Aiden ran his fingers gently across his bracelet, the familiar braille words pressing reassuringly into his skin. Be safe. The last thing she’d ever given him, when he came to visit on that final day. Be safe. It made him happy, that simple little thing. To know that, in her final days, all his grandma had wanted was for him to be safe. He wore it like a ward every day since, carrying her blessing with him always.
They still didn’t know what had taken her. That night, she was alive and well; in the morning, she was… she was gone. He hoped against hope that it had been peaceful for her, but he knew it hadn’t been. They found her lying in bed, her unseeing eyes nonetheless wide with shock, her mouth wide in a now-endless scream. The doctors called it a heart attack, but Aiden saw something more in her eyes, on her lips. He saw fear.
She had died afraid. He ran his hand once more over the bracelet, trying to soothe himself, to wash away those thoughts. Be safe. Be safe from what?
Aiden rubbed his shoulders, trying to work some life back into his prickling skin. The room felt cold, in spite of the blaring sun and blasting heat outside. He pushed himself up from the couch and got to his feet, his vision blurring into a grainy mess, the oxygen rushing from his brain. He wobbled, took a deep breath, and slowly made his way to the thermostat. He felt the familiar dial, warm against his hand. Odd that the machine itself wasn’t as cold as the room, he thought. Maybe it had short-circuited. But there were worse things than a cold room, in the middle of the summer. At least it hadn’t gotten stuck on a heating cycle.
Still, he cranked the knob up, click, click, click, three degrees higher, and stepped back. The room was still spinning, the grain in his eyesight filling his grandma’s old apartment with movement he knew was absent. Nobody else had cared enough to help him box up her things. They were happy to let it all get thrown away. But Aiden couldn’t do that to her, couldn’t let that be his grandma’s final legacy, one of loneliness and neglect. So, ironically enough, he was there alone. The place was still, except for him. His vision would steady, he knew. It just needed time. He collected himself, the sound of breathing filling the still room. Why was it still so cold?
Suddenly, he felt the air emptying from his lungs, slipping out of his mouth. He stumbled forward, bracing himself against the wall, his fingers splayed wide against the rough surface.
But something was wrong. Beneath his fingers, more of those familiar bumps. Writing? he thought, On the wall? He shook his head. It was probably just some irregularities in the plaster mold, nothing to worry about. But why had that prickling feeling in his skin still not gone away? On an impulse, he ran his fingertips once more over the spot, feeling for words, his eyes shut tight.
Stay with me.
He jerked his hand back, stumbling away from the wall, and tripped over one of the boxes behind him. He fell, his back smacking into the ground, his head cracking against the floor, softened fortunately by the plush Persian carpet he’d gotten for cheap from that strange, twitchy man back in New Braunfels. He thanked his lucky stars, caressing the soft silk surface, lost in wondering why he’d gotten such a nice rug so cheap.
He froze. Panicked, he rubbed his hand back over the rug, but there was no mistaking it. Those delicate silk fibers, popping out from the rest of the rug, unwavering under his touch. There was no mistaking the words.
You are here now.
Aiden leapt to his feet, jumping clear of the rug. The grain in his eyes hadn’t faded in the slightest; the room whirled with motion all around him. He was so cold, he felt like he would freeze. He cast around desperately for the door, but he couldn’t make anything out through the grain anymore. He tried to run his fingers over the bracelet, but the words had faded. He was alone now, completely and totally alone. That strange prickling feeling bubbled all over his body. The sound of breathing filled his ears, breaths not his own. He clapped his hands to his ears, desperate to block out the noise, found his skin riddled with goosebumps. Shaking from the fear, from the cold, from the crushing loneliness, he ran his hand over the back of his neck, reading those strangely perfect bumps just under his flesh.
You are mine.