Paper Days

 

After spending a frustrating week trying to put the ending onto this story, I’m finally done!

Paper Days is a little over 4,000 words, so about a 7 to 10 minute read.  It follows up on Under the Cherry Blossoms, which I updated with some punctuation improvements.  I also changed the name of Taiga’s daughter to Kanna.

Reading Under the Cherry Blossoms isn’t necessary to read Paper Days, or at least, that’s how I intended it.


Paper Days

                A boy ran through Taiga’s cherry blossoms, holding a newspaper in his hand and dozens more on his back, ready to hurl at a person and their home: indiscriminate of care.  “I’ll take it here”, she said, waving, and he planted his foot where grandeur delusion saw his arc rise gently with the petals in the wind and fall into her lap.  Instead she lunged from her seat along the patio edge and covered half their distance in a second’s split -ten meters in all- and caught the paper along with his heart.

                Taiga walked up to the kid and asked for her other newspaper.  He stared at her: all blushes and awe, and so she bopped him on the head with her rolled up prints.  “I want the Japanese and the English one…” and he fumbled and said “oh”, or some like before handing it to her along with a note.

                “Miss Daisy said to give this to the first person who asked for both papers.”  The notice claimed a month’s worth of neglected pay for the news service.

                “Are you married?”

                “Hah?” and she spared no feelings for his cherried cheeks, “I’m twice your age and I have a four year old daughter.  Get a clue.”

                The boy sniffled and threatened to flood her conscience with her wordly insensitivity, so she treated him to a silver coin from her purse.  “Uh, I’m sure you’ll find yourself a nice girlfriend when you grow up… so, cheers!  Smile!” and by simply patting his shoulder with a happy notion, she sent him off under the mistaken impression they were betrothed, no matter how she denied it.

                Stupid kids and their stupid logics filtered phonetics to mince meaning down to the pretty favors they wished to hear.  Taiga could yell at him, because kids could not fool themselves of emotions, but either way she’d hear from his mother.

                Her own beloved Kanna opened the door -that front door in need of some slick-, walked it down the crevice in the floor: pushing that heavy boon till she tucked it into the wall, and then waited on Taiga for a response.  Somewhere in the shine of those ruby irises, a sparkling hope would tell all to Taiga: decipher that way of thought she used to know before the politics of life swept away childish comprehension; but until she saw it, she had to rely on a guesswork of words.

                “Mama!”

                “Yes?”

                “Look!”

                “Where?”

                “Here!”

                “Where?”

                “There!”

                “Okay, what?”

                Kanna led Taiga around by the lips, dancing around her desires till she walked with her head bowed.  “What did I even do?” Taiga wondered, and how would she lift her daughter’s spirits?

                She stared at the notice, and fetched her daughter out of their room.

                “Want to go to town with me?”

                Kanna forgot whatever grievance upset her so and followed her mother out of their family shrine, hanging off Taiga’s hand mouthing out “Yay!” without the sound.

                They had never gone out together: never ventured beyond the courtyard of cherry blossoms without losing one or the other for her sister.  Kanako could translate the gibber garble of child speak and make legible intents from it; could share a consummate relationship, with two smiles, facing one another.

                Alone with her, Taiga dreaded the little ball of chaos rolling every activity spied into her hopes and dreams.

                A good citizen swept beyond his home, and Kanna asked for a broom to help clean the stone tile road.  “We have brooms at home.”  Two boys kicked a ball, and she wanted straight away to be their third player or to mimic with her mother.  “We can play when we get back.”  She spied hues not cherry blossom pink or cherry blossom brown: the orange of a dyed banner, the burgundy paints on a persons’ home, bright reds and purple blooming by roadside gardens: colors that she wanted to add to her rainbow.  “You want a brush, paint, and rain?”

                Further down the road, homes packed closer together, sharing communal resources like fencing, low walls, and plumbing; but before the sudden urbanization, a few poor homes scattered near or within far sight of the road, relying on longer walks to town, on wells and buckets to fill their basins.

                One of these residents, Yui Kanade, hauled several gallons in each hand while allowing her twinned terrors, Taka and Taki, to assist her effort.  Just the sight of those brats invoked reverberations of their infantile cacophony, but they did not kick or scream or troll the sane.  They devoted themselves to the task of handling those giant buckets: buckets they could not possibly move, but they pushed with their hands, pedaled their little feet along, and focused their eyes toward a victory they believed in.

                The feeble strength of a barely able child merely contributed to the unstable kicks that bumped sips of water over the lip, but Taiga sensed something more in the action: a feeling treasured that she wished would grace visible spectrums for her sake.

                Miss Kanade smiled to her, and so Taiga waved back and tried not to stare, but a few slow steps and no turn of head hardly convinced her daughter, who joined audience.  Her neighbor did not seem to mind, and after disappearing into the door of her humble home, she emerged once again to say hello properly, though she tacked on an annoying address for Taiga’s higher status.

                Taiga did as she always did: with her hands hidden in each other’s sleeves, a slight tilt of head and the faintest attempt at smiling that never showed through her stoicism.  She said, “Hello”, and then waited for the other party to attempt picking up the line, though the small and cheery Yui had never feared Taiga’s quills.

                “How are you?”

                “Fine.  You?”

                “Good!  Just pulling up some water while the well’s deep…  With so much rain lately, I thought I’d enjoy a luxury bath…” and she snickered like she was telling a naughty secret.  Taiga did not comment on the guilty pleasures of the poor, but asked if her children always helped.

                “Not usually, but recently they like to help around the house, so I let them do what they can.”

                “Does it do something for them?”

                “Mm…  Nothing material, I suppose…  It’s just us three, so we have to work together.  I can’t selfishly take on all the work.”

                Yui spoke opposite from Taiga’s common knowledge, though Taiga had only traded the briefest conversations with persons of similar wealth; or overheard conversations that mother and her friends had shared.

                “Do you have a husband?”

                “He died before Taka and Taki were born.  What about you?”

                Taiga declined the question; answering all the same.

                Yui smiled to her, for her; hugging her in sympathies.

                “If you need help, advice, or a friend; I’m always here”, but Taiga could not imagine herself burdening Yui with her woes.  She had fair wealth and a wise sister to rely upon.  Yui couldn’t even keep her children home while scrubbing floors at The Crossroads.

                “I’ll keep your offer in mind”, and with a wave she continued along with Kanna in tow.

                The Town of Iwata offered every stimulus Kanna could hope for: bewitching mysteries showcased behind glass and framed by the floral aesthesia she adored.  Door after door promised bewilderment for her childish mind to explore, to wonder, and to play.

                To Taiga these were familiarities.  Kyoko sold Taiga the gray and blue kimonos she wore, and next door, old mage Bob would enchant them to provide icy comforts against the summer sun.  When she wanted cast iron pans or a new throwing knife, she loyally chose to walk through Hokuto’s shop entrance; for his father forged her sword, and he carved and polished the wooden sheath on her left side.

                From time to time, a new name would sprout and stick, and Taiga enjoyed the exhilaration of exploring a new mechanism like the camera, or Daisy’s printing press contraption; but every new discovery branched off a science she understood, and she rarely enjoyed the thrill of pure ignorance or the subsequent satisfaction of solving impossibility.

                Everything though was impossible to Kanna, and she continually charged toward the latest perplexing phenomenon to flirt with her desire; as if forgetting the parental hand that leashed her movements.  If her feet were a till, she’d have plowed a trail of rings around Mother’s path.

                “Kanna… would you calm down?”

                “~Yes~” she said; and for a time she calmed down, but Kanna began tugging once more and running against her mother’s grasp.  “Mama!  Look!  Look!” and Taiga glanced toward a window filled by carved wooden animals and jewelry too dazzling to be true, and placed amongst a collage of foreign-purchased exoticisms.  No theme connected these items except for flash and uselessness: the kind of stock dependent on material justification.

                “You don’t need that junk”, said Taiga.

                She pulled her daughter along, but Kanna did not find a new muse to ogle.  Taiga felt her wrist pulled further and further behind her, until Kanna planted both feet and stubbornly leaned back.

                “What are you doing?  Come on!” and a simple tug proved her superior power, but Kanna refused to give in.  She kept yelling “Mama!” and Mama just pulled her along.

