More Dark Thoughts
Aaron laughed so hard it nearly interrupted his stride. He laughed so hard he almost missed the sound of glass shattering.
The Doppler Effect is an interesting phenomenon, brought on by a noisy object approaching an observer, then passing on and moving into the distance. As the object, for example a car, approaches, the sound of its engine would seem to grow louder as it approaches. At first, you wouldn’t even hear it, the sound it makes is more of a feeling than a sound, tickling the back of your mind. Then, as the car approaches, that niggling sensation becomes sound, though you pay little attention to it. These are typical sounds of a cityscape, after all. You’ve become used to the sound of cars approaching from the rear, the rising and falling sound of engines and even the blare of horns with the passing of traffic.
What you’re not used to is the sound of your best friend’s body hitting the ground with a wet thud as the sound of the vehicle recedes from your consciousness once again.
Aaron took three more steps before it occurred to him what had happened.
The seconds between his realization and checking Marc's twisted body for vital signs blurred together. Marc drew quick, shallow breaths, wheezing on every exhale. Considering that he'd been thrown into the air, it seemed a miracle that his cigarette still drooped from his lips.
Aaron knelt and lifted Marc's head to rest in his lap. It was all he could think to do.
"No, no, no, no, no no..." It was all he could think to say.
Between shuddering, wheezing breaths, Marc attempted to speak. Instead of words, blood seeped from his mouth.
A few years ago, a law was passed that cigarettes needed to be made fire-safe. To accomplish this, manufacturers altered the way their cigarettes were made. Some companies inserted thick bands of flame-resistant paper, or infused a fire-resistant polymer into the whole of the paper before wrapping the tobacco inside. The users of tobacco products as a group hated the change, claiming that it altered the flavor of their favorite brands. Some went so far as to say it would be the downfall of the tobacco industry at large, while others decided to just suck it up and live with the change. For many, it was the end of an era.
Marc's life faded away with the burning cherry at the tip of his own cigarette, leaving Aaron utterly alone with the gathered bystanders.
Silence fell on the scene. Yes, there were people on their phones talking, sirens in the distance, cars passing, and a whole host of other sounds, but for Aaron, Marc, and those that had been present since the beginning, none of those noises so much as registered. All could feel an emptiness that hadn't been there before.
When a person passes away in your presence, a tangible shift in the air happens. Breath leaves your lungs as if pulled by an otherworldly force. Both you and the dying share a final living breath, a toast to the person they would cease to be, and the first tribute to the memory they are to become.
In that moment, a sacred silence sets in that transcends belief and creed.
"Heh," Aaron said, breaking the silence. A wide smile broke out on his face. He looked like he'd just won the lottery. In a sense, he'd just lost it.
"He ha haaa!" Aaron erupted into a fit of laughter, and the spell of silence broke.
The approaching sirens had stopped with the arrival of emergency vehicles. A man had begun talking to him, but Aaron paid him no attention, having broken down into a fit of giggles. He hugged Marc's body closer to him.
An image popped into his mind unbidden from a few weeks prior. He and Marc walked together down a sidewalk. Marc had always hated riding in cars, he said it made him feel helpless. He didn't like feeling that he had no control over his destiny.
The memory drove a renewed belly-laugh from Aaron. His voice had taken on a raspy quality, his throat started to burn.
They'd left Alex's party early, just before Chuck set himself on fire. "That man is going to get himself killed," Marc had said. "Everything we can do has a downside, Aaron, you just have to open your eyes to see it."
Something snapped within Aaron's brain then. He couldn't fathom how he could be laughing in that moment. It was wrong, fucked up. He should be feeling despair, emptiness, this shouldn't be the happiest moment of his life. The cruel irony of it fueled the euphoria, bringing another wave of giggles. Aaron looked at his hands, examined the streams of blood slowly drying on them, and realized his stomach had begun to hurt.
Aaron had asked, that night, "How could there be a downside to perpetual happiness?"
He could feel someone wearing latex gloves fiddling with his arm, wrapping a tourniquet around his bicep, the uniformed emergency worker avoiding looking at him, flinching away with every bellowed cackle. He could feel a needle being inserted into his arm.
Aaron started to cough in between howls of laughter, splattering Marc's face and the emergency worker's uniform with blood.
His vision started to black out at the edges, the world drawing slowly to a close.
Marc and Aaron had walked in companionable silence for a long stretch of road, Aaron pondering how each of them were trapped by their Powers every bit as much as they were liberated to be more themselves, because of them. "I wouldn't want it any other way," he'd said.
Marc responded around his cigarette. "You will."
The anaesthetic took hold of him at last, and the world faded away.
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