All in all, if you could measure these sorts of things by something as conventional as beginning and middle and end it took just twenty-four seconds to ruin the life of India Waits.
Let's say you're outside the ticket office at the Coca Cola Dome, waiting to get your hands on a rare ticket for some band you've never heard of, just because the guy you're with has a gigantic unadulterated crush on the angry Goth girl bassist. Even though it's threatening rain, and the clouds above you hover heavily and darkly, and the wind whips about you sharply, there are many people waiting in line with you. Apparently the angry Goth girl bassist is all the rage.
The wind nips and goose bumps rise on your chilled skin. With an involuntary shudder you grimace and shout something rude at your friend, but it's lost beneath the cold breeze and the rumbling of the clouds, and he actually smiles at you. Oblivious. Or not, perhaps, when you consider the fact that he loves storms almost as much as he loves angry girl musicians. His grin is just too innocent - you let loose with another curse that's taken right from your mouth by the wind.
The clouds above hover so low and solidly that they wouldn't be out of place in a horror sci-fi. Combined with the flashing neon of the sign advertising the Dome, and the wailing of the wind, you almost expect the darkness to suddenly part and reveal a spaceship bearing down on the earth.
Wrapping your orange and pink striped scarf tighter around your neck, you stuff your hands as deep in your pockets as you can, and glare with ferocity at your so-called friend. Over his corduroy-covered shoulder you can see another girl shooting her boyfriend a grim glance, and when her gaze slips from him to you, it's merely natural to share a reciprocal twitch of the eyebrow and a smile.
That damned bassist has a lot to answer for.
Above you, the clouds are rumbling warningly, and then a crash of lightning snaps around your ears, making you cower instinctively before you peek up circumspectly at the sky. The other woman grins. You're still enjoying the unexpected shared amusement when her gaze slips past you. It's a surreal split second, that moment when her smile freezes on her face, when her eyes widen, when she reaches backwards blindly, fumbles to get her fingers around her boyfriend's arm. Still grinning - it's happening that fast, though it seems like slow motion with the wind and the noise and the flickering neon - you turn around too.
Turns out that last one wasn't a clap of thunder.
There's a man in a white parka with darker splashes on it standing in the middle of an empty and ever-growing circle. Everything about him is average, from his brown hair to his brown shoes, and the only thing that would draw your eyes with its incongruity is the gun in his right hand. That hand is pointed at the ground right now, but the people around him are not taking chances, shielding their beloveds as they move back quickly. He lifts his face, his average clean-shaven face, and looks up into the sky. His cheeks are wet, but as you realize this you also realize that big fat drops are plopping down on the ground at your feet. What seems to be a big sigh rolls through the man, lifting his chest and shoulders in a display of lamentation, before he suddenly lifts the hand holding the gun and points it angrily towards the sky, yelling something. At the motion those nearest to him drop on the ground; a few women scream, but above the wind and the rumbling it's barely audible.
A horror movie without much of a soundtrack.
When he lifts his other hand, something at his feet shifts.
She's lying there prone, a girl wearing a pair of pink Nikes and a sweatshirt proudly displaying the same logo, barely visible now at the edges of a blooming red splash of blood in the middle of her chest. Her eyes are open, glassy and staring at him with a mixture of fear and incredulity. When she licks her lips faintly a smear of incarnadine stays behind at the corner of her mouth.
You'll remember that colour in your dreams for weeks, months to come.
There's a woman at the periphery of the circle, crouched down. At the girl's feeble movement she turns, looks, shifts forward slightly when she should be moving backwards. She must be a mother. When she extends a hand, the man catches the movement and whips his head around to stare at her fiercely. The gun is quick to follow, and the woman bends her head, shows her hands in silent supplication. She is so close to the girl lying in a pool of her own blood.
He looks down, at the girl by his feet, then the woman kneeling like a worshipper in front of him, her palms lifted towards him in a plea. His eyebrows contract, first into a fierce scowl, and then into a mute tortured entreaty. Glancing up sideways at the thundering skies - and now you are sure that they are tears, and not raindrops - he beings to wail.
The woman shifts forward on her haunches, watching him warily, her hands reaching out for the girl blindly. When her fingers come into contact with the rapidly dissipating warmth of flesh she abandons her wary vigil of the man and leans over the girl, her hands searching for some way to put pressure on the wound. There's so much blood. You find yourself thinking again that she must be a mother.
The wailing man spins on his heels, turns toward the tableau (which seems at that moment a grotesque homage to the Pieta) and raises his hand. The gun.
A young man lunges forward to try and cut him off.
The woman looks up; her mouth contracts into a wail, and she throws herself over the girl's body.
In the middle of the chaos - the increasingly fat raindrops, the reverberating thunder, the movement of a panicking crowd, the crack of lightning, the flashing red of neon - in the middle of all of that, the average man with the white parka and the brown shoes stumbles backwards slightly, puts the barrel of the gun to his own temple, and pulls the trigger.
