He hadn't slept since the funeral, and the aroma of old cologne now mingled with that of his own sweat. It was now past three in the morning, but Gabriel didn't care about time much anymore. He stood in his cold, white tile bathroom, in front of his mirror. He blinked seldomly, making his empty blue eyes water. A lock of his oily black hair lay on the bridge of his nose, not in its usual spiked punk do. He had gotten paler in the last few days, large dark circles had developed under his eyes and the white of his eyes had become a shade of pink only seen at sunset. He couldn't imagine ever looking anything like his twin, Michael. Soon it wouldn't matter though, soon anything they had shared would be eaten by the maggots and worms in the ground. A fresh, hot tear ran down his cheek. He scooped up a handful of cold water and splashed it onto his face. The water streamed down his neck and bare chest, the first making long paths for the rest. The water ran over his angel pendant that dangled on a simple silver chain. He touched its halo and thought of the day his mother gave it to him.
"Here, Gabriel, the one with the blue gown is yours. Michael's has a white gown. Maybe now I'll be able to tell you two apart," she had said as she handed it to him.
Gabriel leaned into the shower and turned on the cold water. He soon stepped in and sat on the floor of the shower, his face turned up so that the water hit his face first. The water felt like a thousand little fists pounding away at his frame. His hot tears mingled with the cold water. Why did this happen to him? Why not me? All of his questions came out of him as if he was an overflowing cup. Why wasn't I there? Why wasn't it me? Why did that guy have to pick him? Why didn't anyone help him? Why was he stabbed and not some other guy? He imagined his brother laying in the street, bleeding from his stomach all over the concrete. Why?
"Not even God could tell us apart. It should have been me," he mumbled to himself. A slight smile crept onto his face. "Won't matter much soon anyway." He picked up a small razor that he had placed next to the soap the night Michael died. He stared at it for a few seconds, then took a long breath and made the first cut on his wrist. When that first drop of blood fell into the water, it began to make a small spiral. That spiral grew and grew until he sat in the middle of a red galaxy-shaped spiral inside of his bathtub. He glimpsed at the razor he still held and for a second saw a figure not of himself, but of a man in a black hood with no face. Suddenly, everything went black.
"Am I dead? Is this what it feels like to die? Where's Michael? I want to see him. Is he here?" he cried aloud in the darkness.
"Soon your questions....will be answered..." replied a small voice.
Before he could ask who had said that, he found himself laying on a patch of grass. He sat up and realized he was wearing clothing. He wore black pants, with a white muscle shirt, black suspenders held up his pants unnecessarily. He stood on his bare feet and the grass crunched under his toes. Grass doesn't crunch, he thought to himself. He looked closely at the blades and saw that they were plastic. There wasn't even dirt there. He began walking and found himself in a small town. The houses were all made of wood, oak and cedar. They were well polished and looked brand new, all of their doors were lined with velvet, yet they had no windows. Ahead of him he ran into a man walking with an hourglass half his size balanced on his head. He seemed to be struggling but never asked for help.
"What are you doing? Why is that thing on your head?" he asked the man.
"We all have hourglasses, you just can't see them. Sooner or later, the sand runs out," the man replied. The man pointed at the hourglass and Gabriel noticed that his sand really was running out. He only had a few grains left that bounced around the hole to the other end.
"Where are we? How'd I get here?" Gabriel asked him.
"We're here, in Balance. You were made here, it's only logical that you return someday." With this, the man left.
Gabriel continued walking along the road. He only now realized that it was night, since he could barely see in front of him. He looked up and searched for the moon. When he saw it his mouth dropped and he tried to scream but no sound came out. The moon was there, but it was almost transparent. Inside its center a form could be seen, the form of a small fetus. It moved slightly, stretched and rolled over onto its side.
"Oh, my God! Where am I? Is this hell?"
"Hell? No, we're here. We're in Balance."
Gabriel turned quickly around and saw a woman facing him. She was floating in the air wearing a white robe. Behind her were several other people, all flying in circles up to the sky and then coming back down. They held hands and smiled and danced so much they formed small tornados on the ground. Gabriel watched them dance and noticed that from their backs there were wires that glimmered in the moonlight. One man in the back danced so much one of his wires broke in half, sending him spinning to the ground. Gabriel ran to keep him from hitting the ground but didn't make it in time. It was pointless though because the man didn't hit the ground, he instead sank as if it were quicksand. Soon, there was no trace of him left.
He continued walking and came across the corner of a street. He found a man there waiting to cross the street wearing a black suit and tie. Gabriel wanted to ask him how he could get back home but before he could a fly the size of a horse hit him, sending his head flying into the street. A man that was riding the fly got off with a sad look on his face. "It's a shame," he said. "These strays always get too close to the streets." He then hopped back on his waiting fly and flew away. Gabriel then looked up and realized that everyone was riding an insect. He saw a woman riding a worm and children on three foot long maggots.
