- Short Story: The Pagoda (Momento Mori)

Short Story: The Pagoda (Memento Mori)

“I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
— Woody Allen

The man was waiting at the end of the street. I knew he was waiting for me. The light had turned green, and he was still standing there.

I probably should’ve been more frightened, but I had never seen anyone without an aura before. I was curious. He must have been sitting in the restaurant all day, watching me. When he had finally left, I followed.

Besides his lack of aura, the man looked strange and out of place. He looked more like an old movie detective, with a long trench coat and fedora pulled low over his eyes. I couldn’t see his face.

The light had turned red. I was now only a few dozen feet away from the man. When it turned green again, he walked out into the street – and I followed.

My mind was a rush of thoughts. My stomach was tight with nerves. Every inch of my body was telling this was a bad idea, turn back, run. But I had to know who this stranger was.

It was a daring venture, something only my best friend, Fay, would do – and then talk me into doing. She always said I was the brave one, who wasn’t afraid of anything, but that was sorely untrue. I was scared of everything. I just used anger and my bigger size as a bluff for toughness. She could always do things I could never do. Not that she was particularly prone to taking risks, but she had an adventurous spirit, one that was reflected in her bright, cerulean aura. In this situation, she would’ve logically pointed out that it was the middle of the day, there were plenty of people around, so why not?

The man continued up the next street. He didn’t seem as though he was suddenly going to dart into a dark alley or duck into an abandoned building. It was all very casual, except my heart was pounding, and my hands were clammy. Imaginary Fay in my mind reminded me of the fully charged phone in my pocket, and that I could always fight if something happened. I had taken tae kwon do, right?

For a few months, sure.

Even Fay knew her limits, though. If I was being honest with myself, she wouldn’t have thought much of this venture at all. It was too dangerous, following a complete stranger through town. But Fay couldn’t see auras. She wouldn’t have realized the enormity of this situation.

The man was still walking easily in front of me, giving no sign that he knew I was behind him. We were nearing the edge of the downtown center, moving toward the theatre and the library. It was mid-afternoon, after lunch and before people started getting off work. There were only a few others around. Tense as I was, my sensitivity was low. Their auras were slightly muted. A woman passed by the two of us. I barely registered the unique burnt orange glow that (unbeknownst to her) complemented her sky blue jacket.

We had come to the library. I wondered if the aura-less man would go inside. That would make me feel safer, but conversation more difficult. But he turned toward the large pagoda on the wide front lawn. That made me even more uneasy. My parents had never let me play in there. They said it was where homeless people would sleep and beg for money. It was clearly empty now, however. The man entered it. He sat down, and then stared at me.

I was still near the library building, too far away to see the stranger’s face. Yet I knew he was looking right into my eyes. I glanced around. A few people were milling about the area. A couple had spread a picnic across the grass. They seemed quite happy (though he was a scarlet brown, she was yellow green, it would never work). An bluish gray elderly man was sitting on a bench. He had a newspaper in one hand, and a dog leash in the other. The dog was snoozing in the shade nearby.

And still the man in the pagoda stared.

There was nothing for it. Either I confronted him now on my own terms (so to speak), or I had the foreboding feeling he would find me later. I slowly walked closer, deliberately passing close by the picnic couple (to establish witnesses? I wasn’t really sure).

The pagoda was red and Chinese-looking in design, though I doubted it was really authentic. I stopped just outside the entryway, years of parental warnings and pure common sense preventing me from getting closer to the stranger.

The man’s face was still concealed by the fedora. He didn’t move, just continued to gaze in my direction.

“You’re dying.”

I jumped violently. It was a female voice that had emerged from underneath the hat, for one thing. For another…

“H-how did you know-?” I stammered, too completely shocked to try and deny it.

The stranger turned away. I felt slightly ashamed for thinking she was a man. It was truly impossible to tell any sort of distinguishing features from the bulky coat, though, besides the fact that she was tall, even taller than me, and broad-shouldered.

“You’re dying,” she said again. “I can sense it.”

If I hadn’t been able to see auras, I might have just quit and run screaming right then. But I knew there were forces in this world that couldn’t be explained…powers, even. Perhaps she could see auras, too. I had no idea what mine looked like. Was there a streak of poisonous yellow in it that signified the cancer? A blob of ominous black?

“You don’t have long to live.”

My heart felt like it stopped beating for a moment, and blood roared in my ears. It was impossible for her to know that. No one besides my doctor and parents knew of the grave pronouncement given to me just that morning.

“I have a chance,” I said suddenly, somehow finding my voice. My heart began pounding strongly. “There’s chemotherapy and treatments and…”

The woman turned back to me. She shook her head slowly. Tears escaped my eyes despite my best attempts. I had to look away. She was wrong. The doctors were wrong. I was going to fight. I was going to win. But-

“You can see people’s auras,” she said. Like everything she had said, it wasn’t a question, just a statement of fact. “You’re special.”

Despite my emotional distress, a small bubble of pride welled deep within me. I had always known that, but my “ability” wasn’t really something I could advertise. It was nice hearing confirmation from someone else.

“Can… Can you see them, too?” I asked. She nodded. “Is that how you know about my…sickness?” I didn’t want to say, “impending death.”

The woman seemed to reflect on the question. “In a way,” she said finally.

There was a moment of silence as we gazed at each other, though I still couldn’t see her face.

“What do you want?” I asked, trying to reclaim some ground in this devastating conversation. I was beginning to feel angry, which made me more confident. “Are you offering to help me, or just some sort of doom bringer?”

Fay would’ve been proud of that one.

“I can help, yes.”

My bravado turned into surprise. “You can cure cancer?”

The woman gave a little laugh. “No. But I can cure you.”

Warning bells began going off in my head, but the word was already out of my mouth, much more desperate than I intended: “How?”

“I can make it so you can live forever. To never, ever die.”

This was beginning to hinge on utterly creepy. “That’s impossible.”

In reply, the woman reached a gloved hand up and pulled off the fedora. I leapt backward, afraid of what I would see. But she was beautiful. Sleek, curly black hair framed a full, heart-like face. She had a strong jaw and slender lips. She was literally everything that I – with my oval-shaped, pasty, freckly, double-chinned face – wasn’t . Her skin was the only thing that looked slightly unattractive: it was brown, but somehow also powdery, like a fine gray dust was covering the surface. And her large brown eyes seemed dim, but then, it was dark in the shadow of the pagoda.

I gaped unashamedly.

She laughed, now seeming much more relaxed and friendly with the hat off.

“I, too, was sick and dying. But now I am alive. Very much so,” she said, still smiling.

It was harder to be afraid of someone as pretty as her. But I remained wary.

“What’s the catch?” I asked, trying to act professional and also casual – like I wasn’t very, very eager to know how to cheat cancer.

The woman looked off into the distance. She was silent for a while. Then:

“You ever heard of zombies, Zoe?”

A sort of prequel to my “Memento Mori” story. There’s actually a little bit more I wanted to put, to tie it into how Zoe later encounters Fay, but I liked ending it on that particular line, so maybe I’ll do a little drabble or flash fiction supplement later. I had some difficulty making Zoe’s voice sound different than Fay’s, and settled for a sort of terse sentence structuring, with less humor. If I continue with this story, I’ll be able to develop their personalities more.

“MissionInn pagoda” is © by CaliRun

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