The Vanishing Ground

I messed up bad

It was the first thing I’d heard from my younger brother in over a week. When the screen lit up with his text notification, though, I just rolled my eyes and pushed my phone further away. He was prone to sending me that kind of message as a lead up to something entirely inconsequential and anticlimactic. Typical seventeen year old humor.

I messed up bad…I ate a whole large pizza and now I’m gonna be sick

I messed up bad…I forgot to change the TP roll and now Mom’s in the bathroom

I messed up bad…I took a couple of wrong turns and now I’m at your apartment complex instead of home

Usually I would have entertained him and shot back a silly response, but I was spending my Saturday afternoon studying for university midterms and had to focus. When my phone vibrated again a moment later with what I assumed was the follow up to his “mess up”, I didn’t even check it and, when it went off a third time, I set it to silent without looking at my texts.

No distractions, I had promised myself.

That lasted for all of twenty minutes before my eyes started slowly wandering away from my textbook. It wasn’t that biochem wasn’t interesting, it was just that maybe whatever was on my phone was moreso. I reasoned that I had put in a good amount of study time so far and one little break to check my messages wouldn’t hurt. With a little, pleased nod at my own decision making prowess, I grabbed my phone.

Five more messages from Grant.

I messed up bad

I didn’t mean for this up happen it just did

I’d take it back if I could but its to late now

I wish I didn’t love her. Then maybe I wouldn’t have done it

I know you’ll never forgive me and I get it but I really want you to know that I never wanted to hurt her

its not just my fault tho. She led me on and it wasn’t fair and I just snapped

I reread the rambling messages a few times over with a sinking feeling. I kept waiting for him to reveal some relieving, but ultimately lame joke that I’d scoff at before getting back to work, but while the texts kept coming, the punchline didn’t.

Anya said she was my friend but she never gave me a chance

I thought bringing her up here would be cool and romantic and she’d finally see that I was the guy for her

I sat back in my chair, my phone gripped tightly in both hands. Grant and Anya had been friends since they were little; I’d known he’d had something of a crush on her, but I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. He’d talked to me about it before, but always in a half-joking manner, like he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to confess having feelings for a girl to his big sister.

What did you do? I made my suddenly stiff feeling fingers tap out a reply and hit send.

Almost immediately, my phone lit up with a call, but it wasn’t from Grant; it was our mom.

“Hey, Mom, can I call you back, I’m trying to-”

“Audrey,” Mom uncharacteristically cut me off, “I’ve been getting weird texts from Grant, but he won’t answer his phone. Have you talked to him?”

“He’s been texting you, too?” I asked.

“For the past half hour, yeah. I don’t know what’s going on; I’m worried about him.”

“Me too,” I admitted.

“I’m out visiting Grandma; can you drop by the house and check on him?”

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea,” I said, already rooting around my desk for my car keys.

I knew that it was killing Mom to be two hours away from home when she felt like one of her kids needed her, so I promised to call her when I was with Grant and stay with him until she could make the drive back from Grandma’s. After we hung up, I set my phone to vibrate again, grabbed my purse and a jacket and hurried down to my car.

On the way to the parking lot, I saw that Grant had messaged me a couple more times.

I don’t know how it went so bad

The drive up was fine but then she said something about Ron and I just got mad and she got mad back and we started fighting

Ron, I guessed, was Anya’s newish boyfriend; some kind of athlete at their school who Grant seemed to feel inferior to. I desperately wished that I’d paid more attention when he was filling me in on what I considered simple high school drama. I hadn’t realized how deeply his feelings for Anya and her relationship really ran and now I was kicking myself.

I jumped in my car and sped across town to my mom’s house, hoping that Grant would be there despite talking about having driven somewhere. I tried to call him repeatedly on my way over, but he didn’t pick up, nor did he answer the door when I rang the bell.

After waiting a moment, I let myself in.

“Grant?” I shouted from the dark, quiet foyer. “Grant, you home?”

My phone buzzed with a new text.

I just wanted to show her the lighthouse and I tried to change the subject but Anya just wouldn’t stop telling me that I needed to give Ron a chance

Are you home? I sent back even as I was heading to the stairs to go up to his room.

I told her to stop but she wouldn’t let her go Grant replied, ignoring my question. I didn’t mean to push her so hard. I just wanted her to shut up about her fucking boyfriend and get away from me. I didn’t even realize how close to the edge we were

I sprinted up the steps two at a time, hitting the call button beside Grant’s name again as I got to the top. My insides felt sick and twisted and I just wanted to talk to my brother.

