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Vows We Made

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If you, my dear, would ever find yourself spiritless or prostrate, humiliated and beaten, or merely wanting to get away from the well-known and mundane, just close your eyes, hold on tight and listen. First, you will not hear a thing; even though you are convinced that you sit in silence, the white noise of your mind is so deafening that you could try without triumph until death knocks on your door. But just wait, and then… Well.

If I wanted to tell fairy tales and bedtime stories, I would not deter you from venturing into the dark, but, my dear, I would never lie to you – your pursuit will most likely fail. I understand if you do not believe me, if my blood was still flowing with my flesh still intact, I would not believe all this fool’s talk either.

Do not forget, however: I have warned you.

But if, by some curious twist of fate, you are one of the few who could manage to lull their bright spirits and stifle their thoughts, you might hear the silence. It starts slowly, then: a soft breeze caressing your face. The whisper of voices not from this Earth. The ancient dust settling on your skin. Ever so softly, you might feel a hand touching you, fingers threading through yours. They are both similar and unlike your ones; shape and strength identical, but stone-cold and the skin rotting, bones peeking out here and there. Do not make a sound. Take the hand and do not be afraid, my dear.

You might wake from your seemingly endless slumber without remembering a thing, in a forest gloomy and foul, a thousand eyes watching yours as it gently flickers open. Just stand and walk away, do not stop, do not look back – you might think this is a place where your laws are in force, but it is a no man’s land between you and us.

Some strange power might let you peek behind the looking glass, but do not feel welcome. Do not come back here before your time runs out, my dear.

Do not forget: I have warned you.

If the old nurses were right, and dragons indeed circled the clouds with brave witches and wizards riding their backs long ago, some time when the sun they basked in was still young, they surely all stopped to land in Monroeville.

Nobody really knows where Monroeville is today; probably somewhere East instead of West, more to the North than to the South, some people even whisper about a village in Europe hauntingly similar, but one thing they all agree on: you can only find it if you are not looking – although phoenix feather helps too. Only if anyone would have seen one in centuries!

Surely, fairies welcomed the witches and dragons warmly here while mermaids tried to lure them into the stream; spiders tiny and giant alike weaved their webs to trap anything with magic. The lake glistening with black light gave off strange fumes which caused hallucinations, much to the visitors’ amusement, just like the blood-red mushrooms did. They used to grow everywhere, but got sparser and sparser as they reached the bank of the little river.

The river had always been deserted.

To this day, its ice-cold water flows calmly, and no living thing ever disturbs it, as if it served as a border between the village and something else. Past the cobblestone bridge crossing it, which stood just as solid as it did on the day it was built, well before the first spark of magic was even born, was the forest. No man has ever dared to set feet there; and even if there ever was such fool who wandered close enough, the hundreds of bats hanging upside down surely changed their minds.

However, just a few decades before our story starts, a family chose to build their house strangely close to the river, just on the edge of the village. They gained more money than they knew what to do with quite quickly and unexpectedly, so the decision was equally quick and unexpected: to raise a grand manor in a picture-perfect little town, relocating both their business and private life from the big city to this mansion, blatantly and quite tastelessly copying the aristocrats living here. (Outrageous, if you ask them.)

That was more than thirty years ago, yet hateful voices still murmured nouveau riche whenever they saw the sons come and go. You can’t escape judgmental gazes when living among the aristocracy, each family dating back hundreds, if not thousands of years – or so they claimed.

Today, because this story needs to be told just how it happens – so, today, right this moment, the first rays of sunlight touch the never-stopping flow of the water, greet the ancient stones of its bridge, before they creep towards the grass and caress the blood-red poppies and velvet pansies, who turn their pretty heads and bow in thanks; they continue, sneaking inside the village through almost empty streets, inside houses through clumsily shut blinds.

They just reach the first house when they notice that something is amiss. One window is already open, a figure clearly visible in the room, crouching over some kind of an organized mess, papers, pens and paint littering the desk.

His jet black hair is messily tied up, the chipped nail polish and the dark circles under his tired eyes all matching in color. His skin is comically pale, yellowish too, looking like all he waits for is his extrema unction, as unanimously agreed on by the people of his village. He is an awkward and unusual beauty of sorts, or so he was told in the city.

Let the champagne flow and ring all the bells!

The only son wandered home.

He is drawing now.

From the looks of it, he’s been doing it all night; his movements are a bit twitchy, but somehow the ink still runs on the paper seamlessly and beautifully. Sometimes he stops, leans back and submits to his nervous tics; licks his lips anxiously, tucks back the few unruly strands of hair and sighs with all the worry in the world. He then darts forward with even more determination, and continues, black lines flowing from his black fingertips relentlessly. Notes, his previous observations, are scrambled next to his drawing in an illegible handwriting, but he pays no mind to that now.

He finishes his last lines and carefully puts down his pen, staring at his sketch for a second. He quickly tears away his gaze and turns it to the only patch of color in the room, trapped in an old jar – a butterfly.

He’s bright blue, and as he feels the touch of the sun, he flutters his wings, waking from his slumber. His temporary living place is only covered by a tissue, with holes carefully pierced through the thin fabric, fastened in place by a thick rubber band. The boy gazes at the butterfly adoringly for long moments before he gently picks up the jar and tiptoes to his balcony through the messy floor.

He sits down in a still shadowy patch outside, struggling to get the rubber off. In the end, he just unceremoniously tears off the worn tissue with his fingers, so his model for this night can finally be free.

The butterfly flies around on the balcony in joy, circling the raven-haired boy. He settles down on his left shoulder to bid goodbye, and gets a rare smile back. He spreads his wings and then he’s off, disappearing into the distance.

The clock is ticking on Monroeville's main square ominously as the town wakes up and people murmur their greetings to each other on the streets. Shop signs flip from Closed to Open, as the old, yawning street-sweeper gets to work; a few men in suits stand in front of their spacious offices to smoke while silently observing the dawn’s happenings, housecats run home between their legs, not wanting to miss breakfast.

Today’s gossip, one of the suits decides, is that Way boy’s engagement. (Now that one is quite odd and ridiculous, and definitely not in the good sense, if you ask him.)

“I hear they have never even met, darling, can you imagine?”

“And is it true – that he is getting married to another…”

He sighs as he steps on his finished cigarette, checking the time. He tips his hat to the others and hurries off, almost bumping into someone on the corner before he gets safely inside.

As the first rays of the sun light up the whole village, the figure of a stranger rushes on the streets, always staying in the shadows.