Numbers | Teen Ink


March 14, 2023
By SpiritWriter-Nikhita BRONZE, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
SpiritWriter-Nikhita BRONZE, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

I ran quickly as the snow fell, the edges of everything around me blurring. From the pace of my heartbeat, it was like I finished first in a marathon. There is this feeling burning at the back of my mind. I don’t even know how to begin to describe it. It feels like a sensation of fear even before the car swerves or before you spot the stranger behind you in the alleyway. Whenever you try to think about anything else, nothing seems to distract you for long. 

Even as I slowed down and forced myself to watch each snowflake fall, I could feel the adrenaline pumping through me. Even in the dead of winter, there had been no snowfall until today, as if nature itself was holding its breath. It might have had its moment of release, but I was far from mine. Even the red sky of a slow sunset against the white snow seemed like a facade, ready to break. My eyes stung against the violent hues from the sun, another silent warning. 

Band had run late again, but I hadn’t realized how late. I tried to focus my thoughts on my family waiting for me at home. My heart jumped as my guitar case hit my leg, jolting out of my absentminded daydreams. I thought of the cold biting at my face and my numb lips. My legs and hands lost feeling even as I shook them frantically. Focusing on my pain proved to be more powerful than thinking of my family. By now, my panic was making my head feel light and my stomach seemed to flip every second, waiting. 

Cutting through the silence, a loud “ten” rang out in my head. Small bits of panic crackled in my head, aggravating the weeklong headache I had, no matter how much I tried to suppress it. My confusion was just feeding into my fear; I needed to gain some clarity. Instead of being worried, I should find Rue and tell her what was happening. She was my best friend, even if I sounded crazy, she would listen to me. Thinking of Rue instantly made me feel better and I sped up to catch up to her. She was so distracted that she hadn’t talked to me during or after practice, I was sure she would have a lot to tell me. 

I had forgotten about the cold and the pain from my tossing and turning stomach, remembering our days in kindergarten together. I smiled warmly, thinking of how nice it would be to tell someone else what was happening. If I remember correctly, she wouldn’t be that far. I ignored the grey concrete and examined the snow. Sure enough, there were small bootprints. She always liked to walk in the snow. 

Suddenly, “nine” rang out in my head, a loud gong waking me up. I felt a tremor pass through my body. The numbers were getting quicker. I tried to tell myself that maybe I was just counting down till I would see Rue again. That was a lie, however. They had been counting down for the whole week, starting from one hundred. Besides, it was not even a voice that said it. It was like a noise that I translated as numbers. Still, I tried reassuring myself that maybe Rue’s shoe size was a nine and that was why I had “thought of” that number. 

The ominous feeling followed me and I started running. It was like I had lost control of myself. My feelings and nerves all jumbled into a tight knot that bounced at the bottom of my stomach, while my head started pounding and throbbing as if something were trying to get out. The pain was unbearable; I was past the point of distracting myself. I needed Rue. 

A loud “eight” bubbled slowly, somewhere deep in my brain. They were getting too quick. No amount of convincing would extinguish my panic. My only thought was running. I kept letting it repeat, striving to think clearly through this thick, confusing fog in my brain. By now, the length between the numbers was minuscule. 

A slow, almost shrill seven played like a broken guitar in my head. That sound pierced my head at the same time I saw Rue laughing with her friends ahead of me. She had forgotten about me. Not just that, as I got closer, I heard Rue talking about how annoying and clingy I was. Here I was with my whole body feeling like I was getting poked by a million needles like some creature was going to come out of me, while my best friend was insulting me for looking for comfort. If she had been so bothered by it, she could have just asked and I would have been glad to tell her. Rue didn’t ask though, looking at her now, it looked like she didn’t care enough to ask. I cared enough that she was the one I was thinking about during this excruciating pain. 

I almost laughed when I realized it was always like this recently. I didn’t feel upset like I thought I would. Instead, I felt liberated, knowing that our friendship was coming to an end. Sometimes letting the snow go is the only way to change and grow. I turned on my heels and walked away slowly, enjoying the snow drift. I swayed along with the flecks, my boots mashing the snow along the sidewalk. 

I decided it was time to accept my fate. There was no point in caring about the random numbers when I didn’t even know if I could stop them or not. I think I can take whatever happens. I let out a small whisper of hope that I was strong enough as I said “Six,” matching the number beating inside me. My voice got lost in the wind as I finally let my body relax. I didn’t force myself to think of anything. I let my mind be blank as I trudged back to the band practice hall. I could always call my dad to pick me up. 

It was a far-off thought in my mind as I said, “Five.” It was loud enough that my ears didn’t strain to hear it as I watched a beautiful raven fly toward the sunset. The sun had playfully sank behind townhomes, bathing the world in pink, no longer the menacing red. A few cars passed lazily by as I dropped my guitar case. Spinning around with the snow that had started blanketing everything in its gorgeous white color. “Four,” I said, my brain melting away to the colors of the sky. “Three,” I said, sticking out my tongue like I was a kindergarten kid again.

The dark, naked trees stood out against this rainbow of color that formed close to the ground. I didn’t feel like going to the hall just yet. “Two,” I announced, staring up at the speckles of white light against the warm red. I stood there, huddled in my parka and just soaking in this nature and wondering why I hadn’t done this more often. “One,” I loudly stated as a wave of calm washed over me as I slipped my hands into my pockets. 

Since I had decided that what happened would not matter, my fear had fallen as slowly as the sun did. I knew I was ready. “Zero,” I yelled, my voice ringing out through the tree line. My impulsive confidence with these quick events faded away, leaving me exposed. It was too late.

The author's comments:

The Numbers is about a student who struggles with anxiety and a good friendship that has grown toxic. Additionally, she explores her connection with nature around her which is something that she is unable to do. It also plays with themes of impulsiveness as her impulsively running to her friend was one of the inciting incidents and at the end where it is shown once again as a bad thing. 

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