Gabriel was so confused his head began to hurt. His feet were sore from so much walking but there was absolutely no dirt on his feet. He could feel the tears building up in his eyes from how frustrated he was. Why am I here? Is this punishment? What have i done wrong? He thought to himself for what seemed like hours. He must have already been there for almost a day, but the sun never seemed to come up. He assumed that the sun never came up in this place. No grass grew there, no plants at all. Yet, these people could live, if they were even alive. He was distracted from his thoughts by a strange fluttering sound. But it was like a helicopter or an immense lawnmower coming towards him. He looked up and saw a huge black cloud moving across the sky. For a moment the cloud completely covered the moon, blocking out the light. Then the cloud stopped and swooped towards the ground. At that moment a worm was crawling across the ground. The cloud fell upon the worm which wriggled helplessly. Gabriel looked closely and realized that cloud was no cloud at all, but in fact a huge group of ravens soaring across the sky in search of food. The birds lifted the worm off the ground and returned to the sky with their meal.
Gabriel couldn't take it anymore. He burst into bitter tears that fell upon the plastic grass. He watched as the citizens of Balance passed him by. Women walked by pushing empty strollers. A small boy walked around the streets, a birthday party hat on his head. He proudly announced that this was his 60th birthday and that he had eaten a whole cake by himself. Gabriel congratulated him, not knowing how else to get rid of him. Soon after the boy left a man walked in front of him and suddenly stopped. He looked around and quickly became a pile of dark gray dust that blew away in the wind. Children ran by singing "Ring Around the Rosie". Ring around the rosie, pockets full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall dead!
"There is an order to things," a voice from behind him said. Gabriel turned around to see a small girl standing there.
"You should never disrupt it," another small voice said. Soon he was surrounded by small children. All of them were gray skinned, their eyes were black. But they weren't a normal kind of black, they were empty. When he looked into them he felt like he would fall in. Their clothes were tattered, but he could tell they were old, decades old.
"What are you talking about? I didn't disrupt anything. I just wanted a little control in my life for once!" Gabriel screamed at the pack.
"Control...is given to those worthy of it."
"Living is a gift in itself."
"You should never ask for more."
"But it was so unfair. Michael was taken from me, and I need him. I couldn't live without him. He is half of me! Without him, I'm not me!" Gabriel felt like he would explode. He never let his true feelings out, not even to himself.
"You tried to escape..." When the child finished these words she fell to the ground, motionless.
"But death is no escape..." Smack! This one collapsed also.
"Death is a prison in itself." Smack!
"Life is your escape..." Smack!
"Your escape from nothing." But this one didn't fall. He stayed standing and just stared at Gabriel. There was something chilling about the way he looked at him with those bright blue eyes he had. His black hair was combed onto his face, a small piece lay on his nose. Under his shirt, a small chain was visible only in certain angles of moonlight.
"Death should never be your own choice. It should come in its own time, in its own place, for its own reasons. Never by your own hands, Gab, never by your own hands." The boy looked at Gabriel with the saddest eyes he had ever seen since the funeral when he saw his mother looking at her son's casket.
"I'm sorry. I just couldn't go on. It was so alone in that apartment without you, Mick," Gabriel sighed.
"Roaches still big as your hand?" he asked with a smile.
"You bet! Especially in your room since you haven't been there in a few days. I guess they've missed you too."
The boy smiled and closed his eyes. He was soon changing, growing and becoming who he always was. In a few moments the Michael that Gabriel missed was standing in front of him wearing the same outfit he was. They looked identical again. They held eachother for what seemed like eternity, laughing with their whole souls.
"Gab, there's something I have to tell you. This place, Balance, is not heaven, nor hell. It's what's in between. You aren't dead yet, you still have a chance. When you get back, get help and you can make it. If you don't you really will be in heaven or hell, but i don't know which," said Michael.
"No, I can't go. I just found you. I want to stay with you," Gabriel pleaded.
"I'm sorry, bro. But that's not how the order goes. Not yet. Goodbye." Michael held up a small razor just like the one Gabriel had used and held it up to his face. Gabriel could see his reflection in its side and yet again saw the man with no face.
"Hey, Mike. Who is that guy wearing the black? I saw him before," asked Gabriel.
A look of horror swept onto Michael's face. "Oh, my God--"
With this, everything went black again.
The first thing he felt was pain. A sudden, quick pain. He could feel the cold floor under him and the shower was still on. He looked around him and made sure that he was in his bathroom. He got up and turned off the shower. The soft sound of dripping continued. He looked at the shower head but it wasn't leaking. He then remembered the pain. He looked down at his wrist and saw that it had been cut open from one side to the other and he was bleeding profusely. His face went white with horror. No, he whispered. He turned his head slightly to the side and saw the blade laying on the side of the tub in a small puddle of blood. He reached over and picked it up slowly. It glimmered in the cold light, its side serving as a small mirror. When he looked into its side all he saw was the reflection of that man with the hood fading away, to be replaced by his own reflection.