20 Unbounded Darkness and No One to Lean On
The moment I stepped across the district line, the people beside me suddenly disappeared. When I looked around, I realized that I was no longer in a forest, but rather, I stood on a wide open sports field. I suspected that I must still be in the Southern Forest, and that this was just an illusion. So this was the so-called dream state.
I calmly walked forward on the field as I recalled Jiao S’ and Guan Nie’s words. If this is really an illusion to determine what kind of person I am, what will appear here? I couldn’t imagine it. Just as I couldn’t understand why I would have hurt my beloved Senior Gao Qi back then, I don’t know what it is that lives inside my heart now, after all these years.
Ever since I arrived in the Split Zone and my second identity joined with Nie Zun, I haven’t exhibited any abnormal behaviors. In a way, my existence here is incomplete. Then, in this illusion, would I truly be able to experience what lives within my heart? I laughed to myself bitterly. I really want to see what’s hidden inside of me.
“Ah Shen.” A familiar voice sounded behind me. My eyes widened. Could it be…? I turned around slowly.
The white shirt, the black jeans, and the pair of bright yellow sneakers from my memories. With that ever unfathomable smile, that seemed both warm and yet wicked, he looked at me. “Ah Shen, it’s been a long time. Just like before, you understand me, right?”
I looked at the person in front of me, my eyes slowly growing wider still. In that single, brief moment, I forgot about everything that’s been happening. I was certain that this person in front of me was Senior Gao Qi—not Gaoqin Jiuye who I’d seen in the Split Zone a few days ago—and that this wasn’t some kind of illusion. He was my Senior Gao Qi. Only my Senior Gao Qi would look at me with such warm eyes. Only he understands me.
Tears started to leak from my eyes. “Senior…”
He walked towards me slowly and reached out a hand to wipe away my tears. “What are you crying about? Didn’t I already say that I’d wait for you at the end?”
I finally couldn’t stop myself from wailing. “But I… To you, I…”
A smile appeared on his lips. “I didn’t die. I’ve been here with you, but you just couldn’t find me.”
I looked at him, at his smiling lips. Just as I was about to say something, another voice pierced my ears. “Ah Shen, he’s lying. Everything here is fake. I’m the only thing that’s real!” As I heard the anxious cry, I turned my head to see a faroff Pomelo running to me. Alarm crossed my face as I watched her run towards me. She wore one of the matching Pikachu dresses that we’d bought together.
“N-no, no! Stay away from me!” I stepped back, frightened, and then I grabbed onto Gao Qi’s arm. This was something I couldn’t do easily before.
Pomelo stopped before she reached me, a hurt expression on her face, a pitiful look in her eyes. “Ah Shen, they’re all fake. I’m the only one who’s real.”
“That’s enough! I became this way because of you!” I cried out, still fearfully hiding behind Senior Gao Qi.
Pomelo took another step forward. “Ah Shen, listen to me. Everything here is tricking you. You must keep going. Aside from me, you can’t trust anyone else!”
I violently shook my head, pulling heavily on Gao Qi’s shirt. Using him as a shield, I shouted to Pomelo, “I’ll never trust you again! It’s because I trusted you that you betrayed me!”
Pomelo shook her head. “I didn’t betray you, Ah Shen. Think about it carefully. You’re the one who didn’t accept me.”
I cried uncontrollably. No. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to ever recall that dark high school past that I’d buried away. It was a darkness that shrouded me all day long. It made me feel like a child who was drowning, yet unable to die. Every day hurt so much that I’d have rather been dead. I was being choked at the throat, with no way to escape, and no one to come rescue me.
The world has no Savior, and I hadn’t the power to save myself. Solitary, lonely, I was a child who couldn’t see the light.
Pomelo was once my best friend. We liked the same snacks, the same comics, the same celebrities. She was the person who understood me the most, the one who was always by my side.
I knew that I’d always been a strange child. I’d always liked horror movies, films like Saw and Seven. As I grew older, my attraction to those types of movies, comics, and novels increased. Though they appeared bloody and violent, they were stories that revealed the way of human nature.
Many kids around me would avoid me because of those interests. But I knew that there was nothing wrong with me. I was a good child. Even when my pet rabbit died, I cried for three days. I just had different interests… Why did I have to be ostracized just because I was different… I really wasn’t a bad kid. I just liked reading and watching those things. What was so wrong with that…
Still, my interests remained. My parents didn’t have any oppositions to it, but reading and watching those dark things left me without any friends. Neverthless, I remained cheerful. Even if others didn’t understand me, I hadn’t really been ostracized.
When I started high school, I still couldn’t refrain from reading some violent comics. The pretty girls around me would fearfully grumble that I wasn’t much like a girl. By then, I’d already grown accustomed to that type of thing, so I just smiled and didn’t let it affect me.
Then, Pomelo showed up.
