The palace doors open. A young boy slips out, and the doors shut behind him. A loud bellow rings throughout the building and echoes right into the dead air, booming into the centre of the quadrangle. The boy knows that time is not on his side, so he leaps down each stone step as fast as he can.
No-one will catch him. He does not want to go back into the shadows but be laden down with the title Crown Prince of the Light; he does not want the Queen Mother’s wispy, graying braid to stroke his face, he wants the fingers of sunlight to extend and tickle his young body.
No voice will catch him, either. As he stumbles down the last few steps, he thinks freedom is the wind that blows at this instant. He falls on the last step but manages to get up again, bouncing back with not the flexibility of his youth his body holds but with this thought in mind, freedom is the feeling that makes me weak in my knees.
The voice rings out again. He is on his feet and running, running to the centre of the quadrangle, arms outstretched and the sun beaming high above him. He replies to this sunshine, words crumbling out of him like a cookie shattered into pieces, “Take me”. The wind whips around him and takes care of the voice calling out to him. “Come home”, the voice demands. The wind is like a sword dancer…it is deft and spirals through the air, blowing away the voice of –
The voice bleeds through his twirling, and the boy feels pain splice his blissful period of freedom apart. He is forced to kneel as another blow is dealt to his back, then made to stand so two more blows can be dealt to his buttocks and thighs. “Hang your head!” The voice barks at him. The young boy’s head is already bowed, not in shame but in disappointment. How the wind has failed me.
He is dealt no more blows. Cold seeps through his garments as he is brought away, a solid hand ‘guiding’ his chest and shoulders away from the Palace Gates, steering him back to where he had come from and where he belongs: The Palace itself, back in the Chamber of Light, with servants in rustling silk aim to serve him, the Crown Prince, who refuses to play his role as a child of Heaven, a being of light – I want to be elsewhere. I want to be a peasant, in one of the fallen countries that His Majesty so often gets exasperated about. I want to have dirt on my cheeks and fear for my life.
The hand drops from his chest. The young boy is quick to breathe, his own hands flying up to massage his upper body. He wants to relish the returning of warmth but gets more than he bargains for; hot breath sears half of his face as the owner of the voice leans down. Stubble grazes his cheek. Before he can cry out or fight away, his older brother locks him in a sudden embrace.
“Little One, the only disappointment you may allow to cross your mind…is yourself. Had you run a bit farther, in the amount of time I took to get here, you would have made it out of this place.”
His older brother’s eyes rake his body, teary amber flints of stone set in a stonier face. The two of them, one petrified and tender, and one with more scars on his back than the other has scars on his entire body, standing on the stone steps.
The young boy holds his breath until his brother lets go of him. He lets himself be brought to the doors; he sees the insigna of a dragon and hunches his shoulders. He hears the voice again.
“Come. You need to see the Queen Mother. She’ll have something to say about your disobedience.”
He keeps his head down, shrunken in on himself. He manages to slide his hand out of the other’s loose grip, and wipes the sweat away on his own garment. He takes a step back. His older brother continues to walk. Older Brother walks nicely. His legs allow for a long stride, and his hips move evenly from side to side. When his brother stops moving, he allows his eyes to trail from his polished boots and up his body.
His older brother’s head turns and in that moment, he has never felt so dirty in his entire life. Whispers cascade up the walls and pour into him, tearing apart his soul like beasts ravaging a corpse. Crown Prince, why aren’t you in your seat? Crown Prince, ignore that person – he’s not anyone important. Crown Prince, your older brother is not suitable to be you. But you are suitable to be you, Crown Prince. He is unsuitable because of…because of his scar…look at your unblemished skin and youthful, plump figure. You will grow great and sinewy.
Thank you, Your Majesty.
In that moment, the Crown Prince realises the filth that the Palace is made of. He sees the people beneath their rustling silk and finds that only black exists beneath the colourful garments. He does not see gold glide the throne’s arms but sees the facade of something terrible.
He falls to his knees, clutching his gut. Older brother…help me…we shall taste freedom together…please let us go!
Before the Court Ladies of Light can gather around him, his older brother takes three long strides back. He tilts his sibling’s head back. The Crown Prince sees a flash of something silver, and tastes something incredibly sweet. This…this is what freedom tastes like. The Court Ladies of Light rush over, skirts whirling, already using their sashes to dab at their eyes, the Crown Prince is pale! He is pale! And ghastly! Call for the King, call for the King!
As chaos and commotion unfold behind the Palace doors in a mess of colur and the sickening sound of silk sweepingthe floor, the Crown Prince sees one final thing. A most crucial action, that happens in a split-second.
He sees his older brother slide a silver vial into his own sleeve. It causes the silk to rumple a little, but his older brother smoothens it out, holding his gaze. His lips tilt upwards, skywards. He lets his younger brother fall from his arms and onto the stone of the Palace.
Makeup covers the scar on his face, but the guilt that he has lived with for years takes him to his grave, unable to cover the darkness. The Crown Prince of Light swears that the dragon’s scowl becomes more ferocious whenever he climbs down the stone steps, and into the quadrangle, where the wind and the sun circle around him.
