Everyone has emotions. Even me. But I’m different. Emotions aren’t things I like. They scare me.
They scare me because I don’t understand them. I’m always amazed at everyone else; they all understand their emotions without breaking a sweat. All these feelings float around inside these bodies, enjoying their freedom without a thought, and yet I’m trapped. I try to force my emotions away; they keep trying to overwhelm me, so I lock them safely in a corner of my brain. I’m usually quite good at that. The doctor I went to just after my 11th birthday told me and my parents that my brain was wired differently. I experienced the world differently. That much I could agree with. I still do, five years later.
I didn’t like going the doctor. We went on a Monday. We usually go shopping on a Monday. Going to the doctor meant that we didn’t go shopping. I didn’t like the doctor making us change our routine.
Like I said, I don’t get emotions. From time to time, they try and overwhelm me. Occasionally, they succeed. I always get back in control, but it takes time, and I usually end up ruining something.
Then I get annoyed. I get annoyed at myself, at my family, at everyone. I wish I could control it, but I can’t. When I calm down, I feel guilty and stupid, but I can’t apologise, because that would involve admitting that I feel all those things, and that’s the one thing that is always worse than feeling these horrendous emotions – admitting that I feel them.
I don’t know how that makes me look to other people, but I can’t think about it. I just can’t. I won’t.
From time to time, in occasional unguarded moments, I find myself wishing that I did understand emotions more, because it would help me cope with … well, life. But I don’t. Emotions make people act weird.
Why can’t more people be like Mr Spock? That would make so much more sense.
In the last three days, people’s emotions have been weirder than usual. It all started when people began rioting in London and Manchester, within minutes of each other. There didn’t seem to be any coordination between them; random mobs seemed to just spring up and begin attacking people, buildings – well, anything that moved.
People on the TV – government ministers, police officers, other people who my dad said seemed to just enjoy getting their faces on the television – all believed that it was coordinated, probably using social media, but no-one could prove it.
Then the riots spread. Within 24 hours of the London and Manchester riots, the violence had spread to Birmingham, York, and Bristol. Within 48 hours of that, all the big cities were affected, and being destroyed by pure, unadulterated aggression. The news channels were flooded with images of people who had lost their inhibitions and seemed set on doing nothing but destroy. I stopped watching the news after that; I couldn’t cope with it.
Even now, I feel sick just thinking about it.
I forced myself to watch a bit of the news last night, though; not much, because I knew that I’d just get freaked out and need to go and sit in a quiet room. I managed to watch a few minutes with that lovely newsreader with the nice voice.
She quoted some facts and figures, saying how scientists believed that people were infected with a virus which caused a vast, controllable rage. She then admitted that no-one knew for sure.
I hate it when people do that, giving you half-an-answer. Why can’t these people wait until they get the facts and then tell us? All this speculating just upsets everyone. Alright, it upsets me.
I hate it when people are vague. It means that nothing’s clear-cut and that there could be one of several answers. I can’t stop obsessing about all the possible outcomes, and I just shut down; I can’t cope with all the different thoughts running through my head.
I just want to tell people “Get to the point”. My parents tell me that it’s rude to speak like that, so I try and remember not to do it. It doesn’t always work, though. I sometimes tell people anyway. They need telling.
I don’t dream very often, but when I do, they’re usually nightmares; nightmares about this – people’s emotions out of control, without any way to stop themselves. I’m always on the periphery, watching the hatred take hold, and I panic, a dark emotion blooming in my chest.
When that happens, I always wake up screaming. I usually wet myself too.
But now my nightmares are coming true. My Mum and Dad always told me that my nightmares were just dreams and that the real world was safe. They were wrong. The country – all of it, slowly and surely – is turning into a real-life vision of my nightmares, and I feel ill just thinking about it. I try and block it out, mostly though my routine; my day-to-day life is familiar like a blanket. It gives me reassurance, as well as a sense of order and purpose, to follow a familiar, worn path.
My brother gets me, though. He never judges me, my routine or my nightmares; he accepts me for who I am. Daniel wasn’t like me – not many people were – but I always felt comfortable around him.
