hold me now

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Part 1

She says that before you were born, God told you a secret He didn't want anyone else to know.

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I stared up at the gray clouds that smeared across the darkened sky. Gray on gray, how wonderful. Engrossed by the melancholic spectacle above me, I lifted my arms up, trying to reach for something beyond what was reachable. Still staring, I spun around, watching as the clouds and the sky merged into one gray blob – it was all too familiar. Finally halting my childlike behavior, I looked around my area carefully and cautiously to make sure no one had spotted my strange behavior. Making sure

everything was alright, I breathed out a sigh of relief before walking

towards the busy queue by the side of a long, mean street. It was evening, but yet again, it was always evening. Time seemed to have stopped on that special period where evening would advance to night; it was a dismal affair. At that moment where no one seemed to be around except for that little crowd at the bus stop – the whole town seemed to be empty.

Where was she?

I looked around at the various people, wondering if she was one of them. Frowning, I hunched my back and tucked my hands inside my gray jacket. Gray – that word seemed to have ensconced this world. Everything, and I mean everything, was in a shade of gray. And I know I should have grown accustomed to this lack of variety, after all, it was the only one I knew of. But somewhere, deep inside, I had a feeling that there was more than this poor mixture.

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Feeling a tap on my shoulder, I turned around instinctively to find a smiling face.

“Hey, sorry I'm late Taeyeon,” Tiffany started apologetically with a light grin.

I nodded before pulling her in line. “Don't worry, the bus hasn't come yet,” I replied reassuringly before leaning in to whisper to her ear. “And please, for me, could you stop showing your emotions so readily?”

She feverishly nodded before inverting her smile to a thin straight line. It was her poker face, her blank feature – it was an expression everyone in line wore.

Looking around at the people behind me who were giving us strange looks, I straightened my demeanor to a nonchalant one before shifting my gaze towards the end of the street where I could see the thin outline of a vehicle.

It was a common bus, painted with the same bleak color as my jacket. The headlights glazed the road to a lighter shade of gray as it stopped perfectly before the queue. The driver himself was not like everyone else who were blank and expressionless. He seemed to be full of light and he used only one had to drive with, the other he waved before his face as if to fan away the greasy steam of the heater.

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A detached remark went up from the line as a taut man with a rather regal moustache came in sight. “He seems bloody pleased with himself, what an abhorrence. My dear, why can't he behave himself naturally... have they not taught him properly?”

I could not see nothing in the countenance of the driver to justify all this, unless it were that he had a look of superiority, as if he held within himself a secret that no one knew which granted him an abundance of inner

confidence.

My fellow passengers took a seat uniformly, each sitting down one by one systematically. Tiffany and I were the last to get in. The bus was only half way full and I selected a seat right behind the driver, well away from the others who were concentrated at the back of the bus. Patting the seat beside me, I signaled for Tiffany to sit down.

There was a tousle-haired youth who at once came and sat down behind us. As he did so, the driver pressed the gas-pedal and we started to move off.

“I thought you wouldn't mind my tacking on to you guys,” he said. “For I noticed that you feel just as I do about this present company. I keep getting this inescapable feeling that you guys are different from these empty shells; something alive in your eyes.”

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“Please,” I started nonchalantly, “We're just like them. If not, more

normal”. I tried to engross myself in feelings of emptiness, hoping that my act would subsist his further assumptions about us.

Tiffany on the other hand, refused to follow me as she flashed him a warm smile. “We don't mind,” she started, lifting her hand out to greet him with a hand shake.

I gave her a piercing glare – a warning to stop acting this way. She looked at me, and then back at the boy who openly accepted the greeting.

“I knew it!” he wailed.

Placing my palms on top of his lips, I hushed him to avoid further attention that the other passengers clearly gave us.

A woman with a fur hat glared at us as she motioned for her partner, who was a short pudgy man to look our way. “I dare say, they are quite the ill-mannered bunch for Benefactors”.

“They're young, my dear,” he softly spoke in between wheezes.

Biting my lip, I retreated my hand away from the boy and stared out the window.

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...Benefactor...

I heard a whisper going on at the back of my head, saying: “One day,

maybe not so long from now, you'll get to know how it feels.” So here I am now, not needing to wait for that moment when you realize that you really are different from them. That there are people here in this little ball of a planet, who don't hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you. People who look with disgust as to how you were brought into this world. The first time you glimpse yourself through the eyes of a person like that, it's a very cold moment. It's like walking past a mirror you've walked past every day of your life, and then suddenly, it shows you something else, something troubling and strange -This rather odd epiphany happened when I was four years of age. When the head mistress from the orphanage displayed to us the course of our lives. It's funny how your whole world can change with just one simple truth.

I was a Benefactor.

It's a good thing I'm not the type to roll over and give up; I'd like to think I was a strong person. Yes, strong, because I believe only the gutsy and

resolute ones are able to look right at the blood, stare into the pain, and risk losing their minds to know what's what.

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“Anyways, my name is Tommy,” the boy started again with his nasally voice.

I ignored him but Tiffany welcomely answered with an eye smile. "I'm Tiffany and this is Taeyeon," she replied in a whimsical manner.

"Can you be anymore subtle?" I sarcastically cried, hoping that none of the other passengers would hear my shift from neutrality.

The girl just rolled her eyes, before staring back at the boy. "So, what's your story?" she whispered.

---It had been a long drive after that, and I was left draggingly at the mercy of the Tousle-Headed boy. This long time stretch had not gone to waste for I had learned a good deal about him. He appeared to be a singularly ill-used child. His parents never had appreciated him and none of the five schools at which he had been educated seemed to have made any provision for a talent and temperament such as his. To make matters worse, he had been exactly the sort of boy in whose case the examination system works out with the maximum unfairness and absurdity. It was these injustices that brought his parents to take matters in their own hands - that was, to

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the life of a Benefactor. It was no wonder he was different from the other passengers, after all, he wasn't raised to become a Benefactor from birth like Tiffany and I.

"So, how about you guys? What's your story?"

"Well..." Tiffany replied with a resigned expression. "I've been with

Taeyeon long before I could remember. You see, we've spent our whole life in an orphanage and we've been inseparable since then."

"Ah" Tommy responded. And no, it wasn't a normal kind of 'Ah' you typically would get from a person, it was the 'Ah' someone would say when they understood something. I knew now that he figured out the reason as to why we were Benefactors – Tiffany and I were orphans with no clear future; of course no one would miss us or need us for that matter. "So, how did you guys meet?" he asked, surprisingly interested in our uneventful life.

"I don't remember, she was just there... if you get what I mean." she answered.

I had to agree with her on that one. I guess when you've been with

someone for so long and at such an early age, their life merges with your life until it becomes one. To think otherwise would seem absurd and

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irrevocably unnatural, as if you didn't have a life to begin with. [Flashback]

"Fany Fany Tiffany!" I squealed in delight as she climbed atop my shoulders. We were trying to get a dun furred cat out of the tree, and being little more than five years of age, we needed two to reach the lowest branch of the tree.

