This is Issue #2 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial.
* * *
It was cold when Jet uncurled himself from Kieron’s side. The dorm heater had puttered out, but the lamp was still lit; Jet padded around quietly on stocking feet, puttering, picking things up, putting them away. A glance at the timepiece told him he should try to get more sleep, but he didn’t want to be restless next to Kieron, and possibly wake him up.
Instead, he pulled his journal from his own bedside table, and took notes.
Date – January 9th, 3315
Time – 1:14pm
Method – vehicle
Name – Fallon ?
He added the sparse information to the dozens of entries that littered the notebook, and flipped back through some, to see if any pattern was readily apparent, but before he could make any real connections, he was startled from his thoughts by the sound of Kieron caught up in a bad dream. The young man on the floor thrashed, and Jet dropped his notebook, reaching for Kieron on the floor, rolling to pin him, leaning down to whisper, “I’ve got you. Shhh. Shh, Key, shh, stop. You’re safe.”
Kieron’s eyes flew open, and for one awful moment, all Jet could see in them was despair. Kieron went limp and still, and Jet immediately backed off, sitting up, flicking his hair out of his face. “Y’alright?”
Kieron nodded, silent. He was so quiet, lately, barely speaking, even when spoken to. His huge dark eyes took everything in, but he so rarely let anything back out, it was almost a miracle when he did. “You’ve got me, Jet,” he murmured.
Once Kieron was settled again, Jet was lucky to get a couple more hours sleep, before it was time to get up and get moving.
* * *
Morning meditation came too soon, but both managed to make it through without any incidents. Classes took the rest of the day, and then sessions on wargames, and dinner. The chaos of the cafeteria hall gave Jet one fuck of a headache, but Kieron seemed unaffected, and by the end, looked clear-eyed and almost as alert as he had been on the day Jet had first met him. He even talked and laughed with classmates until the bell rang, signaling vespers.
All the young men of the academy filed into the chapel, each class punctuated by prefects, teachers, and deans. Jet and Kieron stood side by side, knelt side by side, bowed their heads side by side, much like every other roommate pairing. Jet didn’t have his mind on meditation that evening, however; he kept watching for Kieron’s glassy eyes and trembling hands, a signal that he would have another episode.
When the night bell rang, Jet had just detected the first signs that Kieron wasn’t out of the woods. Usually the episodes happened in clusters, two or three happening within the same day, and then weeks would go buy before another one. Always the same: Kieron would get distant, weak, trembling, and then he would go slack, as though sleeping. When he came back, with a start, he was changed — what he’d seen while he was unconscious was more than any reasonable person could handle.
* * *
Jet remembered the first time he’d seen it — he was twelve, and had been at the Academy for a year. Kieron’s arrival that year was gossiped about for quite some time. He was given a room alone, and kept to himself for the most part, while Jet tried his best to become friends with his own roommate, a thirteen-year old who’d been held back one year, on academic probation. During a quarter break, Jet’s roommate Dion went home for a visit, and while repairs were being done to some of the plumbing, Kieron was temporarily moved into the empty bunk.
Jet tried for days to get Kieron to open up, but the boy was as withdrawn and antisocial as could be. One day, Kieron was even more listless than normal, and right after they got back into their room after vespers, even while Jet was in the middle of a sentence, Kieron simply fell asleep on top of his covers, silent and still. Jet readied himself for bed, put out the lights, and went to sleep as well, feeling lonely and perturbed that he was to be housed with this unfriendly creature for all of break. Abruptly after lights out, Kieron thrashed awake, groaning as if in the grip of some awful nightmare, and when Jet turned on a light to talk to him, Kieron got up and staggered into the bathroom to vomit for nearly twenty minutes. Just as Jet had made up his mind to tell a prefect, Kieron spoke the first words Jet had ever heard him say, “Don’t. They’ll send me away, too.”
Jet got Kieron a cool washrag and sat down in the doorway, saying, “Are you sick?”
“No,” Kieron replied. “Not like normal sick. I just…” He stopped talking, and stared at the washrag, and then stared at Jet, then looked back at the washrag. “Why did you give me this?” he rasped.
Jet blushed, saying, “My mom always got them for me when I got sick. You looked like you could really use something to make you feel better. Sorry, I–”
“Thank you,” Kieron said, earnest, his expression like something Jet would’ve expected had he just saved his life.
Jet blushed again, clearing his throat, saying, “S’nothing, I–”
“Your roommate died,” Kieron blurted.
“What? No, he’s just visiting his parents,” Jet said, laughing awkwardly. Why would Kieron say something like that? No wonder the guy didn’t have any friends!
“He’s dead,” Kieron insisted, calm, but firm. “His dad killed him. He was gonna fail maths again, and he was cutting classes, and when Mr. Ridgeworth got home from his business trip, he was tired and drunk. He beat on Dion all the time. This time, he kicked him down the stairs. Broke his neck. Wasn’t quick, though.”
“What are you talking about?” Jet asked, confused, and growing agitated.
“Earlier, before I got sick? I was inside his head. I could see out his eyes,” Kieron said, with the dull-eyed stare of a resigned confession. “It’s not the first time it’s happened. Not even the first time it happened with someone I knew.”
“You’re crazy,” Jet breathed.
Kieron’s expression was stung, at that. He stared at Jet for a long time, until the silence was so uncomfortable, Jet wanted to crawl out of his own skin. Kieron finally looked away and got up, wiping his face with the washrag. He rinsed it and hung it to dry, then put himself back to bed. The last thing he said that night, while Jet lay in the dark, wondering if the boy sharing his room would do something murderous in the night, was “I wish I were.”
