Komorebi by Tom Fraust

She woke up in an ambulance with two masked people hovering around her. The strong smell of sterilizing alcohol and rubber hung in the air like a fog. The ambulance's repeating siren blared half muted, barely audible through the walls.
Komorebi
Komorebi by Tom Fraust
"Hand me a glove." "Careful." Based on their voices, the girl easily figured that one was a man and the other a woman. They were busy adjusting knobs and tubes when she opened her eyes and they didn't notice her until a minute later. "She's awake," the masked woman said to the man. She tried to move but she found her body strapped down. She felt that something was wrong, but she didn't think it was something physical. Her arms stung because of a few gashes and her head rang with a mysterious ache, but that was about it for anything painful she was able to diagnose. Noticing her attempt to move, the masked man gently pushed her down. "You shouldn't try to move," he said before turning to the woman. "We still don't know what the damage is. We're going to need to do a full scan on her to double check. Aside from that, a few cuts and bruises. Nothing major. A real miracle alright. Have you seen those kinds of accidents before? She should have multiple fractures, but so far I don't see anything wrong." The masked woman shook her head. "I've never seen one before. This'll be the first time." She turned to the girl with a pen and notebook. "Can you hear us?" "Yes," she softly said. Somehow, she found her voice foreign, like it was someone else's voice. "I'll need your parent's phone number so we can call them," the woman said, pen on the ready. She shook her head. "I don't know their phone number..." "Okay. What about your address?" She thought for a moment, but still ended up shaking her head. "I don't know," she answered. The woman frowned. "How about your name?" Fear came over the girl's body and a sickening sense of horror spread through her system like a slow fire. My name? What is my name? The woman repeated her question. Dread started consuming her mind as she asked herself over and over: My name! What is my name? Surely I must know my name! What is it? Her eyes started watering and she began a low series of sobs. Panic slowly drowned her. "Don't you know your name?" the masked woman asked. The girl shook her head. "E-mail? How about your age? Your birthday?" She didn't bother to shake her head as she concentrated on calming herself, but tears just kept on coming. The woman let out a soft, "Oh..." She called the masked man and whispered something in his ear and the girl saw him look at her with pity. "Head injury," he announced. "Possibly...amnesia." Amnesia. The word floated in the girl's mind. The thought of it made her feel woozy and sick. Soon she felt herself losing consciousness once again. She tried to grab anything as she sunk into the deep abyss, but got none as she spiraled helplessly into the darkness of her own mind along with the fading sound of sirens. ___ -Entry 013, October 30- Hey, it's me again. It's almost Halloween. The hospital had decorated the hallways with black and orange streamers and every kid in the floor got sweets in pumpkin-buckets. I heard the kids and nurses in the amputee rehabilitation center are going to make a haunted house with all the kids. I can imagine it, actually. Matt would make a great mummy with his casts and all that. Speaking of rehabilitation, I heard that there was a new boy at the center. Celia told me that he's blind. It was kind of funny how disappointed she sounded when she muttered the word "blind." It was like it was a big disappointment for her. Well, not for me, at least. I don't get the whole "if you have a disability you're automatically denied as a potential friend" scenario. It's pretty much a big disability on its own for the community. They're people and they don't deserve negativity. I told Celia that just a few minutes ago and she somewhat agreed to it, explaining that she wasn't disappointed at all, but sorry for the boy's tragedy. I should try and meet the newcomer—which is sort of becoming my part-time job here. Although, I can't help but feel suspicious because I could swear that Celia was laughing to herself when I turned my back to her. I'll keep you posted. Amelia ___ Amelia closed her journal after signing the entry with her name. A few kids were playing in the playground with a recreational ball game along with a supervisor in front of her. She traced her hands on the wooden bench she was sitting on and took note of the wooden grooves, listening to the hoots and cheers of the playing children. The tree that stood tall behind the bench filtered the harsh sunlight that the summer sun was radiating upon her. She smiled to herself as she watched the children, but she found herself frowning when she saw a girl, not older than twelve, trip and land on her hands and knees; no one came to help for the supervisor was busy breaking up a fight that had started between two boys, and the other kids were too engrossed with the ball game. In an instant, she rushed forward and helped the girl up. "I keep on tripping," the girl said, annoyed, once Amelia helped her up and dusted her. "Then you should run a little slower. What's your name?" Amelia asked as she checked the girl for scrapes and bruises. "Ellie," the little girl answered briefly. "You're Amelia, right?" Amelia nodded and smiled. She was used to the children recognizing her on sight for she was the eldest person in that rehabilitation hospital at a tender age of seventeen. The next eldest patient was ten. Because of this, many of the girls and boys saw her as a big sister. "I haven't seen you here before," she said, kneeling to the little girl's height. Although a little wobbly, the little girl stood by herself. "I'm new," she said. "I got into an accident and now Mister Ham is helping me walk again. I'm still getting used to it ever since I could stand from my wheelchair," she said, sounding a bit discontent. "It'll take a while," Amelia said, smiling. Seeing that the girl's legs were trembling, she put her hands on the little girl's waist. "But before you know it, you'll be able to run all you want!" she encouraged. "But until that day, you should be a little bit more careful. Okay?" "Okay," the girl replied, smiling, and she slowly accelerated to a brisk walk towards the other children—not as fast as she was moving before. "Sweet girl," a woman's voice said from behind her. "Celia!" Amelia greeted, acknowledging her nurse. Celia stood before her with three hardbound books clasped between her hand and breast. She held a clipboard in her other hand. She was wearing her "civilian" clothes, as she called it, which consisted of a t-shirt and cargo shorts. She usually dressed like that (or some form of variation of that style) whenever she wasn't wearing her indigo nurse uniform, which she disliked as much as she disliked eating pears. She ran her hand through her short brown hair and wiped the sweat off her forehead. "You should be more precise when you ask for books," her nurse replied, handing her one of the three books. "There were three Midnight Dance books in the central library. I figured it'd be better if I borrow them all." "You got all of them?" Amelia asked, her eyes widening at the other two books in Celia's hands, amazed. "Oh thank you, thank you, thank you!" She tackled the nurse with a manic glee and squeezed her in a hug. Celia nodded several times. She eased out her chest and lifted her chin, taking pride in her accomplishment. "Well I did go through a lot of haggling. There was another kid who wanted to borrow all three of them as well, but I got them anyways. Cost me five solid greens, though." "Please," Amelia puckered. "You owe me more than five bucks." She got off the nurse's space and skipped along the paved sidewalk, clutching the first book of the trilogy like a prized trophy. "You lost the bet!" She reminded her. "Be careful, Amelia," Celia said, smiling affectionately as she followed her half-prancing, half-dancing patient to the hospital rooms. ___ Amelia loved stories. Children stories, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, comedy, thriller, mystery, horror—it didn't matter; she loved them all. When she first woke up in the hospital, she was greeted by the sound and sight of her nurse, Celia, flipping pages of a paperback novel. When asked, the nurse told her that she was reading a fantasy and readily read the story to her. Both knew that they had found a new friend that day. "Have you read this book before?" Amelia asked as they walked in the hallways of the hospital. Amelia being a few steps