Chapter 18:

Tale Zero: Screaming Scorpion (4)


My nap ended up not lasting for too long.Bookmark here

When I woke up, I looked at my clock – six thirty in the afternoon.Bookmark here

Since it was almost summer, the days were long, and there was still plenty of time until the sun would set.Bookmark here

There was nobody else on that park.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

My phone had no unread messages either, which meant Oliver wasn’t coming anytime soon.Bookmark here

Even after my nap, though, I had no wish to go back home. I would still keep my promise to both my friends.Bookmark here

And just as I though that-Bookmark here

It seemed I wouldn’t have to wait too long.Bookmark here

I looked up and saw a familiar female figure coming towards me, gently smiling.Bookmark here

“Hello again, James. Thank you for waiting. I’m back.”Bookmark here

“How did it go? Is your grandmother all right?”Bookmark here

“Yes, she’s perfectly fine. They said she was just tired and needed rest, but was in good health otherwise. It was just the scare.”Bookmark here

I felt the tension and weight suddenly evaporate from my shoulders. Everything was fine. Nobody would die.Bookmark here

“That’s a relief…”Bookmark here

“Yes, it is, it really is…”Bookmark here

And then I remembered. I should probably tell her about what happened after she left...Bookmark here

“Hey, Claudia.”Bookmark here

“Yes?”Bookmark here

“I saw Oliver a bit after you left. He said he saw you… running home.”Bookmark here

I decided to omit the rest.Bookmark here

I felt like she didn’t want me to know she was crying. I would respect those feelings; I understood them well.Bookmark here

“Oh, I see… So he’s already back.”Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

She made no further comments.Bookmark here

But I didn’t really need any. Just seeing her face cloud was enough to tell me what I needed to know.Bookmark here

“Hey, so, Claudia.”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

“What was it that you wanted to tell me before?”Bookmark here

“Oh… Yeah, that. Hm. Mind if I tell you in another place?”Bookmark here

“Uh, yeah, sure. No problem for me.”Bookmark here

And so I got up and left the park, following Claudia.Bookmark here

Once more, we walked, talking about pointless topics together, reminiscing about old memories or commenting recent events.Bookmark here

It was a repeat of the previous scene – or maybe, a second act.Bookmark here

And once again, just like that time, I didn’t want it to end.Bookmark here

“Hey, Claudia, I just finished a book while I waited for you.”Bookmark here

“Oh? I thought you took a long, refreshing nap at a cool 30 Celsius outside of direct sunlight?”Bookmark here

“Well I did that too, I’m sleep deprived, what can I do about it.”Bookmark here

“True… Guess you have to take any chance you get. So anyway. What is it about that book?”Bookmark here

“It was amazing. I wholeheartedly recommend it. But there was this one thing about them that doesn’t sit right with me.”Bookmark here

“Oh? What is it? … If you can tell without spoiling the whole thing, mind you.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, it’s just a nitpick… The book revolves around supernatural beings and how they’re embodiments of the characters’ trauma. But the existence of those impossible creatures and events is never denied outright. And for a book that’s supposedly about proving how all of these events are not actually supernatural in nature, that seems… off?”Bookmark here

“Hm, I see. Well, I haven’t read that book but, from what you’re saying, maybe you’re understanding it wrong?”Bookmark here

“Huh? As in?”Bookmark here

“I don’t know, James, I feel like there must be a reason for the author to give that contradicting message. An explanation. If there isn’t, you can’t really call the book a good book, can you?”Bookmark here

… She had a point.Bookmark here

I didn’t argue back, I had nothing. Bookmark here

Though I would surely have to reread the book again, paying more attention.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

I took some time to appreciate the scenery we walked through.Bookmark here

The town was almost empty at this hour, with only the rare pedestrian walking by and a few cars intermittently interrupting the silence.Bookmark here

But even so, it didn’t feel empty. It didn’t feel dead. It felt… peaceful.Bookmark here

As if nothing could disturb these people going about their daily lives.Bookmark here

We walked along those streets, forming part of that wonderful atmosphere. At times we happily chatted, and at others, we stopped to admire the silence as we moved towards our destination.Bookmark here

Claudia had decided where it was that she wanted to talk to me, it seemed.Bookmark here

She kept leading the way, never doubting for an instant – and after a while, I was pretty confident that I knew where she was taking me.Bookmark here

Where the town ended and the view became one of nature, roads and factories-Bookmark here

There was this one place.Bookmark here

A place with a lot of memories shared between us two, and us alone.Bookmark here

An abandoned warehouse, left to rot by its owner - but also the perfect place for some alone time. We had come here countless times for that ever since we discovered it.Bookmark here

But when I saw it...Bookmark here

My heart sank, if even for an instant.Bookmark here

It seemed it was being demolished at last. Pieces of debris were scattered across the floor, and a few yellow signs marked the potential danger inside that place. If one wasn't careful enough... A massive rock could fall in your head.Bookmark here

But even so, we entered.Bookmark here

"I wanted to come and tell you here. It might be the last time we're able to come, after all..."Bookmark here

I understood, and agreed to her request.Bookmark here

But now I couldn't help but be on edge for whatever she wanted to tell me. She'd been dragging it out for far too long at this point.Bookmark here

And the building being in the state it was, we couldn't afford to stay there any longer than absolutely necessary.Bookmark here

Claudia led me inside, sat in the usual spot, and waited until I was in mine.Bookmark here

She still looked reluctant to speak.Bookmark here

Her eyes evaded mine.Bookmark here

I couldn't take it anymore, this was getting insane.Bookmark here

Her face was red.Bookmark here

I could sense her trembling.Bookmark here

And then, from what felt like out of nowhere-Bookmark here

She finally spoke.Bookmark here

"James... I love you."Bookmark here

...Bookmark here

What?!Bookmark here

I felt my face burn and my heart beat with massive strength. Bookmark here

Suddenly, I didn't want to even look in Claudia's direction. Or rather, I physically couldn't.Bookmark here

I couldn't focus on anything, my mind was a complete mess. I wasn't even aware of my surroundings anymore.Bookmark here

I... I...Bookmark here

But I had to reply.Bookmark here

I had to do it now.Bookmark here

...Bookmark here

"I... I do too."Bookmark here

And then nobody spoke.Bookmark here

I couldn't do it; I was too embarrassed.Bookmark here

I'm sure she was the same.Bookmark here

...Bookmark here

The time passed, in complete silence.Bookmark here

But eventually, the embarrassment wore off.Bookmark here

After all, if any of us said they didn't know of the other's feelings at all - it would certainly be a lie.Bookmark here

We've been together for years, as it happens.Bookmark here

We knew each other better than we knew anyone else in the world.Bookmark here

While before our eyes had evaded the other's, now they were drawn together as if by magnetic force.Bookmark here

We were alone. Nobody could see us.Bookmark here

No matter what we did, only the two of us would know.Bookmark here

...Bookmark here

Shortly after, we had become one. Bookmark here

Suddenly, all the feelings we'd harbored for years came to take control of our minds and bodies.Bookmark here

Our whole word was reduced to each other.Bookmark here

Nothing existed outside that could come between us two.Bookmark here

I didn't notice...Bookmark here

I didn't see...Bookmark here

And I made Claudia trip.Bookmark here

I made her trip, and she fell backwards.Bookmark here

I made her trip, and in the floor was a rock.Bookmark here

A piece of debris that had once been part of the wall-Bookmark here

It hit her head with a sharp edge, and she screamed in pain.Bookmark here

I fell and landed on my knees, my brain no longer registering what my senses told me was the truth.Bookmark here

What... had I done?!Bookmark here

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