One more Angelfic to add to the other 10,000 currently residing at ff.net ;)
Standard disclaimers apply.
We're All Made of Stars
Connor sat thoughtfully on the floor of his dorm room, tugging on the leg of his up-ended dorm chair. He carefully inspected the sturdy old wooden joints, trying to figure out how to fix the leg. Finding the lose screw, he picked up his screw driver and began tightening. If they wanted for Campus Housing to bring him a new chair, the semester would be over.
"It has NO basis in reality," called out his roommate, Michael, who was sitting behind him on the bed, pealing the stickers off of a Rubix Cube. "The real world isn't about… say… a big brain sitting in a vat of chemicals, getting electrical impulses from… I don't know. A mad scientist. And said brain in a vat thinks it's a six foot-four basketball player living the suburban lifestyle. This isn't The Matrix."
Connor smiled, finally twisting the screw back into place. "But see, that's the thing. You wouldn't KNOW you're a brain in a vat, because you're just a brain in a vat." It seemed firmly in place, but he gave the screw one more twist just to be sure. The wood snapped, and leg separated from the seat of the chair. "I did NOT do that. The screw fell out, and the leg broke when I sat on it."
"You afraid you're not going to get your housing deposit back?" Michael chuckled. "Brains in vats don't need deposits."
Carefully placing the screw driver in his desk drawer, Connor slid away from the broken chair and leaned against his bed. "Kantian philosophy isn't going to stop me from getting the arched eyebrow from my dad when he finds out I lost my deposit because I was performing heart surgery on my dorm chair instead of waiting for campus housing. You, on the other hand, aren't going to pass this test tomorrow if you can't start thinking outside the box."
"Cheese fries would help me think outside the box," Michael muttered as he stuck the last two blue blocks on the now unified side of the cube. He showed off his accomplishment.
Connor grabbed his keys and meal card off of his desk with a grin. "Like no one can tell you didn't just peal all the stickers off and rearrange them."
"I did NO such thing. And you can't even tell." Michael rose from the bed and tossed the cube behind him.
It was before the usual dinner crowds gathered in the cafeteria, so Connor and Michael walked past rows and rows of empty yellow tables, towards the vacant food lines. One of the cooks scraped his grill clean in preparation of the dinner rush and a few cashiers counted their drawers.
"My mom actually called Professor Davian," Connor admitted, his cheeks turning red with color. "And I'm like, that's sweet and all, but…"
"But you're TOTALLY a grownup," Michael conceded, grabbing a blindingly orange tray and migrating towards the grill. "I told my dad about the nasty little comments he wrote on MY midterm essay, and my dad's just like 'just do whatever you have to do to pass the final,' and I think I'm with my dad on that. If Davian the Demon wants me to just parrot everything he says in class on my essays, and it gets me a good grade, I can do that."
Connor followed suit, getting behind his friend. "Independent thinkers need not apply."
The cook turned around and began shoveling curly fries into paper trays for the two young men. "Cheese and bacon, or just cheese today?" he asked.
The two looked at each other, having a quick conversation with their eyes. "Cheese, bacon and sour cream," Michael finalized.
"Ok, now that's going too far," Connor stated. "Classical Philosophy isn't THAT terrible."
"I'm going to put gummy worms on it, if that class gets any worse," Michael moaned, grabbing his tray.
Connor grabbed his as well, thanking the man behind the counter. "See ya after the dinner rush," he promised. He grabbed two sodas out of the nearest cooler and continued on his way.
The two walked to the large cashier who'd just finished counting her drawer. They presented their meal cards for swiping, and then headed on their way. "I'm going to freakin' fail, man."
"Ok. Do you remember anything about Stoicism?" Connor slid into the nearest chair, wiping salt from the edge of the table. He began picking at his fries.
"My dad whenever you ask him a question," Michael flipped back.
"It's a systematic philosophy that began in the Hellenistic period…" Connor stopped, seeing a small crowd enter the cafeteria.
Michael looked over his shoulders, and then rolled his eyes. "What's her name… Misty, Missy, Melissa… Melinda…"
"Alyssa," Connor breathed.
"Glad to hear you're getting over Tracy so well," Michael said, pushing his bushy brown hair off of his forehead.
"We're just… friends," Connor said, almost giggling.
