The Hold of Broken Things

Morgen Knight

            Alex looked out at the dreary world, feeling as though it were a reflection of his life. The cloud-rimmed sky lacked any real color; the ashen world appeared vacant through this apartment’s window, empty like the leafless trees filling the park across the street below. His head was pressed against the cool glass, his too-long brown bangs smashed between the window and his brow, where cold strips ran between the pinched strands of hair. Eyes cast down on the street and the lonely field that started beyond the park. The gray fog of his breath grew and dissipated in the slow rhythm of a dying heart an inch below his right eye.

Alex hated this place and the life he had to live here. Leaning against the glass, he couldn’t help but wish to be out of this place. He didn’t want to be outside here. He wanted nothing to do with here. He wished that he could look out of this window and see his old neighborhood. His old friends. His old life. But an immutable truth about wishes was becoming apparent—on a star, with a flipped coin, or simply to God, no wish is worth the breath it’s carried on.

The front door opened. Alex heard his mother. He followed the sounds of her progress through their small apartment. First she went to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine from the large cardboard box in the fridge. Then she went to her bedroom and shut the door. The lock on the door was only a slight click, and Alex would have missed it if he didn’t know to expect it. The sound was the closest thing to words she spoke to him anymore.

He turned away from the window. This crap apartment, as small as it was, felt even smaller when she was home. He had to gain space. His dark blue jacket was over the back of the chair. His full book bag was on the seat. He pulled the jacket on and zipped it as he headed out the door. He knew that he didn’t have to ask, even though it was getting late. And dark. His mother wouldn’t care. If he stood outside her door asking, she probably wouldn’t answer. How many times had he called her name only to receive silence?

Well, he didn’t anymore. He did what he wanted.

No one seemed to care.

Alex shoved his hands in his pockets and pounded down the bare-wood stairs. The shoddy apartment was on the fourth floor. All of the halls and stairways were open-air, harboring the autumn chill. He stepped onto the dying grass in front of the building. He pulled the hood of his sweat shirt over his head.

The park was empty. Of course, it was always empty at this time. The kids that played soccer had run off earlier. The older boys wouldn’t arrive until after dark. Alex had watched the cherry tips of their cigarettes burn in the black like dying suns of a cold universe from the apartment window. It wasn’t safe for him out here, then. He didn’t need to get bloodied to know that. Sometimes a kid just knows.

Alex passed through the park and crossed the field at an angle. A shallow creek ran through the back end. Most of the creek bed was exposed rock. He stepped down a large flat slab. Someone had scribbled Scooby across the top in pink chalk. The thin creek moved around this stone. An empty Sprite bottle was laying on the faded grass above the creek.

He moved up the creek, jumping from stone to stone to avoid the cold water. This place was no Nile, but it was the only place he felt the least bit comfortable. There were trees along the creek, but not thickly. He could see the apartment complex almost all of the way around the jogging path that followed the circumference of the field. His mother’s apartment was right there. He didn’t think she would be able to see him if she looked out.

That wasn’t something Alex was worried about. He moved up the creek, lost in thought. This was the only place that he felt like he could really breathe anymore.

He sat on a slanted rock three feet round below the footbridge beneath one of the few streetlights around the jogging path. Nearly all of the other lights had been busted out.

Alex stuffed his hands into his pockets. He pulled out a crumpled up piece of notebook paper he’d gotten in the mail two days ago. NOT EVER, was written with bold letters in pen. It was signed by Sara Shaw. Even the thought of her made his jaw clench. He had written her a letter, sent an olive branch, and that bitch had giddily spat back on his face.

They had been close before the Fall—that’s how he defined the crumbling of his comfortable life to the rubble, as he saw it, of now. His family had fallen apart, his friends and familiar school had fallen away, and everyday a loneliness fell on him with an increasing weight. The world appeared somber and dreary since the Fall. Everything before it remained beautiful in his mind. And Sara Shaw, a girl he’d know for the majority of his life, was the most beautiful girl in the world, and that he was in love with her, which made all of the things she was doing to him hurt so much more. She had once told him that she would always love him, too. Now she looked down her nose at him. She mocked his life and pulled his friends away from him. He had fallen down to something untouchable in her eyes, and he hated her for it. He looked at the note, scraping his feet against the familiar rock. He only had about an hour before he had to head back. He could wish for more, but…he had learned all he needed to about wishes.

