35. The Place Between

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This moment is almost over.

I am burning in a sea of brightness, and now the brightness is dimming, along with the pain. That is how I know the bomb worked. That is how I know the end is near. What will happen to me after, I cannot say, but I will welcome it. It will be a mercy.

There are others close. Their voices wash in and out like static. I listen to their hurt as, I imagine, they listen to mine. We do not share our suffering, though. Suffering is something you do alone.

Like telling a story.

I told mine as well as I could. I told it from the first crash on the highway to the last, when I exploded against the Bear Den's wall. Of all the buildings in all of the schools, the Bear Den had been the only one to miss the Beast's teeth and fall into its throat (at least, that I'm aware of), and it had gotten stuck down there. I think about the earthquake now and then, about the roar that shook our town, and I wonder if that roar ended because of the high school gymnasium, if the Beast under Honaw lost its voice swallowing Honaw's mascot. It would be ironic, wouldn't it?

I wonder other things, too.

I wonder about the blanket, and the sofa that became the bear, and my shattered brain. But mostly I wonder about the moan at the end of the hall. Humans moan for all sorts of reasons, don't we? We moan in pain and we moan in pleasure and we moan in sadness. We moan when we're dying and we moan for the dying.

Let's reconsider things with that last thought in mind. Let's start at the moment my head hit the dashboard and fill in the blanks from there. We went to the house, and not for supplies to deliver the bomb. Our promise to blow up the Beast had been perilously fragile from the get go. All it took to stall the plan was one bump in the road, and after that, nothing short of a divine spark could have set it back into motion. No, we went home because I was hurt. The van got left running, everyone was in such a state. It was dark inside the house, and bloody, but we were used to blood and we were used to dark. No one paid attention to what might have been lurking in the shadows. Everybody was focused on my condition except Billy, who was focused on the backpacks. He wanted to go. He hadn't wanted to come back in the first place. His father was waiting to die. It must have been torture, knowing that. It must have gnawed at him the way Aunt Sandy gnawed at me. This of course I didn't think of then. I had been worried about the sofa that was actually the bear. But hadn't I always been worried about the bear? Hadn't some part of me been expecting it to return all along? And wouldn't my fear have been plain to see for something looking, something watching, something that could not only observe the darkest corners of a man's mind but use what was there to show him what needed to be done, to fuel him, drive him . . .

Suppose the bear wasn't in Ash's house.

Suppose the bear had never been in Ash's house, or on the Road either.

Suppose the blanket had been draped over my body, not thrown, and the flashlight placed next to me like a funeral candle rather than dropped in panic.

And suppose, just suppose, that the trapdoor hadn't been pulled down a crack but left open a crack. To hear me leave, the way all the children had left after the music stopped.

You thought I was dying, didn't you? You thought I was dying and you went into the room at the end of the hall to be alone and when I woke and heard you moaning, I moaned back. Enough for you to go on believing what you already believed. But before that, before the others climbed to the loft and left you to yourself, before you covered me, you kept your promise. You stole my ring. You stole my mother's diamond ring.

You're alive. You're alive. Thank you. You're alive. Are you listening, Ash? Are you there? I love you. I love you. You too, Nip, I love you too, even though you're shit on the guitar. You take care of yourself. You watch your step going down that trail. And Billy. Billy. You're a fucking freak, I hope you know that. Remember when I rode Bitchmaster up your ass? Well? Can you hear that rumble? Can you feel it? I'm coming for you. I'm tearing straight through the radio. Are you ready, Billy? ARE YOU READY? BECAUSE HERE I AM.

HERE . . .

I . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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Author's Note:

Thank you all so much for reading! Joel's dying moment has finally come to an end, and his story with it.

So, what did you think?

I'd like to take a moment to ask for a small favor. Reviews are something that are hugely important to authors, particularly when self published—they help us get discovered out there in the great wide open of the internet. If you have a moment to share your thoughts on Poor Things on Amazon, that would be so, so appreciated. It's a simple process, and if you are able to download a copy of the book first (it's free!), all the better. If you're not able to do that, no worries at all—just make sure to mention that you read Poor Things on Wattpad, or your review might get deleted. There are links to Amazon on my author profile (and I'll see if I'm allowed to post one in a comment here).

Thank you all again!

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