Last Saturday, I kept seeing bright flashes of light from my left eye. The first few times didn’t really bother me, since I was both watching My Hero Academia’s Season 3 finale and playing Overwatch at the same time. I thought all the flashing lights from the screens might have just overloaded my eyes for a bit, like when you look at the sun too long as a kid and you see a glowing dot in your vision for the next couple of minutes.
But then it happened again, hours after I stopped playing or watching. In the dim light of the hallway at night, the same flashes of light, bright like stars, twinkled in my left eye.
Diabetic Retinopathy was one of the things my endocrinologist explained to me last year when they found that my uncontrolled A1C levels reached 8.9. These flashes of light in my eye were one of the symptoms. Fortunately, it’s been a couple of days since the last time I saw a flash, but I’m still a little spooked. I’m visiting my eye doctor in a couple of weeks, so I’m hoping he’ll have some answers for me.
I just can’t envision (HA! See? This isn’t all just gloomy stuff) myself without eyesight. I’m strangely proud of these eyeballs. I literally have perfect vision. Thanks to my training as a coxswain, I can determine a friend’s identity from half a mile away, even if they’re facing away from me.
But I know too well what it can do. I saw it in the ER. People who have lost their eyesight on one or both eyes. Cataracts and glaucoma were far too common among the elderly diabetics I’ve taken care of. It’s so difficult to watch because I can see a possible future for me as I look at them. That could be me in a couple of decades. I know there are surgeries and procedures, but sometimes those are just temporary defenses against the inevitable. My genes dictate that it will happen someday. Even when I’m taking care of myself now, my body is designed to eventually feel the effects of diabetes. The only thing I can do is push it back.
No… I’m not panicking. Not yet. It’s too early for that. I’m young-ish, so I can still fight back.
I try to imagine what it would feel like when I do lose my eyesight. While I will miss the skills my eyes have perfected over the years, I probably will regret it when I’m facing something new and I can’t register the image into my brain. I’ll have to use my other senses.
I’m starting to realize why some people travel. I used to think that looking at a picture of a nice place or landmark would be enough for me. But after seeing Sam Smith live and watching the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean this summer, my cynical perspective began to erode.
A picture isn’t enough. A video isn’t enough. It won’t be enough. I need to experience it with all my senses. Once the darkness consumes my eyes (too dramatic?), I’ll have a memory of it in my head. It’s not great, but it’s the best gift I can give my future self.
Now, I just have to get my butt out of the house and experience literally everything.
I’m so good at setting realistic goals.
Script written by
When the love of his life rejected his proposal, Nate realizes that he’s been a terrible boyfriend in all of his relationship. Using an app called “Super Like!” he reconnects with his exes to figure out how to become a better boyfriend and a decent human being.
INT. BALTIMORE LIGHT ST – DAYTIME
Two men walk up Light Street with 3 bags of groceries in each hand. NATE, hazel eyes and an auburn undercut, is visibly sweating. PETER appears relaxed, significantly taller and muscular than Nate and heavily bearded with red hair. Peter lifts his left arm with ease as he looks at a piece of paper in his hand.
I gotta say, Nate, making a list before
grocery shopping really makes a difference.
Nate grunts and nods his head in approval.
Normally, I’d just grab everything that I thought
we’ll need, but it always ends up something
that I only thought I wanted. I wasted so much
money over the years!
That’s why we don’t let you get
groceries on your own anymore!
Well, I just thought you guys were being nice.
I guess I’m slowly learning tips to save some money—
A bell rings nearby as they finally reach the doors to their apartment building. Across the street stands an Asian OLD MAN with white hair. He stands in front of a large building with the words “THE WARRIORS EMPORIUM” emblazoned on the top of the building. He rings the bell once more, then stands next to a hand-written SIGN with a dragon head on the corner.
ZOOM IN: SIGN
ALL BO STAVES 50% OFF
BACK TO SCENE
Nate looks at the sign, then at Peter. Peter goes into a hypnotic trance as he stares at the sign. The list falls on the sidewalk and a gust of wind blows it away.
Pete! No! Stop looking at the
sign! Bo staves are not on the list!
Peter walks across the street without looking both ways. Cars screech to a halt to avoid crashing into him.
Dammit! Pete! You know you’re not gonna
find space in your room for any of that stuff!
Nate drops the bags on the sidewalk. He inhales deeply and exhales with relief as he shakes his arms. As he puts his hands on his waist, he hears the old man begin to laugh menacingly.
(yelling while pointing at the old man)
Hey, “discount Jet Li!” Stop conning
my friend out of his money!
I can’t stop just yet! The Red-Haired giant will send
my grandchildren to college!
The old man continues to laugh as he enters the shop.
Damn, I really thought the list would help.
Super Like! Episode 2
All’s Fair in Love and Baseball
INT. 1211 UNIT 1 LIGHT ST – DAY TIME
Nate places the groceries in different cabinets and the fridge. Loud banging noises can be heard from Peter’s room. LULU exits her room, black bags full of equipment slinging on her shoulders. Her blond hair is tied up in a bun and wears an orange top and capri pants. She looks over to Peter’s room, then walks over to the kitchen.
Damn, I really thought the list would help.
I think I should just blindfold him next time.
(looks at Lulu’s equipment)
You’re off to work?
Baseball Season in Baltimore means
plenty of work for freelance photographers.
I actually wanted you to tag along.
Nate shakes his head as he finally clears the table of groceries. The sound of falling sticks and wood echoes from Peter’s room.
Pete and I already got seats. We’re working on MY list,
for the first time. And it’s a big one.
OMG, I had someone on that list and she’s
going to the game too! Oh wait…
I’m blanking out on her name… See.. Sin…
Nate’s eyes grow wide with amazement.
Cynerik! Did we seriously choose
the same person for my first try?
Nate hugs Lulu and lifts her up in the air.
Great minds truly think alike,
Lulu! Thank you so much!
(walking towards the door)
I gave her your ticket, so I’ll just let her know.
I’ll be in the press box for most of
the game, just text me updates, all right?
Lulu closes the door behind her. Peter immediately walks out of his room, spinning a bo staff.