"A-Almost....there...." she voiced through clenched teeth. I brought her up higher by standing on my tippy toes, to which caused her to cry out in victory. Feeling extra weight on my shoulders that clearly hinted that she had already triumphed in grabbing the cat, she nuzzled against his fur before saying reassuringly "Chester, you're safe".

"Ow, ow, my shoulders!" I yelped in pain, hoping Tiffany could get the memo and hurry up.

The evening breeze picked up, blowing over us, around us, and before us. As little children, who have weights as comparable to that of a small dog, an afternoon breeze could feel like a tornado. And because of that, I could feel Tiffany teeter above my shoulders. Before I knew it, she stumbled over, crashing towards the dull gray grass that made up most of the backyard of the orphanage. I would have been alright had she not instinctively grabbed my shirt, bringing myself down with her. The neatly cut grass tickled my cheek as I struggled to get up from the fall.

Dusting ourselves off, we stared at each other deeply, entranced by the other before erupting in a fit of laughter.

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...I believe that a friend represents a world inside of us, a world that cannot be born or brought to light until they arrive, and it is through these fleeing moments that

the new world is exposed...

We got into trouble as soon as Madame heard our giggles. She told us that Benefactors weren't suppose to act this way; to show such raw emotion was disgusting as we were sub-humans when compared to other people. As

punishment, she forced us to stare at a wall for the whole day, hoping to drain out such human edifices such as laughter when looking at the blankness of the outer block of the orphanage.

"Hey Fany," I yelled to the other end of the wall where the girl stood still like a statue. She slowly moved her head away from the bricked side and towards me. As she did so, I inhaled deeply before expelling it all out in a concentrated blow

towards the head of a dandelion I had picked up moments before. The seedlings flew away from the force, traveling slowly towards Tiffany. The small, white helicopters fluttered by as we tried to resist the urge to giggle when we saw Madame take a quick peek from behind the wall to check up on us.

We were unlike the other orphans, who were born Benefactors like us. Where we nimbly rebelled by showing emotions here and there, they easily complied to the

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wishes of Madame and so, were quickly molded to be friendless, emotionless, and soulless. Here in the orphanage, friendship was taboo as it served as a catalyst for human behavior. And because we were never considered really human, we were not fortunate enough to have a right such as 'human emotion'. Me and Tiffany had to hide our dangerous friendship from the eyes of the people in the orphanage. Hide our small games, our conversations and our laughter. Yet when everyone slept and we were all alone in our small room, Tiffany and I would hide

underneath a blanket and pretend that outside of this thin sheet was another world where aliens and shooting stars resided. Where Atlantis was just a footstep away, where fairies danced behind the light of our lamps, creating silhouettes of

unfathomable splendor.

In there, we could laugh our hearts content. In there, we understood what it was to be human.

...If conversation was the lyrics, and laughter the music, then the time people spent together is the music that can be repeated without ever growing old...

[End Flashback]

---It took me a while to drop the formalities with the boy, growing slowly but surely more comfortable in his presence. Eventually, I started talking to Tommy without restrain as we headed closer to our destination.

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"So, Istelheim," I voiced with an air of melancholy. That word needed to be said, and I was the only one strong enough to say it first.

Tiffany and Tommy both responded with the same indignation. The boy looked slowly away from my gaze and towards the side windows, his expression was that of subtle panic. Tiffany lowered her eyes, and nodded gingerly. There was no question to it, we all knew what was ahead of us once we took a step inside that institution.

"I-I heard if you were lucky enough, you could stay there for a couple of years before being sent off for termination." Tommy croaked dryly. I solemnly nodded. "Yeah, lucky."

Tiffany sniffed before shaking her head, "Let's not talk about that now," she replied with a light tone, hoping to brighten up the dreary situation. That was like her, always trying to find the silver lining to everything. She was the color against the suffocating grayness, and she didn't deserve the path fate brought to her. But life, I learned was never fair - if you had to teach people one lesson it should have been that one. I closed my eyes, sick of the riddles that life brought, and to my surprise all I could see were dandelions - as if they had been painted on the fields of my imagination. And I

remembered something else that proved we were human: hope, the only weapon in our arsenal to battle doubt.

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[Flashback]

The orphanage was my home and my school. I learned everything there, and so, when it was time for me to part from the only place I had ever known, it was a big blow. Madame said that Tiffany and I were ready now to enter Istelheim, to begin our role as Benefactors. There were a lot of mixed emotions brewing inside of me, I was happy that I wouldn't have to part from Tiffany, but at the same time

apprehensive about the future that awaited us. Sometimes I think the human heart is just a simple shelf. There's only so much you can pile onto it before something falls off an edge and you are left to pick up the pieces. For a brief second, I regretted never being quite assimilated to the likeness of the other orphans. After all, they were completely wiped away from any sense of feeling, where as I still retained it. I knew in that instant that being numb had its benefits.

I straightened out my expression, carefully molding it into something Madame approved of. Nodding, I bowed and from my peripheral vision I could see Tiffany do the same. She gave us permission to leave, so we headed out of the office and back to our dorm. Again, the room brought to it a sense of release as tears started rolling down our eyes. This was our last day in the orphanage, and tomorrow we would be leaving for the next bus to Istelheim. We weren't crying because of what awaited us, I think we had already accepted our fate long ago; no, we were crying because of the memories we would have to leave behind. Every crack, every corner, ever scent brought with it a treasured moment, and it was depressing to know that we would never encounter it again.

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I pulled out a tin case from underneath my bed. Opening it up, it revealed various crumpled notes, a baseball card, and a packet of gum. I smiled before placing the case on top of my bed and heading out to the aged desk beside Tiffany. Grabbing a piece of paper and a pencil from the drawer, I started to scribble a note on the blank sheet.

Tomorrow, Istelheim with Tiffany. - Kim Taeyeon

After writing the short message, I tucked it neatly inside the tin can before closing the lid on it. With a satisfied smile, I placed it back underneath my bed.

"What are you doing?" a voice sounded from behind me.

I turned to Tiffany, patting her on the shoulder. "It's for the person who will take over this room when we're gone. I'd like to think that they'll find it and read all the important events in my life that are written in these notes. It kind of sounds silly, but it's proof of my existence. That I was here, alive and breathing. Always know, that something still exists as long as there's someone around to remember it." [End Flashback]

I could feel the bus slowing down. We were nearing Istelheim. Taking in a deep breath to prepare myself emotionally and mentally, I heard the creak of the breaks and soon enough we stopped moving all together. I stared at Tiffany who mirrored the same expression as myself; it was one of

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uncertainty. Instinctively holding her hand, we stood up from our seats and waited until all the passengers got off the vehicle before exiting as well.

