i w a s l o s t f o l l o w i n g a w h i t e r a b b i t m o m m y w h e n i f i n a l l y c a u g h t h i m h e g a v e m e a n e g g a n d t o l d m e w e a r e o u t o f t i m e w h e n i t u r n e d a r o u n d t o g o h o m e i s a w m y l i f e f l a s h b e f o r e m y e y e s a n d i h a t e d w h a t i s a w i h a t e d w h a t i s a w s o m u c h t h a t i d e c i d e d t o f o r g e t w h o i w a s i f o r g o t m y n a m e i f o r g o t w h e r e i w a s f r o m i f o r g o t w h o y o u w e r e i f o r g o t w h o d a d d y w a s i f o r g o t w h a t c o l o r s w e r e i f o r g o t w h a t m a d e m e s a d i f o r g o t w h a t m a d e m e h a p p y i f o r g o t e v e r y t h i n g i a m s o s o r r y m o m m y p l e a s e k e e p t h i s a s e c r e t f r o m d a d d y h e w i l l n e v e r f o r g i v e m e i f h e f i n d s o u t i p r o m i s e t o n e v e r d o i t a g a i n i w a s r e a l l y s c a r e d m o m m y i w a s s u r r o u n d e d b y d a r k n e s s i w a s b l i n d a l l i s a w w a s b l a c k e x c e p t f o r a s m a l l w h i t e d o t i t l o o k e d l i k e a k e y h o l e i t l o o k e d l i k e a c a n d l e f l a m e i t l o o k e d l i k e a n e x i t i t r e m i n d e d m e t h a t i w a s g o i n g t o b e l a t e i t r e m i n d e d m e t h a t i w a s g o i n g t o b e l a t e f o r t h e m i d n i g h t s e r v i c e a n d i s t a r t e d r u n n i n g t o w a r d s i t b u t i w a s a d o g n o w a n d t h e d a r k n e s s w a s c r o w s a n d t h e f l i c k e r i n g l i g h t w a s a r a b b i t i w a s c h a s i n g a r a b b i t m o m m y a n d t h e c r o w s w e r e c h a s i n g m e w e n e v e r w a n t e d t o s t o p w e w e n t i n c i r c l e s f o r e v e r u n t i l i r e a l i z e d i w a s l o s t i w a s l o s t f o l l o w i n g a w h i t e r a b b i t m o m m y w h e n i f i n a l l y c a u g h t h i m h e g a v e m e a n e g g a n d t o l d m e w e a r e o u t o f t i m e w h e n i t u r n e d a r o u n d t o g o h o m e i s a w m y l i f e f l a s h b e f o r e m y e y e s a n d i h a t e d w h a t i s a w i h a t e d w h a t i s a w s o m u c h t h a t i d e c i d e d t o f o r g e t w h o i w a s i f o r g o t m y n a m e i f o r g o t w h e r e i w a s f r o m i f o r g o t w h o y o u w e r e i f o r g o t w h o d a d d y w a s i f o r g o t w h a t c o l o r s w e r e i f o r g o t w h a t m a d e m e s a d i f o r g o t w h a t m a d e m e h a p p y i f o r g o t e v e r y t h i n g i a m s o s o r r y m o m m y p l e a s e k e e p t h i s a s e c r e t f r o m d a d d y h e w i l l n e v e r f o r g i v e m e i f h e f i n d s o u t i p r o m i s e t o n e v e r d o i t a g a i n i w a s r e a l l y s c a r e d m o m m y i w a s s u r r o u n d e d b y d a r k n e s s i w a s b l i n d a l l i s a w w a s b l a c k e x c e p t f o r a s m a l l w h i t e d o t i t l o o k e d l i k e a k e y h o l e i t l o o k e d l i k e a c a n d l e f l a m e i t l o o k e d l i k e a n e x i t i t r e m i n d e d m e t h a t i w a s g o i n g t o b e l a t e i t r e m i n d e d m e t h a t i w a s g o i n g t o b e l a t e f o r t h e m i d n i g h t s e r v i c e a n d i s t a r t e d r u n n i n g t o w a r d s i t b u t i w a s a d o g n o w a n d t h e d a r k n e s s w a s c r o w s a n d t h e f l i c k e r i n g l i g h t w a s a r a b b i t i w a s c h a s i n g a r a b b i t m o m m y a n d t h e c r o w s w e r e c h a s i n g m e w e n e v e r w a n t e d t o s t o p w e w e n t i n c i r c l e s f o r e v e r u n t i l i r e a l i z e d i w a s l o s t i w a s l o s t f o l l o w i n g a w h i t e r a b b i t m o m m y w h e n i f i n a l l y c a u g h t h i m h e g a v e m e a n e g g a n d t o l d m e w e a r e o u t o f t i m e w h e n i t u r n e d a r o u n d t o g o h o m e i s a w m y l i f e f l a s h b e f o r e m y e y e s a n d i h a t e d w h a t i s a w i h a t e d w h a t i s a w s o m u c h t h a t i d e c i d e d t o f o r g e t w h o i w a s i f o r g o t m y n a m e i f o r g o t w h e r e i w a s f r o m i f o r g o t w h o y o u w e r e i f o r g o t w h o d a d d y w a s i f o r g o t w h a t c o l o r s w e r e i f o r g o t w h a t m a d e m e s a d i f o r g o t w h a t m a d e m e h a p p y i f o r g o t e v e r y t h i n g i a m s o s o r r y m o m m y p l e a s e k e e p t h i s a s e c r e t f r o m d a d d y h e w i l l n e v e r f o r g i v e m e i f h e f i n d s o u t i p r o m i s e t o n e v e r d o i t a g a i n i w a s r e a l l y s c a r e d m o m m y i w a s s u r r o u n d e d b y d a r k n e s s i w a s b l i n d a l l i s a w w a s b l a c k e x c e p t f o r a s m a l l w h i t e d o t i t l o o k e d l i k e a k e y h o l e i t l o o k e d l i k e a c a n d l e f l a m e i t l o o k e d l i k e a n e x i t i t r e m i n d e d m e t h a t i w a s g o i n g t o b e l a t e i t r e m i n d e d m e t h a t i w a s g o i n g t o b e l a t e f o r t h e m i d n i g h t s e r v i c e a n d i s t a r t e d r u n n i n g t o w a r d s i t b u t i w a s a d o g n o w a n d t h e d a r k n e s s w a s c r o w s a n d t h e f l i c k e r i n g l i g h t w a s a r a b b i t i w a s c h a s i n g a r a b b i t m o m m y a n d t h e c r o w s w e r e c h a s i n g m e w e n e v e r w a n t e d t o s t o p w e w e n t i n c i r c l e s f o r e v e r u n t i l i r e a l i z e d i w a s l o s t i w a s l o s t f o l l o w i n g a w h i t e r a b b i t m o m m y w h e n i f i n a l l y c a u g h t h i m h e g a v e m e a n e g g a n d t o l d m e w e a r e o u t o f t i m e w h e n i t u r n e d a r o u n d t o g o h o m e i s a w m y l i f e f l a s h b e f o r e m y e y e s a n d i h a t e d w h a t i s a w i h a t e d w h a t i s a w s o m u c h t h a t i d e c i d e d t o f o r g e t w h o i w a s i f o r g o t m y n a m e i f o r g o t w h e r e i w a s f r o m i f o r g o t w h o y o u w e r e i f o r g o t w h o d a d d y w a s i f o r g o t w h a t c o l o r s w e r e i f o r g o t w h a t m a d e m e s a d i f o r g o t w h a t m a d e m e h a p p y i f o r g o t e v e r y t h i n g i a m s o s o r r y m o m m y p l e a s e k e e p t h i s a s e c r e t f r o m d a d d y h e w i l l n e v e r f o r g i v e m e i f h e f i n d s o u t i p r o m i s e t o n e v e r d o i t a g a i n i w a s r e a l l y s c a r e d m o m m y i w a s s u r r o u n d e d b y d a r k n e s s i w a s b l i n d a l l i s a w w a s b l a c k e x c e p t f o r a s m a l l w h i t e d o t i t l o o k e d l i k e a k e y h o l e i t l o o k e d l i k e a c a n d l e f l a m e i t l o o k e d l i k e a n e x i t i t r e m i n d e d m e t h a t i w a s g o i n g t o b e l a t e i t r e m i n d e d m e t h a t i w a s g o i n g t o b e l a t e f o r t h e m i d n i g h t s e r v i c e a n d i s t a r t e d r u n n i n g t o w a r d s i t b u t i w a s a d o g n o w a n d t h e d a r k n e s s w a s c r o w s a n d t h e f l i c k e r i n g l i g h t w a s a r a b b i t i w a s c h a s i n g a r a b b i t m o m m y a n d t h e c r o w s w e r e c h a s i n g m e w e n e v e r w a n t e d t o s t o p w e w e n t i n c i r c l e s f o r e v e r u n t i l i r e a l i z e d i w a s l o s t i w a s l o s t f o l l o w i n g a w h i t e r a b b i t m o m m y w h e n i f i n a l l y c a u g h t h i m h e g a v e m e a n e g g a n d t o l d m e w e a r e o u t o f t i m e w h e n i t u r n e d a r o u n d t o g o h o m e i s a w m y l i f e f l a s h b e f o r e m y e y e s a n d i h a t e d w h a t i s a w i h a t e d w h a t i s a w s o m u c h t h a t i d e c i d e d t o f o r g e t w h o i w a s i f o r g o t m y n a m e i f o r g o t w h e r e i w a s f r o m i f o r g o t w h o y o u w e r e i f o r g o t w h o d a d d y w a s i f o r g o t w h a t c o l o r s w e r e i f o r g o t w h a t m a d e m e s a d i f o r g o t w h a t m a d e m e h a p p y i f o r g o t e v e r y t h i n g i a m s o s o r r y m o m m y p l e a s e k e e p t h i s a s e c r e t f r o m d a d d y h e w i l l n e v e r f o r g i v e m e i f h e f i n d s o u t i p r o m i s e t o n e v e r d o i t a g a i n i w a s r e a l l y s c a r e d m o m m y i w a s s u r r o u n d e d b y d a r k n e s s i w a s b l i n d a l l i s a w w a s b l a c k e x c e p t f o r a s m a l l w h i t e d o t i t l o o k e d l i k e a k e y h o l e i t l o o k e d l i k e a c a n d l e f l a m e i t l o o k e d l i k e a n e x i t i t r e m i n d e d m e t h a t i w a s g o i n g t o b e l a t e i t r e m i n d e d m e t h a t i w a s g o i n g t o b e l a t e f o r t h e m i d n i g h t s e r v i c e a n d i s t a r t e d r u n n i n g t o w a r d s i t b u t i w a s a d o g n o w a n d t h e d a r k n e s s w a s c r o w s a n d t h e f l i c k e r i n g l i g h t w a s a r a b b i t i w a s c h a s i n g a r a b b i t m o m m y a n d t h e c r o w s w e r e c h a s i n g m e w e n e v e r w a n t e d t o s t o p w e w e n t i n c i r c l e s f o r e v e r u n t i l i r e a l i z e d i w a s l o s t i w a s l o s t f o l l o w i n g a w h i t e r a b b i t m o m m y w h e n i f i n a l l y c a u g h t h i m h e g a v e m e a n e g g a n d t o l d m e w e a r e o u t o f t i m e w h e n i t u r n e d a r o u n d t o g o h o m e i s a w m y l i f e f l a s h b e f o r e m y e y e s a n d i h a t e d w h a t i s a w i h a t e d w h a t i s a w s o m u c h t h a t i d e c i d e d t o f o r g e t w h o i w a s i f o r g o t m y n a m e i f o r g o t w h e r e i w a s f r o m i f o r g o t w h o y o u w e r e i f o r g o t w h o d a d d y w a s i f o r g o t w h a t c o l o r s w e r e i f o r g o t w h a t m a d e m e s a d i f o r g o t w h a t m a d e m e h a p p y i f o r g o t e v e r y t h i n g i a m s o s o r r y m o m m y p l e a s e k e e p t h i s a s e c r e t f r o m d a d d y h e w i l l n e v e r f o r g i v e m e i f h e f i n d s o u t i p r o m i s e t o n e v e r d o i t a g a i n i w a s r e a l l y s c a r e d m o m m y i w a s s u r r o u n d e d b y d a r k n e s s i w a s b l i n d a l l i s a w w a s b l a c k e x c e p t f o r a s m a l l w h i t e d o t i t l o o k e d l i k e a k e y h o l e i t l o o k e d l i k e a c a n d l e f l a m e i t l o o k e d l i k e a n e x i t i t r e m i n d e d m e t h a t i w a s g o i n g t o b e l a t e i t r e m i n d e d m e t h a t i w a s g o i n g t o b e l a t e f o r t h e m i d n i g h t s e r v i c e a n d i s t a r t e d r u n n i n g t o w a r d s i t b u t i w a s a d o g n o w a n d t h e d a r k n e s s w a s c r o w s a n d t h e f l i c k e r i n g l i g h t w a s a r a b b i t i w a s c h a s i n g a r a b b i t m o m m y a n d t h e c r o w s w e r e c h a s i n g m e w e n e v e r w a n t e d t o s t o p w e w e n t i n c i r c l e s f o r e v e r u n t i l i r e a l i z e d i w a s l o s t i w a s l o s t f o l l o w i n g a w h i t e r a b b i t m o m m y .
