The story that came too late

Sadness pulled his arms around me and held me close. In the close comfort of grief, I could cry.I could weep and it was justified because I was literally enveloped in Sadness. Sadness waited until the hiccups were gone, until my eyes had run bloodshot and the tears had saturated all the tissue paper I had to spare. It was a strange feeling relishing the sheer volume of tears that I wept and the way my body actually responded to Sadness.

“Are we done with this now?” Reason tapped my shoulder, exhausted from the ordeal and requesting on behalf of the rest of my body and life that I stop stringing my high-strung brain even further. Reason does not understand why I’m sitting here weeping, and why this weeping has to happen. It must be allowed to continue, tissue paper or otherwise. He tapped my shoulder in an attempt to get me to my senses.

“Go. Away. Please.”

“I’ll leave you two to it, then,” said Reason, unable to hide the disgust and left to make my excuses to the rest of the world.

When I woke up the next day, I was cold and without the comfort of Sadness. Perhaps it was a good thing he wasn’t here, and I could tell that Reason was very glad to see him go. I used to ask Reason why and he would always say that he could get across to me only when Sadness was not around.

“Um, so what’s her condition?” I asked of the patient upstairs.

“I don’t know. Someone asked me to leave.” By someone I knew Reason meant me and when he was not on his best behavior, I could tell that I had done something wrong. Something that went against Reason.

“I would have checked in on her if she wanted me anywhere near her”, muttered Reason. He wanted to be helpful. He wanted to show that he could genuinely care, if caring was within reason. But she didn’t want him anywhere near her and she was adamant, even on her possible death-bed, about enforce this restriction. “Reason has nothing to do with this,” she screeched. The rest of us were too intimidated by her to argue otherwise.

I walked into the patient’s room, bracing myself for the storm that was to follow, rehearsing every single line I had thought of to her face and an enumeration of the ways I could convey it to her.

“You’ve been crying last night,” she said.

“I have…”

“Sadness does have comfortable shoulders, doesn’t he?”

“He does…”

“You don’t seem too affected by his presence though.”

“I’m not. For once in my life, I genuinely don’t regret crying.”

“It’s a sign that you’re still alive.”

It’s also why he left me cold in the morning. What can I possibly say to this fragile creature who was withering away before my very eyes, letting go of life finger by finger and taking her time to slide gracefully to death?

“Bet Reason must have been beyond confused.”

“He was. He wanted to talk to you about some things, which he feels might make you better.”

“Poor Reason. Trying to be useful all the time.”

“He’s only trying to help you. You should listen to him.”

“I never listen to reason. It’s in my nature. You, of all people, should know that.”

“I am acutely aware of that.”

“Will you miss me when I’m gone?”

“I don’t know. I suppose if Sadness is around, I might.”

“Otherwise?”

“There’s always Reason.”

“You don’t listen to him as often as you should.”

I was not going to tolerate shrewd observations from her once wild, tumultuous and untamed form. “Maybe if you had, things would not have come to this.”

“Maybe.”

“……There’s something I have to tell you.”

“What?”

“I’m scared of what will happen if you go away and never come back.” Is this what all the trepidation had fallen to? The words sounded like an anticlimax in my own ears.

“You mean when I die? Don’t worry, it’s only natural.”

“Is it though? Sadness never seems to die.”

“Yeah, but that’s what makes him old and immortal and weird. Rebirth is how I keep my skin glowing.”

“Shallow.”

“But true nonetheless. You could say I have an affliction like Reason does. We have to feel useful. We have to feel like we’re driving our goals to an end.”

“….Why can’t the endings be happy?” The tears were about to come back and she nearly hissed at me.

“For God’s sake, I love you and I wanted to talk to you and not Sadness. Don’t you dare invite his creepy form in here.”

“I thought you liked him. As in, you enjoyed his company. Or his shoulders. Or something.” I started to wipe the tears that hadn’t yet fallen.

“Sometimes. Now is not one of those times.”

In all of this conversation, she had been growing increasingly pale and I suddenly realized that if she grew any paler, she would have merged into the background and that would have been almost as good as dying on me.

“Um. So. You’ve wasted all of my time arguing with me. I’m about to go now.”

“Please don’t,” I said, desperately clutching her hand, keenly aware of the shadow of Sadness that waited just outside the door, waiting for me to explode into his arms again.

“It has to be done,” she said with a finality that left me hollow.

“Will you never ever come back? Please? Not even for Reason’s sake?”

But she had gone. She had left me without answering the question and I did not know how to interpret her permanent silence. I reeled for a while knowing that she hadn’t answered. Did she mean yes? Did that mean that she would truly abandon me?

Reason was the first one to come to me when I left the room, but Sadness was waiting behind him, almost respectfully. I wanted to show Reason how much Sadness respected his presence, how humble he was in the presence of Reason, but I knew that Reason would not listen to me as much as I didn’t listen to him.

“Love has died, hasn’t she?”

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The dream that left me behind

I knew I was almost at the end of my dream.

Almost. I’ve been in this dream and it’s variations so many times before, that I can tell that it’s ending, where the part about his history is revealed, where the promises are finally broken and where all hopes slowly die out. He would now start the fight, make those awkward statements and we would slowly begin accelerating towards a definite end.

Most of the ends would be sad, as the Weaver knew that the user’s runtime was nearing it’s end. Like every other common dream addict, I would wake up, frustrated and hungry for more, log in my required hours of dreamtime and sink into another misleading, beguiling fantasy. That’s the problem with addicts. We love to be lied to.

We are completely disconnected from reality, at least until the cruel Weaver counts down every millisecond unto the ending of the dreamtime. But then again, the Weaver is benign enough to let us refill our hours, so I probably shouldn’t complain.

I’ve dreamed many times, so many times that I think there’s a special circuit somewhere in the Weaver that saves runtime logs and dream-theme variations just for me. I can tell when the Weaver is being creative, or when it’s just borrowing another cliché.

Though, if it’s a question of creativity, I can’t claim much for myself either. Whatever the story is, whoever the background characters are, it’ll always be about him. He and I will prevail. Just the two of us.

The Weaver keeps me trapped in an electronic vortex of recycled emotions. A cycle that ends only until dreamtime runs out.

Different people deal with their first Weaver experience differently. The Weaver creates beautiful, credible, charming fantasies, which start off as mundane. By the time the story peaks, the viewer is completely in the Weaver’s reality. Before the viewer knows it, situations begin to go downhill, and soon enough, the viewer is rudely interrupted to ask for more dreamtime hours. A person can either be devastated by the end and never return again, or hold on to the illusion of further happiness and refill their hours. That’s how it works.

I don’t remember the last time I woke up for dreamtime hours. Could have been hours ago, or years. I don’t know. I don’t care. As long as the Weaver can serve my emotional needs, I will always be here. As a matter of fact, I don’t even know which dream I’m in. I’m a terminal addict, one step away from being the last stop before absolute assimilation. That’s probably when there’s no hope left for me at all.

But this dream is not like the others. I don’t know if the Weaver is malfunctioning or if I’m cascading into the last stage. Earlier I used to write down my dreams to get over my obsession. Today I write to record an anomaly.

I know I’m at the end of my dream. I can sense it. The fights have already started; the fairytale is slowly starting to show some cracks – all symptoms of the last stage of normal execution.

Usually, what would happen now is that things would get worse. Except that’s not happening this time.

We fought once last week, we argued about our relative differences yesterday morning. The veteran that I am, I know that this is the stage where I would completely be apathetic to his whims, remind myself that he was only an illusion, and that my dreamtime hours would be ending soon and just wait for the Weaver to finish the formalities before I woke up again.

However, this time, the awkward moments are being unusually spaced out. The disagreements are a lot less frequent. And that worries me.

According to prior experiences, we should have been angry this morning, continued on about yesterday’s issue, defended our stances to the effect where the rebuttals would get personal, and then started heaping insults at each other, till we knew that our relationship had shattered into many irretrievable pieces. That’s how it has been for all this time. That’s how it’s always supposed to happen.

In this dream, this morning, he showed immense reserves of maturity and forgiveness. We talked over what happened yesterday, he was patient, I understood what was expected of me, we soon arrived at a mutually agreeable solution and our relationship was just as strong as ever.

The surprising part is, that this is not the first time this has happened. After the second time or so, when this happened, I was telling myself that the Weaver was probably meandering around, trying to get a jaded viewer like me believe it’s immaculate lies.

