Third Place Winner: Blanket Town by Kaito Hyde
By Kaito Hyde
Hanabi focuses on the zipping lines of the road that wave at her goodbye, goodbye, as the bus's wheels rock across the bumpy highway. They crisscross, back-forth-rejoining. Possibly... she thinks, could a person tell if a figure on a bus is depressed? Hanabi’s head rests against the cold glass of the window, and if someone saw her, maybe, maybe they could tell. She clutches her arms, enclosing her, hiding her. She shivers in her seat.
Kiwi watches her from below, his crocodile eyes observing her from the shadow underneath the seat. His shear-like teeth sealed with worry.
Hanabi’s eyes do not wander goodbye from the zipping lines of the road. If they do, she understands, the bricks hovering above her head will fall. That’s the rule.
I just need to wait it out, she thinks. The zipping lines disappear as the bus turns on exit 115, and she can finally look away. It’s alright to look away now. It’s alright.
Scrunched in her seat, hugging her knees, and breathing a little too shallow, Hanabi squeezes her eyes shut. At the back of her eyelids, she pictures it... the creasing of her heart onto her mind, like origami. But she has to concentrate because the origami has been crumpled too many times. With a grunt, she manages to step one foot into the other world in her mind: Blanket Town… while one foot remains in the real world. She sits on the bus but respirates in Blanket Town, and there, she is crouched low, arms trembling above her head, sweat dripping from the moist corners of her nose. She groans as she holds up against the brick, the size of an elephant.
“Are you alright Tarara?” She mutters, wearing that heroic, self-sacrificing smile. Tarara’s petrified eyes look up at her from Hanabi’s enveloping shadow.
Tarara stammers, her human hands trembling. “Y-yes. I’m fine. Thank you--”
As soon as those words are uttered, the second brick hurtles down.
Hanabi shrieks, and she shrinks in her real-world chair, covering her ears. A massive force field spreads out like wings above her head, intercepting the volley of earth. The brick slows, rocking back and forth alongside the first one.
Hanabi knows: Here is where everyone apologizes. Kiwi will apologize, Chico will apologize, Tarara will apologize. Even the bricks will apologize. They’ll draw sad frowns on their heads. Kiwi notices Hanabi grinding her teeth. He sobs.
“I’m so sorry Hanabi… Because of us…”
“Don’t--” Hanabi winces, and drips a bleak grin. “It’s not your fault, remember?”
...It’s mine, these are my thoughts that cause this... However, she can think no longer. The origami is already unwinding, and white fog seeps into the dumps of her mind, pushing her out of Blanket Town. The only thought she can hold up now… are the bricks above her head. Her mind blank until her bus screeches to her stop. By then, she would forget that she was holding up anything in the first place… or so she thought. Hanabi’s eyelashes part in the fog. A door shape, a rough black brush stroke across a page, has emerged in the distance. She hears a voice call from it, the same voice of a classmate whom she had a conversation with, earlier that day… The voice speaks: “What do I see… on the other side of my door?”
In her mind, she hears the clunk of the locker door closing, and then sees her classmate Asmittha’s steady eyes emerging from behind it. Her uneven teeth lining up as the curtain of lips part and, and... the words echo in the cavern of Hanabi’s skull. “...That’s what my therapist told me”, Asmittha says, “Where do I see myself? What? Why I went to see a therapist? You see, I have depression... You know, I wish I knew that answer... Where I see myself in the future, as in, the other side of my door?”
She is so open about it… Hanabi casts this thought into the fog.
As soon as she does, Hanabi’s surroundings blinks away in a blurring of auroric light. The seat of the bus ripples into a green cushion, and well-postured plants march into a standing guard at the four corners of a room that have stacked up around her. Her muscles soften as if something has been lifted from her shoulders... She reclines in her chair and a breath flows out of her. Across from her sits what she imagines to be Asmitha’s therapist.
The therapist speaks. “How can I help you?”
Uncertain, Hanabi’s eyes crawl to her own red sneakers... her wide feet had pried open that hole, apparently... She rubs the aglet of her hoodie between her fingers.
“I…. uhh…” She begins. Something feels small. It’s her throat. Words struggle to climb out, like it’s grappling through a towel. The towel is wrung, dripping out the words... but it’s also clenched and impermeable, squashed...
“It’s okay... Take your time.”
Hanabi retches and drips the words from her outstretched tongue. “I… it’s… it’s like I’m experiencing thoughts... that aren’t mine.”
“And… I don’t know whose fears these are. I don’t trust them anymore.”
Hanabi focuses on the green smear on the sole of her shoes. Three emerald lines against the white. The towel is tight. Her eyes steam, steam, dry, dry, don’t cry, don’t cry--
“What do you mean? Could you explain some more?”
The towel has ripped. A drop of salt leaks from her eyes.
“...I don’t know…”
Hanabi is thrust back into the fog. Her shoes hit the sidewalk.
