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It was hard not to stare at the scars. I've seen suicide attempts before, but none like his. The scars ran right from the wrist all along his lower arm, on the inside of the elbow up through the inner side of his upper arm. They seemed to stare at me with their dark red color, contrasted by the pale skin and the black of the string that saved his life. These were the arms of a man that didn't want to try to die; he wanted to make sure that he would be dead. And yet he was alive; maybe because the cuts weren't so deep, because the scissors had been too dull.
"Archer," I said his name carefully, as if my words could destroy him more, "why did you do that to yourself?" He smiled back at me, grinning while I asked why he killed himself without even a hint of irony.
"Because I couldn't take it anymore. Because I didn't want the pain anymore. Because I had forgotten what it was like to live without pain."
For a young man that had tried to kill himself a few weeks earlier he was far too happy.
"I don't even remember how it started. I was just normal; doing sports, meeting friends and finishing school. But then this thing came and I kept waking up in the same way, every day." Archer was clenching his fists, dangerously stretching the string that was holding his life together. "It must have been half a year ago. Or maybe even a year. It was so hard to keep track. I remember it was a Thursday, definitely a Thursday. But I'm not even sure which month.
"I think the first time I just woke up normally, like I always used to. I rolled over, hit the snooze button and slept for another five minutes. I always did that at least twice. When I finally managed to get out of bed I stumbled out of my room into the bathroom — and that's when I heard the noise."
Even as he was talking I could see the fear in his face. "It sounded like a crash, like something breaking. I heard my family screaming, so I grabbed my towel and ran downstairs. But they just didn't stop screaming, and there were loud banging noises. I nearly tripped when I was half down the stairs, when I saw the man raising the axe and then the axe cutting through my brother's neck. I heard Jonathan's scream, and then it suddenly stopped. It just stopped and his head rolled over to the side.
"And then," said Archer, "he turned to me." Archer looked towards his feet. "I was frozen from fear. I mean, there was a guy that just killed my brother—and I think Jonathan's head was still moving—and he had turned to me. I recovered when he was getting on the stairs, and I was making my first step, but then I already felt the pain. The pain in my leg, I can't even describe how much that hurt. And it didn't stop there. I fell on the stairs, heard my mom scream from somewhere downstairs, and then he smashed the axe right in my chest." Archer held his hands toward his heart. "I heard my own ribs crack."
"So, you are telling me you died?"
He shook his head. Then he nodded.
"I thought I died. But then I heard my alarm ring and woke up. This time I didn't hit snooze. I jumped straight out of bed and into the bathroom and checked my whole body. I was just so relieved I was whole. I stared at my bare chest, stroked the area where the axe had hit me. I remembered feeling the pain, hearing the noises, seeing Jonathan's head roll. But I thought it was all some strangely realistic nightmare. And then I heard the crashing sound again. It sounded like a door being kicked in."
Archer ran downstairs, to see his terrified family—his mother and father, his sister Eleanor and his brother Jonathan—running to the back of the room. When he was down the stairs he saw the men dressed in all black, saw how they broke through the door and ran inside. He tried to run, but the heavy axe was faster, cutting through his spine and throwing him towards the floor.
"I didn't even scream. I was too shocked to scream. And they just pulled the axe back out and ran towards my family. I can never forget the way Eleanor screamed, or how the axe cut through my mom's arm and chest. I didn't see how my dad died. But I saw his body on the floor, the blood slowly running out. I saw them rape Eleanor. That's the last thing I remember, how she screamed and begged them to stop."
Archer had started to pull on the string in his left arm. I quickly stopped him. "So you are telling me you had another nightmare?"
Archer shook his head. "No. I'm saying I died a second time. And again I woke up in my bed."
I raised my eyebrows but Archer seemed not to see it. Or maybe he didn't care. "The third time I woke up I couldn't even stop myself. I checked my arms and legs, breathed for a moment and then I ran downstairs. Eleanor and Jonathan and my mom were sitting there and I nearly cried. And my dad came from the kitchen and made some snappy remark on the lines of 'Oh, awake so early?' — but I didn't even hear that; I just hugged him, I just needed to hug him. And then I ran to the kitchen and grabbed two knives and I ran back in the living room."
Archer laughed for a moment. "My family thought I had gone nuts. But I wasn't nuts, I just saw and felt them die, not just once, but twice. They tried to talk me into putting the knives down. But I refused. And just when my dad was getting worried, and then angry, in that very moment I heard the sound again, louder than before — someone thrashing against the door."
He grinned. "I think my dad understood right away that something was up. He grabbed a bread knife from the table and stood next to me, and my mom ran to the phone. But by the time she had dialed they were already inside, running towards us. I tried to stab the first one that came in, but he kicked me in the stomach and when I fell to the floor he jumped on me. I saw black and the only thing I heard were screams and axes crashing against tables and walls and bodies. And then it got silent. There were footsteps, coming closer towards me, and heavy breathing. I tried to move away, but I couldn't move my body. And then he kneeled on my leg; and he picked something up from the side. Somebody else stood on one of my arms and I howled from the pain. But I only realized what he had picked up when the knife pushed through my stomach."
