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Written by casteleijn in portal Publishing

Pool of tears

(A full, chapter of WIP, Death of an Emperor)

If he had known on the most cursed morning, that most eventful morning, it would be the last morning he would see his daughter, he would have held her until the day was over. So those interesting times would never happen. But it did happen.

Qiáng sits on the bed, the room of their only daughter unchanged, frozen in time for a decade. “She would have children of her own now”. Pointless thoughts to fill the void. In his hand a small book, a diary. He read it many times, but now on this day, this morning, this cursed morning he always reads it. Qiáng’s anger ties him to living. The Who. The Why. The Want. The want for revenge. His wife was broken on impact. She slowly faded out of the light into the foreboding shadows of death. Visiting the gravesites more and more frequent until he found her one cold morning on an unmarked grave. It was fitting. She died close to where she choose to rest, not to burden anyone. It fanned his inner embers of rage once more.

Qiáng sighs with a frown while opening the first page. Each character, each word, the meaning between them, he knows them. Yet little comfort comes from them, questions on the other hand remain. He reads an hour while silent tears run down his face. Then he finds those passages, her deeper thoughts on her glorious task, and the puzzle that lies within.

“Dear diary,

Sorry I did not write in days. It was so exciting to get chosen to be part of the Legacy. Father did not say much, but he showed it by spending too much on the white ceremonial garments. Mother gasped when she heard and I saw parts of her dreams re-live in her eyes when I tried the clothes on. They are stunning! I love to enter the annals of the Legacy and give my thoughts to those who will come after me. The days of practice after school have been exciting, but they are demanding! Every movement, every blink, every pose is rehearsed and then rehearsed again until it is perfect. The teacher she is fair, but strict. She is part of the Legacy herself. She does not share many stories of her days at the pools. She says we all have our own paths to discover, our own words to write on the water. I am tired; tomorrow is only half a day at school, so more practice than normal. I will write you soon I promise.

Lili ~”

“Dear diary,

All I can say is that I am amazed. I have been at the pools! They showed me the place where I will add to the Legacy and I must say the place is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. I will look out over the glen that leads to the forest, in the background I can even see the Tianshou Mountain, while most traffic is drowned out in the immense park. It is so glorious I almost wasted precious tears right there. It would have been so embarrassing in front of the other girls. Teacher says I am most talented and if I keep this up I may be filling the pool of the Emperor’s father. Such an honor that would be!”

Qiáng stares out the window. He remembers that day well. Her first visit to the tombs, a first visit to add to the story of their ancestors, to the story of their glorious leaders, and the father’s of the new Empire. He saw the change it had over her. How it changed her on the inside. The weight of tradition, deeply rooted in his family, squeezed out the nerves, while the enticing promise of immortality already at her age keeping death at bay. Like glimmering diamonds washed from the mud, catching first light in the morning sun. She left so early for that visit that Yue and he talked excitingly for a while before going back to bed for a few hours. Yue had not been so happy in years.

“Dear diary,

How strange the universe works, and how grateful I am! Teacher has spoken to the Imperial counsel and pleaded for me to add to the Pool of our most glorious Emperor’s father. Not many have written in the water for him. Her school is a most honorable one, so all the other girls say I have a real good chance! I cannot wait until next week. I think my head will explode before then, and I will most surely die of embarrassment if I will be assigned to a lesser pool. I am sure of it.

Yours Lili ~ “

With effort he gets up and opens the shades a bit to reveal the busy city streets of Beijing. Such marvels of technology he had never dreamed of in his younger years are displayed before him with such dazzling complexity and sparkling newness he closes the curtains to shun out time and flips ahead a few pages. The more time passes between that grim morning and the day that today is, the more Qiáng hates new things. A subdued ding from the the small clock on the dresser reminds him of the time. It is a clock she had cherished. A clock Yue’s mother gave her a long time ago. It is time to go to work. It is time to suffer today. It is time to honor her by carrying on. Mechanically he buttons his shirt, slips on his shoes, and slowly taps his way down the many steps of his apartment building. This day is the hardest day to go to work for Qiáng, but he cannot remember if the first year was worse than today. He turns the corner out of his quiet alleyway to be hit by the dissonant wall of sounds the city has to offer. It is only three blocks to his favorite food-stand.

He is hoping to say goodbye to Feiyan, a friendly face every morning, but she had come of age. Where has the time gone? Like water down the drain: recycled, discarded, a commodity for others to use. Today is just another working day, the day of the parade the only difference. In his hand her diary, his crutch and burden of the day.

Bound to traditions and made up rituals to fill the day he crosses the Shili Changjie by foot. Hundreds of people agree and join in. It will take minutes before they may cross. He starts reading again. It had been a few weeks since she was adding to the Legacy. It had changed her in a way that he did not expect or could have predicted. Like the city outside the window, like the progression of his life.

“Dear diary,

Today I moved into a space of my mind that I had not yet explored. How meditative it is to sit, listen and see the tourists move by and touch his tomb. All the sadness that pours from the living makes it easier to shed my tears to the pool of tears for our Emperor’s father. He visited today the grave of his father. Not like the tourist do, but he visited the underground city. He bowed for me. For ME! The Emperor bowed for me. My heart just exploded. My tears streamed for his grief. He seems still so young. I know I am young, but he seems so young to me. It is hard to explain. I do not understand why he is grateful to me. I feel like I am only doing my part to the Legacy. “

A sound to move the herd. Qiáng follows while rows of vehicles silently await the sluggish stream of pedestrians, mopeds and bicycles to pass. It reminds him of this old nature films where a leash of reindeer cross the windy, wintery tundra. Qiáng scoffs. The contrast of early heat bouncing of the asphalt and the far chants of protests in a farmer’s dispute cannot be more shrill. Slowly they all make it, vehicles speed up and the late have to jump. Under the trees food vendors set up everyday before dawn to move out just after lunch. Like the ocean’s tide it hits the Xicheng district every day. Without fail he finds Feiyan handing out yóutiáo and dòujiāng to those who do not cook at home, like him. Those who have no leftovers for breakfast. He bows to her and takes a steaming bowl of the soy milk to dip the fried bread sticks in. The last ten years of a few words here and there during the hasty encounters under the Ailanthus trees accumulates to a heap of meaning.

“Good morning Lao Feiyan, it is good to see it is still busy, to see you still busy. Today is your last day is it not?”

Feiyan hands another bowl to a new customer before answering. “Xiao Qiáng, still not cooking in the evenings I see. Yes, today is my last day. My daughter will pack up today before I move out. How long have we met in the morning shade?”

“It has been ten year.” He holds up the diary. “and 3 days.”

A sad look dances over Feiyan’s face. He notices the sadness there. It is sad when things end.

“I remember her you know. I never told you, but she often walked by here. Always so full of life, so proud to go into the gates. I... cannot imagine.” She pauses. Qiáng finishes his last bread stick. Time to move on.

“I thank you for being a constant in my life of turmoil. Your friendly face every morning at the end of the crossing to work has helped me more than I thought. For that I will miss you.” A bow to the speechless elderly lady in front of him closes this book. The diary in his hand however he will open many times more this day. This most dreadful day.

He still has time to pay his respects to the Emperor’s father. Silently he enters the area via one of the two side gates. The central gate is of course closed. The morning’s serenity at the park is a shrill contrast to the busy city streets he just left behind. This inner city has its own rules. Birds sing in the park around the round central Lake of the Sun. He crosses the single bridge to the elevated octagonal pavilion. One by one he elevates himself the 38 steps to come face to face with the stone mausoleum at its center. In one corner a girl is dressed in white, pale white make-up and and old fashioned dot eyebrows. Her slight elevation symbolises her importance here. Her lips are powdered dark, with the slightest hint of a dark red. Her face paint is streaked. She was crying just moments ago.

When he bows to her first and then to the tomb a fleeting wisp of surprise flutters on her brow. Tears started flowing over her face. She is adding to the Legacy, adding with each pling to the pool of tears. Qiáng cannot hold his while he reads the next passages of the diary out loud as if he was alone....

“Dear diary,

I am so grateful to my teacher and for my training. To sit in one position for hours and to shed tears is painful at times, but the proper techniques help me. The calm that comes from it is overwhelming, like staring in a candle for hours. The pain comes when you look up, when you get up. Stretching helps. Tired, school tomorrow and the pools.

Yours Lili ~”

By now the poor girl is sobbing. The story of Lili is part of the legend, part of the tragedy laid down with the tombs of the founders of the Empire and its legacy. Even the careless birds morn for Lili.

“Dear diary,

Guess what?? A party! The Emperor himself wants to honor those who write on water and add to the Legacy. All new girls, and some important people who added to the Legacy, like our teacher, will attend. A formal dinner in our ceremonial clothing. I have to get dressed. Talk to you later.... L

You would not believe it, I was sitting at the table with the Emperor!!! The other girls were so jealous, I could feel their eyes burning in my back. Imagine a room as big as you can. Then twice that big. Red and gold curtains behind the main table, which was on an freestanding oval stage of almost black Zitan wood. A minister next to me told me. It sounded most impressive. Other tables lower than us firmly on the stone ground. As if we were floating. Servants everywhere. And the girls an island of white, a private funeral party it seemed. And me, next to some of the Imperial family in such deep, rich colors, and members of parliament in red. Me: the white dot, representing loss, close to the Emperor. The teacher said he requested me to be there. A rare and great honor. I could feel his sadness, I almost cried at the table for him. I am happy there is no school tomorrow, I need a day at the pools.”

