“This could be good for everyone.” The voice of his mother made Bryan stop. She was with his father in their room talking. About him.
“Why do you think that?” Bryan’s father sounded surprised. “Don’t you think he needs to be here with people who know how to take care of him?”
Bryan peered around the wall, dark blonde hair falling over his eyes. He watched as his mother rose from the bed, arguing her point.
“Look,” she said. “This has been a tough couple of months for us all.” She sighed and put a hand on her husband’s arm. “Don’t you think we could use a break?”
“A break from our son?” Bryan’s father shook his head and crossed his arms. “Even with his split personality, he’s our responsibility.”
Bryan frowned and moved away from their room. There is was again. His disorder. His ‘split personality.’ He hated those words together.
Bryan had been normal for sixteen years, then a couple months after his seventeenth birthday, it happened. He couldn't remember what exactly ‘it’ was, but soon after, his split personality was everything that defined him.
He had been taken out of public school when his father decided it best for him to be homeschooled. Bryan lost what little friends he had, and became isolated from the rest of the world.
Bryan knew he wasn’t crazy and tried to convince his parents he was fine. The other side of him could be controlled- if he tried hard enough.
“Son,” his father called before Bryan reached the end of the hall.
“Your mother and I would…” He glanced at his wife behind him, her arms crossed. “We would like to talk to you.” Bryan forced a smile and nodded.
The three of them sat at the kitchen table, pale morning light filtering in through the window. Bryan found that he had a hard time sitting still, feeling like there was something urging him to stand.
“We thought you might want to get out a little bit,” said his mother pleasantly.
“Get out how?” Bryan asked uncertainly. He fidgeted with his hands.
“Out of the house and-” Bryan didn’t hear the rest, his attention snapped to the flood of emotions inside of him. A roaring sound filled his ears.
Under the table, Bryan’s hands turned to fists, nails digging into his palms. His breathing quickened and he clenched his teeth, fighting back the urge to do things he knew he shouldn’t.
“Bryan?” His mother was watching him, worry etched on her every feature.
“Sorry, Mom,” he said, his voice tight. “Can you repeat that?” His mom shot her husband a wary glance.
“Aunt Mandy,” she said slowly, “would like for you to take a trip to the cabin with her and the kids this weekend.” Bryan listened this time, his eyes carefully trained on his mother. Suddenly, that painful rage took hold of him again. He was slowly losing control.
“It’s entirely up to-”
“I’ll go,” Bryan gasped out, cutting his father off.
“Yes,” Bryan said a little too loudly. He stood, almost knocking his chair back. “I’ll go. Tell them I’m going.” Bryan fled to his room as he began to shake. He slammed the door shut behind him and threw himself on his bed, holding back a scream.
Bryan held a pillow over his face for a few seconds, and then threw it at the wall. He clawed at the sides of his face, tears quietly streaming down his cheeks.
“I’m not crazy,” Bryan told himself under his breath. “I’m not crazy.”
After some time, the fire that fueled his rage died. It went as quickly as it had come, and Bryan fell back on his bed, staring at the ceiling and breathing heavily.
A knock on his door made Bryan jump. He said nothing as his door was pushed open and his father entered.
He looked cautious, eyeing Bryan carefully. Bryan sat up, drawing his knees in. His father couldn’t see him like this.
“Son,” his father began, sitting down next to him. Suddenly, his eyes widened and he lifted his fingers to the side of Bryan’s face. “What did you do?”
Bryan looked at him questioningly for a moment, and then he let his own fingers find the small cuts he had made. When he pulled his hand away, spots of blood covered his fingers.
“You said it was getting better.” His father stood up, face clouded in worry. “What else have you been doing?” Bryan kept a blank expression and watched his father.
Of course Bryan wouldn’t tell him how he fought the monster inside of him. He didn’t want to see his therapist more than he had to.
“You need to tell me and your mother these things, Bryan.” His father threw his hands in the air. “We can help you! You split personality doesn’t-” A splitting headache made Bryan cringe.
