A Gaslamp Fantasy novel
Daniel is a young writer living in London in the year 1869. After falling ill with consumption, he strives to complete the piece he's been writing: a collection of stories for his deceased lover Helena. Death comes closer and after an argument with his wife Rebecca, Daniel finds himself in an opium-induced coma. When he awakens, however, it's not in the world he once remembered. Helena is alive and well and the landscapes and villages from his stories have become reality. For a short while, he feels at peace trapped within the pages of his mind with the woman he once loved, neither having to fear Death. But there's a darkness on the horizon creeping closer. Daniel soon realizes that not everyone in this world is as hospitable as they seemed. The deeper he falls into his dream, the more he realizes that there's less hope for waking up and that Death in his fantasy may be more vicious than in reality. Awakening is his only chance for survival against the shadows in his mind. What he needs to understand, however, is that waking up means closing the book and losing Helena forever. It's his choice to give in to Death or finally learn to let her go.
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easteri'm in the back of the car, sucking my chlorine hair and watching with sleepy eyes out the window. brown dirt is soon ochre and we are nowhere in particular yet. we are going to the atheton tablelands for easter. i fall into a broken sleep on my sister's warm shoulder and when i wake up we are there.easter by Pretty-As-A-Picture
it is nighttime and my cousin is only still a baby and she cries from inside the house (which is really only a very large shed). out of the car the air is like freezer air but fresh and crisp like cold water. my eyes become wide at the rolling of the hills around us, the living green they are, the horse paddocks, the shapely trees. there is a loud, insistent buzzing of myriad thumbnail sized insects slamming themselves against us, and walls, towards the light. they scare me and i go inside, under blankets. i am still tired and softly i ease back into sleep on a mattress on the floor.
when i wake up i am the only one awake, even the sun is still sleeping. when i'm the only one awake i like
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Big blue eyes reflect in the window. Even now, years later, I can feel the spark within them—memories of love and hope. You were so young. So small. So dependent. Dependent of me.
You won’t leave me, right? Your voice still clings to my ears. You’ll stay with me. Won’t you?
Of course. “I promise.”
I recall it as if it were yesterday. Your hand was tight in mine as I walked you towards the street corner, book bags slung over our shoulders, far too heavy for someone our size. You scuffed your new shoes along through the gravel, kicking up clouds of dust. I remember scolding you once or twice. Mother wouldn’t want that. It was the laughter of the other children that made you anxious, however. There were a good four or five of them, standing next to the street sign, throwing rocks and grass at each other and waiting for the morning bus.
They’re good people, I told you. Friends. You’ll be making plenty of those.
Looking back, I don’t think you understood what I meant at first. I shouldn’t have expected you to. You just glanced up at me with those big blue eyes in wonder, perhaps in question if I had any “friends”. I’d been doing this daily routine for the past five years, so shouldn’t I have? I gave your hand a squeeze.
You’re going to like school, little brother. Right now, it’s just the start. You’ll go and learn about the small things, and then more and more and more. It doesn’t seem like a lot at first, but someday…
We sat together on the bus that day. Hands clasped. Huddled close together like we were all we had left on earth. For that moment, we might as well have been. I leaned my head against the window, watching the small town traffic hurry by.
I won’t let anyone hurt you. I vowed that promise with my pinky finger wrapped around yours. Never. Never… I promise.
Five years is a large gap between us. There are days I’m grateful for it, and others I wish we were closer. I tell myself if we had been a year or two apart, maybe we wouldn’t have grown to fight so much. We both have bruises and scars—five years deep—inside and out from our words and nails and fingers. Some mornings, the wounds show more than others. We can’t bear to look at each other.
Yet, I’ll never forget the first time I saw you: curled in Mother’s arms. I sat by your side, watching wide-eyed in wonder as your tiny hand reached out to me. I never told you what Mother made me promise that day. Maybe I was too young to truly understand, but she looked me in the eyes—harder than ever—and made me swear to always look out for you and be there. No matter what. No matter what.
