Charlie’s decision to end his own life was not sudden or unforeseen in any way. He’d been considering the possibility; the pros, the cons and the means of doing so for months, years even. There was a time when Charlie was younger than his now 27 years when he simply knew as a matter of indisputable fact that he would not live to see ‘old age.’ He would never experience senior discounts, an AARP memberships or retirement in Florida. He also knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, his demise would not come at the hands of a car accident, an incurable tumor or another person. His climactic scene in this world would be one of his own making. He accepted this as fact, but locked it away in his mind only to contemplate every now and then. Anytime things got too hard or he had a particularly bad day, the thought would resurface.
Is today my last day?
When his father left them, she took it out on him. Despite him only being a child at the time, she’d screamed and raged at him, telling him how much she hated him and how it was his fault for ever being born, for ever having the audacity to exist in the first place. As if this were something Charlie chose to do out of spite. She would lock him out of the apartment, without his key, so that he was forced to wander the streets of Queens in search of a dry, not to mention safe, spot to spend the night. Usually he would land on one of the many public benches overlooking Astoria Park.
Is today my last day?
When the man he’d spent four years dating, two years living with, and was fully prepared to marry and adopt children, two cats, and a dog with, broke up with him over a text message. This man had decided that instead of marrying Charlie he was going to move across the world to be with a six-foot-tall German adonis that he met online. Apparently they’d been talking for months, but he hadn’t got around to telling Charlie because “There was never a good time.” Charlie was forced to move back home with his mother who’d barely even noticed his absence, only that the chores around the apartment weren’t getting done as regularly as she liked. “Oh you’re back?” She said when he walked in the door with two suitcases and a backpack holding all his worldly belongings. Everything else belonged to his now ex. “Can you take out the trash? It’s really piling up.” No hug. No ‘What happened sweetie?’ Simply a request to take out the trash. Ironic since at that precise moment Charlie felt as if he were the trash.
Is today my last day?
When he’d been fired, again, from a job he hated. He’d been working as a Human Resources consultant for a clothing company, a job which he had exactly no qualifications for, and finally decided to report his boss for a myriad of infractions towards himself and other employees including discrimination, hostility, and hurling a mannequin down a flight of stairs at one of the cleaning people because there was dust on one of the shelves. This complaint somehow resulted in her being promoted and him being terminated. It was ironic because he’d wanted to leave the job for months but couldn’t possibly leave because he needed the money to feed both himself and his mother. His mother was on disability leave with reduced pay, but she spent her meager income on cigarettes and celebrity magazines. It was up to Charlie to provide things like food and pay for trivialities like heat and water. There was no telling how long they would manage with him out of work.
Is today my last day?
He’d hoped to get himself out there and even attempted to go on a date or two. He’d gone on three dates with a guy he thought was actually something special, only to find out that the guy thought his name was ‘Chauncey’ the entire time. While they sat at an overpriced Manhattan restaurant, this man had been calling out to ‘Chauncey’ over and over again, asking him what he wanted to order. Charlie had been sitting there, like a moron, looking around for this Chauncey person. He’d corrected the man, and it was awkward, but he’d apologized, and Charlie had tried to chalk it up to a simple mistake. Later that night, they were in bed together for the first time, when the man whispered “You like that Chauncey?” This guy, who on their first date bragged that he’d memorized every lyric to Hamilton couldn’t even remember his very common name. Charlie ran from the apartment, forgetting his cell phone along the way. This meant the next day he had to awkwardly go back and retrieve it.
The second guy, who had seemed very kind over messages on the dating app where they connected, he met at a cafe on the west side, only to be told immediately “Sorry, but I thought, from your photos, that you were better looking.”
Is today my last day?
But on all of those days, the answer had ultimately been “No.” Those incredibly challenging days had not, in fact, been his last day, because today, the first cold day of the year in the middle of October, was the day.
His credit cards were maxed out. He was drowning in student loan debt. His English degree might as well have been toilet paper because at least then it would have been put to some kind of use. And none of this was even taking into account the absolute terrifying mess that had become the world around him. Every day seemed to bring a new hell that made everything seem even more hopeless. Just when things seemed as though they couldn’t get any worse, they got worse. So much worse.
He’d managed to get a new job, only to lose it a week later when he’d arrived three minutes late due to his subway train stalling. He was cold and tired. Any one of these bad things might have been manageable on their own, but all together over a short period of time and then compounded by Charlie’s already raging depression and anxiety, they created a self-loathing cocktail of doubt, fear, destruction and the unbearable need to escape from it all. And to add insult to injury, not one but two pigeons had defecated on him as he walked down the street.
It was degrading, as if the heavens saw his misfortune and decided to spit on him just to make sure he got the point. But Charlie understood perfectly. And he was done.
Today was his last day.
He left home just past midnight. He’d written a note addressed to his mother and propped it on the dining room table atop the mountain of unpaid bills and then left without another word. He walked for a while, letting his feet guide him to lower Manhattan, in the direction of the Brooklyn Bridge where he now stood. He climbed over the fence and barrier railing, past where people were allowed to be for their own safety, and stood with his feet on the very edge of the bridge’s metal beams. His arms stretched out to either side of himself, his hands holding onto the railing. All he had to do now was work up the courage to let go.
The old metal of the bridge felt icy on his hands. His wavy chestnut hair fluttered over his forehead and eyes in the light breeze. His denim jacket and grey beanie did nothing to keep the chill from his bones. He only imagined the black water below would be far worse. But he couldn’t think about that now. Just a moment of bravery. That was all he needed. He just had to let go. His breath furled out in front of him like mist in the cold night air. Horns honked. Sirens blared from somewhere distant within the concrete jungle.
