In the flatlands of black grass and white skies, there is but one landmark. At the center of the monochrome wasteland, beneath the black star, there resides a shack. And this shack, to which many venture to, is the residence of an old man, the oldest man, in fact, who is the sole survivor of the last generation from before the star fell.
Before the star fell, it was said that the world was one filled with color and light. But, it is not said anymore. Like the world, even that is lost to this oppressive land. The old man, the last of his kind, sat in his home and never ventured out. The world that he knew is gone, and in its place was a world of shadow and void of color. But against the contrast of the sky and the earth, a figure could be seen nearing the shack.
A knock upon the wooden door seemed to echo for miles in the void. The gray figure, looking much like a shadow cast upon falling dust, called out, its voice a distorted echo, sounding very much like a haunting white noise. After waiting for a while, the figure tried its way with the door. It creaked open, slowly, revealing the inside of the dainty little shack to be much bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. But, it wasn't just the dimensions of the shack that were off. Stepping inside, she could feel that so too was its atmosphere.
It was completely white. But, it was no ordinary white. No, this white was different. It was warm and radiant, and it seemed to ebb and flow, almost as if it was liquid. And, as it ebbed and flowed, it also expanded and depressed, bringing to mind the rising and falling of one's chest. This white was something more. Comparatively, the white of the figure's world was flat and blank. But here, in the old man's world, the whiteness of space seemed to be alive. And although the gray figure had never seen such beauty before, never could've imagined what such a sight was, but, a word, an ideal, came to mind, so perfect in its description of what this whiteness is. It was clear. It was light.
But such a thing soon became trivial as the gray figure's attention was brought upwards.
There was no roof despite there clearly being one on the outside of the shack. However, it wasn't the lack of overhead protection that most rattled the gray figure's existence, but rather, the sky itself. It was different from before, from outside. There was no sea of blank white above its head, and the only remnant of the sky from the figure's world was the black star that hung directly above the shack. But, the sky was something else entirely.
To one side of the black star, there was but blackness, peppered with white sparkles that shone and twinkled, and at the edge, seeming to sink into the blackness, was a large white sphere that shone an empty white. The white that was emitted was much like that of the room, light, but it was missing that warmth that was emitted with such beauty. It was merely a reflection of light, and as such, it was a simply a mirror to the true source of beauty which resided on the opposite side of the black star.
Positioned parallel to the dark sky was a sky of color, colors not seen or heard of before in this world. Sinking into a sea of light blue, there lays golden warmth, a sphere that not merely reflected light, but, was light itself. Its heat felt so very sweet.
And between the two, in the space that divided light from dark, was the black star. In its presence, the two skies merged, blending together into a mystical mesh that was neither one nor the other; neither light, nor dark. The light seemed to bend, straining its existence as orange streaks that swirled into the beauty of a black tainted with warmth. The space around the star was an ever-changing purple that glowed. The black star, the centerpiece of two worlds unseen within a black and white land, the void and the color, radiated twilight.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" The grayed figure turned its attention from above and looked before it, seeing a new figure, a figure that looked so different from it; where the gray figure looked more to be made of haze, the figure before it seemed solid. What more, it had detail. It had a face. It wasn't normal; wasn't of the gray figure's world.
"Odd…usually, your kind waits patiently at the door." The figure's face was smooth and white, void of features other than two dark spots that were positioned to be his eyes. The blackness of his figure hung off of his body.
The grayed figure spoke, its voice, much like before, distorted beyond comprehension. And once it stopped speaking, the masked man in black cocked his head slightly to the side. "Oh, right!" he exclaimed, now reaching within the black robe that draped his form, and from it, he pulled out a mask, similar in every way to the one that he wore. He held it out to the gray figure, who in turn, stared at it blankly.
"Don't be shy, put it on," the man, persisted waving the mask slightly. The gray figure took the mask and, staring at the patient person before it, put the mask on. And, as the mask was pressed against the figure's face, through its eyes it could see a new world. The room that the two had been standing in, before, blank in detail, had now been replaced with a new room. There were objects never before seen by the grayed figure. There were chairs and a table, a couch, and shelves just lined with books, as well as many little other little things that littered the room. And everything had color. There were dark greens and light blues, reds and browns, and none of them were oppressive, but rather, natural. And what more, there was sound, sweet and beautiful sound, so harmoniously filling the air, being played by a piano in the corner of the room (that seemed to play itself). The entire room felt so comfortable, the ambiance, warm and soothing.