No, no. This is the ninth time. The ninth time, the cracks in our relationship have shown and still, the Weaver hasn’t come to the part where it disintegrates completely. Usually, the dream would end after the third. At most, I have experienced four such incidents before the dreamtime runs out. But this has been the ninth instance and my wake-up call is extremely late.

I can somehow see through the Weaver’s pretense. Apparently, every relationship gets stronger with greater number of issues sorted out between them. I was completely numb the first three times, the fourth time made me want to laugh at the Weaver for its ingenuity. By the sixth time, I was beginning to grow fond of him. By the seventh I was truly attached. By the eighth, I was able to feel those emotions that every new viewer feels about the dream experience. I felt young again, and in my own way, I wanted to thank the Weaver for bringing out that part of me which I thought had died.

But the ninth time? By the ninth time, I am worried. I am scared. Either the Weaver has concocted some twisted torture for me towards the end or a cascade failure is in progress. I want to remember this dream, but then again I want the complete comfort of my fantasies.

I don’t know if this dream will let me hold onto him.  Though, some part of my mind, despite all these years of conditioning, is ignoring that, and holding on to him for real. I know it’s going to end.

Maybe, just maybe, this time, we will be together for real? The Weaver has never crafted such dreams before. So maybe this is not a dream?

It is so absurd to even suggest something so beautiful could be real…. and I mean really real, not just Weaver real.

I guess the more time I spent musing about this malfunction, the more dreamtime milliseconds I waste. Well, I paid for this, so I might as well enjoy it…

Personally, I hope the Weaver has crashed. If, after all these years of lies, I can finally sense the truth, then the Weaver’s circuits have truly evolved into something worthwhile.

But then again, if the Weaver has crashed, then how will I ever get to experience the pure joy of initiating another dream? How will I even wake up?

I don’t want to forget. I don’t. But I want to wake up. It’s just a question of time before I decide or more accurately, it’s just a question of dreamtime…

Nightmare diaries: Awake

I woke up to the sound of Kenny’s whisper.  She seemed to have been calling me for quite a while.

“Finally, you’re awake,” she said, sounding more frustrated than usual.

I suppressed a groan. I thought I had earned the right to sleep after nearly forty eight hours. Just when I was about to doze off to a deep, peaceful slumber, Kenny comes along and ruins it all. I can’t imagine what she wants from me now.

“Go away, Kenny. It’s late and I’m tired.”

I was angrily shushed in loud whispers for apparently rousing the rest of humanity with my question. I was beginning to grow resentful. Not only did she not let me sleep, she didn’t even let me ask why I was so brutally deprived of it.

I stared around at the darkness, trying to get my eyes used to the idea that there might just be a light, around here, somewhere. I fidgeted around my bed, trying to reach out for the switch to my bedside lamp. Kenny’s cold hand firmly grasped my wrist and she didn’t let me switch the light on.

“Kenny, what? I don’t want to go anywhere today. What….what are you even doing here?!”

“Shut up!”

I must have been really groggy to let Kenny get her way with me for this one. Too tired to ask any questions, I was about to sink back into my warm bed, when Kenny put her cold lips to my ear and said, “I know you’re tired. Just stay awake for a while more. Just for a little bit more.”

“Why? For what?” I asked, shrugging her cold, annoying grasp off me.

“Stay awake and you’ll find out.”

I decided then that I was about to curl back to sleep, feeling more annoyed with Kenny than ever. I was too tired to deal with her new mysterious demeanor.

“I don’t want to find out.” 

She held my cheeks in her cold hands. I still remember the fleeting impression I had of her fingers when she touched my face. It felt like frost growing on my skin, numbing my face. Kenny had always that effect on me.

“Listen to me,” she whispered, suddenly gentle. “I know it’s hard, but don’t sleep just yet. In a few minutes, let the nightmares will come by. You can sleep peacefully after they’ve gone. I promise.”

“Wha…? What nightmares?”

“Not just nightmares. Night-mares,” she said, carefully pronouncing each word separately to make a clear distinction, which I didn’t understand at all. I didn’t need to be protected from bad dreams.

Kenny waited for something.  In the distance, there was a growing sound of the clatter of galloping hooves. I was sure that whatever Kenny was referring to had arrived.

The rhythmic sound seemed to grow increasingly louder, until after a while I thought the entire house shook in resonance of those apparently powerful hooves. Things on the shelf began to rattle, the window panes quivered and I was a little too painfully aware of the dull crashing sounds coming from the kitchen — cutlery, no doubt — and the slow clouds of dust that seemed to be appearing from every corner of the house I had been too lazy to clean in all this time.

 The sound of this stampede succeeded in waking me up, and for a while, I was glad that Kenny was there. Though I didn’t want to openly admit that to her. What if I had gone completely to sleep, and not managed to wake up, when this pseudo-earthquake rocked the house? I clung to the edge of my bed tightly, marveling at this phenomenon.

Then, finally, all was still and quiet again. Kenny laughed softly, disrupting the silence.

“Well, they’ve gone, for tonight. They were much softer than I had expected.”

I was too shaken, almost literally, by what I had just witnessed. “Wait. What? What just happened? I mean, here you are in the middle of the night, waking me up to watch an earthquake?!”

“Night-mares,” she said, sounding smug. That word again. Night. Mares. Not just plain simple nightmares.

“You should be grateful to me. I saved you.”

“From a bunch of horses?”

“From Night-mares. They aren’t just ordinary horses. They’re looking for riders.”

Right. Bad dreams needed riders. Got that……somewhere in my head, at least.

“And this involves me how?”

” They choose the innocent slumbering people as their riders, and then lead them on to the world of all that is twisted and disturbing. If I had let you sleep, you would be hurtling into the abyss of your own subconscious, led on by a creature that feeds off your imagination.”

My sleep was returning to me now, and my eyes were almost closed. I vaguely registered parasite and dream somewhere in my head. My head, strangely enough, was beginning to throb. I really needed to sleep now.

“Can I please go to sleep now?”

Kenny laughed her soft, musical laugh again. I was too stupefied to register any sensible emotion.

“Yes, you can sleep now. Your dreams will now be yours to keep,” she said, gently caressing my face with those fingers.

I snuggled back into my blankets without further encouragement. What was all this? My puzzled brain kept asking itself. There was a mish-mash of coherent thoughts in reply. Big horses. Dreams. Cold. Kenny….

Wait. Kenny.

“Hmmph,” I struggled to say, before Kenny left, “how did you even get in the house?”

More musical laughter. More of the implied smugness. Some corner of my tired mind was feeling increasingly stupid.

“Who d’you think has been watching over you all these nights?” She asked.  She claims to be sneaking into my house everyday. Voyeurism. Or burglary, whichever way you wanted to look at it. My eyes were giving up. “Goodnight Kenny,” I said, and then willed my mouth with whatever feeble control I had left to keep it shut before I said something random, impolite and that would evidently reflect my sleep-deprived state.

As my head touched the pillow, I vaguely registered that Kenny’s goodbye was drowned out by the howling of the wolves.

Guilt

Thinker Raven had a very curious problem for the first time in all her life.

As a Public Philosopher, her job had been a relatively sedentary one. Through the Network, she was able to sense everyone’s feelings and emotions. And as such, her primary task was to maintain emotional equilibrium amongst all the citizens.  It was true that all the people who were connected to the Network had no emotional privacy. All their feelings were known and shared by everyone else who was on the Network. In fact, most of the citizens, and even many other Public Philosophers believed that the Network was the only reason there was no crime, malice, rumor or gossip, or even secrets among the citizens.

So, it was indeed a surprise to Thinker Raven, when the first corpse was found.

After almost centuries of no homicide or crime, the surprise was so astounding that Thinker Raven had to meditate in silence for sustained periods in order to restore equilibrium to the other citizens. Those who were rapidly alarmed, or shocked by the trauma, or disgusted, or frightened, immediately reached out for help on the Network, and the Public Philosophers were almost over-taxed in trying to restore calm and peace to everyone.  It took several hours of propagating calming thoughts and soothing emotions over the Network in order to reduce the mass panic. For someone so young, Thinker Raven seemed to have the remarkable mental stamina to work with the other Philosophers to end the crisis.

