The Picture of Disappearance

Welcome you all to the Gallery of Curiosité. Our highlight tonight is the Picture of Disappearance. Created from an unknown period by an unknown artist, this picture since discovered has captivated countless viewers. Captivated in the sense that it draws you to it and keeps you in. Spooky? No? Ha-ha, I see, all brave souls around here. What is so special about it, you ask. You will soon find out. Please fall in line, ticket in hand. The gentleman at the front, please step up. I like your Spider Man jacket, very trendy – I’ve been looking for one for ages! The rest please wait your turn. We can only allow one at a time. I will soon return for the next. In the mean time please help yourselves to the drinks provided by our bar, I’m sure there’s something for everyone’s taste. No cigarette, please. Thank you for your patience.

Now now, please follow me inside. This way, please. Here we are looking at the famous, or dare I say, infamous Picture of Disappearance. On the first glance, what do you see? Don’t be shy, tell me. No judging here, I’m no art critic. A landscape, right? Quite pretty, with lustrous green plain, wild flowers and the blue sky above, the bluest, if you ask for my personal opinion. It is called the Great Plain of Nassos, or so I was told. But it seems empty, void, without humans. Makes you feel lost. Just a landscape, you say, nothing more. I beg you to be patient and look again, mister. There, you see. The picture has changed! It’s no longer empty. There is a little girl in a moss-green dress sitting near a wild daffodil bush. She has beautiful golden hair, like the sun in the sky. She looks lonely sitting all by herself there, you say. Such a sentimental gentleman. The ladies sure love a gentleman with open emotions. Blink, and look again, please. Tada~, our beautiful little girl is no longer alone – she has a friend! A girl in lily-white dress and ebony black hair flowing past her tiny waist. Isn’t she lovely? They are making friends, you see. The raven-haired girl and the blond girl are holding hands. Can you tell they are smiling, too? Such precious friendship. Too bad it does not last long. Nothing too beautiful lasts too long, a wise man once said. A shame. Pity. Blink again. Now please look at them. The season has changed: the sky is grey, the sun absent and the grass withers, yellow. And our beautiful girls… Oh no, the blond girl is dead! She is lying on the ground, her dress a stark contrast with the grass. There are dark blotches on her dress, you have to squint your eyes a little. These are her blood. Look carefully if you don’t believe me. Ah ah, don’t lean in too close, please. Why is she dead, you ask. Who killed her? Look to the left, please. Yes, you are looking at the murderer. She has raven-black hair and is wearing a lily-white dress. In her ivory hand a gleaming thing. A butcher knife. It is still dripping! She stabs and stabs and stabs. Such a cruel girl. Please stay where you are. Don’t lean in. The black-haired girl is becoming bigger? Yes, she is coming closer. To you, mister. No, no, please don’t touch the… Oh dear. I did warn you not to stand too close.

Sorry to keep you waiting. Did you enjoy the drinks at the bar? The next in line, please. Follow me, miss. What a beautiful dress you are wearing. I always like crimson – ageless and never out of fashion. You know, the Queen’s favorite color is crimson, too. I’ll soon be back. Enjoy your drinks.

Please follow me inside. This way, please. Here we are looking at the famous, or dare I say, infamous Picture of Disappearance. What do you see? Tell me. A landscape, right? It is called the Great Plain of Nassos, or so I was told. I also heard in Nassos the sky was the bluest and the grass greenest. Myths are always beautiful. But the scenery seems empty, void because there is no human. Makes you feel lost in the vast space. But that’s just it, nothing more. Where is the ‘curiosité’, you ask. I beg you to be patient and look again, miss. There, you see. The picture has changed! It is no longer empty. You are looking at a little boy standing alone. He has a Spider Man jacket, you see. How adorable. Huh? He appears lost, confused. And he is crying. Maybe he is lonely. But look again! There is a girl in the picture. Her black hair is shining and her white dress is so beautiful. Isn’t she a lovely creature? They are going to be friends and the boy will be lonely no more. Be careful, miss. I must warn you not to lean in too close…

To Undo

When Seiichi stepped on the threshold leading to his shared apartment, the sky was already a dark cobalt. It had been a difficult day for every one of them at the office – the first days of a month always were, as a matter of fact. Even as he left the building, stacks of paper coded with different colors still piled up on his desk like little bonsai mountains, promising a tomorrow just as long and hard as today. He had fallen asleep on the subway and would have sorely missed his station had it not been for a kind old lady who looked worn out like himself or any other passenger. He longed for a hot bath and a delicious meal that was not one of the varieties of instant ramen they had in boxes at their apartment. That was just wishful thinking really: the day his lazy, undisciplined roommate prepared a proper meal for them would also be the day his parsimonious manager gave him a decent raise, which was unlikely this year or the next. How many a time he had thought of quitting his current stagnant job and decided against it in the next minute; finding a decent job in this economy climate was not so different from the Gold Rush in the previous century: few chances and risks galore. And Tanaka Seiichi had never been in Lady Luck’s favor: a mistake in judgment could end up in weeks if not months of living off unemployment benefits.

Tadaima,” he said aloud, announcing his presence to no one in particular. The place was dark, illuminated only by the yellow light from the street lamp outside the window. Shidou must be dozing off again, that lazy ass. Muttering a curse under his breath, Seiichi took off his shoes, placed them neatly in their place in the shoe cabinet and put on his fluffy bunny slippers (his roommate’s birthday present – never ask) which muffed the sound of his feet as he passed the short corridor in a few quick strides. The room at the end was pitch-back.

“Holy shit, Shidou,” cried Seiichi once he turned on the lights. He was very alarmed when his slippered feet made sloppy sounds as if he was stepping on a puddle after the rain. It turned out his analogy was not very far from reality – he had indeed stepped on a puddle at the door of the room. If he were in another time, when he was less exhausted and in a better mood for literature and romance, perhaps he might describe it as having the color of old red wine or withered Manjusakas. But no, the truth was he was dead on his feet so he would say it as it was, no unnecessary fluff: it was a puddle of congealed blood that lied on the floor, not far from which were the severed torso and limbs of a male body, whose remains of clothes looked too dauntingly familiar for him not to recognize. The blood was dark, almost brown, which suggested this unsightly deed must have been committed at least an hour or two.

And on the faded sofa laid the slumbering culprit of this ugly crime: the amateur mangaka on his way to become professional who was also his irresponsible and messy roommate for five years and a half: Miura Shidou. Seeing the young man curling up on the sofa like Shironeko on his daily routine caused a surge of anger to rise in the salary man. Seiichi went on tiptoe to avoid the scattered body parts and carefully made his way to the sofa. He gave the younger man a good kick, startling and sending him sprawled on the floor.

“The fuck, Sei-kun?” Shidou groaned, running his spidery fingers through his shoulder-length bleached-white hair.

Crossing his arms, Seiichi tapped his foot on the wooden floor.

“Oh right, that,” said Shidou in voice still heavy with sleep. “My bad, Sei-kun. I didn’t mean to. You needn’t kick me though.” He peeled himself off the floor and moved languidly to the table, where he sat down and poured himself a glass of water.

“Mean to what?” Seiichi’s tone was as cool as the first breath of winter that began to spread through the city. “I got home after a hard day’s work, dog-tired, and was warmly welcomed by a puddle of blood and a dismembered body in our room which is very likely my roommate’s newest masterpiece. I think I deserve having not just one kick.”

“I got a bad day too,” whined Shidou. “The tight-ass editor turned me down and this geezer just couldn’t shut up about how we are late for the rent, how we should keep our home a little tidier – my fault, you keep everything in order and I mess things up. I was having a monstrous headache and I told him to fucking leave me alone but he just kept on ranting. Blah blah blah…”

“He liked talking to you. You knew that already.”

Shidou’s hands flung in the air dramatically, the silver bracelets and bangles on his wrists clanging jovially. Pointing a finger at the torso near the door, he said through clenched teeth, “That’s entirely the point. Normally I can deal with his tasteless shitty flirts but today I was fed up with them. I couldn’t help myself.”

“How many times in this year you ‘couldn’t help yourself’?” Seiichi cocked an eyebrow and calmly asked. His tea-colored eyes behind his glasses stared into the younger man’s face. Shidou tried to avoid his penetrating gaze at first by turning his head sideway but even by doing so, he still felt the pricking sensation at the back of his head. This was not the first time he wondered why Sei-kun had not applied to the police institution: with his stare alone the man could put any suspect, no matter how toughened they were, into submission and spill out all their secrets. What a real shame. Defeated just like any other times, he held his hands above his head. “All right, five. I know I have the ugliest temper but this old pig went way over the top. He really asked for it…”

“Asked to be killed and torn apart?”

Shidou let out a exasperated huff. “Can we just move to another place?”

“Like where?”

“Some place with a landlord who doesn’t let his dick do the thinking and harasses his tenant every time he gets a chance,” Shidou scoffed. 

“Because this landlord,” Seiichi stressed, pointing at said landlord’s remaining body, “let his dick do the thinking that we were able to have the cheapest rent in the whole city! Let’s talk about moving again when you have a regular-paid job, Shidou-san. Until then do keep your complaints to minimum and your temper in check.”

“All right, all right. But you’ll help me this time, right, just like other times.”

He stalked closer to his friend until they were close enough to feel each other’s breath. “O-ne-gai, Sei-kun,” he purred.

There it went again, the puppy-eyed dork face Shidou was so fond of using on Seiich every time he wanted the older man to yield to his whims. With an annoyed grunt Seiichi pushed Shidou’s face aside. “Like I have another choice. It would be me they question if the police arrived.”

Shidou’s forming pout turned into a feral grin and even the formidable difference in their heights could not prevent him from leaping up and hugging his roommate’s neck. “You’re my best Healer, Sei-kun. But you’ll be even better…”

“Your only Healer,” Seiichi cut him short, “and no, I won’t leave his memory of this insane act of yours. Not even a hint of it.”

Shidou made an audible groan. “Oh, c’mon, Sei-kun, he’ll be hitting on me again. At least leave him some hint that he should leave us alone as long as we pay the rent.”

“So that he’ll become paranoid and throw us out on the street?” Seiichi shook his head and spoke in firm voice. “No. Try to deal with your temper like other Killers who have no Healers.”

“But I have you…”

“No buts. Next time I come home and see a corpse in our apartment, you can find yourself another Healer…”

Shidou looked as if he wanted to open his mouth but Seiichi promptly shut him up before words came out. “End of discussion.”

“All right,” he murmured. “Anything you say, boss.”

Seiichi’s eyes scanned the place. “Put the head and whatever missing parts back and wipe your mess. I want the floor clean as new and blood-free. You have half an hour.”

Hai.”

“I’m going for a bath first. I want things done when I come out. Got it?”

Seiichi was about to head for the bathroom when Shidou caught his arm. Scratching his messy white head, he smiled awkwardly. “A small problem, Sei-kun. I think the head and other parts are in the bathroom. In the bathtub to be more precise. So maybe we will get him back first and you can have your bath… later.” He defensively took a few steps back.

Blue veins throbbed beneath the salary man’s temples. “Tell me one good reason why I shouldn’t kick the shit out of you, Shidou-san.”

Note:

*Tadaima: I’m home

**Onegai: Please

***Hai: Yes

 

Culprit

It was already stuffed with police officers when Detective Colebourne took bold strides into the crime scene. With his left hand in his beige trench coat, he tipped his trademark black fedora in a casual greeting to his partner-for-life, Cerney, who did not bother to return the gesture, too busy jotting down detail after detail on his well-worn notebook. His dark strands crudely swept back, his steel rimmed glasses hung low on his straight nose bridge and his winter-blue eyes focusing on the yellow pages, the twenty-eight-year-old detective sported a stern look that easily discouraged Colebourne’s intended good-natured shoulder slap. A concentrating Cerney was a never-to-mess-with Cerney, Colebourne had learnt it the hard way back when he and his partner first met, both freshmen at the police training institution. So, instead of slapping Cerney’s arms, he raised his voice to announce his arrival.

“What’s up, mucker?”

Only until now did Cerney look up from his notebook. His left eyebrow arching ever slightly, he scrutinized his ‘late’ colleague as he did a suspect. Then his gaze fell on his wristwatch as he said, “So soon, Detective Colebourne? We hardly started.”

…started packing and coming back to the station. Colebourne did not fail to catch the mockery, thank you.

