I stare out the windows at the cloudless blue sky, a rarity here in Oregon. I’m trying to avoid Dr. Chase’s eyes, searching for mine, inquisitive and demanding. I wish I were out there, floating in the deep blue, or perhaps drifting through Silas’ purple bubbles in his strange world, instead of cooped up in this bloodless office with a woman who probably thinks I’m mad.
“I’m sorry, Noomi, but there’s no record of a person named Silas in your wilderness therapy group, or any registered groups here in Oregon.” She sounds as though she pities me. I watch the second hand tick-tick-tick at a snail’s pace around the wall clock.
“You think I’m inventing him.”
“I think we ought to consider the possibility that you’re seeing things and hearing things that don’t exist in reality.”
I want to argue with her. I want to tell her she’s wrong, that Silas is real, that he’s a human being, that he’s taught me how to face the shadows that have haunted me my whole life and how to defeat them. I remember this morning, across the table from Ada, when they started to crowd at my vision and I fought them off. Because of Silas. Because of what he told me, because I listened to his advice and obeyed. I want to tell Dr. Chase that Silas is the only thing in this world that gives me hope for my future.
But I can’t, because I no longer believe myself.
“He’s not a student here?” I ask, my voice so quiet I almost can’t hear myself. “At my school? I saw him yesterday. At the end of the day. I saw him there.”
Dr. Chase turns to her laptop and in the silence I listen to the tapping of the keys, the weight of her breath on the air. I can feel the space between us, poisoned with uncertainty and disbelief.
“It’s Voladores,” I say.
“What is?” Dr. Chase asks.
“Silas’ last name. Silas Voladores.”
“It’s a beautiful name, Noomi. But there’s no one who goes by that name at your school.”
I am quiet.
Dr. Chase lets out a breath of air and it seems to push some of the tension out of the room. She sets her laptop aside and leans forward, looking at me intently.
“Noomi, I want Silas to be real. Is there any other name he could be going by?”
I shrug helplessly.
“I don’t know. I only know him by that name.”
“How do you know his last name?”
How do I know his last name? The question forces me to think. Now I can’t remember when I heard his last name. I try to recall all of our interactions, but I’ve only actually spoken to him twice. Once on the mountain, where he introduced himself to me as Silas, and then at school. But then it occurs to me: the shadows. In their world. They called him by his full name. Silas Voladores, they said.
Oh, god, I think. I am making it all up.
“I don’t know,” I whisper.
“Your father’s name was Valeres,” she says. It’s not a question.
“Does Silas remind you at all of him?”
I shake my head.
“They’re nothing alike. Otousan was very warm, so welcoming, so gentle. Silas isn’t like that.” I pause, wishing I knew him better. “If he even exists.”
The shame that washes over me is almost unbearable. I want to dissolve into the room. To dissipate into the air. To evaporate like water. I want to forget everything I’ve ever been and pretend I don’t exist. I want to disappear.
“Tell me about Silas.”
“He’s very…stoic.” I can’t put out of my head the idea that he’s not real, that I’m describing an imaginary friend, as Ada might tell me about one of her adventures in fairyland or one of the tigers she’s recently tamed. “He’s not friendly, but he’s not cold, either. He’s quiet. He doesn’t talk unless you ask him to.”
“Have you spoken to him much?”
“A few times.” I don’t want to tell her about our trips to other worlds. If anything, that will only cement her view that I’m certifiable, that I should be locked up with other people who can’t tell the difference between reality and fiction. I don’t want to tell her about everything that Silas and I have shared.
“Do you know where he’s from?”
“Inside my head?” I laugh weakly. Dr. Chase smiles.
“It’s really important that we approach Silas as you perceive him. Of course it’s also important that your school doesn’t have a record of him, or that no one by his name belongs to your wilderness therapy group. We have to recognize that he might only be perceivable to you. But let’s assume, for now, that Silas is a real person. What do you know about him?”
“Not a lot. He’s Hispanic, I think. He looks Hispanic and his last name is Spanish. I think he’s either my age or a year older. But other than that, I don’t know anything about him.”
“Does he speak Spanish?”
“I don’t know. We’ve only ever talked in English.”
“You speak some Spanish as well, don’t you?”
“Yes. Otousan would speak to me in Spanish when I was a child.”
“Before he died.”
I nod. I don’t like to think about that.
“Does your mother still talk about your father?”
“Not often. It’s very hard for her.” It’s hard for me, too. I think about how many times I’ve had this conversation with past therapists; how many times I’ve rehashed my father’s death. When I started seeing Dr. Chase, I specifically told her that I didn’t want to talk about him for a long time. I’m tired of explaining it. I’m tired of talking about it.
“I won’t ask you about it if you don’t want me to.”