After getting off the bus, we were greeted with massive steel gates. Its sheer size paralleled the magnitude of authority and mystery Istelheim gave off. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I watched as the gates slowly opened. I told myself that if I didn't care, this wouldn't have frightened me so much - surely that proved I was alive and human once and for all. But that wasn't a relief, not when I felt like a leaf blowing in the wind.

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Part 2

Your life must now run the course that has been set up for it

I could feel the people staring like the heat that rises from pavements during summer. I didn't need to hear a whisper either, to know that it was about me. I used to stand in front of a mirror in the orphanage's bathroom to see what they were staring at. I wanted to know what made their heads turn, what it was about me that they found so incredibly different. At first I couldn't tell – I mean, I was just me. Then one day, I looked in the mirror and understood. I looked into my own eyes and hated myself, maybe as much as all of them did. That was the day I started to believe that they might have been right.

Someone nudged me to sit down already and I found out it was Tiffany. She looked at me with a worried expression before sitting down in an

empty chair. I gave her an assuring smile before perching down beside her; Tommy followed after. The whole gathering hall was filled with various people: the passengers in the bus, the staff of Istelheim who whispered and stared with a judging cast at us, and a woman in her fifties adorned in a formal outfit who stood behind what seemed like a pulpit. We waited for her to start talking, everyone at the edge of their seats to await whatever it was that fate would hand them. The mic sounded with a high pitched

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mic, making the speakers from each corner of the hall reverberate with loud thuds. Clearing her throat, she started.

“Welcome Benefactors to Istelheim – the oldest institution for housing people such as yourselves until termination.”

The large room was quiet, all eyes planted on the woman who exuded authority from every pore of her body. I wiped the sweat off my palms by rubbing it against my shirt. The thick layer of anxiety was suffocating as I tried hard to keep my breathing even. My mind was gradually accepting the fact that I was in Istelheim and not back in the orphanage, the fortress-like building enveloping me in a sense of blunt apprehension.

The woman talked afterwards about the typical protocols when living inside the institution. I yawned, utterly bored by the repetitiveness of her words. Tiffany playfully punched me on the shoulder, and lifted her index finger to her lips, signaling me to keep quiet. I stuck out my tongue

playfully before focusing my attention back at the woman. She was now talking about the role of Benefactors – as if I did not know of it already. I was four years old when I learned that I was a Benefactor, but I didn't actually know what they were, or what they did. It wasn't until my fourteenth birthday that I really understood what it meant to be one. [Flashback]

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scratched wood. It was a typical Monday morning: class starting exactly at eight o'clock in the orphanage and like always, I was completely inattentive of my surroundings. Tiffany, who sat at the desk beside me, threw a crumpled ball of paper at my head. Instantly being brought back to reality, I straightened up and quickly stuck out my tongue at her. She giggled quietly, amused by my childish actions before shifting her expression to a blank one when the front doors opened to reveal Madame. The middle aged woman walked to the front of the class before staring at each and everyone of us. Her glare sent a shiver through my spine -there was something about it that made me feel insignificant, as if she was staring at mice rather than people.

"Today, I want to explain to you guys your roles in society. I feel you are old enough to understand and to come to terms with your rather unique condition." I was wrong. This wasn't a typical Monday morning.

Listening closely to her words, my heart dropped every time she untied another knot that was my future. Instinctively, I shifted my gaze to Tiffany, whose eyes were closed, whose lip were quivering. I could see her pain, but I was no more a mind-reader than today. I was hurting for an altogether different reason. When I watched her that morning, I saw something else. I saw a new world coming rapidly: a harsh, cruel world. And I saw the little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her chest the old kind world, the one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading to never let her go. That is what I perceived - it wasn't really her, what she was doing, I know that. But I peered into

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her soul and it broke my heart. I knew I would never forget what I saw.

Madame continued her long speech. I focused back on her just in time to here this: "As you know, the world's resources are depleting and we as humanity can only sustain a certain number of people. If we exceed the maximum population, we can only assume that we will not survive. The bad news is that our birthrate is much greater than our morality rate and so, the only solution to this problem is to

dispose of the excess. Now by fixing this problem, another problem arises and that is: no one wants to give up his or her life. That is why society as a whole created what are now known as 'Benefactors': people who are given the role of the 'excess' in society, so that when we exceeded the maximum population, we would know who to dispose of."

I clenched my fist, hands shaking from anger and frustration. I wanted to lie, to lie to myself that this wasn't happening and that this was just a terrible nightmare. I wanted to lie to myself until it became true.

She later on explained how Benefactors were chosen: people who were orphans, those born alone or abandoned. And it came as no surprise since we were the kind of people who would not be missed in society. She also explained to us that

orphanages were special institutions designed to fully mold people like myself to become Benefactors. From this information, I knew now the reason why we weren't allowed to display human emotion. Not only were we considered inferior when compared to 'real' humans because we had no true future ahead of us, but society was also afraid that we would rebel against our awaited fate. Looking at the bright

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side though, maybe that was the only humane thing they could at least give to us Benefactors; the loss of feeling. After all, if you didn't have a soul, death was just another word.

[End Flashback]

I looked around the room, staring at each and every person. Their ages ranged from what appeared to be as young as Tommy to middle aged adults. I could only come to the conclusion that the older Benefactors here stayed in their respective orphanages longer before discharging to

Istelheim. I envied them for their longer life span, but I knew that the gift didn't come for free - they were cleaners, laborers and lowly helpers to the orphanage until the head of the institution decided that their help was not needed.

I shifted my attention back at the woman, lending her an ear.

"The procedure for termination here in Istelheim is very pain-free and we pride ourselves for our humane way of disposal. We will notify you two weeks prior before your termination, so that you can sort out anything that is needed to be sorted out."

I couldn't help but roll my eyes and quietly scoff at her words. I thought she was even less human then, talking of our deaths so freely without even a hint of despondency.

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After her minute long conclusion, we were dismissed from the great hall.

---It was three weeks after my arrival at Istelheim, that I started to grow accustomed to the every day routines inside the institution. And it was a month and a half after that that I really acculturated myself into the affairs of Istelheim. Tiffany and I shared a room with eight other people, and although it wasn't as private as our old dorm, we could still talk for hours without waking up the others. Other than the increased number of people I shared a room with, and the large amounts of spare time, nothing was different when compared to the orphanage. We would still have to wake up at six in the morning, and go to bed at eight. I found this similarity rather comforting, and Tiffany seemed to agree with me as she kept on thinking we were still in the orphanage by trying to shut off an invisible alarm clock every morning. I found it quite endearing actually. Maybe because it was I who first got her into that amusing habit of hers. I could clearly remember the day I gave her an alarm clock for her birthday; her expression was too priceless to be forgotten. And though I had to pay for it by doing the previous owner's homework for a week, it was all worth it seeing that smile of gratitude form from her lips. That memory felt as close as yesterday, yet was as unreachable as the stars.

