I guess, I wrote this piece with the general theme of "Sometimes when you start to see the bigger picture. the vast expanse that is the world, the universe, it can be so scary to know that in this large world, a world of 7.4 billion people, you are only one of them, and you start questioning yourself... when it comes down to it, does my life really matter? Does anything that I do, in this world of 7.4 billion people make a difference? Is there any reason for living, after all?" It's a very vague theme, and I guess that's what the short story is built on.
I was wondering what you guys think of the story, whether it's too ambiguous, or whether the ambiguity of it makes the story better? Did I flesh out the characters enough? Are you able to relate to them in any way at all? Whether it fits the theme, and what you think of it personally, as well as the writing style, I guess? And whether it made you think of anything in particular, and whether you personally agree on what the main character's final viewpoint.
I wrote this contemplative piece when I was in a pretty dark place, so please take caution when reading it (trigger warning). I was wondering what kind of emotions this piece would make you feel, and whether I conveyed the characters emotions effectively through my words, or if it's just a jumbled up piece of emotions that make no sense at all.
And I guess, last but not least, if I do transform this piece into a short kinetic novel, would you think that it would be suitable? Or should it stay as it is, as purely words.
Thank you very much for reading this.
Ballad of a Dream
It was about midnight, when the young man stepped out of his home. Putting on his shoes, he headed out into the chilly winter night with nothing but a thin black jacket to shield him from the cold wind.
Why would it matter what he wore, anyway? After all, tonight was the night where he ended it all. There was no reason for him to stay in this world filled with nothingness. Life was boring for him and nothing brought him joy anymore.
Sure, there was more left to life that he hadn't done, that he could have done, but in the end, was there really any point of it all? I mean, we all die anyway, so why bother to go through everything? Sometimes... Perhaps it was better to just let everything go.
Right, it was best to let everything go. No use having any second thoughts.
The man rounded a dark street, with nothing but a flickering street lamp in the distance to guide the way. He passed underneath the trees in the park, the hustle and bustle of city life blending out into a blur around him.
The place was the perfect blend of nature and city life. Even amongst the teenagers drunkenly crying out in the distance, one could find solitude in the small alleyways, and underneath the shade of the trees in the park, hidden from the rest of the city.
The night was dark, and although there were city lights around him, the trees kept them out of reach. The man felt that at any moment now, the darkness could swallow him whole.
Eventually, he found his way to a large bridge overlooking the river below. In the darkness, he could barely make out the water, the indiscernible black mass swirling beneath him. The rough sound of waves crashing against the supporting pillars travelled upwards, creating a truly terrifying scene.
For a second, he considered turning around. But as soon as the thought was there he pushed it out of his mind.
This was the best time to do it. He had set his affairs in order, sent a resignation letter to the office that he had been working in - nothing special, just your typical run-of-the-mill accounting firm. He didn't have any family left to weep for him. The last inkling of a friendship that he might have left was abandoned in the past a long time ago.
“Hey, mister, are you going to jump?”
A voice startled him. He turned around to see a young girl standing there.
Giving the girl a once-over, the man realised that she was probably in her teens. Her flowing black hair fell to her waist, gently blown about by the wind. What he found odd about her though, was the clear umbrella that she was holding, resting atop her shoulders as she looked at the man with a bored look on her face.
“Are you going to stop me?”
To his question, the girl seemed unfazed and merely shrugged nonchalantly, as if the man had asked her something as casual as the weather.
“Ain't no job of mine, mister. You got your problems, I got mine. Why else would either of us be out here in the first place?”
At her words, the man closely studied the girl. She looked like she was dressed for a casual Sunday walk, and any passer-by that saw her would have no reason to think otherwise. She radiated an aura of normality, although there was a glaring disconnect between the impression that she gave and the situation that they were in.
“You looking to end it all too?”
The girl did nothing but shrugged.
“Look mister, I'm a stranger, you're a stranger. We just happened to cross paths tonight. What I do doesn't affect you, and the inverse is true as well. If you're going to do it, go ahead and do it.”
Now she was making him curious. He wondered why a girl like her would be looking to end her life. Bullying? She didn't seem like the type to be bothered by that. She lacked the feelings of someone in pain, someone who wanted to escape from something, someone who wanted to die. She merely looked bored, terribly unsuited to the typical picture of someone wanting to commit suicide. Try as he might, the man could sense no angst, no signs of regret or resignation. The most suitable word that he could find to describe her was… empty.