Thinker Raven and all the other public philosophers assumed it was a freak occurrence and tried to help the public mentally justify it by claiming that it was random;  it was probably a physical accident; it wasn’t anything worth being curious about and so on. Even though the Philosophers got away with it the first time, they could sense via the Network, that people were feeling impatient, unsatisfied, and the more fragile members were slowly being accustomed to the horror of death.

In the Network, unless someone was a sociopath, schizophrenic or some other serious mental illness, it was hard to discern the individual identities of the citizenry.

While on the outside, the Philosophers maintained a blind eye of calm resolve; internally, a few of them were restless.

They scanned every memory, every thought, every sensation to locate the deceased and tried to find out who, what or why could have killed that person. This was a task undertaken by only some of the Philosophers, especially those with the talent of compartmentalizing their thoughts from the rest of the citizenry, so that the images of blood and gore would not spill to the rest of the Network and serve as an incentive for further violent acts. Even then, these select Philosophers promised to undergo some form of a purge to remove the images and memories of death, before they were united back with the mainstream.

Thinker Raven was never tasked with such a problem as she faced now.

Depression, mania, obsessions and abnormal psychological or social behavior was dealt with swiftly by the combined brainwashing of several Philosophers. Nobody on the Network could harbor a motive and get away with it. And yet, a homicide had happened. For the first time ever, the telepathic power of the Network had been abused. Raven was surprised that only so few of the Philosopher’s community felt so strongly about it to take it up as a personal venture of justice.

“Please tell me we have good news,” said Raven to Thinker Augustus, a comrade in this deed, falling back to vocal communication, in order to give her thoughts some rest.

“We managed to identify the deceased,” offered Thinker Augustus, his voice and the shrug of his shoulders conveying a sense of disappointment even a non-telepath should be able to read.

Given the enormity of locating one person among millions on the Network, Raven was impressed. She wanted to know more.

“It’s classified,” offered Augustus, unhelpfully. For reasons that were obvious to both, no doubt.

“Don’t think it to everyone.”

The likelihood that anybody would be eavesdropping was much lesser than the likelihood that someone was reading their mental exchange from a distance.

Tacitly, the two of them disconnected from the rest of the Network, knowing that they had only each other’s minds to themselves.

For a moment, each Thinker had to suppress the urge to probe the other mind in the conversation, knowing that it was a gesture of trust and courtesy that each had opened up their mind only to the other. Raven ignored the by-product memories that Augustus’s mental resolve inadvertently let through. She felt Augustus cringe with embarrassment as she realized that he was filtering out her memories and emotions the same way too. The intimacy of the moment felt a bit awkward, until they thought of the other Philosophers again.

It was Thinker Taylor. Raven remembered him during the council gatherings. He was a respected figure in The Network and amongst the Philosophers. If the Network found out that the person who had died was someone so venerated, the disturbance would destabilize the Network, and Philosophers could actually die from trying to forcefully brainwash the knowledge, the trauma, the misery from so many minds. Perhaps it was a good thing that the Philosophers had instituted some form of blanket control on the masses.

Raven asked Augustus if he had accessed Taylor’s memories. Augustus was instantly contrite. It was the mental equivalent of blushing. Of course not. It was not acceptable social behavior to access someone’s memories without prior permission. Raven began to use her instinct to hone into Taylor’s legacy, his ideas, his thoughts, his component within the Network, his function within the citizenry. Augustus tried to deflect her penetrating queries.

“Why are you stopping me from his memories?!” asked Raven, unable to control some of her frustration. This was no time for modesty. Homicide was a very real terror that cast over their beloved Network.

Augustus winced as he encountered some of Raven’s angry wash of emotion. He had already copied Taylor’s memories onto his own mind, forcing himself to undergo the sensations of every experience of Taylor himself, so that those memories became his memories.

Besides, those memories were locked away carefully, monitored by the other Philosophers. As a very primitive counter measure, the Philosophers had assumed that the guilty would be the first ones to access the memories of the deceased. Usually, when the Network received such a transit request to a null member, everyone in the community was alerted. Thinker Taylor had not yet been identified as null, but in the event that someone did Raven and her entire group would be exposed. The other Philosophers would not take kindly to covert activities. The Network was an open society. They did not support covert activities.

“Oh”, vocalized Thinker Raven, understanding the protective measures that Augustus had taken.

She hesitated a bit about accessing Augustus’ memories, unsure of how she would be able to differentiate between those that were relevant and those that were expressly private. Augustus shrugged off the awkwardness brought on by such chance intimacy and then released specifically those memories that belonged to Taylor. Given the penetrating telepath that Raven was, she couldn’t help brushing past some of Augustus’ memories, understanding the general tenor of some of his personal opinions. She was surprised to find herself resurfaced in some of them, especially in very complimentary terms. She internalized a slight sense of glee that he might have been thinking about her. She quietly suppressed it before Augustus detected the breach in his own defenses.

Thinker Taylor was indeed one of the first Thinkers to have conceptualized the Network. Raven and Augustus rushed past the sensations and memories of the creation of the fabric of their society. How easier it was to lie then, how much easier it was to kill, to steal, to be violent. Images of cruelty and violence passed by, staining their minds. Raven was sure that they would be discovered if they did not undergo some form of the purge once they were connected back to the Network.

But wait. Wait. Augustus paused their adventure. We have started from the middle.

Raven was a hesitant again, about taking the plunge. Thus far they had been accessing Taylor’s memories that were associated with the Network. But what about those that came before?

Augustus took her back to Taylor’s birth. Raven’s professional training of years and years of mental calm prevented her from getting as shocked as she should have been. Thinker Taylor had been born outside the Network.

A woman with long, comforting hair stood by the window. Her skirts were dirty, and there were stains of blood on it, but she smiled down at me and asked me to be good. 

There was a lot of noise outside. People were screaming and shouting. The woman had now moved away from the window and was coming to get me. The glass of the window shattered as someone punched through it. “Damned mind readers are here! They’re going to have us all!” 

“What should I do?” asked the woman of me. I just wanted to hold her skirts close to me and stay there in the comfort of her arms forever. 

A drunken brawl invaded the door. Again, noise and confusion, and there was even some blood. 

“I killed the bastards, ye hear!” said one of the big burly people entering the door. 

“I’m taking Taylor with me!” screamed the woman as she ran from the group, half in tears, half in rage. She stumbled over a miscellaneous collection of corpses. Some charred. Some deformed. But almost all were certainly dead. 

Fear. So much fear. And hate. There was so much confusion and angst.  How did Thinker Taylor suppress all of these memories before he joined the Network?

Raven’s mind was reeling at the sight of so much destruction and gore. Augustus rallied around his reserves of mental strength to support her. He must have been very strong during the transfer procedure then, to watch such horrible images all alone and not need the additional support of some calm.

“Augustus,” Raven, called out, her nerves frayed at those images, unable to continue to take any further mental stress. More images, more detail every time. Truly, if she was a Thinker who had to suppress all of these she would have died too.

“Augustus…” she called again, sensing her own helplessness.

“I’m here,” said Augustus. The sound of his calm, re-assuring voice brought back the reality of their being.  Raven was instinctively about to reach out to the Network for some tranquility to restore her own destabilized calm, to somehow clean herself of the memory of so much hate. Then, she remembered, this was covert. She would risk contaminating the entire Network if she reached out to them in this state.

She was alone. Forsaken by the beloved comfort of her Network.

But Augustus was still there. And he was buttressing her mental defenses with his own. Despite the fact that Raven had managed to penetrate his resolve, the strength of his support now made Raven realize that she could sense his thoughts only because Augustus let her.

“We can continue only if you’re ready,” said Augustus, sounding immensely warm and gentle.

Thinker Raven evaluated her prospects again. She could obviously hear it summarized from Thinker Augustus, and a passing probe would be enough to know whether he was fabricating any part of the story or not. But then, his entire evidence gathering effort would have been in vain. As a Public Philosopher, her first duty was service to the public. The other Philosophers might find some comfort in wrapping all this up under an accident, but Raven wanted a conclusive answer. For the sake of the people. Not just her curiosity.

Besides, she was immensely surprised to discover, that she enjoyed this communion with Augustus. And while he might have been shy about it, she wasn’t going to be. Might as well mask it under professionalism.

But Augustus had already embarked on the other journey as soon as he sensed she was ready.

“Taylor, what is this?” asked the old man sitting near me. It was the same man who had staggered in drunk, who had separated me from my mother, driven us out onto all those corpses. 