They’d been living here for almost two months. The low-rent apartment was quite a shock after the suburban home he’d grown up in. But that was gone. Bye, bye, don’t forget to write! His stomach felt hollow to think about it. Alex didn’t want this to be the rest of his life. The note he held was another mocking reminder that it might be.

The house he called home was in a bright neighborhood. There was a tree-house in the Worleski’s backyard. The Nile Creek in the woods near the middle school could get deep and swift during the spring rains. He knew that place. He belonged there. But that was gone. His father had walked out on them, and a few months later, his mother had told him they would be moving. The house was being taken, foreclosed. Alex had lost his entire world. He was still reeling from the suddenness. How had it happened? And where had his mother gone? Because the woman over in that apartment was not her. This woman was an empty shell, a depressed shadow that glided silently through lifeless days, aging and bitter.

He hated her for it. He blamed her. His father. Sara Shaw. This goddamn neighborhood.

There was something in the dirt beside the rough slab of cold stone. Alex leaned over and pulled it free. It was a silver locket on the end of a thin necklace. He took a moment to rub the mire off of it. He started to open it when a noise drew his attention.

Alex looked up. A girl was sitting at the edge of the footbridge over the creek. A green leaf with browning edges was in her hands. Above her, the zodiac light was transitioning into darkness. The electric hum of the single streetlight started as light poured down.

She was looking at him. Alex had never seen her before. She had a face that he knew he would remember. His throat felt dry. “Hey,” he said. “I didn’t see you there.”

“I saw you,” she said.


“That’s my locket.” She released the leaf. It drifted down to the water below and caught against a bar of jagged rock.

He held up the locket. “Did you drop it?”

“I didn’t put it there,” she said.

Alex’s eyes dropped to his feet. The pathetic creek ran by inches from his toes. “I’ll bring it up to you. It’s a little dirty.”

The girl put her hands on the lowest railing and stood. Alex saw her more clearly in the electric light. “What are you reading?” she asked.

He looked at the piece of paper. The creases collected shadows like ravines pool rainwater. “It’s a letter from a girl at my old school.” Sara, blonde, bright, and beautiful. “I’m Alex.”

“Coraline.” She came around the railing on the footbridge and down the gentle grade, stopping before the start of the rocks and the water, then sat.

“It’s getting dark out.”

“I’m not scared,” she said.

Alex glanced at her. She was watching him. Even in the veiling dark, he could tell that she was cute. Her chestnut hair covered half of her face. Wisps of hair floated on the minimal breeze that snaked through the dark trees. When they caught the light right, the single strands seemed to shine like momentary gold. She had a small mouth. The eye that he could see was large and glistening with intelligence. He didn’t know if she would be pretty as she got older, but it was more than the curve of her face that grabbed a hold of his breath. He wasn’t able to articulate what it was, but he could feel something familiar about her calling to him. He handed her the locket and watched her put it on.

“Thank you,” she said. The intensity of her gaze embarrassed him, but he couldn’t look away. And when she brushed her soft hair behind her small ear, his heartbeat moved to his throat. Her alabaster skin looked angelic. A life radiated in the worlds of her green eyes that put the grim autumn landscape around them to shame. He put her at around his age, and he wondered if he’d ever passed her by in the eighth grade hall of S. Davis Middle School (named for a local navel hero). Her poetic smile was kind, yet predatory. Her chest pushed out with the buds of breasts. The silver locket’s thin chain fit neatly around her slim throat. A floral design marked the top of the locket. It was easy for Alex to say that he had fallen deeply, helplessly in love with her all in one look. He knew this to be true because things he’d never felt exploded in him. It held an intensity that could wipe him out like a coastal city beneath a giant wave. The idea that Sara Shaw was the most beautiful girl in the world was suddenly laughable. Coraline’s beauty wasn’t bright or obvious, but it drew him to her in an intangible way. His hand crumpled the letter and dropped it; his anger and shame remained.