“Nah, bin late lest nicht,” said Colebourne, waving his leather gloved hand. “Yoo ken, Sunday an’ aw ‘at. Thanks God we hae ye.”

Cerney held up a lean forefinger. “Anything but that fake Scottish accent.” Colebourne shrugged, accepting his failure in attempting to amuse his colleague. “Okay. Thocht mah accent soonds bonnie genuine.” He gave one last shot, and earned a razor-sharp glare from an annoyed Cerney.

His eyes behind the cobalt-shaded glasses moved quickly around the crime scene, which happened to be a designer’s clothing shop. He clucked his tongue as he spotted the luxurious brands that would cost him a month’s pay, perhaps two, just for a small article of clothes that he probably would not wear more than three times. There was blood and bits of guts everywhere he looked and the scene appeared taken straight from a slasher movie. No wonder his nose could pick up the revolting odor of half-digested bacon and eggs somewhere around. Probably the newbies…. Or Croft, who always had a weak stomach for a homicide detective. Good thing his stomach remained quite strong however while Cerney, well, he did not know a thing that could stir his morbidly stoic bestfriend.

“So,” he said, tugging a cigarette between his lips and lit, “we have a werewolf in here or something? Want to brief me on that?” He leaned closer to the tall, sort of lanky man, draping an arm around his shoulder.

Cerney replied in flat tone, “My money’s on a vampire; werewolves wouldn’t let the place and objects intact.”

“Right, right. Any information on the unfortunate guy? Or girl… Not a girl, right?”

As always, Colebourne had a soft spot for the fairer sex. Not to be sexist but he would say it gave him greater distress if the victim of this horrific murder was a female.

A murder, right, not an accident or suicide. That was why he and Cerney had been dispatched to the scene.

“The victim’s male, around thirty-five, mixed race, probably Latino. Right now the guy is being put back together for further identification.”

“Put back?” Colebourne echoed.

Cerney opened a brown envelope and handed him a stack of photos, which could very well serve as a reference for someone who desperately wanted to cut down on his or her calorie intakes. Stressed on “desperately”. The detective studied the photos for some good minutes before he turned to his partner.

“Lucky us the head’s pretty whole. I think I know the guy – dear late Gonzales was no stranger to me. Got caught a few times. Jailed twice. Lock-breaking, stealing, drug-trafficking, that sort of stuff.” His gaze traveled around the place. “So karma has finally come to bite him in the ass, huh?”

“Traces left on the doors and devices suggest your friend here managed to break the lock and shut off the surveillance cameras. An incredible feat for an individual, I admit….”

“The boy got skills, I give him that.”

“… Unfortunately, he couldn’t get pass the top-notch security system of this shop. No property lost, according to the shop manager and cashier.”

“Any light on his cause of death?”

Cerney looked at him for a few seconds, and he swore he could see more than just a hint of mischief in those piercing blue eyes. He arched his dark eyebrows in reply.

Torn apart,” Cerney stressed with his Cockney accent. “On first glance. We have to wait for the forensic guys for further detail.”

Colebourne tried to stay calm; however, his raised tone betrayed him. “Torn apart?”

“If you want an illustrative example, imagine tying the head and limbs to each chariot that goes different directions – the ancient Chinese’s favorite corporal punishment.”

“Thanks for details. Makes sense if that’s a werewolf. I suppose we should add the shop manager, cashier and all the sale staff on the list. Hell, that’s gonna be a long list,” Colebourne muttered under his breath.

“Got it done,” said Cerney, writing down a few more words before closing up his notebook. “All are having a coffee break at the station. Most of them perfect alibi though. We’ve been waiting for your much treasured interrogation techniques.”

Colebourne scoffed indignantly, “Do enlighten me, Detective Falke, why was I summoned here instead of there?”

“Why, I thought you would want to see the scene for yourself, Detective Jagdhund.” And a smirk crept up Cerney’s lips.

Colebourne swore his friend had planned to punish him the very first minute he was late to the scene. He held up both his hands in defeat.

“I bet you’ve taken every detail down already. Now let’s see if I can break those perfect alibis to pieces.”

As they were prepared to leave, Colebourne suddenly looked to the mannequins scattered around the shop. They too were covered in gore and thus, were being wrapped in plastic to be transferred to the forensic laboratory. “Last time I saw them, these girls weren’t all smiling like this,” said Colebourne. He pointed to an exquisite-looking one with tousled neon-blue hair and matching glass eyes. “Especially this one.”

“When was your ‘last time’?”

“Some weeks ago. Maybe a month or two. We should check if they have been recently replaced.”

Scratching his stubbly chin, Colebourne took a long pause to study the blue-haired mannequin. Indeed there was a curve etched on the contours of her lips; still, it was not so simple as an artist’s crafty knife carving into the doll’s face. The smile was not external but seemed to reach all the way beneath her artificial skin, and manifested in her slightly arched eyebrows and squinted eyes. The more he looked, the stronger his illusion grew – that he was looking at something with a soul rather than an empty plastic vessel.

His gaze shifted to another doll, and found a similar expression and a similar feeling. The third one he laid his eyes on was no different.

It was as if something or someone was terribly amusing to them and they broke into a smile as once.

Colebourne rubbed his eyes until his vision turned red. No, he was not high; as a matter of fact, he had not been high for half a month.

“You’re alright?” asked Cerney.

“Yeah, just give me the creeps, really,” Colebourne remarked at last as he broke out of his trance.

“Should I put them on the list, too?” Cerney tapped his capped pen on his notebook. Keeping a straight face and a serious tone to match, he asked, “Witness or suspect? Both?”

Colebourne gave him a dirty look as the two made towards their car.

Back to the Tales of Bizarrity series and introducing Colebourne and Cerney, two unlucky detectives who have failed to solve almost every bizarre case in this series. As I write them, I develop a sort of affection for the pair. Maybe they should have their own story. I don’t know. Depends on my mood.

Kiss Me Goodnight (II)

*Characters and events belong to Joel7th

d2ee4437gw1ejsqs46ioaj20zk1a7n5v
Face claim: Michael Fassbender as Azazeal (Hex)

II.

He returned, with a goodnight kiss and promise of bedtime stories

He returned the next night, when the grandfather clock struck twelve, and did so the night after, and all the nights that followed. Exactly at midnight, never a second late. I knew because after the fourth night, I began counting every remaining minute while telling myself the butterflies in my stomach didn’t come from the anxiety and anticipation of cigarette smell blending in the air. Didn’t come from him. And when the time came and I turned my head, I would see a deceptively young man sitting cross-legged on my creaking bed, a half-burnt fag between his fingers. With his fine tailored suit, his slightly wavy locks slick with brilliantine, his polished Italian leather boots and expensive fags, Death posed sharply as a privileged fop most welcomed in every casinos or red-light districts. He might be one when he was not on his “deadly” business. Yet, instead of being there, he was here, sitting on a low, tiny bed that would probably get his long limbs cramp. Instead of having voluptuous pretty girls on his lap, he was in the company of a scrawny kid who was debating whether to grudgingly welcome him or just shove him out of the door. “Good evening,” he would say, and thus our nightly tête-à-tête began.

He was the first I hoped and the last I expected to see upon turning the brass doorknob of my attic room the second night he paid me a visit.

The grandfather clock was chiming its ominous tune as though welcoming him.

It had been a long day indeed. Rushing back and forth between the East and West ends of the town gave my soles blisters that would not heal in a week or two and my leg and thigh muscles a burning soreness that numbed whatever kinks Lord Abner tried on me later in the evening. Having been instructed a handful of new “pleasure” plays from an exotic trader, he was more than eager to try, as my mother had been more than eager to pick the golden coins from his heavy pocket. But I had been a disappointment, he remarked furiously. Lying impassively on his four-poster red satin bed like a bloody dead log. Had he known beforehand, he would have just paid for a pretty cadaver to be delivered to his mansion – corpses were far cheaper, especially in this town where peasants died like flies every day. Where was the youthful and rigorous passion he had expected after paying an absurd sum for one pleasure night? Cheated! Conned! He roared and finally resorted to the old trick of leather bindings, masks and crop. Venting out the frustration in the familiar way he knew all too well. At least in the end, he was generally satiated; otherwise Mother and I would have been in great trouble.

I staggered step by step on the wooden stair, a basin of water and a spotted, worn cloth in my hands, to the door of my room. Mother were already sleeping in her room, probably stone-drunk on the better-than-average whiskey her ample payment tonight had allowed and never aware that her child might have lost her yet a generous client. My sporadic footsteps woke only Janek, who was the unfortunate light sleeper in this house of nocturnal creatures. Glaring at me with bleary eyes, he muttered gibberish before covering his crinkly head with his faded, patched blanket – its foul smell reached even where I was standing. Sweet dreams, I mouthed, and ascended the rest of the stair to my room.

For a moment I had imagined Death behind the door, grinning at me when I came in. It gave my heart a jolt to step in and see the real one.

“Good evening.” A greeting that would sound much mechanical and pretentious were it not coming from Death. He uncrossed his legs and shifted to the edge to allow me the most space should I need to lie down, and I nodded in brief acknowledgement. Jumbled by his unexpected appearance, my mind failed to find its voice. What to do now that he was in my room just as I had wished? Honestly I didn’t know. I could greet him with the same cliché. Maybe not. Or perhaps I could go on doing whatever I had intended to do, never mind his presence. Though I had hoped (against all hope) for his return, I wouldn’t imagine myself giving his company a warming welcome. Death didn’t seem to mind though; he might have picked it up from my mind already.

I laid the basin on the table and opened the window, facing the streets and a row of cypress trees. It had been drizzling for hours and the moon was shy; all I had was the dim, yellow lamplight that could be put out in any minute. Since I had displeased the lord, I hadn’t earned the extra coins that I might have used to purchase some candles and oil. Forget them. The state my legs was wouldn’t have allowed me another few more streets.

The rough fabric rubbed against my back. I grimaced at the first taste of pain, which would last for a couple of days if I were lucky to have no client, and tried to be less haste and more gentle. As soon as I stripped off my soiled clothes and put them away in a small heap by the bed to be washed tomorrow morning, I felt Death’s gaze on me, rolling slowly down my spine like small fireballs. Made my skin crawl just a little. Still, I didn’t begrudge his staring; my back and backside must be a sight to behold now, as was the skin of my thighs and legs. Lord Abner had been fervently determined to get his reimbursement. I supposed I deserved all these nasty slashes, as mother would later chastise me once she found out about my “terrible service”. The thickheaded child that refused to learn, that was I.

“The water was cold.”

I turned around at his voice, perplexed by his sudden statement. Did he mean the water in the basin? Of course it was cold. Warm water at this late hour cost three pence and I simply wouldn’t want to risk mother’s fury. Besides, I only needed something to cleanse myself so that I could have a better sleep. Cold water served the purpose just fine.

I soon understood as I turned to basin. Steam was rising from the surface and for a moment I stood still, allowing the moisture to wash over my face. Pleasure, the warmth and moist on my cold skin. And the scent of fresh, clean water passing through my nose was much purer than the variety of oriental perfumes Lord Abner arranged on shelf after shelf of ivory in his lavish pleasure chamber.

Thank you. I found my voice at last. Dipping the cloth in the water, I began to dab at my skin. First were the wounds. A sharp sting. Though I had anticipated the pain, I still could not feign nonchalance in the face of its sharp bite. Mother once said I was blessed with skin that was never plagued with scars, something she envied and would trade all she got to possess. But I wished for the exact opposite: had my skin become calloused and thickened then I might not have to endure much pain every time it was torn open.

The steady gaze of Death’s eyes appeared to heighten my sensitivity. No one had watched me the way he was doing at present: persistent, scathing yet devoid of lust. Lust I knew well, having dealt with it since my first “client”, but this I had never; this was foreign, alien; this confused me. My usual pace reduced; what would normally take a few minutes felt like hours.

I took in a deep breath, and briefly prepared myself for the final part. Cold air filled my lungs, barely sufficient to cool the shimmering heat within my stomach. Most injuries had been cleaned, leaving only one remained. I felt a ridiculous need to turn my head around, and decided against it. Perhaps I was petrified to meet the vivid color of his eyes. Red like the burning fire ready to wash away all the unclean.

I had not been ashamed to present him with the hideous details of my life. However, showing him the memory was one thing, letting him see was an entirely different matter. It wasn’t shame that fanned the boiling in my stomach; it was something worse, something I couldn’t name yet.

