Say that a hen is constantly being chase by a rooster.
What do you think the hen is thinking?
Garry ran his fingers over the row of books and picked out a random volume. He sucked in a deep breath and blew at the dusty surface, releasing a wave of dancing silver particles into the phony sunlight that cascaded through the empty windowsill.
There was no title – scratched out, but that didn’t really matter.
He cracked the text open, eyes squinting to read in the dark room. The scrawled writings told the story about a pair of lovers whom was faced with opposition from the whole world. So they yearned for another world. A dangerous world that they believed would accept their union.
How silly. They were only running away.
As he read, Garry noted the difficult words, acting on a habit formed long ago. But then…it was a habit that was no longer needed.
He looked to his side, where once upon a time a small figure always stood, and his chest twisted in guilt. He remembered the way her wine-colored eyes had gazed up at him in patient wonderment, waiting for his answer. And when he regarded her with a smile, she’d snap her head down, hoping her short bangs would hide her emotion from him.
Now there was no one stood next to him. And though the young girl had been as silent as doll, the difference marked by her absence was unmistakable. There was a void empty enough to swallow him whole.
Garry closed the book and shelved it. Just who was the author of these stories he kept finding around the gallery anyway?
He walked to the window to peer outside, scanning the messy lines of crayons that made up the ‘world.’ His eyes followed the solid stroke of deep pink leading from the door of this house to the horizon afar. Along the way, spiky tulips bloomed from squiggly patches of grass, taking on colors that would put a rainbow to shame. Comically polluted puffs of smoke could be seen rising from the only chimney in town, announcing the approaching end of another ‘day.’
As Garry stood watching the quiet scenery, he was about to address the sinking feeling in his stomach when he spotted her. His smile returned. Underneath the swirls of green that denoted wide vaults of leaves, the little girl of red was wandering, no doubt with vigilant eyes, trying to spot any clue that might be of help to her search.
It didn’t seem like she’d noticed him yet, that red skirt of hers swaying as she spun around, reacting to some sound she’d heard. He leant against the windowsill to contain the adrenaline that was already starting to circulate in his veins.
Hurry up and find me already.
Just like before, when he’d been incapacitated, lying on the cold floor. In the face of an excruciating pain, he wished for death. But it never came. Instead, he awoke with renewed strength, and watching over him were the most hauntingly beautiful pair of eyes.
Ever since that meeting, he’d followed her around like a newborn chick that blindly imprinted on the wrong mother. It wasn’t mere tit for tat that he’d sworn to protect her.
So how had this happen?
Oh, she saw him.
Garry climbed out through the window just as she started down the pink road towards him. He could hear the patter of her Mary Janes before he took off, away from her.
The burn of fatigue was setting in too quickly, and he needed a vase. Garry had to admit he lacked exercise. To his defense, living as a poor college student meant that any attempt to burn away precious calories was a sin in itself. Hunger was one of the few things he didn’t miss from the real world. When he’d first realized that he hadn’t needed food for a while, he was almost glad he wouldn’t have to die from starvation.
Of course, there were so many other ways to die here…
Even now the feeling of her limp form still weighed down on his arms, heavy like shackles of pure lead. As the petals of blood had scattered like autumn leaves, he’d held her close, hot tears slurring his call of her name. Garry never knew a human body could be so cold, and when that very human’s hand had been so warm in his own just moments before, it was a horrifying contrast for his mind to make sense of.
He still remembered the pain that nearly ripped his sanity apart when his rose had been in the bruising clutch of the blue lady. That was what she’d gone through in his arm as he knelt, powerless to help, before she was finally granted peace.
Why couldn’t she have let him save her?
He could have saved her.
Garry jolted awake to a dull stab of hurt in his arm. He was sitting against the wall next to the table where Eternal Blessing stood, and kneeling next to him was…
“Ah, Ib, you found me!” he put on a smile.
In response, her hold tightened around his elbow, and he could feel blunt fingernails digging into him through his thin coat. She wore a blank expression, but her eyes— Ah, they spoke volumes of her displeasure. He grew more nervous with each passing second that she stayed silent, simply looking at him. His dry throat was begging for a swallow, but under the pressure radiating from those angry, blood-red orbs, he knew better than to move.
So he stayed still as the figurative clock kept on ticking.
Finally, her lips parted. Garry held his breath and waited for that first word to be sounded.
“Garry,” his heart skipped a beat as a chill scuttled down his back. The little girl released her harsh grip and looked down to his hand, her fingers lacing with his. “You keep disappearing.”
The worry in his chest subsided, and the smile on his face became more natural. He longed to hear her voice, even if the tone was a little off.
“I was lonely, Garry. It was really scary by myself.”
“I’m sorry.” He dared to raise his free hand to her cheek and made a little stroke down her satin-like skin, glossing over the coldness at his fingertips. “My, this place is such a confusing mess that I keep getting lost. Thanks for always looking for me.”
He was lying through his teeth, but let’s be fair, they both were shameless liars.
She was impassive towards his touch— or so he’d thought before her fingers untangled from his and shot up, seizing the offending hand. It startled him, but he didn’t have the chance to mull over the surprise. Her grip was strong, her nails on his knuckles, plunging into his skin and bones. His smile was slipping, but Garry tried to keep it up. For her.
The girl stared back at him with watchful orbs as though scrutinizing the sincerity of his expression. Swallowing back a whimper, he allowed his joints to relax in her grasp.
