Gotta make it, he thought. The sun behind him was beginning to set, painting the sky a pink-orange shade he'd come to despise. Almost. . .there. . .
The bridge came into view. He slowed from a dead run to a to a jog, then a quick walk, then stopped all together.
He stood a little ways away from the bridge, making sure to look up only at the road going through it rather than the water off the the sides.
Okay, he thought, taking a shaky breath. You can do this.
"But I don't want to," he said aloud.
He heard his brother's voice ringing in his ears. Daniel screaming. Daniel choking.
He gritted his teeth, closed his eyes, and took a cautious step forward. Then another. Then another. The second he felt the grass beneath his feet give way to concrete, he had the sudden urge to vomit.
Step by single step, he walked to the center of the bridge. Cars passed to his right, honking at him on occasion.
Stupid drivers, he thought gratefully. He'd been desperate for a distraction. Damn them and their. . .their inconsideracy.
As to what, exactly, they were being inconsiderate about, he didn't know. He looked up at the sky again. The sun had almost gone entirely, hidden behind the hills. In the back of his mind, he could feel an alien, almost ticklish presence. It was a small, wordless presence, and it trickled coolly into his mind, leaving a sick sense of relief and joy.
Get out! he thought. It's not time yet.
Thoroughly scolded, but unable to hide its pleasure, the presence held back.
He climbed onto the edge of the bridge and, holding onto one of the support cables, looked down into the water. He regretted it immediately as he hit with an onslaught of vertigo. He leaned back against the cables and closed his eyes again.
"Hey!" he shouted. His voice sounded weak, even to himself. "Hey! I'm here!"
The sun set then, and the presence in his head rushed forward with full force.
You've returned, it said. With the sun gone and him now standing in the right spot, it could finally speak in real words. As per our agreement.
"Yeah, yeah," he said. Despite the chill, he was drenched in sweat.
Open your eyes!
He didn't want to. He was perfectly happy clinging onto the cords for dear life with his eyes closed. The being partially in his head wasn't having any of it. His eyes opened of their own accord. Far below, he could see the water lapping gently against the pillars.
Look, said the voice.
He wanted desperately to say something brave, to say something scathing and clever that would shut the voice up. Instead, the best he could do was make an incoherent squeaking sound.
Someone had told him once that when leaping from a great height, hitting water was the same as hitting concrete. You didn't get to drown because your neck had just been broken. He fully expected the last thing he heard to be the sound of every bone in his body snapping.
Instead, when he was about halfway down, the water rose up to meet him.
It enveloped him in a chilling cocoon. Eyes still being help open, he was forced to watch as the water engulfed him. The coolness flooded him, both inside and out. The water pulled him down.
Got you, said the voice. The alien sense of pleasure returned.
Fuck you, he thought, hoping to piss it off and earn himself a faster, less painful death.
It worked, almost.
What had begun painless and almost . . . careful, was the only word he could think of- turned violent. Water forced itself into his nostrils and down his throat. He began to flail wildly as pure animal instinct kicked in. Vainly, he fought to reach the surface. All the while, his eyes remained open. Pain burned through them just as it burned through his starving lungs.
Do not struggle.
He ignored it and kept for the surface. It was no use. Still flailing, he was dragged down by the current and into the deep.
What's mine is mine, said the voice.
With little other choice, his oxygen deprived brain accepted its fate and sank into unconsciousness. His eyes were still open.
* * * * *
He woke in stages.
Half formed images and vague, noises swam around him incoherently.
Underwater castles with spires passed by while he screamed without air.
Dark figures circling around him, whispering without real sound.
A blinding light fading into an impenetrable blackness with a burning pain in his eyes.
* * * * *
He returned to the waking world sunburned, feverish and in a pool of his own vomit. Spluttering, he sat up to find himself on a mud bank on the other side of the bay. Flies buzzed around his head, and his clothes stuck stiffly to his skin.
He stared fuzzily out at the water.
Why? he thought as loudly as he could. Suddenly unable to resist any longer, he turned to the side and began retching. Why didn't you kill me?
The voice sounded. . . sad? Was it possible?
A year and a day ago, you offered your life in exchange for that of the other.
An image of Daniel, splashing helplessly in the water flickered through his mind.
I agreed to the terms then, but I did not collect.
Yeah? So? He fell back against the mud, chest heaving.
I gave you a year of freedom. Today I collected.
But I'm not dead!
It is not your death I'm interested in.
A pit opened up in the middle of his stomach.
"My life?" he rasped.
How the hell does that work out?
A small bit of glass washed up on the bank.
It was a mirror. Well, a fragment of one. He studied his face for a moment, not quite sure what he was looking for.
I don't get it, he thought. What am I-
He found it.
Yes, said the voice.
"My eyes. What did you do to them?"
His eyes, which had been a pleasant shade of brown, were now blue. It was the deep, rich blue of open water, and it had no business being on his face.
For a long while, he wasn't quite sure of what he was seeing. Patches of the iris seemed to fade from lighter to dark- probably some trick of the light. Then something darted by. It came in from his right eye and flitted behind his pupil.
"What was that?"
He watched in horrified fascination as a school of what looked to be tuna swam through his left eye and came out the right.
"What. . . why did you do that?"
He could hear the smile in the voice. I've marked you out. You're mine.
Every year, you will return here. Every year, we shall be joined. Every year, I will renew my mark, and every year you will change. You will become as a creature of the sea, until you can no longer dwell on land.
He got to his feet.
"Why. . . why couldn't you just kill me?" His hands shook uncontrollably. Water streamed from his eyes- water that had nothing to do with the sea. Not yet.
A large wave hit the bank and foamy water rolled over his feet.
I love you. You're mine. I always collect what's mine.
He turned and ran.
The desert, he thought. I'll go to the desert. Nevada, maybe. Or maybe to the mountains. Mountains would be nice this time of year.
The farther he ran, the weaker the voice got. But even after he'd gone back into the city, he could still hear the echoes of the soundless voice calling him.
You're mine. I always collect what's mine.