I swallowed the rock in my throat and spread my legs, bring the cloth between them. Lord Abner’s remnants clung stubbornly onto the raw, swollen flesh. I scrubbed at it and hissed audibly with the burning pain, squeezing my eyes shut. I felt warm dampness on my cheeks; the unmistakable scent of nicotine swam in my nasal passages.

He kept mum the entire length, letting only the smell of cigarette to speak of his presence. I was grateful for his grave silence. I couldn’t have known what to say if he had asked.

Again, he did not need to ask really.

I put on my nightshirt, taking time to do each button and to unravel the knots in my stomach. The water was dirtied, the sight of which caused me to wince. Leaving the basin on the table, I closed the window, fastened the rusty bolt and climbed on my bed.

The bed moaned when I settled myself on the mattress. To my surprise, Death pulled the blanket to my chest.

I suppose you’re in no mood for a bedtime story,” he said with a tiny hint of smile.

I shook my head slightly. My body was sore all over and my eyes felt heavy as stone. I imagined I could sleep for weeks if I were allowed to have my way.

“Too bad I’ve prepared a few.” He shrugged. “Maybe tomorrow.”

My eyes shot open at the hint. He looked at me, his smile widening to a grin. He patted my head.

“Yes, child, tomorrow, and all the nights after tomorrow. I will be harassing you from now on, whether you like it or not. But now, you will sleep.”

I felt his kiss on my forehead, a quick brush of his lips on my skin. He vanished into thin air the next second, leaving me to debate with myself whether I should be fond of his “harassment”. It didn’t last long as I soon fell into the loving embrace of dreamless sleep.

I awoke before dawn the next morning, feeling full of life and free of pain. The fabric of my nightshirt scratching my skin didn’t pain me, and when I ran my fingers on my shoulders and back, the skin was impossibly smooth.

I noticed something off as I descended the stair, carrying the basin in one hand and my soiled clothes in the other. The flat was eerily quiet; Janek’s usual loud snoring couldn’t be heard.

Curiously, I approached his makeshift bed. Odd. My footsteps didn’t wake him, the old bat. I pulled down his blanket, and poked his shoulder with my forefinger.

No reaction.

My eyebrows knitted. I pinched him.

Normally Janek would jump and yell at me in his thick Southern accent. Not today though. Today he remained still like a log.

I slapped him hard on the shoulder.

Not a stir.

Dubiety rose in me. I placed a finger in front of his nostrils. A jolt ran through my being. There was no breathing.

Dead as a door nail, he was. Unannounced. Quiet. As if Death had swooped down in the night to take his miserable soul to the afterlife, or whatever it was after death. I had to smile as the comparison. It was not without a warning though; Janek had been constantly complaining about a pricking pain in his chest for some time, but no one, including himself, had been paying real attention to his deteriorating health. Not having enough money, he hadn’t seen the doctor. Here was the result.

I stared at his rigid corpse for a good few minutes, uncertain of my own feeling. I supposed there was sadness in me, grief even, for his sudden death. Janek had been the only one in this entire flat to possess the patience to talk to me, a mute child, to teach me bits and bobs of his own knowledge about the world, warped as it was. I supposed he had loved me, as many a time he had caught me in his booze-stinking embrace, whispering to me how I resembled his “precious beautiful child”, who had been lost years and years before to the “wretched old bitch”. I also remembered after each time he had ravished me with kisses so passionate that my lips had been red and swollen for hours later.

I had never told Mother about any of those.

With confidence, I opened his drawer, where I knew he stored all his belongings, however scarce they were. I rummaged through the objects, most of which were as useless to me as to the world, until I found something that caused a satisfied smile to creep on my face. The arsenic he had kept to exterminate the rats – those furry devils from Hell that nested in this shambles. I put the brown packet deep in my pocket, leaving the rest in the drawer.

I stood by his bed and bended down to place a kiss on his wrinkled forehead. Farewell, old Janek. Farewell, Father.

And off I went to wash my clothes.

Mother always complained about how often Janek’s snoring woke her up in the middle of the night. I bet she would be delighted to learn that her sleep was no longer disturbed.

(To Be Continue)

Kiss Me Goodnight (I)

*Characters and events belong to Joel7th

I.

The Groaning Bed, Cigarette Butts and Death

I have no friends. And if I did indeed have one, I would not consider him a “friend”. Friendship is a luxury I cannot afford.

Like me, he does not have a name, and so, “Death” is how I call him.

He never discloses his true name to me. Never speaks of it once. Perhaps he’s not allowed to. Perhaps he has forgotten. Perhaps he doesn’t have one to begin with.

The name I take the liberty of giving him is not inappropriate. Death is what he does. Death is what he is.

And death is the only gift he brings to a human when he stands at their doorstep uninvited.

Death looks nothing like the ghastly image humankind has conjured up since they were conscious of “death”: pit-black robe spanning like the endless night in stark contrast with bone-white, inanimate face that seems only skin and skull. Black and white aren’t his permanent colors, though occasionally he wears either, when he is “in the mood” as he puts it. When he is not, he simply puts on other shades, mostly grim but I have a feeling it is his personal preference rather than an obligation.

As black and white are already a fallacious association, so is scythe as his main choice of weapon. It isn’t. In fact, the only object he seems to carry is his beloved Sterling silver zippo that I have never seen him without. That, and his seemingly unlimited supply of fags. The heaviest smoker I have the non-pleasure to meet. Why bother, he once replied to my curious query while casually dragging out a long, tortuous trail of smoke from his thin lips. For the style, perhaps, I answered. I knew I would have one if I were Death. Carry it around like a proud treasure. He snickered, mocking the idea as he does now and then with every mortal assumption he finds amusing. Why bother carrying a cumbersome weapon, he repeated, while he has no intention to go on a battlefield. If death was war, he would be the all-time victor, no argument.

So, scythe is a no, then what does he reap souls with, you ask. Contrary to common belief, he never does. The very thought of cutting a soul from its flesh nauseates him to no end. Gives him goosebumps, he remarked with disdain. It still baffles him how humans have managed to invent such scurrilous notion of something as beautiful and elegant as death. His business is not that of a gardener but rather of a guide, and he would like to handle it with as much grace and dignity as it certainly deserves.

Sadly, not many a man face death with the same grace and dignity, I told him. Often they tremble, piss themselves or wail like a baby. Sometimes all. He shook his head ruefully in agreement.

I found that gesture almost too human.

Anyway, if you have a rich imagination of how “deadly” and macabre Death should appear, once you meet the actual Death – sooner or later – you will be thoroughly disappointed.

As I were in our first encounter.

When I turned the doorknob and stepped inside the shadows of my attic room, he was the first thing I saw with the light from my candle.

“Huh? You are not afraid of me?”

Death’s voice straddled the line between a purr and a whisper, with a hint of semi-lisp. His accent was exotic and dripped with seduction; I found it more amusing than offending.

I shook my head.

“Of death?”

Shake again. And Death smiled.

Another wrong assumption humans have about Death is that Death constantly wears a stoic, grim and dead-like expression on his bony face. Neither is Death’s face bony nor are his facial expressions anywhere close to their imagination. As if flashing his perfect gleaming white teeth will somehow lessens his deadly presence – if he has any, Death smiles a great deal. He even grins, more often than proper.

Oh, did I forget to mention “proper” never exists in his dictionary, whatever the connotations?

“How utterly failed I am!” exclaimed Death rather dramatically, one hand clutching his chest in mock pain.

Was he having a heart there? If yes, would he feel pain when it got pricked ?

“Not even scare a little child!”

I wasn’t afraid of death, truth be told. I wasn’t afraid when I crouched into the narrow attic I called my bedroom to find, on my rusty bed, a perfect stranger sitting cross-legged. With a fag I knew cost more than Mother’s weekly income tucked between his lips, he flashed me a smile many others would describe as “predatory”. Who he was and how he had gotten in here was a mystery; what he wanted in this flat that was just a little better than the slums down the street, god knew! The worst scenario was he would kill me, a defenseless child, and dump the body down the gutter. Or he would rape me and do the same. Didn’t matter. No one would bat an eye at the sight of ravenous mongrels gnawing the putrefying remains of some nameless corpse. Deaths in such manner happened every day in this godforsaken part of the town, why should I be afraid of becoming yet another victim?

“Because, you know, witnessing others’ death is not the same at being in its presence yourself,” he elucidated. “It is so far human’s greatest fear. Unrivaled.”

Suddenly I heard his voice while his lips remained tight. No, it wasn’t ventriloquism. Janek downstairs used to be a ventriloquist (now a stinking drunkard that neglected his rent on regular basis) and from him I had learned that even the best ventriloquist could not produce such clarity and effect this voice had. It was as if he wasn’t merely speaking to me but rather punching each syllable on the surface of my brain.

I let out a sigh, finding a little comfort in the fact that he was not a lunatic loafer trying to mess with a child.

Not every human’s, I conveyed my thought to him, finding it far more convenient than reaching for my wad of paper and pen. My sign language wasn’t developed enough to catch up with my thinking – one huge disadvantage.

“Well, true, I’ve seen a few myself. But I haven’t imagined a little child that doesn’t show the slightest fear looking at my face.”

I’m not a little child. The words blurted out before I realized it was plain childish to say so. And neither was his face any “scary” as he boasted.

“Pardon me?” Death looked me up and down. “You look every bit like one.”

Just the look. Then I unlocked a drawer in my mind and showed him. Pushed away to a far corner in hope it would disappear, my memory, up until now, of burly men pressing me down Mother’s bed, breathing their foul breath into my mouth, taking me, tearing me for their sadistic pleasure. Of aged men forcing me on my knees and thrusting their no longer potent lust down my throat, making me swallow their filth like it was a great delicacy. Of young gentlemen binding my limbs and flagellating me while moaning the name of God.

Some of Mother’s clients had a taste for children. And a child who could not utter a word seemed to turn them on like no other.

Not a child. The first time one of them had touched me, the child had been cannibalized, leaving an empty shell to be paid for and used over and over.

Well, we all have to work our ass off to feed our stomach, Mother’s words. She had shrugged the matter off when I came crying to her and gone for another shot of bourbon.

I hid nothing from Death, no mortification. This body was no longer my own.

Death sat on my bed, still like the timeless stone gargoyle in front of the chapel. Even his countenance looked stony, inanimate; gone was the easygoing smile that had been there mere seconds ago. At this moment he was really dead-like.

Death’s eyes were pale, unlike his hair and his suit. In the room lit only by the ominous moonlight and one feeble candle, I hadn’t been able to determine their true color. Yet I was now. It would be hard not to, considering how Death’s eyes were shining with brilliant light.

I remembered one odd occasion when Mother had taken me to an event held and joined only by the aristocrats – those she often told me to stay far away from. She was dressed in her most beautiful pearl-white gown, her face powdered, her lips rogue, her golden hair meticulously done and she was wearing every bit of jewelry she possessed. She had even dabbed some perfume – not the cheap kind that cost a penny she usually wore but the tiny vial from France she treasured more than her life; once I had tried to lift it from its altar and she had punished me dearly.

“There,” she whispered, hot breath tickling my ear, “that is your father. Can you see him?”

She pointed a long, bony finger at a man in fancy frock coat and silk cravat standing on the stage, and her tone was dripping honey, something I couldn’t remember hearing for years and years. “See how handsome he is! How rich is his voice! He told me he loved me with that voice! See how strong his arms are! He held me with those arms!” She was crooning. Not wanting to disappoint or enrage her, I nodded despite seeing him but not truly seeing him. He was too far and the best I could make out were his outfit and the vague features of his face. Hawk nose, I recalled, a tall, shining forehead and a crown of silvery strands – those were all I could use to describe my own father despite having been staring at him for God-know how long. Mother’s honey had turned to venoms; she was hissing into my ears with a vehement hatred I was not a complete stranger to. Her manicured fingernails dug into my skin, forming painful crescent imprints that I did not feel until much later as she was dragging me to the entrance.

“You see him now! But he doesn’t see you. Never! Never! Never! He doesn’t know you exist. A bastard swimming in a shithole! A worthless child from a belly of a whore!”

I barely heard her, too captivated by the sight of the crystal glass held in his gloved hand. The smooth liquid in its bowel was shining with brilliant red light.

Just like Death’s eyes.

“You must think I’m one of those depraved souls?”

I didn’t need to answer. Death didn’t need to hear.

His expensive fag fell to the floor and was crushed underneath his sole. Death took another out of thin air, tucked it between his lips and lit it with his Sterling silver zippo.