The clock was still ticking.
She leant into his hand and closed her eyes. Her breathing was slow as she pressed her lips into the sole of his sweaty palm. For a moment, she seemed so vulnerable that it was nostalgic. And he would have pulled her into an embrace if not for her crushing grip reminding him how untrue that notion was.
The rhythm of his heart quickened as her other hand circled his wrist. She took a deep breath before reopening her eyes.
“What do I do, Garry?”
Her eyes were down, her fingers curled, slowly etching red lines down the length of his pulse. He tightened his jaw to contain a grunt.
“How do I get you to stay still?”
“It’s dangerous to walk around. You’ll get hurt.”
She traced her lips along his palm.
“I just want to protect you, Garry.”
She pushed his thumb between her teeth and bit down. Hard. Garry bolted up straight with a surprised gasp. “I-Ib!” He pleaded but received no mercy. The girl never relented, and as the pain sank in and numbed all other decision-making brain cells, he only wanted out.
With a desperate yank, there was an audible clack as he managed to free the digit from the sharp vice. Garry was almost hyperventilating as he studied the damage. The flesh was dented and bloody, everything from the joint to the root of his nail was completely maimed from the abrupt escape. This time he could no longer hold back a pitiful whimper. The rims of his eyes were starting to burn.
“Garry, does it hurt?” she reached for his injured hand, but he jerked it away from her, his most primal instincts were screaming for him to flee.
“Y-yes, it d-oes,” his voice cracked. No more of this. He’d been a fool to have thought he could get use to this.
“I’m sorry. But Ma always says ‘you don’t learn unless you’re punished.'” She tugged at the hem of his shirt to gain his attention. “Don’t be mad at me, please Garry?” She smiled an innocent smile. It was Ib’s smile.
Unfair. This was foul play.
Even though his thumb was on fire, and the raging pain only wished for him to retaliate, he couldn’t muster the heart to even get mad. How could he ever? Not with her. “No, honey, I’m not.” He patted her head with a shaky hand, half-fearing that this one might be subjected to the same abuse. “Don’t worry,” he said, more to himself than her.
The hurt was growing duller, to his relief. He stole a glance at his thumb and…it was healing, the bloody flesh fixing itself with a strange rippling effect to it. Even his wrist, where there should’ve been swollen scratches, was now unblemished.
His shoulders sagged in relief. He’d forgotten, but how fortunate that his rose had been standing in Eternal Blessing all along. Garry breathed out a sigh and returned his gaze to Ib, who was looking up at the turquoise vase perched atop the table as though she’d just realized its presence. The girl started to climb over his lap to get to the vase.
“Hey Ib,” he held her back and turned her to him. Before she could speak a word, he leant forward and placed a quick kiss on her cheek.
She visibly flushed, hand springing up to cover the place where his lips has landed. Her reaction put a little smirk on his face. No matter how twisted, she was still his Ib.
“I’ve learnt my mistake, Ib. So, don’t be mad at me anymore? Pretty please?” he tilted his head.
She hesitated, then nodded.
“Aw, thanks.” Garry pulled her into a hug, and she returned it in kind, if not more aggressive. As he rubbed her back and snuggled into the crook of her neck, he felt he just had to say “…I love you, Ib.”
“Are you tired, Ib?”
“Here, I’ll lend you my lap.”
“Sleep tight. I promise I won’t go anywhere.”
So Garry was a liar.
He promised to protect her, but she died.
He promised her he’d leave with Mary, but here he was.
But the funny thing was that…she’d always believed in him. Even now she still did.
Garry took off his jacket and draped it over her petite sleeping form. The girl was cold as ice and probably didn’t need tending to, but he’d like to think his gesture made a difference.
He retrieved his blue rose with a heavy heart, leaving behind a lonely, wilted stem, so small compared to his own, inside the turquoise vase. If only this had been near… Then, just maybe…
Even though it was mere wishful thinking, there was no one to stop him from dreaming.
Garry pocketed his rose and looked around for something that could tell him how long he’d been in this corridor. Granted, time itself was nonexistent in this world, but Garry had noticed a certain interval at which the gallery seemed to…’churn,’ rearranging all of its festering intestines to create the maze anew.
He was a coward. A chicken some might say. Always on the run.
But at least for the time being, he wasn’t running to get away.
And so, with silent steps, he left the area in hope that she would once again find him.
The young man stumbles upon a fork in the road, and he knows what is waiting for him at the end of one of those ink-shrouded paths. A bed of silk, a cradle of dreams and a casket of eternity. Somewhere, his beloved is lying in peaceful slumber. The moment he sees her will be the moment the illusions will shatter like glass.
Because he can’t afford to choose wrongly, he doesn’t choose at all.
The young man turns around and leaves.
He’d never disturb her rest. Not until the day he can finally bring himself to face with the truth.
Oh, but since time is frozen still in this world, I guess that day will never come.
(Excerpts from ■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■)
- I am uncomfortable with how I kept using the word ‘hand.’
- It was a little hard trying to figure out how Ib’s silent nature can be twisted without completely losing the original personality
- In my country we have a joke about how a rooster is chasing a hen, posing the question about what the hen may be thinking. The answer is “Am I running too fast?” It pokes fun at our culture where the girl is supposed to sit and wait for the guy to make the move when she prolly also wants his advances. I used it a little out of context, but I thought it still fit…