by Lucas Rucchin
One-half of her was falling. Cradled in a hazy envelope of ignorance, breaking the surface of forgiveness was something she no longer desired. Living a life spent threading through clouds, she never once pondered about reaching the ground.
In the expanse of her mind, her cries sounded like songs. Her failures warped into beautiful games. Her concerns dulled to steady breaths of boundless air, soothing her whispers instead of making them tremble. The tempo of her heart, steady and uniform, had grown accustomed to her mind’s soundless melody.
Flailing uselessly at gravity’s perpetual pull, the girl had once screamed and thrashed, treading at the fiendish darkness that jeered with every call. Every instance she’d opened her eyes, however, her descent appeared less than an abyssal prison and more like a mirror to a vision of a different pair of eyes. Fables arrived to her in gentle performances as the obscure curtain around her revealed its secrets, seeming to know everything about another girl who fell in another world. Less was the darkness her devilish adversary and more so her solacing shroud.
But the air was bristly this time. The silence lurked rather than amiably stepping out to greet her. “Wherever are the shadows that help me hide?” The girl spoke mildly, her tone drifting with the serenity of any expectant observer. Her expression remained placid at first, watching the nothingness above her as infinity pushed her along—yet when the darkness did not begin its quiet prelude, the edges of her lips folded.
The girl had mastered the art of dancing without a floor for her feet to touch. Twisting herself as she fell, her body spun upright in her descent, glancing at her surroundings with a set of piercing moons. Wrapping her arms around the ebony-coloured dress she’d deemed her favourite, the girl pushed the suspicions away. The performance will start a bit later than usual, that’s all.
“You know, it’s rude to make your audience wait.” At ease with her verdict, her hands had moved to the back of her head where they tangled together to form a nonchalant cushion, matching the blanket of air that guided the fall. The girl’s frame winded with the carelessness of a serpent who’d seized their prey—except she hadn’t so begun her hunt. “They always told me that. . . you’re just lucky I cannot just stand up and leave—”
The darkness flashed. A film spool accelerating as its pictures illuminated the screen, the starless sky that was the background of her fall blazed with vivid imagery. Slow and flickery at first, the pictures appeared in gradual increments on the dusky canvas—but suddenly she was plummeting faster, and the images blended together into a single word, scribbled onto the blackness with the fervency of a familiar hand.
A glint of exasperation. . . uncoiled for just a moment, the sentiment embraced her features for no longer than a second before she revised her pacific composure. Airy and blithe, the tint of her voice swayed with the tranquillity of a spring stream, yet the girl could only barely prevent it from dropping off into a roiling cataract. “Who. . .? Who informed me of that advice, you mean?” Her eyes formed convincingly contemplative bulbs. “I—can not say I remember.”
The blackness churned again. This was not its regular presentation. You know, it told her, illuminating the inkiness briskly as if frustrated with her incompliance.
The girl’s laugh was tight and bitter, harmonizing with the cold atmosphere. “I have no reason to lie, nor do I have any reason to mindlessly converse with a stubborn limbo.” She stood stiffly in her descent. The aura grew frigid with discomfort. The ribbons of light that formed the messages before her moved and jumbled as if musing over the next words in which they would form. “Never would I once think that—”
At once her merry bravado fell from her expression like drapery. Printed with the sharp lines and edges of potency on the air around her, the phrase crackled through the girl’s mind, an arcing bolt of assertive lightning.
“It—” she began. “This isn’t. . .” Gone was the artfulness of a voice so used to excuses, to artificial apologies, to lying in the face of a thousand promises. “No. I. . . I don’t know what you’re talking about. . . this is real. . . ! You’re joking with me, aren’t you? All inside my mind—how stupid! This is my mellow existence: falling endlessly, accompanied by shadows. . . I am real. . . this is all matter. . . all of this matters. I’ve known nothing more than this, just as you know nothing more than me. . . ! What an awful trick, telling me to wake up. What do you mean. . . ? Wake up? I can’t--I CANNOT WAKE UP BECAUSE THIS IS REAL!—”
“Stop it, Alice.”
Suddenly she was not falling. Like the tears which she so regularly wiped away, the midnight curtain dissolved around her. Only the echo of the voice that spoke her name remained, reverberating throughout the now-steady breeze, for those who hide in one place for too long are always found.
It was a forest of falsehoods that surrounded her now. Dimly lit by amber light, slender trees with dismal stalks enveloped her in a sea of grass that seemed just too tall. The tapestry of leaves veiled the sky’s supervision; the girl could barely make out the blue awning through the threads of illumination that managed to slide its way through the barrier. A place even quieter than the endless darkness in which she dreamed before, she couldn’t escape the chilling sense of augury that cornered her here.
She was running rather than falling. Across the swell of herbs that tangled her pale legs with every step, Alice’s bounds were graceless and erratic, a frightened squirrel whipping its legs in every direction with the sound of an enemy's footfall. The inky dress she’d donned did not help in the slightest, the fabric clashing with her forceful lunges.
