Ten o’clock at night.
“Autumn! Come and help me!”
Autumn was sitting in front of his desk, facing his laptop with a frown on his face. Hearing his roommate’s call, he signed before he got up to the door.
“What is…?” Autumn was forced to back up a step after he opened the door, and find that Ai was holding a huge box.
“Get out of the way, will you? I’ve been protecting it the whole way back.”
Autumn moved sideways, and Ai carefully walked through the space between Autumn’s body and the wall with a tilted head. He shuffled to the middle of the floor, and with a deep squad he put the huge box down on the floor. He waved at Autumn to tell him to come.
Autumn squatted down next to Ai, feeling unsure. After all, a person as bizarre as Ai, who know what could be in that box. Ai ripped open the tape that sealed the box, opened it, then merged both of his arms into the sea of white packing peanuts to search.
“Ah!” He showed signs of joy in his expression, and fished out a transparent plastic box that had dews covering all of its walls.
There was only Autumn’s lamp on in the room. Because Ai had always hated the cold white light that the ceiling light gave off, so at night both of them would only use their individual lamps. Both the light bulbs of the lamps had been changed by Ai to the kind that gave off warm yellow light. Under the dim light, Autumn had to lean really close before he could recognize, that inside of the box, lying neatly in line, was about a dozen pots of small Venus flytraps. Inside of the brick red clay pot, above the loose black dirt, mouths with sharp teeth that were supported by long and skinny light green stems were showing off their teeth aggressively, bright red inside of the mouths, oily shine. Autumn even had a moment of hallucination, that they turned their mouths towards him all at one, and the smell of threat was so thick that he was convinced that they’d flick their tongues at him and attack!
Autumn shuddered, then shook his head immediately. How could plants threaten people?
Autumn’s mind was still wandering, Ai by his side was at a completely different state.
“Ah! You guys are so so so so so cute!” Ai took out one of the pots, held it to his chest and swayed his head, as though he wanted to rub his head against it to show his affection.
Seeing that, Autumn awkwardly pushed his glasses, and cleared his throat:“ Um, you are a big man after all, why do you still behave like a little child.”
“I’m only nineteen, how’s that big in any sense!” Ai had his eyebrows forming a sad gesture, and his eyes were round like an innocent puppy. Then he turned up a smile and raise his eyebrows high:“ I have been looking forward to them ever since you’ve decided to move in. They are all very rare, and It’s been so hard to get them. Plus the transportation was hard as well. See? It took whole seven months for them to be delivered here. I waited for so long, now they are finally here to meet you!”
“Seven months? You mean from September that school began all the way till now? That’s too much. And what have they got to do with me?” Autumn asked confusingly.
Ai blinked his eyes, and smiled till he was squinting them. They became thin and curved, “Because it’s the first time that I’ve ever had a roommate, so I wanted to try.”
“Nothing. You’ll know.”
Ai was a freshmen in the art department of University R. He was short with round eyes, and the end of his eyes were slightly raised. There were a pair of symmetrical moles at the inner corner of his eyes. He had fluffy reddish brown hair, and he always wore clothing with intense colors, so he could easily be misgendered as a girl. Autumn was also from University R, a senior, in the department of computer science. Because he was both overly tall and overly skinny, his limbs always seemed to be out of sync with his body. His back was slightly hunched. He had ear-length hair and parted in the middle, and he wore a pair of round glasses with silver metal frame. Autumn had been paying for his own living by working since he got into university, so naturally he tried to save as much as he could. When he found the flyer on one of the trees on campus, saying that a guy from a lower year was looking for a new roommate, he was utterly surprised. Because he thought that that part of the city was a wasteland, and he had never heard that there was even a house in it. But as remote as that place might be, the buses wouldn’t even run there and it took an hour to go to the school by bike, Autumn decided to give it a try because he could not get past the super low rent.
The house was like a villa with a pointed roof, and it had three floors. Because there was nothing around so the lighting of the house was perfect, and at night, the corridors were always brightly lit by lights. The light leaked through the window from the common room on the first floor could be seen from very far away outside, and thus the house became the single shining object in the middle of the wasteland. Ai and Autumn lived next to the staircase on the second floor. Strangely enough, on every room of the house, there were labels on the door stating the name of the people live inside, but right now except for Ai and Autumn’s room, they all had only one name on the door. There were times during the period that Autumn lived there, that some doors had two names on them, but recently they changed back to being one name again. Autumn thought they just moved out, even though ever since he lived there, there hadn’t been anything other a few sounds could be heard now and then. He’d never seen any other people.