No, Pete. Put that down!
Not in the living room.
I’m not a dog, Nate. Stop talking
to me like I am one.
Nate squints his eyes at Peter.
I’m gonna tell your fiance that
you’re a hoarder —-
Peter immediately stops spinning the staff. He points at Nate as he walks back into his room.
EXT. BALTIMORE, CAMDEN YARDS – DAYTIME
The park is filled with an enthusiastic crowd. Peter groans as he shields his eyes from the sun through his shades. Nate smiles as he looks around the stadium. Peter takes out a bottle of sunscreen and slathers his arms and face.
Man, it’s been a while since we’ve been to a game!
I kept asking Alice to come with me
but she never really liked baseball.
I just want to get this over with before I burn.
Or before I’m forced to interact with
people. Although, I gotta be honest.
(pulls out his phone, opens the SUPER LIKE App)
I’m proud of you for getting started with meeting
your exes. Who did you and Lulu coincidentally choose
for this first meeting?
The Cyneriks. I’m just a little nervous, you know?
It was awkward when we stopped talking to each
other. I just gotta keep it together.
(raising an eyebrow)
Which Cynerik are you and Lulu talking about?
Nate thinks and furrows his brow. Then he looks at Peter, terrified.
Pete, I’m panicking just a little bit! Am I turning
red? Everything is starting to spin!
You better call Lulu, or all Hell will break loose.
You know what she’s capable of.
Nate pulls out his phone and calls Lulu. It rings a few times before she picks up.
Lulu! No time, quick! Please tell me you weren’t
talking about Andrea Cynerik earlier
at the apartment?
Who else would you be talking about? How many Cyneriks do you know?
Nate’s eyes grow wide as he bites his lower lip. He looks at Peter. Peter sighs.
Lulu, you need to tell me where Andrea is right now before —-
(turns and spots Andrea walking down the stairs towards me)
Andrea gets here!
I’ll get you for this later, you hear me?!
(hanging up on Lulu, enthusiastic laugh)
Andrea! It’s been so long!
ANDREA CYNERIK waves at Nate and Peter. She wears an orange sundress and carries a large cup with her. Her long blonde hair billows in the wind.
(whispering to Peter)
We need to think of a plan right now!
(enthusiastic greeting to Andrea)
It’s been so long! I can’t believe you’re still here in Baltimore!
I really really really thought you moved to Vermont!
I’m finally done with grad school, so
I came back down here for a job.
That’s how I met Lulu. It seems
like I keep stumbling into every person you date.
Andrea looks at Peter. Peter coughs involuntarily and clears his throat. Nate guides Andrea to walk down the steps.
Yeah, isn’t that weird? Small world right?
Why don’t you go over to our seats, and
I’ll follow you in just a bit, okay?
Andrea walks off to her section. Once out of earshot, Nate turns to Peter, who texts furiously on his phone.
Don’t worry, Nate. I’m sending her a
very disappointed text message.
Three sad-face emojis and a
Oh, no need. My friendship with Lulu has been
terminated. Now help me figure out how to
get out of this situation!
Nate walks up the steps but Peter stops him easily.
Nope, you’re not running away. That’s what caused
this whole problem in the first place. You’re here to
make things right, weren’t you?
Nate closes his eyes and makes a strange sound from his throat, then sighs. He places his hands on his hips and pouts at Peter.
All right, but I’m gonna need some time
to figure out a plan. Right now we just need
to make sure they don’t meet, all right?
Go with Andrea and distract her while I —-”
No way, I’m pretty sure she’ll bash my head
in with a bat the moment she gets a chance.
Peter pats Nate on the shoulder as he walks up the steps.
Wait, you don’t even know —-
Cut me some slack, Nate. I was your first ex. I know
what every single person you’ve date looks like.
INT. CAMDEN YARDS PRESS BOX – SAME TIME
Lulu paces in the corner of a room filled with other members of the press. JULIAN, with his greasy hair slicked back and black and orange polo shirt buttoned all the way up, watches her with wonder, following her movements.
How was I supposed to know he dated
people with the same last name?
And it’s totally unfair that he’s blaming
this on you. I completely get it.
No, Julian! You don’t! I wanted to help out and
I just ruined this before it even started. I’m sure
he’s already doing the whole “Friendship terminated”
thing and it’s only gonna get worse when we get home.
(under his breath)
What a lucky guy…
Okay, instead of being creepy, help me figure
out how to help Nate fix this situation.
Whoa, hold on there, Lu. You trying to help your
roommate is what got you in this mess in the first
place. You should just drop it, take some awesome
pictures and watch me write this awesome op-ed
piece for the Sun on how the Oriole’s will surely win
the World Series sometime in the next decade or two.
Lulu glares at Julian intensely.
(Intense and passionate)
EXT. CAMDEN YARDS FIELD BOX – SAME TIME
Peter sits next to CASSIE, a curly-haired woman wearing an Orioles hat and a black and orange shirt. They watch the game and cheer as the hitter reaches first base.
It’s just nice to hear from him again, you know?
After the last time, I really thought
I’d never see him again.
He didn’t hate you all. Nate’s just really bad with
talking about his feelings. I assure you, Mrs—-
Just then, CEDRIC, a tall man with graying hair, orange shirt, and cargo shorts, walks up and sits next to Peter. He passes over several food and drink items to Angie and Peter.
(while passing out food and drinks)
No, don’t do that. Call her Cassie, and call me Cedric.
We’ve met before, Peter, there’s no need for any
formalities like that. It’s just a little weird that
you’re here and Nate is still in the bathroom.
Did you tell him where we’re sitting?
Let me call him just to make sure—
NO! I mean… there’s no need. He’s been having a
lot of problems, recently. Stomach problems. He
wants to take care of that before he sees you two again.
Cedric and Cassie look at one another, then squints suspiciously at the Peter.
Peter. Come on, you can be honest with us.
What are you hiding?
What are you talking about? Why would
I hide anything from you?
EXT. UPPER OUTFIELD BOX – SAME TIME
Andrea and Nate sit on the top row of the section, the highest possible seats in the park. Both wear an angry expression on their faces.