“Look mister, if you're not going to jump, could you at least get off the ledge?”
The girl sighed and pulled her umbrella closer to her.
The cars around them didn't stop or slow down in speed, almost as if a man standing precariously on the edge of the bridge, talking to a young girl carrying a transparent umbrella was an everyday occurrence, nothing to be interested in. It was a weekday night, so working fathers were probably eager to rush back to the warmth of their homes and bury themselves in the loving arms of their wives and kids. Bachelors were probably looking forward to a night out or a relaxing night alone at home. At that moment in time, the man realised just how distant he seemed from the rest of the world. Whatever ended up happening to him tonight wouldn’t have any impact at all on these faceless creatures, going about their lives in their own bubble. He felt a seed of sadness growing inside of him.
How small and insignificant I am, the man thought.
Right now, right then, there were just the two of them, the man and the girl, enveloped in their own space of time. Nothing outside of that space mattered, and nothing that they did in that space would affect the rest of the world.
And the girl, standing amidst of it all looked idly at her fingers, as if she hadn’t a care in the world. As if the severity of the current situation had no impact on her. As if what the both of them were about to do meant nothing, and had no more significance than an everyday occurrence.
He wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
“Humour me. You don't look like you could possibly be older than 15. What life troubles could you possibly have?”
At his question, the girl frowned. The man let out a breath that he didn’t realize that he was holding. Although he wouldn’t admit it, the casualness of the girl and her lack of emotions was unnerving. She looked like she could have been nothing but a mannequin. The slightest expression from her made her feel more real… more alive.
“What makes you think that I have life troubles? Why are you so sure that there has to be a reason for everything?”
The man was taken aback by her question. He had not expected that answer.
“Well, no sane person would be looking to end their life without a reason…”
As soon as he said the words, he realized how silly they sounded.
The girl seemed to have noticed too as she let out a laugh. A laugh so dark and humourless that the tone didn’t fit its bearer.
“Care to tell me your reasons then, mister?”
She was looking at him. Truly looking at him, with eyes that were large and full of curiosity like a child. Yet behind those eyes, he sensed something darker. A hint of mischief, maybe?
The words caught in his throat. He couldn’t find anything to say.
Sure, if he tried, he could probably find a handful of reasons to justify killing himself, but were they really reasons, or merely excuses that he came up with in order to fulfil a darker meaning? Something that couldn’t be quantified, a more intangible meaning to his behaviour. A feeling, a sense of beckoning towards the end. Being tired of the world around him, and wanting to achieve an everlasting rest.
The girl looked at him, patiently. When he had failed to produce an answer, she let out a small smile, and for a moment – just a moment, he felt like she understood. Even though she didn’t say anything, didn’t do anything, something about her made him feel like he didn’t have to say anything more.
She turned away from him to look at the space beyond the bridge – the everlasting sea, void of any stars, as it seemed to stretch out into infinity before them.
“Sometimes, the world really seems so large, doesn’t it?”
As the man gazed at her face, he caught her eyes and she smiled gently at him. He could sense a level of maturity from this girl, far beyond what anyone would expect from a 15-year-old, especially in this day and age.
“Does it scare you? The unknown? Or are you perhaps running from something?”
Something sparked deep within the girl’s eyes, a sense of kindness and knowledge that was beyond her years – no, not just beyond her years, it was beyond the man’s as well. The man had an unexplainable feeling, one that was similar to when he faced someone who was much more knowledgeable than him, like an old religious monk. He felt like he was facing an old lady, not a young girl – someone with plenty of life experience and someone who had already seen what the world had to offer.
Overwhelmed with the sudden feeling of having to face someone who had lived out her years before him, for a brief moment, the image of his grandmother flitted across his vision.
Ah, right. His grandma.
He hadn’t thought about her for more than 2 decades now, ever since he locked all memories of her away – shoved them into a box and stuffed them into a dark corner of his mind.
Memories of her started to resurface now – the constant smile that she always had about her, no matter how hard life treated her. Even as her condition deteriorated and her movements started to become more limited due to polio, she always looked at the world with a positive mindset and when she was finally on her death bed, the man could sense an air of contentment about her – happiness and a lack of regret at how she had lived out her life.
