State of Being (1/?)

writing-prompt-s

via The worst state. — PROMPTUARIUM

“Wake up, sweetie, you’re gonna be late for school,” a soft voice calls out as my eyes flutter open. Oh, Mum, I muttered, as I saw the familiar red, burn mark on her face, which have never faded after the day we walked away from my father’s house. I saw my father hit her right across her cheek. Mum did not say a word as she picked me and our bags out of the house. Somehow, the redness has stayed the way it was for ten years, and nobody seemed to notice, except for me.

That was the same day I saw my grandfather developed a purplish bruise on his right fist, while my grandmother’s left eye looks almost permanently bloodshot. As for me, I sported three, dried-out kitten scratches on my left palm. Considering it hurts only on the first day, I can say I am almost unscathed.

I stopped asking Mum to check on my scratches but she noticed how I kept touching her left cheek. Eventually, I stopped doing it because I saw the tears well up on her eyes. Years after, I still struggle not to fix my gaze upon it for more than two seconds. Thankfully she seemed to always think it’s because I was still trying to pry my eyes open to sober up from the drowsiness.

After Mum was sure I would not fall back to sleep, she patted my shoulder and left me to wash up and get dressed. I quickly grabbed a toast, bite it as I took my backpack and headed to the doorway.

“Anna, your lunch!” Mum called out from the kitchen, which stopped me from wearing my shoes and made me take a sharp turn to collect the neatly packed lunch box. I yelled out a gibberish Bye, Mom, as I was still chewing the toast, to which she replied by telling me to be careful on my way. I took the stairs down to the apartment lobby and met Jun to walk to school together.

He sported fresh bruises again. Lately, this has been happening even more often ever since his uncle decided to stay together with his family. He followed my gaze fixed in his upper arm, just below the sleeves before the elbow. He smiled a weak one.

“Got it just yesterday when that piece of bullcrap went home drunk. What pisses me off is that this stupid pattern from his cheap belt didn’t fade away this morning. Don’t need your ‘gift’ to see this one.”

“You mean ‘curse’. And because of it, I know that one’s gonna stay.”

“Oh cool, another one to add to my invisible tattoo collection. Do I wear them well?”

“As much as I admire your sense of humor, that is not funny and we’re getting late for school. Come on.”

We made it just in time to our classroom before the last bell rings. Shuffles from other students passing by, grabbing and settling for seats makes the morning sounds busier, alerting me that another day at school has started. As usual, I spotted our friend Somchai–with his burning red right ear which the ‘curse’ allows me to see–had already sat comfortably on his seat at the back near the window, while Jun and I are still catching our breaths from sprinting. He turned his head to give us a knowing look, which Jun ignores by waving his hand saying, “Yeah, yeah, we know. The early bird catches the worm and that bird is you, Chai. Gosh, I thought I’ll get used to the running eventually but the only thing I’m familiar with is the taste of blood filling my lungs.”

“We could’ve just walked comfortably to class if Jun didn’t insist to get a toast at Aunt Mui first,” I teased.

“Hey! You would’ve saved us ten minutes if you had shown up at the lobby on time!” Jun retaliated as I snorted. Somchai shakes his head slowly as he grabbed our shoulders and have us sit at the spots in front of and across from him.

“Ms. Lim is coming soon. You better try to memorize something from yesterday’s lesson before she surprises us with another pop quiz.”

“Oh, shhh–” I immediately rummaged my bag for a glimpse of my notes while Jun complained about why after being our homeroom teacher Ms. Lim didn’t cut us some slack.

As I was concentrating with my scribbles about Mendel’s laws of inheritance, Ms. Lim opened the sliding door and all of us students stood up to exchange morning greetings. Returning to focus on my notes as fast as all students sat back down, I completely missed out the announcement Ms. Lim made about a new transfer student joining our class until Jun tapped my shoulder and signaled me to look to the front. It was not just Jun’s nudge breaking my reverie, it was also the new student entering the class. To be more specific, it was what the curse made me see from the new student which took my attention completely off of whatever heterozygous means: she has blotches all over her skin, dried blood over thin scars all over her body. The most haunting one is fresh blood coming out of her eyes. She looked like she just fell off a cliff with sharp rocks underneath.

“Everyone, meet Naomi Yeo.”

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The Meek

Source: The meek.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone can just inherently be brave?

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone can be raised where bravery is encouraged? At least so that the society would show less tolerance on ignorance and injustice.

Oh, you think that’s how it goes in the world we live in? Well, think again.
It’s probably only something that is part of the school motto. Not so much in their curriculum. Not to mention that we all should scrape off whatever we learn at school to fit in the real world, even only for survival.

In fact, my mother did warn me once of how the acceptance and support to bravery in this world is a big, fat farce.

I remembered her frantic face when she saw my black eye at the teacher’s office. The kid who gave it to me–Bruce was his name, quite befittingly–and his mother was seated to my left. The principal went through what happened, and Bruce’s mother scolded him as she apologized to my mother and offered to pay for the medical expenses and all. My mother responded modestly while she kept her attention on my stoic demeanor.

We walked home hand-in-hand with each other, not saying a word. As we passed a nearby park, my mother broke the silence and decided it’s been a while since we watch the sun set. So she bought us an ice cream each and we sat on the bench across the duck pond, right at the direction of the almost setting sun.

“Your father would probably be proud that you chose not to punch him back, if that’s what you’re wonderin’,” she suddenly remarked, “he’d quote the Bible for it, too. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.”

I looked up at her and finally found my voice, “Do they really, Momma?”

She went silent briefly and said, “The meek don’t inherit the Earth, son. That’s just what the bold tell them, so they’ll get out of the way.”

She deliberately continued, “By somehow convincing the meek that they will have the world without having to work hard for it, the bold is doing half its part to maintain their position as the rulers of the world. By telling the meek to wait in complacency, the bold proves themselves superior.”

“So, you think I should fight Bruce back?” I inquired.

“Oh no,” my mother quickly answered, “I was just telling you your father will pick the wrong verse from the Scripture, take it out of context just to put a smile back on your face.”

She turned from her seat to put her hands over my shoulders and said, “I will say to you that not punching Bruce back does not mean you’re meek. Actually, you being punched simply because he doesn’t like being told off by you after he said girls are weak, I’d say that’s quite a brave thing to do. And I’m proud of you for that.”

