Pairing/Members: Sehun, Tao
Prompt: i. & ii.
A/N: Jeeez, finally finished! Yet to be betaed properly and Taohun because... don't ask. I’m giving out a warning for supposedly scary content. This was written for aideshou’s challenge #8. Check out the other stories and drop a vote if you enjoyed this one!
Update: Thank you so much for voting for this story! I only realised this very late but thanks for making this story win! There were a lot of amazing fanfictions in that contest so be sure to check them out as well!
Imagine a thing as omnipresent as air and the molecules it’s made of. A thing that laces every object and is to be found in every living being’s mind. Some loose or reject, whilst another may cherish it. It is liberated with each exhale, a volatile thought or a profound trace of one’s past. They are what defines and forms an individual, a mental impression retained; Memories. And Sehun collects them.
With every breath, oxygen travels the human body through the crimson messenger, twenty per cent of which would reach the brain. Those molecules enable the brain to pursue its purpose, processing of information, the creation of memory and thought, subconscious and conscious decision. What would exit the body was carbon dioxide, a product of these processes and a waste that the body rids itself off. Those molecules, however, would now carry fragments of the human mind, of thoughts and impressions made. Released into the air, they settled or merged, mingled flawlessly with the invisibility of the air, their value lost to human ignorance.
Sehun, however, could see them. The memories grew visible in front of his eyes, arranged to a silent moving picture in the air. Like polychromatic shadows of the antiquity they lingered in the quiet corners of a street café in Paris, dust-like on the lithic ground of Salisbury Cathedral in England, and carried along by the fresh breeze under a cherry blossom tree in Japan’s Spring. They were ghosts of the past, glowing memories revived by Sehun’s presence.
Blue and golden glowed the particles caught in a waltz by the wind, assembling to create a three dimensional scene of the past as time held its breath to watch the spectacle unfold. Whilst Sehun was granted a glance into the past, other people never seemed to be noticing those illusions and the one or other passersby even ended up destroying the picture by walking too close by or through it. The illusions were fragile, a simple change in structure of the air enough of a disturbance to contort and destroy the medium.
So when the volatile picture of a couple whirling across the pavement in a narrow alley in Edinburgh vanished due to a gush of wind, Sehun heaved a sigh and lowered his camera. Most of those illusions were way too short-lived and Sehun wished he could observe just a little longer, indulge in the moments of bliss those memories offered for a little eternity. He snapped a picture of the scenery, yellowish glow of the street lamps eerie in the mysterious vibe given off by the fog adhering to the ground as it clawed at the walls in the darkness of early dawn.
It was a picture of classic perfection, the kind of illustration appraising fleeting moments of the nonpareil for ubiquity in the delusions as offered by travel magazines.
There was no guilt surfacing, however, when Sehun skimmed through the pictures he’d taken a day and a half earlier. He sat at the kitchen table in the cosiness of his apartment, sipping at a cup of tea with a smile pulling the corners of his lips upwards and casting the edges of his eyes in creases. He took another sip, enjoying the warmth of the beverage gliding down his throat as he leaned back in his chair.
In fact, Sehun’s thoughts displayed quite the opposite of malpractice. As he let his gaze skim across the prints, there was a comfortable sense of recollection washing over him like warm rain. The places he photographed for those magazines really existed as such, and much rather than displaying false beauty, Sehun aspired to capture the places whereat lived the most wonderful memories. When he beheld them again now, they were a silent testimony of happiness or rather, the lieu of those magical, once-in-a-lifetime moments.
The travel agencies ulterior, pecuniary motives by using his pictures were proportionally big of a concern to Sehun as his was his paycheck for a fulfilled job.
What had him travel across the globe to chase the best weather and circumstances to snap his pictures was a collector's drive and his current profession was merely a tool to pursue his true purpose. Being a photographer allowed Sehun to travel around the world and seek out those secret places bearing the most beautiful of memories that waited for him to be retrieved.
What was once a hobby soon vindicated his entire existence. As Sehun sat there, his gaze travelled across the flat, once so many times more, towards the windowsill snaking along a front of glass. On top of it sat a small army of jars and bottles labelled and assorted by country. For the normal beholder this might have seemed odd, for all those jars were presumably empty. One might redefine "empty" as general absence of something visible, though for Sehun, there was no such thing as empty as long as carbon dioxide was present. Therefor, the same applied to the collection of translucent containers, for each one of them was filled to the brim with precious air. The air of the past.
Assembled in front of Sehun’s windows were fragments of the most wonderful happenings, captured by the molecules trapped in those containers. Pieces of one’s heart and mind, a collection of foreign memories Sehun had brought with him from his travels.
He beheld them fondly as those gaseous thoughts gained shape inside of the glass, a sight only meant for him, he was sure. What he wasn’t sure about, though, was why he had that ability. As far as he remembered he had not always been able to see past happenings but his memory was flawed and often twisted into directions that weren’t the truth, so he never pondered too much over his own person. There wasn’t anything particularly interesting about his life anyway. No spare time activities, nor interesting connections, there was just him and the ghosts of people he’d never known. People that might have already passed away.
There was no sign, no disquiet creeping into his groins, nor a dark apprehension towering mightily above with a shadow of impaling horror casted forth him. Sehun had been entirely unprepared when it first happened. And so the shock sat deep and remained coiling in his stomach, carved into his bones as, one day, what he had called metaphorically dead spirits suddenly seemed to gain new and much more tangible, and quite literal shape.