ahead, she walked backwards to face her nurse. Celia shook her head. "I'm afraid I haven't. You should pay attention to where you are going. I've been telling you this ever since you've been here," she scolded. "I will if you promise that you'll read it to me." Amelia grinned. Celia sighed, stopping. "I'm sorry, Amelia, but you know what day it is; I have to go back to the city again for the orphanage. You know how much the orphanage needs help, right?" "But can't you stay a little longer and at least read me the first chapter? Please?" Amelia begged, holding the book in front of the nurse with her pleading face peeking from the side. Celia let out a sigh once more; being reminded of how stubborn Amelia can be. She knew that the situation would end up with Amelia's demands if she bargained. "I have to go now. I promise I'll read it to you when I get back tonight, okay?" Celia promised, handing Amelia the other two books in a hurry. She turned to head back to the exit. "I promise!" "But Celia!" Amelia called, but Celia was already gone, leaving her alone in the hallway with the three hard-bound books in her arms. It was this instant when she noticed two different things that she hadn't been aware of when she entered the building. First, black and orange streamers covered the walls along with several pieces of pumpkin and ghost cut-outs. There were cut cotton balls strewn across the ground, imitating a spider's nest. The sight of this somehow made her feel giddy inside for the hallway, which practically screamed: Halloween! Second, there was a body on the ground, which she wouldn't have been able to see if she didn't admire the Halloween decorations for it was blending with the cotton balls. It looked like a young man—far older than the kids; maybe around her age. His raven black hair stuck out like he'd just woken up. Since he was faced down, she recognized the hospital's logo on his back. He had a small physique, which attributed to his camouflage under the group of cotton balls. Quickly, she put down the books and rushed to the side of the fallen boy. "Hey, are you okay?" She asked, nudging the boy's shoulder. There was a low rumble that very much resembled a growling thunder in the midst of an approaching storm. "Hey," she said, nudging him a little harder. There was that low rumble again, but this time the boy turned his head and mumbled, "Food." "Food?" She repeated; worried. It wasn't a kid, alright. If she were to guess, she could've easily figured that he's around her own age or even older. His curly black hair arched across his eyes like tiny thorns, nesting his eyes that were closed tight accompanied with a pained expression that scrunched his whole face up. Across the hall, she heard a door slide open, followed by a call, "Taylor? Taylor!" The call was followed with a run towards her. "Amelia! Is that Taylor?" It was a nurse. Sweat dripped down from his forehead, his glasses in an awkward position on his nose. His sudden arrival beside her made her jump a little bit, as if he was a falcon that had swooped down from nowhere. "I— Well, I don't know who this Taylor is." The nurse hastily crouched beside the fallen boy and inspected. He gasped. "Taylor! Please, wake up!" Amelia watched as the nurse continued to tap his shoulder and nudged his body. "I heard him say 'food,'" Amelia said. The nurse snapped his fingers as if he just solved a great mystery. "Of course! Be right back, Amelia. You keep an eye on him while I go fetch a meal." "What, why?" "Just do it! Who knows where he might end up next. I'll come back in five minutes!" he yelled as he ran outside the building. Amelia curled her lips in confusion. She was alone with the unconscious boy once again. From the distance, the sound of chattering nurses was becoming fainter, a sign that their afternoon break is coming to an end. Soon it will be busy once more in the hallways. The nurse didn't come back five minutes later, however, leaving her bored and stiff right next to the unmoving boy. The boy, on the other hand, was still unconscious. He moaned little bits and piece of cafeteria delicacies from time to time, making her wonder if he wasn't being fed properly. She sat down by the wall and went through the three books in her possession, figuring out which was the first book and which was the last. When she found the first one, she opened it, skipped the copyright page, the title's page, the author's forenote and started reading. Just like that, she was in another world, with the groaning boy right beside her. Reading the first chapter of the book out loud to the boy was easy for Amelia, as if it was second nature for her to do so right next to a semi-conscious boy who's calling for food. She relaxed, settling on the cotton-decorated wall. Finishing the first chapter, she read the second chapter up to the end—the point where she couldn't read more; her own head and stomach longed for food. "Sorry it took a while," the male nurse that left her earlier had returned. He carried a tray with two plastic plates with wrapping paper stacked on each other. The sight of it made her stomach growl. "The cafeteria ladies didn't want fixing a meal before lunch. Here, I brought you your own," he said, handing Amelia the other plate. He knelt right next to the boy as Amelia hungrily ripped open her meal. She set her books right beside her as she started to devour the food. "I'm sorry. I don't think you know me yet, but I know you," the nurse said. "Name's Prince." As she ate, Amelia scanned him from head to toe. He looked like someone Celia would swoon over. "You're pretty popular around here," Prince said. Amelia gulped down a bite. "It looks like it. I've been here longer than anyone, so I deserve it." She grinned. "This is Taylor," he introduced, coaxing the boy. "We got transferred here due to renovation in the hospital down town." "Oh so you guys are new?" "Mmm," the boy seemed to reply. Prince nodded. "Pretty much." A growling sound echoed from the boy. Amelia laughed. "I think you should feed him before his stomach devours itself." "Good idea," Prince replied. "C'mon, let's get you up." Prince propped the boy on the wall. He opened the boy's meal. "Here." "Mmm." "You need to eat, come on." Prince put the plate on the boy's lap. Taylor's nose scrunched up, eyes still closed. "I smell fish." Prince ignored it. "Eat." "I smell fish." "It's salmon." Taylor shook his head. "Tuna." "Just eat, please." "Mmm," Taylor replied. Amelia watched in curiosity as the Prince handed the boy his spoon and fork. Taylor hovered over a few things, sniffing here and there. He tapped the slab of tuna on his plate. "This is the tuna?" he asked. "Mhm," Prince answered. Taylor moved over to the side of the plate where a mush of potato was located. "...And this?" "Potato," Amelia said. "Mmm." He's weird, Prince mouthed at Amelia. Is he blind? Amelia mouthed back. Prince nodded just as Taylor started digging in. He first went slowly, spearing a part of the tuna and taking a spoonful of mashed potato. Amelia observed the boy as he meticulously ate, each element on his plate being equally eaten and mixed—like he memorized where everything is and how much of each was remaining. Amelia was amazed. This was the blind boy she had heard about. "That's it?" Taylor said, a warm glow spreading through his face, revitalizing his body. "Still hungry?" Prince asked as he took his plate away. Taylor shook his head. "Where are we, by the way? And how did I get here?" Prince chuckled. "In the hospital hallway. Ms. Amelia here was keen enough to find you." "'Amelia?'" Taylor repeated her name, a dazed tinge in his voice. He frowned, silent. "That's me," Amelia said. "So that wasn't a dream?" "What wasn't?" She asked "Earlier, I heard you tell me a story." "Oh that...I was just, you know, bored." "You read out loud?" Amelia fidgeted. "No, not always. I just thought—" "You have a beautiful voice," the boy said. A wide teeth-less smile grew across his face. If there was such a thing as the perfect lip-only smile, the boy's smile would fit the bill perfectly. Amelia's face grew hot. She had the unusual urge to run away and hide under a rock. It bothered her that she wanted to act this way, but even though it seemed like a foreign, out-of-character idea, a part of her knew what this feeling was. "Alright, alright, lover boy, let's get back to the room," Prince said, laughing. "We still have to give you a bath." "Mmm," Taylor muttered, his cheeks flushing red. Something told Amelia that it had something to do with her. "Oh, I'm sorry," Prince replied as he helped the boy stand up. "Shouldn't have said that in front of the lady, hm?" "Let's