Monday, June 25, 2007

Guilt in the Quilt

"If I touch a burning candle I can feel no pain
In the ice or in the sun it's all the same
Yet I feel my heart is aching
Though it doesn't beat, it's breaking
And the pain here that I feel
Try and tell me it's not real
I know that I am dead
Yet it seems that I still have some tears to shed"


Helena Bonham Carter as Emily the Corpse Bride,
Tears to Shed, Corpse Bride (2005)




... with little difficulty, I managed to turn the familiar iron key in the lock. It was an old-fashioned affair, and the black paint around the keyhole was flaked, betraying a layer of aging rust right beneath it. Not many people knew how to unlock this door. There’s a trick to it; a minute twist of the wrist to make sure the tumblers click just so. It’s a trick that could neither be described in words nor on paper, nor taught to another. It’s a trick that had to be learnt through empirical means – through a lifetime fastening and unfastening that same old lock on incalculable occasions till the necessary skill becomes instinctive, ingrained. I suspect that the feat involves the memory of the movement to be programmed not just into the head, but also into the fine muscles of the fingers and wrist because my left hand is wholly incapable of performing the deed. I know, because I have tried.

It’s the sort of lock that would only open to three types of person; a locksmith, a housebreaker with a mallet, and someone who have lived in that house all his life. I am that third kind. Ever since I could remember, I’ve lived in this house with my grandparents and my great grandmother, who had only hair as white and as clean as snow in all the memories I have of her. She was already ancient when I was small.

My father and mother often have trouble with the lock, and could only open it if they wiggle the key in the keyhole till the teeth find the right angle and position by chance. They didn’t live here as long as I did. They are Outsiders.

The grille door slid silently open with the barest tug of my hand.

Odd.

It’s the same door I knew all my life. I recognized every detail, every organic curl of the grille’s design, and every crack of paint on it – yet, it didn’t make the familiar noises I knew and remembered. That old door I knew would screech till my molars felt like exploding. The door had changed - but in what way, I cannot discern. What I can say for sure was that it wasn’t oiled. It was more like the sound simply didn’t reach my ears.

I stepped into the half-lit living room which invaded me simultaneously with the polar sensations of familiarity and screaming foreignness. It looked exactly the same as I’ve last seen it. The sofas were in the exact same spots they have been standing on since the day they were brought in more than twenty years ago. The television – the third this household had welcomed into the family - was perching on the same wooden altar its predecessors were installed. The massive ornamental shelf filled with knick-knacks and bottles of liquor, my grandmother’s little “work cabinet” which I was told to never touch when I was little, the lumpy old beanbag that had long lost all its plushness – everything was exactly where I expected them to be.

But deep down inside, I knew it’s a different place. There were a thousand different microscopic things that collectively and simultaneously vexed me, and many of which I could not even name. The air felt… heavier. The marble tiles did not have the same cool feeling the soles of my feet recognize. Little, insignificant things. Things I did not knew but nevertheless remembered.

"Older," I whispered, finding my own voice to be distant, "Much older."

The house felt as if it had aged considerably – like a thousand years or two. Somehow, it was frozen in the almost precise condition I left it, with not a single mote of dust added or subtracted. If this house had a soul, it had left it centuries ago. It’s just like a man at the very moment of his death; the colour remains in his cheeks and the warmth has yet to leave his fingers. He looks like he’s only sleeping, but the heart within his chest no longer beats.

Something was watching me with unfeeling eyes – and I felt its gaze grazing my left cheek. From the corner my left eye, I spotted a tiny, grey and white figure which was only about as tall as my kneecap peering at me from under the coffee table. I turned instantly to face my diminutive observer but I saw nothing there - nothing save a pile of back-issue Reader’s Digests where I thought 'it' must have stood. I insisted sternly to myself that I must have imagined it. The other possibilities were simply too eerie to be even entertained.

I ascended the eighteen parquet-covered steps leading upstairs two steps at a time – the same way I’ve been climbing these stairs ever since I discovered that my legs had grown long enough to do it. On the first floor, I found that the roof have completely disappeared without a trace, leaving the four bedrooms and two bathrooms exposed to the noonday sun right above.

It’s peculiar that the ceiling and roof have apparently vanished, but what I found to be even more peculiar was that the sun, in spite of blazing in its full noontide glory, failed to radiate any warmth. It’s as if the roof was still there, blocking the sun’s rays, though for some inexplicable reason I could not see it. The most peculiar thing of all, of course, was that I wasn’t at all surprised or alarmed by all these peculiarities. It was as if I expected to see them, though I did not know why.

Then, in the peripheral regions on my vision, I saw the little grey-white ‘thing’ again peeping at me from under the dark-wood altar of the Goddess of Mercy. This time I resisted the instinctive urge to turn and face it. I just stood still and tried to focus my sight on it without turning my head.

A deathly chill was birthed at the bottom of my spine and it crept slowly all the way up to the top of my skull, raising the fine hairs on the back of my scalp and neck as it crawled underneath the skin there. I managed to make out a face on the creature’s tiny head, and it had decidedly feline features in it. It was a cat’s face on a cat’s head attached to the sleek, feminine body of a cat. It looked exactly like a cat in every aspect from its whiskers down to its languid tail – except that it wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t. It simply couldn’t be.

Because cats don’t stand upright on their two hind legs.