* * *
Jet shook off the memory; it was almost five years ago, but he didn’t like remembering how he felt in those first few days after learning Kieron’s secret. How he’d acted. Of course, within three days, Dion’s death was the gossip of the school — friends of friends of the family heard enough detail, and smuggled-in newspapers confirmed the rest.
* * *
“How did you know?” Jet tried to shake Kieron awake, and finally the boy rolled over, rubbing his eyes.
“How did you know?”
Kieron looked sullen, moving to sit up, and asked, “Why would you believe me now? I told you four days ago.”
“Tell me again,” Jet said, insistent. “Tell me again and I’ll believe you this time.”
Kieron explained, then, what he’d figured out by himself in and out of private schools, hospitals, and even what other students had called his school before this, the Laughing Academy: he lived through the deaths of other people — seemingly at random, for some moments before their death, right until the instant they died. He could not convince anyone he was someone other than the victim, nor could he affect the outcome. Once the person was dead, he came back to himself. Usually, it happened at the same time the person was dying, though now and then, it happened a little while before.
When he was ten, he choked to death in the body of a man at a noodle shop, then half a day hour later, saw it happen when his parents took him there for lunch after yet another doctor’s appointment. His parents had thought he suffered from a seizure disorder, and after many visits to plenty of neurologists, and then ‘other doctors of the head’ as his mother had called them, he was eventually diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy, in combination with some variety of schizoaffective disorder, and put in and out of several institutions. Finally, at age eleven, they seemed to have stopped. Kieron petitioned his mother and father, begging to go back to school. This latest attempt was Kieron’s last, desperate hope to be normal. His parents allowed him to attend, upon the stipulation that if the seizures returned, he would have to withdraw.
The only thing was, the seizures never stopped — Kieron simply stopped notifying anyone of their occurrence. The school officials were told the boy had a relapsing/remitting non-contagious disorder, and were under strict guidelines to watch him closely if he exhibited odd behaviors, but for the past several years, Kieron Brody simply flew under the radar, aided mostly by Jet Harrington, and sometimes by luck.
* * *
Night bell meant it was time to get back to the dorms — when their class filed in through the common room, Jet tried to steer Kieron toward their dorm room, and mostly succeeded. “Up for some Spades?” one of the guys called after them. “Ah, don’t even ask,” another said, waving them off. “Brody needs his dick sucked and Harrington’s hungry.” Jet was so close, he could feel Kieron’s body tense up, and the young man turned around, trying to catch Kieron before he went to do something beyond stupid.
Kieron stood before the small group, breathing heavy, staring down the one who spoke, his expression sick with fury. “Redwell,” he began.
“Yeah, Brody?” Redwell drawled, laughing. “I’m not interrupting your night time bumming, am I? Should we let you go at it?”
“Key–” Jet began, but Kieron snapped at Redwell, “You’re a piece of shit who thinks he’s gotta make up for being scared by being an asshole.”
“Scared? What the fuck do I have to be scared about?” Hoyt laughed, rolling his eyes, elbowing his buddies. “Scared of an ass-pansy like you?” Then he lifted his voice in a mocking falsetto, crying out like Kieron had, in previous nights. “Oh Jet, it hurts! I can’t take it!” He dissolved into laughter, saying, “Man, I knew you were a tight-ass, but maybe Harrington’s really packing, huh?”
“Kieron,” Jet pled, reaching to touch Kieron’s elbow. He could see Kieron’s eyes getting glassy, could see his hands shaking. “Kieron!”
Kieron yanked away, and leaned in close to Redwell, shaking, and there was no fear on his face, but there started to be, on Hoyt’s. “It wasn’t quick,” Kieron said, baring his teeth. His voice was low, and just for Hoyt Redwell. “You lied. It wasn’t quick. You know what happens to someone who drowns? The body fights,” Kieron whispered.
“You shut up,” Hoyt whispered. “You shut the fuck up or I’ll shut you up.”
“It fights for air. It fights to live,” Kieron hissed. “She couldn’t reach the surface, but she could see you. Up on the raft. Her fingers came up out of the water,” Kieron said, his expression wild. “But you wouldn’t reach for her. What, were you were afraid you’d drown, too? You told everyone there was nothing you could’ve done,” he said. “But you were right there.”
“Kieron,” Jet whispered, shocked.
“No,” Hoyt said, his expression panicked. “That’s not what happened.”
“She couldn’t reach the surface, Hoyt,” Kieron said, and his voice lifted, just a touch, low and angry. Jet had never seen him so furious, had never seen him act like this. “And when the water was finally too much, she had to breathe. It burns, when you breathe underwater. You try to cough, and your whole body is on fire, getting that breath of water out, and then you breathe in another, and then your brain lights up like fireworks and you shake like a puppeteer thrashing a marionette, and everything is cold and dark and it’s like a night full of shrieking stars that all start to go out, and that’s what happened to her, Hoyt, because You Let It.”
There was stunned silence from the crowd that had gathered to see Redwell kick Kieron’s ass.
Kieron pulled back, still panting, a look of savage triumph on his face. He would pass out, soon, and Hell would follow, but afterward, Jet would be there, and no one would bother them.
He was the only one surprised when Hoyt threw the punch; it caught Kieron in the jaw and dropped him like a bag of sticks, and then Hoyt was on him, closed fists punching, and the blood was more than Jet had seen before. Kieron’s body went limp and he didn’t try to stop Hoyt from hitting him. though Jet and several other older form boys stepped in, no one could stop Redwell until the prefects came in, and hauled him away to face the headmaster, while Kieron was taken to the infirmary.
* * *