                Taiga tried not to let the nuisance get the better of her temper, but her daughter inflicted an unbelievable stress upon her wrist.  She could split plated armor under her katana’s arc or haul a forest’s share of logwood in a day, but with every tug against her body Kanna proved more agile and leveraging than Taiga’s passive attention.

                If Taiga gripped tight, Kanna would settle down enough to let those fingers relax and then bolt forward.  Taiga yanked her back, but Kanna predicted the gesture and she’d stumble backwards; turning her mother’s corrective maneuver into overcompensation.  She kept leaning one way or another; throwing her weight such that the force had to be supported in Taiga’s forearm, in Taiga’s patience.

                “BE STILL!

                All her frustrations condensed in her eyes, into her habitual glare, and Kanna just had to look up at the moment of Taiga’s weakness.  Frustration spun her to directionless anger, but Kanna gave it a home; and Taiga hated herself for shadowing her daughter’s luster.

                Silence bore their footing through the last road.  Kanna controlled step and sound to mute her presence, but Taiga didn’t know how to tread fear except by stepping on the trigger plate.  She tried to keep her quills soft and wished upon her daughter’s ephemeral memory, but she felt no vitality in those fingers as she stepped into Daisy’s print shop.

                “Kanna, can you sit over there?” and she obeyed with eyes hiding within the wonders of the floor.

                Across the shop, Daisy strode out from behind her counter full of books; wearing scorn as surely as her knee-cropped dresses.  Her female compatriots oft scolded her fashion, and men fantasized about the mind behind those curly blondes, but always within closed rooms: where whispers would not provoke her talents for cursing and hurling books.

                Taiga tended to like such persons, but the challenges from glare to glare usually fired up a fight.  When Daisy saw no will to spat, she looked to the girl: the girl suddenly a part of Taiga’s world.

                “Well she looks miserable.”

                “Shut up.  What do I owe?”

                “Silver per paper”, and Taiga resolved the bill by flipping a nice round coin of solid gold into Daisy’s grasp.  Daisy bit it, verified the solidarity of its substance, and tossed it over her shoulder.

                “So, who’s the girl?”

                “You care?”

                “She’s cute!  Unlike you…” and the familial connection invoked a double-take.

                “Who would do that with you?”

                “A con man.”

                “Oh…  My condolences…” she said, and she bowed briefly: the first shred of apologetic decency Taiga had ever witnessed from the blonde badger.  Taiga theorized more dimensions to Daisy than was shown to her: aspects lying quiet beneath that violent individualism and waiting for the right lure to emerge.

                Weed and Woe met eyes; and that Daisy ran-skipped over to Kanna: drunk with cheer and full of words for the little girl despite being warned that the tyke didn’t speak English yet.

                She plopped down and started gibbering off to Kanna: talking about dragons, wizards, and talking muffins she knew from her bed-mast bookshelf as a child.  Daisy animated her head and hands to the whim of her voice.  She must have made some funny faces too, for she had Kanna giggling right away.  Daisy took control over the girl’s breathing and excited it til Kanna had to bounce on her bottom and kick away her excess energy.

                “Hey!  Hey!  Would you hold onto my picture books for me?” and by putting palms and outstretched fingers together into a prayer-like gesture, then pointing a finger to Kanna,  she seemed to understand some reward for herself and nodded.

                Taiga’s ego stood agape as Daisy got up and passed her by.  She tried to say something; anything to discredit Daisy, but the badger had her tail this day.

                “Only you and I read the words.”

                Daisy left.  Taiga stared at Kanna, who reflected the gaze and tempered down.

                And down…

                Taiga grabbed a book and a seat and faced away from Kanna: figuring if she couldn’t evoke happiness, then she could at least stay out of the way.

                Daisy returned with three books too big for children’s arms and too big for adult words.  Taiga peered over her shoulder and watched Daisy point through some of the pictures she had colored in with a brush as a child.  “You can ask your mother to buy you some colors!” she said, loudly, and Taiga followed the hint.

                “Kanna, would you like to buy a brush and paint!?”  Taiga hoped the attention would elicit the same manic joy she had witnessed earlier, but Kanna just nodded; smiled even.

                Daisy gave Taiga a shoulder satchel that had been nicked and patched over.  She put the books in and told Taiga to give the satchel to Kanna when she grew big enough to wear it.  “When Kanna wants new books, bring her by again.  I have lots of books I can give her.”

                “That’s generous, for you.”

                “Painting children my color: alluring them to books over swords… I’m hardly being selfless.”

                Daisy saw them off; saw off Kanna at least.  Taiga walked down the street with her daughter in hand, who smiled toward the Daisy and memory.  When their eyes met, Taiga smiled as best she could, but Kanna chose to admire the pebble stone road.  Kanna saw right through to her real face: her perpetual stoicism dyed with a bit of scorn.

                Why then couldn’t she see the struggling parent that desperately wanted to repair their history?

                Or perhaps she could, and Kana simply failed to interpret this grown-up sentiment.

                Daisy loved books and that love didn’t require language to communicate.  Taiga thought about her own loves; about what could put a genuine smile upon her own form.  A fight with an audacious thug would be convenient, but she wondered if violent heroism would really soften her daughter’s guard.

                There was little a mercenary could offer to a daughter in good faith.  Self-defense; but only after Kanna had grown enough to understand physical acuity.

                Taiga went to the crafts store and paid a little extra to have Kanna’s paint and brush sets sent to their home.  “Want to look around?” and though Kanna kept glancing at pottery and fountain pens, she shook her head.

                “Want to eat?”

                Taiga led Kanna into the deep town where restaurants shamelessly aired their salt and sauce to the tourist population.  Stores and stands stood border to border and lined the road to either side with more hot meals than the local populace could consume, but any person passing between Alendria and Chowa had to come through here, and those one-day residents numbered enough for Taiga to sweep Kanna off her feet.

                “Let’s look around”, she said, and she poked her head through curtains til an old man was audacious enough to beckon her inside.  “Come!  Come!  Sit!” he said; sit on the only two seats left in the house.  The tables were mobbed, and Taiga and Kanna filled out the end of the bar as the old guy took their order, rejected it, and told them what they really wanted.

                “Grilled kabobs; you’ll love it.”

                “Yeah… sounds… good…” she mumbled.  Kanna seemed to like his energy, and as long as she was smiling, Taiga would settle for whatever.  She didn’t feel like fighting the chaos.  She was tired of fighting and always losing.

                Chatter filled the background and blended unto silence.  Taiga felt the world surpass her as a homogony of vigor and decisiveness bustled around her.  Everyone seemed at purpose; full of intention.

                There were people at her back; some distance to her back at a table.  It was fine, except she hated to sit where eyes could watch her without being matched.  She didn’t like giving up the end seat, but she didn’t want some stranger by her daughter’s side.

                Taiga wanted to bristle.  Anger had been her savior through four years as she smashed doors, broke bones, and threw half-dead ingrates before magistrates.  She was supposed to let it go when she claimed Kanna.  These past four months should have bathed in blossom-blinded-bliss, but Kanna would run up to her and spout kiddy things that did not match the logic of the world.  Experience was supposed to refine her reactions into choices, but her parental mind never sharpened beyond a blunt instrument.  She could analyze along standard thought lines, but Kanna had no desires for power, money, and sex; just toys, dolls, and Mother, and “Mother” was a difficult thing for her to provide.

                One wrong glare, cross twitch on the cheek, or heavy step could send Kanna reeling into rejection and revive the days when Taiga refused their bond.  All the parental mistakes she should have been allotted had been used up by her four years of rage.  Her frustrations with her herself, her anger toward her unfair circumstance could not be broached by their tentative tether.

                But without anger her blood cooled, and her voids welled up in her eye.  She shadowed her budding tears with her hands and used her arms to bury her visage and truth:

                “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

                A little tug on her sleeve showed her eyes just as wet as her own.  “Idiot, why are you crying?” and she wiped her daughter’s face up with a cloth.  Did all children sponge emotions so easily?