Ai and Autumn occupied the two halves of the room. There was a short passage way once the door was opened, then there was the square room. Autumn lived right on the side where the door was, and Ai lived on the inner half. Autumn preferred being neat and clean, plus he almost needed nothing other than his computer for school, everything, which was not much, was arranged orderly on his side of the room. In his wardrobe was a line of same white button-down shirts and black pants. Autumn said it was because it was convenient, so he wouldn’t waste time on dressing himself. Ai had always expressed his big disagreement on that by giving long, enthusiastic speeches with sentences like “only colorful clothing can express colorful moods in colorful seasons”. But at the end, seeing that Autumn pushed on his glasses expressionlessly, he had to roll his eyes and give up.
On the contrary to Autumn, not only did Ai loved wearing colorful clothing, he also had a lot of stuff. So much stuff that the space of his side of the room was almost filled completely. Except for a small area in the middle of the desk next to his bed, all the other surfaces were covered by all kinds of trinkets, from pine cones that he picked up from the outside to metal buttons, pocket watch, telescope, scattered tea leaves, a wide range of random things. And stacks and stacks of notebooks, large ones and small ones all piled up together forming towers whose top couldn’t be reached unless standing on tiptoe with arm stretched high. All the drawers were filled up by the same things. City R was on low latitude, near the equator, so the weather remained hot and dry all year round. Yet on Ai’s side of the room the temperature was always two degrees even higher. Autumn could only explain that by the fact that Ai always had his window closed and blinds shut because of all his stuff that were piling up so high. On top of that, Ai even enclosed his bed with dark red curtains on all sides including the top, so the whole things look quite a lot like a tree hole. Autumn could not even begin to imagine what kind of a human being would be able to sleep in such a hot environment.
When he woke up the next morning, Autumn looked over to the other side as a habit. He did not see Ai. Perhaps he had left, Autumn thought while making a big yawn. He grabbed from the table his glasses and put them on. Stretching his arms, he walked to the bathroom. He had to lower them again because otherwise they would bump into the doorframe on top. Autumn rarely saw Ai moving in the room in daytime. Even though Autumn usually got up early, Ai normally would be gone just when the sun rose, and not coming back until late at night. But sometimes Ai would also stay in his bed and slept through the whole day. However, Autumn could not always figure out at once whether Ai was still in the room or not. Because even if with the front side of the curtain open, it was still quite dark inside, and nothing could be seen. Unless there were sounds of snoring coming out from the inside, which Ai sometimes made when he was sound asleep, Autumn had to reach in a hand and pat tentatively, or he had to bent his back, tilted his ear and held his breath to listen for the sound of Ai breathing, then he could confirm whether a sleeping Ai was in there or not.
After Autumn had done his morning routine, just when he was on his way back to his desk to turn his laptop on, he noticed that Ai had already cleaned up a space on the window pane for the dozen pots of flytraps. The blinds were even raised up a little, to the height that was just above their heads, to let the sun shine on them. Even though it was only slightly over eight in the morning, the sun was already shining intensely outside. The bright sunlight pouring in onto the pots of plants, forming a contrast with the still dark room, and they seemed to be sparkling. Their wide open mouths were still a bright red, but they’ve lost their threats under the sunlight, and became quite and harmless. They looked nothing like carnivorous killers then. Autumn suddenly grew a little curious, and wondering whether those mouths would actually snap shut if he were to poke them with a finger. Just then, he thought he heard a quiet sound of breathing from Ai’s hole. Autumn moved closer, stopped, and could hear nothing. So he reached in a hand from the curtains and patted down gently, and felt on his palm a familiar bundle of figure that was rising and dropping slowly. Ai didn’t have class today. He probably would sleep for a whole day in the room. A smile leaked through the corner of Autumn’s lips. He must had stayed up late because of all his excitements for the plants. Autumn suddenly felt relaxed and soothed. He walked back to his desk with muffled foot steps, and managed to drag out the chair and sit on it soundlessly.
At night, after Autumn had been out for class and back, he opened the door to a sea of fragrance.
“You are back!” Ai, who was sitting in front of his desk, was clearly energetic due to all those sleep. He had a pen on his hand, and on top of the table, was piles of open notebooks.
