Fiction, Vignette

[50/365] drabble : untitled (pt. v?)

The Coroner is well used to death; it is his job. He is surrounded by its reminders, tasked with deciphering its riddles. The Detective hunts down the culprits, the death-bringers, the ones who inflict pain unto others, but it is the Coroner who pieces together bodies torn apart and flesh rendered asunder, who finds the method to the madness. The hunter moon, the divining sun – that is how they have always been. Death and its machinations are no strangers to the two of them, not when they have been standing knee-deep in blood and bone for so long.

He forgets that death, as naturally as it comes to those in their profession, is anything but natural. Not when it’s a product of malice, malevolent intent burning through the air. Not when it’s meant as a gift, to induce suffering and pain, for the enjoyment of the broken. Not when it’s inflicted on a helpless soul, specific in its arbitrariness.

Not when it’s a present to one of their own, a man too young to face evil unparalleled.

He is well used to death, but the Rookie isn’t. Not to the kind of death he is used to. As he shuts the door to the Rookie trembling even in his fitful sleep, he thinks about the elderly lady with horror in her eyes, her head in a cardboard box, a present for the Rookie.

“When did we lose the capacity to feel?” he wonders aloud.

The Detective, leaning against the door to the room opposite, silently wonders the same.

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Fiction, Vignette

[49/365] drabble : untitled (pt. iv?)

This is not the Rookie’s first rodeo with death.

The Rookie grew up surrounded by death: peaceful and benign ones, a grandfather passing in his sleep, taken by old age and a failing heart. There was the flip side of the coin – a younger cousin, life taken away as abruptly as a thunderstorm; a freak accident, charred limbs reaching out for help with what little life force left before falling limply to the ground. There have been blood and lightning and things that should not have happened but did and things that should have happened and did. The Rookie is intimate with death, knows full well the arbitrariness of the action, the senselessness of the reaping. Death does not discriminate. It comes for those who have not lived enough and those who have lived for far too long, and never is it fully welcome. That much, the Rookie knows.

But this – this is not something the Rookie is familiar with. This is a cardboard box in the kitchen of his too-small apartment, reeking faintly of malice and hate. This is a dark red slowly seeping through the brown cardboard, pooling on his tiny dining table for two. This is raising the flaps to find the severed head of an elderly lady, her glazed eyes open wide in terror. This is death in its most unnatural form, the most malicious and hateful, the most childish form of all – this is death forced onto an unwilling participant purely for the sake of entertainment, and the suffering of another.

This is the worst kind of death, and the Rookie begins to understand what the Detective means.

The moon tells him the world is too vast and death too rampant for him to keep up with every lost soul he sees, but the Rookie thought he could handle it. Now that it’s there on his kitchen table, sitting pretty in a box just for him, he doesn’t think he can handle it at all.

Fiction, Vignette

[48/365] drabble : untitled (pt. iii?)

The sun remains in the cold underground surrounded by death and stark-white labyrinths, but above ground it is blood on the burning asphalt, the stench of rotting meat like a cloud under the midday sun. The Rookie turns away from the window as they drive by the scene, skidmarks and tire tracks and a mangled body all that’s left of a hit and run. He wonders if it had happened too fast for her to realise it, wonders if she’d felt the steel breaking her bones and flesh apart, if the impact had killed her immediately.

In the driver’s seat, the Detective keeps his eyes on the road as he eats the sandwich the Coroner gave him with one hand, the other clutching the steering wheel tightly. They’d headed to the financial district and spoke to what few people they could, and were partially successful at establishing their victim’s identity – an investment banker who was laid off from his job mere weeks ago, he’d disappeared from the area the moment the termination letter came and he’d been booted out of his office with his belongings in a box, and none of his former coworkers had seen him since. Their victim, for all intents and purposes, had been a ghost, vanishing from sight after his termination. It isn’t a lot, but it’s something.

