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Where in the world could I find ?true blue?, whatever that meant. I?d traveled across Asia for the truest of blue, but all to no avail. It was my task to search for this ?object?. The consequence of my failure would be death. Miss Metropolis didn?t precisely say ?death?, but it was implied in her bitter words.
It all started on the night of Friday the 13th. I suppose I shouldn?t have agreed to go to the movies, but I did anyways. As you would know, Friday the 13th has been considered the worst day in the history of days. Bad lucks take form in the daily events of mankind. And since I was not superstitious enough (at all), I didn?t think anything bad would happen?to me. Exactly, I didn?t think.
We arrived at the movies after a near-death car ride. We were rolling down Brookline Avenue, and clearly there were no on-coming vehicles. We were laughing prior to the turn of event at a joke my friend James just made. Unexpectedly, a ten-wheeler appeared out from the road, and sure enough, it was heading our way. My cousin Jennie, who I adored like a best friend, wheeled to the right and the car swerved off the road into an overcrowded bush. I looked up after I thudded against the passenger seat. I felt my forehead swell up and peeked in the driver?s mirror. What I saw was a big bump in the midst of my forehead. It hurt when I touched it, but it wasn?t as bad as Jennie?s. Her head rested against the steering-wheel air bag. The impact must have been stronger than she could manage. I tried shaking her so that she would wake up from the concussion. But she didn?t wake. Something moist rolled down my left cheek, and it tingled my arctic face. For a second I was so sure it was a raindrop, but then I realized it was merely a single teardrop infused by anxiety. I?d never cried in so long, and now I was.
It didn?t feel splendid to cry, because someone was wounded. They were tears of sorrow?and panic, rather than tears of joy. I jiggled her again and after five or so seconds, her eyes pricked open. When I saw her conscious again, I was abashed that I?d forgotten James. I averted my gaze to James, who was evidently baffled by the life-threatening occurrence. He rubbed his forehead and sighed in his ashen hands. Then he stroked his light-colored hair, so slowly that it seemed to take five minutes for his hair to part his hand.
I heaved a sigh, and it was loud enough for them both to turn and stare at me. Not ominously, but bewilderedly. The silence seemed to prevail us, so I spoke then to break the awkward atmosphere.
?Well, that was close.?
They darted me a cold stare, like needles coming at full speed.
?I?m just trying to cheer you up,? I said. ?Still want to go see ?Into the Night?? since we?re not badly injured.?
They looked at themselves, and then at each other. I followed their eyes and perceived that the answer was ?yes?. They appeared pretty decent to me. No harm done. And so we continued with our ride, though I knew something much, much worse was looming right round the corner.
After Jennie parked the car in the parking lot, we headed inside for our long-awaited movie. I went to buy the tickets to see ?Into the Night? as Jennie and James strode for the snack stands.
?Three tickets for ?Into the Night?, please,? I said. The blue-eyed guy handed me three tickets and, unexpectedly, winked at me.
?Enjoy the movie,? he said angelically with a smile.
I giggled and said, ?I will.?
?I?m Austin, by the way,? he let out his hand.
?Linna.? I shook his rough hand, but felt warmth and comfort.
?See you around.?
He spoke the words that I didn?t want to hear. Those words meant that I had to go; to see the movie ? the goodbye I?d always hated. My smile turned upside down when I was sure he wasn?t looking. I rejoined my friends and left for the movies. As we strode, my mind was far away. Superstitious or not, I felt oddly uneasy. It was also oddly soothing, because the suspense that I was sensing ought to be enough to suffocate my recent heartbreak. Surely, he was just someone I met in less than a minute. Merely a stranger, and nothing more.
There was something right round the corner; it was just not what I anticipated. When we walked into Theater 6, the door banged shut behind us, like somebody pushed it with enough force that the wall could topple after it happened. Everyone stared acidly at us. It was not our fault, but they could think whatever they wanted. The trailers of upcoming movies hadn?t passed yet, so we didn?t miss anything. I helped myself to one of the popcorn buckets, leaving Jennie to share with James. She smiled at me thankfully when James seemed drawn to an action-packed trailer.
