By Thomas D
Love Always Hurts
For Slavace, it’s where you belong. But the truth is, he’s never been home. He was born in hell, and there wasn’t a day when he didn’t try escape. But the Yellow Brick road became his Via Dolorosa a long time ago. And that day hope almost left him.
It’s the year 2020, and the world is balancing on the edge of a dark abyss, as the tensions between the East and the West have become the worst since the Cold War, and the United States has become so weakened by the economy in the past few years most people have admitted it lost its superpower status.
But it was Slavace’s true home. He just wished he could see it before it perished.
Studying lies in high school all day long, he felt like a piece of shit, smudged on the floor, like a gladiator among lions, like a microbe among antibodies, like a nerd among bullies, like a Jew among the Schutzstaffel, like Martin Luther King among KKK members.
Complete absence of friends, job, money or self-respect gave Slavace more time to work on himself than other kids. Day and night he stared at his computer screen learning everything from hacking and martial arts to foreign languages and flying planes. His mental condition was that of a spider that could kill a bull with its deadly poison but unable to bite through the thinnest paper with its fangs.
Since he was 7, Slavace was building his own biplane from his dead grandfather’s retro car and any junk he could find in hope that one day it would fly him to America, crossing the Arctic Ocean through SAM missiles and border security.
All of a sudden, he felt the urge to web search the Bible. Maybe this book would pull him out of the fiery abyss of desperation.
He read it, verse by verse, because now he realized that there was nothing left for him to do but to pray.
And he prayed—for the first time in his life.
And he prayed—for the first time in his life.
“Jesus, I give my life to You. Thank you for dying for my sins…There is only one thing I can ask from You…” Slavace burst in tears and shouted in English ”Let me be born in America!”
For Gilgamesh, home is in Los Angeles. There, he has it all—college, friends, and, of course, Ciel-Monique.
They stood near the observatory. Griffith Park had a live music event that evening, amid the ads screaming to vote for a particular president nominee of the 2020 elections.
The sky was overcast, contrary to Gilgamesh’s plans. He’d expected a nice sunset with the Sun only as bright as to look at it and not get blind.
Resting on the bench overlooking the musicians, Gilgamesh looked at the sky, then at Ciel-Monique.
“You know, that’s not a typical California weather.” He said. “We usually have like three hundred sunny days a year.”
“We ‘ave almost as many days of snow in Québec.” She replied, nasalizing the ‘i’ in ‘in’.
“There are not too many places in the world with a climate like California.” Gilgamesh continued nerdly. “It’s like in Italy, actually, and they call it a Mediterranean climate.” Then he wanted to say “Get used to sunshine, my Princess”, but all he could say was “Get used to sunshine, Ciel.”
“You can’t separate Ciel-Monique. Ciel is ‘Sky’.” She said tending to put the stress in the ending of words, pointed in the cloudy firmament and gave a short, H-less laugh.
“Right, sorry,” feeling stupid, he made his ‘smiley’ face after his words.
“Lol” she said aloud, influenced by their numerous chats.
The next moment they were interrupted by Jean, Ciel-Monique’s older brother. He ran up to his sister, muttering something in French, and with an enthusiasm of a little boy, gave her a piece of paper with a drawing of some kind.
“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” She kept asking Jean, and Gilgamesh peeked over her shoulder.
“Is that your new drawing, Jean?” He asked, looking at something that resembled a desert planet landscape with a shack in the center.
“No, Mesh, it’s mine, don’t you recognize the style of a genius?” Hank, Gilgamesh’s sarcastic brother, caught up with Jean, whom he volunteered to be responsible for during the event that day. “Did she say ‘yes’ already?” He whispered that part.
“Enjoying the party, brother?” Mesh raised his eyebrow.
“I am a mortal enemy of parties. Unless it’s the Republican party…I think it’s your turn, Mesh.” Hank said, jerking his head in the direction of the makeshift stage absent from performers. “What are you waiting for? Until you find the elixir of life?”