                Six kabobs came along, and a Taiga stuck half a stick of mushrooms and peppers into her mouth and pulled it right off.  “Yeah, don’t do that”, she said with a mouthful, and she slid the rest of the stick onto the plate for Kanna to pluck with fingers and chopsticks.  She did the same with the chicken and okra skewers and used chopsticks herself from time to time, but mostly to put peppers into Kanna’s mouth.

                “These are really sweet.  See?  Yum!”

                When Kanna ate her vegetables, she was rewarded with the skewer full of slow roasted pork.  Taiga merely licked the blueberry sauce off of her finger and she could feel her fangs.  Kanako could only open her veins once every week; and red meat satisfied vampirism in ways that fish and kinder meats could not.

                Taiga could have claimed the spare, but she gave Kanna both the pork skewers and buried her laughter as her daughter attacked like a dog.  “You’re supposed to pull it off with your teeth; not gnaw on it sideways”, but it was fine.  Taiga got to clean up her daughter’s face and dirty kimono; and for once she felt like she was doing something right.

                She paid, she left, and she held her daughter’s hand.  Taiga and Kanna smiled to each other, and she thought her ordeal complete.

                But when she asked Kanna what she originally wanted, her girl clammed up.  Taiga knelt down, and she couldn’t make eye contact.

                “Hey, you can tell me.  I won’t yell this time.”

                Somewhere in that little head, Kanna kept a history of her laughter and tears, and it did not keep records in moments and times: it shaped her river of thought; and she erected dams: the same dams Taiga built into her own thought processes: the same masks and lies of calm that censored herself from the real world.

                Taiga wanted to say “Don’t be like me”, but to ask for feelings one-way was to offer blood for tears: stoicism for vibrancy.  Her habits would just end up reflected by her daughter if she continued to hide her cut-up heart.

                Taiga had seen so many smiles this day, and she let them bind her to new memories.  Yui offered guidance to someone much richer than herself, to someone less worthwhile than herself.  That Daisy could actually bloom; who would’ve guessed?  And little Kanna hustled toward the unknown; cried for the beleaguered.  She had already surpassed her mother, and this mother wanted to learn from her.

                Taiga lived in such a wonderful world, and she finally let that happiness dictate her expressions to silly contortions and an uncontrolled grin.

                She blushed darker than pig meat as she sold her pride in public space: pride in a reputation for violent psychology; but she didn’t care anymore.

                Taiga heaved Kanna up onto her shoulders and her daughter by the legs.  “I want to show you my world”, and she took off running to the shops she used to fawn over in her youth: stitch art and dolls, colorful pottery, and those frilly western dresses.  Store keepers and customers she passed by would cast lingering stares at her: as if questioning this rendition of Taiga.  She couldn’t hide her heat, but it was a happy heat, and it melted down the stigmas she imprinted onto Kanna, and the girl started pointing and yelling at everything weird and wacky.

                Taiga answered where she could, but often she joined Kanna as an equal in ignorance, and she found in herself an old intrepid spirit that used to ask questions and questions and questions until she earned a fed-up glare for not buying anything.

                She thought about how wealth enabled her to so easily supply her daughter’s interests, and she let Kanna pick out some gifts for Yui’s children.

                Taiga brought Kanna back to the store that had so allured her daughter.  She still saw trinkets collected over the droppings of someone’s travels, but she kept that wisdom to herself as she looked to the display and asked her daughter, “Hey, is there something interesting here?”

                Stutters, half-words, something that sounded like ‘egg’…

                “Kanna; I love you”, and like a spell her daughter’s blood fluttered up and up through cherried cheek and flourished eyes.  It was, she realized, the first time she said those words to her daughter; to anyone in years; and she made a silent promise to say something to the sister that had shouldered her burdens all these years.

                “I want the egg.  I want to raise the egg!”

                “Egg?”

                Sure enough, a speckled brown egg sat on a tan pillow with pastel shades of wood in the floor and shelves behind it.  Shoddy curating if she ever saw it; and the owner proved as hackneyed as she anticipated, but she accepted a gouging price for her daughter’s sake.  It was, at least, a huge egg that barely fit into Kanna’s outstretched arms; but she carried it anyway.

                As they headed for the Kanade residence, Kanna asked, “Mama, what kind of egg is this?” and Taiga wondered herself.  “Probably… a drakkid egg?”  And she certainly wished for a drakkid.  Those giant lizards cost more than the slate of gold she paid, though she warned her daughter that the egg may have already expired.

                “It might never hatch…” she said, but that didn’t really matter, “If it’s you… maybe she’ll learn to come out of her shell.”

                Kanna was warm after all: warmer than sunbeams and winter wool; and Taiga would learn to share her own heat.

                She lived under the sun, and she bloomed alongside all the rest.

End


Feedback is always welcome: like something?  Dislike something?  Say so!  Just be polite, or at least professional.

I’m particularly interested in temperament and tempo.  The emotional scale feels a little off, but maybe it’s just me nitpicking.

Also, in regards to this story line…

While I have several more short stories plotted out for Taiga, I’m hesitant to continue her set of stories.

I meant for her story to run alongside my Japanese studies; except I dropped out of Western Carolina University for reasons.  I don’t regret dropping out: I had nothing more to learn that would be useful to my desired future, with the exception of Japanese.  I didn’t get very far: one semester, one very full notebook and a folder of self-recorded pod casts; but I enjoyed the class quite a bit.  The equal emphasis on each syllable renders the speech very melodic to my ears, and I loved simulating basic conversations like a cashier to customer.  I can’t say I enjoyed the writing aspect (Kanji >_>), but I loved the speech.

That said, operating a bilingual town from the language I was supposed to learn, but didn’t, is making me uncomfortable.  I guess it’s not really that important, since the central mechanic to Taiga’s stories is just plain humanity, but it’s still uncomfortable.

I’m planning a novel that will feature the same split, but I’ll be working from the English side of things.  Much easier.

In the mean-time, I’m probably going to focus on more Vanessa/Seresa/Saylene short stories while I research late 1800s/early 1900s America, England, Japan, China, and just eastern Asia in general post-westernization.  Hopefully I’ll have all the information I need by the time NaNoWriMo rolls around, as I’d like to try NaNoWriMo and writing a novel.

Thanks for reading!

Beautiful Wanderer

Ten days since my last post.  I really suck at this blogging thing :\.

Anyway, here’s another short story!  This one is 1,067 words and will probably take no more than a few minutes to read, if even.


Beautiful Wanderer

               Cold cracked night chilled Seresa through three layers’ clothing, and though she could have waited warm and companied in the station lodge behind her, she preferred to reminisce with Skadi’s kiss.  She had once bellowed with the thunder as she made love astride, half-naked; shedding her tears to snow and sleet; freeing herself from a cage seventeen years pure at the time.  She shushed his identity and fed their memory to the violet soul she discovered that day; smoldering perpetual; burning kindles of mystery and sex and redeeming that heat for the present.

                Decency would have asked a name, but Seresa preferred that blinding passion.  It inspired her to remain fun and foolish.  Prudence served most persons, but Seresa had been born into a fairy’s legacy: a canopy of bright blue hairs and a bouquet of ethereal violets sprouting wings from her upper back.  Spectacle granted her opportunities with schools and masters; the talents she amassed won her wealth; and then she purchased her freedom from worldly worries.

                Train whistled far away but not far from arrival.  Seresa glanced back to the footsteps staggering into the cold, and some of them stared back.

                Pretty brunette scorn took to her side just shy of her own fair height.  Seresa felt the gaze, then scrutiny.  She took a peek into those sea blue eyes and saw a scathing judgment carved down to the ocean trenches.

                “How’s life on easy mode?” asked the young lady.  She seethed her rhetorical intent, but Seresa replied anyway.

                “Pretty good”, and just talking back incurred a swing of fist.  She subtly dodged and caught the inexperienced body from falling via poor weight distribution.  “Careful”, said Seresa, and having been defeated, or at least perceived as defeated, the girl crossed her arms and quivered in frustration.

                Beneath that full and sensible coat, Seresa recognized the office attire of a pen pusher trying to take advantage of male prejudice: a white blouse thin enough to hint a bra, a black miniskirt and all her legs drawn down to the high heels.  Skill had lost to pretty, so skill became pretty, but not pretty enough to win by cheating.  Now she lugged two suitcases stuffed beyond their boundaries, running away to God-knows-where with what dignity and assets remained.