“What’s bothering you, Alex?”

The question caught him off-guard. Her soft voice slipped right past his defenses. He wasn’t sure how to answer her at first, so he told her how his situation came to be. How he had no idea where his father was. It was a story full of all of the angst and entitlement only a teenager can muster. He didn’t know how long he talked, but when he looked over at distant sounds, saw a group of older boys walking between the cars in the apartment complex’s lot, testing doors to see if they were lock, he stopped.

“Don’t worry about them.” Coraline’s expression was blank. “Come with me.” She stood up, holding her hand out.

Alex took it. She pulled him up as he stood. They walked up the incline between a few trees and onto the jogging path. Alex was careful to pay attention to the location of the older boys. He was not a big person, and he was nervous. But was it because of them of her? He couldn’t tell. He was very aware of the hand in his own. It was small, tender, and felt fragile.

They stopped beneath the streetlight in front of his pea-green building. The light was visible through the window to his apartment. There were no curtains or blinds. He knew that his distraught mother was secluded in her room. She would remain there, sleeping off her despair, until morning. When he looked into Coraline’s eyes, none of that mattered. What he’d thought was cute in the dark was breathtaking in the burnt-yellow light from the streetlight. Beyond that, the darkness of thick, approaching clouds began blocking the stars. His breath hitched in his chest. It felt like his heart was going to beat right out of him, leaping free like a toad when the hand holding it loosened too much. “You’re different than any girl I’ve ever met.”

Coraline smiled.

And he knew, then. He didn’t know what he knew, but he knew something.

“Will I see you again?”

“If you want,” she said.

“I do.” He smiled sincerely. When their hands separated, his felt cold and incomplete.

He slept that night in a dark room, looking out at an overcast sky through the boxy window. Her face hovered in his mind. The roiling inside of his belly was like a sweet sickness. In the other room, his mother’s TV played loudly. In his head, the touch of the dark angel loomed and spread.


Alex didn’t see Coraline for a few days. He was distracted at school by thoughts of her. He brought those thoughts along when he walked home from school the third day, and detoured through his old neighborhood. It wasn’t an easy detour; it took him forty-five extra minutes. The home he’d grown up in was dark. That was good. If someone had lived there, he wasn’t sure he would be able to restrain from at least breaking a window. He wondered if the halls missed him the way he missed them. But it wasn’t really halls, was it? Halls are drywall and studs. When his mother had moved them, they had not moved too far, but it had been far enough to cross invisible lines. Those miles were more than the steps you take. You are where you’re from, and now he was from a different world than this.

Alex knocked on Chris’s door two blocks over. He could hear music. When Chris opened the door, Alex smiled. Chris stepped onto the porch, closing the door behind him.

“Hey,” Chris said. “Come over to study?” He smirked, pointing at Alex’s book bag.

“Nah. I came straight from school.”

“You like it there?” His tone said he’d be fool to.

Alex shrugged. “It’s school. Anyway, we’ll all be in the same high school next year.”

“Guess so.”

“Have you talked to Sara?”

Chris nodded. “Did you know she posted that letter you wrote her on the web? What happened there?” He chuckled.

“We got into a fight over stupid shit. She said some things and I said some things. She slapped me. My mother moved us two weeks later.”

“That’s kinda what I heard,” Chris said. Alex could tell that his former friend was uncomfortable with him here. There could be fallout. “You know that she’s been telling people your dad left ‘cause your mother was arrested for prostitution.”

Alex gave him a hard look. “Sara’s pushed this too far. She’s made fucking with me her personal little project.”

“Uh-huh. Look, my mom’s fixing dinner, so–”

“Sure,” Alex said. Chris left without saying anything more. There had been a time when the two were inseparable. It hurt. And next year, all of this would follow Alex into high school. It pissed him off. She hurt him just to enjoy his pain.

