Erica Muñoz was walking fast across campus, the biology lab had taken longer than expected, now she was running late for her creative-writing class. She made her way across the field of trees that separated the Science and Engineering building from the Liberal arts building. It was fall and the orange to yellow and brown leaves of the tall Oak-trees crunched beneath her black knitted boots. She was glad to be wearing long underwear beneath her black leggings, she had gotten them with her mom at an outlet mall a few weeks ago, she could barely feel the cold wind that made her nose red. She had a black back-pack that felt bulkier than usual, or was it her puffy red jacket? Her braid was becoming undone beneath her greyish-black beanie; random locks of hair moved freely with the wind. Every now and then, when she looked down to hide her face from the wind in her gray scarf, her black-matte-full-rimmed-glasses would get foggy. The cold air of that crisp Thursday afternoon had an earthy smell to it.
Erica reached the stairs to an old, tall looking building. At the top of the stairs, big black doors guarded the entrance to the building, they were kept closed during this time of the year. Erica always felt nervous when walking to this building, the dark-grey of the stone walls, along with the wooden framing -kept from the original building in the early1900’s-, gave her an ominous feeling. When she tried to explain to her friends the odd feeling she got from being in the building all she could say was that “the energy felt heavy.” She reached the top of the stairs and struggled to open the door, she was carrying her biology book and her journal in her arms, and she had a small thermos mug. The door snapped closed loudly, Erica made her way along the corridor, the wooden floor covered with a dark-brown rug didn’t do much to hide her footsteps. Not a lot of classes were held in the building in the late afternoon, most classes were empty; her classroom, luckily, was on the first floor all the way to the end, right before the dark wooden stairs.
The heavy wooden door was open, it revealed an older classroom. The wooden desks were organized in rows, all of them with markings from previous students, Erica liked to sit by the wall, near one of the few outlets in the room. The room was somewhat rectangular, the chalkboard was opposite to the entrance, behind an old bulky desk with an outdated computer. The back wall of the room was framed by a grey wall to the right, and a wall with three dark-wooden windowsills that faced out to the green yard -now covered in leaves and dead flowers – that lead the way to the football field of the school. Erica walked in just as the professor was writing the assignment for the class with a small piece of white chalk across the old green-board.
The board was so old that it was covered with what seemed like a permanent thin layer of chalk -a blur of different colors – spread out in circular patterns by the “write and erase” pattern of the different lectures held in the room. She removed her backpack and took her seat by the wall, opposite to the windows. Her professor gave her a “nice of you to join us” look and proceeded with the discussion of the class.
By the end of the 50-minute class, the professor, a short man with hoary hair, dressed in a black turtleneck and dress pants, reminded his students that the deadline to withdraw from the class was approaching and that it would be wise for some students to consider the option. His eyes lingered on Erica’s direction. A jolt of emptiness went through her body when she realized he was looking in her direction. Was she really doing that bad? She’d only missed the last two assignments, and, ok, she’d also missed a class session, but that was because she had needed to study for a – stupid – science exam. Her grade couldn’t have gone down so radically that she’d need to drop the class.
In the chatter and noise of students leaving the class, Erica, with heavy feet, approached her professor. She knew she had been neglecting this class, though it was her favorite class, the science classes were taking too much of her time, she hardly had time to sit and write. She started feeling anxious as she explained this to her professor, Dr. Hogan. She didn’t want her grade to suffer.
Dr. Hogan looked at his concerned student and decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. He looked up her grades on his, always-at-the-ready-grade book, and smiled. “Well, miss Muñoz, you truly have nothing to worry about, you’re averaging between a B and a B-.” He informed her.
“That’s what I thought. I just got nervous when you talked about the withdrawal deadline. Is there anything I can do to better my grade?” She asked, with anxious, chocolate-brown eyes.
Dr. Hogan considered his student’s request for a moment and said. “Ok miss Muñoz, I will give you an opportunity to bring your grade up. I would suggest taking advantage of this long weekend to write a short story; it will count as extra credit.”
“Thank you, professor. Is there a theme I should focus on? Or could it be about anything?”
“Well, so far in class we have discussed the importance of writing for the senses.” He said. “We’ve worked on describing a scene, what your reader would hear, see, and smell. Now I ask you to write something that would stimulate an empathetic reaction in your reader. But, we’ll make it a bit challenging. Your story should be able to make your reader feel empathy toward a man that kills his own brother. I will give you until Monday morning, before noon.” He said firmly to her bewildered and anxious face.