                Seresa embodied everything this corporate refugee hated.  A periwinkle jacket blouse draped a shawl-like top over her shoulders, and the dress underneath layered pleated skirts to a lofty perimeter about her shin.  Lavender frills flashed along every single line; nightly threads segregated touch and step from the callous world; a crop of her hair had been spun into a spiral over her nape.  Seresa wore in travel what this girl would reserve for grand occasion, and thus she stood accused of brandishing her advantages.

                She did not apologize for dressing to whim, but she accepted the biases placed against her image.

                “I’m Seresa.  What’s your name?”

                “Sonya Clyde.”

                Seresa offered a smile and her hand, and after fidgeting through the screeching, horning approach of the train, Sonya finally sighed and accepted the gesture; receiving something in palm through the exchange.

                “What’s this?”

                “My ticket for yours”, offered Seresa.  Sonya reminded her that ordinary persons did not get to sleep under covers while riding coach, but Seresa insisted on the trade.

                Car doors opened, steward and staff descended to greet passengers and review tickets.  A young lad clad in the same navy blazer and trousers cut through the contracted mass of people, seeking Seresa and identifying her colors with ease

                “Seresa Sonada?”

                Seresa stepped behind Sonya and presented her.  Sonya played her part and claimed, “That’s me!  I’m Seresa!” and a bribe convinced him as such.

                “If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to your car.”

                “I get my own car?” and it was actually two cars, but Seresa let that surprise lie till Sonya had the privacy to explore her gift.

                Sonya started to run off, but she spun about and smiled solemn thanks; a reflection of goodwill; before grabbing her escort’s hand and charging toward the mystery accommodations of the rich.  It was just a temporal blessing that would subside in value upon docking tomorrow night, but it would charm her for a day and vitalize her faith in good people.

                Seresa trickled in with the last passengers and followed the procession until the person in front of her passed up an aisle seat in the midst of the car.   The location crowded, but by persons who exuded temperance and quiet desire; and so Seresa fell into the chair, flirted a smile to the man on her left, and then folded arms and eyes.

                As her mind recessed into the headrest, she recalled the days without cushions or high chair backs.

                Back then, she could not even rest her eyes; because back then, her livelihood fit into two duffle bags on her lap.  One momentary lapse in defense could lose her life’s material value; and so she watched her peers, watched her belongings while she wore down over ten hours or more.  When she finally arrived, she often went straight to her new job, working the full day without reprieve for her travels, without sympathy for her exhaustion.

                She used to be Sonya, but luck finally landed her an office infrastructure where her relentless positivity received affectionate praise instead of hostile gossip; where the untouchable boss noticed her ingenuity instead of her body.  She joined a meritocracy, and like a balloon freed from binding rope she rose beyond the clouds and forged her home where the great memories resided.

                Seresa had given Sonya a business card behind the ticket, and for the fate of her own fortune, she may have erred.  Seresa’s intelligence consoled a reflection in those blue eyes, but where Seresa tinted with violet love, Sonya draped her wrath in the blood of the incompetent.

                Perhaps she invited a superior mind to usurp her, but a true competitor invited every legitimate threat to her table; challenged all to dethrone her; and in doing so she was pushed beyond her own perceived limits.

                And if Sonya or some other took her place one day, Seresa would bow gracefully and congratulate her successor just as her predecessor had done.

                Certainly, she would not lose any sleep over her career.  It was just one path of many she could follow, and she was rather curious about those other avenues.

End


Meritocracy?  In my country?

…It’s less likely than you think.

I’ll try to put up another blog post this week; maybe even two!  They probably won’t be stories, but I just want to get into the habit of blogging.

Under the Cherry Blossoms

I wrote a little over 3000 words (about a 5-minute read) for this short story, in roughly three, two-hour sessions with a lot of very useless and wasted sessions in between. Hopefully, I figure out one day what makes me tick, because I’ve seen some very productive hours… just… rarely…

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story!


 

Under the Cherry Blossoms

            Taiga hated cherry blossoms.  They surrounded her family’s shrine, filled out the courtyard and stood sentry over every stoned and tiled path.  The Ice Dragon’s blessing granted each tree the strength to bloom in winter, and flowers that shed their petals and selves daily.  She brushed floral bits from her hair, her shoulder, picked off the remnants resting on her katana’s guard and emptied her sash.  Taiga could not even see ground, and she learnt her footing by sinking her step into the soft earth and stumbling back onto the stones.  Pink prevailed this setting and conquered every visitor’s time, often losing their purpose and their tithes amidst this trance.

            Taiga tired of this aesthetic years ago: resisted the temptation to lie and let the flowers bury her.  She loved pink, her pink memories of her pink childhood, but she reviled the pain of walking into the patio view, and seeing a four-year-old girl hanging her legs over the lisp.  That girl always waited there, with the same ink black hair, the same skin that envied human bloods and irises just as red, just as affiliated with pain; already willing to surrender to cherry blossoms.

            Taiga looked left, the girl looked down.  She walked forward, terrified, and nearly unscathed until she passed the mite at her leg, and that mite called out, “Mama” and Taiga took off running down halls overrun by dust.

            The family residence nested itself deep into the shrine where it backed into the foot of a sudden peak.  Taiga ran where she could, weaving inefficient paths till her honed lungs finally experienced a little tire, and she settled for the comfort of her bedroom.

            Taiga slid open the door and saw a second futon laid out beside hers, with a stack of folded blankets sized right for a tiny girl, and she took off running again till she nearly toppled her sister.

            “Kanako, is this your doing!?” Taiga demanded, and of what else.

            “Yes”, she said, speaking calmly and more strongly than this ronin could.  They shared sisterly halves by their appearances, but Taiga had the vampire heritage, the hot head and a love for physical excruciation.  Kanako stayed with her humanity, her calm, her books and spiritual strength.  Taiga hated to admit it, but her sister chose the better path, and she regularly took refuge in Kanako to debunk the world’s puzzling moralities.  Though now, Kanako had placed her into a terrible place.

            “I can’t stay in the same room as Kanna.”

            “Try”, and before Taiga could protest, Kanako directed her to the supply room, “Get a bucket of water and a rag.  It’s been some time since the floors have reflected the sun.  So much dust…”

            Taiga obeyed, and when she had in hand a day’s work, Kanako dictated her schedule in full.

            “I’ll take Kanna to town… cheer her up.  You won’t run into her while you clean, so you can meditate in peace.  When I return we can take a bath together, and talk.”

            “But how do I meditate while-“

            “Just think.  About anything, really…  It’s good for your mind and your emotions.”

            Kanako started off and then turned again, “Think!”

            And with a sigh, Taiga pushed her rag into her bucket of water, rung it damp and then thought.

            Dust, dust, so much monotonous dust…  Taiga ran down the hall pushing her cloth, and in just one sprint she found her device already speckled with gray matter.  She finished her course: running back down the hall on a parallel path, back and forth till she could see the dim sun on these floorboards.

            One hall down, some dozens more to go, and she had to change cloths and even sometimes the water.

            Dust, dust, how could there be so much dust?  It grew out of floor and walls.  It just had to.  It was a problem inherent to high quality polished wood, shrines, and shrines made with high quality polished wood.

            Supposedly, dust contributed to her father’s end.  He did not fair strongly like most vampires, and he resided within kindness, within pacifism.  Taiga never knew him, but mother always recalled him to remind about the dangers of dust.  The subtle wheezing that seemed troubling, yet innocuous, and then suddenly a bloody coughs and bloody hell took a life.

            He smiled, when he died.  Vampires had such poor fortunes when it came to children.  A frisky couple between a vampire and another could yield no children, even after ten or twenty years.  To simply leave her to continue the dwindling lineages and hopes of his people had been enough to die smiling.

            Taiga had sex just once: her first, her last, and out came little Kanna.

            Anger seized her.  She sloppily rushed to exert her legs and angst, but guilt sent her back over those floorboards.  Father would probably be so happy to have grandchildren already.

            If he were here, if he or mother were here, Taiga would have left Kanna to become her parents’ child.  And then Kanna would be doomed to have no parents of her own.