I know sometimes I wasn’t there. Sports games you’d need extra support for, concerts, and oftentimes, the more personal things. I used to blame you. Would say that you weren’t always there either: poetry readings, evening plans, etc. I would holler, kick at your door, lash out at you. But, it wasn’t your fault.
I’d lock myself away from you, staring out the window as the storm clouds drew near. Through the windowpane, I could smell the rain on the horizon. A rain of regret. Yet, I’d just stand there, clutching the windowsill and chewing my bottom lip. How could I stay mad?
“I’m the big brother.” I’ve learned to correct myself. “It’s my responsibility to be there. No matter what.”
No matter what…
There were a few years we drifted away from each other. Maybe it was because we needed each other too much once upon a time. Or maybe it was because we finally found a family that treated us like we were their own. A family that loved us unconditionally; but I turned them away. Watched them through clouded windows. They’re not blood. It’s a lie. It’s all a lie… The words spat at them were also spat at you, and I spiraled into the darkest pit of being I’d ever known. You could never love me.
I lost a part of myself that day. Maybe because I forgot who I was, or maybe because I was expected to be someone I wasn’t. A restyled my hair and replaced my wardrobe, toying with different styles my idols went with—idols who existed only within fiction. They’re better than real people, I told myself. They can’t hurt you. As my persona changed, my anger grew. And with each shout and scream and slam of the door, I felt even more lost to the world. To our family. To you.
“You never smile anymore…”
It only hurts when I look back and still hear you say those words to me. At the time, I was emotionless. If anything, you were given a scoff. A backhand across the arm or stomach. I don’t need to smile.
My bitterness caused you to withdraw. Into a shell of anxiety and depression. I broke you down, screaming at you to “shut up”, destroying your self-worth. I wish you weren’t here. I wish I’d left without you. I wish you weren’t my brother.
I’ve heard you cry at night, but I was too much of a coward to confront you. Embrace you. Tell you everything was going to be okay. I’d find you in the morning at the kitchen table, the family around you asking if you needed anything. Reassuring they loved you. I simply shook my head and went upstairs to my room. It’s a lie. To withdraw into my own shell—one a little thicker than your own.
I remember standing before the window when you came into my room. The winter chill had caused it to fog, and I traced my fingertips against the glass, etching illegible text across the surface. You joined me at my side and watched in silence for a few moments before drawing a smiley face.
“Do you still love me?”
My eyes remained focused on the glass, lips tight. I didn’t know what to say. What I should say. You waited for long while, until the first flakes of snow began to fall. In excitement, you seemed to have forgotten the question and hurried downstairs. I smeared away the images and text we had added to the window. Snowmen’s hearts are less frozen than mine…
With a shaky finger, I wrote your name on the glass. This time, I left it for the frost to take.
Growing up, we promised each other we would never let anything or anyone separate us. Even in our darkest times. But, as always, that promise was broken. And, as always, it was me who broke it.
I moved away for a short while—it was for business as I recall telling you. While you stayed safe in our small town, I replanted my roots in the city. A place I could start over. At least, that’s what I told myself.
I had a nice suite in the middle of the theatre district, with a view the rest of the city would die for. I sent you pictures. Told you I was having the time of my life.
"I belong in the city," I said one night over the phone.
You answered with silence, and then a quiet, "I'm afraid of the city..."
I knew as well as you did that it wasn't so much the city you were afraid of as much as the people. You never liked being gawked at. Looked over like a choice piece of meat. A life in and out of foster care does that to you. That's why I taught you to walk with your head down.
Yet, I still convinced you to come visit me. Come stay for a while when your classes were out. Alone. Your first night here, I took you to dinner at the cafe on the corner. Ordered you a shake and late night waffles. You just sat there and picked at it, not saying a word. Your silence remained even when I brought you up to my suite and showed you around.
"I couldn't have asked for a better view," I said, motioning out the large windows that stretched the length of the wall, ceiling to floor.
You took one look and winced. In fear, I'm sure. I knew your emotions all too well. But still, I took your hand and helped you up onto my desk against the window, holding tight. You cried out that you were scared and to let you down, but I pressed you to the cold glass and told you to look out. To see the city from above, like you were floating. Unstoppable.