About an hour passed, and my mind was far away again. I hardly knew what the movie was about, except that the protagonist Casey and her boyfriend were running away from a ghost. They had a sapphire with them ? the one they avariciously stole from the ghost?s house ? and the ghost?s only intent was to get it back. But they were unaware of that; they thought the ghost sought to kill them. Then, without warning, the screen went blank. Audience murmured incoherently, and confusion were written on every face.
Somebody juddered the entrance door. All conversations ceased, and everybody listened. A pepper-and-salt-headed man rushed down the stairs at the left, and some young men followed him. I thought it was probably a worker trying to get in to fix the problem. Or inform us of the technical difficulties. And it appeared to be because the men began rioting, cussing away at the worker now. But there were more than one worker; probably six or seven from the apologies that rose over the mayhem.
?Don?t you think today is getting weirder and weirder?? Jennie said to me.
I turned to answer, but I saw something that stopped the words from flowing out.
?Jen--nie,? I uttered. ?Look!?
I pointed to the white screen, where an obscure image hung. It had a prolong body, like a massive cloud of smokes wafting from an incense, and two leaf-shaped eyes. I stared at it ? for the lack of a better word ? in awe. If I was not mistaken, I wager everyone was as horrorstruck as I was. A ghost! Or whatever that thing which floated in midair was absolutely out of the ordinary. Then, like a swarm of terrified flies, the moviegoers jostled their way down the narrow stairs and rushed for the other exit on the right-hand side. Some bawled in terror as they lurched for a way out, but some stood unmoving; too petrified to move a muscle. Teenage boys were chortling as they watched the girls wept their eyes out. There couldn?t be a more dreadful situation, but for all I knew, there was undoubtedly something much worse happening or to be happening soon.
?Let?s go!? I nudged Jennie. ?Don?t just stand there. There?s a ghost in front of you, for goodness?s sake!? Jennie did not dislodge; her legs barely moved.
?C?mon!? I pushed her out of her equilibrium. She moved along, though her eyes were fixed on the phantasm.
We rushed out from our seats and hurried down the stairs. Almost everyone had left through the second exit, but a countable number of people ? including me and Jennie ? were trapped by the seething crowd that was too frightened to run for their lives.
?Shouldn?t have come on the night of the premiere?Friday the thirteenth?who believes in all this superstition?? I muttered to myself, trying to reason things out.
?Hey, Linna,? Jennie asked me as we near the exit. ?Where James?? Her voice quivered when she saw my wide-eyed stare. ?Wh-ere is h-he??
?Umm,? I searched the room with my eyes. ?Over there!? My towering self was of good use for once; I saw him lying on the carpeted floor. He must have stumbled, and people must have trodden him into the gloom of the indigo carpet.
Jennie hustled to the end of the horde of people, dragging me along with her tight grip. I stole a look at the exit, my only way out of this installment of pure horror. Now it was shifting out of my reach. And apparently the other exit was obstinate to any level of vigor.
?James, are you okay?? Jennie asked with sincere concern. I couldn?t do anything but looked on.
?Yeah, I think so.? He wrapped his hand around his chest and spoke, ?Maybe a bruise here and there.?
After a moment of sheer laughter, we helped James to his feet. We popped our head up, expecting people at the exit, but only spilled popcorns and candy wrappers remained.
?We better get outta here,? I suggested.
?That?s probably a good idea,? James said.
We limped for the open door, as if heading to the finish line of an Olympian track. However, this one was as murky as the darkest of night. Our hopes crushed then when the foggy figure appeared before us. It wore a crooked smile on its distended face. Its perforated eyes now filled with green, ominous hue. And at that moment, I longed to dash for the black hole, which would either salvage or ravage me.
?Ahhhhh,? Jennie squealed.
?That?s what I was gonna say,? I mumbled in her back, looking through the disarray of her tawny hair at the pigment of my imagination?or what I liked to think of it.
?I know kung fu, you know,? said James. ?You better let us go, or I?ll show you what I?m made of.? His resilient faç¡¤e deceived none of us, not even the?ghost that hovered in the air.
?Don?t hurt us,? I managed to let out. I disappeared quickly back into the human barrier who was Jennie.
?It?s not my intention to hurt you,? said the ghost. ?I just need you humans to help find the true blue I?m obliged to have.?
?Why us?? asked Jennie, her hands clasped together. I could see her veins straining under her pallid skin.
