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The Hum

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You notice the buzzing when you pull your socks on, the sunrise peeking through the makeshift curtains. You roll your shoulders, pushing it away. Your stomach's heavy, though, and your gums ache. You fluff your pillow. You put your shoes on. You tug on your jacket. The buzzing at the back of your skull abates for a minute as you brush your teeth.

It’s been a couple months since London. Things are—well. Okay. Bearable. Sometimes you think you see Simon slipping out of the rec room, or Sara picking apples in the orchard—but it's never them. Always someone else. Moonchild chases you through your dreams. Smells and sounds are still hard. Seasalt, burnt plastic, the sound of the ocean—they make you so nauseous you can hardly stand it. And Maxine called you honey once and you flinched.

The nervous buzzing feeling gets more intense as you step outside but you start making your way towards the mess hall anyway. You breathe, stopping in front of the pharmacy. Tighten your fists. Loosen them. Tighten your shoulder blades. Loosen them. Tighten your jaw. Loosen it. Breathe into your belly.

Let me eat breakfast. We can freak out later. Let me eat.

You walk into the mess. You grab a tray, a plate, a fork and spoon. Your hands are shaking.  You loosen your grasp on the ceramic. Scott, the cook, hands you blueberry oatmeal and a glass of orange juice. “Have a good day, Five!” He grins at you, and you nod back, murmuring a low ‘thanks’ out of the tightness in your throat.

You turn, moving deliberately towards an empty table. You stare at the oatmeal sloshing around the bowl, blueberries slipping in and out of the milky-whiteness. The buzzing is getting louder. God damn it. It's begging you for your attention at this point. You clench your teeth, about to sit down, when—

“Morning, Five! Here, we can make space for you.” Sam. Calling you over. Well, you can’t say no, because that would be weird. You always sit with him for breakfast. But—the buzzing, the hum—

Your feet turn. You walk towards his table, with Maxine, Paula, and Jody also greeting you. “Thanks,” you say, attempting a small, bright smile. It feels like you’re peeling back your skin. You force yourself to take a big bite of your oatmeal.

“You have a run today, right, Five?” Asks Jody, and you chew slowly. Not really meeting her gaze. You swallow.

“Yeah. Just a med supply one out near the sawmill; nothing too hard. You?”

Good. Good. You’re speaking. You’re passing as not—not kind of losing it—

“Nah, nothing today. I was just wondering if you could maybe look for some earplugs while you’re out? Mine fell apart last night.”

“’Course.” You take another large scoop of oatmeal and shove it into your mouth. The hum is getting overwhelming. It sounds like the tide, like notes through a headset and then the axe—


The axe. It always starts with that damn axe. And then the heat, or maybe it’s the screams or the purple-yellow bruise on her jaw. The glow of neon-orange in the distance.

Your stomach turns. Your spoon trembles in your fingers. No. No. Not now. Not here. Please. Not in front of your friends.

“—and it shouldn’t be too pink or purple, but more of a lavender shade. What do you think, Five?”

You blink. What? What the hell is Sam talking about? “Uh, sorry?”

He glances at you, brow creasing. “The figurines for the game tonight? What colour should I go for?”

Oh, fuck. You missed half the conversation. Fuck. He's talking about … Demons & Darkness? Maybe? The oatmeal's sticky on your tongue. Blueberry skin's stuck in the back of your teeth. He’s still waiting for an answer. “I, uh. I dunno. Whatever your gut says?”

That makes him chuckle. You bite the inside of your cheek as you force yourself to smile. “My gut is dumb and doesn’t know colour palettes, to be honest.”

Maxine jumps in. “I think a lavender shade would be cool. It’d suit the theme of redemption you’re …”

She fades back out. You stare at your oatmeal. A blueberry sinks into the brown-sugared surface. Your neck's tight.

No. Please. Stay out. I don’t want you here. Not now.

But you can’t stop her. Never could. Your skin goes cold. Your throat tightens to an uncomfortable choke, and your head goes hazy. Breathe, Five, deep. Come on. Bring yourself back. You’re here, at Abel, and you’re safe. London's over, Moonchild's over, it’s over. You're not hurting anyone anymore. You're moving on.