“No.” Gilgamesh smirked at the mention of his pseudo-hobby chase after the secret of eternal life. Then he looked at Ciel-Monique. “I found something much better. I’ll play this song I wrote for you, Ciel-Monique.”
She smiled at him. Part of her predicted what Gilgamesh was up to, he was too predictable, too ‘stereotypical’. It always made her feel special, but also shy. She made sure Jean calmed down and said ‘Okay’.
Gilgamesh plugged the guitar in the amplifier and adjusted the mic, as he turned on the volume and prepared to sing to his lady that was sitting in the first row (out of two).
He close his eyes and squeezed the guitar’s first fret with his fingers, shaping them into a chord. The noise of the amp had become music, the moment was in his hands. People welcomed the new guitarist with cheer.
The clean acoustic sound was hypnotizing, Gilgamesh focused on lyrics as the vocal part came in. Eyes shut, he was shaking all over, only his voice steady. Finally, his heart sang the chorus:
“That’s it, I eventually found her,
for who I won’t regret to give my life,
For you, for the girl best in the 9 worlds,
I see it in your eyes”
The final chord of the chorus hung in the air. The second verse was lost. People thought he broke down because of the pressure, and some listeners jeered.
Ciel-Monique saw Gilgamesh open his eyes, but it was not him behind his retina.
…Slavace has never performed in front of a crowd. This dream was different from any other dream he’d ever had, this one was good. He knew the place like his backyard, but he’d never been to Los Angeles. He started to think this place did not exist, but it was real. Like a beast released into the nature after a forever of stuffy, sulfur-smelling menagerie, Slavace woke up.
“Who you guys?” Slavace muttered with an accent, looking at Hank.
“I’m Emperor Hirohito Nakamuro. And this is Ali al-Habib!” Hank said pointing at Jean. “Play, bro!”
Only now did Slavace realize he was holding a guitar, the first guitar he played and hadn’t made himself out of wood and junk. Overdriven, he turned distortion for his guitar, hitting his first tab the force of a boxing champion. The loud thunder of the open strings rolled and echoed over the park. When he was playing, it seemed he was fighting the guitar. The lyrics he’d written shouted:
“Why are you trying to crawl?
Try, try again and you’ll fall,
Run from what you’ve been denied,
FLY! On the Wings of Fire!”
Ciel-Monique liked the ecstasy with which he played the song until he suddenly stopped.
Gilgamesh realized he was playing the guitar with distortion on, and he did not recognize his chords, dominating the silent park. He assumed that he finished playing.
A distant echo reached Gilgamesh’s ears, but he was not sure if it was thunder or his final chord, but he realized he had to hurry.
Pretending he was invisible to the applauding crowd, he approached Ciel-Monique and took her hand.
Jean was the last to stop clapping, as if because the force of inertia.
“Hope you catch the sunset, brother.” Hank said before the couple left him, Jean and the crowd behind.
Ciel-Monique pretended she didn’t know why Gilgamesh led her along the path for joggers past gracious trees towards the cliff from which you could see the city and the ocean. The observatory became a castle, the clouds revealed a portion of the sky and the sunset shone on the two.
That was the moment. Gilgamesh wanted to say all what he had to say before the Sun hides behind clouds or the horizon. It was important. Why was the weather so weird that day?
He opened his mouth, but hesitated. This is when Ciel-Monique spoke.
“Mesh, I’m so sorry I said so many bad things to you in the past…”
“Sometimes you pretend to be mean, but it’s not who you are, you’re better than that. I love you, Ciel-Monique, because you’re worth these feelings…You’re special, you are the most wonderful girl on Earth. I promise you I will always love you more than anyone ever will.”
At these words, Mesh reached the Sun with his fingers and Ciel-Monique saw the sunshine form into a ring.
“I want to say ‘yes’, but I’ve hurt you so much in the past…I don’t know if I can live with it.”
“Love always hurts. If you’re without me, if you just look away from me it makes me wanna die, but if you’re with me I will still be hurt, because I will be afraid to lose you.”