?Well,? it said, ?look around you. There?s nobody else other than the three of you. For eternity I will stay this way, unable to reincarnate for a chance at a better life. This is the one day ? the only day that I?m able to get out of this medieval film. To find other souls who could fulfill my incomplete journey. Besides, my foggy appearance would only dissolve into thin air if exposed to the light of the sun.
?So will you?help me carry on with my soul to the Sea of Life? I promise that it would be a burden if you wouldn?t help a wandering soul. And you?ll sure be condemned to eternal damnation!?
The three of us leapt at its last, nail-biting sentence. Or should I say ?she? in place of ?it?. The velvety voice of the ghost seemed appropriate for a woman than a man.
?Can you give us a moment to deliberate on a decision?? said James with dubious gesticulations.
?I suppose so.?
We turned to huddle. I hoped that with my back on the female ghost, I would feel less intimidated by her viridian eyes. But I found myself sweating at the sense of her stare upon us.
?So, what are we going to do?? I asked calmly.
?Um, help the woman or ghost,? said Jennie, ?whatever she is.?
?Really?? said James with astonishment. ?You?re not kind of weird out by all of this??
?Yeah, I am?but I want to help.?
?Okay then,? James agreed.
?Anybody cares about my opinion?? I asked with conspicuous agitation.
?Yes, we do, Linna,? said James in his monotone.
I rolled my eyes and said, ?Well, she seems really?depressed, but menacing at the same time. Sincere, yet daunting. Nice, yet she said her last words with enough acid to make me shudder. And ??
?All right, Linna!? Jennie yelled to interrupt my contemplation. ?Your decision, please??
?Okay. Fine. I say ?No?.?
?Come on, Linna. Look at her,? he gestured to the ghost. ?She really needs our help.?
When I peeked over my shoulder, I saw her grief right through her visage. It was the most melancholy face I?d ever witnessed. The glance became a gaze, because she seemed more human in her translucent form. I theorized the despair elicited the mortality of her past, making her more human. Even her eyes lightened a little to a shade of blue. I noticed the brown, straggly hair glowing around her well-structured face.
Honestly, she was beautiful lady. Or she used to be.
?Okay. But ??
?What?s your ?condition??? said James, air-quoting around the word condition.
?Oh, it?s nothing,? I said.
?Spill it, Lin.? Jennie?s annoyance must have past its breaking point. She folded her hands across her chest as she waited. The ghost lady seemed as intolerant as Jennie. She glided to and fro; eyebrows furrowed.
?Can you ask what?s her name for me??
?Okay?why?? James asked.
?I don?t know,? I struggled for a reason. ?It?ll be?easier for me to refer to her.?
?Okay, Linna,? said James. ?You got your wish. Can we get back to the ghost lady now while her tantrum is still cool??
We turned to the ghost, a grin on all our faces.
?We decided,? said Jennie, ?that we?ll help you find that?what is it again??
?true blue,? I whispered.
?Yeah, the true blue thing that you asked us to,? she finished.
The ghost?s face lit up in delight. ?Oh, thank you! Thank you very much.?
Jennie smiled at her happiness, and I took the opportunity to nudge her.
?Sorry, but can we know your name?? asked Jennie.
?Oh, yes. Yes, indeed!? she said. ?It?s Mary Hutchenburg Metropolis.?
?Wow, that?s a long name.? James muttered.
?One more thing,? I said. I gathered enough courage to ask her a question that preoccupied me since we first talked to her. ?What does ?true blue? mean exactly??
?Maybe give us a hint,? James said.
?It?s simply a f ??
?What?? I asked.
Her eyes were wary, and her mind seemed distant. ?The sun, it?s dawning. I can?t let the light touches me. Even the slightest streak of light will destroy me forever. I have to hide, but don?t forget: true blue.?
?But you haven?t answered us yet!? I shouted after the fading cloud of smoke. No response returned. We were left isolated in the silence of daybreak.
Not long ago, I visited China ? the Great Wall of China, that is. Not what I expected, though. By that I meant I did not find ?true blue? there. What more did I anticipate than failure? There was no point for me to assume such luck. After all, I had none at all. But my subconscious didn?t know any better than to dwell on false hopes. Perhaps that was the reason why I?m still on this quest, when my friends had surrendered to the cruelty of the journey for the impossible.
