Monday, May 27, 2013

Monday Night Chinese v5 Part 2: RE: Memory

Part 02: RE:MEMORY
Once, many years ago, Levi remembered embarking with Alice to the living world. He hadn’t been there in ages, not since he died in the mid 1800’s. Listeners never had a reason to leave the Afterlife. This was, however, a unique occasion and required the L Noise— the unique ability Listeners had to harmonize with souls. Something unusual had happened; a soul had been created.
“How exactly did a little girl create a soul?” Alice asked, sounding both bewildered and irritated (taking anyone other than a Reaper into the living world was something she considered irritating, or so she had told Levi on more than one occasion). Proudly she wore the same flower print summer dress she had come into the Afterlife with when she had died in the 60’s. The look worked for her and to Levi and anyone else who saw her, she looked timeless. “Don’t tell me she’s-”
“A Saint,” Levi interrupted. “That little girl is a Saint. Or a witch.”
“Is there a difference?”
“No, I suppose not. They’re just titles for the same thing after all, living people with special powers. She’s a little witch who’ll grow up to be a noble Saint destined to help save the world or some nonsense, and the poor scamp probably doesn’t realize it yet.” Levi buried his hands deep in the pockets of his light khakis. He stood a little hunched over, squinting his emerald eyes to see into the empty yard of a large estate. As a spirit he felt out of place being in the world of the living and he had no idea how Reapers could feel comfortable traveling between the two worlds.
“Scamp? Scamp? Who are you, old man? My grandpa?” The look Alice gave Levi caused him to slouch deeper and squint harder, as he tried to make himself invisible. He perked up only once he saw two little children running outside.
“Quiet. We have to talk to the children.” Levi straightened himself up, adjusting his brown tie. Alice rolled her eyes, grabbing the man’s shoulder and vanishing in a haze.
When they re-appeared they stood off in the corner of the yard, watching the children, waiting for the right opportunity to reveal themselves. The waiting period was short; the little boy, who had a short mess of black hair and azure eyes almost as piercing as Levi’s emerald ones, stared straight at the two spirits. The little blonde girl looked where the spirits were then back at the boy, tugging at his shirt to get his attention.
“You see something, Quincy?” She asked the boy. Quincy pointed at Alice and Levi.
“There,” Quincy said boisterously. “Over there, Aster.”
Levi walked towards Quincy, who stared him down, his eyes unwavering. Every step that Levi took Quincy clutched his little fists tighter and tighter, and with every step Levi and Alice became more visible to the little girl. Her eyes narrowed and she stepped in front of the little boy.
“What do you want?” She snapped, sounding more adult than a child should. Levi smiled and knelt down, looking the little girl in the eye.
“Are you the one who made him?” Levi’s soothing voice didn’t calm the little girl, who nodded curtly.
“He was my imaginary friend.”
Levi smiled. “I hear you’re called Aster. That’s a very strong name. Listen, Aster, I just have to check and make sure your friend here is healthy. Okay?”
Aster and Quincy stared Levi down a moment longer before Aster stepped aside. The Listener took a moment and began to harmonize with the little boy’s soul. A minute passed by, and he stood up, turning to Alice with his assessment of the situation.
“I don’t know how she did it, but she created a fully functioning human soul. The kid’s powerful.” Levi kept his back towards the children, speaking in a whisper.
“So what’re we going to do? Do I need to take him back to the Afterlife with us?”
“No, we don’t need to dispose of him. Like I said, for all intents and purposes, he’s a natural enough soul.”
Natural enough?” Alice grabbed Levi’s face, which he did not appreciate, and pulled herself up so she could look him straight in the eye. “Levi, would you care to explain what that means?”
“It means he’s not perfect, but close enough to where he won’t cause any troubles. I doubt any spirits will be any more drawn to him than they would be the little girl or any other Saint. Now can you please let go of my face?” Levi pried Alice’s hands off his cheeks. She scoffed in response.
“Whatever. If this comes back to bite us, I’m blaming you.”
Levi rotated his head so he could look at the children one last time. “Sorry for being bothersome. Have fun, you two,” Levi said, waving. A door appeared in a haze, and in response Alice grabbed the doorknob, opening it and stepping through with Levi at her heals back to the Afterlife.

Levi woke up in his favorite booth in the restaurant, the one furthest away from the Black Heart. Through hazy eyes he saw the familiar figure of Alice in front of him, trying to get his attention. He was groggy, and couldn’t quite focus but Alice was trying desperately to snap him out of the dream he was having about the past. Levi stared blankly at Alice’s lips, unable to comprehend her. She was speaking but the words didn’t make sense. He stared. Stared. Stared. He wanted to scream, scream, SCREAM at his lack of comprehension. The silence surrounding Alice’s lips began to chip away. The lip movement was planted in his brain, and the seeds started to grow, each word blossoming slowly and painfully.
