Genre: Young Adult
Word Count: 123,000
The sample chapter happens right after the main character–Xavier Valentine–realizes that he is dead. In this chapter, I explore the relationship between Xavier and his sister. This chapter is about 3,300 words.
Chapter Four: Geysers
When Olivia was five years old, the four of us went up to Yellowstone Park. It was one of the few family vacations we’d ever taken. I was only a couple years older than she, so she was little more than my pesky little sister. The whole drive consisted of her touching my stuff, me telling her to stop it, and my parents yelling at us to stop messing around.
I was hardly seven at the time, so a weeklong trip to a boring forest quickly became forgettable. I was excited the first time I saw a herd of buffalo and then a bear. That excitement was lost after a couple of days. All the buffalo were the same. The forest was endless and repetitive. I wanted to go back home and go to the park with Bear and the gang. I got so jealous just thinking of all the fun he was having without me.
The day before we were supposed to leave, our parents told us they saved the best site for last. Over breakfast in some isolated cabin my parents probably paid too much money for, they tried to explain what a geyser was. Olivia got scared, thinking we were going to see a volcano. My parents tried to calm her down. It didn’t work. I told her she needed to stop acting like such a girl. Just like that, she stopped whining and was ready to go. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized how much she looked up to me.
I could smell the sulfur in the air as we got closer to the geysers. I told my parents I wanted to go home—the smell was going to make me puke. They told me to be quiet and that we’d be back home in no time. About a minute later, the endless sea of trees parted—revealing an opening with strange formations growing all around it. The smell of sulfur grew stronger and stronger, but I no longer minded. Off in the distance, a tall spout of water hurtled out from under the ground. A huge smile crept its way onto my face—betraying the idea that I hated the trip. My parents just ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed.’
I looked at my sister. Her eyes were huge. It was easy to read her face. The geyser scared her, but she was mystified by it. I couldn’t tell if her face was going to break into a smile or fall apart into tears. Though I didn’t think much of it at the time, the memory of her face was ingrained in my memory because of the events that followed.
The paths around the park were endless. There were so many little lakes of geysers and so much to see. My parents, however, had us rush past all of them as if they were of no importance. They knew where they wanted to go, and no complaints from either of us slowed them down. Within minutes we were there—Old Faithful. Behind the guardrail, an old woman was dressed up in a weird green uniform—talking about its history.
“Old Faithful is the largest of the geysers here at Yellowstone. It used to erupt with such precision that you could mark your watch by it. That’s before the fire, of course. One just went up a little bit ago, so you can expect another eruption in a little less than an hour.”
Being seven, I didn’t know much about time except that and hour was a really really long time. I didn’t want to stand and wait for one when the glory of the strange place was right in front of me—just waiting to be explored.
“Dad? Can we walk around the park? That lady said it would be and long time before this one goes off.” I knew to ask my dad. He was more likely to listen to me. But, just like the rest of the trip, the comment was just brushed aside. I was nothing more than a pesky fly that kept buzzing in his ear.
“You and Olivia can go ahead. Make sure to be back here when this one goes off again.” I loved it when my dad spaced out. Not only did he agree with me, but I got to continue on without my parents. Looking back, I can’t believe how bad my father was at being a parent. It’s hard to tell if he didn’t really know what he was doing or if he didn’t really think it was a problem. Wandering around a volcano park with only my little sister was going to be the highlight story I told Bear when I got back.
I got used to the smell after a little bit. Olivia would whine about it every few minutes and say she was scared. I just told her to be quiet. I knew she didn’t care about the smell. She was just scared. After a while she just kept quiet and stayed close to me. We walked around the outer edge of the park—not even paying attention to Old Faithful.
Eventually, I stopped at this beautiful, placid looking geyser. The colors in it radiated and the water was surprisingly clear. The deep blue and purple drew me in like a moth to a flame.
“It looks like mom and dad’s hot tub back home, doesn’t it?” Olivia’s eyes got really big. She nodded and bit her lip.
“I want to go back home.”
“So do I. We get to go back tomorrow.”
It happened fast. I felt Olivia brush by me as I was turning to leave. I heard her heavy footsteps on the wooden path. I still don’t know how or why, but I grabbed her hand as it brushed by me—before I could turn my head to see her in the air. She had jumped from the path. I grabbed her body as she fell, feet-first, into the geyser. I pulled as hard as I could. I heard her scream as she fell on me.
The rest went by in a blur. I remember screaming for help and being surrounded by people. I remember the ambulances that took her away first, and then me. I remember the hospital where the doctors tried to look at me, but I wouldn’t stop screaming for my sister. Then my parents arrived. They took me to see her. The bottom half of her body was covered in bandages.
