One of the things I really enjoy about Events is that they usually inspire me to write some of my bad poetry, and I figured that Gaia's Writer's Forum might be a good place to pursue that, but as it turns out, poetry is just not that big on Gaia.
If it is anywhere for that matter.
Still, I got into the habit of checking out the WF as well as the Original Poetry and Lyrics Forums for a bit and happened upon This Short Story, and the OP's request for input led me to write the first piece of non-rhyming material in more years that I can (or care to for that matter) remember.
So for what it's worth, here it is.
If by some weird twist of fate someone happens to read it, I'd be very interested in hearing in excruciating detail, exactly why I should burn my computer and never even think of writing prose again.
The sun had yet to rise as Park Aera stepped onto the idling bus and as she glanced through its hazy windows, she thought to herself how the dark stillness of the hour seemed to be an almost perfect metaphor for her life.
The air inside carried in it the smell of weeks of inadequate and indifferent maintenance, and this too, seemed to fit the increasingly depressing tableau she had embarked upon as she began her daily commute. And yet, despite the blackness beyond those murky casements, she couldn't help but notice the flickering streetlights and how they fought valiantly to dispel the darkness.
Perhaps, she thought, she might capture just one small glimmer of that light, and keep it with her in the desperate hope that it would spark something inside and enable her to get through another day.
Then, without warning the bus jerked into motion, and Aera teetered unsteadily towards a weathered seat, craning her head sideways and peering down the length of the dimly lit and uncomfortably vacant Greyhound. She watched as her stop faded into the pre-dawn gloom, taking with it her last remnants of security and making the bus feel even emptier than it had before.
Fat blobs of rain trickled down the windows, making them virtually impenetrable, and Aera found her fingers fiddling absently with the fraying fabric of her worn fall jacket. Reaching into the old leather messenger bag that she always carried, Aera pulled out her journal and, clicking a pen, scribbled down twins of words, which became sentences, and ultimately paragraphs. For some unknown reason, she had always found the words seemed to flow more easily in those times when she felt most empty; as if the vacuum that now resided where her hopes had been, demanded to be filled by something, and words were all she had to offer.
They had not been underway long when the bus jerked unceremoniously to a stop, disrupting Aera's reverie and stemming the flow of ink to paper. Slightly irritated, she looked up to see the reason for the unexpected interruption and was startled to find a man gazing at her appraisingly from the seat directly in front of hers.
Aera wondered how she could have possibly not noticed him there before, but before she could pursue that thought, the stranger spoke.
"You're a writer?" he said in a deep and gravelly voice, which caused Aera to glance down at her journal and close it tightly, then, once assured that its contents were safe from the stranger's prying eyes, she slowly returned her attention to the figure in the next seat.
What she saw in the dim illumination of the anemic cabin lights did little to soothe her vague sense of unease.
Messy hair framed a sharply chiseled face, made only more severe by the thin, aquiline nose resting above equally thin lips. Most disconcerting though, were the bloodshot eyes which peered intently at her through the dark, impatiently waiting for her to answer his inquiry, while his thin fingers tapped ashes off a cigarette, dispelling metallic smoke into the air.
"I am", she stammered defensively, somewhat taken aback by the stranger's unexpected familiarity.
"Or at least, I hope to be one day. I've completed several short stories and even a full novel, but I haven't found a publisher for them yet."
Aera wondered to herself why she was being so forthcoming with a man she had never met before mere moments ago, yet there was something in his carefully unkempt appearance and direct manner that intrigued her.
"So how did they end?" he asked with a sullen, self confidence that seemed to suggest he already knew the answer before asking the question. "Did the heroine win her Prince Charming and live happily ever after?" he pursued, the last part seeming more like a sneer than a question.
Feeling defensive, and even more off-balance, Aera replied quietly, "I guess you could say that. After years of abusive foster care, she was finally adopted by a loving family and given a chance to be happy, so yeah, you could say she lived happily ever after.", and now Aera's unease began to turn to embarrassment.
This stranger, this man whom she knew nothing about and who knew nothing about her, had just, with one question, brought her entire future as an author into doubt.
"You don't have even the slightest sense of what life is all about, do you?" he smirked, cuttingly, and where she had once thought he might be attractive in some way, Aera now saw in him something entirely different; something calculated and practiced, and almost cruel. His pale, smooth skin took on an almost plastic-like quality, and she became aware of an underlying "artificialness" about his cocky self-assurance.
He drew deeply on his cigarette, almost as if willing it's toxins into every fibre of his being, and Aera wondered to herself, "Could that be it? Is he as empty inside as I am, but where I fill that void with my stories, he fills his with dreams of death? Could he masking his pain with this demeanor of cold indifference? ", and her growing animosity suddenly faded, leaving in its place an unexpected curiosity about this man, and how someone who seemed so sure of himself on the outside, could be so dead on the inside.
