Chapter 17:

Tale Zero: Screaming Scorpion (3)


Her face completely contorted into one of fear.Bookmark here

I didn’t blame her.Bookmark here

I couldn’t blame her.Bookmark here

Because I had already known.Bookmark here

As an acquaintance of the whole family and Claudia’s long-time friend, I had known – her grandmother, now entering her eighties, had been in pretty bad health since her husband had passed away some time prior.Bookmark here

And so this news didn’t come as a surprise – but that didn’t make it any less worrying.Bookmark here

I too was concerned.Bookmark here

I couldn’t imagine the possibility of someone I’d known just… dying.Bookmark here

Maybe I was naïve in that way.Bookmark here

But I really couldn’t stand the thought of a person ceasing to exist.Bookmark here

So, when I looked Claudia in the eye, I’m sure I came off as being more worried than I had any right to be.Bookmark here

Even so.Bookmark here

Seeing how, even now, she was having a hard time leaving me alone and running off to her house, I took the initiative myself.Bookmark here

“Go. Don’t make your family wait. If she sees you, I’m sure she’ll recover quicker.”Bookmark here

“B-but…!”Bookmark here

“There’s no time to worry about nonsense, damn it! Just go! I’ll be waiting in the usual place until you come back. You can tell me whatever it was then!”Bookmark here

With this, she seemed convinced. Or perhaps just scared of my aggressive reaction.Bookmark here

Regardless of which it was, the important part is-Bookmark here

She ran.Bookmark here

She ran as fast as she could, as far as she could, now with a very clear destination and purpose on her mind.Bookmark here

I couldn’t do anything other than keep my promise and patiently wait for her in the ‘usual place’.Bookmark here

The 'usual place', huh... Bookmark here

As suspicious as that might sound to some, it was nothing more than a small playground area where we used to play as children. We didn't really know each other by then other than from casual encounters – or maybe we did, but neither of us would remember. We were four years old.Bookmark here

What I did certainly remember, though, were all the later memories I had in that place. Our group of three friends, always sitting down in the same exact bench, to talk about whatever had happened that day to each of us.Bookmark here

In the weekends, we sometimes brought our handheld game consoles and played together for a while.Bookmark here

The trio formed my Claudia, Oliver and me…Bookmark here

Though Oliver had moved away last year.Bookmark here

It was not the same without him anymore. Though that doesn’t mean I was discontent. Claudia and I had never gone anywhere, and we could still have plenty of fun on our own.Bookmark here

… Though apparently, it seemed Oliver was coming back this week. Bookmark here

Perhaps what Claudia had wanted to tell me was related to that… tough in that case, one would question why she needed tackle it in such a roundabout way, when it was obvious she’d been meaning to say whatever it was for a while.Bookmark here

And as I thought about this.Bookmark here

I heard footsteps approaching, so I looked up. Bookmark here

And there, my gaze met a boy’s – one I knew well, but one I hadn’t seen in over a year.Bookmark here

“Yo, Oliver! Already here? I’ve missed you, mate!”Bookmark here

“Goddammit, James, I can’t even come visit this place without bumping into one of y’all!”Bookmark here

We hugged each other, and laughed together like we had never spent a single day apart.Bookmark here

“So how’ve you been, James? Got anything tasty to tell me? Did anything happen while I was gone that I should know, hm?”Bookmark here

“Uh… I don’t think so? And also, haven’t I been texting you regularly? If I had anything to say I would have already, sheesh.”Bookmark here

“So you say, so you say… But I just saw Claudia running to her home half crying, and I can’t imagine you know nothing about it.”Bookmark here

Oh.Bookmark here

He’d seen her…Bookmark here

She was crying?Bookmark here

She certainly wasn’t when I’d seen her run away…Bookmark here

I had already been worried, incredibly so – but after the brief moment of happiness upon reuniting with Oliver, now I was even more concerned for Claudia’s wellbeing.Bookmark here

It must have shown in my face.Bookmark here

“Hey, man, what’s up? Did you not know? Have I said something I shouldn’t?”Bookmark here

“N-no, it’s okay… Claudia had to go to the hospital because her grandmother’s really ill all of a sudden. I imagine she’s just really stressed out, but everything should be okay.”Bookmark here

“Oh, I see… I shouldn’t have been so insensitive. I thought… Well, never mind that. Come on, James, cheer up, will you? You said it yourself. Everything will be fine. Now stop worrying and go back home, it’s already late.”Bookmark here

“I can’t. There’s no way I’m going back there, with those people. Also, I’ve promised Claudia I’d wait for her right here. I can’t just break that promise, now can I.”Bookmark here

“Hm. I understand. I’m really sorry, man, I would stay here to talk with you, but I have to go now. We’re still unpacking things, and my parents will get angry if I stay away for too long. I’ll come here again if we finish soon, though, so keep an eye on your phone ‘cause I’ll tell you the minute I’m done. Sound okay?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, thank you, Oliver… See you later then!”Bookmark here

I tried to force a smile for a second.Bookmark here

But there was no way that would have fooled him.Bookmark here

He’d known me for years.Bookmark here

Claudia, Oliver and Nick…Bookmark here

The three people closest to me.Bookmark here

The three people I never wanted to lose.Bookmark here

…!Bookmark here

“Hey, Oliver!”Bookmark here

I called out to him as he walked away.Bookmark here

How had I not noticed before?Bookmark here

“Huh? What’s up?”Bookmark here

“Those injuries in your right arm… Where-?”Bookmark here

That stone-cold look in his eyes.Bookmark here

I knew it all too well.Bookmark here

“Sorry, man, I really have to go now. We can talk later, okay?”Bookmark here

And now for real, his steps multiple times faster and longer than before, Oliver went away.Bookmark here

He… ran away.Bookmark here

And I once again was left alone.Bookmark here

My worries ever increasing, my brain overworked and by body exhausted.Bookmark here

But I really did have nothing to do until Claudia came back. So I took out my phone, opened the PDF of the book, and read.Bookmark here

Words, and words, and words… Bookmark here

I lost myself within the pages of that book. A world I could only admire from the other side, dreaming of what it would be to experience something like it.Bookmark here

Some say that in recent years, escapism has become a serious issue for the new generations, who use the internet and videogames to get away from their sad reality.Bookmark here

But hasn’t it been like that for all of human history?Bookmark here

Hasn’t art always tried to provide an escape from the ordinary, a way for the spectator to imagine themselves inside those different worlds?Bookmark here

Literature, paintings, sculptures.Bookmark here

And in more modern times, movies and videogames.Bookmark here

Aren’t they all… just the same?Bookmark here

If we humans hadn’t always been more attracted to fiction and possibility than to the empiric reality we could touch…Bookmark here

Why did we make art? Why did we make religion? Why did we keep creating it and praising it and admiring it? There must be a reason.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

No, this was bad.Bookmark here

I couldn’t start to think like this.Bookmark here

Reality was real, fiction was fictional.Bookmark here

Nobody could change that, no matter how hard I wished for it…Bookmark here

After a while, I finished the book.Bookmark here

It was just as amazing at the end as it had been at the beginning.Bookmark here

I couldn’t wait to read all the other volumes in that series – but that could wait for the next day.Bookmark here

I was tired.Bookmark here

I rested my head on my right arm, my body lying on the bench.Bookmark here

I was sleepy, and nobody would care if I took a nap here.Bookmark here

So I did.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

I slept away my sorrows on that bench, knowing full well that they would come back to haunt me the moment I woke up.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.