Darkness had already settled upon the city, its viscous persistence only resisted by the arduous efforts of mankind to remain superior to corporal limitations. Efficiency might be used as a pretext for the dateless fear locked away beneath but within every human slumbered a paranoia evoked when engulfed by – symbolical or not – darkness and the uncertainty of the unknown.
Differing from generalisations, Sehun had never minded the darkness. He even preferred the nights and the concealing shadows draping over him like a coat. Engulfed in a veil of obscurity, Sehun felt free. He needn’t care about appearance, explanations, pretexts, white lies, behaviour or any kind of social acceptance. Cast in sable, they were all equally blind, equally unknowing, with no differences whatsoever, for everyone’s the same shade of black in the night.
A crooked smile lit up his features at the thought and the male cast a glance skywards. The vision of stars was guarded by smog and too-bright city lights but occasionally he could make out a small flicker of silver. A train dashed by the station. The gust of air that followed its wake tore at Sehun’s clothing and a shiver chased goose bumps across his skin. Ice saint's cold fingers crept through his coat and raked its frosty nails across his flesh and Sehun couldn't help but shudder. He quickly folded his arms across his chest to rub his cold limbs as his teeth started chattering quietly. It was time for summer, Sehun mentally ranted as the latter lowered his gaze, letting it travel across the train tracks towards the opposing platform. Though as he ran a casual glance across it, that distinct feeling of being watched overcame him in a premonition that had his hackles rise. Sehun turned his head, letting his gaze pass swiftly across the few heads of people waiting on the other platform, but there wasn’t anyone even turning his head into his direction, so Sehun cast a quick glance across his shoulder.
Again, no one seemed to acknowledge him but the occasional questioning look beneath a raised eyebrow when his gaze met one of the other waiters. Blinking, the photographer shook his head, his eyes momentarily casting in the shadows of thought before he discarded the matter for a delusion. He must be tired from the ride back home, confusion a natural attribute to traveling through too many timezones at once.
When Sehun raised his head again, however, his vista was met by the direct stare of another. The begetter of the gaze was clad in black and something about his hollow yet piercing stare was utterly disturbing – gut-wrenching even – and Sehun could feel horror crawl up his spine.
He seemed strangely out of place, that boy, with the loose clothing that didn’t quite seem to represent the common sense of fashion. Much rather it concealed his figure from any attempts of defining it. Only when caught in the wind was his body delineated by the loose fabrics grazing the outlines of his body, tantalising, they drew the shapes of muscles and a proud, yet somewhat defeated posture.
Raven strands of hair defied order in the most enthralling fashion as they danced in the wind, brushing the boy’s cheekbones and the graceful curve of his jaw. His skin seemed to shimmer, glow in soft amber. Sehun, however, was still trapped by those eyes, which seemed to reflect his own like ustulate mirrors, not noticing the whole surrealism of it all. Everything about the other screamed otherworldly.
Wide-eyed, Sehun’s gaze was swallowed by the stranger’s pitch-black orbs. When looking into an abyss for long, the abyss will also look into you. No description could have been more befitting of those eyes, distant, undemanding, though of such intensity that they seemed to be diving into one's very soul, ravishing the secrets hidden in its core.
Sehun held his breath as the seconds split into minutes and the minutes into hours. None of them moved and time might have stopped advancing altogether. The photographer was frozen while the boy directly vis-à-vis was caught by a strong updraft that let his clothes dance wildly in front of his puerile figure. He couldn’t be older than seventeen, Sehun registered somewhere in the emptiness of his mind before the churning feeling in his stomach augmented towards nausea.
His breathing rate increased hand in hand with his heartbeat when the boy on the other platform started moving. At first it looked like a mere optical illusion created by the winds tearing at his loose clothing that hung from his body like uncut widths of fabric but after a few painstaking seconds it grew clear that the raven-head was leaning forwards. Stiffly, the body of the boy bent slowly but surely into horizontality and by the time Sehun noticed the downward tendency it was already too late.
Momentum caught the body before the scream managed to rip through Sehun’s throat. The boy fell slowly, in a bizarrely graceful fashion. When the stranger was forced to release Sehun’s gaze, the hint of a smirk washed across his parting lips.
Spurred into action at the appalling scene, Sehun forced his trembling legs into movement. He tumbled a few steps forwards, hand risen helplessly as if he might be able to reach the boy in time. The world twitched, shifted and contorted. The ground seemed to be slipping away under his feet and then a train shot by.
This time, the scream found a way past his lips but the sound of it was nothing more than a choked noise of despair. There was a general absence of sound that only now grew obvious, Sehuns’s cry ripping it apart like a sheet of paper. Utterly unnatural of a silence it had been, all the more since Sehun was still standing at a train station in midst of a bustling city. There shouldn’t have been such a quiet possible but the thought was drowned by the sobs that bubbled up the photographer’s throat. He didn’t know why, didn’t know where the tears came from that drew wet streaks across his cheeks. A frown marred his features as he opened his mouth, but still, no sound was produced but the regular hitching of breath of his own sobs. And as he retracted his outstretched arm, he felt utterly boneless. He sank to his knees, pulled by an invisible force that seemed to possess his body, his figure gingerly bending forwards as tears drew dark specks onto the tarmac.
There was no rationalisation for the sadness that filled Sehun up to the brim and bristled. Neither was there a reasonable explanation for the common apathy of all the bystanders witnessing the incident. No one had even attempted to stop the boy. The idea that what he had seen hadn’t been real, however, was all too abstract to Sehun to even occur to him. He’d been so directly involved that the whole incident being a mere memory-induced illusion was an abstrusity to even consider. Furthermore was Sehun still in shock, still frozen, and still utterly confused about his own demeanour. He wasn't one to spill tears; had never, would never.