I smiled back at her when I saw the beam on her face. The pain on my eye reminded me, “But it seemed like some people don’t like it when we are brave, Momma.”

She saw me cupping my blackeye with my hand, and said we’ll go to the clinic to have the doctor see to it, “but you’re right. People don’t like it when anyone stand up to them. Sometimes it leaves a bruise right here,” she pointed at my eye, then she hovered her finger to my chest, “sometimes, it leaves a bruise in here.”

“And sometimes,” she quietly added, “it’s hard to get away from constantly feeling the pain that maybe it’s easier to keep our heads down.”

I scrunched my eyebrows together trying to make sense what she just said, but then she brushed it off as she ran her hand through my hair saying, “Oh, what am I thinking? Maybe you’ll understand later when you’re older. But I really hope you wouldn’t have to go through it.”

We stopped by the clinic to get my eye fixed and went home for dinner. Little did I know that my mother was threatened to lose her job for 10 years at a nearby hotel because she was defending her coworker over a false theft report from a high-level guest. The coworker ended up resigning to prevent my mother for losing her job and herself from further embarrassment. In the end, she even told my mother, “At least I beat them up from firing me. And now I get to spend more time with the kids, so it’s okay, Jane. Don’t worry about me.”

If it weren’t for me and my sick grandmother, my mother would probably resign in a heartbeat, but she held on for another six months until she found another line of work and quit the hotel job. It took her a while because in a small town the word flew in no time to spread the news that my mother is a “ballsy” employee, and no employers would make such a person as first choice on their team.

Years after, I had never forgotten how grateful I am for her, and the conversation we had that day on the park. Not because it reminded me to stand up for what is right, but that it kept replaying on my mind whenever I need to settle with silence and submission. I tried to convince myself that whenever I don’t disagree with my superior’s terrible idea, I did the logical thing to keep my job and pay my rent on time; that I am in no place to deny the comfort that my salary has sustained me with. Still, I felt guilty whenever I remembered I don’t argue back because I don’t want to be the “ballsy” one–because the they sooner or later will lose their job and be forced to be content with something with far too little prospect. It is not just “easier to keep our heads down” sometimes, but most of the time–I understand it now, and more.

Dad was probably right. I am the meek one, aren’t I, Momma?

Choosers

via A warrior at heart. — PROMPTUARIUM

She always wakes up at dawn. Despite her tired eyes, every day she swiftly prepares food for breakfast and packs lunchboxes we will bring to school. For my little brother, she makes sure to put the rice and stir-fry in separate containers, being a little too picky for his own good. She cannot bear to see him look sallower than he already is.

We waved her goodbye as soon as we got ready. It was as brief as her seeing us off because she needed to rush to work. She told me once her boss was very strict to his employees’ punctuality. It’s funny that he doesn’t maintain the same attitude when it comes to payday. Yet she stays. She told me that it was because he allows her to go home early to prepare dinner and be with us. She told me I would understand once I got older.

I am older now, and I still don’t quite understand.

She has had chances to take up a more stable job with monthly salary instead of the measly commission that can take months until it reached her hands. She doesn’t have to worry about me and Jaden anymore–he’s no longer a picky-eater and on Tuesdays, I tutor after school–we’re big enough to take care of ourselves.

That night we were about to tell her to reconsider the job, she beat us to it. She sat us down, telling us that she will be taking a four-hour night shift at a nearby hospital as a receptionist so we can save up. By we, she meant me, or more specifically, my college admission fee. She told us she wanted us to just focus on our studies and that she would still make it for dinner. We insisted on preparing it for her. She smiled and cupped our faces, saying, “I had no idea how I deserve such nice kids. Thank you.”

I beg to differ; we have no idea how we deserve her. But on the same time, I cannot comprehend the fact that she wants us in her life on the first place. Is it because of him?

He used to take pride in his family background, until it betrayed him. It left him even more insecure of himself, refusing to acknowledge that he needed help, only understanding. But there’s only so much understanding one can give, isn’t it? Silently, she chose to take to her two feet as she went only as far as tend to his wounds. After all, he needed to face his own demons.

Since he was as good as gone, why not consider it done then? I will. But she told me it was not a nice thing to say, and that she simply thought it unnecessary for them to lead on separate ways.

One time, I was awake when she just got home from her night shift. She couldn’t feign not looking exhausted anymore, so she said yes when I offered her some warm milk. As I massaged her shoulders, I asked her if she has ever regretted this, and she immediately answered no. I asked her not to give me a normative answer, and that’s when she said, “Well, there are a few things I’d wish would turn out differently, but never you or your brother.”

After some thought, I continued, “Have you ever wished not meeting him then?”

She sighed and said, “I don’t know, Sweetheart. Whenever I tried to recall how it happened, it always seems like the meeting presented itself to me. As was the decision.”

I still don’t understand why she chose to stay.

To be exact, I don’t understand why, despite telling us to live for ourselves, she never seemed to live for her own.

Since her mind has never warned her to stop, her body did. We joked about how her arthritis was more like a blessing than a curse, seeing how she had more time to rest. Still, she somehow manages some energy left to think about the minuscule of things; how I should stop wearing my old blouse to work and let her buy a new one for me, how my brother needs to at least iron his shirt, how we should not skip lunch, or how we should take our vitamins regularly. Since her mind resonates stronger than her body, she never stopped and there is nothing we could do about it.

And I don’t think I can never understand it completely; her willingness, determination and compassion.

There are times when I want to tell her that life is hard; that had I been given a chance to choose, I might not want any part of it–day by day, just trying to get by. There are times I want to tell her that I had never asked for it–to be alive. Not to blame her, of course, but it just seemed unfair that she found something worth living in me, while I do not want it on the first place.

Then I stopped trying to understand. Instead, I started reminding myself of what I know to be true.

I know that albeit everything, I am more than willing to always come back to her. She is home, and that suffices.

She still wakes up at dawn, and I still don’t understand her as much as she does me. But we know we will somehow see each other at the end of the day.

A Lackluster Thrill

Source: Pensive

For the first and second part of this weirdass trilogy, clickity here and here.

“Why, you look like you’re… deep in thought.”

Jamie looked away from the window to find me standing near the door. As I made my way to the kitchen for a glass of water, he remarked, “You’re off from work early.”

