This is Issue #8 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, then ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
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“Take heart, Harrington.” It was the first time he’d been addressed directly, since that night. People had begun to avoid him. Teachers had stopped calling on him. Jet faded, slowly, from view. He kept up his grades well enough, but grew silent and unresponsive.
“Sir?” Jet said, packing up his things after bell.
“Brody’s alive,” Garrett said.
Jet’s head snapped up. He watched Garrett with keen eyes, gripping his notebooks tightly. “You’ve seen him?”
“His parents don’t want him attending, but they want him to keep with his education,” Garrett explained. “I’ve taken him materials and privately tutored him.”
“How did he look?” Jet asked, flushed with excitement, ignoring the pang of disappointment he felt at hearing that he wouldn’t be coming back to the campus.
“Pale,” Garrett said, pursing his lips. “Sick. I dare to say it, Harrington, but I fear he had a fit once, while I was there. He seemed to have dozed off, then came to, then he had to run off to be sick, and then he spent the next while muttering to himself, shaking, sweating. He was adamant I did not call his father. He said it was mild, and I would do well to ignore it, as he was trying to.”
“He’s not sick,” Jet said, defensively.
“Well he’s not well,” Garrett retorted.
Jet had no reply, but simply let his shoulders drop. He went back to packing his bag, and then asked, “Was there anything else, sir?”
“I believe he would do better here, or at least with some manner of communication with his peers. He… You might write him, Harrington,” Garrett offered.
“Write him, sir?” Jet looked up again, his expression confused.
“Yes. A letter. Pen something thoughtful, perhaps a get-well missive, to Mister Brody, and pop it in the carrier’s?” Garrett said, not unkindly, even if it was slightly patronizing.
“Do you imagine his parents will allow it?” Jet wondered.
“Perhaps his mother and father will receive them, and let him read them, if they see they are simply missives of friendship,” Garrett offered, a thinly veiled warning left there, for Jet to pick up or dismiss, as he would.
And so, at first, he sent letters. They were mailed, and then disappeared into a great void. No answer. No response of any kind. Not even a notice from Kieron’s parents for Jet to stop writing. He wrote, and the letters were short notes to share the weather, a joke, a hard session at games, a particular philosophical conundrum, brought up in meditations. He sent drawings, and he wrote long screeds of nothing, pouring out of himself all the desire to connect with his friend, and filtering it into something he knew could not be used to shame him or his father, if it were read by Kieron’s parents.
At first, there was nothing in reply. No letter, no note, no call at the office.
Then, all at once, a flood. Jet was told he had mail — letters — and his heart leapt. He all but ran to the mailroom, and when the clerks handed him a canvas bag full, he held it to his chest, feeling his heart thunder. He ran back to his room, careful not to drop his treasure, and when he returned, he locked the door, ran to Kieron’s bed, and upended the mailbag onto it, excited to stick his hands into the pile, to sift through them
The letters fell from the bag in a snow of confusion; Jet knelt and grabbed one up, lifting it to his eyes.
And then his face fell. He dropped it and grabbed for another, then dropped that and grabbed for another, and another, and another. “Oh,” he breathed, and uttered a low sob. The letters weren’t new; they were the letters he’d sent over the past days and weeks. Each and every one of them had been sent back, with ‘Return To Sender’ written in big red letters across the front. They were still sealed. He gripped them up and held them to his chest, and then he got up, and deposited them all in the waste basket near his desk. He walked the mail bag back to the clerks, and handed it over without a word, then went back to his room, and sat on his bed in the dark, staring down between his feet for long hours.
He missed evening vespers. The next morning, he received a firm warning from the Headmaster, and nodded respectfully in all the right places, but his heart and mind were elsewhere.
Time began to slow down; days took weeks to get through — Jet could barely hold his head up, after awhile. Professor Garrett called his parents, who sent him a letter reminding him to buck up, that break was coming soon, and he would be able to rest at home for a bit, if he wanted. The lines from his mother were comforting, while those from his father carried faint scolding. Don’t get soft. Don’t give in. Work hard. Don’t stop. He dropped the letter into the same wastebasket that held his returned letters.
One morning, Jet simply didn’t get up. He turned his head and looked over at the empty bed, the tight linens, the flat pillow, and laid still, even as the light brightened from dim gray to sharp silver.
