Clockwork Night

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This is a story of insanity and unreality
of suicide and sadism
of death gods and Divine beings
of light vs. darkness
and morality vs. amorality.

_

1

I can still remember the very first time I met her. It must have been maybe seven or eight years ago, when I was twenty and still living in the city. Even now, the details return to me as sharp as glass: her face, a plump porcelain sphere dusted by black bangs; her eyes, a shade as gray and colorless as mine; her dress, something silken and silvery. At the time I wondered what had prompted her to approach me, especially since I was prone to exude a cautionary pretense of what you might call reticent unsociability. And although I initially wasn't thrilled that she had tried to strike a conversation, I found myself taking an interest in her. Well, more like an interest mingled with wariness, I guess. The gist of our conversation was anything but ordinary, and it had every right to put me in a state of perpetual unease.

But before I go into specifics, allow me to craft you a scene of that evening and explain just why we were there in the first place. This all occurred during a time when my father was one of the most well respected politicians in Seattle. With the coming election taking place that November and his mayoral candidacy tightly secured, his wealthy supporters - her father included - had decided to host a large and extravagant fundraiser-gala at a renowned hotel. My parents had never been more excited, but I was brooding about the prospect of attending such a "prestigious" event with a hoard of Seattle's most superficial well-to-do. My father noticed my moody behavior, and reprimanded me while we entered the hotel's gleaming blue lobby in our matching tuxedoes.

"Liam," he said lowly, his voice suggesting something like a threat, "do me a favor and drop the act, okay? There's no reason for you to be so glum. You should be happy to be here. Just smile for once, will you?"

Smiles had never come exactly easy to me, but I tried, I really did. It wasn't that I was particularly disdainful for most of the people at the gala. I was just nervous as hell. I had always been that shy sort of person who slowly dies on the inside during sociable outings, so I spent most of my time sitting at the tables, staring out at the cityscape that glittered eighty floors below. No one really spoke to me, and I was grateful. They were all too busy sipping champagne and carrying out the most banal chatter in their thousand-dollar suits and dresses. My father, in comparison, was off introducing my mother to everyone in sight, shepherding her around like some kind of trophy wife. I knew the two of them would be occupied for a while, so I seized the moment to get away. I ascended the nearest mezzanine to the sky observation deck where I could be even more secluded.

Guess who followed.

I'd caught her face when I first entered the ballroom, but I never even noticed that she'd been watching me downstairs the entire time. When I stepped out onto the indoor observation deck, I heard footsteps behind me, but I didn't turn. I tried to ignore the sound, instead focusing on the spider web spread of sparkling avenues and streets, the motion blur of traveling automobile headlights, the sharp outlines of glossy high-risers cutting the indigo sky. I didn't know who was behind me at the time, but I'd already made the decision to turn around and face my company as the footsteps neared. A single turn, and suddenly our fates came crashing together like waves before the storm.

She smiled when our eyes met. Her expression was something I had yet to see at this party: kind and strangely curious.

"Hello," she said brightly, after a long silence held the air between us.

I didn't know what to say. Anxiety shoved its way into every single conduit and crevice of my body, so I ended up just nodding in response. I mentally kicked myself for that later. She didn't seem to mine, though. On the contrary, she started to approach me. And as she neared, I saw the blue Aura. It hovered about her figure like a close friend, ebbing and ominous in the icy chandelier light. It was this very Aura that I had seen on my older brother and countless other souls that had expired. It was something I never wanted to see on another human being again. And yet here it was, a sickening miasma that rippled and pulsed around this young woman.

With her much closer now, I was able to catch her eye color, which was almost identical to mine. I found it strange, since I rarely saw people with gunmetal gray irises. Not even my parents and I shared the same eyes.

"What might you be doing up here by yourself, Mr. Taku?" she asked.

I remember thinking it was weird she called me that, but I didn't bother to correct her because I was still mentally struggling with what to say. I wished I had cue cards to assist me for crap like this. I found that not looking at her helped, so I let my gaze trail out to the city as I responded, "Just admiring the view." My hand drifted half-heartedly towards the polished windows.

"I see. It's beautiful out tonight."

I looked back at her. Seeing her standing at my side, chin tilted up to the glass dome above our heads, made me say, "Absolutely."

She smiled and cocked her head to one side. The Aura around her danced slightly, and I tried not to wince. She said, "Well, this certainly is interesting. The son of the guest of honor would rather be up here by his lonesome than downstairs where bottles of champagne and red wine are waiting for him."

I shrugged. "Yeah, I'm not the partying kind of person."

