Passing

Passing

by Jeffrey Lee | Art by Helena Ho

It was the hope of humanity: the clocktower and the city that was cast under its light. Raised upon the summit of the tallest hill and tossed together by the hands of gods, it overlooked all beings in its eminence and nobility. With an elegant clock face on each side and a dazzling light that shone from the zenith, it was the ideal of achievement. The hands upon its ivory faces moved, shifted, ticked not to the passage of time, but to the progression of existence. And so it was through this, that the clocktower became synced with the hearts of a particular being, its rhythmic pulse beating as one with that of another. It was through this, that its light gazed upon the meager, primitive creature that was human, commanding the animal to return its gaze. It was through this, that the animal began to vie for intelligence, and created houses, then buildings, then skyscrapers, then a city— a futile pursuit of the tower’s brilliance. Humans could not merely exist— they were chosen. And so it is through this that a beast becomes human, and that a human becomes god. The hands march on steadily and deliberately, easing the minds of those who reside in the city.

Brandon splashed some water on his face before looking back at the mirror. Not yet. He sighed as he scratched at his scalp with both hands, running his fingers through his hair to split up the various knots. As he finished tidying up, he took a final glance at the mirror, adjusting his jacket before forcing a brief smile on his lips. His face relaxed and was replaced with a look of reproach, having caught sight of the flash of red cloth from the periphery of the mirror’s reflection. Don’t think about it. He sighed once more, this time louder than the last, before squaring his shoulders and striding out the bathroom.

As he hastily made his way towards the front door of the apartment, Brandon felt something nudge against his leg. Recognizing the soft sensation of fur brush against him, he looked down and smiled at the small feline gently rubbing her head on his ankle. The cat froze and looked up at the boy, just as he was bending over to pick her up she darted backward and mewed loudly at him. Crouched and with his hands placed on his knees, he stared contemplatively at the creature, who glared back with cold, emerald eyes, accentuated by the ebony coat. Beautiful. With his right hand stretched out, he called out to her. 

“Stella!” he cooed. She ignored him and scampered off in the opposite direction.  Someday. The boy sighed and stood back up, glancing over at the glass fishbowl that stood on the table next to the door. He gathered his belongings— a large bag that he slung over his shoulder— and walked over to the table. Residing in the fishbowl was a crimson betta fish, its fins spilling out from the sides of its body like blood gushing from an open wound. He picked up the blue-tinted can next to the bowl and tilted some of its contents into the clear water. The fish, which had been swimming lazily in a circle, now stopped and was gulping eagerly at the flakes of fish food scattered across the water’s surface. Pathetic. Brandon chuckled a little to himself and tapped at the glass with his knuckles. Just as he moved to open the front door, he noticed, out of the corner of his eye, a letter that sat at the foot of the door. He opened the letter and read the first line.

Rent. 

“Mom!” he hollered, as he turned his head to face the apartment’s empty foyer. She won’t hear you. Hearing only the dull hum of the air purifier, he shook his head and tossed the letter into the pile with the rest of the letters. End of this week. He checked his watch, opened the door, and left the apartment.

“Remember me?” A loud, high-pitched voice rang in his ears. Brandon flinched as a young girl, about half of his age, materialized in front of him with her scarlet, silky dress billowing out from around her. He ignored her.

“Come on! What are we going to play today?” She hopped on the tips of her toes, her slight form lingering in the air before descending. Brandon eyed his surroundings nervously.

Ignore her. Forget her.

He shut his eyes, looked down and walked briskly to the elevator, and jabbed furiously at the button on the elevator control panel for the first floor. Bright numbers flashed above the elevator doorway on the floor indicator panel: 9981. The doors of the elevator closed with a loud clang, causing the bars that lined the front and back walls to ring and jeer.

The lights flashed: 9940. Brandon finally opened his eyes. Advertisements plastered the sides of the elevator, their vibrant colors saturating what would otherwise be the bleak gray of the walls. Behind him, the glass wall lined with metal bars exhibited the cityscape. The faint presence of the clocktower loomed over all of the other buildings to the extent that, even from the higher floors where the elevator was currently descending from, Brandon was forced to crane his neck to glimpse at the indistinct image of the clock and the light; however, upon doing so, he felt relieved, albeit somewhat weary.