A prefect was sent in to check on him, but Jet would not respond. Eventually, Professor Garrett opened the door with a master key. He knelt at Jet’s side and checked his pulse and temperature, and said guardedly, “You’re not ill.”
“Exactly,” rasped Jet. “Please leave me be.” He turned his eyes away from the professor, but the man grabbed his chin and turned Jet’s face back toward him.
“What are you trying to accomplish?” Garrett asked.
“Nothing. I’m not trying anything, anymore,” Jet said dully. He stared at Garrett without any real fire in his eyes, waiting to be released.
“The Headmaster will want to make an example of you,” Garrett murmured.
“Let him,” Jet said, lifting his eyes toward the ceiling. “I don’t care anymore.”
Garrett gave the boy a rough shake, which brought Jet briefly out of his reverie. He stared at the professor, shocked at first, then simply angry. “What do you want from me?” he hissed, to which Garrett’s reply was simply another rough shake. “Stop! Stop it!” Jet snapped, moving to try to get away from the man. “Leave me be!” The fury rose, and as Garrett held the young man down, Jet writhed and twisted and then finally lunged to the side and moved to sink his teeth into Garrett’s forearm.
The professor shouted, releasing Jet, who then hauled off and punched him.
They scrambled apart, and Jet stood, feet apart, panting, shaking out his fist, angry, while Garrett scrambled to his feet, just out of arm’s reach, rubbing his jaw. “Good,” Garrett said, nodding. “Good. Come here, son.”
Jet shook his head minutely, defiant, still panting. “No. N’don’t you come near me.”
“Harrington,” Garrett sighed. “Jet, boy, come here,” he said, earnest.
Something in his voice caught Jet’s attention, and instead of running away, he slipped closer, and then closer, and then he felt himself wrapped up in Garrett’s arms, held close. He could feel the beating heart of the man, and smell the warmth of him, and it startled him enough that his composure slipped once, fell away, and Jet felt himself sag, folding in against the welling sadness. “A part of me is missing,” Jet said, his voice muffled against Garrett’s robes. “It’s the only way I can explain it. I don’t know how to get up, how to keep breathing, how to be, without that part.”
Garrett sighed, stepping back, and said, “Why did you stop writing to him, then?”
“Sir?” Jet wondered, looking baffled.
“You wrote to him, and he came alive again, during tutoring. He looked determined, during my visits,” Garrett explained. “But two weeks ago, he withdrew again. He wouldn’t meet my eyes. His parents have told me they may discontinue the services. When I left, he begged me to tell him if you were all right, because he had not gotten a letter in some time.”
“Because he wasn’t getting any of them!” Jet said. “They–they all came back,” he said, pointing over to the corner, where the wastebasket held them. “They came back return to sender, no such addressee — It was his writing. It’s not even that his parents are keeping them from him. He got them. He just… he sent them back.”
Just then, the Headmaster stepped in, to take stock of the situation, his eyes narrowed, his expression pinched. “Professor Garrett. Your students are wondering where you are. You had best return to them,” he snapped.
“Certainly, Headmaster,” Garrett said, straightening up and jutting out his chin, his expression grown instantly cold and hard. “I was merely… advising Harrington to get out of bed, and make haste, before he missed another bell. It would not due to waste opportunities,” Garrett said archly. “Boy — you had best work harder if you want to avoid punishment,” he said to Jet, pursing his lips. He stepped closer and glowered over Jet, who stepped back, looking chastened. Garrett advanced, and lifted a finger, reaching it out to prod Jet’s chest, emphasizing his words. “I suggest you open your eyes and study your letters, young man. You’ve relied on my kindness too much. It will not come again.”
Jet nodded, his cheeks flushing. He bowed his head and closed his widening eyes, not daring to glance toward the wastebasket, feeling his heart in his throat.
Garrett then strode from the room, past the Headmaster, who nodded, looking smug, and turned to leave as well, saying “You’re expected in classes by next bell, Harrington.”
“Yes, sir,” Jet said, swallowing roughly. He closed the door behind the men and locked it, and moved to get dressed. All he wanted in the world was to take another look at the letters — but he had to get to sessions before the next bell… or risk further contemplation.
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