.❖. They were both lying in the meadows with their bodies folding down the soft grasses upon and into themselves. Along the sky were white, velvety clouds, fluffy and light in their weight, held against the gentle blue that expanded across the horizon that wrapped around the mountain top. Forming the distance were trees with green, and white bark that stretched upwards for long whiles. Some of the trunks were thicker and grayer with ebony markings. The leaves were light green, but their veins gave a tinted yellow scenery, mirroring the radiant sun, gleaming in the glories of the season’s morning like a brilliant halo behind the mountain.
A tall, gaunt piece of crowfoot grass stuck out of Matthias’ mouth. His tongue fiddled with the ends, toying with the dew and water. The grass in the meadow was gentle, and he could not feel it brush through the light fabric of his shirt. A playful breeze accompanied him and combed the ribbons of its breath through his hair and tickled his skin. He had not felt this good in as long as he could remember, and he had managed to capture some sort of freedom through it, by lying in the field with his new friend Cassie right next to him. His face turned to look at her. She was silently staring at the sky. Her dark eyes seemed to be absorbing every lingering moment as if it would be her last. For a while now, he had enjoyed being with her. She had a very delightful presence about her, even if it was a bit cold, like the tenderness of her skin color. At that thought, it dawned on him — she was so pale, and this made him curious since he had not noticed the fairness of her skin until just now. “Cassie?”
“Yes, Matthias?” she responded. Matthias watched as her face slowly turned to look at him in all his boyish fashion, still dabbling with blue eyes of juvenile innocence. Her long, black hair stirred under the weight of her head and pleated with the meadow. As she focused on him, a stoic excitement glowed in her dusky eyes. He appreciated seeing that secret coyness in her, and despite the distant dialect she used to maneuver herself, he knew there was an inner love that she kindled quietly for those she knew. He had found an intense amusement in learning to mind all of this about her.
“When was the last time you went outside like this?” he questioned her, and he continued to study her reactions. They were so subtle, he did not want to miss the slightest nuance. Even the pause in their conversation, as Cassie’s mind wandered, was intriguing to him. He watched as her eyes drifted away into a vacant spot between them as they contemplated behind her memories. Matthias thought it was amusing, she had to think so hard about it, but it meant he was probably right.
“I do not remember,” she spoke in a formless, cautious voice. She knew a better answer, but the one she had given would do for the time being and was not a lie, as she would not want to lie to someone like Matthias. He was a dear friend now, and she thought of it as a rare, fragile creation that could shatter from any given mistake. Thus, it was true that Cassie had no recollection of ever doing something like this, lying in the open fields for such a long while, and she found it fair to say that she did not remember, even if it was only the shortest of answers she could have given aside from a mute one.
“I thought so,” Matthias smirked, feeling a boldness in himself as he wore the correct assumption upon his face. He released a small sigh, relieving himself from a small over celebration, and still breathing in the fresh air, he looked towards the sky again. There were games they could have played, just watching the clouds and their shapes, but he wanted to do something different or more mature. He had a desire to show Cassie this part of himself. They had been childish for a while now, rummaging like typical younger, elementary school students in the fields of a low mountain, and he knew distinctly it was the first time he had ever experienced such a sensation of this kind with another person.
Cassie was different from the girls he knew at school. He could see through her in a way that he had not been able to see through other people, and even with the knowledge of being able to see into her, he wanted to know more. He felt as if he could never get tired of her. She was shy, and perhaps, he reasoned that she needed the courage to speak of herself. Fortunately, he had lots of courage, so hastily he decided the easiest way to give her courage was to talk about himself first, and would share with her a little something about himself that was intrepid and venturesome, “I’ve always wanted to climb a mountain!” Matthias exclaimed. It sounded like a daring jaunt that would show his strength and wisdom, and for such an enthralling statement, it ought to be common courtesy for her to ask why. He had a whole slew of reasons as to why he wanted to climb a mountain, and as he waited for the preceding question, he tried to choose which reason he should give her as to prolong the conversation with an ease of certainty.
However, there was another pause in their conversation, which lasted longer than usual, and hesitantly, Matthias’ eyes found themselves looking back at Cassie’s. She was still staring at him as if she had not heard his statement, and he became slightly perplexed. His lips parted to declare the statement again, but he was surprisingly interrupted by a sudden burst of energy from the young girl. “Now you can!” Cassie smiled politely, letting it grow at the sight of Matthias’ face lighting up with interest and bewilderment. Her spontaneous spark of enthusiasm was obviously startling to him.
She really liked the way he was, right now. He seemed so happy and cheerful, and there was hope in his eyes, not like when she had first met him. She let the guilt of why he was not feeling so melancholy pass away, as he was too passionate seeming now. She was very excited now too, and did not want to stop the fun. “Come! Come!” she exclaimed. Her little body hopped upwards, onto her small feet, and she drew in a deep breath and looked around at the sky as Matthias had done earlier. It was clear and delightful and made for a wonderful stage for a trip. Her gaze fell back to the grass, where Matthias was sitting, knees tucked under his body, having sat up. He looked so much stronger than when she had first met him. Again, she liked him like this. “Come!” her thin arms extended outwards with her hands wide open as her body tipped forward, “We’ll run out of time!”
The waxen fluxes of her agreeableness caught Matthias off guard, and he looked up at Cassie with feigned disbelief. A distorted impatience was driving her, and he could make out that Cassie was not quite sure how to read his face. Nonetheless, her positive demeanor, as meek and dim as it contrarily seemed to be, told him whatever he was feeling was nothing more important than climbing a mountain as he always wished to. She was right - they should climb the mountain. He would explain to her as to why on the way there, in case she for some unforeseen reason decided his ambition was boyish and stupid. “You’re right,” he picked the strand from his mouth and flicked it into the meadow, in the same motion as he saw his old man do with a cigarette. He quickly gathered himself and grabbed ahold of Cassie’s hand as he stood alongside her. She was simpering solicitously at him, and without another word, he promptly began pulling her towards the base of the summit.
Matthias did not let go of her hand after he had found his bearings, as he had made the firm decision that he would be the leader on this expedition, not her. “You’d better let me be the leader. You’re not used to being outside like this.” It was obvious, her hands were too delicate and slender for such a dangerous job, and he would be a teenager in one year. He was going to be a man soon and needed the practice. It was his duty to protect the younger, weaker, and fairer sex. However, the boy was also unsure of how old Cassie was. She had never answered him when he had originally asked, he just now realized, but he was certain she was younger than him. She was smaller and more docile, and besides, her mannerisms and thinking were also more childlike. He could outsmart her so easily, unlike some of those other girls in his class.
Cassie’s bare feet dragged her toes through the grass, stumbling over the pull of Matthias’ queerly fast pace. There was something careless about him that she had missed before now. Maybe by her own carelessness, or maybe it was because he was just so excited. She very much relished in this side of him as she wanted to have this much merriment too, but something was stopping her. It did not stop her that much though, because she knew she was still smiling and joyous, and she had a funny feeling in her chest like a cheerful butterfly fluttering its wings when she thought about how firm his grip on her hand was.
“How old are you anyways, Cassie?” He managed to lower his voice a bit, showing some fearless side of him. Cassie thought it was silly that he changed his voice, but she was not able to bring herself to laugh at it like he was telling a joke, which caused a knot of confusion in her, as her drawn on smile tucked shyly away at his question. The two continued walking forwards. Small breaths gathered in a more noticeable fashion between their chests, and they would not be able to keep this pace the entire time. Although, they very well might have been able to. Cassie was not willing to let Matthias do so though, and tried to break the rhythm of his determined thoughts, as he awaited her answer, “I’m older than you!” She tried to pull her hand away from their current entanglement, to exemplify her antiquity over him, but his grip was stronger than she had realized. “Way older!” she tried again.
He slowed down, after the second comment, “You’re too short to be older than me,” he rationalized, giving her a wearily, mischievous grin. Cassie liked this new expression he was giving her. It made small creases on both of his round cheeks, which was cute even if his jaw looked squarer when he smiled and gave him a more inclined portrait. His head shook slightly, causing the loopy curls in his sandy hair to sway back-and-forth, and she had his full attention again. They paused to look at each other, silently holding each other’s hand. The pause had made way for a break in Matthias’ tempo, and Cassie saw this, pulling her hand away quickly.
His face turned with eyes looking dumbfoundedly at his palm, lips parted and closed, all with a slight disturbance at what she had done. “Look!” Cassie redirected his attention, by pointing her hand towards a patch of shrubbery on the root of a nearby tree just a little ways ahead of them. Her hands grabbed hold of her sundress, and lifted the skirt, enough for her knobby knees to bend properly and not get tangled in her attire, as she ran several steps forward. Matthias’ gaze followed her footsteps, and he took several of his own footsteps, caught in her train of thought.
“It is the most beautiful flower!” she exclaimed. He watched as her body leaned over. Her hair drooped forward from the motion. Dark strands hid her face, and he could not see the expression she was making any more. Cassie sounded delighted though, and he wanted to see what was making her act this way, to investigate it. Her body knelt down, toes curling into the grass in front of the russet roots harboring the strange, primly dressed flower, and finally with her fingers, she tucked the hair from her face to better admire the bloom.