“Hey, I think you should eat your carrots,” Tiffany started in a worried tone.

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At first I thought she was referring to me, but I had already finished them, so I gave her a confused look before finding out that she was talking to Tommy who was sitting in front of us. The cafeteria was loitered with various people, and typically, everyone except us, sat at an equal distance away from the individuals beside them.

Tommy ignored her, prodding the uneaten carrots with his fork. I

understood how he felt at that moment; knowing exactly how your future will turn out: a knowledge devoid of any form of hope. And unlike me and Tiffany who had accepted our fates at an early age, he only knew about it a couple of months ago. And though the three of us still didn't get the notice for termination, the wait was all the more terrifying. Tiffany and I knew that Tommy was the most unprepared out of all of us, and we could do nothing but watch as he grew more and more distant everyday.

When all hope is gone, what else can you hold on to? Nothing, and so you plead for death – the last promise of release. Looking at Tommy, I knew when people were ready to die. They slept a lot, and they would wake up only to wish that they could have gone back to bed. They would go entire days without eating, because food was a commodity that kept them here. Like Tommy, they would read the same page from the same book over and over again. They rewound their life as if watching it through a video

player. They would watch their past moments that made them weep, that made them pause and think. But even as they held the remote, they would

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never dare to play it forward. Like Tommy, they forget to wash up, brush their teeth, and comb their hair.

I didn't have the strength to watch him further, so I drooped my eyes down to my plate and ate the rest of my meal.

Tiffany decided to lift up the boy's spirit by proposing to play a game of soccer outside. I went along with the plan, nodding before giving him a warm smile. “That sounds like a great idea, we can play on the courtyard.” I added with a light tone.

Tommy looked at us in silence for a while before nodding slowly. I

watched him give the best smile he could possibly muster, before croaking “We can play piggy in the middle.”

“Great!” Tiffany and I simultaneously cried.

---I was piggy in the middle, and Tommy and Tiffany would aim at the gap between my legs to shoot the soccer ball through. I wiped away the beads of sweat running down my forehead before setting my eyes firmly fixed on the ball. Digging the heel of my right foot on the gray grass, I prepared myself for Tiffany's pass to Tommy. Again, it zipped right past me and towards Tommy. It was a good thing we were all alone in the courtyard, as

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I could freely express my frustration for always missing the ball by an inch due to the shortness of my legs. I groaned in annoyance, before inhaling the salt-water air of the courtyard – indeed, Istelheim was located right beside an ocean. Heaving out a sigh, I started stretching my legs out. Tiffany laughed. "TaeTae, you can't make your legs longer by stretching them out; dummy"

I stuck out my tongue at her, and instantly, I was drawn back to the memory when Tiffany and I were playing soccer back at the orphanage. [Flashback]

"Fany, pass me the ball" I exclaimed as I ran alongside the fence that outlined the backyard of the orphanage. We were both fifteen, and living in the present.

She looked at the ball and then back at me before kicking it to my direction. The soccer ball slipped past my legs and towards the wooden fence. It was very

unfortunate for us, as the ball hit the only rotten board in the fence. And because Tiffany kicked the ball with much more force than the wood could handle and the board cracked with a loud sound before crashing down to the ground.

We stared at the rectangular hole in the fence, before looking back at each other. Our expressions easily displayed a mixture of amusement and panic. Teasingly, I pointed at her with a smirk on my lips, "Ooh, you are so in trouble.”

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"Me?" she shot back. "If you weren't so close to the fence, this wouldn't have happened."

"Sure, blame the innocent one here."

Our playful argument continued for quite awhile until Madame came into view and saw the rather large whole in the fence. Fuming with rage, she sent both of us to different isolation rooms that were scattered inside the orphanage. It was a place where only the most troublesome orphans stayed. A tight, dark space, it clearly was meant for only one person alone. Madame motioned for me to enter the room; I complied with a blank expression that I tried my best to fake. In all honesty, I was mighty scared, and not because of the room itself but because I was away from Tiffany for the very first time. And no, I wasn't scared because being away from her wouldn’t make me feel better. I was scared because without her, I could not remember who I was.

"You stay there for the night, and think about your wrong doing," she said before slamming the door shut.

Black. That was all I could see, engulfing my vision in the most extreme form of gray. I sat there in fetal position, not knowing where to look at – I was lost, just so darn lost. It seemed like forever had passed, and I was still at the mercy of the isolation room. I missed Tiffany, and I wondered what she was doing right now, wondered if she was feeling lost and helpless like me, wondered if she was thinking the same thing as me. But most of all, I wondered if she missed me, too. In the dark

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room, I had a lot of time to think about many things, but mostly it was about separation. I suddenly knew now that if Tiffany was gone, I would die - and though that might sound melodramatic, I most definitely knew it true. Maybe not die immediately, maybe not with the same blinding rush of pain, but it would happen. You couldn't live for very long without a heart. I guessed now that maybe we’re all alone until we realize that all we have is one another.

[End Flashback]

We played piggy in the middle for half an hour before the speakers outside buzzed to inform us of the new list of names for termination. Once every two weeks we would hear this buzz, and still, it never got old.

---We lined up behind the numerous Benefactors, hearts racing, fingers crossed, praying that our names weren't on the list. One by one, the line began to shorten and the three of us gradually neared the large sheet

posted on the bulletin board. I inhaled deeply, reminding myself to breath. Tommy was the first to look up his name. After checking the list three times, he turned his head towards us and smiled. "Not on the list," he spoke, his features much brighter than before. I gave him a congratulatory pat on the back, genuinely happy for him. It was Tiffany's turn next, and this time, I stopped breathing all together.

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She checked the list three times like Tommy, before giving out an eye smile and a thumbs up. "Same here," she voiced blissfully. I pulled her in for a tight hug, absolutely elated that she wasn't on the list. Releasing her from my embrace, I took a step towards the list of names with confidence. It had never dawned on me that there was still a chance that I was on the list, because as much as I hate to say this - I had always blindly believed that me and Tiffany were so closely interwoven together that it was impossible for us not share the same fate as the other. And because of this belief, I had concocted in my head that since Tiffany wasn't on the list, that I wouldn't be either.

Boy was I ever wrong.

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Part 3

It's funny how when we're coming to the end of something great, we still want to hold on to it, even if it hurts that much more afterwards

Nobody wants to admit to this, but bad things will keep on happening. Maybe that's because it's all a chain, and a long time ago something bad had happened, and that led to another, and another: just like dominoes. Or maybe it was like the telephone game, where you whisper a sentence into someone's ear, and that person whispers it to someone else; in the end, it usually comes out wrong and distorted. But then again, maybe bad things happen because it's the only way we can keep remembering what good was supposed to look like. In that instant, when I saw my name on the sheet, my whole life was laid out before me. Splattered across my vision were still-shots, pictures of my past. And I realized that the moments I've come to collect over the years, no matter how short, were so grand and wonderful, that I knew I had lived a fulfilling life. And I knew now that I was lucky, because if I was to collect these precious memories and store them in a box, I'd have more than most people.