Qiáng closes the small book. He wipes his tears of his face and leaves the way he came. He can't bare to look back. In her ceremonial robes the girl reminds him to much of his daughter. Trapped in his mind versions of Lili pass by, they hide in or behind bushes, they show up in the faces of others. She is clouding his day so he walks in the fog of memories. He learns nothing at work today. Today is a most horrible day. He is sent home early.

“Qiáng go home, it is ok. We understand. Rest. Be with your family, come tomorrow if you can.” Thankful he accepts this gift like he has the last nine years.

On his way back he passes Feiyan’s stand. To his surprise she is still there, now with her daughter packing up the final pots. Does she treasure this moment, even if it is this common?

He catches her eye and nods. He expects to go straight home. Feiyan mistakes his nod for a bow and returns his beckoning gesture by another. With her palm down and four finger making a scratching motion, he feels like a kid for a moment. Drawn in he moves to her.

“Lao Feiyan I see you are busy on you last day. I am sorry I cannot stay long I have a doctor’s appointment soon”. It is not polite to brush her off, but it is an acceptable excuse.

“Xiao Qiáng I do not intend to keep you long. Just our small conversation earlier triggered something in this old brain of mine. I thought nothing of it then. I think it might be nothing, or maybe... Well I do not want to intrude in your life and your hardships. Maybe it is better to let it be in the past.”

Qiáng’s heart makes a little jump, a glimmer of hope. Like the early glimmer of morning light before the sun catches a melting icicle with the promise of a sunny day.

“Please, your are not imposing. Anything, everything may help.”

“Your daughter that morning. She always enters the main gate, the same way you come. That day I was late... I do not know why anymore. Maybe... No I do not remember. Well, I saw her go into the Glorious gate, eh... the western one, I do not know why I never recalled it earlier. It is probably nothing, but this is my last day I do not want to sit on it.” Her weak smile reminds him of his mother. He bows with respect.

“I thank you for your words and your concern. I wish you can visit your daughter when you can. I am sorry though I do need to go”.

With that he turns around in a half state of panic. What happened that morning ten years ago? Moving on impulse he walks slowly along Shili Changjie as if he would go home, then a turn and he finds himself at the West Glorious Gate. Guards on each side. Weapons hidden, but he knows they are there. There he stands. A standoff of sorts. Nobody moves, nobody comes to him to explain where his daughter is. The guards look young. They were boys playing in the street or hiding in the staircase of his building the morning his daughter said: “Don’t wait for dinner, after the pools I will be a the library. bài bài. Go slowly!” Birds sing overhead, hideously impartial. Qiáng shakes his head. The answers lie inside. Even answers of the gate are only known inside. It has to wait until tomorrow. His shoulders sag, his head drops. While the guards takes notice he turns around and finds his way home, silence greets him fondly. The blanket of loneliness is extra heavy today.

He walks up to the room and walks around, like a security guard on his rounds. It brings him close to the small items in the room on shelves and the dresser. They could be covered in dirt and garbage somewhere decomposing or sinking into the slime of the earth. These things, these useless things he cherishes. All of them in this room, the pattern they make, and each item infused with her. He visits every day to dust them off, to bond with them, to make sure they are ok. In the beginning he shunned the room, let it sit in dust, only to clean it once a year close to that damned morning, but more and more he found himself a caretaker of useless things. He remembers that day well when she came home from the banquette. She had been given a red silk scarf, with gold thread in it. An expensive gift that he could never repay, but she had laughed it off.

“The Emperor said that the gift we are giving is so great that he could never repay us in his lifetime, so a small token to thank us for being at the banquette is what he gave us”. Her laugh, he can see it so clearly before him. The dullness in his heart and the sour tension in his stomach, the low deep pit of sorrow and pain pulling him away from life, he feels it. When he thinks of her, sees her before him, he feels it. Tears follow. Qiáng’s sits rapidly on the floor, the energy to do anything has escaped him. The city outside does not care. Through this pain he must go. There is no one else to remember her. She cannot be forgotten.

“Dear diary,

Our most honorable Emperor walked with me in the Imperial gardens. He knows so much about the plants that grow there. He talked about his wife, how she was chosen for him. How easy life must be for the plants in the garden, to just stand there and convert sunlight. I guess he was almost speaking as if he was alone. I almost took his hand. But I can’t, he is the Emperor. I know about his concubines, but I cannot possibly give myself to him without him asking. He smiled at me once while I was writing on the waters in the pool. A sadness, and a happiness. A conflict in him. I wish he confided in me in moments like this, but his attention was directed to those idiotic plants.

To take a walk with an Emperor, who would have thought I ever tell this tale to you, my dear diary. My inner heart is bleeding for him, but I also feel something more practical. A need for a kiss, a stolen moment. Maybe even desire. I hate his plants that he loves so much, but would care for them if he would ask. All I can do is cry for is his dead father. School is getting boring at times. Teacher and father do insist I work hard, I wish I could hide in the clouds to dream my life I want to live. If only the sky was big and the emperor far away...”

Years flow like water. Qiáng feels this when he reads passages like this. His little girl on the swing set with flowing hair: “look papa how high I can go”, on her bicycle faster and faster, already talking to bigger boys at the park around the corner. Shopping with Yue and questions about the lingerie on mannequins. Her rush to grow up had always frightened him. On these pages her thoughts, her words. An intimate conversation she had with herself. Qiáng is only a witness of the development of an individual. He wishes nothing more for her to grow up, to find love and happiness. Still now after her disappearance it is his biggest wish. The conflict of those feelings mixed with the deepest sadness escape from Qiáng’s throat. A hopeless cry for survival. A pain he must go through, to feed his anger, to keep going. To find the answers to put this all to rest.

Several passages reflect her feelings for the Emperor, something he can understand at an intellectual level, yet he is fully disconnected from emotionally. He never pictured how infatuated his daughter could have been with the promise of stardom or even the promise of being a hidden woman from society. Not when she was still alive. Qiáng’s core is ingrained with details of honor from earlier times. Carved from an older type of tree than most who live with the promise of technology and conquering infinity; to honor his father and mother, his elders, his emperor. More every year the anger and pain grinds away the lacquer that protects the wood. Layer after layer falls on the floor like dust, blowing away on the hopeless winds. Away from him.

Did she go too far? Did the glorious leader make a move on her he regretted? Were there jealous others, the ones she was hinting at? Or are the answers in that final entry of her diary? Now a mysterious visit to the Western Gate. So many times he had walked this treadmill. Always he got lost in the rhythm of it; never he found a way out.

“Dear diary,

Life in the palace is so different from life in the city. I could tell you story after story about how the ladies of the court wind you around your finger to show another lady of the court how important she is. How much more important she is. Parliament is so complicated and the rumors, truths, lies and hopes of all that that is the empire are so difficult for anybody to understand I am sure. Yet advisors ask me rumors of the ladies that talk to me. They must understand I am just a young woman, just here to add to the Legacy and if I ever get lucky to teach like my teacher does. She asked me to meet her tonight, some private coaching….”

It is the moment to close the small book. Its dull thump indicates that it is time for dinner. This day has become a ritual. Slowly living from this day to this day. Cleansing him, feeding his inner rage to keep going. Now it is time to make her favorite food and set two extra plates. She always loved mù xī ròu, the shaved pork with eggs and black fungus. He lost the appetite for it, except today. He can't bare to cook for himself, except today. Today it is for her. The blanket of silence hangs heavy on his shoulders now, while in his mind he recalls countless family meals. Even her teacher joined the table once in a while. He still speaks with her once on occasion on his way to the kitchens. Small sounds in the kettle predict future tea in the making. Qiáng opens the diary and read the next passage before he will scold the leaves. To shrivel them, to take all essence and flavor from them.

“Dear diary,

It has been ages since I wrote you. So full the schedules are, and exams are here. I have studied hard, but the nerves after an exam are horrible. To get a good grade or not, it is most nerve wrecking. I shared with you my teacher wanted a meeting. I am so sorry to keep you waiting. It was an insightful meeting. Teacher is warning me for the talks to politicians and the ladies in court. She told me a most horrible story on how she got used by a politician. She was forced to give her body to him! I would die if that ever would happen to me, but she said she did not know the price then. That it is so easy to get lost in words and promises. That some people are true and on my side and that some are using me every day to get closer to the Emperor. When I asked her, how would I know if she was not using me, she laughed and told me I am, as always, a fast learner. She also warned me for the Emperor. She said that men are like boys and that some see young girls like toys and that boys get tired of their toys sometimes. It is shocking to see the world with adult eyes, writing on water and drinking from the sadness of others to add to the Legacy is so pure. To just sit and convert sadness to the Legacy. Now that I am learning truth from wrong I may feel the intentions of visitors differently. My teacher said that when that comes, the days grow shorter, the tears are different. The stories we write will be more complex. I cannot wait to learn those lessons and to get closer to being perfect. You will be the first to know!