“What type of flower is it?” Matthias inquired as he approached. His mother loved flowers. He knew little about them, but he understood the tone to use when speaking like he knew a thing or two about flowers. He squatted next to Cassie. Kneeling was for girls, and in case a bear or some other wild animal jumped out of the forest, he would have to be ready. With this thought in mind, he kept his right hand a bit tense and ready for action, but it recoiled swiftly, “I-it’s beautiful,” he said with unusual certainty in his usual toned voice, caught off guard by its delicate petals and silken white color. There was an interesting curl or pollen or whatever that was called coming from the center of the blossom.
The flower looked familiar to him and brought him more memories of his mother as he studied the plant. The stem was creeped and cerulean with tiny, lucid downy hairs. The leaves were thick and long with smooth, pensive margins. Atop the stem was the magnificent snow blossom and finely hanging details, wavy and thin as it cusped an inclined neck towards the mountain’s rooted carpet. He had seen it in a book with his mother one Saturday morning, he recalled. It was an orchid of some sort, but the exact name had escaped him, “Do - do you know what it’s name is?” he asked again in a more respectful, amazed tone.
Cassie thought his voice sounded more pleasant the second time he asked the question, but she saw that she was without an answer, yet again. Her lip pouted a bit as if to contemplate anything and then she proceeded to respond to his answer, “I was hoping you would know,” she was not lying. She had never seen this particular flower before now, and he would know this area better than she did. Although, she was beginning to contemplate more seriously who really knew the best, “Do you think I should pick it?” her hand reached out, mesmerized by the plant.
“No,” Matthias said firmly, “Don’t pick it. Please,” his readily hand reached out and grabbed her wrist, more firmly against her skin than when he was holding her hand. She gasped as his grasp stiffened the muscles in her wrist. He did not want her harming the flower. It was too exotic and exquisite. There was not another flower like it anywhere nearby, he had noted as well, unlike Cassie, probably. His hand released her wrist, which cupped and withdrew into her chest. “I’m sorry,” he quipped, feeling badly about how he had reacted. Admittedly, he had never behaved in such a way over a dumb, stupid flower.
A weak smile curved on Cassie’s face as she vainly attempted to recover. Her wrist uncurled itself, and her hand motioned towards him with her fingers outspread, “It’s okay, Matthias. I’m okay.” She gave the flower one last look and withdrew her hand once again and instead, planted it on the ground, pushed herself onto her feet. Her toes wiggled while she sought her balance and looked down at him. Matthias was pretending to mind the flower, attempting to conceal his shame from having lost his temper with Cassie. It was as if he had not even noticed that she had stood upright. Her lips turned into themselves, pressing together nervously. He needed rest, and she knew this. That is why she had stopped them. However, she was also feeling ambivalent towards her impatience and a bit concerned about his sudden huffiness.
Her small head turned to scan the area, to see if another distraction could pull them forward, again. “My mother loves flowers,” Matthias commented, pulling her attention back to him, instead. She took a small step backwards, pressed the tops of her toes into the doughy greenery while she looked down at Matthias and the flower, again, and a flustered feeling sprouted in her. The picture in front of her was beautiful — Matthias with the flower. He was a very caring son, to think of such a beautiful thought for his mother. She was almost jealous of him, but remembering who he was, and where they were, and why they were there, dissipated any bubbling animosity she was contemplating. He was too precious and fragile for any bad thoughts or feelings to arise in her.
“Your mother sounds really beautiful,” she forced a small smile, “I think my mother was, too, and my father,” she partially lied. She wanted to remember them that way though, and she believed that with enough florally blanketed statements, she could make herself believe they were lovely, just how Matthias’ mother and the flower were to him. Cassie wanted to be beautiful like Matthias’ mother. She also wanted to be beautiful like the flower. This was not a foreign feeling. The desire and want to be something better than what she already was. A part of her reasoned that if only Matthias had called her beautiful would she be worthy of such a title. Another part of her was certain it was the guilt making her feel less than a flower. There were other reasons, like how Matthias’ mother and the flower being beautiful gave them special places in his thoughts. If she were beautiful then she could have a special place, as well.
“She is beautiful.” Matthias said sternly, dismissing her comments about her own parents as if they had not registered or been heard. The boy forgot the flower, as he drifted into memories of his parents, and finding himself lost in thought, he quickly jumped into their initial objective, “We should get going. Before it gets too late in the day.” His legs straightened, “I am feeling tired all of a sudden, but I think we can still make it, at least half-way. Follow me,” he commanded, retaining his role as leader.
Cassie did not mind his dismissive attitude towards her comment. It was one less conversation she would have to feign, and Matthias seemed happy, even if he did say he was feeling tired. This worried her into thinking less about herself and more about how much longer he would last. He needed to blow off steam, though. Her feet skipped several paces and found herself right by his side. It was a lovely scene, Cassie thought, just like the beautiful flower. Her eyes wandered around, eventually finding themselves admiring the clouds. She could also smell the sweetness of something that reminded her of magnolia blossoms, and her eyes frolicked through the advancements of the mountain path and looked at the skyline. A lacework of leaves was woven through the treetops and outlining the azure horizon that guided them towards the mountain and the sound of birds could be heard, singing and cooing in simultaneous tweets. They sounded happy and melodious. Cassie hummed along in her head.
Matthias glanced at her by giving her a quick piercing stare. He had already forgotten that he had inquired about her age and never gotten an answer, but the feeling of having lost something from her lingered, like his missed opportunity to ask about her family. The feeling was lurking in his head, and he knew it. He understood that he probably was still a bit perturbed about her disrespect to the flower. However, he was certain he should not have been, and he knew this and made a small smile of reassurance alongside her jovial steps. She was a wily one, and he knew she needed the direction, and he could already see she was into her own mind again, which was perfectly fine. He preferred her this way for the moment, just the two of them.
Insects started clicking and chirping the closer they made their way to the mountain’s path. Neither had recollection of the sounds being so vibrant when they were drifting in-and-out of sleep when lying in the meadow, and Matthias took comfort in this sound. If the forest was talking, no danger was near them. He thought about saying this to Cassie, but he did not want to disturb her thoughts, or more so, scare her. She seemed easily excited with things, despite such a melancholy demeanor. She was already walking with an odd jump in her step. He had seen girls at his school do this before. It never made sense to him, as if there was some strenuous deep valley he would have to cross before he could act in such a way, and even if he did make the journey, he would probably get in trouble for some reason or another.
He almost asked her to stop being so happy, but he could not bring himself to do so. Besides, she had already been reprimanded by him once today, and if they were going to travel together, it would be better if she was in a happy mood. As the leader of the two, he opted to keep his mouth quiet if he had nothing nice to say, and instead began doing small mathematical equations in his head to pass the time. It was something he had started doing at an early age. It started with counting and then skipping numbers as he counted. He liked to see how complicated he could make the numbers work. He was pretty proud of himself being able to do multiplication in his head without a pencil or paper, or anything. In school, he was doing things like learning about how to find what the missing number was in an equation. He loved those math problems, but the thought of finding something missing made him think about how they could go missing if they were to get lost. His mind backtracked several grades of mathematics and started counting the trees in certainty that soon he would be counting the trees by twos, threes, and eventually, fours. He could not shake the thought from his mind that Cassie was really lucky she had him as a leader.
It was hard counting the trees. There were so many of them, and the more he counted them, the more he started to notice their idiosyncrasies. Some of their branches were thicker than others, and some of the branches had smaller branches, which were wiry in appearance with pirouetted twists that curled into the sky. They were for the most part thin trees, unlike the huge, swollen pine trees he had seen at home. Despite how thin these particular trees were, there were a lot of them, and venturing from the path and into the forest looked like death because of their abundance. He did not stop to think to point out any of these oddities to Cassie and soon forgot she was with him. He also found himself starting to lose track of his counting, and decided to concentrate on their height and width, which were two terms he had learned in school this year. He wanted to stop counting and think about how to calculate these measurements by imagining himself with a measuring tape and a ladder, except thinking about the dimensions tempted him to begin using multiplication, which was a little strenuous for him in such a foreign place.
By late afternoon, the insects were still chirping with encouragement. Neither of the children had fully stopped for a break, yet. Matthias almost found it unusual that his legs were not sore, and neither of them had complained about a hungry stomach. The journey had been brilliant that way he guessed. However, just as he was making this assessment of wonderment, Matthias found the sounds of the insects echoing as a seashell being held over both of his ears. Their calls grew louder and higher, and he realized how sorely fatigued he was. The sound caused him to lose count of all the trees. He tried to refocus, but a dreary mist had grabbed hold of his brain. The fog began spreading down his spine, and flushed breaths passed through him, caused him to feel weak and of wanting to fall and lose balance. He reached out for Cassie, but he could not find her. Cassie? Where’s Cassie? Alarmed, his head turned to look around for her. Panic churned in him as he desperately tried to find her. It was as if she had disappeared. His sudden movements made his head spin madder. He knew as a leader, he should never lose his comrade, especially one like Cassie, and his muscles floundered as he tried to gain control once more. His feet gave the impression of having turned into heavy weights, which assumed the rest of his body.
“Matthias?” he could hear her light, airy voice tap gently through the commotion. He was relieved she was nearby. “Matthias?” she called to him, yet again. “M-Matthias?” The imagery before him was fading into small spots, like a painting he had once seen at the museum on a school field trip, or maybe a television set. He could not decide nor did he care which one was more representational. The closer he looked at Cassie and the trees and the grass and the sky, the blurrier it all became. They were disappearing. “Stay with me, Matthias!” Her voice broke through the noise, white and ominous, “Please, don’t go!” Her voice began sounding less and less real, though, and the trees began seeming less and less tangible, as he began forgetting where he was. The world tumbled into darkness and a lulling silence.
Through the silence, something wrapped around his body, holding him as he collapsed. He was not breathing, and he felt a hot fever cover his body, “Stay here, please,” he could feel her small supple lips press against his own, and as if a breath of life was breathed into him, the pictures began swarming back into place, and the insects began calming themselves. Even the trees began to twist and redesign themselves into the foreground.
A cold hand reached out and covered his forehead, “Matthias,” Cassie’s voice became audible. His eyes opened and widened, and focused on Cassie’s pale face. She looked worried, and he could not help but think how fair skinned she was. Her cheeks seemed as though they would be cold, if he could muster the energy to reach out and touch her. There was a girl in his class who had rosy cheeks. He enjoyed admiring them until recess time. They would become so red that they spread their color all over her face. He wondered if Cassie’s face would get red if she ran. “Matthias?” her lips moved. They were a pale pink, he noticed. The rosy cheeked girl in his class had lips that were noticeably pink, or red, or something. They were very noticeable, unlike Cassie’s lips. “Can you see me?” her head tilted, inspecting him and leaning closer.
“C-Ca,” his words were cut from his mouth, still held together from her lips. Cassie exhaled in a gasp and released him, now lying on the grass flooring. She was breathing quickly, and through the noises of the mountain’s forest, Matthias could hear the quietness of her embarrassment. His body tried to spring upwards, but his motion was too rapid, and his muscles stiffened, finding himself lying on the grass, still. The weight of her body, hovering over him, kept him still. She stayed like that for a while, staring at him. Neither of them moved, and if she moved any closer, their noses would touch.