I didn’t want to write the first thing that popped into my head when the word ‘filthy’ comes to mind. However, I’ve just recently finished a drama, Scarlet Heart (which is the Korean adaptation of a Chinese Drama based on a novel by Tong Hua).
no words because…writing something as bombastic and as angsty and heartbreaking as
Scarlet Heart is a feat. A real feat.
I pick up the phone one day, when my brain is floating in a clear glass jar, separate from my body. My mind isn’t present in my body, and it’s just my limp arm moving forward automatically to pick up the phone when it rings.
“Hello?” My mouth moves on its own, forming the simple syllabelle-d word without much energy, and my caller catches out on my enthusiasm—or lack of it—immediately.
“Hey! What’s up?”
Nothing, I want to reply, that’s the problem. I hold my cell phone away from its previous spot on my cheek, checking caller ID. It’s someone who I suspect will natter off for a long time, perhaps even babbling away ‘til I fall asleep, so I move my tired body to an armchair in the living room, and fold myself into it.
From the corner of my eye, I see my brain, floating in the jar, inch slightly towards the direction of the armchair. My brain is a soggy, dirtied shade of black and seems like it is deflating by the second.
I am incapable of thinking. I am sick of solving problems, and I guess my brain was sick of it too—hence, it became a big problem.
Casting my eyes away, I try to re-focus on my caller’s voice.
“…I know there’s something wrong.”
My caller responds with a sigh that manages to feel like fingers dancing in a comfortable manner atop my shoulders. I let out a sigh of my own, and my caller instantly starts talking again at the sound of ‘life’ from my end of the call,
“You can tell me, you know!”
The fingers of my free hand fly to my temples, and they start to knead out the knots—mental and physical knots—out of my forehead.
“I bet you’re massaging your head now, or whatever weird thing it is that you do”, my caller says, smugness inching into his voice. I roll my eyes.
“Now you’re rolling your eyes.”
“Yeah”, I utter, my first real word of the phone-call, “I’m rolling my eyes at your question.”
I look away from the lint on my armchair for a second, and catch a glimpse of gray.
Gray. My bloody brain, sitting in a bloody jar, has lightened—it’s turned into a bloody shade of gray.
It bloody changed colour.
“T—the question.” I somehow manage to get my voice back from my stunned state.
“Oh, you mean What’s Wrong? Of course I know that you hate telling people what’s wrong…but you never talk about anything that should be talking about, so…”
“What do you mean?” I feel heat rush to my cheeks. “I’m not entitled to tell you my problems—we aren’t even close, goddamnnit. I don’t even know why you called.”
As an afterthought, because I’m still in painful shock from the fact that my brain turned gray—and also the fact that it’s floating in a fucking glass jar that magically appeared in my living room—I spit out, “You can hang up.”
My caller allows me to simmer in exactly one and a half seconds of silent fury, before cutting in the stew of my rage with a voice as smooth and cool as a curl of butter. “You can, you know. Open up. Right here and right now. It’s okay.”
And because I’ve been a selfish, self-centred brat all this time who just wanted to hear the words It’s okay all this time, I let the dam break.
It’s okay to let it out,
A wall, carefully constructed with crawling lattices and stones stacked up nicely, starts to crumble.
It’s okay to cry, I promise,
The first stone falls, and hits the ground on the other side of the wall. More follow.
It’s okay, really.
Soon, more stones fall, creating a large gap in the remaining wall of stone. The lattices have been torn apart by some mysterious force that makes my insides feel all warm.
It’s okay to be human, and act like one, too.
Sunlight filters through the gap, and tears slip down my face. They are wet and warm and streak down my cheeks smoothly, like pearls in oil.
“I—I would love that. To tell you more. Thank you.”
And my caller responds with, “You’re welcome.”
He speaks again, and it seems like what he says is an afterthought, “You’re always welcome. You know that.”
I end the call with a smile on my face, dimples finally finding their place on my face once again, crinkles lining my eyes like they used to. My hands are trembling, my toes vibrate—I feel like a new person, with every skin-pore and fibre of my being filled with joy.
But something’s still missing.
I close my eyes, and clasp my hands together in front of me. I’m sitting up straight in the armchair, because there’s no longer the need to fold my body into its warm fabric—I’m full of warmth.
THUNK. My skull rings with a new weight, an additional pressure that is felt all the way to my torso, wrapping around my abdomen, ribboning down my legs and setting each bone in my body into place.
“Welcome back, brain.” I give my head a little pat, hoping my brain will appreciate the congratulatory gesture I’m offering it. It’s been a long journey, a rough voyage for my dear brain, and you betcha, I’m gonna appreciate its presence.
Now that I’m capable of thinking again, who knows what I’ll think of—the possibilities are endless, and I’m able to do anything, once my mind is set—settled right back down in my body—and once I set my mind to it.
I know it.
alternate title: Voyage
Written in response to this prompt, and written to
There is a mess on the floor. I claim that I did not make it.
I did not make the mess on the floor. That is what I tell mother. When she reports to dad my dishonesty, I make violent claims once again, re-telling the story of how there were always crushed pieces of glass on the floor in the first place. My brother protests that he;d seen me drop the glass with my own two hands, and even my pet dog blinks fiercely in the face of my web of lies–I know you did it! I know you made the mess!
