23:44

Ah, it’s almost time

“It’s $19.50”

My last delivery for tonight.

I wonder whether I will be late again.

23:49

As expected of tonight,

All the happy faces around me,

Can’t hold back their excitement.

I wonder whether I will be late again.

23:54

I can see it from here,

But it’s still too far.

I leave my bike and start to run.

I wonder whether I will be late again.

23:59

I am not late this time.

I look around but she is not here.

Foolish of me to expect her to be here.

If only I was not late back then.

00:00

Tears start rolling as the fireworks explode into the sky.

CY

Finally.

The word hung strangely in his mind as he flopped onto the ground, a breathless laugh fluttering from behind his lips.

A breath of cold wet mist expelled slowly from his mouth, congealing lightly into the freezing cold night air of the strange, dark streets, dissipating into the thin gust of wind that danced through the narrow alleyway and up into the fresh air of the cold, metallic city, the sound of wailing sirens piercing through the air not so far away.

The man swallowed lightly as his vision tunnelled, blood bursting in a myriad of exotic, metallic, flavours deep in the chambers of his mouth, bitter, but yet strangely sweet as he bit down hard on his bottom lip to stop himself from crying out.

He blinked lightly, lashes flickering and dusting his cheeks as his eyes stung in the freezing, icy night air, his nose souring for a moment—were those tears and regret for an ending life?

His fingers raised themselves to the corners of his eyes, sliding away smooth, yet heated and wet against the pads of his fingers, so stained with the rich red velvet of freshly stained blood.

Every breath in his chest felt as though there was a cold metallic knife stuck between the ribs of his chest, puncturing deep into his lungs and robbing him of his air.

Perhaps it was because he had run too fast moments before, every inch of his muscles screaming in fervour as he stumbled down the alleyway, almost drunk with thrill and fear, his eyes gleaming and flashing in the darkening light. And yet perhaps…it was the residue of something else, that he couldn’t think of, his thoughts scattering away like grains of sand with every breath he laboured from his chest.

“Ah. Damn.” The deprecating mockery of lamentation spilt from his mouth, a nearly strangled sob catching within the confines of his parted lips. “So close.”

Blood dripped from the knife that had been viciously removed, the red jewels of fresh blood plopping like a strange musical beat on the frozen hard ground—like an impending symphony of a death march of someone standing at the gates of death.

Help!

Someone got stabbed!

Help!

Screams of fear, mixed with crying voices of fearful agony pounded like waves against his eardrums, causing him to curl his lips almost in annoyance at the sudden disturbance of the quiet peace that had once permeated the night air.

Humans. His eyes flickered genially in the direction of the scattering crowds.

Always far too late.

A low sigh wrenched itself from his dry, pale lips, the stars blinking in the night sky, seemingly shining a pathway to something more than what he could see in the blanketing darkness.

Finally.

Verna

“So you think your mother would like me?” I asked nervously.

“Of course babe! Just don’t tell her you love chicken,” he laughed.

It has been twenty years since and I have realised that it always begins with one white lie to silence the people around you, but soon it becomes an expectation – something people want you to become, and people never stop expecting from you. You keep changing constantly and someday when you reflect, you don’t really identify the person you become.

If I would have told your mother how much I loved chicken, I would’ve lost you but I would still have been myself – carefree and daring, unlike the pretentious sad woman I have now become.

Shradha

Captivated

One night, she walked into the club, and everything seemed to have come to a standstill. The blaring music faded; it was her, just her. Those blue eyes captivated me, my soul.

Something strange about them told me not to go for her, but my heart wouldn’t stop.

I look at her and she turns to see me staring. She smiles seductively, biting her lips,

her full red lips. I was lost in her beauty. I wade through the bar to find her, but she wasn’t there anymore. I searched every corner of the place, but she was nowhere to be found.

I came to find her every day, waiting until I was asked to leave. Every night, I see her in my dreams. Every morning, I’m out to find her – on the streets, in cafes, at the boutique, but nowhere did I find her. I ask every soul walking past if they have ever seen a woman like her. Some call me mad while others insane. Yes, I am – I am mad about her. I search for her, the woman with those beautiful blue eyes. The thought of not seeing her again killed me inside.

Fifteen years passed by but I never forgot her beautiful eyes and luscious lips.

When one day, I saw her sitting in a cafe, all by herself. I walked towards the cafe, and our eyes lock right outside the window where she was. She came out of the cafe, held my hand and looked into my eyes. Oh! Those deep blue beautiful eyes that I’ve yearned to see. She took me to a car and drove me out of the city, never once leaving my hand. My eyes never left her face; I didn’t know where she was taking me. We drove on for days, weeks or maybe months and never did my eyes leave sight of her face.