At home, he moped alone. When Coraline finally appeared, she was down near the dark street, standing in the same cone of light he had left her in. He saw her from his lonely window; she was looking up.

Alex ran through the apartment, snatching his jacket up as he passed it. On the table was a cold bowl of macaroni his mother had not finished. The sound of her TV bled through her closed bedroom door.

“Hey,” Alex said. He came to a breathless stop in the light.

“Do you want to come with me?” Coraline asked.

Alex had no idea what she meant. “I do.” He took her extended hand, relishing the touch. Coraline stepped against him. Body to body. She rose up on her toes and lightly kissed the corner of his mouth.

The streetlight went out. When Alex looked up, he could see that the glass was cracked and incomplete. The night was slightly brighter, but there was no source of light. From the sky fell quarter-sized flakes of gray ash. It accumulated a thin layer on everything like snow. What cars he could see were piles of rust. The apartment buildings were dark. All of the windows were empty. The structures looked sick. The sky was crimson and black. The grass beneath him was burnt, sallow. Everything was decayed. “What is this?”

“This is the world of the dead.”

He looked around then turned to her, understanding. She was no less beautiful. “Oh.”

“I would like to show you something.”

Alex nodded. He walked beside her across the crumbling street. An old lady was sitting at the park bench. She didn’t appear to notice them. “Who is that?”

“One like me. I see them from time to time. Some see a different world. The ones they died in.”

“Oh.” He couldn’t help but think about his mother. He walked with Coraline into the field and then the field was gone.

They were in a nice house. Warm. The lights were on, and he could hear laughter. They were no longer in her world. When two small boys came running through the room, Alex moved to hide. But it didn’t matter. He was with her—they couldn’t see him. The man that chased them through the room was his father. Alex couldn’t believe it. He looked at him, around at this home, and something filled him that he had never felt before.

Coraline looked at him. “I’m sorry.”

A tear streaked down his tight face. His fingers curled into a fist. “It’s not fair.” How could he choose this home over his own? These children over him? “He doesn’t deserve this. This isn’t his life.” He found comfort in Coraline’s face. She reached up and removed his tear with the tip of her finger. “I hate him.”

She brushed his too-long bangs to the side of his brow. “Do you hate him enough?”

This question; he understood. Alex nodded.

Coraline nodded as well. She moved slowly across the room. She reached her small hand out and touched the side of his father’s neck.

His father stopped. A queer expression passed over his face. The veins on his neck bulged out. His eyes widened. A strange noise escaped his throat. The boys had quit running and laughing. That suited Alex just fine. He watched his father drop to his knees like a petitioner begging for mercy. But he turned away as the blood began to fall from his father’s nostrils. His eyes. The children were screaming. The man that was not their father drowned in his own blood.

And then the house, the blood, and the boys were gone. Alex was standing in his dark room. He fell on his bed and wept. The ball of hatred in his chest hurt so much. Coraline stood at the edge of the darkness in his room. She shimmered through his watery eyes. Silent. Unjudging. Alex looked at her full of broken pain. When she moved to the bed, he made room for her. They laid on their sides—face to face. “How can this be? How can I have you? How can I feel you?” he asked.

“We’re alike,” she said. “We’re both a collection of pieces. Ours fit together.”

What can two broken things create with the sum of their parts, he wondered. Alex didn’t speak. He didn’t have the words to express such pain and such fulfillment simultaneously. He watched her chest move as with breath, he watched the green of her welcoming eyes; and at some point, he fell asleep.


The days flew by. He ignored the once captivating Sara Shaw, her vitriolic taunts on the computer, the phone calls, and the cries of his estranged mother. He didn’t attend his father’s funeral. When he was not with Coraline, she was on his mind. And when they were together, she showed him the most astounding things through the eyes of the dead.

Two days ago, she had touched him with a borrowed hand.

She’d taken him into the city, where a woman had overdosed. They arrived near the end. He had watched her convulse. “Why are we here?” he’d asked her.