“Dad, get out!” he yelled, grabbing his head. His father backed up and called for his wife. The two of them sat beside Bryan and tried to calm him down. The thought they were helping, but the other part of Bryan was steadily growing stronger.
Bryan sat on the couch, holding his backpack close. The more he thought about going to the cabin, the more he regretted his decision. How well did he know his aunt? And his cousins? When had he even seen them last?
His head jerked up when a loud ring pierced the silence. His father got the door, and welcomed in a woman that seemed to be in her mid-thirties.
“Mandy,” he said affectionately, hugging her. “It’s good to see you.”
“You too, big brother,” she said teasingly. She greeted Bryan’s mom and then smiled at Bryan. “You’ve really grown since last time.” Her red hair made her skin seem even paler than it already was. Bryan felt like he was talking to a ghost, not his father’s sister.
“Uh, Mandy?” his father said when Bryan didn’t reply. “Can I talk to you?”
“Of course,” she said, disappearing down the hall with her brother.
Bryan stared out the large window that covered the wall before him. A mini-van sat parked in front of the house. A quiet buzzing sound played in the back of his mind.
“Ready to go, Bryan?” Mandy had returned with Bryan’s father, and they both wore cheerful expressions. He nodded.
“Have fun,” his mother said, patting his back. Bryan’s father stood back and offered him a small smile.
With effort, Bryan managed a smile that didn’t reach his eyes.
Bryan entered the van and sat in the backseat with one of his cousins: Aaron. Cassi sat in the passenger’s seat. After some introductions, the four rode in silence, save for the music coming from the radio.
In the afternoon light, they made their way to the edge of town.
Bryan looked forward at the back of Cassi’s seat. He couldn’t help but notice Aaron smirking at him. Slowly, he turned his head to look at him.
“Yes?” Bryan said.
“Just want to know how you’re doing, cousin,” he said in mock sincerity. Bryan began to speak, but Aaron interrupted him, and in a low voice said, “Sorry. How are both of you doing?”
Bryan stared for a moment, that buzzing in his head silencing. Everything felt clearer as Bryan felt his face burn. Biting his tongue, he turned to watch the blurring scenery outside the car window.
“Not so good, huh?” Bryan’s fists tightened in his lap. “You got any friends?” Bryan could hear his heart thumping loudly. That same anger he felt so often began to fill him. It was enough to make him face Aaron and open his mouth.
“I don’t know what you think you’re doing,” Bryan began quietly, his voice venomous, “but I would stop.” Aaron’s smirk intensified.
“Ah, but you see,” he said, running a hand through his strawberry blonde hair, “I can’t do that, because I don’t know which of you is talking.” Bryan grit his teeth in frustration, and tried to control his shaking hands. Aaron leaned in. “And regardless of who you are now, I-”
“So, Bryan,” said Mandy brightly, turning down the music. Bryan let out a sigh of relief as his attention focused on his aunt. He leaned back and answered every question she asked.
Aaron’s smirk never left his face.
They got to the cabin just as the sun was setting. Its orange light reflected off a small lake near the cabin.
As they exited the mini-van, Bryan studied the thinning trees that surrounded them. A glance backwards would show a winding path back to the town, but where he stood now, he felt too free. He had always craved some sort of freedom, just not this much at once.
Inside the cabin, there were two rooms, Mandy and Cassi would be sharing one, while Aaron and Bryan would room together in the other.
They all got settled down and had a quick meal at a small wooden table that took up nearly the whole kitchen. A window looked out towards the lake, sunlight now almost completely gone.
Everyone agreed to get some rest and take advantage of an early start the next day.
Bryan and Aaron entered their room, and Bryan began to climb to the top bunk of their bed.
“Whoa,” said Aaron. “What do you think you’re doing?” Bryan looked down at him and then glanced up at the bunk.
“Going to bed?” Bryan said. Aaron shook his head.
“No,” he said with a sly grin on his face. “We’re going exploring.”