Why was he using a zippo when obviously he didn’t need one? An imitation, perhaps?

As the fag lit up, smoke dulled the light in Death’s eyes until his irises returned to their pale, indistinguishable color.

I sighed inwardly. At least I had gotten to see it. A color so ravishing. A color so… alive.

You can take me.

Even with the fag tucked between his lips, Death still managed to show a formidable portion of teeth when he grinned at me and reached out a hand with lean fingers to muss up my hair.

I flinched but didn’t try to brush his hand away. Briefly I caught a scent from his fingers, faint and clear as water. I found it more preferable than any kinds of eau de parfum.

Yet I had thought Death would smell deadlier, more like fresh blood.

“Not yet, child. Not today. Your day is yet too far.”

I must have stared at him in some way he dubbed “dumb” or even “stupid”, because all of sudden Death burst out laughing. Whatever left of the stoic, solemn air he had managed to put on in the previous moment was shattered pathetically with his outrageous laughter. He even leaked some mirthful tears from his eyes.

“No need to thank me, child. But if you really have to, I won’t mind a hug.”

Death extended his arms as if expected me to launch myself at him in any minute.

I evaded him and climbed on my bed. The bed creaked with my weight – my too-old pal – but it had been silent with Death the whole time.

If you’re not going to take me then stop occupying my bed. I want to sleep. Tomorrow will be a long day. With that I blew off the candle, leaving the moon the only source of light.

His eyebrows drew together. “Not going to embrace me in sheer happiness?”

I made a derisive sound and squeezed myself into the tiny space left of my bed, trying to make myself comfortable with what I was having.

Death moved subtly to the edge until he was almost perching on it. To my surprise, the rusty frame had groaned with my movement but was quiet with Death’s. I might start thinking his body was not corporal.

In mere coincidence, my shoulder brushed his thigh, and I was mildly fascinated by the warmth beside the smooth texture of the fabric. Death felt like human, more pleasant even.

“Thank you.”

Death either heard my thought or spotted the tiny smile I did not know I’d been having until I saw the hint of mischief in his own.

“A bedtime story, perhaps?”

Pulling the cover up to my chest, I squeezed my eyes shut.

“A goodnight kiss?”

I might have heard a small chuckle before I felt the weight on the bed shifted and vanished. The bed did not make a sound. I was half tempted to open my eyes when a warm, soft sensation brushed the skin on my forehead. It lingered even after the clear scent of water had melted away in the night air. Only by then was I certain I was alone in my room. Only by then was I finally able to drift off to sleep.

I had had my dreamless sleep for years and woke up the next morning to find the wooden floor free of cigarette butts.

Nothing except my memory indicated Death’s presence in this narrow attic the previous night. That might as well be another warped dream of my unlimited stock. What was my unconscious mind trying to tell me this time by introducing a figure such as Death?

Nevertheless, I hoped against hope that he would return.

(To Be Continue)

Kiss Me Goodnight – Prologue

*Characters and events belong to Joel7th

Kiss Me Goodnight

Prologue

“No longer mourn for me when I am dead…”

***

I feel her cool, pale gaze on my skin, peeking through the spidery cracks on the window. Watching me. Smirking at me – I know she is, always is. Ridiculing me. Her little fun to while away her time. She, the everlasting beauty that rises night after night and I, the short-lived, anonymous mortal that will fall tonight. She, who is loved and revered by men and I, who is hated and loathed by them, provided that they knew my name.

Oh wait, I don’t think I have a name. Never have had. Mother called me whatever she pleased – fancy, aristocratic nouns I didn’t think she fully grasped the meaning when she was euphoric and the trashiest, foulest four-letter words she could come up with when she was hopelessly inebriated on cheap bourbon.

Never mind. Even if I did have a name, I would not tell you, liebe.

Barefooted, I skitter on the hardwood floor, avoiding all the rusty nails that jut out. I know the floor as if I know my palm and its treacherous little booby traps could not steal a single drop from me. I do intend to bleed to night, just not this kind of bleeding. Lame.

With a merciless sweep of my arm, I send the various trinkets off the table, sparing not a glance at them. Useless, superfluous objects that have long outlived their charms. A sense of void satisfaction runs through me as I listen to their wails upon meeting their swift end, a litany of vociferous cries resonating between the four moldy walls. My old, attic room moans for them in its silent way, allowing their tiny voices to be heard, ability shortly, before their descend into silent oblivion.

My eyes are on the two sole survivors – my private treasures: the timeless gramophone and the sheathed silver knife. Moonlight penetrates the fine veil of dust to dance on their brass and silver skin, their luster somewhat dulled by years. I lower my face and exhale all the air in my lungs, loving to watch tiny particles of dust flutter in front of my curious eyes. Dust could pass for miniature snowflakes, Mother once told me, and we could fancy ourselves the same as the noble class, privileged to enjoy winter without fears of starvation and freezing to death the likes of us suffered. Her words I have never doubted.

The dust disappears between cracks on the floor, the little show over. Grabbing the knife, I put the needle down and turn the gramophone on for another.

The aging machine comes to life. Smooth as new.

“No longer mourn for me when I am dead

Then you shall hear the surly sullen bell…”

In Herr Makaber’s mellifluous tenor singing his magnum opus inspired by a Shakespeare’s sonnet, I unsheathe the knife, holding it out to inspect the blade. Flawless. Beautiful. I place a soft, moist kiss on its gleaming edge nearest to the hilt. A crimson drop fills the delicate carvings along the blade to its tip. Still sharp as a lover’s chastising, my dearest friend time cannot tame.

“…Give warning to the world that I am fled

From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell…”

My hand glides the tongue down the row of buttons on my flannel nightshirt. Slowly. Carefully. Why need to rush, love?

“Nay, if you read this line, remember not

The hand that writ it; for I love you so…”

The buttons make pearly sounds when they hit the floor beneath my soles. The fabric slips from my skin like warm spring water and I stand naked as the blade in my hand.

A gush of euphoria fills me from head to toe. My legs ache terribly with the urge to dance.

“…That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot

If thinking on me then should make you woe…”

I go on tiptoe and stretch out my arms as though holding a partner to my chest. I take the lead – always trust the born dancer in me – and together we move, twirling gracefully around and around in the little space my room offers. Never mind the pitiable remains of those I swept off the table moments ago being crushed under our steps.

“…O, if, I say, you look upon this verse

When I perhaps compounded am with clay…”

When the back of my knees touch the edge of the bed, I sink heavily down the straw mattress like my partner has suddenly abandoned me – a marionette without strings – and hear the rusty frame groan with my weight. I smile a sheepish smile, stroking the bed sheet. Just indulge this naughty child for a little while, old friend, and soon you’ll be free of me.

“…Do not so much as my poor name rehearse.

But let your love even with my life decay…”

The blade’s tongue casts a flickering metallic gleam on my skin as I meticulously draw a straight red line along my body, from my abdomen to my chest, and point the tip at the hollow of my throat. All I have to do is press down…

…Not the time yet. I smile, laying down the knife.

“…Lest the wise world should look into your moan

And mock you with me after I am gone…”

The song reaches an end. A short pause before a new, same song begins. This peculiar vinyl record of mine plays one song and one song only.

“No longer mourn for me when I am dead…”

The grandfather clock on the wall tick-tocks, tick-tocks. When it strikes twelve, I know he will come. Like he has done so for the last fifteen years. With absolute accuracy. Without fail.

That should be the time.

It is twenty to midnight still, thus I close my eyes, submerge myself in the haunting, angelic melody and wait…

… wait for Death to arrive.

(To Be Continue)

***

Note: The song is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 71

Wrong Number

“Will it ever get to your thick head? WRONG NUMBER!!!”

Shouting at the top of my lung, I slam my phone so hard I think it may snap in two. A muttered curse promptly follows the noise of the impact.

Rolling on his side, David furrows his eyebrows, obviously disturbed by the little show I’ve just created.

“Again!”

I rub my sore eyes, allowing another curse to slip past my lips.

“Fucking annoying! That’s third time already!”

Three times in the middle of the night, when people are sleeping heavily after a hard day’s work.

“Maybe someone really needs help…”

“Then they should call a police instead of some fucking stranger! Wouldn’t dial ‘911’ far easier?”

Clearly David doesn’t share my vexation, despite he himself is also victimized to this midnight disturbance.

“Don’t be so cold…”

“Easy for you to say since you don’t work ten fucking hours every day!”

With an exasperated huff I lie back down, pulling the blanket over my head and shutting my eyes. Those stupid wrong numbers have already taken too much of my precious time and the last thing I want is to loiter about the office like a zombie with two heavy bags under my eyes. Not tomorrow. Not the day I finally gain my long-awaited promotion!

I might have heard David’s sigh but I pay it no mind.

The phone rings again when I’m about to drop off.

“You sick bastard!”

I yell at the phone right after picking it up.

“Ouch.”

David snatches the phone from my hand none-too-gently before I have the chance to hang it up.

“Hello? Do you need any help? Hello?”

Boiling with silent anger, I lie back down.

“Hello? HELLO?”

“Just hang it up already!”

I snarl at my boyfriend after his fourth “hello”.

“Strange…”

“What?”

“There’s no one. Only some sloppy sounds… like, like rubber boots stamping on puddle. Listen!”

I press my ear to the phone half out of David’s beckon and half out of my own curiosity. There’s indeed some strange noises over the phone but I can make out neither what they are or what is causing them. Heck, those noises may be just a static on the line and not any actual sounds. Damn David and his ridiculous imagination!

“Told you it’s wrong number.”

A sense of triumph eases my earlier annoyance at David as I pull the blanket up to my chin, trying to get back to my sleep.

After a few minutes, I realize I can’t have any sleep if my boyfriend keeps sitting with the phone pressed to his ear and the bed lamp on like that. When I pull the blanket down in a huff, I’m at lost to see David’s handsome face strangely pale under the dim bed lamp and a sheen of sweat coating his forehead.

What has left of my irritation is swept clean by such sight; my hand reaches his face, pushing away a damp sandy lock.

“What’s wrong?”

“I, I heard a chuckle. Short, dry and carrying… menace. Then, a voice says, it says ‘wrong number’.”

“Some sicko’s joke. Never mind it.”

“But…”

Snatching the phone from his hesitated hand, I toss it on the table, turn off the lamp and half push David down the bed. “Sleep!”, I half-command him before wiping the sweat on his forehead with a brief kiss, tasting salt.

The way I deliberately put the phone ensures there is no other wrong-numbers to disturb our sleep. Should have done it earlier.

“See? There’s no news about a psychopath on a killing spree like you’ve imagined.”

I hum triumphantly when I lay out today’s newspaper on the table, beside David’s plate of toast and blueberry jam.

His ocean-blue eyes narrow as they skim through the pages, elegant brows knitting.

“But you have to hear that chuckle. It’s chilling! And those sounds…”

“A sick joke and that’s that.”

“Anyone who chuckles like that is clearly not right in the head.”

“Exactly why we call them a sicko. If you’re so intrigued by it, why not turn it into a script? Some slasher movie about a psycho who allows his victims to make three phone calls before butchering them? It must sell better than your usual chick flicks. Slasher movies are the current trend, you know.”

David remains unresponsive to my quip. When I begin to think he’s offended, a smile suddenly creeps up his lips.

“Maybe that’s not a bad idea at all. Should give it a try.”

I reply with a haughty smirk from behind my coffee mug.

“Will I have a part in it?”

“Maybe there’s a part for the screenwriter’s girlfriend if I speak to the producer. Probably one of the victims. No, the first victim. Makes it special for you.”

“Already planned to kill me, huh? Fuck you.”

I punch his arm, laughing along with him.

“Don’t mind if you do.”

Downing the content of my morning dose of caffeine in one gulp, I leave a coffee-lipstick smear on his cheek before grabbing my coat and stand up.

“Would love to but can’t. I’ll be late tonight. No need to wait for me, OK?”

“Again?”

“Can’t help.”

I turn on my heel and walk out of the door, only to be greeted by a morning chill.

My breath comes out a thin veil of milky fog; I tighten the coat around my frame and hurry my feet.

Work. And more work.

Ten to midnight is when I step out from the pleasant heat of my car into the freezing atmosphere. Knackered and intoxicated, I pull the coat tightly around my body and begin my walk from the parking place to our apartment. About eight hundred meters and a few minutes’ walk and I’m happily united with my soft bed and warm blanket.