The group of two guys and three girls approached. All were wearing faded black clothes, shirts turned inside out, and carrying various tools within their pockets. The one with the large black backpack slung over her shoulder tucked her magenta and raven locks behind her ears and then waved. "Connor!" The group began crossing the cafeteria towards them.
"Are you a brain in a bucket, or are you happy to see her," Michael said dirtily.
"I'm going to beat you to death with a soggy French fry if you mess this up for me," Connor said, never breaking his smile. "Alyssa!" he called out, pulling the chair next to him away from the table. "Bryan, Bryce, Manilla." He nodded to each of her companions. "You guys done with classes?"
"Yeah. Last rehearsal's tonight. You're gonna be there tomorrow night, right?" Her round cheeks flushed a little.
Behind her, Bryan and Bryce, tall thick and nearly identical, nudged each other, trying to maintain straight faces. Manilla slammed the heal of her Doc Martins into Bryce's foot, stopping the display. "We've got you tickets reserved," Manilla promised him. "It's a musical," she forewarned. "But we've got some kickass pyro." She began pulling her waist-length dirty brown hair into a pony tail. "I need caffeine. Be right back." She began tugging Bryan and Bryce in the direction of the food, leaving Connor staring at Alyssa.
Michael stared at the line of electricity that passed between their eyes and then quietly got up. "Need… gummy bears," he muttered, dashing back into the food court.
"So… like… we all think it's awesome that you're coming to cheer on the crew. Techies usually don't have anyone there for them on opening night." She tugged restlessly on the straps of her back pack. "I hope we don't… like… screw up or anything."
"You could never screw up." A moment later, Connor caught himself. "I mean… I'd never notice anyway, you know? Because, like… I haven't been to the rehearsals. I don't know what you mean to do and what you… um… yeah. Really looking forward to it." He gestured once again to the chair he'd pulled out.
Alyssa slid into the chair. She peeled her back pack off and gently placed it on the table. "I hear ya. I mean… I hope we don't make it noticeable."
"It wont," Connor assured her.
There was a long silence. Each party's eyes drifted over the other.
"You colored your hair again," Connor pointed out, trying to break the spell.
The girl's face lit up. "Yeah, we did it this morning before Design class. Manilla has a thing for hot pink, so we gave it a whirl."
"It looks really….you." He ran his fingers through his own flat, mousy brown hair. "I keep thinking of doing something like that, but… I don't know. I guess I'm just not that brave."
"You should be more adventurous," Alyssa affirmed, sitting up straighter. "You'd look killer in Two Thousand Flushes blue."
A laugh suddenly escaped him. "My mom would LOVE that."
Alyssa shrugged. "Shave your head before you go home for the holidays."
"You're nuts. That's what I like about you." His attention caught on a pewter necklace hanging around her neck. It was a simple circle with two parallel lines running through it. "I keep meaning to ask what that is." It seemed like he should know, like it was buried in the back of his mind, but he couldn't put his finger on it.
"Oh. This?" she picked up the pendant and looked at it hard for a moment. "It's a Druid Sigil. I'm not totally on the boat with Druid philosophy, but it's supposed to be as powerful as a pentagram, and it doesn't set off the parental alarm the way one of those would."
Connor's head tilted, the academic in him peaked. "What's the difference between what you believe and that?"
Alyssa's eyes lit with the chance to share her beliefs. "Well, they're both earth-based philosophies, but--"
A bag of gummy bears thunked onto the table. "Not more of this philosophy crap," Michael complained.
Connor shook his head, biting back a smile. "What did I say I was going to do with that French fry?" he asked quietly.
The house lights in the theatre fell, and Connor settled into the soft red chair in the back of the orchestra section. His real seat was further up, but when he'd seen the back seats empty, he'd moved. He'd always enjoyed watching movies by himself, and knew this would be a similar experience.
The curtains pealed back, and he watched the lights slowly fade up as the orchestra played to the empty asylum set. It was like taking a peek into a box in which existed a separate world.
His finger brushed his lower lip thoughtfully as he thought of the philosophical implications of a world where Man sung his innermost desires. That certainly seemed to be the function of the ballad in musicals, he determined as Dr. Jekyll sang of his quest to rid the world of evil.
Connor decided he didn't like the idea of unleashing his innermost thoughts, and that a musical probably wasn't the world for him, though he was certainly intrigued of a world where a man could shift back and forth between his humanity and being a monster at will. The thought of the 'monster' being alive within him all along tickled at the back of his head.