But –

The buzzing of bees in the honeysuckle you sprint past. The way your hands shoot his thigh and the way Jody crumples to the ground, and the wall of heat, and her singsong hum, and the sharp jab of a needle. His shriek, and your boot on his shoulder and he couldn’t stop you. The burned bodies washed up on the beach. And she’s not gone, she’s in your dreams, she's—

Hand on shoulder – “Five?” – Flinch. Movement.

“I need some air.”

Feet. Tray clatters on the table. Door. Someone calling your name, but you aren't Five, you're the killer. The weak link. Now, grass. No, not grass. Bedsheets. No, not bedsheets. Couch pillows. Nausea. Smell of sour smoke. No, not smoke, just dust. Hand over your eyes. Breathe deep, like they taught you. Can’t breathe. Seawater in your mouth. Seawater soaking your clothes. Blood on skin. No. Just sweat. It was blood, though. There will always be blood. The electric flash of panic spreads through all of it, and you try to relax your locked jaw. Tighten your jaw. Relax it. No, tighten. Grind molar against molar.

Explosion, seawater, eyes welling with tears of joy. Gates, violent advance, axe, some sort of plead for mercy, and a headset broken. There were woods, there were dead friends, there were hissing snakes. And a traitor, but not. But still. But he’s dead now. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter.

Now, couch pillows. You breathe. You breathe. You breathe. You shouldn’t be—you should’ve—this shouldn’t be happening. This should not have happened. You should've stopped it. You weren't strong enough. They’ve forgiven you. They shouldn’t. Your shoulders broke with the weight, and now you are here. And the guilt is sitting on your chest, it’s the buzzing in your skull, it’s the dizziness deep in your head.

Maybe you fall asleep. Maybe you just lay there, on the comms shack couch, staring at the ceiling boards. Maybe you don’t do anything at all.

But something shifts, eventually. It passes. Burns itself out like it always does.

And now Sam’s here. A knitted blanket's on your body. Covering your muddied shoes. He’s on his laptop, but something's wrong with the light. It’s too bright. You shift, sitting up with care, stretching your stiff neck.

You speak, then, a little roughly. “Hey, Sam? What time is it?”

He doesn’t move. You stand up with a sigh, knees complaining. He’s probably busy listening to his collection of godawful 80s pop. “Sam?”

You touch his shoulder. He doesn’t turn.

You squeeze it, pressing down.

He slumps forward, forehead colliding with the keyboard. A mug of tea spills.

Your stomach drops.

“Sam, seriously, wake up,” you say, a lot louder now. You look at his face. And then the light flickers, and you notice it.

The sticky-red, sticky-thick liquid pooling around your shoes. The scent of rust. “Sam!”

Your heart pounds in your head. Your fingers press for a pulse, but there's nothing. There's only the deep wound in his shoulder. The severed artery. An axe glints next to his chair. It's red. It's bloodied. It's yours.

A scream climbs out of your throat. “Someone! Help! Sam—Sam is—he needs a medic! Help!” You bunch up your sweatshirt, pressing it to the wound, but there is nothing to absorb. There's no dripping blood. It’s all at your feet. It’s all over your fingers, slippery and wet.

The world lurches to the side, and you smell smoke, and you smell burnt hair, and you smell the ocean.

Your eyes dart open, and you're sitting up in your bed. Sheets tangled around your ankles. Chest so tight it burns, hands shaking, eyes wet and pink. You try to catch your breath.

“It was a dream. It was a dream. Jesus,” you whisper to the barely-risen sun, and you roll your aching shoulders. And you pull on your socks. And you shrug on your jacket. And you brush your teeth. You step outside, body heavy. You head towards the mess hall. You stop in front of the pharmacy, and loosen your fists, your shoulder-blades, your jaw. You keep walking. You go inside the mess hall. You grab a tray, a plate, a fork and spoon. Scott, the cook, serves you oatmeal with dried cranberries, and gives you a glass of water. You speak first this time. “Have a good day, Scott,” and he smiles right back.

You sit down with Sam, Jody, Maxine, and Paula. You eat big bites of your oatmeal with shaky hands, yes, with a tight jaw, yes, you're real this time. You manage a chuckle at Sam’s jokes, glancing at him with waves of relief washing over you. Alive. He's still alive. That's good. You remind Jody about her med supply run today. And the buzzing's there, held right at the edges, but today—it's held back.

You're okay. Sam's okay. Maybe not good, exactly, and you know there's gonna be day's where the buzzing gets bad again, but right now—you're okay. And that has to be enough.