Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language, violence, and mature content.
It was an ordinary day like any other thank you very much. That was the reality for most people. Today, was an eager day for the Asa family. This was especially true for five-year-old Ren. It was a shame--really. A shame the world was so ignorant of the birth of his little sister. He watched the day unfold its usual routine with a smug look. Today, he would not be a part of it. No, sir! There would be no drop off at the daycare, no farewells with Mom and Dad, no play time, no songs, no afternoon naps, but most importantly, no late afternoon traffic. Nope, this time he sat in the back of the car in his booster seat with a spartan toy in one hand, and a swamp beast in the other.
"What’s up, buddy?"
"Why didn't the stork drop my baby sister off at home?"
Mr. Asa glanced at Ren in the rear view mirror, and said in a pleasantly childish tone, "The stork only knows where Mom is."
"Will the stork make Mom's big belly go away?"
Mr. Asa chuckled, but left the question unanswered. It was an oddly quiet ride to the hospital, which Ren thought was mighty suspicious. They finally got to see the new baby after waiting for so long, he thought Dad would be a lot more excited than this.
At the ticketing booth of the hospital parking, Ren saw his father frown from the rear-view window. Which only meant one thing.
"How much did it cost?" Asked Ren.
Mr. Asa looked at him and let out a funny snort. Ren gave his father a troubled look as he was quite serious. If he needed help to pay for the parking ticket, Ren would gladly hand over the three copper coins he hid between the seats.
“Not as much as you think.”
Mr. Asa unbuckled Ren from his booster seat, and carried him from the parking lot to the hospital. Unfortunately, Ren could not bring his toys with him as they were physical holograms created from an augmented reality device called “Hologen.” As soon as Ren exited the car, the toys dispersed into glittery light of flat planes and vanished.
The hospital was busy as usual due to the final completion of virtual reality (VR) several years ago. Ever since full-dive VR went public, hardly anyone ever left their residency. They simply stayed in-doors where you could experience realistic adventures without the need to actually travel. This lead many to develop an addiction, and lack of care for their health.
Left and right,there were people so big that they required steel wheelchairs because hover-chairs and normal wheelchairs couldn’t handle their weight, and people so malnourished their skin sunk into and outlined their skeleton. Mr. Asa used these people as prime examples to lecture Ren about the importance of health care, and to never let the virtual reality addiction get the better of him.
Without a doubt, Ren did not want to look like the people in this hospital. He wondered if these people felt embarrassed about themselves. Were they really okay with being so large that their legs failed them, and are forced into wheelchairs? Were these people really okay with being so thin that a stiff breeze could snap you in two? Wasn’t it embarrassing knowing that you’re so bad at taking care of yourself that you need to burden another person in order to even live? Proper health was definitely going to be at the top of his list when he brought his sister home. He would make sure that his sister ate and exercised properly.
Mr. Asa opened the door to his wife's room. There lay Mrs. Asa beneath the white sheets.
"Mom!" Ren shouted as he ran towards her. He tried to give his mother a hug, but the edge of the bed came up to Ren’s neck. All he could do was reach over and touch her.
“You’re late,” she croaked wearily. It was really creepy. Ren had never heard her sound so tired and weak before. Now that he saw his mother up close, there were wrinkles that weren’t there a couple weeks ago; hair, face, arm, a lot of places. It was probably due to giving birth to his baby sister. Perhaps getting a new baby meant she had to split her life force, and wondered if the same thing happened when she gave birth to him.
"Sorry, had to get rid of the papers last night," said Mr. Asa.
"Mom!" Ren demanded attention. "Your big belly is gone!"
His parents snickered at each other "Yes Ren, my big belly is gone."
"Where's my baby sister?" He jumped up and down impatiently.
Mrs. Asa pat the back of his head. "You heard him," she said and looked up to her husband. Mr. Asa placed his hand over his wife's, and rubbed his thumb over her wedding ring. Ren looked back and forth between his parent’s gaze, and pretended to vomit. He shrunk away from their cooty bond, and walked awkwardly away with locked elbows and knees.