My Mum and Dad told me about my brother when I walked into the kitchen for breakfast. They were sat together at the table, with my Mum in tears. I tensed.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
My eyes didn’t – couldn’t – meet theirs. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, but I didn’t know how to cope. My Dad looked up from the table; although his eyes were red and puffy, he wasn’t crying. Had he been? Perhaps. It would explain his red eyes. In any case, it was a relief that he wasn’t crying now. I relaxed slightly.
“Do you know where Daniel is?” he asked.
“Why should I know?” I replied. “Is he in his room?”
“He’s not there,” my Dad said. “He’s gone. He left a note.”
He pointed to the breakfast bar, where a handwritten note was sitting on the side. I picked it up, mostly as an excuse to avoid looking at my parents for a moment. Mum continued to cry, and Dad started again. I didn’t say anything. I’ve never been good at comforting people. That was Daniel’s strength, not mine.
I already knew what the note said, of course, so I didn’t bother to read the words on the page.
This is breakfast time. I should be sitting down to my bran flakes.
That thought, unbidden, rose to the top of my mind. I couldn’t shake it. My stomach began to grind with discomfort and butterflies; my routine gave me some control over my day and my life, but right now, I didn’t feel in control.
I was scared.
I realised that I’d been stood there, motionless, for longer than was polite. I’m not good at lying, but my brother told me I would need to when our parents found the note. Actually, he almost begged me to lie, after I heard him, in his room, packing his stuff at one o’clock this morning. I’ve got good hearing, and his bedroom is just next to mine, so it wasn’t difficult to realise what he was doing.
I spent the rest of the night tossing and turning in bed. My parents always taught me it was bad to lie, and here was my brother, asking me to do just that. But in the end, I realised that I didn’t want my parents to think bad things about him. They’d think him stupid, insane, or infected.
“I need to do something, bro,” Daniel had said to me just a few hours ago. “I’m a journalist. I need to report on what’s happening. I can get to London in an hour. I want to be in the thick of it.”
I watched him carefully as he sat there, on the end of his bed. Different emotions played across his face and I barely understood any of them.
“Mum and Dad will be angry,” I said. “What will they say when you tell them?”
He shrugged; that gesture I understood easily, as it was one he used often enough.
“You’re not going to tell them?” I asked. “Daniel, you can’t leave without saying something! That’s not fair!”
Daniel didn’t know what to say to that, so he reached out a hand for my shoulder, but I jerked away, suddenly angry.
“I can’t believe you’re going to leave me!” I exclaimed. “I’m your brother!”
In that moment, I was terrified – and I felt terrified again now, when I was facing my parents’ emotions and knowing that I was having to lie to keep my brother’s secret. He didn’t want to upset our parents, and now I had to think carefully in order to not do the same.
“Where’s Jenna?” I asked.
“She’s at home,” my Mum replied. She turned to my Dad. “What if he’s affected?” she went on, her voice rising half an octave. “What -”
My Dad hugged her again and she stopped talking. Mum hugged him back and they sat in silence. I tensed again; I hoped they wouldn’t try to hug me. I hated being touched. My brother used to rugby-tackle me to the ground and wouldn’t get off me until I’d hugged him back. I screamed my head off for years until I got gradually used to it – to a degree.
Today, however, my parents were too emotional. As I walked past them, I patted my Mum on the arm instead. My Mum looked at me, gripped my hand tightly for a second and smiled. My Dad just smiled at me, his eyes still red.
I’ll never understand emotions as long as I live.
I took my bran flakes up to my room. I wasn’t going to be able to eat them downstairs in peace. I sighed as I sat down on my bed. My routine was out of sorts.
A high-pitched shout sounded outside my window, making me jump. It was 8:35am (I like timekeeping, I can control that) on a Saturday morning. That sort of noise was not normal this early in the morning.
I decided to concentrate on my breakfast instead. Whatever was happening outside the window could take care of itself. I wanted to get my daily routine back, and so I had five minutes to finish eating before I had to go for a shower.