The silence was shattered in Levi’s head. He looked like he was caught in the headlights, and in a sense he was just like a deer. This was unexpected. He tried swallowing the lump in his throat.
“Don’t know anything too specific. Blue and I saw her talking with a man in gray before she vanished, though, so we have our connection. She’s been missing for almost a day.”
“The trail’s getting cold, we need to find her.” Levi stood up and grabbed Alice by the arm, dragging her out of the Chinese restaurant and into the hallways of the Afterlife.
“What’re you— How are we going to—?” Alice struggled to get out of Levi’s grip and finally settled for kicking him in the side. Levi fell over and swore loudly, grasping the lower half of his torso. Blue, who happened to be walking by, stopped to stare at his two colleagues acting like animals.
“Hey guys,” He started. “How’s it going? Is there something you want to tell me?”
“Yeah, Levi’s trying to kidnap me,” Alice responded haughtily.
“Not in a cool fun way. In the creepy ‘hey our friend just got kidnapped so I’m going to say vague things’ way.”
“Oh. Wait, what?” Apparently none of what Alice said made sense to Blue, and all the while Levi writhed on the floor.
“I’m trying to harmonize with her soul.” Levi finally got up on a knee, clutching his side and talking through gritted teeth. His spirit body was taking longer to heal than was necessary. “I can use the Listener’s Noise to locate her.”
Blue and Alice stared uncomfortably at Levi.
“I’m pretty sure she’s not in the Afterlife. Alice, I need you to take us to the living world.” Levi brushed himself off.
“Levi, I don’t think I’m allowed to take you-”
“Us,” Blue interrupted. “I want in on this… well, whatever this thing is. Is this a thing? I think it’s a thing.”
“Oh yeah, in that case the answer is still no. I’m definitely not allowed to take both of you.”
“Well, now that that’s been decided, I have a question I’ve been meaning to ask.” Blue casually glanced around to make sure nobody was nearby to hear him. “Who cooks the food in your restaurant?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Alice punched Blue’s arm.
As Levi lifted his head to get more involved with the argument, he spotted a figure that forced anger to boil up inside him. The Man in Gray. Fueled by the knight in shining armor complex, Levi grabbed both of his companions by their respective wrists and pulled them down the hallways.
“The Man in Gray!” Alice and Blue broke away when they heard those words leave Levi’s mouth, and sped up, pushing their coworkers out of the way.
“Where?” Blue asked, brushing past a fellow Ferryman.
“Up ahead, he’s moving. Come on, he’s the only person in gray. He stands out!” Levi, frustrated, broke out into a run.
“Maybe to you,” Alice spotted the man in gray and adjusted her speed. The adversary stopped in front of a door and opened it, walking through as nonchalantly as could be. Alice grabbed both Adam and Blue by the shoulders, stopping them. She held out her hand and in front of her appeared a doorway. “He’s heading to the living world. Follow me.”
Through the door and down the rabbit hole the trio went, appearing next in a lush forest filled with evergreens, covered in twigs and rocks. The forest wasn’t overly crowded by the trees but there were enough of them, anyway, to make it difficult for larger things to move around.
“Where is he?” Levi tried running aimlessly into the woods, but Alice grabbed the back of his blazer, forcing him to stay put.
 “Hush. Patience.” Alice pressed a pasty finger to her lips, making a soft shushing sound. She pushed the Listener back behind her while the young Blue slowly made his way forward, step by step, keeping a sharp eye out for an out of place gray-suited man. Levi wasn’t sure what to do except wait, and so reluctantly he sat himself against a tree and stared off into the distance, out at the blue sky that accompanied his broken heart and melancholic outlook. No sweet-talking could get him out of this deep desire of his to find the Man in Gray, to save everyone who had gone missing, and most importantly to rescue Laura. It was all one giant headache that was not necessary. Things as they normally were tended to make his head hurt, but everything that had been happening was just a colossal migraine.
There wasn’t much time to keep hating the situation. Right in front of Levi’s eyes he saw the sky changing, a ripple effect distorting the reality that was that plane of existence. Like a fish leaping out of water, a large cobalt ogre splashed out of the ripples in the air and sent a gnarled tree and its splinters toward the Afterlife employees.
Levi didn’t have the reflexes to respond, but Alice did. She grabbed him by his blazer and chucked him out of the way, next to Blue. She herself managed to leap up to a tree branch close to the eye level of the Ogre, where she got a better view of it; the monster in question had tiny empty white eyes void of any soul, light blue skin like fresh water, and three lengthy, twisted horns coming from its head. On its chest was that pesky black heart.
The natural ability of the Listener kicked in for Levi, his body forcefully harmonizing with the ogre like he had done with previous Black Hearts. He inhaled sharply; the first impression he got was that the ogre was newly formed, and its aura was familiar. Desperately familiar.