“The boss decided everyone should be home early for Christmas eve,” I downed the whole glass in one-go, “of course, I had to willingly oblige. Who the hell would miss a chance for a longer weekend?”

“Oh,” he responded, rather disinterestedly, “that’s good.”

Weirded out by this melancholic-reflective act he’s pulling, I decided to just ask him, “What’s up with you? Something up with the studio? I mean, you would usually begin counting days to Christmas since July.”

“Um, no, no, the studio’s fine… I just got paid for finishing a project, actually,” he began to wander off.

“Spit it out,” I demanded, “It’s been a while, but did the Drain Duchess screw you up somehow? Made you eat raw fish gills or something?”

Three weeks ago, Jamie and I set on an unlikely adventure in the sewers to save him from perpetually smelling like one and eventually be ousted from society. Mr. Nomura, our neighborhood fishmonger and guide, managed to set us an appointment to one of the Twin Sisters–whom I call the Drain Duchess for short–of this funky guild fish-merchants are members of, so that we can get Jamie out of his misery. Thing is, only he and Goh, the Guild’s caretaker, may enter the chamber to see her. More importantly, the Duchess herself has requested that he would not tell anyone how she looked like and how the meeting went. At first, because Jamie is at least completely cured out of the weird curse, I did not even bother to ask. But since then, I seem to spot him looking somewhat pensive more often than not. Out of concern, I started bugging him with specific yes-no questions as to make sure nothing bad happened to him then; that way, he won’t have to break the promise, should another jinx be put upon him if he blabbered out stuff. So far, I am sure that nothing violent happened to him, but I am yet to confirm if he needs to do or eat anything disgusting. As to the question I just inquired, he responded with an downturn on the sides of his lips.

“Ugh, no,” he disgustedly replied, “even if she did, you know I probably need to struggle for hours with it. I was barely there for 15 minutes.”

“I mean, the alternative is to have fish guts as your daily deodorant,” I made a case for it, “You would not hesitate that long.”

“Well, yeah, you’ve got a point,” Jamie mulled, “but, no. That didn’t happen. And that’s not what’s been bothering me.”

“So, what is it?” I took a seat on the chair of our dining table, gesturing him to sit on the opposite chair. Slowly, he walked away from the window to join me.

“You know the deal with how adventures are portrayed in books and movies, right?” he began, “It’s about overcoming hardships, but more than that it looked awesome. Some of the characters even got to do cool tricks and stuff…”

“And yours is about falling in the gutter, smelling even worse than just shit and venturing in the drain domain?” I interrupted.

“Let’s be real, who would not be pissed? Who would want to hear a story that starts with, ‘So once I fell down the ditch…’?” he retorted, “I’d bring this story down to my grave. You have promised not to tell anyone either.”

“And you have my word,” I asserted.

“Good. Anyway, what kinda upsets me is the fact that it all ended just like that. In a matter of minutes, problem solved. We went back to our simple lives.”

I paused for a bit to process what Jamie had just said, and asked him, “You do realize that you were about to get stinky for life and missed the chance to be alleviated from it, don’t you?”

“Yeah?”

“Then why would you bother thinking about how the adventure could have been more interesting?” I can’t stop myself from laughing, “Seriously Jamie, wasn’t it better that you didn’t have to go through, what, trials or riddles to sort it out?”

“Well, yeah, but…”

“You were about to spend the rest of your life in the bathroom!” I exclaimed, “And if you tried explaining your predicament, not a single soul would believe you. You wouldn’t even get away with branding yourself as a lunatic artist. You’d lose your job, be forced to live in the street… or maybe the sewers! And you’ll stench forever…”

“Alright, enough with saying I’m gonna stink for life,” he butted in, “I got a feeling you’re enjoying that a little too much…”

I raised my hands up approvingly, “Okay, but you understand what I’m getting at, do you? Jamie, most people would want their problems to end as quickly as possible. You had a horrendously ridiculous one, and you got it taken care of, almost in a snap of a finger. That’s a good thing.”

He was silent, letting the words sink in. Then he nodded a couple of times before saying, “Yeah. Yeah, I guess you’re right. I mean, at least now I get to worry over if I will get another project for next year; not how to work and live in the bathroom…”

“Exactly!” I agreed, “And I lied to you earlier about being sent off early from work because, honestly, I just got fired.”

“What?” Jamie widened his eyes.

“Well, I resigned and the boss didn’t take it too well. But it doesn’t matter. Now we get to sweat over jobs together! I got some money saved, so don’t worry about my part of the rent…”

“No, no, let’s rewind this for a bit,” Jamie stretched his right palm in front of me, “I know you hate your job, Sam, but you actually quit?”

“I know, I know. I kept saying how I can’t risk changing jobs because of the sweet, sweet money I get from this one, but I guess I’m done being patient. Besides, it’s been 3 years and my supervisor understands. The big boss made a fuss of it, that’s all.”

Jamie doesn’t sound convinced which makes me a bit conscious on how strongly I come off as a coward, but hey, business is business. But then he said, “Okay. It’s just that I thought for a second you had raw fish gills for lunch,” he smirked as I rolled my eyes, “Congratulations then. Welcome to the Jobless Bums club. You’ll love it, for the first month, give or take.”

“Sounds good. At least we are not jobless AND smell like ditch.” We snickered at that comment. I was about to reach out for the cereal box and snack on it when Jamie beat me before I even touched it, putting the box away on the kitchen counter.

“Let’s just eat out today. I don’t reek like rotten fish anymore and you just came out of that tiger’s den. We should celebrate,” he stood up from the chair, “I just got paid, so my treat.”

“Shouldn’t say no to free food,” I followed suit, as we made our way to take our coats and wear our shoes, “what should we have?”

“Anything but fish. I am forever grateful to Mr. Nomura for the extra he gave us every weekends, but I swear we’re gonna smell like one soon if we have them any more often than that. No gutter needed.”

A Gift Never Too Late

via First christmas. — PROMPTUARIUM

It’s dark and hollow, so Ollie felt, but even more so than ever. The demons had all left hell to wreak havoc and ruin the holiday atmosphere. Now you know why family fights, accidents and death reached their tolls on Christmas eve and Christmas.