Now they’re on the way back to the crime scene, passing through the poorer parts of the city. The hit and run victim lies rotting under the sun – it couldn’t have taken place more than a few hours ago, but already flies are buzzing around the body. The streets are abandoned and dilapidated, the stores shuttered and locked, graffiti gracing the brick walls. At a three-way intersection, the traffic light blinks amber, and the corner pub is the only thing that seems to be alive, daytime drinkers wasting away behind windows so encrusted in dirt and grime it’s unlikely they would ever see the sun from the inside of the pub. The Detective turns right and drives right up to the curb before turning off the engine.

He leans back in his seat and munches on his sandwich, looking pensive. The Rookie passes him a water bottle, which he uncaps and takes a drink from, swallowing down his mouthful of bread and ham. The alleyway they’d parked in front of looks dark and unwelcoming and the Rookie wonders if it’s just him projecting. They’d found a man face down in his own blood and his throat slit there, after all.

“Do you know the rate of fatal occurrences that take place in this city?” the Detective asks suddenly. He sounds tired.

The Rookie racks his brain for the statistics the Academy had shoved down the trainees’ throats, the ones that he’d regurgitated on paper for his final exam. “59 different cases within the past year, putting it at about 1.17% of the national crime rate,” he recites.

“Is that what they taught you at the Academy?” The Detective laughs, although it is without mirth. The Rookie nods mutely. “That’s only part of it. Last year there were 59 different homicide cases reported. At least a dozen of those are unsolved. Hit and run cases numbered at twenty-eight, and seventeen fatal accidents were recorded. That’s not to mention the freak accidents – burning houses, smoke inhalation, electrocution, you name it. That 1.17% only applies to homicide – in terms of fatal occurrences, this city constitutes about 24% of the national death rate.”

The Detective sighs and crumples the sandwich wrapper. His fingers work much the same way the Coroner did, the Rookie notes – they both crumple the sandwich wrapper with one hand, balling it up to be thrown away.

“Death is in this city, kid. Sometimes keeping up isn’t worth your time.”

The hit and run. The man with the slit throat. The sun behind stark-white labyrinths surrounded by those who used to be human, and the moon sitting behind the steering wheel trying to find their killers.

“But someone has to care, right?”

The Detective doesn’t answer.

Fiction, Vignette

[47/365] drabble : untitled (pt. ii?)

The next day, the Rookie meets the Coroner. Down in the morgue hidden behind stark-white corridors that wind labyrinthine, the Rookie meets a man with eyes like stars and a smile that could rival the sun, surrounded by the slowly decaying husks of those who used to be human. An astral entity standing among the remainders of humanity, the Rookie thinks. He doesn’t shake the Rookie’s hand, owing to being elbow-deep in a dead man’s guts, but he offers him and the Detective a friendly nod when he sees them entering the morgue. His face brightens when he spots the paper bag the Detective carries.

“For me?” he asks.

The Detective frowns. “It was going to be, until I saw your hands.”

“Hold on.”

The Rookie watches in mildly squeamish awe as the Coroner sews up the corpse’s torso and then cleans himself up before returning the body into one of the many refrigerators that line the wall. He’s efficient and quick with his hands. One of the best coroners in the county, or so they say. The Coroner takes the paper bag the Detective offers him and pulls out a sandwich.

As he eats, the Coroner relays his findings about their latest murder victim to them – the time and causes of death (early yesterday evening, strangulation and then blood loss from a slit throat),  a preliminary toxicology report (an empty stomach save for copious amounts of alcohol), and a few interesting tidbits about the body (faded needle marks, a scarring behind the victim’s left ear, possible early onset of cataracts). The Detective listens attentively while the Rookie scribbles in his notebook, anxious not to miss out a single observation.

“Have you identified the victim?” the Coroner asks.

The Detective shakes his head. “No identification found on his person. We found his body dumped behind an alleyway.”

“Rough part of the city?”

“Quite.”

The Coroner hums. He finishes the remainder of his sandwich before crumpling the cling wrap and tossing it into the bin beside his desk. “Try talking to the guys in the financial district. Odds are your victim here used to work in an investment bank.”

