The days and happiness that were surrounded by flowers have no meaning
Because they always reached you who was smiling nearby
That kind of a world you were in, that I was in
Is now too far away for even a voice to reach
The deep rain and the faint nights
I'll wait for the day they return
Your Flower and Rain, My Voice by Gumi
My chest feels painful and tight, and I can't breathe. I try to call for help, but there is no breath to call with. And I know then that I am going to die now. Peacefully, quietly, I will pass away from this world. This is how my story will end.
It is ironic that I dream of spring now, of blooms and buds and birds. The butterflies that flickered like jewels in the wind and fluttered into my garden. The soft clouds that scattered across the light warm skies. The soft murmur of voices that I could hear over the garden wall.
That last thought gives me pause. My life has always consisted of my house and my garden and I; nothing more, nothing less. In truth, I feel a little empty now, looking over my life so objectively like this. It's too late, but I find myself wondering: could I have done more?
No. I could not have.
The answer hits me hard, even though it is something that I have known since childhood. The garden, the house, and I. That's all.
The cold seeps into my bones like winter.
Is this all? Is this it?
I hope my next life is filled with spring.
Alleria is more like a butterfly than a living being: delicate, ephemeral, and short-lived. Her health has always been unbalanced, her translucent skin easy to bruise. Even more than that, it seems as though her mind itself has never been quite attached to the living. She has always spent most of her time dreaming, her waking hours seeming more like the dreams than her slumber. In truth, she has never felt the hard gritty emotions of hunger and want, or if so, only in a vague way as we do in dreams.
Because of her fragile health and temperament, Alleria is reborn frequently, death claiming her much too early and far too often. She is a soul not meant to live; her personality too frail, too inclined to wander into the realms of the dead. And yet, she strives toward life as a moth to a flame, regardless of the failures that came before. In her secret, quiet, fearless heart, she is looking for something.
I feel the stirring of a soft warm breeze across my cheeks and the unmistakable scent of lilac and freesia. I open my eyes a crack, and glimpse a small slice of clear blue afternoon sky through my lashes. A soft sigh escapes my lips.
Where am I? I thought I was dead, and yet...even as I think the thought, I realize something is wrong. I'm supposed to be dead, for heaven's sake.
Maybe I am dead, and I don't realize. I wiggle my toes, and, feeling their reassuring squirming, cross that off my mental list of possibilities with more than a little relief.
Perhaps I am truly alive. Perhaps I didn't die after all. A tentative bud of hope sprouts in my chest.
But it had hurt so much. My heart contracts painfully, and my eyes open. Two small concerned eyes stare back into my own.
Are you alright, Allie? The dandan asks, sitting back on his heels as I slowly ease myself upright.
I grasp my head in my hands. I...I'm fine. More than fine, actually. My mind feels clear, free of its usual constant aching, and my body is light and healthy. Then my newly limber mind realizes the oddity of the dandan's speech.
I glance up at the lavender and cream dandan. Pan...? Pan twitches his ears and looks at me politely.
Oh, no. No, no, no. I've gone mad after all. My dear pet and companion, Pan, has spoken to me. Asked after my health, like a civilized person!
Please calm down, Alleria. Pan says dryly, observing my distress. Even when he didn't speak, he's always had a knack of knowing when I'm upset.
You're not supposed to talk, Pan, I say, my voice coming out more accusatory than I intended.
Pan seems affronted, and says stiffly, Well, excuse me, Alleria, for choosing to accompany you on a very perilous and mysterious journey.
I shake my head slowly, feeling as though I am plagued by a cloud of confusion. I don't understand. My voice breaks on the last word, and Pan softens. He snuggles into my arms, and I immediately calm, feeling his familiar silky fur against my skin. What's going on, Pan? I whisper softly, stroking his fur.
Pan half-closes his eyes, nestling into my fingers. I'm not entirely sure, actually. I just felt you leaving and followed you to this world.
I frown. This world? What do you mean?
Pan looks up at me slowly. You haven't noticed? This isn't our world. It's...different.
I pause for a moment, digesting Pan's words. How can that be? This is our house. I glance around, looking for the proof. See, there's the door you accidentally stuck your paw through last summer. Sister was so mad. I scoot over to the wooden framework to show him. She put a little flower sticker over the tear...where was it again? My forehead crinkles as I run my fingers over the smooth paper, finding no irregularities that would indicate imperfection.
It's not there, Allie, Pan breathes fearfully.
I scowl at Pan and stand up, determined to prove him wrong. Let's look at the garden, then. Pan scampers after me as I pull the doors to the veranda open.