“You’ll soon find out, “I said, being mysterious. I knew the thing worked. Of course it would work, as soon as another mind was connected. And it was going to be him. 

“Do you want to try it?”

“Wha…?Who? Me?!”

My contraption quivered a bit ominously, as if knowing full well what was going to happen. Fueled by my mind and controlled by my memories, I could sense that it appeared dangerous. After all, why shouldn’t it?

“Yes. You,” I said. With one swift strike, I had him pinned to the floor, while I extended my machine’s other receptacle to him. He struggled and he struggled. I could see his doom in his own eyes. My reflection was all over his eyes. I was in control. In power. And once the receptacle was activated…

“Okay, so we know that Taylor is a power maniac,” said Raven, unable to suppress the waves of revulsion and disgust any longer. Augustus felt them and paused, confused and apologetic.

“I thought you wanted to experience Taylor’s memories by yourself?” he asked, a little scared at Raven’s crumbling strength.

She had always assumed that transferring memories was an easy process. No wonder it was forbidden by the Philosophers on the Network.

“Please…please summarize the entirety of his experience.” I’m not strong enough for this, realized Raven, feeling strangely humbled. Instantly, Augustus performed the mental equivalent of calming her down, surrounding her with positivity, relaxation and soothing thoughts. Raven let her gratitude engulf him.

Augustus vocalized the thoughts for their mutual benefit. This transfer of thoughts was getting a little too intense for both of them right now.

“Our home world was overrun with violence and pain before the Network was created.”

Yeah, I gathered as much, wondered Raven. But then she checked her impatience.

“I’m sorry I have to preface the cause of death with so many publicly known facts.”

“Just…just…”

“The Network was originally created to mentally condition and coerce people. To force them into submission.”

Beg. And Die. 

The force of power, the intoxication, the sheer control. Augustus couldn’t hold them back. And Raven was dragged along with him in the roller coaster ride. The Network, it’s powerful conditioning, it’s massive force binding the fabric of society together. The Network. Peace. Harmony. Forced Harmony.

“This….man……died of………”

Guilt. He died of forcing so many people to conform to his mind. He died because all those memories that he had repressed within the Network were being forced back into him. Taylor may have joined the Network. But he couldn’t purge his feelings from it. His need for power, authority, control came back to him in a feedback loop and the Network decided to kill him for it’s own sake.

“Augustus! You know what this means?”

Was the very thing that they were trying so hard to sustain capable of killing them?

“….that the Network can kill us?”

Raven did not know how the purge was going to clean that off her memory. Nor did Augustus.

 

Nightmare diaries: Greyscale Lessons

The last echoes of the child’s scream faded away into the bustling metropolis of the city. While he screamed, the sounds of the traffic, the skyscrapers and the unspoken voices of the multitude drifted in and around him and did nothing to save him.

Cauchemar prepared himself for a second round. He needed to prove himself to be a good nightmare.

At least he had started by choosing the right victim. Children with wild imaginations were such good targets. They were so fragile, and so filled with fear that they could spontaneously generate the most horrible fantasies of their own. Cauchemar wove in and out of the recesses of the child’s mind, pulling out horrible secrets from the subconscious, absorbing all the violence and pain and anguish that the child’s mind had registered from his immediate environment. Cauchemar crafted them into shapes, characters and scenarios and let them wreak havoc upon the sleeping child’s eyes.

The screams became progressively louder. Very encouraging. Maybe this time, he would frighten out the very soul of the child.

“Stop,” said Karabasan, watching his protege at work. His command interrupted the continuity of Cauchemar’s work and the child woke up and wept into his pillows. Immediately, his parents and guardians rushed over to him, calming him, comforting him, telling him that it was just a bad dream.

Cauchemar watched in seething dismay as his victim wept into the arms of his mother. “Why did you stop me, Master?”

He almost had him. Almost. In a just few minutes, he could have scarred the child forever. But now, the dream was interrupted and no more could he claim another soul.

“You’ve been doing well,” noted Karabasan casually. A little too well, he wondered.

“Thank you, Master” bowed Cauchemar, confused and flattered at the same time. How could an incomplete task prove that he had done his job well? As long as the Master was satisfied, he was pleased.

“I think it’s time we take you to the next level,” said Karabasan, the older, deadlier vision.

Cauchemar paused to consider the consequences. He was no stranger to ambition, but then Karabasan had a reputation for escalating matter rather quickly. But then again, he had not been asked. It was a command. Subtle, but assertive. Nowhere had Cauchemar been given a choice.

“Come,” said Karabasan, deciding for Cauchemar. He pulled up a new portal to another world. “You’re going to find this interesting, I promise,” he grinned, somehow adding more evil to a face that embodied it. And Cauchemar was whisked away…

They appeared in a gloomy, forgotten lane. It was now surprisingly quiet, and appropriately horrible, just as the nature of their deeds should be. There was black muck that slithered along the drains and the road was a shabby city of grey.

“Where are we?” asked Cauchemar, arriving after his Master.

“Telling you would spoil the fun,” countered Karabasan. Cauchemar wondered if it was appropriate to press further for a response.

The sky was white, but as they moved into brighter regions, the environment blurred around them. They were still in the city, the skyscrapers were still there. But the environment convulsed and quivered often.

“I’m going to wait here,” said Karabasan pointedly, finding a sacrifical altar that sprouted from the middle of nowhere and sitting on it.

“Well, go on. Creativity counts.” he suggested to Cauchemar, gesturing over the dried black blood that coated it.

Cauchemar paused. This was a test. He had better not fail it.

He started with looking for a victim. For a while, he let his mind search for someone with passion, someone with secrets, someone who had something they were earnestly trying to run away from. He turned around to look at Karabasan, who wasn’t there anymore. The altar, the shrine, the cities had disappeared. Black grass sprouted from a grey forest instead. It grew in huge incoming waves and swept over the terrain, over running civilization, pushing out the remnants of sanity.

When Cauchemar finally realized what was going on, he couldn’t help but smile. Of course, Karabasan wasn’t going to let him find a victim. He was already in the mind of a victim.

Cauchemar waited until he had the victim’s attention. He had finally found it. He had found the victim’s subconscious. He was a man curled up on the center of the ground. Asleep and completely at Cauchemar’s mercy. As he watched the grass take over, random black vines sprouted over it, poisonously grouping the grass together, spawning into more hideous shapes.

Good, now he could begin weaving the images and characters.

He started with horror of death, and the fear that followed. Images and memories of death sprouted all around him. Titans of gore, grey blood dripping from their black fangs appeared from nowhere and sought to rise the man from his sleep. He awoke and gazed at them all around. But he did not register fear nor surprise. These were expected demons of his head. He yawned and went back to sleep. Cauchemar conjured up more blood and gore, each new phantasm taking on a more hideous role than another, and yet he was not afraid. His fearlessness seemed to breed from intimate familiarity with the subject.

Cauchemar was confused. For the first time ever, he had encountered a victim who was not afraid of death, not afraid of murder or crime or any form of violence. He had utilized every possible terror in his sleeve. Who was this victim, so unafraid? So corrupted by horror that he owned it as the brainchild of his own?

Karabasan appeared beside Cauchemar. “Making progress, are we?”

Cauchemar floundered. He did not want to fail this test. From having his last victim lost in residual nightmares, this one appeared to simply yawn and go back to sleep. Beyond a point, he wasn’t even roused.

“You can’t frighten a killer with death, because he already owns it from within,” Karabasan sniggered.

Right, or course! That would explain everything. Cauchemar cursed himself for not seeing the obvious. Well, it was an unfamiliar environment and this wasn’t a victim of Cauchemar’s own choosing, so he felt that he was allowed to make a few mistakes. But then again, he had been upgraded to this level for a reason.

Then the next target of his attention moved to guilt. If it wasn’t fear, it must be guilt. Cauchemar scanned for memories. As he searched for them, he realized that the victim had seen images of such evil in his waking life, that there was no nightmare that could hope to instill fear by conjuring up images of the same. More so, he relished those images. He had relived there motions several times, without once hesitating at the sight of violence again.

Guilt, guilt. He searched for guilt. Motivations as to his crimes would have worked as well. The closer Cauchemar penetrated to the victim’s fear, the more restless the victim seemed to become. Finally, he had some progress to show the non-present Karabasan.

It struck him as very odd that all the memories were black and white. From his mind, Cauchemar could see the entire city relived in black and white and shades of grey. A life without color. But wait, wait, from this panorama of grey, a shadow peeked out at the sleeping figure splaying restlessly in the middle of it all.