"You’ll know her once you hear her,” Mrs. Asa said as her eyes followed her son.
Funny enough, they didn’t need Mrs. Asa’s hint to find the NICU, but they understood the humor in it. All they had to do was follow the sound of a single baby’s scream that even a soundproof crib could not mute.
At first, Ren found his feet glued to the floor. Although the hospital lights were on, the path ahead seemed dark and dank. There had to be a dragon up ahead, that’s why his baby sister was screaming so much. Or worse, evil scientists. They could be giving her injections as they walked! He refused to let that happen, and he ran ahead of his father. The screaming became more and more unbearable as he got closer until he had no choice but to shut his ears.
“What are you doing to my baby sister!?” Ren yelled at the doctor at the front desk.
The doctor didn’t even flinch at Ren’s sudden appearance, or his yelling. In fact, he wondered if the doctor could even hear him over the screaming from inside.
When Mr. Asa inquired about the screaming from the baby, the doctor said they didn’t find anything strange or out of the ordinary during their normal checkups; she was healthy.
"Well, at least we know your little sister’s voice works," said Mr. Asa. Although Ren couldn’t hear him through the loud scream and his closed ears.
Mr. Asa picked up Ren and carried him down the rows of baby cribs toward the only one that made noise out of the dozens here. Ren pressed his face against the glass. There lay his baby sister who tossed and turned in her crib. Her mitten-covered hands and mitten-covered feet smacked and kicked against the glass. Her eyes were shut and the constant screams made her head bright red. Ren thought she looked like a giant red potato.
She closed her mouth, and smacked her lips. Just when Ren thought she was finally out of breath, she opened her mouth once more, and let out another ear-shattering scream. He had never been so wrong in his life.
Mr. Asa put Ren down then pressed a gray button that opened the glass overhead. With nothing to trap the scream in, the full volume escaped the crib; making Ren fall over on his butt. Mr. Asa picked up his daughter and cradled her in his arms, but no matter what he did, whether he spoke in a funny voice, smacked his lips, or clicked his tongue playfully, she continued to scream.
"Shh, it's okay, Daddy's here. Everything is going to be okay." She screamed even louder, this time directly into his ear. Mr. Asa pushed her away almost immediately; his face crumpled up as he mouthed out an inaudible word.
Ren took his hands off his ears and raised his arms at Cecilia. "Let me try!" He yelled.
She was much heavier than his father made her seem, but nothing he couldn’t handle. He cradled her back and forth, and much to their surprise, her scream softened. For whatever reason, she couldn’t quite bring out the same decibels as earlier. Every sway back and forth seemed to make her quieter until she was reduced to soft chirps. Once she finally seemed comfy, she snuggled against him; and for some reason, wanted to eat his shirt.
Ren’s heart stopped, then beat a few ticks faster. It was odd, for such a small and ugly thing, she was the most adorable red potato he had ever seen. The pigment of her face slowly transitioned from bubblegum pink, to a tortilla brown now that she finally stopped.
Mr. Asa bent down and ruffled Ren’s hair. “You did it, kiddo!”
"Y...Yeah, I did!" Ren cheered nervously.
"You're definitely her Daigo."
"Dai...gawh?" Asked Ren.
"Yeah, it means big brother in Cantonese. A language long forgotten some hundreds of years ago."
"I see. Daigo, huh?" He said proudly as he looked at his baby sister who happily snuggled against him. "What's her name?"
Mr. Asa shrugged. “Pick one.”
“In that case, Cecilia!”
“Cecilia…” With a bright smile, Mr. Asa concluded, “That’s a great name!”
With permission from the nurse, Ren carried little Cecilia back to his mother’s room.
"My goodness!" Mrs. Asa sat up upon her family’s arrival. She placed her hand over her mouth as if about to cry.
"How did you two get her to stop screaming?" She asked, astonished.
"I didn't do anything, it was all Ren," Mr. Asa patted Ren on the head. "You should have seen it. The instant he held her in his arms, she melted into silence! It was the cutest thing I ever saw."