Because that’s who you are, Nate! You’re always
leaving out important information from me!
And when you’re hiding something, it’s definitely
because you don’t want to get caught cheating!
Nate gasps dramatically and clutches his chest.
I never cheated on you! I told you that I was seeing
other people when we first met! I was playing the field!
Well it would have been nice if you told me
who you were sleeping around with!
That’s just weird! Why would I tell
you who I was sleeping with?
You know damn well why you should have!
Andrea and Nate pause as they look around. Everyone around them tries to move as far away as possible. Suddenly Nate’s phone begins to ring. It says “LULU” on the screen. He answers it.
(in a whisper, away from Andrea)
Just so you know, we are not talking right now!
INT. HALLWAY – SAME TIME
Lulu walks briskly down the hallway, dodging people deftly. Julian follows her closely, bumping into people while talking to someone on the phone.
Okay, Nate, I’m sorry, I messed up, but I’m
trying to make this right. Tell me where you are.
INTERCUT – PHONE CALL
I’m here with Andrea! In the worst possible seats
in the park! I think I got a nosebleed when I first got here!
Wait, I thought you were gonna sit with
the other Cynerik! Which section were
you planning sit at first?
What are you—
(eyes widen in terror)
I’m not telling you that. Lulu,
you’ll only make it worse!
No, just trust me! Nate, I got this,
let me make it up to you. Bye!
INT. HALLWAY – SAME TIME
Lulu hangs up the phone and slows down until Julian catches up to her.
Did you get me in?
They said they’ll hear you out,
but I don’t think it’s a guarantee.
Well make it a guarantee! And I’ll need
your help with something else, too.
EXT. UPPER OUTFIELD BOX – SAME TIME
Andrea crosses her arms and pretends to watch the game as Nate screams into his phone.
Lulu? Lulu? No, you did not just
hung up on me! Ugh.
Nate puts his phone away and leans back on his chair. He looks over to Andrea.
For what it’s worth, I’m glad that
you’re back here Baltimore.
Yeah, you sound ecstatic.
(sits up straight and turns to Andrea)
No, I’m serious! I’ve changed, Andrea! I
recently had to break up with someone and
I realized that I have to be better just to
have a shot at getting back together with her.
That’s why I need your help!
Did you just hear what you said?
You want my help to fix your relationship
with your other ex? And why should
I do that?
Because… Because you didn’t deserve to be
treated like that.
I treated you like shit. Okay? We both agree
on that, right?
Andrea relaxes and sits back on the chair.
And since I never treated you right, I never
learned to treat my last ex the way that she
deserved to be treated. I need you, because
the last thing I want is for more amazing people
like you to get hurt by a monster like me.
Andrea stares at Nate, her eyes examining his face intently. She sighs.
(blushing, looking away)
Did you prepare that speech before you got here?
Nate shakes his head and grins.
(under his breath)
I didn’t even know I was meeting you here.
(raising an eyebrow)
Nate freezes in place.
INT. HALLWAYS – SAME TIME
Peter and Cedric wait in a line to get beer.
It just hasn’t been the same since Nate
left us. He saved my marriage, that one.
Are you sure we’re talking about the same person?
Normally Nate ruins relationships that he gets involved in.
Cedric laughs heartily, his shoulders shaking with every chuckle. He places a hand on Peter’s shoulder for support as he leans forward.
Cassie and I were always at each other’s throats,
well before we had a kid. We tried to get divorced
three times, but we always stopped it
at the last possible moment.
Cedric takes out his wallet and shows Peter an old photograph of Cedric and Cassie with a little girl. All three of them smiled.
We loved each other. We just didn’t know how to
express it. And that’s where Nate came into our lives.
In a lot of ways, he’s like the bridge the reconnected me
and Cassie, if you know what I mean.
Cedric winks and gently elbows Peter before laughing loudly once again. Peter laughs nervously with Cedric.
I think I know what you mean, but we probably
shouldn’t make sex jokes here since there are a ton
of children and people around us.
Cedric sighs loudly and smiles brightly. He places his arm on Peter’s shoulders as they move up the line. One person remains in front of them.
Don’t worry, Peter. I think I understand what’s
going on. You said Nate is here to meet up, but you’ve
been with us this whole time.
(shaking his head)
No, this is just a big misunderstanding—
No need to be embarrassed. Threesomes are a little intimidating
but we’ll ease you into it, no pun intended.
Cedric winks at Peter, who takes a deep breath while gritting his teeth. He takes a step forward as he’s now in the front of the line.
(to the cashier)
The largest possible cup of beer you can give me, please.
INT. COMMUNICATIONS CONTROL ROOM – SAME TIME
Lulu, Julian, and a camera TECH stare at a screen in a small room filled with screens. Julian sits on the chair as he zooms in and out of different cameras. The screen switches from one camera angle to another, each one showing a different part of the stands.
So are you… are you dating this person? Is
that why you want to find him?
Hush! Look, sir, I already flashed you my boobs,
that should be more than enough to keep you quiet for a while.
You said you would, but you never did!
Hurry up and find him, please? How hard is it
to find a giant redhead in this park?
You’re asking me to find a man with orange hair
in a park that’s already covered in orange! That’s like
trying to find a needle in hay—-yooo!
I think I found him this time!
Julian points at the screen. Peter and Cedric walks down the steps and finds their seats again next to Cassie. Peter nursed two giant cups of beer with him.
(ecstatic, to the tech)
All right, get the Kiss Cam ready!
EXT. FIELD BOX – SAME TIME
Peter sits uncomfortably between Cedric and Cassie, who are both having a great time watching the game.
Look, can I just get something off my chest?
Cedric and Cassie sit up and face Peter
Look, Peter, if this is about our roles in bed,
we’re quite flexible about that. I mean, normally
I’m not the one getting spit-roasted, but I’m
willing to try just about anything.
And it comes down to it, I can also
just get the trusty strap-on, too.
Peter’s jaw drops open as he looks at both Cyneriks. He shakes his head.
