Author : Leanne A. Styles

The Guardian:

I watch with sadness as Anna tugs her brush through her damp hair, yanking unsympathetically when she hits a tangle.

She never used to be so angry and uncaring. She was fun and full of joy ‒ infectiously so. For twenty-five years I’ve had the pleasure of watching over and guiding her on her journey.

My first subject. My pride and joy.

I had so much planned for her. She was going to be somebody.

But as much as you nurture them and make contingencies to ensure their life goes as you designed it, it doesn’t always work out. Free will is essential for the game to be fair. And then there are the rogue guardians who thrive on causing mayhem ‒ or the plain careless. Anna’s spouse’s guardian had made many mistakes. Warning signs had been missed, lines crossed, and illness had set in.

When Daniel died, so did Anna’s faith in me. In her quietest moments, her dreams, I try to reach her, but she won’t hear me.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the Architects marked her for deletion; paths cannot be deviated from this much without repercussions.

I follow her as she dresses, struggles through her breakfast and gathers her things for work, hoping that somehow, if I persevere, she’ll hear my pleas to wake up to the danger that awaits her.

I savour her every move as she walks out into the rain, down the path and through the gate, feeling her life rapidly slipping from me. By the time she reaches the end of her street, she’s just another number.

And I am just another guardian who failed their subject.

The Subject:

I barely feel the bristles of my brush as I rip it through my hair.

I used to care so much: about my appearance, my job at that pretentious ad agency ‒ about every stupid thing. I had such big plans. I was going to be somebody.

I am somebody. Somebody’s widow.

I feel that voice inside ‒ the one that was always there when I needed it, that spurred me on to becoming the woman I thought I wanted to be ‒ attempting to get through again, straining to be heard from the depths of my subconscious. But I drown it out with a tirade of abuse. It’s a liar. A fucking liar. Nothing is alright. And it never will be.

I dress, force down a piece of toast, and collect my things before heading out the door into the morning drizzle.

I walk down the path and through the rusty gate. As I reach the end of my street, an unimaginable sense of loneliness and fear hits me, and it takes all the strength I have to stay upright. I can feel the dread swelling in my chest, its toxic tendrils winding through my ribs and wrapping, constricting, around my ruined heart. The buildings on either side of me seem to rear up from their foundations. The rooftops stretch to meet in the middle; they’re closing out the sky, trapping me. The wind fires a round of icy rain that burns my face.

Terrified and blinded, I run, somewhere, anywhere.

I hear screeching of tires and the honking of a car horn. Daniel’s face appears, so clearly, in my mind, and I cry out for that little voice, begging it for help. But it doesn’t answer. And in the brief moments before the car hits me, I realise I’m just another person who failed at life.

Another person who failed that voice inside.