Ren, who now sat on his mother's bedside with his back to her, cradled Cecilia in his arms.
"Ren," Mrs. Asa said wearily. The energy she displayed at her family’s entry seemed to have only lasted for a few seconds. He looked at her, his smile created dimples on his face.
"You're a big brother now--” She took a deep breath and opened her mouth, but words failed to leave. She had to take a couple of deep breaths before she could get them out, ”From now on, no matter what, whatever happens, you have to be strong. Mommy loves you."
His eyes rolled away with a wry smile. That was the most embarrassing thing he ever heard her say, next to the time she covered him in kisses in front of his friends. What bugged him most was her obvious message. Was it that hard to be a brother? Of course, he’ll take care of her, she didn’t need to remind him. He gave her a great big nod and returned his attention to Cecilia. He was certain she was just really tired and needed to sleep.
Mr. Asa nudged Ren toward the door. "Come on, quickly."
Hesitant and uncertain as to why he had to suddenly leave his mother's side, he shrugged it off and did as he was told.
A flat line screeched from the monitor beside Mrs. Asa’s bed.
"What about Mom?"
Mr. Asa knelt down and placed his hands on Ren’s shoulder, his face was glued to the floor.
After a deep, trembling breath, he said, "She has to stay here a bit longer." He turned Ren around and lightly pushed him forward.
Ren sped up his pace down the corridor as his father seemed rushed. He heaved Cecilia higher and held her tighter. When he got to the elevator, he found himself alone. Which was weird because he wasn’t tall enough to press the elevator buttons. He looked back, and saw his father leaned over a desk.
Ren rushed back to his side.
Mr. Asa stared at a screen over a desk. Ren wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but the screen was split into nine smaller screens with cars, doctors, and patients all in one. Mr. Asa scooped Ren into the air, and rushed him over back to the elevator.
"Listen to me Ren, you have to get Cecilia out of here. Take her to the car, I'll be right there."
"Dad?" Ren asked worriedly.
"Just do as I say, and be a good boy! Watch over your little sister!"
The elevator door closed. Ren stood petrified at how sudden his father left him alone. This was the first time he had ever seen Dad act like this. Was he scared? Why was he scared? Why did he leave him all alone? Why was he in a hurry? Ren wanted to go back. Everything was so sudden, it was hard for him to process what had just happened.
All Ren could hear was the elevator beeps of the floor countdown, and the whirring of wires. He could hardly hold Cecilia still. Every part of his body trembled on their own. Was he scared because his father was scared? On Cecilia’s face was an innocent smile; unaware what had just happened. If only he could smile like her right now.
Ren walked out as quickly as he could and back the way he came. He was certain his father would meet him back at the car. It was the only way home. All he had to do was wait.
Along the way, a dozen men in black suits and sunglasses passed him. That’s it! They’re the reason behind everything that happened just now. Ren made sure to avoid eye contact with them, and acted as naturally as possible.
In the parking lot, he heard the familiar radio at the security booth as he passed by. This time he could hear it clearly now that he walked directly past it.
“Ey buggah, look at dat! Wat is...? Wat is dat ting?”
“Looks cracked bradda!”
“Brah, you stupid or wat? Da sky cannot crack!"
Ren thought this might have something to do with Dad, so he ran out to the sidewalk. There in the sky, was a giant hole. A hole that resembled that of a shattered window. He raised one hand and rubbed his eyes, it was still there. In fact, he could see a small chunk break off and fall to the Earth. In the crack was a black void, darker than the darkest shade of black. An entrance to a frozen unknown.
Ren took a step back, then ran to his father’s car.
Ren was launched forward by a powerful force from behind. He managed to flip himself over and land on his back to keep Cecilia safe. His torso went numb and his arm vibrated uncomfortably. If it wasn’t for his shirt, the skin on his back would have scratches. The floor shook violently, and the leaves rustled ever so loudly from nearby trees. Ren tried to stand, but couldn’t quite find the strength or energy to do so. On top of that, there was an annoying high-pitched ring in his head.