The lights continued to flash: 7953. Now, the light of the clocktower could not be seen from his position. As he descended towards the groundlevel, he was met with the same image of the city that greeted him each day in the elevator: smoke and ash pervading through the streets and atmosphere, flecks of flickering lights scattered throughout and lighting up the smog like what would have been stars to the night sky, countless vehicles buzzing and scuttling and swarming the neatly organized roads. But it was silent in the elevator. It was lonely. Brandon began to feel sweat trickling down the sides of his cheeks and he shuffled nervously in place. His eyes darted between the absence of the clocktower outside and the empty, ever-expanding void of the corners of the elevator as he rubbed his fingers against the strap of his bag. A familiar temptation emerged from those vacant corners, offering itself to his mind. Fear it. He stifled a slight whimper from his lips. A chill fluttered across his fingers, his hands, his arms, his neck, his eyes, his ears. It tenderly whispered of its oblivion and gently dripped its ink into his pupils.

6842. “Th-Thana?” He hesitated, as if testing the familiar name on his lips. He brought his fingertips to his face, startled by his own words. The girl peeked at him from the corner of the elevator, tilting her head as if she were there from the very beginning. He glanced at her before abruptly turning his head to look away in shame. He opened his mouth, paused momentarily, contemplating his next words, “What do you wanna do?” She’s just imaginary. The boy scratched his head fiercely. 

4091. “Really?” The girl’s eyes lit up and she leapt away from the blankets of darkness that were draped over her shoulders, revealing a completely different set of garments from before: an oversized red T-shirt paired with black shorts. Her excitement sent her body levitating into the air, which was followed by the hollow thunk of her head colliding with the elevator’s ceiling. She yelped and rubbed her head. Tears welled up in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. Weak

2119. Brandon panicked, his eyes darting around the room as he reached into his bag— a practiced motion. He paused, withdrew his hand, and patted Thana awkwardly on her head. Troubled and consumed at once by her distress, he told her about the confections dealer that he heard comes by occasionally to the outskirts of the city, offering to take her there. She grinned and looked up at him. 

“And after,” Thana exclaimed. “Can we go to the Meadows?” Brandon froze and looked away, his face paling. “Remember? It’s where the sun sets and falls into the ocean. You always said that we would go there someday! And it’s not too far from here!” A light laughter escaped from his lips. Don’t say such horrendous things. He will entertain the child just for a little while. 

The elevator control panel suddenly flickered, and the button indicating floor 9981 lit up. Brandon gasped softly as the elevator halted abruptly and shot up past the floors that he had passed moments before. The numbers on the floor indicator panel raced faster, faster, faster,  3423, 4177, 5930, 7001, 8887, passing by the abandoned floors and vacant rooms and finally reaching the top floor where the residents waited. 9981. In those mere seconds, Brandon rummaged desperately through his bag, this time decisively pulling out his Trainer: a bundle of metal cables attached to a convenient, rectangular controller. In a rehearsed routine, he wrapped the chords tightly around his head, forming a metal crown that dug sharply into his forehead, and turned on the switch. A current of pure pain coursed through the cables, piercing through the boy’s scalp and forehead like thorns. Focus! Focus! Focus! The girl that once stood by his side disintegrated, returning once more to the shadows. Endure! Persevere! Pursue! Now jolted, now awake, now pure, the man greeted the incoming residents with a determined smile.

Brandon tapped his fingers impatiently against the steering wheel, his eyes trained on the red light above the intersection. The cars rumbled, pulsed, nudged, gasped, and trembled in its place, their immobilized movements in unison with vehicles trapped within their vicinity. A single red light held everything in place— a lonely contract that remained tethered to the colony, binding their mandibles and thoraxes, leaving only their incessant drones and hisses. They held their breaths. Restraint. Then there was the green light. They breathed. Relief. And so began their civilized swarm. 