Both could hear the wind, and when Cassie became aware of it, she tugged at her bottom lip with her two front teeth. Her body relaxed, a little embarrassed by her sudden maneuver and Matthias’ lack of response. This was not about her. It was about him, and he was already feeling weak, again. It was her fault. She knew it, and again, he was not responding. It was her fault. She had forgotten to let him rest.
He could tell she was worried, not because she had a look of worriment on her face, or held anything shaky in her tone of voice, but because he just knew. He really liked this about her, “I can see you,” he smiled, although, in his attempt to smile, he noticed that even his facial muscles were lacking coordination. It was hard to make much of himself like this, and he felt weak, being held by Cassie. He was the leader, not Cassie, “A-and I can hear you,” he tried to say in a goofy way, but his voice wavered.
“We should stay here for a bit,” Cassie rescinded herself under her sable hair, not quite tangled enough by the season’s air. Her voice was solemn, and her eyes looked down the pathway before moving to admire the reposing sky. The clouds were dimming and changing colors, and a pastel hue was misting itself over the coronetting sun. It looked beautiful. It was all so beautiful.
“No, I want to finish climbing the mountain,” he retorted. Cassie looked at Matthias, he was forcefully speaking more boldly, or he was attempting to do so, at least. His body shifted, seeing the worriment in Cassie still struggling. “Are you tired? We should rest then,” he knew as a good leader, he should put Cassie first. There were a lot of reasons for this, and he was much too tired to think of them, aside from he was still unable to sit up right. However, he was most certain that Cassie was tired, as well as exasperated.
Cassie knew it was not a wise idea to allow him to continue the journey. The pathway may have been the kind of trail that had been travelled many times before them; and the mountain may have been of the smaller scale; but he did not look well. They did not have to go up the mountain. He was a determined and stubborn boy. She knew this well from all the time they knew each other. He would find some way to get what he wanted. Again, she would discerned that she would stall their adventure.
“Hold my hand again, Matthias,” Cassie commanded playfully, and before waiting for a response, she grabbed his left hand, weaving their fingers together and bending his arm. Her light touches tickled his skin, and she positioned herself next to where Matthias rested his, “Why do you want to climb a mountain so much?” she asked. She held his hand tighter and tilted her head, adjusting how her hair had fallen. Her lips smiled. He was not feeling well, but she was curious and wanted him to rest for a bit more. His mind was so interesting, and despite how open his mind was, she knew very little about it.
Matthias allowed his hand to slump in the grass between them for a bit, as he tried to gain his bearings. His head turned to look at their hands, but he was disoriented by how surreal the grass was positioned, and his hands were tingling in a way that lead him to believe they would vanish. He could see the color of the grass through both of their hands, but neither of their hands should be transparent. Her question was lost to him, as he stared at their hands holding. He blinked several times, attempting to refocus. The transparency momentarily lifted its presence. His mouth opened to say something, and his eyes squinted, trying to grasp the situation and jog his memory.
“It’s okay, Matthias,” Cassie smiled, “You do not have to answer,” she leaned forward. Her spare hand pressed into the grass. Her fingers curled into a fist, “Do you want to know why I want to climb the mountain?” Her face was very close to his again, and he was almost feeling intimidated by her sudden posture.
He attempted to lift himself, but was interrupted by Cassie, “Don’t get up so quickly! I will help you,” Cassie emerged from her bashfulness, panicky that Matthias was still feeling weak. She shifted her body closer, perching her toes in the grass and holding her hands in front of her and towards Matthias. She crept towards him and helped lift his body into a sitting position. Upon meeting his gaze once more, she was flushed with embarrassment again and wanted to run away, but she could not bring herself to do so. “B-be careful!” she commanded in a frail voice. Her hands grabbed hold of his body again, but not as frightfully as when he had his fainting spell. She held him securely, letting him balance himself.
Slowly, the two children began to stand. Matthias was now leaning against Cassie, attempting to ask her what had happened, until he realized she was hugging him, her head pressed against his chest. His shirt was warm from lying in the sunkissed grass, and he smelled like warm cotton. The beating of his heart was nice against her eardrum, and she liked the cheery sound it made. She wanted to call the sound, determination. With her arms wrapped around him as well, she pressed herself closer into him. “I thought you were going to start going away, again,” her breathing changed, against his calmer, more subdued demeanor. Tears began to swell in her eyes, and Matthias tentatively brought up his hands to hug her, as well.
“Where would I have gone?” he joked suspiciously by mocking her lightly. He decided he would drop the subject about having fallen ill — she seemed distraught enough. He did want to know though, especially now that he was feeling much better and more stable. However, he was willing to find out later. In accompany with this decision, he asserted that he was not going to bring up that she had kissed him. Admittedly, he understood that she had been very embarrassed about it, and he was also a little demure about it, too. He cared for this about her, the kiss and her reaction, and as they stood together, he realized that he did not know what to do next. He was better now, and she was still acting in an anxious manner. Her body was shaking, and her fingers were holding tightly to the fabric of his shirt, afraid to let go it seemed. She was fragile like that, and this is why he was the leader, he reminded himself. “Oh!” he exclaimed, unexpectantly remembering the question she had asked him before he had lost his balance and fallen, “I have always wanted to climb a mountain because I believe that on the top of the mountain, my questions will be answered. I read a book with something about how wise sages live on top of mountains, and so I wanted to find one to ask him the hardest question I know ever in the world.”
Cassie’s body was still sobbing silently, and while he enjoyed her need for him, he wanted her to be happy again, like when they had seen the flower. He did not want to force her to stop like he had with the flower, and he immediately felt badly that he had not let her pick it. Having it with her, right now, might have helped to make her feel better. Matthias resumed “My old man told me that the hardest question in the world to answer is, ‘What is the meaning of life?’” If he kept talking, she would eventually see that he was alright and calm down. He also wanted to climb the mountain and get his answer, “Well, today, we’re gunna find out. You and me, Cassie. You could ask a question, as well, Cassie! ” He made a nervous smile, trying to find a way for him to start making more progress on their journey without accidentally hurting her.
“I like your question,” Cassie said bashfully in a melancholy voice, “It will be getting late soon. We will not make it to the top to see the sunset,” her arms dropped. The day was coming to an end, and she knew he was weak. She was not positive his energy would last him, and she did not believe they could make it up the mountain. “Are you feeling better?” Her eyes looked up at him, studying the angles of his face, and the creases under his eyes. The way his eyelashes budded from his eyelids was peculiar to her, and she liked this about him. A smile perched on her lips, hopefully.
“I am feeling better,” Matthias drew in a deep breath, puffing out his chest and releasing his hug on Cassie. “Th-” his hand searched aimlessly behind his head, fingers feeling through the curls of his hair, “Thanks for the kiss,” he quipped. His eyes had darted away at first, but he wanted them to look directly at her as he spoke the sentence to let her know that he was being serious. He liked seeing the caring parts of her eyes focusing on him. Her lips pressed together as he looked down at her. Her smile was trying to hide itself again, and he smiled to let her know it was okay. This all seemed so natural to him. He had not had this type of mindset with any other girl, or person for that matter.
He had never really been put in this type of a situation before meeting Cassie, but he knew that he really enjoyed it a lot. His hand reached out and grabbed hold of Cassie’s hand. He made the gesture quickly, while still looking at her. He believed he had obtained a sense of fondness by having her next to him and right by his side, as he ventured up the small mountain. There was not another person he would have wanted by his side. She was a strange girl, but that made her all the better. They began walking up the mountain path again. The road was heavily trodden in a deliberate manner, and the dirt was surprisingly soft underfoot. Matthias was thankful for this. Neither of them were wearing shoes, even though he was sure he had put shoes on his feet before heading outside this morning. “What happened? Did I black out?” His eyes looked at Cassie briefly and then continued to focus on the path ahead of them. As he asked the question, he drew in a deep breath of anticipation, waiting for the answer.
The trees were becoming less numerous, Cassie noted. Their tops were becoming more defined as they dispersed in appearance. The sound of running water could be heard in the distance, but she still had no answer for Matthias. “I am not really sure,” she replied pathetically. She tried to find her smile in a secure spot on her mouth, as she looked up at Matthias. “You did not look well,” she tilted her mouth, “But you are so much better now,” her legs fastened their pace, “And we are holding hands, again,” she said gently. Her fingers pressed more firmly into his grip. She watched as Matthias looked down at their hands. There was a smugness in him, now. This was how he was when they had first began holding hands, when they first decided to ascend the mountain to its peak.
The two were silent for a while as their journey slowly came to an end. The sky was slowly painting itself a myriad of different colors. It was warm and cool all at the same time, and the patchwork of clouds drifted slowly upon the kaleidoscopic swirls in the sky. There was something more romantic about the hike now that they were almost done completing their adventure together, hand-in-hand. Even the sun was shimmering with magnificent radiance as it settled itself into the passing of the day.
Standing next to Matthias, Cassie felt she had a place where she belonged. She liked her hand in his hand. She liked the both of them being on the mountain. She liked this special memory they were sharing between each other, and she did not ever want to forget it. She wanted to remember it forever. The grass on the mountain road was now thinning, and the beginnings of rubble were tender on her feet, but the ache was akin to nothing while holding his hand. She had been feeling gallant for a while until now, and did not want the journey to end. However, as they made their way through the path, the trail curled to the top, and as much as she dreaded this, she insistently admired how the peak had been decorated with the walkway. Small buds of pink primroses were embroidering the trail, and tiny green buds sprinkled around the florals, and the sun was starting to set, as well. Her hand squeezed his suddenly, “We’re here!”
Happiness brightened her face. She turned to face him, but quickly dropped her smile, seeing the disappointment written all over him. Her eyes looked back at the top and then to the sky. The colors were turning a warm purple and orange. The clouds were an indigo miracle, puffed like cotton. It was beautiful. She had never been on top of a mountain of any kind, and it was beautiful. She liked it more than the flower; she liked it more than the birds’ singing; but Matthias did not seem to think so.
“It is so beautiful!” Cassie said, trying to look past his disappointment. There was sadness already in her, but she wanted to keep it from becoming part of her personality for a little while longer, “I love the clouds! And the sun!” Her breaths were feeling spaced, as she reached for words to better describe her emotions towards the mountain top. It was difficult bringing them out. They were not the words she needed to be saying but rather the words that she wanted to say.
Matthias looked at her a little puzzled before sighing and tilting his head, “I-I love you, Cassie,” Matthias admitted, “I was disappointed that there was no one here to answer my question, but you’ve opened my eyes to how beautiful it is on top of this mountain. The journey was not all for nothing.” He paused and looked at Cassie, “We should sit,” and they both sat, simultaneously agreeing upon his suggestion without delay, “I’m proud to have you as my friend, you’re like a dream come true. I don’t know how to explain it, Cassie,” Matthias was smiling. He thought of Cassie as some sort of answer to the question, but trying to explain this seemed like it was one of the hardest things to do in the world, and upon his pondering of all of this, there was a slow, sustained silence between them, again.
