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End All, Be All (2020)

A Short Story

By Coraline KarimPublished 2 years ago 15 min read
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“Well, thrill me then, Miss Kanji,” said Dr. Holksom with his pompous grin and chiseled jaw.

Alina so badly wanted to find something to insult him with, a snarky comeback or a side-eye, but he’d always reject any possibility of Alina winning between themselves across the classroom. He relaxed his shoulders, leaned against the island table at the foot of the auditorium-like classroom, and sighed like a parent growing tired of his whining toddler. He raised a shaped brown brow and pursed his lips at Alina’s foot-tapping person.

“There are theories on dark quantum,” Alina said with a lump in her dry throat. Her skinny brown hands, fingers fiddling over her lower back, felt cold and the skin grew ashy and cracked.

Dr. Holksom shook his head and folded his hands under his shoulders. “How many times do I have to tell you, Alina,” he said in a gentle tone. “Dark quantum is the myth of myths. To harness its energy is like catching a bee unharmed with a throwing knife.”

He touched his thumb and index finger together and squinted his eye at the demonstration.

“It’s. Not. Possible.”

“It’s highly unlikely, you mean,” said Alina, her eyes staring past the professor and onto the whiteboard behind him. A diagram of tiny dots pushing through a slit and a single bigger dot were drawn in sequence. Beside the drawing was “Collapse” scribbled.

“It’s a one out of trillion chance to work,” she continued. “But that’s if it’s done without a loss.”

The professor’s relaxed frame tightened. She felt his blue eyes pulling her, and she saw something new in him: concern.

“I think that’s enough for today. Class dismissed,” he announced.

The rest of the class behind Alina all gathered their belongings and shuffled out of the classroom. Alina stood in place, her arms stayed stiff against her skinny jeans and her knees shaken. Dr. Holksom walked up the steps to her row and stood facing her at its end.

“Why the obsession, Alina?” he asked sincerely, a thermos cup in one hand and a briefcase in the other.

Alina lifted her chin and took a deep inhale. Her shaking stopped. “Everything’s an obsession until it’s proven to be true, Professor,” she said confidently.

He sighed and said, “and some obsessions are too dangerous to prove true.” He faced the floor, his eyes closed and his brows scrunched.

He heard footsteps growing closer. He looked up and Alina was close enough to tap noses. Her eyes were wide and her hands were in fists. “He was all I had,” she said, her voice trembling. “This is all I know.”

Dr. Holksom placed his items down but Alina already made her way back to her things and began to pack. She threw the Stanford University navy hoodie over her head and pulled it down, covering her lavender blouse .

“Alina, please let me help you,” he said. Alina began her climb up the stairs towards the exit. “At least speak to someone!”

Alina paced around the halls finding her way out. It was the end of her classes for the day and she found herself sinking her medium-length fingernails into her other wrist, wincing at the pain but never stopping.

She’s always starting shit, she heard a voice say, but all the students around her were too busy laughing with each other and not at her.

She sped up her walk, her platform boots slapped the tile floor with each step. She pulled her sleeve over the nail markings with her bloodied fingernail hand; a large burn mark covered the entire side of it. It looked like a rash that never healed and never itches.

Her hand rummaged through her bag as she made her way towards the parking garage. She found her keychain of car keys, house keys, and a pocket knife all clinging onto it. I heard she killed him.

“PLEASE STOP!” Her voice echoed in the empty garage. She hurried over to her red sedan and poked around her car lock until finally it inserted, twisted, and the door opened. She breathed in a long inhale and slowly released it. She got in, turned the ignition, and drove home.

#

You are an eight-year-old boy hiding in coat closet. You have small brown hands, and your body can snap like a twig. Your father back-handed you into the wall just moments ago, leaving your forehead bleeding and blinding your right eye. Your brother pushed you into the corner of the coat closet and told you to count to one-thousand: “Don’t open your eyes or you’ll be cheating!” he says playfully. He closes the door and hurried away towards the commotion in the house. He was 14.

You hear your father yelling at your mother, “WHY DID YOU LET HIM WEAR YOUR SHOES?!”

Your mother isn’t crying, but her voice is shaky; you can’t make out her muffled words. You hear a loud snap like a folded leather belt whipping onto itself. Your brother roars at someone. Another snap. Then a drop. You’re on 456. Your hands begin to shake. Your hands shake when your heart is beating rapidly.

You hear angry footsteps approach the front door. “When I get back,” he says, heaving. “I’m gonna turn him into a real man.”