Yours Lili ~

Then Qiáng turns the page to the last entry. The kettle’s crescendo of bubbles is his only time measure. The page next to it empty, so full of promise. Anything could be written there. A new found happiness, his daughter finding out that she is pregnant from the love of her life, a few words on him and his wife. Some deeper understanding so he would know she is ok, that she is not lost, that she will make it out there. So that finally, in the normal progression of things he can finally let go. Like Yue did. How could Yue do that to him? To just leave him with all this? Anger flames up, there is fight left in him still. There at the kitchen table Qiáng is wondering whom to fight. His wooden core turning to stone, dead and cold. Impossible to move, just waiting to strike. If he would only know who.

“Dear diary,

The day at the pools was great today. As you noticed the weather was most pleasant. It was not busy at all, other happy occasions must prevent people from visiting the tombs. Totally not expected to see the Emperor today, but he was there. His glorious self. He was deeply saddened today. I felt the sadness before he entered the area, the water resonated with vibrations I did not know existed. If it was not he emanating that deep sadness to stir my tears so violently, I would have been scared for the first time. Yet it happened. He was not alone. His most trusted advisors were next to him. I recognized one, I remember him telling me the name of the wood our feet rested on that banquette evening.

Then the day passed and I was absent minded. It had drained most of me. Then when I returned later it was almost dark. I forgotten my scarf, I bring it sometimes when it is a long day to rest my knees hidden under my dress. I saw a weird thing: a few men in dark clothes carried a small bundle to my tomb, the tomb of the father of the Emperor and entered the underground city. Only the Emperor and his family can go there. No sadness was there, so I grabbed my scarf and left. I am sure they did not see me. I will ask teacher tomorrow what it may mean.

Promise to write you soon. Lili ~

With that Qiáng closes the diary he found a few days later. A present and a curse. Words written on the most horrid day, that cursed day, a most eventful day. The rumble of boiling water does not impose on his apathy. A sigh, pouring of water, dishes, some daily chores, the end of a horrid day.

A final act of normality. Time to catch up with the ten o’clock news. Carefully placed on the small table in front of the couch the small book seems so innocent, yet it is so deeply carved into his core that on the day that today is, it is reality more than anything else. The wall lights up with confusing images. Characters scrolling over the screen, sadness seeps from the voice-over voices. Qiáng’s warped perspective confuses him. Is this for his daughter? Is this for Lilly? Then its trickles in, slowly realization sets in. The fog of the day lifts due to the bright Empirical Sun burning through his ViVid(tm) screen. Images of a young Cuban man shackled in a hypersonic helicopter, the bloody curtains of the Imperial float. Images of the Emperor while speaking to children at a hospital, shaking hands, mourning his father at the Pool of Tears reflect on Qiáng’s retina. While the tea cools he finds himself standing in his living room in disbelief. Lilly’s object of affection is dead. Brutally shot. His legs shake as the final shot through the head is replayed in slow motion. Today is the most cursed day, a most eventful day. 

(c) Casteleijn MG 2015-2017

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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by casteleijn in portal Publishing
Pool of tears
(A full, chapter of WIP, Death of an Emperor)

If he had known on the most cursed morning, that most eventful morning, it would be the last morning he would see his daughter, he would have held her until the day was over. So those interesting times would never happen. But it did happen.

Qiáng sits on the bed, the room of their only daughter unchanged, frozen in time for a decade. “She would have children of her own now”. Pointless thoughts to fill the void. In his hand a small book, a diary. He read it many times, but now on this day, this morning, this cursed morning he always reads it. Qiáng’s anger ties him to living. The Who. The Why. The Want. The want for revenge. His wife was broken on impact. She slowly faded out of the light into the foreboding shadows of death. Visiting the gravesites more and more frequent until he found her one cold morning on an unmarked grave. It was fitting. She died close to where she choose to rest, not to burden anyone. It fanned his inner embers of rage once more.

Qiáng sighs with a frown while opening the first page. Each character, each word, the meaning between them, he knows them. Yet little comfort comes from them, questions on the other hand remain. He reads an hour while silent tears run down his face. Then he finds those passages, her deeper thoughts on her glorious task, and the puzzle that lies within.

“Dear diary,

Sorry I did not write in days. It was so exciting to get chosen to be part of the Legacy. Father did not say much, but he showed it by spending too much on the white ceremonial garments. Mother gasped when she heard and I saw parts of her dreams re-live in her eyes when I tried the clothes on. They are stunning! I love to enter the annals of the Legacy and give my thoughts to those who will come after me. The days of practice after school have been exciting, but they are demanding! Every movement, every blink, every pose is rehearsed and then rehearsed again until it is perfect. The teacher she is fair, but strict. She is part of the Legacy herself. She does not share many stories of her days at the pools. She says we all have our own paths to discover, our own words to write on the water. I am tired; tomorrow is only half a day at school, so more practice than normal. I will write you soon I promise.

Lili ~”

“Dear diary,

All I can say is that I am amazed. I have been at the pools! They showed me the place where I will add to the Legacy and I must say the place is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. I will look out over the glen that leads to the forest, in the background I can even see the Tianshou Mountain, while most traffic is drowned out in the immense park. It is so glorious I almost wasted precious tears right there. It would have been so embarrassing in front of the other girls. Teacher says I am most talented and if I keep this up I may be filling the pool of the Emperor’s father. Such an honor that would be!”

Qiáng stares out the window. He remembers that day well. Her first visit to the tombs, a first visit to add to the story of their ancestors, to the story of their glorious leaders, and the father’s of the new Empire. He saw the change it had over her. How it changed her on the inside. The weight of tradition, deeply rooted in his family, squeezed out the nerves, while the enticing promise of immortality already at her age keeping death at bay. Like glimmering diamonds washed from the mud, catching first light in the morning sun. She left so early for that visit that Yue and he talked excitingly for a while before going back to bed for a few hours. Yue had not been so happy in years.

“Dear diary,

How strange the universe works, and how grateful I am! Teacher has spoken to the Imperial counsel and pleaded for me to add to the Pool of our most glorious Emperor’s father. Not many have written in the water for him. Her school is a most honorable one, so all the other girls say I have a real good chance! I cannot wait until next week. I think my head will explode before then, and I will most surely die of embarrassment if I will be assigned to a lesser pool. I am sure of it.

Yours Lili ~ “

With effort he gets up and opens the shades a bit to reveal the busy city streets of Beijing. Such marvels of technology he had never dreamed of in his younger years are displayed before him with such dazzling complexity and sparkling newness he closes the curtains to shun out time and flips ahead a few pages. The more time passes between that grim morning and the day that today is, the more Qiáng hates new things. A subdued ding from the the small clock on the dresser reminds him of the time. It is a clock she had cherished. A clock Yue’s mother gave her a long time ago. It is time to go to work. It is time to suffer today. It is time to honor her by carrying on. Mechanically he buttons his shirt, slips on his shoes, and slowly taps his way down the many steps of his apartment building. This day is the hardest day to go to work for Qiáng, but he cannot remember if the first year was worse than today. He turns the corner out of his quiet alleyway to be hit by the dissonant wall of sounds the city has to offer. It is only three blocks to his favorite food-stand.

He is hoping to say goodbye to Feiyan, a friendly face every morning, but she had come of age. Where has the time gone? Like water down the drain: recycled, discarded, a commodity for others to use. Today is just another working day, the day of the parade the only difference. In his hand her diary, his crutch and burden of the day.

Bound to traditions and made up rituals to fill the day he crosses the Shili Changjie by foot. Hundreds of people agree and join in. It will take minutes before they may cross. He starts reading again. It had been a few weeks since she was adding to the Legacy. It had changed her in a way that he did not expect or could have predicted. Like the city outside the window, like the progression of his life.

“Dear diary,

Today I moved into a space of my mind that I had not yet explored. How meditative it is to sit, listen and see the tourists move by and touch his tomb. All the sadness that pours from the living makes it easier to shed my tears to the pool of tears for our Emperor’s father. He visited today the grave of his father. Not like the tourist do, but he visited the underground city. He bowed for me. For ME! The Emperor bowed for me. My heart just exploded. My tears streamed for his grief. He seems still so young. I know I am young, but he seems so young to me. It is hard to explain. I do not understand why he is grateful to me. I feel like I am only doing my part to the Legacy. “

A sound to move the herd. Qiáng follows while rows of vehicles silently await the sluggish stream of pedestrians, mopeds and bicycles to pass. It reminds him of this old nature films where a leash of reindeer cross the windy, wintery tundra. Qiáng scoffs. The contrast of early heat bouncing of the asphalt and the far chants of protests in a farmer’s dispute cannot be more shrill. Slowly they all make it, vehicles speed up and the late have to jump. Under the trees food vendors set up everyday before dawn to move out just after lunch. Like the ocean’s tide it hits the Xicheng district every day. Without fail he finds Feiyan handing out yóutiáo and dòujiāng to those who do not cook at home, like him. Those who have no leftovers for breakfast. He bows to her and takes a steaming bowl of the soy milk to dip the fried bread sticks in. The last ten years of a few words here and there during the hasty encounters under the Ailanthus trees accumulates to a heap of meaning.