I turned around to find Tommy and Tiffany eagerly waiting to hear of my news. The best relationships were the ones where both sides went out of their way to not disappoint the other, and although my heart ached telling them the bad news, it had to be done.

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"I-I'm on the list," I croaked, gaze planted to the waxed floor because I was afraid that if I looked at their faces, my resolve would completely crumble. Tiffany let out a nervous laugh, before replying with a shaky voice, "Kim Taeyeon, this is not the time to joke around."

I grimly shook my head, my bangs hiding my grave countenance. "I'm not joking," I said with all the strength I could muster.

No one dared utter a word for what seemed like an eternity - silence indeed had a way of slowing down time.

"I-Is," Tiffany softly muttered, "Is there a way you can stall it?" "No, I'm afraid there isn't."

Another eternity of silence.

I lifted my eyes to her, watched as her expression became more and more incomprehensible to me. Shifting uncomfortable in her spot with quiet dread, she said the one thing I wished she didn't say: "Then I want to come with you. You know we've always done everything together I don't want this to be any different. I...umm.... I'm sure there are people here willing to switch with me." She smiled reassuringly, nodding to herself as she grew

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more and more determined to share the same fate as me. "Termination doesn't seem all that bad now. At least we'll be together, right?"

"No, you can't." I spat out of sheer anger. How could she be so stupid to think like that? Did she think that terminating alongside me would make me feel better? I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself down. "I'm fine really," I assured, "We don't need to do everything together, in fact, this is the only thing I DON'T want us to do together."

"No," she said calmly, filled with purpose. Tiffany took my arms lightly in her hands and shook me. "I am not leaving you."

I looked at her, and for just a moment I could read her thoughts. Tiffany used to say we were like twins, with our own secret, silent language. In that instant, I felt her fear and her resignation, and the numbing pain of coming up against a brick wall again and again. She glanced away, and I could breathe again.

"The thing is, Tiffany," I said with much heartache, "it's not your choice." [Flashback]

The evening breeze blew over my face, as the stars lit up the passing sky with its sheer brilliance. There was something about the stars that brought about a certain peace as we sat quiescently on a bench outside the orphanage. Tiffany and I decided to stay the whole night outside, even if it was to risk punishment from Madame.

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After all, we were heading to Istelheim tomorrow, and neither of us could just sleep the night away. There were too many precious moments we made here, and I'd like to think that permanent ghosts of our old self, still relived our childhood memories every day.

"The thing is Taeyeon, it's not your choice," Tiffany softly whispered with a light smile.

We've been talking for about an hour and half already but it wasn't the kind of conversation I was expecting in the end. It started normal at first – you know, the usual light chatter about everything and anything that ran inside our minds, but then, it swerved off that path into something unknown and strange. I really didn't know what love was, but that word frightened me. Maybe it was because of the teachings they drilled in my head, or the emptiness the other orphans radiated that made me fear it. She said she loved me, what did that mean exactly? We haven't been formally taught about the notion of love, so how could she be so sure? Tiffany said she knew what love was. She said that when you find that person you are supposed to love, bells ring and fireworks go off in your head and you can't find the words to speak and you think about that person all the time. When you find the person you are supposed to love, you would know by staring deeply into their eyes. She couldn't fully explain it to me though; words were like nets, they cover a lot of what we mean, but they couldn't possibly hold that much happiness, grief, or wonder. Tiffany knew what it felt like to fall in love, but trying to describe it to someone else - and the language only gets you so far. To try to explain love in words is like pinning a butterfly under glass, or videotaping a comet.

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I shook my head. This wasn't supposed to happen. We had already crossed the line with our friendship and I didn't want to step a great deal more from it. Friendship was already dangerous, what more was love?

"You can't, it's not allowed," I said. Benefactors weren't supposed to show emotion, and we sure as hell weren't allowed to feel 'love' - this kind of gift was only reserved for humans, and as far as I knew, I wasn't human. From the get-go, I kind of had a feeling I failed at being a Benefactor, but I didn't want this to be another reason for my incompetence.

"Like I said, it's not your choice."

"What do you mean, it's not my choice?" I asked, with a confused expression. "I don't think we get a choice in who we fall for," Tiffany replies. "I think we just do.” - in that moment, she leaned in to kiss me. It wasn't long, but it was magical in its own way. I knew at that very moment when our lips touched, that the

memory would last forever; inked, stamped, and eternally seen. I felt butterflies in my stomach, and my insides twisting into knots, I felt as if my heart flew out of my chest and up towards the clouds. I knew now, that this was the feeling she was trying to explain.

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"We're not allowed." I numbly said. The bottom line is that we never fall for the people we're supposed to.

"Just answer this Taeyeon: do you love me too?"

It took me a while to respond to that answer. We weren't human, and 'love' wasn't supposed to be for us. I knew that, so I shook my head before softly answering her question with a 'no'. Right now, I wondered why the mind could move so swiftly while the heart dragged its feet.

Tiffany changed in demeanor, her eyebrows furrowed as her lips formed a frown. "Telling the truth is a good thing, right?" she said with much austerity.

I nodded, unsure of what she was trying to get at. “Yeah. Because even if there's no law on lying, telling the truth is the right thing to do"

She leaned in towards me, close enough that the skin of her arm grazed right next to mine. "You really believe that?" she asked.

Looking down on my lap, I gingerly gave a light nod. "Yes, why?" "Then how," she asked, "Can you say you do not love me back?" "But I'm not lying"

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Who I was, and what I was capable of had always managed to surprise me. I saw her slowly nod, a tear trickling down her right cheek. If I could speak, I would have told her the truth: that I indeed loved her. But I couldn't speak, not when I felt horribly empty inside, for I knew now what it was like to be filled. Wiping the tear away from her face, I gave her a heartwarming smile.

"Let's just stick to being friends, okay? I think that is much better." - lie to yourself until it's true. I wrapped her in my arms and held her there, until morning came.

[End Flashback]

If you loved someone, I mean, really loved them, then would you dare let them go? I was torn between fear and something that resembled love, and I wrestled with questions I never dreamed I would face: how could I leave her here alone? Then again, how could I stay? I kept thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it was just too much. The current was too strong, and they had to let go, to drift apart from each other. That's how it was with me and Tiffany. It was heartbreaking, because we've loved each other all our lives, and in the end, we still couldn't stay together forever.

I didn't let her say anything after that as I immediately said goodnight to Tommy, before dragging Tiffany back to our dorm. It was a good thing that it was time for bed, I had time to clearly think things through.