The wind was starting to wisp in the setting air. Their hands continued holding on to each other, and Cassie’s heart was beating restlessly. The touches of the wind upon her skin were ticklish as she contemplated the time, enjoying every piece of it that blew by them. It was about to be over any minute, now. The sun would be setting shortly, and she was beginning to feel the happiness fade away, with the passing of the day. She did not want to be sad, and she scooted closer to him, leaning her head against his shoulder for consolation. For several seconds, she let herself enjoy him before interrupting the peaceful occasion, “Matthias?” she spoke quietly and slowly.
“Hmm?” his body was motionless, having relaxed into the setting stage. Her head lifted from his shoulder, and she looked at him. His eyes narrowed, shielding the dimming golden rays from his eyes. He looked happy still, and the freckles on his cheeks were a light amber, now. She wanted to take a picture, and blinked several times, pretending her eyes were able to capture his glowing face for all of eternity.
“Do you remember how we met?” She did not want to watch him try to remember, and her eyes dropped. Matthias thought long and hard, trying to retrace their footsteps. His earliest memory of her was from this morning when they were lying in the meadow. They had known each other much longer though, surely. Why would he have been lying in the meadow with her in the first place? He could not remember ever journeying to the meadow. She felt his fingers tense and wanted to be released from his hand. She did not allow them to do so, though. Even through the lingering pause, she kept firm in her decision. It was the least she could do, and she wished she could have done more.
Slowly, turning pages of the day into a more realistic perspective, Matthias realized he had not eaten all day, and yet despite that he was still not hungry. Nor had he drunk anything, and was not parched in the least. Cassie also had not made mention of either of these ailments. His lips stuttered apart for several winks, mumbling nothing as they parted and touched. He felt pale and faint again, relinquishing thoughts he had put forth during his previous fainting spell, but as he pivoted to look at her, a sense of calmness washed over him. It was pleasant and haunting, all at the same time, and he finally replied, “I do not remember, Cassie,” he was afraid for this reason. They were conceivably in a safe location, and she must have been more feeble and vulnerable than him, even if he was feeling weak himself, again, “I… do not even know w-where we are,” Matthias drew in several breaths. They were meaningless and did nothing for him, “D-do you?”
Cassie carefully opened her mouth to speak, but she quickly pressed her lips together. He did not seem fearless, anymore. She could not help but try to be courageous for him. She knew it would be better if she was facing him, and so, she re-positioned herself in order to alleviate the pain, “I do, Matthias,” she began, “This is just a dream. We are in a dream. We are in your dream, Matthias, because you are in a coma. We’re just in a dream, and… your family is waiting for you to wake up. They’ve been waiting for weeks, now,” Cassie paused for only a brief second before continuing as she attempted to palliate the truth, “The truth is, I wanted to do something with you that you really, really wanted to do, because you were about to wake up! I did not want you to disappear from here… I wanted you to see that you are happiest when you are with me. That is why I wanted to climb the mountain with you,” her eyes studied Matthias, and the sadness from which she was trying to escape began to overwhelm her. “I love being here with you though… Do you want to stay asleep?” She watched the initial shock and horror scribble all over him, and as emotions continued to draw over his face, a morose cloud of expressions overshadowed his features. She did not enjoy him like this, and he looked worse than she had imagined he would. She verily preferred when he was happy and joyful, and it was much too painful to watch the happiness bleed from him. Leaving him to his thoughts, she slowly drifted her attention to face the sunset as she waited for his answer, this time.
Matthias concentrated on Cassie as he tried to muster up the courage to see through the fantasy. He was very sad, now, staring at his friend. She was more like an ivory doll, a marionette conjured up by his stupid imagination. He coveted for his family, very much now, as he thought about them missing him. Breaking their hearts would bear him nothing but misery, and Cassie was offering him a way out. He was not certain how or why he had fallen into a coma or if he should bother awaking despite how much he wanted to see his family, again. He had been very happy with Cassie, he recollected as he began counting all the times he had smiled, and still, he could not take his eyes from her. She reminded him of the beautiful flower they had seen earlier. It was an orchid, he remembered its name now. It was a Ghost Orchid and was one of the rarest flowers in the world. He wanted to consider Cassie just the same when he thought of her as his friend, and he became even more uncertain if he wanted to leave her. “If I say, ‘Yes,’ will I die?”
Her eyes stared into the crowning of the sunset, admiring the intricacies of its alluring details. His memory was so fantasmic. She had been in many different dreams, had by many different people over the span of her long existence, but Matthias’ coma dream had become her very favorite. As the sun finished hiding his jewels behind the horizon, the majestic light slowly disappeared, and the ornaments of clouds started to drain of color. It was still so beautiful to her, and she wished very much to experience it, again and again for the rest of her life. She looked towards him, as the ink blackened the sky for the moon’s awakening, “Stay with me, Matthias. Will you please, stay with me…?” she smiled politely one more time as she extended her opened hand.
a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.
an affective disorder characterized by periods of mania alternating with periods of depression, usually interspersed with relatively long intervals of normal mood.
“ what i see around me would drive me insane if I did not know that no matter what happens, God will have the last word. ”
— Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain
the russian concept of schizophrenia: a review of the literature
by Helen Lavretsky
“ after the arrival of Christianity in russia in the 13th century, mental illness was regarded as God's pun- ishment the mentally ill were taken care of by monks in the monasteries and were divided into two large groups— ‘ odd ' and ‘ mad. ' the main principles of care applied by the russian Orthodox Church were humane treatment and rehabilitative measures such as gardening and other jobs at the monasteries. the general public sometimes idealized the mentally ill as holy—God's creation—and provided some financial support for the ‘ fools. ' in the medieval period, descriptions of epilepsy, mental retardation, and schizophrenia-like illness, as well as alcoholism and alco- holic psychosis were documented (Fedotov 1983). various herbal preparations (pepper, caraway, mustard, mint, nuts), alcoholic tinctures, sedating teas and oils, and honey were used to treat mental disorders. ”
“ a time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘ you are mad; you are not like us. ' ”
— Saint Anthony the Great
Acorn by Yoko Ono C L E A N I N G P I E C E I I I
try to say nothing negative about anybody.
a) for three days b) for forty-five days c) for three months
see what happens.
“ Don't criticize or judge other people—regard everyone else as an angel, justify their mistakes and weaknesses, and condemn only yourself as the worst sinner. This is step one in any kind of spiritual life. ”
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Tell 'Em A Hookah Smoking Catepillar Has Given You The Call || Last Edited: October 14th, 2018
the garden of eden.
won't you try?
🐛. . . Pitter-patter of the misty rain rung continuously through the metal rooftops of the dirty side street of gray municipality. Despite the weather, the shopkeepers were still keeping entertainment with a frequent flow of customers. Business had picked up on this side of town thanks to a fairly well-known electronic botany-horticulture store of the underground called none other than The Atrium. Alternate street names for business like The Atrium were recreational drug dispensers and head shops. Shops like these were a common novelty in the dimly lit cities of these lower class districts, places so dreary, people were born without dreams or with dreams that were killed before making it past infancy. If it weren't for the high-tech digital world, dreams wouldn't exist altogether, and for those who wanted designer dreams, places like The Atrium were some of the first places that came to salvage the mind from it's waning existence.
A white neon colored sign reading “Feed Your Head” hung above a window of The Atrium. The sign hung adjacent below a large neon red sign that looked like an anatomical heart. Both flickered every now and then and managed catch a drifter’s attention from the all-too-well-known void of realism, lost in the gray cobwebs of municipality's machine driven universe. Recently, the shop was seeing a spike in business, and for that reason, the whole street was starting to change tunes as the economy in the district saw a way out of the slumps. A small cult was beginning to form around this new founded hope that tried to make every customer feel like family.
Inside the shop, synth-sitar techno beats drowned out the sound of the perpetual downpour with soothing rhythm only fit for an undercover head shop. Smoke and incense chilled the neon horticulture on the shelves. The place exuded a tranquil but always bustling vibe. Customers came and went frequently, and they were rarely dissatisfied. The Atrium’s reputation for entertaining her guests with the best customer service in the area was becoming more of a known fact. Of course, these facts were offset by being located in a shoddy part of town, which sometimes made comparisons almost irrelevant. However, rumors of CEOs stopping into town for hour long visits were circulating and bringing more inquiries to the place while also giving the word-of-mouth advertisement some backbone.
The rumors might have been a publicity stunt just like their cult claim of having found truth and freedom from the machine through drugs. It didn't matter if it was true or not, because the business and the businesses around them were seeing a progressive rise in product demand. The Atrium was providing services that offered an exit from the sewer life for not just them but the businesses around them, and due to the reputation of their scheme, they even hired a guard or two to watch the shop front.
Not all of the customers of The Atrium were loyal, but more than a few were. With loyalty came backstage passes. These loyal, lucky few were able to enjoy backroom privileges. Of course, the backroom privileges were considered only a rumor. No one knew anyone first handed who had been able to enjoy the backroom services. The gossip gave the head shop a more mysterious vibe, and when directly questioned about the backroom, The Atrium tagged along with the joke. However, when push came to shove, they admitted lamely it was only for storage and gossip column fame.
They lied to the public about it being a rumor, though. Customer loyalty was definitely a cold hard truth. Although, the new face working the counter at The Atrium didn't know the anything about truth, aside from rumors. She knew barely anything in comparison to than the usual lanky woman who lingered on her stool by the cloudy hookah behind the cashier counter. However, despite not knowing anything, the regular customers didn’t seem to notice there was a new cashier, again. She had a name. It was Penny. She was shorter than the usual face who worked the counter, and her hair was darker, too. However, seeing a new face at the counter was nothing special and happened from time-to-time. Although, it seemed to be happening more often than not, and any notice was probably falsely resolved that the shop was picking up more business and needed more help.
Missing persons were nothing unusual in machine-run municipality just like the perpetual gray atmosphere. It happened all the time. People disappeared for various or obscure reasons with few people batting an eye. Either they were hacked or framed by the supposed shadow hands of the government's megacorporations; or the crime syndicates had added a new number to their circuit boards. Just like the way municipality, this was the way of The Atrium. A new face began showing herself at the counter more and more, and suddenly, the last babe was rarely seen, again... with little to no questions asked.
Gustava was the current usual face of The Atrium. While Penny handled the shopfront, Gustava was about to entertain a loyal customer in the backroom. He had finally worked his way into getting special privileges from her. This meant he was theirs for life, which wouldn't be long by the rate of his existence. He was the tall, emotionless type wearing a rough exterior complete with straps, studs, and cybernetic pigskin. There were other atrocities to him that gave him a malicious demeanor, but what drew Gustava to him was his closed lips approach. He knew when to talk and when to shut up. It was important to keep words when the stakes were high. His real name was Oren, but he went by a different handle on the streets. Knowing his first name was the first part of the trade deal.
Oren watched as Gustava tapped her long, pale fingers against the neon blue digital sequence pad, and both watched as the aluminum colored door opened to reveal a dark room. Strong ammonium, benzyl, and faux-plant smells lingered from the warped hole of a place, “Come on in,” she spoke in a leading sultry tone as she turned to face her newest official customer. “Don't be shy,” her hand lifted from the stainless pad, and a slender finger pulled the air in front of her in encouragement for him to walk forward. He automatically obeyed her command and moved his broody and rustic body through the shadows of the electronic garden and into the Black Room.