“Good morning Lao Feiyan, it is good to see it is still busy, to see you still busy. Today is your last day is it not?”

Feiyan hands another bowl to a new customer before answering. “Xiao Qiáng, still not cooking in the evenings I see. Yes, today is my last day. My daughter will pack up today before I move out. How long have we met in the morning shade?”

“It has been ten year.” He holds up the diary. “and 3 days.”

A sad look dances over Feiyan’s face. He notices the sadness there. It is sad when things end.

“I remember her you know. I never told you, but she often walked by here. Always so full of life, so proud to go into the gates. I... cannot imagine.” She pauses. Qiáng finishes his last bread stick. Time to move on.

“I thank you for being a constant in my life of turmoil. Your friendly face every morning at the end of the crossing to work has helped me more than I thought. For that I will miss you.” A bow to the speechless elderly lady in front of him closes this book. The diary in his hand however he will open many times more this day. This most dreadful day.

He still has time to pay his respects to the Emperor’s father. Silently he enters the area via one of the two side gates. The central gate is of course closed. The morning’s serenity at the park is a shrill contrast to the busy city streets he just left behind. This inner city has its own rules. Birds sing in the park around the round central Lake of the Sun. He crosses the single bridge to the elevated octagonal pavilion. One by one he elevates himself the 38 steps to come face to face with the stone mausoleum at its center. In one corner a girl is dressed in white, pale white make-up and and old fashioned dot eyebrows. Her slight elevation symbolises her importance here. Her lips are powdered dark, with the slightest hint of a dark red. Her face paint is streaked. She was crying just moments ago.

When he bows to her first and then to the tomb a fleeting wisp of surprise flutters on her brow. Tears started flowing over her face. She is adding to the Legacy, adding with each pling to the pool of tears. Qiáng cannot hold his while he reads the next passages of the diary out loud as if he was alone....

“Dear diary,

I am so grateful to my teacher and for my training. To sit in one position for hours and to shed tears is painful at times, but the proper techniques help me. The calm that comes from it is overwhelming, like staring in a candle for hours. The pain comes when you look up, when you get up. Stretching helps. Tired, school tomorrow and the pools.

Yours Lili ~”

By now the poor girl is sobbing. The story of Lili is part of the legend, part of the tragedy laid down with the tombs of the founders of the Empire and its legacy. Even the careless birds morn for Lili.

“Dear diary,

Guess what?? A party! The Emperor himself wants to honor those who write on water and add to the Legacy. All new girls, and some important people who added to the Legacy, like our teacher, will attend. A formal dinner in our ceremonial clothing. I have to get dressed. Talk to you later.... L

You would not believe it, I was sitting at the table with the Emperor!!! The other girls were so jealous, I could feel their eyes burning in my back. Imagine a room as big as you can. Then twice that big. Red and gold curtains behind the main table, which was on an freestanding oval stage of almost black Zitan wood. A minister next to me told me. It sounded most impressive. Other tables lower than us firmly on the stone ground. As if we were floating. Servants everywhere. And the girls an island of white, a private funeral party it seemed. And me, next to some of the Imperial family in such deep, rich colors, and members of parliament in red. Me: the white dot, representing loss, close to the Emperor. The teacher said he requested me to be there. A rare and great honor. I could feel his sadness, I almost cried at the table for him. I am happy there is no school tomorrow, I need a day at the pools.”

Qiáng closes the small book. He wipes his tears of his face and leaves the way he came. He can't bare to look back. In her ceremonial robes the girl reminds him to much of his daughter. Trapped in his mind versions of Lili pass by, they hide in or behind bushes, they show up in the faces of others. She is clouding his day so he walks in the fog of memories. He learns nothing at work today. Today is a most horrible day. He is sent home early.

“Qiáng go home, it is ok. We understand. Rest. Be with your family, come tomorrow if you can.” Thankful he accepts this gift like he has the last nine years.

On his way back he passes Feiyan’s stand. To his surprise she is still there, now with her daughter packing up the final pots. Does she treasure this moment, even if it is this common?

He catches her eye and nods. He expects to go straight home. Feiyan mistakes his nod for a bow and returns his beckoning gesture by another. With her palm down and four finger making a scratching motion, he feels like a kid for a moment. Drawn in he moves to her.

“Lao Feiyan I see you are busy on you last day. I am sorry I cannot stay long I have a doctor’s appointment soon”. It is not polite to brush her off, but it is an acceptable excuse.

“Xiao Qiáng I do not intend to keep you long. Just our small conversation earlier triggered something in this old brain of mine. I thought nothing of it then. I think it might be nothing, or maybe... Well I do not want to intrude in your life and your hardships. Maybe it is better to let it be in the past.”

Qiáng’s heart makes a little jump, a glimmer of hope. Like the early glimmer of morning light before the sun catches a melting icicle with the promise of a sunny day.

“Please, your are not imposing. Anything, everything may help.”

“Your daughter that morning. She always enters the main gate, the same way you come. That day I was late... I do not know why anymore. Maybe... No I do not remember. Well, I saw her go into the Glorious gate, eh... the western one, I do not know why I never recalled it earlier. It is probably nothing, but this is my last day I do not want to sit on it.” Her weak smile reminds him of his mother. He bows with respect.

“I thank you for your words and your concern. I wish you can visit your daughter when you can. I am sorry though I do need to go”.

With that he turns around in a half state of panic. What happened that morning ten years ago? Moving on impulse he walks slowly along Shili Changjie as if he would go home, then a turn and he finds himself at the West Glorious Gate. Guards on each side. Weapons hidden, but he knows they are there. There he stands. A standoff of sorts. Nobody moves, nobody comes to him to explain where his daughter is. The guards look young. They were boys playing in the street or hiding in the staircase of his building the morning his daughter said: “Don’t wait for dinner, after the pools I will be a the library. bài bài. Go slowly!” Birds sing overhead, hideously impartial. Qiáng shakes his head. The answers lie inside. Even answers of the gate are only known inside. It has to wait until tomorrow. His shoulders sag, his head drops. While the guards takes notice he turns around and finds his way home, silence greets him fondly. The blanket of loneliness is extra heavy today.

He walks up to the room and walks around, like a security guard on his rounds. It brings him close to the small items in the room on shelves and the dresser. They could be covered in dirt and garbage somewhere decomposing or sinking into the slime of the earth. These things, these useless things he cherishes. All of them in this room, the pattern they make, and each item infused with her. He visits every day to dust them off, to bond with them, to make sure they are ok. In the beginning he shunned the room, let it sit in dust, only to clean it once a year close to that damned morning, but more and more he found himself a caretaker of useless things. He remembers that day well when she came home from the banquette. She had been given a red silk scarf, with gold thread in it. An expensive gift that he could never repay, but she had laughed it off.

“The Emperor said that the gift we are giving is so great that he could never repay us in his lifetime, so a small token to thank us for being at the banquette is what he gave us”. Her laugh, he can see it so clearly before him. The dullness in his heart and the sour tension in his stomach, the low deep pit of sorrow and pain pulling him away from life, he feels it. When he thinks of her, sees her before him, he feels it. Tears follow. Qiáng’s sits rapidly on the floor, the energy to do anything has escaped him. The city outside does not care. Through this pain he must go. There is no one else to remember her. She cannot be forgotten.

“Dear diary,

Our most honorable Emperor walked with me in the Imperial gardens. He knows so much about the plants that grow there. He talked about his wife, how she was chosen for him. How easy life must be for the plants in the garden, to just stand there and convert sunlight. I guess he was almost speaking as if he was alone. I almost took his hand. But I can’t, he is the Emperor. I know about his concubines, but I cannot possibly give myself to him without him asking. He smiled at me once while I was writing on the waters in the pool. A sadness, and a happiness. A conflict in him. I wish he confided in me in moments like this, but his attention was directed to those idiotic plants.

To take a walk with an Emperor, who would have thought I ever tell this tale to you, my dear diary. My inner heart is bleeding for him, but I also feel something more practical. A need for a kiss, a stolen moment. Maybe even desire. I hate his plants that he loves so much, but would care for them if he would ask. All I can do is cry for is his dead father. School is getting boring at times. Teacher and father do insist I work hard, I wish I could hide in the clouds to dream my life I want to live. If only the sky was big and the emperor far away...”

Years flow like water. Qiáng feels this when he reads passages like this. His little girl on the swing set with flowing hair: “look papa how high I can go”, on her bicycle faster and faster, already talking to bigger boys at the park around the corner. Shopping with Yue and questions about the lingerie on mannequins. Her rush to grow up had always frightened him. On these pages her thoughts, her words. An intimate conversation she had with herself. Qiáng is only a witness of the development of an individual. He wishes nothing more for her to grow up, to find love and happiness. Still now after her disappearance it is his biggest wish. The conflict of those feelings mixed with the deepest sadness escape from Qiáng’s throat. A hopeless cry for survival. A pain he must go through, to feed his anger, to keep going. To find the answers to put this all to rest.