“I know what it’s like…There are two things I’m afraid of the most. One is…”
“Lightning.” Gilgamesh knew that she was born with astraphobia, the fear of thunder and lightning.
“Yes, and the other is to lose you.”
“I never told you, but I also have a phobia. I’m terrified of heights, don’t know why, but I’ve always been afraid of heights or flying ever since I was a little boy…But it’s nothing compared to how much I am afraid to lose you. Let’s be afraid together, Ciel-Monique.”
Then she whispered ‘Yes’ and put the sterling silver ring with a diamond on her finger.
…Slavace never kissed a girl before. He knew he was not dreaming this time. He WAS in America, being kissed by a girl he didn’t know.
In hell, he’s only been criticized, argued with and bullied by the society collectively and saw nothing but brainwashing, alcoholism and foul language. But this is over. He will never return…
Gilgamesh woke up from that eerie feeling again. Part of him told him he’d blacked out as he stared into Ciel-Monique’s eyes that were asking ‘Is something wrong?”.
The Sun set.
Gilgamesh shook all over. Blinded by the feelings, it took him a few moments to realize the world shook as well.
Taking Ciel-Monique in his arms to protect her, Mesh stood there, terrified by the enormous crack growing in the city of Angels.
Los Angeles was sinking into the San Andreas Fault.
The newborn lights on Sunset Boulevard have now gone dark, the Hollywood sign now read ‘llywocd’ and Mesh could swear one of the skyscrapers in Downtown collapsed.
A gigantic wave was born on the horizon, as the sky started to shed tears. Shocked by the sound of four million screams, Mesh watched the tsunami cast its shadow over Santa Monica, consuming the Ferris wheel, movie studios, mansions…
From the San Gabriel Mountains, Mesh and Ciel-Monique could see his neighborhood, his home and his family perishing underwater.
The reality has just re-shaped itself. Mesh realized that it’s never going to be the same again.
The earthquake took away everything from Gilgamesh except for Ciel-Monique, but at least she was safe at the elevation of 1,134 feet…
…Until the firmament split open and the moment tore itself apart with the sound of an explosion. The thunder and the lightning hit at the same time—just a few feet away from Ciel-Monique.
She glued to Gilgamesh, hearing him lie that it’s all over.
Against all common sense, the lightning struck again into a tree not too far away from the two.
It was time to run.
As they ran along the hiking path, the Lightning stuck at least ten times, each time into a tree closer and closer to the couple.
When they finally reached the lawn in front of the Observatory, Mesh realized he couldn’t hear the screaming of the panicking crowd. Everybody was fleeing hysterically, avoiding the trees, monuments and high objects, which made it impossible for the couple to run; they had to squeeze themselves through the crowd.
Mesh was still deafened by the sound of thunder when they finally reached their van, and Hank and Jean’s words were not audible to Mesh. All he could understand was that the Lightning was chasing them, and it was Mesh who had the keys to the van.
Fueled by adrenaline and anger, Gilgamesh started the van and almost immediately crashed into the nearest lamppost.
Whether his hearing returned or Hank shouted louder, Mesh heard his brother command him to move away from the lamppost.
As soon as he did that, the lamppost was destroyed by another bolt of lightning.
As Mesh was racing away from the flooded streets of Los Angeles, it became obvious that the Lightning was pursuing their van. One and the same Lightning zigzagged through the billboards and bridges like a cheetah chasing its prey, looking for a moment to strike and blinding the driver in the van.
Ciel-Monique was not screaming anymore, she squeezed her engagement ring, picturing herself as a bride, fantasizing about her marriage.
Her phobia became theirs.
Hank kept telling Gilgamesh to drive to the Mojave Desert, justifying it by absence of clouds in the desert, therefore, absence of lightning.
After hours of pursuit, the van reached the empty roads of the Mojave Desert, with the starry sky free of clouds. The Lightning lost them, as if tired of racing. Ciel-Monique fainted as soon as they left the city, but she was breathing.
