4.14 The World Unravels


Death is quite a funny state to be in. For one thing, time disappears. There is no past or future- there is only a sense of now. 

My world unravels around me. The fire made a hole in the fabric on which I exist and someone- God, I think- is pulling the loose thread. Or maybe it is me struggling. I decide to lie still. I was dead after all.

The familiar faces, they visit. Alistair. Aunt Vega. Uncle Altair. No Gem though- I guess he has better things to do than visit his dead sister. Mother doesn’t either, but that is no surprise.

And between visits, he comes. He stands by my bed in silence, looking down at me with those empty voids for eyes. “You’re too late,” I want to tell him. “I died days or weeks or months ago.” But the dead do not speak.

Then the pain returned. 

I thought it was a mistake at first. It would be horribly unfair for a corpse to feel pain. But it got worse and worse with no sign of stopping.

That’s when I realised I must be alive.

I began to kick and scream, pulling at the sticky spider-silk the air has become, but I don’t think anyone noticed. At one point, someone had seen my eyes open, but they chose to ignore it in favour of another- “He’s awake,” they said, calling a second person into the room. I didn’t stay long enough to catch who it was. The blackness took over.

I heard footsteps. “Where’s Gem?” said a voice. Whoever it was walked into my room. Was Gem somewhere in here too? I tried to move my head to look around but gave up after a while. It was all too much effort. Why wasn’t he coming to see me? More blackness.

It is only when Alistair visited when I realised the extent of how horribly wrong everything was. He sat by me for hours, head bowed and silent. I don’t think he realised I was awake. He didn’t hold my hand. Was I that fragile? Or did it have something to do with the bandages over his own hands, and the angry red marks that peeked out from underneath?

After a while, I managed to catch his attention by my feebly moving fingers. He leaned over me, his eyes filling with tears, murmuring things I couldn’t make out over the thundering of silence. It took a while for the roaring tides to recede then I heard him say, “There was a fire, but it’s out now. You’re safe.”

His voice lulled me into a false sense of security, immediately broken by his next words that dropped my heart to the pit of my stomach. “Try to rest…. Gem. You’ll get better, I promise.” His eyes darted to something behind him.

I stared at him in shock as everything clicked into place. I had fallen through my reality into this other, terrible version of the world in which I am Gem. And being Gem is nothing like I expected. Nothing at all.

I am not Gem,” I wanted to scream. “It’s me, Deneb. Why can’t you see that?” But all that came out of my throat was weak croaking.

“Try not to talk,” said Alistair.

The scene changed.

Aunt Vega was the one sitting next to me. “Shh,” she said, “it’s alright. No one else is here.”

“It’s me, Deneb,” I said. My voice was not even a whisper.

But Aunt Vega understood. “I know,” she said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t come earlier, I was… finalising some legal issues. Regarding… regarding your mother’s will. You see, we never found her after the fire. We think… we think she never made it out.”

“Right,” I whispered. I wondered what I should be feeling at this news, because I felt nothing at all. Nothing but relief that I was back in my world, the one in which I was Deneb. “We were going to leave,” I said instead.

“No, Deneb, you shouldn’t. You are the heir. You belong here.”

“Not of the estate. Gem is the heir.”

It was the fraction of a second, but I caught it. Her hesitance.

“He is the heir, isn’t he?” I asked. “That’s what Mother said.”

She could no longer meet my gaze. 

“Aunt Vega! What’s wrong? Tell me!”

Aunt Vega closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Gem is dead.”

No. That couldn’t be true. Gem couldn’t be dead. Gem was infallible. With his strength and humour, he was indestructible. He was a role model, a reference point, the better me. 

I waited for Aunt Vega to go back on her words, but there was nothing but raw grief in her shadowed face.

In that moment I felt truly lifeless. That Gem was gone, not of this world, never to talk or move or laugh again…

Somehow it hurt more than my own death.

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