You were hesitant, but when the last light of day fell behind the buildings and the city lit up, I felt you at ease. We stood there in silence, watching the traffic below and the flickering embers of civilization in the distance. It was all so surreal.
"I like to stand here sometimes. At night. When I need to think," I told you. "It's like being close to death. A burst of ecstasy. Like standing on the edge so close to letting go... Torn between fear and beauty."
The lights reflected in my eyes as I stood there. Frozen. In a low murmur, I remember whispering, "Sometimes, you forget which it was, the beauty or the fear, that made you jump..."
We held each other close after that, the sounds of the city drowning out our tears.
"Don't leave me," you said. "Don't ever leave me..."
It was a week later that I packed my bags and moved back home. Home to what I knew as a home. That small town on the edge of nowhere, granting promise only to those smart enough to leave it. Lucky enough to get out while they could, before it dragged them down and suffocated them with false hope. I was one of the lucky ones, but something pulled me back. That anchor that fastened me to my desk those late nights overlooking the city. Ready to jump. Something I called "brother."
Once I settled in again, I took us on day trips to some of our favorite places, catching up on all there was to know—all we couldn't fit into phone calls on limited plan minutes.
"How's school?" I'd ask.
"It's school. What was work like?"
"It's work. Getting good grades?"
"Averaging. Is it true that the corner of China Town is a wind tunnel? You know. Like they say?"
"Almost blew me down a few times. But I braved it."
When you had nothing more to say, I smiled. The first, genuine smile I remember smiling in years.
"Everyone knows Vihn-Sun has the best crab rangoons this side of the China Town arch. No way I was settling for that Bento Box cheap imitation crap again. A little wind can't stop me from getting my 'goons."
You gave a little smile back. "We should get some rangoons sometime... Like we used to."
This time, I chuckled. "They'd have to be bad."
"The worst. And overpriced. But bad enough we still eat them and watch movies all afternoon, while we debate if there really were some good ones in the batch, or if we're just getting used to how bad they taste."
"You and I both know it's the latter."
Things went on the way they always had for the next year or so. You were busy with school while I was busy with work, coming home with just enough time to throw something in the microwave for you or leave you with a take-out menu. Our family was busy in general and we were expected to care for ourselves independently now. It never really bothered me. I slowly had been making amends to the coldness I’d shown them over the years, letting an ounce of gratitude pour out. But it wasn’t enough.
The rest of my nights were spent locked in my room, either finishing projects for work that continuously piled up, or, as you came to call it, "leave me alone time." Really, I'd just lay in bed, face down in my pillow, wishing things were different. That, maybe, we shouldn't be together. That maybe we were holding each other back. That maybe, long ago, I shouldn't have told that family I refused them unless they took you with me. I thought of where I’d be, what I would be doing. This small town never would have crossed my mind. The family I had come to know and love. The history. You.
The bottle of aspirin has become my best friend.
I rarely tell you to "shut up" any more. Maybe I've grown used to your voice now, or maybe I've just learned to drown out what you say. My mind isn't what it used to be. I think we both can see that. Perhaps the reality of it is that you simply don't talk as much any more. You know it's not worth it when no one is listening anyway.
But that night, I did listen. You stood in the doorway of my bedroom, holding a letter with a look of excitement and anxiety on your face.
"I got accepted to university...," you told me. "I'm graduating in the top ten of my class. I'm getting a free ride."
My response was monotone. I didn't know whether to be proud or terrified that my little brother would be heading off to university in only a few months. My little brother. The kid that, what felt like yesterday, was clinging to my shirt, waiting for the bus to pick you up and start the first day of the rest of your life.
The rest of your life...
And this was it.
“It’s a great school. Up north in the mountains, about a five-hour drive. It’s one of the best for my major. This could… could really be it, you know?”
I nodded my head to you and asked for the door to be closed. I had work to do. Important work that needed to be done by midnight, lest my boss flash me the pink card so many other employees had been receiving in their mailboxes the past few weeks. You said something I couldn't make out—I didn't want to—and did as asked.