Meanwhile, in Blanket Town, a grandfather clock is ticking. Indecisively, the pendulum swings back and forth, back and forth. Kiwi twiddles his gardening-fork fingers, nibbling the silence. Tarara slumps in a chair, and with heavy eyelids stares at the blankets that swoop from corner to corner of the ceiling. The blankets huddle the room into a secure fort, and an electric lamp glows at the center, blushing up the four corners. Chico, another friend, sits by Hanabi with his webbed hands squeezed tightly between his thighs. Hanabi, who is bed-ridden; unmoving; her back nested on diamond-patterned sheets. Hanabi’s body is in a coma when her mind is absent in Blanket Town, when her mind is only in the real world. Dead, immortal, asleep.
“A blue sky makes her gush,” Kiwi mutters.
Tarara unwinds from her slump like a mollusk and joins in. “June last year, she saw bubbles float past her, and it was like her heart popped.”
“Anything happy seems to remind her how broken she is.”
The three of them gaze sadly at Hanabi.
“What can we do to help her? She’ll fall apart... ” Tarara’s words sink. She stares into the patched floor of the room. They’re stitched together with quilts, crossroads of beige, violet, blue. The pendulum slides from one silence of the room to the other.
Then, mysteriously, without even a mutter, Tarara drags herself up from her chair. The blanketed floor absorbs her weight, and the floor sinks where she steps. She lumbers across the room, and arrives about a meter’s length from Kiwi. She stations two hands in front of her, vertical like a spade, one over the other.
She sighs. “Left hand up. Right hand down.”
Chico claps his hands excitedly. Kiwi staggers up from his seat. “Like this?” he asks unconfidently, and he laces his two sets of 3 fingers into her two sets of 5. Gravity shifts. Tarara’s one step forward, a crescenting arm, and Kiwi’s head draws an arc towards the floor. It hesitates two centimetres from the ground.
“You’re the best dancer in town.” Tarara snickers deviously with heavy eyelids.
“That’s not…! what I said...” Kiwi protests, his mouth an embarrassed jazz.
“Did too. Up on the rooftop with Hanabi… On New Year’s? That’s what you said.”
“... Let me up.”
“Alright.” Tarara swings Kiwi up onto his feet, and Kiwi bounds lightly on the floor. He wipes his hands on his pants, his leg clanging with his fingers.
Tarara heaves a sigh. She plops back into her seat, which coughs from her weight. Kiwi remains standing, nervously massaging his fingers.
“... We can’t go back to dancing like that with her anymore, can we…?” Kiwi mutters.
The three of them look at Hanabi, imprisoned in her bed.
“Only if... she can talk to us without her intrusive thoughts rampaging…”
The three of them look on, their eyes concerned and warm, as if laying a blanket over their vulnerable friend. Hanabi’s breathing disperses within the sleepy room.
“Maybe... she needs to let us go…”
Suddenly, Hanabi is upright in her bed, strangling the diamonds on her sheets into 8-pointed stars. Her hair darkens her face. “Please don’t say that.”
“Hanabi! You’re awake!” Chico leaps up from his seat. “Th-that’s--”
“Rare... I know...” Hanabi burrows her blanket with her nose. She shivers. Then, she looks up and cries out: “I don’t want that… I’m not going to say goodbye!”
“No one is going to say goodbye, Hanabi--!” Suddenly, invisible electricity whirls through Chico. He shrieks and reels.
Hanabi cries, “Ahh! No! I’m sorry!”
Chico collides into his chair and coughs. He pants like wires scraping against sandpaper. “I’m okay---” Chico twitches his beak, attempting a smile, crevices under his eyes. “Don’t worry about me...”
Hanabi wrings her hands. “Stop! Don’t make that face…! Don’t… pretend… that you’ll be okay…”
“I said stop!!”
Chico freezes with eyes the size of clocks.
“Don’t apologize...! All of you PRETEND to be OKAY when you’re all-- you’re all hurt by me. You give me the same smile over and over...!!”
Hanabi hiccups like a stuck zipper. Her chest burns, so she grapples her chest, like putting out a fire. She wails as it doesn’t go out easily. She frantically rubs at it, until finally the fire goes out… and the tides in her breath retreat to normal. Her voice fades into soft pedaled notes.
“Please don’t smile at me... when you’re hurt.”
Hanabi digs her face into her blanket. Kiwi sniffs. Tarara gulps back a shudder and her cheeks glisten slightly… Words have abandoned the room. Then, an unfamiliar sound twinkles. Hanabi’s shoulder trembles, and Chico widens his eyes when he realizes: Hanabi is laughing under her breath. Her face emerges again, with tired eyes.
“Haha... I actually got mad…. For once. Wow...”
Chico shoulders loosen. “Yeah…” he says. Curiously, he feels a frolic in his chest. “Thank you... for getting mad, Hanabi.” He sniffs.
The water in Hanabi’s eyes wobble, and then break free. She sniffs at these tears, and laughs. Then, wrapping her arms around her knees, she tilts her head and stares off through bagged, blackened eyes. “I just want to be able to talk to you all, normally…”
Then, Hanabi hears a clunk. She blinks. She thinks of that door in the fog…
Oh… I see… that’s the future I want. The other side of my door is to talk to them normally, without having any intrusive thoughts… END (for now)