            Kanna was probably doomed to have no mother anyway.

            That thought stayed with her till every last floorboard saw the sun off to its distant recluse on the other side of the world.  The sky lights themselves cluttered with flowers, but she’d brush them away some other time, when Kanako was busy.

            Her sister returned, managed somehow to hide Kanna from Taiga and the two sisters met in the hall.  “Oh, um…” Taiga mumbled, remembering her family contribution, and she handed a pouch of coins to her sister.  Her escort job placed her close to a criminal with a nice bounty on his head, and so she brought back more money than usual.

            “Who did you capture?”

            “Killed, actually…  That mage that assassinated that Alendrian prince.”

            “And you received silver?  No gold coins?”

            “Apparently, freezing him, shattering him, and leaving no identifiable traces can affect bounty rewards.  Who knew?”

            Kanako shook her head and handed the money back to her sister.  “My silk sells well.  Purchase what luxuries you like.  Buy Kanna a gift, perhaps.”

            “And how would I give it to her?”

            “…by hand…”

            Kanako sighed, put her bangs and her cheek bone into her palm.  Taiga put her money away as per instruction and met her sister in the changing room to the bath.

            The Nakada family built their shrine beside Nasu Peak for its natural spring.  Water flowed under the mountain and found its way through the ground till a pressure of water rose upon itself and spilled over rocks.  The pools filled and fell into the next: four in all, with the high two reserved for rinsing and the lower two intended for all the dirt and maligned feelings Nakada accumulated over the day.

            Taiga invoked a spell, warming the fount, and then she occupied a bathing pool across from her sister.  They could share a space, but Kanako made her pool unbearably hot.  “Isn’t that bad for your skin?” but the spirit required indulgence and nourishment as much as the flesh; or so Kanako said.  Priestesses could excuse any practice by saying spirituality this or spirituality that.  She imported expensive soaps claiming to invoke some divine favor upon the skin, but it just looked like colored, scented soap.

            Taiga washed herself, simply, effectively, quickly.  When she set down her bar of soap, she noticed petals stuck to its surface, and then in her palm.  Petals fluttered over the stakes on the wind, flapping about surface to surface and then tumbling into her bath waters, peppering the night blue surface with that pink that shined despite an aging, waning moon.

            Perhaps the contrast deceived her, but Taiga saw the petals separately from the environment, as though they burned onto her image quite after her vision made sight.  They glowed, every one of them, perhaps with the Ice Dragon’s inner light, his wisdom, or more likely just his magic.  Taiga would more readily believe the scientific answer, but faith took over her eyes again and again, cruelly returning every blossom to the shrine’s courtyard, guiding her down the aisle so she could see Kanna waiting for her, and each time she hid within her own suffered mentality.

            “Let me run away”, she said again and again to herself, trying to afford a victim’s reprieve, but she had shoved her problems onto Kanako for four years now.  Taiga wanted to combat this challenge when it still cried for her breast, when Kanako had to shush and rock that baby of hers and Kanako had to try and play mother to a niece.  When her resolve found enough threads to patch a bandage, Kanna would change.  Kanna crawled after her, and then walked after her, and now the little girl waited for her.  In a year’s time, Kanna would have the legs to run, and then she’d see that her mother didn’t just avoid her: she ran from her, and Kanako would have to pick up all the tears and limbs lying under the flowers.

            Taiga had been a victim.  Now she murdered her sister and daughter a little each day; with a poison much like mercury.  She hated it.  She didn’t know how to distinguish her passions from Kanna, but Taiga loved her sister.  Even if Taiga exiled herself, gave up Kanna, Kanako would have to compete with her ghost and her memory.

            “Taiga…  Taiga”, and on the third call Kanako shook her trance.  “I’m heading up”, she said, referencing the rinsing pools.  Taiga followed and assumed a pool for herself: desiring to linger; but Kanako hurled a bucket of rinse water onto her head.

            “That’s too hot you witch!”

            “You seemed lost.”

            “I was thinking!” and while Kanako verbally lauded the miracle, she crushed any ideas for healing slowly.

            “And will your thoughts materialize action?  Or will they become your next reason to wait another year?”

            Taiga sunk into her waters, hoping to hide.  Kanako sunk into her waters, hoping to drown.

            “Taiga…  I’m tired of babysitting your feelings.  I can forgive some months, maybe a year remaining distant, but four years now.  I don’t care if you’re still hurting.  Move on.”

            Taiga couldn’t answer.  She felt like a wolf, trapped in a corner by a bear too big and too advantaged to possibly retaliate against.  She snarled, wanted to snarl, if only to feel like her fate remained in her own control, but she had burned away her days, and now her final minutes whittled down to the moment she had avoided since birthing Kanna.

            “Kanako…  How do I move on?  Every time I search myself, I find my wounds bleeding still.  It’s so hard to separate Kanna from him.”  Kanako paused, and if she required more than an instant to resolve mental matters, then Taiga had proposed a difficult circumstance indeed; not difficult in solution, but difficult because her little sister was such a terrible, limiting instrument.  “What would you do?” Taiga asked, wondering, what Kanako could do if she could just rely on herself.

            “I would raise Kanna; love her, even if it means breaking and committing suicide some time after Kanna takes over the shrine.”

            “Is that even possible?”

            “Choice; execution.  Nothing more; nothing less.  Though I can’t imagine myself suffering in such a parenthood.  Even if he was the father of my daughter, she would have to commit her own offenses against me to consider abandoning her.  I’d kill him on the spot if I saw him again; but I won’t neglect her, not for what he did.

            If you have to: lie.  Claim no relation between your daughter and him.  It could work, but your unwillingness to cope, your desire to evade pain bound you to this predicament.”

            Taiga just had to run through a sword.  A simple task, if the sword were real and not metaphorical.

            “Will you help me?”

            “I’ve been helping all day.  I’m going to give Kanna a bath, and send her to your room.  Wait for her, don’t send her away, and don’t run away.  You don’t have to love her.  Just let her close.”

            Taiga conceded and left the bath, dressed into a robe, then returned to her room.  She half expected to find Kanna waiting for Kanako, but her sister had the foresight to make Kanna play elsewhere.

            Taiga dressed into tomorrow’s kimono, lit a lamp, and waited till she heard her sister’s words ushering these little footsteps down the hall.  When the door opened, Taiga allowed herself a glance at the little girl staring back at her anxiously, but only a glance.

            If she stared into those eyes, and saw him, she might tear down the walls and a dozen cherry blossom trees too.

            Through her peripherals, her ears, she tracked Kanna to the other futon: heard her daughter sit down.  Taiga gave her sister that look asking what to do.  Should she give greeting?  Welcome?  She had only instincts, and they told her to bristle.  Covering herself in quills kept sane human interactions away: filtered those conversations not palpable to her sword.  Kanako oft made fun of her barbed personality.  “Hedgehog Ronin”, that sister liked to call her when speaking to others.  Taiga only knew how to break things: how to solve those problems she could punch in the face.

            Much like a hedgehog, Taiga had a soft underbelly, and she hated to expose it.

            “Anyway, I’ll leave you two alone”, and Taiga shot that look to Kanako again.  “You don’t have to do anything.  Doing nothing might be best, knowing you”, and she excused herself.

            Taiga took the advice to heart and tried going to straight to sleep with her back turned.  She raised her quills, readied her combative demeanors, and suddenly deflated as eight hours cleaning caught up to her.

            She was tired, she was hungry, and probably, all according to plan.

            “Clever witch”, she thought, and a few more curses for her sister until she heard munching.

            Taiga sat up and looked to her daughter, who wrestled with the tough, dried out sinew of a cow between her hands and her teeth.  “Jerky?” she asked, and Kanna nodded.  “Can I have some?” and Kanna nodded, though she was too preoccupied to offer one by hand.  Taiga reached out like she was grabbing a stick out of a fire, and jumped back once she secured some food for herself.

            She sheered her jerky with a single pull of her jaw, mangled and devoured it, then popped the remaining piece into her mouth.  Kanna seemed quite awed by this feat, and tried to mimic, but she couldn’t tear the meat even using both hands and all her teeth.  She was awfully weak and uncoordinated for a four­-year-old.