And my David, too. By this time he’s probably asleep already. My lazy boy.

Despite the winds scraping my face quite painfully, I inhale a good portion of cold, fresh air. As I exhale, I can feel an amount of alcohol vaporizing from my body, clearing my head just a little so that my steps slightly less falter.

Here I am, standing at the entrance of the urban monster’s filthy intestine, namely the poorly lit and trash-littered alley that leads to my apartment. Owning a rather affordable apartment in this expensive city center means having to endure certain downsides: having no convenient parking place is one; this, another.

I inhale carefully, trying to take the least of the fetid smell that takes permanent residence in this place. David laughs at me every time I wrinkle my nose as we saunter down the alley but my boy doesn’t have the slightest idea of how much it disturbs me. Hypersensitivity can be a bitch sometimes, well, most of the time.

I pull up my scarf around my nose and begin to walk down the goddamn alley. The night is completely mute, save for the echoes of my heels on the puddly ground.

No…, not just the sounds my heels. There are another.

Footsteps!

Rubber boots!

The words suddenly pop out and I feel a sharp chill instantly running along my spine, down to my toes.

For whatever goddamn reason, the joke I made with David this morning is rewinding in my head.

A psycho who allows his victims to make three phone calls before butchering them.

It can’t be this coincidental!

I quicken my steps as much as my heels can manage as I’m battling with the fear that gets amplified with each footstep my ears catch. There’s no need to tell how miserable I’m failing.

My clammy hand reaches into the pocket of my coat, finding my cell phone. I allow myself a brief sense of relief.

The rubber footsteps keep a deliberate distance behind my back, their leisure pace and crystal-clear echoes a blatant taunt.

I let you run for now. But no matter how far you go, I’ll always be right behind you.

I pull out my cell phone, skim the  contact list and hit the dial button.

021478269. My home’s phone number. David should be at home right? He’ll come and save me right?

First ring. Second ring.

My heart’s thumping wildly in my chest.

Please! Please!

“Help! Someone’s follow…”

“Wrong number!”

I’m abruptly cut short by a none-too-friendly shout, leaving me in bewilderment.

That wasn’t David. Rather than David’s, I heard a female voice.

Did I make a mistake? That can’t be! I’ve saved my home number in my phone in case of urgency and I can be one-hundred percent certain I’ve done it right.

I hit the dial button again.

The female voice again. Louder. Angrier.

Again, wrong number.

Behind my back, the footsteps seem to be picking up pace.

They are approaching me. They are coming to get me!

I shudder at the thought of myself, cut beyond recognition, being carefully placed inside a pitch black body bag, and David’s ghastly pale face.

I kick off my heels and start running. Something I should have done a life-time ago.

Dreadfulness wasn’t so strong a few minutes ago since I was clinging to the hope of David’s saving me.

2 wrong-numbers have faded it drastically.

My feet might be bleeding with the rough macadam beneath my soles. I pay them no mind. My fingers frantically hit the numbers.

0-2-1-4-7-8-2-6-9. This time it can’t be wrong.

“Help me! Please!”

Someone, please. Anyone.

“Will it ever get to your thick head? WRONG NUMBER!!!”

The female voice furiously shouts back at me, following by a violent slam and the line’s cut off.

I couldn’t have been wrong all three times. Could it be… David has taken someone to our home?

Realization and horror come crashing down on me at the same time.

The female voice isn’t unfamiliar. I know it too well. I should have.

Tears swell at the corners of my eyes yet they don’t slow my feet down. I’m running with my fastest speed in my entire life. I’m running for my life.

A few meters from the door. Just a few steps more. Please God, let me make it!

The hooded figure moves like Death-incarnate. His rubber boots create sloppy sounds which echo through the depth of the alley.

He loves those peculiar sounds. He stamps harder and harder on the puddly ground.

On the mess he’s made on the puddly ground.

He picks up the cell phone and examines it under the dim lamplight.

Nice one.

Let’s see. Recent calls. 021478269. Three times.

He hits the dial button and presses it to his ear.

“You sick bastard!”

He smiles at the furious female voice.

“Hello? Do you need any help? Hello?”

The male voice is more pleasant to his ears. His smile broadens.

“Hello? HELLO?”

He hears the female voice again after the male’s fourth “hello”. He grins widely, showing two perfect rows of gleaming white teeth as he stamps on the ground. He knows they are listening.

He hears the triumphant sense in the female voice. And then she’s silent, leaving only the male.

He can even hears his breathing over the phone.

He lets out a short, dry chuckle.

“Wrong number.”

He whispers and hangs up.

With a wide grin etched to his hooded face, he leaves the filthy alley, thinking how big of a ruckus it will cause when his ‘masterpiece’ is discovered tomorrow.

And maybe… just maybe, they’ll make a movie out of it.

That’d be lovely. Maybe he’ll come to the movie theater and watch it.

[Short] Hộp Nhạc

 

 

Căn phòng trọ đơn sơ, nhỏ bé chỉ có hai người: một nam và một nữ.

“Câm đi! Mày không ăn được nên đạp đổ hả?”

Giọng nam giận dữ hét lên, tiếp theo là một tiếng tát tai chát chúa. Cô gái té xuống, đầu va mạnh vào cạnh bàn. Mái tóc dài đen nhánh che phủ gần hết khuôn mặt cô.

Một dòng đỏ tươi ngoằn ngoèo lăn xuống chiếc cổ mảnh khảnh, trắng ngần.

Chiếc hộp nhạc màu xanh da trời mô phỏng một chiếc tủ trang điểm rơi xuống cạnh thân hình bất động của cô gái, mở bung. Tiếng nhạc vang lên đứt quãng như những nhịp đập cuối cùng trái tim đang lìa xa sự sống.

Tiếng nhạc dừng, trái tim cũng thôi đập. Tử vong là thứ duy nhất còn lại trong căn phòng trọ nhỏ bé.

Chiếc hộp nhạc màu xanh da trời nằm ngay ngắn trên quầy. Một bàn tay đàn ông xạm đen cầm lấy nó.

Chủ nhân bàn tay, chú Hòa, là một người đàn ông trung niên, phúc hậu. Ông  cầm hộp nhạc đưa cho cô gái trẻ đang đứng trước quầy.

“Xong rồi nè con.”

Mái tóc dài nhuộm nâu xoăn nhẹ, cô gái trẻ mặc trang phục công sở đứng trước quầy, Tú Châu, nhận lấy chiếc hộp từ tay chú Hòa.

“Cám ơn chú. Sửa cái này có mất công lắm không chú?”

Chú Hòa chép miệng.

“Chú chỉ sửa đồng hồ, nào giờ có đụng đến ba cái quỷ này đâu. May mà có ông bạn biết sửa.”

“Con cám ơn chú nhiều lắm. Không có chú…”

Chú Hòa xua tay, ngắt lời Tú Châu.

“Cái con bé này đi nước ngoài về sao mà khách sáo! Mở ra nghe thử coi.”

Tú Châu đặt hộp nhạc lên quầy, mở ra. Bức tượng thủy tinh chỉ còn phân nửa xoay chầm chậm trong tiếng nhạc thánh thót.

“Cái tượng vỡ rồi, con muốn thay cái khác không?”

Ánh mắt Tú Châu nhìn chăm chăm vào chiếc hộp nhạc.

“Không, chú.”

Giai điệu thánh thót gọi về những hồi ức hơn bảy năm về trước, những hồi ức ngọt ngào của tuổi học trò.

Hồi ức đẹp đẽ và nguyên vẹn, chiếc hộp nhạc trong hồi ức cũng vậy.

Thiên thần bằng pha lê màu xanh nhạt lấp lánh xoay chầm chậm theo điệu nhạc.

“Dung biết bài gì không?”

Tú Châu của mười năm trước chưa nhuộm hay uốn tóc. Mái tóc dài đen nhánh xõa xuống vai, cô mặc áo dài trắng tinh khôi thêu phù hiệu trường Phú Nhuận, lớp 10A4. Xoay người xuống bàn dưới, Tú Châu đối diện với Thùy Dung. Trái ngược với đôi mắt đen láy, lấp lánh như thủy tinh của Tú Châu, đôi mắt Thùy Dung dường như mang một chút trầm buồn, lại giấu sau cặp kính cận không hề mỏng. Tóc cô cũng tết thành hai bím dày, đung đưa trước ngực.

Chiếc hộp nhạc đặt giữa hai cô gái.

“Lilium? Đúng rồi, là Lilium.”

Tú Châu vỗ tay, tươi cười.

“Bài này cũng có hộp nhạc hả?”

Tú Châu nháy mắt.

“Không có, nhưng đặt làm được.”

“Mắc lắm à nha.”

Tú Châu cười cười, xua tay.

“Không mắc.”

Tú Châu cầm hộp nhạc, đặt vào tay Thùy Dung.

“Mừng Dung tròn mười sáu tuổi.”

Thùy Dung bối rối nhìn chiếc hộp nhạc trong tay mình rồi để nó xuống bàn.

“Cái này mắc lắm, Dung không lấy đâu.”

Tú Châu cầm chiếc hộp nhạc, lần nữa đặt vào tay Thùy Dung.

“Đâu có mắc. Không lấy Châu giận nha. Mốt Châu không ở đây Dung có cái nhớ Châu.”

“Châu không ở đây? Châu đi đâu?”

“Đi Nhật. Qua Tết sẽ đi.”

Nét mặt Thùy Dung hiện vẻ u buồn, đôi mắt to đằng sau cặp kính cận như ngân ngấn nước.

“Đâu đi luôn đâu mà lo. Nhất định sẽ về làm phù dâu cho Dung.”

Thùy Dung phì cười. Lúc này cũng vậy, hễ thấy mắt cô loang loáng nước là Tú Châu lại nghĩ ngay ra cách khiến cô bật cười.

Có Tú Châu, nước mắt của Thùy Dung rất hiếm khi có cơ hội rơi xuống.

“Không biết ai lấy trước ai à.”

Tiếng cười trong trẻo của hai cô gái hòa tan trong cái nắng tháng mười.

Ngày ấy là tháng mười, bây giờ cũng là tháng mười, mười năm đã trôi qua.

Mười năm tuy dài nhưng cũng chưa phải quá dài. Nhưng mười năm đã đủ cho nhiều thứ thay đổi.

Ví dụ như Tú Châu và Thùy Dung.

Tú Châu vẫn còn đây, Thùy Dung đang ở đâu?

“Không biết ai lấy trước ai à.”

Câu nói của Thùy Dung cùng tiếng cười của họ vang lên trong đầu Tú Châu, lặp đi lặp lại như một cuốn băng không có điểm dừng.

Tú Châu ngồi trước màn hình máy tính, lướt qua những đoạn chat giữa cô và Thùy Dung. Những năm đầu cô ở Nhật, Tú Châu và Thùy dung ít có cơ hội liên lạc với nhau. Internet thiếu thốn, tình hình kinh tế nhà Thùy Dung lại không đủ để cô thực hiện những cuộc gọi đường dài, hai người họ chủ yếu liên lạc qua những bức thư dài mười mấy trang giấy tưởng như không bao giờ dứt. Những năm gần đây, Internet phát triển, hai người họ có cơ hội nói chuyện với nhau nhiều hơn. Vẫn những cuộc chat kéo dài tưởng như không bao giờ dứt nhưng Tú Châu luôn có cảm giác đằng sau những câu “Dung bên này vẫn ổn cả”, bạn mình đang giấu điều gì đó.

Linh cảm đó càng mạnh lên khi vừa đặt chân xuống máy bay, Tú Châu đã nhận được tin Thùy Dung không còn trên thế gian này nữa.

Tú Châu nhấp chuột, lướt đến đoạn hội thoại cuối cùng giữa hai người họ.

Ánh mắt cô nhìn dòng chữ “Châu về nhất định phải báo Dung đi đón nha :D” nhanh chóng nhòe đi, nhòe đi.

Tú Châu đứng trước công ty, lấy điện thoại trong túi xách ra áp lên tai.

Một chiếc Airblade dừng trước mặt cô. Người lái xe chừng hai mươi bảy tuổi, là một thanh niên đeo kính trắng, tuấn tú, ôn hòa, mới nhìn liền có thiện cảm.

Anh là Trung Hiếu, người Tú Châu chờ nãy giờ. Thấy anh, cô liền cất điện thoại vào túi xách.