just go," Taylor said, irritated. The two guys started walking down the hall, but before they could get too far, Amelia saw the boy say something to Prince. Prince turned around, cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled in a British accent, "If you would allow, his highness would like to meet you once more after he has bathed in his royal chambers!" Taylor grappled with his nurse who was laughing manically. Amelia heard him protest, "You're embarrassing me!" and "You're lucky I'm blind!" In the end, they settled off each other, calling a truce for Taylor couldn't hurt his nurse for he was, as he said, handicapped and Prince couldn't hurt his patient for he was, after all, his patient. Prince waved good-bye. Amelia waved back, holding back laughter. The two went around a corner, vanishing from her sight. Smiling to herself, she bent over to grab her books on the ground. As she was collecting the books one by one, Amelia discovered an object under the random balls of cotton that had fallen off the wall. She pushed aside the cotton; it was a ring. Kneeling down, she wondered to herself what it was before picking it up and examining it. The ring was silver. Its glossy side reflected the light travelling through the hallway windows. The girl wondered what could've happened for this ring to just slip out of a person's finger. Such a thing happened rarely without a person's notice, right? ...Amelia... She dropped the ring. Amelia looked behind her, but saw no one. She peered through the windows to see if it was just some of the kids playing with her. She found none. Amelia went back to the ring. She stared at it for a good while before taking it from the polished floor once more. It was like stepping into a storm. "Amelia!" she heard a woman yell. "It's all going to be fine, baby! It's all going to be alright!" The girl threw the ring across the hallway, but it did not stop the voices from coming. "Oh God help us!" A crack of thunder ripped through the air, but there was no storm outside the windows. "Mom!" she heard a girl cry. Another chorus of thunder. The girl clutched her head, screaming. Amelia hit the cold floor, her books scattering around her. She felt as if someone was trying to drill a thick shard of glass through her skull. Amelia screamed, kicked and squeezed her head as hard as she can—anything to distract her from the pain and the shattered images that flowed through her mind. There was thunder, lightning and rain. She saw a bridge being swallowed by the river underneath it. A car was in pieces. Wind swept across the scene like a flurry of sword strikes. A woman hung on the side of the bridge, a hand on the railing with a young girl who, tried as she might, couldn't pull her up. The woman's lips moved, but no words came out. A tear fell out of her eye. She let go. The girl watched in horror as the woman fell into the monstrous river. She vanished, like a beast devouring her in one gulp. "Mom!" Amelia cried the same time the little girl did. It was then when the nurses came; it was then when the pain subsided. The memory she had been given was stolen once more like a fleeting bird. The girl was left confused, anguished and in shock, as if she was given something she would’ve loved before taking it away shortly after. Gifted and stolen. Kissed and stabbed. Chapter 2 "'And the boy held her hands. They were soft and warm—much like the cup of coffee they had shared just a few moments ago. He put his hand to her waist and grasped her hand with the other. Then they danced to the silent music of nature with only the moon to light them and the wind to accompany them,'" Celia read. "And?" Amelia asked. "That's it for that chapter," Celia said, putting down The Midnight Dance book on Amelia's bedside table. She playfully tapped Amelia's nose—a gesture she seemed to have developed for the sole purpose of telling Amelia that enough is enough. "Can't you read me one more?" Amelia begged. Celia laughed. "You're seventeen; I'm sure you can read on by yourself." "But I like how you narrate stories!" "Well then," Celia said, standing up. "You'd have to wait until tomorrow." The nurse stroke the girl's hair like her own daughter. She sighed. "You really made me worry today." "I know," Amelia replied, sighing back. "But I really couldn't remember what actually happened. I just remember touching a ring, then pain came over and then next thing I know I'm here on my hospital bed." "The guys that got you didn't report about a ring," Celia said. "If they did, they would've told me about it. What did it look like?" "I don't know. Silver, maybe? It looked pretty ordinary." "Maybe it triggered some of your memories?" Celia suggested. "Maybe." Celia gazed upon the girl's clear, youthful eyes with compassion. "If you get your memories back, you'd have to leave this place. You know that, right?" Amelia nodded. "Won't that be great, though?" "Yeah..." Amelia muttered. "But I won't be able to see any of you guys again." Celia sat back down on the girl's bed. She took her hand and held it tight. "Amelia," she started. "You've been here for about three years. You deserve to meet new people and to learn new things out there." She gestured outside the girl's window. It was night out; the moon was partially hidden by a hoard of clouds. A few stars twinkled meekly. "It's pretty dark out there," Amelia replied, sarcastic. "Oh you know what I mean." Amelia laughed. "Just kidding," she added. "But I do meet new people here." "Oh really?" "Yeah! I met that newly transferred boy and his nurse!" "You mean Taylor and Prince?" Celia asked warily, her grasp weakening on Amelia's hand. A sad, nostalgic expression filled Celia's face. She stared at her hands with eyes drowned with sorrow—it seemed as if she could burst out crying anytime soon. Amelia could only observe her, confused. It was rare for her to see Celia like that. Celia was the girl that loved to live in the moment; not to recount the past. Amelia couldn't take the silence. "Is Prince your ex-boyfriend?" she asked. Celia perked up upon hearing this, like an idle bunny suddenly flipping its ears up. "What? No!" The nurse shook her head hard. So hard that Amelia thought she might've been having a seizure. "No, no, definitely no!" Celia repeated. The thought of it reanimated her. She swung off Amelia's bed and crossed her arms. Shaking her head once more—less extreme than the last one—she said, "You're keeping me here, aren't you?" "Uh, no?" Amelia said. She wanted to point out that she wasn't the one zoning out on her bed, but Celia looked so sad that she was scared to point it out. "Its way past your bedtime, young lady," Celia scolded. She marched over to the door and opened it. "If I see even one bit of light when I pass by here later, you're going to be in big trouble." "Goodnight, mom," Amelia joked. "Very funny," Celia replied, smiling. She flicked off the lights in the room and everything went dark. Celia's silhouette stood at the door frame. "Remember. Not one bit of light." "Got it." "Goodnight; sleep tight," Celia said. The room dove into complete darkness once the girl's nurse closed the door. ___ -Entry 016, October 31- It's Halloween tonight! I still couldn't figure out what I should wear. Celia suggested that I should just wear a white dress and pass off as Cinderella. Although this isn’t really one of Celia’s greatest ideas in her life, it was pretty easy to do. She went home as I was having breakfast earlier and had brought me this silk-white dress she said she had worn for her prom when she was around my age. It was beautiful. It was like its woven out from the clouds. Anyways, Taylor’s bodyguard, Prince, met me again at breakfast. He said Taylor wanted to visit me in my room and maybe read a few books together. I’m not confident in my narrating skills, though. Compared to Celia, I’m probably going to be pretty bad. But he did say my voice was pretty. Whatever that meant. Someone’s knocking. I think that’s them. Amelia ___ Amelia swiftly covered her journal under her sheets before picking up a book from her bedside table. “Come in!” Amelia shouted. The door cracked open. Prince’s head popped in, smiling. “So this is where Ms. Amelia spends most of her time.” "Hi," Amelia greeted, innocently putting down the book she was pretend-reading. "Where's Taylor?" "Right here." Taylor stepped in beside Prince. Surprisingly enough, he was wearing a button-down blue shirt and a pair of khaki jeans. "You bring your wardrobe here?" Amelia asked. "For special occasions...such as this," Prince answered for Taylor, who shouldered him annoyingly. Prince laughed. "Alright. I got some paperwork to do