Suddenly, a strong pair of arms snaked around his body and gripped him tightly. The very next moment Sehun was pulled backwards just in time to see another train rush by only mere inches in front of him. He hadn’t even realized how close he'd been to the edge of the platform until now. The passing train would have doubtlessly caught him if not for the saviour, who slowly let go of him again after the train had passed.
Galvanized, Sehun gasped and crawled backwards on his own to escape the immediate danger. He was still breathing heavily as he took an offered hand and shakily got to his feet. The sobs had subsided, just as the tears, altogether with their wet witness of existence that should have been sticking to the skin of his face. Nothing was left, not even the vast revulsion that had gripped him only seconds before. Not paying any attention to his rescuers, Sehun immediately snapped his head around. But despite how frantically the photographer looked for him, the boy was not to be found. There was no corpse, no sings of blood or anything that would have indicated his death at that. Neither was the boy to be found on the platform. Alike his illusions, he had dissolved into nothingness.
It took a little while for Sehun to process the information registered but once he did, he finally managed to take a long, much-needed breath to calm himself. His lungs stung as he filled them with air, as if he had completely forgotten how to breathe. The very next instant, Sehun was grabbed by his shoulders and whirled around, coming to face the angry, worried, yet puzzled frown of the business man and his saviour, who had previously been standing behind him on the platform. A briefcase was left on the floor as the silent witness of where the man had been standing before and slowly, Sehun regained his senses.
He felt the wind tousle his hair again, could smell the fresh scent of spring undermined by the mixture of sweat and rain-coated pollution. Noises climbed crescendos in his ears, as with the conscious absence of silence, sound seemed all the louder. He couldn’t differ the worried questions from the rest of sensory impressions crashing down on him anymore. It was all too much all of the sudden. Sehun’s head started spinning before he struggled out of the small group of concerned fellow civilians, who tried to aid him, and emptied the meagre contents of his stomach onto the pavement.
Sehun heaved a sigh that dropped from his bottom lip to sail lifelessly to the floor, heavy as it was. His head hung equally low, gaze glued to the sight of his shoes. He’d caused quite a scene – The embarrassment was still visible in the soft tinge of rouge decorating his cheeks that he’d liked to attribute to upset. Though the photographer knew better than that. More than his own humiliation occupied something else his mind, still.
The mental picture of the occurrence had replayed in his mind for analysis. He’d dissected every aspect of it with clinical efficiency, cut the scenes, and tried to recall more detail for a thorough scrutiny. It was a rather hopeless attempt to refute an obvious conclusion; He didn’t know what had happened. Yet Sehun repeated the same cycle of thoughts over and over while the train took him closer to his designation faster than he’d wished for. He needed the more time to think this through but concurrently Sehun didn’t want to think about it too much lest it took over his entire mind and brought the carefully set up equilibrium of his life in disturbance.
Though the lack of a solution couldn’t be ignored as Sehun, yet again, arrived at the same conclusion, so he started over. The boy didn’t exist, as it had been made obvious by the lack of interaction with the crowds gathered around and the simple absence of an injured or, worst case, dead body and the signs indicating such. However, the black-haired male with the piercing eyes couldn’t have been a memory made visible either. As much was clear to Sehun, since the supposed illusion had interacted with him. Arriving again at the impending repercussion of this thought, Sehun heaved another sigh.
Maybe, and that was much more likely than anything, the boy hadn’t actually interacted with him but another part of the memory that might have been situated behind Sehun and the photographer had simply not noticed that part of the memory as he had been too caught up in those enslaving eyes. It was a good way to vindicate the whole occurrence. Thereby his own emotional involvement could easily be attributed to desynchronosis and stress, or simply the fact that he didn’t often come across such horrible memories, though it had happened before. He was easily one to give into his little obsession of collecting happy memories, an occupation that bordered poignantly to vicariousness. Maybe a little time off work was all he needed.
He ignored the small voice in the back of his head that uttered severe objection and stifled it with the newfound vindication as he slowly rose his head to cast an absentminded glance out of the window. The city lights smearing across the windowpanes mirrored in his thought-veiled orbs. Nevertheless, that was all it was, a pretext, an attempt to rationalize the surreal, Sehun knew painstakingly well. It was the kind of knowledge he was willing to ignore.
Something close to relaxation filled him as Sehun finally let the topic of the earlier happenings slide, taking the passing scenes from outside in instead, a strangely narcotic sight. The train bent into a slope and Sehun closed his eyes, suddenly feeling all too exhausted. The day had surely worn him out.
A jolting of the train roused Sehun to attention again. He hadn’t been sleeping yet but been very close to dozing off. He yawned quietly,and raising his palm, Sehun rubbed his sleep-heavy eyes before darting a glance over to the board indicating the current location. Fortunately the train was just about to reach his stop. Grabbing his belongings, Sehun allowed a second yawn before turning to saunter over to the door.
Another sigh eased from his lips, though this one bore less depth than the ones prior and was more an utterance of tiredness. There was a pleasantly peaceful quiet in his head, thoughts of the earlier evening not haunting him anymore, as he noticed with a mixture of satisfaction and relief. It had worked out all too well, his hunt for excuses. Or at least well enough to pacify his consciousness.