I paused, the spoon half-way to my lips, as I heard another scream from outside. I slammed my bowl down on my bedside table and stomped to the window.
A car had screeched to a halt in the middle of our cul-de-sac and the driver – a man, probably no older than thirty – had got out and was banging the bonnet of the car while yelling furiously. The passenger was still in her seat, belt on and with the door locked. She was crying, which reminded me of my Mum, but then something dawned on me – it wasn’t just normal crying. It wasn’t often that I recognised different degrees of emotions, but this time I could – because the difference was dramatic. She was sobbing uncontrollably, like she had no control over her tears at all. The man banging the car bonnet didn’t seem to have much control either.
I felt sick. I staggered away from the window, appalled by what I had seen. The sudden rush of emotions was overwhelming. I fell backwards and, as my legs banged against the base of the bed, a thought struck me.
Oh my god, it’s here. The disease … it’s reached us.
I suddenly heard the tinkling of a window smashing, and my stomach lurched. I wondered if someone was trying to break into our home. I yanked open my bedroom door and ran downstairs as quick as I could. I didn’t understand my parents a lot of the time, but they were my parents. Selfishly, I also knew they were my only protectors, now that my brother had gone.
They were in the front room, looking out at the car from behind their net curtains. My Dad had his arm round my Mum’s shoulders.
Of course, I realised. It must have been the car window smashing.
I walked over to my parents, although I stood a little apart. I didn’t want them to think I needed a hug or anything. That would just have been weird. For all of us.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“We’re staying out of it,” Dad said.
I wrapped my arms around my body and nodded. I didn’t question him; I was glad he had said that. Perhaps things would get back to normal after all.
“Are we going down the shops later?”
My Mum and Dad exchanged a glance that I didn’t understand and then my Mum’s eyes started filling up with tears again. My stomach knotted. I could hear still hear the man yelling in the street. I felt physically sick.
“What’s wrong?” my Dad asked.
As he took a step towards me, I groaned. I didn’t want anyone near me right now; I felt confused and worried and scared and frightened all in one and I needed space. I clutched at my stomach with my hands.
“LEAVE ME ALONE!” I screamed.
I ran out into the hallway. I needed to get out of here, keep to my familiar routine. If I did that, everything would be okay. I knew it would. If I went to the shops, everything would be okay.
But that man was still out there. I couldn’t hear him shouting anymore. I wanted my brother. He’d understand. A burst of anger stabbed into my stomach.
No he won’t, I remembered. He won’t understand anything. He thinks being a journalist is more important than being a brother. He was going to leave me.
I felt a hand grab my arm and I yelled in shock. It was my Dad.
“Son?” he said in a faint voice. “Talk to me.”
“No!” I shouted. I wrenched my arm from his grip and backed away from him. I needed to go to the shops to get my comic book. That’s what we did on a Saturday morning, we went shopping. That was normal. I wanted normal.
My Dad followed me down the hall, his hands held up to show – I suppose – that he wasn’t going to try anything. He kept glancing behind me at the door for some reason, and I couldn’t work out why.
“Come on, son,” he said. “Come back into the front room. It’s safe in there.”
“No, it’s not,” I said. “This isn’t right. I just want to go back to the way it was!”
I turned round to grab the door handle and gasped. Through the frosted glass panel, I saw a figure walking up the path. My first thought was that it was the postman, but I realised it was too early for him. He didn’t usually arrive until 9.45am.
It was the angry man from the car. He must have heard me shouting in the front room. The window had been open and my voice must have carried out to him.
“Get back here right now!” my Dad snapped.
I knew what I had to do. I had to fight. I knew I could do it, because I had done it already. My brother had been planning to hurt my Mum and Dad by leaving, and I didn’t want that to happen. So I fought him this morning, to try and make him stay.
Then I’d killed him.
It had seemed like the only way to make him stay. I thought I’d done the right thing, but when I saw how upset my Mum and Dad were, I decided not to tell them what I had done. It seemed like the kindest thing to do.
I was going to defend my parents again now, defending them from that man at the front door. That would show them how much I cared for them.
I opened the door.