“Anh xin lỗi. Công ty có việc đột xuất nên ra hơi trễ. Em đợi lâu chưa?”

Tú Châu lắc đầu.

“Cũng không lâu.”

Tú Châu nhận mũ bảo hiểm từ Trung Hiếu, ngồi lên xe, vịn lấy anh.

Đường phố giờ tan tầm đông nghịt. Tiếng còi xe, tiếng động cơ xe ồn ào quyện trong khói bụi muốn nghẹt thở.

“Hôm nay anh xin được rồi. Nghỉ hẳn một tuần, vợ chồng đi trăng mật ở Châu Âu em nhé.”

Một bên điều khiển xe giữa dòng người chật như nêm, một bên Trung Hiếu nở nụ cười.

Không biết Tú Châu có nhìn thấy nụ cười của anh không, chỉ biết rằng cô một mực giữ im lặng.

“Em không thích Châu Âu hả? Vậy mình đi nước khác.”

Trung Hiếu như đã quen với tính cách thất thường của bạn gái, giọng nói vẫn ôn hòa, nhỏ nhẹ như cũ.

Ánh mắt Tú Châu nhìn dòng người tấp nập trên đường. Mãi một lúc, cô mới mở miệng.

“Anh, em có chuyện này…”

“Chuyện gì em?”

“Mà thôi, lát gặp ba mẹ em nói luôn.”

Trung Hiếu cũng không hỏi lại, chuyên tâm điều khiển xe. Không gian xung quanh ồn ào đến mấy, trong lòng hai người chỉ có một mảnh lặng im.

Trên chiếc bàn gỗ sang trọng chiếm hết phân nửa không gian phòng ăn bày nhiều món ăn bắt mắt cùng một chai rượu sâm panh đã khui. Ông Phát ngồi ở vị trí đầu bàn, bên phải và bên trái ông là vợ và con gái. Trung Hiếu ngồi bên cạnh Tú Châu. Trước mặt mỗi người là một ly rượu sâm panh.

Ông Phát nâng ly.

“Chúc mừng con gái sắp lập gia đình.”

Bà Lệ và Trung Hiếu hào hứng cụng ly với ông Phát. Mình Tú Châu chầm chậm đưa ly lên sau cùng.

“Châu, con xin nghỉ chưa? Hơn tuần nữa đám cưới rồi, còn bao nhiêu việc phải chuẩn bị.”

Tú Châu chưa mở miệng, Trung Hiếu đã thay cô đáp lời bà Lệ.

“Mẹ yên tâm, con chuẩn bị hết rồi. Chiều mai con và Châu đi thử áo cưới.”

Bà Lệ xuýt xoa: “Ông xem Hiếu nó chu đáo chưa!”

Ông Phát mỉm cười. Chàng trai này chưa bao giờ khiến ông bất mãn, dù khi làm nhân viên của ông hay con rể ông.

Trung Hiếu nhìn qua Tú Châu.

“Lúc nãy em bảo có chuyện phải nói đúng không?”

Ông Phát và bà Lệ đồng thời nhìn con gái.

Tú Châu ngập ngừng: “Con muốn… hoãn đám cưới.”

Ba người sững sờ.

Bà Lệ lắp bắp: “Con bé này… Con đùa đó hả?”

“Con nói thật.”

Tú Châu khẳng định.

Trung Hiếu nhíu mày. Ông Phát trừng mắt nhìn con gái.

“Đặt chỗ rồi thiệp mời xong xuôi hết cả, con đòi hoãn là sao?”

Bà Lệ hốt hoảng hỏi. Đứa con gái này của bà lúc nào cũng vậy, toàn đưa ra những quyết định khiến cha mẹ nó không sao hiểu được.

“Em giận anh hả?”

Tú Châu nhìn qua Trung Hiếu, trong mắt hiện lên một tia áy náy.

“Không phải. Nhưng mà lúc này em không có tâm trạng…”

Một tiếng đập bàn cắt ngang lời Tú Châu.

“Mày nói vậy mà nghe được hả? Còn mặt mũi ba mẹ mày để đi đâu?”

Tiếng đập bàn khiến Tú Châu giật thót, dù vậy, cô vẫn cố giữ vẻ bình tĩnh, đáp lời cha: “Con… con không muốn làm đám cưới khi bạn con mới mất mấy ngày.”

Bà Lệ dịu giọng: “Thùy Dung mất là chuyện không ai muốn. Đám cưới con đã định cả năm rồi.”

“Dung là bạn thân nhất của con. Sao ba mẹ không hiểu cho con?”

“Không hiểu cho mày? Tao với mẹ mày lúc nào cũng chiều theo mày. Mày thì chỉ biết thích gì làm nấy. Trong mắt mày còn ba mẹ không, còn chồng mày không?”

“Ông bớt nóng. Đám cưới hoãn ba mẹ, rồi Hiếu và cả con nữa còn mặt mũi nào với họ hàng, bạn bè.”

Bà Lệ một bên khuyên chồng, một bên khuyên con.

Bàn tay Tú Châu giấu dưới bàn nắm chặt. Cô dứt khoát đứng dậy, bước nhanh ra ngoài.

“Cho mày ăn học chỉ phí tiền. Hỗn láo!”

“Ông nóng quá coi chừng lên huyết áp bây giờ.”

Trung Hiếu vội đứng lên.

“Ba mẹ để con khuyên Châu.”

Nói rồi, anh vội đuổi theo Tú Châu.

Nhà Tú Châu là một căn hộ chung cư cao cấp, bày trí trang nhã, hiện đại. Cô và Trung Hiếu ngồi cạnh nhau trên ghế sôpha trong phòng khách.

“Anh biết em rất đau lòng vì Thùy Dung.”

“Dung không chỉ là bạn em, cô ấy như chị em của em vậy. Tụi em học chung từ lớp một cho đến khi em đi Nhật.”

Tú Châu ngân ngấn nước mắt. Trung Hiếu nhẹ nhàng quàng tay qua vai cô, để cô dựa vào vai anh.

“Anh biết chứ. Nhưng em nghĩ xem, Dung nếu biết được cũng đâu muốn em buồn bã vì cô ấy, phải không?”

Tú Châu dùng tay lau đi ngấn nước mắt. Giọng cô khàn khàn.

“Nghĩ đến Dung, em khó mà vui vẻ làm cô dâu.”

Hai tay giữ lấy vai Tú Châu, Trung Hiếu nhìn thẳng vào cô.

“Em từng nói Dung rất muốn dự đám cưới của em, đúng không? Xem như em vì ba mẹ, vì anh, vì cả Dung.”

Trung Hiếu vuốt nhẹ mái tóc Tú Châu. Bàn tay nâng cằm cô, khuôn mặt Trung Hiếu tiến lại gần khuôn mặt bạn gái, hai đôi môi chỉ còn cách nhau một khoảng rất nhỏ.

Thình lình, chiếc hộp nhạc trên kệ tủ mở ra. Bức tượng vỡ xoay chầm chậm trong tiếng nhạc.

Lilium chưa bao giờ là một khúc nhạc vui tươi, nhất là khi vang lên trong hoàn cảnh này, giai điệu của nó càng ám ảnh.

Trung Hiếu khựng lại.

Tú Châu khó hiểu, đứng lên, cầm chiếc hộp nhạc, đóng lại.

“Lạ. Chắc mới sửa nên còn trục trặc.”

Tiếng nhạc đã chấm dứt nhưng dư âm ám ảnh của nó vẫn đọng lại. Bằng chứng là sau lưng Tú Châu, nét mặt Trung Hiếu hiện rõ sự sợ hãi. Anh vội lấy điện thoại trong túi ra.

“Sếp anh gọi, anh phải đi đây. Ngày mai mình về sớm rồi đi thử áo cưới nhé.”

Rồi không đợi Tú Châu trả lời, Trung Hiếu đã bước ra cửa.

Tú Châu nhìn theo bóng lưng vội vã của bạn trai, nhíu mày.

Tú Châu từ phòng tắm bước ra, cầm khăn lau mái tóc ướt. Ánh mắt cô rơi xuống chiếc hộp nhạc trên giường.

Bàn tay Tú Châu cầm lấy chiếc hộp nhạc, mở ra. Bức tượng vỡ xoay chầm chậm trong tiếng nhạc. Khi cô đóng hộp nhạc lại, tiếng nhạc lập tức im bặt. Lặp lại động tác này thêm mấy lần, vẫn không có chuyện gì xảy ra, Tú Châu nhíu mày, khó hiểu.

“Kỳ, lúc ở tiệm chú Hòa đâu có sao đâu. Hay mang lại cho chú xem?”

Săm soi chiếc hộp nhạc trong tay, Tú Châu nhớ lại ngày cô tặng Thùy Dung chiếc hộp nhạc.

Chiếc hộp nhạc không phải vật duy nhất cô tặng Thùy Dung hôm ấy.

Bìa cuốn sổ trang trí cảnh biển xanh ngắt với những cụm mây trắng phau lượn lờ.

Biển xanh, mây trắng, hai thứ Thùy Dung thích nhất. Cô thậm chí còn hỏi mẹ vì sao khi cô ra đời lại không lấy tên là “Bạch Vân” hay “Hải Dương”.

Tú Châu lấy cuốn sổ trong cặp ra, đưa cho Thùy Dung.

“Nãy là quà sinh nhật, bây giờ là quà tạm biệt. Dung khép kín quá, không có Châu để tâm sự thì ghi hết vào đây.”

Thùy Dung le lưỡi.

“Thôi, Dung sợ con em đọc trộm lắm.”

Khác với chị mình, em gái Thùy Dung vừa nghịch ngợm vừa hiếu động như một đứa con trai. Ngay đến Tú Châu còn ngán ngại mấy trò chọc phá của con bé cơ mà.

Tú Châu chỉ chỉ vào ổ khóa trên cuốn sổ rồi lấy ra một chiếc chìa khóa nhỏ xinh xắn, đung đưa trước mặt Thùy Dung. Cô nháy mắt với Thùy Dung rồi mở ngăn kéo của chiếc hộp nhạc, bỏ chìa khóa vào, đóng lại.

“Hay không? Conan cũng tìm không thấy.”

Đắc ý với “mưu kế” của mình, Tú Châu cười như một chú mèo con.

Thùy Dung bật cười.

“Giấu vậy có ngày Dung cũng quên.”

“Quên thì gọi Châu, Châu nhắc cho.”

Tú Châu bừng tỉnh khỏi hồi tưởng. Cô lắc lắc đầu, cười khổ. Bảo là nhắc Dung vậy mà mình lại là đứa quên.

Ngăn kéo chiếc hộp nhạc dễ dàng mở ra, trong lòng bàn tay Tú Châu là một chiếc chìa khóa nhỏ xinh xắn.

“Em chưa từng mở ra. Em biết chỉ không thích. Em định bốn mươi chín ngày của chỉ sẽ đốt nó.”

Em gái Thùy Dung đã không còn là cô nhóc phá phách thích xem trộm đồ đạc của chị mình ngày.  Đau thương còn đọng lại trong cặp một mí khi cô trao cho Tú Châu cuốn sổ nhật ký của chị mình.

Chiếc chìa khóa mở ra một góc bí mật trong tâm hồn Thùy Dung.

Tú Châu mở trang cuối của cuốn sổ. Cô muốn biết những ngày cuối cùng, bạn mình đã nghĩ gì.

Nét chữ Thùy Dung vẫn hệt như mười năm trước, đều tăm tắp.

Người ấy sẽ làm khổ C thôi. Mình không muốn C trải qua những gì người ấy đã làm với mình.

Tú Châu nhíu mày, lật qua trang kế tiếp. “C” mà Dung viết là mình hay một ai khác?

C báo với mình sắp kết hôn, ba mẹ C cũng rất hài hòng với con rể, lẽ ra mình phải mừng cho C mới phải. Nhưng sao lại là người ấy?

Ngón tay run lên nhè nhẹ, Tú Châu lật nhanh vài trang sau.

Chia tay, mình đau lắm. Người ấy nói mình hám tiền, mình im lặng. Người ấy hiểu sao cũng được, mình chỉ muốn cách xa người ấy thôi. Mình hết chịu nổi rồi.

Tú Châu lật tiếp một trang. Nét chữ trang này vừa nhòe lại vừa hơi xiêu vẹo.

Người ấy ghen, lại đánh mình. Đến con mình… con mình cũng chết về tay ba nó rồi.