            “Um… here”, and Taiga reached into the bowl, a little less cautious than before, and tore chunks into strips into pieces.  This just let Kanna pop the whole thing into her mouth, and she popped her jaw open and closed like a dog, chewing and chewing and wondering why this delicious meat wouldn’t dissolve.

            Taiga kept grabbing pieces until she was sitting in arms reach and munching away like the miniature in front of her.  They made eye contact: her daughter staring and chewing and looking up to her.  Taiga chewed, stared down and wondered where all that rage she feared had gone.  She saw only herself: that small stupid self that liked to sit in mother’s lap while eating and listening to adult conversations flying over her head.

            Maybe she could carry on as normal and let Kanna close just as her sister had said.  Complications would arise, but this wasn’t the guillotine she feared.

            Taiga felt the heat of the spring as her body’s metabolism caught up with her food.  She used her room’s hook to open the sky light; to just let a little of that cool tundra air inside; and a plume of blossom petals spilled over her.

            She grimaced, annoyed.  Kanna smiled, elated.

            “Do you like flowers?” Taiga asked, and Kanna nodded.

            “I hate them.  I used to love them, even after I learned magic and realized each blossom budded, bloomed, and shed itself according to a timer.  I invited someone to share that love with me, and he took a lot of precious things from me, and our family.  I hate him.  I think of him when I see cherry blossoms, and so I hate the flowers.”

            Probably, she spoke too frankly for her daughter to understand, but all her subtext, her emotional connotations, her feelings had been soaked up, and Kanna looked at her with eyes filled with pity, sorry, and desire.  “Hey, maybe with your help, I can love flowers again too”, and Kanna brimmed from lip corner to lip corner.

            “Now it’s too cold”, she grumbled and she closed the sky light.  “I’m going to sleep, eat what you like” and Kanna kept nom-nom-nomming while she lay down to sleep.  She watched her daughter master the dog’s method of eating.  She watched her daughter struggle with the folded blankets.  She watched her daughter give up and crawl over to her.

            Taiga wanted to protest as Kanna crawled into her futon and snuggled into her bosom, but her lips had no airs on which to speak.  She kept mouthing things, trying to ward off all the silly pink blushes and exasperations on her face, but in the end, Taiga surrendered to cherry blossoms, snuffed out the lamp, and pulled her blankets over them both.

            It was an awkward night.  Taiga received a sneeze right into her clothes.  She learned to put her arm around her daughter’s back, and when to take it away so Kanna could crawl over to the bowl and return with jerky in her mouth.  She remembered how hungry she used to be as a kid: how vampires couldn’t keep their appetites away from meat and how she so loved to gnaw and chew and satisfy predation.

            Taiga remembered how one day she told a man how happily she looked forward to a life spent with him, and with their children.  She genuinely wanted Kanna that day, and she would learn to see Kanna, without seeing him.

            The hungry mite eventually, finally settled down enough to start snoring, and Taiga closed her eyes for the last time.

            Cherry blossom petals fell across the blackness, returning her faith to the aisle of trees.  She saw a day when she returned home; refreshed to see home.  There, on the patio, waited a girl of her likeness, who smiled, who jumped up and ran into her with a hug.

            And Taiga would grin: all bright and cocky and happy; surrounded by the pink flowers she loved once again.

End


Critique of any kind of is welcome. Like something? Dislike something? Say so! Just be nice :).

Edit: Simplified the Title. If I expanded Taiga’s character into a novel, I would probably title it after one of her nicknames like Hedgehog Ronin or Tsundere Ronin or some like. “Under the Cherry Blossoms” I feel simply, and succinctly represents this short story.

Edit (4/10/2014): Did a revision. Nothing major. Cut a few words, rephrased like two sentences. Should read a little smoother at some parts.

Edit (9/25/2015): Another wave of edits: mostly just correcting where I used colons versus semi-colons.  I also changed the name of Taiga’s daughter to Kanna.

Stitched Angel

My first literary short story!  Enjoy!

*Edited and revised as of June 3, 2014.

 

Jason Hwang

Fiction Short Story

November 17, 2012

4,199 words

 

 

 

Stitched Angel

 

            Violet, azure, and jade danced their eternal waltz on black and navy stages. Warped their theatre, rippled and refracted their image; a sky-born ocean, held to the heavens by envy and hope. As wispy dress hems chafed one another, their luminescence scraped off the aurora and fell through the water, joining a duller world of air and dark silhouettes. Black forms transcended menial darkness into branches, leaves, or stone as these droplets of light fell by, only to revert when jealous dirt and earth swallowed the light whole.

            Gazing upon this spectacle, Sora couldn’t help but wonder if he dreamed, but if he dreamed, then he had dreamed for years after losing his life. Dreams did not flow coherently with the passage of time, nor did dead people dream. Dead people just wandered this beautiful existence, forever entranced by this never-ending night, by infinite aurora. He just wished he could appreciate the depth of his vision as others did.

            Sora had no left eye, no counter or compliment to his right eye’s opinions. His only sight spoke of beauty and hope. Would his missing eye tell him the same? Could he descend deeper into this trance with two eyes? Or did demons of apathy and despair hide behind the veil of his eye-patch. He shouldn’t seek to know, he shouldn’t disturb an already comfortable existence. Perhaps his trance had deepened too far already, for his empty eye left a vacancy in his soul, a missing piece of himself required to feel complete.

            The lost link pulled at him, tugged him along the rugged ground as it had for all his after-life. Sometimes, he felt lured… toyed with… the victim of a higher power that delighted in teasing this poor young man. Years of fruitless pursuit conjured an expectance of failure. Years of endless walking had toughened his heels and hardened his small body till the sensations of touch fled to the fringes of this trance.

            He should give up. He should settle anywhere the fruit trees grew, or where spring water pooled. Sora had grown accustomed to half-blindness, but so too had he acclimated to the longing, to the search, that he no longer knew how to stop. He’d find his eye upon a single point along infinity. Logic, sense, and all odds stood against him, but that human yearning forwarded his legs toward the glint of promise.

            A fool he was. A fool clinging to faith instead of reason, but a fool he’d rather be, because God could only make miracles for fools. So to her, this fool pled a simple prayer.

            “Please show me a sign. Herald my journey’s end so that I may finally rest…”

            A droplet fell from the sky, a simple luminescence of white and green no different from the thousand other rains that fell, but Sora followed this one light with his eye. Small, pure; an angel falling from heaven, falling from grace, falling into the crooked wooden claws of dark demons, splitting over their branches and breaking into pieces for the lowly and outcast dirt to claim as its own; a droplet of prophecy passed, falling fatefully upon its fruition where a white feather lay.

            Sora’s vision of the feather lasted as briefly as the droplet, but he had quick memory and feet. Thoughts and estimates guided him toward his quarry. He could recognize the powdery caress of soft dirt, the jagged hilt of a buried stone, or the sinewy skin of a leaf. Sora’s feet had conquered nothing else in life or death, so when gentle fibers tickled at his toes, he knew where his feather lay.

            He plucked that feather and held it to the first light to fall his way. White, bristling hairs attached to a thin stem that could break to wind alone. Simple: this beauty… and oh so fragile. Just how did humans find beauty, find love in things so easily broken? Over the course of eternity Sora would lose the feather for sure and then cry for his loss, but he’d rather break his heart than leave it an arid basin, and so he pocketed this feather, joining it with a needle as his only treasures.

            The missing eye tugged at him once again, and Sora renewed his amble. The feather made a wonderful distraction, but that’s all it was, a brief and finite interruption in eternity.

            He sighed.

            “I’ll never rest”, he thought again and again, “I’ll never rest.”

            The rope around his soul slackened.

            All the weights of longing and apathy and despair slipped off his shoulders along with the noose. Disbelief numbed his legs. The eye he sought drew nearer to him; fate was bringing to him his weights that he may discard them!

            One silhouette disturbed the Nether’s sacred monotony of stillness and silence. Aside from the ocean sky, the world after death remained motionless, inanimate. Any vision or sight could be confused for a painting on a wall; a borderless image that he could manipulate through himself to many ends. Sora could alter his vantage, observe a scene through the various illuminations that fell from the sky, or even move the silhouettes with his hands, but never would this painting have life. Death’s decree froze this world into instances of image, but life now sprang before him and defied everything he knew of this Netherworld.