Day would be here soon. Cauchemar was running out of options.

Instead of waiting for her to come to him, he chased her. He found her memory watching the victim, and she flitted in and out of his grasp. Cauchemar chased, pushing her out of the woods, out of the weirdly morphing scenery that changed from the city skyline to an overrun forest and had shortly been a butcher’s warehouse. With every change in scenery, the victim flailed in his sleep as Cauchemar approached nearer. It was so easy to create nightmares in a mind that was so filled with them anyway. If there was any way he could automatically harness this spontaneity, he would be the terror of all nights very soon. But ambition follows later. First, the task at hand.

Cauchemar morphed into the girl and watched her as she approached the victim. She had a soft, sweet voice and the terms she used to address the victim were loving, almost endearing. The victim seemed to be sensitive to the sound of her voice. Cauchemar egged her on to the victim. She reached out a pale, fragile hand and touched him, rousing him instantly. He was already terrified.

It struck Cauchemar as somewhat odd that something so innocuous as a girl who addressed him lovingly could incite so much fear. When the entire spectra of horror had been splayed in full view, the victim hadn’t even flinched. Cauchemar had used up every single trick in his book to incite fear and failed. But this girl was the key.

Cauchemar waited for her to sprout into a monster or something more hideous. Perhaps she was something else . A phantasm in disguise, a horrible memory masked by a pretty face? But no, she stayed the way she was, harmless in comparison to any other terror that Cauchemar had conjured up or seen or dreamed of.

The victim was now literally shivering as she approached nearer. Cauchemar crept up behind the victim’s back to watch their physical interaction. She didn’t even do anything.

That was when Cauchemar noticed it. Color dripped from her lips. The only form of color in a world that was black, white and grey.

The victim was now driven to a wild screaming frenzy, desperately trying to escape that vision in his dreams, hopelessly thrashing for some form of assistance, any form. Interrupted for the second time in the night, Cauchemar waited between dimensions, dizzy and wondering what cataclysm had struck his victim. The victim awoke, just like the last one, but no comfort came to him as the time-pressed Cauchemar slowly sucked his soul out of him.

Karabasan was also leaving the mind environment. “Well done,” he beamed at Cauchemar, who was still tidying up his business. He pulled Cauchemar out into the real world and they watched as their victim woke up, picked up a loaded syringe lying beside him and pulled the plunger as deep into his arm as it could possibly go.

They watched as he died a quiet death.

Karabasan broke the silence. “You have passed the test. I’m very proud.”

 “What did you expect me to learn from this, Master?”

“Evil doesn’t take on traditional forms always.”

“How does the memory of a harmless girl….?”

“….Not so harmless. Remember, she had color dripping from her lips.”

“Color?”

“To someone who sees the world in stark differentiations of black and white, the idea of color is something else entirely….You are still a young nightmare, Cauchemar. We have more souls to conquer,” said Karabasan indefinitely, shrugging his shoulder.

They watched the victim’s soul drift up into the stars. They were back in the city, surrounded by the pressure and heat of the metropolis. But now, the streets were empty. Even to the callous Cauchemar, they seemed a bit cold. Too cold.

She Waits Softly

In her childhood, she was warned it might not last long. The world had enough children as is, what they needed more of was more mature adult citizens. So she was asked to grow up. The world was tired of her supposed immaturity. The generation before needed great successors, for as they were accelerating to age, the young ones were exhorted to adolescence. She had abandoned her childhood and watched it fall to the floor and crumple in on itself, like the soft fabric of a former lover. Indeed, they had been well-fitting times, but now all that the fabric could be used for was wrapping up memories.

It was hard to get used to. Far away from the comforts of childhood, she had stood bare and exposed. She watched the world leer, and take away everything she held precious, values of love, morality, ethics, and absorb them like one giant unclean globule of oil on the surface. Death was spilled along the way. She screamed and begged for help, and none came. Not even death. You’re too young, they still said.

The world didn’t value her innocence. It’s ignorance, they claimed. They thought it was their job to make her aware of specifically all of those things that made the world an unpleasant place to live in. Watch our mistakes with your adult understanding, they said, wanting justification as to the horrible deeds of the world. Still not quite sure of herself as an adult, she watched. Battle, bloodshed, death and abuse colored the new panorama of adulthood in many awful shades. She tried to keep her canvas clean, of all the filth of the world. But it was insidious and so it persisted anyway. These are the ways of the world, said her predecessors. Get used to it.

For a while, she paused and wondered if death indeed was the solution. Death did not come. So, she continued on her journey, understanding that the reason for surviving these trials and tribulations was that she could someday enjoy a great magnificent departure from them. She would have earned the right to die.

Clothed in the sparse remains of what were once lofty and cherished ideals, she now accepted the humble attire of the more mature person. Wisdom was indeed shabby, for without the persisting quality of time, it would not have been so coveted as it now is. Even then, many people do not recognize its true shape. So, it started with one layer, and then as time moved on, she found other grubby bits of value to add to herself and thus the layers grew, until she was well-protected from the cold and dark. Though she felt prepared for Death, it did not come.

The other aspects of the world caught up with her as well. Fortune and wealth changed her clothes back to cheap imitations of childhood. Lovers, or people who had attempted to be them, had come as well and shown her to respect and value not just her emotional vulnerability, but also her corporeal being. For the body was a carrier of the soul, and required it’s own needs to be met just as much did the yearning lost soul. Fortune changed sides way too often for her liking and love was as transient as the soft satin blouse that appeared to be there but did not actually cover her. The world proceeded to sully them both and she was once again, left with the grey scraps of nothing. Her heart ached intolerably. Once again, she asked Death to appear and claim her. But not yet, whispered the cast off identities. Not just yet.

Then she wore huddled under the grey shades of responsibility. She was expected to tell of a younger generation of what the world comprised of. Responsibility cut into her, deep and heavy, expecting her to continue the very same cycle of which she had been a victim. They chipped into the wisdom of her time, expecting more from her than she could provide with no hope whatsoever with reciprocity. Thus she waited for death to come, relieving her of her duties. But it did not come. Probably, she hadn’t suffered enough. Probably she wasn’t courageous enough to deserve death.

Now a frail woman, she shrank within the physical body she had successfully called her own. Fragile to the extent that even her skin refused to clothe her properly, she smiled. Soon, it would be time. Shadows of death leaped and jumped around her. She watched its offspring play, and the adults mislead. Come to me, she asked, as though t was the same forgotten lover who had once adored her.

Yet the shadows gleefully played beyond her reach. Patience is the final skin, my dear. The world echoed with Death’s opinions. Not just yet. Almost there, but not just yet. Thus she waits softly, hoping for the reunion with her final lover, a creature who’s perpetual fear had colored her panorama and yet never quite touched her in the way it was supposed to. In her state of repose, she smiled as time tried to avoid the gap between Death and her. How is that Death was so ashamed of meeting her now?

So, she waits softly. Death understands.

Cleanse

Before the sun was up, Amur was woken up by the sound of the water flowing into the stream. At first, he didn’t believe his ears, so he slowly crept out of his blanket to investigate, careful not to disturb his sister, who was sharing the blanket. It was a noiseless exit to the kitchen, but he still peeked his head back to make sure that his sister was still asleep. She had been known to wake up and catch him stealing a late night snack far too often for Amur’s comfort. He paused in the small, dingy kitchen. Yesterday’s clay pans had cracked, so Amur’s mother had put a fresh mold of clay to bake near the fire. He waited for the fire to stop crackling for a while, and he waited for his own breathing to calm down. Finally, he could hear the ripples again. If he actually managed to accomplish the deed, his family would be so proud.

Amur’s mother would ordinarily have raised serious objections to Amur stepping out in the darkness of the forest with barely his sleeping rags on. But then, she was asleep, so all was well. Amur tried to pick out a pitcher from the shelf of clay utensils. The shadows from the fire were misleading and Amur knew he was traditionally clumsy, so he paused. He tried to remember the technique the neighbor’s cat had employed in order to access their fruit, and having enough confidence to pull it off, he hooked his finger on a particularly dominant edge and tried to whisk it off the shelf. This was planned so as to not disturb the existing order of the utensils.