Vành mắt Tú Châu đỏ lên, ngân ngấn nước. Cô lật tiếp vài trang trước. Vì sao những chuyện này Dung chưa từng nói với mình? Vì sao lại im lặng chịu đựng?

Mình không tưởng nổi, người ấy tát mình. Bình thường người ấy dịu dàng, ôn hòa bao nhiêu, lúc ghen lại… Người ấy nói rằng có yêu mới có ghen. Nếu là C, C chắc chắn chia tay lập tức. Nhưng… mình còn yêu người ấy nhiều lắm.

Tú Châu lật đến trang đầu của nhật ký. Một tấm hình chụp đập đôi mắt nhòe lệ của cô. Trong hình, Thùy Dung đang cười, âu yếu ngả đầu vào vai một thanh niên đeo kính trắng, vẻ mặt ôn hòa, dịu dàng.

Tú Châu biết người thanh niên này, hơn nữa, anh ta còn sắp trở thành chồng cô.

Trung Hiếu. “Người ấy” mà Thùy Dung nói đến chính là Trung Hiếu.

Nước mắt Tú Châu rốt cuộc đã rơi xuống, rơi lên bìa cuốn nhật ký đã gấp lại. Cô rút điện thoại, bấm vào tên “Trung Hiếu” trong danh bạ.

Trong phòng khách nhà Tú Châu, Tú Châu và Trung Hiếu ngồi đối diện nhau trên sôpha.

Trung Hiếu đang rất không vui. Bất cứ chú rể nào hẹn vợ sắp cưới đi thử váy rồi bị hủy hẹn đều không thể nào vui.

“Anh rất muốn biết sao em tự dưng hủy hẹn thử áo.”

“Em nghĩ mình quen đủ lâu để biết em rất ghét lừa dối.”

Trung Hiếu nhíu mày.

“Em nói thế là sao?”

“Anh quen Dung, đúng không?”

Nét mặt Trung Hiếu hơi ngạc nhiên.

“Thì anh biết Dung là bạn thân em, không phải sao?”

Trong nội tâm thở dài, Tú Châu lấy cuốn sổ nhật ký và tấm hình trong túi xách ra, đặt lên bàn.

Nét mặt Trung Hiếu hiện rõ sự kinh ngạc và sợ hãi.

Trung Hiếu không nói, Tú Châm cũng im lặng. Không gian chỉ còn tiếng tích tắc từ chiếc đồng hồ treo tường.

Nếu lòng người có thể thản nhiên như những chiếc kim đồng hồ kia có phải tốt biết bao?

Mãi lúc sau, Trung Hiếu mới mở miệng.

“Anh… anh xin lỗi. Anh và Dung từng quen nhau nhưng đã chia tay trước khi quen em. Rất lâu rồi anh không liên lạc với Dung.”

“Đâu phải chỉ quen. Dung từng có mang với anh.”

Tú Châu không nghĩ mình có thể bình thản nhắc đến chuyện này. Khi nói ra, chính cô cũng ngạc nhiên vì ngữ điệu của mình.

“Anh…không biết. Đó… đó chưa chắc là con anh. Anh không nói với em vì sợ…”

Tú Châu ngắt lời anh.

“Anh đánh Dung?”

Có lẽ, điều khiến cô đau xót không phải chuyện bạn thân của mình từng có thai với hôn phu của mình, mà là chuyện Trung Hiếu từng tổn thương Thùy Dung.

“Anh…”

“Cái chết của Dung có phải chỉ là tai nạn?”

“Em nghi ngờ anh?”

Tú Châu thở dài.

“Dung chết quá đột ngột…”

Trung Hiếu ngắt lời cô.

“Em phải tin anh, chỉ là trùng hợp thôi. Dung chỉ là bất cẩn té ngã.”

Tú Châu đột nhiên trừng mắt.

“Sao anh biết Dung té ngã? Trước giờ em chỉ nói Dung gặp tai nạn thôi mà.”

Nắm tay Trung Hiếu dưới bàn nắm chặt, nổi gân xanh. Một giọt mồ hôi lăn xuống thái dương anh.

“Đó… đó chỉ là tai nạn thôi. Anh không cố ý. Anh chỉ lỡ tay.”

Tú Châu lắc đầu. Mím môi, nước mắt ứa ra từ vành mắt đỏ hoe, cô gằn từng tiếng

“Lỡ tay đánh chết bạn tôi!”

Trung Hiếu chồm lên, hai tay anh xiết lấy vai Tú Châu.

“Dung đe dọa anh. Cô ấy muốn anh chủ động hủy đám cưới, chia tay em, nếu không sẽ nói với em. Anh..”.

Trung Hiếu chưa dứt lời, Tú Châu đã vùng mạnh khỏi tay hắn. Phẫn nộ và đau xót tích tụ, cô vung tay tát mạnh vào mặt người đàn ông trước mặt, cái tát khiến gọng kính trắng hắn đeo rơi xuống đất, vỡ tan.

Tú Châu dứt khoát đứng dậy, cầm lấy cuốn sổ vào tấm hình.

“Tôi sẽ không để Dung chết oan.”

Cô vừa quay lưng, Trung Hiếu đã nhào lên, đẩy cô ngã sấp xuống sàn. Cuốn sổ và tấm hình văng ra xa.

Trung Hiếu chồm lên người Tú Châu, hai tay xiết cổ cô.

Hai mắt Trung Hiếu trừng lớn, tròng mắt vằn lên những tia máu li ti. Hàm răng anh nghiến chặt, lồng ngực phập phồng dữ dội.

Miệng há lớn, Tú Châu nắm lấy cổ tay Trung Hiếu, ra sức giằng ra. Hai chân cô giãy dụa kịch liệt.

Tú Châu ra sức cào cấu cánh tay Trung Hiếu nhưng hắn đã như con thú mất đi lý trí, vừa điên cuồng vừa hung bạo.

Trong mắt hắn không còn Tú Châu, không còn Thùy Dung, chỉ có ả đàn bà không biết điều đã chọc đến máu “điên” trong hắn.

“Mày vì sao cứ phải ép tao hả?”

Hắn hét lên.

Hai tay cô dần buông lỏng, khuôn mặt Trung Hiếu trước mắt Tú Châu nhanh chóng mờ đi. Trong đầu cô vang lên tiếng nói của chính mình và Thùy Dung.

“Châu sẽ bảo vệ Dung, không để đứa nào bắt nạt Dung.”

Phải rồi, chính mình đã hứa sẽ luôn bảo vệ Dung. Từ năm lớp một trở đi, mãi mãi.

“Ai biết có ngày Dung sẽ bảo vệ Châu à nha.”

Ai biết được, đúng không?

Tiếng nhạc từ chiếc hộp nhạc đột nhiên vang lên.

Tú Châu trông thấy bóng hình Thùy Dung lờ mờ sau lưng Trung Hiếu trước khi mất đi ý thức.

Tú Châu bất động. Trung Hiếu nới lỏng tay, thở hồng hộc.

Một bàn tay phụ nữ đặt lên vai Trung Hiếu. Cảm giác lạnh lẽo như một gáo nước lạnh dội thẳng vào thần trí hắn.

Khi quay đầu lại, hắn thấy người hắn không muốn thấy nhất trên đời.

Thùy Dung.

“Ông ơi, con mình tỉnh rồi.”

Mình đang ở đâu? Mẹ? Có phải mẹ không?

Tú Châu từ từ mở mắt.

Hình ảnh mờ nhạt dần dần rõ nét. Trước mắt cô là khuôn mặt vui mừng của ba và khuôn mặt nhòe lệ của mẹ.

“Ơn trời, con không sao.”

“Tỉnh lại là ổn rồi.”

Ông Phát âm thầm thả xuống gánh nặng trong lòng.

Gánh nặng buông xuống, lửa giận lại bùng lên, ông đập mạnh lên kệ tủ.

“Không tin được thằng Hiếu là đứa như vậy.”

“Anh ta đâu rồi ba?”

“Con yên tâm, nó bị công an bắt rồi. Khi con khỏe lại, công an sẽ lấy lời khai.”

Bà Lệ nhẹ giọng đáp.

“Cuốn nhật ký..”

“Công an đã lấy làm chứng cứ. Con yên tâm, nó chắc chắn phải ngồi tù.”

“Còn hộp nhạc?”

Bà Lệ chỉ vào chiếc tủ đầu giường.

“Con nắm chặt nó trong tay, không nhớ sao? Công an không thấy nó là vật chứng quan trọng nên trả về.”

Bác sĩ bước vào cửa. Ông Phát và bà Lệ liền bước ra.

“Con ngủ đi cho khỏe. Lát ba mẹ quay lại.”

Chỉ còn một mình trong phòng, Tú Châu ngồi dậy, dựa lưng vào tường. Cô với tay cầm chiếc hộp nhạc, mở ra.

Bức tượng vỡ xoay chầm chậm trong điệu nhạc.

Gió nhẹ lay động rèm cửa. Tú Châu ngẩng đầu lên.

Thùy Dung mặc chiếc váy màu xanh da trời đứng cạnh cửa sổ. Trong tay cô là chiếc hộp nhạc đã mở.

Hai chiếc hộp nhạc giống hệt nhau, khác biệt duy nhất là bức tượng của chiếc hộp nhạc trong tay Thùy Dung còn nguyên vẹn, lấp lánh trong ánh nắng mặt trời.

Bản nhạc chấm dứt, rèm cửa lay động, Thùy Dung đã không còn nữa.

“Xin lỗi Châu…”

Tú Châu lắc đầu, khép lại hộp nhạc.

Hết

Theo lời nhận xét + tự cảm nhận thì đây là GL trá hình 0__0. Có ai thấy vậy không?

Gửi lời cám ơn Đại ja và chị hai đã góp ý cho truyện này ^^

[Short] Tin Dữ

1.

Ánh đèn neon phủ một màu vàng nhạt lên không gian trong phòng ăn. Giữa phòng là một cái bàn đúc từ gỗ sang trọng bày ba, bốn đĩa thức ăn được trình bày tinh tế cùng một con gà nướng vàng ruộm ngon lành. Chai rượu champagne mới khui đặt ngay ngắn trên bàn, miệng chai còn sủi bọt trắng xóa. Bên cạnh chai là hai chiếc ly thủy tinh đế cao còn đọng một chút rượu vàng nhạt.

Trên sàn nhà lát gạch men trắng tinh sạch như ly như lau, một bàn tay phụ nữ đặt ngửa. Năm móng tay được chăm sóc cẩn thận, phủ một lớp sơn đỏ tươi bắt mắt. Ngón áp út của bàn tay đeo một chiếc nhẫn bạch kim đính một hạt kim cương lấp lánh.

Một đôi chân nam giới mang đôi dép đi trong nhà bước tới gần bàn tay. Hai cánh tay hắn buông thõng hai bên thân, trong tay phải cầm chặt một con dao rọc giấy. Máu từ lưỡi dao sắc lẻm vương lên bàn tay, lên chiếc nhẫn bạch kim trơn tương tự chiếc nhẫn trên bàn tay phụ nữ. Máu từng giọt từng giọt nhỏ xuống, vấy bẩn sàn nhà sạch sẽ bằng sắc màu tội lỗi.

Trên chiếc TV màn hình phẳng treo tường, chương trình bắt đầu đếm ngược tới giao thừa. Đồng hồ điểm 0 giờ, dòng chữ “Chúc mừng năm mới 2014” hiện lên trên nền pháo hoa rực rỡ cùng bản nhạc “Happy New Year”.

2.

Trong phòng bệnh trắng toát một màu, bác sĩ Tuấn ngồi trên chiếc ghế dựa xoay cạnh bàn làm việc. Khuôn mặt thanh tú đậm vẻ ưu tư, Tuấn mân mê chiếc bút máy trong tay, chốc chốc lại dùng ngón trỏ và ngón giữa thon dài, trắng trẻo đẩy cặp kính cận trên mặt như một thói quen.

Hồ ngồi trên chiếc ghế dành cho bệnh nhân đối diện anh, khuôn mặt xương xương cúi gằm xuống như muốn mượn bóng đen giấu đi biểu cảm trên mặt. Anh nhìn chăm chăm vào tờ giấy xét nghiệm nhàu nát cầm chặt cứng trong hai bàn tay to lớn, có phần thô kệch. Trên ngón áp út bàn tay trái của anh lấp lánh một chiếc nhẫn bạch kim.