The splashes of water that hit me gave me little more than a sunburn in small patches. My sister, on the other hand, had second and third degree burns all the way up to her bellybutton. Something changed when I saw her in the hospital. My parents went out into the hallway to talk to the doctors. I smiled at Olivia and she smiled back.
“Thank you.” That was all she said. From then on, I knew I would have to protect her. My parents were unable to do that for her. She went from the pesky little sister to the sister I loved very much. It took her a month to get out of the hospital and nearly two years to fully recover.
I’ve been there for her ever since.
It had been nearly ten years since then. For the first time in those ten years, I would not be able to be there for my sister. As she walked in through the living room door, I would not be able to tell her what happened. I wouldn’t be able to let her cry on my shoulder as she endured the news. As I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part would be that I was the cause of her pain.
As she walked through the door, she wiped the sleep from her eyes. Her eyes weren’t open and her hair was a mess. Her cheeks were rosy from waking up so early. This was the face that I had grown so close to. She had grown so beautiful over the years—which only added to how much I felt the need to protect her. When she opened her eyes, however, I would be nothing more than an empty space of air next to her.
Her gaze eventually found our parents. Her expression solidified rather quickly. I felt her in my blood for the first time. Her confusion was now my confusion. Even though I knew exactly what was going on, I felt like I was in the wrong place—like I had been in a dream and forgot to wake up. Olivia’s face explained it perfectly as she spotted the tears on her mother’s face.
“What’s going on?” A tinge of fear seeped through me.
“Sit down Olive.” My father’s words were weaker than he let on. The fear grew inside of me. Olivia knew something was wrong. Dad never fumbled with his words…and never called her Olive. She didn’t lose eye contact with them as she moved to one of the kitchen chairs—as if she were afraid that she would miss something. She sat at the edge of the chair, waiting eagerly and suspiciously.
‘Why aren’t they telling her?’ I whispered to myself. I wasn’t entirely aware until just then that her eagerness was keeping me on edge too. It would take a while to get used to the literal empathy that came with death.
“Olive…” My dad’s voice trailed off. “An hour or so ago, two policemen showed up at our door.”
“I thought I dreamt of the doorbell.” The fear started to disappear. “I must be tired if I slept through that. I stayed up too late again, waiting for Xavier to get home. He didn’t carry me off to bed till about one or so.”
The color in my parents’ faces disappeared.
“Xavier carried you to bed last night?” Olivia went straight into her teenage state of mind—which she had been doing more of lately.
“Don’t worry mom. I just like knowing that he got home. I don’t lose too much sleep over it. I’m not falling behind in school or anything. I just wanted to talk to him. Anyway,” she took a quick huff to end her rant. Her eyes narrowed slightly, “Why did the cops show up? Did Aunt Eva have a little too much to drink again?”
I couldn’t help but laugh at the memory. About a year ago, a couple cops showed up at our house. They said they had a large woman in their patrol car whom they had picked up. She was severely intoxicated and had told them that this was her house. We took her in that night. It turned into a very long night. Olivia and I could not think about her without laughing ever again.
At the other side of the room, my parents had a look of fright on their face. Their conversation had gone horribly astray. How were they to tell her now?
“Olivia,” my dad’s voice way straining. “No. Something bad happened last night.”
“What…What do you mean?” Olivia was barely able to get it out. The laughter and happiness that I had felt flowing through her gave way to a growing sense of fear and confusion. Olivia caught another glance at the tears strolling down mother’s face and the feeling grew stronger. “Tell me!”
As I watched my father search for the words, I knew I needed to do something. Olivia’s emotions were getting strong and she hadn’t even heard the news yet. When my parents heard the news, I blacked out for who knows how long. Did I need to leave? I didn’t see how I would be able to leave Olivia…even if my presence meant nothing.
It seems, however, that the decision would hardly be mine. My thoughts were soon overrun by the strangely strong and familiar emotions that were now pounding through my head and body. All I heard was my father fumbling through his first sentence, ‘Xavier…was…in a crash last night.’ The flood of emotion hit me harder than I expected. Her terror was so vivid that it consumed me instantly. I was lost in the storm. My world was falling apart. The closest person I had was being torn away. Nothing else—no thought or emotion—would come close to my mind.
As the tears streamed down my face uncontrollability, I felt myself stumble backwards, then fall. I opened my eyes and saw the morning sky above me—I had fallen through the wall and was outside. I started crawling and stumbling to my feet. I had lost control of my muscles. I tried to run—run away from the pain. I knew it wouldn’t work, but I had to try. I knew the pain would sting me forever, but I needed to find a way to breathe. I wanted to believe that none of this was true.
I ran as fast as my body would let me.