It was Laura.
This thing was supposed to be Laura, an incarnation of her spirit body being overcome and oversaturated by negative emotion.
Alice didn’t spend time thinking like Levi, and she went to work, doing what came naturally to her. She leapt towards the unnaturally large demon, and landed a swift kick to its head. Instantly, in response to her attack, the ogre bashed her frail looking body down into the loamy dirt of the forest floor. Levi winced, but Alice got back up, her scratches healing themselves swiftly. The instant healing of the spirit body was something that would always captivate Levi.
“Alice!” Blue shouted hoarsely. Alice held out the same finger she pressed against her lips moments earlier. When she lowered her hand a sickle took shape out of a haze and she grasped on to it tightly.
Pushing off the earth with incredibly force towards the ogre, Alice slashed it with the sickle, never once having to push her dress down much to Levi’s surprise, but the attack didn’t do much damage if any. In a tactical switch Alice tried poking out the ogre’s eyes, and in the process narrowly avoided being hit again by its large and strangely agile hands. Blue was not so lucky as the ogre switched its attention to him. A clawed hand jostled the boy and sent his body right into Levi, and the two dropped to the ground like dead weight.
Sitting up, Levi clutched the half-conscious youth in his arms. He shook him gently. “Blue, wake up. Come one, wake up.” Levi started shaking more vehemently when Blue didn’t respond but stopped to cover his ears when a high-pitched noise layered with strung together words Levi couldn’t quite make out erupted through the air. He wanted to vomit, had to vomit, needed to vomit, it was the only way he could feel better. And just like that the noise stopped. Levi looked to Alice as she continued to rage against the ogre and concluded that she had, somehow, not heard the terrible noise and reverted his focus back to Blue.
A new sound, a beating one, a heartbeat, overtook Levi’s ears next, drowning out everything else. Levi started having a panic attack as it overtook him. He felt his chest; nothing. He awkwardly felt around Blue’s chest and his hand stopped over where his heart would be. Levi’s hand was pushed up in synch with the heartbeats that rang out in his ears. He pulled back his hand and the vaguest outlines of a black heart began to pop out of the young Ferryman’s chest. Levi felt a negative pressure rising from Blue.
“No. No, no, no, no. Bad. This is—Blue, you can’t—I don’t know how. I don’t know how to help.” Levi’s hands hovered above Blue, thoughts of inadequacy racing through his old mind. All the years of experience he held were really just mistakes he had learned from, telling him more what not to do and less what would be appropriate to help his friend in this situation. This wasn’t something he wanted to get dragged in to, he was okay sitting in his dark corner, not getting involved, dreaming of the girl he could never reach. He wasn’t the hero of the story. He was just a man.
All he could do was listen. So he relied on the one thing he knew how to do. Levi allowed his ability to take over and he started to harmonize with Blue’s soul, bringing him close, and speaking in a firm whisper.
“Hey, Blue. Have I ever told you why the grass grows? It’s to keep us cozy while we watch the clouds, and the clouds keep the sky pearly and blue, blocking it from the penetrating sins we try to hide.” Levi’s voice held strong and bold. He knew those vague, lyrical words would speak to Blue, lead him back to consciousness, comfort him. “Come on, Blue. Wake up. We need to get out of here.”
The heartbeat faltered, stopping at the sound of Levi’s voice and the black heart itself shrank back into Blue’s chest, the negative pressure vanishing with it. Blue moaned, prying open his eyes with great effort.
“Wow,” Blue started, “you really know how to woo a guy. You’re really speaking to my inner indie kid right now.”
Levi laughed lightly. He heard the big crash, startling him and Blue out of the moment. The ogre, with tiny little white cuts covering its body, had knocked Alice into a tree which in turn knocked said tree to the ground. Alice’s spirit body lay across the tree like a rag doll.
Levi shouted Alice’s name at the top of his lungs, using all his voice had to give and then some. There was no response, no movement. She was out cold and now Levi was left with only Blue in the living world, their only defense his voice. Levi set the bleary-eyed Blue on the ground and stood. He now faced the ogre, overbearing, snarling, and emanating the negative aura Levi now knew well. If he could help Blue, then perhaps he could help Laura. Levi was going to try something.
 “Laura,” he began as coolly as he could, trying to mask his anxiety, “We’re over worked. We get no rest; it’s like we’re the wicked mentioned in scripture.” The ogre, Laura, emitted a low grumble.
Levi felt like biting his lip until it bled, just to watch the crimson spill down to the ground, wondering if that would get a reaction out of the ogre, showing her what her actions were doing. Too bad he didn’t bleed. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the Man in Gray. Oh great, he thought. He now had an audience.
“Laura. I think I love you.” Levi’s voice was trembling now. He had only said that in a vain attempt to harmonize with her soul and calm her down.
