???: […ake up. Wake up, Yang! How much longer do you want to sleep in? Do you know what day it is?]
The voice, filled with annoyance, rang throughout the small room, my room. The clock displayed a 09:00, two whole hours before when I was supposed to wake up.
It is exactly because it is the weekend that I am sleeping in…
Reluctantly, I forced my body upright. My mother was preparing breakfast. My sisters had their eyes glued to their laptops. Father was in the bedroom, with his eyes glued to each of his devices. I had a bad feeling about today…
Yang: [Yeah, yeah. I will be up.]
With that, I rest my body back onto the soft bed.
Another five more minutes it is.
It was not until 09:30 that I was finally out of the bed, my only sanctuary. By then, everyone had already finished with their share of breakfast.
At least there is still some left for me…
As I consoled myself, I stuffed the two remaining pieces of bread into my mouth but little did I know a storm was quietly brewing behind me.
Mother: [Can’t you do something about them!]
It was the same voice from before, filled with something more than annoyance.
The same routine was occurring again. If I am not wrong, it is the examination season right now. Both of my sisters should be having their examinations soon. Their grades were not the best hence they should be studying hard right now, not playing away with their computers. Well, not that I had any say in the matter as I idly enjoy my lone breakfast.
Mother: [Well, if their results are not up to your standard, do not blame me! I am not the only adult in this household! I should not be the only one putting in all the effort!]
How many times have I heard this exact conversation?
Definitely more times than whatever number I had in mind. I could even recite after her as she speaks in real-time.
Father’s silence had always signalled the end for conservations such as this. Reading the tension of the room, I left the living room for my bedroom. Both of my sisters had also come to the same conclusion and shut down their laptops. They brought out what seemed to be their notebooks and flipped through them. Whether they were studying was another matter altogether.
It was a Saturday and on Saturdays, my mother would force me to assist her with the weekly groceries shopping, mainly as manual labor to carry all of the groceries. I still had much to complain but I was already in the process of been dragged outside of the house by her. Thankfully, I expected this beforehand and had changed into something other than my dull home clothes. As I was putting on my shoes, my sisters shot me a glance.
Sou: [Big brother big brother, please save Sou and Rou.]
Rou: [Big sister big sister, please do not leave Rou and Sou behind.]
Yang: [Oi… Am I a guy or am I a girl to you lot?! And it is not like either of you would be of use if you came along. Resign to your ill-fate, my sisters]
Dejected, they returned to “studying”. Indeed, they were too much trouble to be brought along. Perhaps I should bring something back for them?
Mother: [Just how long are you going to take? The groceries are not going to buy themselves!]
Yang: [Yes, mum~ Coming, mum~]
I made my way over to her while making sure to pull along the family shopping trolley.
We made our way to the bus station. The journey to the supermarket was short thanks to the public transport, but if you are as reluctant as me, any distance would be amplified a quintillion times.
Mother: [That man… Every conversation with him is absolutely impossible! He expects all three of you to excel yet he never actively contributes or take any actions for your studies. Why must I always play the bad guy here!? This family may very well be in shambles if I wasn’t here!]
Having run through similar, if not identical conservations with mother all this while, I came to understand that the best reply would be no reply. My duty here was to listen attentively and provide affirmation. Although, I recognize that my father, “that man”, would always be the kind of man who will not actively take actions. Other than great results, he expected independence from us and wanted us to do and think for ourselves.
That man is truly scary
I mean, we are still children, act like a father who is dependable and not the father that shoves us into reality. At least wait until we are young adults or something…
By the time I had stopped myself from reveling in my thoughts, mother had already stopped rambling. Having vented all of her resentments, her face seemed brighter and her eyes no longer veiled by a layer of darkness. It was a face she puts up whenever she was not within a 200m radius of my father.
This sure is a dysfunctional family…
However, it was still my family, the family that I would always return to.
I quickly wiped away the smile that appeared on my face as we waited in front of the traffic light. Normally, we would have jaywalked with no trouble but I guess today is finally the day where safety is put before grocery.
Mother: [It’s green, let’s go, Yang.]
So I hear her say but the next thing I realized, I have already lost sight of her among the sea of people crossing the traffic light.
Yang: [Mum? Mum? You there? Where are you?]
It is beyond embarrassing for a 15-year-old teen such as myself to be lost in the middle of a crowded road. I quickly dragged the shopping trolley along to the grocery store in hopes of finding her.
As I waited outside the automatic doors of the grocery store like some sort of gate deity, I could not stop feeling my cheeks becoming hotter and hotter. The shame was too much to bear. As I continued to wait, I began to conclude that mother may have backtracked to home to try to find me. Eventually, I decided to make my way home. I could already imagine the furious face of my mother the moment I reach home.
???: […cuse me, excuse me! I NEED TO GO! THERE’S A PLACE I ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO GO BACK TO RIGHT NOW!]