We stopped after what felt like a lifetime, to see a pitch black sky and the full moon. She walked out and stood at the edge of what seemed like a cliff, and asked, “Aren’t my eyes beautiful?” and I nodded in approval. She turned around to face the moon, and there was an aura radiating from her as if she was a mystical creature. As I walk towards her, I feel the heat increasing, and now, I can’t stop myself. I’m attracted to her aura like a moth attracted to light.

Now, it’s all over. She was an Xtabay and I was her prey that night, but she redeemed herself fifteen years later, ironically, on the same day.

Ashmita

Faith

Keita couldn’t exactly remember when was the last time he had stepped out of this condemned room that they had forcibly withheld him in. Ever since the shogunate had declared their crusade against Christians ( those self-righteous pricks–), Keita had been on the run, with the sole purpose of keeping his family safe in lieu of his belief. Then he, no they, the entire group of teenagers were cordially invited ( Betrayed by one that they thought was their friend ) to seek refuge in his house. They were desperate, and glad that the Lord had given them a refuge in their times of need and barely had they rested when the shogunate stormed the house, and all that was left were screams of fire and blood and cries of tortured flesh and bones. He was thrown into this room ( cell) , unrightfully abstained from water and food, starved till he salivated only at the sound of the door opening to dump the moldy bread onto his lap. Days had blurred into weeks, months..or maybe even years, but Keita no longer cared. His eyes twitched.

“Is it time for me to go?” He murmured, on his knees in prayer, facing the dank wall that enclosed him. “Answer me, my Kami.” He felt salty tears drip their painful path down his cracked face. Oh how his body ached. The pain was gradually getting unbearable as he reached his limits. Long fringes fell in disarray across his features that were once handsome in his youth, now marred by scars of torture and brutal violence and the sharp gauntness of what was left in lieu of starvation. He waited fervently for the voice that never failed to resound in his room. It always did appear without fail, every day, to question him, to irk him, to coerce him ( like the Devil) into giving up his God, his faith, his belief and everything that made him who he was. Static crackled across the room from the old speakers, jarring his ears and making him flinch. Was it going to be a male or female this time? His trembling fingers picked rhythmically at the crick in the wall ( a habit cultivated to cease his nervousness) , plucking the petals of the wilting sakura flower he had left in place ( a gift, by a soft-hearted soldier who pitied him).

Male.

Female.

Male.

Female.

Male— The last petal fell to the ground, crumpling under his bloodied feet, leaving the faded sickly scent of the sakura flower floating into his nostrils.

“Tell me, Keita Ashimoto. Who are you?” The voice that called out seemed neither male nor female.

Ah. Yes. There was a word for it, he remembered foggily. Androgynous. What was left of his sane mind screamed the word. The idea of neither being feminine nor masculine. He crawled forward on his knees, prostrate in reverent prayer, and clasped his hands firmly together.

“Keita Ashimoto, Aged 18, Kyoto Prefecture, Christian—-” An inhuman shrill scream tore from his lungs almost immediately, as a piercing and yet burning pain raced from his hands through his body and nerves, raging like an untamed wild animal. His back twisted and arched, words forming soundlessly on his cracked lips as the electricity conducted from the chains that held him ran its destructive path.

“That is not who you are, Keita Ashimoto.” The voice from the speakers crackled to life again, monotonously and apathetically. “Try one more time. Renounce your faith and your God, and you will be released.” Keita’s body quaked in the throes of his torture, twitching helplessly as he struggled to remain prostrate on his knees. They were toying with him, forcing him to commit a sin by turning from his Saviour. He gritted his teeth, grinding them in pain as he forced himself to reject the tempting proposition that was made.

“I…am Keita Ashimoto, aged 18, of Kyoto Prefecture..”He paused, struggling with his words, tongue still thick from the recent electrocution. He wiped his bloodied mouth with shaking hands and smiled toothily, ignoring the remnant blood pooling around his lips and dripping down onto the floor obscenely. “May the Lord God forgive all your sins, for he is faithful and just—”His voice rose shrilly, and the voice behind the speakers reacted.

TAKE HIM!” It roared like an angered torrent, and the shogunate that stood around the room descended upon Keita like a flock of demons, cloaks billowing—and then a familiar sharp pain descended upon his back, his bones screeching with the stabbing pain as their bayonets tore into his flesh brutally, ravaging and spilling his blood across the walls. Keita coughed pathetically, the familiar scent of blood staining his lips and invading his nostrils.

“No! Wait, wait! Stop!” The voice crackled to life across the speakers. “I’m sorry, leave him be. We will show him more..grace.” Keita struggled to his feet, spitting the foul blood in his mouth contemptuously across the shogunate’s face, earning a roar of indignation and a brutal backhand across his own features. “We will let him see his family.” Keita startled, ice cold fear flooding through his veins at the voice’s words.