That’s not what I’m talking about. Look, this
is just one big misunderstanding. Nate’s not here
because he’s trying to fix something!
The song “Loving You” by Minnie Ripton plays in the park. Everyone looks up at the scoreboard screen to see pink hearts and the graphic “Kiss Cam” sown on the monitor. The first faces to pop up on screen is Cassie and Peter’s faces. Cassie beams excitedly as Peter shakes his head and points at Cedric instead.
(pointing at himself)
Yes! Me, too! Add me in there!
The camera pans out to include Cedric in the shot, causing Peter to shake his head furiously.
EXT. UPPER OUTFIELD BOX – SAME TIME
Nate stares at the scoreboard monitor in horror. He can feel the energy coming from Andrea’s eyes as she glares at him. On the screen, Cassie and Peter come in for the kiss, planting one each on Peter’s cheeks. The crowd cheered.
Why is Peter hanging around with my parents?
Uhh, you see, that’s because —
Why are they even here? They hate coming
to this park, they’d rather watch it at home!
That’s a funny story, Andrea, I’m sure they’re just lost or something —
I knew it was weird when we first so saw each
other. It’s like you were expecting someone else!
Now it’s starting to make sense!
Andrea, please listen to me —
Cheers from the stadium grow louder and eventually the people in the same section join in. Nate looks around and everyone seem to be staring at him and Andrea. He looks up at the scoreboard monitor and sees his face and Andrea’s on the Kiss Cam.
EXT. FIELD BOX – SAME TIME
Peter, Cassie, and Cedric look up at the screen in amazement. Andrea and Nate continue to argue while people cheered and laughed.
Is that Andrea? I didn’t even know my
baby is back in Baltimore…
And Nate… He’s up there with her.
so that means… Peter —
I tried to tell you! Look!
Peter pulls out his phone and swipes to a picture with him and another man, an arm around each other’s shoulders as they pose for the photo.
I’m in a happy long-distance relationship.
I was trying to buy Nate some time, but …
Peter’s phone begins to ring. He looks at the screen and it says “COLLIN” on the caller ID. He curses under his breath.
INT. COMMUNICATIONS CONTROL ROOM – SAME TIME
Lulu and Julian stare at the screen as the tech sits in front of the computer.
Shouldn’t we cut away to someone else?
It doesn’t look like it’s getting any better…
He’s right, you know. Nothing
good is gonna come from this!
We’re not switching until
they kiss and make up!
On the screen, Andrea slaps Nate so hard that he falls down the next few seats below his row. Andrea storms off as Nate struggles to stand up. He follows her. In the room, Julian and Lulu look stunned
Should… should I keep the camera on them?
EXT. OUTSIDE CAMDEN YARDS, DAY TIME
Andrea storms off to the parking lot with Nate following right behind her.
Leave me alone!
Please, listen to me, Andrea! I swear to you,
I didn’t plan for them to show us on the
Kiss Cam like that! I don’t even know if you
can request that from them! I had no idea!
Andrea turns around quickly. Nate almost bumps into her but he stops himself just in time.
I don’t care if that wasn’t you! You weren’t even
expecting me to show up! You were here to meet
up with my parents! It’s happening all over again!
Why did I even start dating you?
Hey, I’m a freaking catch, you know! I’ve always
been nice to you! I respected you! I got you a cab
once and I never asked you to pay me back! You
don’t see me holding that over your head, do you?
Andrea winces and raises her eyebrows, a disgusted look on her face. She reaches into her purse and started throwing coins and bills at Nate.
Here! I see this whole cab fare fiasco, and raise you
the entire shitshow where you were sleeping with
my parents while we were dating!
You and I went out for dinner three times! We weren’t
even exclusive yet! I told you upfront that I was
going out with other people!
You were having sex with my parents, Nate!
Like I said! Other people! Out of all the people
I dated, you’re actually one of the few people
I didn’t lie to at all. I’m surprised that you’re
so angry at me for being honest!
Nate and Andrea stop arguing and turn towards the sidewalk. Lulu, Peter, Cassie and Cedric are running towards them. Andrea shakes her head as she begins to take a few steps back.
Nope. I’m not dealing this right now, Nate!
I never want to see you again!
Andrea storms off into the parking lot. Lulu and Peter stands next to Nate without saying anything.
I actually thought it was gonna
be a lot worse than this.
Nate… I’m really sorry.
Nate looks at Lulu for a moment, then relaxes. He walks up to her and gives her a hug.
It’s all right, Lulu. I thought I
could change her mind…
You were probably talking about
yourself again instead of apologizing.
Nate opens his mouth to speak but he stops.
Look, you messed up with Andrea.
That’s too bad. But there are two people
behind us that you’ve kept waiting all
afternoon. You still have a chance to
fix something today.
All three oft hem turn to Cassie and Cedric, still standing a few yards back. Nate sighs and walks over to them.
Hey Cassie. Cedric. I’m really sorry about today.
Would you guys like to grab a drink somewhere
so we can talk?
Cassie and Cedric look at each other, then nod at Nate.
EXT. OUTSIDE PICKLE’S BAR, EVENING
Lulu stands outside the Pickle’s Bar, looking out at Russell St with the light of the sunset hitting the buildings. All of her equipment hangs around her shoulder and neck. Nearby Peter talks on the phone.
Nate exits the bar with Cassie and Cedric. They hug each other before walking away.
Everything went well?
(waving at the Cyneriks)
As well as it could possibly be. There wasn’t any bad
blood between us, but they are worried about their
daughter. And if I had talked to them before
running away in the first place, maybe things
wouldn’t have been so complicated.
Peter hangs up on his phone and walks over to Nate and Lulu
Okay. I think Collin has finally calmed down.
I’m sorry, too, Petey. I didn’t even think that he’d be
watching the game all the way from Idaho. You told
him that it was my fault right?
Peter nods as Lulu sighs deeply. Nate looks at the two of them.
Maybe that’s what the Cyneriks have
taught me today: communication.
Lulu and Peter look at each other, then at Nate
Care to elaborate?
I mean, that’s what got me into trouble in the
first place, right? If only I was more transparent
with who I was going out with, Andrea
wouldn’t be furious right now.