His sister thought he was a dork who thought too hard about these things, but he couldn't help it. All his life he'd felt like there'd been something else out there, something just beyond his ability to see, and if he just thought about it hard enough, the door would unlock.
Hyde looked up from his last victim to the audience. His brow was furrowed deeply, anger etched on his face and pain escaping from his throat in a primal growl. The pyrotechnics ignited and the flash cracked in his eyes like lightening and the wave of heat rolled over him and he sat there, his heart unable to beat, even as the audience clapped with voracious energy. He wasn't able to breathe again until the house lights came up. There'd been something there—something he'd been close to seeing.
Perhaps it was the primal struggle of man, perhaps it was the thought of living two separate lives that made him giddy inside. Maybe he'd had too much coffee before the show. Whatever it was, he felt enlivened and saddened, all in the same brushstroke.
The school's theatre was on a fairly deserted city block. He stood at the end of the loading ramp, far away from the crowd of friends and relatives at the stage door, glancing back and forth, searching for signs of life between the hideous orange glow of the street lamps.
Well-wishers began to disperse, each cluster surrounding an actor as they departed. As the group thinned, Connor moved closer to the door and continued to be patient. A few wardrobe assistants left, laughing about the way Jekyll had almost lost his wig at the end of the second act. The breaking of the illusion by such talk did nothing to diminish Connor's sense of wonder. It only gave him a bit more of a thrill to know this back-stage secret.
Finally Alyssa and Manilla came through the door. "Well, what'd you think? Did you see the Cathedral set shaking in the last scene? Bryce was leaning on the ropes…"
"It was… fantastic," Connor said with blunt honesty. "You guys were right about the pyro. That was SOME fire. It was so hot I thought the skin was going to just burn right off my face."
"I think everyone else is taking the bus back, but I'm going to die if I don't eat," Alyssa told him, making her way across the loading ramp and toward the street.
Connor turned quickly on his heals and rushed to keep up. "Are you sure? Maybe we should wait for Bryan and Bryce. They have hollow legs."
They turned the corner and Alyssa dashed across the lit façade of the theatre, towards the alley on the other side of the street.
"Alyssa!" Grinning, Connor moved faster, trying to keep pace. She stepped off the curb then stopped, and he nearly slammed into her. "What's up?"
She was a full foot shorter than him, but she had surprise on her side. With a giddy grin, she pushed him against the filthy sidewall of the theatre, just inside the alleyway. Standing on her tip-toes, she planted a kiss on his lips, then pulled away and grinned at him. "That was so cool!" she cried out frantically. "And like neither of us spontaneously combusted, or anything!"
Connor stared at her with wide eyes, completely dazed. One hand slowly lifted to his lips. "Yeah that was…"
There was the rustling further down the alley, the sound of feet disrupting them, and then a body fell out of the shadows, splattering on the broken pavement with a painful thud. Another figure poured out of the darkness. It glanced once at the blocked path at the other end, and then rushed towards them.
Instinctively, Connor pulled Alyssa behind him. This is why his mother hadn't wanted him to go to school in the city.
The burly man's heavy hand connected with him, and with only the barest amount of leverage, managed to toss him up and against the masonry wall. Just as he hit and the air rushed out of his lungs, Connor saw feral yellow eyes looking past a Cro-Magnon brow, hungrily at him.
By the time he slid down the wall and hit the ground, the man was gone.
"Holy shit," Alyssa whispered, kneeling beside him.
"That guy," Connor gasped as he painfully crawled to his feet, trying desperately to catch his breath. He scrambled and staggered back towards the dumpster and pile of garbage the man had fallen in front of.
Alyssa pulled out her blue-tinted flashlight and trained it on the bleeding wound at the homeless man's neck. The smell of sweat and urine and blood was almost overwhelming, but Connor pressed his hand to the man's neck, confirming what they already knew.
Connor's stomach knotted and twisted. This was infinitely less spiritually enlightening than watching a monster perform mass murder under brightly colored stage lights. He felt sick and hollow at the same time.
Michael, perpetual party animal, wasn't home when he crawled into his dorm room at two in the morning. He wasn't sure he had the energy to repeat his story one more time, to one more officer of the law, and was grateful that they had given him a ride back to campus after the media showed up.