He turned the corner and parked the car in front of the apartment building, stepped out, and slammed the door shut. It must have been his fatigue from school or from work that brought him to this point. He glanced at the small package in his hands: a small bag with an assortment of wrapped candies and pastries. Frustrated, he blushed and scratched at the back of his neck. How embarrassing. He turned his head upwards and exhaled, staring at the lights that drifted in the flow of the smog. Blotted stars became fluorescent signs and signs became advertisements as neon letters conjoined into teasing provocations, motivations, encouragements, and creeping glow worms that sucked and penetrated every visible orifice to bestow the blessings of desire and dissatisfaction. Gazing upwards, the polluted sky filled Brandon with a sense of pride; however, the smoke suffused with the decaying twilight of the setting sun provoked a bitterness that squirmed at the back of his throat. The vermillion mantle brushed against his cheek and nape; it teased at his nostrils with sickly-sweet nectar; it intertwined with his fingertips, inviting him towards a promise beyond the lights, beyond the sky, beyond the earth. He parted his lips to taste it, and they kissed its nothingness, transiently chasing away the illusions of light. It was the same bitterness. It tasted like blood. He stood there, dazed, but the lights of the city reminded him of who he was and he retched, rejecting the eerie offer. He looked away and peered frightfully at the bag in his hands.

Glares. Snickers. Whispers. He fixed his eyes to the floor and strutted urgently towards the apartment building. How shameful. As he approached the entrance, in the corner of his vision he noticed a boy of about the same age as him— haggard, frail, naked, and filthy— slumped against the wall of the building. He noticed how nearby pedestrians walked in a wide circle around the boy so as to avoid his presence. Brandon hesitantly approached the boy and inspected his figure. Long lustrous locks were draped over the boy’s shoulders, his face was smeared with soot and ash, a stream of drool dribbled out of the corner of his mouth which hung slightly ajar, and clutched within his cadaverous hands was a violet purse. Brandon stepped closer to the creature, a sneer beginning to form on his lips. He reached into the bag of confections and flung a wrapped morsel at the naked flesh. The beast awoke from its slumber and hungrily snatched the treat. Pathetic. He tossed a second piece. Pathetic. A savage, insatiable thirst. Another piece flew from his fingertips. Pathetic. Pathetic. Another. Pathetic. Pathetic. Pathetic. It wasn’t enough until all was spent. Pathetic. Mindless indulgence.

The creature scrambled across the pavement, gingerly picking up the trampled treasures before stowing them into his purse. He flailed and writhed about the streets, his desperate movements entangled between legs that kicked and shoved at him, struggling to savor his momentary pleasures. Brandon surveyed his work. This is how it should be. Several passersby stopped in their paths, encircling and observing the performance in wonder. Watch how he crawls and cowers and grovels. Dancing! Dancing! What an impressive display! The adults began clapping their hands. This will surely sell well. The children wailed. The primate stumbled. Isn’t it all so romantic? The hands of the clock moved forward. Discarded bits of food were now being hurled. How benevolent of us. Brandon laughed, reveling in his accomplishment and assimilation.  Be grateful. Then, the city halted. The crowd gaped in stunned silence when the heathen abruptly ceased his movements, rudely disrupting the organized chaos. He slumped against the wall, sighed contently, and nibbled on a pastry clasped tightly in his fingers. And finally, the crowd dispersed. Not enough.

Brandon dashed into the apartment building, shame bleeding through flushed cheeks as his heart throbbed and pounded against the cage of flesh. He raced through the doors, through the lobby, past the little girl who waved to him and tugged at his arm desperately, and finally into the elevator. The elevator ascended towards his destination. Throughout the entire voyage, he kept the Trainer on, clutching it to the sides of his head as he focused his eyes on the ceiling— pressing, pushing, forgetting.

His mother was waiting for him when he opened the door. The lights were off and the large window facing the cityscape was left wide open. She stood before the city’s entrance, basking in its dazzling lights. The faint glow of manufactured stars permeated throughout the room and faintly outlined the frame of her silhouette. She faced away from the doorway, gazing intently through the open window with the cat curled up by her feet, undisturbed by Brandon’s entrance. Sneaking quietly into the apartment, Brandon eyed his mother as he slowly made his way towards his room. His mother suddenly crouched over and reached her palm out to the cat, who acknowledged the human’s proposal and nuzzled into the hand with a soft purr. The room was still for those brief moments.

