In Waiting

The soulless body of the creature had been preserved for three decades and seven years in the Pit.

The Pit was a frigid, airless chamber unfit for anything living. Its six walls were coated thickly with black lacquer, and its floor and ceiling bulged outwards in a slippery curve. The chamber was drowned completely by the dark save for a narrow sliver of light that seeped in through a tiny stained-glass window that sat in the center of the ceiling. The stained glass turned the golden sun rays into eerie shades of mauve and indigo which cast a dark halo around the only furniture in the room—an intricately carved navy coffin closed with a shiny silver hatch. 

The pale-haired boy always entered the room at sunrise. He always wore the same colorless robes and placid expression. He always brought with him three handkerchiefs, one white and embroidered with a single black lotus and the other two made from jade-colored cloth, and a small porcelain bowl half-filled with clear water. 

When he reached the center of the chamber, he set down the bowl of water and the two jade handkerchiefs on the coffin’s pedestal. Using the embroidered handkerchief, he began to wipe away invisible dust from the coffin lid in meditative motions. Once he was satisfied that he had covered every inch of the shiny metal, he neatly folded the handkerchief and set it aside. Then, he opened the silver latch with a soft click.

The light fell across the eccentric and marvelous creature within, unveiling it in a slow, sweeping arc. In the dimness, the creature could easily play a mortal. It was laid like a mortal, with its hands folded across his lap. It was dressed like a mortal, in a long-sleeved gauzy nightgown of a shade as black as the air within the Pit. It even wore mortal jewelry, a thick silver wristlet wound around his right wrist like a snake. 

Additionally, the verisimilitude of its human form, a youthful male, was nothing short of exquisite. Its closed eyes were paired with a set of delicate, sooty lashes, spontaneously distributed birthmarks marked its body, its hair grew with time, and its copper skin had even begun to turn pale after so long in the dark. There was no detail of it that did not flaunt its complexity.

However, the creature’s true nature became visible when the coffin lid was fully tipped back. The light that touched its hands exposed a thick crimson outline of oval stellera petals in the place of the narrow jade veins of a human. The petal patterns grew smaller and denser around the creature’s eyes until the skin beneath its eyelashes looked like two crimson pools. A creature’s skin was always the first part of its disguise to decay. That this was the only aspect of the creature’s disguise that had decayed after twenty-seven years of entombment was further proof of the magnificence of its composition. 

The boy appeared unbothered by the eerie sight of the creature’s marked skin. After all, he, too, was an aberration. In fact, he felt a tickle of elation because he was seeing a part of the creature that the creature himself did not know that he had. 

The boy retrieved one of the jade handkerchiefs and dipped it into the bowl of water. Then, he knelt beside the coffin and dabbed the wet handkerchief to the creature’s face. Though the movement was tender, the boy’s grey eyes were as vacant as two precious marbles. 

When the boy was done, he dried the creature’s skin with the final handkerchief. He laid his head on the creature’s chest, his legs coiled on the marble pedestal and his body a willow against the smooth blue shell of the coffin. 

This was where the boy’s actions grew unpredictable. Some days, he spent hours with his head resting like this in sullen silence. Other days, he laughed without sound, shoulders shaking harder than a fresh widow. On rare days when the boy was upset, he spoke to the creature quietly, his words drowned out by the sorrow and rage bursting from every syllable. On rarer days when the boy was happy, he brought books to the Pit and read passages from them, his voice soft and cool like chilled fruit on a humid day.

Today, however, the boy did none of this. Instead, he produced a dagger from his belt and rolled up the wide sleeve of his left arm. He pressed the dagger to his skin and took a deep breath. He had always been a despicable coward in the face of pain. Pressing his lips together, he plunged the dagger deep into his arm until it hit white bone. He forced apart the flesh with a few more clean strokes of his dagger, heedless of the blood that was now spilling over the floor and staining his chest through his clothes. His eyes fluttered closed as he waited. 

A dozen small prominences had swelled up on the surface of the exposed bone in reaction to the air. Each was less than a millimeter wide and only a handful of inches long—the shape of a very thin cylinder. Within seconds, his white bone retreated around the cylinders, revealing the dozen silver needles his body had produced. 

The boy opened his eyes and tilted his arm over, letting the needles fall from the surface of his bone into his palm. He did not bother with the wounded arm, where the flesh was already beginning to knit itself together. He leaned over the coffin once more. One by one, he tucked the needles into the creature’s empty vermillion veins at the wrist. He watched the needles sink into the creature’s skin, forming small bulges as they traversed the petals towards the creature’s heart. The veins that were needle-touched turned colorless, fading into the creature’s limbs. Soon, the needles surrounded the creature’s heart, pointing at it from a dozen directions like a small, silver fleet. 

The creature’s heart began to beat anew.

A plexus of green and blue veins became visible where red had been moments before. They matched the veins on the boy’s arm flawlessly—the ulnar, the basilic, the radial… Now, the creature appeared fully mortal. 

The boy stood up and lifted the lid but hesitated when it came time to part. 

For a moment, he permitted himself to be away from the present, falling back into aged memories. He recalled the days of blissful reprieve, brought to color by mischievous laughter and dark eyes. For the first time in almost three decades, a faint smile graced his thin lips. Then, he shook his head and let the memories fall away. He was not so glutinous as to reminisce about a love which had long rotted. Instead, he thought of tomorrow when the creature would be fully awake. 

The boy lets the lid fall shut.

Nora Sun is a Chinese-American writer living in Chicago. She loves language, iliac crests, and brevity's talent for breeding mystery.