“Thank you, Dr. Hogan, I will work on it right away!” She promised, more to herself than to her professor. She figured she’d work on the story first, and then work on the research assignment for her Biology lecture; it was due on Wednesday anyway.
Erica turned around and walked back to her desk, she collected her things and hurried out of the building. She didn’t like being the last one out, there was always a weird feeling that followed her on the way out. Determined to have this story written before the weekend, she decided to walk to the library. On her way there, she stopped by the café adjacent to the library for some coffee and a snack.
After getting her order, she exited the café through the small door toward the back of the room, which was closer to the library. She crossed the black automated doors and made her way up the stairs to her favorite cubicle, which was on the third floor of the west side. At the last step, she turned right and walked down the hallway leading to the last set of bookshelves. An old wooden cubicle sat isolated from the rest, hidden between the wall and the other bookshelves; completely out of sight. She put her coffee down on the desk – she had eaten her snack while going up the stairs – and her backpack gently on the floor, next to her chair. She took a seat and proceeded to grab her laptop.
The blank Word page on her screen sat there empty, the cursor blinking at her, waiting. Erica, however, didn’t quite know how to start. How could anyone feel empathy toward someone that killed their own brother? Frustrated she pushed her laptop back and folded her arms in front of it, she put her head down. Without realizing it, she started to drift into a deep sleep.
Erica stood in the dark for a while, and then, in front of her, she saw a dim light. It seemed as if the light was covered. She squinted to see better and noticed that the light was coming from inside a small tent. There were two silhouettes visible, there seemed to be two boys in the tent. One was smaller than the other, perhaps a teenager and a kid under 10. They were talking animatedly, throwing their heads back laughing. She took a step forward to approach the tent, somehow the front side of the tent had disappeared, now she could see inside.
The boys were playing some card game, was it Uno? She took another step closer and she noticed that the ground wasn’t visible, in fact, only the two boys in the frontless tent were visible. Everything else around her was dark. She looked back to the two boys and assumed that they were brothers.
“Take two, and I change it to red!” Erica heard the smaller boy say.
“Good move, young grasshopper, but it won’t save you. Watch this” Said the older boy and proceeded to draw two cards. “Now, I skip your turn, add this red arrow, and finally put this other card down.” “Uno!” Yelled the older boy.
The scene in front of her vanished in a puff of colorful smoke, and it rearranged itself in a big garden, people dressed in black gathered in a group, all looking to the front. Erica made her way through the group of people. When she reached the front of the small crowd. She gasped. She could see the small boy from earlier in the dream, she recognized his curly untidy hair. He was crying, looking down to the floor. Erica then noticed that she was standing at a funeral, the older boy was nowhere to be seen.
A loud thud woke Erica up. She had knocked over her book. She woke up a bit dazed, a bit confused by her dream. It had felt so real, it was disorienting. Who were those two kids? Where was the older boy?
She noticed that her laptop was still open, the screen hadn’t locked yet. She looked at the time, it hadn’t been more than two minutes. Well, that was a short nap, she thought to herself. Erica stared at the blinking cursor. Suddenly, she had an idea for her story. She started typing.
“Usually, when we think of the act of doing away with another individual’s life, particularly among siblings, it is seen as a horrific act of cruelty and inhumane nature. Most of the time, let’s say that about 99.9% of the time, that is the case. At times and on rare occasions, however, it could be perceived as an act of kindness, not any less horrific but perhaps somewhat more humane.” She wrote, as an introduction to her story.
“I’m fed up with this bullshit,” said Sebastian, for the hundredth time, as the nurse checked his IV bag.
“Watch what you say around your brother” his step-mother reminded him. Gabriel, Sebastian’s half-brother, was only six years old when his hero fell severely ill with something none of the adults could properly explain to him. All he knew was what he could see. His favorite person in the world was in a lot of pain, strapped to a big and loud machine that scared him a little. He didn’t want Sebastian to know that he was afraid of the machine, he wanted to be brave like his brother.
Despite the ill, and at times unpleasant relationship that Sebastian had with his step-mother, he loved Gabriel dearly. He tried to stay strong for him; he had been enduring his condition for almost a year.