Peter shakes his head and pats Nate on the shoulder.
If anything, this whole communications thing
applies more to her parents. They told me
that they still liked you. They just wished you
had talked to them before you left.
Nate pauses, then takes out his phone and opens up the SUPER LIKE app. He types the names of Cassie and Cedric, and pressed the heart-shaped button on the screen.
What did you learn?
Nate closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.
I learned that communication is
important in every relationship.
(looks at Peter and Lulu. Glares at Lulu)
Even if whatever you need to say is difficult
to discuss. If you truly valued what you have
with that person, you’ll respect them enough
to start an open and frank conversation.
The app flashes in bright colors and a check mark appears on the Cyneriks’ pictures on the list. All three of them smile at one another
How should we celebrate your
first patched-up relationship?
Let me take you guys out for drinks in Fell’s
Point! My friend Julian let me borrow
his credit card before he left.
You should really tell him that you’re not
interested instead of leading him on like this.
(raising an eyebrow)
The day I take relationship advice from you,
of all people, will be the day that Hell freezes over.
Peter chuckles and Nate shrugs.
I guess I shouldn’t complain;
he’s the one paying for drinks!
We’re all terrible people.
All three of them walk across the street, further into the city.
I could still remember the important details.
Zero Period, Sophomore year. AP Biology with Mrs. Donoghue. Crysta and I stood in the front of the class. The LCD projector displayed our Powerpoint Presentation and illuminated the darkened room. The screen flickered and a slide filled with octopus and squid appeared on display. It was my turn to present my part of the project.
I hated any and all public speaking events that I had to participate in. I still had a detectable accent that bothered me to no end. The pressure from holding the gaze of 30 people all at once made me want to curl up in the fetal position.
But there’s something worse than that. One of my high school crushes sat in very same class. This was my first and only class with him, and I’ve never felt more grateful to sit five seats away from him every morning. His icy-blond hair sparkled from the projector’s light, glittering from the last row of the classroom. His hazel eyes glowed like fireflies in the summertime. His gaze moved from the Powerpoint Slide, then to me.
So there I was, talking about the Animal Phylum of Mollusca, more specifically the Class of Cephalopoda. I breezed through it without much trouble because the Octopus was my 2nd favorite animal ever. Then I reached the next slide with a picture of a snail. I inhaled deeply to brace myself for the impact.
There’s something worse than hating public speaking or having my crush watch me struggle in front of him. I made a joke to go along with my part of the project, and I wanted to say it in front of the class. I did the bare minimum for this project; most of the time I spent working on it was used to create the joke. Back then, I wasn’t particularly quick-witted or naturally hilarious. My grasp on the English language after living in the US for seven years was still below average at best. But I knew that if I had enough time, I could fix up something that could kill the audience.
With laughter, of course.
Although I’ve seen how people treat terrible stand up comedians on TV. I’m just hoping no one brought any tomatoes to throw at me. And Mrs. Donoghue is cool and all, but what if my joke is so bad that she fails me and Crysta? Dammit, why am I bringing Crysta into this mess? She didn’t deserve to get paired up with a terrible person like me for this project.
But I wanted to say it.
I wanted to see him smile. I wanted to make him smile. And there’s nothing gay about that. Just a dude trying to make another dude happy. It’s totally hetero, I’d say to my gay-denying high school self.
I continued the presentation with my section on the Class Gastropoda. My heart raced faster and faster as I reach the end of what I needed to say for the project.
“It’s a tough life for a lonely, slow-moving snail out there.” I began. “But most snails are actually hermaphrodites, which means they have both male and female sex parts. This way, they don’t always need a partner to reproduce.”
I paused. I gulped the spit that’s been building up in my mouth for the last ten seconds just from my anxiety.
“After all, why should you look for someone else when you can do it yourself?”
I almost couldn’t finish the joke, because halfway through it I could already see a few people smirking. This class was smart; they could already tell I was gonna make a masturbation joke.
The entire class roared. I’m sure everyone who just happened to be in the building at 7:30 in the morning must have heard them. I tried to keep looking at the screen to continue with my presentation, but even I kept getting choked up with laughter. I couldn’t look at Crysta, because I sacrificed so much of the project’s quality for this one sex joke. I stop trying to press on with the presentation and look at the class in front of me. Before I said the joke, some were half-asleep. Now they’re more animated than I’ve ever seen them.
I looked at the back of the classroom. I’ve never seen him smile before. His teeth glistened in a toothpaste-white grin. His entire body shook as he laughed. The cool, uncaring demeanor he usually wore was now gone, replaced by raw joy from laughter. No matter what happened after that, I got what I wanted from this project. I had my prize, and I aimed to keep it.
I don’t remember what I got on that project. I hope it was a good grade, for Crysta’s sake. The feelings of affection for him eventually disappeared, like most crushes do. But I never stopped wanting to make guys laugh. That first joke made me realize that I can do it.
And that’s the story of how I became a clown.
If you’ve ever hated my sense of humor, blame that cute blond white boy for making me do something out of my comfort zone. It’s all his fault.
Five days since I disconnected from social media.
I noticed that I get urges to post jokes or random thoughts on Facebook. “Everyone will like this,” I’d say to myself. “Everyone will think this is hilarious!”
And immediately that’s a big problem. It feels like I’m fishing for likes. Well, it’s obvious that I am. Seeing that red square with a white number on it just fills me with joy. Temporary joy. It fills my brain with dopamine and I enjoy the high. And when I crash back down, I strive to find the next joke that will give me that fix.
My jokes and observations are meant to make me happy and make other smile. I shouldn’t care about the attention. If one person smiles at it, then it’s good enough.
I deleted the Facebook app from my phone. I logged out of my main Instagram account, but kept my fitness account @6pack4corgi since I use it just for updates anyway. My last status update on Facebook has my number written on it. I’m ready to disconnect for a bit.
I’ve been feeling a little sad lately. Guy trouble, of course. Regrets, that’s a given. Terrible body image issues, that’s also one of them. There are too many things hang over my head and I can’t swat them all away.
