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Short Story Competition Grand Prize Winner - The Eternal Repentance of Eluding Life

March, 2012
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            For the first time, the hum of the air purifier and the subdued ticking of my old bedside alarm clock do not soothe my nerves and rock me to sleep.

            I sit up. It catches me by surprise to know how blank one’s mind can be when it is pitch black. I stand up from the bed in one ghostly movement. I push my door open. It is reliable; it never creaks. I leave my bedroom, and my door locks behind me. I descend the marble staircase, my hand on the smooth mahogany handrail. I descend slowly. Right foot, left foot. Right foot, left. Steady. Steady. Steady. The dim night lights from the walls are a warm color. I see slivers of my own reflection in the golden picture frames on the walls as I pass them one by one. There is the girl with the long, black, wild hair. My face is powdery white in the shadows.

            The descent down to the basement is a long one, but I am patient. Sitting in our home theatre is the highlight of many of our friends’ visits to our home. The ceiling is the stars, constellations, nebulas; the endless night sky. The walls are soft amber, and soundproof, too. You have it all, they all say.

            I’ve read about it in books. Sensory deprivation is therapy until it’s prolonged; then your brain becomes confused and you begin to hallucinate. I wanted to try.

            As I step into the room, I guess I do have it all. The door shuts itself behind me. I thank it. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I realize that the glow-in-the-dark stars are brighter than I remember them to be. This will not do, I think. And so I make my way across the carpet, into the storage room. It is soulless; no one comes here, and the cricket that crawled in last year must still be here, dead by now. It no longer smells of fresh paint, for I made sure that the door was left open. It smells like nothingness. I smile into the darkness.

             I lie on the soft carpet, my face up towards the ceiling. It is all dark, all quiet, and I am ready to lose myself.

 

            I can feel myself melt into the darkness, and I have no body boundary. Fingers, toes, head are all gone; I can only feel the thumping of my heart. Soon that has faded too.

            A few minutes, hours, or perhaps many undisturbed nights later, I catch a whiff of salt and perhaps lotus, mixed with petrichor. Blue flashes in front of my eyes, and then yellow and green and neon pink. The sound of gongs rings in the far distance. A face appears. Then another face. One of them whispers next to my ear; it’s voice is smooth and glossy. Then it laughs – a loud, mocking laugh.

            I scramble to my feet, slap blindly at the wall and then I’m immersed in a blinding white light. I run out of the theatre. I can feel my heart; it’s pounding this time, and I can feel the blood rush through my veins, the oxygen through my lungs,

Pg 2

and I can hear the whirring of my brain. It’s all real this time. But then I ascend the stairs and I see the reflective gold picture frames and the Persian rug and then the narrow hallway and I’m not sure I’d rather have it real.

            I’m staring blankly at the steak on my plate that’s gone cold a while ago.

            “Eat it.” My father’s voice is stern.

            I don’t want to eat it. I keep my head down, my eyes on the steak, and I pick up my fork. I hack away at the steak, feeling slightly sorry for myself, but more so for the pig. I wonder if pigs cry. I peer through my hair at the table next to us. A boy no older than six is dressed to the nines in a tuxedo. He sits with his back so stiff and straight I have to resist the urge to reach over and poke him to see if there was a wooden board stuck to him. My mother hisses at me, “Don’t stare!” I go back to cutting my steak.

 

            It’s a beautiful day outside. The sun shines in my eyes the entire car ride home. I look out the window at the trees flying by. Same trees, whoosh, whoosh. Then these trees turn into houses, – pretty houses, - one next to another, all cramped up and forced to expand upwards. How do people stand living in those, I think. Then I realize I live in one.

            I catch bits of my parents’ conversation, something about “it’s about time” and “she doesn’t have to work anymore” and new houses, new husband, new money.

            “Honey, what did you think about the wedding?”

            I am pulled from my thoughts. She’s talking to me.

            “It was good,” I say, “it was good.”

            Tonight I tell Mother I’m be going to bed early. I place my Minnie Mouse stuffed animal under my covers, and descend to the basement.