Even the grayness that was the figure changed through the perspective of the mask. The figure changed from a gray haze into the figure of a young woman, her body small and thin, covered by a simple white dress, her hair long, reaching down her back and black as the dreariness of her world.
"…!" The noise of surprise that came from her was, as one would expect of a girl, high and feminine. 'It', turned out to be a 'she'.
"Now then, if you would be so kind," she looked up to the man, having previously been looking at her new form, "please, repeat what it is that you just said." Despite it being but a mask, the blank façade fit the girl perfectly, for, if she had an expression, it surely would be one blank with curiosity.
"…" She opened her mouth, trying to speak, but it was no easy task. The words seemed stuck, unable to form. But, the man stood patiently. After little struggle (which included whimpers and moans that could best be described as the girl's attempt at speech) she was finally able to voice her reply.
"I have come here to die."
"Oh, the man said wryly. "But, in order to die, one must first be alive." The man turned his back to the girl and began walking across the room in smooth, even strides, and the girl following him as he entered into a hallway at the end of the room.
"Be alive?" she replied.
"Yes, alive," he answered in a 'matter of fact' tone. "Death is for the living; see, for one cannot live without dying just as one cannot die without first living."
The girl just shook her head, she, still following the man down the long hallway. "I understand the concept of life and death!" she said, objecting. "And it is because I understand that I am here!"
The man chuckled, not even bothering to look back at the girl as he said, "But, if you truly did understand the concept of life and death, why would you not only knock upon, but be so foolish enough as to enter upon Death's door?"
"But, I do understa-"
"You don't understand anything!" The man turned suddenly with such ferocity, causing the girl to jump back. His hand flew to his mask, ripping it off violently, revealing a youthful face, his skin pallid, and large bags hung beneath his crystal blue eyes. "One is to run away, fearing death, but you lot always come so nonchalantly, repeating the same line over and over and over again!"
The girl stepped backwards, afraid. The man turned and put back on his mask. "What you are…what all of you are…are nothing but echoes of a world long forgotten. You are not real…you are not alive…and because of that…you cannot die. You don't understand…you can't even comprehend what it means to live and die, what it means to laugh or hurt! You are nothing!" The man quickly turned, continuing onward down the dimming hall, leaving the girl where she was.
She stood, frightened, her legs trembling. Never has such a powerful and hostile tone ever been heard in her world. And those eyes, so daunting and heavy, almost as if they were looking through her very being. After a moment of collecting herself, she looked up, only to notice that the man was gone, so far into the hallway that she could not see him, so far in that the ever dimming lights up to this point were nowhere to be found and there was just blackness. Inside, she could feel a tugging at her chest. She couldn't stay here. She had to go, to him.
She began to run as fast as she trembling legs could manage, a cold sweat washing over the entirety of her body. For some reason, she felt an impending sense of doom, as if something bad would happen. The blackness of the hallway forming around her as she ran wasn't of this world, wasn't beautiful. It was the same black from her world, just black, not the mysterious darkness of this world. She had to catch up to the man. She just had to. She was no longer in her own world. She needed him.
She ran down what seemed to be an endless hallway, every step feeling painful as the feeling in her chest intensified.
Amidst the dark, she hit something, causing her to fall to the ground. The camouflaged figure of the man turned around, the white of his mask and skin of his hands seeming to pop out of the blackness of the hallway. On the floor, the girl lay, gasping for air. He just stood, staring at her, and the girl could do nothing but return his gaze, her entire body shaking. He gave an audible before reaching down to the girl, offering her his hand.
She looked at his hand, her own reaching up slightly, shaking tremendously. She wanted very much to grab his hand, to know that she wasn't alone in this strange, pitch black hallway. But, she was scared, scared of him. His personality changed all too quickly from pleasurable to hostile. She didn't know why, but, she wanted to trust him. She had seen, in those tired, dull eyes, the full extent of what he had seen through the ages. He didn't seem mad directly at her, just, mad in general, at something or, at himself. She felt deep inside that this was true.
He reached the rest of the way, grabbing her hand, surprising her somewhat in the process. She tightened, squeezing his hand as he pulled her to her feet. And, again, they were walking, the girl not letting go of his hand.