Tossing his keys onto the desk, he grabbed the phone and pressed the first button on the memory dial.
"Hello?" a groggy voice asked.
"Mom?" his stomach twisted again. He wasn't quite sure why he'd called.
"Connor? Is everything ok?" she asked with concern, trying to wake up just a little bit.
Stared at the still-broken chair on the floor in his room, wondering what he'd tell her. He thought for a moment of how she'd called Professor Damian and felt a sudden lurch in his stomach. "I just… wanted to say hi."
There was the rustling of sheets on the other end of the phone. "You know, it's two in the morning, young man."
"Is it? I'm sorry," he answered innocently. "I just got in."
"I hope you're studying and not partying," came the stern motherly advice.
"Well, I went to a play, and then I was talking to this girl…" he leaned back on his perfectly made bed, resting his head on the pillow. "What does it mean when a girl kisses you first?"
His mother sighed. "You obviously like her; otherwise you wouldn't be out of your head enough to call this late at night. Why don't you make yourself some warm milk, and put yourself to bed, and then we can talk about it in the morning."
He looked up at the patterns on the tile ceiling, searching for answers. "Yeah, mom. That'll be cool. Sorry for waking you up."
Connor went into the empty lounge at the end of his floor and opened the refrigerator door. His hand was on the milk, when he stopped. Warm milk WOULD put him to bed—it always had in his childhood. And sleep was certainly what he needed, after having such a disturbing night. Slowly, he pulled his hand away and closed the door, not sure what to do.
He looked at the glass window, staring at his reflection. It seemed the dark yet detailed figure in the glass was more real than he was. He wondered if the ghost image also questioned his existence.
Without hesitation, Connor left the lounge and galloped down the two flights of stairs to the first floor. Pulling opened the solid wood door, he practically flew inside and down the hall. Another thought didn't cross his head until he stopped in front of a door with strings and strings of purple paper dolls taped to it. Then he stopped suddenly, unsure of what to do or say.
Fortunately, he didn't have to do anything further. The door opened, and Alyssa gave a shy smile from behind it. The room was lit only by candles, and Manilla was sitting on the floor in her night clothes. "I can come back…" he stuttered.
"Come on in," Alyssa whispered.
He entered, and she shut the door again, gesturing for him to sit down. "What're you guys doing?" he asked quietly, lowering himself into an Indian-style sitting position.
"Just… trying to clear my head," Alyssa confided. She began lighting incense. It caught fire, and she blew it out, strings of curling smoke twisting up into the air. "The RA knows we're lighting stuff. I told her what happened, and she's looking the other way."
"Yeah, I've been a little messed up myself," Connor admitted.
"Well, close your eyes and just listen to the music and take in the smells for a couple of minutes," Manella instructed. "Just breathe it in and let it go."
Connor clutched his knees to his chest and closed his eyes. He breathed in through his nose and held it a moment. He shifted uncomfortably, and then made a face. "What's that smell?"
Alyssa sat down beside him. "Jasmine."
"It stinks," Connor said bluntly.
"That's ok," Manella told him, trying to sooth him again. "Focus on how much it stinks. Think about that for a few minutes instead of… everything else."
Connor let the pungent smell of the incense settle into his nose, trying to think of that, instead of what he'd witnessed. Somehow, though, that very smell seemed to twist around his mind and pull him back towards mutilated faces and bleeding necks. His body grew stiff and ridged for a moment as he attempted to contain himself, but eventually his hands dropped to his sides and he sighed. "I just can't do this, guys."
"Just try," Alyssa whispered, grabbing his arm.
He slipped out of her grasp as he rose, however. "Maybe I need to take a walk or something. I'm getting heady or something from the smell."
"Then maybe you need to give it some more time," Alyssa persuaded, then caught herself. "I mean, I'm not trying to pressure you or anything, but it does take some time to get into the groove. And I'll put out the incense if the smell's bugging you. The point's to have something to focus in on."
She smiled, and he almost got lost in those round little eyes of hers. "Ok. One more shot." He watched her pull out
Connor tried to listen to the music, to the soothing choral tones, but heard something beyond it this time—the hissing rasping of the candles. He could feel them flickering, feel Manella shifting slightly on the spongy carpet. It was comforting to get lost in these things instead of… other things. There was something…
He was on the water, it was dark, and stars blinked intermittently between clouds in the night sky. What he was doing… was right. This creature was a monstrosity, an aberration. He held so much shame inside him for any perceived relationship with this person "Connor! Never forget that I'm your father and that I love you."
