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I didn’t notice the boy or the garden until a small giggle echoed in the darkness. My eyes moved from the blank nothingness to see him and the poisonous garden lining the cement walkway on the right. I gagged as he ran his hands over the slick barbs of the unknown plants, the toxic chemicals bubbling at the tips of the leaves and flowers.
My mouth was parched. I only knew it after I tried to warn the boy to stop, strumming my vocal cords in distress. Choked whimpers fell flat onto the concrete beneath my feet, crunching apart like fall leaves. I placed a hand at my throat, feeling the left cord snap inside. I cringed in pain and tried to look away, but the boy held my gaze.
He was small, probably five years of age. He had a rounded head with the scalp visible underneath closely shaved hair. The small curls attached to it spun slowly, dizzying me as I tried to move towards him. His red and green sweater looked wooly—mostly itchy—and hung loosely from the torso. He wore black pants with a torn left back pocket that flapped in the nonexistent breeze like a limp dog’s tail. The pants were slick, reflecting the surfaces of the world in its oiled exterior. And his skin was soft brown; delicate as it defiled itself with the poison of the plants it touched.
But what I noticed before all things about him was his right ear. I saw a small tattoo etched along the outer edge, reaching to the base of the neck. It was a lettered serpent shaped into a question mark, hissing visibly with a warning I couldn’t understand. I wondered where this boy came from and where any child would’ve acquired a tattoo in this desolate place. I hoped to catch the boy, to make him answer my questions, but I drew back in an unknown fear, my body refusing to move. Instead, I watched him bound around a corner of the garden, diligently following the concrete path.
After I found myself mobile, I determined to capture him and make him tell me of himself and this world I’d found myself in. I looked left, taking in the blank nothingness I refuted earlier. It formed lumps in my stomach to the point of aching and I was forced to turn away. I looked back to the garden, admiring the plants but refusing to touch.
They were emerald green, a thin layer of shimmering mucus stuck to the petals, leaves, and stalks. The bulbs were fat, their petals thick and leathery. I wondered at the species of the plant, seeing that the petals were lined with jagged pink stripes. Thousands of needles covered the surface of the petals, shining as though freshly plucked from the mouths of syringes. Large droplets of black liquid sat at the end of each needle, waiting patiently for my fall into the sick beauty the plants gave my eye.
The long, slender stalk of each plant was four feet tall, swaying gently in an unfelt breeze. They were thin, almost thread-like, marvels in how they were able to hold the enormous bulbs squatting at various levels of their bodies. And between the bulbs were paper-thin leaves; each was a pink-laced heart with a prominent green center.
I shuddered uncomfortably, looking back to the sidewalked path and searching for the boy. I walked to the corner he’d turned moments before and followed. Not six feet away from me was the boy, hopping in place and running a hand through the sickening plants. A soft bubbling reached my ears and I saw that the skin of the hand in the plants was tearing, boiling, and dripping to the floor, puddling itself on the ground as he jumped gaily into the sploshing mess.
A bubble of vomit rose in my throat, disgusted at what the boy was doing. As it rose higher, pressing against my uvula, a soft giggle left the boy’s lungs, chiming sweetly in the air. The sound was too much for my disgust to bear; the bubble exploded in my mouth, forcing me to my knees so that I could retch my insides onto the sidewalk.
The hot bile tasted bitter in my open mouth, coating everything with its flavor. I closed my eyes as warm tears slid down my face and the emptying feeling of retching caused my body to shake. I opened my eyes after the fourth vomit-filled sob, gazing upon what had been expelled from within.
It was a mix of spaghetti and breadstick cudgeled together with sauce and wine I assumed I’d had earlier. I looked curiously into the slimy film glistening with green and purple hues atop the pile of sewage, noting the rancid taste left dancing in my mouth and the wafting smell drifting back towards my brain.
I couldn’t help but watch it jiggle there, trying to give myself a distraction from the boy, from the thing I had to see but didn’t want to. My distraction didn’t last long though; the cracks in the sidewalk parted between my hands, slurping my garbage into their concrete stomachs. They closed with soft burps, acting as if they’d never parted to begin with. Another loud giggle sounded near me, drawing me back to the boy.
He was no more than five feet away, jumping in place and still letting the skin and muscle sludge from his skeletal frame. My knees drew themselves upward; I rose and stood a foot or so taller than him, anxious at how I was still intimidated by the boy despite my size.
I felt as though he knew I was watching, too arrogant to acknowledge the viewer behind him. The thought of his rudeness angered me slightly, prodding me to approach him again. As I did, the boy moved forward in unison, staying out of reach. He was toying with me; egging me on in some twisted game I knew not how to play.