I headed to Tibet, the autonomous region of China, when Northern China was a letdown. It was a trek for me; to ride on a carriage with a dozen, reeking pigs was not my idea of a utopian road trip down the Chinese countryside. Yet I found the scenery quite idyllic, as if the wind that brushed against my bare skin diminish with him the stench and abandoned me with the aroma of wild flowers. For me, that was the most wonderful feeling I?d ever experienced or even thought possible. Inhaling the fragrance of nature, I lost myself in a world of wonders. I felt no care for tomorrow, and somehow I forgot about why I was there. It was as though nothing mattered anymore than that moment in the sun, as the wind lashed at my hair. Whoo, whoo. I heard the wind whisper in my ears. Whoo, whoo. His euphonious voice sounded like a mother who lulls her child to sleep. Silently sings her child to sleep.
My interval of self-indulgence was quickly when the carriage came to a halt. It was goodbye for the Tibet wind, and hello to the zephyr of The Himalayas. Mount Everest stood before me among his family of sky-high mountains.
?Thank you,? I said to the carriage owner.
He nodded welcomingly and waved. I waved back with a thankful nod, for I knew he did not know what I uttered before.
?Wow? was all I could say. The faç¡¤e of the mountains could put everyone who was in their presence to a complete and total amazement. I wouldn?t be surprise if someone, like the blonde lady standing about five feet apart from me, would just gape into them with her fixed eyes. Hmmm, how funny it was to witness such truth; sincere truth expressed by just a stranger. Someone whose name I was entirely unacquainted of. Someone I would never meet again, for her whereabouts I did not know. I felt the impulse to approach her, just to ask the lady wearing the short blue jeans and a gleaming tank top. However, she strode away in the direction of Mount Cho Oyu. So my open mouth let out only a slight wave of breath, and I nonchalantly closed the door to the words that struggled to break through. I relinquished the sadness I involuntarily bore, and fastened my backpack?s strips. With a shrug to let the backpack fall into place, I trod for the route up Mount Everest.
It began very easily. The wind was just a breeze, and the sun was only softly shining in the sky. It was like hiking with my family back home, hundreds of miles away. Unquestionably, climbing the White Mountains was nothing compared to hiking up this
tremendous mountain. At least it wasn?t yet.
The ball of fire seemed to soar in the sky, like a Chinese lantern glistening in the town square on New Year?s Eve. Streams of sweat flowed down my cheeks. Strangely, I liked the moisture. She cooled my smoldering face, and the gust of wind bathed me in an ocean of fresh air. Not only that, they made me feel free from everything in the world. The best sensation I?d ever felt in my life.
The marvelous sensation soon was replaced by a cold rush of wind that whipped my hair repeatedly. A twister of dust encircled me, and all I could do was to cover my face with my blouse. I tried with all I could to not feel sorry for myself. But with every breath it throbbed my chest. With every blink of my eyes, I saw my life flashed before me. Was that what death feels like? Are there other ways of dying that is not excruciating? But I refused this death. I saw Miss Metropolis whose soul was still wandering. I saw my family who must be restless. I also saw so many things that I hadn?t done yet. So I pushed myself up, knowing that surrender would do nothing for a person. I fought my way out of the whirling dust and staggered into an opening.
When I was sure I?d escaped the deathtrap, I instantly unzipped my backpack, and rummaged for my winter jacket. It was extremely chilly now. Although a ragged jacket was all I had, I carelessly put it on. Throughout this journey, or trek should I say, I learned not to care about how perfect something appears to be, but how functional something is capable of. I only covered a quarter of the way, for the course of day was heading to the darkness of night. It was still dusk. So I saw no trouble as I descended the steep mountainside.
On my way down Mount Everest, however, I did encounter a Tibetan monk. I came upon him when he was picking fresh water lily flowers from the lake nearby the path.
I tried talking to him; attempting to collect some information of the true blue?s whereabouts. He looked at me from his boat, contemplating on what I shouted to him. Seeing his baffled expression, I turned away from the lake and took a step up the hill.
?Wait!? Someone cried from behind.
It was the monk.
I couldn?t believe my ears. Did he really say that?!
?Hi,? I said.
?All I know is that,? he said between thoughts, ?it is a flower ? the most beautiful, and bluest of all the flowers in the world.
?It is called Meconopsis. Also known as the Himalayan blue poppy. It is rare, you see. It grows only in some part of the world.?
