We all know, or used to know, someone with absolutely terrible luck. In my case, that would be an understatement for Clifford Burns.
I’d known Cliff since I was five – we were best friends when we were children. His house was across the road from mine, and we walked to and from school together every school day for a decade. We were inseparable as we pulled pranks, hit on girls, fought off bullies and crushed opponents in video games together any chance we could get. We were almost the same kid back then – both rebellious, hung out with the same people, had the same interests and enjoyed the same music and games. We were even the same average-ish height, skinny build and both had scraggly hair in the same fringe-up style. If we didn’t have different hair colors, his being blond and mine brown, we would’ve been mistaken for twins more than we already were.
A freak accident happened in the summer vacation before freshman year of high school. We were riding through town when Cliff suddenly got hit by some drunk driver’s Jeep on the high street. Before I could even look back, I heard the snapping of his bones as he collided with the dashboard, and the crunch of his bike frame as it folded under the wheel.
There were bright lights flashing, and I heard faint shouting in the distance as all the cars stopped and the road slowly began to get backed up with traffic. It was all a blur from then on. Each second that passed felt like an hour. Tears streamed down my face as I screamed at the 911 dispatcher for an ambulance, then my memory skips to returning home alone later that night, and crying in my mom’s arms, unsure whether my good undeserving friend would make it out alive. In the aftermath, the scene of the impact replayed countless times in my nightmares, jolting me awake in night sweats and reminding me of the terror I felt that day.
Cliff broke his legs and a few ribs from the accident, so was hospitalized for three months, and missed the first term of high school. Of course, I was relieved he had at least survived, but he was the only close friend I’d ever had, and I’d been so accustomed to doing everything together with him for the past few years that doing anything without him felt like betrayal. I was afraid of what it would be like to be without a him for such a long time.
I visited him every day for the rest of the holidays. We kept on chatting and gaming for a while, and I tried my best to keep his spirits up, but I soon felt our time spent together was of a substantially lower quality. We couldn’t ride around town or play soccer anymore. Cliff was completely wrapped up in bandages and casts, and confined to his hospital bed. The painkillers would make him woozy, but he cried without them because the pain was so bad. Within a few weeks he became a different person – a pessimistic, self-pitying and constantly depressed Debbie Downer, always complaining about any minor discomfort he had. It’s not his fault, I kept telling myself, but it didn’t change the fact that I hardly enjoyed being around him anymore. At the same time, both spending time with family and my other friends, and even independence, seemed more enjoyable instead.
I kept visiting him for several hours a day for the rest of the holidays as I didn’t want him to feel lonely, or more importantly, as if I was adjusting to being without him or anything. My daily visits felt like an utter waste of time and none of my attempts at being funny and positive to cheer him up ever worked. Sometimes we literally sat in silence for hours because he was too tired or depressed to talk, which frankly I’d rather have done in the comfort of my own bedroom than stuck in that disease infested trench with his miserable self, but I just couldn’t leave him all alone after what happened. I knew I’d never forgive myself if I hurt my best friend’s feelings after all the suffering he had endured, besides his mood would probably heighten drastically once his health improved.
Freshman year was fast approaching. I’d always had big plans for high school – I couldn’t stand to continue being the shy, average kid in the corner I’d been for my entire life prior. I wanted to meet new people, join sports teams and do well in exams so I could attend a decent college or uni. As I counted down the days, I felt the era of my rebirth coming ever closer. Finally, the day before high school started, I told Cliff I’d be visiting him at least once a week every Friday, as school would probably be busy.
“Hmm… okay I guess.” He sighed, trying to his dejection. His eyes were fixed on the TV as he sipped a strawberry milkshake through a straw. The Simpsons was on, and Homer had just cracked a joke about weasels. But Cliff didn’t look like he was laughing.
“That’s just if I’m really busy,” I reassured him, “It’ll probably be fine for the first few weeks and I’ll come visit a lot more in that case.”
“Enjoy high school.” He didn’t say anything else.
His face was pale and clammy. Cliff had developed bed sores over the past weeks and one got infected, which meant more drugs and back pain for a while to come. He sat up once, and I winced for a moment after spotting a clumpy brown patch on the bed where the sore on his back had tried to heal itself into the fibres of the sheet.
Remaining in a horizontal position for so long weakened his muscles and gave him the classic threesome of symptoms - insomnia, heartburn and severe constipation. His declining health was accompanied by his mental state, as he seemed to slip deeper into a depression, evidenced by the fact that now he only spoke in short monotone sentences that made him sound like he hated his life. I pitied him, but there wasn’t much I could do to help. In my eyes I had done all I could, at least on the emotional side of things, and even if it wasn’t that useful, I hoped my presence alone was enough to make him feel at least slightly better. His burden made my chest ache constantly, and I felt the guilty pangs of betrayal every time I happened to begin enjoying myself without him for whatever reason.