“Yep.” Autumn changed into slippers with a crinkled nose. He stopped for a bit, but decided continue to say:“ Don’t you think you’ve made the room too aromatic? It’s kind of pungent to me.”
Ai turned his head around, looking at Autumn with an apologetic face:“ I really can’t do anything about it. It’d be better in a few days, just put up with it for now.”
“A few days? It’s been stronger and stronger these days. What have you been doing?”
“Come on,” Ai waved a hand, “nothing, nothing. Right, Next Saturday morning I need to leave for a few days. We are camping for drawing class.”
Autumn turned on his lamp and sit in front of his table. He took his laptop out from his back onto the table, and jokingly said:“ Well, that’d be great. I can finally have peace once you are gone.”
Ai crumbled up a piece of paper and threw at him for that. Autumn caught it with a raise of his hand.
When they first started living together, the fragrance was not that noticeable. Autumn could only smell it on the point of entering the door, something strangely familiar yet unable to recall. It couldn’t be smelled any more after a while. But then not long later, when Ai got more and more stuff into the room, and had the window closed and blinds shut, the scent seemed to finally be able to settle down and grow thick through time. One time Autumn finally decided to ask, if it was Ai that had been using incense or something else.
“No, I did not use incense.” Ai looked at him confusingly, then suddenly:“ Oh! Did you mean a kind of flower smell?” He said like he had just remembered.
“Something of that sort. So you were using a perfume?”
“No……” Ai looked down at the floor, being really quiet. His facial expression was one that Autumn felt unfamiliar with.
Then he raised his eyes, looking very serious:“ It’s my scent. My family had been born with a very strong body odor, therefore since ancient times we had kept a practice, which was to soak new born babies in water that were brewed from flowers that bloomed at one o’clock on a full moon night. Because it was the most ying, the scent can be cured into the body, and that can cover the scent of the body odor.”
Audumn did not know what to say for a moment. It didn’t seem like Ai was faking it.
Ai continued :“ And also, the skin need to be sanded off with rough sand paper before the bath, to make sure the scent can be absorbed most efficiently. After that, with a sound of ‘Dong’, the bloody screaming baby would be threw into a wooden bucket that’s as tall as half an adult person. The whole body of water would turn bloody and cloudy instantly, and nothing could be seen except for splashes on the surface of the water. The whole thing would last for such a long time. The mother would only pick the baby back up an instant before it would be drown to death. Such a small life, such cold water, such soul-shuttering screams ……”
Ai’s voice turned lower and lower, and before Autumn had noticed, he was already stood in front of his face. That pair of large eyes were even larger. Autumn could see his upside down figure clearly in his dark black pupil, like on the surface of that bucket of blood stained water……
“And the young body that had became alive under extreme suffering, the more it struggled, the faster the circulation of the fragrance inside would be, the better it would settle. IT IS INDEED VERY SCARY!”
Right now Ai’s face was almost in touch with Autumn’s face. His round eyes suddenly became long and thin, and the two symmetrical moles on the inside of his eye corners were like a pair of smaller eyes fixing on him together with the large pair of eyes, It was the look of a fox! Autumn felt transfixed. He couldn’t move, and he had a sigh of fear in his eyes. The hairs on his back were all standing.
Ai saw the sigh of hear in his eyes.
“Ha-ha, I got you! Look at your face!” Ai blew on Autumn’s nose casually. Autumn stumbled a step back, then found himself shivering all over.
Ai suddenly laughed out loud, laughed to the ground and rolling around.
“Autumn is a scaredy-cat! Autumn is a scaredy-cat! Ha-ha, Autumn is a scaredy-cat! Autumn is a scaredy-cat!”
Ai was rolling around on the ground.
“Autumn is a scaredy-cat! Autumn is a scaredy-cat!”
* * *
A week later, Friday night.
“I will be gone tomorrow morning before the sunrise,” Ai said sitting in front of the table, looking back at Autumn, seemed to be reluctant to part,“ don’t miss me too much!”
“Who would miss you, stop thinking so much of yourself.” Autumn glanced at him, then focused back to the computer screen that was in front of him.
“What kind of an answer was that……” Ai dropped the corners of his lips, looking miserable. Seeing that Autumn clearly did not want to engage in his conversation, he grew bored and turned back to his notebooks and draw.