so why don't I leave you two alone here?" Amelia blinked. "Wait, what?" "That was the plan," Taylor agreed. "Take care of him for me, will ya'?" Prince said, already halfway through the door. "But—" But Prince closed the door behind him, leaving the girl and the boy alone. Silence. It seemed like an eternity of silence. Amelia gaped at the boy who stood frozen at her door way. "Hello?" Taylor called out, reaching a hand out at a wall. "Did you jump out of the window or something?" "I'm here!" Amelia answered, realizing that she was letting him just stand there. "I was just, um...I just don't get a lot of...this, usually." "You mean you never spent alone time with boys before?" "Well..." Taylor chuckled. "Don't worry about it. Since I'm blind, you can make any weird face you want. I don't care if your hair is messy or if your room is messy. Although I might have to object if I find dirty underwear on the ground." He wrinkled his nose as if such a thing had happened before. "No underwear, I swear," Amelia promised. "I hope so," Taylor replied. With a hand out in front of him, he took a step forward. "Now, if you don't mind, I'll be tracing your voice." He took another step forward. "Tracing my what?" "Your voice. I'm still getting used to it, but I'm going to try to come over to you without directions. Just tell me if I'm about to hit my head or if I'm about to step on something I shouldn't step on." "Like dirty underwear?" "Exactly like dirty underwear." "I'll keep an eye out for you then." "Thank you very much." "So...I just keep talking?" "Mmm." "Are you sure you've done this before?" "Like a bat." "Gotcha. Can you see walls? Or, like, my mini-fridge?" He stopped. "We have a mini-fridge in our rooms?" he asked; unbelieving. "I thought all of us do," Amelia replied. "Prince is going to get it when he comes back," he muttered. Amelia cracked up. "Did he make a stupid reason that's related to keeping things cool?" "Very much so." Taylor resumed his step-by-step walk, raising his hand again to make sure nothing hard was in front of him. "Did he go out to keep your cola cool instead of just shoving it in your fridge?" "Something like that— Ow. Mini-fridge?" "Mini-fridge," Amelia affirmed. Taylor shuffled around the object with his hand planted on it. Amelia found it impressive that he was relaxed while doing it. She figured if she was walking blind she'd be freaking out by then. Maybe she'll toe-hit a cabinet. Or maybe she'll suddenly step on a hole. Or maybe a flight of stairs that no one told her about. Such possibilities never escaped her mind. "That was not sexy at all," Taylor said once he had completely circumnavigated the mini-fridge. "Any other mini-things I should be aware of? A mini-heater or something? I can't really hear out things below my waist." "Nothing else below the waist. Except for my bed...which you're getting really close to." "...Is this the bed?" "Yup," Amelia confirmed. "What's this, um...fluffy thing?" "That's my dress." "Very fluffy. Mind if I sit down?" "On the dress?" Amelia asked. Taylor laughed. "Of course not. I like sitting on the floor," he said as he bent over, crossing his legs underneath him and leaning his back on her bed. He took a deep breath. "Magnolia." "That's creepy." "Why? Is that your perfume?" "No, that's my shampoo." "Well it's not my fault it's all over your room. Just shows how much time you've spent here, which brings me to the question: how long have you been staying in this place?" "Five years, I think," Amelia answered. Taylor whistled. "That's funny." "Huh?" "I got blind five years ago as well." "Oh..." "Coincidence or not, right?" Amelia chuckled. "Probably coincidence." "So, what are you in here for? So far, I don't think you have cancer or an amputated arm...or leg." "This hospital doesn't admit cancer patients, dummy," Amelia replied. "And I'm not an amputee. I'm just here because I can't remember a thing." "Relatives?" "They don't care about me." "Parents?" "They're gone." "Oh," Taylor said. "I'm sorry." "It's okay. It's been five years. I got over it. Celia's pretty much the only family I have right now." "Celia!" Taylor exclaimed, pointing a finger up to the ceiling as if he had said Eureka! Confused, Amelia asked, "What about her?" "So that's the name of the nurse Prince was hitting on!" "Seriously?" "Yeah! That's why he refuses to use my mini-fridge—so he has an excuse to go out and flirt with her!" "Are you sure it's Celia?" Amelia asked. She didn't really take Celia for the type of woman to flirt back to guys like Prince. But then again, she was only seventeen; what did she know about flirting? Taylor nodded at the wall. "Very sure. I overheard Prince talking to someone outside my room one time. He asked for her name. She said 'C' something." "What are the odds," Amelia said. "There's another nurse here with 'C' in her name." "Who?" "Catherine." "It didn't sound like a Catherine." "I'll leave that to you," Amelia replied. She got off her bed and stepped over Taylor. "Excuse me." "No problem." She opened her fridge and took out two juice-boxes. She handed one to Taylor before popping the straw on hers. Amelia watched Taylor pull the packaged straw from the box, delicately inserting it in the straw hole. He sipped his juice. "So, what about you?" "Mmm?" Taylor responded. "What's your story?" "Well, I think you know." Amelia took a short swig of her juice. She sat right next to Taylor on the edge of her bed with a few inches to spare between them. "I'm sure you're not just blind and relocated to this place. You kind of have to get a special case to actually get here." Taylor put down his juice, sighing. "Okay, I'll tell you. But don't freak out." "I'm listening." "I swallowed a box of staplers." Amelia stared at him. "Doubt it." "Didn't buy it, huh?" Taylor muttered. "Fine. I'll tell you the real reason. But seriously, don't freak out." "I won't freak out," Amelia said, casually taking a sip from her juice-box. "I also lost my memories five years ago." Amelia choked on her drink. Coughing, she got up to fetch a towel. "Are you okay?" "Mmm," Amelia replied as she wiped her face. "Did you shoot orange juice from your nose?" "Ew, no," Amelia lied. Juice dripped down her chin. She hastily dabbled her face to get rid of the evidence. But someone barging in the room seeing her with a trail of orange juice from her nose was the 2nd thing that she was worried about. The first was what Taylor had said. "Five years ago?" Amelia repeated. "Weird, huh?" "Like I said," Amelia replied, "must be coincidence." "Hmm, yeah, maybe you're right." There was a brief knock on the door. Prince poked his head in with a gleam in his eyes. "Back! Hope I'm not intervening or something—" Amelia cried, alarming both Taylor and Prince. "What is it?" Taylor inquired. "My dress—it's got orange juice all over it!" Amelia said. The dress was, for a matter of fact, ruined. A large blotch of orange stuck on the front, making it look like someone had barfed on it. "This is a mess," Prince said, putting a hand on his chin. "Is that your only dress for the Halloween party tonight?" "It isn't even mine." Amelia sighed. "Celia's?" Prince asked. Taylor chuckled. "Yeah, it was her high school prom dress thing." "Why are you wearing such a pretty dress for a party full of kids?" Prince inquired. "Unless of course..." It took Amelia a few seconds to get what he meant. Her face grew hot. "It's not what you think it is!" "I technically can't dance," Taylor butted in. "It's either I'll be stepping on your feet or you're going to step on mine. Or maybe even both. Although we could do it like they did in Twilight—" "Nooo!" Amelia answered. "I'm not dancing with anyone! I just want to go to the party as Cinderella; is that such a hard thing to comprehend for your brains?!" she finished, taking heavy breaths. "Whoa, calm down you two," Prince said. "I never said anything about a dance." "You didn't mean a dance?" Taylor asked, adopting a disappointment look. He looked pretty cute; his eyebrows were scrunched up together and his lip curved in a perfect way. It made Amelia's heart beat run faster for a reason she didn't really know. "What then?" Amelia challenged, tearing her gaze from the boy. "I was going to say 'unless of course you plan to be Erileth.'" Amelia frowned. "Who's Erileth?" Prince chuckled. "Don't know? She’s from this story about Death's daughter, which is Erileth. She watches over children because she has a firm belief that children shouldn't die so early in their lives. Most of the time, she convinces her father to spare a little child's life, but of course, she couldn't convince him of everything without giving