Disclaimer: The Thunderbirds do not belong to me, even though I wish they did. They are the intellectual property of Gerry Anderson and his affiliates. No money is made from this tale. Any original characters, who may pop up briefly in this, do belong to me.
AN: So, I should have been doing some Discrete Maths, but this dastardly Plot Bunny bit me hard. At the most inconvenient time too. This is another experiment with writing styles. It makes sense to me, but since I know what I'm trying to convey, it's not the most objective measure of whether this works. Any thoughts, pro or con, would be much appreciated.
Haunted by the Past
There are some things in life that you can't forget, no matter how hard you try.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
From the outset, it looks like the average family home. Made of bricks and mortar, with a car parked haphazardly in the driveway and a porch light emitting a soft, orange glow into the night sky.
Appearances are deceptive.
On the inside, organised chaos reigns by day. With a single parent trying to control five rowdy boys, it's inevitable that they live in their own version of bedlam. By nightfall, however, a forced calm rules, as each little Tracy hellion drops off to sleep.
Or, at least, it would be like that under normal circumstances.
Anything, everything, is far from normal in this household. Has been ever since The Incident, which happened nearly a week ago.
I start this tale near a darkened room, from the outside, looking in, and watching hawkeyed over an almost ten year old boy. His oldest little brother sleeps on the bed opposite him. With his plush star gripped loosely in one hand, the peroxide blond rolls over, looking almost peaceful as he dreams on.
It is a stark contrast to the other boy. My other son.
He twitches and fidgets, twisting from lying on his tummy to resting on his back. He kicks off the blanket impatiently, and flings an arm out, grasping empty air. The boy shivers, despite being covered in a thin sheen of sweat. The milk-chocolate brown locks, matted with perspiration, clings to his forehead as he burrows his head into his pillow and he lets out a bone-chilling, blood-curdling scream…
A splash of white paint here, a daub of white paint there.
In fact, it is all white.
White and cold.
It tastes metallic, almost like eating the railings of the Titanic.
Or so you imagine; it's not a culinary delight you've tried before.
Why does it taste so iron-y?
It's blood. Dripping into your mouth, pooling at the base of your tongue. You can smell it too, the bitter stench overpowering all other salient thoughts.
It takes a while to gain your bearings, but you get it eventually.
Lots and lots of it.
You squirm against the solid form of snow on your back. It registers that you're trapped here. You move until you collide with a hand, an arm, the side of a torso.
Your hands, shaky as they are, butterfly over her. You want to wake her up. You want her to wake up of her own accord, hold you and tell you that everything's going to be fine. Just this once, you want her to be the strong one.
Her eyes flutter open, and you let out the breath you didn't even know you were holding.
"Scott," she gasps, and in that moment, everything stills. You know what's coming, and you know she knows it too. You know it, but you don't want to believe it.
So you don't.
"Scotty," she says again, sounding frail, like a flower wilting. You can just about make out the blue tinges to her lips, her fingers and the other parts of her skin that's exposed.
She raises her hand, as best as she can, and you move into it, let her trace the features that make you you.
"It'll be okay, Mom," you say, despite the waver in your voice. You spout out some more reassurances, but deep down, you know you're spouting out rubbish. No one's coming for you, for either of you. You know that as well as you know your own name.
"Scott, look at me."
And you understand everything in that minute. You've never seen the world with such clarity, such starkness. You've never known that it could hold so much cruelty in one small act. In this place, colour fails to exist; everything exists in binary.
There either is, or there isn't.
The world is black and white, no shades of grey.
There is right and wrong. There is no thing as doing the wrong thing with the best of intentions. There is no way you can do the right thing, but for the wrong reasons.
There is success and there is failure. Nothing in between.
There is life. There is death. A state of limbo is just a figment of your imagination. A state of limbo is just hoping for something that will turn to ash.
Her lips move, she says something, but it's so distorted so that you can't understand it.
And then her hand goes slack, drops to her side. You want to read her her Last Rites, but you don't know what it is. Mom is… was a Catholic, and you know it would be important to her, so that makes it important to you. So you do the best you can instead; you offer up a quick prayer to a God you, bizarrely, still believe in.
It's not enough, it will never be enough, but it's all you have.
You move to give her one last hug, but your hand goes straight through her. She begins to melt, slip through your fingers as you try desperately to cling onto her. She disappears like a snowman, evaporating into nothing.
This can't be happening.
You can't be losing her, all over again. You'll never forgive yourself if you do. You lost her once, and it was bad enough; you'll never forgive yourself for that either.
Johnny, always a light sleeper, rouses himself awake after that, and he potters over towards Scott. It should be me, since I'm Scott's father, but I can't bring myself to do anything other than watch. It hurts too much, for him and for me. Besides, this seems more like a fraternal thing. Bonds forged through adversity are often the strongest ones.
"Scotty?" Johnny whispers so quietly that I have to strain to hear what he says.
Scott's eyes snap open to attention, and they dart over his surroundings, making him seem slightly wild and deranged, like an animal that's fighting after being tranquillised.
"What is it?"
"Do you want to sleep with Plushie? He'll make you feel better."
I don't know what it is, but at night time, Johnny seems much younger than his eight years. It seems like his strategy of hanging onto a childhood innocence he doesn't want to lose, in the wake of a catastrophe. I don't have the heart, or the inclination, to pull him out of this stage, not when he's lost so much.
"I'm okay," Scott replies, voice gruff. He sounds almost like a man, much too old before his time, and I wonder when I lost the ten year old boy that is my son.
John seemingly ignores what Scott says and places the star beside Scott's head, before picking the blanket up off the floor and covering it over Scott. Scott gives a weak smile, although it doesn't reach his eyes. John smiles back, shyly, before clambering onto the bed with Scott.
"What are you doing?"
"I can't sleep without Plushie."
Johnny drifts off back to Lala Land quickly. Scotty, not so fast. He breaks my heart as he scoots himself to the edge of his bed, away from any physical contact, and confesses to his little brother.
"I'm sorry, Johnny. I'm sorry I killed Mom," he says, voice cracking. "I know you and the others will probably hate me for that for the rest of your life, and that's okay. I deserve it. But however much you loathe me, it will never amount to how much I detest myself for what I've done."
I know I should go in there and tell Scotty just how wrong he is, but I can't. All he'll hear is empty words, and empty words won't make this less painful for him, less painful for both of us. In that instant, I understand my own inadequacies as a father, and I learn that there are some things in life I won't be able to fix for my sons. They will have to learn to deal with the knocks of life the hard way, and that cuts me right to the core.
Instead, I close the door and move away, leaving behind the shell of a little boy, broken beyond repair, trapped in a nightmare that isn't his own making.