            It’s odd because I hear the wind rush past me but I don’t feel anything. Something silky brushes the side of my face. I see silver-white out of the corner of my eyes. They must be wings: angel wings. But then the air seems to change and it makes me very uncomfortable. There’s a presence in the room. I wave my arms around but of course, there’s nothing there. It’s still in here, though, and I feel it moving. Time seems to have stopped, and I am suddenly reminded of a novel I read in elementary school. I feel as if I can use my consciousness to prod at the presence, to dissect it, and to reveal its identity. There are little crevices in the air, and like using the subtle knife, I can cut through the sinews of this presence.

 

Pg 3           

            I am disrupted by a shrill voice. I think Mother’s calling my name. And school. Oh, school, I think. I turn on the lights, and see the lithe body of a spider dancing across the floor, its movements as smooth as silk.

            Being with friends has always seemed to cheer me up. It is Monday and I turn around in psychology class to wave hello to my friend. She does not look up. I continue waving half-heartedly, and the girl next to her gives me a derisive look. I turn back in my seat. Next time I’m asked what skills I have, I think I’ll reply with “making strangers”.

             

            Time flies and then it’s afternoon. Ryan James is at my door and I am in his arms and he whispers in my ear, “I love you.”

            My mind is blank. I am in the eye of a hurricane and I say, “Don’t.”

 

            Gossip at my school spreads like wildfire, and rumor has it that a boy is supposed to die today. Facebook proved it right, for the boy’s suicide note is all over the homepage, with all his acquaintances begging him not to do it.

            “Did you hear?” a classmate asks me with wide eyes as we waited in line in the stuffy and noisy lunchroom, “they can’t find him.”

            “Yeah,” I reply, “But he’s not going to do it.” Not if he tells the world his intentions before his body is found, I added in my head; not with all that fishing for love.

            And then tomorrow comes.

            “Did you hear?” another classmate asks me with a crooked smile, “he came home!”

            “Yeah,” I mutter.

            “Are you okay? Why the long face?”

            I am surprised. I didn’t know I was wearing an unhappy expression. “I’m fine.”

            But I’m not sure if I am; I’m really not sure.

            For the next 18 hours, I am “at a friend’s house for a sleepover.” I lock the door to our home theatre and hear the stifled clank of the keys dropped into my pants pocket. It is so dark and peaceful; I am numb and I am falling, falling, falling.

 

Pg 4

            I discover that the presence I felt last time is a presence of evil. It comes with Mother and Father and Ryan James and the spider on the ground all towering over me, all smiling. But I can feel their hidden condescending sneer. Their faces get closer and bigger and it looks like they’re going to burst. Then there is white, a small white oval that turns into a crow’s eye and the crow with sleek black plumage flaps its wings, sweeps through it all, destroying it, and I am relieved.

 

            When I leave the room, it is dawn but I was not aware that so much time had passed. Outside the protection of the soundproofed walls, the sounds of the house fill my ears and my head begins to throb terribly. In a haze, I leave the house.

            I remember, during the period of time I had a roof fetish, as many friends called it, finding a way up here.

            It is beautiful. The wind still tastes like the night. It whips my hair around my waist. The blood-orange sun is rising quickly. I am at the edge and there are no ant-sized police cars, no wailing sirens, no crowds of spectators unlike in the movies and books. It’s real, and the little voice I hear singing fly, fly, fly, is real.

            I guess I really do have it all, I think. I smile into the air, into the sky.

            I fly.

            And for a few moments, I am flying. There is a roar in my ears that’s the air and I think my eardrums are going to erupt but it is cleansing my soul; I can feel the purity circulating through my lungs, over and over again. But then I am tumbling down, falling, not flying, but falling too fast for me to see what’s going on. Life flashes in front of me: four years old, eight years old, twelve years old, fourteen, sixteen, eighteen; rolling hills, daffodils, eggplant sandwiches, tears, wrinkled hands, shouting, joy, first kisses, boredom, tiredness, then all grey, all grey. I see a face and it’s Mother’s face and it’s all twisted and crying and I’m trying to spread my wings but I’m falling too fast and they’re shredded into bits that flutter while I fall and all I’m left with are bloody stumps. Someone’s sobbing, “you had it all” and I nod and nod in my head but it was all what-could-have-been and then it’s all dark. All dark. 

 

BY Kimberly Liu,

International School of Beijing

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