A sudden sense of guilt started to build up from within the man, growing uncontrollably and spreading from what he felt was his stomach to the rest of his body until he had this inexplicable need to throw up, like having bile at the back of his throat.
What would his grandmother say if she was looking at him now? Wouldn’t she be disappointed in him?
He shook his head violently to get rid of the thought. There was no point thinking about her now. She was dead. Dead people stayed dead.
He felt a little lonely thinking that. After all, he was going to die soon too, right? Would he be nothing more than a mere memory too? An existence that barely left its mark on the world, a flame that would eventually be extinguished.
The girl observed him quietly for a while before speaking up.
“Mister, what do you think happens when people die?”
The man pondered upon the question for a moment.
“I suppose we just disappear, and slowly over time, traces of our existence vanish and the world moves on without us.”
A steady stream of cars continued to drive past the two figures, without slowing down, as if to accentuate his point.
The girl cocked her head a little bit and smiled. The man couldn’t help but think that the gesture made her look much younger, fitting for a girl of her age.
“Not always. Traces of our existence will always be left behind.”
And without saying anything more, the girl climbed onto the rails beside the man, nimbly balancing on the thin edge.
At that moment, a gust of strong wind blew, and the girl let go of her umbrella. She turned to the man and smiled before leaning backwards, letting her body plummet down to the waves below.
The man called out to the girl in shock, but she was already gone. He strained his ears to hear the tell-tale sign of her body hitting the water but to no avail. All alone now, the man had nothing but the raging wind to keep him company.
In the distance, the clear plastic umbrella fluttered away, carried by the wind around it.
And in that state of disarray, the man tried to get off the rails but lost his footing and fell.
Then… there was nothing but darkness.
The man sat up in bed sweating greatly. As his ears adjusted to the silence, he could just barely make out the sounds of a clock ticking in the darkness around him.
Tick, tick, tick, tick…
His eyes took a moment to adjust to his surroundings. As the shadows around him started to morph into recognisable shapes, the man realized that he was back in his room. Fumbling around for the alarm clock, he could barely make out its hands. It was barely past midnight.
What was that? Was it a dream?
Groggily, the man got out of bed and drew open the curtains. The city lights streamed into his small studio apartment, illuminating it. His ears could make out the muffled sound of music coming from one of the pubs below, while his eyes gazed upon the busy streets of the city, still full of cars and people in the heart of town.
Beyond the bustling city, the sea stretched out in all its magnificent darkness, its silence and emptiness a stark contrast to the colourful lights and sounds of the city beneath him.
Once again, the man felt a disconnect to the world around him. Seeing both the city and the sea in one go made him wonder, how could such completely different things possibly co-exist? Despite the sea and the city being so physically close to each other, to him it felt like they were worlds apart – two distinct entities sharing the same space.
Yet… they existed. And there was a certain harmony in that chaos of total opposition, two things in conflict with one another.
Realizing that, the man felt a moment of peace. A peace in which he hadn’t felt in a long time.
The sea was different than the city. In a place where underwater creatures were living their lives independently from the rest of civilization, nothing that the city dwellers did would impact the underwater citizens. And it could be said that the opposite was true as well.
But at the same time, the interactions between the underwater world and the land above it had small, but significant effects on each other, both positive and negative. Fishes from the sea provided the land dwellers with food to eat and pollution from the oil rigs made by the humans contaminated the water in which the fish lived in. Hence, it could be said that while the two were distinct from each other, they were not mutually exclusive. While the citizens of each world mostly lived out their small lives separately from each other, their occasional interactions created a butterfly effect - one that could possibly greatly impact the lives of the other world’s citizens.
While contemplating this, the man thought he saw a familiar sight in the corner of his eye – long, flowing black hair being blown gently by the wind, and a kind smile. But by the time he opened his eyes again, after blinking them, thinking that he was still half-asleep, the vision was gone.
And from the darkness of the small city apartment in which one insignificant man dwelled, illuminated with lights from the bustling city below, one could just barely make out the features of a photo hung in the corner of the wall, so obscured from sight that one would think that it was intentionally placed that way to be hidden.
It was an old black and white photo, the one keepsake of the man’s grandmother that he couldn’t get rid of. And in it, a young girl with flowing black hair holding a clear plastic umbrella stood.