The Changeling

TRIGGER WARNING: Suicide, self-harm.


 This is not my brother.

 My brother has eyes that smile. His grin is wide, his laugh contagious.

 The stranger looks at me from my brother’s eyes. His mouth smiles, but his eyes are dark and empty.

 There is something missing.

 He has been replaced by something inhuman, invasion of the body snatchers.

 This is not my brother.

My older brother Deshi has always been my idol. My earliest memories are all related to Deshi; toddling after him as he ran in the grass outside our house, sharing a slice of birthday cake, Deshi teaching me to tie my shoes.

“C’mon, Hy-eeeeee!” laughing, he would drag out the vowel to make it sound like he was calling for a pig. Sooooo weeeee. It alternately made me cringe and laugh throughout our childhood. Deshi was three years my senior, and I was the dedicated little brother who clung to his coattails. He was never the type to get annoyed with my clingy nature, he was patient and kind. His teasing was gentle, loving. Even if his pig-call caused my cheeks to redden, it never caused me to pause when I ran to him.

School was easy for Deshi. He made friends effortlessly, excelled in sports and academics. Deshi breezed through life, and I was happy for him. I was pulled along in the wake of his popularity; if people knew Deshi, they knew his little brother Hyun, too. I was far more reserved, but the general admiration of Deshi seemed to spill over to me by proxy. Desh and Hy Su. We were a social unit until Deshi had to leave for college.

He chose a college far enough away to drive home for holidays, but not close enough to pop in easily for the weekend. I saw him less and less over the first few months of his college education, and my senior year of high school. When he did make it home, his smile seemed a little less wide. His eyes were losing their sparkle.

When I said as much to our mother, she softly ruffled my hair and said calmly, “College life is not so easy. He is probably just stressed by his courses. Don’t worry.”

So, I listened to my mom. I ignored the warning signs, and went about my daily life.

When Deshi came home that summer, things were different. Even my parents voiced their concerns over his changed demeanor. He was still excelling; in fact, even more so than before. He had already been approached by an accomplished law firm to join their practice when he completed his time at the university. Every move he made was calculated for success. Something was missing, though.

His eyes were now cold, flat… dark. Deshi the Shark.

He no longer had time for family; we were not part of his calculations.

A few years passed. Deshi was a corporate lawyer, receiving promotion after promotion. He was ruthless in his endeavors to make it to the top, to be the best.

We saw him less and less, and every time we saw him, a little more of Deshi was gone. The smile on his face was not the smile I remembered anymore.

The last time I saw Deshi, was at my college graduation. We posed for pictures. Smiling hugely, the stranger that Deshi had become put his arm over my shoulders, and said, “Hyun, do well.”

Startled, I turned to face him as the camera flashed. For an instant, I saw my brother again. Really saw my brother. He had tears in his eyes, his smile was sad, but genuine. Deshi, my brother.

Then he was gone again, back to the emotionless, empty shell. Deshi the Robot.

He did not attend the graduation party. No one expected him to. The ambitious lawyer was too busy for parties, for family.

I thought about the camera flash, seeing my real brother hidden away behind the eyes of a stranger. He was still there. Could I help him? What was wrong with him? I was soon distracted by my mother excitedly pulling on my arm to meet more family friends gathering to celebrate my graduation.

Later that night, after the festivities had ended, I lay on my childhood bed, feet almost hanging over the end. My head was buzzing from the party, the alcohol, from seeing my real brother… I took a deep breath, put one foot on the floor. Suddenly I felt the world drop out beneath me, like I was falling from a great height. I gasped and sat up, heart lurching in my chest. I had experienced the sensation of falling when almost asleep before, but never had it felt so real. It took me a long time to relax enough to attempt to go back to bed.

In the early morning hours, we got the call from the police. Deshi had taken his own life. My parents were a mess, inconsolable. I took the phone from my father as he supported my sobbing mother, and I walked to the kitchen in a daze.

“How did he do it?” I whispered hoarsely. “How did Deshi die?” I didn’t really need to ask. I already knew, but I had to confirm my suspicion.

The policewoman on the phone hesitated for a moment. “It was a few hours ago. He walked to the roof of his office building… he took the stairs, all 27 floors.” She paused again. “I am so sorry. He jumped.”

Days later, and still no questions answered. Deshi was dead. Deshi had killed himself. On paper, his life looked amazing; success, money, attractive, popular. We grieved, and struggled to understand the change that had come over Deshi in recent years, and what would cause him to end his own life.

I asked to see the security footage from his office. The police had stated that there was no evidence of foul play, and that cameras had caught almost every image of the last hours of Deshi’s life. The officers had tried to talk me out of watching, telling me that the footage was deeply disturbing.

I was lead to an interrogation room, where a laptop was set up with the film ready to go. I just had to push play. The officer who had been helping me gently squeezed my shoulder. “Are you sure you want to see this?”

I nodded mutely.

She sighed. “Okay. Be prepared, it is pretty jarring. We have already spliced together the footage, so it goes from one camera to the next, with brief pauses in between. Do you want something to drink? Coffee?” I shook my head, staring at the laptop as I sat down slowly. She nodded again. “Okay, let me know if you need anything.” She quietly shut the door behind her.

Closing my eyes for a moment, I took a deep breath, and pressed play.

The security footage was crystal clear. In movies and on the news, clips are always so blurry and grainey, it is hard to make out details. This was a mega-money corporation, who employed mega-lawyers that charged by the hour, and they paid mega-bucks for crystal-clear surveillance of their skyscraper.

I saw my brother enter the building. Close ups of his unsmiling face as he swiped his badge. He climbed 27 sets of stairs. Slowly, deliberately, his expression impassive; he looked mechanical.

Deshi the Automaton.

Each stairwell contained a camera, not even a full second passed that was not on film. Deshi was alone in the last minutes of his life. He reached the last floor, and paused. He stood before the door that led to the roof, perfectly still, for 1 minute and 17 seconds. If the time stamp was not still running, I would have thought the frame was frozen. Then he turned to face the camera. He smiled, his eyes open, serene. He opened the door and stepped out.

The camera on the roof was directly above the door, facing outward. I watched my brother walk to the edge of the roof. Then he stepped off, and was gone. No hesitation. Just gone.

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