Instead of smoothly landing off the shelves, the pitcher scraped along the base of the clay shelf. Amur had underestimated how heavy it would be. But there was no harm in trying again, as long as he didn’t break something. He wondered if he had a shorter, more accessible way to make this happen. And he spied his own dinner bowl. It was small, and it wouldn’t fill as much as a pitcher, but then it was completely his responsibility what he did with his own bowl. At any rate if he broke it, he would then ply his sister with enough sweet fruit in order to get her to make him a new one. But then, clay was becoming hard to get these days, with very little silted soil, so wouldn’t his mother still be angry with him…?

Amur crept out into the night, armed with only his bowl. Everything was so much more darker now, and the crickets in the forest were surprisingly loud. The wind was chilly, and Amur thought he heard footsteps in the grass. Indeed, if there was going to be a predator, the only possible options left to Amur were to either throw the bowl at it and/or run. Please don’t make me annoy my mother again, he prayed to the Forest Deity who watched over them. I really want to keep this bowl intact.

He waited for the crickets to die down until he could hear the ripples again. Stealthily, like a predator himself, he crept towards the sound. He was going to capture the water. He had navigated himself eventually to a point over a rock face where he could literally hear the stream gurgling, and it made him happy to think that he had found so much water. If only he could capture it all. Amur regretted not bringing the pitcher with him instead. He had almost reached the bank, and the ground felt soft under his feet. Good, he had also managed to find more clay. He bent his knees over the mud, not caring that it stained his bed-rags and then extended his bowl to scoop up some of the water. The stream, which was rippling over the protruding rocks shone in the moonlight. It made the rocks glitter and the plants shine, and Amur wondered how it must feel to actually be wet and soft, like the clay itself. As he stretched his bowl out, however, the current moved beyond the reach of his hand, alternating the flow direction. Indeed, as soon as the liquid sensed his presence, the flow of the stream had narrowed, and it was too dark to find out the source now.

“I just want to touch you,” murmured Amur. The current suddenly expanded and the water splashed his hands. It felt beautiful, although it stung afterwards. The experience was very short as all the droplets raced down his hand in some desperate need to join back the parent body of water. Well, at least it was real water and not some illusion. He brought his bowl out again and in a swift movement plunged it under the surface of the liquid in order to collect some. The water, sensing his movement, immediately reduced to a stream of few droplets and those too would soon disappear to merge into the parent body of liquid. Amur’s bowl scraped the hard rock surface and was left with a lasting scratch.

“Please,” asked Amur of what was now the rapidly drying rock surface. He didn’t mean to offend the water just by collecting some. You don’t understand how important this is.

But he could no longer hear the ripples and the ground under his feet was drying up rapidly. Great, another failed expedition in the search of water. He wandered around in the semi-darkness, unsure of how to get home. He needed some sort of sounding beacon to bring him back, and he waited till he heard his father’s snores. Again, amidst the crickets, and the possible threat of other predators and the occasional owl, Amur tracked himself back to his humble abode, returned his bowl to the shelf and was careful to arrange it inconspicuously. His mother might not notice, but his sister could blame him if she sensed that he had been stealing food in his bowl. Ah well, then he would break hers.

He crept back into his floor mat. His sister, having seized the opportunity of having the blanket to herself had now comfortably rolled herself up in it, and was clearly fast asleep. Amur tried tugging on the blanket gently. She did not budge. He then tried to be a bit more forcible and his sister made an annoyed grunt as she sensed more of the fabric slip away from her. Before she could protest, Amur wrapped himself up in whatever little portion had come free from the struggle and lay in wait quietly. It was lucky that he was such a scrawny figure, or his sister would have noticed.

He couldn’t sleep. All night long he was continuously woken up by the shadow of the echoes of the water. He dreamed of its beautiful glistening form and shape, of the sensation of the splash, of the droplets run away from him. The way the liquid had seeped between the cracks of his fingers and then how it had collected itself on the rock surface. Amur’s mother was surprised to find that he was the first one awake. “What are you doing up so early, Little One?” said she, rubbing her hands through his rough hair. Amur liked to feel her touch. On the nights that she would be away hunting, or engaged in some other forest ritual with his sister, Amur would wish that she sung him to sleep. Amur’s mother knew songs only of the Water God, as that was the music she had been raised with. Little did she know that her son had been venturing out into the wild looking for the very myth that her legends sang about.

Amur didn’t answer immediately. He reached for his bowl and asked her if she had something to drink. She poured him some of the drink. All these years, in Amur’s life, they had never drunk water. They only drunk a clear green distilled liquid, which they mixed with everything else, including the clay. It was bland and it was tasteless and it merely slid down Amur’s throat. It never made him feel satisfied or refreshed or even cooler than before, not like how the water in Amur’s mother’s stories would appear to be.

“What happened to our water, ma?” he asked.

He really is obsessed with this idea, mused his mother. “The Water Gods became angry that we couldn’t treat them right and so they hid themselves away in secluded quarters.”

“If I pray really earnestly to the Water Gods, will I someday get to drink it?”

The idea that the boy would even be able to see real water in his lifetime was very rare. “Have you even seen water, dear?”

“I dream of it,” dissembled Amur, not wishing to tell his mother of his nocturnal exploits. I’ve even risked my life to touch it. I hear the sound every night, and I’m waiting to someday bring a back a bowl of it for you.

“That’s where it’s meant to be, dear. Water is something imaginary and beautiful. It’s what the Gods would drink to make themselves more powerful. We mortals can never capture it and consume it.”

“But why?”

Amur’s mother was surprised that he wanted to hear this story, because she had already told him that many times. But there was nothing like an early story in order to get Amur to be more compliant.

“Once upon a time, our people could drink the water, but then our ancestors defiled it. They killed the living beings that called it their home and put all of their dirt and filth into it, until it wasn’t water anymore.”

“But what if we promise not to defile it anymore?”

“That’s not how things happen in life dear. If you miss the opportunity once, you will never get it back.”

Amur’s conscience reminded him that he was unable to get the water from yesterday and he may never even see it again.

“If I pray really earnestly to the Water Gods? Really really earnestly?”

“I would be happier if you applied yourself as earnestly to things that are more real to us, dear,” said his mother gently. She didn’t want to take away the fairy tale charm of the story, but at the end it was a moral parable, and she hoped he focused on that as much as he did on the other aspects of the story.

Just wait, ma. Someday, I’ll be able to fill my bowl with real water and bring it back. Someday, I’ll even be able to fill the big pitcher. And then we can all drink like the Gods.

“There might be a cloud burst today, Syr,” said Amur’s father addressing himself to Amur’s mother.

“Oh? And who has forecast this?” Amur’s mother was still preparing breakfast to fill Amur’s bowl and was therefore too busy to process what she was hearing.

“The territories in the front have been experiencing the cloud burst season and it is likely that more of it will come our way.”

“Well, if you say so,” shrugged Amur’s mother. There was really nothing one could do to avoid a disaster, especially if it was as imminent as a cloud burst.

“I don’t think you would take it this casually if you knew that it was going to happen right over our heads.”

“Is that what the forecast said?” asked Amur’s mother, suddenly escalating up in alarm. Amur thought it was odd how alarmed she became only after she heard that it was going to happen in their region. He supposed that disasters would matter less if they happened elsewhere, even though families like theirs could also be caught up in one of them. Amur watched his parents talk as he ate his meal quietly.

“But there hasn’t been one in three years!” protested Syr, as she let more of the information sink in.

“That doesn’t stop a new one from happening now,” supplied Amur’s father. Amur had survived three cloud bursts, yet he had never witnessed any. He knew they were bad, but he still didn’t know why. During cloud bursts, everyone in the tribe or village would be asked to stay underground until it was over. Usually, there was heavy smoke and fog, when they emerged and several cleansing rituals would be performed before people could go back to their daily lives.

“When did you find out?”

“Today morning, the winds have been carrying the news.” It was an euphemism for knowledge that had been spread at the village council.

“When does the burst happen?”

“They say anytime between today and the next week.”

“That’s an awfully long time to lock ourselves up in hiding.”

“I think we should start packing enough for a week and begin evacuation today.”

“How do you expect me to pack everything up on such short notice? And besides, how absurd it is that we have to stay in for a week? Why can’t they be more specific?”

“Syr, they do not control the Wind Gods either.”

