saw him. And, you know, kind of broke him."

Deirdre nods understandingly as if to say, "It happens," and I remember that she flat-out murdered her family.

"Jake," I say, taking a deep breath and looking at him. One good thing about the Voice - it takes away my fears. I do not feel the urge to stare at the floor as I talk to Jake. I can look him straight in the eyes for as long as I want.

"Jake," I say again, "you have been so amazing and supportive and wonderful over these days here. You're a murderer, but an accidental one. You have good intentions - you always have. I don't know how that's possible, not after living with the Voice for so long, but even I can tell that it's impressive. I mean, you survived a gradual withdrawal on tons of different drugs, many of which, at the amounts you took them, should have killed you long ago. You are...a true inspiration and I've found myself wanting to make you proud of me in the last few Trials. You were my first friend that I've had in three years, and honestly, I get a little confused when I'm around you. Not to get too cheesy or anything, but you make me really look at who I want to be. Before this gets unnecessarily sappy, I'm just gonna stop." I curl my hands into fists, surprised to find that there is a fine layer of moisture on them. I wasn't aware that I was still capable of nervous sweat.

Jake smiles gently. It is a wonderful smile. Leaning forward, he kisses my cheek gently, lingering for a few seconds before pulling away. "I wish I had something equally eloquent to say back," he replies, "but you kind of said it all."

"I did, didn't I?" I ask, feeling strangely proud of myself. For once, I have truly done something right.

Deirdre tries to hide a yawn behind her hand and I chuckle. "Ready for sleep?" I ask, and she nods after a moment of hesitation. She knows what the next day could bring, but we all have to be prepared.

At least now, everything is off of my chest.

*

As I lie in my bed in the darkness, I find that sleep will not come. I keep thinking of my friends - I love that I can even use the term - and how much they mean to me. I keep wondering if I should break my promise to the Voice and lose the next Trials so they can have a chance to live. I keep being forced to remind myself that the Voice won't let me lose, not if it can do anything to aid me in victory.

When I finally fall asleep, Deirdre and Jake invade my dreams.

Mostly just Jake, however, for reasons even I am not sure of.

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