something in return. Her father had to take an hour from her life everytime she saved a child's life...until she died." "That's pretty morbid for a children's Halloween party." Prince shrugged. "But hey, Cinderella works too." "But I can't. My dress is ruined," Amelia replied, holding up the once pure-white dress. "You could dress up as Amelia," Taylor suggested. "You won't need to get a new set of clothes for that." Amelia exhaled. "What's the fun in that?" "The fun part is that you don't have to dress up," Taylor replied. Prince started nodding. "See, now he's got a point..." "Not helping," Amelia said. She bundled up the dress and tucked it under her arm. "I'm gonna go to the cleaners to see what they can do." "Good luck," Prince said. "You have, like, what? Five hours?" "I can make it," Amelia said, determined. "Well, see you then," Taylor said, standing up. He got on the bed and lied down. "I'll take a nap." "Take a nap in your room, geez!" Amelia replied. She didn't bother to stay after that line. Amelia went out into the hall and marched straight to the stairwell. The hall was bright and shiny due to the harsh sunlight passing through the windows. Kids were playing outside in their costumes, making Amelia smile as she walked by. She went down the stairs as fast as she could, positioning her dress under her arm in a way that it won't fall easily. Normally, she wouldn't even dare of doing such a thing. Then again, who knows how long cleaning that dress up would take? As she was doing so, she felt a cold bristle on her back. Her foot slipped. Amelia stared at the dozen or more steps that awaited her body. She felt as if the distance between her face and the steps was unnaturally long. Maybe it just like that because everything seemed to be slowing down. But her face approached the blunt steps, nonetheless. She already imagined what would happen. Her neck broken. Her face sliced open. I'm going to die, she thought. I'm going to die here. But before she could completely tilt, someone grabbed her arm. The girl froze up, holding her breath. Her heart pounded in her chest like a cop trying to knock down a door. She was suspended diagonally with only the stranger's hand to hold her. The hand that grasped her was unnaturally cold, but she didn't pay much mind to it; she was more concerned about who it was that just saved her life. The stranger pulled her up straight again. She held onto the hand rail with her dear life as her legs failed to carry her weight. Crumpling into a seat, Amelia sat down on the steps, breathing deeply. She craned her neck back to identify her savior. "Thank you—" "You're not supposed to die yet," the strange man replied. Amelia didn't recognize his face. The man was tall. His body was burly and firm. Along with a sleek-black tuxedo, the man looked like a very important business man—a type of person Amelia least expected to be in the hospital. But what shook her up more was the ring on his hand. It was the same silver ring she had found yesterday. The sight of it made her feel sick as if something buried wanted to dig out of her mind. "What do you mean?" Amelia said softly, almost whispering. The man stared at her. "Our deal is almost done, but it's not done yet. I can, however, return your memories, but that would cut out the boy instantly. Do you want me to return your memories now?" "Huh?" The man closed his eyes for a moment. "Ah, I see. You don't remember." He stepped forward, taking the silver ring off his finger. "I suppose you can have a little bit." Amelia wanted to run as the man approached her with the ring outstretched towards her. But she could barely move. "Wait...wait, no—" The ring touched her forehead. Everything went dark. She couldn't feel or smell or detect anything. All she heard was two people speaking. A boy was crying; sobbing. "We just had to drive over the bridge—how could this happen?" "It happens without anyone's judgment," a man's voice replied. "You can't take her!" the boy snapped. "If you're going to take her, take me instead!" A deathly silence passed through. It felt like forever before the man replied. "If I were to take you, what's there to say that she wouldn't do the same for you?" "Then take away her memories of me!" "That's not possible," the man replied. "I cannot steal someone's memories without taking everything." "Then what can I do, huh?" "Well, I propose a deal." "A...deal?" "Yes. In exchange for her life, I will take away your sight and your memories." Another wave of silence went by. The boy said, "Deal." "Very well." ___ Amelia's vision returned. She was back at the stairwell. The man sat right next to her, pinching the ring with his thumb and index finger. "What— I don't understand what that was—" Amelia stuttered. "That's his deal. I cannot reveal to you your deal with mine." "Wait, was that...Taylor?" The man's face seemed to grow harder. "Yes." "But then...what do you mean my deal with you is almost up? I'm going to die? But I thought he made a deal with you?" "His deal does not concern your deal with mine." "But I don't even remember my deal with you—whoever you are!" "I am what you people call an Angel. An Angel of Death to be exact." That introduction took a few moments to sink in. She made a deal with Death? What for? The man stood up, pocketing the ring. "Well...you have until tonight. Taylor's deal with me stands. Yours is almost up." The man took one last cold look at her. Out of nowhere, he threw her dress back at her. Unlike before, however, it was clean as snow. "Spend your time wisely. You deserve it," the man said, walking up the stairs. "Wait!" Amelia called. But the man didn't turn or acknowledge her. He simply walked until he vanished out of sight. Strength instantly returned to her body once he went out of her sight. With dress in hand, Amelia ran up the stairs to follow him, but when she got there, he was already gone. The girl crumpled against the wall, hugging the snow-white dress in her arms and burying her face in its softness. It was hard to believe—she was going to die, she made a deal with Death and Taylor saved her life five years ago. It felt as if someone had dropped a huge boulder on her body. She held fast, fighting back tears; the last thing she wanted to do was cry. "Amelia?" someone called. Amelia raised her head from her dress. Taylor stood a few meters in front of her with his hands out. "Taylor?" Amelia said. "What are you doing here? Where's Prince?" "Prince is somewhere. He left me in my room." The boy frowned. "You called my name, didn't you?" "I didn't," Amelia answered. "Look, do you remember anything from five years ago? Anything at all?" The boy bent his lips. "No. Nothing. All I remember is darkness. Even now all I see is darkness." "Oh..." "Amelia?" Taylor called. "Yeah?" "I don't think it was a coincidence—our accidents." Amelia stood up, rolling up the dress. She approached Taylor until he was just a few inches away. Taylor sniffed, wrinkling his nose. "What is it?" "Can I hug you?" Taylor hesitated, but nodded his head. Amelia wrapped her arms around the boy, who just stood still like a stick. "What's this about?" "Thank you." "What for?" Amelia put her forehead against his chest. "For everything." "I, uh, I didn't do much, really—" Amelia pulled away. She couldn't bear seeing his innocent face. Whatever deal she just made with Death, it cost Amelia her life—the same life Taylor had saved. Amelia slowly back away until there was a few feet between them. She dropped her dress on the tiled floor. And then she ran. She didn't dare look back. ___ Taylor figured she wasn't coming back when he heard her run away. Her familiar scent of magnolia still lingered in the air, throwing him off. He called her name a couple of times just for good measure. No answer. He felt agitated about Amelia's actions. Something was up; something had happened. He took a few steps forward until he stepped on something soft. He knelt down to pick whatever it was and discovered Amelia's dress. Amelia scent was on it. He instantly knew something was wrong when he held it. He didn't know how, but he knew. It was as if his instincts had kicked in. "Amelia," he whispered, standing up again with the dress in his hand. "Amelia," he repeated, taking another step forward. He was about to take another one when someone caught his hand. "Careful, bud!" Prince said. "You're two steps from a deathly flight of stairs." "Oh," Taylor said. "Hey isn't that your girlfriend's dress?" "Prince," Taylor said, ignoring his remark. "I think Amelia's in trouble." Chapter 3 It was half an hour after dusk. The groggy sun hovered dangerously low in the horizon. Night breezes ran