Several passages reflect her feelings for the Emperor, something he can understand at an intellectual level, yet he is fully disconnected from emotionally. He never pictured how infatuated his daughter could have been with the promise of stardom or even the promise of being a hidden woman from society. Not when she was still alive. Qiáng’s core is ingrained with details of honor from earlier times. Carved from an older type of tree than most who live with the promise of technology and conquering infinity; to honor his father and mother, his elders, his emperor. More every year the anger and pain grinds away the lacquer that protects the wood. Layer after layer falls on the floor like dust, blowing away on the hopeless winds. Away from him.

Did she go too far? Did the glorious leader make a move on her he regretted? Were there jealous others, the ones she was hinting at? Or are the answers in that final entry of her diary? Now a mysterious visit to the Western Gate. So many times he had walked this treadmill. Always he got lost in the rhythm of it; never he found a way out.

“Dear diary,

Life in the palace is so different from life in the city. I could tell you story after story about how the ladies of the court wind you around your finger to show another lady of the court how important she is. How much more important she is. Parliament is so complicated and the rumors, truths, lies and hopes of all that that is the empire are so difficult for anybody to understand I am sure. Yet advisors ask me rumors of the ladies that talk to me. They must understand I am just a young woman, just here to add to the Legacy and if I ever get lucky to teach like my teacher does. She asked me to meet her tonight, some private coaching….”

It is the moment to close the small book. Its dull thump indicates that it is time for dinner. This day has become a ritual. Slowly living from this day to this day. Cleansing him, feeding his inner rage to keep going. Now it is time to make her favorite food and set two extra plates. She always loved mù xī ròu, the shaved pork with eggs and black fungus. He lost the appetite for it, except today. He can't bare to cook for himself, except today. Today it is for her. The blanket of silence hangs heavy on his shoulders now, while in his mind he recalls countless family meals. Even her teacher joined the table once in a while. He still speaks with her once on occasion on his way to the kitchens. Small sounds in the kettle predict future tea in the making. Qiáng opens the diary and read the next passage before he will scold the leaves. To shrivel them, to take all essence and flavor from them.

“Dear diary,

It has been ages since I wrote you. So full the schedules are, and exams are here. I have studied hard, but the nerves after an exam are horrible. To get a good grade or not, it is most nerve wrecking. I shared with you my teacher wanted a meeting. I am so sorry to keep you waiting. It was an insightful meeting. Teacher is warning me for the talks to politicians and the ladies in court. She told me a most horrible story on how she got used by a politician. She was forced to give her body to him! I would die if that ever would happen to me, but she said she did not know the price then. That it is so easy to get lost in words and promises. That some people are true and on my side and that some are using me every day to get closer to the Emperor. When I asked her, how would I know if she was not using me, she laughed and told me I am, as always, a fast learner. She also warned me for the Emperor. She said that men are like boys and that some see young girls like toys and that boys get tired of their toys sometimes. It is shocking to see the world with adult eyes, writing on water and drinking from the sadness of others to add to the Legacy is so pure. To just sit and convert sadness to the Legacy. Now that I am learning truth from wrong I may feel the intentions of visitors differently. My teacher said that when that comes, the days grow shorter, the tears are different. The stories we write will be more complex. I cannot wait to learn those lessons and to get closer to being perfect. You will be the first to know!

Yours Lili ~

Then Qiáng turns the page to the last entry. The kettle’s crescendo of bubbles is his only time measure. The page next to it empty, so full of promise. Anything could be written there. A new found happiness, his daughter finding out that she is pregnant from the love of her life, a few words on him and his wife. Some deeper understanding so he would know she is ok, that she is not lost, that she will make it out there. So that finally, in the normal progression of things he can finally let go. Like Yue did. How could Yue do that to him? To just leave him with all this? Anger flames up, there is fight left in him still. There at the kitchen table Qiáng is wondering whom to fight. His wooden core turning to stone, dead and cold. Impossible to move, just waiting to strike. If he would only know who.

“Dear diary,

The day at the pools was great today. As you noticed the weather was most pleasant. It was not busy at all, other happy occasions must prevent people from visiting the tombs. Totally not expected to see the Emperor today, but he was there. His glorious self. He was deeply saddened today. I felt the sadness before he entered the area, the water resonated with vibrations I did not know existed. If it was not he emanating that deep sadness to stir my tears so violently, I would have been scared for the first time. Yet it happened. He was not alone. His most trusted advisors were next to him. I recognized one, I remember him telling me the name of the wood our feet rested on that banquette evening.

Then the day passed and I was absent minded. It had drained most of me. Then when I returned later it was almost dark. I forgotten my scarf, I bring it sometimes when it is a long day to rest my knees hidden under my dress. I saw a weird thing: a few men in dark clothes carried a small bundle to my tomb, the tomb of the father of the Emperor and entered the underground city. Only the Emperor and his family can go there. No sadness was there, so I grabbed my scarf and left. I am sure they did not see me. I will ask teacher tomorrow what it may mean.

Promise to write you soon. Lili ~

With that Qiáng closes the diary he found a few days later. A present and a curse. Words written on the most horrid day, that cursed day, a most eventful day. The rumble of boiling water does not impose on his apathy. A sigh, pouring of water, dishes, some daily chores, the end of a horrid day.

A final act of normality. Time to catch up with the ten o’clock news. Carefully placed on the small table in front of the couch the small book seems so innocent, yet it is so deeply carved into his core that on the day that today is, it is reality more than anything else. The wall lights up with confusing images. Characters scrolling over the screen, sadness seeps from the voice-over voices. Qiáng’s warped perspective confuses him. Is this for his daughter? Is this for Lilly? Then its trickles in, slowly realization sets in. The fog of the day lifts due to the bright Empirical Sun burning through his ViVid(tm) screen. Images of a young Cuban man shackled in a hypersonic helicopter, the bloody curtains of the Imperial float. Images of the Emperor while speaking to children at a hospital, shaking hands, mourning his father at the Pool of Tears reflect on Qiáng’s retina. While the tea cools he finds himself standing in his living room in disbelief. Lilly’s object of affection is dead. Brutally shot. His legs shake as the final shot through the head is replayed in slow motion. Today is the most cursed day, a most eventful day. 

(c) Casteleijn MG 2015-2017

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"Love letter, love letter..." Nick Cave. So what that you have only 200 words to proclaim your love. We are writers! So woo your love. You have one day left (oh well I will give you some more time ;o) Tag me if you in your comments @casteleijn #200words
Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse

200 Words

Some say love can’t be expressed in 200 words,

but all I need from you is a look, a smile and your

gestures which leaves me tokens with such ease

all along our path. I just look back and string them up,

a party streamer of love and consideration.

Oh, that look, that smile and your laugh. If ever I get

enough, if ever that cruelty of wicked diversion

crawls over our feet with a poisoned sting, if ever it strikes,

then thousands upon thousands of words can never be enough

to describe the loss, pain, hurt and numbing void.

See! Halfway in and already not one word lost.

How could it be a frivolous attempt? A hardship,

an impossible quest? That one September night,

where a hazel innuendo started us, with overtones of amber

morning skies, the start of our story. Rich and deep.

But for those critics, bitterly folded in their woe,

hiding behind their semantics and scales of romance,

inventing such crooked measures, I will not spill so many words 

as I do for you, my love, my life, dream of my dreams.

If they gave me only four words: ‘you are my everything', it will be!

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"Love letter, love letter..." Nick Cave. So what that you have only 200 words to proclaim your love. We are writers! So woo your love. You have one day left (oh well I will give you some more time ;o) Tag me if you in your comments @casteleijn #200words
Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse
200 Words
Some say love can’t be expressed in 200 words,
but all I need from you is a look, a smile and your
gestures which leaves me tokens with such ease
all along our path. I just look back and string them up,
a party streamer of love and consideration.

Oh, that look, that smile and your laugh. If ever I get
enough, if ever that cruelty of wicked diversion
crawls over our feet with a poisoned sting, if ever it strikes,
then thousands upon thousands of words can never be enough
to describe the loss, pain, hurt and numbing void.

See! Halfway in and already not one word lost.
How could it be a frivolous attempt? A hardship,
an impossible quest? That one September night,
where a hazel innuendo started us, with overtones of amber
morning skies, the start of our story. Rich and deep.

But for those critics, bitterly folded in their woe,
hiding behind their semantics and scales of romance,
inventing such crooked measures, I will not spill so many words 
as I do for you, my love, my life, dream of my dreams.
If they gave me only four words: ‘you are my everything', it will be!
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Challenge of the Week #57: you’re god; rewrite the creation story. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by casteleijn

Animals in the rain

“Such beauty did unfold that the heavens wept to paint the desert sands.

All but the sun with its death rays witnessed the Dance, the Soaking.

All but the moon heard the Mating Calls, the Merge, the Birth of time.

It was here, and only here, the next thing happened.

The next thing only happened because of such beauty.

First it ended, then it began. All that passed mere writings in the margins.”

Young Iljun yawned.

“This does not sound important.”

Another sharp tap on the shoulder.

“One broken shackle was not just a bracelet. It’s a girl’s shattered world.”

