(AUTHOR’S NOTE! 🙂 This short story started out as an idea for a longer project, but it never quite came to fruition. I’ve kept a part of it for quite awhile now, unable to get rid of it. So I sat down to craft it into something I could post on here…and this long, unexpected story is the result! I hope you enjoy ‘No Words’.)
Connor Hastings did not talk. He hadn’t spoken for three months. He could, of course. The ability was there, never having been damaged or challenged. No, nothing and no one had taken it away from him. He had made the choice to shut it down. He had made the choice to control it and make silence its automatic setting.
That night, that one cold, terrible night in February, changed everything for him in an instant. He didn’t want it to. There had been several accidents involving teenagers in his small town in years prior, incidents that always turned into warnings, repeated lessons from parents. And those who were involved in the accidents always seemed to change. They were more careful, more nervous around even their best friends. They didn’t offer rides as freely. They didn’t want to risk anything. Connor didn’t want that. He didn’t want the change that could come with facing something like that.
But he got it, and then some.
He remembered opening his eyes to a different world that only looked the same as his old one. They had hounded him with questions and concerns almost the second he woke up. He was in a hospital, and that in itself was too much, but then they told him he had a mild concussion and a few cuts and bruises. Only a concussion and bruises. He knew that she was much, much worse off without them even telling him so. And here he was, awake and just fine.
His mother sat in front of him, his brother and sisters and a foreboding doctor all standing behind her. “Connor, honey?” his mom had said, so careful and quiet. “Do you remember what happened? Do you remember the accident with Lexie?”
He didn’t remember much after the screeching of tires and the initial pound of impact. What he did remember didn’t quite paint the whole picture, but it was just enough to mess with him and scare him into believing the impossibilities. He had stared back at his mother, and then looked at each of the rest of them, all with their eyes digging into him. He had cried, a few tears dripping one by one down his face. There had been a hard pain in his chest, a weight bearing down on him. Something within him decided not to answer out loud. He couldn’t answer. His voice was the one thing he could control in that moment. He looked back at his mother, and he simply nodded his head, once, twice.
Her face fell, looking suddenly concerned. “Connor Bug, can you talk to us?”
Could he? Yes. Would he? He had decided. He shook his head, letting the tears flow freely. Their faces turned to confusion, and the doctor calmly told them to ‘just give him time’.
But he didn’t want time. It was so easy to not talk to them. Why couldn’t he keep it up? Why shouldn’t he?
So as they gave him time, hers was taken away. Lexie died just two days after the accident, while Connor was still in the hospital, feeling guilty just for his lack of serious injuries and his choice of silence. He still didn’t talk, but he cried. He cried a lot. And it hurt. Every moment that went by, each time he remembered that she was really, seriously gone, he fell apart again. It was like he was suddenly doomed to live in this world of pain, silence, and secrets.
And so he solidified his decision and took a personal vow of silence. And for three months he had kept it up. He avoided conversation altogether if he could help it, and otherwise it was nods and body language and eye movements. They took him to a counselor, trying everything they could to get the words out of him without explicitly telling him to speak. But he had mastered it in a short amount of time. He wondered if he would ever feel the need to talk again.
But it was eating away at him. He wasn’t being silent just to be silent. He was holding something in, something dark and heavy. He thought maybe they would figure it out before he had to say it, that someone would finally reveal the truth, but no one had. They were still in the dark, and he was still in the quiet.
Lexie was almost always there, in his mind. Sometimes it was a memory, an old moment that defined her. Sometimes it was a hallucination, her voice surrounding him or her face just inches from him as she hammered unanswerable questions at him. But she was always there. Somehow.
She came tonight, in his dreams.
Except for Lexie’s presence, his dreams since the accident had not been all that eventful or surprising in their content. In this one, he was simply sitting at his desk in his room–where he spent most of his time these days–doing his homework. He would have labeled it boring if he didn’t know that Lexie was about to make her entrance and make it miserable.