I didn’t make the mess, I say again. More glass shatters on the floor. Everyone claims that I am the one who flung the glass to fragments, and everyone won’t listen to me.
I decide that it is okay if no-one listens to me–no one ever did, anyway–and I just pick up each piece of glass and bring the shards back to my room. The pieces dig into my flesh uncomfortably as I sit on my bed, holding the various fragments to my chest. My wrists start to feel incredibly itchy, and my elbows start to ache.
I feel warmth trickle down my arms.
Mom opens the door to my room, and leaves screaming about the bloody mess that’s left of me.
I tell her, I tell my dad, my brother, my dog, that I did not make the mess.
It’s simple. I did not make the mess. Maybe my sadness catalysed it, maybe my willingness to clear the mess from the kitchen floor, maybe the way I transported the glass pieces from one place to another, maybe that made the mess.
But I did not make the mess.
I am the mess.
Written in response to The Daily Post prompt
My niece likes Star Wars. And not just a bit, but a lot–her interest in the galaxy and machinery and all the other twisted elements borne out of an amazing writer’s proliferated imagination engulf her small frame by a ton.
My cousin–her mother–recently bought her a new toy, except that…it wasn’t really a toy. My niece received a set of 100 magnetic pieces in different colours, in standardized shapes of equilateral triangle, elongated isosceles triangle, large square, smaller square. They’re tinted with magenta, blue, yellow, orange and green–and will soon be worn with my niece’s fumbling and tumbling about with them.
I went over for dinner just two days ago, a nice Saturday evening with a sky that was so gray and blank it hung like a slate over me. She lives in a nice condominium; the balconies are gorgeous, (but she, my five-year-old niece, is obviously, obviously much more breath-taking than the spectacular view of the city).
Before dinner, she took out the set of magnetic pieces, and proceeded to slam them down on the floor in a hurry. Her flurried actions caught my eye, so I knelt down and assembled some pieces myself.
I would actually like to interject a thank you to her. My five-year-old niece gave me a break from rapid typing up of documents; playing with magnetic pieces may not appeared to have appeal, or attraction (if you get the pun) towards a (cranky)(sleep-deprived) teenager like me, but a profound feeling settled deep into my bones, nestling themselves into the aching nooks of my body:
Peace. It had arrived, and what a blessing the feeling was! My stress and anxiety simply melded off as I sat there with my niece, assembling magnetic pieces together into weird figures, or buildings, or…whatever that she was instructing me to build.
Crash! We had built some sort of farm-house thing, and it had fallen to the ground, clattering around the glass coffee table and the nice play-mat my niece received from her teacher, as a gift for behaving well (perhaps she is the epitome of Things I Cannot Achieve, being a polite and ‘good’ schoolgirl from the start of my lifetime). She didn’t cry, nor did I, although the farm-house vaguely resembled a two-story, sleek, stylish apartment modelled after those cool apartments in Korean dramas, the modern pads for the better off.
🙂 Not the point.
Anyway, she picked up the magnetic pieces (hopefully she won’t have to do the same for her heart, next time;)) and embarked on a new construction project. I cooed What are you building, honey around five times before her intense gaze swung from the coloured pieces to my confused (possibly, pimpled) face and announced proudly, “It’s Darth Vader’s ship!”
Darth Vader’s ship…Did Darth Vader have a ship? What was his role again; who’s father was he? I had some brief recollection of Luke being a possible offspring of Darth Vader…was that even correct?
I decided to broach the subject. “Do you want to build the farm house again”, I tried to assert, but it was met with an unsatisfactory grunt as she gathered more pieces to build what she proclaimed was “Darth Vader’s chair” (honey, it looks like two crackers) and “Darth Vader’s screen” (can he take selfies with that, or does he make use of the screen to see if his boyfriend/girlfriend is cheating on him?)
My niece looked at me, and quite hesitantly, asked me if I’d watched Star Wars.
“It’s a saga, right?”
“What’s a saga?”
“Can we watch Star Wars later? Mommy! Can we?”
Regardless of my lack of knowledge about Star Wars, one of the famous’saga films’, and regardless of my lack of expertise in architecture (all my buildings ended up looking like mottled loaves of bread as compared to my niece’s creations), I know one thing: I want her to be fighting battles in her lifetime, yes, but I want these battles to be worthy of her time. I want her to emerge the victor in most, but lose, in some, so she is able to recover from the ‘rough and tough’ from one battle, yet come back fresh-faced for the next war.
My niece is five years old and standing a little over forty inches, and has a common condition called eczema. The skin around her ankles and the top of her wrists are a little crusty, and they get red and inflamed when she is exposed to certain things, like a type of fabric on her own couch.
While I understand that ezcema is a lifelong thing, a condition that lingers with one for more than a certain ‘period of puberty’, I hope she is able to build her own fleet of starships, conquer the Darth Vaders within herself and uproot characters stymieing a beautiful end to a well-fought saga.
Written in response to the Daily Post daily prompt ‘saga’