A wave of panic

6/10/2022

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Where Dizzy Butterflies Invaded your Privacy and Your Body Stood Still in a Room with Two Walls, One Door and The Light From a Sky Full of Stars.
In his dreams, Harry saw an image of what the house must be like when it had been built; a big sprawling home, one that he could imagine would be filled with laughter and chatter.
When he tried to picture it, though, he could see the dark corners where the walls were still crumbling from age or some other cause. The roof was too low, the windows too small for anyone but children or older children to pass through on the narrow walkways outside. The door that was usually covered in ivy was missing, replaced by something more functional, like the one that he saw on a hospital door at night. There was no railing; instead, you walked around the perimeter of the property with wooden steps, holding tight to the railings as you went. On top of each house, there seemed to be a tree planted outwards that grew thick branches over the front door. Each branch was topped with leaves that looked as if they would rustle if someone touched them.
A few years after moving into the house he dreamed of, the first thing Harry noticed about it was its smell. It was almost impossible to describe how the air smelled, especially when it got so hot the entire day. He found that he couldn’ t think straight when he was indoors because he’d catch himself breathing deeply, trying to catch any scent that he might miss while he was outside. Sometimes it wouldn’t even work; it would just take him a few minutes before he realised what he needed to do next. After all, the only smell that he ever really knew in his home country was the one in his bedroom window; the smell of old books and worn carpet and freshly laundered sheets. But this was different—this was like coming home to a new environment with nothing familiar to remind him that the place he was in used to be his home.
He also noticed, very early on in his life, that whenever he was having nightmares, which was often, the smell would make their way into his dreams. Sometimes he woke up, sweaty and gasping, feeling completely disoriented until he recognised the bed underneath his head. Other times he was already awake and the smell was still there; a faint memory of what it felt like when he was still asleep, before he opened his eyes. But he didn’t wake up every time; sometimes he just needed to feel like he was still alive and then it would fade.
On those days when he awoke in a cold sweat, it took him several minutes to find his bearings, and even longer to remember why he’d left his bedroom window open. If not for the sound of water rushing along the creek behind his house, or the distant call of birds, or the gentle breeze ruffling through the trees around him, Harry would’ve thought himself back home, and maybe even still dreaming.
But he wasn’t dreaming, he reminded himself. He was here, in this strange new world he had created. And he needed to figure things out for himself before he allowed himself to get comfortable enough to dream again.
It started when he was five, shortly after he moved in. His parents had gotten together with a boy named Ben. When he arrived at the house for the first time, Harry’s mother took him aside and told him that she wasn’t sure they would last much longer. She said that Ben made her laugh and smile and that there was no getting rid of the love she had for him, that she never wanted to spend another moment without him, but she wasn’t sure she could keep going like this. When Harry asked what that meant, and how long it would go on for, she told him that Ben wouldn’t be there forever. Eventually she and Ben would grow tired, and eventually he would fall in love with someone else. Someone who didn’t live near her or had kids of their own. And eventually he would leave, and she would be alone again.
Harry didn’t know what to say to that. He just looked at her and waited for her to explain herself. Instead, she smiled sadly and gave him a tight hug before ushering him away and telling him that he should play with his friends instead. Harry understood, then. He nodded and turned his attention elsewhere. They hadn’t seen each other since.
He spent most of his childhood thinking of Ben, imagining things like him waking him from bad dreams with kisses or hugs or stories from his adventures with his friends. He thought about how the boys from his school could fit inside his house; tall and lean and muscular, all talking and laughing in perfect harmony. But mostly, he imagined him with brown hair and blue eyes, and a warm smile and gentle laugh. He thought about what it would be like living there with him. He would learn all their secrets. He would sit next to him and listen while Ben explained a story to everyone in their class and shared with Harry a secret he had just discovered in his favourite book. And then, later, when they were lying in bed together, Ben would brush his fingers against Harry’s cheek and whisper to him sweet words that no one else heard and he wouldn’t care if they did because Ben was special and Harry loved him.
His mother told him that he was imagining things again. “No,” Harry insisted. “I’m not imagining anything. I don’ t want people I don’ t know anymore.” His mother laughed. “What makes you think that, dear? What exactly is keeping you from being happy?” Before she answered his question, Harry remembered the promise he had made when he was seven years old. No matter what happened in his life, he promised he would always stay close to the person he loved the most and never let go.
“Because I think Ben will hurt me,” Harry admitted.
It wasn’t until two years later when Harry actually experienced a few moments of true happiness.