Suddenly, an uproar erupted behind me. I can hear the sound of other pedestrians clicking their tongues as someone pushed past them. It felt as though he, or she, is making their way in my direction. In scenarios like this, the best course of action would be to ignore it, so I did not even bat an eye towards it.
Then it happened.
I felt something bumping against me from the back, and the next thing I know, the world was enveloped in the colour white before being consumed by an abyss so dark that seemingly no light is allowed to pass through.
Current body position?
Lying down on my back.
Soft and comfy. No pain.
Safe for further observation.
I open my eyes. The landscape had completely changed. What was previously the traffic junction before my eyes was replaced by a simple wooden ceiling. I stood upright and surveyed the room I was in. It was a rather simple room, with a bed that I am resting on, a desk with a compartment and a wardrobe the size of my height. The floor and ceiling appear to be made out of wood. There were no windows or other openings within the room other than the door directly opposite of the bed, yet the room is strangely illuminated without a clear light source.
This feels like the start of an adventure game that I often play
And my principle for playing adventure games is to inspect every nook and…
Oh boy oh boy oh boy.
No longer able to hide my panic with my hobby and strange commentary, I dash forward to the door and slammed it right open. Outside the room was a hallway of a similar aesthetic but devoid of any signs of people. I immediately slammed it shut again and leaned with my back against the door.
Yang: [Where am I? Why am I here? What happened to my family?! How do I get back?! CAN I EVEN GET BACK? AM I EVEN ALIVE RIGHT NOW? IS IT REALLY ALRIGHT TO BE ASKING THESE QUESTIONS RIGHT NOW? ARE THESE QUESTIONS EVEN RELEVANT? WHAT EVEN IS GOING ON RIGHT NOW? ALSO, WHAT IS THIS FEELING OF INCONGRUITY I AM FEELING EVER SINCE I GOT HERE? IS IT SOMETHING THAT IS ABSENT BUT IS SUPPOSED TO BE PRESENT? OR IS IT SOMETHING THAT IS PRESENT BUT IS SUPPOSED TO BE ABSENT? AND ON THAT MATTER, WHY DO I FEEL LIKE I AM BEEN WATCHED AS WELL? HOW SHOULD I EVEN REACT WHEN THIS FEELS LIKE SOME OTHER ENTITY IS CONSTANTLY READING MY THOUGHTS? HOW DO I EVEN FEEL ANYMORE? SHOULD I EVEN CARE?!]
Yang: [SHOULD I… Should I even…]
You really did it this time, didn’t you?
Yang: [LAST QUESTION! JUST HOW LONG DO I INTEND TO GO WITH THIS FARCE OF A BREAKDOWN?]
The answer is quite simple, really.
Me: […ha…haha… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…]
I really make myself laugh sometimes.
My laughter rang throughout the silence of this small room, possibly even resonating outside of the room and the world outside. I could feel myself feeling just a little bit lighter and able to bite back the tears that were about to fall. Talking to myself like this is effective for me to calm down and gain control of myself at moments of stress and crisis. However, there is no way in all of reality that I would do this in front of another living breathing human being. If I did, I would instantly explode and die of shame.
Yang: [I will now end this by saying: MY NAME IS ZHANG ZI YANG, YANG FOR SHORT. AS OF THIS MOMENT, I AM 15 YEARS OF AGE. I DO NOT KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO ME OR WHERE I AM BUT I AM INCLINED TO FIND OUT. I WILL SURVIVE. I WILL PERSIST. AND I WILL BE FINE.]
With that out of the way, I looked around the room.
On the table was a simple pocket watch. Through the transparent front cover, I can see the hands of the watch stopping at 10:15. The button on the top of it should open its front cover and allow me to see the face of the watch better but nothing happened when I tried pressing it down. In the end, I decided to keep the watch in my jeans pocket.
Come to think about it, I still retain my clothes from back home. A simple T-shirt and jeans, that allows me to blend in with the surroundings as one of the background characters. But other than clothes, I have lost the rest of my belongings from the previous world, not that I can say for sure that this room is in another world or anything. The shopping trolley is gone too.
Yang: [Mum is going to be so angry about this.]
Other than the watch on the table, there was also an empty notepad. As I fumbled through the notepad, the seams came undone and all the paper scattered across the desk and the surrounding floor.
Yang: [Stupid fingers.]
I tried to clean up the mess but the sheer amount of paper made me groan in annoyance. In the end, I walked away having only cleaned up the desk and not the floor.
Yang: [Sorry… I will come back and clean up later.]
The only compartment on the desk refused to budge no matter how hard I tugged at it. A task for another day, then.
Satisfied, I made my way out of the bed room
The hallway outside of the bedroom is still devoid of signs of humanity and equally mysterious is the fact that I could look down the entire hallway as though it is the day even when there were no lanterns or candles to be found.
At the end of the corridor is a grand staircase leading downwards, presumably the first floor. I began to slowly unravel the layout of the place that I am at: Taking reference from the grand staircase, the bedroom is on the 2nd floor East wing.