And with that, came a seed of hope. "I wonder if there might be more to this man than he would have the world see." she thought to herself. "Just as there is more to me..." she added, although the last was more hopeful entreaty than statement of fact.
"Perhaps, the reason he has chosen to kill himself in slow motion rests in the fact that he still hopes for someone to save him. Perhaps he too has a small glimmer of light inside, fighting the darkness."
Consumed by this new perspective, Aera became determined to glean as much of the enigmatic stranger’s true nature as she could in what little time remained before she arrived at her destination. She was surprised, and strangely gratified at how little probing it took, almost as if his story had been pent up inside him for years, waiting only for the right person to listen.
His name was Byun Baekhyun, and at one time he had been a singer/song-writer in a struggling rock band. Aera was amazed at how his previously lifeless expression became animated and flushed with enthusiasm when he talked about the group’s early days, and she felt her heart sink when he went on to describe his disappointment when, after years of small shows in bars and college parties, the band finally fell apart and went their separate ways. Something in Baekhyun died with the band, and he hadn’t been able to write or even sing since. The space inside him that had been the source of his inspiration was now nothing more than an aching and empty void which he filled with the acrid haze from the cigarettes that seemed to never be absent from his hand. The smoke clung to him like a funeral shroud, permeating him both inside and out, and the smell made Aera feel slightly claustrophobic and short of breath. Yet despite her discomfort, she continued to listen to Baekhyun’s story, watching his face intently for any hint of what might be going on behind its world-weary expression. In fact, she became so caught up by his tale, that she would have missed her stop had the driver not called to her upon their arrival.
The rest of Aera’s day passed as most of her days generally did. Where her studies had once fascinated her, the years of college and working part-time to pay her tuition and living expenses had drained every last ounce of pleasure from the experience. Now school was just another chore to be completed and one more step towards a life she no longer wanted.
Yet there was something different about this particular day, and try as she might to pay attention in the lecture hall, her mind kept drifting back to the stranger on the bus. A stranger who was not quite so strange anymore, and the small flickering light Aera had borrowed from the streetlight in the early darkness of the day, shone slightly brighter, it’s light illuminating a face in her mind’s eye.
The face of Byun Baekhyun.
The following morning began exactly as had the morning before it. The air was damp and chill, and Aera hugged herself slightly as she watched the bus pull up to where she waited in the pre-dawn stillness. But as much as this day seemed like any other, there was one thing about it that made it unlike any day she could remember, and Aera felt a thrill of anticipation as she stepped up to the driver and passed over her fare.
Her anticipation quickly turned to disappointment though as her gaze surveyed the dank, dimly lit confines of the bus and she realized that she was once again alone. She made her way to her usual seat and sank into the worn upholstery, while inside her, a small voice of doubt taunted that yesterday had only been a dream, and that the perplexing, yet fascinating stranger had never in fact existed. Where Aera might usually have listened to the voice, today she rebuked that part of her that always seemed determined to hold her back and turned her attention to the sleeping town that passed by her window in the dark.
With each stop that approached, Aera strained to see if there might be a figure standing in the chill air, and as each stop passed by unoccupied, her heart sank just a little more, until she began to wonder if the voice might be right after all. Then, just as she was becoming convinced that her longing had created the stranger out of nothing more than wishes and disappointment, the bus began to slow as it approached the Fifth Street stop. There, barely visible in the darkness, stood the figure of a man, and Aera’s heart skipped ever so slightly.
That skipping turned to full-fledged pounding when the bus’s air brakes brought the vehicle to a hissing stop and removed all doubt that the figure was indeed her stranger. Aera forced herself to breathe and did her best to make her expression one of composed inattention, while her heart threatened to race out of her chest.
Baekhyun approached the driver and casually dropped his ticket in the fare box, then just as casually took the seat in front of Aera. It seemed apparent that he was in no way afflicted by the same excitement and agitation that so held Aera in its grip, and yet he had chosen the seat in front of hers, and even though on this day, he didn’t engage her directly, Aera felt sure that she sensed his desire to; as if there was some sort of connection between them that allowed them to sense each other’s thoughts though no words were exchanged.
Only moments after Aera remarked to herself how Baekhyun seemed to be without his omnipresent cigarette, he dipped into his coat pocket and pulled a pack from its recesses, then slid one of the cylinders out and placed it to his lips. He struck a match and held it to the cigarette’s tip, then inhaled deeply and the air was once more filled with the unpleasant odor of smoke.