The voice was chasing her. It resounded with the same spaciousness of her tone, yet was without the chirp of underlying deception—rather, it resonated across the morose tree trunks with the tenderness of one willing to aid.
It almost sounded like her own voice.
“Dreams don’t make you blind to the illusions when you’re awake,” it said with explicitness. Echoing from no particular direction, the voice’s prominence rang across the greenery. “No, Alice. It simply makes them dance in a different spotlight. . .”
With an assertive swerve of her arm, Alice reached to her forehead to swipe a screen of condensation away. She’d always feared the day that her unconsciousness would twist the metaphors of her trances into words of reason, and now rationale encircled her like an unyielding hawk.
“I won’t succumb,” she was so accustomed to standing on the higher tower that her wavering speech was almost alien-like. “I won’t. . . just leave me alone—”
“You refused to grow with those around you, lied to those who loved you. And you wonder why the world is so unforgiving?”
“—they never loved me. . . they never spared me a second chance—”
“. . . All were fears that you let yourself dread. Tell me, Alice: if you can envision such elaborate spaces of evasion. . .”
“You can’t convince me that what’s out there is better—”
“. . . Then why can’t you envision yourself facing the disease of fictions that you’ve spread?”
“There is nothing more I can do to reconcile.”
“You haven’t tried.”
“It’s too big an army to face.”
“You’ve only convinced yourself of its horror. When will you truly use your eyes to see, Alice? When will you use them to realize and not to hide?”
Her quaking breaths were almost as turbulent as the now-rampant wind. The trees no longer looked like trees but like an audience of spectators. As her bounds gradually reduced to subdued paces, Alice noticed the canopy of leaves steadily giving way to the sky’s cordial light. It was almost as if the voice grew clearer as the trees parted, embracing her alongside the warmth of the sun.
“When will you use your legs to endure and not to run? When will you use your voice to heal and not to shun?”
She came to a stop at last. The barricade of leaves and branches fell, thawed like a layer of winter frost, broken like the first signs of regret during early steps of forgiveness.
“It was forever your choice to stand or continue to fall.”
The morning light was blinding, yet she looked at it right in the eye. She was no longer housed by the forest floor but by the creases of blankets; she was no longer swept aside by fierce wind but instead cased in the delicateness of daybreak’s ambience. The voice’s utterance still echoed in her ear, and at last the girl recognized it. For the first time in a long time she became whole, two hands steering the same vessel, two mouths speaking the same truth.
Two halves of her were standing.
by Angel Ye
“Today on the news: Larry Anderson is found dead, having been gruesomely murdered and —similar to past victims— placed in the trunk of a car. The prospective murderer is now on the loose, so make sure that your children are in bed after 9 pm, and avoid any parking lots or suspicious areas. We’ll be scheduling a Hunt at around 8:30 tonight, so be sure to stay tuned!"
I hear static.
The electric box fades to black.
The words: “DISOBEY AND DIE” pops onto the screensaver of the television as a dancing cartoon sheep.
“A new notification?”
The Hunt organization has deposited $100 into your bank account!
The pixelated sheep dances in the background, happy and oblivious to everything in the world.
I kick my feet up on the coffee table and bite my thumb. Cigarette stubs litter the cracked and clouded glass.
‘Stupid, everything about this culture is stupid. Why is it like this? There’s clearly not enough money to go around— look at everyone! We’re all dirt poor here.’ I ponder in frustration.
“This system is so twisted. Who the hell do you think we are?!” I bellow at the cameras sitting quietly in the corner of my room in defiance. The black lens gleamed back threateningly. “You! You’re the reason! I won’t participate in any more Hunts, I can’t live like this— I can’t TAKE IT ANY LONGER!”
Something pops up in my peripheral vision, and --FLASH.
‘What the hell? Did someone just take a picture of me?’ From my window, I see a figure dart behind the bushes.
I grab my car keys, my car license initialed “SMITH”, and trudge out — I need some fresh air, something to clear my mind. Shuffling through my driveway, I make my way to the car parked outside. As soon as I sit down, the car comes alive with the words: “And now for the daily word: media! Wondering what it means? Well it’s the main means of mass communication! Of course, consumed by everyone, all of you; me and you and everyone included! Make sure to tune in every hour, minute, and second of the day to make sure you don’t miss any news on today's Hunt!”
“Nothing but nonsense,” I mutter as I switch off the car radio. Are there even any self-aware people left? Everyone’s just like a herd of no-brained sheep tumbling around trying to find a wolf. A wolf in a sheep's suit... Or is it the other way around?
“... And remember to tune in for the 8 o’clock reveal of that serial killer who’s been shoving people into car trunks! Make sure to film it to get that money!” I glare at the car radio. It keeps turning itself back on nowadays. I really should get that fixed.