“But I thought-”
“Forget what you thought and shut up.” Bryan frowned and dropped to the cold floor, bare feet tensing at the contact.
Aaron crept the door open slightly, and peered out into the darkness. After a couple more seconds, he opened the door all the way.
“Okay,” he whispered. “Let’s go.” Bryan hesitated, but a look from Aaron made him follow, pausing only to slip on his shoes.
As they tiptoed through the cabin, Bryan absentmindedly ran his fingers along the fading cuts on the side of his face.
The door leading out of the cabin creaked when pulled open. Bryan cringed at the high noise. Adrenaline pumped through his veins when they took their first steps into the chilled autumn air.
Leaning against the cabin near the door was Cassi, a look of excitement highlighting her features. She held an electric lantern and steeped forward when she saw the two.
“Ready?” She looked at Bryan, but it was Aaron who answered.
“What do you think?” Cassi grinned and handed Aaron the lantern, letting him lead the way. She fell back to walk with Bryan, leaves crunching beneath their feet.
“How did you get out without getting caught?” Bryan asked, curious. Cassi tossed her red hair over her shoulders.
“I have my ways.” She giggled. “I’m surprised you listened to Aaron and actually went with him.” Bryan raised an eyebrow and nodded.
“Ever been here before?” Cassi reached out and ran a hand across the trunk of a tall tree. Bryan thought back to before he had obtained his disorder, memories still a blur.
“Maybe once,” he said.
“Maybe?” Bryan gave her a sideways glance.
“I don’t remember.”
After several more steps through the forest, Aaron stopped in front of them.
“And here we are,” he said, pleased. Cassi walked to his side and beckoned Bryan over. It took a while for his eyes to decide what he was looking at.
In front of the trio was a gaping hole that led into darkness. It looked like some sort of olden time mineshaft. Wooden planks bordered the entrance.
“Pretty neat, huh?” Cassi looked at Bryan, elbowing his side.
“I guess,” he replied.
“That’s it?” Cassi placed herself directly in front of Bryan. “I suppose you wouldn’t understand unless you actually went inside.” Bryan felt his defenses going up.
“Sure,” he said, backing up. “We’ll do that tomorrow, then?” Cassi laughed. Aaron looked at Bryan.
“Oh no, Split,” he said, smiling at the nickname. “We didn’t come out here just to go back. You’re going to go in there now.” Bryan glanced behind him. He would have headed back if he knew the way.
“Give him the lantern, Aaron.” Cassi’s excitement seemed to grow.
“No,” Bryan said, heartbeat quickening. “I’m not going.”
“Come on.” Aaron handed him the light. “We’ve gone before and we’re perfectly fine. And anyway, Split, you wouldn’t be going alone.”
Bryan considered his options, cautiously accepting the lantern. At every comment about his disorder, he felt a weight in his chest.
“You guys aren’t coming with me?” Bryan looked at Cassi and she smiled sympathetically.
“Nope,” Aaron said. “Just you and yourself.” Bryan took a shaky breath and rubbed the side of his head.
“Only one look and I’m out.” Aaron laughed.
“All the way to the end and back,” he corrected. Bryan began to tremble slightly, not from fear, but from slowly losing control. What triggered his changes, he didn’t know. All Bryan knew was that he had to leave before he did something he’d regret.
He approached the mine’s entrance, and Aaron and Cassi backed up.
“We’ll be here when you get back,” Cassi said in a sing-song voice.
“Don’t count on it,” Aaron said.
Bryan gripped the lantern tightly and took several slow steps into the abandoned mine. He turned around and Cassi gave him a thumb’s up.
At first, the mine was empty; nothing but dirt and the smell of sulfur. But the further Bryan went, the more his grasp of control slipped. He felt himself plummeting into another person. With every ounce of strength he had, he fought back.
Soon, the lantern only illuminated small sections of the mine, hardly enough to see by.
A headache made his temples throb, but he continued forward. If he turned back now, would they know he hadn’t really gone to the end?