After a violent struggle, he finally sat up. In front of him glowed an orange light from an engulfed hospital.
He ran back in. Patients and doctors yelled and screamed. Glass shattered and splintered the floor. Flames roared and cackled as it ate everything it touched. Just getting close to the hospital made his skin feel like they were being cooked.
The path back to his mother’s room was strangely clear even though today was the only time he ever visited the hospital. He knew exactly how much steps he needed to take, where to turn, where the elevator was, and where the stairs were for emergencies such as this. It was almost like magic! Especially when he hardly paid attention to the walk there because his father carried him most of the way.
“Hey, kid! It’s not safe here!” A male doctor yelled. The doctor chased him, then crash! The ceiling came down and crushed the doctor. Ren’s eyes was stuck to the death behind him, but he kept running. Because of that, he tripped and fell. The skin on his left forearm ripped across the floor. Ren screamed, and tossed and turned left and right. His arm coated itself red, and the wound stung from the dirt and dust. The bee sting he had last month was nothing compared to this. He almost dropped Cecilia too because he could barely feel his arm.
Once the pain diminished to a point he could tolerate, he clenched his teeth and forced himself to stand up. Mom and Dad were still in the building. He had to find them, and help them get out.
The hospital fell apart by the second; rubble fell from the ceiling, followed by loud rumbling. The elevator was not an option. His only choice was the emergency stairs at the end of the hall.
As soon as he opened the door, a cloud of smoke burst free and rushed past him. Once it cleared out, the stairs revealed to be littered in fire and debris. Thanks to his small size, he could just barely shimmy through the obstacles.
Ren covered Cecilia’s face with the blanket before he ran up the stairs. While the adrenaline rush was a nice boost, the environment and his five-year-old legs begged to differ. His mother was on the fifth floor, and he already wanted to rest by the third. The school stairs had nothing on this.
No matter how hard he breathed, nothing entered his lungs. In fact, breathing harder only made it worse. His thighs were tighter than the knots he learned at camp and his calves felt ready to burst. Every step he climbed made it harder and harder to raise his legs. The stairs were endless!
As if simply climbing the stairs wasn’t enough, the worst thing that could happen happened. Halfway through the third flight, the ground beneath him collapsed. Ren took one final step forward before he jumped and grabbed the edge of the landing with one hand.
Oddly enough, despite the loud flames beneath him, through all the destruction, Cecilia laughed. She cooed and squealed as she reached towards the inferno with grabby hands. At first, Ren thought it was just Cecilia being a baby, and it probably was. She didn’t know any better, and as such, was able to smile through all this.
That smile, was everything.
Ren tried to pull them up, but no matter what, he couldn’t even budge. With each attempt, the sharp edges dug into Ren’s hand and bled. With each attempt, he lost strength. With each failed attempt, the more he believed they were going to die.
He kicked his legs back and forth in hopes that there was something he could ground his feet on; nothing. He looked down at Cecilia’s face, then to the inferno beneath him.
It hurt, everything hurt so much, and there was so much blood. This wasn’t some movie where he could do crazy stunts and superhuman things through willpower alone.
This was reality.
He stopped; no more struggles, no more attempts, no more sound, there was no escape. His spirit was completely drained, and his body numb. What was the point?
Fear, but it was a different type of fear, completely different than all the other times he felt scared. No, this was much, much worse. The time he broke his father’s hologen couldn’t compare to this. Horror movies he watched right before bedtime paled in comparison. The stress of failure and self-inflicted pain seemed over the top. The thought of other’s opinions of him was dumb and stupid. His worry of appearance and weird and embarrassing acts in public never felt so small and insignificant before.
Yes, this was genuine, raw fear. All the memories of him being scared became silly and ridiculous. This time, the devil had Ren in the palm of his hand. Paralyzed from head to toe, all he could do was accept his fate. He didn’t have a second life, no second chances, no redo’s no apologies.
His father’s words played in his head. Get back to the car! Look after Cecilia!”