I take a deep breath and steady myself. I stare at the wall. I want to be healthy again. I want to be normal.
Even if that means I never see Silas again.
Even if that means I have to tell this story again.
“No. It’s okay. Go ahead.”
“Can you tell me what it was like?”
“I was ten. I came home after the bus dropped me off from school. He was always home before my mother was, so I called for him. Ada was just a baby, not even quite one year old yet. I could hear her crying and I went to her room. He was lying on the ground, his eyes still open, staring up at the ceiling.”
“What did you do?”
I pause. I’ve told it so many times I don’t cry anymore when I think about it. But it never stops hurting. Like the weight in the air before a heavy thunderstorm.The cold place in my chest that tightens never goes away. It never changes.
“I hardly remember. I was too young to understand, really. I grabbed his hand, but it was cold, and he didn’t move. I started crying, and by then Ada was howling. The neighbors heard the commotion, and Dan came running in, called the paramedics and my mom, and then took me and Ada to their house until the ambulance arrived.” I pause. “But I still didn’t understand that he was dead. I thought the doctors would be able to do something, to make him come back.”
There’s a long pause while I stare at the wall and Dr. Chase stares at my knees, or somewhere around there.
“I’ve read in your file that you used to dream about him. Can you tell me about that?”
“I’ve been dreaming of the shadows for my whole life. I think I’ve told you that. But after my father died and it finally sunk in that he wasn’t coming back, I started dreaming that he was with them. I would dream of him lying on the floor where I found him, only instead of his normal brown eyes, they would be black, the whole eye. Just black like tar. And then the blackness would come from everywhere.”
“Do you still have those dreams?”
“Not often. Occasionally.”
“Have you talked to Silas about any of this?”
“Yes. He’s helping me fight the shadows. He’s teaching me how.”
Dr. Chase smiles at me.
“That’s really great to hear, Noomi. I’m glad there’s someone you feel you can talk to.” I sit up straighter, surprised. I was expecting her to chastise me, to tell me not to listen to him or to ignore him, to prescribe me medication to make the imaginary voices go away. Her support and encouragement is like a breath of fresh air. “I want you to keep talking to Silas, okay? If you think he’s able to help you fight the shadows, I don’t want to take that away from you. Just remember that Silas might not be someone your friends can see, or I can see, but if he can help you, I want you to take advantage of that.”
“Are you going to give me any medication?” I ask, afraid of the answer, but somehow hopeful.
“I don’t think so. Your meds haven’t helped in the past, have they? Why should we try something that’s failed before?” She flashes me a rare grin. “That wouldn’t be very scientific of us, would it?”
I smile back, sheepishly.
“No, it wouldn’t.”
“Okay, I’m going to let you get back to school. But one last thing before you go. Remember this, Noomi. No matter who you talk to or what you see, don’t ever listen to anyone who tells you to hurt yourself. Whether it’s the shadows, or Silas, or your own self-doubt—” I wonder if she somehow knows about the lighter fluid in the gas station not forty-five minutes earlier “—don’t ever, ever try to hurt yourself.” The smile is gone from her face, and my own has long since slipped off. I think back to a week ago, dousing myself in gasoline, striking the match between the pine trees. To moments before, lighting myself on fire in the decrepit bathroom of a gas station. I don’t have enough fingers to count how many times I’ve tried to take my own life. How many means I’ve sought of escape.
“Don’t forget, Noomi.”
So! What did you think? Hmm hmm! I hope you enjoyed this week’s installment – I’m really excited about this week’s and next week’s chapters. I’m going to be drawing the first section of the story to a close by the end of March, which means some really dramatic and exciting and scary things are about to happen. So be prepared! But we’re also learning a lot more about Noomi’s past and it seems to me as though the shadows – and Silas – are all up in the air, their existence called into doubt. But things are going to get very, very interesting soon!
My mom and I hashed out a general story arc over the weekend, which was really important, because as I sat down to write this week’s chapter I was stumped. I realized I was missing something key: a plot. A vision for the story. The idea of a reader-driven story is all well and great, but in the end, the story needs to have some kind of destination – it can’t just rumble-tumble through rising action and climax and denouement because you have no idea if it’ll be awesome or if it’ll suck. So now that I have some sort of general vision for the story, I’m feeling a lot better and more confident about it! But you, dear reader, will just have to wait and see where all that leads, because now it’s a big, giant, secret!
But that doesn’t mean I don’t still want to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to leave me critiques, ideas, suggestions, notes, off-topic ramblings, or salad recipes in the comments! When I edit this story and try to tie it together in a compelling way, your feedback along the way will be invaluable, so please continue to leave the fabulous comments and suggestions I’ve been seeing over the months!
Thank you! I love you all.