Amur’s mother sighed as she mentally evaluated the magnitude of their escaping endeavor. “Mekang! We have to get packing. Another cloud burst is happening and I need your help!” Amur’s sister sent back an incomprehensible, lazy groan in response. Despite his mother’s indignation, Amur could tell that she wasn’t really annoyed with his father. She had planned several of these before and they were no more the terror they used to be, at least as long as everyone stayed inside. But before he helped his mother, he needed to ask one last question. It was rumor that he had picked up in the telling of the legends, but he wasn’t quite sure until he heard it.

“Ma, is it true that water rains down on us during cloud bursts?”

Amur’s father scoffed at him. “Boy, you better grow up out of your water stories soon. That thing doesn’t exist.”

“Leave him alone, Yenisei,” said Syr quietly. She firmly believed that a child was entitled to his dreams.

Hours later, when Syr was rushing everyone to get inside, Mekang had already carried most of their requirements for the week. The lines into the shelter were orderly and precise, and most of the other families had already settled in.

“Where’s your brother?” asked Syr of Mekang. Mekang found it difficult to characteristically shrug as she was carrying both the pitchers and everyone’s bowl. “I don’t know,” she said. Syr looked around at all the other families milling into the caves. The camps were being set up and the  fabric tents unfolded. The children were either helping their parents move in, or playing with their own peer groups. At first, it didn’t bother Syr that Amur was not there. She naturally assumed he was playing with the other children and probably enjoying his last few moments outside. Yenisei and Syr had completed installing their own settlement,when Mekang wanted to spend some time with her friends.  Syr began to re-arrange the cutlery and the pottery. She knew that the cloud burst could bring along more clay and that was very possibly the only good outcome of a cloud burst.

“I thought I saw a scratch on his bowl today,” offered Mekang as she watched her mother re-arrange them. She had been granted a few minutes leave to go spend time with her friends and she thought it was very unfair that she had been inside working with her parents while her younger brother had no such responsibility.

“Yes, that’s what I want to talk to him about.” How did the bowl, which was comfortably nestled against the shelves after their dinner manage to land up with the sort of abrasion you could get only from scratching a rock?

Eventually, the large groups of the clan dispersed to their own individual tents and the rumbling of the skies and the earth could be heard. It’s coming, it’s coming, the clan members whispered to themselves, drawing their children away from the opening and rushing back to their tents. Syr pulled Mekang away by her arm, but nowhere in the chaos could Amur be found. She assumed that he had probably taken refuge in someone else’s tent and so she went around calling his name. But he was nowhere to be found.

Amur was outside the cave. It had been sealed shut and he felt happy knowing his family was safe, but he did not want to be denied the opportunity to actually witness a cloud burst. He was scared of what it would bring and he knew that he was all alone outside here.

Meanwhile, inside the caves, Syr and Yenisei asked everyone of their son’s whereabouts. “He has gone to find water,” said one of Amur’s play-mates innocently. Little did the child know how he had broken two adult hearts in one sweep.

“I should have guessed it from all the water stories he wanted to hear,” sobbed Syr on Yenisei’s shoulder. He stayed silent and simply patted her head gently.

Outside, the sky was getting darker and the sun had already been hidden. There was angry rumbling and sparks flew across the sky. Amur was amazed at the show of power. The Wind Gods had never appeared so formidable before.

That’s when the first drop fell. It was water, indeed. One small silvery droplet that was born out of the grey heavens and instead of rushing back to its origin, the droplet obeyed gravity and landed on the ground, on the grass that was fueled by the green liquid and the forest and it’s citizens that inhabited it. Amur watched the first contact warily, and the droplet vaporized. The grass reacted violently with it and soon, it was vaporized in a hiss. As more droplets began to form, a great rising cloud of  the vaporized smoke rose up. The sound of the hissing was strong and violent, and this was more so confirmed by the fact that a strong pungent odor followed. Everything that was comprised of the green liquid was soon up in a white suspension cloud, and Amur realized how important it was for him to get shelter. What had stung his hands before was a short moment of contact, he was soon to be deluged and suffer an extremely painful reaction.

Except Amur was unafraid. An opportunity that he thought he had lost had come back to him. He wasn’t giving up now. He felt around his pockets and realized that on this momentous occasion, he had no clay bowl, let alone a pitcher. As the drizzle began and the white cloud hovering over the land thickened and the thunder was soon to be drowned out by the nasty hissing of rapidly oxidizing grass, Amur climbed his way upwards on a rock surface, closer to the sky. He was not going to miss out on the Water God’s blessings. Knowing that it would probably be the last thing he ever did, took a deep breath of the pungent vapor that was now billowing around him, threw his head back and opened his head to the sky. Ma, I’m drinking it. I’m actually drinking it. He waited for the first drop to burn its way through his body.

He did not live to see his entire world dissolve around him, leaving only the bare rock faces and the underground caves intact. Mekang, who was left as the only child let herself be washed by the tears of her heart-broken mother and sobbed quietly, struggling to absorb the fact that she would never have anyone to wrestle with the blanket over.

—–
“We’ve flushed out the test tube from the last test’s results. All specimens have been cleaned, and we are ready to begin again.”

Conversations in the darkness

The beautiful woman sat in the corner of the room, anticipating the questions from the semi-secluded stranger who stood before her.

“Do you believe in love at first sight, madam?” came the dreaded attack. It was loaded with powerful words. Belief. Truth. Love. In the simple act of this overt flirting, the stranger had already thrown away the comforts of subtlety. He was inviting the raw truth to him, so he would have it unfiltered.

For a moment, the lady gathered her arms and her words around herself.

“…I don’t know if I believe in love at first sight,” said the plainitive honesty.

Indecision was perhaps worse than a decline. But pushing any further would have been indelicate and the stranger, already ashamed that he had crossed one boundary, hesitated before breaching another. Perhaps deflecting through ignorance was merely to spare the horrors of an outright anticipatory rejection.

“I believe in attraction at first sight,” continued the lady, oblivious to the several branching outcomes that had played on in the stranger’s head.

“I believe in infatuation at first sight sight,” she mused, stumbling through the words, drawing them out through the nostalgia in her voice and  re-populating with the hint of forgotten memories.

“I definitely do believe in bad decisions at first sight but I still don’t believe in love at first sight.” she smiled brightly, knowing that this could have been a generic observation.

The stranger chuckled as he knew that he was being led on by his own curiosity and the flow of the conversation. “Why?”

“…Because I was taught, given, conditioned to feel that the true real, glorious and worthy feeling called love….”

The stranger shuddered as he felt the words power through him.

“…love is mutual, no?”

It was now the stranger’s turn to discover that he did not know the answer.

Art

“Am I a work of art if I go unrecognized?” asked the fierce portrait of the dust that shamed its flagrant colors. Nobody answered and for a while the portrait wondered if truly another human, beyond its creator, could ever find the beauty that creator did. For what else could be the purpose of art?

A ray of sunlight broke through the panes and the dust glittered in the ray, as did the paint on the cheek. “The sun shines on me,” whispered the milieu of colors. If nature can touch me just as generally as it can touch the rest of the earth, surely I am no less than any other for nature itself appreciates me.

“I remain vibrant,” echoed the passive silence.

Regret

We are drunk and it is raining outside.

All I know is that I want to offer myself up to him, to let him know that there is another depth to the ocean that is me, and it is the rocky core of raw passion. I want him to find my soul scratched bare. I wonder how convenient it is that we are drunk and I am thus situated.

Except he is unwilling. As he always has been.

But I don’t care.  Even though I am all the more afraid of crossing the imaginary boundaries which cannot be returned from, I want to do this now. I don’t know whether this is the alcohol talking or some deep subconscious need to drown him in all the love I have to offer.

All I know is that tonight is the last night.

Tomorrow I will be gone like the shadow of the wind, and he will forget me and everything. Except, I’m afraid that he will always be able to hunt me down. I’m sure if he actually loved me in return he would, but he doesn’t. So he probably won’t. But I do, and thus I will voluntarily sever all lines of communication, because I know I will regret this.

What if he should demand a explanation?

I may regret this because it will be the best night of my life and never again will I get to scale the peak of my joy in the short lives that we all lead. I may regret this because it will be the worst thing I have ever done for my self esteem. I may end up forcing myself on him, making my emotional needs a higher priority than his. I’m hurt because I think I have the opportunity to run away from the consequences of this night. I know I’m about to make a very big mistake.

I’m not being very rational right now and I’m scared.