The garden is alight with blossoms and buds, bursting forth in shades of pink, white, and purple. Wisteria climbs up the cobblestone garden wall, twisted and gnarled and laced with pale blossoms. Hydrangeas in hues of pale blue huddle under the jacaranda tree. Sentinel foxgloves border the winding path to the outside gate, speckled warning in their throats. The sole lilac bush is shyly nestled next to the house, well dressed in mauve buds.
I've grown up in this garden; its varied residents are as familiar to me as my own small family. So when I look out across the sea of flowers with a sinking heart, it is finally now that I accept that this is not the world I died in.
Pan sniffs cautiously. It's rather accurate, isn't it? But the garden at home doesn't bloom all at the same time like this one does. His tone is guarded admiration.
Oh, Pan, where are we? I whisper softly.
Pan leaps up into my arms and nips me gently along the line of my jaw. Don't worry, Allie. It's alright. We just need to find our way back home. Let's go explore, alright?
I nod hesitantly, blinking back the threatening tears.
We make our way to the garden gate, and cautiously step out into the street. The cobblestone road is eerily empty and silent, devoid of any life. The storefronts are boarded up.
This is rather creepy, isn't it? Pan says in a hushed whisper, even though there's no reason to be quiet. We're standing in the central plaza, normally bustling with hundreds of shoppers. The fountain in the middle is chalky and dry.
I am about to voice my agreement when we hear a little sound. It is barely the sound of a leaf flying in the wind, but in the dead silence it is striking.
I whirl around at the same time as Pan, who arches his back and puffs up his fur, a low growl in the back of his throat.
The man pauses, mid-step into the courtyard. His face is a picture of mild bemusement. Hello, he says uncertainly. His voice is quiet and measured. He is not afraid of us.
Who are you? Pan barks, but his question sounds more like an accusation. He doesn't like strangers.
The man holds up his hands in a placating gesture. My name is Garet, he says apologetically. Pan only narrows his eyes. It's amazing how such a small creature can look so intimidating.
Where did you come from? Pan asks suspiciously.
Garet cautiously lowers one hand to point to the east. I rode in on the train on the main street, he says, turning his attention to me.
I frown. The old steam engine? That hasn't run in decades. Pan bristles his agreement, ever distrustful.
Garet only shrugs. It is the world of the impossible.
Even Pan is taken off his guard by this, and he relaxes his vigil momentarily in his bewilderment. What are you talking about?
Garet's face clouds with puzzlement. How did you get here if you don't even know—oh! A sudden revelation hits him and he stares at me speculatively. Are you, by chance, gifted?
N-not particularly, I say uncertainly. I'm a slow reader, and I'm not very good at math—
Garet waves away my insecurities. Not like that, he says impatiently. I'm asking you if you have the Sight.
I don't know, I whisper, my eyes large and round. Pan presses his side into my leg protectively. I d-died, and then I woke up here, with Pan.
At my words, Garet's face dawns with sudden comprehension. Of course, he murmurs to himself. Of course. He glances at me again. You don't know anything, then.
No, I mumble, looking down.
Garet nods to himself, then says gently, I'll explain it to you, don't worry. Then he looks around quickly. Actually, let's get back to your origin point. It's not safe here.
The place where you woke up, he clarifies. It's the center of this world.
Oh. It's this way, I point back to the direction of our cottage. Garet nods and walks alongside me. Pan trails behind me, never taking his eyes off Garet. He still doesn't trust him.
What is this place? I ask, starting to feel on edge as Garet keeps looking around, watching for something.
It has many names. People often call it the land of dreams, or the afterlife, but that is not true. I do not know what its real name is, but I have always called it Vortäuschen. This is the world which contains all that cannot and does not exist in an individual's life, Garet says distractedly. For many with unhappy lives, this means Vortäuschen is like heaven, a world far preferable to their miserable lives. There are those who seek Vortäuschen out voluntarily, in an attempt to escape reality. He pauses for a moment, lost in his own thoughts before continuing. But Vortäuschen is a place in the mind. You can only escape for so long before reality catches up.
What do you mean? What are you looking for? I query anxiously, as Garet stops once more to survey the surroundings carefully.
The Schatten, he said simply. They hover at the edge of Vortäuschen...they are demons, shadows. Sometimes they pretend to be living things, he adds darkly. But you can always tell them apart from that which is real by their flickering shadow. That, they cannot hide. Out of the corner of my eye I see Pan surreptitiously check Garet's shadow; it bobs only with his walking gait.
We reach the garden gate, and Garet walks through without preamble. Once inside the stone walls, he relaxes visibly. The Schatten will not come so close to the origin, he explains with a slight smile as he sits down on the veranda.
I sit down as well, and Pan hops into my lap. Garet, are you... I try to remember the word he used. Do you have the Sight?