They were targeting a new record for suicide this year. See, humans aren’t even able to empathize with other’s happiness nowadays. They would succumb to envy easily; anything good looks more like a mockery to their own lives. Life is not fair, it has always been; the demons only made sure that none saw any glimpse of hope to get through.

But not all the blame is on the human, or the demon. Humans are naturally weak. The demons are only doing their job.

Since all the fire demons also left to help out the others, it was rather cold here in hell. After a few months here, Ollie figured that hell is all about extremes. It is either burning and arid throughout the year, or piercingly freezing on holidays. It is either stuffy and cramped in January, or mum and devoid in December. It is rather torturous at noon, but eerily dismal at night. Only one thing never changes: no matter how long anyone’s been here, not one will ever get used to the severity of it.

Frankly, it made Ollie gulped a strained one, to think she would stay here for eternity. At least when she was up there, she could hope for doomsday to come sooner. Then again, she was never sure if she will ever manage to secure a place in heaven.

Just my luck, she thought, at least I’ve lived a good one.

She was just about to return to her cell, succumbing into the distress that naturally exudes at nighttime in hell. But something on the corner of her eyes caught her attention. Strobe lights are emanating from a huge pit far across the path to the newcomer’s dungeon. Her brain warned her against it, but her feet refused to heed her thoughts. Heck, she’s one of the dwellers of hell already, what can possibly be worse than this?

As she made her way deeper to the pit, she could hear music and screams echoing through the walls. Shortly, she arrived in front of the final entrance. What welcomes her eyes were nothing she had seen during her stay in hell.

The usually lifeless, dark ambiance are transformed into dimmed red lights, decorated with wreaths, mistletoe and other Christmas ornaments. People, or is it souls? , were seen either walking around or dancing in weird costumes. Among them, she saw winged creatures, ghouls, gargoyles and goblins lounging around the place, but nobody seemed to even notice they are there. Despite that, she could have sworn this is just another themed-party in a club she once went to.

Ollie was not alarmed with the resemblance. She was just confused with the idea of lost souls and demons alike celebrating Christmas in hell. Well, albeit not religiously.

Just then, she heard footsteps coming her way, so she immediately hid herself on the towering pillar on the far corner opposite the entrance. Two hooded figures were bickering.

“I still don’t think it’s a good idea to place the threshold here,” a female voice said.

“Hey, relax, will you? All the other guys were busy, and the ones who remain are souls too preoccupied with their own misery in their cells. We’re done with our shift, so let’s just go now and have fun. We’ll be in and out before the high-ranking hot shots even realized it,” a male voice prompted, “besides, it’s easier for us to escape if we place it here. It’s closer to our quarters.”

Ollie realized they were the escorts who picked souls up from the shores of the underworld, guessing from how close they say their chambers are.

The female escort’s resolve seem to waver as she said, “Alright, but I’ll leave you if you refused to go back with me under any circumstances, deal?”

“Deal,” the male escort scoffed, “I don’t really get why you’re so uptight about this. We’re hell’s creatures! Why would we give a shit about curfews, rules and whatnot?”

The female rolled her eyes, “You know it’s not because of that. We are neither souls nor demons, remember? If we stayed upstairs after the Big Guy went back down, we’ll vanish to thin air.”

“What’s so bad about it?” the male nonchalantly asked, “I got tired of simply existing in hell alone.”

The female crossed her arms and shot him a look. He seemed to get it and waved his arms in front of her, “Yeah, yeah, you gotta see her one last time… You sure she’s heading downstairs tho?”

There was silence and then footsteps are heard again as the male said again, “Alright, alright. Let’s drop it at that and go, okay? We’re wasting time!” Then they passed through the entrance. Ollie crept out of her hiding and saw the escorts changed to look somewhat like regular human beings wearing red and black, their hoods gone to thin air.

Ollie then weighed her options. If she heard them correctly, only a soul or a demon can pass through the earth-hell wormhole thing without any consequences. That means, she could probably return to life again.

But no catches? Seems to good of a proposition to be true, especially coming from hell itself.

But once she’s back out there, Ollie thought, at least she could have some time off and mentally prepare herself to the routines of hell. The best thing that could happen is if hell’s creature are truly as ignorant as they seem to be that they will not realize one of their newcomers have gone missing. Again, at least if she got dragged back eventually, her second time in hell will not be too much of a shock.

Not to mention that ridiculous lawsuit is still ongoing…

Right, unfinished business should be enough reason for her to try this out. She took two long glances over her shoulder to make sure no one is around, then she set her eyes at the party ahead. While the music was playing too loud, everybody was jumping and screaming, she took her chance and slid past the threshold.

Making her way out of the crowd, she breathed out the air outside like she was clinging to every inch of it. She snickered at the turn of events; who would’ve thought one can escape hell, on Christmas day nonetheless?

Maybe you’re not off Santa’s good-and-naughty list even though you’ve been sent to hell.

 

Les Miserables

A/N: I… don’t even know what this is. Bleurgh. Brain fart!

“Well, that sucked.”

He simply nodded his head in agreement. He let out a huge sigh as she patted his back. Then they sat in silence for a while, watching a few people ride their boards on the skating park in front of them.

“So, Christmas is gonna be awkward,” she remarked.

“Again,” he finished the sentence for her, “I mean, ever since I can remember none of the holidays in the family have been genuinely cheerful. You see, this is why I believe we all are better off apart from each other. Especially the old folks.”

She hummed in understanding, “Seems weird that they tried to stick together somehow thinking it would work out eventually, but never actually trying to be open enough to discuss it, dunnit?”

“You can say that again,” he sprawled on top of the grass, “like somehow things we’ll magically settle itself.”

“And they say that means there’s love,” she began to chuckle loudly, “what kind of masochist would even think that? No offense to your folks, man. Mine was just the same.”

“None taken,” he smirked, “speaking of which, how is it gonna be this year with your folks?”

“My sister’s gonna meet Ma with her boyfriend for dinner on Christmas eve. Imma travel with Pa, we’ll leave tomorrow. We’ll change places for Christmas day.”

“Seems like you guys found a neat system.”

“It’s better than how it used to be,” she shrugged, “I’m just grateful this year we didn’t get to meet the other relatives. Either they would look at me and my sister with pity, which is totally unnecessary, or they’d start talking shit about Pa or Ma, depends on which side we visited.”