The train slowed to its impending stop and Sehun rose his head. What expected his sight, though, had the photographer leap backwards. There they were again, those dull, ebony orbs, unmistakably fixated on him. Sehun backed away from the sight so frenetically that his shoulders hit the opposite exit with a well-audible thud that had the other passengers snap their heads into his direction.
Sehun, however, didn’t notice any of it. He was utterly lost in those eyes again that sat encompassed in puerile features framed by ebony strands. He hadn’t even noticed the cry that had ripped from his throat, the sound hoarse and so foreign in his own ears that Sehun hadn’t attributed it to himself. The phantasm didn’t last longer than a few seconds but those were already enough to have the photographer feel sick all over again.
On weak legs, Sehun all but tumbled out of the train as it halted only seconds after the haunting face of the boy had vanished again, followed by the curious glances of his witnesses. Forgotten were the fine, little pretexts he had embraced rather than leaving unanswered questions open for interpretation.
He made his way home walking as fast as he managed haunted by paranoia. Running would have meant acknowledging the existence of something else, something nixing all sense and reason. Only after the door to his apartment snapped shut in a show of quasi-security, Sehun dared to breathe again. The photographer let himself slump down against the white wood of the door, his head lolling back with a quiet horror still clinging to his trembling legs.
He was being haunted, Sehun was sure as he poured himself a glass of wine – heady burgundy – and nearly spilled the liquid. It had been two weeks since the first time the illusion of the raven-haired boy had appeared and they hadn’t stopped coming forth without warning. So Sehun, in order to maintain his social status of sane, had taken a leave from his job with the official statement being for personal reasons. Luckily a substitute hadn't been hard to find and Sehun's request had been accepted.
Out of fear, Sehun hadn’t left the house much ever since, had lived off of canned food, sweets and settled for tap water. Albeit such severe counter measurements, the visions kept appearing and whilst they were quite appalling to experience in public, they were dementing to encounter alone.
After two weeks, Sehun was witness to the decrement of his psychological state of health.
His hands were trembling visibly when Sehun set the bottle of wine back down and turned, glass in hand, to lean against the kitchen counter. He wasn’t one to plunge into the delirium a substance like alcohol offered just to drown out the unpleasantness of reality, though even he now seemed to encounter his limits.
Swivelling the wine in its container, the photographer frowned. This wasn’t how things were supposed to be. He didn’t know why he was being haunted by a ghost all of the sudden. Needless to say that, despite his extraordinary abilities, he had never seen an actual dead spirit. Whereas he supposed that the two might not be all that different from each other after all.
Not that he’d understand any of it to begin with. He didn’t even want to ponder over it. It was a question supposed to be unanswered, an area so full of unknown factors that he was too fearful of plunging into. Whatever those appearances were, they weren't normal even for Sehun.
A shattering noise tore him out of the tristesse of his thoughts to the immediate tristess of reality and Sehun spun his head into the direction of the sound’s origin. One of the windowpanes had been caught by an uprising breeze and shoved a bottle containing a memory off the windowsill. The glass had shattered and released the gaseous remnants of recollection, which now curled into the air in its pristine marine blue shimmer to revive in midst of Sehun’s living room.
It was two young girls dancing and whirling across the room wearing old-fashioned dresses, giggling at each other with happy faces but as it was supposed to be, the memory remained silent. As he was watching the bizarre display, Sehun suddenly realized that he couldn’t hear because he wasn’t supposed to. Those memories weren’t his. He wasn’t allowed to listen neither should he have been allowed to watch, and yet he did.
With the realization came a strange agitation that augmented in substance, fed by rows and more rows of bluish shimmering glass containers pilled up in his living room. He suddenly felt as if he was doing something forbidden by even looking at them, an invasion of privacy that usually wasn’t granted to anyone. Guilt filled up the jags left in the wake of exacerbation. Like frost shattering rock, something within him cracked.
Overcome by fury, Sehun set down his glass of wine, the material clattering at the contact. Trembling, he drew in an uneven breath and closed his eyes in an attempt to calm down, though the distress wouldn’t leave his system. All of the sudden what he had been doing didn’t seem right anymore. Maybe therein lay the reason why that spirit was chasing him; to reprimand him. So Sehun pushed himself away from the counter and walked over to the arrangement of bottles on the sill. He'd do good to anything to get rid of that hallucination.
Moonlight filtered through the curtains and bathed Sehun’s figure in a silvern glow as the latter stepped closer and eventually halted. Then, with one swift motion and a single shout – a mixture of despair and rage – the collector swept the glass from its habitat.
It cascaded from the sills and shelves in an orchestra of crushing crescendos, a conflagration of cobalt, indigo and sparks of gold dust in the wake of his rage. Like scorching butterflies they lit up and sailed through the air with a last blaze of live in a sea of shards and smithereens.
Within the crashing of light specks, the illusions came to life, mingled and overlapped as they waltzed through Sehun’s living room.
All the happy thoughts and memories Sehun had collected over the years melted into a lustrous antagonism juxtaposed to its equivalent. A scene of war bristled through the air as each fought the other for beauty, brightness, and existence. The walls of his apartment flared up with amber glowing shadows flickering across.
The chaos was perfect, uber-worldish madness, a scene right out of a nightmare, and most of all, dead silent.
The culprit and only witness sat within the shards of his doing, eyes screwed shut from a sight he didn’t want to behold, for he knew the pictures would burn into his iris and revisit his dreams. Redemption sought him dressed in a spreading calmness and once the flickering behind his closed lids subsided, Sehun dared to open his eyes again.