One thing, he had one thing, and he tossed it out the window. He asked himself, why? Why did he run back? Why did he bring Cecilia? Why was it only now he realized it was such a bad idea? Because his parents were in the hospital? Because he didn’t want to let go of his sister? Why didn’t he take her somewhere safe?
For some reason he thought the flames beneath him resembled a face, and thought it was even speaking to him.
It’s all your fault. You’re the one that ran here. You brought your sister here! You were at the parking lot where it was safe, and you came back! Why didn’t you wait at the car like you were told to?
Idiot! Dummy! Stupidhead! Just die already! Throw yourself into me! Let me feast on your body! Let me feast off your sister!
You wanted to be a hero? You wanted to grow up as big and strong as the Spartans? You’re nothing but a joke. You don’t deserve to be a hero! What would you have done if you did find your father? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! You’re useless!
A small warm touch grasped his chin. Ren looked down at Cecilia, his tears and sweat showered her face. Still, she laughed, she squealed and giggled at their dire situation, unaware they were seconds from cremation. This innocent newborn face, he couldn’t let that happen. No--he refused to let that happen. He promised his parents he’d take care of her, and that’s what he was going to do.
One last try, he slowly pulled them up. His hands spurted blood again, but that didn’t matter; he no longer felt the pain. Right when his body couldn’t push any further, he took a deep breath, and let out a long yell from the bottom of his lungs. Centimeter, by centimeter, he pulled them up until he was high enough to roll Cecilia on the landing.
That’s right, he was responsible for another life now. It was his fault for bringing Cecilia here, so he must be the one to get them out. The longer he stalled, the more the hospital fell apart. This was not the time for him to lament on himself.
With both hands free, he adjusted his grip to something more comfortable. He pulled himself up, brought his knees onto the landing one by one, then rolled over next to Cecilia.
Everything bounced back and forth against each other. There were two of everything, nothing was straight, and everything was a blur. He quickly picked himself up and grabbed his little sister. Nothing mattered anymore. Everything that enfeebled him, he embraced them. So what if he couldn’t see or walk straight? All he needed was a path in front of him, and put one foot in front of the other. He limped, and swayed side to side, up the stairs to the fifth floor, and opened the emergency stairway door
Littered across the hallway was the bodies of men in black suits. He ignored them and rushed over to his mother’s room.
"Mom! Dad!" He yelled.
Mr. Asa pushed burning debris off himself. He had used his own body to shield his wife.
"Ren?" Mr. Asa questioned angrily. "What are you doing here?"
He shrunk at his father’s tone. He had never heard him shout so violently before.
"Get out of here! Out of the hospital! Now!"
"What about you and Mom!?"
"I'll be right out! You just get Cecilia out of here!"
Ren looked over to his mother who lay motionless in bed. It looked like she was still asleep, even with everything that happened around her.
“The stairs are broken!”
Mr. Asa yanked the curtains off the pole around his wife’s bed and tossed it onto the floor in front of Ren.
“The window! Now!” Mr. Asa yelled.
One good look and his father’s condition became clear. One leg was bent in a way that Ren had never seen before, and his father was covered in blood from head to toe with a mix of ash and dirt.
He knew what his father wanted him to do, it was in a movie they saw recently. Two police officers were stuck in a burning building, and used curtains as makeshift parachutes to safely escape.
Sure, after he watched the movie, he jumped off his bed with his blanket to reenact the scene, but that was his bed. They were in a real building on fire...
...Is how he normally would have reacted had he not resolved himself from his life-changing moment at the stairs.
Ren picked up the curtain and ran over to the window sill. The ground looked so distant compared to his bed. Merely staring made his vision bounced back and forth like an elastic bouncy ball. It never looked so far and terrifying before. He turned around, and found his father right behind him.
“You’ll get out too, right?”
Mr. Asa gave his son a pat on the head, and smiled, “Yeah,” he said, exhausted. “I’m right behind you. I love you, kid…” With the final words, Mr. Asa shoved Ren out the window sill.