“Why do you smoke?” Aera asked him. “One day you’ll regret so carelessly wishing your life away you know.” Even with his face turned away from her, she could see the smirk that formed on it as he replied, “Death is inevitable Aera-chan. Whether it finds me wheezing my last breaths alone and forgotten, or surrounded by adoring fans and sycophants, it will find me. Who am I to fight the inevitable and why should I delay its arrival?” Baekhyun had turned to face her as he spoke and the smirk that she had only imagined was now plainly evident. Though she knew inside that he was only teasing her with his practised, casual facade, Aera couldn’t help but be piqued, his attachment of the dismissive “chan” to her name and his smug expression being more than she could take.
“If you are so eager to meet death, why are you here talking to me then? Death isn’t hard to find, and it seems to me that someone who longed for it as much as you say you do would have found it by now!” Aera was surprised by her boldness, and it seemed that Baekhyun was as well, for the look of unshakeable self confidence was gone, and Aera seized upon his loss of composure and pressed on. “I don’t think you want to die any more than the next person does. Any more than I do. I think that deep down inside you still hope to be happy one day, to have someone to love and someone who will love you in return.”
“That’s what I think”
And with that she withdrew her journal from its hiding place in the old messenger bag, and finding an empty page, wrote down, “Byun Baekhyun... conceited jerk, who hides his self-doubt behind a facade of smug superiority.” then just beneath that, in capital letters, “IN NEED OF REPAIR!” Then, with the assessment complete, she snapped her journal closed and returned it to its space among her other belongings just in time for the bus to reach her stop.
The rest of Aera’s day was little more than a blur of wildly shifting emotion. Any sage wisdom that had been dispensed by her professors was lost in the storm which roiled inside her, and when the day was done, the night brought no calm to her emotional tempest.
As had always been the case, Aera used her unrest as fuel for her writing, and when she finally fell asleep, she did so with her head resting upon a desk which had become littered with page after page of vastly differing scenarios, all bound with but one common thread.
Aera awoke suddenly and realized that she had been so caught up in her writing the previous night that she had forgotten to set her alarm. A quick glance at the blinking lights of the silent clock confirmed that she barely had time to shower and dress if she were to catch her bus, so she dashed hurriedly to the bathroom to complete her morning ritual.
Despite moving as quickly as she could, she was still running behind, and Aera could do little more than grab the jumble of papers strewn across her desk and stuff them into her bag as she headed towards the door of her small apartment But even in her haste she couldn’t help but notice that several of them seemed to bear a common phrase, and as she closed the door behind her, that single line echoed in her mind.
Aera arrived at the bus stop, hair still damp from her shower and slightly breathless only to realize that she might not have needed to hurry quite so much, as the bus was only now turning onto her street, and as she watched it roll towards her, she noticed a faint gleaming coming from its polished metal frame. It took her a moment to realize that the gleam was actually the reflection from the clouds in the in the morning sky, which had begun to take on an orangey-pinkish hue. The long winter, which had seemed as if it were determined to stretch on into July, was finally beginning to relent, and as it relaxed its grip on the world, the sun was finally able to rise before she had to leave for her daily bus ride.
Her spirits buoyed by this sign of winter’s final demise, Aera greeted the arrival of the bus with a feeling that she had almost thought was lost forever during the long months of darkness and solitude. Absent for so long, Aera welcomed hope back into her heart like a long lost friend, and practically leapt up the stairs towards the waiting bus driver.
Aera took her accustomed place three seats down from the front of the bus, and gazed out at the brightening sky which was now even more resplendently hued than it had been only minutes before.
“Surely spring is finally here” she thought to herself, “and not just for the town and its inhabitants, but for me as well.” and she sat back in her seat and basked in the rays of sunlight that had now begun shining into the bus.
When the bus arrived at Baekhyun’s stop, she once again felt warmer, but this time the morning sun wasn’t the cause. Baekhyun, as casual as ever, yet somehow more animated than on the previous mornings, passed his ticket over to the driver, then approached the row where Aera sat watching him.
“You look happy this morning” he said, a hint of a smile crossing his face.
Baekhyun took his place in the seat in front of Aera and turned to face her, “Care to share what’s got you in such a good mood today?” and the hint of a smile had become broader and genuinely warm.
“I am in a good mood.” Aera replied. “I’ve started a new novel and I think it may be the best thing I’ve ever written. I have the main plot and all of the characters mapped out so clearly that they are almost real flesh and blood to me now. All I’m missing is one pivotal detail for the male lead.”
Aera waited for Baekhyun to ask her what that detail might be, and assumed he was only pausing in his interrogation to light a cigarette, but rather than reach into his pocket, he instead leaned slightly closer to her and said quietly, “And what might that be Aera-chan?”
And this time the honorific didn’t sound the least dismissive, but more like the way a person might speak to someone for whom they held a genuine affection.
Aera looked into Baekhyun’s eyes and said, “I’d like you to sing for me...”