Social media doesn’t help with it. Actually, it probably exacerbates the problem. I see my friends succeeding. I see them traveling. I see them experiencing the world. It’s tough to not compare myself to them. And when you start comparing, you start to hate what you have.
Instagram is even worse. I purged the list of people I followed to just four celebrities instead of over twenty. I thought that would be enough, but it destroyed my self-esteem and self image. It had to go.
But I knew I had to do something. I can’t continue to let it depress me. And I knew I could do something about it, so I did. I’ll stay away from it for a while. I’ll hopefully get back some of the time I spent on those sites and use them in a more productive manner.
Click on the links for the previous parts of the story!
I sit on a tiny stool glued at the bow of Cal’s little skiff. He sits at the back of the boat next to a motor, steering with one hand and generating electricity with another. I grab on to my seat as it bounces up and down against the waves. I sit facing Cal, so the wind pushes against my back with tremendous force. The motor from the boat remains quiet even at the speed that we’re going on the water.
“If this is the land between the world of the Living and the Dead,” I start, catching Cal’s attention. “then why do you guys have boats here?”
Cal chuckles. “Technology is not bound to Earth. It’s human nature to try to make their world as comfortable as possible, so it’s inevitable that they’ll create technology here, too.”
Nix’s dense jungle grow smaller and smaller from here. The sea seems vast and infinite from this little boat. We’re heading to a new island; I can only imagine the horrors I’ll have to face.
“Come on, turn that frown upside down!” Cal shouts over the wind. “The trips between each island are supposed to be the most relaxing part of your journey! No Wights will attack you here!”
“See, I want to believe you,” I reply, eyeing Cal suspiciously. “but I can’t relax when I don’t know what’s gonna happen to me next. Can’t you at least tell me what’s ahead?”
Cal smiles as he looks behind me. “Fine. We’re going to an island called Hydra. At the end of the island, you’ll face one of nine monsters. There. Happy?”
“Yeah.” I sigh. “Finally, a straight answer!” A weight lifts from my shoulder. I thought I had to do a lot of work this time, but it seems to be a simple task! I stand up and point in front of the boat. A distant landmass begins to take shape. “All right, full speed ahead—!”
“Hey!” Cal calls behind me. “Get back in your seat, we’re approaching—”
I’m falling. Darkness surrounds me. It engulfs me until my eyes can only see black. I move my arms and legs; they’re still functioning. Even when I move my hands to my face, I can’t see anything at all—
“THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU!” I scream automatically. My voice falls flat in the infinite dark space around me. It’s as if another person forced me to shout it. It feels foreign, in a voice that did not belong to me at all.
“Sorry…” I hear someone murmur.
Is it nearby? Far away? I can’t really definitively say that I heard it… more like I felt it deep within me. Looking around does nothing, causing no changes in my vision. I know that voice definitely isn’t mine. But it feels familiar.
Then a blinding dot light appear in front of me. Then another! It grows larger and larger until I realize what’s happening. I grab on to a steering wheel in front of me and swerve away, but it’s too late. I feel the impact of my car colliding with another.
I open my eyes and see the same orange glow of the twilight sky of Purgatory. I get up from the floor of the skiff and try my best to sit on the stool once again. I turn away from the wind as the boat continues to sail on the water, facing Cal with a calm look on his face. As usual.
“I tried to warn you.” Cal comments. “Whenever you reach the waters of the next island, more of your memories return to you. Probably best if you stayed put.”
I nod. As much as I want to scold him again for not telling me everything, I think I’ll let Cal go this time. My heart continues to race. My legs quiver even while I sit. My body feels like it’s rejecting the very idea that I died.
But I am dead. I remember.
Soon I feel the boat slow down. The waters around here seem to be calmer than Nix’s. I turn around and look at the new island. The shore, like Nix’s, is littered by sleeping bodies. Aside for the bodies, countless weapons lay scattered on the beach. I spot a few people picking up different weapons and trying them out before heading further into the island.
Past the shore, I can only notice a tall black wall blocking the other side of the island. I’m not sure what it’s made off, but it seems completely unnatural. What are they hiding behind it?
Then I hear someone scream. Off to the left, on the shore, a man flails a sword at a lion-like Wight. Its mane stands up like sharp spines as it pounces around the man. He swings with all his might but the Wight jumps out the way and swipes with its sharp claws. Chunks of black ash flies off the man as he collapses, and the Wight circles around him as he tries to crawl away.
There were others fighting Wights on different parts of the beach too. Some are successful, and they run further into the island, while others end their journeys on the shore.
“What the hell kind of island is this, Cal?” I ask nervously. Cal stops the boat as its bottom surface scratches the sands.
“It’s your second trial.” Cal declares. He claps his hands twice, and suddenly the skiff begins to shrink. I jump into the water and watch Cal grab the now miniscule toy boat off the water and place it in his pocket.
As I take another step forward, a small red orb hovers just a few feet in front of me.
“YOUR TRIAL AWAITS.” The orb speaks in a loud, monotonous tone. “OFFER THE HEADS OF TEN IMPURE SOULS YOU HAVE SLAIN AT THE ALTAR. WE AWAIT YOUR SACRIFICE.”
The orb dissipates into the air. Down the beach, the same red orb would float in front of newcomers, too. At least I’m getting some kind of directions before this trial even starts.
“This should be easy then.” I beam as I turn to Cal. “All I have to do is stand behind you while you kill ten Wights— ” I stop mid-sentence as Cal begins to shake his head.
“You’ve probably noticed it before,” Cal clarifies. “but Wights killed by me and other guides are purified. They’ll eventually vanish and get sent straight to Hell. Those don’t count.”
“Of course, they don’t.” I grunt sarcastically. I take a step towards the sands. “Fine, fine. Let’s get this over with.”
“Be careful.” Cal cautions me, “The moment you lift your feet off from the water, the Wights will attack. So we gotta act fast. Grab a sword immediately, then look for any fruit hanging from the plants here, all right?”
I look at Cal for a moment to check if he’s joking, but he doesn’t change his demeanor. Arguing wouldn’t do much at this point. I walk with the surging wave of water, then leap on to the dry sand.