All the negative emotional energy dissipated in a flash once high school started. On the first Friday of school, I was invited to a party. It was Clifford day, I reminded myself, but for the first time I couldn’t be asked to spend more time on him than myself. If he did ask, it wouldn’t be too hard to make up an excuse anyways, and he needed some time to himself for once. I went to the party, where I tried my best at being sociable and getting to know people, and for some reason, I suddenly found myself constantly at the centre of attention, and now one of the most popular kids in the school. I started a regular gym habit and kept a good work ethic, while still partying every Friday after school. In a term’s time I had become fit, popular, a straight A student and captain of the soccer team, a far cry from the average Adam I’d been a year ago. I also enjoyed the copious amounts of attention I received from girls, and all the guys wanted to pose in photos with me and invite me to their parties. I had never imagined freshman year would’ve been such a ball.
Cliff came to school at the beginning of the second term. At first I didn’t recognise him. He had gained so much weight in a few months that his belly was now sagging over his belt, and he was a far cry from the boy he was before. A chunky cast cradled the lower half of his right leg, and he got around on crutches. He had dyed his hair black and it seemed like he hadn’t cut it in ages, as it was drooping over his eyes. He’s become a fat emo kid now? That was my first thought upon seeing him, before I began to feel guilty for that toxic thought. Why? I immediately thought afterwards. It was true after all.
We both stood in silence at opposite ends of the hallway for a few seconds, contemplating how different we had become in such a short period of time. Had this guy really been my best friend half a year ago? Something big had changed. Not just the accident – it seemed like life was no longer a level playing field.
“You…” he began, “didn’t answer any of my texts.” I swallowed.
“Ah shit! Dude, I’m sorry, I forgot to tell you I changed my phone number ‘cuz I lost the old one on the bus. Oh man…”
“Its fine,” he sighed. I shook my head and paced towards him. As soon as I reached within a five foot distance of him, the putrid stench of his sweat and body odor suddenly hit me. Okay, so puberty hadn’t done him favours either.
Just as I thought the situation couldn’t get more uncomfortable, a bunch of my new friends came running up to me, yelling something about finding a DJ for the party that Friday. He flashed me a sarcastic smile and turned around, hobbling away and disappearing around the corner. It was at that moment I decided he was just jealous that the whole school was at my feet, and I wasn’t as low as him anymore. I vowed to never let his emotions bring my mood down again, because I had stressed over him too much. If he chose to act the way he did, then so be it. He had been in a terrible accident, but he got the pity he deserved. An excuse like that can only be used as a crutch for so long before you have to stand on your own two feet.
High school probably wasn’t the best experience for him, looking at it retrospectively. He was always alone, and an easy target for bullies. I only ever saw him hang out with a girl named Gretta White, a quiet and nerdy outcast with twin braids, huge round glasses and a mouth full of braces. They were photographed holding hands behind the school (at least it doesn’t look photoshopped) and after that their relationship was constantly attacked. I felt no pity anymore at that point, just amusement. Those two retards could be lame together, then fuck and make lame babies – it would be good banter, for all I cared.
We weren’t in the same class for anything, and I didn’t see him round much either. I was glad that was the case. I was better off without him now. He attracted a lot of negative attention, bullies and rumours. I’d bet my life none of them were true, but I just played along as he wasn’t my business anymore. One of the popular girl pranksters, Bethany, was like a newspaper, spreading fake gossip like wildfire in every direction wherever she went. She told us she’d received a ‘dick pic’ from him, and thus showed us an image of a penis that might have, but probably didn’t, belong to Clifford Burns. We all got a good laugh from it anyway. Someone else then started saying the reason he smelt bad was because he jerked off ten times a day and didn’t change his underwear. That also went flying left and right, getting modified and amplified in various forms along the way.
I peeled all that nonsense aside at the end of the year to focus on training for the regional soccer finals. We had good success the entire year, but the final was no joke. We were up against a team widely considered the best in the country, and one mistake would be fatal. But I wanted to finish the best freshman year ever with a final bang, and I was willing to fight for it. One day before the finals match, I had just finished a long set of drills and was packing up my kit ready to call it a day, when I heard a girl’s voice call out behind me.
I turned around to see Gretta White. It was strange that I hadn’t seen her walk onto the pitch. I was so confused and startled for a second that I forgot to act slightly standoffish towards unpopular people.
We stood facing each other, twenty feet apart, alone in the vast green expanse.
“I just w-wanted to say,” she stuttered, “um, good luck for tomorrow.”
“And also… I…” she coughed. Her face turned red, and I raised my eyebrows in confusion.
“I…” she continued, “I really like you! I’ve had a crush on you ever since the start of the year. I just wanted to say that.”
It was so bizarre that I was dumbfounded, and while she stood there sheepishly, I contemplated how to react.
“Are you serious?”
“Y-yeah I’m not kidding! I always thought you were really cool but I was too scared to talk to you, because you’re really popular and you’re always around s-so many people.”