Bryan eventually began to see mine carts and paths that led in different directions blocked off by fallen dirt and rocks. Tools rested against the mine’s walls.
Suddenly, Bryan heard whispering. It was barely audible at first, and he thought Aaron and Cassi had followed him. Then, after Bryan took a couple more steps, they grew louder. It felt like the whispers would crush him. They seemed to be pushing on his mind from all direction, and he knew he was about to entirely lose control.
Bryan dropped to his knees and grabbed his head, lantern falling to the ground and extinguishing. He grunted as he fought himself mentally. His brain felt like it was going to burst open. His fingers gripped his arms and he dug his nails deep into the skin. He focused on that pain, the pain that kept him rooted to reality.
The whispering only increased, but he couldn’t understand a word.
“I’m not crazy.” Bryan gasped. “I am not crazy!” he cried over the whispers. His headache worsened, and he didn’t know whether his eyes were closed or not. His body shook all over, and then suddenly, Bryan went numb.
He reached his arm out to find the lantern, new feeling replacing the agony.
“I’m not crazy,” he repeated, sitting up. “We are crazy.” He reignited the lantern.
A tingling feeling buzzed in his fingertips, and he pushed himself to his feet. The whispers were gone, replaced by a single voice in his head.
Bryan smiled and turned around, picking up a pick-axe in fairly good condition.
I’m not crazy, a weak voice said in his mind. He ignored it. That wasn’t a part of him anymore.
Bryan leaned forward as he walked, holding the lantern in one hand, and dragging the pick-axe behind him. The light from the moon led him out of the mine. He had no idea how long he had been gone, but judging by that same thick darkness that hung in the air, not much time had passed.
Bryan hung the lantern around his belt loop and gripped the pick-axe with both of his hands. His bare arms wore several cuts from back in the mine.
He wasn’t surprised when he realized Aaron and Cassi had left him behind. But they couldn’t have gotten too far. Relying on the moon and his lantern, Bryan headed off for his cousins.
The part of Bryan that was in control now craved the thought of causing someone harm. It had always been him in pain, but not now. He felt great.
As Bryan wandered the forest of thin trees, he felt something nagging inside him like before. The crunching of leaves nearby dragged his focus away from that.
“You think he’s still in there?” Bryan heard a girl whisper.
“Probably,” came another voice.
“Oh, this will be hilarious.” The girl giggled.
“It won’t be if we can’t find our way back.” A couple more crunching leaves directed Bryan to a large boulder in a small clearing.
He rounded its corner and found Aaron and Cassi crouched behind it. They looked up, surprised. Aaron was the first to recover.
“No way you went to the end, Split.” He stood up, looking down at Bryan slightly. Bryan smiled. Why hadn’t he liked that name before?
“You’re right,” Bryan said. He knelt down next to Cassi. “I thought you’d been here before?” She stared at the pick-axe he held.
“You got that from the mine?” she asked. Bryan laughed, his heart beating fast from excitement.
“Sure did.” He rose and gave a little nod to Aaron. “See you later,” he said with a hidden smile. Bryan turned and began walking.
“Wait,” Aaron said, grabbing his arm. He quickly reeled back, gaping at the cuts on Bryan’s arm. They were far worse than the ones on his face. “What the-”
“We’re coming with you, Bryan,” Cassi said, standing next to Aaron.
“Coming with me like when you came with me into the mine?” Cassi’s fierceness faltered. “No,” Bryan said, stepping close. “You’re staying here.”
His heart practically sang in his chest as he lifted the pick-axe. Cassi stumbled back, out of Bryan’s reach.
“What the hell, Bryan?” Aaron yelled, grabbing hold of his sister’s hand.
“Call me Split,” he said as he brought the bottom of the pick-axe down, slamming it against Aaron’s temple. Cassi screamed and let go of his hand. Her wide eyes focused on Bryan. He smiled.
Bryan used the pick-axe’s blade to lodge it in Cassi’s stomach. That same tingling in his fingertips seemed to fill the air, joining the smell of rain. He hacked at Cassi’s body again and again until she stopped making those gurgling noises.