When I was sure you were gone, I shut my laptop and broke down and cried.
"You're nothing without me."
I used to say this all too much growing up. I'm sure you remember. Being the big brother, I was always the tough one who was looking out for you. Taking care of you and making sure you were okay.
"You need me."
In those few moments of the door opening and you announcing your, what should have been happy news, I realized I was wrong. Again. I was the one who needed someone. I was the one who was nothing without the anchor.
My window here is too small and close to the ground.
I taught you so much in life. How to find friends, how to attempt to fit in, how to smile. How to drive, how to cook, how to manage bills. How to lie, how to hide emotion, how to fear. Yet, in all I taught you, I could never find it in me to teach myself how to say good-bye.
When the last of your bags were packed in the trunk, I just stood on the porch and watched. You looked more of a man than I ever did that day, standing proudly in your new university attire, the widest smile I recall ever seeing on your face.
"I'm heading up early to get everything moved in before orientation. It's a long drive, so, the sooner the better," you said.
I faked a smile.
"My roommate texted me and said he's on his way, too. His flight lands around three, so we should be arriving not too far apart." You noticed my eyes were focused on the ground. "Bro...?"
All the years of bottled up emotions, things I tried to conceal, poured out in that moment. I never cried. Not in front of you. But I couldn't hold back.
"I'm nothing without you...," I whispered. "I need you. I need you."
I could see through my tears that you, too, were no longer smiling. You gripped your keys tight and walked over, putting your arms around me like I had you so many times growing up. I embraced you back. Only now, those little shoulders I once drew against me were the same as mine.
"Don't leave me..." My voice trembled.
"I won't," you said. "Not ever."
I felt so weak. So vulnerable. My whole life, I had been the big brother. The strong one. The leader. Now, I was bawling my eyes out, leaning on your shoulder like an infantile child.
"This place..." I motioned to our house behind me. "It's not a home. Not without you."
"Go to the city." Your words were firm.
"Maybe I don't belong there, and that's something I've grown to see. And I don't belong here either. Neither do you." You touched my face to brush a tear away. "Someone very special to me once said that 'we can't let the past hold us back. We have to be strong now.' Maybe that's what we have to do. Let's face it, Bro. Neither of us wants to grow old and die here."
"We can move together," I said. "The city—”
"Is where you belong."
Our eyes met. Big blue eyes...
"But I belong somewhere else."
I made a promise to Mother when you were born, and it's the promise I intend to keep. Though I haven't followed it as much as I should have in life, I do the best I can. And I know you know that.
I do still love you… No matter what.
You made a promise to me, too. Right before you started the car and drove off to the beginning of the rest of your life. You told me something about the city. Something I never forget each and every night as I look out over the streets and watch the lights flicker in the horizon. Never sleeping.
You said that there's something magic about windows. Something of fear and beauty. You said that it's the fear of starting over and the fear of being alone mixed with the beauty of a breath of new life. Freedom.
Windows always pull you back.
From atop my desk, the streets below seem like a black void, lit by tiny fireflies whizzing back and forth through the night. I stand there for hours, the cold glass against my face and hands as I contemplate taking the jump. Escaping the edge.
But the anchor weighs me down.
Don't leave me. Don't ever leave me.
"No matter what..."
The glass beneath my fingertips becomes warm as I focus on the reflection rather than the city behind it. A slideshow of memories playing before me. The traffic of the small town on the way to your first day of school. The rain, the snow. Your name etched into the glass.
Big blue eyes...
Your words echo through my empty suite, nipping at my ears as I try to swallow the lump in my throat. The lump that for so long has longed to find its way out.
"This is my life. My future. When we were alone, for that first time, you promised me I’d have a ‘someday.’ Well, this is it. But just because our somedays don’t cross doesn't mean we’re lost. We're brothers. No matter where we go, our blood keeps us together. And maybe, late at night, when we look out our windows, we realize we're just looking at each other."
The mountains have never felt closer.