…just aren’t meant to live
By Olivia Ross
I’m not supposed to tell you this but you’ve been asking for so long… I’m what you call ‘death’ but I don’t exist in the way you think I do. I’m more like a ghost that floats above you and influences the people I’ve been given permission to influence. It’s like any job. I get the case, I do the research and I complete the task. It’s my purpose and I can’t bring myself not to do it. I know this will be hard for you to hear but telling you about my most recent case might help you understand. Promise me you’ll try to see things from my perspective. It’s not me that decides when people go.
Linda and Camilla were my most recent. It was just how I’d imagined it. Linda kneeling on the ground scrambling to pick up the vegetables she had so carelessly dropped. Her eyes empty and her face sunken while people walked by, staring at her as though she were some sort of visitor attraction. I know better than most the effect people have with these nosy looks and passing comments and I could feel how she was feeling. I watched as Linda sat down on the hard, grey tarmac and stared at the ground. I counted with her as she watched the twelve pairs of feet go by. But I made number thirteen stop and stand in front of her.
“Is everything okay?” the girl asked.
I watched as Linda made eye contact with the teenage girl looking down at her. This was Camilla. Her blue eyes were piercing against her tanned skin and her hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail. It was a shame that it was Camilla’s day too. But then again, it’s always someone’s day.
Do you need a hand with your shopping?” Camilla asked.
I fed her these words and told her to stay while Linda stared at Camilla wide-eyed. The look of horror was more than enough to make Camilla leave. Yet, because of me, she couldn’t bring herself to.
“I can give you a lift somewhere?” I offered through Camilla.
There was always a chance that the person you were trying to influence wouldn’t do as you were telling them to. Humans do have free will after all. But a lot of the time when you put a simple thought into someone’s head, they don’t suspect that it wasn’t their own. Camilla was a prime subject for this given her young age. Linda on the other hand, had a surprisingly high percentage of freedom of thought, making it harder for me to make sure this case was a success.
“I’m alright,” Linda said, pushing off the ground to help her stand up.
“I’m more than happy to,” Camilla said as she picked up Linda’s shopping bags, “Let me help you.”
Camilla gave one bag to Linda, as instructed, and carried the other herself.
“Where abouts do you live?” Camilla asked.
“I don’t need a lift.”
Linda was still trying to avoid eye contact with Camilla. Even when being influenced through another person she was hard to control. But I guess that’s why the case was given to me and not someone else.
I told Camilla to walk towards her car so that Linda would have no choice but to follow. Her shopping still being held hostage. Introduce yourself, I told Camilla.
“I’m Camilla by the way,” she turned back to say.
“Linda. But can I just get my shopping back?”
“I’m giving you a lift.”
I saw a smile try to break onto Linda’s face but she was too stubborn to let it. Camilla clicked the car open and put the shopping bags in the back seat.
“Where’m I headed, Linda?” Camilla asked while getting into the car.
I could feel it. She was about to give in.
“Stornwell Place, down by the river.”
“Oh, that’s not too far.”
Camilla drove out of the car park and I followed along with them. Linda’s leg bounced manically off the floor as she sat to one side of her seat staring out the window. All I knew was that I needed to get the conversation going before it could happen. Otherwise, it might not go to plan and I would be in trouble.
“Is everything okay, Linda?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” she said, not even convincing the vegetables.
“You sure? I don’t have anyone to tell your secrets to if you want to tell me.”
“Just nerves,” Linda said.
Camilla thought about leaving it alone but I told her that was a bad idea. ‘You might be the only one who can help this poor woman,’ I told her.
“I think it’s more than that,” I said through Camilla, “Plus, I’m really good at helping friends solve problems so I might be able to help.”
I saw Linda’s brain trying to work out the best and most harmless route. She just wanted to get home, away from people again, back into the place where she forgot about how crappy life was. I had monitored her behaviour as part of my research so I knew it was all she really wanted because it was all she really did. But this fact had only added to the reasons why it was hard to plan for Linda’s end. Limited options.
After a few quick seconds, she finally decided. She would never have to see this girl again so she briefly gave Camilla what she’d asked for.
“I’m thinking about going to see my daughter soon and I’ve not seen her in a while.”
“Why not?” Camilla asked.
I saw Linda get spooked by the question but I also saw her reluctance to stop. The truth always came out surprisingly quickly to a stranger.
“I just don’t really want her to see me like this.”
“Like what?” Camilla asked.