His vision was blurred by unshed tears he hadn’t been aware of but he didn’t attempt to rub the wetness away, somehow not finding the strength to lift his arm. Despite the heaviness in his limbs, his head was spinning, feeling feather light to a possibly alarming degree.
Sehun couldn’t care less, then as he raised his head, his eyes caught another pair of pitch-black ones, a colour so deep it could swallow the night.
Most people, just as Sehun, didn’t act upon logical conclusion. In fact they do just the opposite: Their decision is based on instinct, then they build up a framework of reasoning to vindicate it and call the result common sense. This reverse process would be necessary to aid the inner equilibrium, for thinking up the logical action or conclusion might not conform to moral values or expectation. It might directly clash with the very own established reality.
Though, Sehun’s perception of actuality was heavily disrupted, his sense of direction lost to incalculable circumstances in a world that constantly changed its rules. Every time he seemed to ascertain an explanation for the things happening to him, he was proven wrong again by the next incident and his carefully constructed syllogism shattered.
When those dark orbs had settled upon his again, chained his body motionless, and annexed his soul, nothing in the world seemed to act upon reason anymore. Cold sweat broke out and coated his skin in a light sheen. He shivered, tried to move away, but couldn’t. He was close, the boy with the night eyes, so close Sehun could all but grasp the proximity. Wide-eyed and panting heavily, the photographer was sitting on his knees as the ghostly appearance leaned in closer.
Up close, those eyes didn’t seem all that dull anymore, rather lost, not empty but strangely tender as they burnt into his being. The boy, on one knee as well, reached his hand out, much like he had at the train station and so many times after that. Sehun’s heartbeat was racing in a mixture of anticipation and horror but despite the abnegation his whole body must have emitted, the hand didn’t stop its movement until it came to rest on Sehun’s cheek.
The photographer’s heart seemed to freeze at the touch, although it was, in fact, no touch at all. He couldn’t feel anything, shouldn’t feel anything but that would have been a lie, because albeit not feeling the physical presence of the boy’s palm, Sehun could remember how that hand had felt. The warmth radiating from rough palms and slender fingers gliding across his skin was imaginary, only existing in Sehun’s mind, the latter was certain, yet he couldn’t shake the sensation off. It was as pleasant as it was horrifying and when the tears spilled across Sehun’s cheek, the boy smiled.
An avalanche of pictures and sensations flooded Sehun upon the sight, rushing by his inner eye in a flash way too fast to register. He recognized the scene at the train station, a mansion enthroned upon a hill on the countryside, mirrors, those rough fingers pressing into blossoming bruises on red-bluish tinged flesh, heat, gleaming skin, soft pants and dark, lust-lidded eyes.
With the pictures being instigation enough, Sehun cried out, galvanized into action, and sliced his arm through the air in order to slap the offending hand off of him. Instead of hitting the boy’s arm, Sehun’s hand rushed right through and the boy vanished in a burst of bluish-golden gleaming dust.
All in all, the contact might have only lasted mere seconds, though time seemed to split the distance between the clock-hands once so many times more and what should have been just another volatile moment merged into a tiny eternity. And while Sehun crawled backwards in shock, the image of the boy vanished to mingle with the air. Hugging his knees, tightly to his body, the photographer stared at the now empty spot, bright-rimmed by the moonlight that cast uneven squares through the window.
He sat there for a while, trying to calm down and force his thoughts into the right direction. There was a new conclusion to be found, a new explanation and maybe it was time to face matters, stop finding pretences but solutions. Sehun had closed his eyes, hugged his knees and buried his face therein. A soft sting registered in his left hand, he must have cut himself on the shards in his haste to back away from the spirit. By now, however, Sehun had to overthink that label. The way the image had dissolved before his eyes just like any other of his memory-induced illusions lay the conclusion near that the ghost, regardless of how much Sehun baulked from admitting such, was nothing else but an illusion. That night-eyed boy was nothing but a memory. Sehun’s memory, it seemed.
Drear twilight of new realities spun in his head for the coming days. Unlike the weeks prior, they were strangely peaceful and a quiet spread in Sehun’s living room that stretched out into every corner and soon sprawled across the entire flat. The shards that had ornamented the floor had been taken care of, the orderly serenity recomposed and if not for Sehun’s crystal clear memory, the incidents of the past days of horror might have not happened at all.
It would have been all too good of a simulacrum to accept and come to peace with himself again, continue life where he had left off. The simple thought of going back to his daily routine, however, seemed all too far away now. Sehun even doubted that he’d be able to pick up his prior job again. During those events the photographer had developed quite an aversion towards his ability that would doubtlessly present him with memory illusions again the second he left the confines of his apartment. No, Sehun had come to the realization that his gift wasn’t as much of a blessing after all. By far it hadn’t been the first time he’d come across unpleasant memories, though – unlike the night-eyed boy who had haunted him – those had been easy to ignore.
Sehun settled on the couch, eyes closed, an unopened book sitting in his lap. His hand rested on top of the cover as if intending to part the pages any second, though Sehun remained still, caught by the tides of thought. He hadn’t been able to concentrate on anything ever since that night. It felt like that memory had reached into him and ripped a piece of his heart out, a vital part of his being that needed to be retrieved and Sehun wasn’t able to let go of.
The calm hydrophonia of rain beyond windows was drowned out by the sound of pensiveness, which veiled the outer world in a veil of grey. Sehun’s focus was inward-vectored as the young male relived the scenes of his past. Methodically, he combed through all the latest happenings and soon found himself trailing off deeper into his memory, subconsciously seeking out that pair of black eyes.