There's more movement after that, but you can't seem to tear your eyes from the woman and the girl. The woman lifts her torso, slowly, as if she can't believe she's still alive. She glances around, sees the dreadfulness, winces, and looks away. With shaking hands she presses down on the girl's chest.
"Help! Someone call an ambulance!"
You can't hear her above the rumble and cracking and noise, but it's chilling how universally recognizable that first word is, even in the silent shaping of lips. The people around her are pulling out phones, making calls, crowding in or pulling away.
"Help! Is there a doctor?"
She's looking about helplessly, the blood welling over her fingers, and then her eyes lock on someone at the perimeter of the crowd.
A young girl - no, she's a woman; small, doe-eyed and young, but a woman nevertheless - is shaking her head at a large lion-haired young man who, it appears, is trying to push her forward as he repeats something insistently.
The woman on the ground calls out to them, but they can't hear. Not with the way the small woman has her back to the scene. The man leans forward and says something, his slanted eyes yellow and pleading in the darkness, and then, after a moment of silence, his friend nods her small dark head. When she turns her shoulders are slumped. Her eyes look haunted. There's something in them that you can't place.
She drops down on her knees next to the still girl. The woman asks her something, "Are you a doctor?" and she shakes her head in the negative.
"I'm a natural healer. Reiki."
You wouldn't be able to read all of that from her lips, but this is what you were told later.
The older woman shrugs. She has no idea what it is. "Can you help?"
"I can" the younger woman is hesitant. "I can find a pressure point."
She reaches out, tentatively, but as her hands touch the girl they seem to be tracing a path they know well. The older woman moves her hands away, issues a question to one of the men holding a phone at the edge of the circle, "how long still?", but you can't stop watching those small hands.
You think you're probably in shock.
The young woman's fingers find the wound, and then she's pressing down. Suddenly the girl below her is moving, trying to shift away from the abrupt pressure. Her eyes snap open, blearily, and she begins to whimper. The older woman is leaning down, trying to soothe her, but the younger woman simply focuses on her hands. As if she is scared to look up.
The girl is moaning. "Ow", it could be, or "no." Or "don't". You can't tell. Then "stop".
Later you'll wonder if you imagined it, the fact that the girl and the young woman close their eyes and seem to stop breathing at the same time. The young woman's eyelashes flutter and her lips move, ever so faintly. Her brow crinkles.
It could have been the combination of the lightning and the neon that made them glow. Many people said so. You, however, have your doubts. After all, in your mind's eye you can still see how that odd shine starts from the young woman's hands, spreading outwards to envelop the girl's chest. How the girl's eyes suddenly open again, and this time there is more in them than pain.
She is afraid.
The people around them are closing in, warily. Scared. Watching as if they expect them to grow wings and fly away at any moment.
The young woman is still murmuring.
"Baby, that was too close."
That is what he said it was, later, one of the guys close enough to hear. There's no one else who can say. It seems unlikely. She doesn't seem like the sort of girl who would say that kind of thing.
And you can't help but notice how the colour drains back into
the girl's face. How her chalky white cheeks regain their blush, how her almost-blue lips begin to turn pink gradually. It's as if the film is rolling backwards. She's blinking rapidly; her eyes pinned with grim fascination to the young woman kneeled next to her, almost as if she's getting ready to run.
Now the hum from the crowd is rising. Nobody understands what is happening, but something is definitely happening. Something they've never seen before.
Then, as if an electric current runs through the young woman, something is pushing her away from the girl violently. Catapulting backwards she half-falls on her back, putting her hands out just too late, rolls over onto her side before stumbling to her feet a little clumsily. The man standing closest to her seems torn between helping her up and rearing back.
The older woman who had been helping the girl sits on her haunches, her mouth slightly open as she gawks at the young woman blatantly.
A movement catches your eye, so much like the first one, but this time around the girl is sitting up, her shirt sticking to the thick blood below her for a moment before it tears loose. She's dazed and shivering, but she's moving well for someone with a bullet in her chest.
Except that she lifts her hands torpidly, pats at the mess on her sweatshirt, and by her expression, you - and everybody else - can tell that there's no bullet hole anymore.
A few dozen sets of eyes track back to the young woman who is standing there, lost and small, her eyes locked with the lion-haired young man's. Her hands rise as if they have a mind of their own. Tearing her gaze away from him, she glances down at the blood-covered limbs. Curls the fingers. Looks up at the girl, who is looking back at her with something approaching awe. Her lips move sharply, and then she's running, pushing through the crowd. The throng parts to let her through, but the murmurs follow her until she rounds a corner and is gone.
The thunder rumbles above and the rain starts in earnest.
You may have been wrong, and you very likely are, but you could have sworn that what the young woman said was "Oh fuck".