“... and now, time for the reveal of the mystery murderer! The suspect right now is male, around 6’1, stockily built, with a rugged face, and graying black hair. He has a mole underneath his right eye and is wearing a vintage red shirt. Whoever finds him first will receive a reward of 20,000 dollars!”
I look in the side mirror, reflecting back my exact appearance. And— my red shirt— I swerve the car immediately-- I need to get home right now. This can’t be true, I haven’t done anything wrong. The little bobble-head sheep at the edge of my dashboard wobbles back and forth mockingly, with “DISOBEY AND DIE” carved into the crumbling base. I’m innocent! I’m not a murderer, I haven’t done anything wrong, I don’t want to die--
The car tire hits the bump of the curb as I skid desperately into my driveway. Already, there’s a sea of people gathered around my house, on my lawn, loitering around my gate. All of them have their phones, cameras, and devices pointed at me. Angry voices start emerging from the crowd, starting from a slow murmur, crescendoing into one unified chant: “It’s him! He’s the murderer. It’s him, HE’S THE MURDERER! IT’S HIM, HE’S THE MURDERER!!!”
They swarm around my car like furious wasps, angrily buzzing and humming and scratching, writhing, clawing— rocks are thrown into the windshield, the mass turns vile as they grasp their way towards me: a twisted perception of their next victim.
And— oh, god, the police are here.
“WHO FOUND HIM?” The police shouts out to the sea of bodies.
“ME, me, I did, I followed him after I saw the news of the Hunt on my phone,” a woman cries out, her ragged gnawed off nails, now bleeding, scratch maniacally at the hood of my car. “No, it was me, I did, I took his picture AND I saw him getting into his car— he’s my neighbour actually --I have the right to the reward!!”
“No actually I..!!”
And they shout and tumble and break out into an angry fight and that officer— he is simply standing and watching and filming it with his camera. Everything has to be documented after all. How else would we be able to know the truth anymore except through the media?
Inside my car, my knees are balled up, my hands tying my legs to my chest while atrocious faces flood my vision: my dashboard is filling up with frightful shadows, the accusing light of the officer’s flashlight penetrates through my body, sending a chill through my bones. The screaming drowns into one big cacophony—it crashes into my ears as the loud, intruding voices melt into silence. The faces are all merging together, they’re all the same big mass of mob mentality, howling inside these empty husks.
‘This is how I die,’ I think numbly. There’s no murderer, there are only beasts out here. Stupid sheep who turn into wolves as soon as they find a reason to.
The glass shatters into a million splinters as a club bashes into the window. Finally! The masses sigh, and they all reach to pull out the blood-covered body inside the car, just breathing a few seconds ago.
The officer shoulders through all of them and checks it—
“He’s dead!” He shouts confidently, “Brody Smith, the Murderer is dead! We’ve hunted him down successfully! Everyone who participated, you can go back now, make sure you upload your videos to gain your reward. Since there’s about 200 of you, $100 will be delivered to your bank account by tomorrow.”
One by one, the tired crowd slowly staggers home until a single malnourished girl remains.
I stand dead silent.
Age 12, I experienced my first Hunt.
Confused, perplexed and clouded with emotions I ask: “Officer, how did you find out he’s the murderer? Where’s your evidence?!” Smith, that poor, now dead, soul was torn apart by everyone: from kids to adults to seniors. Indignity flowed through my mind, brimming with red hot thoughts. Incriminated without justice, I burned inside. Why did he have to die? He didn’t do anything wrong, he didn’t kill anyone… WHY?!
The officers’ nose flares. “Don’t question the news! Don’t you believe in the Hunt!?” he screeches, with spit flecking the edge of his mouth, fury sharp on his voice and eyes filled with nothing but the flames of fervent and absolute submission. “You, little lady, just committed an act of treason against the state.”
The officer clicks open the trunk and hauls the dripping body in. “Another hunt finished. How many more to go? Doesn’t matter anyways. You should’ve watched your mouth little girl. Disobey and Die: that’s just how it works here.”
And— FLASH —His camera gives me a wink of death.
With one last glance at the scrawny little girl, the officer's wrinkled eyes squint. Maybe it was from admiration, maybe it was from contempt. Who could tell?
“Breaking news, another body, this time, Brody Smith, is found dead and covered with glass shards and —similar to past victims— placed in the trunk of his car! The prospective murderer is now on the loose, make sure that your children get to bed after 9 pm, avoid any parking lots, and suspicious areas…”
“Tune in for the next Hunt, scheduled for 8:30pm! This time is extra special— $30,000 for the winner of this Hunt! She’s a scraggly little child, so don’t hold back!”
The news reflects into my wide, scared eyes. I gnawed anxiously on my nails.
I hear static.
The electric box fades to black.
The words: “DISOBEY AND DIE” pops onto the screensaver of the television with a dancing cartoon sheep.