And as they walked, she could not help but notice his hand. Although he felt (and clearly was) alive, the flesh of his hand was cold rather than warm. What more, although it was rough, his hand held hers gently. And the image of his eyes, which so deeply etched themselves into her mind, seemed unbefitting of such a young looking man. And yet, in those eyes, there was not a trace of youth, not a hint of light despite them being a beautiful clear blue.
She drew close to him. And, continuing as he had been, he paid it no mind. She laid her head practically against him, and in the silence, where not even their footsteps were audible, she heard something; the slightest noise, oh so beautiful and never once heard by her before: The beating of his heart, the sound of life. Two beats, over and over and over again, endlessly repeating. Such a simple composition, and yet, it seemed mystifying. The song of life, ever with its beauty, was never once heard in the girl's world.
She stopped suddenly, and, still clutching the man's arm, she caused him to stop as well. He turned to look at her small, trembling frame, tears streaming down from her eye's, or, at least, from the mask. He said nothing. She meekly looked up, their gazes connected.
"What does it mean to live?"
The man turned away from her pathetic figure, sighing audibly as he seemed to stare off into the distance, through the darkness into memories long past, to before the star fell.
"Life," he began, pausing briefly, trying to find the right words, "…is very sweet, but, at the same time, very cruel." He turned to her slowly, taking off his mask as he did so, revealing once more those tired eyes of his. The girl simply looked on. He continued.
"Life is…confusing…very equal. Life is about the light and the dark…it's about happiness and pain…beauty and horror…warmth and cold…it is heaven and hell, love and hate…it is a world of polarities. And yet…"
"…and yet?" she asked, prompting him to go on, squeezing his hand even more.
He smiled at her, his smile weak and gentle, but filled with hurt. "…it was…everything…it was life." He put back on his mask, squeezing her hand just as she did to his. "Come. We're almost there." After seeing the girl nod, he turned his attention back forward, continuing on, walking, just as they had been.
She closed her eyes, letting him lead them on towards their destination unbeknownst to her, all the while, listening to the beating of his heart that seemed so soothing to her. His life, and the light and darkness of above seemed the only thing that was real in this black hallway. But, it was not just the light and dark, she realized, for there was something else, something radiant that lied just above. The star. And yet, how was it that the star, the only star in all of her world and the centerpiece of his exist in both realms? And as such, another question became present. She voiced her quarry.
"What happened to your world?"
The man froze in his tracks, surprising the girl. And yet, he did not turn, not even to look at her as he spoke.
"There was a war…a war that split the world as man went against man, and the very ideals of life and death seemed to merge into one being. The earth was scorched black, hands were painted red, and those who weren't part of the war say their demise. Many people…died…for nothing…"
At this point, the man let go of the girl's hand, his fingers curled into trembling fists at the recollection of such horrors.
"My world lost its meaning. In the midst of life and death, there were only two things that really mattered: reality, and our dreams. There was the war of reality and the peace of rest, the fires of hate, and the serenity of solace.
"So then…" started the girl, "this…is your world…after the war? Is that where we reside, where my world resides?"
"No," he replied, coldly. "Like I said, 'you are but echoes of a world forgotten.' My world is gone."
"But, how?!" The rise in her voice, albeit unintentional, surprised them both. The man looked to her, but, she did not return his gaze. Instead, she looked down, ashamed. He gave a sigh, causing the girl to look up a bit in disdain.
"Amidst the war, something beautiful happened, as is its nature. A shooting star fell. The adults of my world would portray such beauty as a symbol of hope, teaching their children to wish upon said shooting stars. And so, a wish was made." He looked to the girl, who now, had her head raised to gaze intently at the mysterious man. "Do you know what that wish was?"
She shook her head.
"The wish was that there would no longer be any wrong, and that the world would be at peace. Your world is a product of that wish. And my world…is gone because of it…"
The man removed his mask yet again, this time revealing the trails of tears stemming from his somber eyes. "Because a child had hope and dreamed of peace…because a child wished upon a star…because I was so scared and no longer wished to fight…it's all gone. I am nothing but a relic of a war-torn world, forced to bare my burden, and oh, how it hurts…how it hurts so very much…"
The girl felt a pit in her chest. She drew close to him, not entirely knowing what it was that she was doing, and she wrapped her arms around him, embracing him in warmth and surprise, and it was then that he had heard it.
