I had a suspicion my older brother was going insane after our parents died. My brother lived alone. Our homes were close to each other; I could walk to his house if I wanted to. I check up on him regularly. He worked from home as a survey caller and rarely saw people. Already, he was not the chatty type. At least to me. After the deaths of our parents, he talked even less.
His neighbors complained to me that at night, my brother screams. And in the morning, he drinks and dances with the street cat. I did not believe them.
He called me to say that he needed help. I ran to his house after I put the phone down. When I went inside, my brother was sitting in his dining room eating yogurt. He looked up, confused. He had forgotten what he needed help with.
We sat together, eating yogurt. After some time in silence, he told me that a friend visited him often.
"Me?" I asked.
"No. Not you. Someone else. He is stuck like me. We talk about that a lot: being stuck."
I asked his neighbors if anyone visited my brother. They all said they had not seen anyone go in or out of his house in weeks.
I checked up on him a week later. We ate dinner together. He was laughing to himself. I asked him what was so funny.
"My friend keeps running in circles. He makes clumsy mistakes all the time," he said. "This morning he dropped his food all over himself. Made a mess."
Suddenly, I lost my appetite. I looked at my brother. He looked back curiously. "What's with the scary look?" he said.
"What does your friend look like?"
My brother stopped for a little bit. "He is small."
"When does he come by?"
"Whenever he wakes up... sometimes he is less talkative and other times, he won't shut up! He is actually here with us right now!"
There was nobody else in the house. There were no shoes in the front door except mine and my brother's old pair of Adidas. I checked the living room and the kitchen. I came back to my brother. He put away the dishes and showed me out the door. The walk home as pensive. I did not know what to do with my brother. He saw things nobody else could see. In a comic or a TV show, that ability would be exciting. But in reality, it was terrifying.
The neighbors called me again some nights later. They said my brother's screams lasted until 1 AM. They told me to do something before they report him to the property owners. I could only say, "I'll see what I can do."
When I knocked on his door the next morning, there was no response. I twisted the knob. The door was open. Inside, everything seemed normal. I took off his shoes and called his name. No response. From his room, I heard a snore. The door was half-opened.
My brother was laid upside down in his bed with his legs propped against the wall. He was asleep. It was when he was asleep that I found him the most recognizable: calm, young.
Before I closed the door, I heard a squeak. I turned around and walked behind the bed. On the ground, there was a cage: a hamster's cage. The hamster looked up at me and squeaked again. It was plump. Its water tank was full. I could tell it was taken care of, better than my brother took care of himself. I did not breathe.
I closed my brother's door and went out to the kitchen. I cooked three eggs. My brother always ate two.
Jabez wants to die at the age of ninety but is not sure of how yet (probably of old age whatever that means). He is eighteen and is an incoming freshman at Yale University where he wants to major in English and possibly Film and Media Studies. He is attending as a QuestBridge scholar. In the past, his writing has been recognized by Scholastic Art and Writing as a Silver Medalist for his short fiction.
Ananya Singh is an 18 year old artist and animator. She was born in India and moved to Chicago at 4 years old, and is now an animation student at SCAD. She might be a Youngarts finalist but she is also a fierce competitor on the nap battlefield.