“Ugh, yeah that could be nasty,” he sat up, again sighing loudly, “there doesn’t seem to be any way out of this whole thing. And this whole holiday spirit thing and being home for it only makes me pettier. I’d be looking at commercials one second, and the next thing I know I’d get annoyed on why everybody looks so damn happy. What the fuck.”

She laughed, “Oh man. We never really get used to it even after years of watching them fight, don’t we?”

“At least yours are giving some time off of each other a chance, man. Mine’s just… fucked up AND in denial. I can’t wait for next year to come. I’ll make sure to get accepted at least somewhere half across the country.”

“Yeah, now that Pa rediscovered a long, forgotten hobby and finally managed to get over the thought of being a lonely, useless, old man, I can’t be more excited to start living alone. By the way, come over to the ramen place some time, he’d be happy to see you.”

“Oh, right, I’ll have lunch there tomorrow before you guys leave.” He took his board and got up, “wanna hit the park again?”

“Sure,” she put her snapback on and tied her shoes, “feeling better now?”

“I guess,” he replied, unsure, “I mean, I know they will still be ridiculous once I get home, but oh well, what can I do? Let’s just skate and forget about it for a moment.”

“Sounds good enough,” she went up and picked her board, walking together with him.

As he was about to get on the board, he paused suddenly and looked at her, saying, “Are we gonna be fucked up like them, too?”

Perplexed, she replied, “I hope not. What makes you think that?”

“Looking at it every day of our lives, don’t you think it’ll influence us in any way?” he wondered, “this is depressing.”

“Oh well, shared sorrow is half of it,” she set her board on the floor, “we’ll be fine.”

She held out her fist, and he bumped his with hers, “Happy Christmas, man.”

“Yeah, happy Christmas to you, too.”

As they went faster and felt the wind blowing on their faces, he thought, maybe this is the kind of ‘sticking together’ that’s worth it.

Making Ends Meet

Source: We meet again, father.

My hands were covered in white. This time, I’d make sure it’s not just his reflection I saw on the mirror.

I took a step back and made sure the circle was drawn correctly. Reaching out to the grimoire, I replicated the patterns and letters unfamiliar to many as I recited soft words of invocations. With one last stroke, the chalk markings shone the colour of fire as if I just breathed in magic to it.

Taking my stand on the circle, I placed my hand in the air above the diamond-shaped center. Letting go off the bits of anxiety in a deep exhale, I shut my eyes and murmured boldly, “Evocatio.”

My eyes opened on their own accord as I felt a blinding light and newfound heat engulfing my body. A hue of black sprung out of the diamond, immediately replaced by a man whose face I would never not recognize.

“We meet again, Father.”

“It’s so nice of you to invite me here, Son,” he greeted as he retracted his dark, unkempt wings, “we finally get to chat.”

“Shall I cut to the chase?”

“Very straightforward,” he remarked with a sly grin that is almost unfamiliar, “you’ve grown up to be just like your mother…”

“And that is precisely why we’re here today,” I interrupted, “I would like to know why instead of Mum, it was you I saw the other day in the psychomanteum chamber.”

“I must say I’m a tad disappointed, Enoch,” he said, somewhat sincere, which is a surprising emotion for his lot to emit, “do you not miss your father?”

He knew I don’t. He was barely there when I was young, and I never really have a problem with it. My mother alone has always been more than enough, though sometimes I pity her efforts to convince me he actually cared for us. I reckon there was no need to answer the question so I simply held my gaze still.

He snickered, saying, “You even inherited that look from her. Oh, I can almost feel guilty again…”

“You haven’t answered my question,” I curtly remarked. He sighed–mockingly, I suppose–then proceeded to pace ahead.

“Well, were you sure you surrounded yourself with her mementos?”

“Of course,” I replied, showing him the grimoire, “I even made sure I brought this bloody book despite the risk of losing it.”

He stopped at his tracks at the mention of the book. He took a glance at it and said, “That is probably where your first mistake lies, Son. The mementos are not only things that she cherishes when she was alive, but specifically those that reminds you of her.”

“I wouldn’t bring this book if it didn’t remind me of her. She practically slept with it under her pillows.”

“You need to share those memories with her. Clearly, she didn’t have as many memories of you in the book as much as you do.”

I was hit by a sudden realization. “But she does with you… and that is why you were called instead?”

He continued pacing in the circle. Skeptically, I took it as a yes.

“Was that how you met her?” I inquired, “was she a seer too?”

“I assume she tried to keep you away from this world,” then he answered firmly, “no, she wasn’t a seer. She tried, but no. Even so, she never left her research. You do know that much.”

That I do, which is why I would never except that her death was dismissed by the police as suicide. She told me the night before that she was close to a new discovery, but that’s about it. She said she didn’t want to jinx it but was too excited that she needed to at least tell someone. It turned out she would never been able to when I found her in her office, holding an empty bottle of what was supposed to contain sedatives, cold as ice.

Frankly, the detectives are imbeciles for not considering the irony that a person who is so enthusiastically immersed in her project would be overdosing from sleeping pills.

“So are you up for another attempt?” he suddenly chimed in. I almost jolted from being lost in my thoughts of what happened almost a couple of weeks ago. Yet I can’t help being taken aback from his not-so-subtle encouragement.

“You want me to try again? I would consider you just asked me to do you a favour, Father.”

He arched his eyebrows in amusement, “Will you look at that? You’d make a decent demon.”

“You mean a decent human being,” I corrected him calmly, “consequently, you would owe me a favour if I succeeded to summon Mum…”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, boy,” he waved his right hand disdainfully, “you still have a long way to guarantee all this would work.”

“Which is where you came in,” I asserted, “your part of this deal is that you will make sure I achieve all the objectives. I will meet Mum. I will know who killed her, and I will finish her work. I won’t even question whatever it is you desire from the outcome.”

He appeared hesitant for a moment, but was also contemplating hard in silence. I chose to trust my guts and egged on him more.

“You know you need me to do this. You can’t find her down where you belong, can you? And there isn’t much Nephilims around who would be able to pull it off as I would. There is no stronger link,” I reminded him, hopefully not sounding too presumptuous, “Not to mention, I am risking my life. What I ask of you earlier sounds more like a small favor, innit?”

He seemed to find his smug smile back and said, “Now we’re talking. I see there is a little of me in you, after all.”