----

With a sigh the woman closes the book. She hands it back to the old man next to her, her gaze over the pebbled beach, over the sea, fixing it on the horizon's edge. The old men runs his thumb over the side of the small, black book and slides it in his pocket. A seagull overhead hoovers still for a moment in the breeze. Restless the sea licks the inert rocks.

"So what do you think?" An eagerness, a hope for something jumps from his lips.

"I find Brighton such a close-knit community with welcoming and open arms during the grey days of February. A friendly talk, and so rapidly not an outsider. It is always sad when this childlike curiosity crawls back behind the gold-lion adorned doors in the summer. Every year they come and leave. A tide of visitors to splash in these waters. Fling back stones who waited eons to wash up. Such a tranquil bubble."

The man on the bench nods while his smile fades.

"So you are saying: not yet, the world is not yet ready for a new story, a new start." Not a question, a conclusion drawn. 

She turns, radiant and places her blessed hand on his knee. 

"My dear friend, my dear son, my beloved, when it is time, when I am ready you will be the first to know."

A slice of sun hits them both in the faces. She turns back to the grey sea, now shimmering, glittering. 

"Maybe no rain today."

==========================

#ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit

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Challenge of the Week #57: you’re god; rewrite the creation story. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by casteleijn
Animals in the rain
“Such beauty did unfold that the heavens wept to paint the desert sands.
All but the sun with its death rays witnessed the Dance, the Soaking.
All but the moon heard the Mating Calls, the Merge, the Birth of time.

It was here, and only here, the next thing happened.
The next thing only happened because of such beauty.

First it ended, then it began. All that passed mere writings in the margins.”

Young Iljun yawned.

“This does not sound important.”

Another sharp tap on the shoulder.

“One broken shackle was not just a bracelet. It’s a girl’s shattered world.”

----

With a sigh the woman closes the book. She hands it back to the old man next to her, her gaze over the pebbled beach, over the sea, fixing it on the horizon's edge. The old men runs his thumb over the side of the small, black book and slides it in his pocket. A seagull overhead hoovers still for a moment in the breeze. Restless the sea licks the inert rocks.

"So what do you think?" An eagerness, a hope for something jumps from his lips.

"I find Brighton such a close-knit community with welcoming and open arms during the grey days of February. A friendly talk, and so rapidly not an outsider. It is always sad when this childlike curiosity crawls back behind the gold-lion adorned doors in the summer. Every year they come and leave. A tide of visitors to splash in these waters. Fling back stones who waited eons to wash up. Such a tranquil bubble."

The man on the bench nods while his smile fades.

"So you are saying: not yet, the world is not yet ready for a new story, a new start." Not a question, a conclusion drawn. 

She turns, radiant and places her blessed hand on his knee. 

"My dear friend, my dear son, my beloved, when it is time, when I am ready you will be the first to know."

A slice of sun hits them both in the faces. She turns back to the grey sea, now shimmering, glittering. 

"Maybe no rain today."

==========================

#ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
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Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse

Who knows what the evening may bring?

Ridged patterns press firmly against my weight.

Rhythmic waves wander ghastly across the wind.

Lustful cataphonic cries of restless birds over-sky.

The sun will lay it all to rest.

Death-ray radiation gently warms my cooling skin.

Meandering cool convection drops drowsy avians, to

proceed to close conducted borrowed heat in their nests.

The sun will lay it all to rest.

A galafantering grey heron waits for me to move on,

Blocking my most straight path towards my door.

My covered cottage on the shore dipping in the shade.

The sun will lay it all to rest.

Whatever the tumultuous evening will bring, what

the ravenous Ra leaves Horus’ lesser eye to see,

What skulls silently in scrubs outside my locked door,

This is not for our eyes.

The sun laid it all to rest.

(c) Casteleijn MG. 2017.

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Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse
Who knows what the evening may bring?
Ridged patterns press firmly against my weight.
Rhythmic waves wander ghastly across the wind.
Lustful cataphonic cries of restless birds over-sky.
The sun will lay it all to rest.

Death-ray radiation gently warms my cooling skin.
Meandering cool convection drops drowsy avians, to
proceed to close conducted borrowed heat in their nests.
The sun will lay it all to rest.

A galafantering grey heron waits for me to move on,
Blocking my most straight path towards my door.
My covered cottage on the shore dipping in the shade.
The sun will lay it all to rest.

Whatever the tumultuous evening will bring, what
the ravenous Ra leaves Horus’ lesser eye to see,
What skulls silently in scrubs outside my locked door,
This is not for our eyes.

The sun laid it all to rest.

(c) Casteleijn MG. 2017.
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Challenge of the Week #55: Write a story of 200 words or more about a stranger. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $200. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by casteleijn

Waiting

“Watch out, the bus is coming soon. So do not stand so close to the curb”. The woman leans back in the battered bus stop. Silence is her answer. It is a chilly morning, the dew collected last night now drips slowly of the aluminum siding. The hazy pinks between the apartment blocks promises a hot day.

A bus passes while her contorted face stares across the street as if the bus is invisible, and due to her apathetic attitude to the bus’ approach, the driver responds in perfect synergy by just driving by. He has seen her there before, and heard some of the story why she just sits there. A sadness touches his heart for a second, before his attention is drawn to the next busy intersection. Her blank stare is all that remains.

Behind the red fence inhabitants of the nursing home rake left-overs leaves from last summer, to give the new grass sun and air. For the blanket of leaves: it was too cold last fall to do the cleanup then, but only after the leaves and twigs are removed can life explode all over the garden. The cycle of life. A lady closest to the fence, closest to the road, looks over to the bus stop. She stops raking to look more closely, her arms frail and bony. Her parchment skin is cracked by blue veins, human marble. Some big blue-yellow bruises decorate her arms as a defiance to the county’s anti-tattoo laws of late. The early morning sun casts a long shadow as if to reach out to the sad lady across the street.

She remembers stories all too well, since there is not much more to do than keep busy with trivial tasks, while in-between think about all that what was her life. Less to look forward to every year, but more memories to cherish. Some holes in the story to the sad-bus-stop-lady, like the woman’s name remain, but some details crisp and clear such as the date when she first laid eyes on her: it was the middle of the harvest month, warm yet with a bearable breeze. It was the year of the Rabbit of 341, according to the new calendar of course, since the beginning of the new empire. It was already more than 20 years ago, the year the empire shook. Feiyan leans on her rake and sighs while memories flee like a monsoon into her brain. Such is the faith of the elder brain, focused, but when distracted hard to bend back. Others just assume she is taking a break.

It was warm that year, and already early on. Climate control still had its problems, and farmers of the Wǔ Gǔ corporation demonstrated against the conglomerate of the Creator Group in the center, an ordeal that disrupted local traffic for weeks on end. It was for this reason that Feiyan was late at the ‘House of the Three Stars’, a retirement home for those who could not stay with their family. Of course Feiyan did not want to stay with her daughter’s family. She felt then and even more so now, that she would be a burden on them. With a disabled husband and little income from the food-stand she helped her daugher best she could. Taking care of the grandchildren when possible before the forced retirement age of 70. She wished she could help prepare food for her daughter’s business, but county laws prohibited the elderly to take jobs from the large group of young people graduating these coming years. Feiyan shook her head while she went over the arguments again she had with her daughter and son-in-law. This was better, by grace of donations of the community she could reside here the rest of her days. She sighted, ‘the rest of her days’ sounded like she was set-aside into the margins. Ready to die, ready to be released from society. Some whom continued to be big influencers after retirements, founders of companies, writers and philosophers, some academics worked until they fell over. The honorable death. Those close to the Empire. People who knew people, or were born into families who do. Feiyan was neither. Daughter of a farmer, who had to sell his lands, later a factory-workers-daugher, then student, teacher, wife and widow. Now her life according to others was over. She felt like her life had not fully started yet, always she lived through others, for others, now she was retired and cast aside.

She sighed once more and with some reluctant force tapped three times on the door for good luck. No answer. She knew she was late but even so, the house was staffed most of the time, and she could not be the only one who was not bedridden. She did not dare to knock again, bad luck may strike at any given time, and she needed all the luck she could get. It felt like the first year of high-school all over again, but she was 70. “Darn it”, she muttered to herself, “you are a grown woman” and with that she pushed the door. Unlocked it swung open. Silence greeted her on the wave of hot air mixed with the smell of urine. It was eerie. Only the birds reflected this hot day in perpetual singing, humanity held its breath for a moment. Then muttering, a yell, more voices chiming in, some screams from behind her on the street. With that surreal introduction to retirement she stepped over the threshold.

Feiyan enter the hallway as a stayer, but felt like an intruder. She found the common room filled with the elderly by following the sounds of a disruptive excitement. Not the kind of excitement you want to walk into. Her own perception of her inner self betrayed Feiyan while she passed a mirror in the hallway. One of the elderly. Now she stared at the faces of her future, however, all eyes but her’s were on the standard big screen. Faces white, a nurse with her hand over her mouth in shock, some openly weeping. Feiyan remembered the moment she turned slowly to the screen to see the Emperor slumped down on the Empirical Wagon, covered in blood. A shriek left her mouth to reverse the roles, all eyes on her, while she stared at the horrid events on the screen. Almost too vivid to her taste.