“Are you really not going to miss me?” clearly still mind the answer that Autumn had given before, he turn his head back again to ask with a even sadder tone.
Couldn’t stand his stubbornness, Autumn had no choice but to give in:“ Of course, of course. Of course I will. How can I not? You are the one that I’d miss the most, so behave.” Autumn stood up and went to the cabinet to get something.
Ai perhaps did not expect to get such an answer from Autumn that easily, he did nothing but blink his eyes, and……
Ai flew from his chair and with two large steps bumped fully into Autumn, his arms wrapped tightly on Autumn’s white button-down shirted body. The fluffy hair of his only reaching Autumn’s chest.
Autumn froze in place. He raised his right hand slightly, and hesitantly touched Ai.
Feeling the touch on his back, Ai raised his head, with shiny stuff in his eyes, he looked from Autumn’s left eyes to his right eye, then from his right eye back to his left eye.
It was like the air was filled with trembling cords.
Autumn’s glasses was sliding down on his nose.
The cord broke.
Autumn raised his head up, then Ai could only see his long lashes and the pair of reflective lenses in front of his eyes. Autumn brushed on Ai’s arm which was still wrapped on him, dusted it off like dusted dirt off of a table:“ Two men shouldn’t be hugging each other and all that. It’s no good.” He cleared his throat, pushed on his glasses and went quickly back to his desk, and got busy in front of his computer.
After a while.
“I will sleep now.” Ai announced.
“Ah, it’s rare that you sleep this early.”
“Because, if I see any longer……”
Something sounded off to his tone. Autumn turned to see but only caught Ai’s figure leaping into his hole. Then two slippers were thrown out, made two banging sounds.
Exhausted, Autumn only decided to go to sleep when the sky was already showing signs of light. He had been working on his computer all night. A few birds outside were chirping on and off half-heartedly. Once he got onto bed and turned off his lamp, he was overwhelmed by the sleepiness he felt.
Half asleep, he saw a figure stood beside his bed quietly. Autumn wanted to ask Ai if he was leaving, but his eyelids were too heavy to be left……the moment before his eyes completely shut, he saw Ai bending down towards him, like he was going to whisper into his ears……
The next morning, after Autumn woke up, he thought the room felt unnaturally quiet. Today he did not need to check to know that Ai was no longer in the room. He sighed heavily, sit up with a jerk, put on his glasses and went to the bathroom.
After a refreshing shower, Autumn went back to the laptop preparing to work. While he was waiting for it to start, he looked towards Ai’s hidden bed. Struggled for a while, Autumn still went and reached in a hand.
The blanket was flat, nobody was inside.
Of course nobody would be inside.
When Autumn was stretching his body after staring at his laptop all day, he suddenly thought of Ai’s flytraps. Do they need to be watered? Autumn decided to check on them, so he stoop up and walked towards Ai’s window pane, but was stunned at what he saw.
The rich green or bright red clawing heads and bodies were burnt black, all the mouths were dried out, with gestures neither open nor closed. All the teeth that were straight and hard and plump turned fur-like, all soft and curled up. Every single one of them looked like they’ve been burnt, looking stiff and twisted. Starved to death? No way. They were still well and alive yesterday.
Ai must be so sad when he know about this.
Autumn went back to his seat, thinking about ways to tell Ai about this tragedy.
Maybe I can buy him a cake. Autumn remembered there was one very expensive cake shop that Ai had been begging to go, but every time his request was turned down by Autumn because of the high price. Autumn immediately went online and found Ai’s favorite chocolate flavored cake. Before he click ‘pay and complete the order’, he hesitated, backed to the previous page and typed in a line on the note section.
I think he will be happy.
The order was completed. It will be delivered on Monday morning. Autumn let out a long relieved breathe.
In the middle of the same night, Autumn was woken by loud banging noises. He opened his eyes, and the whole room was dark beside a pool of moonlight from the bottom of Ai’s raised blinds. The light was blurry and quiet. Autumn thought about one night, when he also woke up suddenly from sleep. He opened his eyes and saw under the dim yellow light on the other side of the room, how Ai sat in front of his table and drew, and how incredibly small his body seemed to be. The notebooks that were piled up so high and the curtains around his bed casted huge and heavy dark shadows on the walls and the ceiling. And Autumn remembered how the shadows seemed to be swallowing Ai alive.
Autumn turned around, and fell asleep again.