I don’t exactly need his approval, but I certainly hope it’s working since I am getting a little impatient, “Do we have a deal, then?”

He turned his back on me, tapped his shoulders and his hideous wings vanished from our sights. He pulled a black suit from thin air, turned his body to face me and pulled out a pair of shades.

“Come,” he gestured to the door, “we’ve got work to do.”

Dining Hell

Dialogue Prompt taken from PROMPTUARIUM

“New arrivals!”

Feeling like I have just summoned air to my lungs, I pried my eyes open and found myself on a small boat, moving quietly to a shore. Looking to my left and right, I saw around six to seven more boats heading to the same direction. In front of me stood a hooded figure  right on top of the bow. Could it be I’m… dead?

As if answering my question, my sight directed me towards the left of my stomach. I saw red. I feel the vertical gash, but not the pain.

I am dead.

The hooded figure suddenly loomed over me; its hands gesturing for me to leave the boat. It turned out that we arrived to the shore while I was in a trance. I jerked up and stood immediately, making my way to the other souls–I reckon–who were gathering nearby the rocky land. A pale lady, in a gray, tattered dress, took a glance at us, then proceeded to lead us somewhere as she held a small lantern.

I felt like we have walked for hours in the darkness until I realized we no longer stepped on rocks and pebbles, but just a cold, flat surface. We took a right turn and as the lady stopped in her tracks, so were we. She turned to face us and opened one side of a curtain, signaling us to come in, one at a time. Again, I waited, to my own surprise, in deeper stillness.

Never had I thought anything, like death, could be this silencing. Suppose it is true that no one ever stops learning about oneself, even after death.

At that, I felt a shove from my back, and I stumbled through the curtain, only to find some sort of a dining hall with round tables filling the room, encircled with tall tongues of fire. The coldness before the drapes melted from my skin. I was pondering how odd it was to be able to still feel the temperature while being numb to my own wound when I heard someone call my name.

“Ms. Lea Ruskin?”

A waiter who somewhat looked like a black-colored mannequin with no facial features called to me. Again, I was too dazed with such oddity that I could only come up with a nod and eventually a squeaky “Yes?”

“Right this way,” he said, “if you would follow me.” And so I did.

The animate mannequin-waiter led me to a seat on a round dining table. Quite frankly, I was excited to get to sit down after the long walk despite not being tired–I assume my dead body is still adjusting to the fact that my lungs no longer supported my stamina–but approaching the table, I quickly wanted to just turn back and leave as I saw two familiar faces gasping at my presence. I prayed hard, hoping it could still be heard somehow, that the waiter will lead me to another table, but he had already pulled out a chair not two seats away from them.

“You!?”

“Well, hello, Mrs. Durand.”

“Of all people!”

“It’s nice to see you too, Aunt Marie.”

This is so reminiscent of the night Julian and I broke the news of the cancellation of the wedding. His mother and his aunt–her biggest supporter–were flipping mad, mostly at me. Seeing they still couldn’t get over it even after death, I guess it really wasn’t just because they couldn’t wear the matching dress they had custom-made years prior to the ceremony. Was it a childhood promise? One of the things in their bucket list? I can’t recall.

Mrs. Durand was quick to compose her cynical self as she cleared her throat and bit, “Well, I told her I’d save her a seat in hell.” I figured that was one of the things she screamed at me before we were ousted from the restaurant for the commotion caused mainly by her.

Not at our table!” exclaimed Aunt Marie, “oh, are we really held against everything we said when we were alive? When will the misery end?”

“I’m afraid not ever, Ma’am,” the waiter answered, reminding us that he was still there to witness the ruckus, “this is hell, after all. And yes, you are held against your every word.”

Then everything is as clear as day. I, too, have said something along the lines of, “There is no punishment in hell more cruel than actually having to dine in with the abomination that is my ex-fiance’s mother and her sister.” I thought remarks made when you are drunk and in pain after a failed engagement should not count. Unwilling to relent to this set-up, for the first time in my life had I been alive, I attempted to talk my way out of it.

“Look,” I began, “if it’s about not enjoying anyone’s company, I suppose there must be other tables you can take me to.”

“There isn’t any that repulsed you most, Ms. Ruskin,” he said, resolutely, “and so would it be most disagreeable to Mrs. Durand and Mrs. Leroy. We only served the worst you can possibly imagine. And more.” He pointed at my chair, willing I would take my seat immediately. I can’t seem to find a better argument, so I sat myself down. Then he bowed his head and left us.

Just as I thought this couldn’t get any worse, it did. The food that was served looks mouthwatering, but tampered with. No, not in any way there are maggots or whatever it is you saw inedible in a horror movie; they were just not served as you’d like it. My steak was still basically swimming in blood, while Mrs. Durand and her sister’s had it too overcooked for their own taste. Not to mention they had not enough teeth to chew things properly. The hole in my stomach oozed out some of the dinner–mostly the wine and the soup–which irked the sisters to no end. I couldn’t risk having the pudding, which used to be my favorite. The sisters skipped directly to tea, which made way out of their mouths and nostrils just as they sipped it. I did not dare ask why.

Despite the food being cleared out of the table, I am afraid we would not be ushered away from the table as early as we wanted to. The sisters kept at their nasty remarks for me, my “second thoughts” and whatever they see appropriate to hurt me. I kept quiet, not because I am incapable of retorting, but because I do not want them to think they get into me. I have always been good at enduring shit talks, and seeing them getting even more irritated with my lack of response allowed me a little pleasure.

And I’d settle for just a bit of it, lest they took me somewhere I truly can’t stand. Guess having tight lips do help you survive not only the world of the living, but also the dead.

But evidently, attempting to kill your ex-fiancee’s current girlfriend and ironically bleeding to death yourself may just win you a reservation straight to hell.

Mortifyingly Alive

“Jean,” a voice half-whispered, “Jean, wake up!”

My eyes tried their best to focus, fighting the throbbing on the back of my head. I felt really hot on the right side of my body, then realized the huge fire that would warm around 10 people just fine.

“Jean! Oh, thank goodness!”