The Rookie startles despite himself, drawing the attention of the two older men. He flushes. “Why do you say that?” he forces out, embarrassed.

The Coroner motions to the body in the refrigerator. “His hands were clean and uncalloused, indicating an office job. His clothing was expensive and professional. A history of drug use suggests his job was highly stressful, and the early onset of cataracts seemed to be a result of extreme myopia, as evidenced by his glasses. His glasses have blue light filters on the lenses, so he primarily worked in front of a computer screen. High-paying office job that’s incredibly stressful, all in all it suggests a banker of some sort.” He shrugs. “But hey, that’s just me guessing.”

The Detective snorts. “Just guessing, he says, when he’s right almost all the time.” He rouses himself from the desk he’s been leaning against for the past half-hour and makes for the door. “Let’s go, kid.”

“Wait a minute.” The Coroner rummages in the paper bag and presses a sandwich into the Detective’s hands. “I know you haven’t eaten yet, so take this.”

The Detective looks unamused. “I bought this for you.”

“Yeah. It’s mine now, and I’m doing what I want with it. I’m giving it to you.” The Coroner fixes him with something akin to a stern glare. “Eat, for Christ’s sake.”

The Detective scoffs, but he takes the sandwich anyway. He pushes the door open and leaves, a slight jerk of his head motioning the Rookie to follow. The Rookie, flustered, thanks the Coroner for his time.

“Don’t thank me, this is my job,” the Coroner answers cheerfully. His countenance takes a more somber turn. “Hey kid.”

“Y-yeah?”

“Make sure he eats, alright? He loses himself in his job too easily, and when he goes too far it takes a lot to bring him back. I’m counting on you.”

The Rookie nods. What else can he do, when the sun himself asks you for a favour? He turns and leaves the morgue, leaving the sun in all its splendour, surrounded by death and frozen decay and stark-white labyrinths.

Fiction, Vignette

[46/365] drabble : untitled (pt. i?)

“First day on the job, kid?”

The Rookie flinches. He looks up hurriedly and meets the eyes of an older man; probably in his late thirties, the Rookie surmises, if the crow’s feet around his eyes are any indication. He’s dressed in an old but clean suit and tie, the fabric worn and well-cared for. He has a head full of salt and pepper hair, and the expression in his eyes are warm if not a little amused. The Rookie belatedly realises he hasn’t given the man an answer.

“Uh, yes! Yes, sir! I just transferred from the Academy so yes, this is my first day.” He’s babbling again. Dear god why does he keep on babbling. The other man looks entertained.

“If you’re new then I guess you’ll be working with me. Welcome to the force.” He holds out his hand for the Rookie to shake, which he does. His handshake is firm. “Now get your things and let’s go. Murder waits for no one.”

The Detective, the Rookie later learns over cookies shared with the receptionist, has been a near indispensable part of the homicide unit for nearly seventeen years and single for almost as long. There was a girlfriend once, the Receptionist whispers furtively after glancing around as if he’s trading state secrets instead of office gossip, but she broke up with him when he slept at the station for three weeks while working on a serial killing case. That’s not to say he doesn’t have his fair share of admirers, because he does; the Receptionist gleefully regales the Rookie with tales of hundreds rose bouquets at the front desk every Valentine’s and bashful visits from witnesses days after cases have been closed. The Receptionist is exaggerating, the Rookie knows, but he can see why the Detective would be popular. He’s brusque but kind and he doesn’t snap at possible witnesses like he’s seen other detectives do. He didn’t make fun of the Rookie after the Rookie had to ask him to stop the car and stumbled to the side of the road to vomit after his first crime scene, instead offering him a bottle of water and a pat on the shoulder. “It won’t get easier,” he’d said, but there was no hard-boiled machismo in his tone. No unsaid so suck it up tacking its way to the end. Just a sort of resigned acceptance, that this job is unforgiving, and seeing the mangled cruelty of death’s personification will never come easy.

Under the harsh lights of the station, the Receptionist wonders wistfully why the Detective is still single, and the Rookie finds himself wondering the same.

