The sun is still warm on my forehead but it's already cold under my feet. Strolling down the hill and away from the noisy playground, I came by the bridge.
The river below the hill is dry as it hasn't rained for a while. I climbed down the bridge and went under it. It is my first time to go down here as I never saw the river run dry. There's a small hole on the left underneath wall. Must be a canal that leads to a water reservoir… or something. There's only one way to find out.
Fitting inside the hole is not without difficulty. I could smell the moss and the molds as I crawl. Going deeper through, the chatters of my playmates began fading in the distance, replaced by the melodic sound of water drop. Soon, it's the only sound I hear, aside from my own breath.
The smell of the molds gets stronger as I get further. The rough floor of the canal then turned wet sooner. I tripped on the slippery concrete and slid through. I was screaming, hoping that someone would hear me. I hit hard on something. I passed out.
The sky is grey when I woke up. The sun has set, but there was still light. I am lying on the ground. My face is sore. My shirt is full of dirt. As I stood up, I turned around, noticing the empty street where I'm in. How did I get here?
I couldn't find the hole where I should have came out from. Strange. How do I go back home from here?
I walk around.
This street is unfamiliar. I've never been here before. The air is cold, and I get the chill.
I screamed for my mom to calm myself down. A deep, cold voice answered. I couldn't make out what he said. So I screamed once more.
"Hello?" answered the cold voice.
"Who are you?"
"Who are you?" was its response. I ran in panic.
After minutes of aimless running, I saw someone standing in the distance. I sighed in relief and ran faster forward.
"Hello? Help!" I yelled as I close in with the man. He doesn't respond.
I stopped, gasped and when I observed the man, I realized he was just a mannequin, dressed and all.
I put off my shirt and dried my sweat with it. It didn't do much help. My cloth is still wet and full of mold that sticks to my skin as I wipe.
Aside from the disgusting stench of mold, I smelled something familiar. Something delicious. I sniffed hard to make sure it is what I think it is.
I turned to see a small snack house just right behind me.
As I march forward, I stop to turn around and see if the mannequin moved. It hasn't. I took three steps and looked at it again. It hasn't moved a bit. When I approached the glass door, I looked at it one last time. Still in the same position.
The storeappears empty when I enter. It's a lot colder inside. It's also a bit darker, as though the owner cared to install any lighting. On the top of the counter is a box of pizza. I rushed towards it.
The box is still warm when I touch it. I remembered what mother told me. I shouldn't take what isn't mine. Yet I am so starving.
"Hello?" I speak as I search the place. No answer. I could only hear the sound of my heartbeat, loud and fast from a mixture of tiredness and nervousness.
After a few seconds, I heard the deep voice once again. I dropped my shirt in surprise, but I carried the pizza when I hurried out.
"It's coming! Run!" I shouted at the figure outside, forgetting for a moment that it wasn't alive. When I opened the glass door, the mannequin disappeared.
I set aside my confusion and continued running away on the opposite direction of the road where I was running earlier.
As I run, I search the houses and buildings on the street sides. All of them are closed. Not even one has light turned on from the inside. What's with this place?
My eyes are wet as I run further. I wish for nothing but to go home and hug my mom.
I run pass a chair and turned back. I think I've ran far enough. I figured the deep voice won't find me if I don't speak. And I can't even if I wanted to. My mouth is dry and I'm thirsty.
I feel so weak when I sat down. I opened the box of pizza and munched.
Each bite, I fall into deep thoughts about my mom, about home, and of the possibility that I'd never make it out of this place. It took me some minutes to empty the content of the box, which felt like hours. I was so famished that I ate that much. Now I need something to drink.
I stood up, feeling bloated, and scratching my stomach. As I begin to walk again, I realized it's taking a little longer than usual for the sun to finally set and for everything to be covered in darkness. Not that I wanted to. I left the box on the chair.
A few meters away, I found a drinking fountain. I hurried and switched it, but not a drop comes out.
My chest aches and my stomach suddenly felt heavy. I'm overexerting myself.
I feel so weakened that I have to lean on the walls of the desolate buildings as I walk. I'm very thirsty I couldn't even swallow anymore.
Walking past an ally, I noticed a fen through. The water in it doesn't look so clean, but it's the only drink I have right now.
I dipped my hand into the muddy fluid and sipped whatever amount of fluid I managed to scoop. The next thing I knew, I was licking my tongue straight into the marsh.
When I was quenched, I laid flat on the ground, breathing heavily.
I swear I'd fall asleep if I close my eyes longer than a blink. I know I can't do that. Sleeping out in the open is the least safe idea I'd ever come up to. Mom would be very angry if she finds out. Yet, I couldn't help myself. Staring at the plain grey sky left my eyes sore. I closed my eyes and gave in.
I have no idea how much time I've spent being asleep. I was awakened by something that feels like pulling my feet. I tried to fight and pulled myself back, but whatever it is, it's stronger than me. It's holds my feet tighter the harder I try to resist.
I tried to scream this time, but not the slightest sound comes out. My struggle turned into terror when I heard the deafening sound of the deep, cold voice. It found me. I am cornered.
My back is in deep pain as it scratches the rough floor. At the back of my mind, I think this is it. It's over. I gave up and let whatever is pulling me to take full control.
Soon, I am submerged into the mud. The swollen feeling on my back is soothed by the cold water, but the sense of relief and comfort didn't last long. Soon, I'm being pulled deeper. I tried to pull myself up. When I did, the eerily-looking black vines growing around the fen extended and tied my arms. Another string tied to chest. I have nothing left to do but to let myself drown.