“You returned later than usual. What were you doing?” The cat opened her eyes, her vivid, viridescent irises piercing the tranquil night along with the resounding sound of the woman’s voice. Brandon halted his movements.

“I got distracted.” He muttered. It’s all because of that little girl! 

His mother nodded languidly. “You can’t be doing that.” Her voice was softer than usual. “You mustn’t lose sight of what is important.” She turned to him and pointed out the window. “Do you see the clocktower?” Brandon was silent. His mother was speaking strangely, her voice rang with a sense of playfulness that made her seem almost triumphant and mischievous. Her callous and rigid nature were replaced as if possessed. But despite it all, his mother felt very much the same. He could still feel her gaze probing him, as if searching for something more. He could still see the wrinkles along her face quiver from the same fear and desperation. He could still feel the warmth of her presence, a warmth that he had constantly sought out and feared— an oppressive and gratifying warmth. As the silence persisted, the frail figure suddenly clutched the sides of his head. She demanded that he look at it. Throughout the night, her hands remained firmly fastened to their position as she whispered about the city, the lights, and the clocktower. She spoke of the clocktower’s beauty and magnificence. “You must look at it. You can’t be happy otherwise. You can’t live otherwise” She filled the night endlessly with stories and prayers— stories of how the clocktower’s light guided humanity to freedom, stories of how the city thrives from the movement of the hands and how the hands thrive from the movement of the city, stories of heroes who climbed to the top of clocktower and became gods. “That’s why I created you,” she murmured. “So that you will take me there.”

When Brandon woke up the next day, he found his mother lying in her bed with her face contorted in a stiff grin. She was dead. He stared at her corpse for a few minutes before leaving the room. He picked up a chair, moved it next to the table in the foyer, and slumped into the cushion. His mother’s purse was still on the table to his right side. To his left, the window remained open, providing the usual view of the cityscape. In front of him, across the room, the betta fish swam contently in its listless circle while Stella pawed at the table the fishbowl sat on. He wasn’t sure how to feel. You monster. Shouldn’t he be crying right now? Shouldn’t he be mourning? His indifference and the sameness of everything irked him. Shouldn’t something change? As he sat there deep in thought, seething in his vexation, he reached into his mother’s purse to his right side and rummaged through its contents, instinctively seeking out for some form of reassurance or sentimental reaction. 

He selected an item, wrapping his fingers around it before withdrawing it from the bag. Holding it up to his eyes, he inspected and caressed its small cylindrical form. It was a laser pointer, its size just small enough to fit snugly in his grip, although the slick metal of its exterior made it difficult to grasp. He twirled the device between his fingers and casually flipped on the switch, causing it to emit a narrow beam of light indicated by the bright green speck that appeared on the floor. He smiled and motioned the laser across the room towards the cat. Stella perked up instantly, her eyes flashing towards the point that jolted in her direction. Arching her back, she fixed her emerald gaze on the light. She pounced. He yanked the light just out of reach. She pounced once more. The green speck flitted away, teasing and taunting. Again. It darted away. Again. It eluded her. Again and again and again and again, the two locked in a frightful, intoxicating dance. Finally, before the doorway, she grasped the speck with her paws. Brandon froze. But it didn’t satisfy her. She hissed and yowled as she pounced again and again on the absent existence of the light. Upwards. He thrust the beam of light up and up, past the table and directed it at the fishbowl that sat on top of it. Her pupils constricted, she arched back once more, and leapt into the air. Freedom. She jerked her hind legs up onto the table, toppling over the fishbowl. The bowl shattered on the floor, its contents spilling out, as the small, fragile world of the crimson fish disintegrated into the smoke that began to creep in through the open window. The fish flopped helplessly in the midst of it all, gasping, gulping, breathing, its eyes seeming to bulge from their sockets. Brandon stared at the pitiful creature. He felt the direction of his body being seized from him, as if invisible hands crept in with the smoke from the open windows and wrapped around his legs, his chest, his neck, his brain. At this moment, the epiphany came upon him. Freedom. He was free. Stella landed softly on the ground and prowled triumphantly towards the fish, whose flailing movements were becoming more and more desperate. Suddenly, two claws were planted firmly on the fish’s flesh, and its movements gradually ceased. Stella prodded the corpse with her claws before picking it up in her mouth and strutting away. 

