Faith felt the dense, darkened silence. Her mind spun in circles as her claustrophobia enhanced her sensations of feeling trapped in a coffin buried after her death. She couldn’t move as her palms were drenched in a clammy, sticky sweat, and her right cheek was cemented to the cold, hard floor. There was a steady echo of hooves in her heart, stampeding to endure the long race of adrenaline that shot throughout her body. Fear’s long fingers unraveled, taking root from the branching of her pale dread. They snaked their way towards her throat, starting from the tips of her toes into a steady choke-hold. She couldn’t dare breathe- not while she struggled to keep composure under the tight space beneath Lan’s worn, wooden bed. A miserable sensation of anxiety crept over Faith’s chest. She could smell the villainous stench of rotten feet drenched from humid weather and battered socks. Her heart felt tight.
Faith heard a heavy object fall from grace. All she could do was close her teary eyes and pray to God that she would not be found by abhorrent evil that came straight from the pit of hell. She silently reflected on the disdain for the dangerous decision she made with Lan two days ago
On a bright Wednesday morning, Faith woke up to the annoyance of her black-blocked alarm clock. Despite wanting to sit in her bed and do a habitual rant about the dumb idea of waking up so early at 7:30 AM, she became ecstatic when she saw the date on her calendar. It was June 16th, the last day of school. There was no time to waste! She jumped out of her bed and into her bathroom. Her messy bed hair was combed into straight brown-black lines, with her face and teeth were cleaned from her slobbery grime. Then, Faith ran to change her clothes and delightfully picked up her backpack from the recent lack of textbooks.
Grabbing some toast, she scrambled to the white SUV with her mom and headed for her school. With a cheerful attitude, Faith poked a black plastic button and turned on the radio to listen to the morning news. Her face turned into a bright, fanatic delight as she heard the shouts of joy upon receiving the confirmation of a superhero defeating a villain. Prestigious glory was celebrated when the heroes defeated injustice, and goodness continued to reign. They all felt safe under the protection of their heroes. The thought of this continued to bring Faith great joy despite having to attend her mundane education.
As soon as she finished her breakfast, they arrived at her middle school. Faith grabbed the silver handle, opened the door, and hopped onto the cracked front curb. Despite having to attend this boring school, Faith was able to make up for her wasted time by being able to bask in the company of her friends. Though one friend stood out to her, his name was Lan.
To her, Lan was a mysterious brown-haired boy of great height. He would always wear tight long-sleeved shirts and jeans regardless of the weather. Whenever they walked around the school, Lan traveled with straight poise and back-posture. She would remark that he would be the last person to ever need crutches because he refused to slouch to keep himself proper. That was a lie- Lan was not always proper. For example, he would never maintain eye contact all the time. Lan would whimsically look up towards the sky during boring lunch conversations that consisted of debating over answers regarding their homework or discussing rumors about how a girl got suspended for choking one of her classmates over a cream cheese container. Even during these conversations, Lan would neither invest nor talk very much; he was a child of certain, distant silence and would speak when necessary.
Speaking of class, Faith shared two of them with him: PE during fifth period and orchestra during sixth. They would always be the first to bolt from PE and come to orchestra early, ready to claim the best seats in the back or hide in the wooden locker shed to play pranks on their friends. Throughout the year, Faith was also determined to beat Lan in arriving first. She always attempted to hide in the shed before him and pull off her ridiculous prank: scaring him by slamming the door open, right in front of his face. Unfortunately, he always left PE with her. However, Faith was lucky enough to seize her dream
Faith came to her final PE class with Lan. Though, he arrived in an unusual state of red eyes and sullen eyebags. His face was filled with exhausted, miserable trepidation. It was a weird dissonance against everyone else’s beaming smiles, parading that summer vacation was starting. Faith saw this and became even more determined to pull off this ridiculous prank to cheer him up.
So, she did.