Fiction, Short Story

[35/365] Story: Neverending

The first time it happened, I’d left home to start a new life. I was eighteen and on my way to the city by the sea, where I’d study craftsmanship under a master and eventually return home a master craftsman. I thought everything that had happened was a dream then.

He thinks it’s just a dream. It’s not. It’s real. I’ve been trying to tell him that thirty times already, but I’m not going to this time. I’ll keep quiet, and I’ll see what happens next.

The second time it happened, I met her. The girl with short gray hair, braided on one side, her red coat loose around her shoulders, her eyes bright and crimson and somehow so strangely familiar. She knew me, she said, and she told me it wasn’t a dream. I didn’t believe her. I didn’t believe a word she said. I’d never met her before in my life, but before I fell asleep that night I had a nagging feeling that I had her name at the tip of my tongue and it disappeared without a trace when I rose with the morning dawn.

He doesn’t believe me, like always. It was a little different this time, though – it was as if he vaguely remembered me from somewhere, but is unwilling to accept that fact. On the other hand, I remember all there is to know about him; his name is Dante, and he’s good with his hands. The first time I met him, he was carving a figure of a bird from a piece of wood no thicker than my forefinger and middle finger together. If he remembers even the smallest thing about me, that’s good enough. That’s really good enough.

The third time it happened, I was done. I was sick and I was tired and I met her again, the gray-haired red-eyed girl with her ill-fitting coat. Her name was Maria. This time, I believed what she said.

He remembers my name. That was what he remembered about me in the previous cycle. I nearly cried, but I won’t. I’ll keep silent. I’m happy. He remembers my name, and he believes me now. I can’t wait for the next cycle.

The fourth time it happened, we formed an uneasy alliance. I still harboured a sense of distrust towards her despite her words, for even though I’d felt that it truly wasn’t a dream, who could so easily believe that they were living their life in a never-ending loop? And to be told so by a girl with lank hair and a coat so faded in colour, whose eyes occasionally shone with something that I could only describe as madness, who wore rings on her fingers that sometimes glowed eerily in the dark; she thought I didn’t notice them, but I did. She said they were magic. I said it was only time before she was burned at the stake. It didn’t make her laugh, which made it seem all the more serious, but it wasn’t until she chased away the wolves in the night with fireballs that she shot from the palm of her hands that I realised she wasn’t lying to me. She never had.

He thinks I’m mad, but I don’t mind. I’m not the one who has to live his life over and over again. It must have been tiring, and so infuriating. He tells me about the woman he met at the end of his life, right before it cycles right back to the beginning. He calls her Alba, and she has white hair, white pupils and black sclera, and her touch is ice cold. I can’t imagine her. He’s scared of her, terrified even. I’ll do all I can for him. I won’t let her hurt him again. I’ll find this woman; I’ll find out everything there is to know about her, and I won’t let her hurt him again. I won’t let anything hurt him.

The fifth time it happened, someone different died for the first time. That man, he wasn’t supposed to die. It wasn’t until we’d deviated from the normal routine that we met him, and I can’t shake the feeling that we caused his death somehow.

He tells me he feels guilty the man died. I tell him that it’s alright, that he’ll be back in the next cycle and it’ll all be okay. I don’t believe it myself, but I’ll do anything to make him feel better. Dante’s right, though – that man was not supposed to die. I’ve never seen him before, and neither has Dante; but ever since we decided to change our plan of action and encountered things and people we weren’t supposed to have met, I’ve been getting a strange feeling, a cold shiver that runs down my back. Like something’s telling us that’s it’s just wrong, that it’s not supposed to be this way. I know he feels it too, but I pretend I know nothing. It’s better that way. We have to find out who that woman is. Dante is looking steadily worse with every cycle his life repeats, and I fear it’s only a matter of time before he loses it.

The sixth time it happened, the man didn’t come back. Other people who died in the cycle, they usually come back as if nothing had happened and proceed to die just as they were meant to. This man didn’t. He wasn’t supposed to die. Now he’s gone and it feels like worse things are to come.