She approached quietly, as she always did. Her hand appeared next to him on his desk, and without looking, he could feel her presence as she stood behind his chair. She didn’t make a sound–he supposed that was part of her new afterlife state. But she tapped her fingers on the wood of his desk nonetheless, her chipped purple nail polish seeming to be a neon light striking his eyes.
He was not fully aware of what he was writing. It didn’t mean a lot to him anyway, but in the moment it seemed like useless lines and meaningless words. But then his hand was moving without him really thinking about it. When the pen stopped, he looked down at the words he had somehow written.
I have to tell someone.
He pulled back, his eyes wide. He turned to look at Lexie, who raised one thin eyebrow at him, the rest of her face staying emotionless. He stared at her for a long moment, again feeling a sense of gratefulness within the dream that she looked normal, that her injuries didn’t carry over into her new being.
After a moment, she motioned her head toward the paper, and he turned to look again. On the line under the one he had written, there was another written statement. This time, it was in Lexie’s perfect cursive, deep red ink bringing her words back to life on paper.
You made a promise.
He brought the pen to paper again, words forming without thought.
Why does it matter anymore? You’re not here, Lex.
I don’t care.
He waited for more words to show up, but nothing did. Her hand disappeared from beside him as he turned back to her. She crossed her arms over her chest, staring down at the paper. He couldn’t figure out what she was actually feeling–she just seemed empty.
It doesn’t feel like they should know.
The cursive was suddenly starting to look sloppy, like it was rushed. Connor let his finger run over the ink, feeling as if it was becoming embedded into his skin.
But don’t you want them to have closure?, he wrote.
You’re thinking too much. I want them to move on, Connor.
He stared at his name, the only word perfectly written this time. He could remember her saying his name, random conversations with her. He remembered hearing her scream his name that night, the last thing she ever said.
The pen came to the paper, and he was aware this time. What about me?
He turned to look at her, and she actually had an emotion this time. It was just the slightest confusion as she glanced at him. He turned back to the paper.
Do you want me to move on?
His eyes stayed on the paper, waiting for her response. She stood in her silence, and if he didn’t know better he would have thought she had already disappeared from his dream. But she was close enough to him and her hair was long enough that it brushed against the side of his face, dark strands almost like knives to his skin.
Finally, a word appeared. Just one.
It was like a stab in the heart. That one word said about a million different things. It was an answer, a final response to so many of his unspoken questions.
He wrote again, feeling the control bleeding back into his hand as the words bled onto the page. I don’t want to do this anymore.
The pen fell from his hand, and he sat back in his chair. Lexie didn’t say anything, but he could feel her tension. He could tell she was upset with him–and she was upset with herself. But he meant it. He didn’t want to do this anymore. Not the silence, not the withdraw.
Not the secret.
He awoke with a start in that moment, squinting his eyes as he realized that he had fallen asleep in the middle of the day again. He sat up in bed, running a hand through his hair. He was certain Lexie was still in the room somewhere, somehow, staring him down with that terrifying lack of emotion. She claimed she wanted them to move on. She claimed that he was just thinking about it too much.
But that was exactly the problem. He was thinking about it too much. And he didn’t want to. It was taking him over. This wasn’t his story to tell. He knew that. But he also knew that Lexie deserved to be heard, and that she didn’t have the option to make herself heard anymore. She had been talking about telling someone. She had wanted to do it her way. But she didn’t have her voice anymore. She couldn’t have it her way. It was all taken away from her.
He had only taken his away from himself.
In an instant, he felt pushed from his bed. He walked over to his desk, opening the exact notebook he had been writing in during his dream. He flipped it open to a random blank page–except it wasn’t blank.
He stepped back, a gasp escaping him. His eyes landed on the writing, the one line in the middle of the page, but he wasn’t really reading it yet. He almost didn’t want to.
The curly, perfectly positioned cursive. It was Lexie’s handwriting.
He stepped forward again, resting his hand on the notebook page. It was hers. She wrote this. There was a smudge at the end of the sentence, a red mark of proof. He traveled back for a split second, back to the night of the accident, hours before it. He had noticed her writing in a notebook at the bottom of the stack he had, slowly and carefully transcribing her short statement.
“What are you writing?”