Giọng Hồ khàn khàn khi anh cất tiếng.

“Vậy… tối đa tôi chỉ sống được bốn tháng nữa thôi phải không?”

Tuấn gỡ cặp mắt kính cận xuống, treo lên cổ áo sơmi trắng, đưa tay xoa xoa thái dương, khẽ thở dài.

“Lúc nhận kết quả xét nghiệm, tôi cũng kinh ngạc không kém cậu. Cậu… trước giờ khỏe mạnh lắm kia mà.”

Tuấn vỗ vai Hồ, an ủi.

“Căn bệnh máu trắng này tuy khó chữa nhưng không phải mất hết hy vọng. Chỉ cần cậu được thay tủy…”

Hồ ngắt lời Tuấn, cười gằn.

“Tôi là trẻ mồ côi, còn đâu họ hàng thân thích để cho tủy chứ.”

“Trên thế giới vẫn có trường hợp người không phải họ hàng nhưng có tủy phù hợp. Tôi sẽ liên lạc với các bệnh viện trong và ngoài nước, nhất định sẽ tìm ra. Cậu không được mất hy vọng.”

Hồ lắc đầu, cười chua chát.

“Khỏi gạt tôi đi. Cậu là bác sỹ, cậu biết khả năng đó nhỏ đến mức nào mà. Huống hồ tôi chỉ còn bốn tháng. Đừng nói trong nước ngoài nước, riêng cái thành phố này đã gần bảy triệu người rồi.”

Tuấn nhìn Hồ, thở dài. Hai người đàn ông chìm vào im lặng. Trong phòng khám chỉ còn nghe âm thanh tíc tắc đều đặn, khô khốc từ chiếc đồng hồ treo tường sau lưng Hồ.

Không biết đã trôi qua bao lâu, Hồ ngoái đầu nhìn đồng hồ, đứng dậy, nhét tờ giấy xét nghiệm vào túi quần, vỗ vai Tuấn.

“Thôi, tôi về đây. Chiếm thời giờ của bệnh nhân khác quá rồi.”

Không chờ Tuấn nói thêm câu nào, Hồ quay lưng, bước nhanh ra cửa. Rồi như chợt nhớ ra điều gì, anh quay đầu lại, mỉm cười.

“Hôm nay tất niên, ráng về sớm sớm với vợ con.”

Cánh cửa phòng khám đóng lại trong đôi mắt buồn bã của Tuấn.

3.

Tiếng còi xe, động cơ xe văng vẳng ngoài khung cửa sổ che kín bằng tấm rèm nhung màu xanh bích.

Hồ nằm trên giường, giang hai tay ra hai bên, hai chân chưa tháo giày thòng xuống chạm nền gạch men trắng tinh. Tờ giấy xét nghiệm vo lại, lăn lóc bên tay anh.

Hồ nhìn chăm chăm vào tấm ảnh cưới khổ lớn lồng khung dát vàng chiếm hết một nửa diện tích bức tường màu nước biển nhạt trước mặt. Trong hình, Hồ mặc vest đen nắm chặt tay Linh, vợ anh trong bộ soiree trắng tinh khôi, nét mặt cả hai ửng hồng, rạng ngời hạnh phúc.

Ánh mắt Hồ dần dần nhòa đi.

Khi ánh mắt anh trở nên rõ ràng, Linh trong bức hình không còn mặc soiree mà mặc một chiếc váy đỏ tươi hở lưng, ôm sát người, tôn lên những đường cong nữ tính đầy quyến rũ của cô. Thời gian bảy năm không xóa mờ nhan sắc của Linh, trái lại, sự thành thục, từng trải của người thiếu phụ càng dễ khiến đàn ông say đắm hơn sự dịu dàng, ngây thơ của cô gái mới lớn. Linh còn đây nhưng người nắm chặt tay cô không còn là Hồ. Vị trí của anh đã bị thay thế bởi một người đàn ông trẻ tuổi tuấn tú và lịch lãm trong bộ vest xám sang trọng.

Chỉ riêng vẻ bề ngoài thôi, anh ta đã trội hơn Hồ.

Hai người trong hình cười với nhau đầy tình tứ. Người đàn ông trẻ tuổi một tay ôm eo Linh khiến cô ngả người ra sau, tay còn lại đặt dưới cằm cô, khẽ nâng lên. Đôi môi của anh ta và đôi môi thoa son đỏ tươi căng mọng như trái cherry chín của Linh áp vào nhau trong một nụ hôn cuồng nhiệt.

Tim nhói đau như bị một mũi kim tàn nhẫn xuyên vào, Hồ nhắm chặt mắt, lắc đầu thật mạnh. Khi Hồ mở mắt ra, đôi mắt anh vằn lên những sợi tơ máu li ti còn trán thì lấm tấm mồ hôi.

Bức hình cưới đã trở lại hình ảnh của Hồ và Linh như ban đầu.

Bàn tay Hồ nắm chặt ga giường đến nổi gân xanh.

Hồ quay đầu, nhìn sang tờ giấy xét nghiệm. Khóe môi anh từ từ nhếch lên thành một nụ cười độc ác.

4.

Cánh cửa sắt của căn biệt thự mở ra.

Khuôn mặt hiện rõ vẻ phấn khởi, Linh dắt xe vào nhà. Trong tay cô xách một hộp đựng champagne và mấy chiếc túi giấy lớn nhỏ.

Hồ từ phòng ngủ bước ra, một tay xoa xoa mái tóc hơi rối, một tay che miệng ngáp. Anh hơi ngạc nhiên khi nhìn thấy Linh.

“Hôm nay em về sớm thế?”

Linh tươi cười, đặt những đồ vật trong tay xuống sàn, nhéo nhéo mũi chồng.

“Xem ông chồng tôi mấy giờ mới dậy kìa? Nướng gì mà kỹ thế?”

Hồ cười trừ.

“Anh hơi mệt, đặt mình xuống là ngủ không biết trời trăng mây nước gì.”

“Em đùa thôi. Hôm nay ngày cuối năm, về sớm kẻo lát nữa người ta đi xem pháo bông kẹt xe.”

Linh đưa mấy túi giấy cho chồng, với tay lấy chiếc kẹp tóc, thành thục vấn mái tóc nâu dài gợn sóng thành một búi tóc gọn gàng sau gáy. Cô xuýt xoa:

“Anh Thành đối tác tặng em chai rượu quý quá. Em mua con gà nướng ở quán Hồng Tân cùng mấy món anh thích. Đêm nay hai vợ chồng mình ăn tất niên.”

“Người ta đã tặng mình chai rượu, sao em không mời anh ấy cùng ăn luôn?”

Linh lườm yêu chồng.

“Em chỉ muốn hai đứa mình thôi. Đối tác còn gặp dài dài, lo gì.”

Linh đi vào phòng ngủ. Hồ xách mấy túi đồ vào phòng ăn, đặt lên bàn. Nhân lúc Linh thay đồ trong phòng, Hồ lẳng lặng lấy con dao rọc giấy trên kệ, bỏ gọn vào túi quần.

“Hôm nay công ty em khám tổng quát. Hi hi, sức khỏe của em trên cả tuyệt vời ấy chứ.”

Giọng Linh từ sau cánh cửa truyền ra tràn đầy hứng khởi. Mọi mặt của cô, nhan sắc, sự nghiệp, gia đình, sức khỏe đều khiến rất nhiều người ao ước, ghen tỵ.

Lúc trở ra, Linh mặc một chiếc váy màu xanh nhạt thanh nhã. Cô lấy trong tủ ra hai chiếc ly uống rượu, đứng ở bồn rửa tráng sơ qua chúng.

Hồ mỉm cười, dần dần bước đến sau lưng Linh.

“Hôm nay anh cũng đi khám, kết quả khá tốt, chỉ trừ…”

5.

Hồ ngồi thụp xuống chiếc ghế cạnh bàn ăn, con dao trong tay rơi xuống đất phát ra một tiếng “keng”.

Tiếng “keng” rất chói tai, tiếng nhạc “Happy New Year” từ TV phát ra càng chói tai hơn.

Năm mới, một khởi đầu mới. Nhưng dù với anh hay với Linh, tất cả đều đã chấm dứt.

Chuông điện thoại di động vang lên. Hồ với tay lấy remote, tắt TV rồi lấy điện thoại ra.

Đầu dây bên kia, giọng Tuấn phấn khởi một cách lạ kỳ.

“Chúc mừng năm mới! Nhân đầu năm, tôi có tin vô cùng tốt cho cậu đây.”

Hồ nhíu mày, tỏ vẻ nghi ngờ. Anh hỏi nhát gừng:

“Tin gì?”

Sự kỳ quặc trong ngữ điệu của Hồ dường như Tuấn không hề nhận ra.

“Cậu không tin nổi đâu. Chiều nay, tôi tình cờ gặp Linh qua khám tổng quát, tôi nhờ mấy đồng nghiệp kín đáo làm thêm mấy xét nghiệm. Cậu biết không, Linh hoàn toàn phù hợp để ghép tủy cho cậu.”

Mắt Hồ trừng lớn, chiếc điện thoại rời bàn tay anh trong khi giọng Tuấn vẫn tiếp tục.

“Tôi chờ đến giao thừa để cho cậu một tin vui bất ngờ. Thấy chưa, tôi đã nói không được mất hi vọng mà.”

Chiếc điện thoại tiếp đất, vỡ tan thành từng mảnh, vỡ tan như tâm hồn Hồ lúc này. Anh úp mặt vào hai bàn tay còn dính máu, quỳ xuống bên xác Linh. Những tiếng nức nở nghẹn ngào không ngừng vang lên trong căn nhà im lặng như một nấm mồ.

Hết

A Freudian Dream

There were basically three colors: black, white and scarlet.

The black of a borderless darkness.

The white of a gleaming edge held in pale, transparent fingers, of teeth revealing in maniac laughter.

And the scarlet of bodily fluid passionately spreading like roses in bloom. Soon, the scarlet burned up the black and engulfed the white, claiming its place as the prime color.

There were basically two kinds of sound: the sound of iron edge entering soft flesh and insane laughter.

And there was silence.

There was but one motion. And that single motion was the key to all colors and sounds.

He saw himself in that landscape of black, white and scarlet, causing the sounds, repeating the motion. He saw them all with his calm eyes.

When all ceased, he opened his eyes again.

He needed not to put a hand to his chest; his heart was serene as the soft, yellow light from the bed lamp. He needed not to change his garments; they were not soaked in cold sweats. He needed not to check the body beside; she was still in her peaceful sleep, her body warm, her breath steady.

She was safe and sound, his wife. Though he killed her every night.

Tonight was the 24th time.

The first time it came, he woke up with heavy pants, raging heartbeats and soaked garments. He frantically search for her, found her and hugged her in utmost relief.

He was terrifyingly happy that it was only a nightmare.

He loved her right? Loved her so much that he could die for her. Why would he ever dream of murdering her?

Maybe he should really stop staying late to watch those cheap slasher movies.

The 8th time it came, though with wild heartbeats, he no longer felt the urge to check whether she was safe. Disturbing as it was, he no longer found it appalling; he was only confused by it repetition.

He stumbled across a Freud’s book about dream and spent a day absorbing every details. That night, after waking from his usual nightmare, his nerves experienced calmness after several strained nights.

That was the 12th time.

The 14th, he woke up with a fright. His forehead sweated, his palms cold as he realized he was not frightened by the dream but rather by an unexpected excitement that came with it. When he glanced at his wife’s sleeping figure, he imagined her soft body shaking violently under his grip as he brought the blade to her bosoms with a sinister smile.

He threw away that Freud book the next day yet its content remained unshaken in his head.

The 17th and 18th time, he could not fight back the smile he uncontrollably had on his lips when he recalled the feeling of killing her.

He no longer gave himself a slap for his morbid thoughts.

They had a fight over some trivial matters, as he thought. She said he was acting strange, different. He asked her how strange, how different. She couldn’t answer. In the end, she said through her sobs that she no longer saw the man who loved and married her, that she only saw a person who held a grudge for her. He stayed mute to her conviction. Couldn’t deny it. Didn’t deny it.

The nights onward, he woke up with a terrible resentment that it was only a dream.

The thought of the knife became his heavy shackle. He decided that tonight, he’d free himself from it. By giving it what it was yearning for.

Note:

According to Freud’s theory, all dreams serve to fulfill the dreamer’s unconscious desires (often sexual, but not always).