As he walked past her model physique, the movement of his body triggered a light, which flickered and flipped automatically. The room was brighter and cleaner than he had expected, and his curious gray eyes looked around the white space. It was almost vacant aside from a reclining pod lined with black leather cushions. The overly minimalist appeal was intriguing and by far better than the eclectic patchwork of herbs, hi-tech, bright lights, and smoke disguising the joint. “This is wicked,” he grinned with tan lips spreading apart to exude his excitement. This was his first time being entertained at The Atrium despite being a regular customer for almost three years, now. He understood immediately, he was going to get way more than he had anticipated. His imagination was running wild.
With the door sliding closed, Gustava interrupted him before he could say anything else, and she grinned brightly, showing her perfectly straight teeth, “Better than you think,” she corrected him in a low, seductive voice. He could hear the sound of her lips pressing together as she spoke through the vacant silence that was enclosed in the Black Room, “Come on, babe,” her thin, pale arm extended and motioned towards the opening of the pod. Her wrist twirled in the motion as her fingers uncurled gracefully to acknowledge his body forward, “Go sit down,” She put a light tap on the back of his shoulder.
Nodding in vain, trying to remind her, he was no stranger to illicit activity and designer drugs and knew how to play the game, Oren felt inadequately prepared. She already knew his capability, and he knew she knew. But, he couldn't shake the thought he still had to prove himself, and the reputation of The Atrium under-proceeded itself. No matter how many people he had anonymously questioned or unlisted web crawlers he had visited, the truth of the matter was that no amount of information he found could accurately explain exactly what he was about to experience. Each testimony had its own unique, strange, and vastly different twist on the legend he was about to experience. Most of them seemed unbelievable, and the only thing they all had in common was a low light warning that this would be the most mind-blowing thing that he should never try but will never regret.
Before taking her word, he scraped his yellow, smoke tinted teeth against the plush of his bottom lip and turned to face her, “This place is way cleaner than I was thinkin' t'would be,” his deep voice grunted, attempting to show no remorse or hesitation in his character. He was the big guy here, and before things got heavy, he wanted her to know he was ready for whatever was about to happen. However, with every step he made and the way she coolly studied him, he felt as if he was walking into some trap that another dumb fool had already cleared for him. He didn't appreciate this feeling one bit.
Her arms were folded against her thin body that was leaning against the metal door. He watched as her head tilted, again, while she lifted her body and glided her figure with long strides towards him. She nodded her head and drew in a deep breath complete with a relaxed exhale. He felt her pale wrists finding themselves draped over his shoulders as she drew close to his ear, “This is a high class operation we're runnin', big boy.” The heat of her breath caused ripples of suspense to raise the hair on his skin. He was already feeling himself seriously losing touch of reality with the amount of control she had assumed over him, and this was not exactly what he was wanting to feel at the moment.
He didn't think himself a fool, and he wanted to re-establish this with Gustava. He knew her type liked to play sweet with the rich and dirty with the cheap. He was a rat and made sure she understood his name with every encounter they made. He knew it wouldn't hurt one fucking bit to keep up this tough visage. It was what ultimately lead him into the rumored Black Room. He hadn't one reason to quit. She was a natural with this slutting stuff, and he was no stranger to jack whores, either. The Atrium was different, though. He knew, it was all or nothing with the deal he made with Gustava, and like a fucking man, he wasn't about to back down and knew what he was doing. He knew what he wanted, and he knew she knew it, too.
“So ... you might want to take off your jacket for this,” Oren felt a slight tug on his jacket. The further touch inside her arms gave him the creeps, and he knew better than to twitch like a mad man from her. Unfortunately, he had no control over the involuntary movement. He had already submitted his part, and the amount of doe was the smallest part of his submission. Oren quickly turned from Gustava. His shoulder swiftly tilted and knocked Gustava off-guard. Her long body stepped backwards in an offensive manner but still remained in balance, which disturbed and comforted him all the same, “Did you forget something?” she asked in an arrogant, tested voice, while looking straight at him. One of her hands fluttered a bit as she waited for a reply and landed on her hip. She let out an inaudible laugh. She was real cheeky, and he found this scary and attractive in more than one way.
He found himself looking at her in awe, and she hardly seemed ruffled in any way. He began to think she looked like some sort of giraffe that had undergone cybernetics to be the beautiful human standing before him. She was tall and thin and pale. Her neck was bare and long and peeking through her charcoal gray, draped turtleneck as it tilted her chin at an angle. She had short, dark purple hair with a fringing, uneven bang cut, and her lips were still pressed in a soft, smug smile. She was dressed like a psuedo-bohemian, ready to vanish with the smoke rising from her electric smoking stick, and suddenly, he realized that he had never seen her actual eyes. She always peered at him through large, round dark sunglasses, and her bushy eyebrows could barely be seen as they generally arched with suspicious inquiry while she waited for his next move, like they were playing chess or some old school strategy game from before the Fall.
He wasn't sure if she was human or not. The most he knew was she made his body ache sometimes thinking about her. And, damn she was pale. He began wondering if she ever left this Goddamn place. This was her zoo, and she was the exhibit. He wasn't here for her, though, and she must have understood what he was thinking because she broke through his racing, concentrated thoughts with an impatient hum, “Hmm?” Her bodice sighed as she looked down at him.
“Uhh, did I forget something?” he quickly repeated, not wanting to let her know that anything was wrong as he tried to play the stoic still fucked up and jittery with nervous excitement.. He paused, pressing his lips together as he felt his muscles tingle. He wanted to control this feeling. The feeling was telling him to run, but he knew far too well it was too late for running. Fighting wasn't an option either, and getting his body to realize this was much harder than he had thought it would be mostly because he hadn't even thought it would be a fucking problem, “Nah.” His head shook with his words. At least, he got fucking that right. There was an eerie feeling corresponding from her.
Oren took a small pause after his answer as he watched her and tried to keep his composure. He could be a brute, and she had skill. And when she lifted a brow, he quickly took the cue to begin removing his jacket and sidestepping any further negative commentary he was feeling towards this whole ordeal. He fucking knew this was illegal. It was top of the fucking line illegal. What the fucking hell was he expecting? His eyes caught Gustava's through her shaded lenses, again, and he became uncertain if she was acting or if she was used to this all the time. He was starting to feel like this was more a circus and less a zoo, and he was the show pony. He was simply here for her entertainment. This wasn't his style by any fucking means. On the streets, outside, he could call the shots. He was second guessing himself, but he couldn't run, not after getting this far. He knew better than to run.
God fuck, he wished his street smarts would help ease him from Gustava's resting knowledge of knowing his type, but they made things worse like the twitches of impatience pulsing in his arms’ veins. He could tell she was not generally one for classifying people, but then again, past her demeanor was feeling a little bit lazier than the usual as if she really wanted this to be over and done with, and she could tell he was definitely edging into a more cautious character. He could sense this all about her clearly and he wanted it to stop.
“I've seen worse,” she said without missing a beat. There was a yawn in her words as her smile spread to to comfort him. She did help him feel a little less foolish, but having her tell him, was humiliating in and of itself because it proved his hunch about her insight correct. However, he wasn’t aware that she was comparing him to all of her repeat customers. They always acted more and more jittery before each and every turn. If anything, she could have made the claim that the poor boy was acting like a star client, “Here. Let me help you,” Gustava mumbled kindly and moved towards him, again, while her arm extended and grabbed hold of the gray scruff of his jacket's collar. She moved through the thin air as if it were swimming through some alternate field of existence as her fingers slipped smoothly between the silver studs lining the leather overcoat. She lifted her hand carefully and swiftly pulled the jacket from his body. His arms slipped from the sleeves with ease. He knew she was a pro at this. There was no questioning it.
Without his jacket, his chest was bare tan and muscular. It was obvious that Oren was a strong man. He had roughed in the naked sewers of the lowlife. He had scars and confidence in his physique to show for it, and Gustava purred at the sight before looking down at the jacket, feigning some bashful intellect, “I've seen much worse...” Her eyes flashed back to him, “No cybernetics on the scruff, correct?” Her hand slung his jacket her shoulder as she got back down to business, and with her other hand, she placed it on the exterior of the recliner. He had his credits, but they amounted to nothing, now. He was about to find out how much of a little puppet he was, but he wasn't about to admit it.
“Yeah, yeah. Just as we agreed,” Oren nodded, dismissing her interrogation and took several steps closer to the pod. He was right in front of it and realized it looked like some sort of doctor office equipment now that he thought about it. He turned and saw he was facing Gustava head on, again. She was a fair bit taller than him, and he pegged the wedges on her boots were giving her that extra height, “You ain't keeping the jacket, though, right? I'muh get it back.” He was clear with his words. He didn't want no thief fucking with his shit, no matter how smart and pretty this bitch thought she was.
Gustava let another inaudible laugh jest through her as she shook her head. Her lips plucked together as she imagined this being his biggest concern after all was said and done, “Nah, we won't be keeping your jacket. It's all yours. Don’t you worry about a thing. We have a... a rush supplier for our needs,” she referenced in a vain and cocky manner. The Atrium had no use for garbage like his, “Don't you worry, babe. Your jacket is safe with me. It's not going anywhere.” She watched as Oren sized her up, and she lifted her hand from the pod and placed it on his upper chest towards his shoulder, “You should lie down.” A more serious face turned over her, as she guided his body single-handedly into the pod.
Oren allowed her to maneuver him. He was frightened in a way he had not expected. He heard a testimony that claimed this experience had an Adrenalin burst that went harder than cold, blood murder. People were canned for this shit like this as if there was no tomorrow for anyone, but he reminded himself that The Atrium had the longest and best running operation so far. No busts had ever taken place, and he knew there were rumors of CEOs being some of the clients. No one ever knew for sure, but Gustava probably did. She was like some puppet master, and he was starting to be strung with the rest of them.
“Relax,” she cooed at him. Her bust was dangling in his face as she began strapping his body. He figured his silent look of worry on his face was obvious, and he felt stupid for feeling so vulnerable. She had mentioned the straps, but there was a still a fear that he was about to be framed for something, and this was gunna be the last of him. He had never let anyone restrict his body this much, even when he was undergoing a cybernetic operation. “The human body is so very unpredictable, Oren...” Her voice elongated the words in a playful way, “We can never know what will happen, and I want all my customers to remain unharmed during the process,” Gustava reassured him while her hand tightened the cushioned strap. Oren nodded his head as his eyes watched her fingers feel for the adjustments along the restraining pads, “To make sure any convulsing or rapid muscle movement during the process,” she continued in a scripted style of nurturing. Her attention turned towards him, and the smug smile that she kept on her closed lips opened a little. He watched as her hand reached out with a closed knuckle.
“Mm. Mm. Hold still,” her thumb swiped against his forehead, removing crumbling, cold sweat that had built in the process, “You're going to be fine,” she shook her head, wiping the sweat on his jacket, “Trust me.” Her hand slid into the pocket of her gray and black knitted outfit and pulled out a small, translucent baggy. Her eyes looked at Oren, as if she was wondering whether Oren wanted a turn to finally speak.