His phone vibrated in his pocket, catching him off guard.
By now it was nearing two in the morning. Who could be texting him at two in the morning? He held tight to the railing with his left hand, using his right to pull the phone from his pocket. The screen lit up as soon as it recognized his face.
MOM: Where are you?
Never once had his mother wondered where he was unless she was short on cash or couldn’t find her lighter. Well, she’d just have to figure out everything on her own now.
Today was his last day.
He sighed and lowered the phone, ready to replace it in his pocket, when another text came through.
MOM: Come home.
A moment went by as three dots appeared, indicating that she was typing another message.
MOM: Not that you care, but your Grandpa is dead.
As he read the words on the screen again, his breath caught, and a shiver ran through his entire body. Suddenly, he felt his grip on the railing slipping. He spun wildly, flailing, desperate to grab a hold of the rail, a beam, a cable running up and down the bridge, or anything really. In the wild frenzy, the phone flew out of his hand. He caught himself from falling, and watched as his phone spun through the air—all the way down to the water below and disappeared with an almost imperceptible plop beneath the surface of the East River.
“Dammit,” he said under his breath. All his photos were on that phone. His high-level character on Genshin Impact was on that phone. Every phone number he’d never gotten around to memorizing was on that phone. Every message he’d ever sent. Every message he hadn’t sent. All the bookmarks and the to-do lists and the apps. So many apps. They were all just … gone.
He wasn’t sure if it was the realization that he’d just lost a phone full of minor conveniences he might want for the future, most of which were probably saved to the cloud anyway, or the fact that he’d watched the phone fall for what seemed like hours before hitting the water, or that he’d just learned of his grandfather’s death. Perhaps it was even that the wind had picked up more now, chilling every inch of him from his face to his toes. But Charlie Cole realized in that moment a very important fact, one that he would someday realize altered the course of his life from that moment forward.
Today was NOT his last day.
He pulled himself back over the railing, back onto the pedestrian path that led from one end of the bridge to the other and started the slow, melancholy walk back to the Q Train which would take him home.
He hadn’t known his grandfather all that well. The old man kept to himself and rarely reached out, sending a card on holidays and Charlie’s birthday when he remembered. He knew his mother didn’t have a great relationship with the man, calling him a nut job, a deadbeat, and all sorts of other nasty names.
As he reached the subway station and descended the stairs to the platform, a fleeting thought occurred to him. Charlie wondered, for just the briefest moment, if the old man had left him something. Not something of value. Charlie imagined that if the old man had money to help them, he would have done it while he was alive. But perhaps something to help make his absence make sense. A letter, or a journal, or even an old photo which held some sort of family secret.
But then, his grandfather could have sent any of those things to Charlie and his mother when he was still alive. There was no reason to think that the old man’s death would be the tipping point for some sort of sudden revelation.
He resolved that his grandfather hadn’t left him anything and that was that. Charlie and his mother would probably have to go to some stuffy funeral, and everyone would apologize for their loss, even though Charlie hadn’t really lost anything because he’d never had anything with the man to lose. Then things would go back to normal. And for Charlie, normal usually meant unbearable. Before long he imagined he would surely be asking himself the same old question.
Is today my last day?
But Charlie, as it turned out, could not have been more wrong.
Watch/Listen to a read through of Chapter One!
* * *
And just like that our story begins!
This section is where I will take some time at the end of each chapter to chat with all of you. Some of these might be a sentence long. This one will be a bit longer since it is, of course, the very first.
First of all, I want to humbly welcome you all to The Relics of Darkmoon Drive! I’ve posted the first three chapters on day one because I think by the end of them you’ll have a much better idea where this story is headed. They were originally one chapter but at some point in the writing process I decided to make the chapters (or at least most of them) more bite size so it’s easier to get caught up if you miss an update!
While this chapter (and this entire book) is a work of fiction, Charlie’s feelings of desperation and his desire to give up on life all reflect how I felt the night I originally imagined this story nearly ten years ago. A lot has changed for me and this story in that time, but it’s birth place in my mind has always remained the same, and thus, I wanted that to be the point where Charlie’s story begins. For Charlie, what keeps him alive to see tomorrow is an ominous text message. For me, it was the idea of this story which for many years was called simply “The Backpack.”
The Backpack went through more versions, drafts, and failed attempts than anything else I’ve ever written. For many years, I simply decided I would never actually write it. And now here we are and it is bigger, wilder and so much more than I ever thought possible on that cold New York night when it first came to me.
I want to thank my husband Carl for being a huge part of the creative process on this and all the other books I’ve written so far, and all the books I will write in the future, because according to him this one isn’t my last even though some days I swear it will be. I also want to thank my friends Yuting, LaQuita and Ryan for encouraging me everyday to write this story, reading early drafts and believing in me even when I don’t, which is often. Thank you to Mari for their work on the incredible character art pieces and cover art for this first part of the story and for helping me to bring these characters to life for the first time. And of course thank you to my Mother and Grandmother who read everything I write even when it’s a little too weird and wild for them. That’s enough thank you’s. Let’s talk about something else.
Each chapter will allow comments so let me know what you think! Eventually I hope to also have polls for side stories and things of that nature though much more of that will be part of the Patreon.
Speaking of which: the Patreon for this project is currently super limited. If there’s something you think would make a good edition to that, and something you’d be willing to help support Darkmoon Drive for, please let me know! I’m new to Patreon and welcome thoughts and suggestions. Please know, however, that reading new chapters will ALWAYS be free, though I would like to eventually allow Patreons early access.
That’s enough out of me! Click the link below to continue to the next chapter and find out what happens to poor Charlie. Thank you for reading and welcome to The Relics of Darkmoon Drive!