22nd of August

by Elise Li

A small red circle started to rise from the distance, and in no time, it was up above the sky, spreading its warmth and light. Leaning on the balcony, I took a sip of my warm coffee, it left a sweet taste in my mouth. I looked over at the sunflower field where we used to run and chase each other, back when we were young.

I remember the sweat on our backs and foreheads. The loud sound of your footsteps as you ran and hid in the sunflower field that towered over our small stature. Your giggles that drowned the sound of the crows caw, down below this hill. The gap between your teeth as you called my name, and the sky that was so blue just like today. It was this day 10 years ago.

Going back in the house, I lie down on the floor and stare at the old wooden ceiling, listening to “Long Train Runnin’” by the Doobie Brothers on the local radio station, disregarding the noise of the annoying electric fan and my little sister, as she played with the wind chimes, giving up on her piano lessons.

We never learned such things. We chose to sail paper boats on the pond and fly kites in the fields instead. We listened to scary stories and drew large suns on the ground in an attempt to ward off impending rainstorms. And we watched the sun showers, as you wove tales about them.

We did all of this on the 22nd of August.

Walking down the streets, the same paths we used to take, I remember how the neighbourhood girls would wear their skirts and dresses while you, in your trademark shorts and t-shirts, would twirl around with your red umbrella. We’d talk of the sweets we craved, and race to our favourite store, and of course, it’s the losers treat.

After all these years, I wonder how you’d look now. A little bit taller, I guess. With brighter eyes, a softer voice. A playful smirk that you would always wear. Short hair because you never liked it long. New habits and favourites. Then you would tell me stories about people I never met. That’s how it should be.

While my mind wanders, my feet take me down the country road. Passing by abundant fields of wheat, I continue to walk further, following an uneven, gravel path. Despite the sweat soaking my clothes and the fatigue setting into my legs, I don’t stop until I reach the place where I last saw you.

Here at the old abandoned King Station, the smell of the overgrown grass, and the suffocating silence welcomes me as I step into the eerily calm setting. What once seemed gloomy now appeared starkly beautiful under the spectral light of the sun.

With heavy steps, I walk towards the only reminder I have of you; a piece of stone firmly embedded in the ground by the railway line. I stare at it, polished and clean, the harsh reality of your name engraved on it still unbelievable. If only I could turn back time, to the 22nd of August.

Positioned adjacent to the stone, I gently place down a bowl brimming with your favourite fruits, a silent tribute to our shared past. It was here, ten years ago, that the tragic accident happened. You were run over by a train, a horrifying event that still haunts me today. As I sit, I send a silent prayer upwards, hoping you’re at peace… wherever you may be now.

Time loses meaning as I sit there, an hour passing by in what feels like mere minutes. Suddenly, an unexpected chill shivers down my spine, prompting me to scout the surroundings, looking for the telltale signs of a gust. But the air remains stubbornly still. In these quiet moments, I find myself yearning for your comforting presence, the warmth of your loving embrace, the soft touch of your fingertips as they used to gently run through my hair. As I reminisce about those golden days, the memories so vivid, it almost feels like you’re here and I could just melt into your arms, drifting off into sleep once more. But the reality is starkly different. All that I’m left with is the eerie silence, the desolation of your absence hanging heavily in the air around me.

Something in my body is telling me that something bad is going to happen. In my peripheral sight I see an uncanny looking…human..? Her face seems to resemble you, but she has an unsettling smile. The corner of her lips curve up to the corner of her eyes. She slowly approaches me…

Suddenly, a gust of wind comes my way, but soon it turns hostile. It morphs into a harsh, biting gale that tears through my clothes, making the trees around me groan in protest. As if nature itself is forewarning me of the impending dread. The sun, which was once high and warm, is now concealed by ominous dark clouds that roll in without warning, submerging the world into an eerie semi-darkness. The once vibrant colours of the landscape are now dull and monochrome, casting long and distorted shadows that play tricks on my eyes.

The figure continues its slow approach, the grin never faltering, even as the darkness swallows us both. I can now see the eyes, once filled with life and laughter, are hollow, a void that seems to suck in all light and hope. It’s a sight so terrifying it roots me to the spot, my worst fears coming to life right before my eyes.

Stopping suddenly, she tilts her head to the side, the action eerily reminiscent of a gesture you used to do when you were lost in deep thought. The familiarity of the action, in such an unnatural context, sends a jolt of fear through me that finally breaks the paralysis. Panic sets in, my heart pounding against my rib cage, each beat screaming at me to escape. But just as I take a step back, ready to turn and run, I hear it. A voice. Your voice. Coming from the figure, it echoes in the still air, “Don’t be scared, it’s me.”

The voice, so similar yet so wrong, sends tremors through my backbone. I want to run, I need to run, but my body refuses to listen. It’s as if I’ve been rooted to the spot, every instinct screaming at me to flee, but my body won’t obey. I can feel a cold sweat breaking out on my forehead, the salty droplets stinging my eyes, blurring my vision. But I can’t move. I can’t even wipe them away.

As the figure starts moving towards me again, I feel a cold blast of wind, carrying with it the foul scent of decay and dread. The world around me begins to spin, the edges of my vision darken, as if a shadow is closing in. The darkness envelops me, my senses dulling, the world around me fades away into nothingness. The last thing I see before everything goes pitch black is the chilling grin, still plastered on its face, a horrifying parody of the smile that once brought me so much joy and the echo of that voice, your voice, ringing in my ears, a petrifying reminder of the horror that I am now trapped in.

When I open my eyes again, I find myself still standing at the same spot, the figure now much closer. I can see her eyes, or rather the lack thereof. Where once there were eyes full of life, now there are only empty sockets. Her face is pale, almost translucent, and her skin clings to the bones, making her look skeletal. She reaches out a hand towards me, the fingers long and bony, ending in sharp, black nails. Every instinct urges me to flee this nightmarish reality, I want to turn away, to shut my eyes, but I can’t. A shrill scream shatters the silence, its dread echoing through the trees. The figure grins impossibly wide, my worst fears personified. The terror has me in its grip, holding me captive. As her hand draws closer, I can feel the icy chill emanating from her, a cold so intense it burns.

Slowly, the figure begins to fade, dissolving into the darkness like smoke. The grin is the last thing to disappear, leaving behind a frightening emptiness. The wind intensifies once again, howling through the trees, leaving me with one last shiver down my spine. I am alone again, left in the darkness with the echo of that voice, your voice, still ringing in my ears.