“The End of the world was not in my weather forecast today.” Mesh spat out the remnants of his sense of humor. “I’m kinda starting to believe in this Revelation stuff.”
“It’s never too late, bro.” Hank replied. Back in LA, he used to be a pastor. “It is surely God’s wrath, and we deserve it, but the good news is it’s never too late to turn away from our sins.”
Mesh hesitated with the answer.
“I’ll think abou--” Mesh never finished his response. The Lightning struck from the clean, starry sky into the telephone pole that the van had just left behind.
Jean screamed in French; fear woke Ciel-Monique up.
Hitting every single pole the van leveled with, the Lightning was angry they still managed to survive.
“DRIVE OFF THE ROAD!” Hank ordered. He was the only one in the vehicle whose common sense was not yet killed by terror.
At the speed of 90 mph, the transition from the slick road to the rough desert was brutal.
But at least there was NOTHING AT ALL in the desert to be hit by the Lightning, so it stayed in the last telephone pole it had hit, raging from hunger.
…Slavace has never driven a car before. He only had an idea how to fly aircrafts…
The first thing Gilgamesh heard when he regained consciousness was Hank shouting “Get out of the van, Mesh!”
Apparently he almost got everybody killed by hitting a yucca that he had only 5 percent chance to collide with.
The fresh air of the Mojave filled Mesh’s lungs. He grabbed Ciel-Monique’s hand, the one with the silver ring.
Sunrise was almost soon…if they survive to see it.
Instead, it was a plasma-like entity made of black light.
A living ball lightning.
For a split second the friends stood, petrified. Then Hank took initiative again and pointed them towards a small house in the distance…a wooden SHACK with no light inside.
They ran, as far away from each other as possible, as fast as if the shack was the only safe place from the Lightning.
Mesh never let go of his fiancée’s hand, but when it became obvious that the ball lightning was stalking the couple and not their friends, Mesh exploded with the instinct to protect his woman by sacrificing himself. It was the only way.
But the lightning ignored the easy prey and instead, blinded by the desire to touch the shiny silver ring, a PERFECT conductor, embraced his wife-never-to-be.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Gilgamesh froze and blacked out even before Ciel-Monique hit the ground never to get up.
The Lightning struck from ground into the sky and left the scene of crime, leaving Hank, Jean and a shadowy figure of a man in the doorway of the shack with two bodies, one not breathing.
The online news Slavace read that day was another wave of damage to his heart and sanity. The West Coast has submerged in water after the San Andreas Fault finally collapsed. He has already been separated from his dream to see the Twin Towers. 9-11 was a terrorist attack in his heart, before it even started to beat. Now, nineteen years later, Slavace would never see Los Angeles.
Slavace typed “Los Angeles” in the search bar of his browser, but instead of finding pictures of the city before it was destroyed, all he saw was the deceitful 404 error message.
He checked his pre-millennial Ethernet cable and went to the system properties of his operating system that was so old its developer ceased its support in 2014. Then Slavace realized—their internet was disconnected due to nonpayment.
Slavace could not live without the Internet—it was his only source of communication with the West, the only way to see his home from the window of his browser, the only way to practice his hacking skills in hope he could one day hack into the database of his corrupt government to erase all records about himself, to disappear from their harassment.
When Slavace went to his dad’s room to explain all this to his father, he said Slavace doesn’t need the Internet and called him a profane Russian word that is untranslatable into the English language. Slavace’s teenage anger exploded inside of his head, and he told his dad how much he hates living in this house, in this country. Then his xenophobically patriotic dad took the half-empty cheap beer bottle and hit Slavace so hard with it the bottle broke in hundreds of pieces. Accusing his son of having wasted his beer, he made the injured boy clean the floor from the razor-sharp broken glass. While paying for his father’s mistakes, all he could see was his own reflection in the broken glass, terrified at the thought he would become like that;
All he could dream was to report his father as a child abuser to a fictional agency that doesn’t exist in his country;
All he could feel was that he had been wrong in calling Russia hell.
It was worse than hell.