An image of the Vasa Bridge of Stockholm at night with lit up highrises in the background in the background. The underside lit by orange light. In the foreground, a life preserver is affixed to a rescue ladder.

Chapter Twelve: Emergency

I don’t believe in an afterlife. I don’t believe in fate; I believe in coincidences. I try my best not to place meaning in pure happenstance. However, I grew up in America. When you’ve had that kind of upbringing, it seeps into your subconscious. It permeates your every pore and lingers like a plague.

Not to read too much into chance events, but the train has been sitting motionless just outside of Karlstad for what seems like an eternity. Stopped by a ‘signal problem’, while my window of opportunity slowly and steadily slides shut. I say I don’t believe in an afterlife, and yet here I am entertaining the thought that this may be a sign. Perhaps my irate dead lover no longer desires a dance underwater with me. Here I sit imagining a furious phantasmagoric Micke, defiantly blocking the train, taking a wide stance on the tracks and departing only to give the signal a frenzied shake, just to fuck up my plans.

A stylized image of the ghost of Micke standing on the tracks blocking the black SJ train. Its lights cut brightly through the darkness and illuminate his figure.

As the possibility of a meaningful end comes under threat of slipping away, my anxiety spikes again. I close my eyes and, with burning lungs, breathe in and out. When that does little to abate the angst, I search the pockets of my jean jacket, tracing my finger along the seams, hoping to hit upon a long forgotten pill from the days when doctors trusted me with that sort of thing. Failing to find anything, I free still another tiny bottle from my bag and down it, which in itself is dangerous.

My efforts are too late to quell the black swells. I see Micke on the bridge, bad blood and eyes ablaze. As I gasp for air, the light hits my eyes and I collapse forward, resting my head against the back of the reclined seat before me. At this point, I’m more afraid of living than of dying. Living is relentless rowing against a tide that forever washes me out of the world and away from reality. I’m weary; I’m worn out now.

Suddenly, the train shudders to life, and I release a sigh of relief.

Kåre reaches over and touches me gently on the thigh, attempting to reel me back in. “What’s going on?”

I raise my head abruptly and look at him, aware my eyes have gone wild with frantic intensity. “I realize you think I’m crazy when I say he did it as an act of revenge. But why else did he do it in front of us? Specifically us? What was the point of that? If he loved me, he would have spared me the horror.”

“Axel…”

“Did he think we deserved to watch him die?”

“Oh, wow.” Kåre’s eyebrows lift in a severe arch, and he exhales sharply. “Are you sure you wanna go there right now?”

“If I don’t talk about it now, I might never get to.” I hold his gaze only long enough to see his face fall, then glance away, regretting my choice of words.

“That’s how you remember it?” His voice is hushed, and I have to lean in toward him to hear him. “Did he really seem that vengeful to you?”

“I have no idea. I’ve been trying so hard to forget that I don’t know how to remember it anymore. It’s all a disjointed mess.” It’s another jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces, replaced by fragments from separate puzzle altogether, and forced into place until they’re bent and deformed at the edges.

“Listen,” Kåre says. He places his hands on his thighs. “Tell me what you recall and I’ll tell you my version. We can see whether they converge or diverge.”

“Okay.” I lick my chapped lips and take a few more deep breaths. My heart is already galloping away in free rein. I still don’t want to remember. I so desperately don’t. But I have to. I need to. “So, there was Rövardotter’s release party at KGB…”

Remember?

Twice in my lifetime I've come so close to death I could smell its musty odour. I could sense its black shadow lurking in the corner, waiting to pounce.

For some reason I've survived.

This is all probably the most goth thing I'll ever say and you're quite welcome to laugh at me, but... I don't fear my own demise, but that of my friends. I'm not afraid to lose my life, because I know there is nothing beyond other than ceasing to be. Rather, I fear the profound loss my friends and family would suffer.

That's why I cast myself into the water that night, risking my own life without a single thought about what could feasibly happen.

After that, I was hospitalised for hypothermia and released. I lived again, but my friend did not. My most valiant attempt was in vain.

I find it difficult to describe how it is to witness someone's last moments, how it feels to fail at saving a life.

And what did I get for trying? The suspicion of strangers who questioned my motives.

I hope this sets the record straight about my motives.

I did it in an attempt to save both Micke and Axel.

This was difficult to reprocess, even after so many years. I couldn't imagine experiencing it all over again. I was desperate to never relive it.

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