I repeatedly tried to near him, but he remained the same distance away each time. His giggle turned to a boisterous laugh as I failed to reach him, and his taunts turned my frustration to rage. My vision blurred and my peripherals faded to darkness at the borders, shrinking my field of vision down to a small circle that only saw the boy. I felt the rage feed into my body, polluting my blood and coursing through. I lowered myself, spreading my frame into the position of a professional sprinter. My right knee slammed into my chest, chipping my sternum as it prepared for attack. My left leg became a Karukan bow, strung tight and ready to release a death arrow. The grinding soles of my shoes against the aged sidewalk filled my ears, muddying the pounding beat of blood in my ears. The boy’s face half-turned and I saw his brow bend in concern.
I saw his eye! The way the golden iris glistened against the deep black of the pupil and humor made scorn that hated me from afar. It was a mine that housed mountains of corpses that had sought the treasure in it. And I was to be claimed next. But I knew that that would only be true if I let him catch me with his fool’s gold. He looked away with a sharp smile, clearly mocking my desperation.
I shook my head, throwing my brain from side to side. I refused to fall for the fake wealth offered at the catch. I’d take hold of the real treasure in his eye, ripping the shimmering light from his face. The disdainful eye, addicted to my need for it, transfixed me. My rage attached to the boy in a different way, making me hate him for his possession of what I sought more than his proud nature. Saliva pooled in my mouth, and my repeated swallows couldn’t keep up with my drowning.
I launched without hesitation, the saliva strand extending from the starting line to my gaping mouth like a fishhook attached to a silken web string. The tension in the air plucked at it, sending rhythmic vibrations through my body. As I smashed the space between us at top speed, my arms reached forward, twitching with angst.
The boy didn’t have time to play his sick game anymore; I’d broken the rules when he wasn’t looking and stolen the prize. I gasped with delight at seeing him break into sprint instinctually, knowing he couldn’t escape me. I came so close to him I saw his shoulders tremble slightly beneath the fibers of the sweater.
I reached and grabbed hard, a small crunch reverberating in my knuckles and forearms. The boy screamed inaudibly, but I felt my eardrums split from its force. Unmoved, I threw my eyes to the tattoo I’d been stalking, unnerved at its initial mystery. After my jumbled mind settled, I knew the language it spoke well. “Do not touch me, for the end weighs upon me,” it snarled.
I spun the boy around, desperate to grab the eye that cast judgment on me for these long eternities. But once he turned, I screamed in terror. There was no face, no marks of identity on my enemy. His head was blank, a dark canvas that awaited color and form. I couldn’t help but hate what he’d done to me. He’d taken the eyes; he’d taken what I needed.
I strangled him. Despite his deep clawing of my hand and bone, I held firm in choke. And I did so until a long, wet snap filled my ears and the boy fell limp in my hands. I couldn’t let his body go, and I was left clutching his carcass as the boy and the garden and the sidewalk—and even the darkness—dissipated into nothing. And after the world had turned, I was left alone in the abyss, a weeping mass in the void.
The soiled sheets suffocated me and I clawed at the strong scent of urine covering my face. I lurched upward, grasping fragments of consciousness. I threw the sheets from the bed fearfully, letting them join the wet blankets and pillows piled on the left side. My slimy body tucked my knees into my chin and cradled my shaking mass.
I couldn’t close my eyes; I refused entrance back into the nightmare I’d escaped. I stared into the soft moonlight coming through the blinds, hoping the day wasn’t far off. I rose wearily from the bed, neared the window, and pulled the cord with angst. The blinds raised slowly, a dark street lined with cars and shrubbery my only greeting. I sighed in relief.
But as I stared contentedly at the scene, a young boy came bounding along the walk, stopping short and looking directly at me from its edge. I pounded the window and shrieked as the faceless boy stared at me, the muffled words from outside a clear whispering in my ears. “Do not touch me, for the end weighs upon me” they said, scoring themselves onto my brain. My body broke the window, the building telling me two stories in descent, a deep bite of cement reaching up to meet me.
The glass sheathed into my arms didn’t hurt, and neither did the broken bones jutting out in all directions. All that mattered was the pain I felt at reaching for the laughing boy, watching my death with formless face. The final broken breaths leaving my body, I swear I saw a golden gleam in his fleeting profile, a last testament to a broken something I failed to grasp. I choked a cry, but the boy bounded happily around the corner of the block, leaving me in a lifeless shudder before the void returned and never ended.
Thank you for taking the time to read this story. I hope you enjoyed it and will look forward to the others I write in the future.
To my father, for his silence so that my stories could speak for themselves.