Five stories off the ground, the rush of wind blew past his face, which also happened to trap itself in the curtain and raised it for him. The makeshift parachute slowed his fall with a strong jerk, at the same time pulled his arm so hard that it felt like the bone was pulled out of its socket.
Unfortunately, since it was curtains and not a real parachute, it didn’t slow his descent enough to land safely. Ren released the curtain halfway through the first floor, which was still an eight feet drop. He swung himself around to ensure that he didn’t fall on top of Cecilia, but instead on his back in a soft patch of grass.
A loud crack rippled across his body, followed by several pulses of numbness. He couldn’t move a muscle. Everything was dark except for the blurry patch of orange and white twinkles in the sky. It was hard to breathe. The scent of iron was heavy, the back of his head was wet, and if he didn’t know any better; something felt broken.
Cecilia rolled out of his arms, who still laughed and applauded this entire time. Ren took it as a sign that the danger was finally over. Cecilia’s laughter was like music to his ears.
None of his limbs responded properly, no matter how much he wanted to move them. It took everything he had just to turn his head so he can look at Cecilia. He congratulated himself; he had done it, he kept his promise with his father and…
There was a loud explosion that overlapped the laughter of his sister. A spew of fire slithered out the window of the fifth floor. Debris dropped from the sky, one in particular that Ren kept his eye on; a large piece of glass. Somehow, he knew exactly what was going to happen next.
Move! He clenched his fist and tried to sit up, but his body refused to respond. Move! Move! Move! Move! Move! Moooovvvee!
The gleeful coo and clap of his sister stopped. Ren’s eyes widened, and hot shivers traveled throughout his body. Everything slowed down; almost to a halt, and went silent. That annoying high-pitched ring that was in his head earlier at the parking lot returned.
It took a couple of seconds for Ren to process what had just happened.
His baby sister stopped laughing. Her head rolled away from her body, and her neck watered the grass beneath her.
Suddenly his body felt as light as a feather. "Nooo!!!" Ren screamed. He crawled towards the two pieces of his sister and picked them up; head in one hand, body in the other. This had to be a nightmare, it just had to. He pressed her head and body tightly against his. He prayed, prayed that Cecilia would grace him with her innocent laugh from just a few seconds ago.
"Ceciliaaaa!!!" His scream echoed through the cloudy night. He dropped Cecilia, then looked up at the hole in the sky with an ugly, messy face. It was still there, but smaller. Shattered pieces of the hole returned to its former place like a video on rewind.
"Please..." he begged. "Don't take my baby sister..." He dropped to all fours, crushed the soft grass beneath his hand, and tore it off the ground. "Please! Someone, anyone! I'll do anything!" He sobbed.
"Please! I’ll give everything I have! Take my toys! Take my bed! Take my room! Take my hands! Take my arms and legs! Just give her back! Give me back Cecilia!! Give me back my baby sisterrr!!!!”
A gust of wind knocked him back, and a blinding flash of light cloaked Ren's vision. The light was so bright it forced him to look away, and even then it still burned his eyes. He raised his arm to protect his face from the dirt and small rubble blown away by this gust. He eventually lowered his arms when the wind died. His eyes still burned from the brightness, but slowly opened as they adjusted. His first guess was that a helicopter had landed nearby, but there was no sound of helicopter blades. It was still too bright to see clearly, but he swore that the thing that appeared in front of him was a humanoid figure with six wings.
"Your prayer...your desire has been heard, little one.” Its voice was monotone, but for some reason, very modulated and silvery.
It turned towards Cecilia's corpse. "A young taken before its time. You said this young child's name is Cecilia?"
It brought its face close to Cecilia, examined her head and body, then examined Ren as well.
"Fear not child..." it placed its hand on his cheek.
He froze. Despite all that’s happened, he felt at peace. His tears stopped, and he no longer felt the need to cry or punch something.
"Your sibling is quite the fortunate one. To inherit the one thing that would derail even fate itself."
With a strong flap of its wings, it flew back into the sky, and disappeared without a trace.