When class was dismissed, Faith ignored Lan and rushed to the locker rooms. She hurried and twisted her locker combination, 2…30…16…, and threw on her clothes while stuffing her sweaty PE uniform into her bag. Faith sprinted for the shed. She yanked on the fragile door closest to the classroom, slid in, and closed it shut. Faith collapsed on the cemented floor, panting at her delightful success in beating Lan. A few moments later, she held her breath when she heard heavy footsteps approaching the shed. As soon as she heard Lan’s footsteps stop right in front of her, she threw open the door… and instead of a pleasant surprise, an agitated terror formed on his face.
This wasn’t the planned prank. It seemed Faith underestimated the distance between the locker door and Lan. In other words, she could have knocked Lan out with this poor door. Yet, somehow something extraordinary happened. This boy Faith thought was normal… wasn’t.
Lan’s face was not slammed by this door. Rather, his face was not only unfazed but also phased through the door as if he were a ghost. Before Faith could say anything else, Lan shoved his hand right onto her mouth. Then, he propelled himself into the shed and shut the door behind him. They were stuck in there, with their faces inches from each other.
“Are you done?” Lan asked, looking very frustrated and concerned. He let go of his hand when Faith nodded, mistakenly ignoring Faith’s unhinged excitement of this secret discovery that her friend had supernatural abilities.
She was livid. “What the heck was that?!” He raised a finger to his lips. “Shush. Do you want us to get caught?” Lan asked, grabbing her shoulders as he grimaced upon realizing his error to react on instinct.
“Eeee… I can’t believe you have secret abilities! Wait, wait, wait; no one else knows, right?” Faith whispered.
Upon hearing these words, Lan’s head fell onto her shoulders. He stood there, moaning in defeat from the unpredicted event of his revealing. Then, Faith thought she heard sniffles. At this moment, she realized her guilt when she stopped to think about the harsh consequences Lan would face from this predicament.
She took a deep breath and gave him a gentle hug. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you. This was meant to be a prank; I noticed you weren’t feeling well today. If you want, you can share with me what’s going on. I promise I won’t tell.”
Lan’s back became stiff upon hearing this, but he relaxed and begrudgingly nodded in agreement. Before he could utter a single word, they heard the rustling steps of the other students. In a hurried frenzy, they put their bags away before anyone gathered suspicion about the two of them being in the shed for too long. After they gathered for orchestra, Lan and Faith discreetly texted each other; this was not the appropriate time to have their important conversation. Through a fit of rapid thumb taps, it was decided that Faith would visit Lan in two days. She did notice Lan had some hesitation regarding the arrangement. Unfortunately, Faith neither realized nor foresaw the grave error they committed.
Two days later, Faith was dropped off at Lan’s place. It was a warm Friday afternoon, and the sun could not shine brighter than her unhinged excitement. She was ecstatic to finally see the place where Lan lived at. Faith hoped to arrive at some top-secret headquarters where she could meet all the other cool superheroes and take down some bad guys. It would be a fan’s dream come true! Then, Faith slapped herself back to reality. The reason why she came to Lan’s place was to clear up any misunderstandings and to talk with him. After she waved goodbye to her mom driving further away, she turned around to examine the place.
Lan lived in a two-story house, with its clean exterior coated in various shades of terracotta brown. The short, cemented gray pathway towards this place was kept clean of any pesky cracks and weeds. Besides the path, there was a precisely cut lawn and a barricade of tall, rectangular bushes as if they were to keep out any potential criminals. Looking at how well the house was maintained, Faith surmised that Lan must be from a wealthy family, which may explain his off-putting behavior of properness.
Once she reached the front porch, Faith rang the doorbell. She could hear the short, distant chime in the background of the house. Faith was a little upset when she didn’t hear anything special as she had hoped earlier. Hearing a quick shuffle of steps, Lan unlocked and opened the slick, wooden door. He appeared to have slightly recovered since his last skirmish with her. Though, he was still wearing his unusual long-sleeved clothing. It always bothered her when Lan was insistent on wearing this type of clothing when it was hot and even more so during summer vacation.