I watched Linda’s breath beginning to get shallow as I felt her pull from her end. She was re-reasoning with herself, thinking about getting Camilla to pull over. But obviously, I couldn’t let that happen. This wasn’t unusual though for people with a high percentage of freedom of thought. That’s why the research was so important. I needed to know as much as I could about Linda so that, if required, I would be able to manoeuvre her thoughts back around.
“I completely understand,” Camilla said, “my school friend went through something similar last year, she really struggled to leave the house and stuff. It took us a while to help her through it. But we got there and now-”
I was losing Linda again and it was not a nice feeling.
“Well, I don’t think I’m going to work that way. I can’t even bring myself to smile for five minutes yet I’m still supposed to be someone’s loving mother,” Linda was almost shouting.
“I’m sure you’re a great mother,” Camilla said.
“How do you know? I haven’t seen my daughter in three years. I haven’t even made the effort to speak to her. Maybe, she’ll hate me now.”
Whatever I said through Camilla now had to be said properly.
“I don’t think she’ll hate you, Linda,” Camilla said calmly, “I know I don’t hate you right now and I don’t see how I ever could.”
I felt it. I felt Linda’s heart lighten. It was so simple. The understanding and faith of a stranger was enough for her.
The car swerved to the right, avoiding the dog that ran onto the road. I had timed it to perfection. Camilla almost thought about steering left but she wasn’t quick enough and I replaced that thought with panic. It wasn’t long before they were met. The car coming towards them tried to move quickly out of the way but there wasn’t enough time and I knew it. The car slammed into the passenger side and Linda and Camilla were flung forward. The seat belts tried to slice them into pieces while Linda’s airbag gave her a hard punch to the face. The other one didn’t come out and Camilla whacked her head off the steering wheel.
It didn’t take too long for them to come to a stop on the road. The front of the car had been completely compacted on the left side and the windshield was cracked. I made sure the car had closed in on Linda. I couldn’t let her move. Everything was in place at this point but I still had to make sure it all went to plan so I watched.
Linda breathed sharply and her hands shook as she tried to get the door open but, as I said, that wasn’t going to happen. From her waist down there was a ruby stickiness that she tried to wipe away. But I had already made sure she wouldn’t be able to.
Camilla wailed. The skin on her head had opened up to reveal a deep ruby river like Linda’s, and her under eyes were bruised like a raccoon’s. A few drops of the stickiness were beginning to leak from her ears and nose and her face was white. From this, I was sure Camilla wouldn’t make it.
“Camilla, look at me,” Linda said.
This part I hadn’t planned.
“Come on look at me.”
I watched as Camilla turned her head to look at Linda and cried even more at what she saw.
“Give me your hand,” Linda said, her voice breaking.
Their hands met in the middle of the compacted carnage and their wet stickiness mixed together. It was the final comfort. I hadn’t seen one in years.
“Tell me about your family, okay?”
Camilla wasn’t listening.
“Tell me, what are we going to do?”
She continued to cry.
“Tell me,” Linda repeated more forcefully.
Camilla breathed quickly and mumbled, “Talk about my family.”
I saw as Linda began to feel the lower half of her body again. I knew the adrenaline couldn’t have lasted much longer. I watched while the pain ravaged through her. Only able to imagine how this felt. Like there was something inside of her trying to get out, moving everything from its place, trying to break the remainder of her skin. But she didn’t yell in pain, she simply inhaled deeply.
“It was my little sister’s thirteenth birthday last week,” Camilla cried.
“And what did you do?” Linda said.
“We had a mini party at our house. My Mum made a cake and my Dad blew up loads of balloons.”
I always felt it was strange when I had to take a child before a parent. But I don’t get a lot of choice in the matter, other than in the method. I just take the case.
Linda began to sob and squeezed Camilla’s hand even tighter. I knew they weren’t going to last much longer than this. But still, I watched until the end.
Linda bled out before the ambulance got to the wreck and Camilla didn’t last much longer, brain bleed. Luckily for them though, they gave each other some comfort from their ends. I’m actually quite lucky to have seen it. I hope you understand a bit more now, even though I still haven’t really answered your question. Why did I have to take them? I don’t know. I’m just doing my job. I know you’re thinking that I still don’t have to do it but that’s not true. If I don’t do my job, I don’t exist anymore. I become a useless creation that can disappear and I don’t want that to happen. I would like to exist. You need to remember, it’s not me that decides who goes. So if you still want an answer, really it’s not me you should be asking. I can’t give you the answer you’re looking for because I can’t help what I do. All I know is some of them just aren’t meant to live.
Olivia is from the village of Houston, Renfrewshire and is currently in her second year studying history, journalism and creative writing at the University of Strathclyde.