Correctly assuming this was what her expression was, he took in several breaths, “Is that it?” His voice stressed desire. Part of him wanted to go ahead and get it over with. He wanted the experience and the knowledge. He wanted the story to go with his name. The other part of him knew he had to appreciate what was about to happen. He had to make the most of it, and then there was another, darker part of him that wanted to call the shots off. He ignored the latter feeling, though and eyeballed Gustava, who shook her head, again. Her dark purple hair swayed with the movement. Everything seemed cliche like a memory or déjà vu. He had been here before and had asked these same questions. It was the way she was acting. It was like she could pull out a slide that outlined the next several hours of his life, and he felt over exposed to her, “Good. We’re on the same page…” she nodded, “It sure is.” her eyes made a cheery expressions, “Now, relax. This is going to be placed on the back of your neck. Too much movement might cause a little disturbance in the Z's ability, and we don’t want you losing teeth, now, do we...”
“All natural and no cybernetics on the scruff?” she asked for the final time. He could see a small ruby-looking holographic chip carefully being held delicately between the tips of her fingers. It was beautiful like a rare piece of jewelry. He wondered if that was how it was disguised for the police.
“None that I am aware of.”
“Is that really a ‘Yes’?” Her wrist slid away from his neck as she waited for definite affirmation.
“Yes, that is a, ‘Yes,’” Oren articulated carefully. He rarely used such oratory to make a point. He rarely had to.
“Good.” He felt the cool warmth of her fingers place Z on the back of his neck. His skin jiggled slightly to the touch as the drug felt as if was turning into a jelly liquid. Its chemicals spread its fingers and seeped through his skin. It felt invasive, but all the same, he enjoyed the silly sensation, “I'll be with you the entire time in case something bad happens, which never has on my watch. You've only thirty minutes on the clock.” Colors were already starting to distort, but he could make that her tall body was slinking away from him. He could hear the sounds of her combat heels pressing against the tile flooring, “And, don't worry about your jacket. It's in good hands. Just enjoy yourself. The wake-up's not too bad, either...” Her voice faded in distance from his conscious as he hazily watched as a different reality began taking over him.
For several seconds, there was only silence that Oren could grasp. It was thickening itself as the darkness around him began to crawl to a sudden stop. There was nothing for him to grasp onto except a stuffy smell of boredom and before he became overly drenched in the dullness that was ensuing, a strong smell drew him from the ennui sort of like a thief in the night. It was bright, and he couldn’t get enough of it. The smell was too weak for him, and he wanted it to be stronger as it melted all his fear away. However, right as the smell began giving to his commands, it overindulged him to a brink of gluttonous delusion. He wanted more of it; but there wasn’t enough; and at the same time, there was too much of it.
“Ww-w-what's wrong with m-me?” The grown man began whimpering as he felt the intensity of the drug set into his muscle tensing body, quaking with feelings of his skin turning into jelly. Z was smoother and quicker and gentler than he had ever felt his body numb to any sensation. He hadn’t hadn’t a drug treat him so submissively before, and while the sensation began feeling so overly comforting, he was terrified it would leave right before he was about to get to know it. He fully understood, if the feeling became any better he would never know how to live without it. The feeling sounded beautiful to him, and he had heard it before. Heavy breaths of uncertainty began huffing and puffing from his chest.
“You're about to find out. It's okay,” Gustava assured him. He had forgotten she was there, and her voice was startling but soothing all the same, “Don't worry..., and just don't forget to use your head.” His shoulders were twitching still, but his breathing changed to a more discernible pattern, “There we go,” she caught his eyes looking at her, and she kept the same smile she had been wearing the entire time, “That feels better doesn't it?” his lips were still quivering with breaths, but he still nodded to her in agreement. His eyes, frightful in their spirit, looked away from her as the drug became to over-fog his body.
“W-why do I feel like this?” He suddenly felt like he was about to die, and he wanted to die if this was what dying felt like. Although, he swore he knew it wasn't death. It couldn't be. It felt too good, too real, and it was all he could think about at this point. He wanted it so badly whatever it was behind the curtain of his mind. It was taunting him like a beautiful girl he would let break his heart over-and-over until he ripped his heart out himself. All he had to say was, Yes. He knew what would happen if he did. It was at the tip of his tongue, causing him to salivate like a dog while he begged his mind to commit. His mind was standing right there. Right there. He was standing on the brink of the truth.
He was dying to say the magic word, but in all the same mixture of feelings and thoughts, he knew it was wrong. He knew he would never return. He would never be the same person or thing he was, now. Those stories and rumors, he understood them, and it was too late. It had been too late the minute he asked about Z. He couldn't turn around. He never had a chance, and he didn’t want to die, no matter how euphoric it was going to feel. The battle between taking the leap and standing at the brink of death and truth was tearing him apart. He was trapped, and there was nothing left to say but, “Yes.” He recollected what Gustava had said, and with a breathless whisper, he submitted.
“A-am I going c-...c-cray..razy? A-am I... n-now...Gu-,” His eyes fluttered upwards pining for her relief before a peaceful angelic grin lifted the skin around his cheeks. His body relaxed into the pod and laid limp. Gustava made a small smile and a laugh. Her grin unable to stop. He was in for one wild wild.
how do you feel?
“Daddy! Wake up! Wake up!” Isabella bounced on top of Oren's body. She was small and bony and the nobs of her knees pressed into his skin. It hurt him, but he wasn't about to tell her that after having been away from her for so long, now, “Come on!” His eyes opened to see her ebony face gleaming down at him. He let out a sigh of a smile. She was so much more beautiful than he had remembered. Each and every time he saw his sweet girl she looked prettier and prettier.
“Baby doll,” he smiled hazily. He was more tired than he usually was. His arm moved upwards and lazily pressed a hand to his face as he rubbed his eyes. Last night had been rough, but he was glad to be home.
“Come on!” Isabella shook his body the best she could. Her small hands pressed against his collarbone, and her tiny fingers gripped the skin of his neck.
“Okay, okay... Calm down,” her chuckled. His own hands grabbed hold of her docile frame. He paused before pushing her from his body and took a long look at her. It never stopped surprising him at how beautiful she was, and he had helped create her. She was a fucking miracle, and her hair... The frizzes were braided into small puffs that made several curly pigtails, “Daddy's getting up.”
“It's about time, Daddy,” a soft voice was heard by the doorway. His heart pounded in his chest with excitement when he heard her voice. It was Harmony.
“Sweetie,” he managed to cradle Isabella in his arms as he sat up immediately, holding in the weariness of the week's journey. The sheets of the bed shrank from his body with his movement, and Isabella made a small squeal of excitement that sounded a lot of like the word daddy. Oren's eyes rested on Harmony. Seeing her standing there was like seeing her for the first time, and it was love at first sight. It was love at every sight with her, and he wouldn't trade her for the world. She was wearing white, and her brown cheeks were slightly too sun kissed, but he knew that meant she was just working too hard in the garden, again.
“I made breakfast. Did Isabella tell you?” Her soft lips pressed into the kindest smile he never wanted to forget. She had her thick black hair pulled into a messy bun. It was his favorite kind of hairstyle for her to wear. He appreciated when she did it fancy, too, but there was something relaxed and natural about the way she was, right now. Her neck was modestly exposed, her arms were folded and pressing against her chest. He liked seeing her soft skin squeeze from under her own posture. God, he knew it was good to be home.
“I was about to!” Isabella squirmed in her father's arms, and dressed in a mismatched clothing that she obviously picked for herself, she squirmed by kicking her legs. Oren made a small laugh. It was too good to be home. Harmony shook her head and told Isabella to calm down. It was obvious by the tone of her voice that she was being more patient than usual, “But, I haven't seen Daddy in forever,” Isabella whined. Her whine could be ear-piercing annoying sometimes, but he had to admit, he missed every bit of it. The neediness and the clinging was all the same to her adorable and innocent, sweet laughter.
“I missed you, too, sweetie cake,” he loved the calming of her body as she spoke. It made him feel really welcomed. He felt at a loss that he had ever left them.
“Did you miss me, too?” Harmony asked. Her body pushed from the white painted door frame. The misty morning sunlight from the window shone on her, and he knew she was an angel for all she did for him while he was away. He smiled big and felt like a goober. He had been gone too long to hide the sappy parts of himself from either of his two girls. They missed him a good deal while he was away making his business to pay the bills, and they definitely needed to know he missed them, too. He also didn't want them to think he was some two-timing bastard. He was sacrificing his family time to make sure they had a roof over their head, in a good neighborhood. It wasn't ideal, but seeing them now, he really couldn't complain. They were his heaven.
“Of course, baby doll. I wouldn't trade you two for the world,” Isabella squirmed again and made a face to show some sort of disgust in how her parents were acting. Oren let her go and gave her a small love pop on the bottom. Her head shook as she made a small squeal.
“What are you two waiting for? I made waffles from scratch this morning. I used all-natural flour this time, babe.” Her body turned and subtly teased the curvature of her hips as she modestly sauntered into the living room. Isabella scampered after her mother, and Oren felt like doing the same. He had more decency, though. He drug himself from the bed and went to the dresser, where he pulled out a light jacket to cover his bear chest. He had came home so late last night, he couldn't remember if he had showered or not. His hair was still damp, but maybe that was just nervous sweat. He shook his head and left the bedroom, but not before taking one look at it. Harmony was great at keeping things how they were. She rarely moved things around because she wanted him to always come back to what he left, exactly what he wanted.
When he entered the kitchen, Isabelle was already seated at the table. She had clearly already started her breakfast before coming to wake him up. She was such an impatient little girl, but she was young. What was he going to do? Punish her for acting her age so he could get his way? Nah, he wasn't that sort of guy. He wanted what was healthy for her. Pushing her to be something before her time was a dangerous joke he wasn't about to make, “It sure is lovely outside,” Oren stretched while looking out the window, sidestepping any comment on Isabella not having waited for him. It was a joke he could have made, but damn, the sun was too beautiful, and he already made the agreement not to punish her, even if his agreement with himself bled into his self-approved dad jokes.
“The mornings have been pretty recently, but...” Harmony paused. She was putting a waffle on a plate for him and dowsing it with maple syrup. Oren could make out the word, Organic on it. He liked what he was seeing, “this morning is extra nice,” her eyes glanced down in a flirty way. They both knew what each other were saying, and the tension was rising. Isabella was in the background reminding them that she had already taken all of the impatience, and they would have to wait until later this evening.
“We should take a walk outside after breakfast, all of us,” Oren turned from the window and made his way to the table. There were scratches on the table from being used every day for years, now. It wasn't a perfect table, and it was quaint. He liked it all the same. What really mattered to him was his wife and daughter. They looked better than he remembered, and if he was just wearing rosy-colored glasses, he didn't mind. These were his two heart beats running around in the world. If he could take them with him everywhere, he would. All the fights Harmony and he had thrown at each other were small bits of sand in the current of their relationship. Nothing could tear them apart. He wouldn't allow it.
“But, today's Saturday. I get to watch TV on Saturday!” Isabella complained in protest. Her fork crashed into her plate and made a loud clunking sound. It was off-tune, and Harmony breathed out hot air when it happened.