He blames himself. The man who died before is not here now. There are no traces of him anywhere; it’s as if he’s never existed to begin with. I don’t know what I can say to him. There’s nothing I can say. There’s nothing I can do; there’s nothing we can do but push on. We have to find out who she is. We have to. I don’t want this to go on.

The seventh time it happened, my best friend died. Nico, he was a good man. He had nothing to do with this entire cycle ordeal. He knew nothing; he had a good life back home, a good job and someone who loved him. And now because of me, he’s dead. He wasn’t supposed to die, and he’s never coming back no matter how many times I repeat this life. Now I have nothing left to live for.

He can’t give up. I won’t let him give up.

The eighth time it happened, more people died. We’re a plague, that’s what we are. We never should have done anything. We never should have tried to change our fate. I never should’ve believed her.

He hates me now, but that changes nothing. I’m not going to stop trying to save him. I’ll never stop.

The ninth time it happened, we found out who the woman in white was. Dawn personified, a duality filled with rage and hatred and the desire to ruin the world; that was her, the woman in the crimson sea standing beneath the split sky, whose hands and eyes and gaze were cold as death and every touch sent me plummeting down to oblivion. I couldn’t care less about her now though, no matter how important understanding her was. We found out who Alba was, but I found out why Maria had never seen Alba before. It wasn’t because she wasn’t repeating her life. She was. She just doesn’t realise it because she died before reaching the poppy field, and she doesn’t know that she dies every time. I can’t let her know about it. If she does she’ll do something to prevent and that’ll mean deviating from the path, and if she deviates from her fated death then she’ll die forever. I can’t let that happen. Never. She’s all I’ve got now.

He’s hiding something from me. I know he is. He doesn’t look me in the eyes when I question him about it, he jumps when he hears me coming, he refuses to tell me anything more about the woman. I’ve never seen her and I probably never will, since I’m not the one living a repeated life, so what does it matter what I know about her? He’s worrying me, and more importantly he’s keeping a secret from me. I won’t rest until I know what and why.

I lost count of how many times it’s happened, but what does it matter? I failed to keep her safe. I failed to prevent her death, and to prevent her from knowing about it. What does it matter now? What does anything matter now? Every time this life repeats itself, someone new dies. Nico is gone. Maria is gone. Anna and Pietro are gone. Soon, my entire world will disappear and still, but still, still this life of mine will keep on repeating. I’m cursed to spend the entirety of my life repeated over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, beginning my days with the deaths of everyone I’ve ever known and ending them with dawn’s cold touch. I’ve come to cease fearing the oblivion, because at the very least when I fall it is a brief respite from this pain and guilt that washes over me every waking moment of my life. When I fall, I no longer feel anything. When I fall, it is bliss. She is bliss. I remember nothing else save her name. I am nothing compared to her, o Alba.

Alba, o saviour, o lady of the split sky, o ruler of this fate of mine.

She is bliss, and I descend into nothingness.

Art by Eclectinique as part of a collaboration.

Fiction, Vignette

[31/365] Story: Missing

Tonight, the park is full of people. Concerned volunteers, police searchers, and worried family members convened together, all with the same purpose.

A child has gone missing.

A brown-haired little girl, wearing a blue checkered dress and a cheap bracelet with heart-shaped charms.

It has been twelve hours.

The police have little hope for her survival.

The volunteers are serving soup to the weary searchers who have been looking for her nonstop since she was first reported missing. There is a big campfire in the park, courtesy of a kind stranger. The searchers sit around the fire, savouring the warmth of the blaze and the soup. They talk in hushed tones, of how distraught the mother of the missing child seems. They talk of how lax parents these days could be, and the married ones pondered about how they would feel if their own children were to go missing. They quickly finish their soup, eager to continue their search, the weariness in their bones slightly alleviated by the warmth, their bellies filled.

And as they prepared to search the night, no one noticed the charred hand with the bracelet with the heart-shaped charms around its wrist, deep at the heart of the fire.