Oh god. They found them. He’s implicated them—Oh god oh god oh god—

“Y-you Bastard!” He screeched in his righteous bout of fear fueled anger. “You leave my family be! They have nothing to do with—”

“Your faith?” The voice questioned coldly. “A son’s sin is due to his parent’s negligence and his sibling’s wayward ways. You have not renounced your faith, though..you might change your mind if they bear a tenth of your pain.” Keita moaned wordlessly, clasping his hands tightly in desperation.

“You love your younger sister, don’t you, Keita Ashimoto?” The voice changed suddenly, turning to a soft coo, cloying and gentle. “We will let you reunite with her.” Keita bashed his forehead against the ground, tears running astray down his cheeks.

The desperate and frustrated scream tore in sobs from his throat, as they dragged a bloodied young girl through the doors. “Oh god, Yume..”He sobbed helplessly, abandoning all pretense at her limp form and throwing himself forward to gather the girl into his arms. He stared at her through tear-filled eyes almost hungrily, drinking in the fact that despite the torture the young child had gone through, she was still..alive.The child moaned wordlessly in pain in his arms, curling into the warmth that he provided, her breath barely a whisper against his chest.

“O-onii..”He cradled her gently, as though she would break upon the slightest impact, pressing his own bloodied cheek to her hot forehead and breathing in her scent.

“Shhhh…Its alright. I’m here. I’m here.” He brushed a thumb gently across her cheek, trying to ignore the incessant pooling of blood on the floor from what was left of the crude dismemberment of the young girl’s legs.

“I-it..hurts..”The small girl clung to his chest, her body spasming from the shock of the brutal procedure and from blood loss. Tears that brimmed in Keita’s eyes spilled over, landing hotly on her closed eyes. “I..I want Mommy.”

“I know. I know. Shh…I know.” Keita breathed, his chest swelling with grief as he watched her chest rise and fall shallowly, riddled with the physical scars of her brutal stay. “Forgive me, Yume. Your brother dragged you into this.” The young child shook her head gently.

“‘S okay..”She whispered, only opening her eyes a fraction to gaze at him, pressing his cross necklace into his palms. “I kept it for you. After you told me about him.” She drew a cross gently over his heart. “Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. He will reward us for our faithfulness, and despite all my pain and suffering, I will enter his gates with thanksgiving and praise.” She smiled gently, brushing the tears from his face. “Maybe just a little earlier than you.”

“Forgive me.” Keita breathed, weeping silently as his hands snaked across her neck. “For I cannot bear to see you suffer.” He cradled her like a babe and then—-there was a sickening crack of a fragile neck, and the young child’s hands fell limply onto his lap, scattering the cross necklace to the floor. Keita trembled, picking up the necklace reverently as he let go of his sister’s body.

“How funny you Christians are.” The voice from the speakers sounded amused. “You claim to be sinless and pure, self-righteous and yet, you can still commit murder just like us. Isn’t that a tad too ironic?” Keita kept his mouth tightly shut at the voice’s taunts.

Forgive me of my sin, my Lord. I have taken a life in my self-righteous desire to stop seeing her suffer.

His eyes landed gently on the broken body of his sister.

“Renounce this useless God of your, Keita Ashimoto.” The voice sounded triumphant, rising in volume. “He cannot protect you nor liberate you from us.” Keita grinned wolfishly at the direction of the voice, shaking his head in mirthless laughter.

“Never.”The voice sighed at his response.

“Pity. And you had such potential.” It said rather resignedly. “Kill him. “ Keita smiled gratefully as the shogunate dragged him forcefully towards the filthy pits, the sounds of his comrades’ moans resounding in his ears as they stopped by the blood-scented pits. Thick bonds were tied chokingly to his wrists and shins, and the knife flashed quickly across his forehead, drawing blood across the deep gash.

“Set him into the pit.” The soldier gripping him said gruffly. “There’s no more hope for him.” Keita gurgled softly on the mix of saliva and blood in his mouth as the stinking stench of excrement filled his nostrils. Bile rose in his throat, spilling down his face as vomit as he regurgitated reflexively at the repugnant smell. What a torturous way to go, Keita smiled to himself. They were actually aiming to bleed him out. Slowly. Blood dripped in rivulets down his forehead and he wheezed as his vision tunneled. His mouth opened, face reddened after hours of hanging upside down and a liberated smile crossed the contours of his face.

“Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the LORD is good; His loving kindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations….” Keita’s voice warbled, fading slowly as he sank into the darkness.

Verna