“To touch you.” Coraline had pushed her hand into the woman’s, wearing it like a glove.

“Is she dead?”

“No, but she’s close.” Coraline had run the borrowed hand over Alex’s face. “So that’s what you feel like.” She’d been pleased. Her eyes had filled with light.

Alex had leaned into her touch until it fell away. He’d stared down at the woman. “She’s gone now, huh?”

Coraline had nodded.

“How does it work? Where is she?”

“I don’t know. When people die, everything that they are disperses into…everything. You have to have a strong will to stay together. Even then, it’s hard to remain who you are.”

“How did you do it?”

Coraline thumbed her locket. “I was too angry to let go.”

He’d understood that. She’d already shown him her death. It had wounded him deeply. “But how did you do that with her hand?”

“Sometimes people haven’t passed yet, but they’re empty. Sometimes you can sneak into the emptiness and sometimes you can’t.” She’d touched the arm of the dead woman longingly. “You can feel me, I know that. I wanted to feel you.”

Alex had nodded.

“I want to live again, Alex.” She’d been sad. Her chestnut hair sheened a lighter shade where the light hit it.

Alex opened his purple math book, pushing the sounds of the classroom around him to the back of his mind. The pages parted for him where the flower laid. He looked at it, still amazed that he had brought it back from her tenebrous world. The flower was a rose. From it emanated the sweet smell of decay. He ran his finger over one of the furled petals. He did not know how to help her live, but he believed that he could bring her peace. What would happen to her then?

When the school bell rang, Alex closed the book gently and silently filed down the noisy hall. Coraline drifted among the students, never breaking eye contact, shimmering like water as she passed through solid objects. He smiled at her entrancing face.

He held her hand on the bus, sitting by himself. She moved through the world, but somehow only his world.

“You have to hate him,” she said in the apartment. He knew exactly who she meant—the bastard that had killed her. She had shown him everything, said that it was so that Alex could hate him fully. She needed him to do that.

“I do.”

“I don’t know.”

Her doubt was a small wound.

Coraline came and went. Alex didn’t always know when to expect her. She scared him as much as he felt he needed her.

His mother came home after dark more frequently. Her drinking had increased. Beer cans were emptied and abandoned around her bedroom and the kitchen. Even when they’d first moved in, this apartment had never been very clean. It was filthy, now. Alex tried to manage it, but he never knew where to begin. He attempted to do his homework and eat in his bedroom. A small stack of used plates were at the foot of his bed. He waited for Coraline.

She didn’t always come. Those nights were long.

Tonight, in his sleep, Alex heard his name. He awoke in his room and followed her voice. He sought it as much as he’d like to hide from it.

His mother’s door was open. That’s unusual, Alex thought. He stepped in. His feet came down on clutter. The shades were up. He could see his mother sprawled out in her work clothes on the bed. Her mouth was open. She was snoring. He had a funny impulse to drop a penny into her open mouth. It’d be like tossing a coin into a wishing well.

What’s a wish worth?

Coraline was standing at the edge of the bed. “Do you hate her?”

Alex swallowed. “No.”

“That’s not true. I can feel it in you.” She brushed her hand across his mother’s ankle. “I need you to help me, Alex.”

“I know.” And he wanted to help her.

“Will you?” she asked.

“I’ll do anything for you,” he said, meaning every word.

Coraline walked over and took his hand.


Alex found himself in the park. Coraline was gone, but her locket was in his hand. Foggy breath shot out form his mouth. The night was cold. Near him was the group of teen-age boys, hoodlums. It was dark out, but Alex knew the face he was looking for as soon as he saw it.

“You can’t hide anymore,” Alex said. All the boys turned at the sound of his voice, but there was no question who he was talking to. “She knows. She’s coming for you.”

“What?” Peter said. He was tall and chunky. His stocking cap was pulled down over his eyebrows. A cigarette hung limply from his hand.

Alex didn’t retreat. He strode forward, feeling his anger heat his face. “You can’t hide it. Not anymore.”