The feeling was fading. It was still there, but as I ran, it weakened. Soon enough, I was able to control the emotions and stuff them in the corner of my mind just like I had done after I passed out earlier that morning. I fell to my knees and took a deep breath. I was away from it. I knew the pain wasn’t mine, but the emotion and memory was too strong to forget as my own. I thought of my sister, now blocks away, unable to free herself from the pain as I had. I didn’t want to imagine. I knew I should feel sorry for her…but the feeling never came.
Could I really not feel anything on my own? I knew I should have felt sad about everything…but that feeling never came either. It was strange. It was as if I were walking around—truly numb to anything of my own. At the same time, however, I was one hundred percent in touch with the emotion of those around me.
I took another deep breath.
I had been dead for eight hours or so.
I needed to know what was happening.
I knew only a few things. In the night, while coming home from Juliet’s house, I crashed and died. So far, I have not experienced the afterlife that I had expected. Instead, I was still here on Earth. A few things had changed. I could not feel anything my own—though I still understood what I should be feeling. Those around me seemed to invade me with their own emotions in the void where my emotions should have been. I really knew nothing else. Not what was to come, or where I truly was. I didn’t know what to do or what was truly going on. This was too vivid for a dream…but somehow, I felt like I was going to wake up. Maybe I was just hopeful.
What was there to do? Where was I to start?
There was only one place to start. Though I wished very much to go home and see my sister, I knew I was not ready. I needed to prove to myself that this was real…to let it hit me. Somehow, inside, I still didn’t accept it. I started walking down the street, knowing exactly where I was going. Just a few blocks away would be a road busy with people on their way to work. On the side of the street would be a streetlamp…
Would it be bent? Would there be glass? Or was my mind fantastic at playing games with me?
I started walking to the site as if drifting on autopilot once again. I forced my mind away from the incident at hand. I couldn’t make sense of anything and it felt useless to try. As I learned more, I would understand more. Until then, I could not dwell.
I let my mind drift back to the night prior—before it all began. The scenes of sitting in the grass, the sprinklers going off, and a perfect kiss rushed through my mind as if from a flashback in a movie. The night was something I had dreamt of for far too long. The fact that it had happened was even stranger than the series of events that followed. The idea that it had actually happened made me think that all of it was a dream. But something deep down was telling me that that wasn’t the case. No matter how unrealistic it seemed, it did happen and I had to accept my new reality.
My visions were…wrong, however. Something large was missing. In my mind, I knew how amazing everything felt. I knew I was in love and beyond ecstatic about the night I had with Juliet. But, it was all in my head. I only had the memory of past emotions. What had quickly become an important memory was now little more than an empty gesture that I couldn’t make sense of.
My heart dropped. I loved Juliet. Would it be wrong to know that I love her if I can no longer feel that love within me? I can’t be wrong. Deep down, I know that I care for her well-being more than I know. Deep down, I know that I’m only putting off going to see her because I’m deathly afraid to see what my death did to her. Deep down, I want her to not love me back so that this won’t be impossibly painful for her. Isn’t that love?
The streetlamp now stood across the street from me. The street was a bit busy due to the morning rush. I looked both ways before I realized what I was doing. I laughed a silent laugh to myself and stepped out onto the road. When the first car passed through me, I shuddered. I felt nothing but was quite amazed by how loud an engine is when it passes through you. I stood in front of the streetlamp and stopped right as a Mini Cooper passed through me. I didn’t even notice.
I gazed up at the streetlamp.
It had a large dent in it, just a foot off the ground. It obviously didn’t stand perfectly upright anymore. On the ground, it looked like glitter had been sprinkled across several square yards. They had done their best at picking up the glass, but some pieces were too small. I took a step forward and tried to touched the pole with my outstretched arm.
A small red stain was visible on the dent in the pole.
I died here.
I don’t know how long I stood there. Several dozen cars had passed through me and I didn’t move an inch. My mind was trying to readjust to what that single small metallic stain meant. The chances of me waking up were becoming slimmer with each passing moment. The reality was soaking in. Without the emotion that accompanies realization, there was nothing but curiosity guiding me.
Curiosity was what guided me to the streetlamp. Now, understanding what had happened, I only needed to know where to go next. What was left for me to do? Was I just running through an endless world in limbo? This wasn’t an afterlife. This was a meaningless existence in the same old world I just left. I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know what the next clue would be. I didn’t know where to find God or reason in such a realm.
My legs began to move. My eyes peeled away from the stained streetlamp. With nothing left to distract me, something within drew me like a magnet to Juliet. I knew it would be strange to see her. I wanted to stay away because I knew I wouldn’t want to be there when she found out. However impossible it was with Olivia, the love I held for Juliet was far too strong to compare.
Did she already know?