Lies; they were all lies and so many more lies. They burned in his ears and in his heart. "You don't get to die. You get to live - forever."
Connor's eyes snapped opened.
It was not quite morning. The sky was still purple with pre-dawn. He had a horrible crick in his neck from falling asleep against a book shelf. His companions lay curled on the carpet, as unconscious as he'd been a moment ago.
Slowly he sat up, and his neck gave a swift snap. He winced, and then rolled his head, listening to the crackling. Who'd have guessed that eighteen was too old for this stuff?
Alyssa stirred and rubbed one eye as she sat up ingloriously. "Guess it worked. How'd you sleep?"
"Dunno. It was OK, I guess." He began searching around for some sort of time keeping device. "That guy was totally freaky, though. I mean, my imagination's in overdrive already, and that didn't help. That's all I'm saying."
Manilla rolled over and sat up, smoothing out her shirt as she did so. "So."
"I feel a little bit better," Alyssa assured her room mate.
"Good," Manilla said, digging under the bed for her watch. "Sleep helps."
"I think I need to go to the library, or something," Connor confessed, feeling a little tainted. He felt like everything would be straightened out there—among the books. They'd always held so many answers for him. Perhaps delving into their cold, hard facts would wipe this slime of ambiguity from him. Perhaps they'd help him clarify the image of that man in his mind, and stop muddling it with flashes from his imagination—or worse yet, images from that play.
"I thought you were all studied out?" Alyssa asked curiously, seeming to sense some sort of conflict in him.
"I don't know." He'd tried reaching out to this spiritual stuff, in an effort to see if something else was out there, but everything he found was a product of his own mind, illusions and delusions that hinted at more and wanted him to delve more, probably into their madness.
"How's about this. We'll get dressed and meet you at the cafeteria," Manilla offered. He was glad someone here was able to keep a level head. "What you do between now and then is your business." She was giving him an out.
Connor looked around blankly, at the ash-covered incense holder, the gutted candles in canning jars… the black and crinkly red tapestry behind the bed that looked like molten fire and rocks. His eyes locked upon an egg-shaped white crystal laying haphazardly on the desk, and he couldn't tear his eyes away. He expected it to start glowing with hidden power… "Yeah. Food'd be good."
He backed out of the room and closed the door, not sure what else to do. Closing his eyes a moment, he composed himself, then began walking quickly towards the stairs.
Connor began typing into the library search engine the last name of the second author listed in the bibliography of the book he'd pulled off the shelf. The school's library of pagan resources was limited largely to neo-shamanism and new-age Wicca philosophy, and it seemed to be missing the underlying currents he suspected he'd find in older works on the subject.
He decided his best course of action might be to wade through the resources listed the more reputable works and hope he could get back to something a little more, well, fundamental.
The second resource in the book on techno-paganism had actually been a California resident until a few years ago, it looked like. When he'd searched on Jennifer Calendar, he'd discovered one other published work, and a death date of about five years previous. He noted that both had been published by Sunnydale University Press, which was a name that stuck in his head. He was sure it was Sunnydale that he'd heard about on the news last summer. The town that had fallen into the caves below it, a phenomenal case that geologists were still studying.
It looked like the Sunnydale high school and university card catalogs were stored on a server not actually in the town itself, because they both happened to be still online. One title stuck a cord within him, especially when he thought back to the man he'd seen in the alley—"Neolithic Rites And Their Transference In the Modern World." He'd actually been looking for more information about Alyssa and Manilla's practices and beliefs, but now he was curious about what these books could hold. Might that have been some kind of ritualistic killing?
Too bad that book was probably now part of the landfill that was once Sunnydale, California.
"See, I knew that chick was messing with your head," Michael announced behind him.
How hadn't he heard his roommate behind him? He'd always seemed to have a sixth sense for that sort of thing… he almost could smell people.
Connor closed the book and pushed it away from him, and spun around in his chair. "What're you doing here? It's like…" he looked for his watch, but it wasn't on his wrist. "It's early."
"I haven't been to bed yet," Michael explained.
"Ok, so what are you doing HERE?" Connor asked defensively.