“How are you doing, young grasshopper?” Sebastian asked his young admirer.
“I don’t like school so much, but I won a race in P.E. earlier today. And I left early, miss Mitchels said it was ok for me to be here with you.” He said this as he handed Sebastian a small frame he had made in art class using shell-noodles, it contained a picture of the two of them at a soccer game, Gabriel was on Sebastian’s shoulders.
Sebastian was speechless, he could take the pain as long as he had his ‘young grasshopper’ with him. The sickness, however, was slowly eating away his good humor, due to the pain that he could hardly resist; but Gabriel made the days more bearable. With tears in his eyes, he pulled out a deck of Uno cards.
“Want to play?” He asked his brother with a faint smile. Gabriel was ecstatic. He hopped onto the foot of the bed, ready for a match.
As the afternoon went by, it was time for Gabriel to go home and for Sebastian to get some rest. While the adults were talking outside Sebastian’s room, Gabriel decided to sneak back into the room with the big-loud-scary-machine. He always wondered how his brother could rest with so much noise, to his surprise his brother wasn’t sleeping, he was on the phone with someone.
“It’s probably Lily, his girlfriend,” Gabriel thought and turned around to leave the room, but before he left, he heard his brother’s weak voice.
“I wish someone would just pull the plug, you know?” He gave a weak and low snicker while gasping for air.
Gabriel left the room to give his brother some privacy, he was sure he was talking with Lily, who else would it be. Gabriel knew that Sebastian cared for her a lot, he was always talking about her, and before the illness, Sebastian and Lily would lock themselves up in Sebastian’s room for hours to do homework together. That was another reason why Gabriel tried to do well in school, he hoped that when he was 17 like his brother, he could study for long hours in his room, with a girl as pretty as Lily.
“Of course he wants someone to pull the plug, that machine is too loud,” Gabriel thought while sitting on the couch near his brother’s hospital room. He wanted to help his brother, so he decided to go back inside. As he opened the door of the room slightly, to see if Sebastian was still on the phone, he saw that he was finally sleeping. He was also breathing with difficulty. Ever so quietly, he went around the bed, conquering his fear of the big machine, and pulled the plug.
“There, now you should be able to sleep better,” he thought, smiling warmly at his hero.
After a short period of time, a nurse rushed into the room to see why the red alarm had gone off for room 313; she found Gabriel by his brother’s bed shaking him because he had stopped breathing. Right behind the nurse Gabriel’s mom – who had been looking for him in the bathroom – rushed into the room, followed by his dad. Both of them stared in shock, they soon understood what had happened.
Gabriel kept screaming his brother’s name. His father had made his way to him and was holding him in his arms – an empty expression on his face, a member of the staff asked them all to step out.
The small family sat close together on the red faux-leather couch that was outside room 313. They all gawked with horror as a team of doctors and nurses rushed into the room with more equipment. After 11 agonizing minutes, the lead doctor exited the room with a sad, tired, and heavy expression in his eyes. He made his way to the pained, and horror-struck family that was waiting for news on the young man in room 313.
A door opened in a small coffee shop, with it came in an icy-winter-breeze and Gabriel was brought back from this painful reverie. Many years had passed since that evening at the hospital. Despite people explaining to him that what he had done wasn’t murder, but rather an accident, Gabriel had a difficult time accepting that as truth.
“I killed my brother,” Gabriel thought, as he sipped his espresso. “I hope you are sleeping well Sebastian, I miss talking to you, and I miss our camping nights in the backyard.”
The sound of footsteps close by called Erica’s attention. She looked to her right, there was a tall, thin girl with purple and pink hair looking for a book. Erica looked back to the screen. It was kind of late, but she was happy to have finished the story. She re-read it a few times, making sure that she was happy with it. Once she was done proofreading her story, she opened her school email and attached the word document, ready to turn it in. She pressed send and hoped her professor found her story moving.
She gathered her things and made her way down the stairs. She stepped outside, it was a cold night, Erica took her dark-blue gloves out from her backpack and put them on. She walked across the parking lot, headed to her dorm. She had a lot of homework to do for her math and science classes, but she figured she’d wait until the weekend; after all, it was a three day weekend.
An incurable passion for writing; a poet and storyteller at heart. I am a writer on the road.