She stayed silent, slowly finishing off her sentence. As she did finish it, she just stood there staring at it, frozen in reflection.
She abruptly closed the notebook, stacked the others back on top of it, and spun toward him. She smiled, but it was lost, pained. “Secret messages,” she had said. “You know, silenced thoughts. Mysteries to solve years from now. Someone will know when to read it.”
And now a voice so far in the back of his mind but oh so loud was saying, Read it now.
He placed his other hand on the page, positioning the statement perfectly between his hands. It was only two words, but it spoke a million more.
Even when she wasn’t here, she did it her way.
It felt impossible that he would find this message, but he knew she had meant for him to find it–or at least for someone, anyone to find it. There had been suspicions surrounding the accident. Was this done on purpose? Something made them feel like they had the right to assume she had done something herself. He was there, and he didn’t believe her intention was to hurt herself–certainly she wasn’t planning to hurt him. But in all the dreams he had had since then, she hadn’t stopped it either. Maybe it just happened. Maybe she just let go.
But then again, maybe the lonesome line in his notebook was as much a message to him as it was a message to herself. Maybe she meant to come back to it. She hadn’t said he would know when to read it–she had said someone will know when to read it. Maybe she was supposed to be that someone. But now she couldn’t be.
Whatever the case, he was breaking his vow. Right then and there, it was time to stop running from the noise.
Connor Hastings did not talk. He had not talked for three months. Staying silent was his defense. But after all that time, the silence may have become much louder than the talking would ever be.
He rushed out of his room, down the hall toward the living room. He heard their voices before he saw their faces. It was his mom and dad, two of his sisters, but it was her parents too. They were over at the house a lot since she left them. Was it for interaction with an attentive family, or was it an escape?
He stopped abruptly at the end of the hallway. He thought about turning back, but they had already caught sight of him. His mom turned, smiling brightly at him. “Hi, Connor Bug. Did you have a good nap?”
He didn’t remember leaving them to go take a nap. How long had he been out? Just another side effect of not only his concussion, but of shutting down his words, his very thought process. He took a deep breath, releasing it, shaking. He tried to move himself forward, but his feet wouldn’t listen to his brain’s command.
“Connor?” his oldest–and most protective–sister Alyssa was getting to her feet, staring him down. “Are you okay?”
Finally, he figured out how to move again. He walked into the living room, went straight over to stand in front of the fireplace, facing all of them. They all watched his every move, studying him as they had done since that night. He looked between his mother and father, trying to communicate what he was about to do.
“Is everything okay, dear?”
Lexie’s mother’s voice sounded too much like Lexie’s in the moment. He clenched his fists at his sides, keeping his focus on his own parents for a moment longer.
And then, he looked over at them. He looked at her parents. She had kept this secret from them too, for much of her life. Her mother somehow didn’t know, and her father–well, he allowed himself to forget. This was something they had been painfully blinded to for years. Connor didn’t want her mother to live without fully knowing her daughter, and he didn’t want her father to live thinking he just got away with what he had done.
But was there a way to say this, some kind of script? The words just jumbled together with all the other trivial ones he hadn’t spoken in three months. Abusive. He hit her. He hurt her. He ruined her. He hid it all for all these years. He forced her to hide it. Baggy sweatshirts, too much makeup. He hurt her. It wasn’t his story. He couldn’t say everything. No words would be good enough for her. No words felt strong enough to bring justice to her. But he had to speak them. He knew he had to say something for her. He had made the mistake of not helping her before. Even if it didn’t matter now, even if it was too late, she needed to know that someone had tried for her.
“Connor, you’re starting to scare me. Is everything okay?”
He did not look at his mother. He forced himself to stand up straight, and he looked straight into the eyes of the man who had become his own enemy in the time he had known of him as Lexie’s enemy. The words he was about to say felt wrong, but at the same time they felt right, necessary. This was not for him–he wanted so desperately to do this for Lexie. He had been unknowingly waiting to do this for his best friend–he should have helped her do it a long time ago.
For the first time in three months, he spoke eight words that had just been waiting for release.
“I need to tell you something about Lexie.”