As he was sitting there engulfed by the shimmering web of isolation, he recalled fragments of the images that had passed through his mind upon the illusion’s touch. There had been a mansion upon a hill that Sehun felt a strange connection to as he conjured up the image again, trying to map out as much details as he managed when suddenly, he remembered.
He stood within seconds upon the realization, the book discarded on the couch as he crossed the living room with an urgency that had him stop in his tracks again. What was he doing? Sehun certainly wasn’t going to chase ghosts. With that thought, the young male retracted his hand that had already been stretched out to grab his keys and settled back down on the couch with a scoff. Stubbornness cast a frown onto his forehead as Sehun picked the book back up and stared at its cover with an empty, introspective glance. Even after the memory of that boy had vanished, the disquiet wouldn’t leave him.
It was only a day later that Sehun left the apartment to stock up on food and noticed how much he had actually missed the wind sweeping through the alleys. He sighed and took a long breath, letting the cold breeze’s fingers feather through his hair as he walked down the street, destination super market. Still, Sehun could see them, the illusions, but he didn’t pay them any attention anymore, lest he’d provoke a real ghost to emerge. Of course his behaviour might as well have been labelled border-paranoia, how he still felt so very uneasy, as if that raven-head would appear out of nothing again.
There wasn’t so much fear of being haunted as there was this anxiety of being pulled into something that his mind would not be able to explain with reason. Sehun had come to a point where he had had enough of special abilities and supernatural powers and therefor, chose to banish it from his daily routine. It was a choice of living normally, peacefully, unperturbedly, and quietly exist within the masses, one next to seven billion others. He sought normalcy, yet that placidness wouldn’t find him. Even though he knew it had ended, Sehun couldn’t help but feel watched by invisible eyes.
His thoughts wandered off into the very same directions as the photographer strolled past the rows of groceries in the store, occasionally picking things out of the shelves with mindless automatism. There was no helping his curiosity, for the same question kept materializing in his head, persisted on being answered regardless of how many times Sehun had tried to discard the thought. That boy’s features wouldn’t let him rest. Despite Sehun’s knowledge of that boy belonging to his very own collection of memories, he couldn’t accept that fact as an actual artefact from his past.
About the age of seventeen, the boy had looked like. When Sehun tried to remember his teenage years, there was nothing extraordinary coming to his mind. He had been going to school, graduated and grown up to function as another cogwheel in the clockwork of time and society. No night-eyed boy was anywhere to be found in his past, his existence still posing an unsolved mystery, which, despite Sehun’s efforts to ignore it, remained rooted in his conscious. He dreamt about that boy at night, subconsciousness weaving pictures into contorted phantasms that Sehun denied with all his might upon waking up. What he couldn’t abnegate, however, was the image of that mansion, the very building he had lived in in his youth. Sehun had no explanation why he suddenly remember his family’s mansion and maybe the sudden recollection was indeed connected to that boy.
After all, Sehun couldn’t bring himself to put much value upon such dwellings. They were useless among the conviction that it was silly trying to remember such things. It had been close to a decade since his teenage years, of course he wouldn’t remember it in its details. He wouldn’t forget a face like that boy’s, though, not to mention the very house he’d grown up in, and as Sehun left the store, bagged groceries in his hands, he tried to recall the faces he had met in the past. Family, friends, fellow students, people he liked and people he disliked, all those personal bonds he suddenly grew aware of lacking. Had he always been this lonely?
He appeared again on a warm Thursday. The sky was doted by flocks of clouds, the air kissed shimmering by the sun. Sehun was sitting on the small balcony of his apartment, overviewing the streets with his legs dangling beyond its width. Quickly melting ice cream dripped onto his finger, testimony to his own surprise as the photographer whipped his head around to be met by the sight of that boy. He looked quite the same, naked feet dangling from the balcony in between the steel rods of the balustrade, lapping at his ice cream, and gazing horizon-wards with his very own share of pensiveness. The significant difference was to be found in the ethereal glow the boy emitted, a light enhanced by the sunrays dancing on his semi-translucent surface.
Bathed in this radiation, the other didn’t seem all that frightening, rather fragile with the gentle beams of gold ballonneering(*) across his pristine, snow-roofed skin.
His attire was different too. Instead of camouflaging blacks, the night-eyed boy was dressed appropriately to the warm weather with knee-long shorts and worn-out T-shirt. A leather bracelet snaked its way around his wrist, flattering the beginnings of a very defined forearm. It was a strange contrast, the firmness of the muscles visible juxtaposed to the softness of his skin. Another detail Sehun hadn’t noticed before. He looked quite handsome with the little smile playing on his lips.
Maybe Sehun’s gaze rested a minute too long on the boy’s illusion but the photographer couldn’t help his piqued interest. And despite the queasiness setting in the pit of his stomach, the beholder didn’t destroy the image. There was this attraction towards the other that he couldn’t quite explain nor put into words, though it was the reason he studied the boy just a bit longer, fingers growing sticky with molten remnants of ice cream.
After what must have been a while, the urge to say something rose within Sehun, to ask for a name or reason but memories can’t speak, even his own. It would be like attempting to intervene in past happenings, or actually the mere portrayal of it and that was simply not possible. Instead, Sehun remained quiet and turned his head towards the sight of the city again. A soft smile tugged at his lips as he sat there, eating ice cream with the ghost of his past, kissed by the sun and doted by the passing shadows of the clouds traveling west above him.