I turned my head to the voice calling from in front of me, and found my friend, Dev. Hang on… weren’t we at camp before? Of course! It’s our last night here at Camp Wharton and we were on duty of washing the dishes on the river just nearby. The counselors are putting the other kids to bed after dinner, and we were supposed to join them soon after we are done with it. We were both pretty scared about being in the dark without supervision, so we were just talking if we are returning next year, recalling the best bits of the events. I thought it helped a bit, but then I remember a smack on my head, and… now I’m here, tied up in a knot on a slab of stone quite far from Dev, who was also caught motionless in a rope.

“D-dev? You okay?” was the first thing I can muster.

“Y-yeah, I guess,” he answered, “but we need to get out of here quickly, they are coming back!”

“What are you saying? Who’s coming back?” I asked, suddenly alerted.

“Shh,” he tried to keep my voice down, “cave trolls. They were hiding behind the cave behind the waterfall. One hit you with a rock, the other shoved me on a dark, stinky bag I hope wasn’t his stale underwear or something. I passed out because of the stench, but I managed to feign sleeping when they were discussing how to cook us…”

“Cook us!?” I jumped on my seat, but quickly remembered to lower down my voice to tell him, “look, Dev, I got a Swiss knife on my pocket…”

Dev was teary-eyed when he said, “Bless you for being an obstinate friend…”

“Shush,” I cut him, “now, once I’m free from this rope, I’ll slip the knife to you. Try to be as discreet as possible.” I was about to start cutting when we heard two voices arguing nearby. As if on cue, both of us pretended to be unconscious. I cursed under my breath since Plan A won’t work.

“I told you, Kevin, the best way to eat this little humans is to stew them!”

Apparently, they have not decided yet. That’s good enough.

“No, Don, my grandmama said we should deep-fry, and dip them with sauce!”

It was no easy feat hearing how you are going to be served for somebody’s dinner. I retracted my desire to even gulp in despair.

“Yeah right, and what did she die from? Heart attack? What a stupid way for a troll to die from! A greasy heart… urgh,” mocked the one called Don.

“But it was delicious enough to get by when there are no food around us,” replied Kevin. I can sense Dev was trying his best not to vomit at the idea that these trolls eat their own grandmother’s heart.

“Shut up! I wouldn’t want to imagine my heart being eaten by anyone, especially my own relatives!” Don argued.

“They have long been dead, and we’ve been hiding in the caves too long… scavenging for nothing but worms, spiders… or bats if we’re lucky,” said Kevin sadly, and most urgently he added, “that’s why we must make sure we cook these little things right! We might not have them for another century!”

“I am telling you for the last time! My Great Aunt Marge’s stew recipe is our best bet! Besides, we can save it for tomorrow’s breakfast and lunch!” Don insisted.

“All right,” Kevin obliged, “since we cannot just waste the meat… but now we need to pick up the pot, and you hid it somewhere deep within the cave for some bloody reason!”

Don grunted, “only for special occasion like this can you use my pot! It’s been in my family for generations! I won’t let you use it to cook those nasty insect soup of yours! Now, if you’d excuse me, I’m going to fetch it. You stay here and watch for the little humans. They might be awake soon. We need to cook them before dawn, or else…”

“Or else we’ll harden to rocks instead,” continued Kevin, “got it.”

With four huge steps, Don went back to search for the special pot in the cave. A distinct foul smell came from somewhere near the fire, and I immediately worked out that’s Kevin the troll. I was hesitating if we should remain in our cover, but then Dev beat me up to the idea. Now, I guess, we improvise.

“Hullo,” he greeted the troll, “d-down here!”

The troll looked somewhat surprised, “Little humans do talk! I thought they were just like bats without wings.”

I took a peep and saw the troll was edging closer to Dev. I took the chance to cut myself loose. Slowly, I eased the knife to the rope, praying hard that the troll won’t pick up any noise. Dev picked up his voice.

“I didn’t mean to pry, Mr. Troll,” he began, “but I seem to hear you and your friend debating how to best cook humans.”

“And very polite, too,” Kevin bellowed, “that is true, little human. Do you suppose you know better?”

“Oh, well,” Dev sighed as if he was truly disappointed, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Mr. Troll. But you can’t eat humans.”

At this, the troll snorted in disbelief and began to laugh out loud, “What do you mean? Trolls eat humans all the time!”

Dev inquired, “But how do you know that?”

The troll stopped laughing. To my disbelief, he wondered, “Well, at least from what I heard from the other trolls…”

“But have you ever tasted any of us?” Dev boldly asked. I managed to cut myself loose halfway.

“Well, no…,” Kevin hesitated, “but it’s a tradition! And so it must be kept! Trolls eat humans when they can find one.”

“Traditions change, Mr. Troll. Humans no longer hunt for trolls,” Dev continued, “Also, we don’t taste good, if anyone hasn’t told you that.”

“But of course you do!” the troll insisted.

“Again, how do you know?” Dev repeated his question.

The troll cleared his throat and replied, “well, yeah… at least that’s what I heard from my folks… I can’t be sure…”

Dev chuckled more assuredly, “We don’t taste good! Or else, why would we not eat each other? You guys do it all the time! We don’t because we taste bad! Simply repulsive to the tongue.”

The troll fell silent. Then he said, “Well, you’ve got a point…”

At this very moment, I really cannot thank God more for Dev’s sharp wit and gift of gab. But then I manage to release myself from the ropes. I bit back my urge to shout out praises and watchfully crawl to the nearby bushes to get to Dev on the other side.

“… but trolls don’t taste that good either,” Kevin rambled, “we just don’t have anything else to eat, and we can save up the food up to two weeks.”

“Then why don’t you just eat another troll?” Dev asked.

“You mean Don?” Kevin shuddered, “I couldn’t possibly! We only eat dying trolls as a rule. Such a waste to let the flesh rot… Speaking of which, what took him so long? I better…”

As the troll just about to get up and search for his friend, Dev blurted, “He’s probably trying to get the special cookbook too! Nasty little thing got stuck in between shelves sometimes.”

Silence fell. Really, Dev? After that whole us not being cannibals thing, really? I thought as I paused from crawling, looking pointedly at the troll.

“You’re probably right,” Kevin sat back, “tough luck with finding that one.”

As both Dev and I both sighed in relief, also hoping we don’t jinx the luck that has been with us so far, I hurried to his side and cut Dev’s binds from behind the bushes. Dev chatted up to the troll again.