Your mother had bound you for so long. The hands seem to beckon to him from outside the window, from the depths of the city. Now she has abandoned you. Wasn’t he free now? He scrambled to the open window, an emerging elation bursting from his chest. He fixed his gaze to the city and admired the light of the clocktower that shone vividly from where he stood. The invisible hands tugged at him, demanding that he leap for the tower. You could jump and you could make it. Couldn’t he? They embraced him, reassuring him of his value. You could do anything. Couldn’t he? Yet he saw the clocktower for what it was meant to be: a spectacle that transcended everyone and everything. Then he felt the encroaching void. And as he stood at the edge of the window, trembling and disoriented, he clutched himself tightly and looked down, his shoulders drooping as the chains of freedom steadily sunk into his skin.

After several days had passed, a letter arrived at the apartment. Brandon opened it and read the first line.

Eviction.

In the days that followed, Thana would try to cheer him up during the long drives from his school to the apartment, but he ignored her and would grit his teeth as he sat through traffic. 

Whenever he reached the apartment building, he would pass by the usual crowd of pedestrians who swarmed the distinct corner where the heathen once rested. Some were singing, some were hollering and cheering, some flung clumps of fodder, some had their heads bowed down and their hands folded together in mimicked sympathy. Out of curiosity, Brandon had once tried to investigate what was going on at the heart of the mass, but could only perceive stifled whimpers and cries from the din of the throng. When asking the citizens, they told him that it was to motivate the heathen— to cure and save him. Weren’t they being generous? He will thank them when he admits he’s happier as a part of the city.  Doesn’t he see something greater than life? Doesn’t he see the wondrous clocktower? “He told us he can’t, can you believe that? No one can live like that. He might as well die.” The citizens shuddered at the thought and covered their mouths as if having uttered a forbidden obscenity. Such a horrendous thought.

After receiving the eviction notice, Brandon was told to pack all of his belongings and move out within three days. When he responded that that would not be possible, he was threatened with something along the lines of a legal complaint, a court hearing, and other things that he didn’t understand. “It’s time that you face reality. Either pay up or get out.” He stated that he just needed some more time and handed over the money he had left. So he had until two weeks or the police would force him out instead. During this time, he packed everything into boxes and discarded them.

The night he thought he had everything thrown away, Brandon arrived at the barren apartment, exhausted and spent, and collapsed on the floor in front of the window. The lights were off and the city lights that pervaded throughout the room gave everything a ghostly hue. As he lay there on the floor, the invisible hands crept in and seized his legs. He turned to face the cityscape, the clocktower looming in the distance. Face it. Pursue it. He approached the windowsill and confronted everything once more. And he saw his reality— his freedom. It should have been inspiring and amazing. That’s what all the advertisements said. That’s what his mother said. Why are you scared? He just needed to reach the clocktower and that beautiful light. That was what he wanted. No one could tell him what to do. Free to pursue his desires, he would own and decide everything. He was bound to this burden of choice and it was a burden made only for him the moment his mother beamed at him when she held his infant form in her hands. Everything was right in front of him, and if he failed to reach it, then he would have failed everyone— the city, his mother, himself. That’s right. The hands beckoned to him, but as he got closer, he looked down and saw the steep descent that threatened him. He stumbled backwards and fell back onto the floor. The emptiness of the room seemed to corner him. He was so alone and so afraid. The velvety mantle of the clear night caressed his skin, paralyzing him with its modest relief, consuming him with the numbness of its gentle embrace. Take control. He climbed back onto his knees and searched desperately for his Trainer, but it was in vain. He needed to stay human, he could not afford to be distracted. Without the Trainer, in his frantic endeavor to retain what humanity was left of him, he grasped his throat tightly and squeezed, pressing on against his most primitive instincts. Throughout the night, he would strangle and suffocate himself until he passed out and his grip loosened, he would then awaken not long after only to persist in his perpetual, futile self-strangulation. Die. Live. Suffocate, sleep, and breath. Suffocate, sleep, and breath. Live. Die. And in the climax of his ceaseless, stimulating struggle, he would convulse and retch violently— seized by the hands— before vomiting and, in the preservation of his self-actualization, gorging on his fresh refuse. Die. Live. Live. Die. Live. Every night, he partook in his agonizing, endless ritual: suffocating, sleeping, breathing, puking, consuming, suffocating, sleeping, breathing, puking, consuming, and suffocating some more. It wasn’t enough. By the end of every long night, he would clutch his sickly body and weep. Pitiful. But he couldn’t let himself believe that.