“Idiot…” Blue forced out a laugh, sitting up. “Focus on the L Noise. Really listen to Laura. You said it was her, right? Everything will work out.”
The ogre reared back its head, its thinning, tangled white hair blowing back in the breeze. It was so unnatural thinking that thing had once been a woman with a life, an existence where she did good, not harm. The ogre lifted up an oversized arm, and aimed for Levi.
“No, that’s a lie.” The arm stopped right before it hit the Listener. The wind created by the force made Levi’s coat and hair blow to the side but it didn’t keep him from staring intently at the ogre with those piercing emerald eyes while he tapped into the L Noise. “That’s a lie, I don’t love you. Me saying that was just to get you to come down. Why won’t you come down, lady?”
The Ogre retracted the arm, confused. It went to try and hit Levi again, but the same thing happened— it stopped mid-hit. Levi continued, for now he began, after all these years, to truly understand the power of words in relation to those around him.
“You were forced into this situation. Yes, great, woe is you, that sucks. But that’s not you. You don’t sit idly by. You don’t let things pass you. We’re alike, you and I. We don’t settle for timeless. We’re not stuck in the past. We’re not in the future. We are the present, we keep up. We do not doubt our ways. We do not deny them. We simply believe; we simply are. You are Laura Troy; you are not ogre. Now pull yourself together before you disgrace yourself and let’s go home.”
The ogre’s breathing got heavier and heavier, releasing a foul, rotten egg stench. The trees shivered and shook with each heave; the white scars oozed steam. The ogre shouted. Over and over it shrieked. Over. And over. And over. It was ear shattering, and Levi and Blue had to cover their ears the noise was so loud, it even woke Alice, who her ears like the others. Wisps of wind picked up in a circular fashion around the ogre, around Laura, as she started shrinking and transforming back.
Levi turned his focus elsewhere, however, locking his eyes on the Man in Gray. It was the first time he had gotten a good view of the odious fellow. Head to toe he wore shades of gray; gray pants, gray jacket with flecks of red. He looked more like a young adult than a real man, with a baby face and thick, unkempt hair. He had a single x-shaped scar on his cheek, and thin, rectangular glasses. Curiously enough, his eyes were two different colors; one black, one white.
The man lifted up his glasses and using his fingers began to carefully remove his white eye. Once he had done so, he crushed it, and an old wooden door fazed in behind him, different than the ones Alice had been using to travel between the Afterlife and the living world. It looked familiar, though Levi couldn’t quite place his finger on where he had seen the yellow insignia that adorned the door. Then it came to him. Levi began trembling. How had he found a door to…?
“Astoria.” The Listener let the word slip from his lips.
“What?” Blue, wobbling, had propped himself against the trunk of one of the few trees that remained untouched during the encounter. Levi inched towards the Man in Gray.
“Levi, don’t you dare.” Alice, holding Laura over her shoulder, stepped into Levi’s path. “You’re not going to follow him. We’re not allowed there.”
“What are you guys talking about? Keep me in the loop!” Blue shouted. He hit the trunk of the tree then sank to the ground. “It’s taking longer for my spirit body to heal than it should, so I’m kind of cranky as hell.”
“Astoria. The melancholy town where no one ever smiles. It’s where you take souls, Blue.” Like a bird of prey, Alice kept her eyes locked on Levi. He moved closer. So did she.
That Astoria?” Blue picked himself back up off the ground. “The one I take souls to but I’m not allowed to enter?”
“Astoria is dangerous. Things happen there that affect how our world works.” With her free hand Alice clutched her weapon.
“It’s not as dramatic as she’s making it sound, Blue. Otherwise we wouldn’t have you take the spirits there to the Guardians. Astoria is the place where all mediocre souls go to get reincarnated, if you believe Hinduism.”
“Stop it,” Alice spat, “no one knows what really happens to them in Astoria. Not every soul is reincarnated. For all we know they feed them to No One.”
“Nobody?” Blue pinched the bridge of his nose.
“No One. He’s the boogeyman. He eats souls and according to legend his body’s chained up in Astoria.” Levi inched closer. The Man in Gray was frowning, turning around to open the door. Levi could tell he was bored, frustrated. He could feel it. He was missing his chance to capture the man. “I know you don’t believe we’d feed souls to No One, Alice.”
Alice was searching for a way to respond.
“Yeah, so?” She seemed nervous now that she obviously couldn’t think of a proper response.
“We may work for some annoying people, but they aren’t the bad guys. I’ll be fine.” Levi motioned towards Blue. “Watch out for each other.”
“Levi, if you take one step closer, I’ll—”

Levi shoved Alice to the side and ran for the opened door the Man in Gray stepped through. Before the creaky hinges allowed the gateway to shut, Levi stepped through the threshold into the land where he did not belong.

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