Feiyan switches her attention from past events to the present. The woman across the street is ready to leave through blinking eyes. She would never forget the day she came to the retirement home because of the tragic events that day, but more vivid than the images of the dead Emperor burning on her retina, are the memories of the day Feiyan crossed the street and sat down next to the sad-bus-lady. “If I could only remember her name”, Feiyan thought.

Sad-lady smiles a watery smile as she recognizes Feiyan even though it must have almost 2 decades since they last talked. Even though Feiyan sees her regularly, even though sad-bus-lady never said anything since. The poor grass has to wait longer for sustenance, as memories come immediate and without warning. Feiyan can almost feel the chill of that day, the field covered in a forgiving blanket of snow, hiding the impurities with newness.

“I am sorry may I sit next to you?” Feiyan’s careful approach in the crispy snow went unnoticed. A young lady, maybe thirty or so looks up. Her eyes are red, clear signs of recent weeping. She nods with little strength. Feiyan seen pain before, and knows when to be silent. Just a presence can be comforting, just being there may invoke the need to share. Some need to reflect to see if greater pain in the world will ease theirs, while others need to release the pressure or burst. The young lady next to Feiyan has the ability to suffer through it, but needs to justify her presence to Feiyan, as if without a valid explanation she would get arrested for treason.

The lady spoke softly as if she did not want to disturb the natural process of the falling snowflakes. A stare in the distance; she reviewed past events in her mind's-eye, and validated her presence. “Here... on this very spot I lost all companionship, then... when... it happened, I lost all of society. All of my being, all of me is all that I am right here. Only here. I need to feel that connection otherwise I lost him for nothing. Otherwise there is no meaning to anything.” Feiyan listened, she felt the emotion, and that she talked about a loved one. Understanding it all together was something different. Yet the sad-lady had an ominous stare and even a glint of compassion towards Feiyan when she turn her head look at the old lady next to her.

“You must know such loss, you are in the old-folks home across the street, right?”

Feiyan then got it, she lost a child, and she assumed Feiyan had lost her children for otherwise she would live with them. So Feiyan shook her head, while she put her fragile wrinkled hand on the woman’s knee. “I am still blessed to visit my children occasionally, you see I have chosen...” The lady’s eyes lost the connection to the world and she slowly pushed aside the hand on her knee. Like useless ashes of a burning cigarette before they would damage her pants. She turned her head to explore her inner horizons. Feiyan sat besides her for a while, but with every moment and every car that drove by, with every snowflake that fell, Feiyan felt that she outstayed her welcome. Eventually she got up and went back to the home. Soft chirping footsteps echoed through the silence like hammer blows on metal in a dark quiet night.

A hand on her shoulder, “are you alright my dear?” Feiyan awakes from her thoughts, her memories. The kind face of a nurse, whose name she can not recall, looks at her. Fellow leave scrapers huddle around the catch of the day: a pile of leaves. The grass is free to receive the sun’s blessing. Feiyan looks at the bus stop. It is empty. “That is right”, Feiyan mumbles, “she never did give me her name”.

(c) Casteleijn MG. 2017

#ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit 

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Challenge of the Week #55: Write a story of 200 words or more about a stranger. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $200. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by casteleijn
Waiting
“Watch out, the bus is coming soon. So do not stand so close to the curb”. The woman leans back in the battered bus stop. Silence is her answer. It is a chilly morning, the dew collected last night now drips slowly of the aluminum siding. The hazy pinks between the apartment blocks promises a hot day.

A bus passes while her contorted face stares across the street as if the bus is invisible, and due to her apathetic attitude to the bus’ approach, the driver responds in perfect synergy by just driving by. He has seen her there before, and heard some of the story why she just sits there. A sadness touches his heart for a second, before his attention is drawn to the next busy intersection. Her blank stare is all that remains.

Behind the red fence inhabitants of the nursing home rake left-overs leaves from last summer, to give the new grass sun and air. For the blanket of leaves: it was too cold last fall to do the cleanup then, but only after the leaves and twigs are removed can life explode all over the garden. The cycle of life. A lady closest to the fence, closest to the road, looks over to the bus stop. She stops raking to look more closely, her arms frail and bony. Her parchment skin is cracked by blue veins, human marble. Some big blue-yellow bruises decorate her arms as a defiance to the county’s anti-tattoo laws of late. The early morning sun casts a long shadow as if to reach out to the sad lady across the street.

She remembers stories all too well, since there is not much more to do than keep busy with trivial tasks, while in-between think about all that what was her life. Less to look forward to every year, but more memories to cherish. Some holes in the story to the sad-bus-stop-lady, like the woman’s name remain, but some details crisp and clear such as the date when she first laid eyes on her: it was the middle of the harvest month, warm yet with a bearable breeze. It was the year of the Rabbit of 341, according to the new calendar of course, since the beginning of the new empire. It was already more than 20 years ago, the year the empire shook. Feiyan leans on her rake and sighs while memories flee like a monsoon into her brain. Such is the faith of the elder brain, focused, but when distracted hard to bend back. Others just assume she is taking a break.

It was warm that year, and already early on. Climate control still had its problems, and farmers of the Wǔ Gǔ corporation demonstrated against the conglomerate of the Creator Group in the center, an ordeal that disrupted local traffic for weeks on end. It was for this reason that Feiyan was late at the ‘House of the Three Stars’, a retirement home for those who could not stay with their family. Of course Feiyan did not want to stay with her daughter’s family. She felt then and even more so now, that she would be a burden on them. With a disabled husband and little income from the food-stand she helped her daugher best she could. Taking care of the grandchildren when possible before the forced retirement age of 70. She wished she could help prepare food for her daughter’s business, but county laws prohibited the elderly to take jobs from the large group of young people graduating these coming years. Feiyan shook her head while she went over the arguments again she had with her daughter and son-in-law. This was better, by grace of donations of the community she could reside here the rest of her days. She sighted, ‘the rest of her days’ sounded like she was set-aside into the margins. Ready to die, ready to be released from society. Some whom continued to be big influencers after retirements, founders of companies, writers and philosophers, some academics worked until they fell over. The honorable death. Those close to the Empire. People who knew people, or were born into families who do. Feiyan was neither. Daughter of a farmer, who had to sell his lands, later a factory-workers-daugher, then student, teacher, wife and widow. Now her life according to others was over. She felt like her life had not fully started yet, always she lived through others, for others, now she was retired and cast aside.

She sighed once more and with some reluctant force tapped three times on the door for good luck. No answer. She knew she was late but even so, the house was staffed most of the time, and she could not be the only one who was not bedridden. She did not dare to knock again, bad luck may strike at any given time, and she needed all the luck she could get. It felt like the first year of high-school all over again, but she was 70. “Darn it”, she muttered to herself, “you are a grown woman” and with that she pushed the door. Unlocked it swung open. Silence greeted her on the wave of hot air mixed with the smell of urine. It was eerie. Only the birds reflected this hot day in perpetual singing, humanity held its breath for a moment. Then muttering, a yell, more voices chiming in, some screams from behind her on the street. With that surreal introduction to retirement she stepped over the threshold.

Feiyan enter the hallway as a stayer, but felt like an intruder. She found the common room filled with the elderly by following the sounds of a disruptive excitement. Not the kind of excitement you want to walk into. Her own perception of her inner self betrayed Feiyan while she passed a mirror in the hallway. One of the elderly. Now she stared at the faces of her future, however, all eyes but her’s were on the standard big screen. Faces white, a nurse with her hand over her mouth in shock, some openly weeping. Feiyan remembered the moment she turned slowly to the screen to see the Emperor slumped down on the Empirical Wagon, covered in blood. A shriek left her mouth to reverse the roles, all eyes on her, while she stared at the horrid events on the screen. Almost too vivid to her taste.

Feiyan switches her attention from past events to the present. The woman across the street is ready to leave through blinking eyes. She would never forget the day she came to the retirement home because of the tragic events that day, but more vivid than the images of the dead Emperor burning on her retina, are the memories of the day Feiyan crossed the street and sat down next to the sad-bus-lady. “If I could only remember her name”, Feiyan thought.

Sad-lady smiles a watery smile as she recognizes Feiyan even though it must have almost 2 decades since they last talked. Even though Feiyan sees her regularly, even though sad-bus-lady never said anything since. The poor grass has to wait longer for sustenance, as memories come immediate and without warning. Feiyan can almost feel the chill of that day, the field covered in a forgiving blanket of snow, hiding the impurities with newness.

“I am sorry may I sit next to you?” Feiyan’s careful approach in the crispy snow went unnoticed. A young lady, maybe thirty or so looks up. Her eyes are red, clear signs of recent weeping. She nods with little strength. Feiyan seen pain before, and knows when to be silent. Just a presence can be comforting, just being there may invoke the need to share. Some need to reflect to see if greater pain in the world will ease theirs, while others need to release the pressure or burst. The young lady next to Feiyan has the ability to suffer through it, but needs to justify her presence to Feiyan, as if without a valid explanation she would get arrested for treason.