Brandon tapped his fingers impatiently against the steering wheel, his eyes trained on the green light above the intersection. He wasn’t quite sure what to do. On his way to the apartment, during his usual drive from school, he found himself stuck in the intersection and unable to move forward. In the middle of the intersection, the heathen who he had often passed by on the streets was now standing idly with a playful, relaxed look on his face as he stared at the red sun through all of the smoke and fluorescent signs. And, much to everyone’s frustration, he was indifferent to his surroundings. Thana, who sat next to Brandon in the car, continued to tell him about the Meadows and how nice it would be for them to go there. Brandon told her to be quiet because he was trying to focus. Many cars were gathered at the intersection, and their restlessness to push forward urged them to nudge against each other and compress towards the center where the heathen stood and where Brandon’s vehicle remained trapped in place.

“Maybe you can go around?” Thana suggested. But with all of the cars pressing against his own at all sides, it couldn’t be easily performed. She offered another proposal: “maybe you can go down and talk with him?” Brandon was beginning to become uneasy as he felt her words gnaw at his patience. The sound of car horns began to blare from the vehicles in the vicinity as the city became more and more restless with this hindrance. As the cars began to inch closer and closer, and as the clamor of the sounds from car horns became louder and louder, Brandon became conscious of his seclusion. He was estranged from the city— an innocent criminal. The hands of the clocktower— the invisible hands of the city— seized him and moved him. They urged him to push forward, to press on, to pursue. He glanced at the green traffic light, and he glanced at the boy on the street. Thana peeked at him and she knew. She told him to wait, he was just one of many, regardless of whether or not he moved, it wouldn’t matter. He turned to look at her, his lips quivering with pure terror and anticipation. He pressed onto the gas pedal and he accelerated towards the boy— chasing and escaping.

The boy’s body lay before the car upon impact. The city halted once more. Drivers got out of the vehicles to watch. Some gasped and murmured at the sight of the body strewn across the road; others stood still, crossed their arms, and watched with aloof expressions on their faces. Brandon stepped out of his car, reached into his bag, and pulled out the Trainer. He marched up to the body as the citizens shared amused whispers and glances amongst themselves. Suddenly, a groan was produced from the boy’s lips as his body shifted in place and the crowd that now surrounded the scene of the incident began to talk amongst themselves.

“How strange.”

“How could this happen?”

“The poor thing!”

Brandon stepped over the body and straddled the boy’s chest. He took the Trainer in his hands, slowly grasping the metal chords of the device. Together, stronger. He stretched the chords between his hands, and just when his victim from underneath him awakened, he wrapped the wires tightly around his victim’s neck and pulled. The crowd was now louder than ever, standing to the side, observing.

The boy’s eyes flew open as he came to the realization of his strangulation. He stared, terrified, at the man who stood above him. Out of desperation, he reached his hands out and clawed and scratched at whatever kept his neck tightly bound. The spectators began to yell and cheer, clapping their hands as guttural screams of approval resounded from their throats.

This is your coming of age.

This is your rite of passage.

Their screams echoed, chilling yet monotonous, as if their words had been recited and customary. Each of their individual wills— the will of the city— came together as the invisible hands that seized Brandon’s mind and bound him to his purpose. 

Brandon firmly maintained his grip as the body underneath him flailed and thrashed and convulsed and scratched and screamed. It clung to its life, gasping, gulping, unbreathing, surviving, dying, its eyes seeming to bulge from their sockets as they darkened. An opaque liquid trickled from the edge of its mouth through hollow respirations. Brandon looked away, indifferent to the fingernails that dug and pierced through his hands, drawing crude, raw streams of blood. The spectators were enraptured by this performance.