The beating of a second heart.
He pat her shoulders lightly. "Come, it is just up here." The two separated, continuing walking, hand in hand, their fingers intertwined. But, it was just for a short while.
"We're here," he said, letting go of her hand. He removed his mask and handed it to her, and, she held it as he reached within the confides of his robe, from which he produced a golden key. Finding what he had been looking for, she returned to him the mask.
Then, she finally asked. "Where are we?"
Without giving a reply, the man extended his hand, sticking the gold key into the darkness, and, turned it. It clicked, as if it had been turned within a lock. And, returning the key to within his robe, he stepped forward, pushing the darkness away, and away it swung, much like a door.
He entered first, the girl following suit. He made his way towards the end of this new, circular room, but, the girl came to a halt at its center, taking it all in. The room was about as large as the first room she had entered, but, it held a different ambiance.
The floor beneath her feet was cold and hard, it being composed of tile. Shelves, curled to match the perimeter of the room, lined the walls. And upon those shelves there sat hundreds, perhaps, thousands, of dolls. Each doll was different; no two exactly the same, although, there were some similarities here and there. From the shape of each of their forms to the color of its features, and from the length and style of their hair and clothes, down to their eyes, each seemed different and unique.
She fell out of her trance like state when she heard faint music coming from the area where the man stood. Unlike the first room, where the sounds of music were beautiful and came from a piano, this light music, which came from a small music box sat along the empty shelves of where the man stood, gave off an eerie vibe.
She looked to the man, who at this time was busying himself with something else that sat with the music box upon the vacant shelf. His back was to her. ""What…is this place?"
"This place…is like a mirror."
"A mirror?" she asked, curious.
"Yes…it is a reflection of all the sins that I have committed…of all the people who have died." An audible click could be heard from his direction.
"Maybe…maybe it doesn't have to be." The clicking stopped at her words. "This world was made, so…we can make our own. We can show everyone this room, of all the people lost, of what was once forgotten, and maybe, maybe we can change it all! We can make a better wor-!"
A loud bang cut her off.
She felt a liquid warmth at her chest. The man looked to her, horror and sorrow etched deeply into his face, and in his hand, another relic of war, it's muzzle smoking.
"This world…doesn't need any more dreamers," he said, tears streaming down his face, his voice, as cold as ice.
She fell back, landing on the hard floor. Everything was going black, as if the world before her eyes was simply fading away. The man's footsteps echoed in her ears. With what little strength she had, she lifted her hand from the crimson puddle that had formed around her and looked at the red that once coursed through her veins. The footsteps stopped. The man stood above her, but, in the girl's ears, she could still hear something. The faint swan song of her beating heart, dying down in a beautiful diminuendo. She could feel the warmth spill from her body.
"Life…" she started, her voice small and weak, she whimpered, "…is so…beautiful…and death…is also…beautiful…"
Her hand fell to the scarlet puddle. Her song had ended.
The man, his tears dry, but still present upon his face, bent over the girl's body, and, very carefully, removed her mask, revealing a flawless face, large, beautiful brown eyes, now lifeless, and subtle pink lips that seemed irresistible. She had been alive.
"Your kind…I pity you…and yet, I am so very envious." He gently closed her eyelids.
Slowly, the man stood, closing his eyes as he lifted his face upwards, raising the barrel to his temple. Knocking rang out through the world. Another visitor had cometh.
He lowered the gun with a face of defeat. Another visitor. He walked across the room and placed the pistol upon the shelf from where he had first retrieved it. He replaced his mask, closed the music box, and gave a hefty sigh. He turned slowly.
In the middle of the room, there was no evidence of any of the previous actions having taken place, save for a doll that lay in the center of the spotless tiled floor. He walked forward, bending down to pick it up. The doll, porcelain in material, had long, flowing black hair and wore a simple white dress. Her eyes were a beautiful brown, and her lips were a gentle pink. He spent a second looking at it, his eyes heavy and dull behind his mask, and, rather than placing her among the others upon the shelves, he placed her within his robe.
He opened the door of the circular room, finding himself now in the first room.
And as he opened the entrance to his home which was bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside, he was met by a hazy figure, and with it, he heard that static that he knew all too well as to what it meant.
I have come here to die.