            Sora took a step back from the unknown, and the shadow stopped. The two waited until the rain finally shed a few lights to dispel their misplaced fear. Where imagination once placed a demon or other nightmare, he now saw a girl more petite than himself.

            The girl held up a pale rose and caught the next raindrop in its petal frills. The flower absorbed the water’s light and glowed with its white color.

            So many pale blonde strands overflowed the crown of her head till they spilled over her shoulders, racing the tattered fabric of her white gown down her sides until they settled at her waist. Her fair skin ran just as softly, just as smoothly, except for the stitches. They grabbed the eyes, those stitches, and just as strongly invoked the mind. The black threads rounded high up her arms and legs, revealing where her limbs had been sewn on and at one time, torn off. The only implication more disturbing wrought a stitch-line about her neck.

            Just as he studied her, two eyes gazed back, and when Sora gathered the courage to look at them he saw two different eyes. Her left eye reflected the shining rose off a dark brown mirror, but that blue iridescence in her right eye belonged to him.

            “Ah…” was the best his feeble tongue could muster, but she understand. The girl pointed at her blue eye and spoke.

            “Is this yours?”

            Sora nodded, and without hesitation her fingers reached for the eye to pluck it out. He thought of this girl lying in pieces on the ground. With his eye, she became whole. He did not wish to take that from her, and so he ran to her and grabbed her wrist.

            “You can keep it.”

            “Really?” she asked, wide-eyed as though the nature and essence of people were defied by his generosity. She thanked him, studied him and searched his form; eyes roaming aimlessly before locking onto Sora’s pocket.

            “…Feather?”

            Sora withdrew the feather and held it up.

            “Is this yours?”

            She nodded and offered her rose in trade. In her other hand, two pieces of white flesh brimmed with feathers like the one Sora found. A few fallow regions contrasted a beautiful pattern, but with the feather received she rejuvenated her plume, even if just a little.

            “Are those wings?”

            “Pieces.”

            She separated the two pieces and held them up to show off their dismemberment. Putting them closer together, Sora could see where they should’ve come together as one. Instead, she held segments of a jigsaw puzzle.

            “Would you like me to put them together?”

            “Can you?”

            Sora showed the girl his needle. In the Netherworld, no tool or instrument could compare to this simple strip of metal. A pointy tip on one end, a loop on the other, and just enough girth in between to pierce flesh, hide, and cloth alike without bending or breaking. With a needle, Sora could reattach body parts or patch together pieces of fabric to make or mend clothes. With a needle, Sora was both doctor and tailor.

            Thread was simple enough to find. Amongst every crop of trees Sora could always find the harrowing fingers of a spindle tree. Those branches kept splitting into smaller and smaller limbs, intertwining fine woods into a web spanning all three spectrums of dimension. Hell’s widow could not spin a more diabolical weave, a weave made more confusing by the threads of black silk hanging from each twig end.

            This nightmarish product of Nature and Nether lay in Sora’s wake, and a moment’s backtrack found him a spindle tree. Its silk fell low to the ground, and he merely had to close his grip in its web to pull away a fistful of threads.

            Sora changed venues to friendlier oaks and sat at its base. The girl sat on her knees before him and watched as he pulled thread through the needle loop and tied a knot at the end. “You are quite skilled”, she said, though Sora had to wonder if she sincerely possessed any frame of reference. He certainly didn’t.

            “Did you use a needle often in life?”

            “No.”

            “How did you live?” and he found the question strange to interpret. “What did you do in life?” or “What were you in life”, would have observed the extra-personal distance expected by the proper language he adopted in life. Sora dwelled upon occupation, status, existences, and she made him to think on his feelings.

            “Sorrowful.”

            “Why sorrowful?”

            “Because I lived penniless; haunting alleys and trash.”

            The girl’s head bowed, apologizing through silence. Seeing her take on his lively grief, he quickly continued his sentence and tried to fool him and her of a happiness found in death.

            “It’s all right though! At least I am here now in the Netherworld. It’s rather beautiful here.”

            Curiosity replaced her sorrow. She opened her mouth, but after “Um…” her tongue got lost, stumbling over a name she didn’t know. “Sora” he told her, “Sora…” he trailed off before admitting that he forgot his last name, if ever he had one. A single name satisfied her though, and she smiled while repeating his call.

            “Sora… Sora… I love your name. Simple sound, but beautiful.”

            And he loved her voice and words. How sad that it took years after death to finally receive a compliment, to know some feature of his deserved admiration

            “Sora, how did you get here? To the Netherworld?”

            He hoped her words would not venture on death. Sora could not envision a cessation more pitiful than his life, but he shared it. From that face, that innocent expression, he could not possibly hide; he could not lie. Those wondering, childish eyes would just reach into his soul, reach into his truth.

            “I died for a piece of food.   I found a morsel of cake on the streets. I’ve never had cake, so I eagerly took my find into an alley to savor, but a man, a much bigger man saw me. I really, really wanted to know the sweet taste of cake, so I refused to give it to him.”

            Sora paused, yielding the focus to precisely position the two pieces of wing together and make that crucial first pierce.

            “The man beat me and took my food, and then he continued beating me until my flesh and pain swelled unto agony. I died in that alley, unable to move, unable to scream. I could only whimper as my body withered over days.”

            A pitiable death she agreed, “But how did you get here, to the Nether?”

            Sora thought he answered, only to realize his error. She wanted to know why he walked under an ocean sky instead of Heaven’s sun. “Well, when I stood at the gates to Heaven, a crowd told me I was born a mongrel, lived a mongrel, and died a mongrel, and that Heaven has no place for a mongrel. I suddenly fell into darkness and wound up here.”

            “…How cruel”, she whispered twice over and let the horror still her. She sat quietly, content to watch him delicately weave the thread between two halves until they bound together whole. Sora offered her the completed fragment, but she did not accept it.

            “Is something wrong?”

            Her eyes evaded his, even with the advantage of duality. Her lips moved, but only a deaf ear could hear her words.

            “What’s your name?”

            “…Saylene.”

            “That’s a pretty name! Say, anything on your mind?”

            “Will you help me find the rest of my wings? I want to fly.”

            “Okay.”

            Saylene turned around and started off toward the first piece, following the hope that tugged her soul along. High up her back, mounted behind the shoulder blades, two bloody stumps marked what she lost and sought to reclaim.

            Fortune gifted her more generously than it had Sora. Feathers and the rare white flesh cropped up with the passing of hours and sometimes minutes. When Saylene discovered matching segments, they stopped while Sora sewed them together. Up hills and peaks they scaled, down slopes and the cheeks of mountains they descended. By lakes and rivers only heard, through the ghoulish grasps of forest trees they trekked. Despite years committed to searching for his eye, he felt he traveled more following this girl, that he had explored more of the Netherworld in her company than he had ever accomplished alone. Sense couldn’t explain it. Had his trance deepened with love, so drunk that the passage of time eluded him? Or had Saylene’s presence finally awoken him from years of sleep-walking? Feelings and emotions forgotten… love, infatuation, caring… revived by her light.

            It was curiosity though that leapt furthest from the mind-bound grave, spinning conjecture and theory as he tried to wrap his head around Saylene’s past. He could fancy a guess to her nature. Wings only blessed angels, but why did an angel walk under an ocean sky instead of Heaven’s sun?

            “Ah… Saylene?”

            “Yes?”

            “You’re an angel, aren’t you?”

            Saylene did not stop or slow. She answered without looking back.

            “I was the Angel of Love, but I’ve lost both my wings and love. I’m just a girl fallen from heaven now.”

            Fallen or not, a measure of reverence permeated his body with warmth and respect for this holy being before him, but also deepened his confusion. He hoped that he did not venture unto sacrilege as he asked, “But why are you fallen?”

            “Mm… I guess Heaven doesn’t need love anymore, so I was cast out.”

            “By God?”

            “By people.”

            “You mean humans?”

            Saylene nodded.