Some part of his mind screamed at him, telling him to stop. But he couldn’t, not yet.
Aaron lay unconscious at Bryan’s feet. Bryan’s smile widened, but his grip on the pick-axe suddenly weakened. The part of his mind that screamed began to take control.
Bryan fell to his knees in the wet leaves, pick-axe in his lap. He looked frantically at the two bodies, realizing that he had done this. Aaron was still breathing, but Cassi lay under a thick blanket of blood.
“No,” Bryan whispered, his eyes widening. “No.” He shook his head. “I- I’m not-” His voice caught a loud sob left his mouth.
Dark clouds were forming overhead when his first tear fell. He held the pick-axe close as he cried, his skin itching to be picked at.
Soon, raindrops beat against Bryan’s head. Aaron began to stir. Bryan looked at Cassi and hastily stood, holding the pick-axe still. Aaron’s eyes were closed as he sat up, rubbing his head.
In panic, Bryan turned and ran away from Aaron and the body of what once was Cassi. He told himself that he needed to get back to the cabin.
The rain fell harder. Eventually, Bryan couldn’t tell the difference between the rain and his tears.
Bryan saw the lake before he saw the cabin. The moon, partially covered in clouds, shone on its surface. He stood before the wooden door and took a deep breath before carefully opening it.
His nerves were on edge as he crept down to the bathroom, not entirely sure what he was doing.
“Bryan,” said Mandy from his room. Bryan whirled around to face her. Her hair was a mess on her head. “Where are the others?” He moved the pick-axe carefully behind his back, his free hand shaking. “And why do you have the cabin’s lantern?” she asked.
“I-” Bryan cringed as his whole body began to shake. His eyes widened in fear of himself, and then he laughed.
“You’re right to worry about them, you know,” he said calmly. Mandy gave him a puzzled look.
“That’s what mothers do.” Bryan smiled. “Except for the bad ones.”
“What do you mean?” Mandy tried to hide the look of terror on her face. “I don’t understand, Bryan. You-” Bryan pulled the pick-axe from behind his back.
“Don’t call me that.” He lunged forward, catching his aunt off guard.
Soon Bryan could really see the resemblance between her and her daughter. The blood on her skin didn’t do much for her pale complexion.
Bryan staggered toward the bathroom, smile still on his face. He slammed the door and switched on the light. His lantern wasn’t enough to show him what he wanted to see.
He let the pick-axe fall to the floor. Bryan leaned against the sink for support, gasping for air. The mirror revealed dark circles under his red-ringed eyes. Blood was splattered on his gray T-shirt. His shorts were worse.
“Aaghh!” Bryan let his fingers tear at the skin on his face, willing himself to wake up from this nightmare.
He shot a glance at his blue eyes and was almost crushed by the pain he saw in them. Who was this boy he saw in the mirror?
Bryan opened a cupboard beneath the sink. He found several pieces of cloth and bound a white one over his eyes. It was thin enough for him to see through, but for not for anyone else to see him. Immediately it was stained with crimson blood.
His muscles ached as he retrieved the pick-axe and headed for the room he and Aaron were supposed to share. He replaced his blood-stained shorts with blue jeans, but didn’t bother with his shirt. Bryan himself hadn’t packed much so he rummaged through Aaron’s things and found a dark, collared jack and a stocking cap.
Bryan didn’t want anyone to recognize him when he didn’t even know who he was anymore.
He reentered the bathroom, avoiding Mandy’s body. He couldn’t see his eyes in the mirror. His vision was tinged with red. Bryan’s dark blonde hair was still wet, resting against the top of the cloth over his eyes.
Carefully, Bryan felt the cuts on his face and arms, a smile involuntarily moving his lips upwards into a sneer. Several emotions bombarded his mind at once; exhaustion and pain were amongst them. Why should Bryan try to control himself anymore? It would be easier if he just let go.
Pick-axe in hand, Bryan set out to satisfy the monster inside of him.