Two Wights, one with long hands full of spines and one with five arms with blades at the ends, rushes towards me as they spot me running on the beach. I grab a sword lying on the ground near me and I start to run away from the two Wights. I hear Cal cast a spell and it sounds like he got one of them, but I continue running without looking back. I finally reach more solid ground as I run past the beach and head further inland. The plants here seem to be flourishing, growing into thick clumps of vivid greenery.
The Wight with five arms lunges at me and barely misses my shoulder. I stumble and fall into a bush and a hanging round fruit thumps me on the head. As I grab and pull the fruit from its stalk, the five-armed Wight stands over me. It raises three of its arms, ready to strike. Instead of moving away, I follow Cal’s orders. I bite into the fruit.
Its juice bursts into my mouth the moment I bite down on its skin. I chew the soft and sweet piece before swallowing it all. As my body starts to feel warmer, the rest of the fruit on my hand crumbles away into ash.
The Wight stops moving with one of its blades a few inches away from my head. It looks around and takes a few steps back like it’s confused. What happened? Can it not see me? Why the hell can’t it do that when I’m right in front of it!?
“Hey, you freak!” I hiss, getting up from the ground. My chest heaves as I clench my fist. I hold on to the sword and brandish it wildly. “Are you ignoring the hell out of me? No one ignores me!”
Ice spreads from the Wight’s feet until its fully encased and frozen. The Wight’s body crumbles into pieces as Cal kicks it.
“See? Everything’s going according to my plan.” Cal points out, like he’s always right about every freaking thing. “And by the look on your face, I guess you’re feeling the effects of the fruit.”
“What the hell are you talking about–?” I stopped myself as I finally realize that I’m screaming at Cal. My chest burns. My breathing feels labored and unstable. I want to punch every person in my way. Why do I feel so angry?
Cal struts over to a nearby tree and picks one of the yellow fruits on the branch. “This fruit invokes anger within the souls wandering in Purgatory. It’ll last for a couple of minutes before wearing off.” This bastard takes a bite off from the fruit and chews it like he’s in a dumb commercial. He tosses the half-eaten fruit behind him and it blows away into ash as it falls into the ground.
Other souls in the vicinity are eating the fruit and screaming at the top of their lungs too. The weird thing is that the Wights chasing them seem to struggle to find them even though their targets are inches away.
“Why can’t they see us when we’re eating these fruits?” I ask Cal. “For that matter, I kinda noticed that Wights never seem to pay attention to you or any of the other guides too.”
Cal nods as he grabs a machete and tosses it to me, barely catching it by the handle before the blade itself almost cuts me in the face.
“Wights, wrathful creatures born from souls, can only detect others like themselves. Most of the small fry don’t know guides like myself even exist.” Cal explains. “Some of the smarter ones, like the one in the middle of Nix, know we’re around and set up measures to stop us.” Cal lifts up his bandaged arm. It’s the same arm that got burned by the pink mist in Nix. “But no matter what they are, they will always think an angry soul is a Wight. Most of them just can’t tell the difference when you blend in.”
I try to take a deep breath and control the bubbling fury within me, but I just start coughing my lungs out inside. I try to just laugh, my usual tactic to calm myself down, but instead a terrifying roar escapes from my body. What a cruel trial this is! I gotta choose between getting attacked or staying angry while I’m on this island!
“So it’s entirely up to you.” Cal concludes. “This is your journey. I’m here to guide and protect you—”
“Dammit, Cal, do you ever shut your mouth?!” I bellow, storming further inland. “You better keep up then, I need to get the fuck out of this island as soon as I can!”
This is such a strange type of anger. In the past, I’ll get mad at something or someone. I have somewhere to direct that energy. But this one feels so empty. I feel the constant burning pressure within me, but it’s hollow. It’s uncomfortable.
My mind wanders off towards the memories I remembered as we entered Hydra. My final moments in my life was spent with me screaming furiously at someone. What a way to die, right? I yelled at someone then proceeded to get into a head-on collision and die!
Every bush and branch has at least one of fruiting hanging on it. It’s literally everywhere in this part of the island. One fruit in particular, a green-skinned teardrop-shaped fruit, bonks me on the head as it fell from the tree above me.
I take a look at the dumb fruit just laying on the ground. I know I need it, but I walk over it and continue down this path that I’m making with my machete.
We reach a clearing and I immediately freeze in place. About a dozen Wights of different sizes and shapes sleep on the ground. Other souls like me walk past them, screaming and spitting curses as they continue on their travels. We truly are invisible to them while eating the fruits here. I try to relax my shoulder muscles but for some reason they won’t stop contracting.
Cal clears his throat. “You’re running out of time—”
“I KNOW!” I fume as I glare at Cal. “I just want to go around them, all right? I’m not gonna take my chances with them!”
I run to the left of the clearing, hacking through the bushes and vines in front of me. After a while, the warm sensation from my body begins to disappear. I take a deep breath and it feels like I’m finally breathing air.
Electricity flies past me, tickling my ear with a small spark. The full surge of it hits a Wight in midair, a few feet from me, and it’s smoldering paralyzed body soars past me.
“If you’re choosing to fight, then fight!” Cal yells, stepping in front of me. He shoots another surge of electricity at something far away from us, but he turns his head and looks at me. His eyes grow wide in fear. “Behind you!”
I grip my machete, then swing it as I turn around. The blade slices into the head of a pig-like Wight. It flails as my blade gets wedged on the wound, but I snatch it deftly before the Wight falls on the ground. I follow Cal as he cuts a path through the bushes, and bringing us past all the fauna and into the open, flatter area of the island.
While there are fewer trees here, the trees that do stand are crawling with the darkened bodies of Wights. There must have been hundreds of them! Their glowing eyes all lock on to me, and in unison they all screech as they leap toward us from the trees.
“Nueve!” Cal shouts quickly before kneeling down on one knee. His hand shines in a pale blue light, and a wall of ice rises in front of us. Many of the Wights crash into the wall, but a few land on the ground and run around the wall to flank us.