I think of my mother's face as mine gets sucked into the mud. I held my breath.
Sinking deep through the cold water, I felt the strings of the vine untying itself from me. That's when the air escaped away from my mouth. I panicked.
Suddenly, something held my hand and pulled me out. I fell to the ground, next to the feet of whomever it is that saved me from drowning.
Trying to catch my breath, I tried to stand up and express my gratitude from my savior.
"Thank you for—"
I ran at the sight of my savior's face – it the mannequin from the snack house! How could a mannequin possibly pull me out of the water? Is it alive?
My turmoils are set aside when my skin suddenly turn itchy. I scratched while running until I couldn't run anymore. I have to stop just to scratch my feet.
The more I scratch, the more it gets itchy. I lay down on the ground and rolled and wriggled to scratch my back. When I get up, I was shocked to see that tiny black vines have infested all over my body. The vine from the marsh must have been a parasite.
I ran through the empty roads trying to search for a hospital. I found one.
On the entrance hall of the building, there was a mannequin dressed as a guard standing on the door. Beside it, two mannequins are dressed as a nurse and a doctor. There's a signage that tells people to fall in line, and next to it, a long line of dressed mannequins are lined up through.
I followed the line trying not to look at the mannequins. At the side of my eyes, I feel like they're all staring at me. It gave me goosebumps, which made my infection worse. The tiny vines on my skin grew a bit longer.
The line ended at the entrance of the elevator, which continually closes and opens quietly. Each loop shows the same mannequin but dressed differently with each turn. The indicator also alternates indefinitely between going up or down, which is weird because it is on the ground floor. I take the stairs.
There are body parts of mannequins scattered on the stairs as I go up. By my count, I passed six floors without feeling tired. On the highest floor, I found a door with a sign saying that the doctor is in. I opened the door without knocking.
Inside the wide room, body parts of mannequins are hanged in strings. Standing by the wall are mannequins assembled from parts that don't fit each other.
Next to the window is a mannequin's head, hanging. Down its neck, its hollow dress is stitched. The overall attire makes it appear that he is the doctor.
Unlike the other hanging body parts, the doctor hangs steadily and doesn't rotate, as if it's staring on something outside the window.
I walked closer and see what he's looking at: the entire city populated by mannequins. I've never felt lonely seeing this much of a crowd.
"So this is what you're staring at?" I asked the doctor. He wasn't moved.
Looking past him, I saw my reflection on the mirror behind. The infection has now spread completely, covering even my face.
"Help me!" I begged the mannequin. He didn't say anything.
"Help me!" I repeated, grabbing his clothes. Still no answer.
"Help me!" I screamed. On cue, the deep voice answered screaming. The wake of it caused the glasses of the windows shattered, the hanging body parts falling and the amalgamated dolls disassembling.
I ran out of the room and down through the stairs. Back into the entrance hall, the long line has disappeared, and the elevator has steadily opened.
Turning around, I saw the mannequin dressed as a guard laying on the floor, the mannequin nurse kneeling beside him and the mannequin doctor holding a syringe.
The only way out is past these mannequins, but I have a feeling that something bad would happen if I walk through them. Hesitatingly, I took the elevator.
As soon as I enter, the door of the elevator closed. I held my breath and waited to see if I go up or down, but before the indicator lit up, I closed my eyes and decided to know the answer.
I kept my eyes shut until the elevator stopped moving. I felt the wet floor with feet and the water flooding in next, and when I opened my eyes I see nothing but darkness. I tried to grasp for the open button of the elevator but to no avail.
When the water reached my neck, I breathed in as much air as I could and plunged myself in.
Out of desperation, I punched continuously on to one of the elevator's wall. With each punch, I feel the wall slowly breaking. I kept punching until I'm free.
Outside the elevator, I swam through the water. I could see a little light on the surface. As I swim up, I see mannequins sinking into the deep.
Reaching into the surface, I felt the land with my feet. I felt the pebbles and tiny rocks rolling. It is then that I realized I am back on under the bridge.
It feels strange that the river's no longer dry once more. It feels so long, and I could feel something different within me.
Looking at my reflection on the water, I see the black vines haven't disappeared completely, but they now reveal my face and some portion of my skin.
There's an uncomfortable feeling in between my feet.
As I pulled myself out of the water, I finally realized the thing that has changed—I did it on my own. I pulled myself out of the water on my own. I made it out of that city on my own.
When I reached home, I finally saw my mom. She is still as beautiful as she was. She looked exactly as she was.
Tears ran down on my cheek as try to touch her cheek. I missed her very much. I wanted to hug her, tell her everything I've been through, but something inside me tells me I shouldn't do that.
I went inside my room and opened my journal instead. My room is bigger now, and it's full of things that both look strange and familiar. Like I've never been here before, yet it feels like I've always been here.
Skimming through my notes, I read about myself doing things I could not remember doing and going to places I could not remember ever going.
I readied my pen and started writing about my journey to that strange city, but a minute after drafting, I tore those pages from my journal and threw them away.
Everything doesn't seem to make sense.
"Did it really happen?" I asked myself. "Was I really a kid a while ago?"
I lay on my bed and think it all through. Finally, I've decided it is all just my hallucinations. That I'm an adult now, and I shouldn't believe in awful stories like that.
I decided to go out and walk it off. I opened my closet to get some clothes, only to find a room full of disassembled mannequins.