Even days after the boy had appeared again, Sehun was unable to find an excuse for his own actions, which, in hindsight, seemed quite inexplicable to himself. Why he had been eating ice cream with a past he didn’t care to remember was a riddle Sehun couldn’t solve. It seemed all too abstract to be getting comfortable with the picture that haunted him, an action or lack thereof that Sehun could only label insane. He hadn’t been himself, hadn’t acted on his free will, he concluded, though maybe, the one sharing ice cream with the ghost of his past had been his past self, a reflection of who he once had been and forgotten. That boy seemed to rouse something buried deep inside of him. Something Sehun was vehemently certain of not wanting to be woken, moreover was the thought of loosing control over his thoughts and actions more than just appalling. The old paranoia had set in again. It seemed he was finally losing his mind whilst his body lost to insomnia.
On the forth night, after having been deprived of sleep for roughly 60 hours – with the occasional interval of nightmarish one-hour naps – Sehun’s body gave in to exhaustion. He had expected the boy to reappear again but he hadn’t. Hour after viscous hour had dripped by with only mania for company. When Sehun eventually collapsed on the bed, it was impossible to tell the daytime. All curtains were close-drawn, windows closed, doors shut and locked out of fear that another illusion might appear in front of him carried in by the wind or weather. He even went as far as burying himself under the sheets in order to escape the sight.
Quite miserable, was his state when Sehun eventually fell prey to a deep slumber and quite miserable was his state when he roused again, shocked into a sitting position by another incubus dream. His heart was pounding against his ribcage in a brisk staccato, lungs rising and falling in the matching cadence. Bending forwards, Sehun buried his face in his hands, as he quietly counted to ten in, a ritual to calm himself down. Just as he had done as a child when his dreams had been ridden by nightmares. Funny, he mused, how he was able to remember such rudimentary trifles.
Once his breathing had settled back into a normal rhythm, a sigh peeled from his lungs and Sehun let his head fall back into his neck and realized. There were mysteries that are supposed to be solved. His past might be one of them.
As soon as he had finished the thought, Sehun noticed a movement to his left in the corner of his eye. Before he even whipped his head around, Sehun knew what would meet his vista. He felt a scream rip through his throat but the sound of it never vibrated forth from his lips. Cold sweat broke out, sliding a wet path down his temple. Swallowing thickly, those dark-rimmed eyes fixated on him and, once more, Sehun was lost in their night-devouring abyss.
The boy sat at the edge of his bed, watching over Sehun in his sleep as if he needed protection. It would have been a strangely ironic picture if it didn’t stir a strong surge of emotion and Sehun smiled bitterly. Still, he didn’t understand all the whys dancing mocking circles in his head but when the boy on his bed climbed it and moved in towards him, it all didn’t matter anymore and Sehun’s mind went blank. His heart leapt in his chest, his body cast in trembles, while his eyes grew impossibly wide. Slender, softly glowing fingers reached for his chin as the ephemeral figure hovered above him and Sehun screwed his eyes shut.
Albeit not having witnessed what the illusion had done exactly, Sehun could have sworn he had felt a pair of chapped lips brush his forehead.
He took the train to his hometown the very next morning. After the past night, Sehun had finally been able to label the all-consuming feeling that had always turned his insides upside down when he’d faced that night-eyed boy again. It was despair, though shaded with longing. It was the same subtle yet poignant expression that was mirrored in the sable of that boy’s eyes. Sehun was certain, that made-living portray of his past wouldn’t let him go anymore if he didn’t manage to sort things out. There was something for him to be uncovered, an answer to be found to a yet unknown question. He’d start off with the most obvious, known question. The question who that boy was and why he couldn’t remember his own past.
The journey was long but perceived short, Sehun being occupied by sorting out a turmoil of thoughts and impressions. Where would he go once he arrived? A doubtful voice in his head proclaimed objection to the whole venture though Sehun stifled it to silence by recalling all the days ever since his memory had first appeared in front of him. He’d suffered until he had finally been ready to face whatever he needed to but in hindsight his plight might have been necessary for him to eventually take the needed steps and worked as an instigation to actively fight the cause of it. He’d been too passive. Not only the past few weeks but all his life. It might be time for a change but change demanded courage.
Sehun drove through the night and woke up to lustrous black tufts of hair resting on his shoulder. For the fleeting moment before Sehun destroyed the picture of the boy sitting next to him and resting his head on his shoulder, eyes closed for once, he felt the heaviness of another person leaning onto him.
Wind greeted him by ruffling his hair upon Sehun exiting the train and the latter returned the greeting by taking a long breath, inhaling the scent of his childhood. A smile crowned his lips as he made his way through the station and ordered a taxi. When asked for the designation, Sehun hesitated only for a moment before deciding that he might as well visit his parents’ graves while he was in the area. The treasure haunt could wait until he figured out where to start.
Sometimes, things only grow notable by the absence thereof. Sehun experienced something very similar to that when he entered the graveyard.
A strange sense of recollection washed over him and he felt his heart sink. The all too well-known nausea overcame him and without knowing why, Sehun knew he was at the place he should be. Resisting the retching, Sehun bent over as his body convulsed. He hadn’t taken many steps into the cemetery when the sickness had arisen but this time Sehun refused to give into it. There was something to be seen for him here and he wouldn’t turn away from it this time.