Leading out from the bottom of the grand staircase was a wooden door that provided no hints of what might be on the other side. If this was a real mansion, one would assume that this is the mansion’s main entrance.
Yang: [Once again, this door is closed too…]
It was not obvious before but the more I stay in this house or mansion, the more defining was this sense of incongruity as if I or the world was wrong. Then there was the feeling of been watched or had my mind been read as well. Both of which were really effective in creeping me out.
The kitchen I stumbled upon was on the 1st floor, West wing. It had a medieval or fantasy feel to it but my attention was drawn to the mountain of long bread. I took a bite out of one but only felt the bland taste of bread completely unlike the ones mother usually prepares.
Yang: [ I’m already missing you, mum…]
Then it dawned upon me what the incongruity really was about: Though it may have been a short duration of time, all those shouting just now should have made me thirsty and hungry, yet my body does not yearn for any water or food. In fact, I do not even feel tired or sleepy, almost as if my bodily functions were stopped and working at the same time.
Yang: [A mystery sure, but a welcoming one. I would do more than to get a taste of this bread again.]
Leaving the half-eaten bread on the kitchen table, I made my way back to the bedroom. However, when I reached the 2nd floor East wing, I found myself unable to decide which of the two rooms there is the room I was looking for. Both doors were identical and the hallway was perfectly symmetrical which show no hint of which was which.
Yang: [Surely I could recognize the bedroom door… We even share a breakdown together!]
I say that but there’s no way I can be sure. Taking my chances, I open the door to my left.
Yang: [This isn’t the bedroom for sure… Sorry, bedroom door, our bonds weren’t as strong as I think they are…]
This different room is even more minimalistic than the bedroom. There isn’t even any furniture or decorations in it. Just five doors, two on the left and right respectively and the last one at the very centre of the room.
The moment anyone steps in, their attention would most definitely be attracted to the door in the middle of the room. Intricately carved from the frame to door panel, it reminds me of the Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin. Though not as imposing, it does give off the feeling of grandeur. One might even assume that the other side of this door is a throne room but that is hard to imagine when the door is in the middle of the room exposing both of its sides.
By contrast, the other four doors dull in comparison. There were two wooden doors but one seems to be made up of a higher quality of wood than the other. The third door standing completely different from the aesthetic of not only the room, but the entire mansion, is a solid metal door not unlike a bulkhead in a ship. The last door couldn’t even be called a door when it is just covered by an old ragged cloth, yet it somehow keeps me from having a clear look inside.
Yang: [Yep, this seems like the hub world alright, the type that lets me gain access to other levels or worlds.]
I made my way back to the East wing hallway and returned to the bedroom.
Why didn’t I try any of the rooms in the hub room?
Yang: [Well, that is the fun of it!]
Being able to systematically explore the whole place before moving off to the next location is really enjoyable. Additionally, if that room really is a hub room, I might not be able to come back here after going through any of the doors there.
I sat in front of the desk and began to reorganize my thought.
Yang: [Next up: the two rooms on 2nd floor West wing and the one room on 1st floor East wing… Hmm...?]
There on the table was a notepad, completely intact.
I picked it up and almost immediately all of the paper fell out and scattered across the desk and the surrounding floor.
Yang: [I wasn’t imagining things!]
Having left without clearing the mess of scattered papers just now, I came back to the bedroom with the mess completely cleaned, almost as if the mess was never there in the first place.
Yang: [That means…!]
Bolting down the grand staircase, I ran to the kitchen and there it was, among the mountain of long bread… was another long bread, with absolutely no signs of being eaten or moved whatsoever.
Confused more than ever, I return to the bedroom for the second time. On the desk was the notepad, now magically intact again. I tore a piece of paper out to try to summarize what I got so far but decided against it seeing as how there’s nothing to write with in the room. That piece of paper now exists as a ball of crushed paper thrown to the corner of the bedroom
Lying on the bed, I thought to myself:
There is no light source yet the mansion is illuminated
I do not get tired or hungry in the mansion
Everything goes back to what it was once I left the room
Yang: […Ah, and also…]
I took out the pocket watch in my pocket and stared long and hard into it. However, no matter how hard I stare, the hands remain firmly on 10:15 with no signs of moving at all.
Yang: [Whoever it is that is watching me right now, now is a great time for you to come out and explain some things…]
My question reverberated in the small room but no one came.
Of course, no one came.
Yang: [Well, no point in lying around and not doing anything. On to the next area!]
This time around, I will explore the 2nd floor West wing. Just like the East wing, there were two rooms that seemed completely identical to each other.
As I entered the West wing hallway, a strange sensation was felt in my body. It was gone as quickly as it came, for a duration that is even lesser than a fraction of a nanosecond, yet distinctively, I felt as if I was being split apart. That sounded painful and it should be, but the sensation was gone before my body even fully register it, leaving me to doubt whether the sensation even occurred in the first place or just a figment of my imagination stimulated by the weird occurrences of the mansion.
Yang: [What even was…Never mind, I am starting to get used to this.]
I reached out for the doorknob.