through the trees along the hospital perimeter, making the leaves rustle and crack. A small group of people combed through the trees armed with flashlights. "Amelia!" Celia called. One of the searchers that was with her approached her and took her hand. It was Prince. The nurse shook his head at her. "It's no use. We can't find her in this darkness. It's dangerous and it's late." "Which is why we need to find her," Celia replied under her breath. "Amelia!" she called once more. A band of bushes shook on their left. Celia turned with a growing smile, expecting it to be Amelia, her little girl. But it was just another fellow nurse. "No sign of her in the front courtyard," she reported. Celia's smile faded. Prince squeezed her hand gently. Another person appeared by the nurse that had arrived. Celia looked at him expectantly, readying herself for a wave of relief or another slap to the face. "Well?" Celia asked when the nurse didn't speak. "She's not in building A or building B. I've asked all the other staff over there. No luck." Celia buckled downwards as if her knees had ceased to exist. Prince caught her under the arms, gently softening her crash on the ground. "Celia, are you—" "Give me back my baby!" Celia screamed at the blue-orange sky. "I'll do anything—Just bring her back home—!" her voice broke into a sob. The woman cried at the darkening sky, her body trembling with every wail. "Just please bring her back..." she pleaded, "Please..." ___ Taylor leaned up against his bed, dragging his finger along a book he had been trying to read. He disliked reading braille books, but this time was an exception; he needed to get away from the real world. But it wasn't working. The words he traced wouldn't stick to his mind. The book's story failed to embrace him wholly. All he could think of was Amelia, Amelia, Amelia. It had been two hours since she had gone missing and he was yet to hear from Prince. He closed the book, settled on the fact that it wasn't letting him enter another realm. Taylor slid his book underneath his bed—the place where he kept most of his books and other personal belongings. He pushed himself off the floor and clicked his tongue once. Twice. Thrice. He remapped his room in his mind before making way for the door. Once he got to his door, he twisted the doorknob. It opened, which was a miracle; Prince started locking his door ever since he was found unconscious by Amelia in the hall under a pile of cotton balls. He put a hand on the wall to his left. He dragged it there as he walked towards the left wing, which is the area where he had last seen Amelia, by the stairwell where he had almost fallen into earlier. With the help of a few echo—locating clicks, he managed to find the staircase. He traced the first step with his foot. With utmost care, he held on the handrail and brought down his foot down. A split second of doubt—what if there wasn't a staircase here after all?—passed through his mind before his foot felt the hard surface of the first step down. Using the last gap as a reference, he took another step down; then another one, and another one until he eventually reached the ground floor. It was quiet, which had expected since almost all of the staff was out looking for Amelia. The faint smell of that day's lunch hung in the air from the cafeteria along with a slight string of detergent from the cleaners' room. Taylor wasn't sure why he wanted to go downstairs. All he knew was that he wanted to help find her. He felt strange; he felt that he needed to find Amelia as if his instincts knew something he didn't. This was a familiar feeling, however. One time, he came across a hot-dog stand named Bulldog's. He didn't remember tasting or smelling Bulldog's hot-dogs, but his mouth watered whenever Prince mentioned the name "Bulldog's," which was a regular occurrence because Prince loved eating them (or so he said). Taylor figured that it came from his lost memories—impulses that his body remembered but his brain did not. Maybe in his past life he also loved eating Bulldog's hot-dogs. Dragging his hand on the wall, he walked through the corridors. He stopped right in front of the cafeteria, unable to enter. A strong rancid smell escaped from the cafeteria. It smelled like someone had doused the whole cafeteria with vinegar. But he stepped right in after pinching his nose, thinking that Amelia might've thought that coating the cafeteria with vinegar would repel him and his keen nose. A childish reason. But then again, he had a limited amount of options by travelling alone, so why not? "Amelia?" Taylor called after several steps in. "Are you in here?" "Who's there?" someone replied. Whoever she was, she was definitely not Amelia. Taylor heard someone walk towards him. The person stopped a few feet from him, saying, "Wow, aren't you a diligent one?" she chuckled. "Sorry, but I don't think Amelia is here. Celia and a couple of people have already scouted this place out. I even started my pickle jar experiment." "Oh, I see," Taylor said, crestfallen. He turned back to the entrance, a few paces back. "Sorry for bothering you and your uh...experiment." "Catherine," the woman said. "Huh?" "My name's Catherine. Nurse and a terrible cook. Would you like a hand?" "Oh," he replied, "I'm Taylor, Amelia's—" "Girlfriend?" Taylor almost choked. "No, no...Just a friend. And no thank you. I think I can handle it...?" The reason for his change of tone was because he felt a thin, warm arm hook around his elbow. "Don't be silly. If you want to find your girlfriend faster, you need assistance." Catherine said, right at his side, "I can't stand by to let a patient walk around aimlessly too. It's part of being a nurse." Taylor sighed. "I guess it'll be alright." "Great!" "What about your pickles?" "Oh they can wait. Ms. Amelia's more important anyway. This way, then." Taylor felt weak, having to need another person's help. He always hated that, but he always kept it in him for the sake of the person assisting him. They went through the hallway that led back to the stairwell he had climbed earlier. He stopped moving, making the nurse stop as well, who seemed to be experienced with walking with people like Taylor. "What is it?" Catherine asked. "I stepped on something hard and tiny," Taylor said. He took a step backward. He felt the nurse kneel down momentarily. "It's...a ring." "A ring?" Taylor repeated. "Yes. It looks like a wedding ring, actually. This is odd; I don't recall having married nurses here since most couples are daunted by the large distance of this place is from the city." "How about married patients?" Catherine laughed. "This is a children's hospital, Taylor. No one over eighteen can stay here. I guess I'll just keep it for now just in case there is someone married here." He felt Catherine push something down—probably the ring—in her pockets. "Sorry, but I don't think I remember where you wanted to go." "Is there a restricted place here?" "Restricted?" "Yeah. A place where normally no one would have access to." "Well...There's the breaker room. That place is closed, of course, unless we want kids poking around there and getting electrocuted. Then there's the basement where we store old equipment and broken furniture. Locked. But even if it's unlocked I think the kids wouldn't want to go in there since it's dark and creepy." "Anything else?" "Hmm...There's also the rooftop, which is closed off for obvious reasons." "Do you think they have searched these places?" "I'm sure they've searched pretty much everywhere. The only place that they wouldn't search is the rooftop." Taylor's ears perked up. "Why is that?" "The only way to go up there is an old creaking staircase that can collapse anytime. I tried going up there last month. Two steps in and I already feel uncomfortable. It'll more fragile now because of the recent rain and wind." "Let's go there," Taylor said without hesitation. "But Amelia knew about that dangerous staircase. Why would she even try?" Taylor wrinkled his nose. "All the more reason that she might be there." He took several steps forward, not waiting for the nurse. "Hey wait!" Catherine said, dashing to catch up with him. "Just don't expect to get up there, okay? I doubt it can carry you." "Mmm." "Are you even listening to me? Slow down; you might run into a wall!" "I am listening, but I can't slow down. Not right now," Taylor replied, making a sharp turn at what he believed where the stairwell he went through was. He reached out a hand to his right and sure enough he found the handle of the stairs. He felt for the first step, found it, and started climbing the stairs. Taylor's heart beat faster as he thought what