I felt my face brighten under my sunbaked skin. Simultaneously I sensed my lips release from its stiffness and my muscles loosen from its slump. The mask I?d bestowed on myself, for what seemed like a decade, was broken.
?Where is it?? I asked. ?Sir,? I added courteously.
?Not far away,? he replied. ?On Mount Cho Oyu.?
?That?ll be easy enough. I?ll go now.?
?Wait,? he said. ?It?s halfway up the mountain. It might take you two to three hours to get there. Why don?t you go tomorrow? You can stay at the temple for tonight.?
The night passed by quickly. Despite of sleep deprivation, I felt whole to wake up to the morning sun. After I said goodbye to Sir Chingjare, I left for the Himalayas on a bicycle.
I released my grasp on the handlebars as soon as Mount Everest came into view. A coating of snow veneered its summit, depicting it as the Tibetan name it was given: Chomolungma. It means ?The Mother Goddess of the Universe?. I could see why it was called that. Its height of 29,035 feet is superior than anything witnessed by the naked eyes. With a sigh, I paced towards Mount Cho Oyu.
Trekking Mount Cho Oyu was, surprisingly, as diligent as hiking Mount Everest. It would take a copious amount of blisters to find the Himalayan blue poppy. But it would be worth it. I hoped.
I saw something blue in the distance. It was so blue that it stood out from its surroundings. I squinted to make out what it really was, but my eyesight wasn?t great enough to distinguish the object. So I raced up the mountain with all the energy I still possessed. When I was about three feet away from it, I balked. I just stood there like a lost tourist who had just found the way out of an African jungle. I marveled the delicate flower, for I was certain it was the Himalayan blue poppy. The deep-blue petals blossomed around the yellow stamen and pistil, and the sun kissed it with a light, buoyant glow. The poppy was a masterpiece.
Carefully I approached the rocks where it grew. I sat down with my hands wrapped around my knees, and gazed at it for one whole minute. Then, involuntarily, I looked around me. I didn?t know why I didn?t just pick the flower and run for the airport. I didn?t know why I didn?t just scream in excitement because I?d found what I?d been looking for. But I think I know why now. I was trying, though unsuccessfully, to absorb all the details of this one moment. Even though I can faintly remember every happening, I do remember some most vividly. I remember the frigid wind that came to greet me once again, its gossamer touch summoning up the goose bumps. I remember the birds that sang joyously in the trees. And the sun who dimmed to provide me the shade; the rain that showered away my despair. Those memories I could retain. They stayed with me just like the reminiscence of plucking the poppy from its home. I lifted it in my left hand, and detached it from its stem. A pinch was all it took.
I arrived at Boston of Massachusetts two days later. Family reunion went well. By ?well? I mean my mom cried a river, and my dad shed an ocean. I?ve never known my family have so much emotion in them. Even my annoying sister, of all people, said she loved me after all the pranks she pulled on me. They asked me where I had been and demanded for the motive behind my disappearance. My explanation was lengthy, and I wager it was too mixed-up that my parents asked me to stop and dismissed the subject.
As normal as everything seemed to have returned back, I still had one last abnormal thing on my list. That was to give Miss Metropolis the ?true blue,? which was the key to her afterlife.
I went to the movie theater on the next Friday the 13th. I asked Jennie and James to come along, but they urgently refused. I was fine with that. After this long journey, I felt like I could do anything. So I entered the same theater ? Theater 6 ? and the same occurrence happened. Once the screaming had subsided, I stood up from my seat and walked down the aisle. Miss Metropolis was hovering in front of the white screen.
?Here?s your ?true blue?,? I handed her the Himalayan blue poppy.
?Wow,? she exclaimed, ?thank you!?
She sniffed the flower wistfully, and tears rolled down her face in the most elegant way. They deposited onto the poppy, and as I watched, the flower grew bigger and levitated in midair. She rose into the sky and motioned the poppy towards her. She hovered above it like an angel now, because she was not a phantasm anymore, but a ghost with physical substance. She was really beautiful when I saw her in her relatively human form. Her white gown was stunningly shining in the dim, blue light. With a smile, she waved to me. I smiled back, absolutely grateful that I helped this lost soul get a second chance at life. She turned and rose into the air to the Sea of Life.
Grove City, Ohio
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