Faith decided to calm down and ignore her urges to berate Lan for this misbehavior, focusing on taking off her sandals without stumbling all over the place. Upon entering, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The interior was filled with various family photos on milky-white walls, with a hardwood floor of a shiny chestnut color. A smooth wooden staircase cascaded to the hidden second floor near the entrance.
Before Faith could ask what happened to his parents, Lan hesitantly grasped Faith’s left hand and led her up the stairs into his bedroom. Disregarding the walls of the hallway and eventually his bedroom, Faith focused on Lan’s poised back. She had to know what was going on as his friend. They sat on his plush mattress, sponged on a worn wooden bed frame. The atmosphere became awkward as Lan shuffled himself away from Faith. When he finished adjusting himself, Faith asked him about the photograph.
“Shh… it’s going to be okay,” Faith whispered, careful of his fragile state. Lan then winced upon the contact of her arms upon his back, as Faith could feel the sore tension within his back muscles. She thought his sense of discomfort was a bit suspicious. Before she could entertain the thought further, he rested his face upon her shoulders until he could steady himself once more.
Soon, he gingerly pushed Faith aside, with his face still downcast upon the situation. “I don’t even know where to begin,” Lan sighed
Gathering his courage, he continued, “My parents were superheroes, Scarlet Rose and Shadow. I loved them very much… I don’t want to think about them.”
Lan paused to sit straight again and sighed to take another deep breath. Faith noticed his shaken struggles to continue. In the sight of this, Lan continued to speak.
“While these powers of mine were my birthright, I hate them because I’m afraid I’ll always hurt my friends and family… Hmm. I think it’s funny that I enjoyed having these abilities when I was younger. My dad taught me how to control my powers,” Lan spread his arms out near his back; his head tilted to look up to the distant ceiling. “Tch- I think he was also scared I would repeat his past mistake, hurting the people he loved so much. My parents always told me to remain proper, as it was rude to slouch.”
Lan struggled to maintain his composure again when he tilted his head back to face the floor; he began to cry once more as he clenched his blankets.
“They aren’t here anymore- they’ve been gone for a year! My uncle has been my guardian. He keeps scolding me, saying I should always be strong and keep my distance from others to avoid being betrayed. To avoid being hurt. To avoid being dead like my parents,” he vented, as he clenched his fists and stood up from his memory foam mattress, reforming itself back to its spongey state
“So, this is what I’ve been doing: being proper and keeping my distance from others! Yet, I always wake up to hear that I’ve failed again and that I’m going to end up like my parents,” Lan bellowed, inhaling through his nose in frustration. “Gah! I don’t know how long I can take this and not explode like a ticking time bomb. He told me that my parents were murdered while their guards were down last Tuesday. No one else could figure out anything more about their deaths; their deaths are still a mystery. It hurts to live knowing this.”
Upon hearing these words, Faith felt something was off as she glanced at the old man in the dirty photograph. She remembered her feelings of denial and bewilderment when she heard that Scarlet Rose and Shadow were presumed to have died of an uncanny suicide when she watched the news. Her mind paused, unable to place a finger upon hearing the uncertainty of the subject.
Suddenly, an ominous echo was heard. It was of keys scattering and landing on a cold table. Lan’s eyes opened, widening from a deep-seated panic. His uncle came back home early.
In a desperate frenzy, Lan grabbed Faith’s hand and dragged her under his bed as if he was shoving a heavy suitcase away. Before Faith could make a sound that would blow her cover, Lan held his finger to his lips and begged her to shut up and hide. He didn’t have much time left before calamity would strike. Faith was left alone like a stiff doll trapped within a sealed coffin. She held her breath, waiting for either Lan or her mom to arrive and salvage this complicated, messy situation. Her mind continued to wobble back and forth like a spinning top, attempting to find balance and understanding of the relationship between Lan, his past, his uncle, and his parents’ deaths. By the time she put the pieces of the puzzle together, it was too late. There were muffled sounds of strangled struggles. She was too helpless and scared to do anything, let alone remedy the situation she trapped both herself and Lan even further into. All she could do was lay flat on her stomach and listen to the belted, metallic sounds of the torture Lan endured for her.