could've happened to Amelia and what she was doing. He didn't know why he was that concerned about a girl he had only met for 48 hours. He couldn't put his finger on a valid reason. Sure, he liked her, but she was just an acquaintance who happened to have amnesia like him. That couldn't be the real reason for the yearning he felt deep down his chest. No, it felt more than that. Taylor climbed up the stairs as fast as he could, turning every 20 steps up to climb the next set of stairs parallel to the one he was on, each turn taking four diagonal steps. His legs were starting to hurt by the time he felt a hand grappling his arm, stopping him. "Please...hold...on," Catherine said in between heaves. "What is it?" Taylor asked, almost angrily. Catherine squeezed his hand once she had gotten her breath back. "You're already there," she said. Taylor knelt down on the ground, skeptical. He traced his hands on the surface in front of him where he knew the next set of stairs would be. Wood. His hands found thin grooves of wood against his skin. Testing, he pushed it down a little bit. The first step emitted a loud creaking sound under his palms like a biscuit being slowly bent. Taylor sighed; the staircase was indeed too fragile to be usable. "Let's just go look somewhere else," Catherine suggested, tugging his hand back. Taylor replied, "I guess you're right." Hopeless. She wasn't there. She couldn't be there. He was crestfallen as he allowed the nurse to guide him back onto the previous staircase. "At least down there you're safe from all this dust. Good thing I caught you, though. There was a sizable hole a few steps high. Fragile or not, you could've slipped and fell right into the basement." "A hole?" "Yes. Looks like someone or something punched through the staircase." "And where would you end up if you fell into it?" "The basement," Catherine gladly answered. "Not a nice ride down, though. You would break a lot of bones, that's what I can tell you—Hey!" Taylor took off once more, but this time, downstairs. A horrifying idea had come to mind—an idea that may or may not devastate him. Amelia, his heart sang as he juggled his feet going down, counting every step to know when the staircase would end—16, 17, 18, 19, 20, turn, keep hands on the handrail. Twenty steps down again. Four steps every turn. Hands and legs starting to hurt again. Amelia, Amelia, Amelia... "I hope I'm wrong," Taylor whispered to himself as he ran as fast as he can. But as he got off on one of the steps, he miscounted and got that split-second heart attack. He fell face forward on the ground that followed. "Amelia..." he groaned, pushing his body up again. "Taylor!" he heard Catherine behind him, "Are you okay? Are you hurt?" she asked as she went beside him. "I'm fine," Taylor said, starting to stand up again. But Catherine brought him down before he can fully stand. "I can't let you do this by yourself," Catherine said. "You're not even my nurse," Taylor replied. "It's still my duty. It's part of my job, even if you're not my patient." "Just let me go." Taylor tugged. Catherine tugged back. "Are you out of your mind? You don't even know where the basement is! It'll take you a whole day to search for that by yourself!" "Why? Because I'm blind?" Taylor spat. "Yes, because you're blind!" Catherine replied. "Let me help you, Taylor. You don't have to keep trying to do things by yourself. Sometimes you need help from other people, even if they don't know you; even if you feel like you're the only person needed to do the job. "I know Amelia too. She's a nice girl. If something happened to her, I won't be able to forgive myself just as her sister wouldn't be able to forgive herself." Taylor's ears perked up. "Her sister?" "Celia. Celia is her sister," Catherine said. "But that's not what I'm trying to get across right now. What I'm saying is that all of us nurses and doctors are here as a collective body to help you guys. Let us be your eyes. Let us be your legs; your arms. The reason I went into this line of work is because I want to help people like you. So, let me help you. There's no shame in getting a bit of help." Taylor was silent, not knowing how to respond to such a thing. He nodded and the two of them stood up. With the nurse at his side, they started walking. "Honestly," Catherine said, "are you sure you're not Amelia's boyfriend?" "Seriously? Just after giving that speech?" Catherine laughed. "I can't help it!" Taylor grumbled. "Mmm." "Anyways, why are you going to the basement?" The dread returned. He imagined Amelia under a pile of wood, bloodied and broken. With her black hair scattered around her and her dim-green eyes lifeless...Wait a minute, Taylor thought. Black hair? Green eyes? How do I know this? "Taylor?" Catherine called. The boy hadn't noticed that he had stopped walking and that he still hadn't answered Catherine's question. His nurse's calls didn't seem to snap him out as his thoughts started churning harder like a waterwheel being overcome by a sudden surge of water. Ink-black hair, green eyes, plump pink skin. Beautiful contoured face and an adorable nut-sized pair of lips—Amelia. That's Amelia, He remembered, I've seen her before...I've— Taylor collapsed. ___ Amelia laid still on the cool ground, not daring to move. Light from the hole she had made shined upon her face a couple feet up with its edges sharpened like a set of wolf teeth. "Is there where I die?" Amelia asked herself. Her body refused to move. Even her eyes didn't budge as if she was frozen. The fall definitely took a toll on her body. Aside from not being able to move, she felt something misplaced in her chest. Maybe a broken rib or two. Maybe more. It didn't matter anyway. She could feel her heart beat slowing down much like the fading light of the sunset outside the building that will soon vanish—just like her life. A familiar voice refocused her senses: "...down there you're safe from all this dust. Good thing I caught you, though. There was a sizable hole a few steps high. Fragile or not, you could've slipped and fell right into the basement." And she heard another one: "A hole?" It was Taylor. "Yes. Looks like someone or something punched through the staircase." "And where would you end up if you fell into it?" "The basement, as I said," Catherine gladly answered. "Not a nice ride down, though. You would break a lot of bones, that's what I can tell you—hey!" And their voices faded away accompanied with the sound of running down stairs. "Tay...lor..." she croaked. It was useless, she thought. He wouldn't be able to hear her even if she screamed. "He's coming here," a voice said. "Don't move. It's me." Death hovered right at her feet. Gone were his businessman clothes and slick hairstyle. Instead, he wore a glowing white robe that could either be a holy bathrobe or the normal sleeping gown in heaven. "Are you surprised?" he asked, stepping back to emphasize on his attire. "Most people envision me with a scythe and a black hood." "What is...it like?" Amelia managed. "In the afterlife?" the angel said. "It's very peaceful. No pollution. No war. No disease. No politics. No school." "Mmm," Amelia grumbled. "You learned that from him, yes?" Amelia did her best to nod for trying to speak was becoming unbearable as if every word stole a second from her life. Death sighed. He reached for something in his cloak and took out a golden pocket watch. "Almost time. The last dusk," he said just as the light from the rafters above started to rapidly dim. Darkness came over the whole basement room and the only light source that lit up the room was the angel's aura. "Let's go, Amelia." Amelia blinked one last time. A tear drop escaped her eyes and rolled down her cheek. And they were gone. The basement reclaimed its darkness and the girl left her body along with the Death angel's glow. ___ "Did you forget your dying wish?" Death asked as he stood with Amelia right in the middle of white nothingness. "No," Amelia replied. "I remember it now," she said, smiling. "I remember everything now. I guess we weren't really meant to be, huh?" "You two would make a fine couple," Death agreed. "What is this place?" Amelia asked, twirling around in her white dress that had miraculously appeared on her. Nothing stretched off as far as the eye could see. Just light. "This is what we call the platform. Lucian comes by from time to time to take you to paradise." "Sounds like something from a fantasy novel," Amelia quipped. Death laughed. "Oh you'll be surprised." "Amelia!" The girl froze at the sound of that voice. She looked around, finding the source of her caller. "Last minute call?" Death said. Amelia frowned. "Huh?" "It