I’ll always remember the day that Pomelo transferred to our school. At the time, I was reading a criminal psychology novel. I happened to look up at her and our eyes met. I believed in love at first sight, and I believed that the same could be said of friendship. From her eyes, I could see another me.
I’m not sure if others will be able to understand this feeling—when you meet a friend who makes you feel that they’re the only person who truly understands you. That kind of feeling, that was the grace given to me that day.
After class that day, she walked up to me and said, “I like that book too. I like it a lot.” And so, every day after that, we’d be together, sharing the things we liked, never ever suspecting the other.
When I let her see the diagnosis report for my mental disorder, she hadn’t seemed to mind in the slightest. I’d naively believed that she wouldn’t turn her back on me, that she understood me, that we’d remain the best of friends forever.
But the next day, I saw the diagnosis report posted on the school bulletin board in such a careless manner. From then on, she brought an exhausting and cold high school life to me, just as easily as she’d posted that diagnosis report.
I can’t recall clearly how I managed to get through that time, just as there are many things I can’t fully remember. Even the word ‘helpless’ cannot sufficiently convey that period of time for me. It’s a period of time that I’ve buried deep inside the recesses of my heart.
The one thing that supported me through the ordeal was waiting for graduation. I’d believed that once I was out of high school, I would be set free. But when I went to register for college, I ran into Pomelo, who’d enrolled at the same school. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day either. She walked over to me, carrying what was, in my memory, the warmest smile on her face.
Her body seemed surrounded in light, whereas around me, there was just darkness. She walked up to me and whispered in my ear, “You can’t leave me, because I’m the only one who understands you. Ah Shen, don’t worry about others not understanding. Having me is enough…”
Unable to continue living in the past, I coldly glared at the dejected Pomelo in front of me. “You’re the devil. I never want to see you again!”
Pomelo gave me a hard, long look. Then, faintly, she said, “What will it take for you to believe that I’m the only one who’s real…”
Suddenly, Senior Gao Qi’s laugh rang in the air. “You’re not the only one who understands her. I’ve always been by her side too. Didn’t you know?” Hearing Gao Qi’s words, I felt like someone who’d been lost for a long while, finally finding my way. My grip on his shirt tightened.
Pomelo gave Gao Qi a look. “You’ve been lying to her all this time, turning her into this kind of person.” Then, she turned back to me. “Ah Shen, he’s tricking you. Don’t believe him. He’ll hurt you again and again and again!”
I shook my head, not wanting to hear another word from her. Gao Qi gently turned to look at me. In a magnetic voice, he said to me, “Don’t be afraid. Leave your sins to me. I’ll protect you.”
I trembled. Not because the senior whom I’d loved for many years had spoken such heartwarming words to me. It was because his words made me suddenly think of a different person. Nie Zun. I thought of that lazy and carefree expression that always hung on Nie Zun’s face. Then I looked up at Gao Qi, and then over to Pomelo. No, something wasn’t right. This was Split Zone No.13. They were just illusions… But Senior Gao Qi… I raised my head and looked up at Gao Qi again.
Gao Qi seemed to notice something strange about me. His eyes started to wander. “Ah Shen, what are you thinking about? I’m Gao Qi. I died, but I’m living inside your heart. I’m here to take you away from the Split Zone.”
My eyes immediately widened. “Take me away… from the Split Zone?”
His smile came like a breath of fresh air. “Yes. After I died, I became the strength inside of you. As long as you have the courage, you can use this power to leave this place. Don’t try to resist me. I’m the only one who will never hurt you.”
Suddenly, standing in front of me, Pomelo anxiously shouted, “Don’t listen to him! He’s lying to you! Wake up! I’m the only one who’s real!”
No. Senior Gao Qi wouldn’t lie to me. He’s the only one who’s never lied to me. Even if I killed him, he’d never hurt me until the day he died! I looked at Gao Qi’s warm expression, and I nodded firmly to him. I extended my arms to embrace him.
“No! He’s fake! Ah Shen, look at me! I’m the one who’s real! Come to me!” Pomelo anxiously reached out, but she didn’t move forward.
I frowned at her. “I never want to see you again.”
Senior Gao Qi extended his hand and grabbed on to mine. “Don’t resist, just accept me. I’m the only one who can take you away. I’m the only one who won’t hurt you. I’m the power within your heart. Use me. Let me become your strenth, and I can take you away.”
I looked into his deep gaze and firmly held onto his hand. Senior said he could take me away, so he would definitely be able to do so. A warm light started to surround him. Perhaps I’d been resisting what was inside of me all this time, resisting Senior Gao Qi whom I killed. If I’d been able to accept it earlier, perhaps I’d have left the Split Zone by now.
As I thought of this, I felt a warmth. It wasn’t too late now. I was on my way to leave the Split Zone, wasn’t I? I took in the warm light. Suddenly another thought entered my mind, causing the darkness to envelop me all over again.