I turned and looked at the ‘cat’ square in the face, hoping to make it disappear like the first time I did that but it just looked back at me with its strange, limpid, fey eyes. It was at that moment I realised that its orbs were devoid of whites. They are like shiny black marbles which for some reason reminded me of a drug addict’s – all desire and no soul; voracious and all-consuming.

I broke the stare and flew down the stairs, hurdling six steps at a time, and found that the living room below had changed again. The front door which I have left open was deceptively close by, but no matter how hard I ran, there seemed to always be two or three steps left before I could reach it. I looked down on the floor beneath me which assured me that I was moving at a great speed but yet, I was going no where at all. And at the fringes of my vision - that blurred region where I could never tell whether what I saw was real or imaginary - there was a great number of 'cats' which all stood like humans on their hind legs, and each watched me solemnly through their moist, black eyes. When I looked directly at them, they would never be there. But they would reappear exactly where they were when I looked away…


Confiteor Deo Omnipotenti, quia peccavi nimis cogitatione.




Mea culpa,
k0k s3n w4i

13 comments:

Dr.Vishaal Bhat said...

Bravo!

bevE said...

I found 6 grammatical errors, 4 of which I'm pretty sure of, and another not included that I'm very not sure of.

First story I read off you! Bravo, I tend to favour stories that grip me from the first few sentences. - It reminded me a little of Totoro though. For some reason.

I think it's me, but I don't get it - what does sin have anything to do with it?

Zzzyun said...

the story was okla i guess.. but i prefer it with a reasonable ending. like he was a cat murderer in his past life or smtg like that. lol.

(unless there's a part 2?)

btw, i'd like to say i lurve the movie "corpse bride". the lyrics were very beautifully written, if anyone wud care to listen to it before telling me they dont understand the movie at all. haha.

k0k s3n w4i's said...

@dr.vishaal bhat
Thank you!

@beve
Dun just enumerate them! Tell me!
I wish all my readers would point out any mistake I make - I would greatly appreciate that. I mean, if your guy friend forgot to zip up his fly, you'd tell him right?
I didn't watch Totoro (but I did watch Spirited Away). But it's not exactly a story. It really happened. Sort of.
Maybe I just put in the Latin bit to sound cool. Maybe not.

@zzzyun
The story ended that way. I'm only describing everything I know and saw.
The Corpse Bride can be strangely touching if you're in the right mind to watch it. For songs, I prefer 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'. An earlier, and much better effort, IMO.

Zzzyun said...

oh it's a real story? i tot it was fiction... thats why i wondered why it ended that way. yup.

yesh "corpse bride" is touching! and nice!! haha..

"the nightmare b4 christmas" is also one of tim burton's works izzit? i've never watched it b4.. maybe i'll watch it after exams. =)

michellesy said...

Did you think it a figment of your over-heated imagination?

It is never a sin, I think, to over-think something in any case. This coming from a champion worrywart =P

But that story was.....unsettling, in a way I can't pinpoint. You're certainly good at setting a mood/ a tone.

michellesy, no fan of two-legged cats said...

Btw, I find all cats who walk on two legs more than a little disturbing.

Including this whimsical little gem:

http://www.xanga.com/jacinthagong

LOL - she can write and draw, heh, that's a mile and a half more than anything I could come up with =P

k0k s3n w4i's said...

@zzzyun
LoL, it's just a nightmare I had... which strangely, had a lot of real life feelings in it.
Nightmare Before Christmas is based on a children's book Tim Burton wrote, IIRC.

@michellesy
Overheated, in slumber. Yea, I guess.
Dreams, whether good or bad, are always a little unsettling. You can say I wrote this in my sleep, LOL
And I checked out the link you put here. That girl can write.... wow.

Jen said...

am i the ONLY person who found that lil tale even remotely spinechilling? granted it was 2am when i read it and i'd just watched some documentary about hauntings on the telly, but still..!!

i LOVE LOVE LOVE the nightmare before christmas. absatively my all time fave movie. ever.

i love the opening theme "this is halloween" and the one about kidnapping sandy claws! =D

tim burton is a genius.

k0k s3n w4i's said...

@jen
I found it spine-chilling too... *raises hand lamely*
Have you heard the Marilyn Manson's cover of the "This is Halloween" song? It's even better than the original (trust me, I'm a Nightmare Before Christmas fan too!)
The last time Tim Burton show us his genius was Big Fish... Corpse Bride really fell short of my insanely high expectations from that guy.

baby sa said...

hey, I like the story.
Tho it does sounds like Totoro abit add on with abit of Spirited Away kind of aura...hehe

Jen said...

oooohhh!!

i think sometime last year, i was seriously considering getting the nightmare before christmas special edition soundtrack because it had all the original songs AND cover versions. BUT, i had to get it online from US and it cost a friggin bomb T_T

i felt that fiona apple's rendition of "sally's song" was just as good, if not better, than the original. gah.. being poor bites.

p.s. found my blog post on it. oh, the pain.
http://serpentinegal.blogspot.com/2006/11/nightmarish-needs.html

k0k s3n w4i's said...

@baby sa
I really need to watch this Totoro thing to see what it's really about. I'll see if I can get a subbed version's torrent.
I'm actually describing a nightmare I had.

@jen
I love the Sally Apple's versh too!!! It's so bloody emo. I always play it whenever i feel one of those the-world-me-hates-me teenage emo phases.
And the FallOut Boy's versh of "What's This" so totally kicked pelvises left and right!
I torrented my album tho (i used to buy ori for the bands/movies I really like - then I discovered the internet)