[When Kill Screen announced their call for submissions to their Intimacy Issue towards the end of 2010, they explicitly stated that an article about Aeris's death was probably not what they were after. That gave me an idea: a story about Aeris's death. Fortunately, they rejected this story--not least of all because Brian Taylor wrote a far superior story about the subject. Also, I had pitched another story, too, which they did accept, and which I am much happier with.
So I stumbled across the old draft of my Aeris's death piece in my "Old Writing" folder just recently. It was better than I remembered. Certainly not Kill Screen quality, but not bad for something I frantically threw together. So rather than gathering cyberdust on my computer, I might as well post it here. Enjoy.]
The safety harness clicks open. Cloud pushes it up, leans over the side of the rollercoaster, and spews chunks onto the platform. He coughs, splutters, spits, and looks up at the scoreboard: 3200 points—enough for another prize.
He steadies himself with a trembling arm against the railing and tries to climb out of the cart without landing in his lunch. His knees buckle the moment he puts weight on them, but he manages to keep his footing. As he stumbles towards the Prize Collection Booth an oversized moogle glares at him, mop in one hand, bucket in the other.
“Sorry,” Cloud gags.
The moogle man just shakes his Styrofoam head and walks towards the mess.
Cloud’s world still spins. The loops and the corkscrews have knocked, twisted, and tumbled the Golden Saucer theme music into a discordant, demonic taunt that echoes through his mushed brain.
Lights and shapes still flash across his vision; ghosts of targets, stars, and aliens are burnt onto his retina. He has not left Speed Square for, well, he isn’t sure, a day at the least. Over and over and over he rides the rollercoaster, shooting the laser gun at the targets that jump from the same spots every time. At first he would fail to reach the 2000 points required to win the prize, but now he had memorised the whole course and is pushing 4000 each go. The first time he pushed to the front of the queue security tried to throw him out, but one look at his oversized sword kept them at bay. Now Speed Square was shut off to all other customers as Cloud continued to ride the rollercoaster.
To her credit, the lady at the Prize Collection Booth still smiles and still bows as low as she did the first time. She knows the prize Cloud craves, but she is tied to the Golden Saucer’s Prize Randomisation Policy. It isn’t her fault, Cloud keeps reminding himself, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
“Congratulations! You win a prize!” She repeats the line with only the faintest quiver to her voice.
Cloud leans on the counter with bone-white knuckles, and she jumps back, momentarily losing her composure. With obvious reluctance, she places the X-Potion on the counter.
“God damn it no!” Cloud roars and sweeps the X-Potion aside, the glass vial smashing against the ground. “You know what I want!”
The Prize Collection Booth Lady bows profusely. “I’m sorry, sir, but the Golden Saucer Prize Randomisation Policy states that—“
“I don’t fucking care. I need—“
A hand on his shoulder. Cloud turns quickly—too quickly, almost spiralling into the ground. For a painful, delirious thousandth of a second he thinks it has worked, that she has returned, that Aeris is alive again. But he blinks again and this time he recognises Tifa. Her eyes are wide with horror.
“My God, Cloud. What are you doing?”
Cloud pushes her away and stumbles away from the Prize Collection Booth. He needs to buy another ticket.
“Cloud!” Tifa follows him. “This isn’t going to bring her back!”
Cloud rounds on her. “What the fuck else can I do, Tifa? Aeris is dead, you get it? Dead. The rest of you might not care but I can save her. I just need to take thirty-five 1/35 Soldiers to an old man in a cave near Junon, and this is the only way to get them.”
Tifa stands her ground. “Just like the 400 tornberries, Cloud? Just like the 99 megalixirs? I know you miss her, Cloud, but listen to yourself. These rumours you are following are clearly false.”
Cloud shakes his head. “No. This will work. I will bring her back.”
He turns and slams 10GP onto the ticket counter. “One please.”
“Cloud! Listen to me! You have sold our best materia, our best items. Meteor is going to destroy the world in a matter of days. We need to go stop Sephiroth. Now.”
“I need to save Aeris.”
“Cloud. She is dead.”
The rollercoaster slides up to the starting line. Cloud’s own vomit is still stained down the cart’s side. He steps over it and slides in behind the laser gun.
“Is this how you think she wants to be remembered? By you wasting your final days on a rollercoaster?
Cloud, we need you. She needs you.”
Cloud hesitates. He remembers Aeris’s eyes, her hair, the way she offered him that first flower.
The way she died in his arms.
He pulls the safety harness down and locks it shut.
“I’m sorry, Tifa.”
She keeps shouting, but the wheels are already clicking as the chain drags the cart up the first slope. Cloud shuts his eyes and swallows the lump in his throat. When he opens them again, the hill is cresting and fireworks are exploding and lights are flashing. He grips the trigger.
“I’m coming, Aeris.”