"Funny, neither am I."

"Is that why you decided to join me up here?"

"Well…don't think me weird or anything, but I noticed you sitting all by yourself downstairs on the balcony. I was going to say something, but then I noticed you walk up here. I came after you." She laughed sheepishly. "I just wanted to talk."

"About?"

My tone was rather sharp and suspicious, but this just made her laugh. "Easy, Mr. Taku. I just want someone to chat with. And hey, maybe you'll learn to like me so much that we'll become friends! After all, we have a lot in common."

Amused, I asked, "We do?"

"You can see it, too, can't you?"

Suddenly my blood ran cold. Any piece of amusement I had felt before had been washed clean from my body. I started to grow even more nervous, and, in an effort to disguise this nervousness, I decidedly put on a cold façade. She sensed my change in expression and started to walk to the edge of the observation deck, nodding at me to follow. I did. We leaned over the railing and gazed down at the party that occupied the next three stories beneath us. People were spread out across the white marble floors and balconies; some chatted in groups while others sat at the clothed tables, or else leaned up against the window railings. A steady babble of talk drifted up towards us, mingling with the melancholy sonata of piano playing.

The girl pointed.

"Do you see that man sitting at the bar there?"

I didn't want to look, but I did.

"Tell me what you see," she whispered.

I followed her finger and noticed a lean middle-aged man laughing with his friends at a neon-lit bar, his entire body swallowed by a blue Aura that was much thicker and darker than the girl's. In that moment, I suddenly realized the message she had probably wanted to convey this entire evening. My eyes widened slightly, and then narrowed. I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it. This young woman was just like me. She could see the same light I could. The question was how she knew I was her counterpart in the first place. Just by looking at her, I would have no idea what she was. Perhaps it was the eyes that had tipped her off. I did not know whether gray eyes marked anomalous people like us, but it certainly seemed plausible. How else could she have foreseen this strange power of mine? And if she could see the Auras, did that mean she could see the one around her? All of these questions chilled me somehow.

"What do you see?" she asked me.

Well. Shit.

"Nothing," I said indifferently. "Just a bunch of drunken people."

"Mr. Taku, I'm not a fool. I know a lie when I hear one. Try again."

When I spoke again, my voice was quiet. "I see a light around the man at the bar."

"The color of the light?"

"Blue." That was the last word I wanted to speak to her, now and forever. Sharply, I pulled away from the railing and started off across the observatory, black loafers clomping along the metal floor. A whisper of heels told me she was following me once again. I wished she wouldn't. I had never met someone who shared the same ability as me, and I found myself not knowing what to do, what to say. This was something you didn't want to be mutual, something you kept in the back of your mind when it wasn't stinging your heart like a particularly jagged chip of ice.

"It's all right, Mr. Taku, I can see it, too. There's nothing to be worried about."

"I am not worried," I said smoothly over my shoulder. I shouldn't have responded, but I did anyways, much to my internal irritation.

"Then why are you walking away?"

"Because we have nothing else to talk about and I'm bored," I lied.

"Don't be so mean," I heard her huff angrily.

I can be meaner, I grumbled to myself, thrusting my hands deep into my pockets.

"Mr. Taku, wait. I have a question for you."

I kept on walking, so she raised her voice.

"Don't you want to know how I knew you were just like me?"

My feet halted and I turned around to see her standing a few feet away, twisting her pale fingers together. She offered me a small smile, the chandelier light crafting a gleam in her eye.

"Let me guess," I said impassively, "My eyes, right? Gray eyes are kind of partial to people like us, yeah?"

"Well…Kind of."

I waited patiently.

"…Mr. Taku…you see these blue lights all the time like I do, I presume. But…have you ever seen the light around you?"

For the first time, I let emotion break through my carefully constructed façade. I registered her with shock and confusion, removing my hands from my pockets and folding my arms across my chest. "What are you talking about?" I demanded. "What does that have to do with anything? Are you saying you can see a blue light around me?"

There was a long silence, broken by the melancholic notes of a piano. Then she quickly shook her head, strands of black hair whipping her chin. "Of course not." But the tremor in her voice made me wonder. "I can't. I can't see a thing."

"Honest?"

"Honest."

"What about you?" I asked quietly, looking directly at in her eyes while the blue light shrouded her. "Have you ever seen it around you?"

"No," she said firmly, confidently. "Never."

What?

My mind shook and shattered, confusion pouring in through the cracks.I began to speculate, asking myself if she was lying or if she actually couldn't see the Aura floating around her. But how could she not? I sure as hell could see it, clear as day. I adjusted my tie, unnerved. Her previous words had got me thinking about myself, too, and whether or not I had a blue light marking my body.