“I must say, your friend Don probably had found the book. He’s probably out looking for hares now since he knew humans are unappetizing.”

Kevin gasped, “Nooo! He would not just leave me here!”

“But you said you were just hungry,” Dev added, “I bet he knew now humans are disgusting and went on the other side to catch as much hares as he can find. There’s a lot in the other side of the cave. We ate them, too. They’re delicious!”

“Really?” the troll said, unsure.

“Yeah, us kids need to have at least one to fill our tiny stomachs, ” Dev egged on, “you, Sir, must need at least five!”

Kevin the troll was considering all of this, then he turned to Dev and smugly said, “So, you’re suggesting me to help him?”

“Well, a good friend will always help, right?” Dev nervously chirped, sensing the troll’s suspicion. I was desperately loosening a few more loops.

“I am helping Don by keeping watch over you so we can eat you before sunlight!” he bellowed, “and also this other little one!”

As he was busy looking for me only to find nothing but ropes, I managed to cut Dev’s and pulled him to the bushes, and ran for our lives. We can hear the troll shriek and stomped its ways towards us, calling out to his friend that their dinner had escaped.

“I told you for the zillionth time, Kevin: do not play with your food!”

“I was just talking to it!”

“Even worse! Dinners shouldn’t be able to talk!”

“I know! That is why I can’t help it…”

We can still hear them arguing as we try our best to find our way back to camp, which we no longer know if that would help with anything. I’m not sure that the counselors are even equipped enough to face trolls, of all other things living in the woods. We might be leading them to a feast instead!

 

As the trolls were a good distance behind us, I decided to change courses, away from the camp entrance. Dev was too tired to protest, so I led on and told him we won’t be held responsible for giving the trolls a banquet. He agreed as we circled the woods a few rounds more. Our only hope is that dawn would come soon enough.

And so it did. The trolls were already running back to their cave by the river, but it was too late. Their bodies harden to solid rocks right before our eyes; it’s almost excruciating to watch something whom you talked to not a few hours ago, actually turn to stone. When we recalled it would be our bones left beside the river instead, a shiver ran down our spine, and we were then undoubtedly filled with gratitude.

Yet we did have a moment of silence for the trolls. Hopefully their spirits will rest peacefully, but mostly so that we will also be free of guilt for causing them the inconvenience of refusing to be their meal–their last supper, unexpectedly almost.

Dev and I are quite sure we’re not signing up to any camps next year.

The Princess and the Baron

Source: Hyperbole

“Tell me a story, Grandma,” she pleaded with her sleepy eyes.

“Okay,” I said, “what kind of story do you wanna hear about?”

“About a faraway lands,” her twin sister demanded, “of brave kings and queens and warriors slaying dragons!” I had no idea if it’s coincidence or simply genetic that their mother used to love those kinds of stories.

“No,” she said firmly, “we listened to those yesterday. It’s my turn to pick.” Apparently not. Just a matter of interests, I guess.

Her sister pouted a little, then relented, “all right. Let’s do the princess-y ones.” And of course, those are okay, too. They looked pointedly at me, which my cue to start.

“Alright then,” I began, “There was once a girl…” I saw my granddaughter’s eyes peered for confirmation that it is her story about princesses.

“A princess, yes,” I continued, “A crown princess, to be exact. Born in luxuries of a royalty; lavish gifts of beautiful dresses, gold and silver, and precious stones. And the best education one can get in the kingdom. She was raised to be a lady, and thus she became one. In the eyes of the royal court and the royal highnesses, she was the one deemed fit to lead the the country. But there was one problem, unfortunately.”

“What is it, Grandma?” she asked, “was there a dragon threatening to attack?”

“This isn’t a dragon story!” her twin sister exclaimed, “it’s because she hasn’t met her prince yet, right Grandma?”

“Well, you can put it that way,” I replied, “dragons were the least of the problem for the princess, fortunately. For her, it is the rule of the kingdom that every princesses need to be married to be a rightful leader of the lands. As such, the lords and ladies of the court put their best effort to introduce their sons to her, as much as the king and queen did not tire of set her to meet every eligible princes from the neighboring kingdoms.

“The princess, however, was overwhelmed and troubled as she felt her betrothal come to soon. Surely enough, she loved her kingdom and her people that she would be willing to assume her king’s throne and lead the country to prosperity and peace. But she was worried if she accept just anyone approved of by others but not by her, she would regret giving up love for life.

“One day, as if her concerns are heard, she came to the company of a young baron of the northern land after a court meeting. A farmer came, pleading to the king to have mercy on him as his hands were about to be cut off for unknowingly making harvest in the plot that wasn’t his landlord’s. His landlord ran off and took the money from the harvest, leaving the farmer and his wife to deal with the other landlord, who was furious and will stop at nothing until he saw bloodshed for so-called justice.

“The members of the court agreed to pursue the greedy landlord. Nevertheless, as they have never had to live in complete subordination and lack of information, all the court members also blamed the farmer, whom was deemed ignorant to the limits of the land belonging to his landlord. They asked the king to spare him off the violence, but then commanded the farmer to serve the other landlord for as long as he pleased as punishment for his negligence, without payment.

“The farmer thanked the mercy that the court bestowed upon him, but worry of his wife and two children’s well-being if they had barely any money to eat. Just as another lord of the court was about to reprimand him for his insolence, the young baron stepped in. As the conflict occurred in his part of the land, he humbly pleaded to the king for fairness of the settlement. Living under a corrupt authority, the farmer and his family’s life should not be put at stake, so he agreed to set the farmer free of the debt he shouldn’t have been burdened with on the first place. Furthermore, to stop any such events from happening again, he asked that a law should be passed to ensure the rights and responsibilities of landlords and their farmers.

“Such astuteness displayed by the young baron won the favor of the king. He set the farmer free and demanded his court to make a fair, legal treaty and enforce it immediately. Not only his wisdom, but also his compassion, touched the princess’ heart. And so, a friendship ensue between them, which then blossomed to marriage.”

The sisters yawned, and as one directly slipped of to dreamland, the other sleepily added, “Then, they live happily ever after. Like you and Grandpa, right, Grandma?”

I hummed accordingly, patting her head as she closed her eyes.

Certain that both girls are asleep, I can’t help but be truthful.

“No, not really, dear. In this world we live in, happy endings are merely exaggerated.”