“This kid’s fuckin crazy.” Peter tried to laugh this off.

Alex didn’t back down. His hate burned his throat as he shouted. “You! It was you!” He held up the locket.

Peter’s hand shook. The burning tip of the cigarette jittered in the dark. “What is that?” His face was bloodless.

“I love what you hurt.”

“Listen kid—“


Peter’s own anger boiled. He grabbed Alex by the shirt and dragged him away from the group. When Alex struggled, Peter slapped him across the face a few times. He pulled Alex to the street and shoved him into a shoddy Taurus. Alex landed in the passenger seat. “Start talking,” Peter said. He started the car and drove. “Who sent you? Why did—where did you get this?” The locket was in his hand. He kept swinging his fist at Alex.

“She’s here for you!” Alex was curled up on the seat. Coraline was in the back. “You’re the one that beat her against the rocks. You’re the one that screamed out as you broke her. Confused, no older than me, you found something beautiful to break to see what it would be like.” Alex felt it now. Not anger, but hate. It was the necessary ingredient for Coraline. She could take living hate directed at someone and mold it. Use it. She absorbed Alex’s hate, and forged with it, death. “And you broke her. Do you remember how you cried that night? You took that locket from around her neck and slept with it under your pillow. But you couldn’t stand the way the locket made you feel, so you got rid of it. Do you remember that? I do. Coraline showed it to me. I know your kind and I HATE your kind. You hurt others to enjoy their pain.”

“Stop saying those things!” Peter demanded. He punched Alex, hard.

“She wants to say goodbye,” Alex said. His nose dripped blood.

“Don’t you fuckin–”

Coraline reached forward from the back seat. Her pale, beautiful presence was focused on her killer. She touched Peter. His body went stiff. His eyes rolled up to the whites. He cried tears of blood. Dark lines spread over his face. He gurgled out as his fingernails dug bloody grooves into his throat. Coraline laughed; the car sped up. Alex reached for the steering wheel as Peter began convulsing.

The car slammed into a parked van.

Darkness filled Alex.



And brightness. Alex opened his heavy eyes. The room was too bright. It assaulted his sight like he had eyes of a newborn. He was laying on the hospital bed. At first, he could not move. He had to stretch out within his body, filling every part of it with himself, before it would respond. He felt himself settle within it.

It took him a moment, but he sat up. The room was full of machines but otherwise empty. Bandages covered the top of his skull. He pulled the wires from his body then stood on shaky legs. The cold floor sent a chill up the back of him. He loved feeling it. All of it. The cold, the pain, the life. There was a small rest room attached to his hospital room. He slowly shuffled in. The mirror was what he was after.

He looked at his reflection’s and knew that this would take some getting used to. Behind his reflection’s right shoulder stood a ghost. But it wasn’t Coraline. It was Alex. He stood beside the hospital bed, wearing what he had when the car had hit the van. His body had gone through the windshield.

“Why?” he asked. Only she could hear his voice.

Coraline looked at her new hands. They were boy’s hands. “I told you that I wanted to live again. You left this.” She opened and closed her fingers. “It will be strange being a boy.”

“Did my mother come to see me?”

“I don’t think so. I think it’s only us, Alex.” She sat down on the end of the bed. The room smelled of antiseptics. When she looked into Alex’s eyes, her heart broke. Right then, she would have given back what she’d taken if she could. “We’ll find you a body. I think you’ll have to be a girl, for us to match.”

He plopped down beside her. “Yeah, maybe.”

Coraline took up the ghost’s hand. “I can hate for you. Whoever you want.” She was utterly sincere.

He was silent for a long time. “I guess.” He looked at the overhead lights. The florescents flickered. And, after a while, he thought of a single name: Sara Shaw.

  1. Enthralling, sublime, evocative language ….I could go on, but most of all thoroughly well-crafted and spellbinding. You have a powerful voice. I was captivated by this tale the moment I began reading. I’m now a follower. Regards, Paul

  1. June 19th, 2013

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