The doors opens and closes, and then the roar of his Mercedes comes to life. You don’t understand why your father is never in trouble after he hurts your family. You don’t understand why he hurts your brother, a boy without an ounce of your father’s dark brown skin. You don’t understand why he hurts your mother who sobs in silence. You don’t know that your father met your mother nine years ago, and he finds condoms uncomfortable. You don’t know any of this yet.

You whisper, “1000.” Your eyes open and the light from the hall slices through the lines of the closet doors; they allure you. You walk into the kitchen where your mother ices your brother’s purple cheek. Her lip is bleeding and the whites of a single eye are red.

“Hi, sweetie,” your mother says with a warmth in her voice. You feel like everything is okay because nobody tells you it’s your fault.

Your brother peers over towards you and says, “You didn’t give me a chance to hide, dummy.” It feels normal. Every time it happens, it feels entirely normal to you.

#

Alina aimed her key into the office door lock, twisted, and pushed the door open. “Just come over to the office, please. I need you,” she said to her phone on speaker.

“Okay,” said a deep voice with worry. “Want me to stay on the line while I drive over?”

She placed her keys and phone onto the side table and removed her hoodie. “No, it’s okay. I should be fine,” she said with a struggle in her voice as she pulled her hoodie off. “I love you. See you in a bit.”

“Be there in a bit,” said the voice.

She rubbed down the wrinkles in her blouse and made her way into the larger room with sleeping circuitry, warm lightbulbs, and a black orb with wisps dancing fanatically on its small surface over a platform big enough for a large man. It looked like a larger coconut that was dyed blacker than night, and its hairs over-grew and found themselves reaching and flailing in every direction. Alina approached it calmly. She studied its form, expanding and contracting, like a baby breathing quietly in its sleep. It emitted a sound like waves crashing furiously while one is submerged deep underwater, everything around them blurred and muffled. Alina wanted to touch it. She wanted to caress this entity like the child she could never conceive. She looked closer at its noir surface; a tiny white dot in its middle hummed. Not a melodic hum but a hum by movement - like someone mouthing ‘hum’.

“Are you singing?” she asked. “To me?”

The white dot continued to hum to itself. She heard nothing else except its ocean-wave muffle.

She inched closer, her foot on the first step of the platform. She slowly reached the tips of her scarred hand, and the orbs wisps receding against her movement. She moved even closer onto the second step. She reached further towards it; the ocean-wave muffle became a gust of wind flying past your ears, the hum of the dot agape, its breathing expanding and contracting like a heaving heart.

The front office door opened and she heard a voice calling her.

“Alina?” it said. “Alina!” The voice’s footsteps grew louder and a slim white man wearing a red knit sweater, blue jeans, and tan dress shoes entered the larger room. “You left the door unlocked.”

Alina turned, and the man walked over to her and pulled her gently down from the platform’s steps. “Hey, you weren’t answering your phone and I got worried,” he said.

Alina shook her head and held onto his warm hands. “I just got off the phone with you,” she said dazed. “How’d you get here so fast?”

He walked her over to the desk with a laptop and desk chair. Streams of numbers and letters replayed on the laptop screen, code unfamiliar to the man. He sat her down and rubbed her hands. “They’re shaking again, Alina,” he said to her. “We hung up thirty minutes ago. Are you sure you’re okay?”

Alina moaned quietly. “I just lost,” she said, caught between her thoughts. “Track of time, is all.”

He nodded in disbelief. He gently rubbed her fingers then held them in his own. He kissed the back of her hand and she smiled. His eyes always seemed more black than brown to Alina; she’d always find herself staring into them like a creep even before they started to officially date. Her hands relaxed, and he smiled at her. Her cheeks rose and her eyes glistened.

“Thank you, Alex,” she said. “It’s been a very long day.”

He sat himself on the ground and looked up at her. “Wanna talk about it?” he asked. She couldn’t stop looking into his eyes. His kind, inviting smile and gentle eyes always made her feel safe.

“No,” she said with a giggle. “I feel a lot better now.” She rested the palm of her hand on his cheek and bent down to kiss his lips.

“I love you,” she said.

“I know you do,” he said with a smile.

“Maybe you should take a break from this.” he said motioning towards the machinery.

“We’ve talked about this already, Alex,” she said. “And I’m so close!”

She rose up from her chair and pointed at the orb. “I just need it to trust me.”

Alex sighed and rubbed the sides of Alina’s shoulders. The two were the same height, so Alina found it hard for her to look away from his pleading eyes. “I just think that what you’ve done so far with everything here,” he wrapped his hands around hers, “is more than incredible. You’ve made this vortex-thing out of thin air-“

“It’s cosmic string wrapping around itself constantly,” she said. “It’s highly unorthodox.”