This night, when the window pane is softly tapping with the raindrops from the sky, and the ocean inside me is turbulent already. This night, when my mind is lowering the dams that have held the ocean in place and the disconnected mind that is screeching somewhere in terror that I will lose everything in the flood that will come.

Will come.  Will come when there is that awkward stare between two people, when I will kiss him, and wait until he pushes me off and be altogether too surprised if he doesn’t. I don’t know what his true intentions are and after all, he may be objectifying me. Why would he object to such a free, nearly endless display of passion and even maybe love and kindness?

But he might actually respect me a little. He might hesitate. He might pause and say, “Let’s stop this here and now. I don’t think of you like that.” He might even salvage the fragments of my soul and self-esteem with that pause.

The beauty of that moment will have been ruined forever. The little bit of sanity that I am suppressing will kick in and I will have to run from him, out into the rain, into the car and drive away into the oblivious wet horizon, where I will weep and regret until the harsh light of the morning comes.

The door of the room has opened, and there’s a bright wash of light in my direction. The couch is depressed as he shifts himself onto the other end. He is drunk as well, or so I hope. Honestly, at this point, I don’t care who this person is. I am hoping that someone, anyone will oblige me with the due mockery of acknowledging my existence in the smallest way possible, because the alcohol is as crushing as this melancholy that I feel alone.

After all, I’m granting this person my love, body and soul for one night. Is it truly not worth any acceptance whatsoever? isn’t that the sort of thing people are asked to give? Yet, when I seem to offer it spontaneously, my affections are thrown away. Is this all really that worthless and meaningless?

 I discover myself leaning on him, and he has not yet resisted me. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. Perhaps he should stop me right now before I go on to irreparably damage myself and probably him.

“Are you okay?” asks his dark, rich, lovely voice. Yes, it is him. No, I am not okay. How do you expect me to be okay?

“I’m just really cold,” I say and I cuddle a bit closer, prepared to be thrown off the couch, prepared to be brushed off him, preparing that my heart will break, if not now then maybe tomorrow and if not tomorrow then maybe forever later. I don’t hear what he says, but he has his arm around me. So, I move in closer. I feel his breath on my hair and I register the multiple flavors of vodka and I long to taste them, because I long to taste the toxic. Indeed, it will be this that is my undoing. I am going forth to do my undoing. Nothing will come. I will fall.

Or keep falling forever.

“Oh hey!” he says. He is a bit too loud for me, right now and I cringe at the alcohol-induced exuberance. “Look at you being social on the couch there.”

“I was talking to my imaginary friends.”

“Do you even have any?”

“You’d be surprised.”

“How do they all manage to put up with you being an anti-social drunk grouch?”

“The same way your real world friends manage you.”

He laughs loudly and I can feel the mechanisms of his warm, multiple-sweater-clad body transmit the energy. I have the power to do as I please right now and enjoy this moment for whatever that’s worth, except my conscience will kill me right after. He playfully tries to punch me and misfires. The couch takes on a very soft impact.

“Hey,” I slur from somewhere between his jacket and his sweater. He is so warm. I am so self-destructive. I guess that he is partially dozing off. I reach for his chin and feel the stubble as my oversensitive fingers try to stroke his cheek. “Hey…” I repeat, searching for the words I have always wanted to say and have rehearsed and repeated in my fantasies so many times.

“Mmm?” he grunts, trying to stabilize the world in his drunken head, feeling somewhat conscious of our physical proximity.

“I love you. You know that, right?” We are now looking at each other. I am almost completely onto him. I am forcibly telling him that I am desirable, that I am worth this and everything. I can grant him everything he has ever searched for and I can do it here and now. Maybe, in an alternate universe, we could live this dream eternally.

He is silent. It frightens me that he is silent. I want nothing more to get inside his head and make him care for me back and then I wouldn’t have to carry all this dread and fear and awkward rebellion.

……….Should I? …….Should I? As long as I can run away, I should. So I touch his warm face and place my lips on his.

It’s not exactly heated or passionate, but it’s something I have wanted to do for a very long time. I wait for the rough movement, the resistance, the denial, the truth and everything to come between us and force us apart so I am free from my self-created penalties. So that I am free of being afraid to love. To love him.

Instead there is silence. All I know in the semi-darkness is that we have each other and we are staring at each other’s eyes, and for some reason I wish it was completely dark so he wouldn’t even have to remember my face after this even. I have acted without consent. That is shameful. I should be ashamed. Except, I am always ashamed. I wait for him to push me off and get up and leave. Even that doesn’t happen. I am trapped between his silence and the warmth of his jacket. Perhaps I am too drunk and pathetic to wait for him.

I push myself closer. I am on his lap now. We are face to face. He is getting me whether he wants me or not. I kiss him again, and mid-way he sluggishly responds with a very messy kiss back. How naive of me to be thrilled. He doesn’t love me. He likes to enjoy me. But for tonight, this night that the rain punctuates the silence, that will be enough.  I will not ruin everything by pausing now and asking him, “Do you love me back?” He hasn’t answered because he doesn’t and we both know he doesn’t. Tonight, I will not hear anymore of this.

The kisses get more frequent. I can feel the full force of his large, manly arms locking me into place as I am now. Good, I have penetrated his barriers. I can taste the toxic and I am in my own delirium. It doesn’t matter who controls whom anymore. I have every right to enjoy him, to deem him as a human being worth only his sexual prowess, as he has to do the same to me. This is my night, my last night. I want this.

I am the first one to wake up. It’s still dark outside, because it’s nearly 4:00AM as the wall clock says. I have a head splitting head-ache. This is the physical manifestation of my conscience expressing its displeasure. I am barely able to stand as my head would much rather shatter itself into a million fragments with every small movement. Then I see the sleeping naked body next to me and literally everything that went on in my head last night plays through the shadows of what had happened.

It is still raining.

I roll out of the bed and try to pick out my clothes from the collective tangle that we had dumped on the floor. I am in too much pain to be able to deal with the moral consequences, and some part of me justifies this mess as an accurate penalty for breaching my friendship with him. Yes, I deserve this.

Once I have covered enough of myself, I fumble my way downstairs to get to the car and start driving. I do not know where or how but I have to drive into this endless world.

The wind can tear at my hear and resist my windshield for as long as it pleases. I have been pushed beyond my boundaries. I will not stop. I will not falter. Those days are long and fast behind me, given the rate at which I am devouring this unending road. I don’t need to walk this pathetic life. I’m running away from them all.

“…..Please, please don’t leave me….”
 
I am so hell-bent on getting away that I can’t even take my hands off the steering wheel. I should have turned off the radio a long time ago, but instead I push the red pointer on the speedometer. The engine is a beast. The entire metal contraption feels the full impact of my angry foot on the accelerator. I pull down the windows.
“…I always say how I don’t need you but I’m always gonna come right back to you….Please, please don’t leave me” croons the audio in Pink’s wounded voice.

The loud flap of the wind from the front of my ear to the back of my head is jarring now. The skin on my face creeps back on my skull, as if intimidated by the infinite voiceless screech of the wind. If a human voice could match that sound, it would be mine. If my frustration were to adopt a carrier, this eye-scrunching, hard-hitting wind is perfect. I can’t even hear myself think. Insanity and adrenaline are all I know. Even though, I have been inside this car for quite a while, I am still under the influence to flee. I don’t know where I’m going. The enemy is intangible. I need to get away faster.

I don’t know when I crossed the limits of the radio station. The garbled lyrics coughed up for a while, trying to receive and separate the interference caused by two disparate transmissions. Finally, Pink died away and the other signal triumphed.

“…..I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly. I’ll do what it takes till I touch the sky….”

Kelly Clarkson knows what I’m talking about, says some part of my speed-addled brain. When everything was spinning so quickly out of control, it was the sheer speed of running past everything that was giving me this forgotten thrill I had longed for. Speeding. So obvious.

And all of a sudden, there was no more greenery. No trees. No grass. No suburbs. Increased wheel traction. No road. There is an endless horizon which meets the endless sky. There is a momentary spike in my head which balks at the sheer void. The radio has been scrambled beyond recognition. Against a backdrop of a constant buzz, were the sounds of various artists singing to various emotions.

“Baby……my girlfriend…..streets of the city…..lonely without you……just you and me…….”

I should have paused to drink in this silence. To savor this momentary burst of the transcendental. But before I could, my feet pushed the tired accelerator beyond it’s tensile strength. The ground was moving by so fast, it had now become the sky.

At last, there was calm, peace and silence.