Then, there it was, the passing of existence. The victim’s movements suddenly ceased, and the crowd became hushed, their faces abruptly sullen.

“You monster!”

“How could you?”

“How terrible!”

“A life wasted!”

Brandon was stunned, wasn’t this what they wanted? The hands of the city slid around his neck and cupped his cheeks. This is what you want. He grasped at his neck. His mutilated hands dripped scarlet— the pus of shame that oozed from every orifice, every pore, in this sickly corpse. Clawing, grasping, scratching, killing. Seeking escape from his freedom— an escape from the hands— he seized its source: the cheap pulsation of his heart.

Someone screamed. “He’s trying to escape!”

He looked around him, mortified. The citizens gave chase, their faces contorted in hopeful grins as the thrill of the prospect of another hunt commanded them. Brandon hastily got to his feet and looked around, seeking for his final solace, but she had disappeared. With everything lost, he ran away— away from the city and the just lights that pursued him.

“Just another accident.”

“Just another accident.”

“Just another accident.”

The citizens that now stood still at the scene of the crime were whispering and muttering to themselves. They looked to the clocktower, its hands marching on with its unwavering deliberation. They looked to the flashing, flowing words, their dazzling glow saturating the manufactured night. They looked back at each other. All was right with the clocktower. All was right with the city. On the day of reckoning, all would remain pure.

He ran. He ran and ran and kept on running until his legs buckled from beneath him, and even then, he crouched over and scrambled away on all four of his limbs— a primitive beast. Don’t look back. He turned his head to take a final glance at the city as he left it. A relieved smile spread across his face and he laughed. He laughed and he whooped and he hollered as he raced and jumped through barren fields and dense thickets. In the city that lay in the distance, the magnificent clocktower made to be gazed upon by all of humanity was imperceivable. The clocktower, it seemed, was like a mirage that formed from all of the lights and smoke that twisted, merged, and warped into the ideal. And Brandon laughed at the absurdity of it all. He laughed and ran and gasped until he went to the edge of the world, where great waves of water clashed and roared against the precipice. As he neared the cliff, he saw the feeble silhouette of a little girl against the setting sun, her scarlet garments melting with the flushed, clear skies. Fields of flowers bathed her feet and swayed lazily like soulless feathers in the wind. He approached her.

“Do you remember me?” Thana’s question came out as a faint whisper that dissolved in the howling gales that passed through them.

He did. He remembered loving her presence. He remembered how she played with him when no one else would. He remembered how he pointed to her whenever he got scolded for breaking something and she always took the blame eagerly and he was always forgiven. He remembered how his mother almost ran over her with the car before he screamed and his mother stopped driving and gave him a bewildered look as she asked him what was wrong. He remembered how she stayed with him as he got older, as people told him that he needed to start facing reality— he wasn’t a kid anymore— it was time to look up at beautiful things like the clocktower and forget those mindless, childish ones. He remembered hating her. He remembered hating how he loved her presence. “What are we going to play today?” Brandon called to her as he slowly made his way up the cliff.

They played their lonely childish games— games of hide-and-seek and tag. A lonely beast frolicked carelessly in those fields. And as the red sun, like a glaring wound in the sky, began to dip into the earth’s cavernous boundary, Thana tugged lightly at Brandon’s arm, urging him towards the cliff’s edge. “Do you want to go to the Meadows?”

Brandon scratched the back of his neck, he wasn’t sure if he was ready.

“Remember? It’s where the sun sets and falls into the ocean. It’s right there in front of us.” She pointed to where the sun kissed the ocean at the horizon, spilling blood into the waters, dying everything in luscious crimson.

He smiled and approached the edge of the precipice alongside her, allured by the saccharine perfume of the white lilies and hyacinths and asphodels that blossomed eerily in the passing sunlight.

“Just like you always told me, we just need to jump and fly right over there!” Thana hopped on the tips of her toes excitedly. And she grinned at him. “Are you ready?”

He wasn’t. But as she leapt into the sky, levitating gracefully into the violent gales before turning around and offering him her hand, he was mesmerized. He accepted the invitation. And he jumped.

In the city— the kingdom of humanity— the hands advance steadily and deliberately.