“Yes, that,” he said sarcastically. “This, in itself, is paramount. You don’t need to keep going further.”

Alina shrugged him off. She sat back down and rolled the chair to the desk. “You see this?” she asked pointing towards the screen of moving numbers and letters. “It’s one single equation of gravity on Earth. The main difference is it’s relativity to the orb.” Alex looked at her with an unsure face.

“So pretty much, every planet has a constant gravitational pull based on its distance from its star, like our Sun,” her hands were relaxed and unshaken, her knees crossed and Alex kneeled on the ground to see the laptop screen more efficiently. “Except on here,” she said pointing at the screen. “every constant of gravity is fluctuating. It’s as if we - the orb - are traveling around our universe in an instant.”

She shook her head. “But some of these constants aren’t even supposed to be applicable anymore,” she said.

“What do you mean?” asked Alex. Alina’s eyes lay fixated on the black orb.

“Some of the constants are of a newborn star’s gravitational pull,” she said. “when the gravity is at its absolute strongest, so it can begin forming universes with faraway objects.”

“Alina...” warned Alex.

“If I can target a specific pause in its fluctuating gravity, then maybe I can go back to before my brother died!”

“Alina, that’s enough.”

“I can save him, Alex!”

“Alina!”

#

You’re clutching at your chest. The two officers who told you to sit down ask where they can find your mother. You can’t think right now. You don’t want to think. Your thoughts collapse onto themselves; you beg for help, for comfort, for your mother or brother, but you’re alone. You’re alone with two large white male cops that think you’re overreacting. You’re an eighteen-year-old legal adult male who shouldn’t be crying hysterically. You know this. You’ve been taught to be stoic and stone-faced by your father. You tell them where your mother works through the shivering sobs, “Somewhere in the public school system, I don’t know, I never asked.” The officers thank you and leave you. Alone. Your thoughts tell you to hide. Your hands shake and you can’t get up - your knees feel numb.

You reach for your phone. You don’t want to be the one to tell your mother this. You call your brother’s phone. You call it again. And again. He’ll never answer. You search through your contacts for Alex; you met him in middle school, in eighth grade. Remember that? He answers.

“What’s up?” he asks. You’re still shaking, and you struggle to find your words. “Ali? You okay? What happened?”

“My brother died, Alex.” you say in disbelief.

“What?” he asks in a way of shock and not uncertainty.

“I d-didn’t know who else to call, I’m sorry,” you say as you struggle to understand the situation.

“Don’t apologize! Are you alone right now? Are you safe?” he asks.

“I-I d-don’t think I’ll-I’ll be safe here alone, Alex,” you say incoherently.

“Don’t hang up; just keep talking to me,” he says. “I’m coming.”

It’s the day after your brother has died. You huddle in the corner of your mother’s bedroom closet. Neither of you want to sleep alone, so you sleep on the ground. The mattress makes you feel like you’re sinking too deep. You woke up screaming the first night of his death thinking you were deep underwater.

Your mother is in her living room with her friends. There’s a knock on the door and you hear your mother open it. “Please, see him. He’s in my room at the end of the hall,” she says.

You hear footsteps grow louder towards your closet space. You left the bedroom and closet doors open. Alex enters and peers to his left to see you huddled in the corner.

“I brought you snacks,” he says. “And some water bottles.”

Your wet face perks up at him. You say nothing. You’re too tired from crying.

“Can I sit down with you?” he asks. You nod and he sits on the ground next to you. “You want a hug?” he says. You nod. You cry into his shoulder knowing he’s probably not enjoying snot and tears piling into the fibers and soaking his skin. He does this every day until the funeral a week after your brother’s death. Fifteen years later you find a way to bring him back.

#

“You don’t even know if it will work, Alina,” Alex said. He tried to pull Alina’s gaze towards his, but she is fixated on her laptop screen.

“It will.” she said confidently, turned towards him. “The orb is a mass of dark quantum,” she leaned in closer, “it’s a beautiful abomination of nature,” she said. “But like magic, it comes with a price. I just don’t know what.”

“Alina, we’re happy. I know you loved your brother, but he wouldn’t want this for you,” he said. “Nothing needs to be changed.” He reached for her hand, but she refused.

“I’ve been working on this for almost half of my life, Alex,” she said. “I can’t just throw it away.”

Alex groaned while Alina input variables into her own equation unknown to the world. “It’s 0.67,” she said. “It’s a sixty-seven percent chance...”