“Are… you with Clifford?”
“He’s a good friend but, not really my type to be honest. I mean, type that I would be attracted to.”
I batted my eyelids as I walked closer towards her. She was smart, nice and had a pretty face. Perhaps if she had a bit of a style tweak she would look fine. Also, if it was Clifford’s girl…
“So, w-will you go out with me? I won’t mind if you say no…”
“Yeah,” I smiled, “I’ll be your boyfriend Gretta.”
“W-what?!” Her mouth was agape with disbelief.
“Oh my god,” she laughed.
“But I have one condition. I want to give you a makeover.”
“I don’t have any money for makeup,” she said.
“Nah. I said makeover. That’s new makeup, hair, nails, clothes, everything. And I’ll be paying.”
“I… I don’t know anything about fashion,“ she whimpered. I edged closer.
“You think you’ll be choosing what I buy? Doesn’t work like that. You look how I want you to look.”
She looked a little taken aback but she nodded. I was suddenly excited. Way to ease the tension and relax with a bit of fashion design before the final match! We toured the high streets for beauty salons and I spent all the money I could afford. By the end, she genuinely looked hot – even better than some of the ‘popular’ girls, and I was proud. She was mine now, and there was nothing Clifford could do about it.
I thought there was no doubt we would win the match and move straight into the nationals with little effort. Perhaps I had become accustomed to my stream of neverending luck. Perhaps I had become so drunk on my own ego from belittling others that I’d failed to notice how easily my successes had come to me.
On the day of the competition, a shooting broke out in the stadium. Some psychotic kid snuck in there with an assault rifle and tried to gun down the competing junior players as they entered onto the field, as well as the parents in the audience, then shot himself before the authorities arrived. Five people were killed – two of them being our school’s best players, and ten injured - including myself, who took a bullet straight to the knee. The news shocked the nation, with widespread media coverage. In hospital later that day, I was devastated to find out that I might not be able to walk unaided for at least half a year, but there were more pressing concerns on my mind.
In hospital later that day, I found out that Cliff had committed suicide by jumping off a bridge in the city center. It was speculated that he suffered a slow, tormentuous death by drowning, the impact having failed to kill him, leaving behind a murky red area in the water.
I opened my phone to discover a string of texts from Clifford, all received at 10:30 p.m. the day before, an hour before he fell to his death.
“Hey bro. It’s me, Cliff. Do you remember the day the accident happened?”
“I should have died that day. Allowing myself to live this long was a mistake.”
“I saw the Devil after the crash. He told me I was due to die and go to Hell soon, but there had been a mix up recently, so there weren’t enough vacancies in Hell for everyone stuck in purgatory. He offered me a choice: I could die there and then, and he would find another to make space temporarily, or I could be revived to make space.”
“But he said there was an inevitable cost, if I did wish to be revived again. It was a technical issue regarding the balance of fate. He didn’t explain the administrative details as I wouldn’t have understood the inner workings behind the laws of the governance of fate, but he explained in simple terms, that all I had to do was accept a deal – to give up my luck for someone else, and suffer bad luck myself.
“This meant at every turn and every decision, I would suffer the worst of consequences no matter how hard I tried, and each episode of suffering would bring an episode of luck to another person. That was the price for my life.”
“I wanted to live. He said I had to choose someone to give my luck to, or it would be assigned to a random stranger. So I chose you, because back then, I loved you like a brother. I knew that from then on, every fall I took would bring you higher. I turned into an outcast. You turned into the most popular kid in the school. I had rumours plaguing me day and night. You gained the sporting achievements you'd always dreamed of. Try thinking of more examples yourself. You'll soon find that every failure of mine can be mapped directly to a success of yours. It wasn’t the way I wanted to live my life, but I was glad that at least I would be helping you out, even if I ended up in a low place. At least I could live to see you thrive.”
“But it turned out to be the worst decision I could make. I hate you. I regret choosing you, and every loss I took for you. Why did you do this to me? You pushed me to a side after your success, made me feel like a burden, you spat on me and took away the girl I liked - not for love, but just to spite me. Perhaps seeing my best friend turn into my worst enemy was part of the curse of bad luck I had to endure. Or maybe it's my fault for turning you into a monster. I could never have imagined you had the capacity to change so quickly. Only now do I understand how much of a waste it all was.”
“I asked the Devil what would happen when I died again. He said the luck would have to be taken out of the universe to maintain balance, but the bad luck had to be passed on. The hurt was awful, and I’d considered suicide many times, but I didn’t want to be selfish and let him hurt you.”
“Now after seeing what you’ve become, I’ve given up. I don’t care if you think I’m crazy, or you don’t believe me – you’ll know my pain soon enough. Your match today didn’t go as planned, did it? That was just a taste of your fate. I’d say ‘good luck’, but I don’t think it’s going to help. You have no idea what’s coming your way.”
“Fuck you. I’m out for good.”
Written by Fairly7Local