There was something undeniably wretched in the air the night Franco died. The neighbors and onlookers that were there to witness his fall will recall it with a flash of wide eyed horror before nodding their heads and muttering a variation of prayers and supplications; they were and still are a superstitious people—rightfully so—limited in speech and recognition by a lurking fear that haunts from beyond the pulpits and statues of their faith. We were there when he hit the ground, just a few feet away from the point of impact. It had been a dry, gray night. A thin sheet of clouds draped evenly across the sky, muting the already diluted light of a waning moon. We stood on the sidewalk in disbelief, all within arm’s reach of each other, with our faces turned towards the top of the complex.
There, teetering at the very edge in nothing but a black pair of pants rolled midway to his calves, stood Franco, sobbing into his hands. His sudden breaths and low howls reached beyond the furthest of us and echoed back from the concrete wall that surrounded the building. From every direction we heard him cry, and the eldest among the crowd began signing their crosses and whispering their prayers. We who knew him best were paralyzed by the familiar voice that flew about the space around us. We could hear the terror in it and the desperation. But there was something more in its tone that made us dart our eyes all across his distant figure in a terrific frenzy. There was something altogether unknown and almost beautiful in these wailings that blasted the image of his swaying body into unrecognition. We searched from afar as best we could the dull silhouette of our friend to try to find the alien aspect that could best explain our sudden panic. From his toes that rested over the edge, to his bowed head that rose and sunk to the rhythm of his cries we scanned in vain. None of us turned to each other for reassurance; but we felt his likeness slip further and further into a state of unknown and indistinguishability.
He was known to always smile. Even in situations that would merit sternness and a certain degree of rancor, wickedness even, he would carry himself as none of us ever could: in pleasantness and naivety; in warmth and happiness. There had always been something inherently light in him, and it was that very lightness that we mislabeled as nauseating optimism and gaiety. And although we reproached him for it, we knew that none of it was disingenuous. Every inch of Franco Gamez was honest. Every inch decent. Every inch an example of a boy we fain to recognize as better than us. At his mother’s funeral he had wept silently. And all throughout the burial the tears never ceased to stream down his ashen face. But even in the depths of that sorrow we could see that unassailable light in his face and all throughout his body. In his words and gestures we could trace it with our senses; and we thought then that this light would only die with the final shutting of his eyes.
It wasn’t until he raised his head to abruptly end his symphony of echoes that we all came to recognize the source of our dread. Slowly he straightened himself. He gazed outward, onward onto the buildings beyond the streets behind us. He raised his left arm mechanically into the air in front of him. His fist clenched, he drove it towards his chest and beat at it six times, imitating the sound of our pulses. At the last beat he let his arm fall back to his side and fixed his attention on the crowd. I felt everything around me thicken and I let out a gasp that felt as foreign and as cold as the barren face that sneered at us from above. There was no room left for anything but that face anymore. The crowd had disappeared to us and we felt alone on a leaden hellscape looking up towards a bluff of madness, at whose very edge stood a leering horror that regarded us three with a sheer blackness it seemed to relish in.
Silence noised everything out for the next few moments. The body tipped over and fell swiftly until it was stopped by the concrete. Not a single sound was heard, only the vibration of the ground was felt along with the thud of a few spatters of warm blood on our skin and clothes. The blood began to pool around the corpse as it lay faced down in a sickening mix of flesh and stone. A scream from someone in the crowd galvanized everyone else into a series of more screams and a flood of fear induced break-downs. We three stood still amidst the bustle at our backs and gazed on what lay on the ground; and it took us no more than a second to understand that the obliterated face that lay plastered underneath that crimsoned head no more reflected the face of the boy we knew than the one whose attention we had devoured moments ago. Franco Gamez died crying on the ledge that night, and the identity of the thing that lay before our feet belonged to something petrifyingly different.