Alex waited for her to finish but she didn’t. “For...? Failure? World annihilation? A sixty-seven percent chance for us to leave and go home? Please?”

Alina seemed unaffected from his comments. “Of it either not working or working,” she said.

Alex chuckled and snapped his fingers. “Well, I’m definitely not taking those chances. Let’s turn this all off and go home, please,” he said.

Alina powered off her laptop and shut down the machinery around the orb. Alex observed the orb, its tendrils reaching towards him. “I can hear it,” he said.

Alina slowly raised her head from her place near the back of the machine. “What? What do you hear?” she asked. Alex, in a daze, inched closer to the orb step-by-step.

“Like music. Like the entire orchestra getting louder and louder right before they get to the good part,” he says. He reached his hand towards the orb’s reaching tendrils. Alina moved around him, but a heavy force held her back.

“It’s getting louder. I can hear every instrument. It’s Tchaikovsky...no... Mozart?” His voice seemed muffled to Alina. She saw the white dot of the orb open wide, the beating of its form rapidly expanding and contracting.

He pulled his hand back. “Alina, you were right,” he said with his back turned from the orb. “It’s so beautiful.” The orb’s tendrils grew longer and closer to Alex.

“Alex, get away from it!” Alina screamed, struggling to reach him.

He moved down the second step.

Her ears popped like it would while flying in an airplane thousands of feet up in the air or while being submerged in deep water.

Then the first.

The tendrils grabbed onto his shoulders and hands and pulled him into the orb. She didn’t hear him scream. She couldn’t hear anything. The orb pulsated and expanded in an oval portal-like fissure bigger than her. The machinery around her began to move towards the pull of the portal, and soon she felt its grip on her.

Alex! she mouthed. ALEX! She heard nothing.

The portal engulfed her, and the fissure collapsed on itself then imploded.

#

Alina sees only white. There is a ringing in her ear. She tries to get up but her legs feel numb. Her hands are shaking, and her face feels wet. She rubs her hand along her cheek; she feels stubble. The whiteness starts to fade away. The ringing quiets. Sir? she hears. Sir? Where can we find your mother?

She looks up and two officers are towering over her seated position. “No,” she says, her voice deep and cracked. “No, no, no, no!”

She pushes herself up but her weak knees make her fall onto the ground.

“You good, sir?” asks one of the male officers. Alina looks up and the officer begins to fiddle with his pockets while the other waits by the front door.

“Yes. I’m fine,” she says while lifting herself up. “She’s a substitute at Robyn Elm Elementary nearby.”

The nearest officer claps his hands and thanks her. She watches them leave. She’s alone, her hands are still shaking, and her eyes are puffy.

“It didn’t work,” she whispers to herself. “IT DIDN’T FUCKING WORK!”

She drops to her knees and sobs. She heaves and clutches her chest. She reaches for her phone and unlocks it with her birthday. She searches through her contacts and finds “Alex” then calls him.

He answers. “Hey, what’s up?” he asks. Alina freezes. “Hello? Ali?”

She feels herself fall. She ends the call then cradles her body.

#

“Muhammad-Ali Kanji,” says the doctor holding a clipboard. He has wisps of great hair floating over white bald head and round glasses resting over his ears. The liver spots and wrinkles cover his hands and face, and Alina’s half-closed eyes stare at the table. “I read through your chart,” he says, stopping mid-sentence. “and your condition is entirely common.”

Alina didn’t budge. “Hallucinations, projections, mind simulations,” he says. “These are normal with grief.”

He waits for a response but hears none. “A method I like to use is re-telling, Mohammad,” he says with his clasped hands on the table of the ward. “Do you have a happy memory of your brother? Something that reminds you of him clearly?”

Alina lifts her eyes and looks at the doctor’s knuckles. She rubs her scarred hand, burned the night of her father’s outburst. He told her it would toughen her up.

“Imagine you are an eight-year-old boy, Doctor,” she says. He nods and lifts a pen from his lab coat’s front pocket and hovers it over his clipboard. “Imagine yourself hiding in the closet every week thinking it’s a game; but really it’s your father beating your family. It’s your father mutilating you for being different. It’s you ending everything then becoming no one.” He continues writing. “You end it all. Then you become all that’s left.”

“Do you see it, Doctor?” she asks.

With a smile he says, “I see it.”

Short Story
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About the Creator

Coraline Karim

Hello! I am a transgender woman (MtF), and I write fantasy/fiction/poetry reflective of my past, present, and hopeful future. What I write is ultimately for me: it's therapeutic and self-assuring, though please do not let it hold your own.

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