The lady spoke softly as if she did not want to disturb the natural process of the falling snowflakes. A stare in the distance; she reviewed past events in her mind's-eye, and validated her presence. “Here... on this very spot I lost all companionship, then... when... it happened, I lost all of society. All of my being, all of me is all that I am right here. Only here. I need to feel that connection otherwise I lost him for nothing. Otherwise there is no meaning to anything.” Feiyan listened, she felt the emotion, and that she talked about a loved one. Understanding it all together was something different. Yet the sad-lady had an ominous stare and even a glint of compassion towards Feiyan when she turn her head look at the old lady next to her.

“You must know such loss, you are in the old-folks home across the street, right?”

Feiyan then got it, she lost a child, and she assumed Feiyan had lost her children for otherwise she would live with them. So Feiyan shook her head, while she put her fragile wrinkled hand on the woman’s knee. “I am still blessed to visit my children occasionally, you see I have chosen...” The lady’s eyes lost the connection to the world and she slowly pushed aside the hand on her knee. Like useless ashes of a burning cigarette before they would damage her pants. She turned her head to explore her inner horizons. Feiyan sat besides her for a while, but with every moment and every car that drove by, with every snowflake that fell, Feiyan felt that she outstayed her welcome. Eventually she got up and went back to the home. Soft chirping footsteps echoed through the silence like hammer blows on metal in a dark quiet night.

A hand on her shoulder, “are you alright my dear?” Feiyan awakes from her thoughts, her memories. The kind face of a nurse, whose name she can not recall, looks at her. Fellow leave scrapers huddle around the catch of the day: a pile of leaves. The grass is free to receive the sun’s blessing. Feiyan looks at the bus stop. It is empty. “That is right”, Feiyan mumbles, “she never did give me her name”.

(c) Casteleijn MG. 2017
#ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit 
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Visual inspiration! Poetry/Prose: Pick an image, any image, and write a poem about it! It can be distinctly about the image itself, or whatever the image makes you feel/think. Just go with the flow! I'll do one too. Make sure to upload your chosen image as a header and tag me!
Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse

Crumbled Polaroids

It is cold in here, yet

so much colder,

out there the hard

crunch of the soft snow

surprised us all.

A rare snowflake

falls, moves by.

It is easier to make

a new imprint then

to tread on the old.

When folded into

our new shell of

immortal metal.

Armour to last the

centuries.

The frills of boredom

seep and degenerate

our spark, poetry,

mastermindery,

If not, if not...

If we not forget

that our blue line

is sharply curved.

My memories

I see in old photo's

and faded colours.

© M.G. Casteleijn. 2017 (image and poem)

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Visual inspiration! Poetry/Prose: Pick an image, any image, and write a poem about it! It can be distinctly about the image itself, or whatever the image makes you feel/think. Just go with the flow! I'll do one too. Make sure to upload your chosen image as a header and tag me!
Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse
Crumbled Polaroids
It is cold in here, yet
so much colder,
out there the hard
crunch of the soft snow
surprised us all.
A rare snowflake
falls, moves by.

It is easier to make
a new imprint then
to tread on the old.
When folded into
our new shell of
immortal metal.
Armour to last the
centuries.

The frills of boredom
seep and degenerate
our spark, poetry,
mastermindery,
If not, if not...
If we not forget
that our blue line
is sharply curved.

My memories
I see in old photo's
and faded colours.


© M.G. Casteleijn. 2017 (image and poem)
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Write the first several paragraphs of a sci-fi novel.
Written by casteleijn in portal Sci-Fi

Death of an Emperor

CHAPTER: The pool of tears

If he had known on the most cursed morning, that most eventful morning, it would be the last morning he would see his daughter he would have held her until the day was over. So those interesting times would never happen. But it did happen.

Qiáng sits on the bed, the room of their only daughter unchanged, frozen in time for a decade. “She would have children of her own now”. Pointless thoughts to fill the void. In his hand a small book, a diary. He read it many times, but now on this day, this morning, this cursed morning he always reads it. Qiáng’s anger ties him to living. The Who. The Why. The Want. The want for revenge. His wife was broken on impact. She slowly faded out of the light into the foreboding shadows of death. Visiting the gravesites more and more frequent until he found her one cold morning on an unmarked grave. It was fitting. She died close to where she choose to rest, not to burden anyone. It fanned his inner embers of rage once more.

Qiáng sighs with a frown while opening the first page. Each character, each word, the meaning between them, he knows them. Yet little comfort comes from them, questions on the other hand remain. He reads an hour while silent tears run down his face. Then he finds those passages, her deeper thoughts on her glorious task, and the puzzle that lies within.

(c) Casteleijn MG. 2014-2016

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Write the first several paragraphs of a sci-fi novel.
Written by casteleijn in portal Sci-Fi
Death of an Emperor
CHAPTER: The pool of tears

If he had known on the most cursed morning, that most eventful morning, it would be the last morning he would see his daughter he would have held her until the day was over. So those interesting times would never happen. But it did happen.

Qiáng sits on the bed, the room of their only daughter unchanged, frozen in time for a decade. “She would have children of her own now”. Pointless thoughts to fill the void. In his hand a small book, a diary. He read it many times, but now on this day, this morning, this cursed morning he always reads it. Qiáng’s anger ties him to living. The Who. The Why. The Want. The want for revenge. His wife was broken on impact. She slowly faded out of the light into the foreboding shadows of death. Visiting the gravesites more and more frequent until he found her one cold morning on an unmarked grave. It was fitting. She died close to where she choose to rest, not to burden anyone. It fanned his inner embers of rage once more.

Qiáng sighs with a frown while opening the first page. Each character, each word, the meaning between them, he knows them. Yet little comfort comes from them, questions on the other hand remain. He reads an hour while silent tears run down his face. Then he finds those passages, her deeper thoughts on her glorious task, and the puzzle that lies within.
(c) Casteleijn MG. 2014-2016



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Resolutions. Let's have it. Capture your action, give it a punch, make it poetic! #newyear Tag me if you want @casteleijn
Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse

Resolution

I hold my breath and I dream more. Past the clouds, past the stars, and into the dark-betweens. Gently a stroke, a breeze, a puff, a wink, holding hands, clement days with orange streaks. Deep warm rays that hold our gaze. 

Oh, how to long for purple skies, everlasting discussions about meaningless things while the universe leans in and listens. To let the little bells ring and dangle. Fresh green vibrant covered in dew, kissed by morning light, yet forgotten in the most nicest of shades. 

Oh, how to breath in your scent, the swirl of your hair, while laughter plays in the background bound by happy things of silly string. An aroma of fluff filled ambiguity and intent laid out in front of it all.

Oh, how the day dreams of newer things, and forgets the old stocks. Warehouses full of all that laid behind it all, yet carried, yet resolved but not absolved. A hum trembling though the wires brings obligations, gifts wrapped in beauty nor silver glass. 

Re-sol-u-tion. I made it up, a made up word. I poke the soap bubble of absurd thinness, then we dance and laugh and make another round around the sun. A journey I never begun...

#2017 #makeitso

 

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Resolutions. Let's have it. Capture your action, give it a punch, make it poetic! #newyear Tag me if you want @casteleijn
Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse
Resolution
I hold my breath and I dream more. Past the clouds, past the stars, and into the dark-betweens. Gently a stroke, a breeze, a puff, a wink, holding hands, clement days with orange streaks. Deep warm rays that hold our gaze. 

Oh, how to long for purple skies, everlasting discussions about meaningless things while the universe leans in and listens. To let the little bells ring and dangle. Fresh green vibrant covered in dew, kissed by morning light, yet forgotten in the most nicest of shades. 

Oh, how to breath in your scent, the swirl of your hair, while laughter plays in the background bound by happy things of silly string. An aroma of fluff filled ambiguity and intent laid out in front of it all.

Oh, how the day dreams of newer things, and forgets the old stocks. Warehouses full of all that laid behind it all, yet carried, yet resolved but not absolved. A hum trembling though the wires brings obligations, gifts wrapped in beauty nor silver glass. 

Re-sol-u-tion. I made it up, a made up word. I poke the soap bubble of absurd thinness, then we dance and laugh and make another round around the sun. A journey I never begun...

#2017 #makeitso

 
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Resolutions. Let's be done with it. Capture in a haiku an indecision, make me hold my breath a few seconds #newyear Tag me if you want @casteleijn
Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse

Still broken

Tumbling in midair

Light reflecting, refracting.

A Gasp. Not this time.

#newyear

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Resolutions. Let's be done with it. Capture in a haiku an indecision, make me hold my breath a few seconds #newyear Tag me if you want @casteleijn
Written by casteleijn in portal Poetry & Free Verse
Still broken
Tumbling in midair
Light reflecting, refracting.
A Gasp. Not this time.

#newyear
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What's the scariest story you can come up with in only 15 words
Written by casteleijn in portal Horror & Thriller

Forever stuck

Closer, and closer still. Blood-shed veins pressed on white eyes, but the truck never clashes.

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What's the scariest story you can come up with in only 15 words
Written by casteleijn in portal Horror & Thriller
Forever stuck
Closer, and closer still. Blood-shed veins pressed on white eyes, but the truck never clashes.


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