            With but one eye and mind, Sora could not comprehend such a ludicrous Heaven. A heaven where humans could throw out an angel, a heaven that did not need love… “How is that even possible?” Surely, the superior power and grace of angels could rule over humanity, but Saylene told a tale of Heaven nothing like the warmth Sora believed in.

            “I was thrown down a pit, an endless hole whose walls writhe with the evils of all beings. Demons embodying the wickedness of the spectators above grabbed at me, pierced my body, infested and wriggled through my veins and organs and tore me apart from the inside. Whomever the demons slay and eat, divine or mortal, they find themselves here in the nether as I did. To my fortune, an old woman was kind enough to sew what she found of me together.”

            Suddenly the death Sora suffered appeared quite generous and satisfactory. He wanted to console Saylene, offer his condolences and whatever support he could muster, but a vision cut him out of reality.

            For a brief moment, Sora saw through the darkness and witnessed Saylene’s agony. Warped, mutated monsters of illogical design grabbed at her with hands, claws, and tentacles, holding her up like game trophy. Terror held her eyes wide, tears streamed down her face. She begged for salvation or at the least a merciful death, but fear and choking grasps curtailed her voice.   The mutilation and horrification of her body filled his mind’s sight with vitriolic imagery, but gore held only a blunted edge to symbolism.

            No matter how hard he tried to cast it from his mind, Sora could not stop the echoing sights of Saylene’s wings being pierced and broken. Blood trickled between the feathers as unholy appendages gouged her angelic gift, defiling her until finally the demons tore the wings from her back one at a time, stealing each into the darkness slowly, taunting her feeble struggles to save her precious light. And always, always the scene ended with the cheers of people, of human beings. No remorse, no empathy, just delighted celebration that the soles of human feet could shove angelhood into the dirt, that not even divinity could withstand human conquest, human ambition, human ruination.

            Sora felt guilty for being human, for belonging to those that would see this angel’s soul raped for entertainment. “I’m sorry,” he said, unable to shake a sense that the vision he saw originated not from some foreign entity or a connection to Saylene’s soul through his loaned eye, but from recollecting his own contribution to that writhing mass of human folly. Sora could not deny the envy he felt in life, the desire to join those who lived with full bellies and in warm homes. In death, he might have envied Saylene’s beautiful wings had Heaven taken him in.

            Saylene took Sora’s hands into her own, and through this simple touch he felt her undeserved forgiveness. “I saw what they did to you,” he said, “I saw from the envy in my heart, my darkness in that pit, and I can’t help but wonder if I could have been one of them.”

            Saylene just shook her head.

            “No. You gave me your eye. You would make me whole before yourself. You are much kinder than I.” To be praised higher than an angel, even a fallen one, warmed Sora’s cheeks with humility and happiness, but still he wrestled with shame, a need to be punished for those who would go free after their crimes. “Those were my kin…” he tried to argue, but one did not match grace with an angel.

            “Silly Sora. Cruelty beckons to anyone weak enough to savor its cheap satisfactions. That could have been angels laughing at me, or angels and gods and humans in company. It really doesn’t matter.”

            “Angels can be evil?”

            “Anything capable of choice can decide to live harmoniously or wickedly. God could commit evils if she willed it, and she’d be as fallible as if you or I chose the same.”

            Her palm stroked Sora’s cheek as she smiled for him. “I have darkness too, darkness that resides in that pit. My spite, my contempt delighted in destroying the divinity and higher purpose humans ascribe to me… My covetous nature tried to take and hoard my wings, never to share a feather. Divinity does not grant moral impunity. I hope if ever I erred, you would have courage enough to correct me.”

            Sora could have used a few eternities to contemplate Saylene’s words, but she pulled him along by the hand. “Let’s keep going,” she insisted, “just a few more pieces… a few more feathers and I’ll fly under an ocean sky.” Sora had many questions, questions about a Heaven that didn’t need love, but he held them, he held them and forgot them while treading the Netherworld, while stitching pieces of wings together, while watching the smile and warmth return to Saylene’s complexion as her wings neared completion.

            The end of longing began in a clearing, an absence of silhouettes separating forest and mountain. Where rain fell here, the light penetrated the surface and dissipated into sinking mist. Somewhere beneath this strange surface both flat and clear, the final feather glowed white and gentle.

            Saylene took a step forward, and Sora grabbed her out of fear that she’d sink with the rain.

            “Silly Sora. It’s just water. A lake.”

            Silly Sora let her go, and she plodded forth through shallow water. She bent down and plucked her feather from the shoals, returning to dry land and completing her plume. Even with black threads weaving through the white sheens like a shattered pane, Sora still found glory in those severed wings.

            “It’s done!”

            “Not quite,” she said, turning her back to him and holding the rose high above to shine over her back. Sora wielded his needle for one last feat, sewing and restoring each wing as slowly as they had been undone until two broken, but proud wings spread wide as her outstretched arms. Sora admired his handiwork for the few seconds before reality crashed down upon him.

            “Sora, you can sew them on now.”

            “I already have.”

            Saylene looked over her shoulder, touched her feathers. “I can’t feel them.” She closed her eyes tight, tried with all her might to beat her flight muscles, but aside from a paltry bounce they did not move, they did not fly.

            Saylene bolted forth, thrashing through water before leaping into the air on mortal feet, but rather than sail on divine wind she crashed thunderously into the lake. Sora chased after her, wading in knee deep before finding the sullen wreck of a broken girl.

            “I can’t feel my wings… I can’t fly…” she sobbed till her voice choked and she settled for the comfort of Sora’s arms. “I wanted to fly under an ocean sky… I wanted to carry you with me and see the auroras together…” Sora held her close to his bosom, and as her sorrow bled over his chest, he realized the nature of Saylene’s suffering.

            She accepted her fall from Heaven, losing her position by God, but she agonized about the loss of her wings. Tendrils had eaten her from the inside out, decapitated her head and limbs by bursting out from under her skin, yet only the theft of her wings tormented her. Sora blamed his kin for committing sacrilege against a divine being, for usurping Heaven, but these were just crimes against the vanity of his faith.

            Saylene loved her wings. She loved to fly and feel the wind flowing through her hair and feathers. A simple happiness had been broken. A fundamental wrong had been scarred onto her heart. No matter how he tried to elevate her, Saylene’s feelings were mortal. She suffered pain and cried tears as he did.

            Sora cast off his reverence for Saylene and threw away holiness and sacredness. To worship her, to idolize her and obey the ease of faith and fear left her alone and isolated in this Netherworld. He discarded humility and summoned the courage to stand as her equal, to say “You can lean on me, you can cry on my shoulder”, to love her as a person and not as an angel.

            Sora lifted her face and gently kissed her lips, flushing away her tears for the heat of embarrassing surprise.

            “You… you kissed me!”

            “Uh, sorry… It felt like the right thing to do.”

            Saylene burst out laughing, bellowing and cackling and sounding so very human. “Silly Sora…” she said many times before pushing him along towards the shore.

            Halfway there she stopped and looked out over the lake’s crest with wandering and wondering eyes.

            “Wait here.”

            She ran back out into the depths and dived under the surface. She did not resurface for a minute, two minutes, three… Sora held up the rose, but the lake’s core just looked like a black abyss, even under lantern.

            Saylene eventually returned, looking horribly pale as she coughed up two lungs worth of water. As she forced herself breathe, she held up an eyeball in her fingers: a little white sphere glossed by veils of water and light. Its iris matched Saylene’s brown eye. “Now we can both be whole,” she said and reached to pluck Sora’s eye from her socket once more, but stopped.

            “Take off your eye patch.”

            Sora took it off, and tried his best not to wince or squirm as Saylene pushed her eye into his vacant socket.

            “And with this,” she said, “we can always find each other, no matter where we are.”

            Vision that once gazed without partner now felt the depth of company and the deeper understanding afforded by difference. With her eye, he fell deeper into this Netherworld trance. Sora still felt the tug of his eye on his soul, but he did not mind being tied to her for all eternity.

            “Let’s go,” she said, taking him by the hand.

            “Where?”

            “It doesn’t matter…”

            They were together, in company, in friendship. Free of mortality, free of divinity, safe from a Heaven that did not need love.

            They walked under an ocean sky, entranced by this never-ending night.