Then the strangest thought hit me, something I had never once imagined to flow through the current of my mind.

Were we both dying, and didn't know it yet?

I gestured for her to sit down with me at a nearby bench. My insides twisted with remarkably potent coldness as we sat within inches from each other, facing the quiet city. I said, "Tell me, when did you first see the Auras?"

"You gave them a name." She was amused.

"I don't know what else to call them."

"Glows? Incandescences? Uh...lights?"

When I said nothing, she added quickly, "All right, then. I began seeing these Auras when I was nine, shortly after I almost drowned when I fell through a sheet of ice. Playing unsupervised on the edge of a frozen river like an idiot. How about you?"

"I…was in a car accident," I lied. "Two months ago."

"That recent?"

"Yeah."

"Hmm...when the event was over, did you happen to find yourself in possession of a pocket watch with no memory of where it came from?"

I regarded her with high suspicion. "Maybe."

She smiled cleverly. "Let me see."

Reluctantly, I reached underneath my tuxedo to remove a silver chain, from which hung a tiny crystal clock. Her eyes widened as she stared at it.

"What does it say on the back?"

"I'm not sure. Strange characters. Not of any language I know."

"And you keep it on you at all times?"

"Yeah. I think it has something to do with...this strange anomaly you and I share."

Her eyes glittered. "It has everything to do with this strange anomaly you and I share. At least, I think so. I've been wrong before..."

"Do you have one?" I asked. I expected her to show me her own pocket watch, but instead she tilted her head back and spoke musingly to the glass ceiling.

"I still can't believe that our near-death experiences allow us to see those who are soon-to-die. So strange…. It's like the Gods of Death are giving us a tiny fragment of their own almighty powers..."

"You seem intrigued by this idea," I said, tucking my watch down my suit again.

"Oh?" She turned to face me, the tilt of her head accentuated by a twitch of a half-smile, . "And you are not?"

"Not really, no."

"Tell me why," she urged gently.

I breathed in deeply through my nose before releasing a long, weary sigh. "Well…when you see the light, you can't stop it, can you? You just see it. You don't know the lifespan of that person, you don't know anything about them or how you might be able to prevent them from dying. All you can do is look, and know that that person with the crazy blue shit around him is going to perish sometime soon…whether in a couple of years, or a couple of days…a couple of seconds…" I hadn't realized how soft my voice had grown. My companion was now studying me with compassion in her eyes, as though she knew that I had lost a loved one only a couple of months ago. The last thing I wanted was to receive any sympathy, or else bring to light my brother's death. I hastily rose to my feet and straightened my tie.

"Well, I have to be going. My father is probably wondering where I am. It was nice talking to you…um…" I stared at her inquisitively.

She stood, too, her long silver dress flowing at her ankles. "Colette," she said brightly. "Cole for short."

"Cole," I repeated, liking her name much more than I should. The hell.

"I hope to see you again sometime, Mr. Taku."

Be polite, I told myself. "Please, call me Liam."

"Liam it is, then."

I studied her gray gaze for a moment longer before heading down the stairs that would take me back to the party. As I descended, the image of her refused to ripple away in my mind. I retraced everything about her, from her long hair to her smile to her laugh. And then I remembered my blunt, ultimately pessimistic theory - that the two of us were somehow dying. She had to be - why else would an Aura be on her? But then again, why would she think there was one on me, too? My thoughts were racing by the time I reached the main floor where my parents stood beside the whispering fountain. I hardly felt like smiling, but I did so anyways, just to appease my father. He smiled back, asked how my night was going so far.

"Good," I said.

"Make any new friends?"

"Yeah." My eyes ascended the length of the four-story room, all the way up to the observatory where I had left Cole.

I didn't hear the news until tomorrow morning, long after the gala was over and my father was reeling in his success. My parents and I had left the hotel around midnight, but many guests had remained. At one in the morning, a group of people cheerfully decided to go up to the hotel's rooftop to look at the city. Among them were two distinguished accountants, an international entrepreneur, three of the hotel's receptionists, a billionaire from a well-known family, and the teenage daughter of Jerri Wellington, publisher for the Seattle Times. When the group of eight reached the rooftop, they crossed the protective railing and walked straight to the edge. Security guards came out to retrieve them, but it was too late. Each person stood in a straight formation on the hotel ledge and gracefully leapt sideways off the building. They were all smiling, according to the security guards, as though they were thrilled about plummeting to their deaths. Reports said that one of the jumpers gleefully shouted, "To the realm of paradise!" before falling. And that the name of that jumper was none other than nineteen-year-old Colette Wellington.