Archer's hands were shaking and his eyes tearing up. "They made a cut. I couldn't see anything, but I felt it slicing through my stomach. I tried to kick the guy away, and I hit him, but he didn't budge. Instead something hammered right into my leg. I screamed from the pain, but straightaway this tickling started in my abdomen. Then it started to feel hot and then incredibly painful. I choked up when I realized that he was pulling out my intestine. Then it got stuck somehow, and he got up from my leg. He made a step and I could feel the sudden pull and the pain of something being ripped, and then I must have died. And the only reason I say 'I must have died' is because I heard my alarm again."
He wiped the sweat from his forehead. "I just don't understand. I don't understand what it was, but after the fifth or sixth time I was sure that it wasn't just my imagination. This was all too real and too painful, and no matter what rationalization I tried, it was just too long for a dream.
"The sixth or seventh night, after I saw my mom getting raped, I just tried to stay in bed. I unplugged my alarm and stayed in bed, hoping that it would all just end. And I think it took a bit longer, it really seemed to take longer for them to come. But then I heard the thrashing and screaming. The screams of my mom and sister stopped abruptly, but my dad kept screaming. I heard him begging them to stop. He even called my name."
Archer bit his lips. "Then there were steps on the stairs and I tried to run into my wardrobe. But two of them came in and even as I kicked they grabbed me and threw me back on the bed. Another two came and threw my dad inside the room, on the floor. He was bleeding all across his face and back. And then they ripped his pants off. And they raped him too. Right in front of me, they raped him too and I was too terrified to move. I just sat there, watching as my dad screamed for help and begged for them to stop, but they kept at it, one after the other opening their pants and—" Archer choked on his own words. "And they all did it. And the others were always staring at me. It was as if they enjoyed the fear and pain I felt.
"Finally, I don't even know if it was the third or the fourth one, finally I jumped up and tried to attack the guy that was violating my dad — but instead they kicked me down. And they held my head down to the floor. And they made me watch as they hacked off my dad's arm, and then part of his back, and then his head. They even kept chopping his body long after he stopped moving. And," Archer gagged, "then they fed me a piece. They forced it into my mouth and I couldn't move. Then I started to suffocate and coughed and suddenly it was gone. I ate a piece of my dad. They just laughed. They laughed and even as I was lying there, sobbing, I remember that the worst of it all was the way they laughed. It was so normal. Like laughter you normally hear on the street or in the elevator or at a party. They laughed as if someone had told a good joke. And then the axe hit my face.
"When I woke up I tried to run away. I just jumped out of the window, I think I even sprained my ankle, and ran. But they got me within seconds. They hacked off my arms. And then, after they broke the door they threw me inside. I'll never forget that look in my mom's eyes, when she saw me. And then I heard Jonathan and Eleanor and mom and dad scream, then the screams stopped — and one of them stepped in front of me. He was holding my mom's hair and her head was dangling down from it. And he started beating me with my mom's head. He smashed it against my chest and my crotch, and I was nearly happy when he finally started to beat it against my head, when I knew that I would die.
"The next time I woke up I just cried. Then I heard the noise downstairs and I just walked down, right into one of their swinging axes and I nearly enjoyed the pain because I knew at least it would be quick. But then I woke up again."
Archer slowly shook his head. "I tried everything. I tried running out, calling the police, shouting for the neighbors, building weapons, hell I even tried squirting shampoo in their eyes and pouring soapy water on the floor. But every time my family was there again, downstairs, eating breakfast and they didn't know what would come, but I did. After a while it hurt even more to see their faces, to see them alive, because I always started to guess which one they would torture the most; how they would torture me the most. And they always found a way. They always did something new."
His voice got weaker. "You know, the more smart I tried to be and the more things I tried, the more horrible things they made me watch. They made my mom and my dad eat Jonathan and Eleanor. They chopped Jonathan's arms off and then pushed his body inside my mom’s vagina until she stopped moving. And every time, when they saw that I was even more horrified than before, then they would laugh this weird, this normal laugh."
He slowly traced the stitches on his right arm with his left hand, right from the wrist to the shoulder. "That's why I did it. I went through this for what felt like months. They killed my family hundreds of times. And at some point I just lost hope. I figured 'why fight it', and rather I took the only sharp thing I had in my room — my old children's scissors, and ran them through my arms. After all that pain I barely even felt it. And then I passed out and I woke up here, with my family around me." He smiled.
Finally I understood his happiness. The way he smiled much of the time he talked about his family being murdered horrifically — he was happy that it was over. He was happy that the men hadn't come. He was happy that his family found him in his bed. He was happy that, against all odds, he had survived.
Abruptly the smile disappeared from his face. "You know," he looked at me; "there is one thing I'm really worried about. Maybe you know the answer." I nodded to show that I was listening. "The thing is, I'm worried because I haven't died, you know? It's been a week since I woke up, and these men didn't come anymore. But they always came after I died." He paused, and I nodded again. "You know, someday, when I die through a car accident or from old age or something — do you think I will wake up in my bed?"