Ben was always smiling when he picked up Harry from school. He waved goodbye to him on the bus and told him he would see him soon. He would kiss Harry goodnight at home. He always promised Harry that he wouldn’t forget to tell Harry his secret.
At night, after they fell asleep, the boys talked in hushed whispers about everything and nothing, until the sun peeked over the horizon.
Harry liked spending nights at Ben’s house. There weren’t many places he wanted to be. He spent his evenings listening to music, reading comics, watching movies, and eating ice cream. He loved going to sleep in Ben’s room, with his soft covers and pillow, and smelling the fresh cotton candy scent Ben carried everywhere he went. Sometimes Ben read aloud to Harry until his voice became hoarse and Harry drifted off to sleep.
Then, when the moon shone in the sky, the stars twinkled above them and the moon was just bright enough to cast everything in shadow, Ben would look at him and ask what he was doing and if he was enjoying himself.
And Harry would always answer yes.


There was one thing that always seemed to be missing; Ben would tell Harry a story every night and when Harry fell asleep he dreamed of what he had missed: the feeling of Ben’s arms around him, Ben’s face pressed against his temple, Ben’s breath tickling his ear. Every night, it was the same thing, except he didn’t have any idea what the story was about this time. This story didn’t seem to involve pirates or dragons or space ships or aliens. It didn’t sound anything like he had come up with during his sleepless nights at home. But he loved it anyway.
Sometimes they didn’t even talk when Harry slept, and that was okay. Sometimes Ben would lay down next to Harry and wrap his arm around him and pull him closer so they were both lying down together, and sometimes Harry would lie there, listening to the steady beat of Ben’s heart against his own chest and closing his eyes as they listened to the sounds from outside. Sometimes Ben would sing to him, humming along with whatever song that was playing in their room, or whispering promises of things he hoped for them to happen someday. It was a nice song that sounded like it belonged with something else that Harry couldn’t quite put his finger on yet.
After some time though, Harry learned that he couldn’t hear the songs Ben sung. It started happening at night sometimes; Ben would sing to him, and then it was gone, leaving only silence where the sounds of his singing had been minutes ago. He began asking Ben why that was; why it disappeared. Ben would tell him the truth; that they weren’t his real songs. That the ones he sang were all for him.
The nights were quiet when he finally realised this. As long as he was hearing Ben, it never seemed like anything was wrong. It helped him drift towards a peaceful sleep; even if he couldn’t tell whether that was a dream, or something real.
One night, when Harry came downstairs, expecting to find Ben in the kitchen making breakfast, he was surprised to find Ben passed out on his bed with his mouth hanging open. It took him only a second to notice that Ben wasn’t wearing his clothes, either. Harry knew that it wasn’t unusual, considering that they had grown up sharing sleeping arrangements in his own bed, but tonight it seemed different. Usually, Harry would see Ben dressed, ready to go and get ready for work. Today, he was only wearing boxers and a tshirt.
“Ben!” Harry called softly, trying not to startle him too much. Ben groaned in response, and then shifted slightly until his face was buried deeper into the pillow. Harry walked over to him and sat on the edge of the bed. “Ben?” he said again, shaking him a bit harder this time.
This time, Ben jolted awake, wide eyed and panicked. “What? What’s wrong? What are you—”
“Are you sick?”
“Yes,” Ben answered immediately, then frowned. “What are you talking about? Sick? Why do you say that?” Harry shrugged, feeling embarrassed. For some reason, it didn’t seem right to admit that he didn’t know.
“You were… you were crying out in your sleep,” he said finally.
For a second, Ben didn’t reply. Then, “What?” he breathed out. A wave of panic suddenly passed across his features. “When did this happen?” he whispered, sounding frightened.
“I dunno. Maybe half an hour ago,” Harry lied.

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