Lingering Souls

by Grace Tian
Art by Alice Cai
Issue: Kalopsia (Spring 2017)

Once my mother found a mouse in the pantry, buried among broken cereal boxes. She killed it. I took the body from the streets and buried it among the blooming Queen of the Night. The next morning, I woke up, exhausted, images of black mist and hungry wolves burned into my mind, to a sky painted over in blue velvet. Streaks of orange flew across the canvas, lighting up the world. From my window, I could see everything. The mouse’s body lay on the ground, torn open and mangled. The falcon sat on the fence, proud and serene, looking out regally over the world and what he had destroyed. The once beautiful white petals littered the frostbitten ground like snow.

When I was twelve, I moved from my parents’ beautiful house to a shabby, run-down hospital. I could not melt into the pristine walls or be lost in the bright lights. The tiny rooms were crowded, and low ceilings sagged above my head, forcing me to stay present, with only my memories for company. In this hellhole disguised as a sanctuary, where the smell of mildew emanates from the walls and the rickety staircases and creaking floorboards fill the long periods of silence, I am forced to live. My days are insipid, filled with labs, and tests, and empty results. Doctors study me day after day, attempting to find a cure for my “illness.” But there is no illness, no cure. Just me.

I slip past the nurses at the front desk and hurry outside before I am caught. The street is silent, only a few strands of wind ghosting between my fingertips. I wrap a scarf around my neck and tug on my jacket, pulling it closer to me. My boots crunch the snow, leaving deep footprints among the freshly fallen flakes. Exhaling deeply, my breath billows out in a white cloud. The wind picks up, sending a chill through me. I shiver. I reach a crossroad and hesitate, unsure of where I want to go.

I turn left. Loud music blasts from the speakers of a nightclub behind a group of overbearing drunk men, and I feel the thrum of the bass from deep inside my bones. I walk in and the intensity of hot, sweating bodies hits me. The chaos is overwhelming, but my craving for the sweet taste of alcohol drives me closer.

I hear my best friend’s voice echoing in my head, layered with disapproval and exasperation as he continues on and on about the evils of alcohol. He published a novel when he was sixteen, and it became an instant bestseller. He used to visit me, his fingers tapping and pencil twirling as he wrote. Occasionally, he would look up and smile mischievously at me, a twinkle in his eye.

I set down my empty glass and stand, swaying a little as the drink reaches my head. It starts snowing again, but the memory of my best friend lingers in my head and forces me out onto the street. The snowflakes melt as they fall into my shoes. I walk for a long time, going nowhere, walking just for the sake of walking. It’s been a long time since I’ve done this. The blood pumps through my legs and push themselves harder against the ground, as if they think I can win by leaving everything behind.

I stop for a minute, my breath coming in gasps. I stand in the middle of the sidewalk, all of the strength draining out of me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of blue and grey. A falcon. Distantly, I wonder if it’s the same one that I saw years ago. Black mist dances around the corners of my eyes, and I realize how tired I am. I look up. The stars are fading now, and the silence is broken by lone cars and sad music playing from a coffee shop across the street. The door creaks on its hinges as I push it open.

Even today, I still remember my grandfather’s funeral. The sun was out that day, but the light seemed to fade before it could warm up the ground. The silence was overwhelming. Even the squirrels ceased their endless chattering, and the air was still, unwilling to breathe. Clutching my mother’s hand, I let her lead me around the cold winter ground. All I could see was the black of the mourning suits and the blankness of the torn flower petals scattered around the grave. Around me were the noises of grief, but as the eulogy began, even the most distraught began to settle down, and the deep thrum of the priest’s voice enveloped us all. The pumping of blood in my ears thickened, drowning him out, until the only thing I could hear was my own mortality.

My heartbeat begins to slow as the warmth of the coffee shop melts my frozen body. The sound of low conversations and the aroma of coffee and scones seems so far away. A man walks over to me, and I look curiously at him through sleepy eyes. He smiles gently at me, and in that second, I can see eternity. And then it passes. I close my eyes. The sun peeks its head over the horizon, its rays stretching over the tall city buildings and covering the ground with a soft blanket. Birds perch on trees and their songs fill the air with cheeriness and the sound of hope. The coffee shop overflows and then empties as the world keeps spinning.

Nothing has changed. Except for me.