The sound of his phone ringing from inside his bedroom was one of the sweetest sounds I’d ever heard. He had to be home!

“Grant!” I called again and unceremoniously shouldered open his door.

His phone was still ringing from its place on the nightstand in the otherwise silent and empty room.

I frowned, hanging up the call, and looked from his phone to mine in time to see another text from him pop up.

I couldn’t do anything. She screamed all the way down. I couldn’t see her after she went into the water.

It had to be a mistake, I thought. Grant couldn’t be texting me, I was looking right at his phone! I reached for it with a trembling hand and pressed the power button. His screen was full of messages from me and mom, but when I went into the conversations, they were all one sided; just our replies to texts that he hadn’t sent.

I let his phone slip from my fingers as my own went off again.

It was an accident but no one will really believe me except maybe my mom and my sister.

I never wanted to hurt Anya

I can’t live with this. I don’t deserve to

The air around me felt thick and stifling and I was finding it harder and harder to breathe. I didn’t know what to make of these texts or how he was even sending them when his phone was lying at my feet.

If anyone reads this I just want people to know that I loved Anya and my family and I wasn’t a bad guy

There was a brief pause, and then a rapid string of texts that all said the same thing.

Im sorry

“No, no, no,” I screamed at my phone.

Panic is confining and claustrophobic and as it took hold of me, the walls of my brother’s room started to close in. I had to run out of the house just up start breathing again and even then, my throat felt tight. I paced between the front door and my car, torn between calling the cops and trying to find him on my own.

No cops, I decided quickly, at least not yet. Even in my frantic state, I realized that that might make things worse if I found him.

When. Not if.

I clung to that and got back in to my car, where I sat in the front seat and scrolled through his texts, looking for any clues that might tell me where he was and ignoring the fact that I couldn’t explain how be had sent them in the first place. I could only handle so much at once.

Lighthouse, a cliff edge, water.

The Vanishing Grounds.

It was the local name for a set of remote cliffs on the outskirts of town, a place where the earth just seemed to end suddenly in a sheer drop down into rocky waters. Because of its notoriety as a place to commit suicide, authorities had done their best to dissuade the public from visiting with threats of fines and arrest. As far as I knew, it had mostly worked, and the cliffs were often unpopulated.

When we were little, though, before our parents divorced, they would sneak us out there for picnics on nice days. Grant had always liked the lighthouse that was visible from the highest point.

I broke just about every driving related law during my mad dash for The Vanishing Grounds.

Grant’s truck was waiting for me in the small dirt lot when I came skidding in. I ignored the small chain barrier that had been erected to keep people out and ran as fast as I could up the tree lined trail to the cliffs.

I started to scream Grant’s name even before I’d reached the top, but the only response I got was the cry of gulls overhead and the distant crash of ocean waves below.

I walked the entire length of The Vanishing Grounds looking for him. I even looked over the edge a few times, although it made my heart leap into my throat to do so. The jagged rocks that broke through the top of the water were blissfully free of any signs of Anya or my brother.

It wasn’t until I was making the long walk back, my throat raw and my skin icy from the constant, battering wind, that I caught sight of a small cabin tucked just a bit back in the trees. Overgrown with moss and weeds and eaten away by rot in some places, it was obvious that it hadn’t been in use in a while. A faded and cracked sign screwed to the wall named it as an old ranger station. If the front door hadn’t been standing ajar, I might have kept walking.

Instead, I veered towards it, praying that Grant would be inside.

The door groaned noisily when I pushed it open, revealing a small, single room. In the dim light, I could see old bottles and other trash strewn about the floor, but mostly, it was paper. Pages and pages of it.

I opened the door further to better illuminate the room and looked around slowly at the yellow sheets that covered the ground. Most looked like they’d been there for a while, but there were some fresher pages scattered on top of the rest. Each one had writing on it; some took up the whole page, others just had a line or two.

It didn’t take long to figure out that they were all suicide notes.

My gaze traveled over them, across the room, where a desk was sitting against the wall. On top of it, there was a legal pad, no doubt the source of at least some of the paper.

And on the wall itself, directly above the desk, someone had spray painted a question in large red letters.

Any last words?

With a shaking breath, I crept across the papered floor, which crinkled beneath my feet, and over to the desk. Now that I was closer, I could see that the top sheet of the pad had been used.

Although it was obviously hurried, distressed, the writing of someone who was just putting whatever thought came into his head on to paper, I recognized it immediately. A jagged, mournful wail began to build in my chest even as I tried to convince myself that it couldn’t be real. It wasn’t possible. It wasn’t.

I could only bring myself to read the first line before that wail escaped me.

I messed up bad

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