The ice wall collapses and covers our flanks, refreezing once again to create a solid dome over Cal and I. The Wights bash and punch the dome, cracks quickly forming with every attack. Their growls sounds muffled from here, but the constant pounding on the dome sound louder and louder every second.
I fall backwards on the ground. I shuffle backwards until I’m touching the ice wall behind me, but I jump forward as another crack from a punching Wight forms on it. My grip on my sword loosens and I leave it on the floor as I try to cover my ears.
“Is this how you want this to end?” Cal asks, pushing his hands up on the dome. “Is it pride? Fear? Whatever it is that’s making you’re thinking, let it go!”
His concern for me brings me back to my senses. I feel the pangs of pain on my stomach once again. I know it’s not real, but it feels like it’s real, and right now that’s all that matters. I want to eat. I want to satiate this feeling. I’m dead— no, I got myself killed. But right now I have a chance to choose where to spend the rest of my afterlife! I grab my sword again, get up on my feet, and nod at Cal.
“I just need a distraction…” I tell him, panting already just from standing. “Just enough to give me an opening. There was less vegetation in front of us, so the fruits would be harder to find.”
Cal smiles and nods back. “Get behind me.” I follow his order as his hands glow orange. “Tisa!” A stream of orange flames shoots out from his palms.
He melts through the dome’s front wall , but he continues to large bursts of the flames as it burns the Wights. The pounding and scratching around the dome stops as the other Wights try to enter from the new entrance, clawing their way forward only to be greeted by more flames.
“Once I destroy the ice, run!” Cal emphasized. I ready myself and face the other direction. “Siyam!”
Winds swirl around us then blast away in all directions, sending chunks of the ice dome into the air. I’m sure the winds must have stunned the Wights behind me, but I don’t look back. I run back towards the path I made with my machete. I immediately spot a low-hanging fruit, round and yellow, right next the edge of the thick brushes! I grab it and pull it off from the vine!
Then three sharp spikes dig in to my left shoulder. The searing pain blinds me as I lose balance. I’ll fall and drop the fruit if I don’t do anything! I twist my body, turning myself to face my enemy. The talon of a vulture-shaped Wight grips my shoulder. My hold on my machete loosens once again, but I hold on. Its beak heads straight for my face, but I take a bite of the fruit. I swallow just as I slam onto the ground.
This damn vulture’s head stops in its tracks, but it still won’t let go of my shoulder. It winds up its head once again, then aims at my head. I move my neck just in time, and it smashes into the ground. It squawks fiercely and flaps its ghastly wings. It knows I’m still there, but it just can’t see me. With a flick of my wrist, I toss the machete to my free arm and catch it with my ash-covered hand.
I slash at the talon on my shoulder, shearing it completely off from the Wight. It tries to fly away but I hack at its other leg, bringing it down to the ground. It flaps its wings to try to fend me off, an invisible assailant, but I swipe at its wings and tear off the skin and feathers holding it together.
With the last of its energy, the Wight strikes once again with its head, but it grazes my left side. Now that it’s left wide open, I chop the head of the Wight over and over again.
I don’t remember how many times I kept striking the Wight; I’m sure its head had come off after the first few slices. But I kept going. And going. Heat radiates from my chest and spreads through my entire body. Every slash makes me forget for just a moment that I’m dead! That I’m stuck in Purgatory for one reason or another! That I feel angry for killing another person before I died! But that fleeting moment is too short—!
I stop moving as I hear something fall near me; a long piece of rope. I look up and see Cal standing over me right next to a hanging vine full of fruits.
“You chose to attract their attention, then hesitated when it came to defend yourself.” Cal jeers near me. “Come on, Thomas. We’re not even a quarter of the way through this island—”
“YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY?” I explode, trying my best to get up from the ground. I’m not sure if this is from the fruit’s effects or from that last Wight’s attack. The three puncture wounds on my shoulder probably isn’t helping either. “I know I’m not strong enough to take them all! But all of this anger inside me…”
I can’t even put it all into just a few words. It feels like magma continues to churn inside my body, awaiting for its inevitable release. Wrath builds inside my body and its destroying me from the inside.
“It’s too much!” I manage to squeak out. “I hate feeling this way! How is it humanly possible to feel this mad all the time! I can’t fight it!”
“Then don’t.” Cal suggests effortlessly. “Why are you resisting a normal human emotion? I’ve pissed you off so many times since you woke up; it’s a part of what makes up who you are.”
Cal picks one of the long orange fruits on the vine, then tosses it to me. I catch and almost crush it in my hand.
“You don’t fight anger.” Cal urges, picking up the rope near me and walking over to the head of the Wight I beheaded. “You convert all that energy within you and use it to your advantage.” He grabs the beheaded vulture-Wight and ties the rope around the beak. “Redirect it. Give it purpose!”
A large, furry Wight saunters into view. It reminds me to a bear as it walks on four legs. Its blank eyes stare at its surroundings. Can it sense us already? I stand up straight, catch my breath, and grip my machete harder. I take a bite from the fruit and toss it before it crumbles into ash. A renewed warmth enters my body once again, and I can already feel my rage building even more. Focus. Redirect my anger. I got this.
I glare at the Wight, and march towards it with my machete in hand. I grip the handle so hard that my knuckles turn white. My shoulder still hurts but I’ll use it to fuel my anger even more!
“Hey, can you hear me, you little shit?” I snarl at the Wight. It continues to search around it. As I approach, it starts to growl all around it. “Nothing personal, but you just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time!”
I run at the Wight, and this time it hears my footsteps. It roars at me and takes a few steps back, flashing its sharp teeth. I dodge one of its swipes and slashes at its neck with all my might. The blade makes contact, but it bounces off the Wight. As my machete’s blade reverberates from colliding with its target, the Wight’s head lunges straight for me. I dodge its head but its tree-trunk size arm slaps me and sends me flying a few yards away right next to Cal. He shoots a blast of electricity at the Wight and instantly shocks it until it collapses on the ground.
“Okay,” Cal laughs as he helps me up. “now we gotta teach you how to choose the right enemies to kill. Baby steps, you know?”