“It's alright,” he quickly gestured to Harmony, trying to calm her down. She was obviously offended and also somewhat hurt that Isabella would choose television over spending time with her father. Oren felt for the woman. Harmony worked hard to keep the family together while he was away. It wasn't easy being so far from each other all the Goddamn time, and mothering a daughter almost single-handedly was something he would be in debt to her for the rest of his life. He didn't mind, though. She did a wonderful job, and he never wanted her to forget it because he knew he wouldn't. It wouldn't be fair for her to go around thinking she was some failure because her daughter wasn't perfect. Nothing and nobody was perfect, even if sometimes things seemed different, “I'd love to watch TV with you Isabella,” he smiled. Harmony set his plate down in front of him. She did it with ease, and he could tell she had calmed herself, “What are we going to watch?”
Isabella gasped with excitement and then exclaimed aloud, “We're going t-” she squirmed as the telephone interrupted her. It was a louder ring than he remembered it being, but Harmony had quickly answered it before he could really make that call. His mind was now thinking how Harmony knew the layout of the kitchen better than Oren would ever know it, and this amazed him and made him more attracted to her for some reason he would never explain. If he was honest, that was all of Harmony. He could begin to describe reasons, but he would run out of time before ever finishing. He just didn't know how to say it and figured what his dad had once told him about some things being left untold was one of the most truer things the man had ever told him.
“Oh, yes, Ma'am...” Harmony said wearily. She seemed a little disappointed or disheartened. He didn't like seeing her make that face so early into the game.
Oren peaked his face at her disconcertingly, “Who is it, honey?” He set his fork and knife down. A cut piece of waffle was still on his fork. She was way more important than whoever was on the other line.
“There's a woman asking for you?” Oren couldn't tell if there were tears in Harmony's eyes or not, but she looked upset.
“Tell her I'm busy,” Oren shrugged. He didn't have time for whatever this was.
Harmony paused for a bit and looked down at the white tile of the kitchen floor, “He she says he’s busy.” Her eyes looked up at Oren as her soft lips parted, “I... I will let him know,” her voice sounded sterner and more concerned. “She says to tell you, 'It's Gustava.' She's says its business,” she spoke as if she was harboring some jealousy. He knew it was hard to be away, and some woman calling out of the blue wasn't helping matters, but the sound of the other woman’s name changed his feelings about the call.
“Gustava...?” He was going to let the call slide, but the name sounded all too familiar, complete with an almost stutter. It rung so many bells in his head that he couldn't stop himself from slowly standing up and walking over to the phone, “I'll take it,” he held out his hand for the phone, and Harmony nodded while handing it to him. Isabella made pouts in the background.
“Where is Daddy going?”
“It’s okay, sweetheart. We're watching TV soon,” there was still some testiness in Harmony's voice. She was obviously offended.
“This is Oren,” he began but interrupted the person on the other line to shush Isabella, “I am not going anywhere, baby,” he replied to Isabella and forced a smile, wondering why that idea got stuck in her head.
“You always go away when you do this, Daddy,” Isabella rocked back-and-forth in her chair eagerly. Oren looked to Harmony who had already gotten onto Isabella's case and was scolding her with, 'Stop That's.'
“It'll be okay, Isabella,” Oren shook his head, a little confused as to what had gotten into her head.
“You said that last time, Daddy,” There was an anger in her that he had seen before, somewhere, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.
“Last time?” Oren shook his head again and spoke into the receiver, “I'm sorry, my daughter...”
“Hi, Oren,” a familiar, sultry voice interjected, “It's Gustava from The Atrium. Your thirty minutes are over. It's time to wake up.”
“No, Daddy! Please!” He heard Isabella pleading. His eyes turned towards Harmony. She was shaking her head as if it was all his fault. He was about to say something in retaliation, but the receiver went dead with his conscious.
Opening his eyes with his body hunched and sore, lying limp on cushioned black leather. The room around him was dimly lit and spinning, and he was drenched in cold sweat all over his body and saliva oozed from his mouth. He was breathing heavily and stuttering the letter 'H.' His body felt like it had just gone through a time warp. His chest ached with anxiety and a yearning for a season he never knew existed. He turned his head and saw her standing with a hand on her hip, looking down at him. A luscious smile was drawn on her lips with contentment.
“So, how was it?” Gustava asked through the awakening.
“I--” Oren stuttered, trying to recollect what he had just seen and been doing, “Is..” There was so much that words and belief failed him, and he mumbled the three short words of, "I don't know." He remembered the color white, like the room. It was more real than what was in front of him.
Gustava nodded with an intense boredom, keeping the same smile as he remembered. It brought him back to where they were. He could have sworn the lights were brighter before he went under, “I don't know,” he repeated, re-affirming himself as he looked up and down Gustava's beautiful physique. Her black leggings accentuated her form, and he remembered lusting for her before taking Z, but right now, he was feeling a little different about her. He couldn't put his finger on what it was. She was still attractive, but she’d never amount to what was behind his eyelids when he took Z. It was a deep rooted feeling that had planted a stronger and deeper internal itch than the one that had caused him to start inquiring about the drug.
She started unstrapping him, and the musky smell of her clothes reminded him that it was raining outside. He was broke, and he couldn't remember why the perpetual rain seemed so unnatural, anymore, “I don’t know,” he repeated for a third time in a dissatisfied voice. He needed to remember, and Gustava let him be as stepped away, again. He was shivering with disbelief as he raised his hands to look at them. He reminded himself of his name, and all the same, he felt further from the truth of who he truly was then before he stepped foot into the black room.
With sweaty and shaky palms, he stood up from the pod. He wiped his face with his palm, ignoring Gustava’s leniency of providing a towel and support. His body slowly seemed to be yearning for the words to describe what had just happened. Although he wanted to immediately try it, again, to remember whatever it was, he reminded himself that he was broke, and he had the gumption not to beg and plead for mercy. Shitty druggies were the worst customers, and he wasn't trying to stifle his ability to do this, again. God, he’d lose everything if he did. And, the shit he was going to have to go through to get the money for another trip was going to be hell. It didn't matter. It was worth it. The next time would be, too. He knew it was that was all he could remember. It was worth every second. It was worth every fucking second. His mind was so focused on conjuring how to do it, again, he didn't notice her helping his wobbling legs, and God fuck, no one would understand how worth it this was to him outside of himself. It was a feeling he knew he would never forget, and he never wanted to forget it, either. It was a promise he knew he was irrationally making, but he didn't fucking care. He wanted it, and it was his. Fuck everyone else. They wouldn't understand, just like he didn't understand the people who tried to warn him.
“They never do,” Gustava shook her head finally making a reply, “Here's your jacket like I promised, and in case you forgot, there’s the exit,” she motioned towards the aluminum colored door. A smile still persisted on her face, and he wanted to punch it. He took his exit, wearily turned around in a way he was too paranoid to announce aloud. Maybe it was due to the shakes slivering through his skin or the voices echoing distant and unattaintable memories through his mind. Whatever the fuck it was, before the door closed, he paused upon hearing her voice say, “You weren’t supposed to say, ‘Yes,’ to her…”
The door slid shut before she could reply, again. His shaky nerves stared at his reflection in the aluminum color. His reflection was all distorted from the metallic. His dark skin was drained, and he his tongue felt shriveled. He awkwardly tucked his sweaty body into his jacket and headed through the shop. Neon lights hung over him, and security cameras followed his movements overhead like a light show as he left the building. Everything looked different to him, but everything looked the same. It all had the same effect as when his eyes landed on Gustava’s sex appeal.
Rain was still pouring from the sky, and the metal horizon looked bleak as usual. It felt like nothing and everything, and the feeling made him uncomfortable and raw and exposed. The ominous presence of the murky shadows seemed more surreal than he ever thought they were like he was living in some nightmare and had to escape. This wasn't an unusual feeling, but damn if it felt more real than any other time he had been alive. He felt way fucking more paranoid than ever, and a strange longing to return was creeping intensely through him, where his hand lifted and rubbed the scruff of his neck. He forgot what he was supposed to remember, but he’d be. There was no doubt in that. He had to come back so he could remember. He wasn't allowed to forget. He promised himself, and this was a promise he knew only over his dead body could ever be broken.
.❖. Her hands were shaking as she pulled a few pounds from her wallet. I watched as they trembled and carefully placed the brass into the hands of the clerk, standing behind the wooden counter. There was no warm mead to be had in the establishment, but the cold would do just fine for her. I felt the need to remove my cloak and wrap it around her, but instead I thought, No, her son, the one who had all her attention and heart. I shall clothe him instead, as she seemed to be so distracted by him to not realize how tremendously beautiful she was, standing there stricken cold in all of her simple attire.
I kept thinking to myself, How could I, a man too much of an elder, come across her without seeming as some rich fool or jerk or contrarian to my own philosophical and theological endeavors? A man of my honor had no need for a lady, nor a used one at that. However, I still found myself quite intrigued by her very nature. We had spoken slight words prior to our meeting at the shop, and she had seemed a bit dazzled by my outfit. Though, I thought her simple form, spent in underweight peasantry, was all the more delightful to admire. There was something about her. Perhaps, it was her personality. Whatever it was, I wanted to know, but first, I would put my cloak around the boy.
She was overly grateful for the cloak; black silk with rabbit fur, gold piping, and equally rich buttons. As I tied the cloak around the boy, I heard the ticking of my pocket watch, and was reminded of my own childhood. There were men just like me at every corner in my own day-to-day. Why was this? Because I had been raised in the most eloquent of homes, with the most eloquent of families, with the most eloquent of manners. I had everything handed to me, if not on a silver platter than on something even more lavish. To see such poor creatures, notably aware that my lifestyle existed, pulled my heart into believing this one gesture would be something to give them warmth. If not for a lifetime, then for at least today.
“The pleasure is all mine, madam,” I said with the finest style of speech I could muster; having found that my back was feeling chilly already, no longer being sheltered from the breeze. Thankfully, I had my goblet, and I awaited to see if the lady would say anything before I took a sip for some warmth. She said nothing daintily, and I went onwards with the same chivalrous curiosity that had driven me to comfort her boy with my cloak, by comforting her with my words. “I would never wish to see such a fine young lad as yours fall ill from such a lovely winter. Such tragedy happens all the time, and I shan’t see it happen today, not to yours, anyhow,” I was a unsure if she understood my gesture. She was unusually docile with certain things, and I could tell we were certainly of different classes.
“‘Comp’ment’d ya attire ya m’ments ago. ‘Eally, ya too kind f’r all’o’s, s’r,” she replied with unstable shyness, and I wanted to lift those spirits for the moment, as there was embarrassment in her manners. She seemed too afraid to say much more, and she had a speech impediment that made it a bit hard to clearly know her wording. I thought perhaps she was from a foreign country, or she had never been taught proper English. I was lead to heavily believe the latter, but as a gentleman, decided not to make assumptions about her, even if the given sin was written all over her. However, With a sudden realization that my status had always made me feel insecure for reasons such as these, I chose to turn a blind eye, as men of my stature did not have the best reputations for treating women in her position well. I am not God for Heaven’s sake, and neither shall I resort to being a Pharisee who had Christ, His only begotten Son, nailed to the Cross. Today, I believed I could change that, at least for myself, and I followed and supported her gratefulness by begging the question, “Would madam mind if she and her son accompanied me for a scrumptious supper?”