_

The rain fell for what seemed like weeks, spilling watery colors and sharp chills upon everything. When I wasn't at university or conditioning for cross-country, I was lying in my bed in my dark dorm room, staring up at the ceiling as my mind snatched up thoughts of Cole. Her death had been so sudden, and so unusual, that it had actually stirred my suspicions as well as my confusion. She had seemed so bright and cheerful when I had met her, so what on earth had suddenly prompted her to kill herself? What had prompted all of those people to end their lives in a mass suicide? When I was at the hotel, I had only seen two people with blue Auras - Colette and the man at the bar. Then again, I hadn't really been looking. I should have. But now it was too late.

While in bed for hours at a time, I could feel the sadness creeping into my bone marrow. Colette's death reminded me of my brother Cree's, whose Aura had been the first one I had ever seen. I had no idea what would have happened to him in the winter; I had simply deemed his blue light to be a strange trick of the eyes or else a result from weird vertigo. But Cree had died just like Colette, in a random suicide act that I should have seen coming. I still blamed myself for his death, just like I blamed myself for Colette's now. What was the point of seeing those who were dying when you couldn't even know how much time they had left, and whether or not you could prevent their deaths? I felt wretched, useless, and disgusted in myself.

Both Colette's funeral reception and burial were private, and I was surprised by how irritated I was by that. Of course I wouldn't be invited, as I had only known her for about twenty minutes or so, but I had still felt closer to her than almost anyone. We had connected that night after we had learned the truth of each other's identities. And as a person who usually shied away from any communication, I had actually enjoyed talking with her.

I knew I had to do something, so several days after her burial I decided to visit her gravestone. I woke early in the morning, when a stain of milky blue brushed the horizon and everything around me lay in a somnolent silence. I combed my hair for once, pulled on some heavy clothes and boots, and started for the bus stop down the street. I stopped at the only florist shop that was open and picked out a potted white orchid. I knew it was traditional to lay bouquets on a grave, but I didn't care. I wanted to do something different. With the pot in hand, I walked to the cemetery and spent at least an hour looking for her headstone. I found it just as the sun broke and sent icy sunlight streaming across the grass:

Colette Jodelle Wellington. 1990-2009.

There were already mountains of flowers adorned around it, many of which put my single potted orchid to shame. Nonetheless, I crouched down and set the orchid next to a glass vase of white roses. Then I rose to my feet and stared hard at the name now embedded in the granite grave marker.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I wish you had had a little more time."

A voice said, "Then give her more time."

I whirled around. A frigid draft caught my face, and the sensation was similar to that of being doused in cold water. My eyes scanned my surroundings, but I was as alone as I'd been since I first set foot in the cemetery.

When I returned my gaze to Cole's tombstone, I noticed something lying next to my orchid in the dewy grass. A bronze pocket watch. I felt my skin ripple uncomfortably, because it certainly hadn't been there before. It was almost like mine, though a little larger, and it was attached to a single chain instead of a necklace. And it was absolutely battered; several cogs were even scattered across the ground.

I glanced around once, twice before I pocketed the broken watch and its pieces. Then I left the cemetery.

There were more people out on the streets now that the sun had risen. Many of them were most likely hurrying to work, dressed in business suits or neatly pressed uniforms, clutching briefcases or messenger bags. Suddenly, the city seemed sharper to me than usual, and it wasn't just because of the crisp morning light. I became aware of how many blue lights circled the passer-bys, and how they would never know their fate. It was true that human beings were dying everyday as they grew older, but in reality, these people's lives were going to end sooner than they actually should have. I cringed every time I passed someone with an aura - and there were many of them, no matter where I looked - the little girl clutching her mother's hand, the man browsing the newspaper stand, the middle-aged hotdog seller standing by his cart, the two women in blazers sharing a cup of a coffee in a windowed café. I hated seeing all of this. Before I had mostly tuned it out. Cree's death had made me numb with grief, had made me forgo this pathetic ability of mine. But Cole's death had done something to me. It had made me finally open my eyes and see the truth around me.

And what a horrible, disgusting, ugly truth it was.


A/N - I can't escape writing, whyyy? Fack.

Updates are predicted to happen only on weekends. I think.

Story inspired by Stephen King's Insomnia, Zack Hemsey's song Redemption, and Murakami Haruki's 羊をめぐる冒険。