A gush of wind feathered soothingly through his bangs and Sehun slowly straightened up again, ready for whatever might meet his gaze. It wasn’t the boy though, this time, but a funeral procession passing him by. The black of the dresses and suits gleamed softly blue-golden at its seams but Sehun didn’t need to notice this to know he was facing a memory. The procession, if it was even to be called that, existed of five people, all of which Sehun recognized as his father, mother, grandmother, an uncle, and – as expected – himself. He had to play his part, as he had needed to all the other times and so Sehun joined the surreal cortege at its tail.
Somehow, Sehun knew what he’d see when he looked down upon the grave they aimed for. The name on the tombstone had left his lips so often in the past that when he caressed the phonemes on his tongue in a breathed, muted whisper, they were accompanied by silent tears. And by the memory of his name, there were other memories to follow. Hand in hand the mental pictures resurfaced, showing him scenes he now remembered to have willingly forgotten. He’d abandoned his past, because his sole raison d’être had abandoned him.
Hwang Zitao chose his own death.
May god help him and show him the light.
The station, the falling body, the train dashing by and Tao gone with a screeching of brakes – He remembered it all. The suicide note full of regret and apologizes – Tao, who had been all of Sehun’s life, had apologized for existing. He had apologized for making his life hard where it needed be but Tao had never brought anything less than joy to him, something the elder never seemed to have realized. True, they had been cousins, had lived together and loved each other to an extent where it hurt, because no one but them had understood.
In his teens, Sehun hadn’t understood either but now he was sure that it had all been his family’s doing. They had driven Tao to it by constantly feeding him stories of how rotten he was, how much evil and misfortune he had brought the family. He’d been labelled a bastard, an unwelcome inconvenience born out of the drunken gluttony and momentary lust of his father, Sehun's uncle, an escapade with a Chinese slut. Tao had been a child of Satan, born out of sin, they had said, and albeit having been taken in and living with them, he’d never been seen as a part of the family. Given these circumstances, Sehun might have killed himself too.
Though Tao’s reasons had been different. He’d always been so gentle and forgiving when Sehun was not. Sehun had hated his family for treating Tao that way, had made empty promises and thought up escape plans for the both of them. But Tao never wanted to hear any of it. Until the very end, he had thought of himself as an inconvenience, a forbidden existence and what had made him decide on taking his life, now Sehun understood, had been the conviction that he harmed Sehun by his mere existence, that his love wasn’t pure but demonic. The last thing Tao had ever wanted was to harm him, so he’d set an end to it.
Sehun hadn’t realized dropping to his knees, the illusion of his memory bursting by the action. He hadn’t been allowed to cry that time, Sehun remembered, it had been right for him to go. So they said. He was to forget and having lost his reason to think, move and live, Sehun had obliged and erased everything, loosing his heart and soul in the process. Sehun had been sent away to a private school in Europe and soon after, he’d started seeing other people’s memories and collected them to replace his own.
He was living through it all over again. The pictures of his past were rejuvenated in front of his eyes with every ragged exhale, a wicked catch-22 while the scenarios replayed with unfaltering vivaciousness. Time blurred simultaneously with his perception and Sehun was dragged back into the past. Time split seconds to minutes and minutes to hours, hours to days and days to months. And in midst of the storm that broke loose within him, Sehun’s inner equilibrium shattered.
Though before he lost his mind completely, he was being pulled into a strong set of arms, held firmly against someone’s chest. Without a second thought, Sehun buried his head in the nape of the other’s neck. Heavy sobs racked his body whilst his tears wouldn’t stop spilling. Only slowly did the agitation subside. Sehun broke away from the arms that were holding him, rubbed his eyes and runny nose dry with his sleeve and remembered his poise with a few mumbled words of thanks.
The wind tugged at his bangs again and brought a well-remembered scent of childhood with it as the numbness left his bones, and his own, weak voice ripped the unnatural silence that had settled apart. He regained his senses and eventually found back to himself. A minute more of that torture and Sehun was certain he’d have lost himself to insanity.
He didn’t dare to look up at the other after the display he’d just presented until slow realization dawned to him. His heart set a wild staccato against his ribcage as Sehun raised his chin up to the sight of raven eyes and an affectionate smile. The sight of the other had Sehun on the verge of tears again, a rueful blubber ripping from his throat as a witness to this. The picture of Tao laughed and stepped closer to him until the image wrapped Sehun in another, impalpable embrace.
He leaned his blue-golden shimmering head on Sehun’s shoulder, the latter holding his breath as he recalled the feeling of being held by those arms in an attempt to seal it in his heart. Sehun knew all too well that this Tao was merely a phantasm, yet he wasn’t ready to let go. For a mere moment, cool lips brushed his earshell but Sehun wasn’t granted the time to consider whether that sensation had been another spawn of his fantasy or not. Standing there tensely, as not to destroy the image, a long-forgotten voice murmured against Sehun’s ear. And for that short moment, Sehun knew that he had longed to hear the soft tenor of that voice ever since it had disappeared from his world.
“Let go of the past, create new memories and live,” the picture of the boy burst to blue-golden flickers in his arms, the voice carried away by the wind, and with its absence, Tao’s words faded to a muted diminuendo together with his presence. In that moment, Sehun knew he would see that night-eyed boy no more.
“Smile again for me, Sehun.”
(Illusions were silent. Memories never spoke.)
La Raison d'être - french, meaning "the reason for existing"
*Ballonneer - that's a little word creation on my part; Ballonné, describes a figure in ballet wherein the dancer hops sideways, from one leg onto the other, performing a little "kick" midair.