He nods seriously. In the real world, I'm a clairvoyant. I'm able to see images of different places and times. I can tell Pan is impressed by this, although he tries to hide it.
Is that why you're here? I ask curiously.
Garet shrugs. Maybe. Who knows? I've never met anyone else who is able to visit another's Vortäuschen. He hesitates, then says, I don't think you're dead, really. The dead are more...well, it's more likely you're in some kind of suspended state in the real world.
I blink. I'm not dead? Before I can properly process the concept, Garet suddenly hisses with alarm, There's someone else here.
Of course there isn't, I say, startled, when I feel a waft of displaced air against my back.
Welcome back, Allie. Did you bring your friend?
I half-twist around from where I'm sitting to see a woman standing behind us. She's tall and stunning, with long golden hair that falls down to her hips in wavy tresses. Her pink lips are pulled up in a good-natured smile.
Who are you? I ask, even though I know the answer as soon as the words tumble out of my lips.
Silly girl, don't you know your own mother? she teases me gently. She smiles at Garet. Just let me know if you'd like anything to eat or drink, she says, and retreats into the cool shade of the house. Garet stares back at her wordlessly; I think he's quite taken with her. I'm quite taken with her, for that matter. I can see why my father fell in love with her at first sight.
But she's not real. The errant thought bubbles up and bile suddenly floods my mouth, fast and hard. I stumble to the hydrangea bushes and retch violently, coughing and gasping for air in between heaves. I am so full of grief and anger and regret and fear that it is overflowing, because this beautiful, kind shade is not my mother. My real mother is sleeping at the bottom of a cold, dark sea, where light will never reach her again. My real mother was a coward.
When the convulsions finally cease, I feel oddly empty. I come to realize that Garet is patting my back and Pan is curled anxiously around my neck.
I've never seen someone throw up in Vortäuschen before, Garet says, and he sounds so sincerely impressed that I have to laugh.
Pan glares at Garet and nuzzles my cheek comfortingly. How are you feeling, Allie? he asks me anxiously.
I smile and stroke Pan's head affectionately. I feel better, thank you. My smile fades and I murmur, I can't stay here.
Garet nods gravely. It's not a good idea to stay in Vortäuschen for too long. It shrinks as time goes on—or rather, the Schatten become bolder and move in, restricting the outer borders.
I pause, then ask uneasily, And what happens if a Schatten catches you?
Garet looks straight at me. You die, he says simply.
My heart constricts and I feel panic setting in. I don't want to die, I say faintly. Pan licks my fingers reassuringly as he feels my heart rate increase.
Nor I, Garet assures me. Let's head to the train station. I came in by the train, we should be able to escape by it.
I nod, and we set off once more, Garet taking the lead.
WakeNote to the confused reader: This is a separate storyline from the previous section. Consider it a parallel universe.
For one chrysanthemum to bloom
a nightingale has cried
For one chrysanthemum to bloom
thunder has pealed
in the dark clouds.
Flower, like my sister returning
from distant, youthful by ways
of throat-tight longing
to stand by the mirror.
Flower, like my sister standing
by the mirror, just returning
from far away, distant byways of youth,
where she was racked with longing and lack.
For your yellow petals to open,
last night such a frost fell,
while I could not get to sleep.
Beside a Chrysanthemum by Seo Jeong-ju
I first saw him when I was seven. Mother was holding my hand as we watched Aster crying in the garden over a small mound of freshly turned soil. It was a little bird that she had rescued from a hawk, small and shivering. She had doted on it, fed it with an eyedropper every hour, made sure it was comfortable in a small wooden box with linens stuffed inside.
But it had all been for naught. When she woke up the next morning, the bird was still and cold. He probably had internal bleeding, my other sister, Addie, observed discompassionately.
Aster buried it by herself, her small fingers searching through the rich black soil as she sobbed and hiccuped. I moved forward to help, but my mother pulled me back abruptly. You'll make yourself faint again, Alleria, she said sharply.
We watched Aster bury the little bird in the garden in the late afternoon sunlight. The rays lengthened and stretched over the veranda, creeping up through the garden to our toes.
That was when I saw him. The sun was in my eyes, but I could see a man standing by the bird's grave watching Aster. The way he stood reminded me of a vulture; he was slightly stooped, leaning forward as though waiting for a sacrifice. Then I moved my head so my eyes weren't in the sun anymore, and I saw he wasn't a man after all.
He had the body of a man, with legs, arms and a torso, but his head was that of a bat. He had large, round eyes, a long snout and tall ears. The sight of him standing there silent and motionless suddenly filled me with fear.
Mother, I whispered, tearing my eyes away from him to tug at her sleeve urgently. There's a man there, standing by Aster.
Mother pulled her sleeve out of my grasp. Stop that, Alleria, she snapped.