"TOUCHY. You weren't home, so I went down to Alyssa's room, and she said you'd be here. I heard about the screwed-up-ness at the party, and I didn't know that was you, man. That's messed in the head."
"Tell me about it," he said, some sort of relief coming over him. "I don't think it was the light. This guy was wearing some sort of makeup, or was some kind of mutant freak, because his forehead was all…" he grabbed his own forehead, and squished it together as an example. "Klingon. Without the ridges."
"I don't usually talk Nerd-speak. But… I gotcha. So you figured he's involved in some kind of wacko psudo-pagan ritual? Figure your girlfriend's in on it somehow?" Michael lifted his fingers and growled.
Connor frowned with displeasure. "Pagan's don't sacrifice people, or go around killing them for sport."
"Man, she's converted you already. Don't buy into that crap, man. I don't know WHAT I believe, but I definitely don't believe in magic spells, auras and special rocks." Michael lifted the collar of his deep red button down shirt and winced. "Man, I smell."
"What the heck would you know?" Connor shot. "You refuse to believe in anything even the least bit metaphysical."
Michael's tired eyes narrowed. "And what do you believe, Connor? What do you honestly believe about the world around you? In magic, and ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night? The next thing you're going to tell me is that those holes were made by a 'vampire.'"
Connor's lips pressed together for a moment, out of sheer frustration. "Now you're just getting stup--" He blinked once, the image of a coffin sinking into the water sunk into his head. "You get to live," he repeated the words from his dream. "Stephen… never forget what he is…"
Michael had noticed that his roommate had completely spaced for a moment. "Earth to Connor!"
Connor's eyes focused. "Do you believe in past lives?"
Michael looked at the stack of books. "Lets get out of here, if we're going to talk about this," he said authoritatively, in the tone of someone making it clear that the only reason he was going through with such a stupid thing was because his friend had suffered through a rough night.
Contemplating the books for a moment, Connor finally grabbed his bag and left the stacks in the carol. "Yeah. I need fresh air, or something."
They passed through the library in silence, and didn't so much as look at each other again until they were in the middle of the quad connecting the buildings, sitting in the grass.
"It's like some kind of memory, buried inside of me. I've always had these feelings, like there was something out there that I was missing. And now, all of a sudden, pieces of it are coming back to me. The name Stephen… a coffin. Locking some guy in it, and sinking it in the water."
Michael grabbed the rubber at the toes of his shoes, searching for an easy way to say it. "I couldn't give a crap less about philosophy and stuff, but I did take AP psychology last year."
"So I'm psycho?" Connor asked defensively, knowing he shouldn't have told his roommate.
"No," Michael replied with patience. "I'm saying… Maybe they're some kind of repressed memory. Something so traumatic, your conscious mind forgot it."
"I'm not like… abused or something."
Michael tried to keep his tone even. "That's what they all say."
Connor was forceful with the next; "I had a normal upbringing. COMPLETELY normal."
"And doesn't that seem ODD to you? NOTHING stands out to you?"
Scrambling to his feet, Connor ended the conversation. He began heading for the dorms.
"CONNOR!" Michael scrambled after him, but he was tired and still a little hung over, so the distance grew rather quickly between them. "I'm SORRY! Look, Connor, you had a rough night…" Connor continued speeding away from him, and the problem. "Ok, FINE! ASK your parents! See what THEY have to say!"
Connor stopped for a minute. "Mom," he whispered to himself, and then dashed into the dormitory.
"Mom… I'm not like, adopted or anything, am I?" Connor asked after an aching silence at the very beginning of the phone call.
His mother laughed. "Connor, honey, what would give you THAT idea?"
"I don't know. My roommate seems to think I have repressed memories of something bad happening, but I think he's just talking smack." Connor rubbed his temples. It sounded idiotic, now that he'd said it.
"I can't think of too much that was traumatic," his mother explained. "Your Uncle Phil died… but that was when you were only a couple months old. But you're mine. Thirty-six hours of labor, you'd better damned well be mine."
Connor blushed. His mom always brought that up, kidding sometimes that he wasn't grateful enough for her ironing his jeans and socks. "I know. It's stupid. I haven't gotten enough sleep. I had this dream about this guy, and this coffin, and… some kind of burial at sea. And the name Stephen."