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---I was back at the cafeteria with Tommy and Tiffany for lunch. Poking the light gray pees that had remained untouched, I let out a deep sigh. I wasn't hungry, and the vegetables were stale anyways. Too many thoughts were running in my head all day, and one of them was Tiffany constantly

bothering me with her proposal that we terminate together. I was a bit distracted by it all that I didn't notice her call my name, until she gently shook my shoulder.

Looking at her worried expression, I flashed her an apologetic smile. “I'm sorry, what did you want to say?”

Tiffany heaved a sigh, while lightly shaking her head. “You know, you could always talk to us about it,” she voiced, “... I know it must be hard and-”

I cut her off by reassuring her that I was totally fine, and that the food just made me too nauseas to concentrate on anything. She didn't believe me, and I wasn't surprised, considering she knew me better than I knew myself. Tiffany was someone who held me up, who knew all the tell-tale rifts of my heart; I knew that we were connected so deeply, that I could stare into her eyes and see myself. And I wondered: was it possible for a body to have two hearts?

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The world I believe was like a pond whose surface was completely covered with scum and floating vegetation. There might be a few water-lilies, and you might of course be interested in them for their beauty. But you might also be interested in them because from their structure you could deduce that they had stalks underneath which went down to roots in the bottom. You could believe that the pond is of an indefinite depth, and that there was nothing but water however far you go down, and that the lilies are just floating atop the surface. Or you could believe that they are attached by stalks to the bottom. Therefore the pond had a bottom. And so it wasn't a pond, pond for ever. Go deep enough and you will come to something that is not a pond- to mud and earth and then to rock and finally the whole bulk of the Earth and the subterranean fire. People were like water-lilies, you could believe that your whole life was detached as you idly float above the surface with nothing to keep you from drowning, or you could believe that you were firmly rooted by a stalk to the bottom, and so trust that you were held above water by something beyond what you could see.

A middle aged man who looked like he hadn't shaved his beard in ages uninvitedly sat beside me. I arched an eyebrow before scooting closer to Tiffany. The guy himself had a different feel than the other people in the cafeteria - it was something about his face that emanated wisdom. With a queried look, I asked if he needed anything. The man didn't say anything, but he leaned in closer to me as if to whisper a secret.

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"You want to get out of this hell hole?" he started.

I inwardly scoffed, before answering "Excuse me?" Tiffany who sat beside me, leaned towards the table to get a better look at the man. I glanced at her, and I knew she was just as confused as I was. Tommy, too, had the same expression as the both of us.

The strange man gave a light chuckle before explaining his reason here. Apparently he had been watching us from sometime now, and he had come to the conclusion that we still retained our human emotions. The man was full of knowledge as he not only guessed right about our special

condition, but that he also knew I would be terminated in less than two weeks. He went on to explain to us that he found a way to get out of Istelheim, and that he was willing to help us escape with him. Judging from his warm eyes, I felt that he was telling the truth.

"Please," I started in a whisper, "Even if we do manage to escape, we can't survive without eventually having to go back to society. I mean what do you expect we do? Live off the land? Once we come into contact with any human, they'll track us and hunt us down."

"She's right," Tiffany agreed.

The man chuckled, as if he knew an inside joke we weren't in on. "We aren't going back to society."

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"Weren't you listening to me?" I spat, eyebrows furrowed.

He lifted his index finger, and motioned for me to stay quiet until he finished what he was saying. I listened carefully to his words, though it was hard to do when he was spewing out absurdities. He said something about some sort of utopia, where everyone was made equal and that there were no need for Benefactors as they had endless amounts of resources. And get this, he said that the place he was talking about had a color outside of gray. Such nonsense - was it even possible that there was something different than the shade of endless gray? I asked why he had chosen us out of the other Benefactors here, and why he was telling us all this in the first place. He simply said that he couldn't do this alone, and that the utopia he was talking about didn't have room for people who lacked a soul,

therefore, we were the only possible candidates.

I scoffed, maybe I was wrong to judge the man sane. But still, even after clearly displaying his delusional state, I wanted to believe him.

Aching to tell the man that he was crazy, I was prevented from doing so by Tommy who beat me to the punch. "I'm sorry, but I must say that you are quite mentally unstable," he voiced with a hint of amusement.

The middle aged man didn't say anything as he placed his hands inside his jacket pocket. Looking cautiously around the area, he made sure no

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unwanted eyes were around when he brought out a circular coin. Not the shape nor the material of the coin mattered to me - it was something else that stole all of my attention. My jaws dropped, as I stared at the coin. It wasn't in the typical shade of gray like everything in this world. It was something my eyes weren't accustomed to. And if I knew another color outside of that dull shade to describe the coin, it would have been: red.

═════════════════════════════════════════════

Final Part

Holding on is one thing; letting go is another

“Where did you get this?” I whispered, looking at the coin on his palm. The object was more than enough to convince me that what he said was true. I could feel something stir inside of me, a spark that suddenly ignited into a flame: hope.

“It was passed on from one Benefactor to the next, here in Istelheim. I don't know how long this coin has been circulating, but I can only guess that the previous owners were terminated before they could escape. Either because

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they were scared to try, or they failed their attempt. Anyways, the one who handed me the coin gave it to me freely.”

I nodded, trying to make sense out of it all. With a hushed voice, I asked “So, where is this place exactly?”

Leaning closer towards us, the man stared dead in my eyes and said. “West of Istelheim. The man who gave me the coin said that if I kept traveling west, I'd find it. He also told me about several land sites that indicated if I was heading to the right direction”

“And how would you know when you've found it?” “Easy. The place won't be gray”

Tommy and Tiffany were slow in wrapping their heads around this new information. I couldn't blame them though, it was hard trying to accept something as new, and as big as this - like waking to find that the life you were living was actually a dream.

Clearing his throat, Tommy spoke in a low whisper, “So okay... we have proof that this place exists, but we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves here. We need to escape this place first in order to get there”. The boy looked around, making sure there were no unwanted people listening in on their conversation before continuing, “You said there you had a plan on getting

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us out of here?”

He signaled for the three of us to listen carefully, a smile forming from his lips. “I've been in Istelheim for a year and a half now, so I know everything there is to know about this place: the staffs schedules, the floor maps, and the times where security is at its weakest. But most of all, I know that there's an abandoned boat beside the ocean shoreline. If we could find a way to get on it, we could row ourselves out of here.”

“Why can't we just travel by feet, or find a vehicle?” Tommy interjected. Judging from his frightened expression, I knew he was afraid of the water. “Vehicles are too noisy - it will alert the guards quickly, and traveling by foot is too slow. Either option will get us killed.”

We talked more about the plan, spending our spare time and our dinner break in carefully concocting the perfect escape.

---'You Hold Me Now' Soundtrack: Two [Play for a better reading experience]

It was an hour after the supposed bedtime curfew, and I was still too

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my right side, before fluffing up the pillow on top of my head. The noise I made seemed to bring to Tiffany's attention my anxious self. She rolled over to stare at me with an amused grin.