Not knowing how long had passed, Autumn struggled awake from many unsettling dreams. He couldn’t breath, mind still unclear and filled with noisy, flickering frames. After he woke up a bit more, he found that the noises were still as loud, then he realized that it was somebody outside on the staircase running up and down restlessly, making huge sounds. Having living here for so long, only rarely would the staircase next to the door had noises of someone running past, but the sounds normally disappear as suddenly and quickly as it had appeared. Autumn covered his head with his blanket, hoping to fall back to sleep. But didn’t know what’s the matter with that person today, he did not stop running even after a long while. Up and down, up and down. People need to sleep in the middle of the night! Autumn became impatient and annoyed, flipping over from side to side.
The staircase was right next to the door. All of a sudden, Autumn heard the banging noises moved down from upstairs, then abruptly took a turn, walked for two steps then stopped right in front of his door!
Autumn raised his head in confusion. He stared at the door. Was is Ai?
Dead silence outside of the door.
Autumn tentatively called out:“ Ai?”
No response. He knew that the person must still be at the door. There were two weirdly shaped skinny straps of shadows shown from the light that leaked in through the bottom of the door.
He got out of the bed quietly, staring at the two straps of shadows, walked close step by step.
“Ai?” He called out louder when he was about to get to the door, then the two stripes of shadows jerked away. Who was doing a prank!
Autumn rushed to the door and opened it vigorously, but he saw no one.
Autumn walked out into the hall way to check, and found nothing out of order. Did I see wrong? Maybe it was a moth flying past the light and created the shadows. He scratched his head, turned and walked back to his door. And just when he was about to get it, the staircase behind him……
That person is still here!
Autumn turned his head quickly, but discovered a burnt black human shaped figure. The head was smooth and flat, showed no signs of features. The legs became thinner and thinner towards the bottom, and finally where there should be feet, there were long and skinny tentacles, curly and branched, like the roots of a plant. He is not a living person! Autumn let out a shriek as piercing as he had ever made, then fled through the corridor. He could hear that the person was chasing behind, making loud banging sounds that were inconsistent with the size of his body. While he was still running, all the rooms disappeared. The corridor was stretched long infinitely, and turned dark. It started to have dirt on the ground. Autumn had been moving forward with extreme terror. Lose dirt turned up more and more, and with every step, he sank deep into it.
At the end he ran and he ran, and he had lost his shoes, lost his glasses. All the skin on his body was scratched away by sharp rocks in the dirt, leaking oil with blood. But he did not dare to stop. Because every time he looked back, he could see that figure chasing after him, running weirdly. And the more dirt there was, the quieter and faster he ran. Autumn started to get exhausted, then he tumbled into the dirt can could no longer stand up. With a blurred vision, struggling, Autumn raised his head, and saw with the faint light from the opening of the cave that the faceless man was standing high at the bottom of him feet. Then he walked two steps next to Autumn’s head, squatted down. His huge head suddenly drooped down as though detached, became lifeless. Then his body and head split into two sides from the middle and turned into a huge sticky mouth, and it attacked……
Ha-ha, Autumn is a scaredy-cat!
Vaguely, before Autumn’s head was ripped off, he thought he heard it.
Autumn is a scaredy-cat.
The moon outside was shinning still. A quiet night indeed.
* * *
Two days later, morning.
“Ah ya, it ended.”
Ai walked straight to his window pane after he had just got back. He looked down at the one pot of Venus flytrap.
All the dead ones were gone, and instead there was this one new pot, with only one plant of flytrap inside. The stem was long and thin, and it was taller and skinnier than all the previous ones. It seemed as though it was giving its best not to let the large opened mouth droop.
Ai pouted his lips slightly, and caressed it with tender love expression on his face. Suddenly he stuck his index finger into the mouth of it, and swoosh, the mouth of that flytrap snapped close, but it was a limp touch, could do no harm at all.
“Are you finally not afraid of me?”
Ai widened his mouth and smiled, he smiled brightly. His eyes became thin and curved, looking just like a fox.
Outside on the wasteland, a delivery guy was riding a motor towards this house. Inside of the package that was strapped on the back seat, was a dark brown chocolate cake. On the white chocolate sign on top, was a delicately drawn line of words with red candy syrup.
“It’s way too hot today.” The delivery guy complained while wiping away his sweat from his forehead.
Author: Simeng Wang