seems they've already found your body," Death answered, looking up. The girl did so as well. She saw what seemed to be a first person view of people with flashlights. A woman was crying loudly. Familiar nurses bunched up together to see her. Faces of disdain, sorrow and anguish popped up like a wave along with intertwined voices. "What happened?" "She...she's dead." "Don't let the children in." "Why would she do this?" "Bring her to the ER. Now." Amelia felt a hand on her shoulder. "He's here," Death announced. As if on cue, a man on a double-bike appeared out of nowhere. He wore the same white glowing robe as Death did. The man stopped right beside them before giving Amelia a warm smile. "Name's Lucian, young lady," the man said, extending a hand. "If you're ready, just hop on and we'll be off." "Okay," Amelia answered, scampering on the second seat on the bike. She looked at Death one more time. "Well...thanks for giving me a chance." Death bowed. "If only you won." "Won?" Amelia's eyes widened. Taylor materialized right next to Death. His eyes were open, revealing a pair of aqua-blue eyes that Amelia had always admired. "Taylor?" "So, we're back here again, huh?" Taylor said to Death. "The place where we made a deal." "Indeed," Death replied. "But our contract is void." "What do you mean void? I gave you my sight and my memories to let Amelia live!" "And she gave her life to let you live," Death countered. Taylor exchanged glances with Amelia. "What...what does he mean?" "The night," Amelia started, "when we were crossing the bridge, my mom died. When I came back for you, you were also gone; thrown away into the river." "That is when she met me," Death said. "And that is also the point when she made a deal." Amelia said, "He said that the price for a life is a life but he also said that there are some ways for the both of us to survive. A risky deal. So, I gave my memories to him and placed that I will die in five years if we never get to..." "If we never get to fall in love again?" Taylor finished. "Yes," Amelia said, embarrassed. "Isn't that...Isn't that the plot of the movie we watched right before we went home?" Amelia blushed. "I was twelve." "And I was in love," Taylor said. "I've always been in love with you. Even when we were just kids. Even in the last 48 hours, I felt something different when I'm with you. It's something my heart couldn't forget." "You've realized this too late, sadly," Death said. "Time is up. There is nothing else to do." "Unless I wager," Taylor said. "Wager?" Death repeated. "If you're willing to do so, you must put something up twice as valuable as your life and eyes combined." "Don't," Amelia said, her voice breaking. "Please, just live your life, Taylor. You've done enough." "I can't live knowing that you died so I can live, Amelia," Taylor replied. He fully faced death and inhaled. "Give us five more years. Take away our memories and separate us again. But this time, take my life instead of my sight if we don't fall for each other." "Taylor!" Amelia complained. "I'm sorry, Amelia," Taylor said. "I rather die with you than live knowing you died for me. I won’t give up." "No," Death said. "I think you won't. Alright then." He took out a book out of his robe along with a pen. "Five more years. This time, both sides of life." He closed the book before motioning for the bicycle guy. "Well, missy, I don't think you'll be going to paradise right now," Lucian said, letting her get off. As soon as she does, the man vanished without a trace along with his two-seater bicycle. The girl ran straight to the boy. She hugged him tightly just before the tears started leaking from her eyes. "You're an idiot," she muttered. "A smart one," Taylor said. "A very persistent one," Death added. "Well, I'm really running late. You two have a couple of seconds before I pull you out." "How did you even get here?" Amelia asked. "Did you stab yourself to death?" Taylor laughed. "I don't know, actually. I just remember fainting then waking up again then I saw a ring—" Amelia hugged him once more, silencing him. "How do you think we'll meet again?" She whispered, not loosening her embrace. She felt relieved, frankly. She didn't want to leave the mortal world yet; she wanted to see more things and meet more people—the same things Celia had told her about. Taylor shrugged. "I don't know. But this round I get to have my eyes. I'll know if it's you since you're very pretty." "Am I?" "Well, it's one of your distinguishing features—" Taylor vanished for a moment. "Whoa! That was weird." Amelia laughed, flickering as well. "I'll see you, then." "Hey, wait!" Taylor said. "I should at least get a kiss. Isn't that a thing in the end of romance stories?" Amelia stuck her tongue out. "Our story isn't ending yet, dummy. You just extended it." "Oh, well, crap." Amelia laughed once more. "I'll see you, then." Taylor smiled. "Later." ___ "A miracle!" "Weren't they broken just a few minutes ago—?” Amelia's eyes fluttered open. Three people stood beside her bed: two nurses and Celia. Although seeing them comforted her, she expected to see someone else—someone else she couldn't remember. "Amelia!" Her nurse exclaimed in glee, catching her in a tight embrace. "Thank God you're saved." "'Saved?'" Amelia muttered. "What...what happened?" "It doesn't matter now," Celia answered. "All that matters is that you're alive." And for some reason, that comforted Amelia. She was alive and in the arms of her all-loving nurse. But alive for what? What had happened? All that she remembered that day was the children having fun and the almost-midnight Halloween party where she went as Amelia for her dress had been mysteriously tainted with orange juice. People acted strange in front of her, though. She heard that a boy and his nurse vanished almost at the same time she gained consciousness. No one could remember who they were or why they left. It was a curious thought, for the time being, but soon all question about that matter vanished as the girl danced with the children and ate sweets like she was trying to get diabetes. She went to bed around 1 AM that night. 5 YEARS LATER It was a lovely day in the city. Students and businessmen alike dashed to and from Chel's Coffee shop like a band of bees. Although most people would take coffee out, one particular woman of respectable age decided to drink at the cafe as she read her newspaper and waited for her nurse sister, whom she was supposed to meet after a long while of not seeing each other. The cafe was an interesting scene for her, as if she was just an observer watching people in a movie. She saw people of all sorts getting their coffee or their bagels or their sandwiches before dashing right out. The smell of gasoline and coffee intertwined with each other whenever someone entered or exited. The atmosphere as a whole was enough to distract her completely from her newspaper. As she was watching this, she noticed something shining on the ground right at the edge of her seat. She pulled down her newspaper and leaned as far as she could. It was a plain old silver ring, shining brightly against the sun. She frowned for she felt as if this had happened before. Nonetheless, she stood up, put her paper down and bent over to pick it up. As she was about to do so, her hand collided with another. She looked up. It was a handsome man wearing a plaid shirt. He smiled at her. It was a pretty cute smile—almost as if she was looking at a young boy rather than a man. He pocketed the ring quickly as if it was a very important memento for him. "Was that yours?" The woman asked. He nodded. "I rarely drop that thing, yet when it does it always gets into the weirdest of places, haha,” he said, patting the pocket where he had stored the ring. "Hm...Don’t tell me this has been in a toilet bowl." The woman said, suspicious. He laughed. "I won't say to keep the suspense." "What for?" "Because you look like the type of girl who likes mystery, am I right?" "Well, you could be wrong. What's your name?" He pursed his lips. "You first." She sighed. "Oh alright. It's refreshing to be the one doing the introducing for a change. My name's Amelia." The man stared at her. "What? Did I say something wrong?" "No, no...Your name. It suits you." "It suits me?" He laughed once more. "A beautiful name for a beautiful lady. It adds to your distinguishing factors." "Never heard of that before." "I like to make my own original pick-up lines." "Good for you, uh..." "Taylor," he answered. "My name's Taylor," he said, followed by a mischievous grin. He took out the ring and showed it to her. "I found you."

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