“Can't sleep?” she asked in a hushed whisper.

I answered with a nod. “Thinking about tomorrow has my stomach in a knot,” I said, “What happens if we get caught? Then we'd probably be brought to termination quickly”

Tiffany shrugged, as she kept her eyes glued to mine. “That's just the risk we have to take.”

What did it mean to take a risk? And why do people do it, if it meant the possibility of getting hurt? I imagined it as a ship setting off to sail in an unknown weather condition. And even though a ship was safest tied to a harbor, that wasn't what it was for. I looked at Tiffany who was looking right back, and the possibility that this was the last night we would share together scared me. Maybe this was my last chance to say the thing I didn't say back at the orphanage.

“Hey, Fany?” I started. “Yeah?”

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Words get in the way. The things we felt the hardest - like what it was like to have someone look at you as if you were made of light, or what it meant to be the only person in the room who wasn't noticed - weren't sentences; they were knots in the wood of our bodies, places where our blood flowed backwards. If you asked me, not that anyone ever did, the only words worth saying were 'I'm sorry'.

“Thank you for coming into my life and giving me joy. Thank you for the memories I'll cherish forever. Thank you for loving me, and teaching me about what it felt like to be in love. But most of all, thank you for showing me that there will come a time when I can eventually return that love as well. I guess what I'm trying to say is that you are there, in everything I am, in everything I've ever done, and looking back, I know that I should have told you how much you've always meant to me. So I'm sorry that I lied to you back at the orphanage, but the thing is, I love you too.”. I tried to decipher her expression, but failed. Belting out a nervous chuckle, I scratched the back of my head. “Better late than never, right?”

Her nonchalant face changed to a brighter one, as a grin ran from ear to ear. I let out a sigh of relief, as she simply said “Took you long enough”. Love I believed, was not an equation or a puzzle waiting to be solved, nor was it a contract, and it most definitely wasn't a happy ending. Love was the slate under the chalk, the ground that supports skyscrapers, and the oxygen in the air. It was the place you come back to, no matter where you

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were headed.

---We were all gathered outside on the courtyard of Istelheim. Me, Tiffany, Tommy, and the middle aged man whose name was James. My heart was pounding mercilessly, as I instinctively held Tiffany's hand for support. She gently squeezed my hand, before giving me a comforting smile. This was it, our one last fight for life – it was now or never, and it was all or nothing.

James began to go over the plan again, running through the details, and reminding us of our duties. We decided to meet here during lunch hour, when there was less security, and when the other Benefactors were busy eating their lunch in the cafeteria. It was after we were all gathered, that we would head to the east side of the courtyard to where the warden towers were located. Careful for any guards on patrol, we would then head for a small crevice hidden between juts of thick rose vines. It was through that crevice that led to a rocky cliff side of the ocean. James said that if we headed right, the cliff would eventually decline downward to the ocean's shore where the abandoned row boat was located. The plan was simple, but it required trust on James' part.

Once the man was finished with the briefing, I took in a deep breath and gathered all the strength I could muster. He looked at each of us, his eyes

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hopeful and determined.

“Alright, let's go” he said, before swerving around and heading for the east end of the courtyard.

I looked at Tiffany, before leaning in for a kiss on the lips. Afraid that it might be my last one, I held the kiss for what seemed like an eternity

before letting go. Trying to retain that moment in my head, I tightened my grip on her hand as we ran to catch up to James and Tommy.

---We made it safely out on to the cliff side of the ocean, my optimism growing more and more with every second. With a hopeful spirit, we followed the right edge of the cliff. James was right, I could feel the decline of elevation as we kept on walking. Within minutes of treading on the rocky path, I could start to see the thin outline of the ocean's shoreline. 'We made it, we actually made it' I thought with a proud sense of elation.

Maybe it was karma, or maybe it was just fate's cruel joke; that I rejoiced too quickly. We all instantly turned around to the stoned walls of Istelheim when we heard the high pitched ring of the speakers. It was still loud

enough to hear from here, and we knew now that they found out about our attempt to escape. A lot of questions were running in my head: How did they find out? Did someone eavesdrop on us? What would happen now?

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I automatically shifted my gaze to where tiny figures were coming out in large numbers, from one of Istelheim's heavily guarded exits. Judging from the distance from here to there, we still had several minutes to spare before they could reach us. If we went fast enough, we had more than enough time to get on the boat and row a safe distance away. James thought so too, as he yelled at us to continue with our descent. Our fast walk changed to a full out sprint, as we desperately headed for the ocean's shoreline.

I puffed out short breaths, coughing from all the excessive running.

Looking back at the cliff side, I could see the security guards all uniformly heading towards us. We still had several minutes left, and we were already standing beside the old abandoned row boat.

"Come on, come on, hurry up guys" Tommy urgently shrieked, as he passed me an oar. James was already pushing the boat out towards the waters, and Tiffany was pressingly helping him. Once we successfully got the boat at a considerable distance away from the shore, we all took turns getting in. James was the first to get on, sitting down at the front, he tried to stabilize the boat with his oar. Trying to find how much time we still had, I looked back at the men who were still running along the side of the cliff. They were getting closer and closer, as I could easily distinguish their uniforms now.

“Taeyeon, you're next” James said with his rough voice. “You have the other oar, so you have to help me stabilize it”

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With no time to think, I instantly complied to his orders. Getting on the boat, I sat down on the opposite end of the man, using my oar to keep the boat steady. Up next was Tommy since he was the shortest of all of us. I didn't like the thought of Tiffany being the last one to get on, but Tommy was too short to get on by himself, so she was resorted to helping him. Holstering him up, the boy scrambled to get on the boat. Once Tommy was in, I quickly motioned for Tiffany to get on quickly. She nodded as she held on to the side of the craft, trying to push herself on board. Without

warning, the boat began to sink from the weight.

“We're too heavy” Tommy cried in a panicked manner.

“What? No, no, no, this can't be happening” I wailed out of sheer frustration.

Tiffany instantly took back her weight against the boat, making the craft float back to its normal state. Completely in a state of terror, I looked at Tiffany in alarm. She seemed to be looking not at us, but back at the cliff side. Instinctively I followed her gaze, knowing all too well what I would see. The guards were already on the ocean's shore. I could clearly see their facial outlines now, and I estimated that we only had a few minutes left before they reached us.

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[Play for a better reading experience]

“Come on Fany, get on! We have to go!” I exclaimed, hoping that by some miracle, the boat could still uphold all four of our weights.

She looked down, her bangs hiding her face so that I couldn't tell what she was feeling right now. Immediately though, as if reading my mind, she lifted her face up and stared at me. She had this certain look on her face; one that I knew would stay with me forever. Tiffany smiled, and usually I loved it when she smiled, but this one sent chills all over my body. I

believed her now, when she said that we had our own little silent language. Because in that instant, she didn't need to say anything for me to know what she was thinking. Looking at her eyes, I knew she wasn't scared. And as easily as I could read her mind, she could read mine. I wondered what I looked like to her right now, though I probably knew the answer: a

complete mess.