I glanced back at the man fearfully—but he was gone. It was just Aster and the grave and the garden. He was there, I saw him—
Enough. Be quiet and sit down, Alleria, your father is coming. Mother smoothed her dress nervously.
After one more quick look at the garden, I slowly sat down, watching my mother. She anxiously tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. She desperately loved my father, I knew that. But she was afraid of him, too. Afraid of the things he said and sometimes the things he did.
Then my father came in with the smell of sunshine and sweat and swung us all in the air, one by one, until all of his daughters were giggling, and until all thoughts of the bird, the man, and our mother had vanished.
After the incident at the grave, it seemed that a threshold had been reached. I started seeing waking visions. People, objects, even nightmarish creatures appeared in the corner of my eye, only to disappear when looked at directly. They frightened me terribly, of course. I was so young. People looked at me strangely when I mentioned them, so I learned quickly not to discuss these sightings. If only it were as easy to rid myself of them as it was to keep silent.
Not that any did me any harm—they simply went about their business, whatever it seemed to be, their objectives hidden to me. In a way, they were much like ghosts. They often passed through objects and never seemed to notice their surroundings, whether it be a crowded plaza or the middle of a lake. As I grew older, I unconsciously watched for them. I always knew if one of them appeared; they seemed so much more real than their surroundings. One could not help but look at them. Even the most mundane objects looked so strange and out of place in this world.
I see them too sometimes, you know. Aster said to me one night, as we snuggled next to each other under the blankets. I said nothing; I knew Aster sometimes lied to make me feel better, and in a way that stung more than Addie's outright disbelief. I mean it, she insisted, seeing my face. She propped herself up on her elbows. Not all the time like you, but...sometimes, when I just wake up, or if I'm about to sleep, I'll see something out of the corner of my eye. But then I'll wake up completely, or fall asleep, and it goes away. Aster said, watching me.
You were probably just dreaming, I said sourly, feeling as though she was making fun of me.
Whatever, Aster said shortly, rolling over and turning her back to me, and I knew I had hurt her feelings. I told myself that I didn't care and it was her fault for lying, but I found myself nursing a small hope that she was telling the truth.
As time went on, the visions grew more frequent, and with them my bouts of illness. I became sick more frequently and for longer periods of time, but whether that was the cause or the effect of the visions I couldn't be sure. I often spent weeks indoors, too weak to do anything other than sleep and look into the garden outside. As a result, my studies flagged and my father hired a private tutor to teach me on days when I felt well enough to learn.
Aster and Addie were both relatively healthy; in that way, they had both taken after our father. I, on the other hand, had taken after my mother, who was often ill, although with what I could not quite say. Doctors often visited her, but found nothing wrong with her, physically at least. But it was clear to everyone in our household that something inside her had been broken; she often had spells where she heard voices that weren't there, and there were many nights when we could hear her talking and shrieking to herself. My sisters and I avoided her, as though she had a catching disease, but I think the truth was simply that she scared us. In our secret hearts, we feared that we too were susceptible to her weakness, her wildness, her...madness.
The mysterious sickness took our mother in the spring, and I think in a way we were relieved. But life goes on, and our lives continued. That's not to say we were unaffected—we were young, and no matter how stoic or strong, an event of that nature must take its toll.
A week passed, then several more. One warm afternoon as I sat on the veranda enjoying the sunlight, Aster came in through the garden gate. She was disheveled and bleeding from the corner of her mouth.
Aster, what happened to you? I asked, so surprised that I was unable to ask if she was all right.
What does it look like? I got in a fight, she snapped as she stalked into the house. I paused for a moment, startled yet again. A fight? I would have expected it of hot-headed Addie, who spoke as often with her fists as her words. But Aster? Aster was always the mediator, the peacekeeper, the one to solve problems with words.
After a moment's pause, I followed my sister anxiously. What do you mean, a fight? You never fight. Why would you—
to be continued when I remember what I was going to write sigh
Extra Special FanartAll by the exceedingly talented Lyre.
Oh my gosh. Best Valentine's present ever, hands down. Thank you Lyre! ;u; ♥
Pan is the companion of Alleria's heart and her closest friend. He wandered into her garden one day, and has never left. He is deeply loyal to Allie and comforts her in her frequent dark moods. Pan guides Allie when the going gets tough; he is more connected and aware of the world than she. He does have his snarky side though, and often plays pranks on the street passerby adjacent to Alleria's garden.
A ceramic Pan done in Ceramics class. Unfortunately the proper glaze colors weren't available, so I had to settle with a blue-purple rather than lilac.
❖ Coding, art and writing by Solo; please do not use without permission.
❖ Background tile image by Impmon
❖ "Jellyka Wonderland" font by Jellyka Nerevan