"Oh honey," his mom said suddenly, with sympathy. "That was Steven the Seventh… Uncle Bill's cat."
A wash of humiliation suddenly came over Connor. "Oh."
"We were on Uncle Bill's boat, and he got tangled up in some of the ropes, and when they let out the sail… we put him in a Champaign crate, and dropped him off the side. I didn't know you were even old enough to remember that."
That didn't seem to be the way he recalled it transpiring… but somehow, this new memory began slowly overtaking the old. It wasn't a man in the box, it was the cat. His father hugged him and said that he loved him, no matter what.
He'd asked if cats went to heaven.
"Remember what he is," his father had explained. "Stephen is just an animal. He doesn't have an immortal soul. God loves all of his creatures, but he loves Man best of all, so immortality is only for us." He remembered standing on the water in the dark. He remembered the light glistening off the water.
"I think I remember now," Connor told his mother. "I don't know… when it first got in my head, I thought it was some guy, or something."
Could the fire and demons lurking at the edge of his memory only be the remembrances of nightmares induced by the cat's death? They had to be. He'd never seen green men, or hellish worlds of fire and brimstone. He really wished his dad hadn't used the Bible as bedtime stories.
An hour later, Connor was back on Alyssa's door step. He kept shifting and scratching the back of his neck, feeling so incredibly uncomfortable. Finally, Manilla opened the door, and invited him in. "She's in the shower," he was informed. "Take a seat on the bed. How was your trip to the library?"
Connor looked at the soot-covered candle holders, and the gutted candles. He sat on the bed, and noticed the stink of dissipated jasmine clinging to it. Bright mid-morning light poured in harshly through the window, filling the room with long shadows. It was like the lights had come up on the stage, and the sets had been rolled back into the wings.
"Well, anyways, I'll go get her…"
Conner didn't even realize he'd been ignoring Manilla, until she closed the door behind her. He rose slowly, and began looking at contents of Alyssa's desk. There were pictures of friends from high school and a picture with her family tacked to the cork board tacked to the wall above the desk. Her parents' arms were around her, grinning at her high school graduation.
One side of Connor's lips crept upward. He had a similar picture, but his was framed. Sometimes… it felt like his whole life was like that… a whole series of memories under glass.
Perhaps it was the product of being a brain in a vat, perhaps it was some symptom of anxiety or depression. Maybe he was going out of his mind.
Connor looked around at the contents of the dorm room, the two beds, the messy piles of clothes in the corner… the tiny TV and the enormous stereo stacked on top of each other. He glanced from the posters on the closet doors to the candles and teddy bears strewn on various surfaces.
Maybe he wasn't gong insane. Maybe he wasn't experiencing something new and revelatory. People had been going through self-discovery at this stage in their life through the dawn of time.
He wasn't sure what he was learning, but he knew some things that were being confirmed for him. He was a mama's boy, he didn't like late nights, and it was totally self-absorbed of him to blow this out of proportion.
Yes, he was a kid from the suburbs who'd just seen a man murdered and mutilated in front of him. But he wasn't the first person to ever have this experience, and the feelings of daze and confusion were probably not unique to himself.
"You seem like you're on the verge of a break-through," Alyssa announced. She was standing barefoot in jeans and a clean black t-shirt, her head wrapped tight in a purple towel.
Again, he hadn't even heard her come in. "No. Just realizing how insanely boring and normal I am."
Alyssa gave him a patient smile, and then went over to the stereo. She turned it on and put the volume down, letting the tones be background noise, and she lit the last ungutted tea candle. "We're not boring, or normal, Connor," she assured him. "We're all made of stars."
Connor looked away, letting the light from the window blind him. "If ALL of us are… then it has no value. It's nothing. We are nothing."
The young woman sat beside him, and put her head on his shoulder. One arm soothingly wrapped around his back, and the other hand grabbed hold of his. "We're not nothing. You're not nothing. And that poor man certainly wasn't nothing."
Connor looked down at his shoes, unsure what to do. "We're all made of stars," he repeated.
And they were as lonely and isolated as stars, when it all came down to it, he realized. They were all made of stars… some red, some blue, bright yellow and white dwarfs. Some dying, some about to be born. All burning so hotly and intensely, out in cold darkness of space.
Connor turned slightly, kissing her forehead, and then placed his head gently on Alyssa's, a sigh silently escaping him.