"Do you remember that one summer, when you got the chance to visit the town with Madame and the other orphans?" Tiffany asked, "And you didn't want to get in the car, because you didn't want to leave me? I told you to to look out the side view mirror, so that when you drove off, you'd be able to look back and see me." She pressed her hand against my cheek, which was now drenched with tears. "It's the same thing, but this time, our memories together is the side view mirror.” I watched her struggle to be strong, as tears slid down her cheeks. Too caught up with what she was

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saying, I didn't notice that she was pushing the boat further and further away from shore.

“Promise to hold on to me?” she asked. I didn't know what she meant by that, my mind wasn't functioning properly. But even still, I nodded. Tiffany gave me a quick peck on the lips, before saying the words "I love you". In that instant, she gave one final push to the boat which brought us a couple of feet away from her.

Like always, I was too late in realizing what had just happened. I snapped out of my trance, only to come to terms with Tiffany not being on the boat. 'We were always together, how could you leave me now?' I thought, and that was why I gave the oar to Tommy and prepared to jump out of the boat to go back to Tiffany. Before I could get off, someone had grabbed me from my waist. I turned around to see that Tommy was holding on to me, as James began to row the boat away.

“Stop, stop, what are you doing?” I yelled, “We need to come back for Tiffany”

“There's no reason in going back” James stated, as I struggled to get out of Tommy's grasp.

My eyes filled up with tears. "But I love her," I said, because that was reason enough.

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I watched helplessly as Tiffany slowly disappeared from my vision - I didn't know if it was due to the great distance between us now, or the tears that blurred my sight.

If you gave someone your heart and they died, did they take it with them? Did you spend the rest of forever with a hole inside you that couldn't be filled? I wanted to go back and be with her, because even if we reached this utopia, where we were acknowledged as human beings and not some shell, and where there was color - it wouldn't match up to having her by my side. She was the whole color spectrum, and if there was one thing I learned over the past few months, it was this: 'Love' is the only thing that made us truly human.

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Human Nature

Prologue

It's in our human nature to become terrified when true happiness becomes a real possibility. We're born to this world as nothing less and nothing more than evil. People assume we become monsters by living in a fallen world, but no, hell didn't breed us to become monsters, it just simply confirms our worst fears. The world is a mirror and when we look at all the decay and death, we look at the reflections of ourselves.

“Tell me where they are!” a voice ordered.

To the man tied on a wooden chair, the voice was an echo; beginning from the hollow recesses of the woman's gut before bouncing off the walls of her ribcage, ringing inside her empty chest and escaping out of her mouth.

The man spit out the blood from inside his mouth before being met by a sharp slap across his cheek.

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“Tell me!” she yelled. The voice should have been tormenting, soaked in anger and frustration, but for a being without a soul only emptiness was in between the

spaces of her words.

He gave out a dry chuckle. “Piss off”

She gave him another punch to the jaw. This time the sheer force of the hit caused the man to fall to the floor, the arm of his chair and his temple hitting concrete first.

“Do you think you'll be a hero by dying here? Do you think people will remember your sacrifice?”

… Welcome Benefactors to Istelheim...

… How can you say that you do not love me back?...

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The man saw his blood stretch out like a growing ocean from where he laid. Instead of fearing for his life, he shifted his gaze to the far wall of the room and smiled as if what he saw was not the wall but past that, through the bricked divider and to the rising sun coming out from the rolling hills. “I don't think. I know.”

“Humans have the habit of forgetting things that break them, it's a matter of personal survival” she stated a matter-of-factly.

The guards hit both her knees with their batons, causing her legs to bend and buckle from the excruciating pain. She gave out a loud cry, openly weeping as her hands, cracked and coated with dry blood, dangled lifelessly beside her. On

bended knee, she looked at the painted face of the woman hovering above her.

Wearing scarlet lipstick, she smiled devilishly. “You and your friends have caused great trouble for us” she started in a falsetto.

The girl merely looked down on the tiled floor, biting her tongue and praying to God that they would show mercy and end her life quick.

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The madame of Istelheim frowned before lowering her body to tilt the girl's chin up. “Look at me,” she ordered sternly.

She looked at everything but her.

With a huff, the woman savagely slapped her across the cheek which sent the raven-haired girl reeling to the floor. Seconds, minutes, passed and it took all of her strength to bring herself back to kneeling position.

“I can see fear in your eyes, Benefactor” She grabbed a baton from one of the men and started pounding it on her palms. “Tell me where your comrades are and I will... show you mercy”

She clenched her jaw and said nothing, earning a hit to the jaw with the baton. The girl swallowed blood but stood firm, eyes determined and full of unconditional love for the girl she had willingly and openly sacrificed her life for.

“If I had not known you were a Benefactor, I would have thought you were... human” the woman said, looking at her in disgust.

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“I-am-human” she firmly replied.

Another hit, this time to the ribcage. The raven-haired girl groaned in pain.

“Heresy! Now tell me where they are!”

The question was met with silence.

The woman impatiently waited for a minute before dragging her by her hair to one of the guards. “Break her,” she ordered coldly and in defeat, “but don't kill her”

“Madame, we're missing one more for termination, why don't we-”

“We can use her. A Benefactor capable of human emotion is quite rare; the feelings learned is pure, stainless, and from what I've discerned from human nature: the purest virtues have the potential to turn into the darkest sins”

(56)

She loaded a pistol, and as the only light from the small enclosed room touched the right side of her face, the man could have sworn he saw the devil inside her hollow eyes. With a macabre smirk, she said “An unsung hero, that's what you'll be.

You're just another grain of sand in the beach of forgotten martyrs.”

She pointed the pistol to his head.

The prospect of death was now before him and it made him openly weep. The man was now breathing in fear, not for himself, but for the woman. “My God,” he cried, his tears now mixing with fresh blood from his temples.

“Tell me,” she whispered with a crooked smile as she watched him pray, “what god doesn't demand mortal suffering?”

Tiffany Hwang, of the Government's Central Intelligence Agency and a commanding official assigned to stop the Revolution, pulled the trigger.

(57)

///

“Taeyeon!” someone called from behind the rubble of burnt cobblestone. He looked up at the woman seated on a large boulder. Her face was stern, noble and beautiful. But what really captured anyone's attention was how she shone like a lone star in the night sky or like a lighthouse during a torrential storm. The woman had been splashed in glorious color amidst the lifeless gray around her.

“Taeyeon, he's been captured”

“Who?”

“Docter Park. They got him.”

Kim Taeyeon, ex-Benefactor and head of the Revolution, slammed her fists on the rock and cried. “They'll pay! I swear to God, they'll pay!”

Figure

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